In a shadowy sort of way the truth began to dawn upon Richard. His tone became grimmer and his manner more menacing.
“Maderstrom,” he said, “we met last under different circumstances. I will admit that I cut a poor figure, but mine was at least an honourable imprisonment. I am not so sure that yours is an honourable freedom.”
Philippa laid her hand upon her brother’s arm.
“Dick, dear, do remember that they were starving you to death!” she begged.
“You would never have lived through it,” Helen echoed.
“You are talking to Mr. Lessingham,” Philippa protested, “as though he were an enemy, instead of the best friend you ever had in your life.”
Richard waved them away.
“You must leave this to us,” he insisted. “Maderstrom and I will be able to understand one another, at any rate. What are you doing in this house—in England? What is your mission here?”
“Whatever it may have been, it is accomplished,” Lessingham said gravely. “At the present moment, my plans are to leave your country to-night.”
“Accomplished?” Richard repeated. “What the devil do you mean? Accomplished? Are you playing the spy in this country?”
“You would probably consider my mission espionage,” Lessingham admitted.
“And you have brought it to a successful conclusion?”
Philippa threw her arms around her brother’s neck. “Dick,” she pleaded, “please listen. Mr. Lessingham has been here, in this district, ever since he landed in England. What possible harm could he do? We haven’t a single secret to be learned. Everybody knows where our few guns are. Everybody knows where our soldiers are quartered. We haven’t a harbour or any secret fortifications. We haven’t any shipping information which it would be of the least use signalling anywhere. Mr. Lessingham has spent his time amongst trifles here. Take Helen away somewhere and forget that you have seen him in the house. Remember that he has saved Henry’s life as well as yours.”
“I invite no consideration upon that account,” Lessingham declared. “All that I did for you in Germany, I did, or should have attempted to do, for my old friend. Your release was different. I am forced to admit that it was the price paid for my sojourn here. I will only ask you to remember that the bargain was made without your knowledge, and that you are in no way responsible for it.”
“A price,” Richard pronounced fiercely, “which I refuse to pay!”
Lessingham shrugged his shoulders.
“The alternative,” he confessed, “is in your hands.”
Richard moved towards the telephone.
“I am sorry, Maderstrom,” he said, “but my duty is clear. Who is Commandant here, Philippa?”
Philippa stood between her brother and the telephone. There was a queer, angry patch of colour in her cheeks. Her eyes were on fire.