Worcester House was one of those semi-palatial residences set down apparently for no reason whatever in the middle of Regent's Park. It had been acquired by a former duke at the instigation of the Regent, who was his intimate friend, and retained by later generations in mute protest against the disfiguring edifices which had made a millionaire's highway of Park Lane. Dominey, who was first scrutinised by an individual in buff waistcoat and silk hat at the porter's lodge, was interviewed by a major-domo in the great stone hall, conducted through an extraordinarily Victorian drawing-room by another myrmidon in a buff waistcoat, and finally ushered into a tiny little boudoir leading out of a larger apartment and terminating in a conservatory filled with sweet-smelling exotics. The Duchess, who was reclining in an easy-chair, held out her hand, which her visitor raised to his lips. She motioned him to a seat by her side and once more scrutinised him with unabashed intentness.
"There's something wrong about you, you know," she declared.
"That seems very unfortunate," he rejoined, "when I return to find you wholly unchanged."
"Not bad," she remarked critically. "All the same, I have changed. I am not in the least in love with you any longer."
"It was the fear of that change in you," he sighed, "which kept me for so long in the furthest corners of the world."
She looked at him with a severity which was obviously assumed.
"Look here," she said, "it is better for us to have a perfectly clear understanding upon one point. I know the exact position of your affairs, and I know, too, that the two hundred a year which your lawyer has been sending out to you came partly out of a few old trees and partly out of his own pocket. How you are going to live over here I cannot imagine, but it isn't the least use expecting Henry to do a thing for you. The poor man has scarcely enough pocket money to pay his travelling expenses when he goes lecturing."
"Lecturing?" Dominey repeated. "What's happened to poor Henry?"
"My husband is an exceedingly conscientious man," was the dignified reply. "He goes from town to town with Lord Roberts and a secretary, lecturing on national defence."
"Dear Henry was always a little cranky, wasn't he?" Dominey observed. "Let me put your mind at rest on that other matter, though, Caroline. I can assure you that I have come back to England not to borrow money but to spend it."
His cousin shook her head mournfully. "And a few minutes ago I was nearly observing that you had lost your sense of humour!"
"I am in earnest," he persisted. "Africa has turned out to be my Eldorado. Quite unexpectedly, I must admit, I came in for a considerable sum of money towards the end of my stay there. I am paying off the mortgages at Dominey at once, and I want Henry to jot down on paper at once those few amounts he was good enough to lend me in the old days."
Caroline, Duchess of Worcester, sat perfectly still for a moment with her mouth open, a condition which was entirely natural but unbecoming.
"And you mean to tell me that you really are Everard Dominey?" she exclaimed.
"The weight of evidence is rather that way," he murmured.
He moved his chair deliberately a little nearer, took her hand and raised it to his lips. Her face was perilously near to his. She drew a little back—and too abruptly.
"My dear Everard," she whispered, "Henry is in the house! Besides—Yes, I suppose you must be Everard. Just now there was something in your eyes exactly like his. But you are so stiff. Have you been drilling out there or anything?"
He shook his head.
"One spends half one's time in the saddle."
"And you are really well off?" she asked again wonderingly.
"If I had stayed there another year," he replied, "and been able to marry a Dutch Jewess, I should have qualified for Park Lane."
"It's too wonderful. Henry will love having his money back."
She looked positively distressed.
"You've lost all your manners," she complained. "You make love like a garden rake. You should have leaned towards me with a quiver in your voice when you said those last two words, and instead of that you look as though you were sitting at attention, with a positive glint of steel in your eyes."
"One sees a woman once in a blue moon out there," he pleaded.
She shook her head. "You've changed. It was a sixth sense with you to make love in exactly the right tone, to say exactly the right thing in the right manner."
"I shall pick it up," he declared hopefully, "with a little assistance."
She made a little grimace.
"You won't want an old woman like me to assist you, Everard. You'll have the town at your feet. You'll be able to frivol with musical comedy, flirt with our married beauties, or—I'm sorry, Everard, I forgot."
"You forgot what?" he asked steadfastly.
"I forgot the tragedy which finally drove you abroad. I forgot your marriage. Is there any change in your wife?"
"Not much, I am afraid."
"And Mr. Mangan—he thinks that you are safe over here?"
She looked at him earnestly. Perhaps she had never admitted, even to herself, how fond she had been of this scapegrace cousin.
"You'll find that no one will have a word to say against you," she told him, "now that you are wealthy and regenerate. They'll forget everything you want them to. When will you come and dine here and meet all your relatives?"
"Whenever you are kind enough to ask me," he answered. "I thought of going down to Dominey to-morrow."
She looked at him with a new thing in her eyes—something of fear, something, too, of admiration.
"She is there, I believe," he said. "I cannot help it. I have been an exile from my home long enough."
"Don't go," she begged suddenly. "Why not be brave and have her removed. I know how tender-hearted you are, but you have your future and your career to consider. For her sake, too, you ought not to give her the opportunity—"
Dominey could never make up his mind whether the interruption which came at that moment was welcome or otherwise. Caroline suddenly broke off in her speech and glanced warningly towards the larger room. A tall, grey-haired man, dressed in old-fashioned clothes and wearing a pince-nez, had lifted the curtains. He addressed the Duchess in a thin, reedy voice.
"My dear Caroline," he began,—"ah, you must forgive me. I did not know that you were engaged. We will not stay, but I should like to present to you a young friend of mine who is going to help me at the meeting this evening."
"Do bring him in," his wife replied, her voice once more attuned to its natural drawl. "And I have a surprise for you too, Henry—a very great surprise, I think you will find it!"
Dominey rose to his feet—a tall, commanding figure—and stood waiting the approach of the newcomer. The Duke advanced, looking at him enquiringly. A young man, very obviously a soldier in mufti, was hovering in the background.
"I must plead guilty to the surprise," the Duke confessed courteously. "There is something exceedingly familiar about your face, sir, but I cannot remember having had the privilege of meeting you."
"You see," Caroline observed, "I am not the only one, Everard, who did not accept you upon a glance. This is Everard Dominey, Henry, returned from foreign exile and regenerated in every sense of the word."
"How do you do?" Dominey said, holding out his hand. "I seem to be rather a surprise to every one, but I hope you haven't quite forgotten me."
"God bless my soul!" the Duke exclaimed. "You don't mean to say that you're really Everard Dominey?"
"I am he, beyond a doubt," was the calm assurance.
"Most amazing!" the Duke declared, as he shook hands. "Most amazing! I never saw such a change in my life. Yes, yes, I see—same complexion, of course—nose and eyes—yes, yes! But you seem taller, and you carry yourself like a soldier. Dear, dear me! Africa has done wonderfully by you. Delighted, my dear Everard! Delighted!"
"You'll be more delighted still when you hear the rest of the news," his wife remarked drily. "In the meantime, do present your friend."
"Precisely so," the Duke acquiesced, turning to the young man in the background. "Most sorry, my dear Captain Bartram. The unexpected return of a connection of my wife must be my apology for this lapse of manners. Let me present you to the Duchess. Captain Bartram is just back from Germany, my dear, and is an enthusiastic supporter of our cause.—Sir Everard Dominey."
Caroline shook hands kindly with her husband's protege, and Dominey exchanged a solemn handshake with him.
"You, too, are one of those, then, Captain Bartram, who are convinced that Germany has evil designs upon us?" the former said, smiling.
"I have just returned from Germany after twelve months' stay there," the young soldier replied. "I went with an open mind. I have come back convinced that we shall be at war with Germany within a couple of years."
The Duke nodded vigorously.
"Our young friend is right," he declared. "Three times a week for many months I have been drumming the fact into the handful of wooden-headed Englishmen who have deigned to come to our meetings. I have made myself a nuisance to the House of Lords and the Press. It is a terrible thing to realise how hard it is to make an Englishman reflect, so long as he is making money and having a good time.—You are just back from Africa, Everard?"
"Within a week, sir."
"Did you see anything of the Germans out there? Were you anywhere near their Colony?"
"I have been in touch with them for some years," Dominey replied.
"Most interesting!" his questioner exclaimed. "You may be of service to us, Everard. You may, indeed! Now tell me, isn't it true that they have secret agents out there, trying to provoke unsettlement and disquiet amongst the Boers? Isn't it true that they apprehend a war with England before very long and are determined to stir up the Colony against us?"
"I am very sorry," Dominey replied, "but I am not a politician in any shape or form. All the Germans whom I have met out there seem a most peaceful race of men, and there doesn't seem to be the slightest discontent amongst the Boers or any one else."
The Duke's face fell. "This is very surprising."
"The only people who seem to have any cause for discontent," Dominey continued, "are the English settlers. I didn't commence to do any good myself there till a few years ago, but I have heard some queer stories about the way our own people were treated after the war."
"What you say about South Africa, Sir Everard," the young soldier remarked, "is naturally interesting, but I am bound to say that it is in direct opposition to all I have heard."
"And I," the Duke echoed fervently.
"I have lived there for the last eleven years," Dominey continued, "and although I spent the earlier part of that time trekking after big game, lately I am bound to confess that every thought and energy I possess have been centered upon money-making. For that reason, perhaps, my observations may have been at fault. I shall claim the privilege of coming to one of your first meetings, Duke, and of trying to understand this question."
His august connection blinked at him a little curiously for a moment behind his glasses.
"My dear Everard," he said, "forgive my remarking it, but I find you more changed than I could have believed possible."
"Everard is changed in more ways than one," his wife observed, with faint irony.
Dominey, who had risen to leave, bent over her hand.
"What about my dinner party, sir?" she added.
"As soon as I return from Norfolk," he replied.
"Dominey Hall will really find you?" she asked a little curiously.
There was again that little flutter of fear in her eyes, followed by a momentary flash of admiration. Dominey shook hands gravely with his host and nodded to Bertram. The servant whom the Duchess had summoned stood holding the curtains on one side.
"I shall hope to see you again shortly, Duke," Dominey said, as he completed his leave-taking. "There is a little matter of business to be adjusted between us. You will probably hear from Mr. Mangan in a day or two."
The Duke gazed after the retreating figure of this very amazing visitor. When the curtains had fallen he turned to his wife.
"A little matter of business," he repeated. "I hope you have explained to Everard, my dear, that although, of course, we are very glad to see him back again, it is absolutely hopeless for him to look to me for any financial assistance at the present moment."
"Everard was alluding to the money he already owes you," she explained. "He intends to repay it at once. He is also paying off the Dominey mortgages. He has apparently made a fortune in Africa."
The Duke collapsed into an easy-chair.
"Everard pay his debts?" he exclaimed. "Everard Dominey pay off the mortgages?"
"That is what I understand," his wife acquiesced.
The Duke clutched at the last refuge of a weak but obstinate man. His mouth came together like a rat-trap.
"There's something wrong about it somewhere," he declared.