The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook
Opis

The trouble from which great events were to come began when Everard Dominey, who had been fighting his way through the scrub for the last three quarters of an hour towards those thin, spiral wisps of smoke, urged his pony to a last despairing effort and came crashing through the great oleander shrub to pitch forward on his head in the little clearing.

Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS
czytnikach certyfikowanych
przez Legimi
Windows
10
Windows
Phone

Liczba stron: 378

Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:

Androidzie
iOS

THE GREAT IMPERSONATION

E. Phillips Oppenheim

ENDYMION PRESS

Thank you for reading. If you enjoy this book, please leave a review.

All rights reserved. Aside from brief quotations for media coverage and reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without the author’s permission. Thank you for supporting authors and a diverse, creative culture by purchasing this book and complying with copyright laws.

Copyright © 2016 by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Published by Endymion Press

Interior design by Pronoun

Distribution by Pronoun

ISBN: 9781531298395

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER I

~

THE TROUBLE FROM WHICH GREAT events were to come began when Everard Dominey, who had been fighting his way through the scrub for the last three quarters of an hour towards those thin, spiral wisps of smoke, urged his pony to a last despairing effort and came crashing through the great oleander shrub to pitch forward on his head in the little clearing. It developed the next morning, when he found himself for the first time for many months on the truckle bed, between linen sheets, with a cool, bamboo-twisted roof between him and the relentless sun. He raised himself a little in the bed.

“Where the mischief am I?” he demanded.

A black boy, seated cross-legged in the entrance of the banda, rose to his feet, mumbled something and disappeared. In a few moments the tall, slim figure of a European, in spotless white riding clothes, stooped down and came over to Dominey’s side.

“You are better?” he enquired politely.

“Yes, I am,” was the somewhat brusque rejoinder. “Where the mischief am I, and who are you?”

The newcomer’s manner stiffened. He was a person of dignified carriage, and his tone conveyed some measure of rebuke.

“You are within half a mile of the Iriwarri River, if you know where that is,” he replied,—"about seventy-two miles southeast of the Darawaga Settlement.”

“The devil! Then I am in German East Africa?”

“Without a doubt.”

“And you are German?”

“I have that honour.”

Dominey whistled softly.

“Awfully sorry to have intruded,” he said. “I left Marlinstein two and a half months ago, with twenty boys and plenty of stores. We were doing a big trek after lions. I took some new Askaris in and they made trouble,—looted the stores one night and there was the devil to pay. I was obliged to shoot one or two, and the rest deserted. They took my compass, damn them, and I’m nearly a hundred miles out of my bearings. You couldn’t give me a drink, could you?”

“With pleasure, if the doctor approves,” was the courteous answer. “Here, Jan!”

The boy sprang up, listened to a word or two of brief command in his own language, and disappeared through the hanging grass which led into another hut. The two men exchanged glances of rather more than ordinary interest. Then Dominey laughed.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “It gave me quite a start when you came in. We’re devilishly alike, aren’t we?”

“There is a very strong likeness between us,” the other admitted.

Dominey leaned his head upon his hand and studied his host. The likeness was clear enough, although the advantage was all in favour of the man who stood by the side of the camp bedstead with folded arms. Everard Dominey, for the first twenty-six years of his life, had lived as an ordinary young Englishman of his position,—Eton, Oxford, a few years in the Army, a few years about town, during which he had succeeded in making a still more hopeless muddle of his already encumbered estates: a few months of tragedy, and then a blank. Afterwards ten years—at first in the cities, then in the dark places of Africa—years of which no man knew anything. The Everard Dominey of ten years ago had been, without a doubt, good-looking. The finely shaped features remained, but the eyes had lost their lustre, his figure its elasticity, his mouth its firmness. He had the look of a man run prematurely to seed, wasted by fevers and dissipation. Not so his present companion. His features were as finely shaped, cast in an even stronger though similar mould. His eyes were bright and full of fire, his mouth and chin firm, bespeaking a man of deeds, his tall figure lithe and supple. He had the air of being in perfect health, in perfect mental and physical condition, a man who lived with dignity and some measure of content, notwithstanding the slight gravity of his expression.

“Yes,” the Englishman muttered, “there’s no doubt about the likeness, though I suppose I should look more like you than I do if I’d taken care of myself. But I haven’t. That’s the devil of it. I’ve gone the other way; tried to chuck my life away and pretty nearly succeeded, too.”

The dried grasses were thrust on one side, and the doctor entered,—a little round man, also clad in immaculate white, with yellow- gold hair and thick spectacles. His countryman pointed towards the bed.

“Will you examine our patient, Herr Doctor, and prescribe for him what is necessary? He has asked for drink. Let him have wine, or whatever is good for him. If he is well enough, he will join our evening meal. I present my excuses. I have a despatch to write.”

The man on the couch turned his head and watched the departing figure with a shade of envy in his eyes.

“What is my preserver’s name?” he asked the doctor.

The latter looked as though the questions were irreverent.

“It is His Excellency the Major-General Baron Leopold Von Ragastein.”

“All that!” Dominey muttered. “Is he the Governor, or something of that sort?”

“He is Military Commandant of the Colony,” the doctor replied. “He has also a special mission here.”

“Damned fine-looking fellow for a German,” Dominey remarked, with unthinking insolence.

The doctor was unmoved. He was feeling his patient’s pulse. He concluded his examination a few minutes later.

“You have drunk much whisky lately, so?” he asked.

“I don’t know what the devil it’s got to do with you,” was the curt reply, “but I drink whisky whenever I can get it. Who wouldn’t in this pestilential climate!”

The doctor shook his head.

“The climate is good as he is treated,” he declared. “His Excellency drinks nothing but light wine and seltzer water. He has been here for five years, not only here but in the swamps, and he has not been ill one day.”

“Well, I have been at death’s door a dozen times,” the Englishman rejoined a little recklessly, “and I don’t much mind when I hand in my checks, but until that time comes I shall drink whisky whenever I can get it.”

“The cook is preparing you some luncheon,” the doctor announced, “and it will do you good to eat. I cannot give you whisky at this moment, but you can have some hock and seltzer with bay leaves.”

“Send it along,” was the enthusiastic reply. “What a constitution I must have, doctor! The smell of that cooking outside is making me ravenous.”

“Your constitution is still sound if you would only respect it,” was the comforting assurance.

“Anything been heard of the rest of my party?” Dominey enquired.

“Some bodies of Askaris have been washed up from the river,” the doctor informed him, “and two of your ponies have been eaten by lions. You will excuse. I have the wounds of a native to dress, who was bitten last night by a jaguar.”

The traveller, left alone, lay still in the hut, and his thoughts wandered backwards. He looked out over the bare, scrubby stretch of land which had been cleared for this encampment to the mass of bush and flowering shrubs beyond, mysterious and impenetrable save for that rough elephant track along which he had travelled; to the broad-bosomed river, blue as the sky above, and to the mountains fading into mist beyond. The face of his host had carried him back into the past. Puzzled reminiscence tugged at the strings of memory. It came to him later on at dinner time, when they three, the Commandant, the doctor and himself, sat at a little table arranged just outside the hut, that they might catch the faint breeze from the mountains, herald of the swift- falling darkness. Native servants beat the air around them with bamboo fans to keep off the insects, and the air was faint almost to noxiousness with the perfume of some sickly, exotic shrub.

“Why, you’re Devinter!” he exclaimed suddenly,—"Sigismund Devinter! You were at Eton with me—Horrock’s House—semi-final in the racquets.”

“And Magdalen afterwards, number five in the boat.”

“And why the devil did the doctor here tell me that your name was Von Ragastein?”

“Because it happens to be the truth,” was the somewhat measured reply. “Devinter is my family name, and the one by which I was known when in England. When I succeeded to the barony and estates at my uncle’s death, however, I was compelled to also take the title.”

“Well, it’s a small world!” Dominey exclaimed. “What brought you out here really—lions or elephants?”

“Neither.”

“You mean to say that you’ve taken up this sort of political business just for its own sake, not for sport?”

“Entirely so. I do not use a sporting rifle once a month, except for necessity. I came to Africa for different reasons.”

Dominey drank deep of his hock and seltzer and leaned back, watching the fireflies rise above the tall-bladed grass, above the stumpy clumps of shrub, and hang like miniature stars in the clear, violet air.

“What a world!” he soliloquised. “Siggy Devinter, Baron Von Ragastein, out here, slaving for God knows what, drilling niggers to fight God knows whom, a political machine, I suppose, future Governor-General of German Africa, eh? You were always proud of your country, Devinter.”

“My country is a country to be proud of,” was the solemn reply.

“Well, you’re in earnest, anyhow,” Dominey continued, “in earnest about something. And I—well, it’s finished with me. It would have been finished last night if I hadn’t seen the smoke from your fires, and I don’t much care—that’s the trouble. I go blundering on. I suppose the end will come somehow, sometime—Can I have some rum or whisky, Devinter—I mean Von Ragastein—Your Excellency—or whatever I ought to say? You see those wreaths of mist down by the river? They’ll mean malaria for me unless I have spirits.”

“I have something better than either,” Von Ragastein replied. “You shall give me your opinion of this.”

The orderly who stood behind his master’s chair, received a whispered order, disappeared into the commissariat hut and came back presently with a bottle at the sight of which the Englishman gasped.

“Napoleon!” he exclaimed.

“Just a few bottles I had sent to me,” his host explained. “I am delighted to offer it to some one who will appreciate it.”

“By Jove, there’s no mistake about that!” Dominey declared, rolling it around in his glass. “What a world! I hadn’t eaten for thirty hours when I rolled up here last night, and drunk nothing but filthy water for days. To- night, fricassee of chicken, white bread, cabinet hock and Napoleon brandy. And to-morrow again—well, who knows? When do you move on, Von Ragastein?”

“Not for several days.”

“What the mischief do you find to do so far from headquarters, if you don’t shoot lions or elephants?” his guest asked curiously.

“If you really wish to know,” Von Ragastein replied, “I am annoying your political agents immensely by moving from place to place, collecting natives for drill.”

“But what do you want to drill them for?” Dominey persisted. “I heard some time ago that you have four times as many natives under arms as we have. You don’t want an army here. You’re not likely to quarrel with us or the Portuguese.”

“It is our custom,” Von Ragastein declared a little didactically, “in Germany and wherever we Germans go, to be prepared not only for what is likely to happen but for what might possibly happen.”

“A war in my younger days, when I was in the Army,” Dominey mused, “might have made a man of me.”

“Surely you had your chance out here?”

Dominey shook his head.

“My battalion never left the country,” he said. “We were shut up in Ireland all the time. That was the reason I chucked the army when I was really only a boy.”

Later on they dragged their chairs a little farther out into the darkness, smoking cigars and drinking some rather wonderful coffee. The doctor had gone off to see a patient, and Von Ragastein was thoughtful. Their guest, on the other hand, continued to be reminiscently discursive.

“Our meeting,” he observed, lazily stretching out his hand for his glass, “should be full of interest to the psychologist. Here we are, brought together by some miraculous chance to spend one night of our lives in an African jungle, two human beings of the same age, brought up together thousands of miles away, jogging on towards the eternal blackness along lines as far apart as the mind can conceive.”

“Your eyes are fixed,” Von Ragastein murmured, “upon that very blackness behind which the sun will rise at dawn. You will see it come up from behind the mountains in that precise spot, like a new and blazing world.”

“Don’t put me off with allegories,” his companion objected petulantly. “The eternal blackness exists surely enough, even if my metaphor is faulty. I am disposed to be philosophical. Let me ramble on. Here am I, an idler in my boyhood, a harmless pleasure-seeker in my youth till I ran up against tragedy, and since then a drifter, a drifter with a slowly growing vice, lolling through life with no definite purpose, with no definite hope or wish, except,” he went on a little drowsily, “that I think I’d like to be buried somewhere near the base of those mountains, on the other side of the river, from behind which you say the sun comes up every morning like a world on fire.”

“You talk foolishly,” Von Ragastein protested. “If there has been tragedy in your life, you have time to get over it. You are not yet forty years old.”

“Then I turn and consider you,” Dominey continued, ignoring altogether his friend’s remark. “You are only my age, and you look ten years younger. Your muscles are hard, your eyes are as bright as they were in your school days. You carry yourself like a man with a purpose. You rise at five every morning, the doctor tells me, and you return here, worn out, at dusk. You spend every moment of your time drilling those filthy blacks. When you are not doing that, you are prospecting, supervising reports home, trying to make the best of your few millions of acres of fever swamps. The doctor worships you but who else knows? What do you do it for, my friend?”

“Because it is my duty,” was the calm reply.

“Duty! But why can’t you do your duty in your own country, and live a man’s life, and hold the hands of white men, and look into the eyes of white women?”

“I go where I am needed most,” Von Ragastein answered. “I do not enjoy drilling natives, I do not enjoy passing the years as an outcast from the ordinary joys of human life. But I follow my star.”

“And I my will-o’-the-wisp,” Dominey laughed mockingly. “The whole thing’s as plain as a pikestaff. You may be a dull dog—you always were on the serious side—but you’re a man of principle. I’m a slacker.”

“The difference between us,” Von Ragastein pronounced, “is something which is inculcated into the youth of our country and which is not inculcated into yours. In England, with a little money, a little birth, your young men expect to find the world a playground for sport, a garden for loves. The mightiest German noble who ever lived has his work to do. It is work which makes fibre, which gives balance to life.”

Dominey sighed. His cigar, dearly prized though it had been, was cold between his fingers. In that perfumed darkness, illuminated only by the faint gleam of the shaded lamp behind, his face seemed suddenly white and old. His host leaned towards him and spoke for the first time in the kindlier tones of their youth.

“You hinted at tragedy, my friend. You are not alone. Tragedy also has entered my life. Perhaps if things had been otherwise, I should have found work in more joyous places, but sorrow came to me, and I am here.”

A quick flash of sympathy lit up Dominey’s face.

“We met trouble in a different fashion,” he groaned.

CHAPTER II

~

DOMINEY SLEPT TILL LATE THE following morning, and when he woke at last from a long, dreamless slumber, he was conscious of a curious quietness in the camp. The doctor, who came in to see him, explained it immediately after his morning greeting.

“His Excellency,” he announced, “has received important despatches from home. He has gone to meet an envoy from Dar-es-Salaam. He will be away for three days. He desired that you would remain his guest until his return.”

“Very good of him,” Dominey murmured. “Is there any European news?”

“I do not know,” was the stolid reply. “His Excellency desired me to inform you that if you cared for a short trip along the banks of the river, southward, there are a dozen boys left and some ponies. There are plenty of lion, and rhino may be met with at one or two places which the natives know of.”

Dominey bathed and dressed, sipped his excellent coffee, and lounged about the place in uncertain mood. He unburdened himself to the doctor as they drank tea together late in the afternoon.

“I am not in the least keen on hunting,” he confessed, “and I feel like a horrible sponge, but all the same I have a queer sort of feeling that I’d like to see Von Ragastein again. Your silent chief rather fascinates me, Herr Doctor. He is a man. He has something which I have lost.”

“He is a great man,” the doctor declared enthusiastically. “What he sets his mind to do, he does.”

“I suppose I might have been like that,” Dominey sighed, “if I had had an incentive. Have you noticed the likeness between us, Herr Doctor?”

The latter nodded.

“I noticed it from the first moment of your arrival,” he assented. “You are very much alike yet very different. The resemblance must have been still more remarkable in your youth. Time has dealt with your features according to your deserts.”

“Well, you needn’t rub it in,” Dominey protested irritably.

“I am rubbing nothing in,” the doctor replied with unruffled calm. “I speak the truth. If you had been possessed of the same moral stamina as His Excellency, you might have preserved your health and the things that count. You might have been as useful to your country as he is to his.”

“I suppose I am pretty rocky?”

“Your constitution has been abused. You still, however, have much vitality. If you cared to exercise self-control for a few months, you would be a different man.—You must excuse. I have work.”

Dominey spent three restless days. Even the sight of a herd of elephants in the river and that strange, fierce chorus of night sounds, as beasts of prey crept noiselessly around the camp, failed to move him. For the moment his love of sport, his last hold upon the world of real things, seemed dead. What did it matter, the killing of an animal more or less? His mind was fixed uneasily upon the past, searching always for something which he failed to discover. At dawn he watched for that strangely wonderful, transforming birth of the day, and at night he sat outside the banda, waiting till the mountains on the other side of the river had lost shape and faded into the violet darkness. His conversation with Von Ragastein had unsettled him. Without knowing definitely why, he wanted him back again. Memories that had long since ceased to torture were finding their way once more into his brain. On the first day he had striven to rid himself of them in the usual fashion.

“Doctor, you’ve got some whisky, haven’t you?” he asked.

The doctor nodded.

“There is a case somewhere to be found,” he admitted. “His Excellency told me that I was to refuse you nothing, but he advises you to drink only the white wine until his return.”

“He really left that message?”

“Precisely as I have delivered it.”

The desire for whisky passed, came again but was beaten back, returned in the night so that he sat up with the sweat pouring down his face and his tongue parched. He drank lithia water instead. Late in the afternoon of the third day, Von Ragastein rode into the camp. His clothes were torn and drenched with the black mud of the swamps, dust and dirt were thick upon his face. His pony almost collapsed as he swung himself off. Nevertheless, he paused to greet his guest with punctilious courtesy, and there was a gleam of real satisfaction in his eyes as the two men shook hands.

“I am glad that you are still here,” he said heartily. “Excuse me while I bathe and change. We will dine a little earlier. So far I have not eaten to- day.”

“A long trek?” Dominey asked curiously.

“I have trekked far,” was the quiet reply.

At dinner time, Von Ragastein was once more himself, immaculate in white duck, with clean linen, shaved, and with little left of his fatigue. There was something different in his manner, however, some change which puzzled Dominey. He was at once more attentive to his guest, yet further removed from him in spirit and sympathy. He kept the conversation with curious insistence upon incidents of their school and college days, upon the subject of Dominey’s friends and relations, and the later episodes of his life. Dominey felt himself all the time encouraged to talk about his earlier life, and all the time he was conscious that for some reason or other his host’s closest and most minute attention was being given to his slightest word. Champagne had been served and served freely, and Dominey, up to the very gates of that one secret chamber, talked volubly and without reserve. After the meal was over, their chairs were dragged as before into the open. The silent orderly produced even larger cigars, and Dominey found his glass filled once more with the wonderful brandy. The doctor had left them to visit the native camp nearly a quarter of a mile away, and the orderly was busy inside, clearing the table. Only the black shapes of the servants were dimly visible as they twirled their fans,—and overhead the gleaming stars. They were alone.

“I’ve been talking an awful lot of rot about myself,” Dominey said. “Tell me a little about your career now and your life in Germany before you came out here?”

Von Ragastein made no immediate reply, and a curious silence ebbed and flowed between the two men. Every now and then a star shot across the sky. The red rim of the moon rose a little higher from behind the mountains. The bush stillness, always the most mysterious of silences, seemed gradually to become charged with unvoiced passion. Soon the animals began to call around them, creeping nearer and nearer to the fire which burned at the end of the open space.

“My friend,” Von Ragastein said at last, speaking with the air of a man who has spent much time in deliberation, “you speak to me of Germany, of my homeland. Perhaps you have guessed that it is not duty alone which has brought me here to these wild places. I, too, left behind me a tragedy.”

Dominey’s quick impulse of sympathy was smothered by the stern, almost harsh repression of the other’s manner. The words seemed to have been torn from his throat. There was no spark of tenderness or regret in his set face.

“Since the day of my banishment,” he went on, “no word of this matter has passed my lips. To-night it is not weakness which assails me, but a desire to yield to the strange arm of coincidence. You and I, schoolmates and college friends, though sons of a different country, meet here in the wilderness, each with the iron in our souls. I shall tell you the thing which happened to me, and you shall speak to me of your own curse.”

“I cannot!” Dominey groaned.

“But you will,” was the stern reply. “Listen.”

An hour passed, and the voices of the two men had ceased. The howling of the animals had lessened with the paling of the fires, and a slow, melancholy ripple of breeze was passing through the bush and lapping the surface of the river. It was Von Ragastein who broke through what might almost have seemed a trance. He rose to his feet, vanished inside the banda, and reappeared a moment or two later with two tumblers. One he set down in the space provided for it in the arm of his guest’s chair.

“To-night I break what has become a rule with me,” he announced. “I shall drink a whisky and soda. I shall drink to the new things that may yet come to both of us.”

“You are giving up your work here?” Dominey asked curiously.

“I am part of a great machine,” was the somewhat evasive reply. “I have nothing to do but obey.”

A flicker of passion distorted Dominey’s face, flamed for a moment in his tone.

“Are you content to live and die like this?” he demanded. “Don’t you want to get back to where a different sort of sun will warm your heart and fill your pulses? This primitive world is in its way colossal, but it isn’t human, it isn’t a life for humans. We want streets, Von Ragastein, you and I. We want the tide of people flowing around us, the roar of wheels and the hum of human voices. Curse these animals! If I live in this country much longer, I shall go on all fours.”

“You yield too much to environment,” his companion observed. “In the life of the cities you would be a sentimentalist.”

“No city nor any civilised country will ever claim me again,” Dominey sighed. “I should never have the courage to face what might come.”

Von Ragastein rose to his feet. The dim outline of his erect form was in a way majestic. He seemed to tower over the man who lounged in the chair before him.

“Finish your whisky and soda to our next meeting, friend of my school days,” he begged. “To-morrow, before you awake, I shall be gone.”

“So soon?”

“By to-morrow night,” Von Ragastein replied, “I must be on the other side of those mountains. This must be our farewell.”

Dominey was querulous, almost pathetic. He had a sudden hatred of solitude.

“I must trek westward myself directly,” he protested, “or eastward, or northward—it doesn’t so much matter. Can’t we travel together?”

Von Ragastein shook his head.

“I travel officially, and I must travel alone,” he replied. “As for yourself, they will be breaking up here to-morrow, but they will lend you an escort and put you in the direction you wish to take. This, alas, is as much as I can do for you. For us it must be farewell.”

“Well, I can’t force myself upon you,” Dominey said a little wistfully. “It seems strange, though, to meet right out here, far away even from the by- ways of life, just to shake hands and pass on. I am sick to death of niggers and animals.”

“It is Fate,” Von Ragastein decided. “Where I go, I must go alone. Farewell, dear friend! We will drink the toast we drank our last night in your rooms at Magdalen. That Sanscrit man translated it for us: ‘May each find what he seeks!’ We must follow our star.”

Dominey laughed a little bitterly. He pointed to a light glowing fitfully in the bush.

“My will-o’-the-wisp,” he muttered recklessly, “leading where I shall follow—into the swamps!”

A few minutes later Dominey threw himself upon his couch, curiously and unaccountably drowsy. Von Ragastein, who had come in to wish him good night, stood looking down at him for several moments with significant intentness. Then, satisfied that his guest really slept, he turned and passed through the hanging curtain of dried grasses into the next banda, where the doctor, still fully dressed, was awaiting him. They spoke together in German and with lowered voices. Von Ragastein had lost something of his imperturbability.

“Everything progresses according to my orders?” he demanded.

“Everything, Excellency! The boys are being loaded, and a runner has gone on to Wadihuan for ponies to be prepared.”

“They know that I wish to start at dawn?”

“All will be prepared, Excellency.”

Von Ragastein laid his hand upon the doctor’s shoulder.

“Come outside, Schmidt,” he said. “I have something to tell you of my plans.”

The two men seated themselves in the long, wicker chairs, the doctor in an attitude of strict attention. Von Ragastein turned his head and listened. From Dominey’s quarters came the sound of deep and regular breathing.

“I have formed a great plan, Schmidt,” Von Ragastein proceeded. “You know what news has come to me from Berlin?”

“Your Excellency has told me a little,” the doctor reminded him.

“The Day arrives,” Von Ragastein pronounced, his voice shaking with deep emotion. He paused a moment in thought and continued, “the time, even the month, is fixed. I am recalled from here to take the place for which I was destined. You know what that place is? You know why I was sent to an English public school and college?”

“I can guess.”

“I am to take up my residence in England. I am to have a special mission. I am to find a place for myself there as an Englishman. The means are left to my ingenuity. Listen, Schmidt. A great idea has come to me.”

The doctor lit a cigar.

“I listen, Excellency.”

Von Ragastein rose to his feet. Not content with the sound of that regular breathing, he made his way to the opening of the banda and gazed in at Dominey’s slumbering form. Then he returned.

“It is something which you do not wish the Englishman to hear?” the doctor asked.

“It is.”

“We speak in German.”

“Languages,” was the cautious reply, “happen to be that man’s only accomplishment. He can speak German as fluently as you or I. That, however, is of no consequence. He sleeps and he will continue to sleep. I mixed him a sleeping draught with his whisky and soda.”

“Ah!” the doctor grunted.

“My principal need in England is an identity,” Von Ragastein pointed out. “I have made up my mind. I shall take this Englishman’s. I shall return to England as Sir Everard Dominey.”

“So!”

“There is a remarkable likeness between us, and Dominey has not seen an Englishman who knows him for eight or ten years. Any school or college friends whom I may encounter I shall be able to satisfy. I have stayed at Dominey. I know Dominey’s relatives. To-night he has babbled for hours, telling me many things that it is well for me to know.”

“What about his near relatives?”

“He has none nearer than cousins.”

“No wife?”

Von Ragastein paused and turned his head. The deep breathing inside the banda had certainly ceased. He rose to his feet and, stealing uneasily to the opening, gazed down upon his guest’s outstretched form. To all appearance, Dominey still slept deeply. After a moment or two’s watch, Von Ragastein returned to his place.

“Therein lies his tragedy,” he confided, dropping his voice a little lower. “She is insane—insane, it seems, through a shock for which he was responsible. She might have been the only stumbling block, and she is as though she did not exist.”

“It is a great scheme,” the doctor murmured enthusiastically.

“It is a wonderful one! That great and unrevealed Power, Schmidt, which watches over our country and which will make her mistress of the world, must have guided this man to us. My position in England will be unique. As Sir Everard Dominey I shall be able to penetrate into the inner circles of Society—perhaps, even, of political life. I shall be able, if necessary, to remain in England even after the storm bursts.”

“Supposing,” the doctor suggested, “this man Dominey should return to England?”

Von Ragastein turned his head and looked towards his questioner.

“He must not,” he pronounced.

“So!” the doctor murmured.

Late in the afternoon of the following day, Dominey, with a couple of boys for escort and his rifle slung across his shoulder, rode into the bush along the way he had come. The little fat doctor stood and watched him, waving his hat until he was out of sight. Then he called to the orderly.

“Heinrich,” he said, “you are sure that the Herr Englishman has the whisky?”

“The water bottles are filled with nothing else, Herr Doctor,” the man replied.

“There is no water or soda water in the pack?”

“Not one drop, Herr Doctor.”

“How much food?”

“One day’s rations.”

“The beef is salt?”

“It is very salt, Herr Doctor.”

“And the compass?”

“It is ten degrees wrong.”

“The boys have their orders?”

“They understand perfectly, Herr Doctor. If the Englishman does not drink, they will take him at midnight to where His Excellency will be encamped at the bend of the Blue River.”

The doctor sighed. He was not at heart an unkindly man.

“I think,” he murmured, “it will be better for the Englishman that he drinks.”

CHAPTER III

~

MR. JOHN LAMBERT MANGAN OF Lincoln’s Inn gazed at the card which a junior clerk had just presented in blank astonishment, an astonishment which became speedily blended with dismay.

“Good God, do you see this, Harrison?” he exclaimed, passing it over to his manager, with whom he had been in consultation. “Dominey—Sir Everard Dominey—back here in England!”

The head clerk glanced at the narrow piece of pasteboard and sighed.

“I’m afraid you will find him rather a troublesome client, sir,” he remarked.

His employer frowned. “Of course I shall,” he answered testily. “There isn’t an extra penny to be had out of the estates—you know that, Harrison. The last two quarters’ allowance which we sent to Africa came out of the timber. Why the mischief didn’t he stay where he was!”

“What shall I tell the gentleman, sir?” the boy enquired.

“Oh, show him in!” Mr. Mangan directed ill-temperedly. “I suppose I shall have to see him sooner or later. I’ll finish these affidavits after lunch, Harrison.”

The solicitor composed his features to welcome a client who, however troublesome his affairs had become, still represented a family who had been valued patrons of the firm for several generations. He was prepared to greet a seedy-looking and degenerate individual, looking older than his years. Instead, he found himself extending his hand to one of the best turned out and handsomest men who had ever crossed the threshold of his not very inviting office. For a moment he stared at his visitor, speechless. Then certain points of familiarity—the well-shaped nose, the rather deep-set grey eyes—presented themselves. This surprise enabled him to infuse a little real heartiness into his welcome.

“My dear Sir Everard!” he exclaimed. “This is a most unexpected pleasure—most unexpected! Such a pity, too, that we only posted a draft for your allowance a few days ago. Dear me—you’ll forgive my saying so—how well you look!”

Dominey smiled as he accepted an easy chair.

“Africa’s a wonderful country, Mangan,” he remarked, with just that faint note of patronage in his tone which took his listener back to the days of his present client’s father.

“It—pardon my remarking it—has done wonderful things for you, Sir Everard. Let me see, it must be eleven years since we met.”

Sir Everard tapped the toes of his carefully polished brown shoes with the end of his walking stick.

“I left London,” he murmured reminiscently, “in April, nineteen hundred and two. Yes, eleven years, Mr. Mangan. It seems queer to find myself in London again, as I dare say you can understand.”

“Precisely,” the lawyer murmured. “I was just wondering—I think that last remittance we sent to you could be stopped. I have no doubt you will be glad of a little ready money,” he added, with a confident smile.

“Thanks, I don’t think I need any just at present,” was the amazing answer. “We’ll talk about financial affairs a little later on.”

Mr. Mangan metaphorically pinched himself. He had known his present client even during his school days, had received a great many visits from him at different times, and could not remember one in which the question of finance had been dismissed in so casual a manner.

“I trust,” he observed chiefly for the sake of saying something, “that you are thinking of settling down here for a time now?”

“I have finished with Africa, if that is what you mean,” was the somewhat grave reply. “As to settling down here, well, that depends a little upon what you have to tell me.”

The lawyer nodded.

“I think,” he said, “that you may make yourself quite easy as regards the matter of Roger Unthank. Nothing has ever been heard of him since the day you left England.”

“His—body has not been found?”

“Nor any trace of it.”

There was a brief silence. The lawyer looked hard at Dominey, and Dominey searchingly back again at the lawyer.

“And Lady Dominey?” the former asked at length.

“Her ladyship’s condition is, I believe, unchanged,” was the somewhat guarded reply.

“If the circumstances are favourable,” Dominey continued, after another moment’s pause, “I think it very likely that I may decide to settle down at Dominey Hall.”

The lawyer appeared doubtful.

“I am afraid,” he said, “you will be very disappointed in the condition of the estate, Sir Everard. As I have repeatedly told you in our correspondence, the rent roll, after deducting your settlement upon Lady Dominey, has at no time reached the interest on the mortgages, and we have had to make up the difference and send you your allowance out of the proceeds of the outlying timber.”

“That is a pity,” Dominey replied, with a frown. “I ought, perhaps, to have taken you more into my confidence. By the by,” he added, “when—er—about when did you receive my last letter?”

“Your last letter?” Mr. Mangan repeated. “We have not had the privilege of hearing from you, Sir Everard, for over four years. The only intimation we had that our payments had reached you was the exceedingly prompt debit of the South African bank.”

“I have certainly been to blame,” this unexpected visitor confessed. “On the other hand, I have been very much absorbed. If you haven’t happened to hear any South African gossip lately, Mangan, I suppose it will be a surprise to you to hear that I have been making a good deal of money.”

“Making money?” the lawyer gasped. “You making money, Sir Everard?”

“I thought you’d be surprised,” Dominey observed coolly. “However, that’s neither here nor there. The business object of my visit to you this morning is to ask you to make arrangements as quickly as possible for paying off the mortgages on the Dominey estates.”

Mr. Mangan was a lawyer of the new-fashioned school,—Harrow and Cambridge, the Bath Club, racquets and fives, rather than gold and lawn tennis. Instead of saying “God bless my soul!” he exclaimed “Great Scott!” dropped a very modern-looking eyeglass from his left eye, and leaned back in his chair with his hands in his pockets.

“I have had three or four years of good luck,” his client continued. “I have made money in gold mines, in diamond mines and in land. I am afraid that if I had stayed out another year, I should have descended altogether to the commonplace and come back a millionaire.”

“My heartiest congratulations!” Mr. Mangan found breath to murmur. “You’ll forgive my being so astonished, but you are the first Dominey I ever knew who has ever made a penny of money in any sort of way, and from what I remember of you in England—I’m sure you’ll forgive my being so frank—I should never have expected you to have even attempted such a thing.”

Dominey smiled good-humouredly.

“Well,” he said, “if you inquire at the United Bank of Africa, you will find that I have a credit balance there of something over a hundred thousand pounds. Then I have also—well, let us say a trifle more, invested in first-class mines. Do me the favour of lunching with me, Mr. Mangan, and although Africa will never be a favourite topic of conversation with me, I will tell you about some of my speculations.”

The solicitor groped around for his hat.

“I will send the boy for a taxi,” he faltered.

“I have a car outside,” this astonishing client told him. “Before we leave, could you instruct your clerk to have a list of the Dominey mortgages made out, with the terminable dates and redemption values?”

“I will leave instructions,” Mr. Mangan promised. “I think that the total amount is under eighty thousand pounds.”

Dominey sauntered through the office, an object of much interest to the little staff of clerks. The lawyer joined him on the pavement in a few minutes.

“Where shall we lunch?” Dominey asked. “I’m afraid my clubs are a little out of date. I am staying at the Carlton.”

“The Carlton grill room is quite excellent,” Mr. Mangan suggested.

“They are keeping me a table until half-past one,” Dominey replied. “We will lunch there, by all means.”

They drove off together, the returned traveller gazing all the time out of the window into the crowded streets, the lawyer a little thoughtful.

“While I think of it, Sir Everard,” the latter said, as they drew near their destination. “I should be glad of a short conversation with you before you go down to Dominey.”

“With regard to anything in particular?”

“With regard to Lady Dominey,” the lawyer told him a little gravely.

A shadow rested on his companion’s face.

“Is her ladyship very much changed?”

“Physically, she is in excellent health, I believe. Mentally I believe that there is no change. She has unfortunately the same rather violent prejudice which I am afraid influenced your departure from England.”

“In plain words,” Dominey said bitterly, “she has sworn to take my life if ever I sleep under the same roof.”

“She will need, I am afraid, to be strictly watched,” the lawyer answered evasively. “Still, I think you ought to be told that time does not seem to have lessened her tragical antipathy.”

“She regards me still as the murderer of Roger Unthank?” Dominey asked, in a measured tone.

“I am afraid she does.”

“And I suppose that every one else has the same idea?”

“The mystery,” Mr. Mangan admitted, “has never been cleared up. It is well known, you see, that you fought in the park and that you staggered home almost senseless. Roger Unthank has never been seen from that day to this.”

“If I had killed him,” Dominey pointed out, “why was his body not found?”

The lawyer shook his head.

“There are all sorts of theories, of course,” he said, “but for one superstition you may as well be prepared. There is scarcely a man or a 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!”

CHAPTER IV

~

MR. MANGAN, ON THEIR WAY