“Disappeared?” Philippa repeated. “What do you mean, Mills?”
“I left Mr. Lessingham last night, your ladyship,” Mills explained, “in a suit of the master’s clothes and apparently preparing for bed —I should say this morning, as it was probably about two o’clock. I called him at half past eight, as desired, and found the room empty. The bed had not been slept in.”
“Was there no note or message?” Philippa asked incredulously.
“Nothing, your ladyship. One of the maid servants believes that she heard the front door open at five o’clock this morning.”
“Ring up the hotel,” Philippa instructed, “and see if he is there.”
Mills departed to execute his commission. Philippa stood looking out of the window, across the lawn and shrubbery and down on to the beach. There was still a heavy sea, but it was merely the swell from the day before. The wind had dropped, and the sun was shining brilliantly. Sir Henry, Helen, and Nora were strolling about the beach as though searching for something. About fifty yards out, the wrecked trawler was lying completely on its side, with the end of one funnel visible. Scattered groups of the villagers were examining it from the sands. In due course Mills returned.
“The hotel people know nothing of Mr. Lessingham, your ladyship, beyond the fact that he did not return last night. They received a message from Hill’s Garage, however, about half an hour ago, to say that their mechanic had driven Mr. Lessingham early this morning to Norwich, where he had caught the mail train to London, The boy was to say that Mr. Lessingham would be back in a day or so.”
Philippa pushed open the windows and made her way down towards the beach. She leaned over the rail of the promenade and waved her hand to the others, who clambered up the shingle to meet her.
“Scarcely seen you yet, my dear, have I?” Sir Henry observed.
He stooped and kissed her forehead, a salute which she suffered without response. Helen pointed to the wreck.
“It doesn’t seem possible, does it,” she said, “that men’s lives should have been lost in that little space. Two men were drowned, they say, through the breaking of the rope. They recovered the bodies this morning.”
“Everything else seems to have been washed on shore except my coat,” Sir Henry grumbled. “I was down here at daylight, looking for it.”
“Your coat!” Philippa repeated scornfully. “Fancy thinking of that, when you only just escaped with your life!”
“But to tell you the truth, my dear,” Sir Henry explained, “my pocketbook and papers of some value were in the pocket of that coat. I can’t think how I came to forget them. I think it was the surprise of seeing that fellow Lessingham crawl on to the wreck looking like a drowned rat. Jove, what a pluck he must have!”
“The fishermen can talk of nothing else,” Nora put in excitedly. “Mummy, it was simply splendid! Helen and I had gone up with two of the rescued men, but I got back just in time to see them fasten the rope round his waist and watch him plunge in.”