“Yes, and what happened?” Philippa demanded. “You were, in a measure, shelved. You were put on a list and told that you would hear from them—a sort of Micawber-like situation with which you were perfectly satisfied. Then you took that moor up in Scotland and disappeared for nearly six months.”
“I was supplying the starving population with food,” he reminded her genially. “We sent about four hundred brace of grouse to market, not to speak of the salmon. We had some very fair golf, too, some of the time.”
“Oh, I have not troubled to keep any exact account of your diversions!” Philippa said scornfully. “Sometimes,” she continued, “I wonder whether you are quite responsible, Henry. How you can even talk of these things when every man of your age and strength is fighting one way or another for his country, seems marvellous to me. Do you realise that we are fighting for our very existence? Do you realise that my own father, who is fifteen years older than you, is in the firing line? This is a small place, of course, but there isn’t a man left in it of your age, with your physique, who has had the slightest experience in either service, who isn’t doing something.”
“I can’t do more than send in applications,” he grumbled. “Be reasonable, my dear Philippa. It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to find a job for a sailor who has been out of it as long as I have.”
“So you say, but when they ask me what you are doing, as they all did in London this time, and I reply that you can’t get a job, there is generally a polite little silence. No one believes it. I don’t believe it.”
Sir Henry turned in his chair. His cigar was burning now idly between his fingers. His heavy eyebrows were drawn together.
“Well, I don’t,” she reiterated. “You can be angry, if you will —in fact I think I should prefer you to be angry. You take no pains at the Admiralty. You just go there and come away again, once a year or something like that. Why, if I were you, I wouldn’t leave the place until they’d found me something—indoors or outdoors, what does it matter so long as your hand is on the wheel and you are doing your little for your country? But you —what do you care? You went to town to get a job—and you come back with new mackerel spinners! You are off fishing to-morrow morning with Jimmy Dumble. Somewhere up in the North Sea, to-day and to-morrow and the next day, men are giving their lives for their country. What do you care? You will sit there smoking your pipe and catching dabs!”
“Do you know you are almost offensive, Philippa?” her husband said quietly.
“I want to be,” she retorted. “I should like you to feel that I am. In any case, this will probably be the last conversation I shall hold with you on the subject.”
“Well, thank God for that, anyway!” he observed, strolling to the chimneypiece and selecting a pipe from a rack. “I think you’ve said about enough.”