“I must apologise for this most untimely call, Lady Cranston,” he said, watching the closing of the door. “I will not take up more than five minutes of your time.”
“We are very pleased to see you at any time, Captain Griffiths,” Philippa said hospitably. “Do sit down, please.”
Captain Griffiths bowed but remained standing.
“It is very near your dinner-time, I know, Lady Cranston,” he continued apologetically. “The fact of it is, however, that as Commandant here it is my duty to examine the bona fides of any strangers in the place. There is a gentleman named Lessingham staying at the hotel, who I understand gave your name as reference.”
Philippa’s eyes looked larger than ever, and her face more innocent, as she gazed up at her visitor.
“Why, of course, Captain Griffiths,” she said. “Mr. Lessingham was at college with my brother, and one of his best friends. He has shot down at my father’s place in Cheshire.”
“You are speaking of your brother, Major Felstead?”
“My only brother.”
“I am very much obliged to you, Lady Cranston,” Captain Griffiths declared. “I can see that we need not worry any more about Mr. Lessingham.”
“It seems rather old-fashioned to think of you having to worry about any one down here,” she observed. “It really is a very harmless neighbourhood, isn’t it?”
“There isn’t much going on, certainly,” the Commandant admitted. “Very dull the place seems at times.”
“Now be perfectly frank,” Philippa begged him. “Is there a single fact of importance which could be learnt in this place, worth communicating to the enemy? Is the danger of espionage here worth a moment’s consideration?”
“That,” Captain Griffiths replied in somewhat stilted fashion, “is not a question which I should be prepared to answer off-hand.”
Philippa shrugged her shoulders and appealed almost feverishly to Helen, who had just entered the room.
“Helen, do come and listen to Captain Griffiths! He is making me feel quite creepy. There are secrets about, it seems, and he wants to know all about Mr. Lessingham.”
Helen smiled with complete self-possession.
“Well, we can set his mind at rest about Mr. Lessingham, can’t we?” she observed, as she shook hands.
“We can do more,” Philippa declared. “We can help him to judge for himself. We are expecting Mr. Lessingham for dinner, Captain Griffiths. Do stay.”
“I couldn’t think of taking you by storm like this,” Captain Griffiths replied, with a wistfulness which only made his voice sound hoarser and more unpleasant. “It is most kind of you, Lady Cranston. Perhaps you will give me another opportunity.”
“I sha’n’t think of it,” Philippa insisted. “You must stay and dine to-night. We shall be a partie carríe, for Nora goes to bed directly after dinner. I am ringing the bell to tell Mills to set an extra place,” she added.