The Great Impersonation HTML version

Chapter 16
Even in the great dining-room of Dominey Hall, the mahogany table which was its great
glory was stretched that evening to its extreme capacity. Besides the house party, which
included the Right Honourable Gerald Watson, a recently appointed Cabinet Minister,
there were several guests from the neighbourhood--the Lord Lieutenant of the County
and other notabilities. Caroline, with the Lord Lieutenant on one side of her and Terniloff
on the other played the part of hostess adequately but without enthusiasm. Her eyes
seldom left for long the other end of the table, where Stephanie, at Dominey's left hand,
with her crown of exquisitely coiffured red-gold hair, her marvellous jewellery, her
languorous grace of manner, seemed more like one of the beauties of an ancient Venetian
Court than a modern Hungarian Princess gowned in the Rue de la Paix. Conversation
remained chiefly local and concerned the day's sport and kindred topics. It was not until
towards the close of the meal that the Duke succeeded in launching his favourite bubble.
"I trust, Everard," he said, raising his voice a little as he turned towards his host, "that you
make a point of inculcating the principles of National Service into your tenantry here."
Dominey's reply was a little dubious.
"I am afraid they do not take to the idea very kindly in this part of the world," he
confessed. "Purely agricultural districts are always a little difficult."
"It is your duty as a landowner," the Duke insisted, "to alter their point of view. There is
not the slightest doubt," he added, looking belligerently over the top of his /pince nez/ at
Seaman, who was seated at the opposite side of the table, "that before long we shall find
ourselves--and in a shocking state of unpreparedness, mind you-- at war with Germany."
Lady Maddeley, the wife of the Lord Lieutenant, who sat at his side, seemed a little
startled. She was probably one of the only people present who was not aware of the
Duke's foible.
"Do you really think so?" she asked. "The Germans seem such civilised people, so
peaceful and domestic in their home life, and that sort of thing."
The Duke groaned. He glanced down the table to be sure that Prince Terniloff was out of
"My dear Lady Maddeley," he declared, "Germany is not governed like England. When
the war comes, the people will have had nothing to do with it. A great many of them will
be just as surprised as you will be, but they will fight all the same."
Seaman, who had kept silence during the last few moments with great difficulty, now
took up the Duke's challenge.