“What was there left for me then?” he demanded. “Naturally I heard nothing but the voice of those whom I had sworn to obey. I was in that mad rush through Belgium. I was wounded at Maubeuge, or else I should have followed hard on the heels of that wonderful retreat of yours. As it was, I lay for many months in hospital. I joined again—shall I confess it?—almost unwillingly. The bloodthirstiness of it all sickened me. I fought at Ypres, but I think that it was something of the courage of despair, of black misery. I was wounded again and decorated. I suppose I shall never be fit for the front again. I tried to turn to account some of my knowledge of England and English life. Then they sent me here.”
“Here, of all places in the world!” Philippa repeated wonderingly. “Just look at us! We have a single line of railway, a perfectly straightforward system of roads, the ordinary number of soldiers being trained, no mysteries, no industries—nothing. What terrible scheme are you at work upon, Mr. Lessingham?”
“Between you and me,” he confided, “I am not at all sure that I am not here on a fool’s errand—at least I thought so when I arrived.”
She glanced up at him.
“And why not now?”
He made no answer, but their eyes met and Philippa looked hurriedly away. There was a moment’s queer, strained silence. Before them loomed up the outline of Mainsail Haul.
“You will come in and have some tea, won’t you?” she invited.
“If I may. Believe me,” he added, “it has only been a certain diffidence that has kept me away so long.”
She made no reply, and they entered the house together. They found Helen and Nora, with three or four young men from the Depot, having tea in the drawing-room. Lessingham slipped very easily into the pleasant little circle. If a trifle subdued, his quiet manners, and a sense of humour which every now and then displayed itself, were most attractive.
“Wish you’d come and dine with us and meet our colonel, sir,” Harrison asked him. “He was at Magdalen a few years after Major Felstead, and I am sure you’d find plenty to talk about.”
“I am quite sure that we should,” Lessingham replied. “May I come, perhaps, towards the end of next week? I am making most strenuous efforts to lead an absolutely quiet life here.”
“Whenever you like, sir. We sha’n’t be able to show you anything very wild in the way of dissipation. Vintage port and a decent cigar are the only changes we can make for guests.”
Philippa drew her visitor on one side presently, and made him sit with her in a distant corner of the room.
“I knew there was something I wanted to say to you,” she began, “but somehow or other I forgot when I met you. My husband was very much struck with Helen’s improved spirits. Don’t you think that we had better tell him, when he returns, that we had heard from Major Felstead?”