The Zeppelin's Passenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim
"My dear man, whatever shall I do with you!" Philippa exclaimed pathetically, as the door closed upon the last of her callers. "The Guards, indeed!"
Lessingham smiled as he resumed his place by her side.
"Well," he said, "I told the dear lady the truth. You will find my name well up in the list of the thirty-first battalion of the Prussian Guards."
She threw herself back in her chair and laughed. "How amusing it would be if it weren't all so terrible! You really are a perfect political Raffles. Do you know that this afternoon you have absolutely reestablished yourself? Mr. Johnson will probably call on you to-morrow - they may even ask you to dine - the vicar will write and ask for a subscription, and Dolly Fenwick will invite you to play golf with her."
"Do not turn my head," he begged.
"All the same," Philippa continued, more gravely, "I shall never have a moment's peace whilst you are in the place. I was thinking about you last night. I don't believe I have ever realised before how terrible it would be if you really were discovered. What would they do to you?"
"Whatever they might do," he replied, a little wearily, "I must obey orders. My orders are to remain here, but even if I were told that I might go, I should find it hard."
"Do you mean that? " she asked.
"I think you know," he answered.
"You men are so strange," she went on, after a moment's pause. "You give us so little time to know you, you show us so little of yourselves and you expect so much."
"We offer everything," he reminded her.
"I want to avoid platitudes," she said thoughtfully, "but is love quite the same thing for a man as for a woman?
"Sometimes it is more," was the prompt reply. "Sometimes love, for a woman, means only shelter; often, for a man, love means the blending of all knowledge, of all beauty, all ambition, of all that he has learned from books and from life. Sometimes a man can see no further and needs to look no further."
Philippa suddenly felt that she was in danger. There was something in her heart of which she had never before been conscious, some music, some strange turn of sentiment in Lessingham s voice or the words themselves. It was madness, she told herself breathlessly. She was in love with her husband, if any one. She could not have lost all feeling for him so soon. She clasped her hands tightly. Lessingham seemed conscious of his advantage, and leaned towards her.
"If I were not offering you my whole life," he pleaded, "believe me, I would not open my lips. If I were thinking of episodes. I would throw myself into the sea before I asked you to give me even your fingers. But you, and you alone, could fill the place in my life which I have always prayed might be filled, not for a year or even a decade of years, but for eternity."
"Oh, but you forget!" she faltered.
"I remember so much," he replied, "that I know it is hard for you to speak. There are bonds which you have made sacred, and your fingers shrink from tearing them asunder. If it were not for this, Philippa - hear the speech of a renegade - my mandate should be torn in pieces. My instructions should flutter into the waste-paper basket, To-morrow should see us on our way to a new country and a new life. But you must be very sure indeed."
"Is it because of me that you are staying here?" she asked.
"Upon my honour, no," he assured her. "I must stay here a little longer, whatever it may mean for me. And so I am content to remain what I am to you at this minute. I ask from you only that you remain just what you are. But when the moment of my freedom comes, when my task here is finished and I turn to go, then I must come to you."
She rose suddenly to her feet, crossed the floor, and threw open the window. The breeze swept through the room, flapping the curtains, blowing about loose articles into a strange confusion. She stood there for several moments, as though in search of some respite from the emotional atmosphere upon which she had turned her back. When she finally closed the window, her hair was in little strands about her face. Her eyes were soft and her lips quivering.
"You make me feel," she said, taking his hand for a moment and looking at him almost piteously, "you make me feel everything except one thing."
"Except one thing?" he repeated.
"Can't you understand?" she continued, stretching out her hand with a quick, impulsive little movement. "I am here in Henry's house, his wife, the mistress of his household. All the years we've been married I have never thought of another man. I have never indulged in even the idlest flirtation. And now suddenly my life seems upside down. I feel as though, if Henry stood before me now, I would strike him on the cheek. I feel sore all over, and ashamed, but I don't know whether I have ceased to love him. I can't tell. Nothing seems to help me. I close my eyes and I try to think of that new world and that new life, and I know that there is nothing repulsive in it. I feel all the joy and the strength of being with you. And then there is Henry in the background. He seems to have had so much of my love."
He saw the tears gathering in her eyes, and he smiled at her encouragingly.
"Remember that at this moment I am asking you for nothing," be said. "Just think these things out. It isn't really a matter for sorrow," he continued. "Love must always mean happiness - for the one who is loved."
She leaned hack in the corner of the sofa to which he had led her, her eyes dry now but still very soft and sweet. He sat by her side, fingering some of the things in her work basket. Once she held out her hand and seemed to find comfort in his clasp. He raised her fingers to his lips without any protest from her. She looked at him with a little smile.
"You know, I'm not at all an Ibsen heroine," she declared. "I can't see my way like those wonderful emancipated women."
"Yet," he said thoughtfully, "the way to the simple things is so clear."
Confidences were at an end for a time, broken up by the entrance of Nora and Helen, and some young men from the Depot, who had looked in for a game of billiards. Lessingham rose to leave as soon as the latter had returned to their game. His tone and manner now were completely changed. He seemed ill at ease and unhappy.
"I am going to have a day's fishing to-morrow," he told Philippa, "but I must admit that I have very little faith in this man Oates. They all tell me that your husband has any number of charts of the coast. Do you think I could borrow one?"
"Why, of course," she replied, "if we can find it."
She took him over to her husband's desk, opened such of the drawers as were not locked, and searched amongst their contents ruthlessly. By the time they had finished the last drawer, Lessingham had quite a little collection of charts, more or less finished, in his hand.
"I don't know where else to look," she said. "You might go through those and see if they are of any use. What is it, Mills?" she added, turning to the door.
Mills had entered noiselessly, and was watching the proceedings at Sir Henry's desk with a distinct lack of favour. He looked away towards his mistress, however, as he replied.
"The young woman has called with reference to a situation as parlour-maid, your ladyship," he announced. "I have shown her into the sewing room." Lady Cranston glanced at the clock.
"I sha'n't be more than five or ten minutes," she promised Lessingham. "Just look through those till I come back."
She hurried away, leaving Lessingham alone in the room. He stood for a moment listening. On the left-hand side, through the door which had been left ajar, he could hear the click of billiard balls and occasional peals of laughter. On the right-hand side there was silence. He moved swiftly across the room and closed the door leading into the billiard room, deposited on the sofa the charts which he had been carrying, and hurried back to the secretary. With a sickening feeling of overwhelming guilt, he drew from his pocket a key and opened, one by one, the drawers through which they had not searched. It took him barely five minutes to discover - nothing. With an air of relief he rearranged everything. When Philippa returned, he was sitting on the lounge, going through the charts which they had looked out together.
"Well?" she asked.
"There is nothing here," he decided, "which will help me very much. With your permission I will take this," he added, selecting one at random.
She nodded and they replaced the others. Then she touched him on the arm.
"Listen," she said, "are you perfectly certain that there is no one coming?"
He listened for a moment.
"I can't hear any one," he answered. "They've started a four-handed game of pool in the billiard room.
"Then I will disclose to you Henry's dramatic secret. See!"
She touched the spring in the side of the secretary. The false back, with its little collection of fishing flies, rolled slowly up. The large and very wonderful chart on which Sir Henry had bestowed so much of his time, was revealed. Lessingham gazed at it eagerly.
"There!" she said. "That has been a great labour of love with Henry. It is the chart, on a great scale, from which he works. I don't know a thing about it, and for heaven's sake never tell Henry that you have seen it."
He continued to examine the chart earnestly. Not a part of it escaped him. Then he turned back to Philippa.
"Is that supposed to be the coast on the other side of the point?" he asked.
"I don't exactly know where it is," she replied. "Every time Henry finds out anything new, he comes and works at it. I believe that very soon it will be perfect. Then he will start on another part of the coast."
"This is not the only one that he has prepared, then?" Lessingham enquired.
She shook her head.
"I believe it is the fifth," she replied. "They all disappear when they are finished, but I have no idea where to. To me they seem to represent a shocking waste of time."
Lessingham was suddenly taciturn. He held out his hand. "You are dining with us to-morrow night, remember," she said.
"I am not likely to forget," he assured her.
"And don't get drowned," she concluded. "I don't know any of these fishermen - I hate them all - but I'm told that Oates is the worst."
"I think that we shall be quite all right," he assured her. "Thanks very much for finding me the charts. What I have seen will help me."
Helen came in for a moment and their farewell was more or less perfunctory. Lessingham was almost thankful to escape. There was an unusual flush in his cheeks, a sense of bitter humiliation in his heart. All the fervour with which he had started on his perilous quest had faded away. No sense of duty or patriotism could revive his drooping spirits. He felt himself suddenly an unclean and dishonoured being.