Great Impersonation, The


These were days, to all dwellers in London, of vivid impressions, of poignant memories, reasserting themselves afterwards with a curious sense of unreality, as though belonging to another set of days and another world. Dominey long remembered his dinner that evening in the sombre, handsomely furnished dining-room of his town house in Berkeley Square. Although it lacked the splendid proportions of the banqueting hall at Dominey, it was still a fine apartment, furnished in the Georgian period, with some notable pictures upon the walls, and with a wonderful ceiling and fireplace. Dominey and Rosamund dined alone, and though the table had been reduced to its smallest proportions, the space between them was yet considerable. As soon as Parkins had gravely put the port upon the table, Rosamund rose to her feet and, instead of leaving the room, pointed for the servant to place a chair for her by Dominey's side.

"I shall be like your men friends, Everard," she declared, "when the ladies have left, and draw up to your side. Now what do we do? Tell stories? I promise you that I will be a wonderful listener."

"First of all you drink half a glass of this port," he declared, filling her glass, "then you peel me one of those peaches, and we divide it. After which we listen for a ring at the bell. To-night I expect a visitor."

"A visitor?"

"Not a social one," he assured her. "A matter of business which I fear will take me from you for the rest of the evening. So let us make the most of the time until he comes."

She commenced her task with the peach, talking to him all the time a little gravely, a sweet and picturesque picture of a graceful and very desirable woman, her delicate shape and artistic fragility more than ever accentuated by the sombreness of the background.

"Do you know, Everard," she said, "I am so happy in London here with you, and I feel all the time so strong and well. I can read and understand the books which were a maze of print to me before. I can see the things in the pictures, and feel the thrill of the music, which seemed to come to me, somehow, before, all dislocated and discordant. You understand, dear?"

"Of course," he answered gravely.

"I do not wonder," she went on, "that Doctor Harrison is proud of me for a patient, but there are many times when I feel a dull pain in my heart, because I know that, whatever he or anybody else might say, I am not quite cured."

"Rosamund dear," he protested.

"Ah, but don't interrupt," she insisted, depositing his share of the peach upon his plate. "How can I be cured when all the time there is the problem of you, the problem which I am just as far off solving as ever I was? Often I find myself comparing you with the Everard whom I married."

"Do I fail so often to come up to his standard?" he asked.

"You never fail," she answered, looking at him with brimming eyes. "Of course, he was very much more affectionate," she went on, after a moment's pause. "His kisses were not like yours. And he was far fonder of having me with him. Then, on the other hand, often when I wanted him he was not there, he did wild things, mad things; he seemed to forget me altogether. It was that," she went on, "that was so terrible. It was that which made me so nervous. I think that I should even have been able to stand those awful moments when he came back to me, covered with blood and reeling, if it had not been that I was already almost a wreck. You know, he killed Roger Unthank that night. That is why he was never able to come back."

"Why do you talk of these things to-night, Rosamund," Dominey begged.

"I must, dear," she insisted, laying her fingers upon his hand and looking at him curiously. "I must, even though I see how they distress you. It is wonderful that you should mind so much, Everard, but you do, and I love you for it."

"Mind?" he groaned. "Mind!"

"You are so like him and yet so different," she went on meditatively. "You drink so little wine, you are always so self-controlled, so serious. You live as though you had a life around you of which others knew nothing. The Everard I remember would never have cared about being a magistrate or going into Parliament. He would have spent his time racing or yachting, hunting or shooting, as the fancy took him. And yet—"

"And yet what?" Dominey asked, a little hoarsely.

"I think he loved me better than you," she said very sadly.

"Why?" he demanded.

"I cannot tell you," she answered, with her eyes upon her plate, "but I think that he did."

Dominey walked suddenly to the window and leaned out. There were drops of moisture upon his forehead, he felt the fierce need of air. When he came back she was still sitting there, still looking down.

"I have spoken to Doctor Harrison about it," she went on, her voice scarcely audible. "He told me that you probably loved more than you dared to show, because someday the real Everard might come back."

"That is quite true," he reminded her softly. "He may come back at any moment."

She gripped his hand, her voice shook with passion. She leaned towards him, her other arm stole around his neck.

"But I don't want him to come back!" she cried. "I want you!"

Dominey sat for a moment motionless, like a figure of stone. Through the wide-flung, blind-shielded windows came the raucous cry of a newsboy, breaking the stillness of the summer evening. And then another and sharper interruption,—the stopping of a taxicab outside, the firm, insistent ringing of the front doorbell. Recollection came to Dominey, and a great strength. The fire which had leaped up within him was thrust back. His response to her wave of passion was infinitely tender.

"Dear Rosamund," he said, "that front doorbell summons me to rather an important interview. Will you please trust in me a little while longer? Believe me, I am not in any way cold. I am not indifferent. There is something which you will have to be told,—something with which I never reckoned, something which is beginning to weigh upon me night and day. Trust me, Rosamund, and wait!"

She sank back into her chair with a piquant and yet pathetic little grimace.

"You tell me always to wait," she complained. "I will be patient, but you shall tell me this. You are so kind to me. You make or mar my life. You must care a little? Please?"

He was standing up now. He kissed her hands fondly. His voice had all the old ring in it.

"More than for any woman on earth, dear Rosamund!"

Seaman, in a light grey suit, a panama, and a white beflowered tie, had lost something of the placid urbanity of a few months ago. He was hot and tired with travel. There were new lines in his face and a queer expression of anxiety about his eyes, at the corners of which little wrinkles had begun to appear. He responded to Dominey's welcome with a fervour which was almost feverish, scrutinised him closely, as though expecting to find some change, and finally sank into an easy-chair with a little gesture of relief. He had been carrying a small, brown despatch case, which he laid on the carpet by his side.

"You have news?" Dominey asked.

"Yes," was the momentous reply, "I have news."

Dominey rang the bell. He had already surmised, from the dressing-case and coats in the hall, that his visitor had come direct from the station.

"What will you have?" he enquired.

"A bottle of hock with seltzer water, and ice if you have it," Seaman replied. "Also a plate of cold meat, but it must be served here. And afterwards the biggest cigar you have. I have indeed news, news disturbing, news magnificent, news astounding."

Dominey gave some orders to the servant who answered his summons. For a few moments they spoke trivialities of the journey. When everything was served, however, and the door closed, Seaman could wait no longer. His appetite, his thirst, his speech, seemed all stimulated to swift action.

"We are of the same temperament," he said. "That I know. We will speak first of what is more than disturbing—a little terrifying. The mystery of Johann Wolff has been solved."

"The man who came to us with messages from Schmidt in South Africa?" Dominey asked. "I had almost forgotten about him."

"The same. What was at the back of his visit to us that night I cannot even now imagine. Neither is it clear why he held aloof from me, who am his superior in practically the same service. There we are, from the commencement, confronted with a very singular happening, but scarcely so singular as the denouement. Wolff vanished from your house that night into an English fortress."

"It seems incredible," Dominey declared bluntly.

"It is nevertheless true," Seaman insisted. "No member of our service is allowed to remain more than one month without communicating his existence and whereabouts to headquarters. No word has been received from Wolff since that night in January. On the other hand, indirect information has reached us that he is in durance over here."

"But such a thing is against the law, unheard of," Dominey protested. "No country can keep the citizen of another country in prison without formulating a definite charge or bringing him up for trial."

Seaman smiled grimly.

"That's all very well in any ordinary case," he said. "Wolff has been a marked man for years, though. Wilhelmstrasse would soon make fuss enough, if it were of any use, but it would not be. There are one or two Englishmen in German prisons at the present moment, concerning whose welfare the English Foreign Office has not even thought it worth while to enquire. What troubles me more than the actual fact of Wolff's disappearance is the mystery of his visit to you and his apprehension practically on the spot."

"They must have tracked him down there," Dominey remarked.

"Yes, but they couldn't thrust a pair of tongs into your butler's sitting-room, extract Johann Wolff, and set him down inside Norwich Castle or whatever prison he may be in," Seaman objected. "However, the most disquieting feature about Wolff is that it introduces something we don't understand. For the rest, we have many men as good, and better, and the time for their utility is past. You are our great hope now, Dominey."

"It is to be, then?"

Seaman took a long and ecstatic draught of his hock and seltzer.

"It is to be," he declared solemnly. "There was never any doubt about it. If Russia ceases to mobilise to-morrow, if every statesman in Servia crawls to Vienna with a rope around his neck, the result would still be the same. The word has gone out. The whole of Germany is like a vast military camp. It comes exactly twelve months before the final day fixed by our great authorities, but the opportunity is too great, too wonderful for hesitation. By the end of August we shall be in Paris."

"You bring news indeed!" Dominey murmured, standing for a moment by the opened window.

"I have been received with favour in the very loftiest circles," Seaman continued. "You and I both stand high in the list of those to whom great rewards shall come. His Majesty approves altogether of your reluctance to avail yourself of his permission to wed the Princess Eiderstrom. 'Von Ragastein has decided well,' he declared. 'These are not the days for marriage or giving in marriage. These, the most momentous days the world has ever known, the days when an empire shall spring into being, the mightiest since the Continents fell into shape and the stars looked down upon this present world.' Those are the words of the All Highest. In his eyes the greatest of all attributes is singleness of purpose. You followed your own purpose, contrary to my advice, contrary to Terniloff's. You will gain by it."

Seaman finished his meal in due course, and the tray was removed. Soon the two men were alone again, Seaman puffing out dense volumes of smoke, gripping his cigar between his teeth, brandishing it sometimes in his hand to give effect to his words. A little of his marvellous caution seemed to have deserted him. For the first time he spoke directly to his companion.

"Von Ragastein," he said, "it is a great country, ours. It is a wonderful empire we shall build. To-night I am on fire with the mighty things. I have a list of instructions for you, many details. They can wait. We will talk of our future, our great and glorious destiny as the mightiest nation who has ever earned for herself the right to govern the world. You would think that in Germany there was excitement. There is none. The task of every one is allotted, their work made clear to them. Like a mighty piece of gigantic machinery, we move towards war. Every regiment knows its station, every battery commander knows his positions, every general knows his exact line of attack. Rations, clothing, hospitals, every unit of which you can think, has its movements calculated out for it to the last nicety."

"And the final result?" Dominey asked. "Is that also calculated?"

Seaman, with trembling fingers, unlocked the little despatch box which stood by his side and took from it jealously a sheet of linen-backed parchment.

"You, my friend," he said, "are one of the first to gaze upon this. This will show you the dream of our Kaiser. This will show you the framework of the empire that is to be."

He laid out a map upon the table. The two men bent over it. It was a map of Europe, in which England, a diminished France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, were painted in dark blue. For the rest, the whole of the space included between two lines, one from Hamburg to Athens, the other from Finland to the Black Sea, was painted a deep scarlet, with here and there portions of it in slightly lighter colouring. Seaman laid his palm upon the map.

"There lies our future Empire," he said solemnly and impressively.

"Explain it to me," Dominey begged.

"Broadly speaking, everything between those two lines belongs to the new German Empire. Poland, Courland, Lithuania, and the Ukraine will possess a certain degree of autonomous government, which will practically amount to nothing. Asia is there at our feet. No longer will Great Britain control the supplies of the world. Raw materials of every description will be ours. Leather, tallow, wheat, oil, fats, timber—they are all there for us to draw upon. And for wealth—India and China! What more could you have, my friend?"

"You take my breath away. But what about Austria?"

Seaman's grin was almost sardonic.

"Austria," he said, "must already feel her doom creeping upon her. There is no room in middle Europe for two empires, and the House of Hapsburg must fall before the House of Hohenzollern. Austria, body and soul, must become part of the German Empire. Then further down, mark you. Roumania must become a vassal state or be conquered. Bulgaria is already ours. Turkey, with Constantinople, is pledged. Greece will either join us or be wiped out. Servia will be blotted from the map; probably also Montenegro. These countries which are painted in fainter red, like Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece, become vassal states, to be absorbed one by one as opportunity presents itself."

Dominey's finger strayed northward.

"Belgium," he observed, "has disappeared."

"Belgium we shall occupy and enslave," Seaman replied. "Our line of advance into France lies that way, and we need her ports to dominate the Thames. Holland and the Scandinavian countries, as you observe are left in the lighter shade of red. If an opportunity occurs, Holland and Denmark may be incited to take the field against us. If they do so, it means absorption. If they remain, as they probably will, scared neutrals, they will none the less be our vassal states when the last gun has been fired."

"And Norway and Sweden?"

Seaman looked down at the map and smiled.

"Look at them," he said. "They lie at our mercy. Norway has her western seaboard, and there might always be the question of British aid so far as she is concerned. But Sweden is ours, body and soul. More than any other of these vassal states, it is our master's plan to bring her into complete subjection. We need her lusty manhood, the finest cannon food in the world, for later wars, if indeed such a thing should be. She has timber and minerals which we also need. But there—it is enough. First of all men in this country, my friend, you Von Ragastein, have gazed upon this picture of the future."

"This is marvellously conceived," Dominey muttered, "but what of Russia with her millions? How is it that we propose, notwithstanding her countless millions of men, to help ourselves to her richest provinces, to drive a way through the heart of her empire?"

"This," Seaman replied, "is where genius steps in. Russia has been ripe for a revolution any time for the last fifteen years. We have secret agents now in every city and country place and throughout the army. We shall teach Russia how to make herself a free country."

Dominey shivered a little with an almost involuntary repulsion. For the second time that almost satyr-like grin on Seaman's face revolted him.

"And what of my own work?"

Seaman helped himself to a liqueur. He was, as a rule, a moderate man, but this was the third time he had replenished his glass since his hasty meal.

"My brain is weary, friend," he admitted, passing his hand over his forehead. "I have a great fatigue. The thoughts jump about. This last week has been one of fierce excitements. Everything, almost your daily life, has been planned. We shall go over it within a day or so. Meanwhile, remember this. It is our great aim to keep England out of the war."

"Terniloff is right, then, after all!" Dominey exclaimed.

Seaman laughed scornfully.

"If we want England out of the war," he pointed out, "it is not that we desire her friendship. It is that we may crush her the more easily when Calais, Boulogne and Havre are in our hands. That will be in three months' time. Then perhaps our attitude towards England may change a little! Now I go."

Dominey folded up the map with reluctance. His companion shook his head. It was curious that he, too, for the first time in his life upon the same day, addressed his host differently.

"Baron Von Ragastein," he said, "there are six of those maps in existence. That one is for you. Lock it away and guard it as though it were your greatest treasure on earth, but when you are alone, bring it out and study it. It shall be your inspiration, it shall lighten your moments of depression, give you courage when you are in danger; it shall fill your mind with pride and wonder. It is yours."

Dominey folded it carefully up, crossed the room, unlocked a little safe and deposited it therein.

"I shall guard it, according to your behest, as my greatest treasure," he assured his departing guest, with a fervour which surprised even himself.

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