“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.”