The Great Impersonation
Dawn the next morning was heralded by only a thin line of red parting the masses of
black-grey snow clouds which still hung low down in the east. The wind had dropped,
and there was something ghostly about the still twilight as Dominey issued from the back
regions and made his way through the untrodden snow round to the side of the house
underneath Rosamund's window. A little exclamation broke from his lips as he stood
there. From the terraced walks, down the steps, and straight across the park to the corner
of the Black Wood, were fresh tracks. The cry had been no fantasy. Somebody or
something had passed from the Black Wood and back again to this spot in the night.
Dominey, curiously excited by his discovery, examined the footmarks eagerly, then
followed them to the corner of the wood. Here and there they puzzled him. They were
neither like human footsteps nor the track of any known animal. At the edge of the wood
they seemed to vanish into the heart of a great mass of brambles, from which here and
there the snow had been shaken off. There was no sign of any pathway; if ever there had
been one, the neglect of years had obliterated it. Bracken, brambles, shrubs and bushes
had grown up and degenerated, only to be succeeded by a ranker and more dense form of
undergrowth. Many of the trees, although they were still plentiful, had been blown down
and left to rot on the ground. The place was silent except for the slow drip of falling snow
from the drooping leaves. He took one more cautious step forward and found himself
slowly sinking. Black mud was oozing up through the snow where he had set his feet. He
was just able to scramble back. Picking his way with great caution, he commenced a
leisurely perambulation of the whole of the outside of the wood.
Heggs, the junior keeper, an hour or so later, went over the gun rack once more, tapped
the empty cases, and turned towards Middleton, who was sitting in a chair before the fire,
smoking his pipe.
"I can't find master's number two gun, Mr. Middleton," he announced. "That's missing."
"Look again, lad," the old keeper directed, removing the pipe from his mouth. "The
master was shooting with it yesterday. Look amongst those loose 'uns at the far end of the
rack. It must be somewhere there."
"Well, that isn't," the young man replied obstinately.
The door of the room was suddenly opened, and Dominey entered with the missing gun
under his arm. Middleton rose to his feet at once and laid down his pipe. Surprise kept
him temporarily silent.
"I want you to come this way with me for a moment," his master ordered.