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- The Great Impersonation - 30/50 -


Kaiser, commanding me to marry her."

"The situation," Seaman declared grimly, "but for its serious side, would provide all the elements for a Palais Royal farce. For the present, however, you have duties below. I have said the words which were thumping against the walls of my heart."

Their descent was opportune. Some of the local guests were preparing to make their departure, and Dominey was in time to receive their adieux. They all left messages for Lady Dominey, spoke of a speedy visit to her, and expressed themselves as delighted to hear of her return and recovery. As the last car rolled away, Caroline took her host's arm and led him to a chimney seat by the huge log fire in the inner hall.

"My dear Everard," she said, "you really are a very terrible person."

"Exactly why?" he demanded.

"Your devotion to my sex," she continued, "is flattering but far too catholic. Your return to England appears to have done what we understood to be impossible--restored your wife's reason. A fiery- headed Hungarian Princess has pursued you down here, and has now gone to her room in a tantrum because you left her side for a few minutes to welcome your wife. And there remains our own sentimental little flirtation, a broken and, alas, a discarded thing! There is no doubt whatever, Everard, that you are a very bad lot."

"You are distressing me terribly," Dominey confessed, "but all the same, after a somewhat agitated evening I must admit that I find it pleasant to talk with some one who is not wielding the lightnings. May I have a whisky and soda?"

"Bring me one, too, please," Caroline begged. "I fear that it will seriously impair the note which I had intended to strike in our conversation, but I am thirsty. And a handful of those Turkish cigarettes, too. You can devote yourself to me with a perfectly clear conscience. Your most distinguished guest has found a task after his own heart. He has got Henry in a corner of the billiard-room and is trying to convince him of what I am sure the dear man really believes himself--that Germany's intentions towards England are of a particularly dove-like nature. Your Right Honourable guest has gone to bed, and Eddy Pelham is playing billiards with Mr. Mangan. Every one is happy. You can devote yourself to soothing my wounded vanity, to say nothing of my broken heart."

"Always gibing at me," Dominey grumbled.

"Not always," she answered quietly, raising her eyes for a moment. "There was a time, Everard, before that terrible tragedy--the last time you stayed at Dunratter--when I didn't gibe."

"When, on the contrary, you were sweetness itself," he reflected.

She sighed reminiscently.

"That was a wonderful month," she murmured. "I think it was then for the first time that I saw traces of something in you which I suppose accounts for your being what you are to-day."

"You think that I have changed, then?"

She looked him in the eyes.

"I sometimes find it difficult to believe," she admitted, "that you are the same man."

He turned away to reach for his whisky and soda.

"As a matter of curiosity," he asked, "why?"

"To begin with, then," she commented, "you have become almost a precisian in your speech. You used to be rather slangy at times."

"What else?"

"You used always to clip your final g's."

"Shocking habit," he murmured. "I cured myself of that by reading aloud in the bush. Go on, please?"

"You carry yourself so much more stiffly. Sometimes you have the air of being surprised that you are not in uniform."

"Trifles, all these things," he declared. "Now for something serious?"

"The serious things are pretty good," she admitted. "You used to drink whiskys and sodas at all hours of the day, and quite as much wine as was good for you at dinner time. Now, although you are a wonderful host, you scarcely take anything yourself."

"You should see me at the port," he told her, "when you ladies are well out of the way! Some more of the good, please?"

"All your best qualities seem to have come to the surface," she went on, "and I think that the way you have come back and faced it all is simply wonderful. Tell me, if that man's body should be discovered after all these years, would you be charged with manslaughter?"

He shook his head. "I do not think so, Caroline."

"Everard."

"Well?"

"Did you kill Roger Unthank?"

A portion of the burning log fell on to the hearth. Then there was silence. They heard the click of the billiard balls in the adjoining room. Dominey leaned forward and with a pair of small tongs replaced the burning wood upon the fire. Suddenly he felt his hands clasped by his companion's.

"Everard dear," she said, "I am so sorry. You came to me a little tired to-night, didn't you? I think that you needed sympathy, and here I am asking you once more that horrible question. Forget it, please. Talk to me like your old dear self. Tell me about Rosamund's return. Is she really recovered, do you think?"

"I saw her only for a few minutes," Dominey replied, "but she seemed to me absolutely better. I must say that the weekly reports I have received from the nursing home quite prepared me for a great improvement. She is very frail, and her eyes still have that restless look, but she talks quite coherently."

"What about that horrible woman?"

"I have pensioned Mrs. Unthank. To my surprise I hear that she is still living in the village."

"And your ghost?"

"Not a single howl all the time that Rosamund has been away."

"There is one thing more," Caroline began hesitatingly.

That one thing lacked forever the clothing of words. There came a curious, almost a dramatic interruption. Through the silence of the hall there pealed the summons of the great bell which hung over the front door. Dominey glanced at the clock in amazement.

"Midnight!" he exclaimed. "Who on earth can be coming here at this time of night!"

Instinctively they both rose to their feet. A manservant had turned the great key, drawn the bolts, and opened the door with difficulty. Little flakes of snow and a gust of icy wind swept into the hall, and following them the figure of a man, white from head to foot, his hair tossed with the wind, almost unrecognisable after his struggle.

"Why, Doctor Harrison!" Dominey cried, taking a quick step forward. "What brings you here at this time of night!"

The doctor leaned upon his stick for a moment. He was out of breath, and the melting snow was pouring from his clothes on to the oak floor. They relieved him of his coat and dragged him towards the fire.

"I must apologise for disturbing you at such an hour," he said, as he took the tumbler which Dominey pressed into his hand. "I have only just received Lady Dominey's telegram. I had to see you--at once."

CHAPTER XVIII

The doctor, with his usual bluntness, did not hesitate to make it known that this unusual visit was of a private nature. Caroline promptly withdrew, and the two men were left alone in the great hall. The lights in the billiard-room and drawing-room were extinguished. Every one in the house except a few servants had retired.

"Sir Everard," the doctor began, "this return of Lady Dominey's has taken me altogether by surprise. I had intended to-morrow morning to discuss the situation with you."

"I am most anxious to hear your report," Dominey said.

"My report is good," was the confident answer. "Although I would not have allowed her to have left the nursing home so suddenly had I known, there was nothing to keep her there. Lady Dominey, except for one hallucination, is in perfect health, mentally and physically."

"And this one hallucination?"

"That you are not her husband."

Dominey was silent for a moment. Then he laughed a little unnaturally.

"Can a person be perfectly sane," he asked, "and yet be subject to an hallucination which must make the whole of her surroundings seem unreal?"

"Lady Dominey is perfectly sane," the doctor answered bluntly, "and as for that hallucination, it is up to you to dispel it."

"Perhaps you can give me some advice?" Dominey suggested.

"I can, and I am going to be perfectly frank with you," the doctor replied. "To begin with then, there are certain obvious changes in you which might well minister to Lady Dominey's hallucination. For


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