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THE GREAT IMPERSONATION (1920, this ed.?)
A.L. Burt Company: New York (1920, this ed.?)
"I certainly offer you my heartiest congratulations upon your cellars, Sir Everard," his guest said, as he sipped his third glass of port that evening. "This is the finest glass of seventy I've drunk for a long time, and this new fellow I've sent you down Parkins tells me there's any quantity of it."
"It has had a pretty long rest," Dominey observed.
"I was looking through the cellar-book before dinner," the lawyer went on, "and I see that you still have forty-seven and forty-eight, and a small quantity of two older vintages. Something ought to be done about those."
"We will try one of them to-morrow night," Dominey suggested. "We might spend half an hour or so in the cellars, if we have any time to spare."
"And another half an hour," Mr. Mangan said gravely, "I should like to spend in interviewing Mrs. Unthank. Apart from any other question, I do not for one moment believe that she is the proper person to be entrusted with the care of Lady Dominey. I made up my mind to speak to you on this subject, Sir Everard, as soon as we had arrived here."
"Mrs. Unthank was old Mr. Felbrigg's housekeeper and my wife's nurse when she was a child," Dominey reminded his companion. "Whatever her faults may be, I believe she is devoted to Lady Dominey."
"She may be devoted to your wife," the lawyer admitted, "but I am convinced that she is your enemy. The situation doesn't seem to me to be consistent. Mrs. Unthank is firmly convinced that, whether in fair fight or not, you killed her son. Lady Dominey believes that, too, and it was the sight of you after the fight that sent her insane. I cannot but believe that it would be far better for Lady Dominey to have some one with her unconnected with this unfortunate chapter of your past."
"We will consult Doctor Harrison to-morrow," Dominey said. "I am very glad you came down with me, Mangan," he went on, after a minute's hesitation. "I find it very difficult to get back into the atmosphere of those days. I even find it hard sometimes," he added, with a curious little glance across the table, "to believe that I am the same man."
"Not so hard as I have done more than once," Mr. Mangan confessed.
"Tell me exactly in what respects you consider me changed?" Dominey insisted.
The lawyer hesitated.
"You seem to have lost a certain pliability, or perhaps I ought to call it looseness of disposition," he admitted. "There are many things connected with the past which I find it almost impossible to associate with you. For a trifling instance," he went on, with a slight smile, inclining his head towards his host's untasted glass. "You don't drink port like any Dominey I ever knew."
"I'm afraid that I never acquired the taste for port," Dominey observed.
The lawyer gazed at him with raised eyebrows.
"Not acquired the taste for port" he repeated blankly.
"I should have said reacquired," Dominey hastened to explain. "You see, in the bush we drank a simply frightful amount of spirits, and that vitiates the taste for all wine."
The lawyer glanced enviously at his host's fine bronzed complexion and clear eyes.
"You haven't the appearance of ever having drunk anything, Sir Everard," he observed frankly. "One finds it hard to believe the stories that were going about ten or fifteen years ago."
"The Dominey constitution, I suppose!"
The new butler entered the room noiselessly and came to his master's chair.
"I have served coffee in the library, sir," he announced. "Mr. Middleton, the gamekeeper, has just called, and asks if he could have a word with you before he goes to bed to-night, sir. He seems in a very nervous and uneasy state."
"He can come to the library at once," Dominey directed; "that is, if you are ready for your coffee, Mangan."
"Indeed I am," the lawyer assented, rising. "A great treat, that wine. One thing the London restaurants can't give us. Port should never be drunk away from the place where it was laid down."
The two men made their way across the very fine hall, the walls of which had suffered a little through lack of heating, into the library, and seated themselves in easy-chairs before the blazing log fire. Parkins silently served them with coffee and brandy. He had scarcely left the room before there was a timid knock and Middleton made his somewhat hesitating entrance.
"Come in and close the door," Dominey directed. "What is it, Middleton? Parkins says you wish to speak to me."
The man came hesitatingly forward. He was obviously distressed and uneasy, and found speech difficult. His face glistened with the rain which had found its way, too, in long streaks down his velveteen coat. His white hair was wind-tossed and disarranged.
"Bad night," Dominey remarked.
"It's to save its being a worse one that I'm here, Squire," the old man replied hoarsely. "I've come to ask you a favour and to beg you to grant it for your own sake. You'll not sleep in the oak room to-night?"
"And why not?" Dominey asked.
"It's next her ladyship's."
The old man was obviously perturbed, but his master, as though of a purpose, refused to help him. He glanced at Mangan and mumbled to himself.
"Say exactly what you wish to, Middleton," Dominey invited. "Mr. Mangan and his father and grandfather have been solicitors to the estate for a great many years. They know all our family history."
"I can't get rightly into touch with you, Squire, and that's a fact," Middleton went on despairingly. "The shape of you seems larger and your voice harder. I don't seem to be so near to you as I'd wished, to say what's in my heart."
"I have had a rough time, Middleton," Dominey reminded him. "No wonder I have changed! Never mind, speak to me just as man to man."
"It was I who first met you, Squire," the old man went on, "when you tottered home that night across the park, with your arm hanging helplessly by your side, and the blood streaming down your face and clothes, and the red light in your eyes murderous fire, they called it. I heard her ladyship go into hysterics. I saw her laugh and sob like a maniac, and, God help us! that's what she's been ever since."
The two men were silent. Middleton had raised his voice, speaking with fierce excitement. It was obvious that he had only paused for breath. He had more to say.
"I was by your side, Squire," he went on, "when her ladyship caught up the knife and ran at you, and, as you well know, it was I, seizing her from behind, that saved a double tragedy that night, and it was I who went for the doctor the next morning, when she'd stolen into your room in the night and missed your throat by a bare inch. I heard her call to you, heard her threat. It was a madwoman's threat, Squire, but her ladyship is a madwoman at this moment, and with a knife in her hand you'll never be safe in this house."
"We must see," Dominey said quietly, "that she is not allowed to get possession of any weapon."
"Aye! Make sure of that," Middleton scoffed, "with Mother Unthank by her side! Her ladyship's mad because of the horror of that night, but Mother Unthank is mad with hate, and there isn't a week passes," the old man went on, his voice dropping lower and his eyes burning, "that Roger Unthank's spirit don't come and howl for your blood beneath their window. If you stay here this night, Squire, come over and sleep in the little room they've got ready for you on the other side of the house."
Mr. Mangan had lost his smooth, after-dinner appearance. His face was rumpled, and his coffee was growing cold. This was a very different thing from the vague letters and rumours which had reached him from time to time and which he had put out of his mind with all the contempt of the materialist.
"It is very good of you to warn me, Middleton," Dominey said, "but I can lock my door, can I not?"
"Lock the door of the oak room!" was the scornful reply. "And what good would that do? You know well enough that the wall's double on three sides, and there are more secret entrances than even I know of. The oak room's not for you this night, Squire. It's hoping to get you there that's keeping them quiet."
"Tell us what you mean, Middleton," the lawyer asked, with ill-assumed indifference, "when you spoke of the howling of Roger Unthank's spirit?"
The old man turned patiently around.
"Just that, sir," he replied. "It's round the house most weeks. Except for me odd nights, and Mrs. Unthank, there's been scarcely a servant would sleep in the Hall for years. Some of the maids they do come up from the village, but back they go before nightfall, and until morning there isn't a living soul would cross the park no, not for a hundred pounds."
"A howl, you call it?" Mr. Mangan observed.
"That's mostly like a dog that's hurt itself," Middleton explained equably, "like a dog, that is, with a touch of human in its throat, as we've all heard in our time, sir. You'll hear it yourself, sir, maybe to-night or to-morrow night."
"You've heard it then, Middleton?" his master asked.
"Why, surely, sir," the old man replied in surprise. "Most weeks for the last ten years."
"Haven't you ever got up and gone out to see what it was?"
The old man shook his head.
"But I knew right well what that was, sir," he said, "and I'm not one for looking on spirits. Spirits there are that walk this world, as we well know, and the spirit of Roger Unthank walks from between the Black Wood and those windows, come every week of the year. But I'm not for looking at him. There's evil comes of that. I turn over in my bed, and I stop my ears, but I've never yet raised a blind."
"Tell me, Middleton," Dominey asked, "is Lady Dominey terrified at these er visitations?"
"That I can't rightly say, sir. Her ladyship's always sweet and gentle, with kind words on her lips for every one, but there's the terror there in her eyes that was lit that night when you staggered into the hall, Squire, and I've never seen it properly quenched yet, so to speak. She carries fear with her, but whether it's the fear of seeing you again, or the fear of Roger Unthank's spirit, I could not tell."
Dominey seemed suddenly to become possessed of a strange desire to thrust the whole subject away. He dismissed the old man kindly but a little abruptly, accompanying him to the corridor which led to the servants' quarters and talking all the time about the pheasants. When he returned, he found that his guest had emptied his second glass of brandy and was surreptitiously mopping his forehead.
"That," the latter remarked, "is the class of old retainer who lives too long. If I were a Dominey of the Middle Ages, I think a stone around his neck and the deepest well would be the sensible way of dealing with him. He made me feel positively uncomfortable."
"I noticed it," Dominey remarked, with a faint smile. "I'm not going to pretend that it was a pleasant conversation myself."
"I've heard some ghost stories," Mangan went on, "but a spook that comes and howls once a week for ten years takes some beating."
Dominey poured himself out a glass of brandy with a steady hand.
"You've been neglecting things here, Mangan," he complained. "You ought to have come down and exorcised that ghost. We shall have those smart &108 --> maidservants of yours off to-morrow, I suppose, unless you and I can get a little ghost-laying in first."
Mr. Mangan began to feel more comfortable. The brandy and the warmth of the burning logs were creeping into his system.
"By the by, Sir Everard," he enquired, a little later on, "where are you going to sleep to-night?"
Dominey stretched himself out composedly.
"There is obviously only one place for me," he replied. "I can't disappoint any one. I shall sleep in the oak room."
For the first few tangled moments of nightmare, slowly developing into a live horror, Dominey fancied himself back in Africa, with the hand of an enemy upon his throat. Then a rush of awakened memories the silence of the great house, the mysterious rustling of the heavy hangings around the black oak four-poster on which he lay, the faint pricking of something deadly at his throat these things rolled back the curtain of unreality, brought him acute and painful consciousness of a situation almost appalling. He opened his eyes, and although a brave and callous man he lay still, paralysed with the fear which forbids motion. The dim light of a candle, recently lit, flashed upon the bodkin-like dagger held at his throat. He gazed at the thin line of gleaming steel, fascinated. Already his skin had been broken, a few drops of blood were upon the collar of his pyjamas. The hand which held that deadly, assailing weapon small, slim, very feminine, curving from somewhere behind the bed curtain belonged to some unseen person. He tried to shrink farther back upon the pillow. The hand followed him, displaying glimpses now of a soft, white-sleeved arm. He lay quite still, the muscles of his right arm growing tenser as he prepared for a snatch at those cruel fingers. Then a voice came, a slow, feminine and rather wonderful voice.
"If you move," it said, "you will die. Remain quite still."
Dominey was fully conscious now, his brain at work, calculating his chances with all the cunning of the trained hunter who seeks to avoid death. Reluctantly he was compelled to realise that no movement of his could be quick enough to prevent the driving of that thin stiletto into his throat, if his hidden assailant should keep her word. So he lay still.
"Why do you want to kill me?" he asked, a little tensely.
There was no reply, yet somehow he knew that he was being watched. Ever so slightly those curtains around which the arm had come, were being parted. Through the chink some one was looking at him. The thought came that he might call out for help, and once more his unseen enemy read his thought.
"You must be very quiet," the voice said, that voice which it was difficult for him to believe was not the voice of a child. "If you even speak above a whisper, it will be the end. I wish to look at you."
A little wider the crack opened, and then he began to feel hope. The hand which held the stiletto was shaking, he heard something which sounded like quick breathing from behind the curtains the breathing of a woman astonished or terrified and then, so suddenly that for several seconds he could not move or take advantage of the circumstance, the hand with its cruel weapon was withdrawn around the curtain and a woman began to laugh, softly at first, and then with a little hysterical sob thrusting its way through that incongruous note of mirth.
He lay upon the bed as though mesmerised, finding at his first effort that his limbs refused their office, as might the limbs of one lying under the thrall of a nightmare. The laugh died away, there was a sound like a scraping upon the wall, the candle was suddenly blown out. Then his nerve began to return and with it his control over his limbs. He crawled to the side of the bed remote from the curtains, stole to the little table on which he had left his revolver and an electric torch, snatched at them, and, with the former in his right hand, flashed a little orb of light into the shadows of the great apartment. Once more something like terror seized him. The figure which had been standing by the side of his bed had vanished. There was no hiding place in view. Every inch of the room was lit up by the powerful torch he carried, and, save for himself, the room was empty. The first moment of realisation was chill and unnerving. Then the slight smarting of the wound at his throat became convincing proof to him that there was nothing supernatural about this visit. He lit up half-a-dozen of the candles distributed about the place and laid down his torch. He was ashamed to find that his forehead was dripping with perspiration.
"One of the secret passages, of course," he muttered to himself, stooping for a moment to examine the locked, folding doors which separated his room from the adjoining one. "Perhaps, when one reflects, I have run unnecessary risks."
Dominey was standing at the window, looking out at the tumbled grey waters of the North Sea, when Parkins brought him hot water and tea in the morning. He thrust his feet into slippers and held out his arms for a dressing-gown.
"Find out where the nearest bathroom is, Parkins," he ordered, "and prepare it. I have quite forgotten my way about here."
"Very good, sir."
The man was motionless for a moment, staring at the blood on his master's pyjamas. Dominey glanced down at it and turned the dressing-gown up to his throat.
"I had a slight accident this morning," he remarked carelessly. "Any ghost alarms last light?"
"None that I heard of, sir," the man replied. "I am afraid we should have difficulty in keeping the young women from London, if they heard what I heard the night of my arrival."
"Very terrible, was it?" Dominey asked with a smile.
Parkins' expression remained immovable. There was in his tone, however, a mute protest against his master's levity.
"The cries were the most terrible I have ever heard, sir," he said. "I am not a nervous person, but I found them most disturbing."
"Human or animal?"
"A mixture of both, I should say, sir."
"You should camp out for the night on the skirts of an African forest," Dominey remarked. "There you get a whole orchestra of wild animals, every one of them trying to freeze your blood up."
"I was out in South Africa during the Boer War, sir," Parkins replied, "and I went big game hunting with my master afterwards. I do not think that any animal was ever born in Africa with so terrifying a cry as we heard the night before last."
"We must look into the matter," Dominey muttered.
"I have already prepared a bath, sir, at the end of the corridor," the man announced. "If you will allow me, I will show you the way."
Dominey, when he descended about an hour later, found his guest awaiting him in the smaller dining-room, which looked out eastwards towards the sea, a lofty apartment with great windows and with an air of faded splendour which came from the ill-cared-for tapestries, hanging in places from the wall. Mr. Mangan had, contrary to his expectations, slept well and was in excellent spirits. The row of silver dishes upon the sideboard inspired him with an added cheerfulness.
"So there were no ghosts walking last night?" he remarked, as he took his place at the table. "Wonderful thing this absolute quiet is after London. Give you my word, I never heard a sound from the moment my head touched the pillow until I woke a short while ago."
Dominey returned from the sideboard, carrying also a well-filled plate.
"I had a pretty useful night's rest myself," he observed.
Mangan raised his eyeglass and gazed at his host's throat.
"Cut yourself?" he queried.
"Razor slipped," Dominey told him. "You get out of the use of those things in Africa."
"You've managed to give yourself a nasty gash," Mr. Mangan observed curiously.
"Parkins is going to send up for a new set of safety razors for me," Dominey announced. "About our plans for the day, I've ordered the car for two-thirty this afternoon, if that suits you. We can look around the place quietly this morning. Mr. Johnson is sleeping over at a farmhouse near here. We shall pick him up en route. And I have told Lees, the bailiff, to come with us too."
Mr. Mangan nodded his approval.
"Upon my word," he confessed, "it will be a joy to me to go and see some of these fellows without having to put 'em off about repairs and that sort of thing. Johnson has had the worst of it, poor chap, but there are one or two of them took it into their heads to come up to London and worry me at the office."
"I intend that there shall be no more dissatisfaction amongst my tenants."
Mr. Mangan set off for another prowl towards the sideboard.
"Satisfied tenants you never will get in Norfolk," he declared. "I must admit, though, that some of them have had cause to grumble lately. There's a fellow round by Wells who farms nearly eight hundred acres "
He broke off in his speech. There was a knock at the door, not an ordinary knock at all, but a measured, deliberate tapping, three times repeated.
"Come in," Dominey called out.
Mrs. Unthank entered, severer, more unattractive than ever in the hard morning light. She came to the end of the table, facing the place where Dominey was seated.
"Good morning, Mrs. Unthank," he said.
She ignored the greeting.
"I am the bearer of a message," she announced.
"Pray deliver it," Dominey replied.
"Her ladyship would be glad for you to visit her in her apartment at once."
Dominey leaned back in his chair. His eyes were fixed upon the face of the woman whose antagonism to himself was so apparent. She stood in the path of a long gleam of morning sunlight. The wrinkles in her face, her hard mouth, her cold, steely eyes were all clearly revealed.
"I am not at all sure," he said, with a purpose in the words, "that any further meeting between Lady Dominey and myself is at present desirable."
If he had thought to disturb this messenger by his suggestion, he was disappointed.
"Her ladyship desires me to assure you," she added, with a note of contempt in her tone, "that you need be under no apprehension."
Dominey admitted defeat and poured himself out some more coffee. Neither of the two noticed that his fingers were trembling.
"Her ladyship is very considerate," he said. "Kindly say that I shall follow you in a few minutes."
Dominey, following within a very few minutes of his summons, was ushered into an apartment large and sombrely elegant, an apartment of faded white and gold walls, of chandeliers glittering with lustres, of Louise Quinze furniture, shabby but priceless. To his surprise, although he scarcely noticed it at the time, Mrs. Unthank promptly disappeared. He was from the first left alone with the woman whom he had come to visit.
She was sitting up on her couch and watching his approach. A woman? Surely only a child, with pale cheeks, large, anxious eyes, and masses of brown hair brushed back from her forehead. After all, was he indeed a strong man, vowed to great things? There was a queer feeling in his throat, almost a mist before his eyes. She seemed so fragile, so utterly, sweetly pathetic. And all the time there was the strange light, or was it want of light, in those haunting eyes. His speech of greeting was never spoken.
"So you have come to see me, Everard," she said, in a broken tone. "You are very brave."
He possessed himself of her hand, the hand which a few hours ago had held a dagger to his throat, and kissed the waxenlike fingers. It fell to her side like a lifeless thing. Then she raised it and began rubbing softly at the place where his lips had fallen.
"I have come to see you at your bidding," he replied, "and for my pleasure."
"Pleasure!" she murmured, with a ghastly little smile. "You have learnt to control your words, Everard. You have slept here and you live. I have broken my word. I wonder why?"
"Because," he pleaded, "I have not deserved that you should seek my life."
"That sounds strangely," she reflected. "Doesn't it say somewhere in the Bible 'A life for a life'? You killed Roger Unthank."
"I have killed other men since in self-defence," Dominey told her. "Sometimes it comes to a man that he must slay or be slain. It was Roger Unthank "
"I shall not talk about him any longer," she decided quite calmly. "The night before last, his spirit was calling to me below my window. He wants me to go down into Hell and live with him. The very thought is horrible."
"Come," Dominey said, "we shall speak of other things. You must tell me what presents I can buy you. I have come back from Africa rich."
For a single wonderful moment, hers was the face of a child who had been offered toys. Her smile of anticipation was delightful, her eyes had lost that strange vacancy. Then, before he could say another word, it all came back again.
"Listen to me," she said. "This is important. I have sent for you because I do not understand why, quite suddenly last night, after I had made up my mind, I lost the desire to kill you. It is gone now. I am not sure about myself any longer. Draw your chair nearer to mine. Or no, come to my side, here at the other end of the sofa."
She moved her skirts to make room for him. When he sat down, he felt a strange trembling through all his limbs.
"Perhaps," she went on, "I shall break my oath. Indeed, I have already broken it. Let me look at you, my husband. It is a strange thing to own after all these years a husband."
Dominey felt as though he were breathing an atmosphere of turgid and poisoned sweetness. There was a flavour of unreality about the whole situation, the room, this child woman, her beauty, her deliberate, halting speech and the strange things she said.
"You find me changed?" he asked.
"You are very wonderfully changed. You look stronger, you are perhaps better-looking, yet there is something gone from your face which I thought one never lost."
"You," he said cautiously, "are more beautiful than ever, Rosamund."
She laughed a little drearily.
"Of what use has my beauty been to me, Everard, since you came to my little cottage and loved me and made me love you, and took me away from Dour Roger? Do you remember the school chidden used to call him Dour Roger? But that does not matter. Do you know, Everard, that since you left me my feet have not passed outside these gardens?"
"That can be altered when you wish," he said quickly. "You can visit where you will. You can have a motor-car, even a house in town. I shall bring some wonderful doctors here, and they will make you quite strong again."
Her large eyes were lifted almost piteously to his.
"But how can I leave here?" she asked plaintively. "Every week, sometimes oftener, he calls to me. If I went away, his spirit would break loose and follow me. I must be here to wave my hand; then he goes away."
Dominey was conscious once more of that strange and most unexpected fit of emotion. He was unrecognisable even to himself. Never before in his life had his heart beaten as it was beating now. His eyes, too, were hot. He had travelled around the word in search of new things, only to find them in this strange, faded chamber, side by side with this suffering woman. Nevertheless, he said quietly:
"We must send you some place where the people are kinder and where life is pleasanter. Perhaps you love music and to see beautiful pictures. I think that we must try and keep you from thinking."
She sighed in a perplexed fashion.
"I wish that I could get it out of my blood that I want to kill you. Then you could take me right away. Other married people have lived together and hated each other. Why shouldn't we? We may forget even to hate."
Dominey staggered to his feet, walked to a window, threw it open and leaned out for a moment. Then he closed it and came back. This new element in the situation had been a shock to him. All the time she was watching him composedly.
"Well?" she asked, with a strange little smile. "What do you say? Would you like to hold as a wife's the hand which frightened you so last night?"
She held it out to him, soft and warm. Her fingers even returned the pressure of his. She looked at him pleasantly, and once more he felt like a man who has wandered into a strange country and has lost his bearings.
"I want you so much to be happy," he said hoarsely, "but you are not strong yet, Rosamund. We cannot decide anything in a hurry."
"How surprised you are to find that I am willing to be nice to you!" she murmured. "But why not? You cannot know why I have so suddenly changed my mind about you and I have changed it. I have seen the truth these few minutes. There is a reason, Everard, why I should not kill you."
"What is it?" he demanded.
She shook her head with all the joy of a child who keeps a secret.
"You are clever," she said. "I will leave you to find it out. I am excited now, and I want you to go away for a little time. Please send Mrs. Unthank to me."
The prospect of release was a strange relief, mingled still more strangely with regret. He lingered over her hand.
"If you walk in your sleep to-night, then," he begged, "you will leave your dagger behind?"
"I have told you," she answered, as though surprised, "that I have abandoned my intention. I shall not kill you. Even though I may walk in my sleep and sometimes the nights are so long it will not be your death I seek."
Dominey left the room like a man in a dream, descended the stairs to his own part of the house, caught up a hat and stick and strode out into the sea mist which was fast enveloping the gardens. There was all the chill of the North Pole in that ice-cold cloud of vapour, but nevertheless his forehead remained hot, his pulses burning. He passed out of the postern gate which led from the walled garden on to a broad marsh, with dikes running here and there, and lapping tongues of sea water creeping in with the tide. He made his way seaward with uncertain steps until he reached a rough and stony road; here he hesitated for a moment, looked about him, and then turned back at right angles. Soon he came to a little village, a village of ancient cottages, with seasoned, red-brick tiles, trim little patches of garden, a church embowered with tall elm trees, a triangular green at the cross-roads. On one side a low, thatched building, the Dominey Arms; on another, an ancient, square stone house, on which was a brass plate. He went over and read the name, rang the bell, and asked the trim maidservant who answered it, for the doctor. Presently, a man of youthful middle-age presented himself in the surgery and bowed. Dominey was for a moment at a loss.
"I came to see Doctor Harrison," he ventured.
"Doctor Harrison retired from practice some years ago," was the courteous reply. "I am his nephew. My name is Stillwell."
"I understood that Doctor Harrison was still in the neighbourhood," Dominey said. "My name is Dominey Sir Everard Dominey."
"I guessed as much," the other
replied. "My uncle lives with me here, and to tell you
the truth he was hoping that you would come and see
him. He retains one patient only," Doctor Stillwell
added, in a graver tone. "You can
His caller bowed. "Lady Dominey, I presume."
The young doctor opened the door and motioned to his guest to precede him.
"My uncle has his own little apartment on the other side of the house," he said. "You must let me take you to him."
They moved across the pleasant white stone hall into a small apartment with French windows leading out to a flagged terrace and tennis lawn. An elderly man, broad-shouldered, with weather-beaten face, grey hair, and of somewhat serious aspect, looked around from the window before which he was standing examining a case of fishing flies.
"Uncle, I have brought an old friend in to see you," his nephew announced.
The doctor glanced expectantly at Dominey, half moved forward as though to greet him, then checked himself and shook his head doubtfully.
"You certainly remind me very much of an old friend, sir," he said, "but I can see now that you are not he. I do not believe that I have ever seen you before in my life."
There was a moment's somewhat tense silence. Then Dominey advanced a little stiffly and held out his hand.
"Come, Doctor," he said. "I can scarcely have changed as much as all that. Even these years of strenuous life "
"You mean to tell me that I am speaking to Everard Dominey?" the doctor interposed.
"Without a doubt!"
The doctor shook hands coolly. His was certainly not the enthusiastic welcome of an old family attendant to the representative of a great family.
"I should certainly never have recognised you," he confessed.
"My presence here is nevertheless indisputable," Dominey continued. "Still attracted by your old pastime, I see, Doctor?"
"I have only taken up fly fishing," the other replied drily, "since I gave up shooting."
There was another somewhat awkward pause, which the younger man endeavoured to bridge over.
"Fishing, shooting, golf," he said; "I really don't know what we poor medical practitioners would do in the country without sport."
"I shall remind you of that later," Dominey observed. "I am told that the shooting is one of the only glories that has not passed away from Dominey."
"I shall look forward to the reminder," was the prompt response.
His uncle, who had been bending once more over the case of flies, turned abruptly around.
"Arthur," he said, addressing his nephew, "you had better start on your round. I dare say Sir Everard would like to speak to me privately."
"I wish to speak to you certainly," Dominey admitted, "but only professionally. There is no necessity "
"I am late already, if you will excuse me," Doctor Stillwell interrupted. "I will be getting on. You must excuse my uncle, Sir Everard," he added in a lower tone, drawing him a little towards the door, "if his manners are a little gruff. He is devoted to Lady Dominey, and I sometimes think that he broods over her case too much."
Dominey nodded and turned back into the room to find the doctor, his hands in his old-fashioned breeches pockets, eyeing him steadfastly.
"I find it very hard to believe," he said a little curtly, "that you are really Everard Dominey."
"I am afraid you will have to accept me as a fact, nevertheless."
"Your present appearance," the old man continued, eyeing him appraisingly, "does not in any way bear out the description I had of you some years ago. I was told that you had become a broken-down drunkard."
"The world is full of liars," Dominey said equably. "You appear to have met with one, at least."
"You have not even," the doctor persisted, "the appearance of a man who has been used to excesses of any sort."
"Good old stock, ours," his visitor observed carelessly. "Plenty of two-bottle men behind my generation."
"You have also gained courage since the days when you fled from England. You slept at the Hall last night?"
"Where else? I also, if you want to know, occupied my own bedchamber with results," Dominey added, throwing his head a little back, to display the scar on his throat, "altogether insignificant."
"That's just your luck," the doctor declared. "You've no right to have gone there without seeing me; no right, after all that has passed, to have even approached your wife."
"You seem rather a martinet as regards my domestic affairs," Dominey observed.
"That's because I know your history," was the blunt reply.
Uninvited Dominey seated himself in an easy-chair.
"You were never my friend, Doctor," he said. "Let me suggest that we conduct this conversation on a purely professional basis."
"I was never your friend," came the retort, "because I have known you always as a selfish brute; because you were married to the sweetest woman on God's earth, gave up none of your bad habits, frightened her into insanity by reeling home with another man's blood on your hands, and then stayed away for over ten years instead of making an effort to repair the mischief you had done."
"This," observed Dominey, "is history, dished up in a somewhat partial fashion. I repeat my suggestion that we confine our conversation to the professional."
"This is my house," the other rejoined, "and you came to see me. I shall say exactly what I like to you, and if you don't like it you can get out. If it weren't for Lady Dominey's sake, you shouldn't have passed this threshold."
"Then for her sake," Dominey suggested in a softer tone, "can't you forget how thoroughly you disapprove of me? I am here now with only one object: I want you to point out to me any way in which we can work together for the improvement of my wife's health."
"There can be no question of a partnership between us."
"You refuse to help?"
"My help isn't worth a snap of the fingers. I have done all I can for her physically. She is a perfectly sound woman. The rest depends upon you, and you alone, and I am not very hopeful about it."
"Upon me?" Dominey repeated, a little taken aback.
"Fidelity," the doctor grunted, "is second nature with all good women. Lady Dominey is a good woman, and she is no exception to the rule. Her brain is starved because her heart is aching for love. If she could believe in your repentance and reform, if any atonement for the past were possible and were generously offered, I cannot tell what the result might be. They tell me that you are a rich man now, although heaven knows, when one considers what a lazy, selfish fellow you were, that sounds like a miracle. You could have the great specialists down. They couldn't help, but it might salve your conscience to pay them a few hundred guineas."
"Would you meet them?" Dominey asked anxiously. "Tell me whom to send for?"
"Pooh! Those days are finished with me," was the curt reply. "I would meet none of them. I am a doctor no longer. I have become a villager. I go to see Lady Dominey as an old friend."
"Give me your advice," Dominey begged. "Is it of any use sending for specialists?"
"Just for the present, none at all."
"And what about that horrible woman, Mrs. Unthank?"
"Part of your task, if you are really going to take it up. She stands between your wife and the sun."
"Then why have you suffered her to remain there all those years?" Dominey demanded.
"For one thing, because there has been no one to replace her," the doctor replied, "and for another, because Lady Dominey, believing that you slew her son, has some fantastic idea of giving her a home and shelter as a kind of expiation."
"You think there is no affection between the two?" Dominey asked.
"Not a scrap," was the blunt reply, "except that Lady Dominey is of so sweet and gentle a nature "
The doctor paused abruptly. His visitor's fingers had strayed across his throat.
"That's a different matter," the former continued fiercely. "That's just where the weak spot in her brain remains. If you ask me, I believe it's pandered to by Mrs. Unthank. Come to think of it," he went on, "the Domineys were never cowards. If you've got your courage back, send Mrs. Unthank away, sleep with your doors wide open. If a single night passes without Lady Dominey coming to your room with a knife in her hand, she will be cured in time of that mania at any rate. Dare you do that?"
Dominey's hesitation was palpable, also his agitation. The doctor grinned contemptuously.
"Still afraid!" he scoffed.
"Not in the way you imagine," his visitor replied. "My wife has already promised to make no further attempt upon my life."
"Well, you can cure her if you want to," the doctor declared, "and if you do, you will have the sweetest companion for life any man could have. But you'll have to give up the idea of town houses and racing and yachting, and grouse moors in Scotland, and all those sort of things I suppose you've been looking forward to. You'll have for some time, at any rate, to give every moment of your time to your wife."
Dominey moved uneasily in his chair.
"For the next few months," he said, "that would be impossible."
The doctor repeated the word, seemed to roll it round in his mouth with a sort of wondering scorn.
"I am not quite the idler I used to be," Dominey explained, frowning. "Nowadays, you cannot make money without assuming responsibilities. I am clearing off the whole of the mortgages upon the Dominey estates within the next few months."
"How you spend your time is your affair, not mine," the doctor muttered. "All I say about the matter is that your wife's cure, if ever it comes to pass, is in your hands. And now come over to me here, in the light of this window. I want to look at you."
Dominey obeyed with a little shrug of the shoulders. There was no sunshine, but the white north light was in its way searching. It showed the sprinkling of grey in his ruddy-brown hair, the suspicion of it in his closely trimmed moustache, but it could find no weak spot in his steady eyes, in the tan of his hard, manly complexion, or even in the set of his somewhat arrogant lips. The old doctor took up his box of flies again and jerked his head towards the door.
"You are a miracle," he said, "and I hate miracles. I'll come and see Lady Dominey in a day or so."
Dominey spent a curiously placid, and, to those with whom he was brought into contact, an entirely satisfactory afternoon. With Mr. Mangan by his side, murmuring amiable platitudes, and Mr. Johnson, his agent, opposite, revelling in the unusual situation of a satisfied landlord and delighted tenants, he made practically the entire round of the Dominey estates. They reached home late, but Dominey, although he seemed to be living in another world, was not neglectful of the claims of hospitality. Probably for the first time in their lives, Mr. Johnson and Lees, the bailiff, watched the opening of a magnum of champagne. Mr. Johnson cleared his throat as he raised his glass.
"It isn't only on my own account, Sir Everard," he said, "that I drink your hearty good health. I have your tenants too in my mind. They've had a rough time, some of them, and they've stood it like white men. So here's from them and me to you, sir, and may we see plenty of you in these parts."
Mr. Lees associated himself with these sentiments, and the glasses were speedily emptied and filled again.
"I suppose you know, Sir Everard," the agent observed, "that what you've promised to do to-day will cost a matter of ten to fifteen thousand pounds."
"Before I go to bed to-night," he said, "I shall send a cheque for twenty thousand pounds to the estate account at your bank at Wells. The money is there waiting, put aside for just that one purpose and well, you may just as well have it."
Agent and bailiff leaned back in the tonneau of their motor-car, half an hour later, with immense cigars in their mouths and a pleasant, rippling warmth in their veins. They had the sense of having drifted into fairyland. Their philosophy, however, met the situation.
"It's a fair miracle," Mr. Lees declared.
"A modern romance," Mr. Johnson, who read novels, murmured. "Hello, here's a visitor for the Hall," he added, as a car swept by them.
"Comfortable-looking gent, too," Mr. Lees remarked.
The "comfortable-looking gent" was Otto Seaman, who presented himself at the Hall with a small dressing-bag and a great many apologies.
"Found myself in Norwich, Sir Everard," he explained. "I have done business there all my life, and one of my customers needed looking after. I finished early, and when I found that I was only thirty miles off you, I couldn't resist having a run across. If it is in any way inconvenient to put me up for the night, say so "
"My dear fellow!" Dominey interrupted. "There are a score of rooms ready. All that we need is to light a fire, and an old-fashioned bed-warmer will do the rest. You remember Mr. Mangan?"
The two men shook hands, and Seaman accepted a little refreshment after his drive. He lingered behind for a moment after the dressing bell had rung.
"What time is that fellow going?" he asked.
"Nine o'clock to-morrow morning," Dominey replied.
"Not a word until then," Seaman whispered back. "I must not seem to be hanging after you too much I really did not want to come but the matter is urgent."
"We can send Mangan to bed early," Dominey suggested.
"I am the early bird myself," was the weary reply. "I was up all last night. To-morrow morning will do."
Dinner that night was a pleasant and social meal. Mr. Mangan especially was uplifted. Everything to do with the Domineys for the last fifteen years had reeked of poverty. He had really had a hard struggle to make both ends meet. There had been disagreeable interviews with angry tenants, formal interviews with dissatisfied mortgagees, and remarkably little profit at the end of the year to set against these disagreeable episodes. The new situation was almost beatific. The concluding touch, perhaps, was in Parkins' congratulatory whisper as he set a couple of decanters upon the table.
"I have found a bin of Cockburn's fifty-one, sir," he announced, including the lawyer in his confidential whisper. "I thought you might like to try a couple of bottles, as Mr. Mangan seems rather a connoisseur, sir. The corks appear to be in excellent condition."
"After this," Mr. Mangan sighed, "it will be hard to get back to the austere life of a Pall Mall club!"
Seaman, very early in the evening, pleaded an extraordinary sleepiness and retired, leaving his host and Mangan alone over the port. Dominey, although an attentive host, seemed a little abstracted. Even Mr. Mangan, who was not an observant man, was conscious that a certain hardness, almost arrogance of speech and manner, seemed temporarily to have left his patron.
"I can't tell you, Sir Everard," he said, as he sipped his first glass of wine, "what a pleasure it is to me to see, as it were, this recrudescence of an old family. If I might be allowed to say so, there's only one thing necessary to round the whole business off, as it were."
"And that?" Dominey asked unthinkingly.
"The return of Lady Dominey to health. I was one of the few, you may remember, privileged to make her acquaintance at the time of your marriage."
"I paid a visit this morning," Dominey said, "to the doctor who has been in attendance upon her since her marriage. He agrees with me that there is no reason why Lady Dominey should not, in course of time, be restored to perfect health."
"I take the liberty of finishing my glass to that hope, Sir Everard," the lawyer murmured.
Both glasses were set down empty, only the stem of Dominey's was snapped in two. Mr. Mangan expressed his polite regrets.
"This old glass," he murmured, looking at his own admiringly, "becomes very fragile."
Dominey did not answer. His brain had served him a strange trick. In the shadows of the room he had fancied that he could see Stephanie Eiderstrom holding out her arms, calling to him to fulfil the pledges of long ago, and behind her
"Have you ever been in love, Mangan?" Dominey asked his companion.
"I, sir? Well, I'm not sure," the man of the world replied, a little startled by the abruptness of the question. "It's an old-fashioned way of looking at things now, isn't it?"
Dominey relapsed into thoughtfulness.
"I suppose so," he admitted.
That night a storm rolled up from somewhere across that grey waste of waters, a storm heralded by a wind which came booming over the marshes, shaking the latticed windows of Dominey Place, shrieking and wailing amongst its chimneys and around its many corners. Black clouds leaned over the land, and drenching streams of rain dashed against the loose-framed sashes of the windows. Dominey lit the tall candles in his bedroom, fastened a dressing-gown around him, threw himself into an easy-chair, and, fixing an electric reading lamp by his side, tried to read. Very soon the book slipped from his fingers. He became suddenly tense and watchful. His eyes counted one by one the panels in the wall by the left-hand side of the bed. The familiar click was twice repeated. For a moment a dark space appeared. Then a woman, stooping low, glided into the room. She came slowly towards him, drawn like a moth towards that semicircle of candle. Her hair hung down her back like a girl's, and the white dressing-gown which floated diaphanously about her was unexpectedly reminiscent of Bond Street.
"You are not afraid?" she asked anxiously. "See, I have nothing in my hands. I almost think that the desire has gone. You remember the little stiletto I had last night? To-day I threw it into the well. Mrs. Unthank was very angry with me."
"I am not afraid," he assured her, "but "
"Ah, but you will not scold me?" she begged. "It is the storm which terrifies me."
He drew a low chair for her into the little circle of light and arranged some cushions. As she sank into it, she suddenly looked up at him and smiled, a smile of rare and wonderful beauty. Dominey felt for a moment something like the stab of a knife at his heart.
"Sit here and rest," he invited. "There is nothing to fear."
"In my heart I know that," she answered simply. "These storms are part of our lives. They come with birth, and they shake the world when death seizes us. One should not be afraid, but I have been so ill, Everard. Shall I call you Everard still?"
"Why not?" he asked.
"Because you are not like Everard to me any more," she told him, "because something has gone from you, and something has come to you. You are not the same man. What is it? Had you troubles in Africa? Did you learn what life was like out there?"
He sat looking at her for a moment, leaning back in his chair, which he had pushed a few feet into the shadows. Her hair was glossy and splendid, and against it her skin seemed whiter and more delicate than ever. Her eyes were lustrous but plaintive, and with something of the child's fear of harm in them. She looked very young and very fragile to have been swayed through the years by an evil passion.
"I learnt many things there, Rosamund," he told her quietly. "I learnt a little of the difference between right doing and wrongdoing. I learnt, too, that all the passions of life burn themselves out, save one alone."
She twisted the girdle of her dressing-gown in her fingers for a moment. His last speech seemed to have been outside the orbit of her comprehension or interest.
"You need not be afraid of me any more, Everard," she said, a little pathetically.
"I have no fear of you," he answered.
"Then why don't you bring your chair forward and come and sit a little nearer to me?" she asked, raising her eyes. "Do you hear the wind, how it shrieks at us? Oh, I am afraid!"
He moved forward to her side, and took her hand gently in his. Her fingers responded at once to his pressure. When he spoke, he scarcely recognised his own voice. It seemed to him thick and choked.
"The wind shall not hurt you, or anything else," he promised. "I have come back to take care of you."
She sighed, smiled like a tired child, and her eyes closed as her head fell farther back amongst the cushions.
"Stay just like that, please," she begged. "Something quite new is coming to me. I am resting. It is the sweetest rest I ever felt. Don't move, Everard. Let my fingers stay in yours so."
The candles burned down in their sockets, the wind rose to greater furies, and died away only as the dawn broke through the storm clouds. A pale light stole into the room. Still the woman slept, and still her fingers seemed to keep their clutch upon his hand. Her breathing was all the time soft and regular. Her silky black eyelashes lay motionless upon her pale cheeks. Her mouth a very perfectly shaped mouth rested in quiet lines. Somehow he realised that about this slumber there was a new thing. With hot eyes and aching limbs he sat through the night. Dream after dream rose up and passed away before that little background of tapestried wall. When she opened her eyes and looked at him, the same smile parted her lips as the smile which had come there when she had passed away to sleep.
"I am so rested," she murmured. "I feel so well. I have had dreams, beautiful dreams."
The fire had burned out, and the room was chilly.
"You must go back to your own room now," he said.
Very slowly her fingers relaxed. She held out her arms.
"Carry me," she begged. "I am only half awake. I want to sleep again."
He lifted her up. Her fingers closed around his neck, her head fell back with a little sigh of content. He tried the folding doors, and, finding some difficulty in opening them carried her out into the corridor, into her own room, and laid her upon the untouched bed.
"You are quite comfortable?" he asked.
"Quite," she murmured drowsily. "Kiss me, Everard."
Her hands drew his face down. His lips rested upon her forehead. Then he drew the bedclothes over her and fled.
To the next instalment