“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.