The Great Impersonation/Chapter 25

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Terniloff and Dominey, one morning about six months later, lounged underneath a great elm tree at Ranelagh, having iced drinks after a round of golf. Several millions of perspiring Englishmen were at the same moment studying with dazed wonder the headlines in the midday papers.

"I suppose," the Ambassador remarked, as he leaned back in his chair with an air of lazy content, "that I am being accused of fiddling while Rome burns."

"Every one has certainly not your confidence in the situation," Dominey rejoined calmly.

"There is no one else who knows quite so much," Terniloff reminded him.

Dominey sipped his drink for a moment or two in silence.

"Have you the latest news of the Russian mobilisation?" he asked. "They had some startling figures in the city this morning."

The Prince waved his hand.

"My faith is not founded on these extraneous incidents," he replied. "If Russia mobilises, it is for defence. No nation in the world would dream of attacking Germany, nor has Germany the slightest intention of imperilling her coming supremacy amongst the nations by such crude methods as military enterprise. Servia must be punished, naturally, but to that, in principle, every nation in Europe is agreed. We shall not permit Austria to overstep the mark."

"You are at least consistent, Prince," Dominey remarked. Terniloff smiled.

"That is because I have been taken behind the scenes," he said. "I have been shown, as is the privilege of ambassadors, the mind of our rulers. You, my friend," he went on, "spent your youth amongst the military faction. You think that you are the most important people in Germany. Well, you are not. The Kaiser has willed it otherwise.— By-the-by, I had yesterday a most extraordinary cable from Stephanie."

Dominey ceased swinging his putter carelessly over the head of a daisy and turned his head to listen.

"Is she on the way home?"

"She is due in Southampton at any moment now. She wants to know where she can see me immediately upon her arrival, as she has information of the utmost importance to give me."

"Did she ever tell you the reason for her journey to Africa?"

"She was most mysterious about it. If such an idea had had any logical outcome, I should have surmised that she was going there to seek information as to your past."

"She gave Seaman the same idea," Dominey observed. "I scarcely see what she has to gain. In Africa, as a matter of fact," he went on, "my life would bear the strictest investigation."

"The whole affair is singularly foolish," the Prince declared, "Still, I am not sure that you have been altogether wise. Even accepting your position, I see no reason why you should not have obeyed the Kaiser's behest. My experience of your Society here is that love affairs between men and women moving in the same circles are not uncommon."

"That," Dominey urged, "is when they are all tarred with the same brush. My behaviour towards Lady Dominey has been culpable enough as it is. To have placed her in the position of a neglected wife would have been indefensible. Further, it might have affected the position which it is in the interests of my work that I should maintain here."

"An old subject," the Ambassador sighed, "best not rediscussed. Behold, our womenkind!"

Rosamund and the Princess had issued from the house, and the two men hastened to meet them. The latter looked charming, exquisitely gowned, and stately in appearance. By her side Rosamund, dressed with the same success but in younger fashion, seemed almost like a child. They passed into the luncheon room, crowded with many little parties of distinguished and interesting people, brilliant with the red livery of the waiters, the profusion of flowers—all that nameless elegance which had made the place society's most popular rendezvous. The women, as they settled into their places, asked a question which was on the lips of a great many English people of that day.

"Is there any news?"

Terniloff perhaps felt that he was the cynosure of many eager and anxious eyes. He smiled light-heartedly as he answered:

"None. If there were, I am convinced that it would be good. I have been allowed to play out my titanic struggle against Sir Everard without interruption."

"I suppose the next important question to whether it is to be peace or war is, how did you play?" the Princess asked.

"I surpassed myself," her husband replied, "but of course no ordinary human golfer is of any account against Dominey. He plays far too well for any self-respecting Ger—"

The Ambassador broke off and paused while he helped himself to mayonnaise.

"For any self-respecting German to play against," he concluded. Luncheon was a very pleasant meal, and a good many people noticed the vivacity of the beautiful Lady Dominey whose picture was beginning to appear in the illustrated papers. Afterwards they drank coffee and sipped liqueurs under the great elm tree on the lawn, listening to the music and congratulating themselves upon having made their escape from London. In the ever-shifting panorama of gaily-dressed women and flannel-clad men, the monotony of which was varied here and there by the passing of a diplomatist or a Frenchman, scrupulously attired in morning clothes, were many familiar faces. Caroline and a little group of friends waved to them from the terrace. Eddy Pelham, in immaculate white, and a long tennis coat with dark blue edgings, paused to speak to them on his way to the courts.

"How is the motor business, Eddy?" Dominey asked, with a twinkle in his eyes.

"So, so! I'm not quite so keen as I was. To tell you the truth," the young man confided, glancing around and lowering his voice so that no one should share the momentous information, "I was lucky enough to pick up a small share in Jere Moore's racing stable at Newmarket, the other day. I fancy I know a little more about gee-gees than I do about the inside of motors, what?"

"I should think very possibly that you are right," Dominey assented, as the young man passed on with a farewell salute.

Terniloff looked after him curiously.

"It is the type of young man, that," he declared, "which we cannot understand. What would happen to him, in the event of a war?— In the event of his being called upon, say, either to fight or do some work of national importance for his country?"

"I expect he would do it," Dominey replied. "He would do it pluckily, whole-heartedly and badly. He is a type of the upper-class young Englishman, over-sanguine and entirely undisciplined. They expect, and their country expects for them that in the case of emergency pluck would take the place of training."

The Right Honourable Gerald Watson stood upon the steps talking to the wife of the Italian Ambassador. She left him presently, and he came strolling down the lawn with his hands behind his back and his eyes seeming to see out past the golf links.

"There goes a man," Terniloff murmured, "whom lately I have found changed. When I first came here he met me quite openly. I believe, even now, he is sincerely desirous of peace and amicable relations between our two countries, and yet something has fallen between us. I cannot tell what it is. I cannot tell even of what nature it is, but I have an instinct for people's attitude towards me, and the English are the worst race in the world at hiding their feelings. Has Mr. Watson, I wonder, come under the spell of your connection, the Duke of Worcester? He seemed so friendly with both of us down in Norfolk."

Their womenkind left them at that moment to talk to some acquaintances seated a short distance way. Mr. Watson, passing within a few yards of them, was brought to a standstill by Dominey's greeting. They talked for a moment or two upon idle subjects.

"Your news, I trust, continues favourable?" the Ambassador remarked, observing the etiquette which required him to be the first to leave the realms of ordinary conversation.

"It is a little negative in quality," the other answered, after a moment's hesitation. "I am summoned to Downing Street again at six o'clock."

"I have already confided the result of my morning despatches to the Prime Minister," Terniloff observed.

"I went through them before I came down here," was the somewhat doubtful reply.

"You will have appreciated, I hope, their genuinely pacific tone?" Terniloff asked anxiously.

His interlocutor bowed and then drew himself up. It was obvious that the strain of the last few days was telling upon him. There were lines about his mouth, and his eyes spoke of sleepless nights.

"Words are idle things to deal with at a time like this," he said. "One thing, however, I will venture to say to you, Prince, here and under these circumstances. There will be no war unless it be the will of your country."

Terniloff was for a moment unusually pale. It was an episode of unrecorded history. He rose to his feet and raised his hat.

"There will be no war," he said solemnly.

The Cabinet Minister passed on with a lighter step. Dominey, more clearly than ever before, understood the subtle policy which had chosen for his great position a man as chivalrous and faithful and yet as simple-minded as Terniloff. He looked after the retreating figure of the Cabinet Minister with a slight smile at the corner of his lips.

"In a time like this," he remarked significantly, "one begins to understand why one of our great writers—was it Bernhardi, I wonder?—has written that no island could ever breed a race of diplomatists."

"The seas which engirdle this island," the Ambassador said thoughtfully, "have brought the English great weal, as they may bring to her much woe. The too-nimble brain of the diplomat has its parallel of insincerity in the people whose interests he seems to guard. I believe in the honesty of the English politicians, I have placed that belief on record in the small volume of memoirs which I shall presently entrust to you. But we talk too seriously for a summer afternoon. Let us illustrate to the world our opinion of the political situation and play another nine holes at golf."

Dominey rose willingly to his feet, and the two men strolled away towards the first tee.

"By the by," Terniloff asked, "what of our cheerful little friend Seaman? He ought to be busy just now."

"Curiously enough, he is returning from Germany to-night," Dominey announced. "I expect him at Berkeley square. He is coming direct to me."