Your work is unsatisfactory and your slackness deserves reprobation. Great events wait upon you. The object of your search is necessary for our imminent operations.
The sound of a horse’s hoofs disturbed him. Captain Griffiths, on a great bay mare, glanced curiously at the lonely figure by the roadside, and then pulled up.
“Back again, Mr. Lessingham?” he remarked.
“As you see.”
The Commandant fidgeted with his horse for a moment. Then he approached a little nearer to Lessingham’s side.
“You are a good walker, I perceive, Mr. Lessingham,” he remarked.
“When the fancy takes me,” was the equable reply.
“Have you come out to see our new guns?”
“I had no idea,” Lessingham answered indifferently, “that you had any.”
“We have a small battery of anti-aircraft guns, newly arrived from the south of England,” he said. “The secret of their coming and their locality has kept the neighbourhood in a state of ferment for the last week.”
Lessingham remained profoundly uninterested.
“They most of them spotted the guns,” his companion continued, “but not many of them have found the searchlights yet.”
“It seems a little late in the year,” Lessingham observed, “to be making preparations against Zeppelins.”
“Well, they cross here pretty often, you know,” Griffiths reminded him. “It’s only a matter of a few weeks ago that one almost came to grief on this common. We picked up their observation car not fifty yards from where you are sitting.”
“I remember hearing about it,” Lessingham acknowledged.
“By-the-by,” the Commandant continued, smoothing his horse’s neck, “didn’t you arrive that evening or the evening after?”
“I believe I did.”
“Liverpool Street or King’s Cross? The King’s Cross train was very nearly held up.”
“I didn’t come by train at all,” Lessingham replied, glancing for a moment into the clouds, “And now I come to think of it, it must have been the evening after.”
“Fine county for motoring,” Griffiths continued, stroking his horse’s head.
“The roads I have been on seem very good,” was the somewhat bored admission.
“You haven’t a car of your own here, have you?”
“Not at present.”
Captain Griffiths glanced between his horse’s ears for a few moments. Then he turned once more towards his companion.
“Mr. Lessingham,” he said, “you are aware that I am Commandant here?”
“I believe,” Lessingham replied, “that Lady Cranston told me so.”
“It is my duty, therefore,” Griffiths went on, “to take a little more than ordinary interest in casual visitors, especially at this time of the year. The fact that you are well-known to Lady Cranston is, of course, an entirely satisfactory explanation of your presence here. At the same time, there is certain information concerning strangers of which we keep a record, and in your case there is a line or two which we have not been able to fill up.”