“Got to be done this once, Mills,” his master replied, struggling into his coat.
The young people from the billiard room suddenly streamed in. Nora, who was still carrying her cue, gazed at her father in amazement.
“Why, where’s Dad going?” she cried.
“It appears,” Philippa explained sarcastically, “that a shoal of whiting has arrived.”
“Very uncertain fish, whiting,” Sir Henry observed, “here to-day and gone to-morrow.”
“You won’t find it too easy getting off to-night, sir,” Harrison remarked doubtfully.
“Jimmy will see to that,” was the confident reply. “I expect we shall be amongst them at daybreak. Good-by, everybody! Good-by, Philippa!”
His eyes sought his wife’s in vain. She had turned towards Lessingham.
“You are not hurrying off, are you, Mr. Lessingham?” she asked. “I want you to show me that new Patience.”
“I shall be delighted.”
Sir Henry turned slowly away. For a moment his face darkened as his eyes met Lessingham’s. He seemed about to speak but changed his mind.
“Well, good-by, every one,” he called out. “I shall be back before midnight if we don’t get out.”
“And if you do?” Nora cried.
“If we do, Heaven help the whiting!”
“Of course, we’re behaving shockingly, all three of us!” Philippa declared, as she sipped her champagne and leaned back in her seat.
“You mean by coming to a place like this?” Lessingham queried, looking around the crowded restaurant. “We are not, in that case, the only sinners.”
“I didn’t mean the mere fact of being here,” Philippa explained, “but being here with you.”
“I forgot,” he said gloomily, “that I was such a black sheep.”
“Don’t be silly,” she admonished. “You’re nothing of the sort. But, of course, we are skating on rather thin ice. If I had Henry to consider in any way, if he had any sort of a career, perhaps I should be more careful. As it is, I think I feel a little reckless lately. Dreymarsh has got upon my nerves. The things that I thought most of in life seem to have crumbled away.”
“Ought I to be sorry?” he asked. “I am not.”
“But why are you so unsympathetic?”
“Because I am waiting by your side to rebuild,” he whispered.
A tall, bronzed young soldier with his arm in a sling, stopped before their table, and Helen, after a moment’s protest and a glance at Philippa, moved away with him to the little space reserved for the dancers.
“What a chaperon I am!” Philippa sighed. “I scarcely know anything about the young man except his name and that he was in Dick’s regiment.”
“I did not hear it,” Lessingham observed, “but I feel deeply grateful to him. It is so seldom that I have a chance to talk to you alone like this.”