The Great Impersonation/Chapter 27

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


There was something dramatic, in the most lurid sense of the word, about the brief telephone message which Dominey received, not so many hours later, from Carlton House Terrace. In a few minutes he was moving through the streets, still familiar yet already curiously changed. Men and women were going about their business as usual, but an air of stupefaction was everywhere apparent. Practically every loiterer was studying a newspaper, every chance acquaintance had stopped to confer with his fellows. War, alternately the joke and bogey of the conversationalist, stretched her grey hands over the sunlit city. Even the lightest-hearted felt a thrill of apprehension at the thought of the horrors that were to come. In a day or two all this was to be changed. People went about then counting the Russian millions; the steamroller fetish was to be evolved. The most peaceful stockbroker or shopkeeper, who had never even been to a review in his life, could make calculations of man power with a stump of pencil on the back of an old envelope, which would convince the greatest pessimist that Germany and Austria were outnumbered by at least three to one. But on this particular morning, people were too stunned for calculations. The incredible had happened. The long-discussed war—the nightmare of the nervous, the derision of the optimist—had actually materialised. The happy-go-lucky years of peace and plenty had suddenly come to an end. Black tragedy leaned over the land.

Dominey, avoiding acquaintances as far as possible, his own mind in a curious turmoil, passed down St. James's Street and along Pall Mall and presented himself at Carlton House Terrace. Externally, the great white building, with its rows of flower boxes, showed no signs of undue perturbation. Inside, however, the anteroom was crowded with callers, and it was only by the intervention of Terniloff's private secretary, who was awaiting him, that Dominey was able to reach the inner sanctum where the Ambassador was busy dictating letters. He broke off immediately his visitor was announced and dismissed every one, including his secretaries. Then he locked the door.

"Von Ragastein," he groaned, "I am a broken man!"

Dominey grasped his hand sympathetically. Terniloff seemed to have aged years even in the last few hours.

"I sent for you," he continued, "to say farewell, to say farewell and make a confession. You were right, and I was wrong. It would have been better if I had remained and played the country farmer on my estates. I was never shrewd enough to see until now that I have been made the cat's-paw of the very men whose policy I always condemned."

His visitor still remained silent. There was so little that he could say.

"I have worked for peace," Terniloff went on, "believing that my country wanted peace. I have worked for peace with honourable men who were just as anxious as I was to secure it. But all the time those for whom I laboured were making faces behind my back. I was nothing more nor less than their tool. I know now that nothing in this world could have hindered what is coming."

"Every one will at least realise," Dominey reminded him, "that you did your best for peace."

"That is one reason why I sent for you," was the agitated reply. "Not long ago I spoke of a little volume, a diary which I have been keeping of my work in this country. I promised to show it to you. You have asked me for it several times lately. I am going to show it to you now. It is written up to yesterday. It will tell you of all my efforts and how they were foiled. It is an absolutely faithful narrative of my work here, and the English response to it."

The Prince crossed the room, unlocked one of the smaller safes, which stood against the side of the wall, withdrew a morocco-bound volume the size of a small portfolio, and returned to Dominey.

"I beg you," he said earnestly, "to read this with the utmost care and to await my instructions with regard to it. You can judge, no doubt," he went on a little bitterly, "why I give it into your keeping. Even the Embassy here is not free from our own spies, and the existence of these memoirs is known. The moment I reach Germany, their fate is assured. I am a German and a patriot, although my heart is bitter against those who are bringing this blot upon our country. For that reason, these memoirs must be kept in a safe place until I see a good use for them."

"You mean if the governing party in Germany should change?"

"Precisely! They would then form at once my justification, and place English diplomacy in such a light before the saner portion of my fellow countrymen that an honourable peace might be rendered possible. Study them carefully, Von Ragastein. Perhaps even your own allegiance to the Party you serve may waver for a moment as you read."

"I serve no Party," Dominey said quietly, "only my Country."

Terniloff sighed.

"Alas! there is no time for us to enter into one of our old arguments on the ethics of government. I must send you away, Von Ragastein. You have a terrible task before you. I am bound to wish you Godspeed. For myself I shall not raise my head again until I have left England."

"There is no other commission?" Dominey asked. "No other way in which I can serve you?"

"None," Terniloff answered sadly. "I am permitted to suffer no inconveniences. My departure is arranged for as though I were royalty. Yet believe me, my friend, every act of courtesy and generosity which I receive in these moments, bites into my heart. Farewell!"

Dominey found a taxicab in Pall Mall and drove back to Berkeley Square. He found Rosamund with a little troop of dogs, just entering the gardens, and crossed to her side.

"Dear," he asked, taking her arm, "would you mind very much coming down to Norfolk for a few days?"

"With you?" she asked quickly.

"Yes! I want to be in retreat for a short time. There are one or two things I must settle before I take up some fresh work."

"I should love it," she declared enthusiastically. "London is getting so hot, and every one is so excited."

"I shall order the touring car at three o'clock," Dominey told her. "We shall get home about nine. Parkins and your maid can go down by train. Does that suit you?"

"Delightfully!"

He took her arm and they paced slowly along the hot walk.

"Rosamund dear," he said, "the time has come which many people have been dreading. We are at war."

"I know," she murmured.

"You and I have had quite a happy time together, these last few months," he went on, "even though there is still that black cloud between us. I have tried to treat you as kindly and tenderly as though I were really your husband and you were indeed my wife."

"You're not going away?" she cried, startled. "I couldn't bear that! No one could ever be so sweet as you have been to me."

"Dear," he said, "I want you to think—of your husband—of Everard. He was a soldier once for a short time, was he not? What do you think he would have done now that this terrible war has come?"

"He would have done what you will do," she answered, with the slightest possible tremor in her tone. "He would have become a soldier again, he would have fought for his country."

"And so must I—fight for my country," he declared. "That is why I must leave you for an hour now while I make some calls. I shall be back to luncheon. Directly afterwards we must start. I have many things to arrange first, though. Life is not going to be very easy for the next few days."

She held on to his arm. She seemed curiously reluctant to let him go.

"Everard," she said, "when we are at Dominey shall I be able to see Doctor Harrison?"

"Of course," he assured her.

"There is something I want to say to him," she confided, "something I want to ask you, too. Are you the same person, Everard, when you are in town as when you are in the country?"

He was a little taken aback at her question—asked, too, with such almost plaintive seriousness. The very aberration it suggested seemed altogether denied by her appearance. She was wearing a dress of black and white muslin, a large black hat, Paris shoes. Her stockings, her gloves, all the trifling details of her toilette, were carefully chosen, and her clothes themselves gracefully and naturally worn. Socially, too, she had been amazingly successful. Only the week before, Caroline had come to him with a little shrug of the shoulders.

"I have been trying to be kind to Rosamund," she said, "and finding out instead how unnecessary it is. She is quite the most popular of the younger married women in our set. You don't deserve such luck, Everard."

"You know the proverb about the old roué," he had replied.

His mind had wandered for a moment. He realised Rosamund's question with a little start.

"The same person, dear?" he repeated. "I think so. Don't I seem so to you?"

She shook her head.

"I am not sure," she answered, a little mysteriously. "You see, in the country I still remember sometimes that awful night when I so nearly lost my reason. I have never seen you as you looked that night."

"You would rather not go back, perhaps?"

"That is the strange part of it," she replied. "There is nothing in the world I want so much to do. There's an empty taxi, dear," she added, as they reached the gate. "I shall go in and tell Justine about the packing."