The Great Impersonation
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.