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- The Great Impersonation - 40/50 -
Rosamund joined them for luncheon, bringing news of Stephanie's sudden departure, with notes and messages for everybody. Caroline made a little grimace at her host.
"You're in trouble!" she whispered in his ear. "All the same, I approve. I like Stephanie, but she is an exceedingly dangerous person."
"I wonder whether she is," Dominey mused.
"I think men have generally found her so," Caroline replied. "She had one wonderful love affair, which ended, as you know, in her husband being killed in a duel and her lover being banished from the country. Still, she's not quite the sort of woman to be content with a banished lover. I fancied I noticed distinct signs of her being willing to replace him whilst she has been down here!"
"I feel as though a blight had settled upon my house party," Dominey remarked with bland irrelevancy. "First Eddy, then Mr. Ludwig Miller, and now Stephanie."
"And who on earth was Mr. Ludwig Miller, after all?" Caroline enquired.
"He was a fat, flaxen-haired German who brought me messages from old friends in Africa. He had no luggage but a walking stick, and he seems to have upset the male part of my domestics last night by accepting a bed and then disappearing!"
"With the plate?"
"Not a thing missing. Parkins spent an agonised half hour, counting everything. Mr. Ludwig appears to be one of those unsolved mysteries which go to make up an imperfect world."
"Well, we've had a jolly time," Caroline said reminiscently. "To-morrow Henry and I are off, and I suppose the others. I must say on the whole I am delighted with our visit."
"You are very gracious," Dominey murmured.
"I came, perhaps, expecting to see a little more of you," she went on deliberately, "but there is a very great compensation for my disappointment. I think your wife, Everard, is worth taking trouble about. She is perfectly sweet, and her manners are most attractive."
"I am very glad you think that," he said warmly.
She looked away from him.
"Everard," she sighed, "I believe you are in love with your wife."
There was a strange, almost a terrible mixture of expressions in his face as he answered,--a certain fear, a certain fondness, a certain almost desperate resignation. Even his voice, as a rule so slow and measured, shook with an emotion which amazed his companion.
"I believe I am," he muttered. "I am afraid of my feelings for her. It may bring even another tragedy down upon us."
"Don't talk rubbish!" Caroline exclaimed. "What tragedy could come between you now? You've recovered your balance. You are a strong, steadfast person, just fitted to be the protector of anything so sweet and charming as Rosamund. Tragedy, indeed! Why don't you take her down to the South of France, Everard, and have your honeymoon all over again?"
"I can't do that just yet."
She studied him curiously. There were times when he seemed wholly incomprehensible to her.
"Are you still worried about that Unthank affair?" she asked.
He hesitated for a moment.
"There is still an aftermath to our troubles," he told her, "one cloud which leans over us. I shall clear it up in time,--but other things may happen first."
"You take yourself very seriously, Everard," she observed, looking at him with a puzzled expression. "One would think that there was a side of your life, and a very important one, which you kept entirely to yourself. Why do you have that funny little man Seaman always round with you? You're not being blackmailed or anything, are you?"
"On the contrary," he told her, "Seaman was the first founder of my fortunes."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I have made a little money once or twice on the Stock Exchange," she remarked, "but I didn't have to carry my broker about in my pocket afterwards."
"Seaman is a good-hearted little fellow, and he loves companionship. He will drift away presently, and one won't see anything of him for ages."
"Henry began to wonder," she concluded drily, "whether you were going to stand for Parliament on the Anglo-German alliance ticket."
Dominey laughed as he caught Middleton's reproachful eye in the doorway of the farmer's kitchen in which they were hunching. He gave the signal to rise.
"I have had some thoughts of Parliament," he admitted, "but--well, Henry need not worry."
The next morning saw the breaking-up of Dominey's carefully arranged shooting party. The Prince took his host's arm and led him to one side for a few moments, as the cars were being loaded up. His first few words were of formal thanks. He spoke then more intimately.
"Von Ragastein," he said, "I desire to refer back for a moment to our conversation the other day."
Dominey shook his head and glanced behind.
"I know only one name here, Prince."
"Dominey, then. I will confess that you play and carry the part through perfectly. I have known English gentlemen all my life, and you have the trick of the thing. But listen. I have already told you of my disapproval of this scheme in which you are the central figure."
"It is understood," Dominey assented.
"That," the Prince continued, "is a personal matter. What I am now going to say to you is official. I had despatches from Berlin last night. They concern you."
Dominey seemed to stiffen a little.
"I am given to understand," the Ambassador continued, "that you practically exist only in the event of that catastrophe which I, for one, cannot foresee. I am assured that if your expose should take place at any time, your personation will be regarded as a private enterprise, and there is nothing whatever to connect you with any political work."
"Up to the present that is absolutely so," Dominey agreed.
"I am further advised to look upon you as my unnamed and unsuspected successor here, in the event of war. For that reason I am begged to inaugurate terms of intimacy with you, to treat you with the utmost confidence, and, if the black end should come, to leave in your hands all such unfulfilled work as can be continued in secrecy and silence. I perhaps express myself in a somewhat confused manner."
"I understand perfectly," Dominey replied. "The authorities have changed their first idea as to my presence here. They want to keep every shadow of suspicion away from me, so that in the event of war I shall have an absolutely unique position, an unsuspected yet fervently patriotic German, living hand in glove with the upper classes of English Society. One can well imagine that there would be work for me."
"Our understanding is mutual," Terniloff declared. "What I have to say to you, therefore, is that I hope you will soon follow us to London and give me the opportunity of offering you the constant hospitality of Carlton House Gardens."
"You are very kind, Prince," Dominey said. "My instructions are, as soon as I have consolidated my position here--an event which I fancy I may consider attained--to establish myself in London and to await orders. I trust that amongst other things you will then permit me to examine the memoirs you spoke of the other day."
"Naturally, and with the utmost pleasure," the Ambassador assented. "They are a faithful record of my interviews and negotiations with certain Ministers here, and they reflect a desire and intention for peace which will, I think, amaze you. I venture now upon a somewhat delicate question," he continued, changing the subject of their conversation abruptly, as they turned back along the terrace. "Lady Dominey will accompany you?"
"Of that I am not sure," Dominey replied thoughtfully. "I have noticed, Prince, if I may be allowed to say so, your chivalrous regard for that lady. You will permit me to assure you that in the peculiar position in which I am placed I shall never forget that she is the wife of Everard Dominey."
Terniloff shook hands heartily.
"I wanted to hear that from you," he admitted. "You I felt instinctively were different, but there are many men of our race who are willing enough to sacrifice a woman without the slightest scruple, either for their passions or their policy. I find Lady Dominey charming."
"She will never lack a protector in me," Dominey declared.
There were more farewells and, soon after, the little procession of
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