The Great Impersonation HTML version

Chapter 27
There was something dramatic, in the most lurid sense of the word, about the brief
telephone message which Dominey received, not so many hours later, from Carlton
House Terrace. In a few minutes he was moving through the streets, still familiar yet
already curiously changed. Men and women were going about their business as usual, but
an air of stupefaction was everywhere apparent. Practically every loiterer was studying a
newspaper, every chance acquaintance had stopped to confer with his fellows. War,
alternately the joke and bogey of the conversationalist, stretched her grey hands over the
sunlit city. Even the lightest-hearted felt a thrill of apprehension at the thought of the
horrors that were to come. In a day or two all this was to be changed. People went about
then counting the Russian millions; the steamroller fetish was to be evolved. The most
peaceful stockbroker or shopkeeper, who had never even been to a review in his life,
could make calculations of man power with a stump of pencil on the back of an old
envelope, which would convince the greatest pessimist that Germany and Austria were
outnumbered by at least three to one. But on this particular morning, people were too
stunned for calculations. The incredible had happened. The long-discussed war--the
nightmare of the nervous, the derision of the optimist--had actually materialised. The
happy-go-luck years of peace and plenty had suddenly come to an end. Black tragedy
leaned over the land.
Dominey, avoiding acquaintances as far as possible, his own mind in a curious turmoil,
passed down St. James's Street and along Pall Mall and presented himself at Carlton
House Terrace. Externally, the great white building, with its rows of flower boxes,
showed no signs of undue perturbation. Inside, however, the anteroom was crowded with
callers, and it was only by the intervention of Terniloff's private secretary, who was
awaiting him, that Dominey was able to reach the inner sanctum where the Ambassador
was busy dictating letters. He broke off immediately his visitor was announced and
dismissed every one, including his secretaries. Then he locked the door.
"Von Ragastein," he groaned, "I am a broken man!"
Dominey grasped his hand sympathetically. Terniloff seemed to have aged years even in
the last few hours.
"I sent for you," he continued, "to say farewell, to say farewell and make a confession.
You were right, and I was wrong. It would have better if I had remained and played the
country farmer on my estates. I was never shrewd enough to see until now that I have
been made the cat's-paw of the very men whose policy I always condemned."
His visitor still remained silent. There was so little that he could say.
"I have worked for peace," Terniloff went on, "believing that my country wanted peace. I
have worked for peace with honourable men who were just as anxious as I was to secure
it. But all the time those for whom I laboured were making faces behind my back. I was