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"Do you suppose that the Zeppelin was in difficulties, as she was flying so low?" Helen enquired. "It is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis," the Commandant assented. "Two patrol boats were sent out early this morning, in search of her. An old man whom I saw at Waburne declares that she passed like a long, black cloud, just over his head, and that he was almost deafened by the noise of the engines. Personally, I cannot believe that they would come down so low unless she was in some trouble." The door of the comfortable library in which they were seated was suddenly thrown open. An exceedingly alert-looking young lady, very much befreckled, and as yet unemancipated from the long plaits of the schoolroom, came in like a whirlwind. In her hand she carried a man's Homburg hat, which she waved aloft in triumph. "Come in, Arthur," she shouted to a young subaltern who was hovering in the background. "Look what I've got, Helen! A trophy! Just look, Mr. Harrison and Captain Griffiths! I found it in a bush, not twenty yards from where the observation car came down." Helen turned the hat around in amused bewilderment. "But, my dear child," she exclaimed, "this is nothing but an ordinary hat! People who travel in Zeppelins don't wear things like that. How do you do, Mr. Somerfield?" she added, smiling at the young man who had followed Nora into the room. "Don't they!" the latter retorted, with an air of superior knowledge. "Just look here!" She turned down the lining and showed it to them. "What do you make of that?" she asked triumphantly. Helen gazed at the gold-printed letters a little incredulously. "Read it out," Nora insisted. Helen obeyed: "Schmidt, Berlin, Unter den Linden, 127." "That sounds German," she admitted. "It's a trophy, all right," Nora declared. "One of the crew—probably the Commander—must have come on board in a hurry and changed into uniform after they had started."
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E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946)
"Never heard a sound," the younger of the afternoon callers admitted, getting rid of his empty cup and leaning forward in his low chair. "No more tea, thank you, Miss Fairclough. Done splendidly, thanks. No, I went to bed last night soon after eleven—the Colonel had been route marching us all off our legs—and I never awoke until reveille this morning. Sleep of the just, and all that sort of thing, but a jolly sell, all the same! You hear anything of it, sir?" he asked, turning to his companion, who was seated a few feet away.
Captain Griffiths shook his head. He was a man considerably older than his questioner, with long, nervous face, and thick black hair streaked with grey. His fingers were bony, his complexion, for a soldier, curiously sallow, and notwithstanding his height, which was considerable, he was awkward, at times almost uncouth. His voice was hard and unsympathetic, and his contributions to the tea-table talk had been almost negligible.
"I was up until two o'clock, as it happened," he replied, "but I knew nothing about the matter until it was brought to my notice officially."
Helen Fairclough, who was doing the honours for Lady Cranston, her absent hostess, assumed the slight air of superiority to which the circumstances of the case entitled her.
"I heard it distinctly," she declared; "in fact it woke me up. I hung out of the window, and I could hear the engine just as plainly as though it were over the golf links."
The young subaltern sighed.
"Rotten luck I have with these things," he confided. "That's three times they've been over, and I've neither heard nor seen one. This time they say that it had the narrowest shave on earth of coming down. Of course, you've heard of the observation car found on Dutchman's Common this morning?"
The girl assented.
"Did you see it?" she enquired.
"Not a chance," was the gloomy reply. "It was put on two covered trucks and sent up to London by the first train. Captain Griffiths can tell you what it was like, I dare say. You were down there, weren't you, sir?"
"I superintended its removal," the latter informed them. "It was a very uninteresting affair."
"Any bombs in it?" Helen asked.
"Not a sign of one. Just a hard seat, two sets of field-glasses and a telephone. It seems to have got caught in some trees and been dragged off."
"How exciting!" the girl murmured. "I suppose there wasn't any one in it?"
Griffiths shook his head.
"I believe," he explained, "that these observation cars, although they are attached to most of the Zeppelins, are seldom used in night raids."
"I should like to have seen it, all the same," Helen confessed.
"You would have been disappointed," her informant assured her. "By-the-by," he added, a little awkwardly, "are you not expecting Lady Cranston back this evening?"
"I am expecting her every moment. The car has gone down to the station to meet her."
Captain Griffiths appeared to receive the news with a certain undemonstrative satisfaction. He leaned back in his chair with the air of one who is content to wait.
"Have you heard, Miss Fairclough," his younger companion enquired, a little diffidently, "whether Lady Cranston had any luck in town?"
Helen Fairclough looked away. There was a slight mist before her eyes.
"I had a letter this morning," she replied. "She seems to have heard nothing at all encouraging so far."
"And you haven't heard from Major Felstead himself, I suppose?"
The girl shook her head.
"Not a line," she sighed. "It's two months now since we last had a letter."
"Jolly bad luck to get nipped just as he was doing so well," the young man observed sympathetically.
"It all seems very cruel," Helen agreed. "He wasn't really fit to go back, but the Board passed him because they were so short of officers and he kept worrying them. He was so afraid he'd get moved to another battalion. Then he was taken prisoner in that horrible Pervais affair, and sent to the worst camp in Germany. Since then, of course, Philippa and I have had a wretched time, worrying."
"Major Felstead is Lady Cranston's only brother, is he not?" Griffiths enquired.
"And my only fiancé," she replied, with a little grimace. "However, don't let us talk about our troubles any more," she continued, with an effort at a lighter tone. "You'll find some cigarettes on that table, Mr. Harrison. I can't think where Nora is. I expect she has persuaded some one to take her out trophy-hunting to Dutchman's Common."
"The road all the way is like a circus," the young soldier observed, "and there isn't a thing to be seen when you get there. The naval airmen were all over the place at daybreak, and Captain Griffiths wasn't far behind them. You didn't leave much for the sightseers, sir," he concluded, turning to his neighbour.
"As Commandant of the place," Captain Griffiths replied, "I naturally had to have the Common searched. With the exception of the observation car, however, I think that I am betraying no confidences in telling you that we discovered nothing of interest."
"Do you suppose that the Zeppelin was in difficulties, as she was flying so low?" Helen enquired.
"It is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis," the Commandant assented. "Two patrol boats were sent out early this morning, in search of her. An old man whom I saw at Waburne declares that she passed like a long, black cloud, just over his head, and that he was almost deafened by the noise of the engines. Personally, I cannot believe that they would come down so low unless she was in some trouble."
The door of the comfortable library in which they were seated was suddenly thrown open. An exceedingly alert-looking young lady, very much befreckled, and as yet unemancipated from the long plaits of the schoolroom, came in like a whirlwind. In her hand she carried a man's Homburg hat, which she waved aloft in triumph.
"Come in, Arthur," she shouted to a young subaltern who was hovering in the background. "Look what I've got, Helen! A trophy! Just look, Mr. Harrison and Captain Griffiths! I found it in a bush, not twenty yards from where the observation car came down."
Helen turned the hat around in amused bewilderment.
"But, my dear child," she exclaimed, "this is nothing but an ordinary hat! People who travel in Zeppelins don't wear things like that. How do you do, Mr. Somerfield?" she added, smiling at the young man who had followed Nora into the room.
"Don't they!" the latter retorted, with an air of superior knowledge. "Just look here!"
She turned down the lining and showed it to them. "What do you make of that?" she asked triumphantly.
Helen gazed at the gold-printed letters a little incredulously.
"Read it out," Nora insisted.
"Schmidt, Berlin, Unter den Linden, 127."
"That sounds German," she admitted.
"It's a trophy, all right," Nora declared. "One of the crew—probably the Commander—must have come on board in a hurry and changed into uniform after they had started."
"It is my painful duty, Miss Nora," Harrison announced solemnly, "to inform you, on behalf of Captain Griffiths, that all articles of whatsoever description, found in the vicinity of Dutchman's Common, which might possibly have belonged to any one in the Zeppelin, must be sent at once to the War Office."
"Rubbish!" Nora scoffed. "The War Office aren't going to have my hat."
"Duty," the young man began—
"You can go back to the Depot and do your duty, then, Mr. Harrison," Nora interrupted, "but you're not going to have my hat. I'd throw it into the fire sooner than give it up."
"Military regulations must be obeyed, Miss Nora," Captain Griffiths ventured thoughtfully.
"Nothing so important as hats," Harrison put in. "You see they fit—somebody."
The girl's gesture was irreverent but convincing. "I'd listen to anything Captain Griffiths had to say," she declared, "but you boys who are learning to be soldiers are simply eaten up with conceit. There's nothing in your textbook about hats. If you're going to make yourselves disagreeable about this, I shall simply ignore the regiment."
The two young men fell into attitudes of mock dismay. Nora took a chocolate from a box.
"Be merciful, Miss Nora!" Harrison pleaded tearfully.
"Don't break the regiment up altogether," Somerfield begged, with a little catch in his voice.
"All very well for you two to be funny," Nora went on, revisiting the chocolate box, "but you've heard about the Seaforths coming, haven't you? I adore kilts, and so does Helen; don't you, Helen?"
"Every woman does," Helen admitted, smiling. "I suppose the child really can keep the hat, can't she?" she added, turning to the Commandant.
"Officially the matter is outside my cognizance," he declared. "I shall have nothing to say."
The two young men exchanged glances.
"A hat," Somerfield ruminated, "especially a Homburg hat, is scarcely an appurtenance of warfare."
His brother officer stood for a moment looking gravely at the object in question. Then he winked at Somerfield and sighed.
"I shall take the whole responsibility," he decided magnanimously, "of saying nothing about the matter. We can't afford to quarrel with Miss Nora, can we, Somerfield?"
"Not on your life," that young man agreed.
"Sensible boys!" Nora pronounced graciously.
"Thank you very much, Captain Griffiths, for not encouraging them in their folly. You can take me as far as the post-office when you go, Arthur," she continued, turning to the fortunate possessor of the side-car, "and we'll have some golf to-morrow afternoon, if you like."
"Won't Mr. Somerfield have some tea?" Helen invited.
"Thank you very much, Miss Fairclough," the man replied; "we had tea some time ago at Watson's, where I found Miss Nora."
Nora suddenly held up her finger. "Isn't that the car?" she asked. "Why, it must be mummy, here already. Yes, I can hear her voice!"
Griffiths, who had moved eagerly towards the window, looked back.
"It is Lady Cranston," he announced solemnly.
The woman who paused for a moment upon the threshold of the library, looking in upon the little company, was undeniably beautiful. She had masses of red-gold hair, a little disordered by her long railway journey, deep-set hazel eyes, a delicate, almost porcelain-like complexion, and a sensitive, delightfully shaped mouth. Her figure was small and dainty, and just at that moment she had an appearance of helplessness which was almost childlike. Nora, after a vigorous embrace, led her stepmother towards a chair.
"Come and sit by the fire, Mummy," she begged. "You look tired and cold."
Philippa exchanged a general salutation with her guests. She was still wearing her travelling coat, and her air of fatigue was unmistakable. Griffiths, who had not taken his eyes off her since her entrance, wheeled an easy-chair towards the hearth-rug, into which she sank with a murmured word of thanks.
"You'll have some tea, won't you, dear?" Helen enquired.
Philippa shook her head. Her eyes met her friend's for a moment—it was only a very brief glance, but the tragedy of some mutual sorrow seemed curiously revealed in that unspoken question and answer. The two young subalterns prepared to take their leave. Nora, kneeling down, stroked her stepmother's hand.
"No news at all, then?" Helen faltered.
"None," was the weary reply.
"Any amount of news here, Mummy," Nora intervened cheerfully, "and heaps of excitement. We had a Zeppelin over Dutchman's Common last night, and she lost her observation car. Mr. Somerfield took me up there this afternoon, and I found a German hat. No one else got a thing, and, would you believe it, those children over there tried to take it away from me."
Her stepmother smiled faintly.
"I expect you are keeping the hat, dear," she observed.
"I should say so!" Nora assented.
Philippa held out her hand to the two young men who had been waiting to take their leave.
"You must come and dine one night this week, both of you," she said. "My husband will be home by the later train this evening, and I'm sure he will be glad to have you."
"Very kind of you, Lady Cranston, we shall be delighted," Harrison declared.
"Rather!" his companion echoed.
Nora led them away, and Helen, with a word of excuse, followed them. Griffiths, who had also risen to his feet, came a little nearer to Philippa's chair.
"And you, too, of course, Captain Griffiths," she said, smiling pleasantly up at him. "Must you hurry away?"
"I will stay, if I may, until Miss Fairclough returns," he answered, resuming his seat.
"Do!" Philippa begged him. "I have had such a miserable time in town. You can't think how restful it is to be back here."
"I am afraid," he observed, "that your journey has not been successful."
Philippa shook her head.
"It has been completely unsuccessful," she sighed. "I have not been able to hear a word about my brother. I am so sorry for poor Helen, too. They were only engaged, you know, a few days before he left for the front this last time."
Captain Griffiths nodded sympathetically.
"I never met Major Felstead," he remarked, "but every one who has seems to like him very much. He was doing so well, too, up to that last unfortunate affair, wasn't he?"
"Dick is a dear," Philippa declared. "I never knew any one with so many friends. He would have been commanding his battalion now, if only he were free. His colonel wrote and told me so himself."
"I wish there were something I could do," Griffiths murmured, a little awkwardly. "It hurts me, Lady Cranston, to see you so upset."
She looked at him for a moment in faint surprise.
"Nobody can do anything," she bemoaned. "That is the unfortunate part of it all."
He rose to his feet and was immediately conscious, as he always was when he stood up, that there was a foot or two of his figure which he had no idea what to do with.
"You wouldn't feel like a ride to-morrow morning, Lady Cranston?" he asked, with a wistfulness which seemed somehow stifled in his rather unpleasant voice. She shook her head.
"Perhaps one morning later," she replied, a little vaguely. "I haven't any heart for anything just now."
He took a sombre but agitated leave of his hostess, and went out into the twilight, cursing his lack of ease, remembering the things which he had meant to say, and hating himself for having forgotten them. Philippa, to whom his departure had been, as it always was, a relief, was already leaning forward in her chair with her arm around Helen's neck.
"I thought that extraordinary man would never go," she exclaimed, "and I was longing to send for you, Helen. London has been such a dreary chapter of disappointments."
"What a sickening time you must have had, dear!"
"It was horrid," Philippa assented sadly, "but you know Henry is no use at all, and I should have felt miserable unless I had gone. I have been to every friend at the War Office, and every friend who has friends there. I have made every sort of enquiry, and I know just as much now as I did when I left here—that Richard was a prisoner at Wittenberg the last time they heard, and that they have received no notification whatever concerning him for the last two months."
Helen glanced at the calendar.
"It is just two months to-day," she said mournfully, "since we heard."
"And then," Philippa sighed, "he hadn't received a single one of our parcels."
Helen rose suddenly to her feet. She was a tall, fair girl of the best Saxon type, slim but not in the least angular, with every promise, indeed, of a fuller and more gracious development in the years to come. She was barely twenty-two years old, and, as is common with girls of her complexion, seemed younger. Her bright, intelligent face was, above all, good-humoured. Just at that moment, however, there was a flush of passionate anger in her cheeks.
"It makes me feel almost beside myself," she exclaimed, "this hideous incapacity for doing anything! Here we are living in luxury, without a single privation, whilst Dick, the dearest thing on earth to both of us, is being starved and goaded to death in a foul German prison!"
"We mustn't believe that it's quite so bad as that, dear," Philippa remonstrated. "What is it, Mills?"
The elderly man-servant who had entered with a tray in his band, bowed as he arranged it upon a side table.
"I have taken the liberty of bringing in a little fresh tea, your ladyship," he announced, "and some hot buttered toast. Cook has sent some of the sandwiches, too, which your ladyship generally fancies."
"It is very kind of you, Mills," Philippa said, with rather a wan little smile. "I had some tea at South Lynn, but it was very bad. You might take my coat, please."
She stood up, and the heavy fur coat slipped easily away from her slim, elegant little body.
"Shall I light up, your ladyship?" Mills enquired.
"You might light a lamp," Philippa directed, "but don't draw the blinds until lighting-up time. After the noise of London," she went on, turning to Helen, "I always think that the faint sound of the sea is so restful."
The man moved noiselessly about the room and returned once more to his mistress.
"We should be glad to hear, your ladyship," he said, "if there is any news of Major Felstead?" Philippa shook her head.
"None at all, I am sorry to say, Mills! Still, we must hope for the best. I dare say that some of these camps are not so bad as we imagine."
"We must hope not, your ladyship," was the somewhat dismal reply. "Shall I fasten the windows?"
"You can leave them until you draw the blinds, Mills," Philippa directed. "I am not at home, if any one should call. See that we are undisturbed for a little time."
"Very good, your ladyship."
The door was closed, and the two women were once more alone. Philippa held out her arms.
"Helen, darling, come and be nice to me," she begged. "Let us both pretend that no news is good news. Oh, I know what you are suffering, but remember that even if Dick is your lover, he is my dear, only brother—my twin brother, too. We have been so much to each other all our lives. He'll stick it out, dear, if any human being can. We shall have him back with us some day."
"But he is hungry," Helen sobbed. "I can't bear to think of his being hungry. Every time I sit down to eat, it almost chokes me."
"I suppose he has forgotten what a whisky and soda is like," Philippa murmured, with a little catch in her own throat.
"He always used to love one about this time," Helen faltered, glancing at the clock.
"And cigarettes!" Philippa exclaimed. "I wonder whether they give him anything to smoke."
"Nasty German tobacco, if they do," Helen rejoined indignantly. "And to think that I have sent him at least six hundred of his favourite Egyptians!"
She fell once more on her knees by her friend's side. Their arms were intertwined, their cheeks touching. One of those strange, feminine silences of acute sympathy seemed to hold them for a while under its thrall. Then, almost at the same moment, a queer awakening came for both of them. Helen's arm was stiffened. Philippa turned her head, but her eyes were filled with incredulous fear. A little current of cool air was blowing through the room. The French windows stood half open, and with his back to them, a man who had apparently entered the room from the gardens and passed noiselessly across the soft carpet, was standing by the door, listening. They heard him turn the key. Then, in a businesslike manner, he returned to the windows and closed them, the eyes of the two women following him all the time. Satisfied, apparently, with his precautions, he turned towards them just as an expression of indignant enquiry broke from Philippa's lips. Helen sprang to her feet, and Philippa gripped the sides of her chair. The newcomer advanced a few steps nearer to them.
It seemed to the two women, brief though the period of actual silence was, that in those few seconds they jointly conceived definite and lasting impressions of the man who was to become, during the next few weeks, an object of the deepest concern to both of them. The intruder was slightly built, of little more than medium height, of dark complexion, with an almost imperceptible moustache of military pattern, black hair dishevelled with the wind, and eyes of almost peculiar brightness. He carried himself with an assurance which was somewhat remarkable considering the condition of his torn and mud stained clothes, the very quality of which was almost undistinguishable. They both, curiously enough, formed the same instinctive conviction that, notwithstanding his tramplike appearance and his burglarious entrance, this was not a person to be greatly feared.
The stranger brushed aside Philippa's incoherent exclamation and opened the conversation with some ceremony.
"Ladies," he began, with a low bow, "in the first place let me offer my most profound apologies for this unusual form of entrance to your house."
Philippa rose from her easy-chair and confronted him. The firelight played upon her red-gold hair, and surprise had driven the weariness from her face. Against the black oak of the chimneypiece she had almost the appearance of a framed cameo. Her voice was quite steady, although its inflection betrayed some indignation.
"Will you kindly explain who you are and what you mean by this extraordinary behaviour?" she demanded.
"It is my earnest intention to do so without delay," he assured her, his eyes apparently rivetted upon Philippa. "Kindly pardon me."
He held out his arm to stop Helen, who, with her eye upon the bell, had made a stealthy attempt to slip past him. Her eyes flashed as she felt his fingers upon her arm.
"How dare you attempt to stop me!" she exclaimed.
"My dear Miss Fairclough," he remonstrated, "in the interests of all of us, it is better that we should have a few moments of undisturbed conversation. I am taking it for granted that I have the pleasure of addressing Miss Fairclough?"
There was something about the man's easy confidence which was, in its way, impressive yet irritating. Helen appeared bereft of words and retreated to her place almost mildly. Philippa's very delicate eyebrows were drawn together in a slight frown.
"You are acquainted with our names, then?"
"Perfectly," was the suave reply. "You, I presume, are Lady Cranston? I may be permitted to add," he went on, looking at her steadfastly, "that the description from which I recognise you does you less than justice."
"I find that remark, under the circumstances, impertinent," Philippa told him coldly.
He shrugged his shoulders. There was a slight smile upon his lips and his eyes twinkled.
"Alas!" he murmured, "for the moment I forgot the somewhat unusual circumstances of our meeting. Permit me to offer you what I trust you will accept as the equivalent of a letter of introduction."
"A letter of introduction," Philippa repeated, glancing at his disordered clothes, "and you come in through the window!"
"Believe me," the intruder assured her, "it was the only way."
"Perhaps you will tell me, then," Philippa demanded, her anger gradually giving way to bewilderment, "what is wrong with my front door?"
"For all I know, dear lady," the newcomer confessed, "yours may be an excellent front door. I would ask you, however, to consider my appearance. I have been obliged to conclude the last few miles of my journey in somewhat ignominious fashion. My clothes—they were quite nice clothes, too, when I started," he added, looking down at himself ruefully—"have suffered. And, as you perceive, I have lost my hat."
"Your hat?" Helen exclaimed, with a sudden glance at Nora's trophy.
"Precisely! I might have posed before your butler, perhaps, as belonging to what you call the hatless brigade, but the mud upon my clothes, and these unfortunate rents in my garments, would have necessitated an explanation which I thought better avoided. I make myself quite clear, I trust?"
"Clear?" Philippa murmured helplessly.
"Clear?" Helen echoed, with a puzzled frown.
"I mean, of course," their visitor explained, "so far as regards my choosing this somewhat surreptitious form of entrance into your house."
Philippa shrugged her shoulders and made a determined move towards the bell. The intruder, however, barred her way. She looked up into his face and found it difficult to maintain her indignation. His expression, besides being distinctly pleasant, was full of a respectful admiration.
"Will you please let me pass?" she insisted.
"Madam," he replied, "I am afraid that it is your intention to ring the bell."
"Of course it is," she admitted. "Don't dare to prevent me."
"Madam, I do not wish to prevent you," he assured her. "A few moments' delay—that is all I plead for."
"Will you explain at once, sir," Philippa demanded, "what you mean by forcing your way into my house in this extraordinary fashion, and by locking that door?"
"I am most anxious to do so," was the prompt reply. "I am correct, of course, in my first surmise that you are Lady Cranston—and you Miss Fairclough?" he added, bowing ceremoniously to both of them. "A very great pleasure! I recognised you both quite easily, you see, from your descriptions."
"From our descriptions?" Philippa repeated.
The newcomer bowed.
"The descriptions, glowing, indeed, but by no means exaggerated, of your brother Richard, Lady Cranston, and your fiancé, Miss Fairclough."
"Richard?" Philippa almost shrieked.
"You have seen Dick?" Helen gasped.
The intruder dived in his pockets and produced two sealed envelopes. He handed one each simultaneously to Helen and to Philippa.
"My letters of introduction," he explained, with a little sigh of relief. "I trust that during their perusal you will invite me to have some tea. I am almost starving."
The two women hastened towards the lamp.
"One moment, I beg," their visitor interposed. "I have established, I trust, my credentials. May I remind you that I was compelled to ensure the safety of these few minutes' conversation with you, by locking that door. Are you likely to be disturbed?"
"No, no! No chance at all," Philippa assured him.
"If we are, we'll explain," Helen promised.
"In that case," the intruder begged, "perhaps you will excuse me."
He moved towards the door and softly turned the key, then he drew the curtains carefully across the French windows. Afterwards he made his way towards the tea-table. A little throbbing cry had broken from Helen's lips.
"Philippa," she exclaimed, "it's from Dick! It's Dick's handwriting!"
Philippa's reply was incoherent. She was tearing open her own envelope. With a well-satisfied smile, the bearer of these communications seized a sandwich in one hand and poured himself out some tea with the other. He ate and drank with the restraint of good-breeding, but with a voracity which gave point to his plea of starvation. A few yards away, the breathless silence between the two women had given place to an almost hysterical series of disjointed exclamations.
"It's from Dick!" Helen repeated. "It's his own dear handwriting. How shaky it is! He's alive and well, Philippa, and he's found a friend."
"I know—I know," Philippa murmured tremulously. "Our parcels have been discovered, and he got them all at once. Just fancy, Helen, he's really not so ill, after all!"
They drew a little closer together.
"You read yours out first," Helen proposed, "and then I'll read mine."
Philippa nodded. Her voice here and there was a little uncertain.
MY DEAREST SISTER, I have heard nothing from you or Helen for so long that I was really getting desperate. I have had a very rough time here, but by the grace of Providence I stumbled up against an old friend the other day, Bertram Maderstrom, whom you must have heard me speak of in my college days. It isn't too much to say that he has saved my life. He has unearthed your parcels, found me decent quarters, and I am getting double rations. He has promised, too, to get this letter through to you. You needn't worry about me now, dear. I am feeling twice the man I was a month ago, and I shall stick it out now quite easily. Write me as often as ever you can. Your letters and Helen's make all the difference. My love to you and to Henry. Your affectionate brother, RICHARD. P.S. Is Henry an Admiral yet? I suppose he was in the Jutland scrap, which they all tell us here was a great German victory. I hope he came out all right.
Philippa read the postscript with a little shiver. Then she set her teeth as though determined to ignore it.
"Isn't it wonderful!" she exclaimed, turning towards Helen with glowing eyes. "Now yours, dear?"
Helen's voice trembled as she read. Her eyes, too, at times were misty:
DEAREST, I am writing to you so differently because I feel that you will really get this letter. I have bad an astonishing stroke of luck, as you will gather from Philippa's note. You can't imagine the difference. A month ago I really thought I should have to chuck it in. Now I am putting on flesh every day and beginning to feel myself again. I owe my life to a pal with whom I was at college, and whom you and I, dearest, will have to remember all our lives. I think of you always, and my thoughts are like the flowers of which we see nothing in these hideous huts. My greatest joy is in dreaming of the day when we shall meet again. Write to me often, sweetheart. Your letters and my thoughts of you are the one joy of my life. Always your lover, DICK.
There were a few moments of significant silence. The girls were leaning together, their arms around one another's necks, their heads almost touching. Behind them, their visitor continued to eat and drink. He rose at last, however, reluctantly to his feet, and coughed. They started, suddenly remembering his presence. Philippa turned impulsively towards him with outstretched hands.
"I can't tell you how thankful we are to you," she declared.
"Both of us," Helen echoed.
He touched with his fingers a box of cigarettes which stood upon the tea-table.
"You permit?" he asked.
"Of course," Philippa assented eagerly. "You will find some matches on the tray there. Do please help yourself. I am afraid that I must have seemed very discourteous, but this has all been so amazing. Won't you have some fresh tea and some toast, or wouldn't you like some more sandwiches?"
"Nothing more at present, thank you," he replied. "If you do not mind, I would rather continue our conversation."
"These letters are wonderful," Philippa told him gratefully. "You know from whom they come, of course. Dick is my twin brother, and until the war we had scarcely ever been parted. Miss Fairclough here is engaged to be married to him. It is quite two months since we had a line, and I myself have been in London for the last three days, three very weary days, making enquiries everywhere."
"I am very happy," he said, "to have brought you such good news."
Once more the normal aspect of the situation began to reimpose itself upon the two women. They remembered the locked door, the secrecy of their visitor's entrance, and his disordered condition.
"May I ask to whom we are indebted for this great service?" Philippa enquired.
"My name for the present is Hamar Lessingham," was the suave reply.
"For the present?" Philippa repeated. "You have perhaps, some explanations to make," she went on, with some hesitation; "the condition of your clothes, your somewhat curious form of entrance?"
"With your permission."
"One moment," Helen intervened eagerly. "Is it possible, Mr. Lessingham, that you have seen Major Felstead lately?"
"A matter of fifty-six hours ago, Miss Fairclough. I am happy to tell you that he was looking, under the circumstances, quite reasonably well."
Helen caught up a photograph from the table by her side, and came over to their visitor's side.
"This was taken just before he went out the first time," she continued. "Is he anything like that now?"
Mr. Hamar Lessingham sighed and shook his head.
"You must expect," he warned her, "that prison and hospital have had their effect upon him. He was gaining strength every day, however, when I left."
Philippa held out her hand. She had been looking curiously at their visitor.
"Helen, dear, afterwards we will get Mr. Lessingham to talk to us about Dick," she insisted. "First there are some questions which I must ask."
He bowed slightly and drew himself up. For a moment it seemed as though they were entering upon a duel—the slight, beautiful woman and the man in rags.
"Just now," she began, "you told us that you saw Major Felstead, my brother, fifty-six hours ago."
"That is so," he assented.
"But it is impossible!" she pointed out. "My brother is a prisoner of war in Germany."
"Precisely," he replied, "and not, I am afraid, under the happiest conditions, he has been unfortunate in his camp. Let us talk about him, shall we?"
"Are you mad," Helen demanded, "or are you trying to confuse us?"
"My dear young lady!" he protested. "Why suppose such a thing? I was flattering myself that my conversation and deportment were, under the circumstances, perfectly rational."
"But you are talking nonsense," Philippa insisted. "You say that you saw Major Felstead fifty-six hours ago. You cannot mean us to believe that fifty-six hours ago you were at Wittenberg."
"That is precisely what I have been trying to tell you," he agreed.
"But it isn't possible!" Helen gasped.
"Quite, I assure you," he continued; "in fact, we should have been here before but for a little uncertainty as to your armaments along the coast. There was a gun, we were told, somewhere near here, which we were credibly informed had once been fired without the slightest accident."
Philippa's eyes seemed to grow larger and rounder.
"He's raving!" she decided.
"He isn't!" Helen cried, with sudden divination. "Is that your hat?" she asked, pointing to the table where Nora had left her trophy.
"It is," he admitted with a smile, "but I do not think that I will claim it."
"You were in the observation car of that Zeppelin!"
Lessingham extended his hand.
"Softly, please," he begged. "You have, I gather, arrived at the truth, but for the moment shall it be our secret? I made an exceedingly uncomfortable, not to say undignified descent from the Zeppelin which passed over Dutchman's Common last night."
"Then," Philippa cried, "you are a German!"
"My dear lady, I have escaped that misfortune," Lessingham confessed. "Do you think that none other than Germans ride in Zeppelins?"
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.
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