Nevertheless, an hour later found him still sitting there. Ethel's depression had vanished, to be followed by a mood of wayward merriment for which the honest, straightforward soldier was totally at a loss to account. Sincere himself, he looked for sincerity in others. If Ethel's gravity had been unfeigned, how could it so soon give place to her present buoyancy? Not the strictest code of hospitality could demand that a hostess should straightway toss aside the thought of the parting guest who had gone away to battle and, perhaps, to sudden death. And, if the girl had been insincere in her parting from Weldon, why should she be sincere in her present absorption in his own interests? And, if her regrets for Weldon were as great as they had seemed to be, then what was the use of his remaining by her side any longer? The horns of the dilemma extended themselves to infinity and branched again and again as they extended. Meanwhile, his eyes were full of trouble, and his answers to her questions were vague and faltering. Until her sudden trip to Johannesburg, Captain Frazer had taken the girl as a matter of course. Since then, he had begun to doubt, and the doubts were thickening.
But, after all, there was no real reason for doubt. During her one short season in London, the Captain had met Ethel constantly, he had been quite obviously the favorite of the old aunt who had presided over the girl's introduction to society, and his later meetings with Ethel at sundry week-end gatherings had convinced him that he had no serious rival. Then had come the war; and Ethel's absence from town had made a farewell impossible. Captain Frazer had sailed away, leaving the past behind him; but the future was still his, to be lost or won, according to the use he made of his manhood's chances.
And then, on the dazzling summer morning which had ushered in the new century, he had caught a glimpse of Ethel riding towards home. Three days later, as he had gone away down the broad white steps, he had felt convinced that the future already lay in his grasp. It had been the selfsame Ethel, unchanged and changeless to his loyal mind, who had met him with smiling, eager cordiality. The year of separation was cast aside; their friendship began again at the precise spot where it had been broken off.
Since then, he had seen her often, occasionally alone, sometimes with her mother, sometimes the central figure of a little crowd who were obviously striving to win her favor. Her father's fortune was in part the cause of this; but the greater, surer cause lay within the girl's own personality. Ethel Dent was no negative character. However, Captain Frazer had never found her too absorbed in her other companions to be able to give him a share of her attention which differed from all other shares that she bestowed, in being a bit more personal in its cordiality. His black-fringed blue eyes were keen and far-sighted. They assured him that, whatever her regard for him, at least it was true that, in all her Cape Town life, there was no man for whom Ethel Dent had a sincerer liking. And then, all at once, a doubt had assailed his mind, and the doubt had centered itself in this long, lean Canadian with the grave, steady face and the boyish manner. Worst of all, the doubt had scarcely arisen before he himself had become aware of his own growing liking for the young Canadian. Captain Leo Frazer was strictly just. He admitted to himself that Weldon was in every way worthy to be chosen by Ethel Dent. However, he was determined as well as just, and he had no mind at all to allow Ethel Dent to choose any man but one, and that one was himself, Leo Frazer.
And now he was sitting moodily by her fireside, listening to her light, easy flow of talk and asking himself certain questions, which he was powerless to answer.
As he rose at last, some sudden impulse made him speak from the very midst of his train of thought.
"Did you know he had refused a commission?" he asked, regardless of antecedents.
She made no pretence of misunderstanding him.