It seemed to the two women, brief though the period of actual silence was, that in those few seconds they jointly conceived definite and lasting impressions of the man who was to become, during the next few weeks, an object of the deepest concern to both of them. The intruder was slightly built, of little more than medium height, of dark complexion, with an almost imperceptible moustache of military pattern, black hair dishevelled with the wind, and eyes of almost peculiar brightness. He carried himself with an assurance which was somewhat remarkable considering the condition of his torn and mud stained clothes, the very quality of which was almost undistinguishable. They both, curiously enough, formed the same instinctive conviction that, notwithstanding his tramplike appearance and his burglarious entrance, this was not a person to be greatly feared.
The stranger brushed aside Philippa’s incoherent exclamation and opened the conversation with some ceremony.
“Ladies,” he began, with a low bow, “in the first place let me offer my most profound apologies for this unusual form of entrance to your house.”
Philippa rose from her easy-chair and confronted him. The firelight played upon her red-gold hair, and surprise had driven the weariness from her face. Against the black oak of the chimneypiece she had almost the appearance of a framed cameo. Her voice was quite steady, although its inflection betrayed some indignation.
“Will you kindly explain who you are and what you mean by this extraordinary behaviour?” she demanded.
“It is my earnest intention to do so without delay,” he assured her, his eyes apparently rivetted upon Philippa. “Kindly pardon me.”
He held out his arm to stop Helen, who, with her eye upon the bell, had made a stealthy attempt to slip past him. Her eyes flashed as she felt his fingers upon her arm.
“How dare you attempt to stop me!” she exclaimed.
“My dear Miss Fairclough,” he remonstrated, “in the interests of all of us, it is better that we should have a few moments of undisturbed conversation. I am taking it for granted that I have the pleasure of addressing Miss Fairclough?”
There was something about the man’s easy confidence which was, in its way, impressive yet irritating. Helen appeared bereft of words and retreated to her place almost mildly. Philippa’s very delicate eyebrows were drawn together in a slight frown.
“You are acquainted with our names, then?”
“Perfectly,” was the suave reply. “You, I presume, are Lady Cranston? I may be permitted to add,” he went on, looking at her steadfastly, “that the description from which I recognise you does you less than justice.”
“I find that remark, under the circumstances, impertinent,” Philippa told him coldly.
He shrugged his shoulders. There was a slight smile upon his lips and his eyes twinkled.