“But how can Mrs. Marston carry on the farm?” Bland inquired.
“I should have said her trustees are doing so,” Ethel answered carelessly. “One of them went out to look into things not long ago.”
Then she moved away and left Bland with one difficulty that had troubled him removed.
BLAND GETS ENTANGLED
When Mrs. Kettering heard of Sylvia’s intention to attend the gymkana, she gave her consent, and said that, as she had an invitation, she would make up a party to go. This was not what Bland required. It was, however, a four-seated car that he had been promised the use of; and counting Sylvia and himself and the driver, there was only one place left. While he was wondering to whom it would be best to offer it, Sylvia thought of Ethel West, who had announced that she would not attend the function. By making a short round, they could pass through a market town of some importance.
“You mentioned that you wished to buy some things; why not come with us?” she said to Ethel. “We could drop you going out and call for you coming home. Susan will have the big car full, so she couldn’t take you, and it’s a long drive to the station and the trains run awkwardly.”
Sylvia’s motive was easy to discern, but Ethel agreed. She was, on the whole, inclined to pity Captain Bland; but he was a stranger and George was a friend. If Sylvia must choose between them, it would be much better that she should take the soldier. For all that, Ethel had an uncomfortable feeling that she was assisting in a piece of treachery when she set off soon after lunch on a fine autumn day; and the car had gone several miles before she began to enjoy the ride.
For a while the straight white road, climbing steadily, crossed a waste of moors. The dry grass gleamed gray and silver among the russet fern; rounded, white-edged clouds floated, scarcely moving, in a sky of softest blue. The upland air was gloriously fresh, and the speed exhilarating.
By and by they ran down into a narrow dale in the depths of which a river brawled among the stones, and climbed a long ascent, from which they could see a moving dust-cloud indicating that Mrs. Kettering’s car was only a mile or two behind. After that there was a league of brown heath, and then they sped down to a wide, wooded valley, in the midst of which rose the gray walls of an ancient town. On reaching it, Ethel alighted in the market-square, hard by the lofty abbey, and turned to Bland.
“I have one or two calls to make after I’ve finished shopping, but if it takes longer than I expected or you can’t get here in time, I’ll go back by train,” she said. “In that case, you must bring me home from the station.”
Bland promised, and Ethel watched the car with a curious expression until it vanished under a time-worn archway. She was vexed with herself for playing into Sylvia’s hands, though she had only done so in what she regarded as George’s interest. If Sylvia married Bland, the blow would no doubt be a heavy one to George, but it would be better for him in the end.