Her husband hesitated. A frown had darkened his face. He had the air of one who is on the eve of a confession.
“Philippa,” he began, “you know that when I go out on these fishing expeditions, I also put in some work at the new chart which I am so anxious to prepare for the fishermen.”
Philippa shook her head impatiently.
“Don’t talk to me about your fishermen, Henry! I’m as sick with them as I am with you. You can see twenty or thirty of them any morning, lounging about the quay, strapping young fellows who shelter themselves behind the plea of privileged employment. We are notorious down here for our skulkers, and you—you who should be the one man to set them an example, are as bad as they are. You deliberately encourage them.”
Sir Henry abandoned his position by his wife’s side, His face darkened and his eyes flashed.
“Skulkers?” he repeated furiously.
Philippa looked at him without flinching.
“Yes! Don’t you like the word?”
The angry flush faded from his cheeks as quickly as it had come. He laughed a little unnaturally, took up a cigarette from an open box, and lit it.
“It isn’t a pleasant one, is it, Philippa?” he observed, thrusting his hands into his jacket pockets strolling away. “If one doesn’t feel the call—well, there you are, you see. Jove, that’s a fine fish.”
He stood admiring the codling upon the scales. Philippa continued her work.
“If you intend to spend the rest of the evening with us,” she told him calmly, “please let me remind you again that we have guests for dinner. Your present attire may be comfortable but it is scarcely becoming.”
He turned away and came back towards her. As he passed the lamp, she started.
“Why, you’re wet,” she exclaimed, “wet through!”
“Of course I am,” he admitted, feeling his sleeve, “but to tell you the truth, in the interest of our conversation I had quite forgotten it. Here come our guests, before I have had time to escape. I can hear your friend Lessingham’s voice.”
The three dinner guests entered together, Lessingham in the middle. Sir Henry’s presence was obviously a surprise to all of them.
“No idea that you were back, sir,” Harrison observed, shaking hands.
Sir Henry greeted them all good-humouredly. “I turned up about three quarters of an hour ago,” he explained, “just too late to join you at dinner.”
“Bad luck, sir,” Sinclair remarked. “I hope that you had good sport?”
“Not so bad,” Sir Henry admitted. “We had to go far enough for it, though. What do you think of that for an October codling?”
They all approached the scales and admired the fish. Sir Henry stood with his hands in his pockets, listening to their comments.
“You are enjoying your stay here, I hope, Mr. Lessingham?” he enquired.