The Great Impersonation/Chapter 11

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Dominey left the room like a man in a dream, descended the stairs to his own part of the house, caught up a hat and stick and strode out into the sea mist which was fast enveloping the gardens. There was all the chill of the North Pole in that ice-cold cloud of vapour, but nevertheless his forehead remained hot, his pulses burning. He passed out of the postern gate which led from the walled garden on to a broad marsh, with dikes running here and there, and lapping tongues of sea water creeping in with the tide. He made his way seaward with uncertain steps until he reached a rough and stony road; here he hesitated for a moment, looked about him, and then turned back at right angles. Soon he came to a little village, a village of ancient cottages, with seasoned, red-brick tiles, trim little patches of garden, a church embowered with tall elm trees, a triangular green at the cross-roads. On one side a low, thatched building,—the Dominey Arms; on another, an ancient, square stone house, on which was a brass plate. He went over and read the name, rang the bell, and asked the trim maidservant who answered it, for the doctor. Presently, a man of youthful middle-age presented himself in the surgery and bowed. Dominey was for a moment at a loss.

"I came to see Doctor Harrison," he ventured.

"Doctor Harrison retired from practice some years ago," was the courteous reply. "I am his nephew. My name is Stillwell."

"I understood that Doctor Harrison was still in the neighbourhood," Dominey said. "My name is Dominey—Sir Everard Dominey."

"I guessed as much," the other replied. "My uncle lives with me here, and to tell you the truth he was hoping that you would come and see him. He retains one patient only," Doctor Stillwell added, in a graver tone. "You can imagine who that would be."

His caller bowed. "Lady Dominey, I presume."

The young doctor opened the door and motioned to his guest to precede him. "My uncle has his own little apartment on the other side of the house," he said. "You must let me take you to him."

They moved across the pleasant white stone hall into a small apartment with French windows leading out to a flagged terrace and tennis lawn. An elderly man, broad-shouldered, with weather-beaten face, grey hair, and of somewhat serious aspect, looked around from the window before which he was standing examining a case of fishing flies.

"Uncle, I have brought an old friend in to see you," his nephew announced.

The doctor glanced expectantly at Dominey, half moved forward as though to greet him, then checked himself and shook his head doubtfully.

"You certainly remind me very much of an old friend, sir," he said, "but I can see now that you are not he. I do not believe that I have ever seen you before in my life."

There was a moment's somewhat tense silence. Then Dominey advanced a little stiffly and held out his hand.

"Come, Doctor," he said. "I can scarcely have changed as much as all that. Even these years of strenuous life—"

"You mean to tell me that I am speaking to Everard Dominey?" the doctor interposed.

"Without a doubt!"

The doctor shook hands coolly. His was certainly not the enthusiastic welcome of an old family attendant to the representative of a great family.

"I should certainly never have recognised you," he confessed.

"My presence here is nevertheless indisputable," Dominey continued. "Still attracted by your old pastime, I see, Doctor?"

"I have only taken up fly fishing," the other replied drily, "since I gave up shooting."

There was another somewhat awkward pause, which the younger man endeavoured to bridge over.

"Fishing, shooting, golf," he said; "I really don't know what we poor medical practitioners would do in the country without sport."

"I shall remind you of that later," Dominey observed. "I am told that the shooting is one of the only glories that has not passed away from Dominey."

"I shall look forward to the reminder," was the prompt response.

His uncle, who had been bending once more over the case of flies, turned abruptly around.

"Arthur," he said, addressing his nephew, "you had better start on your round. I dare say Sir Everard would like to speak to me privately."

"I wish to speak to you certainly," Dominey admitted, "but only professionally. There is no necessity—"

"I am late already, if you will excuse me," Doctor Stillwell interrupted. "I will be getting on. You must excuse my uncle, Sir Everard," he added in a lower tone, drawing him a little towards the door, "if his manners are a little gruff. He is devoted to Lady Dominey, and I sometimes think that he broods over her case too much."

Dominey nodded and turned back into the room to find the doctor, his hands in his old-fashioned breeches pockets, eyeing him steadfastly.

"I find it very hard to believe," he said a little curtly, "that you are really Everard Dominey."

"I am afraid you will have to accept me as a fact, nevertheless."

"Your present appearance," the old man continued, eyeing him appraisingly, "does not in any way bear out the description I had of you some years ago. I was told that you had become a broken-down drunkard."

"The world is full of liars," Dominey said equably. "You appear to have met with one, at least."

"You have not even," the doctor persisted, "the appearance of a man who has been used to excesses of any sort."

"Good old stock, ours," his visitor observed carelessly. "Plenty of two-bottle men behind my generation."

"You have also gained courage since the days when you fled from England. You slept at the Hall last night?"

"Where else? I also, if you want to know, occupied my own bedchamber—with results," Dominey added, throwing his head a little back, to display the scar on his throat, "altogether insignificant."

"That's just your luck," the doctor declared. "You've no right to have gone there without seeing me; no right, after all that has passed, to have even approached your wife."

"You seem rather a martinet as regards my domestic affairs," Dominey observed.

"That's because I know your history," was the blunt reply.

Uninvited Dominey seated himself in an easy-chair.

"You were never my friend, Doctor," he said. "Let me suggest that we conduct this conversation on a purely professional basis."

"I was never your friend," came the retort, "because I have known you always as a selfish brute; because you were married to the sweetest woman on God's earth, gave up none of your bad habits, frightened her into insanity by reeling home with another man's blood on your hands, and then stayed away for over ten years instead of making an effort to repair the mischief you had done."

"This," observed Dominey, "is history, dished up in a somewhat partial fashion. I repeat my suggestion that we confine our conversation to the professional."

"This is my house," the other rejoined, "and you came to see me. I shall say exactly what I like to you, and if you don't like it you can get out. If it weren't for Lady Dominey's sake, you shouldn't have passed this threshold."

"Then for her sake," Dominey suggested in a softer tone, "can't you forget how thoroughly you disapprove of me? I am here now with only one object: I want you to point out to me any way in which we can work together for the improvement of my wife's health."

"There can be no question of a partnership between us."

"You refuse to help?"

"My help isn't worth a snap of the fingers. I have done all I can for her physically. She is a perfectly sound woman. The rest depends upon you, and you alone, and I am not very hopeful about it."

"Upon me?" Dominey repeated, a little taken aback.

"Fidelity," the doctor grunted, "is second nature with all good women. Lady Dominey is a good woman, and she is no exception to the rule. Her brain is starved because her heart is aching for love. If she could believe in your repentance and reform, if any atonement for the past were possible and were generously offered, I cannot tell what the result might be. They tell me that you are a rich man now, although heaven knows, when one considers what a lazy, selfish fellow you were, that sounds like a miracle. You could have the great specialists down. They couldn't help, but it might salve your conscience to pay them a few hundred guineas."

"Would you meet them?" Dominey asked anxiously. "Tell me whom to send for?"

"Pooh! Those days are finished with me," was the curt reply. "I would meet none of them. I am a doctor no longer. I have become a villager. I go to see Lady Dominey as an old friend."

"Give me your advice," Dominey begged. "Is it of any use sending for specialists?"

"Just for the present, none at all."

"And what about that horrible woman, Mrs. Unthank?"

"Part of your task, if you are really going to take it up. She stands between your wife and the sun."

"Then why have you suffered her to remain there all those years?" Dominey demanded.

"For one thing, because there has been no one to replace her," the doctor replied, "and for another, because Lady Dominey, believing that you slew her son, has some fantastic idea of giving her a home and shelter as a kind of expiation."

"You think there is no affection between the two?" Dominey asked.

"Not a scrap," was the blunt reply, "except that Lady Dominey is of so sweet and gentle a nature—"

The doctor paused abruptly. His visitor's fingers had strayed across his throat.

"That's a different matter," the former continued fiercely. "That's just where the weak spot in her brain remains. If you ask me, I believe it's pandered to by Mrs. Unthank. Come to think of it," he went on, "the Domineys were never cowards. If you've got your courage back, send Mrs. Unthank away, sleep with your doors wide open. If a single night passes without Lady Dominey coming to your room with a knife in her hand, she will be cured in time of that mania at any rate. Dare you do that?"

Dominey's hesitation was palpable,—also his agitation. The doctor grinned contemptuously.

"Still afraid!" he scoffed.

"Not in the way you imagine," his visitor replied. "My wife has already promised to make no further attempt upon my life."

"Well, you can cure her if you want to," the doctor declared, "and if you do, you will have the sweetest companion for life any man could have. But you'll have to give up the idea of town houses and racing and yachting, and grouse moors in Scotland, and all those sort of things I suppose you've been looking forward to. You'll have for some time, at any rate, to give every moment of your time to your wife."

Dominey moved uneasily in his chair.

"For the next few months," he said, "that would be impossible."

"Impossible!"

The doctor repeated the word, seemed to roll it round in his mouth with a sort of wondering scorn.

"I am not quite the idler I used to be," Dominey explained, frowning. "Nowadays, you cannot make money without assuming responsibilities. I am clearing off the whole of the mortgages upon the Dominey estates within the next few months."

"How you spend your time is your affair, not mine," the doctor muttered. "All I say about the matter is that your wife's cure, if ever it comes to pass, is in your hands. And now—come over to me here, in the light of this window. I want to look at you."

Dominey obeyed with a little shrug of the shoulders. There was no sunshine, but the white north light was in its way searching. It showed the sprinkling of grey in his ruddy-brown hair, the suspicion of it in his closely trimmed moustache, but it could find no weak spot in his steady eyes, in the tan of his hard, manly complexion, or even in the set of his somewhat arrogant lips. The old doctor took up his box of flies again and jerked his head towards the door.

"You are a miracle," he said, "and I hate miracles. I'll come and see Lady Dominey in a day or so."