“This is all a hideous mistake,” Philippa declared feverishly. “I assure you that Mr. Lessingham has visited my father’s house, that he was well-known to me years ago.”
“As the Baron Maderstrom! What arguments he has used, Lady Cranston, to induce you to accept him here under his new identity, I do not know, but the facts are very clear.”
“He seems quite convinced, doesn’t he?” Lessingham remarked, turning to Philippa. “And as I gather that a portion of the British Army, assisted by the local constabulary, is waiting for me outside, perhaps I had better humour him.”
“It would be as well, sir,” Captain Griffiths assented grimly. “I am glad to find you in the humour for jesting.”
Lessingham turned once more to Philippa. This time his tone was more serious.
“Lady Cranston,” he begged, “won’t you please leave us?”
“No!” she answered hysterically. “I know why you want me to, and I won’t go! You have done no harm, and nothing shall happen to you. I will not leave the room, and you shall not—”
His gesture of appeal coincided with the sob in her throat. She broke down in her speech, and Captain Griffiths moved a step nearer.
“If you have any weapon in your possession, sir,” he said, “you had better hand it over to me.”
“Well, do you know,” Lessingham replied, “I scarcely see the necessity. One thing I will promise you,” he added, with a sudden flash in his eyes, “a single step nearer—a single step, mind—and you shall have as much of my weapon as will keep you quiet for the rest of your life. Remember that so long as you are reasonable I do not threaten you. Help me to persuade Lady Cranston to leave us.”
Captain Griffiths was out of his depths. He was not a coward, but he had no hankering after death, and there was death in Lessingham’s threat and in the flash of his eyes. While he hesitated, there was a knock upon the door. Mills came silently in. He carried a telegram upon a salver.
“For you, sir,” he announced, addressing Captain Griffiths. “An orderly has just brought it down.”
Griffiths looked at the pink envelope and frowned. He tore it open, however, without a word. As he read, his long, upper teeth closed in upon his lip. So he stood there until two little drops of blood appeared.
Then he turned to Mills.
“There is no answer,” he said.
The man bowed and left the room. He walked slowly and he looked back from the doorway. It was scarcely possible for even so perfectly trained a servant to escape from the atmosphere of tragedy.
“Something tells me,” Lessingham remarked coolly, as soon as the door was closed, “that that message concerns me.”
The Commandant made no immediate reply. He straightened out the telegram and read it once more under the lamplight, as though to be sure there was no possible mistake. Then he folded it up and placed it in his waistcoat pocket.