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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Prince Of Sinners - Part 1 - Chapter 12. Mr. Bullsom Gives A Dinner-Party
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A Prince Of Sinners - Part 1 - Chapter 12. Mr. Bullsom Gives A Dinner-Party Post by :bambito Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2468

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A Prince Of Sinners - Part 1 - Chapter 12. Mr. Bullsom Gives A Dinner-Party

PART I CHAPTER XII. MR. BULLSOM GIVES A DINNER-PARTY

"God bless my soul!" Mr. Bullsom exclaimed. "Listen to this." Mrs. Bullsom, in a resplendent new dress, looking shinier and fatter than ever, was prepared to listen to anything which might relieve the tension of the moment. For it was the evening of the dinner-party, and within ten minutes of the appointed time. Mr. Bullsom stood under the incandescent light and read aloud "The shooting-party at Enton yesterday consisted of the Marquis of Arranmore, the Hon. Sydney Molyneux, Mr. Hennibul, K.C., and Mr. Kingston Brooks. Notwithstanding the high wind an excellent bag was obtained."

"What! Our Mr. Kingston Brooks?" Selina exclaimed.

"It's Brooks, right enough," Mr. Bullsom exclaimed. "I called at his office yesterday, and they told me that he was out for the day. Well, that licks me."

Mary, who was reading a magazine in a secluded corner, looked up.

"I saw Mr. Brooks in the morning," she remarked. "He told me that he was going to Enton to dine and sleep."

Selina looked at her cousin sharply.

"You saw Mr. Brooks?" she repeated. "Where?"

"I met him," Mary answered, coolly. "He told me that Lord Arranmore had been very kind to him."

"Why didn't you tell us?" Louise asked.

"I really didn't think of it," Mary answered. "It didn't strike me as being anything extraordinary."

"Not when he's coming here to dine to-night," Selina repeated, "and is a friend of papa's! Why, Mary, what nonsense."

"I really don't see anything to make a fuss about," Mary said, going back to her magazine.

Mr. Bullsom drew himself up, and laid down the paper with the paragraph uppermost.

"Well, it is most gratifying to think that I gave that young man his first start," he remarked. "I believe, too, that he is not likely to forget it."

"The bell!" Mrs. Bullsom exclaimed, with a little gasp. "Some one has come."

"Well, if they have, there's nothing to be frightened about," Mr. Bullsom retorted. "Ain't we expecting them to come? Don't look so scared, Sarah! Take up a book, or something. Why, bless my soul, you're all of a tremble."

"I can't help it, Peter," Mrs. Bullsom replied, nervously. "I don't know these people scarcely a bit, and I'm sure I shall do something foolish. Selina, be sure you look at me when I'm to come away, and--"

"Mr. Kingston Brooks."

Brooks, ushered in by a neighbouring greengrocer, entered upon a scene of unexpected splendour. Selina and her sister were gorgeous in green and pink respectively. Mr. Bullsom's shirt-front was a thing to wonder at. There was an air of repressed excitement about everybody, except Mary, who welcomed him with a quiet smile.

"I am not much too early, I hope," Brooks remarked.

"You're in the nick of time," Mr. Bullsom assured him.

Brooks endeavoured to secure a chair near Mary, which attempt Selina adroitly foiled.

"We've been reading all about your grandeur, Mr. Brooks," she exclaimed. "What a beautiful day you must have had at Enton."

Brooks looked puzzled.

"It was very enjoyable," he declared. "I wanted to see you, Miss Scott," he added, turning to Mary. "I think that we can arrange that date for the lecture now. How would Wednesday week do?"

"Admirably!" Mary answered.

"Do you know whom you take in, Mr. Brooks?" Selina interrupted.

Brooks glanced at the card in his hand.

"Mrs. Seventon," he said. "Yes, thanks."

Selina looked up at him with an arch smile.

"Mrs. Seventon is most dreadfully proper," she said. "You will have to be on your best behaviour. Oh, here comes some one. What a bother!"

There was an influx of guests. Mrs. Bullsom, reduced to a state of chaotic nervousness, was pushed as far into the background as possible by her daughters, and Mr. Bullsom, banished from the hearth where he felt surest of himself, plunged into a conversation with Mr. Seventon on the weather. Brooks leaned over towards Mary.

"Wednesday week at eight o'clock, then," he said. "I want to have a chat with you about the subject."

"Not now," she interposed. "You know these people, don't you, and the Huntingdons? Go and talk to them, please."

Brooks laughed, and went to the rescue. He won Mrs. Bullsom's eternal gratitude by diverting Mrs. Seventon's attention from her, and thereby allowing her a moment or two to recover herself. Somehow or other a buzz of conversation was kept up until the solemn announcement of dinner. And when she was finally seated in her place, and saw a couple of nimble waiters, with the greengrocer in the back, looking cool and capable, she felt that the worst was over.

The solemn process of sampling doubtful-looking entries and eating saddle of mutton to the tune of a forced conversation was got through without disaster. Mrs. Bullsom felt her fat face break out into smiles. Mr. Bullsom, though he would like to have seen everybody go twice for everything, began to expand. He had already recited the story of Kingston Brooks' greatness to both of his immediate neighbours, and in a casual way mentioned his early patronage of that remarkable young man. And once meeting his eye he raised his glass.

"Not quite up to the Enton vintage, Brooks, eh? but all right, I hope."

Brooks nodded back, and resumed his conversation. Selina took the opportunity to mention casually to her neighbour, Mr. Huntingdon, that Mr. Brooks was a great friend of Lord Arranmore's, and Louise, on her side of the table, took care also to disseminate the same information. Everybody was properly impressed. Mr. Bullsom decided to give a dinner-party every month, and to double the greengrocer's tip, and by the time Selina's third stage whisper had reached her mother and the ladies finally departed, he was in a state of geniality bordering upon beatitude. There was a general move to his end of the table. Mr. Bullsom started the port, and his shirt-front grew wider and wider. He lit a cigar, and his thumb found its way to the armhole of his waistcoat. At that moment Mr. Bullsom would not have changed places with any man on earth.

"What sort of a place is Enton to stay at, Brooks, eh?" he inquired, in a friendly manner. "Keeps it up very well, don't he, the present Marquis?"

Brooks sighed.

"I really don't know much about it," he answered, "I was only there one night."

"Good day's sport?"

"Very good indeed," Brooks answered. "Lord Arranmore is a wonderful shot."

"A remarkable man in a great many ways, Lord Arranmore," Dr. Seventon remarked. "He disappeared from London when he was an impecunious young barrister with apparently no earthly chance of succeeding to the Arranmore estates, and from that time till a few years ago, when he was advertised for, not a soul knew his whereabouts. Even now I am told that he keeps the story of all these years absolutely to himself. No one knew where he was, or how he supported himself."

"I can tell you where he was for some time, at any rate," Brooks said. "He was in Canada, for he met my father there, and was with him when he died."

"Indeed," Dr. Seventon remarked. "Then I should say that you are one of the only men in England to whom he has opened his lips on the subject. Do you know what he was doing there?"

"Fishing and shooting, I think." Brooks answered. "It was near Lake Ono, right out west, and there would be nothing else to take one there."

"It was always supposed too that he had spent most of the time in a situation in New York," Mr. Huntingdon said.

"I know a man," Mr. Seaton put in, "who can swear that he met him as a sergeant in the first Australian contingent of mounted infantry sent to the Cape."

"There are no end of stories about him," Dr. Seventon remarked. "If I were the man I would put a stop to them by telling everybody exactly where I was during those twenty years or so. It is a big slice of one's life to seal up."

"Still, there is not the slightest reason why he should take the whole world into his confidence, is there?" Brooks expostulated. "He is not a public man."

"A peer of England with a seat in the House of Lords must always be a public man to some extent," Mr. Huntingdon remarked.

"I am not sure," Brooks remarked, "that the lives of all our hereditary legislators would bear the most searching inquiry."

"That's right, Brooks," Mr. Bullsom declared. "Stick up for your pals."

Brooks looked a little annoyed.

"The only claim I have upon Lord Arranmore's acquaintance," he remarked, "is his kindness to my father. I hope, Dr. Seventon, that you are going to press the matter of that fever hospital home. I have a little information which I think you might make use of."

Brooks changed his place, wine-glass in hand, and the conversation drifted away. But he found the position of social star one which the Bullsoms were determined to force upon him, for they had no sooner entered the drawing-room than Selina came rushing across the room to him and drew him confidentially on one side.

"Mr. Brooks," she said, "do go and talk to Mrs. Huntingdon. She is so anxious to hear about the Lady Caroom who is staying at Enton."

"I know nothing about Lady Caroom," Brooks replied, without any overplus of graciousness.

Selina looked at him in some dismay.

"But you met her at Enton, didn't you?" she asked.

"Oh, yes, I met her there," Brooks answered, impatiently. "But I certainly don't know enough of her to discuss her with Mrs. Huntingdon. I rather wanted to speak to your cousin."

Selina's thin little lips became compressed, and for a moment she forgot to smile. Her cousin indeed! Mary, who was sitting there in a plain black gown without a single ornament, and not even a flower, looking for all the world like the poor relation she was! Selina glanced downwards at the great bunch of roses and maidenhair fern in her bosom, at the fancy and beaded trimming which ran like a nightmare all over her new gown, and which she was absolutely certain had come from Paris; at the heavy gold bracelets which concealed some part of her thin arms; she remembered suddenly the aigrette in her hair, such a finish to her costume, and her self-confidence returned.

"Oh, don't bother about Mary now. Mrs. Huntingdon is dying to have you talk to her. Please do and if you like--I will give you one of my roses for your button-hole."

Brooks stood the shock gallantly, and bowed his thanks. He had met Mrs. Huntingdon before, and they talked together for a quarter of an hour or so.

"I wish I knew why you were here," was almost her first question. "Isn't it all funny?

"Mr. Bullsom has always been very decent to me," he answered. "It is through him I was appointed agent to Mr. Henslow."

"Oh, business! I see," she answered, shrugging her shoulders. "Same here. I'm a doctor's wife, you know. Did you ever see such awful girls! and who in the name of all that's marvellous can be their dressmaker?"

"Bullsom is a very good sort indeed," Brooks answered. "I have a great respect for him."

She made a little face.

"Who's the nice-looking girl in black with her hair parted in the middle?" she asked. "Mr. Bullsom's niece. She is quite charming, and most intelligent."

"Dear me!" Mrs. Huntingdon remarked. "I had no idea she had anything to do with the family. Sort of a Cinderella look about her now you mention it. Couldn't you get her to come over and talk to me? I'm horribly afraid of Mrs. Bullsom. She'll come out of that dress if she tries to talk, and I know I shall laugh."

"I'm sure I can," Brooks answered, rising with alacrity. "I'll bring her over in a minute."

Mary had just finished arranging a card-table when Brooks drew her on one side.

"About that subject!" he began.

"We shall scarcely have time to talk about it now, shall we?" she answered. "You will be wanted to play cards or something. We shall be quite content to leave it to you."

"I should like to talk it over with you," he said. "Do tell me when I may see you."

She sat down, and he stood by her chair. "Really, I don't know," she answered. "Perhaps I shall be at home when you pay your duty call."

"Come and have some tea at Mellor's with me to-morrow."

She seemed not to hear him. She had caught Mrs. Seventon's eye across the room, and rose to her feet.

"You have left Mrs. Seventon alone all the evening," she said. "I must go and talk to her."

He stood before her--a little insistent.

"I shall expect you at half-past four," he said.

She shook her head.

Oh, no. I have an engagement."

"The next day, then."

"Thank you! I would rather you did not ask me. I have a great deal to do just now. I will bring the girls to the lecture."

"Wednesday week," he protested, "is a long way off."

"You can go over to Enton," she laughed, "and get some more cheques from your wonderful friend."

"I wonder," he remarked, "why you dislike Lord Arranmore so much."

"Instinct perhaps--or caprice," she answered, lightly.

"The latter for choice," he answered. "I don't think that he is a man to dislike instinctively. He rather affected me the other way."

She was suddenly graver.

"It is foolish of me," she remarked. "You will think so too, when I tell you that my only reason is because of a likeness."

"A likeness!" he repeated.

She nodded.

"He is exactly like a man who was once a friend of my father's, and who did him a great deal of harm. My father was much to blame, I know, but this man had a great influence over him, and a most unfortunate one. Now don't you think I'm absurd?"

"I think it is a little rough on Lord Arranmore," he answered, "don't you?"

"It would be if my likes or dislikes made the slightest difference to him," she answered. "As it is, I don't suppose it matters."

"Was this in England?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"No, it was abroad--in Montreal. I really must go to Mrs. Seventon. She looks terribly bored."

Brooks made no effort to detain her. He was looking intently at a certain spot in the carpet. The coincidence--it was nothing more, of course--was curious.

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