The Great Impersonation HTML version

Chapter 28
Within the course of the next few days, a strange rumour spread through Dominey and
the district,--from the farm labourer to the farmer, from the school children to their
homes, from the village post-office to the neighbouring hamlets. A gang of woodmen
from a neighbouring county, with an engine and all the machinery of their craft, had
started to work razing to the ground everything in the shape of tree or shrub at the north
end of the Black Wood. The matter of the war was promptly forgotten. Before the second
day, every man, woman and child in the place had paid an awed visit to the outskirts of
the wood, had listened to the whirr of machinery, had gazed upon the great bridge of
planks leading into the wood, had peered, in the hope of some strange discovery into the
tents of the men who were camping out. The men themselves were not communicative,
and the first time the foreman had been known to open his mouth was when Dominey
walked down to discuss progress, on the morning after his arrival.
"It's a dirty bit of work, sir," he confided. "I don't know as I ever came across a bit of
woodland as was so utterly, hopelessly rotten. Why, the wood crumbles when you touch
it, and the men have to be within reach of one another the whole of the time, though
we've a matter of five hundred planks down there."
"Come across anything unusual yet?"
"We ain't come across anything that isn't unusual so far, sir. My men are all wearing extra
leggings to keep them from being bitten by them adders--as long as my arm, some of 'em.
And there's fungus there which, when you touch it, sends out a smell enough to make a
man faint. We killed a cat the first day, as big and as fierce as a young tigress. It's a queer
job, sir."
"How long will it take?"
"Matter of three weeks, sir, and when we've got the timber out you'll be well advised to
burn it. It's not worth a snap of the fingers.-- Begging your pardon, sir," the man went on,
"the old lady in the distance there hangs about the whole of the time. Some of my men
are half scared of her."
Dominey swung around. On a mound a little distance away in the park, Rachael Unthank
was standing. In her rusty black clothes, unrelieved by any trace of colour, her white
cheeks and strange eyes, even in the morning light she was a repellent figure. Dominey
strolled across to her.
"You see, Mrs. Unthank," he began--
She interrupted him. Her skinny hand was stretched out towards the wood.