He disposed of his gun and seated himself between them.
“That is quite all right,” he assured her. “Your neighbour, Mr. Windover, to whom these woods apparently belong, asked me to bring my gun out this morning and try and get a woodcock.”
“Gracious! You don’t mean that Mr. Windover is here, too?” Philippa demanded, looking around. Lessingham shook his head.
“His car came for him at the other side of the wood,” he explained. “He was wanted to go on the Bench. I elected to walk home.”
“And the woodcock?” she asked. “I adore woodcock.”
He produced one from his pocket, took up her felt hat, which was lying amongst the bracken, and busied himself insinuating the pin feathers under the silk band.
“There,” he said, handing it to her, “the first woodcock of the season. We got four, and I really only accepted one in the hope that you would like it. I shall leave it with the estimable Mills, on my return.”
“You must come and share it,” Philippa insisted. “Those boys of Nora’s are coming in to dinner. Your gift shall be the piece de resistance.”
“Then may I dine another night?” he begged. “This place encourages in me the grossest of appetites.”
“Have no fear,” she replied. “You will never see that woodcock again. I shall have it for my luncheon to-morrow. I ordered dinner before I came out, and though it may be a simple feast, I promise that you shall not go away hungry.”
“Will you promise that you will never send me away hungry?” he asked, dropping his voice for a moment.
She turned and studied him. Helen, who had strolled a few yards away, was knee-deep in the golden brown bracken, picking some gorgeously coloured leaves from a solitary bramble bush. Lessingham had thrown his cap onto the ground, and his wind-tossed hair and the unusual colour in his cheeks were both, in their way, becoming. His loose but well-fitting country clothes, his tie and soft collar, were all well-chosen and suitable. She admired his high forehead and his firm, rather proud mouth. His eyes as well as his tone were full of seriousness.
“You know that you ought to be saying that to some Gretchen away across that terrible North Sea,” she laughed.
“There is no Gretchen who has ever made my heart shake as you do,” he whispered.
She picked up her hat and sighed.
“Really,” she said, “I think things are quite complicated enough as they are. I am in a flutter all day long, as it is, about your mission here and your real identity. I simply could not include a flirtation amongst my excitements.”
“I have never flirted,” he assured her gravely.
“Wise man,” she pronounced, rising to her feet. “Come, let us go and help Helen pick leaves. She is scratching her fingers terribly, and I’m sure you have a knife. A dear, economical creature, Helen,” she added, as they strolled along. “I am perfectly certain that those are destined to adorn my dining-table, and, with chrysanthemums at sixpence each, you can’t imagine how welcome they are. Come, produce the knife, Mr. Lessingham.”