“Well, John, I’m very much ashamed of it, because he didn’t care for me, as it turned out; but if he had, as I once thought, I should have liked him,” said Sydney, looking down, and speaking with great confusion out of the depths of her conscience, stirred up by much ‘Advice to Brides,’ and Sunday novels, all turning on the lady’s error in hiding her first love; and then perhaps because the effect on John was less startling than she had expected, she added with another effort, “It was Lucas Brownlow.”
“Jock!” cried John. “The dear fellow!”
“Yes-I did think it, when he was in the Guards, and always about with Cecil. It was very silly of me, for he did not care one fraction.”
“Why do you think so?” said John hoarsely.
“Well, I know better now, but when he made up his mind to leave the army, I fancied it was no better than being a recreant knight, and I begged and prayed him to go out with Sir Philip Cameron, and as near as I dared told him it was for my sake. But he went on all the same, and then I was quite sure he did not care, and saw what a goose I had made of myself. Oh! Johnny, it has been very hard to tell you, but I thought I ought, and I hope you’ll never think of it more, for Lucas just despised my foolish forwardness, and you know you have every bit of my heart and soul. What is the matter, John? Oh! have I done harm, when I meant to do right?”
“No, no, my darling, don’t be startled. But do you mean that you really thought Jock’s disregard of your entreaties came from indifference?”
“It was all one mixture of pain and anger,” said Sydney. “I can’t define it. I thought it was one’s duty to lead a man to be courageous and defend his country, and of course he thought me such a fool. Why, he has never really talked to me since!”
“And you thought it was indifference,” again repeated John, with an iteration worthy of his father.
“O John, you frighten me. Wasn’t it? Did you know this before?”
“No, most certainly not. I did know thus much, that in giving up the army Jock had given up his dearest hopes; but I thought it was some fine fashionable lady, whom he was well rid of, though he didn’t know it. And he never said a word to betray it, even when I came home brimful and overflowing with happiness. And you know it was his doing that my way has been smoothed. Oh! Sydney, I don’t know how to look at it!”
“But indeed, John dear, I couldn’t help loving you best. You saved me, you know, and I feel to fit in, and understand you best. I can’t be sorry as it has turned out.”
“That’s very well,” said John, trying to laugh, “for you couldn’t be transferred back to him, like a bale of goods. And I could not have helped loving you; but that I should have been a robber, Jock’s worst enemy!”
“I can’t be sorry you did not guess it,” said Sydney. “Then I never should have had you, and somehow-”