“You see,” he went on, his own voice a little unsteady, “this is one of those moments in both our lives when anything except the exact truth would mean shipwreck. You still love your husband?”
“I am such a fool!” she sobbed, clutching at his arm.
“You were willing to go away with me,” he continued mercilessly, “partly because of the anger you felt towards him, and partly out of revenge, and just a little because you liked me. Is that not so?”
Her head pressed upon his arm. She nodded. It was just that convulsive movement of her head, with its wealth of wonderful hair and its plain black motoring hat, which dealt the death-blow to his hopes. She was just a child once more—and she trusted him.
“Very well, then,” he said, “just let me think—for a moment.”
She understood enough not to raise her head. Lessingham was gazing out through the chaotic shadows of the distant banks of clouds from which the moon was rising. Already the pain had begun, and yet with it was that queer sense of exaltation which comes with sacrifice.
“We have been very nearly foolish,” he told her, with grave kindliness. “It is well, perhaps, that we were in time. Those windows which lead into your library,—through which I first came to you, by-the-by,—” he added, with a strange, reminiscent little sigh, “are they open?”
“Yes!” she whispered.
“Come, then,” he invited. “Before I leave there is something I want to make clear to you.”
They made their way rather like two conspirators along the little terraced walk. Philippa opened the window and closed it again behind them. The room was empty. Lessingham, watching her closely, almost groaned as he saw the wonderful relief in her face. She threw off the cloak, and he groaned again as he remembered how nearly it had been his task to remove it. In her plain travelling dress, she turned and looked at him very pathetically.
“You have, perhaps, a morning paper here?” he enquired.
“A newspaper? Why, yes, the Times,” she answered, a little surprised.
He took it from the table towards which she pointed, and held it under the lamplight. Presently he called to her. His forefinger rested upon a certain column.
“Read this,” he directed.
She read it out in a tone which passed from surprise to blank wonder:
Commander Sir Henry Cranston, Baronet, to receive the D.S.O. for special services, and to be promoted to the rank of Acting Rear-Admiral.
“What does it mean?” she asked feverishly. “Henry? A D.S.O. for Henry for special services?”
“It means,” he told her, with a forced smile, “that your husband is, as you put it in your expressive language, a fraud.”
For a moment Philippa was unsteady upon her feet. Lessingham led her to a chair. From outside came the low, cautious hooting of the motor horn, calling to its dilatory passenger.