“He thinks so, at any rate,” she conceded. “Didn’t he tell me that you were invalided home from the front?”
Lessingham shook his head.
“I am quite sure that it was not mentioned,” he said. “We walked home together as far as the hotel one evening, but we spoke only of the golf and some shooting in the neighbourhood.”
Philippa, who had been maneuvering to attract Lessingham’s attention, suddenly dropped the cake basket which she was passing. There was a little commotion. Lessingham went down on his hands and knees to help collect the fragments, and she found an opportunity to whisper in his ear.
“Be careful. That woman is a cat. Stay and talk to me. Please don’t bother, Mr. Lessingham. Won’t you ring the bell instead?” she continued, raising her voice.
Lessingham did as he was asked, and affected not to notice Mrs. Johnson’s inviting smile as he returned. Philippa made room for him by her side.
“Helen and I were talking this afternoon, Mr. Lessingham,” she said, “of the days when you and Dick were both in the Magdalen Eleven and both had just a chance of being chosen for the Varsity. You never played, did you?”
He shook his head.
“No such luck. In any case, Richard would have been in well before me. I always maintained that he was the first of our googlie bowlers.”
“So you were at Magdalen with Major Felstead?” another caller remarked in mild wonder.
“Mr. Lessingham and my brother were great friends,” Philippa explained. “Mr. Lessingham used to come down to shoot in Cheshire.”
Lady Cranston’s guests were all conscious of a little indefinable disappointment. The gossip concerning this stranger’s appearance in Dreymarsh was practically strangled. Mrs. Johnson, however, fired a parting shot as she rose to go.
“You were not in the same regiment as Major Felstead, were you, Mr. Lessingham?” she asked. “No,” he answered calmly.
Philippa was busy with her adieux. Mrs. Johnson remained indomitable.
“What was your regiment, Mr. Lessingham?” she persisted. “You must forgive my seeming inquisitive, but I am so interested in military affairs.”
Lessingham bowed courteously.
“I do not remember alluding to my soldiering at all,” he said coolly, “but as a matter of fact I am in the Guards.”
Mrs. Johnson accepted Philippa’s hand and the inevitable. Her good-by to Lessingham was most affable. She walked up the road with the vicar.
“I think, Vicar,” she said severely, “that for a small place, Dreymarsh is becoming one of the worst centres of gossip I ever knew. Every one has been saying all sorts of unkind things about that charming Mr. Lessingham, and there you are—Major Felstead’s friend and a Guardsman! Somehow or other, I felt that he belonged to one of the crack regiments. I shall certainly ask him to dinner one night next week.”