The Zeppelin's Passenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Punctually at 12 o'clock the next morning, Lessingham presented himself at the hotel in Dover Street and was invited by the hall porter to take a seat in the lounge. Philippa entered, a few minutes later, her eyes and cheeks brilliant with the brisk exercise she had been taking, her slim figure most becomingly arrayed in grey cloth and chinchilla.
"I lost Helen in Harrod's," she announced, "but I know she's lunching with friends, so it really doesn't matter. You'll have to take care of me, Mr. Lessingham, until the train goes, if you will."
"For even longer than that, if you will," he murmured.
She laughed. "More pretty speeches? I don't think I'm equal to them before luncheon."
"This time I am literal," he explained. "I am coming back to Dreymarsh myself."
He felt his heart beat quicker, a sudden joy possessed him. Philippa's expression was obviously one of satisfaction.
"I'm so glad," she assured him. "Do you know, I was thinking only as I came back in the taxicab, how I should miss you."
She was standing with her foot upon the broad fender, and her first little impulse of pleasure seemed to pass as she looked into the fire. She turned towards him gravely.
"After all, do you think you are wise?" she asked. "Of course, I don't think that any one at Dreymarsh has the least suspicion, but you know Captain Griffiths did ask questions, and - well, you're safely away now. You have been so wonderful about Dick, so wonderful altogether," she went on, "that I couldn't bear it if trouble were to come."
He smiled at her.
"I think I know what is at the back of your mind," he said. "You think that I am coming back entirely on your account. As it happens, this is not so."
She looked at him with wide-open eyes.
"Surely," she exclaimed, "you have satisfied yourself that there is no field for your ingenuity in Dreymarsh?"
"I thought that I had," he admitted. "It seems that I am wrong. I have had orders to return."
"Orders to return?" she repeated. "From whom?
He shook his head.
"Of course, I ought not to have asked that," she proceeded hastily, "but it does seem odd to realise that you can receive instructions and messages from Germany, here in London."
"Very much the same sort of thing goes on in Germany," he reminded her.
"So they say," she admitted, "but one doesn't come into contact with it. So you are really coming back to Dreymarsh!"
"With you, if I may?"
"Naturally," she agreed.
He glanced at the clock. "We might almost be starting for lunch," he suggested.
She nodded. " As soon as I've told Grover about the luggage."
She was absent only a few moments, and then, as it was a dry, sunny morning, they walked down St. James Street and along Pall Mall to the Carlton. Philippa met several acquaintances, but Lessingham walked with his head erect, looking neither to the right nor to the left.
"Aren't you sometimes afraid of being recognised?" she asked him. "There must he a great many men about of your time at Magdalen, for instance?"
"Nine years makes a lot of difference," he reminded her, "and besides, I have a theory that it is only when the eyes meet that recognition really takes place. So long as I do not look into any one's face, I feel quite safe."
"You are sure that you would not like to go to a smaller place than the Carlton?"
"It makes no difference," he assured her. "My credentials have been wonderfully established for me."
"I'm so glad," she confessed. "I know it's most unfashionable, but I do like these big places. If ever I had my way, I should like to live in London and have a cottage in the country, instead of living in the country and being just an hotel dweller in London."
"I wonder if New York would not do?" he ventured.
"I expect I should like New York," she murmured.
"I think," he said, "in fact, I am almost sure that when I leave here I shall go to the United States."
She looked at him and turned suddenly away. They arrived just then at their destination, and the moment passed. Lessingham left his companion in the lounge while he went back into the restaurant to secure his table and order lunch. When he came back, he found Philippa sitting very upright and with a significant glitter in her eyes.
"Look over there," she whispered, "by the palm."
He followed the direction which she indicated. A man was standing against one of the pillars, talking to a tall, dark woman, obviously a foreigner, wrapped in wonderful furs. There was something familiar about his figure and the slight droop of his head.
"Why, it's Sir Henry!" Lessingham exclaimed, as the man turned around.
"My husband," Philippa faltered.
Sir Henry, if indeed it were he, seemed afflicted with a sudden shortsightedness. He met the incredulous gaze both of Lessingham and his wife without recognition or any sign of flinching. At that distance it was impossible to see the tightening of his lips and the steely flash in his blue eyes.
"The whiting seem to have brought him a long way," Philippa said, with an unnatural little laugh.
"Shall I go and speak to him? "Lessingham asked.
"For heaven's sake, no!" she insisted. "Don't leave me. I wouldn't have him come near me for anything in the world. It is only a few weeks ago that I begged him to come to London with me, and he said that he hated the place. You don't know - the woman?"
Lessingham shook his head.
"She looks like a foreigner," was all he could say.
"Take me in to lunch at once," Philippa begged, rising abruptly to her feet. "This is really the last straw."
They passed up the stairway and within a few feet of where Sir Henry was standing. He appeared absorbed, however, in conversation with his companion, and did not even turn around. Philippa's little face seemed to have hardened as she took her seat. Only her eyes were still unnaturally bright.
"I am so sorry if this has annoyed you," Lessingham regretted. "You would not care to go elsewhere?"
"I? Go anywhere else?" she exclaimed scornfully. "Thank you, I am perfectly satisfied here. And with my companion," she added, with a brilliant little smile. "Now tell me about New York. Have you ever been there?"
"Twice," he told her. "At present the dream of my life is to go there with you."
She looked at him a little wonderingly.
"I wonder if you really care," she said. "Men get so much into the habit of saying that sort of thing to women. Sometimes it seems to me they must do a great deal of mischief. But you - Is that really your wish?"
"I would sacrifice everything that I have ever held dear in life," he declared, with his face aglow, "for its realization."
"But you would be a deserter from your country," she pointed out. "You would never be able to return. Your estates would be confiscated. You would be homeless."
"Home," he said softly, "is where one's heart takes one. Home is just where love is."
Her eyes, as they met his, were for a moment suspiciously soft. Then she began to talk very quickly of other things, to compare notes of countries which they had both visited, even of people whom they had met. They were obliged to leave early to catch their train. As they passed down the crowded restaurant they once more found themselves within a few feet of Sir Henry. His back was turned to them, and he was apparently ignorant of their near presence. The party had become a partie Carre, another man, and a still younger and more beautiful woman having joined it.
"Of course," Philippa said, as they descended the stairs, "I am behaving like an idiot. I ought to go and tell Henry exactly what I think of him, or pull him away in the approved Whitechapel fashion. We lose so much, don't we, by stifling our instincts."
"For the next few minutes," he replied, glancing at his watch, "I think we had better concentrate our attention upon catching our train."
They reached King's Cross with only a few minutes to spare. Grover, however, had already secured a carriage, and Helen was waiting for them, ensconced in a corner. She accepted the news of Lessingham's return with resignation. Philippa became thoughtful as they drew towards the close of their journey and the slow, frosty twilight began to creep down upon the land.
"I suppose we don't really know what war is," she observed, looking out of the window at a comfortable little village tucked away with a background of trees and guarded by a weather-beaten old church. "The people are safe in their homes. You must appreciate what that means, Mr. Lessingham."
"Indeed I do," he answered gravely. "I have seen the earth torn and dismembered as though by the plough of some destroying angel. A few blackened ruins where, an hour or so before, a peaceful village stood; men and women running about like lunatics stricken with a mortal fear. And all the time a red glow on the horizon, a blood-red glow, and little specks of grey or brown lying all over the fields; even the cattle racing round in terror. And every now and then the cry of Death! You are fortunate in England."
Philippa leaned forward.
"Do you believe that our turn will come?" she asked. "Do you believe that the wave will break over our country?"
"Who can tell?"
"Ah, no, but answer me," she begged. "Is it possible for you to land an army here?"
"I think," he replied, "that all things are possible to the military genius of Germany. The only question is whether it is worth while. Germans are supposed to be sentimentalists, you know. I rather doubt it. There is nothing would set the joybells of Berlin clanging so much as the news of a German invasion of Great Britain. On the other hand, there is a great party in Germany, and a very far-seeing one, which is continually reminding the Government that, without Great Britain as a market, Germany would never recover from the financial strain of the war."
"This is all too impersonal," Philippa objected. "Do you, in your heart, believe that the time might come when in the night we should hear the guns booming in Dreymarsh Bay, and see your grey-clad soldiers forming up on the beach and scaling our cliffs? "
"That will not be yet," he pronounced. "It has been thought of. Once it was almost attempted. Just at present, no."
Philippa drew a sigh of relief.
"Then your mission in Dreymarsh has nothing to do with an attempted landing?"
"Nothing," he assured her. "I can even go a little further. I can tell you that if ever we do try to land, it will be in an unsuspected place, in an unexpected fashion."
"Well, it's really very comforting to hear these things at first-hand," Philippa declared, with some return to her usual manner. "I suppose we are really two disgraceful women, Helen and I - traitors and all the rest of it. Here we sit talking to an enemy as though he were one of our best friends."
"I refuse to be called an enemy," Lessingham protested. "There are times when individuality is a far greater thing than nationality. I am just a human being, born into the same world and warmed by the same sun as you. Nothing can alter the fact that we are fellow creatures."
"Dreymarsh once more," Philippa announced, looking out of the window. "And you're a terribly plausible person, Mr. Lessingham. Come round and see us after dinner - if it doesn't interfere with your work."
"On the contrary," he murmured under his breath. "Thank you very much."