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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAn Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 4. The Wooing Of Eve
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An Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 4. The Wooing Of Eve Post by :Howlerckc Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1209

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An Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 4. The Wooing Of Eve


I spent a very restless and disturbed night. I rose at six o'clock the following morning, and at ten o'clock I rang up 3771A Gerrard. My inquiry was answered almost at once by Mr. Parker himself.

"Is that you, Walmsley?"

"It is," I replied. "I have been waiting to ring you up since daylight! I want you to understand--"

"You come right round here!" Mr. Parker interrupted soothingly. "No good getting fussy over the telephone!"

"Where to?" I asked. "You forget I don't know your address. I should have been round hours ago if I had known where to find you."

"Bless my soul, no more you do! We are at Number 17, Banton Street--just off Oxford Street, you know."

"I am coming straightaway," I replied.

I was there within ten minutes. The place seemed to be a sort of private hotel, unostentatious and unprepossessing. A hall porter, whose uniform had seen better days and whose linen had seen cleaner ones, conducted me to the first floor. Mr. Parker himself met me on the landing.

"Come right in!" he invited. "I saw you drive up. Eve is in there."

He ushered me into a large sitting room of the type one would expect to find in such a place, but which, by dint of many cushions, flowers, and feminine knickknacks, had been made to look presentable. Eve was seated in an easy-chair by the fire. She turned round at my entrance and laughed.

"Where's my necklace, please?" she demanded.

"The necklace," I replied, as severely as I could, "is by this time on its way to Lady Orstline--if it is not actually in her hands."

"You mean to say you have sent it back?" Mr. Parker exclaimed incredulously.

"Certainly!" I replied. "I posted it to her early this morning."

Mr. Parker's expression was one of blank bewilderment.

"Say, do I understand you rightly?" he continued, coming up and laying his great hand upon my shoulder. "You mean to say that, after all we went through because of that miserable necklace, you've gone and chucked it? Do you know it was worth twenty-five thousand pounds?"

"I don't care whether it was worth twenty-five thousand pounds or twenty- five thousand pennies!" retorted I. "It belonged to Lady Orstline--not to you or your daughter or to me. I know that you are a skillful conjurer and I won't ask you how it found its way into my pocket. I am only glad I have had an opportunity of returning it to its owner."

Mr. Parker shook his head ponderously. He turned to Eve.

"This," he said solemnly, "is the young man who asked leave to join us! What do you think of him, Eve?"

"Nothing at all!" she replied flippantly. "He is absolutely useless!"

"If you think," Mr. Parker went on, "we are in this business for our health, I want you to understand right here that you are mistaken. I never deceived you. I told you the first few seconds we met that I was an adventurer. I am. I brought off a coup last night with that necklace, and you've gone and queered it! It isn't for myself I mind so much," he concluded, "but there's the child there, I was going to have the pearls restrung and let her wear them a bit--until the time came for selling them."

"Look here!" I said. "Let us understand one another. It's all very well to live by your wits; to make a little out of people not quite so smart as you are; to worry through life owing a little here and there, borrowing a bit where you can and taking good care to be on the right side when there's a bargain going. That, I take it, is more or less what is meant by being an adventurer. But when it comes to downright thieving I protest! The penalties are too severe. I beg you, Mr. Parker, to have nothing more to do with it!"

I went on, speaking as earnestly as I could and laying my hand upon his shoulder.

"I ask you now what I asked you yesterday: Give me your daughter! Or if I can't win her all at once let me at any rate have the opportunity of meeting her and trying to persuade her to be my wife. I promise you you shan't have to do any of these things for a living--either of you. Be sensible, Miss Parker--Eve!" I begged, turning to her; "and please be a little kind. I am in earnest about this. Come on my side and help me persuade your father. I am not wealthy, perhaps, as you people count money, but I am not a poor man. I'll buy you some pearls."

Eve threw down the book she had been reading and leaned over the side of her chair, looking at me. She seemed no longer angry. There was, indeed, a touch of that softness in her face which I had noticed once before and which had encouraged me to hope. Her forehead was a little puckered, her dear eyes a little wistful. She looked at me very earnestly; but when I would have moved toward her she held out her hand to keep me back.

"You know," she said, "I think you are quite nice, Mr. Walmsley. I rather like this outspoken sort of love-making. It's quite out of date, of course; but it reminds me of Mrs. Henry Wood and crinolines and woolwork, and all that sort of thing. Anyhow, I like it and--I rather like you, too. But, you see, it's how long?--a matter of thirty-six hours since I met you first! Now I couldn't make up my mind to settle down for life with a man I'd only known thirty-six hours, even if he is rash enough to offer to pension my father and remove me from a life of crime."

"The circumstances," I persisted, "are exceptional. You may laugh at it as much as you like; but there are very excellent reasons why you should be taken away from this sort of life."

She shrugged her shoulders a little dubiously.

"There again!" she protested. "I am not so sure that I want to be taken away from it. I like adventures--I adore excitement; in fact I must have it."

"You shall," I promised. "I'll take you to Paris and Monte Carlo. We'll go up to Khartum and take a caravan beyond. You shall go big-game shooting with me in Africa. I'll take you where very few women have been before. I'll take you where you can gamble with life and death instead of this sordid business of freedom or prison. We'll start for Abyssinia in three weeks if you like. I'll find you excitement--the right sort. I'll take you into the big places, where one feels--and the empty places, where one suffers."

Her eyes flashed sympathetically for a moment.

"It sounds good," she admitted, "and yet--am I ungrateful, I wonder?-- there's no excitement for me except where men and women are. I'm afraid I'm a daughter of Babylon."

"Doomed from her infancy to a life of crime, I fear," Mr. Parker declared, pinching a cigar he had just taken out of a box. "She loves the rapier play--the struggle with men and women. Takes risks every moment of the time and thrives on it. All the same, Mr. Walmsley, there's something very attractive about the way you are talking. I am not going to let my little girl decide too hastily. Our sort of life's all very well when we are number one and Mr. Cullen's number two. We can't have the luck all the time, though."

"I haven't dared to mention it in plain words," I answered, "because the thought, the mere thought, of what might happen to Miss Eve is too horrible! But the risk is there all the time. One doesn't deal in forged notes or steal pearl necklaces for nothing; and you've an enemy in Cullen if ever any one had. He means to get you both, and if you give him the least chance he'll have no mercy."

I looked at them anxiously. The whole thing seemed to me so momentous. Neither of them showed the slightest signs of fear or apprehension. Mr. Parker, with his newly lit cigar in the corner of his mouth, was smiling a smile of pleasant contentment. Eve, leaning back in her chair, with her hands clasped round the back of her head, was gazing at me with a bewitching little smile on her lips.

"I am not a bit afraid of Mr. Cullen," she declared softly.

"Between you and me," her father remarked, knocking the ash from his cigar, "there's only one darned thing in this world we are afraid of and that, thank the Lord, isn't this side of the Atlantic!"

The smile faded from Eve's lips. For a moment she closed her eyes--a shiver passed through her frame.

"Don't!" she begged weakly.

"I guess I'll leave it at that," her father agreed. "Now this little proposition of yours, Mr. Walmsley, has just got to lie by for a little time--perhaps only for a very short time. It's a kind of business for us to make up our minds to part with our liberty or any portion of it. Meanwhile, if you'd like to take Eve for a motor ride round and meet me for luncheon, why, the car's outside, and if Eve's agreeable I can pass the time all right."

I looked at her eagerly. She rose at once to her feet.

"Why, it would be charming, if you have nothing to do, Mr. Walmsley," she assented. "I'll put my hat on at once."

"I have nothing to do at any time now but to respect your wishes," I answered firmly, "and wait until you are sensible enough to say Yes to my little proposition."

She looked back at me from the door with a twinkle in her eyes.

"You know," she said, "before I came over I was told that Englishmen were rather slow. I shall begin to doubt it. You wouldn't describe yourself exactly as shy, would you, Mr. Walmsley?"

"I don't know about that," I replied; "but we have other traits as well. We know what we want; very often we get it."

Mr. Parker rose to his feet. He put his hand on my shoulder. He was the very prototype of the self-respecting, conscientious, prospective father- in-law.

"Young fellow," he confessed, "I shall end by liking you!" I drove with Eve for about two hours. We went out nearly as far as Kingston and wound up in the heart of the West End. I tried to persuade her to walk down Bond Street, but she shook her head.

"To tell you the truth," she confided, "I am not very fond of being seen upon the streets. You know how marvelously clever dad is; still we have been talked about once or twice, and there are several people whom I shouldn't care about meeting."

I sighed as I looked out of the window toward the jewelers' shops.

"I should very much like," I said, "to buy you an engagement ring."

She laughed at me.

"You absurd person! Why, I am not engaged to you yet!"

"You are very near it," I assured her. "Anyhow, it would be an awfully good opportunity for you to show me the sort of ring you like."

She shook her head.

"Not to-day," she decided. "Somehow or other I feel that if ever I do let you, you'll choose just the sort of ring I shall love, without my interfering. Where did we say we'd pick father up?"

"Here," I answered, as the car came to a standstill outside the Cafe Royal. "I'll go in and fetch him."

I found Mr. Parker seated at a table with two of the most villainous specimens of humanity I had ever beheld. They were of the same class as the men with whom he had been talking at the Milan, but still more disreputable. He welcomed me, however, without embarrassment.

"Just passing the time, my dear fellow!" he remarked airily. "Met a couple of acquaintances of mine. Will you join us?"

"Miss Parker is outside in the car," I explained. "If you don't mind I will go out and wait with her. You can join us when you are ready."

"Five minutes--not a moment longer, I promise!" he called out after me. "Sorry you won't join us."

I took my place once more by Eve's side. Perhaps my tone was a little annoyed.

"Your father is in there," I said, "with two of the most disreputable- looking ruffians I have ever seen crawling upon the face of the earth. What in the world induces him to sit at the same table with them I cannot imagine."

"Necessity, perhaps," she remarked. "Very likely they are highly useful members of our industry."

Mr. Parker came out almost immediately afterward. I suggested the Ritz for luncheon. They looked at each other dubiously.

"To be perfectly frank with you, my dear fellow," Mr. Parker explained, as he clambered into the car and took the place I had vacated by his daughter's side, "it would give us no pleasure to go to the Ritz. We have courage, both of us--my daughter and I--as you may have observed for yourself; but courage is a different thing from rashness. We have been enjoying a very pleasant and not unlucrative time for the last six weeks, with the--er--natural result that there are several ladies and gentlemen in London whom I would just as soon avoid. The Ritz is one of those places where one might easily come across them."

"The Carlton? Prince's? Claridge's? Berkeley?" I suggested. "Or what do you say to Jules' or the Milan grill-room?"

Mr. Parker shook his head slowly.

"If you really mean that you wish me to choose," he said, "I say Stephano's."

"As you will," I agreed. "I only suggested the other places because I thought Miss Parker might like a change."

We drove to Stephano's. It struck me that Luigi's greeting was scarcely so cordial as usual. He piloted us, however, to the table usually occupied by Mr. Parker. On the way he took the opportunity of drawing me a little apart.

"Mr. Walmsley, sir," he said, "can you tell me anything about Mr. Parker and his daughter?"

"Anything about them?" I repeated.

"That they are Americans I know," he continued, "and that the young lady is beautiful--well, one has eyes! It is not my business to be too particular as to the character of those who frequent my restaurant; but twice Mr. Parker has been followed here by a detective, and last night, as you know, they left practically under arrest. It is not good for my restaurant, Mr. Walmsley, to have the police so often about, and if Mr. Parker and his daughter are really of the order of those who pass their life under police supervision, I would rather they patronized another restaurant."

I only laughed at him.

"My dear Luigi," I protested, "be careful how you turn away custom. Mr. Parker is, I should think, no better or any worse than a great many of your clients."

"If one could but keep the police out of it!" Luigi observed. "Could you drop a word to the gentleman, sir? Since I have seen them in your company I have naturally more confidence, but it is not good for my restaurant to have it watched by the police all the time."

"I'll see what can be done, Luigi," I promised him.

Mr. Parker was twice called up on the telephone during luncheon time. He seemed throughout the meal preoccupied; and more than once, with a word of apology to me, he and Eve exchanged confidential whispers. I felt certain that something was in the air, some new adventure from which I was excluded, and my heart sank as I thought of all the grim possibilities overshadowing it.

I watched them with their heads close together, Mr. Parker apparently unfolding the details of some scheme; and it seemed to me that, after all, the wisest thing I could do was to bid this strange pair farewell after luncheon and return either to the country or cross over to Paris for a few days. And then a chance word, a little look from Eve, a little touch from her fingers, as it occurred to her that I was being neglected, made me realize the absolute impossibility of doing anything of the sort.

For a person of my habits of life and temperament I had certainly fallen into a strange adventure. Not only had Eve herself come to mean for me everything that was real and vital in life, but I was most curiously attracted by her terrible father. I liked him.

I liked being with him. He was a type of person I had never met before in my life and one whom I thoroughly appreciated. I sat and watched him during an interval of the conversation.

Geniality and humor were stamped upon his expression. "I am enjoying life!" he seemed to say to everybody. "Come and enjoy it with me!" What a man to be walking the tight rope all the time--to be risking his character and his freedom day by day!

"If there is anything more on hand," I said, trying to make my tone as little dejected as possible, "I should like to be in it."

Mr. Parker scratched his chin.

"I am not sure that you really enjoy these little episodes."

"Of course I don't enjoy them," I admitted indignantly. "You know that. I hate them. I am miserable all the time, simply because of what may happen to you and to Miss Eve."

Mr. Parker sighed.

"There you are, you see!" he declared. "That's the one kink in your disposition, sir, which places you irrevocably outside the class to which Eve and I belong. Now let me ask you this, young man," he went on: "What is the most dangerous thing you've ever done?"

"I've played some tough polo," I remembered.

"That'll do," Mr. Parker declared. "Now tell me: When you turned out you knew perfectly well that a broken leg or a broken arm--perhaps a cracked skull--was a distinct possibility. Did you think about this when you went into the game? Did you think about it while you were playing?"

"Of course I didn't," I admitted.

"Just so!" Mr. Parker concluded triumphantly. "That's where the sporting instinct comes in. You know a thing is going to amuse and excite you. Beyond that you do not think."

"But in this case," I persisted, "I think it is your duty to think for your daughter's sake."

Eve flashed upon me the first angry glance I had seen from her.

"I think," she decided coldly, "it is not worth while discussing this matter with Mr. Walmsley. We are too far apart in our ideas. He has been brought up among a different class of people and in a different way. Besides, he misses the chief point. If I weren't an adventuress, Mr. Walmsley, I might have to become a typist and daddy might have to serve in a shop. Don't you think that we'd rather live--really live, mind--even for a week or two of our lives, than spend dull years, as we have done, upon the treadmill?"

"I give it up," I said. "There is only one argument left. You know quite well that the pecuniary excuse exists no longer."

She looked at me and her face softened.

"You are a queer person!" she murmured. "You are so very English, so very set in your views, so very respectable; and yet you are willing to take us both--"

"I am only thinking of marrying you," I interrupted.

"Well, you were going to make daddy an allowance, weren't you?"

"With great pleasure," I assured her vigorously; "and I only wish you'd take my hand now and we'd fix up everything to-morrow. We could go down and see my house in the country, Eve--I think you'd love it--and there are such things, even in England, you know, as special licenses."

"You dear person!" she laughed. "I can't be rushed into respectability like this."

Perhaps that was really my first moment of genuine encouragement, for there had been a little break in her voice, something in her tone not altogether natural. If only we had been alone--if even another summons to the telephone had come just then for her father! Fortune, however, was not on my side. Instead, the waiter appeared with the bill and diverted my attention. Eve and her father whispered together. The moment had passed.

"Anything particular on this afternoon, Walmsley? "Mr. Parker asked as he rose to his feet.

"Not a thing," I replied.

"I have just got to hurry off," he explained; "a little matter of business. Eve has nothing to do for an hour or so--"

"I'll look after her if I may," I interposed eagerly.

"Don't be later than half past five, Eve," her father directed as he went off, "and don't be tired."

We followed him a few minutes later into the street. A threatening shower had passed away. The sky overhead was wonderfully soft and blue; the air was filled with sunlight, fragrant with the perfume of barrows of lilac drawn up in the gutter. Eve walked by my side, her head a little thrown back, her eyes for a moment half closed.

"But London is delicious on days like this!" she exclaimed. "What are you going to do with me, Mr. Walmsley?"

"Take you down to the Archbishop of Canterbury and marry you!" I threatened.

She shook her head.

"I couldn't be married on a Friday! Let us go and see some pictures instead."

We went into the National Gallery and wandered round for an hour. She knew a great deal more about the pictures than I did, and more than once made me sit down by her side to look at one of her favorite masterpieces.

"I want to go to Bond Street now," she said when we left, "I think it will be quite all right at this time in the afternoon, and there are some weird things to be seen there. Do you mind?"

We walked again along Pall Mall. Passing the Carlton she suddenly clutched at my arm. A little stifled cry escaped her; the color left her cheeks. We increased our speed. Presently she breathed a sigh of relief.

"Heavens, what an escape!" she exclaimed. "Do you think he saw me?"

"Do you mean the young man who was getting out of the taxicab?"

She nodded.

"One of our victims," she murmured; "daddy's victim, rather. I didn't do a thing to him."

"I am quite sure he didn't see you," I told her. "He was struggling to find change."

She sighed once more. The incident seemed to have shaken her.

"The worst of our sort of life is," she confided, "that it must soon come to an end. We have victims all over the place! One of them is bound to turn up and be disagreeable sooner or later."

"I should say, then," I remarked, "that the moment is opportune for a registrar's office and a trip to Abyssinia."

"And leave daddy to face the music alone?" she objected. "It couldn't be done."

We turned into a tea shop and sat in a remote corner of the place. I had made up my mind to say no more to her that day, but the opportunity was irresistible.

There was a little desultory music, a hum of distant conversation, and Eve herself was thoughtful. I pleaded with her earnestly.

"Eve," I begged, "if only you would listen to me seriously! I simply cannot bear the thought of the danger you are in all the time. Give it up, dear, this moment--to-day! We'll lead any sort of life you like. We'll wander all over Europe--America, if you say the word. I am quite well enough off to take you anywhere you choose to go and still see that your father is quite comfortable. You've made such a difference in such a short time!"

She was certainly quieter and her tone was softer. She avoided looking at me.

"Perhaps," she said very gently, "this feeling you speak of would pass away just as quickly."

"There isn't any fear of that!" I assured her. "As I care for you now, Eve, I must care for you always; and you know it's torture for me to think of you in trouble--perhaps in disgrace. As my wife you shall be safe. You'll have me always there to protect you. I should like to take you even farther afield for a time--to India or Japan, if you like--and then come back and start life all over again."

"You're rather a dear!" she murmured softly. "I will tell you something at any rate. I do care for you--a little--better than I've ever cared for any one else; but I can't decide quite so quickly."

"Give up this adventure to-night!" I begged. "I hate to mention it, Eve, but if money--I put my checkbook in my pocket to-day. If your father would only--"

She stopped me firmly.

"After the things you have told me," she said, "I don't think I could bear to have him take your money to-day. I can't quite do as you wish; but what you have said shall make a difference, I promise you. I can't say more. Please drive me home now."

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