The Great Impersonation/Chapter 21
There was nothing in the least alarming about the appearance of Mr. Ludwig Miller. He had been exceedingly well entertained in the butler's private sitting-room and had the air of having done full justice to the hospitality which had been offered him. He rose to his feet at Dominey's entrance and stood at attention. But for some slight indications of military training, he would have passed anywhere as a highly respectable retired tradesman.
"Sir Everard Dominey?" he enquired.
Dominey nodded assent. "That is my name. Have I seen you before?"
The man shook his head. "I am a cousin of Doctor Schmidt. I arrived in the Colony from Rhodesia, after your Excellency had left."
"And how is the doctor?"
"My cousin is, as always, busy but in excellent health," was the reply. "He sends his respectful compliments and his good wishes. Also this letter."
With a little flourish the man produced an envelope inscribed:
To Sir Everard Dominey, Baronet,
In the County of Norfolk,
Dominey broke the seal just as Seaman entered.
"A messenger here from Doctor Schmidt, an acquaintance of mine in East Africa," he announced. "Mr. Seaman came home from South Africa with me," he explained to his visitor.
The two men looked steadily into each other's eyes. Dominey watched them, fascinated. Neither betrayed himself by even the fall of an eyelid. Yet Dominey, his perceptive powers at their very keenest in this moment which instinct told him was one of crisis, felt the unspoken, unbetokened recognition which passed between them. Some commonplace remark was uttered and responded to. Dominey read the few lines which seemed to take him back for a moment to another world:
"Honoured and Honourable Sir,
"I send you my heartiest and most respectful greeting. Of the progress of all matters here you will learn from another source.
"I recommend to your notice and kindness my cousin, the bearer of this letter—Mr. Ludwig Miller. He will lay before you certain circumstances of which it is advisable for you to have knowledge. You may speak freely with him. He is in all respects to be trusted.
(Signed) "Karl Schmidt."
"Your cousin is a little mysterious," Dominey remarked, as he passed the letter to Seaman. "Come, what about these circumstances?"
Ludwig Miller looked around the little room and then at Seaman. Dominey affected to misunderstand his hesitation.
"Our friend here knows everything," he declared. "You can speak to him as to myself."
The man began as one who has a story to tell.
"My errand here is to warn you," he said, "that the Englishman whom you left for dead at Big Bend, on the banks of the Blue River, has been heard of in another part of Africa."
Dominey shook his head incredulously. "I hope you have not come all this way to tell me that! The man was dead."
"My cousin himself," Miller continued, "was hard to convince. The man left his encampment with whisky enough to kill him, thirst enough to drink it all, and no food."
"So I found him," Dominey assented, "deserted by his boys and raving. To silence him forever was a child's task."
"The task, however, was unperformed," the other persisted. "From three places in the colony he has been heard of, struggling to make his way to the coast."
"Does he call himself by his own name?" Dominey asked.
"He does not," Miller admitted. "My cousin, however, desired me to point out to you the fact that in any case he would probably be shy of doing so. He is behaving in an absurd manner; he is in a very weakly state; and without a doubt he is to some degree insane. Nevertheless, the fact remains that he is in the Colony, or was three months ago, and that if he succeeds in reaching the coast you may at any time be surprised by a visit from him here. I am sent to warn you in order that you may take whatever steps may be necessary and not be placed at a disadvantage if he should appear."
"This is queer news you have brought us, Miller," Seaman said thoughtfully.
"It is news which greatly disturbed Doctor Schmidt," the man replied. "He has had the natives up one after another for cross-examination. Nothing can shake their story."
"If we believed it," Seaman continued, "this other European, if he had business in this direction, might walk in here at any moment."
"It was to warn you of that possibility that I am here."
"How much do you know personally," Seaman asked, "of the existent circumstances?"
The man shook his head vaguely.
"I know nothing," he admitted. "I went out to East Africa some years ago, and I have been a trader in Mozambique in a small way. I supplied outfits for officers and hospitals and sportsmen. Now and then I have to return to Europe to buy fresh stock. Doctor Schmidt knew that, and he came to see me just before I sailed. He first thought of writing a very long letter. Afterwards he changed his mind. He wrote only these few lines I brought, but he told me those other things."
"You have remembered all that he told you?" Dominey asked.
"I can think of nothing else," was the reply, after a moment's pause. "The whole affair has been a great worry to Doctor Schmidt. There are things connected with it which he has never understood, things connected with it which he has always found mysterious."
"Hence your presence here, Johann Wolff?" Seaman asked, in an altered tone.
The visitor's expression remained unchanged except for the faint surprise which shone out of his blue eyes.
"Johann Wolff," he repeated. "That is not my name. I am Ludwig Miller, and I know nothing of this matter beyond what I have told you. I am just a messenger."
"Once in Vienna and twice in Cracow, my friend, we have met," Seaman reminded him softly but very insistently.
The other shook his head gently. "A mistake. I have been in Vienna once many years ago, but Cracow never."
"You have no idea with whom you are talking?"
"Herr Seaman was the name, I understood."
"It is a very good name," Seaman scoffed. "Look here and think." He undid his coat and waistcoat and displayed a plain vest of chamois leather. Attached to the left-hand side of it was a bronze decoration, with lettering and a number. Miller stared at it blankly and shook his head.
"Information Department, Bureau Twelve, password—'The Day is coming,'" Seaman continued, dropping his voice.
His listener shook his head and smiled with the puzzled ignorance of a child.
"The gentleman mistakes me for some one else," he replied. "I know nothing of these things."
Seaman sat and studied this obstinate visitor for several minutes without speaking, his finger tips pressed together, his eyebrows gently contracted. His vis-à-vis endured this scrutiny without flinching, calm, phlegmatic, the very prototype of the bourgeois German of the tradesman class.
"Do you propose," Dominey enquired, "to stay in these parts long?"
"One or two days—a week, perhaps," was the indifferent answer. "I have a cousin in Norwich who makes toys. I love the English country. I spend my holiday here, perhaps."
"Just so," Seaman muttered grimly. "The English country under a foot of snow! So you have nothing more to say to me, Johann Wolff?"
"I have executed my mission to his Excellency," was the apologetic reply. "I am sorry to have caused displeasure to you, Herr Seaman."
The latter rose to his feet. Dominey had already turned towards the door.
"You will spend the night here, of course, Mr. Miller?" he invited. "I dare say Mr. Seaman would like to have another talk with you in the morning."
"I shall gladly spend the night here, your Excellency," was the polite reply. "I do not think that I have anything to say, however, which would interest your friend."
"You are making a great mistake, Wolff," Seaman declared angrily. "I am your superior in the Service, and your attitude towards me is indefensible."
"If the gentleman would only believe," the culprit begged, "that he is mistaking me for some one else!"
There was trouble in Seaman's face as the two men made their way to the front of the house and trouble in his tone as he answered his companion's query.
"What do you think of that fellow and his visit?"
"I do not know what to think, but there is a great deal that I know," Seaman replied gravely. "The man is a spy, a favourite in the Wilhelmstrasse and only made use of on important occasions. His name is Wolff—Johann Wolff."
"And this story of his?"
"You ought to be the best judge of that."
"I am," Dominey assented confidently. "Without the shadow of a doubt I threw the body of the man I killed into the Blue River and watched it sink."
"Then the story is a fake," Seaman decided. "For some reason or other we have come under the suspicion of our own secret service."
Seaman, as they emerged into the hall, was summoned imperiously to her side by the Princess Eiderstrom. Dominey disappeared for a moment and returned presently, having discarded some of his soaked shooting garments. He was followed by his valet, bearing a note upon a silver tray.
"From the person in Mr. Parkins' room—to Mr. Seaman, sir," the man announced, in a low tone.
Dominey took it from the salver with a little nod. Then he turned to where the youngest and most frivolous of his guests were in the act of rising from the tea table.
"A game of pills, Eddy," he proposed. "They tell me that pool is one of your greatest accomplishments."
"I'm pretty useful," the young man confessed, with a satisfied chuckle. "Give you a black at snooker, what?"
Dominey took his arm and led him into the billiard-room.
"You will give me nothing, young fellow," he replied. "Set them up, and I will show you how I made a living for two months at Johannesberg!"