The Zeppelin's Passenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim
It was a happy, if a trifle hysterical little dinner party that evening at Mainsail Haul. Philippa was at times unusually silent, but Helen had expanded in the joy of her great happiness. Richard, shaved and with his hair cut, attired once more in the garb of civilisation, seemed a different person. Even in these few hours the lines about his mouth seemed less pronounced. They talked freely of Maderstrom.
"A regular 'Vanity Fair' problem," Richard declared, balancing his wine glass between his fingers, "a problem, too, which I can't say I have solved altogether yet. The only thing is that if he is really going to-night, I don't see why I shouldn't let the matter drift out of my mind."
"It is so much better," Helen agreed. "Try as hard as ever I can, I cannot picture his doing any harm to anybody. And as for any information he may have gained here, well, I think that we can safely let him take it back to Germany."
"He was always," Richard continued reminiscently, "a sort of cross between a dreamer, an idealist, and a sportsman. There was never anything of the practical man of affairs about him. He was scrupulously honourable, and almost a purist in his outlook upon life. I have met a great many Germans," Richard went on, "and I've killed a few, thank God! - but he is about as unlike the ordinary type as any one I ever met. The only pity is that he ever served his time with them."
Philippa had been listening attentively. She was more than ever silent after her brother's little appreciation of his friend. Richard glanced at her good-humouredly.
"You haven't killed the fatted calf for me in the shape of clothes, Philippa," he observed. "One would think that you were going on a journey."
She glanced down at her high-necked gown and avoided Helen's anxious eyes.
"I may go for a walk," she said, "and leave you two young people to talk secrets. I am rather fond of the garden these moonlight nights."
"When is Henry coming back?" her brother enquired.
Philippa's manner was quiet but ominous.
"I have no idea," she confessed. "He comes and goes as the whim seizes him, and I very seldom know where he is. One week it is whiting and another codling. Lately he seems to have shown some partiality for London life."
Richard's eyes were wide open now.
"You mean to say that he is still not doing anything?"
"But what excuse does he give - or rather I should say reason?" Richard persisted.
"He says that he is too old for a ship, and he won't work in an office," Philippa replied. "That is what he says. His point of view is so impossible that I can not even discuss it with him."
"It's the rummest go I ever came across," Richard remarked reminiscently. "I should have said that old Henry would have been up and at 'em at the Admiralty before the first gun was fired."
"On the contrary," Philippa rejoined, "he took advantage of the war to hire a Scotch moor at half-price, about a week after hostilities had commenced."
"It's a rum go," Richard repeated. "I can't fancy Henry as a skulker. Forgive me, Philippa," he added.
"You are entirely forgiven," she assured him drily.
"He comes of such a fine fighting stock," Richard mused. "I suppose his health is all right?"
"His health," Philippa declared, "is marvellous. I should think he is one of the strongest men I know."
Her brother patted her hand.
"You've been making rather a trouble of it, old girl," he said affectionately. "It's no good doing that, you know. You wait and let me have a talk with Henry."
"I think," she replied, "that nearly everything possible has already been said to him."
"Perhaps you've put his back up a bit," Richard suggested, "and he may really be on the lookout for something all the time."
"It has been a long search!" Philippa retorted, with quiet sarcasm. "Let us talk about something else."
They gossiped for a time over acquaintances and relations, made their plans for the week - Richard must report at the War Office at once.
Philippa grew more and more silent as the meal drew to a close. It was at Helen's initiative that they left Richard alone for a moment over his port. She kept her arm through her friend's as they crossed the hall into the drawing-room, and closed the door behind them. Philippa stood upon the hearth rug. Already her mouth had come together in a straight line. 11cr eyes met Helen's defiantly.
"I know exactly what you are going to say, Helen," she began, "and I warn you that it will be of no use."
Helen drew up a small chair and seated herself before the fire.
"Are you going away with Mr. Lessingham, Philippa?" she asked.
"I am," was the calm response. "I made up my mind this afternoon. We are leaving to-night."
Helen stretched out one foot to the blaze.
"Motoring?" she enquired.
"Naturally," Philippa replied. "You know there are no trains leaving here to-night."
"You'll have a cold ride," Helen remarked. "I should take your heavy fur coat."
Philippa stared at her companion.
"You don't seem much upset, Helen!"
"I think," Helen. declared, looking up, "that nothing that has ever happened to me in my life has made me more unhappy, but I can see that you have reasoned it all out, and there is not a single argument I could use which you haven't already discounted. It is your life, Philippa, not mine."
"Since you are so philosophical," Philippa observed, "let me ask you - should you do what I am going to do, if you were in my place?"
"I should not," was the firm reply.
Philippa laughed heartily.
"Oh, I know what you are going to say!" Helen continued quickly. "You'll tell me, won't you, that I am not temperamental. I think in your heart you rather despise my absolute fidelity to Richard. You would call it cowlike, or something of that sort. There is a difference between us, Philippa, and that is why I am afraid to argue with you."
"What should you do," Philippa demanded, "if Richard failed you in some great thing?"
"I might suffer," Helen confessed, "but my love would be there all the same. Perhaps for that reason I should suffer the more, but I should never be able to see with those who judged him hardly."
"You think, then," Philippa persisted, "that I ought still to remain Henry's loving and affectionate wife, ready to take my place amongst the pastimes of his life - when he feels inclined, for instance, to wander from his dark lady-love to something petite and of my complexion, or when he settles down at home for a few days after a fortnight's sport on the sea and expects me to tell him the war news?"
"I don't think that I should do that," Helen admitted quietly, "but I am quite certain that I shouldn't run away with another man."
"Because I should be punishing myself too much."
Philippa's eyes suddenly flashed.
"Helen," she said, "you are not such a fool as you try to make me think. Can't you see what is really at the back of it all in my mind? Can't you realise that, whatever the punishment it may bring, it will punish Henry more?"
"I see," Helen observed. "You are running away with Mr. Lessingham to annoy Henry?"
"Oh, he'll be more than annoyed!" Philippa laughed sardonically. "He has terrible ideas about the sanctity of things that belong to him. He'll be remarkably sheepish for some time to come. He may even feel a few little stabs. When I have time, I am going to write him a letter which he can keep for the rest of his life. It won't please him!"
"Where are you - and Mr. Lessingham going to live?" Helen enquired.
"In America, to start with. I've always longed to go to the States."
"What shall you do," Helen continued, "if you don't get out of the country safely?"
"Mr. Lessingham seems quite sure that we shall," Philippa replied, "and he seems a person of many expedients. Of course, if we didn't, I should go back to Cheshire. I should have gone back there, anyway, before now, if Mr. Lessingham hadn't come."
"Well, it all seems very simple," Helen admitted. "I think Mr. Lessingham is a perfectly delightful person, and I shouldn't wonder if you didn't now and then almost imagine that you were happy."
"You seem to be taking my going very coolly," Philippa remarked.
"I told you how I felt about it just now," Helen reminded her. "Your going is like a great black cloud that I have seen growing larger and larger, day by day. I think that, in his way, Dick will suffer just as much as Henry. We shall all be utterly miserable."
"Why don't you try and persuade me not to go, then?" Philippa demanded. "You sit there talking about it as though I were going on an ordinary country-house visit."
Helen raised her head, and Philippa saw that her eyes were filled with tears.
"Philippa dear," she said, "if I thought that all the tears that were ever shed, all the words that were ever dragged from one's heart, could have any real effect, I'd go on my knees to you now and implore you to give up this idea. But I think - you won't be angry with me, dear? - I think you would go just the same."
"You seem to think that I am obstinate," Philippa complained.
"You see, you are temperamental, dear," Helen reminded her. "You have a complex nature. I know very well that you need the daily love that Henry doesn't seem to have been willing to give you lately, and I couldn't stop your turning towards the sun, you know. Only - all the time there's that terrible anxiety - are you quite sure it is the sun?"
"You believe in Mr. Lessingham, don't you?" Philippa asked.
"I do indeed," Helen replied. "I am not quite sure, though, that I believe in you."
Philippa was a little startled.
"Well, I never!" she exclaimed. "Exactly what do you mean by that, Helen?"
"I am not quite sure," Helen continued, "that when the moment has really come, and your head is upturned and your arms outstretched, and your feet have left this world in which you are now, I am not quite sure that you will find all that you seek."
"You think he doesn't love me?"
"I am not convinced," Helen replied calmly, "that you love him."
"Why, you idiot," Philippa declared feverishly, "of course I love him! I think he is one of the sweetest, most lovable persons I ever knew, and as to his being a Swede, I shouldn't care whether he were a Fiji Islander or a Chinese."
Helen nodded sympathetically.
"I agree with you," she said, "but listen. You know that I haven't uttered a single word to dissuade you. Well, then, grant me just one thing. Before you start off this evening, tell Mr. Lessingham the truth, whatever it may be, the truth which you haven't told me. It very likely won't make any difference. Two people as nice as you and he, who are going to join their lives, generally do, I believe, find the things they seek. Still, tell him."
Philippa made no reply. Richard opened the door and lingered upon the threshold. Helen rose to her feet.
"I am coming, Dick," she called out cheerfully. "There's a gorgeous fire in the gun room, and two big easy-chairs, and we'll have just the time I have been looking forward to all day. You'll tell me things, won't you?
She looked very sweet as she came towards him, her eyes raised to him, her face full of the one happiness. He passed his arm around her waist.
"I'll try, dear," he said. "You won't be lonely, Philippa?"
"I'll come and disturb you when I am," she promised.
The door closed. She stood gazing down into the fire, listening to their footsteps as they crossed the hall.