The Zeppelin's Passenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim
"Tell me, Mr. Lessingham," Philippa insisted, "exactly what are you thinking of? You looked so dark and mysterious from the ridge below that I've climbed up on purpose to ask you."
Lessingham held out his hand to steady her. They were standing on a sharp spur of the cliffs, the north wind blowing in their faces, thrashing into little flecks of white foam the sea below, on which the twilight was already resting. For a moment or two neither of them could speak.
"I was thinking of my country," he confessed. "I was looking through the shadows there, right across the North Sea."
He shook his head.
"Further away - to Sweden."
"I forgot," she murmured. "You looked as though you were posing for a statue of some one in exile," she observed. "Come, let us go a little lower down - unless you want to stay here and be blown to pieces."
"I was on my way back to the hotel," he answered quickly, as he followed her lead, "but to tell you the truth I was feeling a little lonely."
"That," she declared," is your own fault. I asked you to come to Mainsail Haul whenever you felt inclined."
"As I have felt inclined ever since the evening I arrived," he remarked with a smile, "you might, perhaps, by this time have had a little too much of me."
"On the contrary," she told him, "I quite expected you yesterday afternoon, to tell me how you like the place and what you have been doing. So you were thinking about - over there?" she added, moving her head seawards.
"Over there absorbs a great deal of one's thoughts," he confessed, "and the rest of them have been playing me queer tricks."
"Well, I should like to hear about the first half," she insisted.
"Do you know," he replied, "there are times when even now this war seems to me like an unreal thing, like something I have been reading about, some wild imagining of Shelley or one of the unrestrainable poets. I can't believe that millions of the flower of Germany's manhood and yours have perished helplessly, hopelessly, cruelly. And France - poor decimated France!"
"Well, Germany started the war, you know," she reminded him.
"Did she?" he answered. "I sometimes wonder. Even now I fancy, if the official papers of every one of the nations lay side by side, with their own case stated from their own point of view, even you might feel a little confused about that. Still, I am going to be very honest with you. I think myself that Germany wanted war."
"There you are, then," she declared triumphantly. "The whole thing is her responsibility."
"I do not quite go so far as that," he protested. "You see, the world is governed by great natural laws. As a snowball grows larger with rolling, so it takes up more room. As a child grows out of its infant clothes, it needs the vestments of a youth and then a man. And so with Germany. She grew and grew until the country could not hold her children, until her banks could not contain her money, until she stretched her arms out on every side and felt herself stifled. Germany came late into the world and found it parcelled out, but had she not a right to her place? She made herself great. She needed space."
"Well," Philippa observed, "you couldn't suppose that other nations were going to give up what they had, just because she wanted their possessions, could you?"
"Perhaps not," he admitted. "And yet, you see, the immutable law comes in here. The stronger must possess - not only the stronger by arms, mind, but by intellect, by learning, by proficiency in science, by utilitarianism. The really cruel part, the part I was thinking of then, as I looked out across the sea, is that this crude and miserable resort to arms should be necessary."
"If only Germans themselves were as broad-minded and reasonable as you," Philippa sighed, "one feels that there might be some hope for the future!"
"I am not alone," he assured her, "but, you see, all over Germany there is spread like a spider's web the lay religion of the citizen - devotion to the Government, blind obedience to the Kaiser. Independent thought has made Germany great in science, in political economy, in economics. But independent thought is never turned towards her political destinies. Those are shaped for her. For good or for evil her children have learnt obedience."
They were descending the hillside now. At their feet lay the little town, black and silent.
"You have helped me to understand a little," Philippa said. "You put things so gently and yet so clearly. Now tell me, will you not, how it is that you, who are a Swede by birth, are bearing arms for Germany?"
"That is very simple," he confessed. "My mother was a German, and when she died she bequeathed to me large estates in Bavaria, and a very considerable fortune. These I could never have inherited unless I had chosen to do my military service in Germany. My family is an impoverished one, and I have brothers and sisters dependent upon me. Under the circumstances, hesitation on my part was impossible."
"But when the war came?" she queried.
He looked at her in surprise.
"What was there left for me then?" he demanded. "Naturally I heard nothing but the voice of those whom I had sworn to obey. I was in that mad rush through Belgium. I was wounded at Maubeuge, or else I should have followed hard on the heels of that wonderful retreat of yours. As it was, I lay for many months in hospital. I joined again - shall I confess it? - almost unwillingly. The bloodthirstiness of it all sickened me. I fought at Ypres, but I think that it was something of the courage of despair, of black misery. I was wounded again and decorated. I suppose I shall never be fit for the front again. I tried to turn to account some of my knowledge of England and English life. Then they sent me here."
"Here, of all places in the world!" Philippa repeated wonderingly. "Just look at us! We have a single line of railway, a perfectly straightforward system of roads, the ordinary number of soldiers being trained, no mysteries, no industries - nothing. What terrible scheme are you at work upon, Mr. Lessingham?"
"Between you and he confided, "I am not at all sure that I am not here on a fool's errand - at least I thought so when I arrived."
She glanced up at him.
"And why not now?"
He made no answer, but their eyes met and Philippa looked hurriedly away. There was a moment's queer, strained silence. Before them loomed up the outline of Mainsail Haul.
"You will come in and have some tea, won't you?" she invited.
"If I may. Believe me," he added, "it has only been a certain diffidence that has kept me away so long."
She made no reply, and they entered the house together. They found Helen and Nora, with three or four young men from the Depot, having tea in the drawing-room. Lessingham slipped very easily into the pleasant little circle. If a trifle subdued, his quiet manners, and a sense of humour which every now and then displayed itself, were most attractive.
"Wish you'd come and dine with us and meet our colonel, sir," Harrison asked him. "He was at Magdalen a few years after Major Felstead, and I am sure you'd find plenty to talk about."
"I am quite sure that we should," Lessingham replied. "May I come, perhaps, towards the end of next week? I am making most strenuous efforts to lead an absolutely quiet life here."
"Whenever you like, sir. We sha'n't be able to show you anything very wild in the way of dissipation. Vintage port and a decent cigar are the only changes we can make for guests."
Philippa drew her visitor on one side presently, and made him sit with her in a distant corner of the room.
"I knew there was something I wanted to say to you," she began, "but somehow or other I forgot when I met you. My husband was very much struck with Helen's improved spirits. Don't you think that we had better tell him, when he returns, that we had heard from Major Felstead?"
"Just let him think that your letters came by post in the ordinary way," he advised. "I shouldn't imagine, from what I have seen of your husband, that he is a suspicious person, but it is just possible that he might have associated them with me if you had mentioned them the other night. When is he coming back?"
"I never know," Philippa answered with a sigh. "Perhaps to-night, perhaps in a week. It depends upon what sport he is having. You are not smoking."
Lessingham lit a cigarette.
"I find your husband," he said quietly, "rather an interesting type. We have no one like that in Germany. He almost puzzles me."
Philippa glanced up to find her companion's dark eyes fixed upon her.
"There is very little about Henry that need, puzzle any one," she complained bitterly. "He is just an overgrown, spoilt child, devoted to amusements, and following his fancy wherever it leads him. Why do you look at me, Mr. Lessingham, as though you thought I was keeping something back? I am not, I can assure you."
"Perhaps I was wondering," he confessed, "how you really felt towards a husband whose outlook was so unnatural."
She looked down at her intertwined fingers.
"Do you know," she said softly, "I feel, somehow or other, although we have known one another such a short time, as though we were friends, and yet that is a question which I could not answer. A woman must always have some secrets, you know."
"A man may try sometimes to preserve his," he sighed, "but a woman is clever enough, as a rule, to dig them out."
A faint tinge of colour stole into her cheeks. She welcomed Helen's approach almost eagerly.
"A woman must first feel the will," she murmured, without glancing at him. "Helen, do you think we dare ask Mr. Lessingham to come and dine?"
"Please do not discourage such a delightful suggestion," Lessingham begged eagerly.
"I haven't the least idea of doing so," Helen laughed, "so long as I may have - say just ten minutes to talk about Dick."
"It is a bargain," he promised.
"We shall be quite alone," Philippa warned him, "unless Henry arrives."
"It is the great attraction of your invitation," he confessed.
"At eight o'clock, then."