The Zeppelin's Passenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim
A new tenseness seemed to have crept into the situation. The conversation, never without its emotional tendencies, at once changed its character. Philippa, cold and reserved, with a threat lurking all the time in her tone and manner, became its guiding spirit.
"We may enquire your name?" she asked.
"I am the Baron Maderstrom," was the prompt reply. "For the purpose of my brief residence in this country, however, I fancy that the name of Mr. Hamar Lessingham might provoke less comment."
"Maderstrom," Philippa repeated. "You were at Magdalen with my brother."
"For three terms," he assented.
"You have visited at Wood Norton. It was only an accident, then, that I did not meet you."
"It is true," he answered, with a bow. "I received the most charming hospitality there from your father and mother."
"Why, you are the friend," Helen exclaimed, suddenly seizing his hands, "of whom Dick speaks in his letter!"
"It has been my great privilege to have been of service to Major Felstead," was the grave admission. "He and I, during our college days, were more than ordinarily intimate. I saw his name in one of the lists of prisoners, and I went at once to Wittenberg."
A fresh flood of questions was upon Helen's lips, but Philippa brushed her away.
"Please let me speak," she said. "You have brought us these letters from Richard, for which we offer you our heartfelt thanks, but you did not risk your liberty, perhaps your life, to come here simply as his ambassador. There is something beyond this in your visit to this country. You may be a Swede, but is it not true that at the present moment you are in the service of an enemy?"
Lessingham bowed acquiescence.
"You are entirely right," he murmured.
"Am I also right in concluding that you have some service to ask of us?"
"Your directness, dear lady, moves me to admiration," Lessingham assured her. "I am here to ask a trifling favour in return for those which I have rendered and those which I may yet render to your brother."
"And that favour?"
Their visitor looked down at his torn attire.
"A suit of your brother's clothes," he replied, "and a room in which to change. The disposal of these rags I may leave, I presume, to your ingenuity."
"It is my wish," he continued, "to remain in this neighbourhood for a short: time - perhaps a fortnight and perhaps a month. I should value your introduction to the hotel here, and the extension of such hospitality as may seem fitting to you, under the circumstances."
"As Mr. Hamar Lessingham?"
"Beyond a doubt."
There was a moment's silence. Philippa's face had become almost stony. She took a step towards the telephone. Lessingham, however, held out his hand.
"Your purpose?" he enquired.
"I am going to ring up the Commandant here," she told him, "and explain your presence in this house."
"An heroic impulse," he observed, "but too impulsive."
"We shall see," she retorted. "Will you let me pass?
His fingers restrained her as gently as possible.
"Let me make a reasonable appeal to both of you," he suggested. "I am here at your mercy. I promise you that under no circumstances will I attempt any measure of violence. From any fear of that, I trust my name and my friendship with your brother will be sufficient guarantee."
"Continue, then," Philippa assented.
"You will give me ten minutes in which to state my case," he begged.
"We must!" Helen exclaimed. "We must, Philippa! Please!"
"You shall have your ten minutes," Philippa conceded.
He abandoned his attitude of watchfulness and moved back on to the hearth-rug, his hands behind him. He addressed himself to Philippa. It was Philippa who had become his judge.
"I will claim nothing from you," he began, "for the services which I have rendered to Richard. Our friendship was a real thing, and, finding him in such straits, I would gladly, under any circumstances, have done all that I have done. I am well paid for this by the thanks which you have already proffered me."
"No thanks - nothing that we could do for you would be sufficient recompense," Helen declared energetically.
"Let me speak for a moment of the future," he continued. "Supposing you ring that telephone and hand me over to the authorities here? Well, that will be the end of me, without a doubt. You will have done what seemed to you to he the right thing, and I hope that that consciousness will sustain you, for, believe me, though it may not be at my will, your brother's life will most certainly answer for mine."
There was a slight pause. A sob broke from Helen's throat. Even Philippa's lip quivered.
"Forgive me," he went on, "if that sounds like a threat. It was not so meant. It is the simple truth. Let me hurry on to the future. I ask so little of you. It is my duty to live in this spot for one month. What harm can I do? You have no great concentration of soldiers here, no docks, no fortifications, no industry. And in return for the slight service of allowing me to remain here unmolested, I pledge my word that Richard shall be set at liberty and shall be here with you within two months."
Helen's face was transformed, her eyes glowed, her lips were parted with eagerness. She turned towards Philippa, her expression, her whole attitude an epitome of eloquent pleading.
"Philippa, you will not hesitate? You cannot?"
"I must," Philippa answered, struggling with her agitation. "I love Dick more dearly than anything else on earth, but just now, Helen, we have to remember, before everything, that we are English women. We have to put our human feelings behind us. We are learning every day to make sacrifices. You, too, must learn, dear. My answer to you, Baron Maderstrom - or Mr. Lessingham, as you choose to call yourself - is no."
"Philippa, you are mad!" Helen exclaimed passionately. "Didn't I have to realise all that you say when I let Dick go, cheerfully, the day after we were engaged? Haven't I realised the duty of cheerfulness and sacrifice through all these weary months? But there is a limit to these things, Philippa, a sense of proportion which must be taken into account. It's Dick's life which is in the balance against some intangible thing, nothing that we could ever reproach ourselves with, nothing that could bring real harm upon any one. Oh, I love my country, too, but I want Dick! I should feel like his murderess all my life, if I didn't consent!"
"It occurs to me," Lessingham remarked, turning towards Philippa, "that Miss Fairelough's point of view is one to be considered."
"Doesn't all that Miss Fairclough has said apply to me?" Philippa demanded, with a little break in her voice. "Richard is my twin brother, he is the dearest thing in life to me. Can't you realise, though, that what you ask of us is treason?
"It really doesn't amount to that," Lessingham assured her. "In my own heart I feel convinced that I have come here on a fool's errand. No object that I could possibly attain in this neighbourhood is worth the life of a man like Richard Felstead."
"Oh, he's right!" Helen exclaimed. "Think, Philippa! What is there here which the whole world might not know? There are no secrets in Dreymarsh. We are miles away from everywhere. For my sake, Philippa, I implore you not to be unreasonable."
"In plain words," Lessingham intervened, "do not be quixotic, Lady Cranston. There is just an idea on one side, your brother's life on the other. You see, the scales do not balance."
"Can't you realise, though," Philippa answered, "what that idea means? It is part of one's soul that one gives when one departs from a principle."
"What are principles against love?" Helen demanded, almost fiercely. "A sister may prate about them, Philippa. A wife couldn't. I'd sacrifice every principle I ever had, every scrap of self-respect, myself and all that belongs to me, to save Dick's life!"
There was a brief, throbbing silence. Helen was feverishly clutching Philippa's hand. Lessingham's eyes were fixed upon the tortured face into which he gazed. There were no women like this in his own country.
"Dear lady," he said, and for the first time his own voice shook, "I abandon my arguments. I beg you to act as you think best for your own future happiness. The chances of life or death are not great things for either men like your brother or for me. I would not purchase my end, nor he his life, at the expense of your suffering. You see, I stand on one side. The telephone is there for your use."
"You shan't use it!" Helen cried passionately. "Phillipa, you shan't!"
Philippa turned towards her, and all the stubborn pride had gone out of her face. Her great eyes were misty with tears, her mouth was twitching with emotion. She threw her arms around Helen's neck.
"My dear, I can't! I can't!" she sobbed.