There was something that reminded her of George in his expression. The man, she thought, would redeem what pledge he gave; he might be guilty of rashness, but he would not slink away when the reckoning came. Then she became conscious of a half-tender regret. It was a pity that George was so fond of the background, and left it only when he was needed, while Brand was a prominent figure wherever he went, and this was, perhaps, the one of his characteristics which most impressed her. Then he rather modestly began the brief account of his career, adding scraps of information about his relatives, who were people of station. He did not enlarge upon several points that were in his favor, but he omitted to state that he had now and then been on the verge of a financial crisis.
Sylvia listened with keen interest, and asked a few questions to help him on; but when he finished she let the subject drop. Soon afterward she glanced down the road, which was growing dim.
“I wish your man would come. It’s getting late,” she said.
“He can’t be much longer. I don’t think you need be disturbed.”
“I am disturbed,” Sylvia declared. “I really shouldn’t have come to-day; you will remember I hesitated.”
“Then it was a temptation?”
Sylvia smiled rather wistfully. “That must be confessed; I need a little stir and brightness and I so seldom get it. You know Muriel; I owe her a good deal, but she’s so dull and she makes you feel that everything you like to do is wrong.”
“But you haven’t been very long with Mrs. Lansing. Wasn’t it different in Canada?” Bland had a reason for venturing on the question, though it was rather a delicate one.
“I can hardly bear to think of it! For four months in the year I was shut up, half-frozen, in a desolate homestead. There was deep snow all round the place; nobody came. It was a day’s drive to a forlorn settlement; nothing ever broke the dreary monotony. In summer one got worn out with the heat and the endless petty troubles. There was not a moment’s rest; the house was filled with plowmen and harvesters, uncouth barbarians who ate at our table and must be waited on.”
Bland was moved to pity; but he was also consoled. As she had not mentioned Marston, she could not greatly have felt his loss. Sylvia must have married young; no doubt, before she knew her mind.
“I wish,” he said quietly, “I could do something to make your life a little brighter.”
“But you can’t. I’ve had one happy day—and I’m grateful. It must last me a while.”
He leaned forward, looking at her with an intent expression.
“Sylvia, give me the right to try.”
She shrank from him with a start that was partly natural, for she was not quite prepared for a bold avowal.
“No,” she said in alarm. “How can I do that?”
“Don’t you understand me, Sylvia? I want the right to take care of you.”