Chapter XV
 

"Of course, we're behaving shockingly, all three of us!" Philippa declared, as she sipped her champagne and leaned back in her seat.

"You mean by coming to a place like this?" Lessingham queried, looking around the crowded restaurant. "We are not, in that case, the only sinners."

"I didn't mean the mere fact of being here," Philippa explained, "but being here with you."

"I forgot," he said gloomily, "that I was such a black sheep."

"Don't be silly," she admonished. "You're nothing of the sort. But, of course, we are skating on rather thin ice. If I had Henry to consider in any way, if he had any sort of a career, perhaps I should be more careful. As it is, I think I feel a little reckless lately. Dreymarsh has got upon my nerves. The things that I thought most of in life seem to have crumbled away."

"Ought I to be sorry?" he asked. "I am not."

"But why are you so unsympathetic?"

"Because I am waiting by your side to rebuild," he whispered.

A tall, bronzed young soldier with his arm in a sling, stopped before their table, and Helen, after a moment's protest and a glance at Philippa, moved away with him to the little space reserved for the dancers.

"What a chaperon I am!" Philippa sighed. "I scarcely know anything about the young man except his name and that he was in Dick's regiment."

"I did not hear it," Lessingham observed, "but I feel deeply grateful to him. It is so seldom that I have a chance to talk to you alone like this."

"It seems incredible that we have talked so long," Philippa said, glancing at the watch upon her wrist. "I really feel now that I know all about you - your school days, your college days, and your soldiering. You have been very frank, haven't you?"

"I have nothing to conceal - from you," he replied. "If there is anything more you want to know - "

"There is nothing," she interrupted uneasily.

"Perhaps you are wise," he reflected, "and yet some day, you know, you will have to hear it all, over and over again."

"I will not be made love to in a restaurant," she declared firmly.

"You are so particular as to localities," he complained. "You could not see your way clear, I suppose, to suggest what you would consider a suitable environment?

Philippa looked at him for a moment very earnestly.

"Ah, don't let us play at things we neither of us feel!" she begged. "And there is some one there who wants to speak to you."

Lessingham looked up into the face of the man who had paused before their table, as one might look into the face of unexpected death. He remained perfectly still, but the slight colour seemed slowly to be drawn from his cheeks. Yet the newcomer himself seemed in no way terrifying. He was tall and largely built, clean-shaven, and with the humourous mouth of an Irishman or an American. Neither was there anything threatening in his speech.

"Glad to run up against you, Lessingham," he said, holding out his hand. "Gay crowd here tonight, isn't it?"

"Very," Lessingham answered, speaking very much like a man in a dream. "Lady Cranston, will you permit me to introduce my friend - Mr. Hayter."

Philippa was immediately gracious, and a few moments passed in trivial conversation. Then Mr. Hayter prepared to depart.

"I must be joining my friends," he observed. "Look in and see me sometime, Lessingham - Number 72, Milan Court. You know what a nightbird I am. Perhaps you will call and have a final drink with me when you have finished here."

"I shall be very glad," Lessingham promised.

Mr. Hayter passed on, a man, apparently, of many acquaintances, to judge by his interrupted progress. Lady Cranston looked at her companion. She was puzzled.

"Is that a recent acquaintance," she asked, "as he addressed you by the name of Lessingham?"

"Yes," was the quiet reply.

"You don't wish to talk about him?"

"No!"

Helen and her partner returned, a few moments later, and the little party presently broke up. Lessingham drove the two women to their hotel in Dover Street.

"We've had a most delightful evening," Philippa assured him, as they said good night. "You are coming round to see us in the morning, aren't you?"

"If I may," Lessingham assented.

Helen found her way into Philippa's room, later on that night. She had nerved herself for a very thankless task.

"May I sit down for a few moments?" she asked, a little nervously. "Your fire is so much better than mine."

Philippa glanced at her friend through the looking-glass before which she was brushing her hair, and made a little grimace. She felt a forewarning of what was coming.

"Of course, dear," she replied. "Have you enjoyed your evening?"

"Very much, in a way," was the somewhat hesitating reply. "Of course, nothing really counts until Dick comes back, but it is nice to talk with some one who knows him."

"Agreeable conversation," Philippa remarked didactically, "is one of the greatest pleasures in life."

"You find Mr. Lessingham very interesting, don't you?" Helen asked.

Philippa finished arranging her hair to her satisfaction and drew up an easy-chair opposite her visitor's.

"So you want to talk with me about Mr. Lessingham, do you?"

"I suppose you know that he's in love with you? Helen began.

"I hope he is a little, my dear," was the smiling reply. "I'm sure I've tried my best."

"Won't you talk seriously?" Helen pleaded.

"I don't altogether see the necessity," Philippa protested.

"I do, and I'll tell you why," Helen answered. "I don't think Mr. Lessingham is at all the type of man to which you are accustomed. I think that he is in deadly earnest about you. I think that he was in deadly earnest from the first. You don't really care for him, do you, dear?"

"Very much, and yet not, perhaps, quite in the way you are thinking of," was the quiet reply.

"Then please send him away," Helen begged.

"My dear, how can I?" Philippa objected. "He has done us an immense service, and he can't disobey his orders."

"You don't want him to go away, then?"

Philippa was silent for several moments. "No," she admitted, "I don't think that I do."

"You don't care for Henry any more?"

"Just as much as ever," was the somewhat bitter reply. "That's what I resent so much. I should like Henry to believe that he had killed every spark of love in me."

Helen moved across and sat on the arm of her friend's chair. She felt that she was going to be very daring.

"Have you any idea at the hack of your mind, dear," she asked "of making use of Mr. Lessingham to punish Henry?"

Philippa moved a little uneasily.

"How hatefully downright you are!" she murmured. "I don't know."

"Because," Helen continued, "if you have any such idea in your mind, I think it is most unfair to Mr. Lessingham. You know perfectly well that anything else between you and him would he impossible."

"And why?"

"Don't be ridiculous!" Helen exclaimed vigorously. "Mr. Lessingham may have all the most delightful qualities in the world, but he has attached himself to a country which no English man or woman will be able to think of without shuddering, for many years to come. You can't dream of cutting yourself adrift from your friends and your home and your country! It's too unnatural! I'm not even arguing with you, Philippa. You couldn't do it! I'm wholly concerned with Mr. Lessingham. I cannot forget what we owe him. I think it would be hatefully cruel of you to spoil his life."

Philippa's flashes of seriousness were only momentary. She made a little grimace. She was once more her natural, irresponsible self.

"You underrate my charm, Helen," she declared. "I really believe that I could make his life instead of spoiling it."

"And you would pay the price?"

Philippa, slim and elflike in the firelight, rose from her chair. There was a momentary cruelty in her face.

"I sometimes think," she said calmly, "that I would pay any price in the world to make Henry understand how I feel. There, now run along, dear. You're full of good intentions, and don't think it horrid of me, but nothing that you could say would make any difference."

"You wouldn't do anything rash?" Helen pleaded.

"Well, if I run away with Mr. Lessingham, I certainly can't promise that I'll send cards out first. Whatever I do, impulse will probably decide."

"Impulse!"

"Why not? I trust mine. Can't you?" Philippa added, with a little shrug of the shoulders.

"Sometimes," Helen sighed, "they are such wild horses, you know. They lead one to such terrible places."

"And sometimes," Philippa replied, "they find their way into the heaven where our soberer thoughts could never take us. Good night, dear!"