“Philippa, forgive me,” he repeated. “If you only knew how it hurts to see you like this! Yet I must speak. There is just once in every man’s lifetime when he must tell the truth. That time has come with me—I love you.”
“So does my husband,” she murmured.
“I will only remind you, then, that he shows it in strange fashion,” Lessingham continued. “He sets your wishes at defiance. He who should be an example in a small place like this, is only an object of contempt in the neighbourhood. Even I, who have only lived here for so short a time, have caught the burden of what people say.”
Philippa wiped her eyes.
“Please, do you mind,” she begged, “not saying anything more about Henry. You are only reminding me of things which I try all the time to forget.”
“Believe me,” Lessingham answered wistfully, “I am only too content to ignore him, to forget that he exists, to remember only that you are the woman who has changed my life.”
Philippa looked at him in something like dismay, rather like a child who has started an engine which she has no idea how to stop.
“But you must not—you must not talk to me like this!”
His hand closed upon hers. It lay in his grasp, unyielding, cold, yet passive.
“Why not?” he whispered. “I have the one unalterable right, and I am willing to pay the great price.”
“Right?” she faltered.
“The right of loving you—the right of loving you better than any woman in the world.”
There was a queer silence, only partly due, as she was instantly aware, to the emotion of the moment. A door behind them had opened. Philippa’s quicker senses had recognised her husband’s footsteps. Lessingham rose deliberately to his feet. In his heart he welcomed the interruption. This might, perhaps, be the decisive moment. Sir Henry was strolling towards them. His manner and his tone, however, were alike good-natured.
“I was to order you into the billiard room, Mr. Lessingham,” he announced. “Sinclair has been sent for—a night route march, or some such horror—and they want you to make a four.”
Lessingham hesitated. He had a passionate inclination to face the situation, to tell this man the truth. Sir Henry’s courteous indifference, however, was like a harrier. He recognised the inevitable.
“I am afraid I am rather out of practice,” he said, “but I shall be delighted to do my best.”
Sir Henry was obviously not in the best of tempers. For a mild-mannered and easy-going man, his expression was scarcely normal.
“That fellow was making love to you,” he said bluntly, as soon as the door was closed behind Lessingham.
Philippa looked up at her husband with an air of pleasant candour.
“He was doing it very nicely, too,” she admitted.