The Great Impersonation/Chapter 3
Mr. John Lambert Mangan of Lincoln's Inn gazed at the card which a junior clerk had just presented in blank astonishment, an astonishment which became speedily blended with dismay.
"Good God, do you see this, Harrison?" he exclaimed, passing it over to his manager, with whom he had been in consultation. "Dominey—Sir Everard Dominey—back here in England!"
The head clerk glanced at the narrow piece of pasteboard and sighed.
"I'm afraid you will find him rather a troublesome client, sir," he remarked.
His employer frowned. "Of course I shall," he answered testily. "There isn't an extra penny to be had out of the estates—you know that, Harrison. The last two quarters' allowance which we sent to Africa came out of the timber. Why the mischief didn't he stay where he was!"
"What shall I tell the gentleman, sir?" the boy enquired.
"Oh, show him in!" Mr. Mangan directed ill-temperedly. "I suppose I shall have to see him sooner or later. I'll finish these affidavits after lunch, Harrison."
The solicitor composed his features to welcome a client who, however troublesome his affairs had become, still represented a family who had been valued patrons of the firm for several generations. He was prepared to greet a seedy-looking and degenerate individual, looking older than his years. Instead, he found himself extending his hand to one of the best turned out and handsomest men who had ever crossed the threshold of his not very inviting office. For a moment he stared at his visitor, speechless. Then certain points of familiarity—the well-shaped nose, the rather deep-set grey eyes—presented themselves. This surprise enabled him to infuse a little real heartiness into his welcome.
"My dear Sir Everard!" he exclaimed. "This is a most unexpected pleasure—most unexpected! Such a pity, too, that we only posted a draft for your allowance a few days ago. Dear me—you'll forgive my saying so—how well you look!"
Dominey smiled as he accepted an easy chair.
"Africa's a wonderful country, Mangan," he remarked, with just that faint note of patronage in his tone which took his listener back to the days of his present client's father.
"It—pardon my remarking it—has done wonderful things for you, Sir Everard. Let me see, it must be eleven years since we met."
Sir Everard tapped the toes of his carefully polished brown shoes with the end of his walking stick.
"I left London," he murmured reminiscently, "in April, nineteen hundred and two. Yes, eleven years, Mr. Mangan. It seems queer to find myself in London again, as I dare say you can understand."
"Precisely," the lawyer murmured. "I was just wondering—I think that last remittance we sent to you could be stopped. I have no doubt you will be glad of a little ready money," he added, with a confident smile.
"Thanks, I don't think I need any just at present," was the amazing answer. "We'll talk about financial affairs a little later on."
Mr. Mangan metaphorically pinched himself. He had known his present client even during his school days, had received a great many visits from him at different times, and could not remember one in which the question of finance had been dismissed in so casual a manner.
"I trust," he observed chiefly for the sake of saying something, "that you are thinking of settling down here for a time now?"
"I have finished with Africa, if that is what you mean," was the somewhat grave reply. "As to settling down here, well, that depends a little upon what you have to tell me."
The lawyer nodded.
"I think," he said, "that you may make yourself quite easy as regards the matter of Roger Unthank. Nothing has ever been heard of him since the day you left England."
"His—body has not been found?"
"Nor any trace of it."
There was a brief silence. The lawyer looked hard at Dominey, and Dominey searchingly back again at the lawyer.
"And Lady Dominey?" the former asked at length.
"Her ladyship's condition is, I believe, unchanged," was the somewhat guarded reply.
"If the circumstances are favourable," Dominey continued, after another moment's pause, "I think it very likely that I may decide to settle down at Dominey Hall."
The lawyer appeared doubtful.
"I am afraid," he said, "you will be very disappointed in the condition of the estate, Sir Everard. As I have repeatedly told you in our correspondence, the rent roll, after deducting your settlement upon Lady Dominey, has at no time reached the interest on the mortgages, and we have had to make up the difference and send you your allowance out of the proceeds of the outlying timber."
"That is a pity," Dominey replied, with a frown. "I ought, perhaps, to have taken you more into my confidence. By the by," he added, "when—er—about when did you receive my last letter?"
"Your last letter?" Mr. Mangan repeated. "We have not had the privilege of hearing from you, Sir Everard, for over four years. The only intimation we had that our payments had reached you was the exceedingly prompt debit of the South African bank."
"I have certainly been to blame," this unexpected visitor confessed. "On the other hand, I have been very much absorbed. If you haven't happened to hear any South African gossip lately, Mangan, I suppose it will be a surprise to you to hear that I have been making a good deal of money."
"Making money?" the lawyer gasped. "You making money, Sir Everard?"
"I thought you'd be surprised," Dominey observed coolly. "However, that's neither here nor there. The business object of my visit to you this morning is to ask you to make arrangements as quickly as possible for paying off the mortgages on the Dominey estates."
Mr. Mangan was a lawyer of the new-fashioned school,—Harrow and Cambridge, the Bath Club, racquets and fives, rather than gold and lawn tennis. Instead of saying "God bless my soul!" he exclaimed "Great Scott!" dropped a very modern-looking eyeglass from his left eye, and leaned back in his chair with his hands in his pockets.
"I have had three or four years of good luck," his client continued. "I have made money in gold mines, in diamond mines and in land. I am afraid that if I had stayed out another year, I should have descended altogether to the commonplace and come back a millionaire."
"My heartiest congratulations!" Mr. Mangan found breath to murmur. "You'll forgive my being so astonished, but you are the first Dominey I ever knew who has ever made a penny of money in any sort of way, and from what I remember of you in England—I'm sure you'll forgive my being so frank—I should never have expected you to have even attempted such a thing."
Dominey smiled good-humouredly.
"Well," he said, "if you inquire at the United Bank of Africa, you will find that I have a credit balance there of something over a hundred thousand pounds. Then I have also—well, let us say a trifle more, invested in first-class mines. Do me the favour of lunching with me, Mr. Mangan, and although Africa will never be a favourite topic of conversation with me, I will tell you about some of my speculations." The solicitor groped around for his hat.
"I will send the boy for a taxi," he faltered.
"I have a car outside," this astonishing client told him. "Before we leave, could you instruct your clerk to have a list of the Dominey mortgages made out, with the terminable dates and redemption values?"
"I will leave instructions," Mr. Mangan promised. "I think that the total amount is under eighty thousand pounds."
Dominey sauntered through the office, an object of much interest to the little staff of clerks. The lawyer joined him on the pavement in a few minutes.
"Where shall we lunch?" Dominey asked. "I'm afraid my clubs are a little out of date. I am staying at the Carlton."
"The Carlton grill room is quite excellent," Mr. Mangan suggested.
"They are keeping me a table until half-past one," Dominey replied. "We will lunch there, by all means."
They drove off together, the returned traveller gazing all the time out of the window into the crowded streets, the lawyer a little thoughtful. "While I think of it, Sir Everard," the latter said, as they drew near their destination. "I should be glad of a short conversation with you before you go down to Dominey."
"With regard to anything in particular?"
"With regard to Lady Dominey," the lawyer told him a little gravely.
A shadow rested on his companion's face.
"Is her ladyship very much changed?"
"Physically, she is in excellent health, I believe. Mentally I believe that there is no change. She has unfortunately the same rather violent prejudice which I am afraid influenced your departure from England."
"In plain words," Dominey said bitterly, "she has sworn to take my life if ever I sleep under the same roof."
"She will need, I am afraid, to be strictly watched," the lawyer answered evasively. "Still, I think you ought to be told that time does not seem to have lessened her tragical antipathy."
"She regards me still as the murderer of Roger Unthank?" Dominey asked, in a measured tone.
"I am afraid she does."
"And I suppose that every one else has the same idea?"
"The mystery," Mr. Mangan admitted, "has never been cleared up. It is well known, you see, that you fought in the park and that you staggered home almost senseless. Roger Unthank has never been seen from that day to this."
"If I had killed him," Dominey pointed out, "why was his body not found?"
The lawyer shook his head.
"There are all sorts of theories, of course," he said, "but for one superstition you may as well be prepared. There is scarcely a man or a woman for miles around Dominey who doesn't believe that the ghost of Roger Unthank still haunts the Black Wood near where you fought."
"Let us be quite clear about this," Dominey insisted. "If the body should ever be found, am I liable, after all these years, to be indicted for manslaughter?"
"I think you may make your mind quite at ease," the lawyer assured him. "In the first place, I don't think you would ever be indicted."
"And in the second?"
"There isn't a human being in that part of Norfolk would ever believe that the body of man or beast, left within the shadow of the Black Wood, would ever be seen or heard of again!"