Chapter X
 

Philippa and Helen started, a few mornings later, for one of their customary walks. The crystalline October sunshine, in which every distant tree and, seaward, each slowly travelling steamer, seemed to gain a new clearness of outline, lay upon the deep-ploughed fields, the yellowing bracken, and the red-gold of the bending trees, while the west wind, which had strewn the sea with white-flecked waves, brought down the leaves to form a carpet for their feet, and played strange music along the wood-crested slope. In the broken land through which they made their way, a land of trees and moorland, with here and there a cultivated patch, the yellow gorse still glowed in unexpected corners; queer, scentless flowers made splashes of colour in the hedgerows; a rabbit scurried sometimes across their path; a cock pheasant, after a moment's amazed stare, lowered his head and rushed for unnecessary shelter. The longer they looked upwards, the bluer seemed the sky. The grass beneath their feet was as green and soft as in springtime. Driven by the wind, here and there a white-winged gull sailed over their heads,- a cloud of them rested upon a freshly turned little square of ploughed land between two woods. A flight of pigeons, like torn leaves tossed about by the wind, circled and drifted above them. Philippa seated herself upon the trunk of a fallen tree and gazed contentedly about her.

"If I had a looking-glass and a few more hairpins, I should be perfectly happy," she sighed. "I am sure my hair must look awful."

Helen glanced at it admiringly.

"I decline to say the correct thing," she declared. "I will only remind you that there will be no one here to look at it."

"I am not so sure," Philippa replied. "These are the woods which the special constables haunt by day and by night. They gaze up every tree trunk for a wireless installation, and they lie behind hedges and watch for mysterious flashes."

"Are you suggesting that we may meet Mr. Lessingham?" Helen enquired, lazily. "I am perfectly certain that he knows nothing of the equipment of the melodramatic spy. As to Zeppelins, don't you remember he told us that he hated them and was terrified of bombs."

"My dear," Philippa remonstrated, "Mr. Lessingham does nothing crude."

"And yet, - " Helen began.

"Yet I suppose the man has something at the back of his head," Philippa interrupted. "Sometimes I think that he has, sometimes I believe that Richard must have shown him my picture, and he has come over here to see if I am really like it."

"He does behave rather like that," her companion admitted drily.

Phillipa turned and looked at her.

"Helen," she said severely, "don't be a cat."

"If I were to express my opinion of your behaviour," Helen went on, picking up a pine cone and examining it, "I might astonish you."

"You have an evil mind," Philippa yawned, producing her cigarette case. "What you really resent is that Mr. Lessingham sometimes forgets to talk about Dick."

"The poor man doesn't get much chance," Helen retorted, watching the blue smoke from her cigarette and leaning back with an air of content. "Whatever do you and he find to talk about, Philippa?"

"Literature - English and German," Philippa murmured demurely. "Mr. Lessingham is remarkably well read, and he knows more about our English poets than any man I have met for years."

"I forgot that you enjoyed that sort of thing."

"Once more, don't be a cat," Philippa enjoined. "If you want me to confess it, I will own up at once. You know what a simple little thing I am. I admire Mr. Lessingham exceedingly, and I find him a most interesting companion."

"You mean," her friend observed drily "the Baron Maderstrom." Philippa looked around and frowned.

"You are most indiscreet, Helen," she declared. "I have learnt something of the science of espionage lately, and I can assure you that all spoken or written words are dangerous. There is a thoroughly British squirrel in that tree overhead, and I am sure he heard."

"I suppose the sunshine has got into your head," Helen groaned.

"If you mean that I am finding it a relief to talk nonsense, you are right," Philippa assented. "As a matter of fact, I am feeling most depressed. Henry telephoned from somewhere or other before breakfast this morning, to say that he should probably be home to-night or to-morrow. They must have landed somewhere down the coast."

"You are a most undutiful wife," Helen pronounced severely. "I am sure Henry is a delightful person, even if he is a little irresponsible, and it is almost pathetic to remember how much you were in love with him, a year or two ago."

Some of the lightness vanished from Philippa's face.

"That was before the war," she sighed.

"I still think Henry is a dear, though I don't altogether understand him," Helen said thoughtfully.

"No doubt," Philippa assented, "but you'd find the not understanding him a little more galling, if you were his wife. You see, I didn't know that I was marrying a sort of sporting Mr. Skimpole."

"I wonder," Helen reflected, "how Henry and Mr. Lessingham will get on when they see more of one another."

"I really don't care," Philippa observed indifferently.

"I used to notice sometimes - that was soon after you were married," Helen continued, "that Henry was just a little inclined to be jealous."

Philippa withdrew her eyes from the sea. There was a queer little smile upon her lips.

"Well, if he still is," she said, "I'll give him something to be jealous about."

"Poor Mr. Lessingham!" Helen murmured.

Philippa's eyebrows were raised.

"Poor Mr. Lessingham? " she repeated. "I don't think you'll find that he'll be in the least sorry for himself."

"He may be in earnest," Helen reminded her friend. "You can be horribly attractive when you like, you know, Philippa."

Philippa smiled sweetly.

"It is just possible," she said, "that I may be in earnest myself. I've quarrelled pretty desperately with Henry, you know, and I'm a helpless creature without a little admiration."

Helen rose suddenly to her feet. Her eyes were fixed upon a figure approaching through the wood.

"You really aren't respectable, Philippa," she declared. "Throw away your cigarette, for heaven's sake, and sit up. Some one is coming."

Philippa only moved her head lazily. The sunlight, which came down in a thousand little zigzags through the wind-tossed trees, fell straight upon her rather pale, defiant little face, with its unexpressed evasive charm, and seemed to find a new depth of colour in the red-gold of her disordered hair. Her slim, perfect body was stretched almost at full length, one leg drawn a little up, her hands carelessly drooping towards the grass. The cigarette was still burning in the corner of her lips.

"I decline," she said, "to throw away my cigarette for any one.

"Least of all, I trust," a familiar voice interposed, "for me."

Philippa sat upright at once, smoothed her hair and looked a little resentfully at Lessingham. He was wearing a brown tweed knickerbocker suit, and he carried a gun under his arm.

"Whatever are you doing up here," she demanded, "and do you know anything about our game laws? You can't come out into the woods here and shoot things just because you feel like it."

He disposed of his gun and seated himself between them.

"That is quite all right," he assured her. "Your neighbour, Mr. Windover, to whom these woods apparently belong, asked me to bring my gun out this morning and try and get a woodcock."

"Gracious! You don't mean that Mr. Windover is here, too?" Philippa demanded, looking around. Lessingham shook his head.

"His car came for him at the other side of the wood," he explained. "He was wanted to go on the Bench. I elected to walk home."

"And the woodcock? " she asked. "I adore woodcock."

He produced one from his pocket, took up her felt hat, which was lying amongst the bracken, and busied himself insulating the pin feathers under the silk band.

"There," he said, handing it to her, "the first woodcock of the season. We got four, and I really only accepted one in the hope that you would like it. I shall leave it with the estimable Mills, on my return."

"You must come and share it," Philippa insisted. "Those boys of Nora's are coming in to dinner. Your gift shall be the piece de

"Then may I dine another night?" he begged. "This place encourages in me the grossest of appetites."

"Have no fear," she replied. "You will never see that woodcock again. I shall have it for my luncheon to-morrow. I ordered dinner before I came out, and though it may be a simple feast, I promise that you shall not go away hungry."

"Will you promise that you will never send me away hungry?" he asked, dropping his voice for a moment.

She turned and studied him. Helen, who had strolled a few yards away, was knee-deep in the golden brown bracken, picking some gorgeously coloured leaves from a solitary bramble bush. Lessingham had thrown his cap onto the ground, and his wind-tossed hair and the unusual colour in his cheeks were both, in their way, becoming. His loose but well-fitting country clothes, his tie and soft collar, were all well-chosen and suitable. She admired his high forehead and his firm, rather proud mouth. His eyes as well as his tone were full of seriousness.

"You know that you ought to be saying that to some Gretchen away across that terrible North Sea," she laughed.

"There is no Gretchen who has ever made my heart shake as you do," he whispered.

She picked up her hat and sighed.

"Really," she said, "I think things are quite complicated enough as they are. I am in a flutter all day long, as it is, about your mission here and your real identity. I simply could not include a flirtation amongst my excitements."

"I have never flirted," he assured her gravely.

"Wise man," she pronounced, rising to her feet. "Come, let us go and help Helen pick leaves. She is scratching her fingers terribly, and I'm sure you have a knife. A dear, economical creature, Helen," she added, as they strolled along. "I am perfectly certain that those are destined to adorn my dining-table, and, with chrysanthemums at sixpence each, you can't imagine how welcome they are. Come, produce the knife, Mr. Lessingham."

The knife was forthcoming, and presently they all turned their faces homeward. Philippa arrested both her companions on the outskirts of the wood, and pointed to the red-tiled little town, to the sombre, storm-beaten grey church on the edge of the cliff, to the peaceful fields, the stretch of gorse-sprinkled common, and the rolling stretch of green turf on the crown of the cliffs. Beyond was the foam-flecked blue sea, dotted all over with cargo steamers.

"Would one believe," she asked satirically, "that there should be scope here in this forgotten little spot for the brains of a - Mr. Lessingham!"

"Remember that I was sent," he protested. "The error, if error there be, is not mine."

"And after all," Helen reminded them both, "think how easily one may be misled by appearances. You couldn't imagine anything more honest than the faces of the villagers and the fishermen one sees about, yet do you know, Mr. Lessingham, that we were visited by burglars last night?"

"Seriously?" he asked.

"Without a doubt. Of course, Mainsail Haul is an invitation to thieves. They could get in anywhere. Last night they chose the French windows and seem to have made themselves at home in the library."

"I trust," Lessingham said, "that they did not take anything of value?"

"They took nothing at all," Philippa sighed. "That is the humiliating part of it. They evidently didn't like our things."

"How do you know that you had burglars, if they took nothing away?" Lessingham enquired.

"So practical!" Philippa murmured. "As a matter of fact, I heard some one moving about, and I rang the alarm bell. Mills was downstairs almost directly and we heard some one running down the drive. The French windows were open, a chair was overturned in the library, and a drawer in my husband's desk was wide open."

"The proof," Lessingham admitted, "is overwhelming. You were visited by a burglar. Does your husband keep anything of value in his desk?"

"Henry hasn't anything of value in the world," Philippa replied drily, "except his securities, and they are at the bank."

"Without going so far as to contradict you," Lessingham observed, with a smile, "I still venture to disagree!"