The Great Impersonation/Chapter 23
Seaman did not at once start on his mission to the Princess. He made his way instead to the servants' quarters and knocked at the door of the butler's sitting-room. There was no reply. He tried the handle in vain. The door was locked. A tall, grave-faced man in sombre black came out from an adjoining apartment.
"You are looking for the person who arrived this evening from abroad, sir?" he enquired.
"I am," Seaman replied. "Has he locked himself in?"
"He has left the Hall, sir!"
"Left!" Seaman repeated. "Do you mean gone away for good?"
"Apparently, sir. I do not understand his language myself, but I believe he considered his reception here, for some reason or other, unfavourable. He took advantage of the car which went down to the station for the evening papers and caught the last train."
Seaman was silent for a moment. The news was a shock to him.
"What is your position here?" he asked his informant.
"My name is Reynolds, sir," was the respectful reply. "I am Mr. Pelham's servant."
"Can you tell me why, if this man has left, the door here is locked?"
"Mr. Parkins locked it before he went out, sir. He accompanied—Mr. Miller, I think his name was—to the station."
Seaman had the air of a man not wholly satisfied.
"Is it usual to lock up a sitting-room in this fashion?" he asked.
"Mr. Parkins always does it, sir. The cabinets of cigars are kept there, also the wine-cellar key and the key of the plate chest. None of the other servants use the room except at Mr. Parkins' invitation."
"I understand," Seaman said, as he turned away. "Much obliged for your information, Reynolds. I will speak to Mr. Parkins later."
"I will let him know that you desire to see him, sir."
"Good night, Reynolds!"
"Good night, sir!"
Seaman passed back again to the crowded hall and billiard-room, exchanged a few remarks here and there, and made his way up the southern flight of stairs toward the west wing. Stephanie consented without hesitation to receive him. She was seated in front of the fire, reading a novel, in a boudoir opening out of her bedroom.
"Princess," Seaman declared, with a low bow, "we are in despair at your desertion."
She put down her book.
"I have been insulted in this house," she said. "To-morrow I leave it."
Seaman shook his head reproachfully.
"Your Highness," he continued, "believe me, I do not wish to presume upon my position. I am only a German tradesman, admitted to the circles like these for reasons connected solely with the welfare of my country. Yet I know much, as it happens, of the truth of this matter, the matter which is causing you distress. I beg you to reconsider your decision. Our friend here is, I think, needlessly hard upon himself. So much the greater will be his reward when the end comes. So much the greater will be the rapture with which he will throw himself on his knees before you."
"Has he sent you to reason with me?"
"Not directly. I am to a certain extent, however, his major-domo in this enterprise. I brought him from Africa. I have watched over him from the start. Two brains are better than one. I try to show him where to avoid mistakes, I try to point out the paths of danger and of safety."
"I should imagine Sir Everard finds you useful," she remarked calmly.
"I hope he does."
"It has doubtless occurred to you," she continued, "that our friend has accommodated himself wonderfully to English life and customs?"
"You must remember that he was educated here. Nevertheless, his aptitude has been marvellous."
"One might almost call it supernatural," she agreed. "Tell me, Mr. Seaman, you seem to have been completely successful in the installation of our friend here as Sir Everard. What is going to be his real value to you? What work will he do?"
"We are keeping him for the big things. You have seen our gracious master lately?" he added hesitatingly.
"I know what is at the back of your mind," she replied. "Yes! Before the summer is over I am to pack up my trunks and fly. I understand."
"It is when that time comes," Seaman said impressively, "that we expect Sir Everard Dominey, the typical English country gentleman, of whose loyalty there has never been a word of doubt, to be of use to us. Most of our present helpers will be under suspicion. The authorised staff of our secret service can only work underneath. You can see for yourself the advantage we gain in having a confidential correspondent who can day by day reflect the changing psychology of the British mind in all its phases. We have quite enough of the other sort of help arranged for. Plans of ships, aerodromes and harbours, sailings of convoys, calling up of soldiers—all these are the A. B. C. of our secret service profession. We shall never ask our friend here for a single fact, but, from his town house in Berkeley Square, the host of Cabinet Ministers, of soldiers, of the best brains of the country, our fingers will never leave the pulse of Britain's day by day life."
Stephanie threw herself back in her easy-chair and clasped her hands behind her head.
"These things you are expecting from our present host?"
"We are, and we expect to get them. I have watched him day by day. My confidence in him has grown."
Stephanie was silent. She sat looking into the fire. Seaman, keenly observant as always, realised the change in her, yet found something of mystery in her new detachment of manner.
"Your Highness," he urged, "I am not here to speak on behalf of the man who at heart is, I know, your lover. He will plead his own cause when the time comes. But I am here to plead for patience, I am here to implore you to take no rash step, to do nothing which might imperil in any way his position here. I stand outside the gates of the world which your sex can make a paradise. I am no judge of the things that happen there. But in your heart I feel there is bitterness, because the man for whom you care has chosen to place his country first. I implore your patience, Princess. I implore you to believe what I know so well,—that it is the sternest sense of duty only which is the foundation of Leopold Von Ragastein's obdurate attitude."
"What are you afraid that I shall do?" she asked curiously.
"I am afraid of nothing—directly."
"Indirectly, then? Answer me, please."
"I am afraid," he admitted frankly, "that in some corner of the world, if not in this country, you might whisper a word, a scoffing or an angry sentence, which would make people wonder what grudge you had against a simple Norfolk baronet. I would not like that word to be spoken in the presence of any one who knew your history and realised the rather amazing likeness between Sir Everard Dominey and Baron Leopold Von Ragastein."
"I see," Stephanie murmured, a faint smile parting her lips. "Well, Mr. Seaman, I do not think that you need have many fears. What I shall carry away with me in my heart is not for you or any man to know. In a few days I shall leave this country."
"You are going back to Berlin—to Hungary?"
She shook her head, beckoned her maid to open the door, and held out her hand in token of dismissal.
"I am going to take a sea voyage," she announced. "I shall go to Africa."
The morrow was a day of mild surprises. Eddy Pelham's empty place was the first to attract notice, towards the end of breakfast time.
"Where's the pink and white immaculate?" the Right Honourable gentleman asked. "I miss my morning wonder as to how he tied his tie."
"Gone," Dominey replied, looking round from the sideboard. "Gone?" every one repeated.
"I should think such a thing has never happened to him before," Dominey observed. "He was wanted in town."
"Fancy any one wanting Eddy for any serious purpose!" Caroline murmured.
"Fancy any one wanting him badly enough to drag him out of bed in the middle of the night with a telephone call and send him up to town by the breakfast train from Norwich!" their host continued. "I thought we had started a new ghost when he came into my room in a purple dressing-gown and broke the news."
"Who wanted him?" the Duke enquired. "His tailor?"
"Business of importance was his pretext," Dominey replied.
There was a little ripple of good-humoured laughter.
"Does Eddy do anything for a living?" Caroline asked, yawning.
"Mr. Pelham is a director of the Chelsea Motor Works," Mangan told them. "He received a small legacy last year, and his favourite taxicab man was the first to know about it."
"You're not suggesting," she exclaimed, "that it is business of that sort which has taken Eddy away!"
"I should think it most improbable," Mangan confessed. "As a matter of fact, he asked me the other day if I knew where their premises were."
"We shall miss him," she acknowledged. "It was quite one of the events of the day to see his costume after shooting."
"His bridge was reasonably good," the Duke commented.
"He shot rather well the last two days," Mangan remarked.
"And he had told me confidentially," Caroline concluded, "that he was going to wear brown to-day. Now I think Eddy would have looked nice in brown."
The missing young man's requiem was finished by the arrival of the local morning papers. A few moments later Dominey rose and left the room. Seaman, who had been unusually silent, followed him.
"My friend," he confided, "I do not know whether you have heard, but there was a curious disappearance from the Hall last night."
"Whose?" Dominey asked, pausing in the act of selecting a cigarette.
"Our friend Miller, or Wolff—Doctor Schmidt's emissary," Seaman announced, "has disappeared."
"Disappeared?" Dominey repeated. "I suppose he is having a prowl round somewhere."
"I have left it to you to make more careful enquiries," Seaman replied. "All I can tell you is that I made up my mind last night to interview him once more and try to fathom his very mysterious behaviour. I found the door of your butler's sitting-room locked, and a very civil fellow—Mr. Pelham's valet he turned out to be—told me that he had left in the car which went for the evening papers."
"I will go and make some enquiries," Dominey decided, after a moment's puzzled consideration.
"If you please," Seaman acquiesced. "The affair disconcerts me because I do not understand it. When there is a thing which I do not understand, I am uncomfortable."
Dominey vanished into the nether regions, spent half an hour with Rosamund, and saw nothing of his disturbed guest again until they were walking to the first wood. They had a moment together after Dominey had pointed out the stands.
"Well?" Seaman enquired.
"Our friend," Dominey announced, "apparently made up his mind to go quite suddenly. A bed was arranged for him—or rather it is always there—in a small apartment opening out of the butler's room, on the ground floor. He said nothing about leaving until he saw Parkins preparing to go down to the station with the chauffeur. Then he insisted upon accompanying him, and when he found there was a train to Norwich he simply bade them both good night. He left no message whatever for either you or me."
Seaman was thoughtful.
"There is no doubt," he said, "that his departure was indicative of a certain distrust in us. He came to find out something, and I suppose he found it out. I envy you your composure, my friend. We live on the brink of a volcano, and you shoot pheasants."
"We will try a partridge for a change," Dominey observed, swinging round as a single Frenchman with a dull whiz crossed the hedge behind them and fell a little distance away, a crumpled heap of feathers. "Neat, I think?" he added, turning to his companion.
"Marvellous!" Seaman replied, with faint sarcasm. "I envy your nerve."
"I cannot take this matter very seriously," Dominey acknowledged. "The fellow seemed to me quite harmless."
"My anxieties have also been aroused in another direction," Seaman confided.
"Any other trouble looming?" Dominey asked.
"You will find yourself minus another guest when you return this afternoon."
"The Princess," Seaman assented. "I did my best with her last night, but I found her in a most peculiar frame of mind. We are to be relieved of any anxiety concerning her for some time, however. She has decided to take a sea voyage."
Dominey paused in the act of inserting a cartridge into his gun. He turned slowly around and looked into his companion's expressionless face.
"Why the mischief is she going out there?" he asked.
"I can no more tell you that," Seaman replied, "than why Johann Wolff was sent over here to spy upon our perfect work. I am most unhappy, my friend. The things which I understand, however threatening they are, I do not fear. Things which I do not understand oppress me."
Dominey laughed quietly.
"Come," he said, "there is nothing here which seriously threatens our position. The Princess is angry, but she is not likely to give us away. This man Wolff could make no adverse report about either of us. We are doing our job and doing it well. Let our clear consciences console us."
"That is well," Seaman replied, "but I feel uneasy. I must not stay here longer. Too intimate an association between you and me is unwise."
"Well, I think I can be trusted," Dominey observed, "even if I am to be left alone."
"In every respect except as regards the Princess," Seaman admitted, "your deportment has been most discreet."
"Except as regards the Princess," Dominey repeated irritably. "Really, my friend, I cannot understand your point of view in this matter. You could not expect me to mix up a secret honeymoon with my present commitments!"
"There might surely have been some middle way?" Seaman persisted. "You show so much tact in other matters."
"You do not know the Princess," Dominey muttered.
Rosamund joined them for luncheon, bringing news of Stephanie's sudden departure, with notes and messages for everybody. Caroline made a little grimace at her host.
"You're in trouble!" she whispered in his ear. "All the same, I approve. I like Stephanie, but she is an exceedingly dangerous person."
"I wonder whether she is," Dominey mused.
"I think men have generally found her so," Caroline replied. "She had one wonderful love affair, which ended, as you know, in her husband being killed in a duel and her lover being banished from the country. Still, she's not quite the sort of woman to be content with a banished lover. I fancied I noticed distinct signs of her being willing to replace him whilst she has been down here!"
"I feel as though a blight had settled upon my house party," Dominey remarked with bland irrelevancy. "First Eddy, then Mr. Ludwig Miller, and now Stephanie."
"And who on earth was Mr. Ludwig Miller, after all?" Caroline enquired.
"He was a fat, flaxen-haired German who brought me messages from old friends in Africa. He had no luggage but a walking stick, and he seems to have upset the male part of my domestics last night by accepting a bed and then disappearing!"
"With the plate?"
"Not a thing missing. Parkins spent an agonised half hour, counting everything. Mr. Ludwig appears to be one of those unsolved mysteries which go to make up an imperfect world."
"Well, we've had a jolly time," Caroline said reminiscently. "To-morrow Henry and I are off, and I suppose the others. I must say on the whole I am delighted with our visit."
"You are very gracious," Dominey murmured.
"I came, perhaps, expecting to see a little more of you," she went on deliberately, "but there is a very great compensation for my disappointment. I think your wife, Everard, is worth taking trouble about. She is perfectly sweet, and her manners are most attractive."
"I am very glad you think that," he said warmly.
She looked away from him.
"Everard," she sighed, "I believe you are in love with your wife."
There was a strange, almost a terrible mixture of expressions in his face as he answered,—a certain fear, a certain fondness, a certain almost desperate resignation. Even his voice, as a rule so slow and measured, shook with an emotion which amazed his companion.
"I believe I am," he muttered. "I am afraid of my feelings for her. It may bring even another tragedy down upon us."
"Don't talk rubbish!" Caroline exclaimed. "What tragedy could come between you now? You've recovered your balance. You are a strong, steadfast person, just fitted to be the protector of anything so sweet and charming as Rosamund. Tragedy, indeed! Why don't you take her down to the South of France, Everard, and have your honeymoon all over again?"
"I can't do that just yet."
She studied him curiously. There were times when he seemed wholly incomprehensible to her.
"Are you still worried about that Unthank affair?" she asked.
He hesitated for a moment.
"There is still an aftermath to our troubles," he told her, "one cloud which leans over us. I shall clear it up in time,—but other things may happen first."
"You take yourself very seriously, Everard," she observed, looking at him with a puzzled expression. "One would think that there was a side of your life, and a very important one, which you kept entirely to yourself. Why do you have that funny little man Seaman always round with you? You're not being blackmailed or anything, are you?"
"On the contrary," he told her, "Seaman was the first founder of my fortunes."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I have made a little money once or twice on the Stock Exchange," she remarked, "but I didn't have to carry my broker about in my pocket afterwards."
"Seaman is a good-hearted little fellow, and he loves companionship. He will drift away presently, and one won't see anything of him for ages."
"Henry began to wonder," she concluded drily, "whether you were going to stand for Parliament on the Anglo-German alliance ticket."
Dominey laughed as he caught Middleton's reproachful eye in the doorway of the farmer's kitchen in which they were hunching. He gave the signal to rise.
"I have had some thoughts of Parliament," he admitted, "but—well, Henry need not worry."