Her stepmother smiled faintly.
“I expect you are keeping the hat, dear,” she observed.
“I should say so!” Nora assented.
Philippa held out her hand to the two young men who had been waiting to take their leave.
“You must come and dine one night this week, both of you,” she said. “My husband will be home by the later train this evening, and I’m sure he will be glad to have you.”
“Very kind of you, Lady Cranston, we shall be delighted,” Harrison declared.
“Rather!” his companion echoed.
Nora led them away, and Helen, with a word of excuse, followed them. Griffiths, who had also risen to his feet, came a little nearer to Philippa’s chair.
“And you, too, of course, Captain Griffiths,” she said, smiling pleasantly up at him. “Must you hurry away?”
“I will stay, if I may, until Miss Fairclough returns,” he answered, resuming his seat.
“Do!” Philippa begged him. “I have had such a miserable time in town. You can’t think how restful it is to be back here.”
“I am afraid,” he observed, “that your journey has not been successful.”
Philippa shook her head.
“It has been completely unsuccessful,” she sighed. “I have not been able to hear a word about my brother. I am so sorry for poor Helen, too. They were only engaged, you know, a few days before he left for the front this last time.”
Captain Griffiths nodded sympathetically.
“I never met Major Felstead,” he remarked, “but every one who has seems to like him very much. He was doing so well, too, up to that last unfortunate affair, wasn’t he?”
“Dick is a dear,” Philippa declared. “I never knew any one with so many friends. He would have been commanding his battalion now, if only he were free. His colonel wrote and told me so himself.”
“I wish there were something I could do,” Griffiths murmured, a little awkwardly. “It hurts me, Lady Cranston, to see you so upset.”
She looked at him for a moment in faint surprise.
“Nobody can do anything,” she bemoaned. “That is the unfortunate part of it all.”
He rose to his feet and was immediately conscious, as he always was when he stood up, that there was a foot or two of his figure which he had no idea what to do with.
“You wouldn’t feel like a ride to-morrow morning, Lady Cranston?” he asked, with a wistfulness which seemed somehow stifled in his rather unpleasant voice. She shook her head.
“Perhaps one morning later,” she replied, a little vaguely. “I haven’t any heart for anything just now.”
He took a sombre but agitated leave of his hostess, and went out into the twilight, cursing his lack of ease, remembering the things which he had meant to say, and hating himself for having forgotten them. Philippa, to whom his departure had been, as it always was, a relief, was already leaning forward in her chair with her arm around Helen’s neck.