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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAn Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 6. The Party At The Milan
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An Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 6. The Party At The Milan Post by :Howlerckc Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :1826

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An Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 6. The Party At The Milan

CHAPTER VI. THE PARTY AT THE MILAN

The dinner party, which I arranged for in the Milan restaurant, was, on the whole, a great success. My sister played hostess for me and confessed herself charmed with Eve, as indeed was every one else. Mr. Parker's stories kept his end of the table in continual bursts of merriment. One little incident, too, was in its way exceedingly satisfactory. Mr. and Mrs. Samuelson were being entertained by some friends close at hand, and they appeared very much gratified at the cordiality of our greeting. I talked with Mr. Samuelson during the evening, and I felt that, so far as he was concerned at any rate, not a shadow of suspicion remained in his mind as to my two guests.

We sat a long time over dinner. Eve was between a cousin of mine--who was a member of Parliament, a master of foxhounds, and in his way quite a distinguished person--and the old Earl of Enterdean, my godfather; and they were both of them obviously her abject slaves. No one seemed in the least inclined to move and it was nearly eleven o'clock before we passed into the private room I had engaged, where coffee and some bridge tables awaited us. We broke up there into little groups. I left Eve talking to my sister and was on my way to try to get near her father when the Countess of Enterdean, a perfectly charming old lady who had known me from boyhood, intercepted me.

"My dear Paul," she said, "I cannot thank you enough for having given us the opportunity of meeting these most delightful Americans, and I really must tell you this--I had meant to keep it a secret, but from you I cannot; I knew all the time that the name of Bundercombe was familiar to me, and suddenly it came over me like a flash! Directly I asked Mr. Bundercombe in what part of America his home was, of course it was all clear to me. What a small world it is! Do you know," she concluded impressively, "that it was just these two people, Mr. Bundercombe and his daughter, who were so amazingly kind to Reggie when he was out in the States on his way to Dicky's ranch!"

I was for a moment absolutely thunderstruck.

"Did you--er--remind Mr. Bundercombe of this?" I asked.

She shook her head. She had the pleased smile of a benevolent conspirator.

"I will tell you why I did not, Paul," she explained. "Reggie is in town-- just for a few days. I have sent him a telephone message and he is wild with delight. He has only just arrived from Scotland; but I told him Mr. Bundercombe and his daughter were here, and he is rushing into his clothes as fast as he can and is coming round. It will be so delightful for him to meet them again, and I really must try to think myself what I can do to repay all their kindness to Reggie."

I felt completely at my wit's end! I saw the whole of my little scheme, which up to now had proved so successful, threatened with instant destruction. Lady Enterdean passed on, probably to take some one else into her confidence. I crossed the room to the little group surrounding my friend, and as soon as I got near him I touched him on the shoulder.

"Just one word with you, Mr. Bundercombe," I begged.

The little circle of men let him through with reluctance. I passed my arm through his and led him out toward the foyer.

"You seem," I declared bitterly, "to have chosen the most unfortunate personality! I wish to goodness you had remained Mr. Parker! This infernal name of yours, Bundercombe, has got us into trouble."

"In what way?" he asked quickly.

"Lady Enterdean has just been to me," I told him. "She has a son who has been traveling in the States and who was wonderfully entertained by two people of the name of Bundercombe in the very place you told me to say you came from."

"Well, that goes all right!" Mr. Parker remarked complacently. "We're getting the credit for it."

"Precisely," I admitted. "The only trouble is that Lady Enterdean has just telephoned to her son to come down at once and renew his acquaintance with you and Eve."

Mr. Parker whistled softly. His face had become a blank.

"My! We do seem to be up against it!" he confessed uneasily.

"The young man," I continued, "will be here in ten minutes--perhaps sooner--prepared to grasp you both by the hand and exchange reminiscences."

Mr. Parker shook out a white silk handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his forehead.

"Kind of warm out here!" he remarked. "I'll just have to talk to Eve for a minute or two."

He had no sooner left me than I found I was absolutely compelled to devote myself to one or two of my guests who wished to play bridge, and others of whom I had seen little at dinner time. I kept looking anxiously round and at last the blow fell! The door opened and Lord Reginald Sidley was announced. He looked eagerly round the room.

"Hope you don't mind my butting in, old chap!" he said as he shook hands with me. "The mater telephoned that old Bundercombe and his daughter were here, so I just rushed round as quick as I could. Regular bricks they were to me out West! I don't see them anywhere."

I glanced round the room. Just at that moment a waiter from the restaurant presented himself. He brought me a card upon a salver.

"The gentleman asked me to give you this, sir," he announced.

I picked it up. On the back of a plain visiting card were a few hasty words, scrawled in pencil:

"So sorry--but Eve is not feeling quite herself and begged me to take her home at once quietly. My respects and apologies to you and all your delightful guests."

I read it out and passed it to Reggie. His face fell.

"If that isn't a sell!" he exclaimed. "Fancy your knowing them! Isn't Miss Bundercombe a topper!"

"She is certainly one of the most charming young women I ever met in my life," I admitted.

"I am glad, at any rate," Lady Enterdean declared, "that they have found their way to London. I shall make a point of calling on them myself tomorrow. Now, Paul, you must go and play bridge. They are waiting for you. Don't bother about me --I'll amuse myself quite well strolling round and talking to my friends." I made up a rubber of bridge, chiefly with the idea of distracting my thoughts. Presently, while my partner was playing the hand, I rose and crossed the room to the sideboard for some cigarettes. I found Lady Enterdean peering about with her lorgnette fixed to her eyes, apparently searching for something.

"Lost anything, Lady Enterdean?" I asked.

"A most extraordinary thing has happened, my dear Paul!" she declared, resting her hand on the bosom of her gown. "I am perfectly certain it was there a quarter of an hour ago--my cameo brooch, you know, the one that old Sir Henry brought home from Italy."

"Too large to lose anyway," I remarked cheerfully as I joined in the search.

We pulled aside a table and I almost collided with one of my most distinguished guests--Sir Blaydon Harrison, K.C.B. Sir Blaydon also, with an eyeglass in his eye, was moving discontentedly backward and forward, kicking the carpet.

"Silly thing!" he observed as he glanced up for a moment. "That little diamond charm of mine has slipped off my fob. I saw it as we crossed the foyer from the restaurant."

"Why, what has happened to us all!" my sister joined in. "Look at me--I've lost my pendant! Paul, did you give us too much to drink, or what?"

I am not sure that this was not the most awful moment of my life! A cold shiver of fear suddenly seized me. I looked from one to the other, speechless. If appearances had gone for anything at that moment I must indeed have looked guilty.

"Most extraordinary!" I mumbled.

"Oh! the things will turn up all right, without a doubt," Lady Enterdean declared good-humoredly. "Could we have a couple of waiters in and search properly, Paul? My knees are a little too old for this stooping."

"If you'll please all wait a few minutes," I begged earnestly, "I'll go out and make inquiries. Sir Blaydon, take my place in that rubber of bridge--there's a good fellow. I'll have the restaurant searched too. Don't mind if I am away a few minutes."

I hurried out. As soon as the door of the private room was closed I made for the entrance of the restaurant as fast as I could sprint. Without hat or coat I jumped into a taxi, and in less than ten minutes I was mounting the stairs of Number 17, Banton Street, with the hall porter blinking at me from his office. I scarcely went through the formality of knocking at the door. Mr. Parker and Eve were both standing at the table, their heads close together. At the sound of my footsteps and precipitate entrance Mr. Parker swung round. One hand was still behind him. Upon the table a white silk handkerchief was lying.

"My dear fellow!" he exclaimed. "My dear Walmsley! What has happened?"

I opened my lips and closed them again. It really seemed impossible to say anything! Mr. Parker's expression had never been so boyish, so earnest, and yet so wistful. Eve was quivering with some emotion the nature of which I could not at once divine. I felt very certain, however, that she had been remonstrating with her father.

"Don't keep us in suspense, my dear fellow!" Mr. Parker implored. "What has gone wrong? Eve and I were just--just talking over your delightful party."

"And looking over the spoils!" I said grimly.

I went a little farther into the room, Mr. Parker, with a sigh, abandoned his position. He unclosed the fingers of his hand and removed the silk handkerchief. I saw upon the table my aunt's brooch, my sister's pendant and Sir Blaydon Harrison's diamond pig. I said not a word. I looked at them and I looked at Mr. Parker. He smiled weakly and scratched his chin.

"I didn't do so badly," he essayed apologetically. "To tell you the truth, I really hadn't meant--"

"Never mind what you meant!" I interrupted. "Please give me those things back again at once!"

Eve dropped them into the handkerchief, twisted them up and passed them across to me.

"I told daddy it was rather a mean trick," she sighed; "but really, you know, no people ought to carry about their valuables like that! It was trying us a little too high, wasn't it? And dear Reggie--did he arrive?"

For the first time I was really angry with Eve.

"If you will allow me," I said, "I will pursue this conversation to-morrow morning."

I tore downstairs, jumped into the waiting taxi and returned to the Milan. I entered the private room with a grave face. Evidently I was only just in time. The rubber of bridge had been broken up and my guests were standing about in little groups talking. I closed the door behind me and held up my hand.

"Blanche," I announced--"Lady Enterdean--I am delighted to say I have recovered everything."

"My dear boy, how wonderfully clever of you!"

Lady Enterdean exclaimed. "How relieved I feel! Most satisfactory, I am sure."

She sat down promptly. There was a little murmur of voices. My guests gathered round me. I drew a long breath and continued on my mendacious career.

"I have been closeted with the manager," I explained. "It was one of the underwaiters--the little dark one who brought in the coffee. The temptation seems to have been too much for him. He confessed directly he was questioned. He has restored everything and I thought it best to have him simply turned off without any fuss. Here is your pig, Sir Blaydon; your pendant, Blanche; your brooch, Lady Enterdean. I am exceedingly sorry you should have had any anxiety--but all's well that ends well!" I wound up weakly.

Every one was talking cheerfully. The great topic now was one of ethics: Had I acted properly in not charging the waiter? Fortunately some one discovered a little later that it was twelve o'clock and my little party broke up.

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