The Great Impersonation/Chapter 13
There was a cloud on Seaman's good-humoured face as, muffled up in their overcoats, he and his host walked up and down the terrace the next morning, after the departure of Mr. Mangan. He disclosed his mind a little abruptly.
"In a few minutes," he said, "I shall come to the great purpose of my visit. I have great and wonderful news for you. But it will keep."
"The time for action has arrived?" Dominey asked curiously. "I hope you will remember that as yet I am scarcely established here."
"It is with regard to your establishment here," Seaman explained drily, "that I desire to say a word. We have seen much of one another since we met in Cape Town. The passion and purpose of my life you have been able to judge. Of those interludes which are necessary to a human being, unless his system is to fall to pieces as dry dust, you have also seen something. I trust you will not misunderstand me when I say that apart from the necessities of my work, I am a man of sentiment."
"I am prepared to admit it," Dominey murmured a little idly.
"You have undertaken a great enterprise. It was, without a doubt, a miraculous piece of fortune which brought the Englishman, Dominey, to your camp just at the moment when you received your orders from headquarters. Your self-conceived plan has met with every encouragement from us. You will be placed in a unique position to achieve your final purpose. Now mark my words and do not misunderstand me. The very keynote of our progress is ruthlessness. To take even a single step forward towards the achievement of that purpose is worth the sacrifice of all the scruples and delicacies conceivable. But when a certain course of action is without profit to our purpose, I see ugliness in it. It distresses me."
"What the devil do you mean?" Dominey demanded.
"I sleep with one ear open," Seaman replied.
"I saw you leave your room early this morning," Seaman continued, "carrying Lady Dominey in your arms."
There were little streaks of pallor underneath the tan in Dominey's face. His eyes were like glittering metal. It was only when he had breathed once or twice quickly that he could command his voice.
"What concern is this of yours?" he demanded.
Seaman gripped his companion's arm.
"Look here," he said, "we are too closely allied for bluff. I am here to help you fill the shoes of another man, so far as regards his estates, his position, and character, which, by the by, you are rehabilitating. I will go further. I will admit that it is not my concern to interfere in any ordinary amour you might undertake, but—I shall tell you this, my friend, to your face—that to deceive a lady of weak intellect, however beautiful, to make use of your position as her supposed husband, is not, save in the vital interests of his country, the action of a Prussian nobleman."
Dominey's passion seemed to have burned itself out without expression. He showed not the slightest resentment at his companion's words.
"Have no fear, Seaman," he enjoined him. "The situation is delicate, but I can deal with it as a man of honour."
"You relieve me," Seaman confessed. "You must admit that the spectacle of last night was calculated to inspire me with uneasiness."
"I respect you for your plain words," Dominey declared. "The fact is, that Lady Dominey was frightened of the storm last night and found her way into my room. You may be sure that I treated her with all the respect and sympathy which our positions demanded."
"Lady Dominey," Seaman remarked meditatively, "seems to be curiously falsifying certain predictions."
"In what way?"
"The common impression in the neighbourhood here is that she is a maniac chiefly upon one subject—her detestation of you. She has been known to take an oath that you should die if you slept in this house again. You naturally, being a brave man, ignored all this, yet in the morning after your first night here there was blood upon your night clothes."
Dominey's eyebrows were slowly raised.
"You are well served here," he observed, with involuntary sarcasm.
"That, for your own sake as well as ours, is necessary," was the terse reply. "To continue, people of unsound mind are remarkably tenacious of their ideas. There was certainly nothing of the murderess in her demeanour towards you last night. Cannot you see that a too friendly attitude on her part might become fatal to our schemes?"
"In what way?"
"If ever your identity is doubted," Seaman explained, "the probability of which is, I must confess, becoming less every day, the fact that Lady Dominey seems to have so soon forgotten all her enmity towards you would be strong presumptive evidence that you are not the man you claim to be."
"Ingenious," Dominey assented, "and very possible. All this time, however, we speak on what you yourself admit to be a side issue."
"You are right," Seaman confessed. "Very well, then, listen. A great moment has arrived for you, my friend."
"Explain if you please."
"I shall do so. You have seen proof, during the last few days, that you have an organisation behind you to whom money is dross. It is the same in diplomacy as in war. Germany will pay the price for what she intends to achieve. Ninety thousand pounds was yesterday passed to the credit of your account for the extinction of certain mortgages. In a few months' or a few years' time, some distant Dominey will benefit to that extent. We cannot recover the money. It is just an item in our day by day expenses."
"It was certainly a magnificent way of establishing me," Dominey admitted.
"Magnificent, but safest in the long run," Seaman declared. "If you had returned a poor man, everybody's hand would have been against you; suspicions, now absolutely unkindled, might have been formed; and, more important, perhaps, than either, you would not have been able to take your place in Society, which is absolutely necessary for the furtherance of our scheme."
"Is it not almost time," Dominey enquired, "that the way was made a little clearer for me?"
"That would have been my task this morning," Seaman replied, "but for the news I bring. In passing, however, let me promise you this. You will never be asked to stoop to the crooked ways of the ordinary spy. We want you for a different purpose."
"And the news?"
"What must be the greatest desire in your heart," Seaman said solemnly, "is to be granted. The Kaiser has expressed a desire to see you, to give you his instructions in person."
Dominey stopped short upon the terrace. He withdrew his arm from his companion's and stared at him blankly.
"The Kaiser?" he exclaimed. "You mean that I am to go to Germany?"
"We shall start at once," Seaman replied. "Personally, I do not consider the proceeding discreet or necessary. It has been decided upon, however, without consulting me."
"I consider it suicidal," Dominey protested. "What explanation can I possibly make for going to Germany, of all countries in the world, before I have had time to settle down here?"
"That of itself will not be difficult," his companion pointed out. "Many of the mines in which a share has been bought in your name are being run with German capital. It is easy to imagine that a crisis has arisen in the management of one of them. We require the votes of our fellow shareholders. You need not trouble your head about that. And think of the wonder of it! If only for a single day your sentence of banishment is lifted. You will breathe the air of the Fatherland once more."
"It will be wonderful," Dominey muttered.
"It will be for you," Seaman promised, "a breath of the things that are to come. And now, action. How I love action! That time-table, my friend, and your chauffeur."
It was arranged that the two men should leave during the morning for Norwich by motor-car and thence to Harwich. Dominey, having changed into travelling clothes, sent a messenger for Mrs. Unthank, who came to him presently in his study. He held out a chair to her, which she declined, however, to take.
"Mrs. Unthank," he said, "I should like to know why you have been content to remain my wife's attendant for the last ten years?"
Mrs. Unthank was startled by the suddenness of the attack.
"Lady Dominey has needed me," she answered, after a moment's pause.
"Do you consider," he asked, "that you have been the best possible companion for her?"
"She has never been willing to accept any other," the woman replied.
"Are you very devoted to my wife?" he enquired.
Mrs. Unthank, grim and fierce though she was and appeared to be, was obviously disconcerted by Dominey's line of questions.
"If I weren't," she demanded, "should I have been here all these years?"
"I scarcely see," he continued, "what particular claim my wife has had upon you. I understand, moreover, that you are one of those who firmly believe that I killed your son. Is this attendance upon my wife a Christian act, then—the returning of good for evil?"
"Exactly what do you want to say to me, Sir Everard?" she asked harshly.
"I wish to say this," Dominey replied, "that I am determined to bring about my wife's restoration to health. For that reason I am going to have specialists down here, and above all things to change for a time her place of residence. My own feeling is that she will stand a much better chance of recovery without your attendance."
"You would dare to send me away?" the woman demanded.
"That is my intention," Dominey confessed. "I have not spoken to Lady Dominey yet, but I hope that very soon my influence over her will be such that she will be content to obey my wishes. I look upon your future from the financial point of view, as my care. I shall settle upon you the sum of three hundred pounds a year."
The woman showed her first sign of weakness. She began to shake. There was a curious look of fear in her eyes.
"I can't leave this place, Sir Everard," she cried. "I must stay here!"
"Why?" he demanded.
"Lady Dominey couldn't do without me," she answered sullenly.
"That," he replied, "is for her to decide. Personally, from enquiries I have made, I believe that you have encouraged in her that ridiculous superstition about the ghost of your son. I also believe that you have kept alive in her that spirit of unreasonable hatred which she has felt towards me."
"Unreasonable, you call it?" the woman almost shouted. "You, who came home to her with the blood on your hands of the man whom, if only you had kept away, she might one day have loved? Unreasonable, you call it?"
"I have finished what I had to say, Mrs. Unthank," Dominey declared. "I am compelled by important business to leave here for two or three days. On my return I shall embark upon the changes with which I have acquainted you. In the meantime," he added, watching a curious change in the woman's expression, "I have written this morning to Doctor Harrison, asking him to come up this afternoon and to keep Lady Dominey under his personal observation until my return."
She stood quite still, looking at him. Then she came a little nearer and leaned forward, as though studying his face.
"Eleven years," she muttered, "do change many men, but I never knew a man made out of a weakling."
"I have nothing more to say to you," Dominey replied, "except to let you know that I am coming to see my wife in the space of a few minutes."
The motor-horn was already sounding below when Dominey was admitted to his wife's apartment. She was dressed in a loose gown of a warm crimson colour, and she had the air of one awaiting his arrival expectantly. The passion of hatred seemed to have passed from her pale face and from the depths of her strangely soft eyes. She held out her hands towards him. Her brows were a little puckered. The disappointment of a child lurked in her manner.
"You are going away?" she murmured.
"In a very few moments," he told her. "I have been waiting to see you for an hour."
She made a grimace.
"It was Mrs. Unthank. I think that she hid my things on purpose. I was so anxious to see you."
"I want to talk to you about Mrs. Unthank," he said. "Should you be very unhappy if I sent her away and found some one younger and kinder to be your companion?"
The idea seemed to be outside the bounds of her comprehension.
"Mrs. Unthank would never go," she declared. "She stays here to listen to the voice. All night long sometimes she waits and listens, and it doesn't come. Then she hears it, and she is rested."
"And you?" he asked.
"I am afraid," she confessed. "But then, you see, I am not very strong."
"You are not fond of Mrs. Unthank?" he enquired anxiously.
"I don't think so," she answered, in a perplexed tone. "I think I am very much afraid of her. But it is no use, Everard! She would never go away."
"When I return," Dominey said, "we shall see."
She took his arm and linked her hands through it.
"I am so sorry that you are going," she murmured. "I hope you will soon come back. Will you come back—my husband?"
Dominey's nails cut into the flesh of his clenched hands.
"I will come back within three days," he promised.
"Do you know," she went on confidentially, "something has come into my mind lately. I spoke about it yesterday, but I did not tell you what it was. You need never be afraid of me any more. I understand."
"What do you understand?" he demanded huskily.
"The knowledge must have come to me," she went on, dropping her voice a little and whispering almost in his ear, "at the very moment when my dagger rested upon your throat, when I suddenly felt the desire to kill die away. You are very like him sometimes, but you are not Everard. You are not my husband at all. You are another man."
Dominey gave a little gasp. They both turned towards the door. Mrs. Unthank was standing there, her gaunt, hard face lit up with a gleam of something which was like triumph, her eyes glittering. Her lips, as though involuntarily, repeated her mistress' last words.