THE ZEPPELIN'S PASSENGER
By E. Phillips Oppenheim
"Never heard a sound," the younger of the afternoon callers admitted, getting rid of his empty cup and leaning forward in his low chair. "No more tea, thank you, Miss Fairclough. Done splendidly, thanks. No, I went to bed last night soon after eleven—the Colonel had been route marching us all off our legs—and I never awoke until reveille this morning. Sleep of the just, and all that sort of thing, but a jolly sell, all the same! You hear anything of it, sir?" he asked, turning to his companion, who was seated a few feet away.
Captain Griffiths shook his head. He was a man considerably older than his questioner, with long, nervous face, and thick black hair streaked with grey. His fingers were bony, his complexion, for a soldier, curiously sallow, and notwithstanding his height, which was considerable, he was awkward, at times almost uncouth. His voice was hard and unsympathetic, and his contributions to the tea-table talk had been almost negligible.
"I was up until two o'clock, as it happened," he replied, "but I knew nothing about the matter until it was brought to my notice officially."
Helen Fairclough, who was doing the honours for Lady Cranston, her absent hostess, assumed the slight air of superiority to which the circumstances of the case entitled her.
"I heard it distinctly," she declared; "in fact it woke me up. I hung out of the window, and I could hear the engine just as plainly as though it were over the golf links."
The young subaltern sighed.
"Rotten luck I have with these things," he confided. "That's three times they've been over, and I've neither heard nor seen one. This time they say that it had the narrowest shave on earth of coming down. Of course, you've heard of the observation car found on Dutchman's Common this morning?"
The girl assented.
"Did you see it?" she enquired.
"Not a chance," was the gloomy reply. "It was put on two covered trucks and sent up to London by the first train. Captain Griffiths can tell you what it was like, I dare say. You were down there, weren't you, sir?"
"I superintended its removal," the latter informed them. "It was a very uninteresting affair."
"Any bombs in it?" Helen asked.
"Not a sign of one. Just a hard seat, two sets of field-glasses and a telephone. It seems to have got caught in some trees and been dragged off."
"How exciting!" the girl murmured. "I suppose there wasn't any one in it?"
Griffiths shook his head.
"I believe," he explained, "that these observation cars, although they are attached to most of the Zeppelins, are seldom used in night raids."
"I should like to have seen it, all the same," Helen confessed.
"You would have been disappointed," her informant assured her. "By-the-by," he added, a little awkwardly, "are you not expecting Lady Cranston back this evening?"
"I am expecting her every moment. The car has gone down to the station to meet her."
Captain Griffiths appeared to receive the news with a certain undemonstrative satisfaction. He leaned back in his chair with the air of one who is content to wait.
"Have you heard, Miss Fairclough," his younger companion enquired, a little diffidently, "whether Lady Cranston had any luck in town?"
Helen Fairclough looked away. There was a slight mist before her eyes.
"I had a letter this morning," she replied. "She seems to have heard nothing at all encouraging so far."
"And you haven't heard from Major Felstead himself, I suppose?"
The girl shook her head.
"Not a line," she sighed. "It's two months now since we last had a letter."
"Jolly bad luck to get nipped just as he was doing so well," the young man observed sympathetically.
"It all seems very cruel," Helen agreed. "He wasn't really fit to go back, but the Board passed him because they were so short of officers and he kept worrying them. He was so afraid he'd get moved to another battalion. Then he was taken prisoner in that horrible Pervais affair, and sent to the worst camp in Germany. Since then, of course, Philippa and I have had a wretched time, worrying."
"Major Felstead is Lady Cranston's only brother, is he not?" Griffiths enquired.
"And my only fiance," she replied, with a little grimace. "However, don't let us talk about our troubles any more," she continued, with an effort at a lighter tone. "You'll find some cigarettes on that table, Mr. Harrison. I can't think where Nora is. I expect she has persuaded some one to take her out trophy-hunting to Dutchman's Common."
"The road all the way is like a circus," the young soldier observed, "and there isn't a thing to be seen when you get there. The naval airmen were all over the place at daybreak, and Captain Griffiths wasn't far behind them. You didn't leave much for the sightseers, sir," he concluded, turning to his neighbour.
"As Commandant of the place," Captain Griffiths replied, "I naturally had to have the Common searched. With the exception of the observation car, however, I think that I am betraying no confidences in telling you that we discovered nothing of interest."
"Do you suppose that the Zeppelin was in difficulties, as she was flying so low?" Helen enquired.
"It is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis," the Commandant assented. "Two patrol boats were sent out early this morning, in search of her. An old man whom I saw at Waburne declares that she passed like a long, black cloud, just over his head, and that he was almost deafened by the noise of the engines. Personally, I cannot believe that they would come down so low unless she was in some trouble."
The door of the comfortable library in which they were seated was suddenly thrown open. An exceedingly alert-looking young lady, very much befreckled, and as yet unemancipated from the long plaits of the schoolroom, came in like a whirlwind. In her hand she carried a man's Homburg hat, which she waved aloft in triumph.
"Come in, Arthur," she shouted to a young subaltern who was hovering in the background. "Look what I've got, Helen! A trophy! Just look, Mr. Harrison and Captain Griffiths! I found it in a bush, not twenty yards from where the observation car came down."
Helen turned the hat around in amused bewilderment.
"But, my dear child," she exclaimed, "this is nothing but an ordinary hat! People who travel in Zeppelins don't wear things like that. How do you do, Mr. Somerfield?" she added, smiling at the young man who had followed Nora into the room.
"Don't they!" the latter retorted, with an air of superior knowledge. "Just look here!"
She turned down the lining and showed it to them. "What do you make of that?" she asked triumphantly.
Helen gazed at the gold-printed letters a little incredulously.
"Read it out," Nora insisted.
"Schmidt, Berlin, Unter den Linden, 127."
"That sounds German," she admitted.
"It's a trophy, all right," Nora declared. "One of the crew—probably the Commander—must have come on board in a hurry and changed into uniform after they had started."
"It is my painful duty, Miss Nora," Harrison announced solemnly, "to inform you, on behalf of Captain Griffiths, that all articles of whatsoever description, found in the vicinity of Dutchman's Common, which might possibly have belonged to any one in the Zeppelin, must be sent at once to the War Office."
"Rubbish!" Nora scoffed. "The War Office aren't going to have my hat."
"Duty," the young man began—
"You can go back to the Depot and do your duty, then, Mr. Harrison," Nora interrupted, "but you're not going to have my hat. I'd throw it into the fire sooner than give it up."
"Military regulations must be obeyed, Miss Nora," Captain Griffiths ventured thoughtfully.
"Nothing so important as hats," Harrison put in. "You see they fit—somebody."
The girl's gesture was irreverent but convincing. "I'd listen to anything Captain Griffiths had to say," she declared, "but you boys who are learning to be soldiers are simply eaten up with conceit. There's nothing in your textbook about hats. If you're going to make yourselves disagreeable about this, I shall simply ignore the regiment."
The two young men fell into attitudes of mock dismay. Nora took a chocolate from a box.
"Be merciful, Miss Nora!" Harrison pleaded tearfully.
"Don't break the regiment up altogether," Somerfield begged, with a little catch in his voice.
"All very well for you two to be funny," Nora went on, revisiting the chocolate box, "but you've heard about the Seaforths coming, haven't you? I adore kilts, and so does Helen; don't you, Helen?"
"Every woman does," Helen admitted, smiling. "I suppose the child really can keep the hat, can't she?" she added, turning to the Commandant.
"Officially the matter is outside my cognizance," he declared. "I shall have nothing to say."
The two young men exchanged glances.
"A hat," Somerfield ruminated, "especially a Homburg hat, is scarcely an appurtenance of warfare."
His brother officer stood for a moment looking gravely at the object in question. Then he winked at Somerfield and sighed.
"I shall take the whole responsibility," he decided magnanimously, "of saying nothing about the matter. We can't afford to quarrel with Miss Nora, can we, Somerfield?"
"Not on your life," that young man agreed.
"Sensible boys!" Nora pronounced graciously.
"Thank you very much, Captain Griffiths, for not encouraging them in their folly. You can take me as far as the post-office when you go, Arthur," she continued, turning to the fortunate possessor of the side-car, "and we'll have some golf to-morrow afternoon, if you like."
"Won't Mr. Somerfield have some tea?" Helen invited.
"Thank you very much, Miss Fairclough," the man replied; "we had tea some time ago at Watson's, where I found Miss Nora."
Nora suddenly held up her finger. "Isn't that the car?" she asked. "Why, it must be mummy, here already. Yes, I can hear her voice!"
Griffiths, who had moved eagerly towards the window, looked back.
"It is Lady Cranston," he announced solemnly.
The woman who paused for a moment upon the threshold of the library, looking in upon the little company, was undeniably beautiful. She had masses of red-gold hair, a little disordered by her long railway journey, deep-set hazel eyes, a delicate, almost porcelain-like complexion, and a sensitive, delightfully shaped mouth. Her figure was small and dainty, and just at that moment she had an appearance of helplessness which was almost childlike. Nora, after a vigorous embrace, led her stepmother towards a chair.
"Come and sit by the fire, Mummy," she begged. "You look tired and cold."
Philippa exchanged a general salutation with her guests. She was still wearing her travelling coat, and her air of fatigue was unmistakable. Griffiths, who had not taken his eyes off her since her entrance, wheeled an easy-chair towards the hearth-rug, into which she sank with a murmured word of thanks.
"You'll have some tea, won't you, dear?" Helen enquired.
Philippa shook her head. Her eyes met her friend's for a moment—it was only a very brief glance, but the tragedy of some mutual sorrow seemed curiously revealed in that unspoken question and answer. The two young subalterns prepared to take their leave. Nora, kneeling down, stroked her stepmother's hand.
"No news at all, then?" Helen faltered.
"None," was the weary reply.
"Any amount of news here, Mummy," Nora intervened cheerfully, "and heaps of excitement. We had a Zeppelin over Dutchman's Common last night, and she lost her observation car. Mr. Somerfield took me up there this afternoon, and I found a German hat. No one else got a thing, and, would you believe it, those children over there tried to take it away from me."
Her stepmother smiled faintly.
"I expect you are keeping the hat, dear," she observed.
"I should say so!" Nora assented.
Philippa held out her hand to the two young men who had been waiting to take their leave.
"You must come and dine one night this week, both of you," she said. "My husband will be home by the later train this evening, and I'm sure he will be glad to have you."
"Very kind of you, Lady Cranston, we shall be delighted," Harrison declared.
"Rather!" his companion echoed.
Nora led them away, and Helen, with a word of excuse, followed them. Griffiths, who had also risen to his feet, came a little nearer to Philippa's chair.
"And you, too, of course, Captain Griffiths," she said, smiling pleasantly up at him. "Must you hurry away?"
"I will stay, if I may, until Miss Fairclough returns," he answered, resuming his seat.
"Do!" Philippa begged him. "I have had such a miserable time in town. You can't think how restful it is to be back here."
"I am afraid," he observed, "that your journey has not been successful."
Philippa shook her head.
"It has been completely unsuccessful," she sighed. "I have not been able to hear a word about my brother. I am so sorry for poor Helen, too. They were only engaged, you know, a few days before he left for the front this last time."
Captain Griffiths nodded sympathetically.
"I never met Major Felstead," he remarked, "but every one who has seems to like him very much. He was doing so well, too, up to that last unfortunate affair, wasn't he?"
"Dick is a dear," Philippa declared. "I never knew any one with so many friends. He would have been commanding his battalion now, if only he were free. His colonel wrote and told me so himself."
"I wish there were something I could do," Griffiths murmured, a little awkwardly. "It hurts me, Lady Cranston, to see you so upset."
She looked at him for a moment in faint surprise.
"Nobody can do anything," she bemoaned. "That is the unfortunate part of it all."
He rose to his feet and was immediately conscious, as he always was when he stood up, that there was a foot or two of his figure which he had no idea what to do with.
"You wouldn't feel like a ride to-morrow morning, Lady Cranston?" he asked, with a wistfulness which seemed somehow stifled in his rather unpleasant voice. She shook her head.
"Perhaps one morning later," she replied, a little vaguely. "I haven't any heart for anything just now."
He took a sombre but agitated leave of his hostess, and went out into the twilight, cursing his lack of ease, remembering the things which he had meant to say, and hating himself for having forgotten them. Philippa, to whom his departure had been, as it always was, a relief, was already leaning forward in her chair with her arm around Helen's neck.
"I thought that extraordinary man would never go," she exclaimed, "and I was longing to send for you, Helen. London has been such a dreary chapter of disappointments."
"What a sickening time you must have had, dear!"
"It was horrid," Philippa assented sadly, "but you know Henry is no use at all, and I should have felt miserable unless I had gone. I have been to every friend at the War Office, and every friend who has friends there. I have made every sort of enquiry, and I know just as much now as I did when I left here—that Richard was a prisoner at Wittenberg the last time they heard, and that they have received no notification whatever concerning him for the last two months."
Helen glanced at the calendar.
"It is just two months to-day," she said mournfully, "since we heard."
"And then," Philippa sighed, "he hadn't received a single one of our parcels."
Helen rose suddenly to her feet. She was a tall, fair girl of the best Saxon type, slim but not in the least angular, with every promise, indeed, of a fuller and more gracious development in the years to come. She was barely twenty-two years old, and, as is common with girls of her complexion, seemed younger. Her bright, intelligent face was, above all, good-humoured. Just at that moment, however, there was a flush of passionate anger in her cheeks.
"It makes me feel almost beside myself," she exclaimed, "this hideous incapacity for doing anything! Here we are living in luxury, without a single privation, whilst Dick, the dearest thing on earth to both of us, is being starved and goaded to death in a foul German prison!"
"We mustn't believe that it's quite so bad as that, dear," Philippa remonstrated. "What is it, Mills?"
The elderly man-servant who had entered with a tray in his band, bowed as he arranged it upon a side table.
"I have taken the liberty of bringing in a little fresh tea, your ladyship," he announced, "and some hot buttered toast. Cook has sent some of the sandwiches, too, which your ladyship generally fancies."
"It is very kind of you, Mills," Philippa said, with rather a wan little smile. "I had some tea at South Lynn, but it was very bad. You might take my coat, please."
She stood up, and the heavy fur coat slipped easily away from her slim, elegant little body.
"Shall I light up, your ladyship?" Mills enquired.
"You might light a lamp," Philippa directed, "but don't draw the blinds until lighting-up time. After the noise of London," she went on, turning to Helen, "I always think that the faint sound of the sea is so restful."
The man moved noiselessly about the room and returned once more to his mistress.
"We should be glad to hear, your ladyship," he said, "if there is any news of Major Felstead?" Philippa shook her head.
"None at all, I am sorry to say, Mills! Still, we must hope for the best. I dare say that some of these camps are not so bad as we imagine."
"We must hope not, your ladyship," was the somewhat dismal reply. "Shall I fasten the windows?"
"You can leave them until you draw the blinds, Mills," Philippa directed. "I am not at home, if any one should call. See that we are undisturbed for a little time."
"Very good, your ladyship."
The door was closed, and the two women were once more alone. Philippa held out her arms.
"Helen, darling, come and be nice to me," she begged. "Let us both pretend that no news is good news. Oh, I know what you are suffering, but remember that even if Dick is your lover, he is my dear, only brother—my twin brother, too. We have been so much to each other all our lives. He'll stick it out, dear, if any human being can. We shall have him back with us some day."
"But he is hungry," Helen sobbed. "I can't bear to think of his being hungry. Every time I sit down to eat, it almost chokes me."
"I suppose he has forgotten what a whisky and soda is like," Philippa murmured, with a little catch in her own throat.
"He always used to love one about this time," Helen faltered, glancing at the clock.
"And cigarettes!" Philippa exclaimed. "I wonder whether they give him anything to smoke."
"Nasty German tobacco, if they do," Helen rejoined indignantly. "And to think that I have sent him at least six hundred of his favourite Egyptians!"
She fell once more on her knees by her friend's side. Their arms were intertwined, their cheeks touching. One of those strange, feminine silences of acute sympathy seemed to hold them for a while under its thrall. Then, almost at the same moment, a queer awakening came for both of them. Helen's arm was stiffened. Philippa turned her head, but her eyes were filled with incredulous fear. A little current of cool air was blowing through the room. The French windows stood half open, and with his back to them, a man who had apparently entered the room from the gardens and passed noiselessly across the soft carpet, was standing by the door, listening. They heard him turn the key. Then, in a businesslike manner, he returned to the windows and closed them, the eyes of the two women following him all the time. Satisfied, apparently, with his precautions, he turned towards them just as an expression of indignant enquiry broke from Philippa's lips. Helen sprang to her feet, and Philippa gripped the sides of her chair. The newcomer advanced a few steps nearer to them.
It seemed to the two women, brief though the period of actual silence was, that in those few seconds they jointly conceived definite and lasting impressions of the man who was to become, during the next few weeks, an object of the deepest concern to both of them. The intruder was slightly built, of little more than medium height, of dark complexion, with an almost imperceptible moustache of military pattern, black hair dishevelled with the wind, and eyes of almost peculiar brightness. He carried himself with an assurance which was somewhat remarkable considering the condition of his torn and mud stained clothes, the very quality of which was almost undistinguishable. They both, curiously enough, formed the same instinctive conviction that, notwithstanding his tramplike appearance and his burglarious entrance, this was not a person to be greatly feared.
The stranger brushed aside Philippa's incoherent exclamation and opened the conversation with some ceremony.
"Ladies," he began, with a low bow, "in the first place let me offer my most profound apologies for this unusual form of entrance to your house."
Philippa rose from her easy-chair and confronted him. The firelight played upon her red-gold hair, and surprise had driven the weariness from her face. Against the black oak of the chimneypiece she had almost the appearance of a framed cameo. Her voice was quite steady, although its inflection betrayed some indignation.
"Will you kindly explain who you are and what you mean by this extraordinary behaviour?" she demanded.
"It is my earnest intention to do so without delay," he assured her, his eyes apparently rivetted upon Philippa. "Kindly pardon me."
He held out his arm to stop Helen, who, with her eye upon the bell, had made a stealthy attempt to slip past him. Her eyes flashed as she felt his fingers upon her arm.
"How dare you attempt to stop me!" she exclaimed.
"My dear Miss Fairclough," he remonstrated, "in the interests of all of us, it is better that we should have a few moments of undisturbed conversation. I am taking it for granted that I have the pleasure of addressing Miss Fairclough?"
There was something about the man's easy confidence which was, in its way, impressive yet irritating. Helen appeared bereft of words and retreated to her place almost mildly. Philippa's very delicate eyebrows were drawn together in a slight frown.
"You are acquainted with our names, then?"
"Perfectly," was the suave reply. "You, I presume, are Lady Cranston? I may be permitted to add," he went on, looking at her steadfastly, "that the description from which I recognise you does you less than justice."
"I find that remark, under the circumstances, impertinent," Philippa told him coldly.
He shrugged his shoulders. There was a slight smile upon his lips and his eyes twinkled.
"Alas!" he murmured, "for the moment I forgot the somewhat unusual circumstances of our meeting. Permit me to offer you what I trust you will accept as the equivalent of a letter of introduction."
"A letter of introduction," Philippa repeated, glancing at his disordered clothes, "and you come in through the window!"
"Believe me," the intruder assured her, "it was the only way."
"Perhaps you will tell me, then," Philippa demanded, her anger gradually giving way to bewilderment, "what is wrong with my front door?"
"For all I know, dear lady," the newcomer confessed, "yours may be an excellent front door. I would ask you, however, to consider my appearance I have been obliged to conclude the last few miles of my journey in somewhat ignominious fashion. My clothes—they were quite nice clothes, too, when I started," he added, looking down at himself ruefully—"have suffered. And, as you perceive, I have lost my hat."
"Your hat?" Helen exclaimed, with a sudden glance at Nora's trophy.
"Precisely! I might have posed before your butler, perhaps, as belonging to what you call the hatless brigade, but the mud upon my clothes, and these unfortunate rents in my garments, would have necessitated an explanation which I thought better avoided. I make myself quite clear, I trust?"
"Clear?" Philippa murmured helplessly.
"Clear?" Helen echoed, with a puzzled frown.
"I mean, of course," their visitor explained, "so far as regards my choosing this somewhat surreptitious form of entrance into your house."
Philippa shrugged her shoulders and made a determined move towards the bell. The intruder, however, barred her way. She looked up into his face and found it difficult to maintain her indignation. His expression, besides being distinctly pleasant, was full of a respectful admiration.
"Will you please let me pass?" she insisted.
"Madam," he replied, "I am afraid that it is your intention to ring the bell."
"Of course it is," she admitted. "Don't dare to prevent me."
"Madam, I do not wish to prevent you," he assured her. "A few moments' delay—that is all I plead for."
"Will you explain at once, sir," Philippa demanded, "what you mean by forcing your way into my house in this extraordinary fashion, and by locking that door?"
"I am most anxious to do so," was the prompt reply. "I am correct, of course, in my first surmise that you are Lady Cranston—and you Miss Fairclough?" he added, bowing ceremoniously to both of them. "A very great pleasure! I recognised you both quite easily, you see, from your descriptions."
"From our descriptions?" Philippa repeated.
The newcomer bowed.
"The descriptions, glowing, indeed, but by no means exaggerated, of your brother Richard, Lady Cranston, and your fiance, Miss Fairclough."
"Richard?" Philippa almost shrieked.
"You have seen Dick?" Helen gasped.
The intruder dived in his pockets and produced two sealed envelopes. He handed one each simultaneously to Helen and to Philippa.
"My letters of introduction," he explained, with a little sigh of relief. "I trust that during their perusal you will invite me to have some tea. I am almost starving."
The two women hastened towards the lamp.
"One moment, I beg," their visitor interposed. "I have established, I trust, my credentials. May I remind you that I was compelled to ensure the safety of these few minutes' conversation with you, by locking that door. Are you likely to be disturbed?"
"No, no! No chance at all," Philippa assured him.
"If we are, we'll explain," Helen promised.
"In that case," the intruder begged, "perhaps you will excuse me."
He moved towards the door and softly turned the key, then he drew the curtains carefully across the French windows. Afterwards he made his way towards the tea-table. A little throbbing cry had broken from Helen's lips.
"Philippa," she exclaimed, "it's from Dick! It's Dick's handwriting!"
Philippa's reply was incoherent. She was tearing open her own envelope. With a well-satisfied smile, the bearer of these communications seized a sandwich in one hand and poured himself out some tea with the other. He ate and drank with the restraint of good-breeding, but with a voracity which gave point to his plea of starvation. A few yards away, the breathless silence between the two women had given place to an almost hysterical series of disjointed exclamations.
"It's from Dick!" Helen repeated. "It's his own dear handwriting. How shaky it is! He's alive and well, Philippa, and he's found a friend."
"I know—I know," Philippa murmured tremulously. "Our parcels have been discovered, and he got them all at once. Just fancy, Helen, he's really not so ill, after all!"
They drew a little closer together.
"You read yours out first," Helen proposed, "and then I'll read mine."
Philippa nodded. Her voice here and there was a little uncertain.
MY DEAREST SISTER,
I have heard nothing from you or Helen for so long that I was really getting desperate. I have had a very rough time here, but by the grace of Providence I stumbled up against an old friend the other day, Bertram Maderstrom, whom you must have heard me speak of in my college days. It isn't too much to say that he has saved my life. He has unearthed your parcels, found me decent quarters, and I am getting double rations. He has promised, too, to get this letter through to you.
You needn't worry about me now, dear. I am feeling twice the man I was a month ago, and I shall stick it out now quite easily.
Write me as often as ever you can. Your letters and Helen's make all the difference.
My love to you and to Henry. Your affectionate brother, RICHARD.
P.S. Is Henry an Admiral yet? I suppose he was in the Jutland scrap, which they all tell us here was a great German victory. I hope he came out all right.
Philippa read the postscript with a little shiver. Then she set her teeth as though determined to ignore it.
"Isn't it wonderful!" she exclaimed, turning towards Helen with glowing eyes. "Now yours, dear?"
Helen's voice trembled as she read. Her eyes, too, at times were misty:
I am writing to you so differently because I feel that you will really get this letter. I have bad an astonishing stroke of luck, as you will gather from Philippa's note. You can't imagine the difference. A month ago I really thought I should have to chuck it in. Now I am putting on flesh every day and beginning to feel myself again. I owe my life to a pal with whom I was at college, and whom you and I, dearest, will have to remember all our lives.
I think of you always, and my thoughts are like the flowers of which we see nothing in these hideous huts. My greatest joy is in dreaming of the day when we shall meet again.
Write to me often, sweetheart. Your letters and my thoughts of you are the one joy of my life.
Always your lover, DICK.
There were a few moments of significant silence. The girls were leaning together, their arms around one another's necks, their heads almost touching. Behind them, their visitor continued to eat and drink. He rose at last, however, reluctantly to his feet, and coughed. They started, suddenly remembering his presence. Philippa turned impulsively towards him with outstretched hands.
"I can't tell you how thankful we are to you," she declared.
"Both of us," Helen echoed.
He touched with his fingers a box of cigarettes which stood upon the tea-table.
"You permit?" he asked.
"Of course," Philippa assented eagerly. "You will find some matches on the tray there. Do please help yourself. I am afraid that I must have seemed very discourteous, but this has all been so amazing. Won't you have some fresh tea and some toast, or wouldn't you like some more sandwiches?"
"Nothing more at present, thank you," he replied. "If you do not mind, I would rather continue our conversation."
"These letters are wonderful," Philippa told him gratefully. "You know from whom they come, of course. Dick is my twin brother, and until the war we had scarcely ever been parted. Miss Fairclough here is engaged to be married to him. It is quite two months since we had a line, and I myself have been in London for the last three days, three very weary days, making enquiries everywhere."
"I am very happy," he said, "to have brought you such good news."
Once more the normal aspect of the situation began to reimpose itself upon the two women. They remembered the locked door, the secrecy of their visitor's entrance, and his disordered condition.
"May I ask to whom we are indebted for this great service?" Philippa enquired.
"My name for the present is Hamar Lessingham," was the suave reply.
"For the present?" Philippa repeated. "You have perhaps, some explanations to make," she went on, with some hesitation; "the condition of your clothes, your somewhat curious form of entrance?"
"With your permission."
"One moment," Helen intervened eagerly. "Is it possible, Mr. Lessingham, that you have seen Major Felstead lately?"
"A matter of fifty-six hours ago, Miss Fairclough. I am happy to tell you that he was looking, under the circumstances, quite reasonably well."
Helen caught up a photograph from the table by her side, and came over to their visitor's side.
"This was taken just before he went out the first time," she continued. "Is he anything like that now?"
Mr. Hamar Lessingham sighed and shook his head.
"You must expect," he warned her, "that prison and hospital have had their effect upon him. He was gaining strength every day, however, when I left."
Philippa held out her hand. She had been looking curiously at their visitor.
"Helen, dear, afterwards we will get Mr. Lessingham to talk to us about Dick," she insisted. "First there are some questions which I must ask."
He bowed slightly and drew himself up. For a moment it seemed as though they were entering upon a duel—the slight, beautiful woman and the man in rags.
"Just now," she began, "you told us that you saw Major Felstead, my brother, fifty-six hours ago."
"That is so," he assented.
"But it is impossible!" she pointed out. "My brother is a prisoner of war in Germany."
"Precisely," he replied, "and not, I am afraid, under the happiest conditions, he has been unfortunate in his camp. Let us talk about him, shall we?"
"Are you mad," Helen demanded, "or are you trying to confuse us?"
"My dear young lady!" he protested. "Why suppose such a thing? I was flattering myself that my conversation and deportment were, under the circumstances, perfectly rational."
"But you are talking nonsense," Philippa insisted. "You say that you saw Major Felstead fifty-six hours ago. You cannot mean us to believe that fifty-six hours ago you were at Wittenberg."
"That is precisely what I have been trying to tell you," he agreed.
"But it isn't possible!" Helen gasped.
"Quite, I assure you," he continued; "in fact, we should have been here before but for a little uncertainty as to your armaments along the coast. There was a gun, we were told, somewhere near here, which we were credibly informed had once been fired without the slightest accident."
Philippa's eyes seemed to grow larger and rounder.
"He's raving!" she decided.
"He isn't!" Helen cried, with sudden divination. "Is that your hat?" she asked, pointing to the table where Nora had left her trophy.
"It is," he admitted with a smile, "but I do not think that I will claim it."
"You were in the observation car of that Zeppelin!"
Lessingham extended his hand.
"Softly, please," he begged. "You have, I gather, arrived at the truth, but for the moment shall it be our secret? I made an exceedingly uncomfortable, not to say undignified descent from the Zeppelin which passed over Dutchman's Common last night."
"Then," Philippa cried, "you are a German!"
"My dear lady, I have escaped that misfortune," Lessingham confessed. "Do you think that none other than Germans ride in Zeppelins?"
A new tenseness seemed to have crept into the situation. The conversation, never without its emotional tendencies, at once changed its character. Philippa, cold and reserved, with a threat lurking all the time in her tone and manner, became its guiding spirit.
"We may enquire your name?" she asked.
"I am the Baron Maderstrom," was the prompt reply. "For the purpose of my brief residence in this country, however, I fancy that the name of Mr. Hamar Lessingham might provoke less comment."
"Maderstrom," Philippa repeated. "You were at Magdalen with my brother."
"For three terms," he assented.
"You have visited at Wood Norton. It was only an accident, then, that I did not meet you."
"It is true," he answered, with a bow. "I received the most charming hospitality there from your father and mother."
"Why, you are the friend," Helen exclaimed, suddenly seizing his hands, "of whom Dick speaks in his letter!"
"It has been my great privilege to have been of service to Major Felstead," was the grave admission. "He and I, during our college days, were more than ordinarily intimate. I saw his name in one of the lists of prisoners, and I went at once to Wittenberg."
A fresh flood of questions was upon Helen's lips, but Philippa brushed her away.
"Please let me speak," she said. "You have brought us these letters from Richard, for which we offer you our heartfelt thanks, but you did not risk your liberty, perhaps your life, to come here simply as his ambassador. There is something beyond this in your visit to this country. You may be a Swede, but is it not true that at the present moment you are in the service of an enemy?"
Lessingham bowed acquiescence.
"You are entirely right," he murmured.
"Am I also right in concluding that you have some service to ask of us?"
"Your directness, dear lady, moves me to admiration," Lessingham assured her. "I am here to ask a trifling favour in return for those which I have rendered and those which I may yet render to your brother."
"And that favour?"
Their visitor looked down at his torn attire.
"A suit of your brother's clothes," he replied, "and a room in which to change. The disposal of these rags I may leave, I presume, to your ingenuity."
"It is my wish," he continued, "to remain in this neighbourhood for a short time—perhaps a fortnight and perhaps a month. I should value your introduction to the hotel here, and the extension of such hospitality as may seem fitting to you, under the circumstances."
"As Mr. Hamar Lessingham?"
"Beyond a doubt."
There was a moment's silence. Philippa's face had become almost stony. She took a step towards the telephone. Lessingham, however, held out his hand.
"Your purpose?" he enquired.
"I am going to ring up the Commandant here," she told him, "and explain your presence in this house."
"An heroic impulse," he observed, "but too impulsive."
"We shall see," she retorted. "Will you let me pass?"
His fingers restrained her as gently as possible.
"Let me make a reasonable appeal to both of you," he suggested. "I am here at your mercy. I promise you that under no circumstances will I attempt any measure of violence. From any fear of that, I trust my name and my friendship with your brother will be sufficient guarantee."
"Continue, then," Philippa assented.
"You will give me ten minutes in which to state my case," he begged.
"We must!" Helen exclaimed. "We must, Philippa! Please!"
"You shall have your ten minutes," Philippa conceded.
He abandoned his attitude of watchfulness and moved back on to the hearth-rug, his hands behind him. He addressed himself to Philippa. It was Philippa who had become his judge.
"I will claim nothing from you," he began, "for the services which I have rendered to Richard. Our friendship was a real thing, and, finding him in such straits, I would gladly, under any circumstances, have done all that I have done. I am well paid for this by the thanks which you have already proffered me."
"No thanks—nothing that we could do for you would be sufficient recompense," Helen declared energetically.
"Let me speak for a moment of the future," he continued. "Supposing you ring that telephone and hand me over to the authorities here? Well, that will be the end of me, without a doubt. You will have done what seemed to you to be the right thing, and I hope that that consciousness will sustain you, for, believe me, though it may not be at my will, your brother's life will most certainly answer for mine."
There was a slight pause. A sob broke from Helen's throat. Even Philippa's lip quivered.
"Forgive me," he went on, "if that sounds like a threat. It was not so meant. It is the simple truth. Let me hurry on to the future. I ask so little of you. It is my duty to live in this spot for one month. What harm can I do? You have no great concentration of soldiers here, no docks, no fortifications, no industry. And in return for the slight service of allowing me to remain here unmolested, I pledge my word that Richard shall be set at liberty and shall be here with you within two months."
Helen's face was transformed, her eyes glowed, her lips were parted with eagerness. She turned towards Philippa, her expression, her whole attitude an epitome of eloquent pleading.
"Philippa, you will not hesitate? You cannot?"
"I must," Philippa answered, struggling with her agitation. "I love Dick more dearly than anything else on earth, but just now, Helen, we have to remember, before everything, that we are English women. We have to put our human feelings behind us. We are learning every day to make sacrifices. You, too, must learn, dear. My answer to you, Baron Maderstrom—or Mr. Lessingham, as you choose to call yourself—is no."
"Philippa, you are mad!" Helen exclaimed passionately. "Didn't I have to realise all that you say when I let Dick go, cheerfully, the day after we were engaged? Haven't I realised the duty of cheerfulness and sacrifice through all these weary months? But there is a limit to these things, Philippa, a sense of proportion which must be taken into account. It's Dick's life which is in the balance against some intangible thing, nothing that we could ever reproach ourselves with, nothing that could bring real harm upon any one. Oh, I love my country, too, but I want Dick! I should feel like his murderess all my life, if I didn't consent!"
"It occurs to me," Lessingham remarked, turning towards Philippa, "that Miss Fairclough's point of view is one to be considered."
"Doesn't all that Miss Fairclough has said apply to me?" Philippa demanded, with a little break in her voice. "Richard is my twin brother, he is the dearest thing in life to me. Can't you realise, though, that what you ask of us is treason?"
"It really doesn't amount to that," Lessingham assured her. "In my own heart I feel convinced that I have come here on a fool's errand. No object that I could possibly attain in this neighbourhood is worth the life of a man like Richard Felstead."
"Oh, he's right!" Helen exclaimed. "Think, Philippa! What is there here which the whole world might not know? There are no secrets in Dreymarsh. We are miles away from everywhere. For my sake, Philippa, I implore you not to be unreasonable."
"In plain words," Lessingham intervened, "do not be quixotic, Lady Cranston. There is just an idea on one side, your brother's life on the other. You see, the scales do not balance."
"Can't you realise, though," Philippa answered, "what that idea means? It is part of one's soul that one gives when one departs from a principle."
"What are principles against love?" Helen demanded, almost fiercely. "A sister may prate about them, Philippa. A wife couldn't. I'd sacrifice every principle I ever had, every scrap of self-respect, myself and all that belongs to me, to save Dick's life!"
There was a brief, throbbing silence. Helen was feverishly clutching Philippa's hand. Lessingham's eyes were fixed upon the tortured face into which he gazed. There were no women like this in his own country.
"Dear lady," he said, and for the first time his own voice shook, "I abandon my arguments. I beg you to act as you think best for your own future happiness. The chances of life or death are not great things for either men like your brother or for me. I would not purchase my end, nor he his life, at the expense of your suffering. You see, I stand on one side. The telephone is there for your use."
"You shan't use it!" Helen cried passionately. "Phillipa, you shan't!"
Philippa turned towards her, and all the stubborn pride had gone out of her face. Her great eyes were misty with tears, her mouth was twitching with emotion. She threw her arms around Helen's neck.
"My dear, I can't! I can't!" she sobbed.
Philippa's breakdown was only momentary. With a few brusque words she brought the other two down to the level of her newly recovered equanimity.
"To be practical," she began, "we have no time to lose. I will go and get a suit of Dick's clothes, and, Helen, you had better take Mr. Lessingham into the gun room. Afterwards, perhaps you will have time to ring up the hotel."
Lessingham took a quick step towards her,—almost as though he were about to make some impetuous withdrawal. Philippa turned and met his almost pleading gaze. Perhaps she read there his instinct of self-abnegation.
"I am in command of the situation," she continued, a little more lightly. "Every one must please obey me. I shan't be more than five minutes."
She left the room, waving back Lessingham's attempt to open the door for her. He stood for a moment looking at the place where she had vanished. Then he turned round.
"Major Felstead's description," he said quietly, "did not do his sister justice."
"Philippa is a dear," Helen declared enthusiastically. "Just for a moment, though, I was terrified. She has a wonderful will."
"How long has she been married?"
"About six years."
"Are there—any children?"
Helen shook her head.
"Sir Henry had a daughter by his first wife, who lives with us."
"Six years!" Lessingham repeated. "Why, she seems no more than a child. Sir Henry must be a great deal her senior."
"Sixteen years," Helen told him. "Philippa is twenty-nine. And now, don't be inquisitive any more, please, and come with me. I want to show you where to change your clothes."
She opened a door on the other side of the room, and pointed to a small apartment across the passage.
"If you'll wait in there," she begged, "I'll bring the clothes to you directly they come. I am going to telephone now."
"So many thanks," he answered. "I should like a pleasant bedroom and sitting room, and a bathroom if possible. My luggage you will find already there. A friend in London has seen to that."
She looked at him curiously.
"You are very thorough, aren't you?" she remarked.
"The people of the country whom it is my destiny to serve all are," he replied. "One weak link, you know, may sometimes spoil the mightiest chain."
She closed the door and took up the telephone.
"Number three, please," she began. "Are you the hotel? The manager? Good! I am speaking for Lady Cranston. She wishes a sitting-room, bedroom and bath-room reserved for a friend of ours who is arriving to-day—a Mr. Hamar Lessingham. You have his luggage already, I believe. Please do the best you can for him.—Certainly.—Thank you very much."
She set down the receiver. The door was quickly opened and shut. Philippa reappeared, carrying an armful of clothes.
"Why, you've brought his grey suit," Helen cried in dismay, "the one he looks so well in!"
"Don't be an idiot," Philippa scoffed. "I had to bring the first I could find. Take them in to Mr. Lessingham, and for heaven's sake see that he hurries! Henry's train is due, and he may be here at any moment."
"I'll tell him," Helen promised. "I'll smuggle him out of the back way, if you like."
Philippa laughed a little drearily.
"A nice start that would be, if any one ever traced his arrival!" she observed. "No, we must try and get him away before Henry comes, but, if the worst comes to the worst, we'll have him in and introduce him. Henry isn't likely to notice anything," she added, a little bitterly.
Helen disappeared with the clothes and returned almost immediately, Philippa was sitting in her old position by the fire.
"You're not worrying about this, dear, are you?" the former asked anxiously.
"I don't know," Philippa replied, without turning her head. "I don't know what may come of it, Helen. I have a queer sort of feeling about that man."
Helen sighed. "I suppose," she confessed, "I am the narrowest person on earth. I can think of one thing, and one thing only. If Mr. Lessingham keeps his word, Dick will be here perhaps in a month, perhaps six weeks—certainly soon!"
"He will keep his word," Philippa said quietly. "He is that sort of man."
The door on the other side of the room was softly opened. Lessingham's head appeared.
"Could I have a necktie?" he asked diffidently. Philippa stretched out her hand and took one from the basket by her side.
"Better give him this," she said, handing it over to Helen. "It is one of Henry's which I was mending.—Stop!"
She put up her finger. They all listened.
"The car!" Philippa exclaimed, rising hastily to her feet. "That is Henry! Go out with Mr. Lessingham, Helen," she continued, "and wait until he is ready. Don't forget that he is an ordinary caller, and bring him in presently."
Helen nodded understandingly and hurried out.
Philippa moved a few steps towards the other door. In a moment it was thrown open. Nora appeared, with her arm through her father's.
"I went to meet him, Mummy," she explained. "No uniform—isn't it a shame!"
Sir Henry patted her cheek and turned to greet his wife. There was a shadow upon his bronzed, handsome face as he watched her rather hesitating approach.
"Sorry I couldn't catch your train, Phil," he told her. "I had to make a call in the city so I came down from Liverpool Street. Any luck?"
She held his hands, resisting for the moment his proffered embrace.
"Henry," she said earnestly, "do you know I am so much more anxious to hear your news."
"Mine will keep," he replied. "What about Richard?"
She shook her head.
"I spent the whole of my time making enquiries," she sighed, "and every one was fruitless. I failed to get the least satisfaction from any one at the War Office. They know nothing, have heard nothing."
"I'm ever so sorry to hear it," Sir Henry declared sympathetically. "You mustn't worry too much, though, dear. Where's Helen?"
"She is in the gun room with a caller."
"With a caller?" Nora exclaimed. "Is it any one from the Depot? I must go and see."
"You needn't trouble," her stepmother replied. "Here they are, coming in."
The door on the opposite side of the room was suddenly opened, and Hamar Lessingham and Helen entered together. Lessingham was entirely at his ease,—their conversation, indeed, seemed almost engrossing. He came at once across the room on realising Sir Henry's presence.
"This is Mr. Hamar Lessingham—my husband," Philippa said. "Mr. Lessingham was at college with Dick, Henry, so of course Helen and he have been indulging in all sorts of reminiscences."
The two men shook hands.
"I found time also to examine your Leech prints," Lessingham remarked. "You have some very admirable examples."
"Quite a hobby of mine in my younger days," Sir Henry admitted. "One or two of them are very good, I believe. Are you staying in these parts long, Mr. Lessingham?"
"Perhaps for a week or two," was the somewhat indifferent reply. "I am told that this is the most wonderful air in the world, so I have come down here to pull up again after a slight illness."
"A dreary spot just now," Sir Henry observed, "but the air's all right. Are you a sea-fisherman, by any chance, Mr. Lessingham?"
"I have done a little of it," the visitor confessed. Sir Henry's face lit up. He drew from his pocket a small, brown paper parcel.
"I don't mind telling you," he confided as he cut the string, "that I don't think there's another sport like it in the world. I have tried most of them, too. When I was a boy I was all for shooting, perhaps because I could never get enough. Then I had a season or two at Melton, though I was never much of a horseman. But for real, unadulterated excitement, for sport that licks everything else into a cocked hat, give me a strong sea rod, a couple of traces, just enough sea to keep on the bottom all the time, and the codling biting. Look here, did you ever see a mackerel spinner like that?" he added, drawing one out of the parcel which he had untied. "Look at it, all of you."
Lessingham took it gingerly in his fingers. Philippa, a little ostentatiously, turned her back upon the two men and took up a newspaper.
"Lady Cranston does not sympathize with my interest in any sort of sport just now," Sir Henry explained good-humouredly. "All the same I argue that one must keep one's mind occupied somehow or other."
"Quite right, Dad!" Nora agreed. "We must carry on, as the Colonel says. All the same, I did hope you'd come down in a new naval uniform, with lots of gold braid on your sleeve. I think they might have made you an admiral, Daddy, you'd look so nice on the bridge."
"I am afraid," her father replied, with his eyes glued upon the spinner which Lessingham was holding, "that that is a consideration which didn't seem to weigh with them much. Look at the glitter of it," he went on, taking up another of the spinners. "You see, it's got a double swivel, and they guarantee six hundred revolutions a minute."
"I must plead ignorance," Lessingham regretted, "of everything connected with mackerel spinning."
"It's fine sport for a change," Sir Henry declared. "The only thing is that if you strike a shoal one gets tired of hauling the beggars in. By-the-by, has Jimmy been up for me, Philippa? Have you heard whether there are any mackerel in?"
Philippa raised her eyebrows.
"Mackerel!" she repeated sarcastically.
"Have you any objection to the fish, dear?" Sir Henry enquired blandly.
Philippa made no reply. Her husband frowned and turned towards Lessingham.
"You see," he complained a little irritably, "my wife doesn't approve of my taking an interest even in fishing while the war's on, but, hang it all, what are you to do when you reach my age? Thinks I ought to be a special constable, don't you, Philippa?"
"Need we discuss this before Mr. Lessingham?" she asked, without looking up from her paper.
Lessingham promptly prepared to take his departure.
"See something more of you, I hope," Sir Henry remarked hospitably, as he conducted his guest to the door. "Where are you staying here?"
"At the hotel."
"I did not understand that there was more than one," Lessingham replied. "I simply wrote to The Hotel, Dreymarsh."
"There is only one hotel open, of course, Mr. Lessingham," Philippa observed, turning towards him. "Why do you ask such an absurd question, Henry? The 'Grand' is full of soldiers. Come and see us whenever you feel inclined, Mr. Lessingham."
"I shall certainly take advantage of your permission, Lady Cranston," were the farewell words of this unusual visitor as he bowed himself out.
Sir Henry moved to the sideboard and helped himself to a whisky and soda. Philippa laid down her newspaper and watched him as though waiting patiently for his return. Helen and Nora had already obeyed the summons of the dressing bell.
"Henry, I want to hear your news," she insisted. He threw himself into an easy-chair and turned over the contents of Philippa's workbasket.
"Where's that tie of mine you were mending?" he asked. "Is it finished yet?"
"It is upstairs somewhere," she replied. "No, I have not finished it. Why do you ask? You have plenty, haven't you?"
"Drawers full," he admitted cheerfully. "Half of them I can never wear, though. I like that black and white fellow. Your friend Lessingham was wearing one exactly like it."
"It isn't exactly an uncommon pattern," Philippa reminded him.
"Seems to have the family taste in clothes," Sir Henry continued, stroking his chin. "That grey tweed suit of his was exactly the same pattern as the suit Richard was wearing, the last time I saw him in mufti."
"They probably go to the same tailor," Philippa remarked equably.
Sir Henry abandoned the subject. He was once more engrossed in an examination of the mackerel spinners.
"You didn't answer my question about Jimmy Dumble," he ventured presently.
Philippa turned and looked at him. Her eyes were usually very sweet and soft and her mouth delightful. Just at that moment, however, there were new and very firm lines in her face.
"Henry," she said sternly, "you are purposely fencing with me. Mr. Lessingham's taste in clothes, or Jimmy Dumble's comings and goings, are not what I want to hear or talk about. You went to London, unwillingly enough, to keep your promise to me. I want to know whether you have succeeded in getting anything from the Admiralty?"
"Nothing but the cold shoulder, my dear," he answered with a little chuckle.
"Do you mean to say that they offered you nothing at all?" she persisted. "You may have been out of the service too long for them to start you with a modern ship, but surely they could have given you an auxiliary cruiser, or a secondary command of some sort?"
"They didn't even offer me a washtub, dear," he confessed. "My name's on a list, they said—"
"Oh, that list!" Philippa interrupted angrily. "Henry, I really can't bear it. Couldn't they find you anything on land?"
"My dear girl," he replied a little testily, "what sort of a figure should I cut in an office! No one can read my writing, and I couldn't add up a column of figures to save my life. What is it?" he added, as the door opened, and Mills made his appearance.
"Dumble is here to see you, sir."
"Show him in at once," his master directed with alacrity. "Come in, Jimmy," he went on, raising his voice. "I've got something to show you here."
Philippa's lips were drawn a little closer together. She swept past her husband on her way to the door.
"I hope you will be so good," she said, looking back, "as to spare me half an hour of your valuable time this evening. This is a subject which I must discuss with you further at once."
"As urgent as all that, eh?" Sir Henry replied, stopping to light a cigarette. "Righto! You can have the whole of my evening, dear, with the greatest of pleasure.—Now then, Jimmy!"
Jimmy Dumble possessed a very red face and an extraordinary capacity for silence. He stood a yard or two inside the room, twirling his hat in his hand. Sir Henry, after the closing of the door, did not for a moment address his visitor. There was a subtle but unmistakable change in his appearance as he stood with his hands in his pockets, and a frown on his forehead, whistling softly to himself, his eyes fixed upon the door through which his wife had vanished. He swung round at last towards the telephone.
"Stand by for a moment, Jimmy, will you?" he directed.
"Aye, aye, sir!"
Sir Henry took up the receiver. He dropped his voice a little, although it was none the less distinct.
"Number one—police-station, please.—Hullo there! The inspector about?—That you, Inspector?—Sir Henry Cranston speaking. Could you just step round?—Good! Tell them to show you straight into the library. You might just drop a hint to Mills about the lights, eh? Thank you."
He laid down the receiver and turned towards the fisherman.
"Well, Jimmy," he enquired, "all serene down in the village, eh?"
"So far as I've seen or heard, sir, there ain't been a word spoke as shouldn't be."
"A lazy lot they are," Sir Henry observed.
"They don't look far beyond the end of their noses."
"Maybe it's as well for us, sir, as they don't," was the cautious reply.
Sir Henry strolled to the further end of the room.
"Perhaps you are right, Jimmy," he admitted.
"That fellow Ben Oates seems to be the only one with ideas."
"He don't keep sober long enough to give us any trouble," Dumble declared. "He began asking me questions a few days ago, and I know he put Grice's lad on to find out which way we went last Saturday week, but that don't amount to anything. He was dead drunk for three days afterwards."
Sir Henry nodded.
"I'm not very frightened of Ben Oates, Jimmy," he confided, as he threw open the door of a large cabinet which stood against the further wall. "No strangers about, eh?"
"Not a sign of one, sir."
Sir Henry glanced towards the door and listened.
"Shall I just give the key a turn, sir?" his visitor asked.
"I don't think it is necessary," Sir Henry replied. "They've all gone up to change. Now listen to me, Jimmy."
He leaned forward and touched a spring. The false back of the cabinet, with its little array of flies, spinners, fishing hooks and tackle, slowly rolled back. Before them stood a huge chart, wonderfully executed in red, white and yellow.
"That's a marvellous piece of work, sir," the fisherman observed admiringly.
"Best thing I ever did in my life," Sir Henry agreed. "Now see here, Jimmy. We'll sail out tomorrow, or take the motor boat, according to the wind. We'll enter Langley Shallows there and pass Dead Man's Rock on the left side of the waterway, and keep straight on until we get Budden Wood on the church tower. You follow me?"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"We make for the headland from there. You see, we shall be outside the Gidney Shallows, and number twelve will pick us up. Put all the fishing tackle in the boat, and don't forget the bait. We must never lose sight of the fact, Jimmy, that the main object of our lives is to catch fish."
"That's right, sir," was the hearty assent.
"We'll be off at seven o'clock sharp, then," Sir Henry decided.
"The tide'll be on the flow by that time," Jimmy observed, "and we'll get off from the staith breakwater. That do be a fine piece of work and no mistake," he added, as the false back of the cabinet glided slowly to its place.
Sir Henry chuckled.
"It's nothing to the one I've got on number twelve, Jimmy," he said. "I've got the seaweed on that, pretty well. You'll take a drop of whisky on your way out?" he added. "Mills will look after you."
"I thank you kindly, sir."
Mills answered the bell with some concern in his face.
"The inspector is here to see you, sir," he announced. "He did mention something about the lights. I'm sure we've all been most careful. Even her ladyship has only used a candle in her bedroom."
"Show the inspector in," Sir Henry directed, "and I'll hear what he has to say. And give Dumble some whisky as he goes out, and a cigar."
"Wishing you good night, sir," the latter said, as he followed Mills. "I'll be punctual in the morning. Looks to me as though we might have good sport."
"We'll hope for it, anyway, Jimmy," his employer replied cheerfully. "Come in, Inspector."
The inspector, a tall, broad-shouldered man, saluted and stood at attention. Sir Henry nodded affably and glanced towards the door. He remained silent until Mills and Dumble had disappeared.
"Glad I happened to catch you, Inspector," he observed, sitting on the edge of the table and helping himself to another cigarette. "Any fresh arrivals?"
"None, sir," the man reported, "of any consequence that I can see. There are two more young officers for the Depot, and the young lady for the Grange, and Mr. and Mrs. Silvester returned home last night. There was a commercial traveller came in the first train this morning, but he went on during the afternoon."
"Hm! What about a Mr. Lessingham—a Mr. Hamar Lessingham?"
"I haven't heard of him, sir."
"Have you had the registration papers down from the hotel yet?"
"Not this evening, sir. I met the Midland and Great Northern train in myself. Her ladyship was the only passenger to alight here."
"And I came the other way myself," Sir Henry reflected.
"Now you come to mention the matter, sir," the inspector continued, "I was up at the hotel this afternoon, and I saw some luggage about addressed to a name somewhat similar to that."
"Probably sent on in advance, eh?"
"There could be no other way, sir," the inspector replied, "unless the registration paper has been mislaid. I'll step up to the hotel this evening and make sure."
"You'll oblige me very much, if you will. By Jove," Sir Henry added, looking towards the door, "I'd no idea it was so late!"
Philippa, who had changed her travelling dress for a plain black net gown, was standing in the doorway. She looked at the inspector, and for a moment the little colour which she had seemed to disappear.
"Is anything the matter?" she asked breathlessly.
"Nothing in the world, my dear," her husband assured her. "I am frightfully sorry I'm so late. Jimmy stayed some time, and then the inspector here looked in about our lights. Just a little more care in this room at night, he thinks. We'll see to it, Inspector."
"I am very much obliged, sir," the man replied. "Sorry to be under the necessity of mentioning it."
Sir Henry opened the door.
"You'll find your own way out, won't you?" he begged. "I'm a little late."
The inspector saluted and withdrew. Sir Henry glanced round.
"I won't be ten minutes, Philippa," he promised. "I had no idea it was so late."
"Come here one moment, please," she insisted.
He came back into the room and stood on the other side of the small table near which she had paused.
"What is it, dear?" he enquired. "We are going to leave our talk till after dinner, aren't we?"
She looked him in the face. There was an anxious light in her eyes, and she was certainly not herself. "Of course! I only wanted to know—it seemed to me that you broke off in what you were saying to the inspector, as I came into the room. Are you sure that it was the lights he came around about? There isn't anything else wrong, is there?"
"What else could there be?" he asked wonderingly.
"I have no idea," she replied, with well-simulated indifference. "I was only asking you whether there was anything else?"
He shook his head.
She threw herself into an easy-chair and picked up a magazine.
"Thank you," she said. "Do hurry, please. I have a new cook and she asked particularly whether we were punctual people."
"Six minutes will see me through it," Sir Henry promised, making for the door. "Come to think of it, I missed my lunch. I think I'll manage it in five."
Sir Henry was in a pleasant and expansive humour that evening. The new cook was an unqualified success, and he was conscious of having dined exceedingly well. He sat in a comfortable easy-chair before a blazing wood fire, he had just lit one of his favourite brand of cigarettes, and his wife, whom he adored, was seated only a few feet away.
"Quite a remarkable change in Helen," he observed. "She was in the depths of depression when I went away, and to-night she seems positively cheerful."
"Helen varies a great deal," Philippa reminded him.
"Still, to-night, I must say, I should have expected to have found her more depressed than ever," Sir Henry went on. "She hoped so much from your trip to London, and you apparently accomplished nothing."
"Nothing at all."
"And you have had no letters?"
"Then Helen's high spirits, I suppose, are only part of woman's natural inconsistency.—Philippa, dear!"
"I am glad to be at home. I am glad to see you sitting there. I know you are nursing up something, some little thunderbolt to launch at me. Won't you launch it and let's get it over?"
Philippa laid down the book which she had been reading, and turned to face her husband. He made a little grimace.
"Don't look so severe," he begged. "You frighten me before you begin."
"I'm sorry," she said, "but my face probably reflects my feelings. I am hurt and grieved and disappointed in you, Henry."
"That's a good start, anyway," he groaned.
"We have been married six years," Philippa went on, "and I admit at once that I have been very happy. Then the war came. You know quite well, Henry, that especially at that time I was very, very fond of you, yet it never occurred to me for a moment but that, like every other woman, I should have to lose my husband for a time.—Stop, please," she insisted, as he showed signs of interrupting. "I know quite well that it was through my persuasions you retired so early, but in those days there was no thought of war, and I always had it in my mind that if trouble came you would find your way back to where you belonged."
"But, my dear child, that is all very well," Sir Henry protested, "but it's not so easy to get back again. You know very well that I went up to the Admiralty and offered my services, directly the war started."
"Yes, and what happened?" Philippa demanded. "You were, in a measure, shelved. You were put on a list and told that you would hear from them—a sort of Micawber-like situation with which you were perfectly satisfied. Then you took that moor up in Scotland and disappeared for nearly six months."
"I was supplying the starving population with food," he reminded her genially. "We sent about four hundred brace of grouse to market, not to speak of the salmon. We had some very fair golf, too, some of the time."
"Oh, I have not troubled to keep any exact account of your diversions!" Philippa said scornfully. "Sometimes," she continued, "I wonder whether you are quite responsible, Henry. How you can even talk of these things when every man of your age and strength is fighting one way or another for his country, seems marvellous to me. Do you realise that we are fighting for our very existence? Do you realise that my own father, who is fifteen years older than you, is in the firing line? This is a small place, of course, but there isn't a man left in it of your age, with your physique, who has had the slightest experience in either service, who isn't doing something."
"I can't do more than send in applications," he grumbled. "Be reasonable, my dear Philippa. It isn't the easiest thing in the world to find a job for a sailor who has been out of it as long as I have."
"So you say, but when they ask me what you are doing, as they all did in London this time, and I reply that you can't get a job, there is generally a polite little silence. No one believes it. I don't believe it."
Sir Henry turned in his chair. His cigar was burning now idly between his fingers. His heavy eyebrows were drawn together.
"Well, I don't," she reiterated. "You can be angry, if you will—in fact I think I should prefer you to be angry. You take no pains at the Admiralty. You just go there and come away again, once a year or something like that. Why, if I were you, I wouldn't leave the place until they'd found me something—indoors or outdoors, what does it matter so long as your hand is on the wheel and you are doing your little for your country? But you—what do you care? You went to town to get a job—and you come back with new mackerel spinners! You are off fishing to-morrow morning with Jimmy Dumble. Somewhere up in the North Sea, to-day and to-morrow and the next day, men are giving their lives for their country. What do you care? You will sit there smoking your pipe and catching dabs!"
"Do you know you are almost offensive, Philippa?" her husband said quietly.
"I want to be," she retorted. "I should like you to feel that I am. In any case, this will probably be the last conversation I shall hold with you on the subject."
"Well, thank God for that, anyway!" he observed, strolling to the chimneypiece and selecting a pipe from a rack. "I think you've said about enough."
"I haven't finished," she told him ominously.
"Then for heaven's sake get on with it and let's have it over," he begged.
"Oh, you're impossible!" Philippa exclaimed bitterly. "Listen. I give you one chance more. Tell me the truth? Is there anything in your health of which I do not know? Is there any possible explanation of your extraordinary behaviour which, for some reason or other, you have kept to yourself? Give me your whole confidence."
Sir Henry, for a moment, was serious enough. He stood looking down at her a little wistfully.
"My dear," he told her, "I have nothing to say except this. You are my very precious wife. I have loved you and trusted you since the day of our marriage. I am content to go on loving and trusting you, even though things should come under my notice which I do not understand. Can't you accept me the same way?"
Philippa, momentarily uneasy, was nevertheless rebellious.
"Accept you the same way? How can I! There is nothing in my life to compare in any way with the tragedy of your—"
She paused, as though unwilling to finish the sentence. He waited patiently, however, for her to proceed.
"Of my what?"
"Lethargy," she pronounced triumphantly.
"An excellent word," he murmured.
"It is too mild a one, but you are my husband," she remarked.
"That reminds me," he said quietly. "You are my wife."
"I know it," she admitted, "but I am also a woman, and there are limits to my endurance. If you can give me no explanation of your behaviour, Henry, if you really have no intention of changing it, then there is only one course left open for me."
"That sounds rather alarming—what is it?" he demanded.
Philippa lifted her head a little. This was the pronouncement towards which she had been leading.
"From to-day," she declared, "I cease to be your wife."
His fingers paused in the manipulation of the tobacco with which he was filling his pipe. He turned and looked at her.
"I cease to be your wife."
"How do you manage that?" he asked.
"Don't jest," she begged. "It hurts me so. What I mean is surely plain enough. I will continue to live under your roof if you wish it, or I am perfectly willing to go back to Wood Norton. I will continue to bear your name because I must, but the other ties between us are finished."
"You don't mean this, Philippa," he said gravely.
"But I do mean it," she insisted. "I mean every word I have spoken. So far as I am concerned, Henry, this is your last chance."
There was a knock at the door. Mills entered with a note upon a salver. Sir Henry took it up, glanced questioningly at his wife, and tore open the envelope.
"There will be no answer, Mills," he said.
The man withdrew. Sir Henry read the few lines thoughtfully:—
Police-station, Dreymarsh SIR,
According to enquiries made I find that Mr. Hamar Lessingham arrived at the Hotel this evening in time for dinner. His luggage arrived by rail yesterday. It is presumed that he came by motor-car, but there is no car in the garage, nor any mention of one. His room was taken for him by Miss Fairclough, ringing up for Lady Cranston about seven o'clock.
Respectfully yours, JOHN HAYLOCK.
"Is your note of interest?" Philippa enquired.
"In a sense, yes," he replied, thrusting it into his waistcoat pocket. "I presume we can consider our late subject of conversation finished with?"
"I have nothing more to say," she pronounced.
"Very well, then," her husband agreed, "let us select another topic. This time, supposing I choose?"
"You are welcome."
"Let us converse, then, about Mr. Hamar Lessingham."
Philippa had taken up her work. Her fingers ceased their labours, but she did not look up.
"About Mr. Hamar Lessingham," she repeated. "Rather a limited subject, I am afraid."
"I am not so sure," he said thoughtfully. "For instance, who is he?"
"I have no idea," she replied. "Does it matter? He was at college with Richard, and he has been a visitor at Wood Norton. That is all that we know. Surely it is sufficient for us to offer him any reasonable hospitality?"
"I am not disputing it," Sir Henry assured her. "On the face of it, it seems perfectly reasonable that you should be civil to him. On the other hand, there are one or two rather curious points about his coming here just now."
"Really?" Philippa murmured indifferently, bending a little lower over her work.
"In the first place," her husband continued, "how did he arrive here?"
"For all I know," she replied, "he may have walked."
"A little unlikely. Still, he didn't come from London by either of the evening trains, and it seems that you didn't take his rooms for him until about seven o'clock, before which time he hadn't been to the hotel. So, you see, one is driven to wonder how the mischief he did get here."
"I took his rooms?" Philippa repeated, with a sudden little catch at her heart.
"Some one from here rang up, didn't they?" Sir Henry went on carelessly. "I gathered that we were introducing him at the hotel."
"Where did you hear that?" she demanded.
He shrugged his shoulders, but avoided answering the question.
"I have no doubt," he continued, "that the whole subject of Mr. Hamar Lessingham is scarcely worth discussing. Yet he does seem to have arrived here under a little halo of coincidence."
"I am afraid I have scarcely appreciated that," Philippa remarked; "in fact, his coming here has seemed to me the most ordinary thing in the world. After all, although one scarcely remembers that since the war, this is a health resort, and the man has been ill."
"Quite right," Sir Henry agreed. "You are not going to bed, dear?"
Philippa had folded up her work. She stood for a moment upon the hearth-rug. The little hardness which had tightened her mouth had disappeared, her eyes had softened.
"May I say just one word more," she begged, "about our previous—our only serious subject of conversation? I have tried my best since we were married, Henry, to make you happy."
"You know quite well," he assured her, "that you have succeeded."
"Grant me one favour, then," she pleaded. "Give up your fishing expedition to-morrow, go back to London by the first train and let me write to Lord Rayton. I am sure he would do something for you."
"Of course he'd do something!" Her husband groaned. "I should get a censorship in Ireland, or a post as instructor at Portsmouth."
"Wouldn't you rather take either of those than nothing?" she asked, "than go on living the life you are living now?"
"To be perfectly frank with you, Philippa, I wouldn't," he declared bluntly. "What on earth use should I be in a land appointment? Why, no one could read my writing, and my nautical science is entirely out of date. Why a cadet at Osborne could floor me in no time."
"You refuse to let me write, then?" she persisted.
"You intend to go on that fishing expedition with Jimmy Dumble to-morrow?"
"Wouldn't miss it for anything," he confessed.
Philippa was suddenly white with anger.
"Henry, I've finished," she declared, holding out her hand to keep him away from her. "I've finished with you entirely. I would rather be married to an enemy who was fighting honourably for his country than to you. What I have said, I mean. Don't come near me. Don't try to touch me."
She swept past him on her way to the door.
"Not even a good-night kiss?" he asked, stooping down.
She looked him in the eyes.
"I am not a child," she said scornfully.
He closed the door after her. For a moment he remained as though undecided whether to follow or not. His face had softened with her absence. Finally, however, he turned away with a little shrug of the shoulders, threw himself into his easy-chair and began to smoke furiously.
The telephone bell disturbed his reflection. He rose at once and took up the receiver.
"Yes, this is 19, Dreymarsh. Trunk call? All right, I am here."
He waited until another voice came to him faintly.
"That's right. The message is Odino Berry, you understand? O-d-i-n-o b-e-r-r-y."
"I've got it," Sir Henry replied. "Good night!" He hung up the receiver, crossed the room to his desk, unlocked one of the drawers, and produced a black memorandum book, secured with a brass lock. He drew a key from his watch chain, opened the book, and ran his fingers down the O's.
"Odino," he muttered to himself. "Here it is: 'We have trustworthy information from Berlin.' Now Berry." He turned back. "'You are being watched by an enemy secret service agent.'"
He relocked the cipher book and replaced it in the desk. Then he strolled over to his easy-chair and helped himself to a whisky and soda from the tray which Mills had just arranged upon the sideboard.
"We have trustworthy information from Berlin," he repeated to himself, "that you are being watched by an enemy secret service agent."
"Tell me, Mr. Lessingham," Philippa insisted, "exactly what are you thinking of? You looked so dark and mysterious from the ridge below that I've climbed up on purpose to ask you."
Lessingham held out his hand to steady her. They were standing on a sharp spur of the cliffs, the north wind blowing in their faces, thrashing into little flecks of white foam the sea below, on which the twilight was already resting. For a moment or two neither of them could speak.
"I was thinking of my country," he confessed. "I was looking through the shadows there, right across the North Sea."
He shook his head.
"Further away—to Sweden."
"I forgot," she murmured. "You looked as though you were posing for a statue of some one in exile," she observed. "Come, let us go a little lower down—unless you want to stay here and be blown to pieces."
"I was on my way back to the hotel," he answered quickly, as he followed her lead, "but to tell you the truth I was feeling a little lonely."
"That," she declared, "is your own fault. I asked you to come to Mainsail Haul whenever you felt inclined."
"As I have felt inclined ever since the evening I arrived," he remarked with a smile, "you might, perhaps, by this time have had a little too much of me."
"On the contrary," she told him, "I quite expected you yesterday afternoon, to tell me how you like the place and what you have been doing. So you were thinking about—over there?" she added, moving her head seawards.
"Over there absorbs a great deal of one's thoughts," he confessed, "and the rest of them have been playing me queer tricks."
"Well, I should like to hear about the first half," she insisted.
"Do you know," he replied, "there are times when even now this war seems to me like an unreal thing, like something I have been reading about, some wild imagining of Shelley or one of the unrestrainable poets. I can't believe that millions of the flower of Germany's manhood and yours have perished helplessly, hopelessly, cruelly. And France—poor decimated France!"
"Well, Germany started the war, you know," she reminded him.
"Did she?" he answered. "I sometimes wonder. Even now I fancy, if the official papers of every one of the nations lay side by side, with their own case stated from their own point of view, even you might feel a little confused about that. Still, I am going to be very honest with you. I think myself that Germany wanted war."
"There you are, then," she declared triumphantly. "The whole thing is her responsibility."
"I do not quite go so far as that," he protested. "You see, the world is governed by great natural laws. As a snowball grows larger with rolling, so it takes up more room. As a child grows out of its infant clothes, it needs the vestments of a youth and then a man. And so with Germany. She grew and grew until the country could not hold her children, until her banks could not contain her money, until she stretched her arms out on every side and felt herself stifled. Germany came late into the world and found it parcelled out, but had she not a right to her place? She made herself great. She needed space."
"Well," Philippa observed, "you couldn't suppose that other nations were going to give up what they had, just because she wanted their possessions, could you?"
"Perhaps not," he admitted. "And yet, you see, the immutable law comes in here. The stronger must possess—not only the stronger by arms, mind, but by intellect, by learning, by proficiency in science, by utilitarianism. The really cruel part, the part I was thinking of then, as I looked out across the sea, is that this crude and miserable resort to arms should be necessary."
"If only Germans themselves were as broad-minded and reasonable as you," Philippa sighed, "one feels that there might be some hope for the future!"
"I am not alone," he assured her, "but, you see, all over Germany there is spread like a spider's web the lay religion of the citizen—devotion to the Government, blind obedience to the Kaiser. Independent thought has made Germany great in science, in political economy, in economics. But independent thought is never turned towards her political destinies. Those are shaped for her. For good or for evil her children have learnt obedience."
They were descending the hillside now. At their feet lay the little town, black and silent.
"You have helped me to understand a little," Philippa said. "You put things so gently and yet so clearly. Now tell me, will you not, how it is that you, who are a Swede by birth, are bearing arms for Germany?"
"That is very simple," he confessed. "My mother was a German, and when she died she bequeathed to me large estates in Bavaria, and a very considerable fortune. These I could never have inherited unless I had chosen to do my military service in Germany. My family is an impoverished one, and I have brothers and sisters dependent upon me. Under the circumstances, hesitation on my part was impossible."
"But when the war came?" she queried.
He looked at her in surprise.
"What was there left for me then?" he demanded. "Naturally I heard nothing but the voice of those whom I had sworn to obey. I was in that mad rush through Belgium. I was wounded at Maubeuge, or else I should have followed hard on the heels of that wonderful retreat of yours. As it was, I lay for many months in hospital. I joined again—shall I confess it?—almost unwillingly. The bloodthirstiness of it all sickened me. I fought at Ypres, but I think that it was something of the courage of despair, of black misery. I was wounded again and decorated. I suppose I shall never be fit for the front again. I tried to turn to account some of my knowledge of England and English life. Then they sent me here."
"Here, of all places in the world!" Philippa repeated wonderingly. "Just look at us! We have a single line of railway, a perfectly straightforward system of roads, the ordinary number of soldiers being trained, no mysteries, no industries—nothing. What terrible scheme are you at work upon, Mr. Lessingham?"
"Between you and me," he confided, "I am not at all sure that I am not here on a fool's errand—at least I thought so when I arrived."
She glanced up at him.
"And why not now?"
He made no answer, but their eyes met and Philippa looked hurriedly away. There was a moment's queer, strained silence. Before them loomed up the outline of Mainsail Haul.
"You will come in and have some tea, won't you?" she invited.
"If I may. Believe me," he added, "it has only been a certain diffidence that has kept me away so long."
She made no reply, and they entered the house together. They found Helen and Nora, with three or four young men from the Depot, having tea in the drawing-room. Lessingham slipped very easily into the pleasant little circle. If a trifle subdued, his quiet manners, and a sense of humour which every now and then displayed itself, were most attractive.
"Wish you'd come and dine with us and meet our colonel, sir," Harrison asked him. "He was at Magdalen a few years after Major Felstead, and I am sure you'd find plenty to talk about."
"I am quite sure that we should," Lessingham replied. "May I come, perhaps, towards the end of next week? I am making most strenuous efforts to lead an absolutely quiet life here."
"Whenever you like, sir. We sha'n't be able to show you anything very wild in the way of dissipation. Vintage port and a decent cigar are the only changes we can make for guests."
Philippa drew her visitor on one side presently, and made him sit with her in a distant corner of the room.
"I knew there was something I wanted to say to you," she began, "but somehow or other I forgot when I met you. My husband was very much struck with Helen's improved spirits. Don't you think that we had better tell him, when he returns, that we had heard from Major Felstead?"
"Just let him think that your letters came by post in the ordinary way," he advised. "I shouldn't imagine, from what I have seen of your husband, that he is a suspicious person, but it is just possible that he might have associated them with me if you had mentioned them the other night. When is he coming back?"
"I never know," Philippa answered with a sigh. "Perhaps to-night, perhaps in a week. It depends upon what sport he is having. You are not smoking."
Lessingham lit a cigarette.
"I find your husband," he said quietly, "rather an interesting type. We have no one like that in Germany. He almost puzzles me."
Philippa glanced up to find her companion's dark eyes fixed upon her.
"There is very little about Henry that need puzzle any one," she complained bitterly. "He is just an overgrown, spoilt child, devoted to amusements, and following his fancy wherever it leads him. Why do you look at me, Mr. Lessingham, as though you thought I was keeping something back? I am not, I can assure you."
"Perhaps I was wondering," he confessed, "how you really felt towards a husband whose outlook was so unnatural."
She looked down at her intertwined fingers.
"Do you know," she said softly, "I feel, somehow or other, although we have known one another such a short time, as though we were friends, and yet that is a question which I could not answer. A woman must always have some secrets, you know."
"A man may try sometimes to preserve his," he sighed, "but a woman is clever enough, as a rule, to dig them out."
A faint tinge of colour stole into her cheeks. She welcomed Helen's approach almost eagerly.
"A woman must first feel the will," she murmured, without glancing at him. "Helen, do you think we dare ask Mr. Lessingham to come and dine?"
"Please do not discourage such a delightful suggestion," Lessingham begged eagerly.
"I haven't the least idea of doing so," Helen laughed, "so long as I may have—say just ten minutes to talk about Dick."
"It is a bargain," he promised.
"We shall be quite alone," Philippa warned him, "unless Henry arrives."
"It is the great attraction of your invitation," he confessed.
"At eight o'clock, then."
"Captain Griffiths to see your ladyship."
Philippa's fingers rested for a moment upon the keyboard of the piano before which she was seated, awaiting Lessingham's arrival. Then she glanced at the clock. It was ten minutes to eight.
"You can show him in, Mills, if he wishes to see me."
Captain Griffiths was ushered into the room—awkward, unwieldly, nervous as usual. He entered as though in a hurry, and there was nothing in his manner to denote that he had spent the last few hours making up his mind to this visit.
"I must apologise for this most untimely call, Lady Cranston," he said, watching the closing of the door. "I will not take up more than five minutes of your time."
"We are very pleased to see you at any time, Captain Griffiths," Philippa said hospitably. "Do sit down, please."
Captain Griffiths bowed but remained standing.
"It is very near your dinner-time, I know, Lady Cranston," he continued apologetically. "The fact of it is, however, that as Commandant here it is my duty to examine the bona fides of any strangers in the place. There is a gentleman named Lessingham staying at the hotel, who I understand gave your name as reference."
Philippa's eyes looked larger than ever, and her face more innocent, as she gazed up at her visitor.
"Why, of course, Captain Griffiths," she said. "Mr. Lessingham was at college with my brother, and one of his best friends. He has shot down at my father's place in Cheshire."