The Zeppelin's Passenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim
The three dinner guests entered together, Lessingham in the middle. Sir Henry's presence was obviously a surprise to all of them.
"No idea that you were back, sir," Harrison observed, shaking hands.
Sir Henry greeted them all good-humouredly. "I turned up about three quarters of an hour ago," he explained, "just too late to join you at dinner."
"Bad luck, sir," Sinclair remarked. "I hope that you had good sport?"
"Not so bad," Sir Henry admitted. "We had to go far enough for it, though. What do you think of that for an October codling?"
They all approached the scales and admired the fish. Sir Henry stood with his hands in his pockets, listening to their comments.
"You are enjoying your stay here, I hope, Mr. Lessingham?" he enquired.
"One could scarcely fail to enjoy even the briefest holiday in so delightfully hospitable a place," was the somewhat measured reply.
"You're by way of being a fisherman yourself, I hear?" Sir Henry continued.
"In a very small way," Lessingham acknowledged. "I have been out once or twice."
"With Ben Oates, eh?"
"I believe that was the man's name."
Philippa glanced up from her work with a little exclamation of surprise.
"I had no idea of that, Mr. Lessingham. Whatever made you choose Ben Oates? He is a most disgraceful person."
"It was entirely by accident," Lessingham explained. "I met him on the front. It happened to be a fine morning, and he was rather pressing in his invitation."
"I'm afraid he didn't show you much sport," Sir Henry observed. "From what Jimmy Dumble's brother told him, he seems to have taken you in entirely the wrong direction, and on the wrong tide."
"We had a small catch," Lessingham replied. "I really went more for the sail than the sport, so I was not disappointed."
"The coast itself," Sir Henry remarked, "is rather an interesting one."
"I should imagine so," Lessingham assented. "Mr. Ben Oates, indeed, told me some wonderful stories about it. He spoke of broad channels down which a dreadnought could approach within a hundred yards of the land."
"He is quite right, too," his host agreed.
"There's a lot of deep water about here. The whole of the coast is very curious in that way. What the - what the dickens is this?"
Sir Henry, who had been strolling about the room, picked up a Homburg hat from the far side of a table of curios. Philippa glanced up at his exclamation.
"That's Nora's trophy," she explained. "I told her to take it up to her own room, but she's always wanting to show it to her friends."
"Nora's trophy?" Sir Henry repeated. "Why, it's nothing but an ordinary man's hat."
"Nevertheless, it's a very travelled one, sir," Harrison pointed out. "Miss Nora picked it up on Dutchman's Common, the morning after the observation car was found there."
Sir Henry held out the hat.
"But Nora doesn't seriously suppose that the Germans come over in this sort of headgear, does she?" he demanded.
"If you'll just look inside the lining, sir," Sinclair suggested.
Sir Henry turned it up and whistled softly. "By Jove, it's a German hat, all right!" he exclaimed. "Doesn't look a bad shape, either."
He tried it on. There was a little peal of laughter from the men. Philippa had ceased her knitting and was watching from the couch. Sir Henry looked at himself in the looking-glass.
"Well, that's funny," he observed. "I shouldn't have thought it would have been so much too small for me. Here, just try how you'd look in it, Mr. Lessingham," he added, handing it across to him.
Lessingham accepted the situation quite coolly, and placed the hat carefully on his head.
"It doesn't feel particularly comfortable," he remarked.
"That may be," Sir Henry suggested, "because you have it on wrong side foremost. If you'd just turn it round, I believe you would find it a very good fit."
Lessingham at once obeyed. Sir Henry regarded him with admiration.
"Excellent!" he exclaimed. "Look at that, Philippa. Might have been made for him, eh?"
Lessingham looked at himself in the glass and removed the hat from his head with, some casual observation. He was entirely at his ease. His host turned towards the door, which Mills was holding open.
"Captain Griffiths, sir," the latter announced.
Sir Henry greeted his visitor briefly.
"How are you, Griffiths? " he said. "Glad to see you. Excuse my costume, but I am just back from a fishing expedition. We are all admiring Mr. Lessingham in his magic hat."
Captain Griffiths shook hands with Philippa, nodded to the others, and turned towards Lessingham.
"Put it on again, there's a good fellow, Lessingham," Sir Henry begged. "You see, we have found a modern version of Cinderella's slipper. The hat which fell from the Zeppelin on to Dutchman's Common fits our friend like a glove. I never thought the Germans made such good hats, did you, Griffiths?"
"I always thought they imported their felt hats," Captain Griffiths acknowledged. "Is that really the one with the German name inside, which Miss Nora brought home?"
"This is the genuine article," Lessingham assented, taking it from his head and passing it on to the newcomer. "Notwithstanding the name inside, I should still believe that it was an English hat. It feels too comfortable for anything else."
The Commandant took the hat to a lamp and examined it carefully. He drew out the lining and looked all the way round. Suddenly he gave vent to a little exclamation.
"Here are the owner's initials," he declared, "rather faint but still distinguishable, - B. M. Hm! There's no doubt about its being a German hat."
"B. M.," Sir Henry muttered, looking over his shoulder. "How very interesting! B. M.," he repeated, turning to Philippa, who had recommenced her knitting. "Is it my fancy, or is there something a little familiar about that?"
"I am sure that I have no idea," Philippa replied. "It conveys nothing to me."
There was a brief but apparently pointless silence. Philippa's needles flashed through her wool with easy regularity. Lessingham appeared to be sharing the mild curiosity which the others showed concerning the hat. Sir Henry was standing with knitted brows, in the obvious attitude of a man seeking to remember something.
"B. M.," he murmured softly to himself. "There was some one I've known or heard of in England - What's that, Mills?"
"Your dinner is served, sir," Mills, who had made a silent entrance, announced.
Sir Henry apparently thought no more of the hat or its possible owner. He threw it upon a neighbouring table, and his face expressed a new interest in life.
"Jove, I'm ravenous!" he confessed. "You'll excuse me, won't you? Mills, see that these gentlemen have cigars and cigarettes - in the billiard room, I should think. You'll find the young people there. I'll come in and have a game of pills later."
The two young soldiers, with Captain Griffiths, followed Sir Henry at once from the room. Lessingham, however, lingered. He stood with his hands behind him, looking at the closed door.
"Are you going to stay and talk nonsense with me, Mr. Lessingham?" Philippa asked.
"If I may," he answered, without changing his position.
Philippa looked at him curiously.
"Do you see ghosts through that door?"
He shook his head.
"Do you know," he said, as he seated himself by her side, "there are times when I find your husband quite interesting."