The Zeppelin's Passenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Philippa and Helen met in the drawing-room, a few minutes before eight that evening. Philippa was wearing a new black dress, a model of simplicity to the untutored eye, but full of that undefinable appeal to the mysterious which even the greatest artist frequently fails to create out of any form of colour. Some fancy had induced her to strip off her jewels at the last moment, and she wore no ornaments save a band of black velvet around her neck. Helen looked at her curiously.
"Is this a fresh scheme for conquest, Philippa?" she asked, as they stood together by the log fire.
Philippa unexpectedly flushed.
"I don't know what I was thinking about, really," she confessed. "Is that the exact time, I wonder?"
"Two minutes to eight," Helen replied.
"Mr. Lessingham is always so punctual," Philippa murmured. "I wonder if Captain Griffiths would dare!"
"We've done our best to warn him," Helen reminded her friend. "The man is simply pig-headed."
"I can't help feeling that he's right," Philippa declared, "when he argues that they couldn't really prove anything against him."
"Does that matter," Helen asked anxiously, "so long as he is an enemy, living under a false name here?"
"You don't think they'd - they'd - "
"Shoot him?" Helen whispered, lowering her voice. "They couldn't do that! They couldn't do that!"
The clock began to chime. Suddenly Philippa, who had been listening, gave a little exclamation of relief.
"I hear his voice!" she exclaimed. "Thank goodness!"
Helen's relief was almost as great as her companion's. A moment later Mills ushered in their guest. He was still wearing his bandage, but his colour had returned. He seemed, in fact, almost gay.
"Nothing has happened, then?" Philippa demanded anxiously, as soon as the door was closed.
"Nothing at all," he assured them. "Our friend Griffiths is terribly afraid of making a mistake."
"So afraid that he wouldn't come and dine. Never mind, you'll have to take care of us both," she added, as Mills announced dinner.
"I'll do my best," he promised, offering his arm.
If the sword of Damocles were indeed suspended over their heads, it seemed only to heighten the merriment of their little repast. Philippa had ordered champagne, and the warmth of the pleasant dining room, the many appurtenances of luxury by which they were surrounded, the glow of the wine, and the perfume of the hothouse flowers upon the table, seemed in delicious contrast to the fury of the storm outside. They all three appeared completely successful in a strenuous effort to dismiss all disconcerting subjects from their minds. Lessingham talked chiefly of the East. He had travelled in Russia, Persia, Afghanistan, and India, and he had the unusual but striking gift of painting little word pictures of some of the scenes of his wanderings. It was half-past nine before they rose from the table, and Lessingham accompanied them into the library. With the advent of coffee, they were for the first time really alone. Lessingham sat by Philippa's side, and Helen reclined in a low chair close at hand.
"I think," he said, "that I can venture now to tell you some news."
Helen put down her work. Philippa looked at him in silence, and her eyes seemed to dilate.
"I have hesitated to say anything about it," Lessingham went on, "because there is so much uncertainty about these things, but I believe that it is now finally arranged. I think that within the next week or ten days - perhaps a little before, perhaps a little later - your brother Richard will be set at liberty."
"Dick? Dick coming home?" Philippa cried, springing up from her reclining position.
"Dick?" Helen faltered, her work lying unheeded in her lap. "Mr. Lessingham, do you mean it? Is it possible?
"It is not only possible," Lessingham assured them, "but I believe that it will come to pass. I have had to exercise a little duplicity, but I fancy that it has been successful. I have insisted that without help from an influential person in Dreymarsh, I cannot bring my labours here to a satisfactory conclusion, and I have named as the price of that help, Richard's absolute and immediate freedom. I heard only this morning that there would be no difficulty."
Helen snatched up her work and groped her way towards the door.
"I will come back in a few minutes," she promised, her voice a little broken.
Lessingham, who had opened the door for her, returned to his place. There were no tears in Philippa's brilliant eyes, but there was a faint patch of colour in her cheeks, and her lips were not quite steady. She caught at his hands.
"Oh, my dear, dear friend!" she said. "If only that little nightmare part of you did not exist. If only you could be just what you seem, and one could feel that you were there in our lives for always! I feel that I want to talk to you so much, to you and not the sham you. What shall I call you?"
"Bertram, please," he whispered.
"Then Bertram, dear," she went on, "for my sake, because you have really become dear to me, because my heart aches at the thought of your danger, and because - see how honest I am - I am a little afraid of myself - will you go away? The thought of your danger is like a nightmare to me. It all seems so absurd and unreasonable - I mean that the danger which I fear should be hanging over you. But I think that there is just a little something back of your brain of which you have never spoken, which it was your duty to keep to yourself, and it is just that something which brings the danger."
"I am not afraid for myself, Philippa," he told her. "I took a false step in life when I came here. What it was that attracted me I do not know. I think it was the thought of that wild ride amongst the clouds, and the starlight. It seemed such a wonderful beginning to any enterprise. And, Philippa, for one part of my adventure, the part which concerns you, it was a gorgeous prelude, and for the other - well, it just does not count because I have no fear. I have faith in my fortune, do you know that? I believe that I shall leave this place unharmed, but I believe that if I leave it without you, I shall go back to the worst hell in which a man could ever
"Bertram," she pleaded, "think of it all. Even if I cared enough - and I don't - there is something unnatural about it. Doesn't it strike you as horrible? My brother, my cousins, my father, are all fighting the men of the nation whose cause you have espoused! There is a horrible, eternal cloud of hatred which it will take generations to get rid of, if ever it disappears. How can we two speak of love! What part of the world could we creep into where people would not shrink away from us? I may have lost a little of my heart to you, Bertram, I may miss you when you go away, I may waste weary hours thinking, but that is all. Oh, you know that it must be all!"
"I do not," he answered stubbornly.
"Oh, you must be reasonable," she begged, with a little break in her voice. "You know very well that I ought not to listen to you. I ought not to welcome you here. I ought to be strong and close my ears."
"But you will not do that!"
"No!" she faltered. "Please don't come any nearer. I - "
She broke off suddenly. The struggle in her face was ended, her expression transformed. Her finger was held up as though to bid him listen. With her other hand she clutched the back of the couch. Her eyes were fixed upon the door. The little patch of wonderful colour faded from her cheeks.
"Listen!" she cried, with a note of terror in her voice. "That was the front door! Some one has come! Can't you hear them?"
Lessingham's hand stole suddenly to his pocket. She caught the glitter of something half withdrawn, and shrank back with a half-stifled moan.
"Not before you, dear," he promised. "Please do not be afraid. If this is the end, leave me alone with Griffiths. I shall not hurt him. I shall not forget. And if by any chance," he added, "this is to be our farewell, Philippa, you will remember that I love you as the flowers of the world love their sun. Courage!"
The door facing them was opened.
"Captain Griffiths," Mills announced.
Through the open door they caught a vision of two other soldiers and Inspector Fisher. Griffiths came into the room alone, however, and waited until the door was closed before he spoke. He carried himself as awkwardly as ever, but his long, lean face seemed to have taken to itself a new expression. He had the air of a man indulging in some strange pleasure.
"Lady Cranston," he said, "I am very sorry to intrude, but my visit here is official."
"What is it?" she asked hoarsely.
"I have received confirmatory evidence in the matter of which I spoke to you this afternoon," he went on. "I am sorry to disturb you at such an hour, but it is my duty to arrest this man on a charge of espionage."
Lessingham to all appearance remained unmoved.
"A most objectionable word," he remarked.
"A most villainous profession," Captain Griffiths retorted. "Thank heaven that in this country we are learning the art of dealing with its disciples."
"This is all a hideous mistake," Philippa declared feverishly. "I assure you that Mr. Lessingham has visited my father's house, that he was well-known to me years ago."
"As the Baron Maderstrom! What arguments he has used, Lady Cranston, to induce you to accept him here under his new identity, I do not know, but the facts are very clear."
"He seems quite convinced, doesn't he?" Lessingham remarked, turning to Philippa. "And as I gather that a portion of the British Army, assisted by the local constabulary, is waiting for me outside, perhaps I had better humour him."
"It would be as well, sir," Captain Griffiths assented grimly. "I am glad to find you in the humour for jesting."
Lessingham turned once more to Philippa. This time his tone was more serious.
"Lady Cranston," he begged, "won't you please leave us?"
"No!" she answered hysterically. "I know why you want me to, and I won't go! You have done no harm, and nothing shall happen to you. I will not leave the room, and you shall not - "
His gesture of appeal coincided with the sob in her throat. She broke down in her speech, and Captain Griffiths moved a step nearer.
"If you have any weapon in your possession, sir," he said, "you had better hand it over to me."
"Well, do you know," Lessingham replied, "I scarcely see the necessity. One thing I will promise you," he added, with a sudden flash in his eyes, "a single step nearer - a single step, mind - and you shall have as much of my weapon as will keep you quiet for the rest of your life. Remember that so long as you are reasonable I do not threaten you. Help me to persuade Lady Cranston to leave us."
Captain Griffiths was out of his depths. He was not a coward, but he had no hankering after death, and there was death in Lessingham's threat and in the flash of his eyes. While he hesitated, there was a knock upon the door. Mills came silently in. He carried a telegram upon a salver.
"For you, sir," he announced, addressing Captain Griffiths. "An orderly has just brought it down."
Griffiths looked at the pink envelope and frowned. He tore it open, however, without a word. As he read, his long, upper teeth closed in upon his lip. So he stood there until two little drops of blood appeared.
Then he turned to Mills.
"There is no answer," he said.
The man bowed and left the room. He walked slowly and he looked back from the doorway. It was scarcely possible for even so perfectly trained a servant to escape from the atmosphere of tragedy.
"Something tells me," Lessingham remarked coolly, as soon as the door was closed, "that that message concerns me."
The Commandant made no immediate reply. He straightened out the telegram and read it once more under the lamplight, as though to be sure there was no possible mistake. Then he folded it up and placed it in his waistcoat pocket.
"The notion of your arrest, sir," he said to Lessingham harshly, "is apparently distasteful to some one at headquarters who has not digested my information. I am withdrawing my men for the present."
"You're not going to arrest him?" Philippa cried.
"I am not," Captain Griffiths answered. "But," he added, turning to Lessingham, "this is only a respite. I have more evidence behind all that I have offered. You are Baron Bertram Maderstrom, a German spy, living here in a prohibited area under a false name. That I know, and that I shall prove to those who have interfered with me in the execution of my duty. This is not the end."
He left the room without even a word or a salute to Philippa. Lessingham looked after him for a moment, thoughtfully. Then he shrugged his shoulders.
"I am quite sure that I do not like Captain Griffiths," he declared. "There is no breeding about the fellow."