The Zeppelin's Passenger by E. Phillips Oppenheim - HTML preview
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The confinement of the house, after the departure of her unwelcome visitor, stifled Philippa. Attired in a mackintosh, with a scarf around her head, she made her way on to the quay, and, clinging to the railing, dragged herself along to where the fishermen were gathered together in a little group. The storm as yet showed no signs of abatement.
"Has anything been heard of Ben Oates' boat?" she enquired.
An old fisherman pointed seawards.
"There she comes, ma'am, up on the crest of that wave; look!"
"Will she get in?" Philippa asked eagerly.
There were varied opinions, expressed in indistinct mutterings.
"She's weathering it grand," the fisherman to whom she had first spoken, declared. "We've a line ready yonder, and we're reckoning on getting 'em ashore all right. Lucky for Ben that the gentleman along with him is a fine sailor. Look at that, mum!" he added in excitement. "See the way he brought her head round to it, just in time. Boys, they'll come in on the next one!"
One by one the sailors made their way to the very edge of the wave-splashed beach. There were a few more minutes of breathless anxiety. Then, after the boat had disappeared completely from sight, hidden by a huge grey wall of sea, she seemed suddenly to climb to the top of it, to hover there, to become mixed up with the spray and the surf and a great green mass of waters, and then finally, with a harsh crash of timbers and a shout from the fishermen, to be flung high and dry upon the stones. Philippa, clutching the iron railing, saw for a moment nothing but chaos. Her knees became weak. She was unable to move. There was a queer dizziness in her ears. The sound of voices sounded like part of an unreal nightmare. Then she was aware of a single figure climbing the steps towards her. There was blood trickling down his face from the wound in the forehead, and he was limping slightly.
"Mr. Lessingham!" she called out, as he reached the topmost step.
He took an eager step towards her.
"Philippa!" he exclaimed. "Why, what are you doing here?"
"I was frightened," she faltered. "Are you hurt?"
"Not in the least," he assured her. "We had a rough sail home, that's all, and that fellow Oates drank himself half unconscious. Come along, let me help you up the steps and out of this."
She clung to his arm, and they struggled up the private path to the house. Mills let them in with many expressions of concern, and Helen came hurrying to them from the background.
"I went out to see the storm," Philippa explained weakly, "and I saw Mr. Lessingham's boat brought in."
"And Mr. Lessingham will come this way at once," Helen insisted. "I haven't had a real case since I got my certificate, and I'm going to bind his head up."
Philippa began to feel her strength returning. The horror which lay behind those few minutes of nightmare rose up again in her mind. Mills had hurried on into the bathroom, and the other two were preparing to follow. She stopped them.
"Mr. Lessingham," she said, "listen. Captain Griffiths has been here. He knows or guesses everything."
"Helen must bind your head up, of course," she continued. "After that, think! What can we do? Captain Griffiths knows that there was no Hamar Lessingham at college with Dick, that he never visited Wood Norton, that there is some mystery about your arrival here, and he told me to my face that he believes you to be Bertram Maderstrom."
"What a meddlesome fellow!" Lessingham grumbled, holding his handkerchief to his forehead.
"Oh, please be serious!" Helen begged, looking up from the bandage which she was preparing. "This is horrible!"
"Don't I know it!" Philippa groaned. "Mr. Lessingham, you must please try and escape from here. You can have the car, if you like. There must be some place where you can go and hide until you can get away from the country."
"But I'm dining here to-night," Lessingham protested. "I'm not going to hide anywhere."
The two women exchanged glances of despair.
"Can't I make you understand!" Philippa exclaimed pathetically. "You're in danger here - really in danger!"
Lessingham's demeanour showed no appreciation of the situation.
"Of course, I can quite understand," he said, "that Griffiths is suspicious about me, but, after all, no one can prove that I have broken the law here, and I shall not make things any better by attempting an opera bouffe flight. Can I have my head tied up and come and talk to you about it later on?"
"Oh, if you like," Philippa assented weakly. "I can't argue."
She made her way up to her room and changed her wet clothes. When she came down, Lessingham was standing on the hearth rug in the library, with a piece of buttered toast in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. His head was very neatly bound up, and he seemed quite at his ease.
"You know," be began, as he wheeled a chair up to the fire for her, "that man Griffiths doesn't like me. He never took to me from the first, I could see that. If it comes to that, I don't like Griffiths. He is one of those mean, suspicious sort of characters we could very well do without."
Philippa, who had rehearsed a little speech several times in her bedroom, tried to be firm.
"Mr. Lessingham," she said, "you know that we are both your friends. Do listen, please. Captain Griffiths is Commandant here and in a position of authority. He has a very large power. I honestly believe that it is his intention to have you arrested - if not to-night, within a very few days."
"I do not see how he can," Lessingham objected, helping himself to another piece of toast. "I have committed no crime here. I have played golf with all the respectable old gentlemen in the place, and I have given the committee some excellent advice as to the two new holes. I have played bridge down at the club - we will call it bridge! - and I have kept my temper like an angel. I have dined at Mess and told them at least a dozen new stories. I have kept my blinds drawn at night, and I have not a wireless secreted up the chimney. I really cannot see what they could do to me."
Philippa tried bluntness.
"You have served in the German army, and you are living in a protected area under a false name," she declared.
"Well, of course, there is some truth in what you say," he admitted, "but even if they have tumbled to that and can prove it, I should do no good by running away. To be perfectly serious," he added, setting his cup down, "there is only one thing at the present moment which would take me out of Dreymarsh, and that is if you believe that my presence here would further compromise you and Miss Fairclough."
Philippa was beginning to find her courage. "We're in it already, up to the neck," she observed. "I really don't see that anything matters so far as we are concerned."
"In that case," he decided, "I shall have the honour of presenting myself at the usual time."