“I can not, of course, explain everything to you,” he began, in a tone of unusual restraint, “but I do know that for the last two years your husband has been responsible to the Admiralty for most of the mine fields around your east coast. To begin with, his stay in Scotland was a sham. He was most of the time with the fleet and round the coasts. His fishing excursions from here have been of the same order, only more so. All the places of importance, from here to the mouth of the Thames, have been mined, or rather the approaches to them have been mined, under his instructions. My mission in this country, here at Dreymarsh—do not shrink from me if you can help it—was to obtain a copy of his mine protection scheme of a certain town on the east coast.”
“Why should I shrink from you?” she murmured. “This is all too wonderful! What a little beast Henry must think me!” she added, with truly feminine and marvellously selfish irrelevance.
“You and Miss Fairclough,” Lessingham went on, “have rather scoffed at my presence here on behalf of our Secret Service. It seemed to you both very ridiculous. Now you understand.”
“It makes no difference,” Philippa protested tearfully. “You always told us the truth.”
“And I shall continue to do so,” Lessingham assured her. “I am not a clever person at my work which is all new to me, but fortune favoured me the night your husband was shipwrecked. I succeeded in stealing from him, on board that wrecked trawler, the plan of the mine field which I was sent over to procure.”
“Of course you had to do it if you could,” Philippa sobbed. “I think it was very clever of you.”
“There are others who might look at the matter differently,” he said. “I am going to ask you a question which I know is unnecessary, but I must have your answer to take away with me. If you had known all the time that your husband, instead of being a skulker, as you thought him, was really doing splendid work for his country, you would not have listened to me for one moment, would you? You would not have let me grow to love you?”
She clutched his hands.
“You are the dearest man in the world,” she exclaimed, her lips still quivering, “but, as you say, you know the answer. I was always in love with Henry. It was because I loved him that I was so furious. I liked you so much that it was mean of me ever to think of—of what so nearly happened.”
“So nearly happened!” he repeated, with a sudden access of the bitterest self-pity.
Once more the low, warning hoot of the motor horn, this time a little more impatient, broke the silence. Philippa was filled with an unreasoning terror.
“You must go!” she implored. “You must go this minute! If they were to take you, I couldn’t bear it. And that man Griffiths—he has sworn that if he can not get the Government authority, he will shoot you!”