“Do you wish to go?” she asked.
“No,” he said hotly; “you know that.”
“Then,” said Sylvia softly, “I think you had better stay at home.”
He stopped again and faced her.
“You must tell me what you mean!”
“It ought to be clear,” she murmured, “Don’t you think I should miss you?”
With restrained quietness he laid his hand on her shoulder.
“You must listen for a minute, Sylvia. Up to the present, I’ve been passed over by the authorities; but now I’ve been given my chance. If I can hammer the raw native levies into shape and keep order along a disturbed frontier, it will lead to something better. Now, I’m neither a military genius nor altogether a careless idler—I believe I can do this work; but, coming rather late, it has less attraction for me. Well, I would let the chance slip, for one reason only; but if I’m to go on continually repressing myself and only allowed to see you at long intervals, I might as well go away. You must clearly understand on what terms I remain.”
She made a little appealing gesture.
“Yes,” she said; “but you must wait and not press me too hard. I am so fenced in by conventions; so many people’s susceptibilities have to be considered. I haven’t a girl’s liberty.”
Bland supposed this was as far as she ventured in allusion to her widowed state; but, stirred as he was by her implied submission, it struck him as significant that she should so clearly recognize the restrictions conventionality imposed on her.
“I think,” he returned, “the two people who deserve most consideration are you and myself.”
“Ah!” said Sylvia, “you deserve it most. You have been very forbearing; you have done all I asked. That is why I know you will bear with a little delay, when it’s needful.”
He made a sign of reluctant assent; and then, to his annoyance, two figures emerged from the shadow of the trees not far away. There was nothing to do except to move on, but he thrilled at the slight, grateful pressure of Sylvia’s hand upon his arm.
“My dear,” he said, “I wish most devoutly that West or Mrs. Lansing had been lame.”
Sylvia broke into a ripple of laughter, which somehow seemed to draw them closer. At Herbert’s gate they separated, and Bland walked on in an exultant mood which was broken by fits of thoughtfulness. Sylvia had tacitly pledged herself to him, but he was still her unacknowledged lover and the position was irksome. Then he remembered her collectedness, which had been rather marked, but he had learned that emotion is more frequently concealed than forcibly expressed. Moreover, he had never imagined that Sylvia was wholly free from faults; he suspected that there was a vein of calculating coldness in her, though it caused him no concern. Bland was a man of experience who had acquired a good-humored toleration with the knowledge that one must not expect too much from human nature.