The Zeppelin's Passenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Sir Henry was in a pleasant and expansive humour that evening. The new cook was an unqualified success, and he was conscious of having dined exceedingly well. He sat in a comfortable easy-chair before a blazing wood fire, he had just lit one of his favourite brand of cigarettes, and his wife, whom he adored, was seated only a few feet away.
"Quite a remarkable change in Helen," he observed. "She was in the depths of depression when I went away, and to-night she seems positively cheerful."
"Helen varies a great deal," Philippa reminded turn.
"Still, to-night, I must say, I should have expected to have found her more depressed than ever," Sir Henry went on. "She hoped so much from your to London, and you apparently accomplished nothing."
"Nothing at all."
"And you have had no letters?"
"Then Helen's high spirits, I suppose, are only part of woman's natural inconsistency. - Philippa, dear!"
"I am glad to be at home. I am glad to see you sitting there. I know you are nursing up something, some little thunderbolt to launch at me. Won't you launch it and let's get it over?"
Philippa laid down the hook which she had been reading, and turned to face her husband. He made a little grimace.
"Don't look so severe," he begged. "You frighten me before you begin."
"I'm sorry," she said, "but my face probably reflects my feelings. I am hurt and grieved and disappointed in you, Henry."
"That's a good start, anyway," he groaned.
"We have been married six years," Philippa went on, "and I admit at once that I have been very happy. Then the war came. You know quite well, Henry, that especially at that time I was very, very fond of you, yet it never occurred to me for a moment but that, like every other woman, I should have to lose my husband for a time. - Stop, please," she insisted, as he showed signs of interrupting. "I know quite well that it was through my persuasions you retired so early, but in those days there was no thought of war, and I always had it in my mind that if trouble came you would find your way back to where you belonged."
"But, my dear child, that is all very well," Sir Henry protested, "but it's not so easy to get back again. You know very well that I went up to the Admiralty and offered my services, directly the war started."
"Yes, and what happened?" Philippa demanded. "You were, in a measure, shelved. You were put on a list and told that you would hear from them - a sort of Micawber-like situation with which you were perfectly satisfied. Then you took that moor up in Scotland and disappeared for nearly six months."
"I was supplying the starving population with food," he reminded her genially. "We sent about four hundred brace of grouse to market, not to speak of the salmon. We had some very fair golf, too, some of the time."
"Oh, I have not troubled to keep any exact account of your diversions!" Philippa said scornfully. "Sometimes," she continued, "I wonder whether you are quite responsible, Henry. How you can even talk of these things when every man of your age and strength is fighting one way or another for his country, seems marvellous to me. Do you realise that we are fighting for our very existence? Do you realise that my own father, who is fifteen years older than you, is in the firing line? This is a small place, of course, but there isn't a man left in it of your age, with your physique, who has had the slightest experience in either service, who isn't doing something."
"I can't do more than send in applications," he grumbled. "Be reasonable, my dear Philippa. It isn't the easiest thing in the world to find a job for a sailor who has been out of it as long as I have."
"So you say, but when they ask me what you are doing, as they all did in London this time, and I reply that you can't get a job, there is generally a polite little silence. No one believes it. I don't believe it."
Sir Henry turned in his chair. His cigar was burning now idly between his fingers. His heavy eyebrows were drawn together.
"Well, I don't," she reiterated. "You can be angry, if you will - in fact I think I should prefer you to be angry. You take no pains at the Admiralty. You just go there and come away again, once a year or something like that. Why, if I were you, I wouldn't leave the place until they'd found me something - indoors or outdoors, what does it matter so long as your hand is on the wheel and you are doing your little for your country? But you - what do you care? You went to town to get a job - and you come back with new mackerel spinners! You are off fishing to-morrow morning with Jimmy Dumble. Somewhere up in the North Sea, to-day and to-morrow and the next day, men are giving their lives for their country. What do you care? You will sit there smoking your pipe and catching dabs!"
"Do you know you are almost offensive, Philippa?" her husband said quietly.
"I want to be," she retorted. "I should like you to feel that I am. In any case, this will probably be the last conversation I shall hold with you on the subject."
"Well, thank God for that, anyway! "he observed, strolling to the chimneypiece and selecting a pipe from a rack. "I think you've said about enough."
"I haven't finished," she told him ominously.
"Then for heaven's sake get on with it and let's have it over," he begged.
"Oh, you're impossible!" Philippa exclaimed bitterly. "Listen. I give you one chance more. Tell me the truth? Is there anything in your health of which I do not know? Is there any possible explanation of your extraordinary behaviour which, for some reason or other, you have kept to yourself? Give me your whole confidence."
Sir Henry, for a moment, was serious enough. He stood looking down at her a little wistfully.
"My dear," he told her, "I have nothing to say except this. You are my very precious wife. I have loved you and trusted you since the day of our marriage. I am content to go on loving and trusting you, even though things should come under my notice which I do not understand. Can't you accept me the same way?"
Philippa, rnomentarily uneasy, was nevertheless rebellious.
"Accept you the same way? How can I! There is nothing in my life to compare in any way with the tragedy of your - "
She paused, as though unwilling to finish the sentence. He waited patiently, however, for her to proceed.
"Of my what?"
"Lethargy," she pronounced triumphantly.
"An excellent word," he murmured.
"It is too mild a one, but you are my husband," she remarked.
"That reminds me," he said quietly. "You are my wife."
"I know it," she admitted, "but I am also a woman, and there are limits to my endurance. If you can give me no explanation of your behaviour, Henry, if you really have no intention of changing it, then there is only one course left open for me."
"That sounds rather alarming - what is it?" he demanded.
Philippa lifted her head a little. This was the pronouncement towards which she had been leading.
"From to-day," she declared, "I cease to be your wife."
His fingers paused in the manipulation of the tobacco with which he was filling his pipe. He turned and looked at her.
"I cease to be your wife."
"How do you manage that? he asked.
"Don't jest," she begged. "It hurts me so. What I mean is surely plain enough. I will continue to live under your roof if you wish it, or I am perfectly willing to go back to Wood Norton. I will continue to bear your name because I must, but the other ties between us are finished."
"You don't mean this, Philippa," he said gravely. "But I do mean it," she insisted. "I mean every word I have spoken. So far as I am concerned, Henry, this is your last chance."
There was a knock at the door. Mills entered with a note upon a salver. Sir Henry took it up, glanced questioningly at his wife, and tore open the envelope.
"There will be no answer, Mills," he said.
The man withdrew. Sir Henry read the few lines thoughtfully:-
"Is your note of interest?" Philippa enquired.
"In a sense, yes," he replied, thrusting it into his waistcoat pocket. "I presume we can consider our late subject of conversation finished with?"
"I have nothing more to say," she pronounced.
"Very well, then," her husband agreed, "let us select another topic. This time, supposing I choose?"
"You are welcome."
"Let us converse, then, about Mr. Hamar Lessingham."
Philippa had taken up her work. Her fingers ceased their labours, but she did not look up.
"About Mr. Hamar Lessingham," she repeated. "Rather a limited subject, I am afraid."
"I am not so sure," he said thoughtfully. "For instance, who is he?"
"I have no idea," she replied. "Does it matter? He was at college with Richard, and he has been a visitor at Wood Norton. That is all that we know. Surely it is sufficient for us to offer him any reasonable hospitality?"
"I am not disputing it," Sir Henry assured her. "On the face of it, it seems perfectly reasonable that you should be civil to him. On the other hand, there are one or two rather curious points about his coming here just now."
"Really?" Philippa murmured indifferently, bending a little lower over her work.
"In the first place," her husband continued, "how did he arrive here?"
"For all I know," she replied, "he may have walked."
"A little unlikely. Still, he didn't come from London by either of the evening trains, and it seems that you didn't take his rooms for him until about seven o'clock, before which time he hadn't been to the hotel. So, you see, one is driven to wonder how the mischief he did get here."
"I took his rooms?" Philippa repeated, with a sudden little catch at her heart.
"Some one from here rang up, didn't they?" Sir Henry went on carelessly. "I gathered that we were introducing him at the hotel."
"Where did you hear that?" she demanded.
He shrugged his shoulders, but avoided answering the question.
"I have no doubt," he continued, "that the whole subject of Mr. Hamar Lessingham is scarcely worth discussing. Yet he does seem to have arrived here under a little halo of coincidence."
"I am afraid I have scarcely appreciated that," Philippa remarked; "in fact, his coming here has seemed to me the most ordinary thing in the world. After all, although one scarcely remembers that since the war, this is a health resort, and the man has been ill."
"Quite right," Sir Henry agreed. "You are not going to bed, dear?"
Philippa had folded up her work. She stood for a moment upon the hearth-rug. The little hardness which had tightened her mouth had disappeared, her eyes had softened.
"May I say just one word more," she begged, "about our previous - our only serious subject of conversation? I have tried my best since we were married, Henry, to make you happy."
"You know quite well," 'he assured her, "that you have succeeded."
"Grant me one favour, then," she pleaded. "Give up your fishing expedition to-morrow, go back to London by the first train and let me write to Lord Rayton. I am sure he would do something for you."
"Of course he'd do something!" Her husband groaned. "I should get a censorship in Ireland, or a post as instructor at Portsmouth."
"Wouldn't you rather take either of those than nothing?" she asked, "than go on living the life you are living now?"
"To be perfectly frank with you, Philippa, I wouldn't," he declared bluntly. "What on earth use should I be in a land appointment? Why, no one could read my writing, and my nautical science is entirely out of date. Why a cadet at Osborne could floor me in no time."
"You refuse to let me write, then?" she persisted.
"You intend to go on that fishing expedition with Jimmy Dumble to-morrow?"
"Wouldn't miss it for anything," he confessed.
Philippa was suddenly white with anger.
"Henry, I've finished," she declared, holding out her hand to keep him away from her. "I've finished with you entirely. I would rather be married to an enemy who was fighting honourably for his country than to you. What I have said, I mean. Don't come near me. Don't try to touch me."
She swept past him on her way to the door.
"Not even a good-night kiss?" he asked, stooping down.
She looked him in the eyes.
"I am not a child," she said scornfully.
He closed the door after her. For a moment he remained as though undecided whether to follow or not. His face had softened with her absence. Finally, however, he turned away with a little shrug of the shoulders, threw himself into his easy-chair and began to smoke furiously.
The telephone bell disturbed his reflection. He rose at once and took up the receiver.
"Yes, this is 19, Dreymarsh. Trunk call? All right, I am here."
He waited until another voice came to him faintly.
"That's right. The message is Odino Berry, you understand? O-d-i-n-o b-e-r-r-y."
"I've got it," Sir Henry replied. "Good night!" He hung up the receiver, crossed the room to his desk, unlocked one of the drawers, and produced a black memorandum book, secured with a brass lock. He drew a key from his watch chain, opened the book, and ran his fingers down the 0's.
"Odino," he muttered to himself. "Here it is: 'We have trustworthy information from Berlin.' Now Berry." He turned back. "'You are being watched by an enemy secret service agent.'"
He relocked the cipher book and replaced it in the desk. Then he strolled over to his easy-chair and helped himself to a whisky and soda from the tray which Mills had just arranged upon the sideboard.
"We have trustworthy information from Berlin," he repeated to himself, "that you are being watched by an enemy secret service agent."