The Great Impersonation/Chapter 29
The heat of a sulphurous afternoon—a curious parallel in its presage of coming storm to the fast-approaching crisis in Dominey's own affairs—had driven Dominey from his study on to the terrace. In a chair by his side lounged Eddy Pelham, immaculate in a suit of white flannels. It was the fifth day since the mystery of the Black Wood had been solved.
"Ripping, old chap, of you to have me down here," the young man remarked amiably, his hand stretching out to a tumbler which stood by his side. "The country, when you can get ice, is a paradise in this weather, especially when London's so full of ghastly rumours and all that sort of thing. What's the latest news of her ladyship?"
"Still unconscious," Dominey replied. "The doctors, however, seem perfectly satisfied. Everything depends on her waking moments."
The young man abandoned the subject with a murmur of hopeful sympathy. His eyes were fixed upon a little cloud of dust in the distance.
"Expecting visitors to-day?" he asked.
"Should not be surprised," was the somewhat laconic answer.
The young man stood up, yawned and stretched himself.
"I'll make myself scarce," he said. "Jove!" he added approvingly, lingering for a moment. "Jolly well cut, the tunic of your uniform, Dominey! If a country in peril ever decides to waive the matter of my indifferent physique and send me out to the rescue, I shall go to your man."
"Mine is only the local Yeomanry rig-out," he replied. "They will nab you for the Guards!"
Dominey stepped back through the open windows into his study as Pelham strolled off. He was seated at his desk, poring over some letters, when a few minutes later Seaman was ushered into the room. For a single moment his muscles tightened, his frame became tense. Then he realised his visitor's outstretched hands of welcome and he relaxed. Seaman was perspiring, vociferous and excited.
"At last!" He exclaimed. "Donner und!— My God Dominey, what is this?"
"Thirteen years ago," Dominey explained, "I resigned a commission in the Norfolk Yeomanry. That little matter, however, has been adjusted. At a crisis like this—"
"My friend, you are wonderful!" Seaman interrupted solemnly. "You are a man after my own heart, you are thorough, you leave nothing undone. That is why," he added, lowering his voice a little, "we are the greatest race in the world. Drink before everything, my friend," he went on, "drink I must have. What a day! The very clouds that hide the sun are full of sulphurous heat."
Dominey rang the bell, ordered hock and seltzer and ice. Seaman drank and threw himself into an easy-chair.
"There is no fear of your being called out of the country because of that, I hope?" he asked a little anxiously, nodding his head towards his companion's uniform.
"Not at present," Dominey answered. "I am a trifle over age to go with the first batch or two. Where have you been?"
Seaman hitched his chair a little nearer.
"In Ireland," he confided. "Sorry to desert you as I did, but you do not begin to count for us just yet. There was just a faint doubt as to what they were doing to do about internment. That is why I had to get the Irish trip off my mind."
"What has been decided?"
"The Government has the matter under consideration," Seaman replied, with a chuckle. "I can certainly give myself six months before I need to slip off. Now tell me, why do I find you down here?"
"After Terniloff left," Dominey explained, "I felt I wanted to get away. I have been asked to start some recruiting work down here."
"Terniloff—left his little volume with you?"
"Where is it?"
"Safe," Dominey replied.
Seaman mopped his forehead.
"It needs to be," he muttered. "I have orders to see it destroyed. We can talk of that presently. Sometimes, when I am away from you, I tremble. It may sound foolish, but you have in your possession just the two things—that map and Von Terniloff's memoirs—which would wreck our propaganda in every country of the world."
"Both are safe," Dominey assured him. "By the by, my friend," he went on, "do you know that you yourself are forgetting your usual caution?"
"In what respect?" Seaman demanded quickly.
"As you stooped to sit down just now, I distinctly saw the shape of your revolver in your hip pocket. You know as well as I do that with your name and the fact that you are only a naturalised Englishman, it is inexcusably foolish to be carrying firearms about just now."
Seaman thrust his hand into his pocket and threw the revolver upon the table.
"You are quite right," he acknowledged. "Take care of it for me. I took it with me to Ireland, because one never knows what may happen in that amazing country."
Dominey swept it carelessly into the drawer of the desk at which he was sitting.
"Our weapons, from now on," Seaman continued, "must be the weapons of guile and craft. You and I will have, alas! to see less of one another, Dominey. In many ways it is unfortunate that we have not been able to keep England out of this for a few more months. However, the situation must be dealt with as it exists. So far as you are concerned you have practically secured yourself against suspicion. You will hold a brilliant and isolated place amongst those who are serving the great War Lord. When I do approach you, it will be for sympathy and assistance against the suspicions of those far-seeing Englishmen!"
"You will stay the night?" he asked.
"If I may," Seaman assented. "It is the last time for many months when it will be wise for us to meet on such intimate terms. Perhaps our dear friend Parkins will take vinous note of the occasion."
"In other words," Dominey said, "you propose that we shall drink the Dominey cabinet hock and the Dominey port to the glory of our country."
"To the glory of our country," Seaman echoed. "So be it, my friend.— Listen."
A car had passed along the avenue in front of the house. There was the sound of voices in the hall, a knock at the door, the rustle of a woman's clothes. Parkins, a little disturbed, announced the arrivals.
"The Princess of Eiderstrom and—a gentleman. The Princess said that her errand with you was urgent, sir," he added, turning apologetically towards his master.
The Princess was already in the room, and following her a short man in a suit of sombre black, wearing a white tie, and carrying a black bowler hat. He blinked across the room through his thick glasses, and Dominey knew that the end had come. The door was closed behind them. The Princess came a little further into the room. Her hand was extended towards Dominey, but not in greeting. Her white finger pointed straight at him. She turned to her companion.
"Which is that, Doctor Schmidt?" she demanded.
"The Englishman, by God!" Schmidt answered.
The silence which reigned for several seconds was intense and profound. The coolest of all four was perhaps Dominey. The Princess was pale with a passion which seemed to sob behind her words.
"Everard Dominey," she cried, "what have you done with my lover? What have you done with Leopold Von Ragastein?"
"He met with the fate," Dominey replied, "which he had prepared for me. We fought and I conquered."
"You killed him?"
"I killed him," Dominey echoed. "It was a matter of necessity. His body sleeps on the bed of the Blue River."
"And your life here has been a lie!"
"On the contrary, it has been the truth," Dominey objected. "I assured you at the Carlton, when you first spoke to me, and I have assured you a dozen times since, that I was Everard Dominey. That is my name. That is who I am."
Seaman's voice seemed to come from a long way off. For the moment the man had neither courage nor initiative. He seemed as though he had received some sort of stroke. His mind was travelling backwards.
"You came to me at Cape Town," he muttered; "you had all Von Ragastein's letters, you knew his history, you had the Imperial mandate."
"Von Ragastein and I exchanged the most intimate confidences in his camp," Dominey said, "as Doctor Schmidt there knows. I told him my history, and he told me his. The letters and papers I took from him."
Schmidt had covered his face with his hands for a moment. His shoulders were heaving.
"My beloved chief!" he sobbed. "My dear devoted master! Killed by that drunken Englishman!"
"Not so drunk as you fancied him," Dominey said coolly, "not so far gone in his course of dissipation but that he was able to pull himself up when the great incentive came."
The Princess looked from one to the other of the two men. Seaman had still the appearance of a man struggling to extricate himself from some sort of nightmare.
"My first and only suspicion," he faltered, "was that night when Wolff disappeared!"
"Wolff's coming was rather a tragedy," Dominey admitted. "Fortunately, I had a secret service man in the house who was able to dispose of him."
"It was you who planned his disappearance?" Seaman gasped.
"Naturally," Dominey replied. "He knew the truth and was trying all the time to communicate with you."
"And the money?" Seaman continued, blinking rapidly. "One hundred thousand pounds, and more?"
"I understood that was a gift," Dominey replied. "If the German Secret Service, however, cares to formulate a claim and sue me—"
The Princess suddenly interrupted. Her eyes seemed on fire.
"What are you, you two?" she cried, stretching out her hands towards Schmidt and Seaman. "Are you lumps of earth—clods—creatures without courage and intelligence? You can let him stand there—the Englishman who has murdered my lover, who has befooled you? You let him stand there and mock you, and you do and say nothing! Is his life a sacred thing? Has he none of your secrets in his charge?"
"The great God above us!" Seaman groaned, with a sudden white horror in his face. "He has the Prince's memoirs! He has the Kaiser's map!"
"On the contrary," Dominey replied, "both are deposited at the Foreign Office. We hope to find them very useful a little later on."
Seaman sprang forward like a tiger and went down in a heap as he almost threw himself upon Dominey's out-flung fist. Schmidt came stealing across the room, and from underneath his cuff something gleamed.
"You are two to one!" the Princess cried passionately, as both assailants hesitated. "I would to God that I had a weapon, or that I were a man!"
"My dear Princess," a good-humoured voice remarked from the window, "four to two the other way, I think, what?"
Eddy Pelham, his hands in his pockets, but a very alert gleam in his usually vacuous face, stood in the windowed doorway. From behind him, two exceedingly formidable-looking men slipped into the room. There was no fight, not even a struggle. Seaman, who had never recovered from the shock of his surprise, and was now completely unnerved, was handcuffed in a moment, and Schmidt disarmed. The latter was the first to break the curious silence.
"What have I done?" he demanded. "Why am I treated like this?"
"Doctor Schmidt?" Eddy asked pleasantly.
"That is my name, sir," was the fierce reply. "I have just landed from East Africa. We knew nothing of the war when we started. I came to expose that man. He is an impostor—a murderer! He has killed a German nobleman."
"He has committed lèse majesté!" Seaman gasped. "He has deceived the Kaiser! He has dared to sit in his presence as the Baron Von Ragastein!"
The young man in flannels glanced across at Dominey and smiled.
"I say, you two don't mean to be funny but you are," he declared. "First of all, there's Doctor Schmidt accuses Sir Everard here of being an impostor because he assumed his own name; accuses him of murdering a man who had planned in cold blood—you were in that, by the by, Schmidt—to kill him; and then there's our friend here, the secretary of the society for propagating better relations between the business men of England and Germany, complaining because Sir Everard carried through in Germany, for England, exactly what he believed the Baron Von Ragastein was carrying out here—for Germany. You're a curious, thick-headed race, you Germans."
"I demand again," Schmidt shouted, "to know by what right I am treated as a criminal?"
"Because you are one," Eddy answered coolly. "You and Von Ragastein together planned the murder of Sir Everard Dominey in East Africa, and I caught you creeping across the floor just now with a knife in your hand. That'll do for you. Any questions to ask, Seaman?"
"None," was the surly reply.
"You are well-advised," the young man remarked coolly. "Within the last two days, your house in Forest Hill and your offices in London Wall have been searched."
"You have said enough," Seaman declared. "Fate has gone against me. I thank God that our master has abler servants than I and the strength to crush this island of popinjays and fools!"
"Popinjays seems severe," Eddy murmured, in a hard tone. "However, to get on with this little matter," he added, turning to one of his two subordinates. "You will find a military car outside. Take these men over to the guardroom at the Norwich Barracks. I have arranged for an escort to see them to town. Tell the colonel I'll be over later in the day."
The Princess rose from the chair into which she had subsided a few moments before. Dominey turned towards her.
"Princess," he said, "there can be little conversation between us. Yet I shall ask you to remember this. Von Ragastein planned my death in cold blood. I could have slain him as an assassin, without the slightest risk, but I preferred to meet him face to face with the truth upon my lips. It was his life or mine. I fought for my country's sake, as he did for his."
The Princess looked at him with glittering eyes.
"I shall hate you to the end of my days," she declared, "because you have killed the thing I love, but although I am a woman, I know justice. You were chivalrous towards me. You treated Leopold perhaps better than he would have treated you. I pray that I shall never see your face again. Be so good as to suffer me to leave this house at once, and unattended."
Dominey threw open the windows which led on to the terrace and stood on one side. She passed by without a glance at him and disappeared. Eddy came strolling along the terrace a few moments later.
"Nice old ducks, those two, dear heart," he confided. "Seaman has just offered Forsyth, my burly ruffian in the blue serge suit, a hundred pounds to shoot him on the pretence that he was escaping."
"And what about Schmidt?"
"Insisted on his rights as an officer and demanded the front seat and a cigar before the car started! A pretty job, Dominey, and neatly cleaned up."
Dominey was watching the dust from the two cars which were disappearing down the avenue.
"Tell me, Eddy," he asked, "there's one thing I have always been curious about. How did you manage to keep that fellow Wolff when there wasn't a war on, and he wasn't breaking the law?"
The young man grinned.
"We had to stretch a point there, old dear," he admitted. "Plans of a fortress, eh?"
"Do you mean to say that he had plans of a fortress upon him?" Dominey asked.
"Picture post-card of Norwich Castle," the young man confided, "but keep it dark. Can I have a drink before I get the little car going?"
The turmoil of the day was over, and Dominey, after one silent but passionate outburst of thankfulness at the passing from his life of this unnatural restraint, found all his thoughts absorbed by the struggle which was being fought out in the bedchamber above. The old doctor came down and joined him at dinner time. He met Dominey's eager glance with a little nod.
"She's doing all right," he declared.
"No fever or anything?"
"Bless you, no! She's as near as possible in perfect health physically. A different woman from what she was this time last year, I can tell you. When she wakes up, she'll either be herself again, without a single illusion of any sort, or—"
The doctor paused, sipped his wine, emptied his glass and set it down approvingly.
"Or?" Dominey insisted.
"Or that part of her brain will be more or less permanently affected. However, I am hoping for the best. Thank heavens you're on the spot!"
They finished their dinner almost in silence. Afterwards, they smoked for a few minutes upon the terrace. Then they made their way softly upstairs. The doctor parted with Dominey at the door of the latter's room.
"I shall remain with her for an hour or so," he said. "After that I shall leave her entirely to herself. You'll be here in case there's a change?"
"I shall be here," Dominey promised.
The minutes passed into hours, uncounted, unnoticed. Dominey sat in his easy-chair, stirred by a tumultuous wave of passionate emotion. The memory of those earlier days of his return came back to him with all their poignant longings. He felt again the same tearing at the heart-strings, the same strange, unnerving tenderness. The great world's drama, in which he knew that he, too, would surely continue to play his part, seemed like a thing far off, the concern of another race of men. Every fibre of his being seemed attuned to the magic and the music of one wild hope. Yet when there came what he had listened for so long, the hope seemed frozen into fear. He sat a little forward in his easy-chair, his hands gripping its sides, his eyes fixed upon the slowly widening crack in the panel. It was as it had been before. She stooped low, stood up again and came towards him. From behind an unseen hand closed the panel. She came to him with her arms outstretched and all the wonderful things of life and love in her shining eyes. That faint touch of the somnambulist had passed. She came to him as she had never come before. She was a very real and a very live woman.
"Everard!" she cried.
He took her into his arms. At their first kiss she thrilled from head to foot. For a moment she laid her head upon his shoulder.
"Oh, I have been so silly!" she confessed. "There were times when I couldn't believe that you were my Everard—mine! And now I know."
Her lips sought his again, his parched with the desire of years. Along the corridor, the old doctor tiptoed his way to his room, with a pleased smile upon his face.