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- The Great Impersonation - 6/50 -
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!"
Mr. Mangan, on their way into the grill room, loitered for a few minutes in the small reception room, chatting with some acquaintances, whilst his host, having spoken to the /maitre d'hotel/ and ordered a cocktail from a passing waiter, stood with his hands behind his back, watching the inflow of men and women with all that interest which one might be supposed to feel in one's fellows after a prolonged absence. He had moved a little to one side to allow a party of young people to make their way through the crowded chamber, when he was conscious of a woman standing alone on the topmost of the three thickly carpeted stairs. Their eyes met, and hers, which had been wandering around the room as though in search of some acquaintance, seemed instantly and fervently held. To the few loungers about the room, ignorant of any special significance in that studied contemplation of the man on the part of the woman, their two personalities presented an agreeable, almost a fascinating study. Dominey was six feet two in height and had to its fullest extent the natural distinction of his class, together with the half military, half athletic bearing which seemed to have been so marvellously restored to him. His complexion was no more than becomingly tanned; his slight moustache, trimmed very close to the upper lip, was of the same ruddy brown shade as his sleekly brushed hair. The woman, who had commenced now to move slowly towards him, save that her cheeks, at that moment, at any rate, were almost unnaturally pale, was of the same colouring. Her red-gold hair gleamed beneath her black hat. She was tall, a Grecian type of figure, large without being coarse, majestic though still young. She carried a little dog under one arm and a plain black silk bag, on which was a coronet in platinum and diamonds, in the other hand. The major-domo who presided over the room, watching her approach, bowed with more than his usual urbanity. Her eyes, however, were still fixed upon the person who had engaged so large a share of her attention. She came towards him, her lips a little parted.
"Leopold!" she faltered. "The Holy Saints, why did you not let me know!"
Dominey bowed very slightly. His words seemed to have a cut and dried flavour.
"I am so sorry," he replied, "but I fear that you make a mistake. My name is not Leopold."
She stood quite still, looking at him with the air of not having heard a word of his polite disclaimer.
"In London, of all places," she murmured. "Tell me, what does it mean?"
"I can only repeat, madam," he said, "that to my very great regret I have not the honour of your acquaintance."
She was puzzled, but absolutely unconvinced.
"You mean to deny that you are Leopold Von Ragastein?" she asked incredulously. "You do not know me?"
"Madam," he answered, "it is not my great pleasure. My name is Dominey --Everard Dominey."
She seemed for a moment to be struggling with some embarrassment which approached emotion. Then she laid her fingers upon his sleeve and drew him to a more retired corner of the little apartment.
"Leopold," she whispered, "nothing can make it wrong or indiscreet for you to visit me. My address is 17, Belgrave Square. I desire to see you to-night at seven o'clock."
"But, my dear lady," Dominey began--
Her eyes suddenly glowed with a new light.
"I will not be trifled with," she insisted. "If you wish to succeed in whatever scheme you have on hand, you must not make an enemy of me. I shall expect you at seven o'clock."
She passed away from him into the restaurant. Mr. Mangan, now freed from his friends, rejoined his host, and the two men took their places at the side table to which they were ushered with many signs of attention.
"Wasn't that the Princess Eiderstrom with whom you were talking?" the solicitor asked curiously.
"A lady addressed me by mistake," Dominey explained. "She mistook me, curiously enough, for a man who used to be called my double at Oxford. Sigismund Devinter he was then, although I think he came into a title later on."
"The Princess is quite a famous personage," Mr. Mangan remarked, "one of the richest widows in Europe. Her husband was killed in a duel some six or seven years ago."
Dominey ordered the luncheon with care, slipping into a word or two of German once to assist the waiter, who spoke English with difficulty. His companion smiled.
"I see that you have not forgotten your languages out there in the wilds."
"I had no chance to," Dominey answered. "I spent five years on the borders of German East Africa, and I traded with some of the fellows there regularly."
"By the by," Mr. Mangan enquired, "what sort of terms are we on with the Germans out there?"
"Excellent, I should think," was the careless reply. "I never had any trouble."
"Of course," the lawyer continued, "this will all be new to you, but during the last few years Englishmen have become divided into two classes--the people who believe that the Germans wish to go to war and crush us, and those who don't."
"Then since my return the number of the 'don'ts' has been increased by one."
"I am amongst the doubtfuls myself," Mr. Mangan remarked. "All the same, I can't quite see what Germany wants with such an immense army, and why she is continually adding to her fleet."
Dominey paused for a moment to discuss the matter of a sauce with the head waiter. He returned to the subject a few minutes later on, however.
"Of course," he pointed out, "my opinions can only come from a study of the newspapers and from conversations with such Germans as I have met out in Africa, but so far as her army is concerned, I should have said that Russia and France were responsible for that, and the more powerful it is, the less chance of any European conflagration. Russia might at any time come to the conclusion that a war is her only salvation against a revolution, and you know the feeling in France about Alsace-Lorraine as well as I do. The Germans themselves say that there is more interest in military matters and more progress being made in Russia to-day than ever before."
"I have no doubt that you are right," agreed Mr. Mangan. "It is a matter which is being a great deal discussed just now, however. Let us speak of your personal plans. What do you intend to do for the next few weeks, say? Have you been to see any of your relatives yet?"
"Not one," Dominey replied. "I am afraid that I am not altogether keen about making advances."
Mr. Mangan coughed. "You must remember that during the period of your last residence in London," he said, "you were in a state of chronic impecuniosity. No doubt that rather affected the attitude of some of those who would otherwise have been more friendly."
"I should be perfectly content never to see one of them again," declared Dominey, with perfect truth.
"That, of course, is impossible," the lawyer protested. "You must go and see the Duchess, at any rate. She was always your champion."
"The Duchess was always very kind to me," Dominey admitted doubtfully, "but I am afraid she was rather fed up before I left England."
Mr. Mangan smiled. He was enjoying a very excellent lunch, which it seemed hard to believe was ordered by a man just home from the wilds of Africa, and he thoroughly enjoyed talking about duchesses.
"Her Grace," he began--
The lawyer had paused, with his eyes glued upon the couple at a neighbouring table. He leaned across towards his companion.
"The Duchess herself, Sir Everard, just behind you, with Lord St. Omar."
"This place must certainly be the rendezvous of all the world," Dominey declared, as he held out his hand to a man who had approached their table. "Seaman, my friend, welcome! Let me introduce you to my friend and legal adviser, Mr. Mangan--Mr. Seaman."
Mr. Seaman was a short, fat man, immaculately dressed in most conventional morning attire. He was almost bald, except for a little tuft on either side, and a few long, fair hairs carefully brushed back over a shining scalp. His face was extraordinarily round except
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