The Zeppelin's Passenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim
To Major Richard Felstead, Mills' announcement was without significance. For the first time he became conscious, however, of something which seemed almost like a secret understanding between his sister and his fiance.
"Tell Mr. Lessingham I shall be with him in a minute or two, if he will kindly wait," Philippa instructed.
"Who is Mr. Lessingham?" Richard enquired, as soon as the door had closed behind Mills. "Seems a queer time to call."
Helen glanced at Philippa, whose lips framed a decided negative.
"Mr. Lessingham is a gentleman staying in the neighbourhood," the latter replied. "You will probably make his acquaintance before long. Incidentally, he saved Henry's life the other night."
"Sounds exciting," Richard observed. "What form of destruction was Henry courting?"
"There was a trawler shipwrecked in the storm," Philippa explained. "You can see it from all the front windows. Henry was on board, returning from one of his fishing excursions. They were trying to find Dumble's anchorage and were driven in on to that low ridge of rock. A rope broke, or something, they had no more rockets, and Mr. Lessingham swam out with the line."
"Sounds like a plucky chap," Richard admitted.
Philippa rose to her feet regretfully.
"I expect he has come to wish us good-by," she said. "I'll leave you with Helen, Dick. Don't let her overfeed you. And you know where the cigars are, Helen. Take Dick into the gun room afterwards. You'll have it all to yourselves and there is a fire there."
Philippa entered the library in a state of agitation for which she was glad to have some reasonable excuse. She held out both her hands to Lessingham.
"Dick is back - just arrived!" she exclaimed. "I can't tell you how happy we are, and how grateful!"
Lessingham raised her fingers to his lips.
"I am glad," he said simply. "Do you mean that he is in the house here, now?"
"He is in the dining room with Helen."
Lessingham for a moment was thoughtful.
"Don't you think," he suggested, "that it would be better to keep us apart?"
"I was wondering," she confessed.
"Have you told him about my bringing the letters?"
She shook her head.
"We nearly did. Then I stopped - I wasn't sure."
"You were wise," he said.
"Are you wise?" she asked him quickly.
"In coming back here?"
"Captain Griffiths knows everything," she reminded him. "He is simply furious because your arrest was interfered with. I really believe that he is dangerous."
Lessingham was unmoved.
"I had to come back," he said simply.
"Why did you go away so suddenly?"
"Well, I had to do that, too," he replied, "only the governing causes were very different. We will speak, if you do not mind, only of the cause which has brought me back. That I believe you know already."
Philippa was curiously afraid. She looked towards the door as though with some vague hope of escape. She realised that the necessity for decision had arrived.
"Philippa," he went on, "do you see what this is?"
He handed her two folded slips of paper. She started. At the top of one she recognised a small photograph of herself.
"What are they?" she asked. "What does it mean?"
"They are passports for America," he told her.
"For - for me?" she faltered.
"For you and me."
They slipped from her fingers. He picked them up from the carpet. Her face was hidden for a moment in her hands.
"I know so well how you are feeling," he said humbly. "I know how terrible a shock this must seem to you when it comes so near. You are so different from the other women who might do this thing. It is so much harder for you than for them."
She lifted her head. There was still something of the look of a scared child in her face.
"Don't imagine me better than I am," she begged. "I am not really different from any other woman, only it is the first time this sort of thing has ever come into my life."
"I know. You see," he went on, a little wistfully, "you have not taken me, as yet, very far into your confidence, Philippa. You know that I love you as a man loves only once. It sounds like an empty phrase to say it, but if you will give me your life to take care of, I shall only have one thought - to make you happy. Could I succeed? That is what you have to ask yourself. You are not happy now. Do you think that, if you stay on here, the future is likely to be any better for you?"
She shook her head drearily.
"I believe," she confessed, "that I have reached the very limit of my endurance."
He came a little nearer. His hands rested upon her shoulders very lightly, yet they seemed like some enveloping chain. More than ever in those few moments she realised the spiritual qualities of his face. His eyes were aglow. His voice, a little broken with emotion, was wonderfully tender. He looked at her as though she were some precious and sacred thing.
"I am rich," he said, "and there are few parts of the world where we could not live. We could find our way to the islands, like your great writer Stevenson in whom you delight so much; islands full of colour, and wonderful birds, and strange blue skies; islands where the peace of the tropics dulls memory, and time heats only in the heart. The world is a great place, Philippa, and there are corners where the sordid crime of this ghastly butchery has scarcely been heard of, where the horror and the taint of it are as though they never existed, where the sun and moon are still unashamed, and the grey monsters ride nowhere upon the sapphire seas."
"It sounds like a fairy tale," she murmured, with a half pathetic smile.
"Love always fashions life like a fairy tale," he replied.
She stood perfectly still.
"You must have my answer now, at this moment?" she asked at last.
"There are yet some hours," he told her. "I have a very powerful automobile here, and to-night there is a full moon. If we leave here at ten o'clock, we can catch the steamer to-morrow afternoon. Everything has been made very easy for me. And fortune, too, is with us - your vindictive commandant, Captain Griffiths, is in London. You see, you have the whole afternoon for thought. I want you only for your happiness. At ten o'clock I shall come here. If you are coming with me, you must be ready then. You understand?"
"I understand," she assented, under her breath. "And now," she went on, raising her eyes, "somehow I think that you are right. It would be better for you and Dick not to meet."
"I am sure of it," he agreed. "I shall come for my answer at ten o'clock. I wonder - "
He stood looking at her, his eyes hungry to find some sign in her face. There was so much kindness there, so much that might pass, even, for affection, and yet something which, behind it all, chilled his confidence. He left his sentence uncompleted and turned towards the door. Suddenly she called him back. She held up her finger. Her whole expression had changed. She was alarmed.
"Wait!" she begged. "I can hear Dick's voice. Wait till he has crossed the hail."
They both stood, for a moment, quite silent. Then they heard a little protesting cry from Helen, and a good-humoured laugh from Richard. The door was thrown open.
"You don't mind our coming through to the gun room, Phil?" her brother asked. "We're not - My God!"
There was a queer silence, broken by Helen, who stood on the threshold, the picture of distress.
"I tried to get him to go the other way, Philippa.
Richard took a quick step forward. His hands were outstretched.
"Bertram!" he exclaimed. "Is this a miracle? You here with my sister?"
Lessingham held out his hand. Suddenly Richard dropped his. His expression had become sterner.
"I don't understand," he said simply. "Somebody please explain."