“Officially the matter is outside my cognizance,” he declared. “I shall have nothing to say.”
The two young men exchanged glances.
“A hat,” Somerfield ruminated, “especially a Homburg hat, is scarcely an appurtenance of warfare.”
His brother officer stood for a moment looking gravely at the object in question. Then he winked at Somerfield and sighed.
“I shall take the whole responsibility,” he decided magnanimously, “of saying nothing about the matter. We can’t afford to quarrel with Miss Nora, can we, Somerfield?”
“Not on your life,” that young man agreed.
“Sensible boys!” Nora pronounced graciously.
“Thank you very much, Captain Griffiths, for not encouraging them in their folly. You can take me as far as the post-office when you go, Arthur,” she continued, turning to the fortunate possessor of the side-car, “and we’ll have some golf to-morrow afternoon, if you like.”
“Won’t Mr. Somerfield have some tea?” Helen invited.
“Thank you very much, Miss Fairclough,” the man replied; “we had tea some time ago at Watson’s, where I found Miss Nora.”
Nora suddenly held up her finger. “Isn’t
that the car?” she asked.
“Why, it must be mummy, here already. Yes, I can hear her voice!”
Griffiths, who had moved eagerly towards the window, looked back.
“It is Lady Cranston,” he announced solemnly.
The woman who paused for a moment upon the threshold of the library, looking in upon the little company, was undeniably beautiful. She had masses of red-gold hair, a little disordered by her long railway journey, deep-set hazel eyes, a delicate, almost porcelain-like complexion, and a sensitive, delightfully shaped mouth. Her figure was small and dainty, and just at that moment she had an appearance of helplessness which was almost childlike. Nora, after a vigorous embrace, led her stepmother towards a chair.
“Come and sit by the fire, Mummy,” she begged. “You look tired and cold.”
Philippa exchanged a general salutation with her guests. She was still wearing her travelling coat, and her air of fatigue was unmistakable. Griffiths, who had not taken his eyes off her since her entrance, wheeled an easy-chair towards the hearth-rug, into which she sank with a murmured word of thanks.
“You’ll have some tea, won’t you, dear?” Helen enquired.
Philippa shook her head. Her eyes met her friend’s for a moment —it was only a very brief glance, but the tragedy of some mutual sorrow seemed curiously revealed in that unspoken question and answer. The two young subalterns prepared to take their leave. Nora, kneeling down, stroked her stepmother’s hand.
“No news at all, then?” Helen faltered.
“None,” was the weary reply.
“Any amount of news here, Mummy,” Nora intervened cheerfully, “and heaps of excitement. We had a Zeppelin over Dutchman’s Common last night, and she lost her observation car. Mr. Somerfield took me up there this afternoon, and I found a German hat. No one else got a thing, and, would you believe it, those children over there tried to take it away from me.”