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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAn Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 7. "One Of Us"
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An Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 7. 'One Of Us' Post by :Howlerckc Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2915

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An Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 7. "One Of Us"

CHAPTER VII. "ONE OF US"

I was not altogether surprised to receive, on the following morning before I had finished breakfast, a visit from Reggie.

"Cheero!" he said brightly as he seated himself in my easy-chair and tapped the end of one of my cigarettes upon the tablecloth. "I haven't been up so early for months, but I had to find you before you went out-- about these Bundercombes."

"What about them?"

"I want their address, of course," Reggie continued. "The mater wants to call this afternoon and I'm all for seeing Miss Bundercombe again. Ripping girl, isn't she?"

"Then prepare yourself for a disappointment, my friend," I advised, glancing at the clock. "They left for Paris by the nine o'clock train this morning."

Reggie stared at me blankly.

"Gone already?"

I nodded and invented a little difficulty with my coffee pot.

"Theirs was only a flying visit," I explained. "I was lucky to get hold of them for my dinner."

"I'm hanged if I understand this!" Reggie remarked, looking at me suspiciously. "Why, I spent the best part of three weeks with them in that Godforsaken hole out West, and they were as keen as mustard on my taking them round London. How long have they been here?"

"Not long," I answered. "Sure you won't have some coffee?"

Reggie ignored the invitation.

"They've got my address and there are the directories," he continued. "The funny part of it is, too, that I heard from Mrs. Bundercombe a week or so ago, and she never said a word about any of them coming over."

"They seem to have made their minds up all of a sudden," I explained. "They spoke of it as quite a flying trip."

Reggie coughed and stared for a moment at the end of his boot.

"Can't understand it at all!" he repeated. "Devilish queer thing, anyway! I say, Paul, you're sure it's all right, I suppose?"

"All right? What do you mean?"

"Between you and me," he went on--"don't give it away outside this room, you know--but there have been rumors going about concerning an American and his pretty daughter over here--regular wrong 'uns! They've been up to all sorts of tricks and only kept out of prison by a fluke."

"You're not associating these people, whoever they may be, with Mr. and Miss Bundercombe?" I asked sternly.

Reggie gazed once more at the point of his boot.

"The thing is," he remarked, "are your friends Mr. and Miss Bundercombe at all?"

"Don't talk rot!"

"It may be rot," Reggie admitted slowly, "or it may not. By the by, where did you meet them?"

"If you don't mind," I answered, "we won't discuss them any longer."

"At least," Reggie insisted, "will you tell me this: Where have they been staying in London? I shall go there and see whether they have left any address for letters to be forwarded."

"I shall tell you nothing," I decided. "As a matter of fact I am finding you rather a nuisance."

Reggie picked up his hat.

"There is something more in this," he said didactically, "than meets the eye!"

"Machiavellian!" I scoffed. "Be off, Reggie!"

I had tea with Eve that afternoon and broached the subject of Reggie's visit as delicately as I could.

"You remember Lord Reggie Sidley?" I asked.

"Lord Reggie what!" Eve exclaimed.

"Sidley," I repeated firmly. "He spent three weeks with you out at your home in Okata. His threatened arrival last night was the cause of your father's precipitate retreat, and yours."

"Oh, that young man!" Eve remarked airily. "Well, what about him?"

"He has been round to see me this morning," I told her--"wanted your address."

She sighed.

"London will be getting too hot for us soon!" she murmured. "Am I engaged to him or anything?"

"Eve," I said, "when are you going to let me announce our engagement?"

"Our what?" she demanded.

"Engagement," I repeated. "I have proposed to you two or three times. I will do it again if you like."

"Pray don't!" she begged. "You are not going to tell me, are you," she added, looking at me with wide-open eyes, "that I have accepted you?"

"You haven't refused me," I pointed out.

"If I haven't," she assured me, "it has been simply to save your feelings."

I gulped down a little rising storm of indignation.

"You must marry sometime. Eve," I said. "There isn't any one in America, is there?"

"There are a great many," she assured me. "It was to get away from them, as much as anything, that I came over with father on this business trip."

"Business trip!" I groaned.

"Oh! I dare say it all seems very disgraceful to any one like you--you who were born with plenty of money and have never been obliged to earn any, and have mixed with respectable people all your life!" she exclaimed. "All the same, let me tell you there are plenty of charming and delightful people going about the world earning their living by their wits--simply because they are forced to. There is more than one code of morals, you know."

I flatter myself that at this point I was tactful.

"My dear Eve," I reminded her, "you forget that I have joined the gang--I mean," I corrected myself hastily, "that I have offered to associate myself with you and your father in any of your enterprises. I am perfectly willing to give up anything in life you may consider too respectable. At the same time I must say there are limits so far as you are concerned."

She pouted a little.

"I hate being out of things," she said.

"No need for you to be, altogether!" I continued.

"Now if I could institute a real big affair in the shape of a bucketshop swindle, in which your father and I could play the principal parts and you become merely a subordinate, such as a typist or something--what about that, eh?"

"It doesn't sound very amusing for me," she objected. "How much should we make?"

"Thousands," I assured her, "if it were properly engineered."

"I think," she said reflectively, "that father would be very glad of a few thousands just now. He says the market over here, for such little trifles as we have come across, is very restricted."

I groaned under my breath. In imagination I could see Mr. Parker bartering with some shady individual for Lady Enterdean's cameo brooch! I reverted to our previous subject of conversation.

"Eve," I went on, "I hate to seem tedious--but the question of our engagement still hangs fire."

"You persistent person!" she sighed, "Tell me, if I married you would all those people we met last night be nice to me?"

"Of course they would," I assured her. "They are only waiting for a word from you. I think they must have an idea already. I am not in the habit of giving dinner parties with a young lady as guest of honor."

She was thoughtful for a few moments, and her eyes lit up with reminiscent humor.

"Dear me!" she murmured. "If only they knew! They hadn't any suspicions, I suppose, about those--those little trifles?"

"None," I replied. "I put it all on to a waiter."

"How clever of you! You really do seem to be a most capable person--and so masterful! I begin to fear that some day you'll have your own way."

Her eyes laughed at me. There was something softly provocative in them--a new and kinder light. I bent over her and kissed her. She sat quite still.

"Mr. Walmsley!"

"It's usual among engaged couples," I pleaded.

"Is it!" she remarked coldly. "Doesn't the man, as a rule, wait to be quite sure he is engaged?"

"Not in this country," I declared: "I have heard that Americans are rather shy about that sort of thing. Englishmen----"

"Oh, bother Englishmen!" she exclaimed, stamping her foot. "I don't believe a word I've ever heard about them. I suppose now I shall have to marry you!"

"I don't see any way out of it," I agreed readily.

She held up her finger. The door was quietly opened. Mr. Parker entered.

He was followed by the most utterly objectionable and repulsive-looking person I have ever set eyes on in my life--a young man, thin, and of less than medium height, flashily dressed in cheap clothes, with patent boots and brilliant necktie. His cheeks were sallow; and his eyes, deeply inset, were closer together than any I have ever seen.

"My dear," Mr. Parker exclaimed, "let me present Mr. Moss--my daughter, sir; Mr. Walmsley--also one of us. I have been privileged," Mr. Parker continued, dropping his voice a little, "to watch Mr. Moss at work this afternoon; and I can assure you that a more consummate artist I have never seen--in Wall Street, at a racetrack meeting, or anywhere else."

Mr. Moss smiled deprecatingly and jerked his head sideways.

"The old un's pretty fly!" he remarked, as he laid his hat on the table.

"I am very glad to know Mr. Moss, of course," Eve said; "but I am not in the least in sympathy with the--er--branch of our industry he represents. You know, daddy, it's much too dangerous and not a bit remunerative."

"To a certain extent, my dear," her father admitted, "I am with you. Not all the way, though. One needs, of course, to discriminate. Personally I must admit that the nerve and actual genius required in finger manipulation have always attracted me."

Mr. Moss paused, with his glass halfway to his lips. He jerked his head in the direction of Mr. Parker.

"He is one for the gab, ain't he?" he remarked confidentially to me.

For the life of me, at that moment I could not tell whether to leave the room in a fit of angry disgust or to accept the ludicrous side of the situation and laugh. Fortunately for me, perhaps, I caught Eve's eye, in which there was more than the suspicion of a twinkle. I chose, therefore, the latter alternative. Mr. Moss watched us for a moment curiously.

"What might your line be, guvnor?" he asked as he set down his glass.

"Oh, anything that's going," I replied carelessly. "City work is rather my specialty."

"I know!" Mr. Moss exclaimed quickly. "Slap-up offices; thousands of letters a day full of postal orders; shutters up suddenly--and bunco! Fine appearance for the job!" he added admiringly.

Eve sat down and began to laugh softly to herself. She had a habit of laughing almost altogether with her eyes in a way that expressed more genuine enjoyment than anything I have ever realized. She rocked herself gently backward and forward. Mr. Moss looked at us both a little suspiciously.

"Seem to be missing the joke a bit--I do!" he remarked.

Eve sat up and was instantly grave.

"It is your clear-sighted way of putting things," she explained softly. "You seem to understand people so thoroughly."

"I don't generally make no mistake about the number of beans in the game," Mr. Moss observed in a self-congratulatory tone. "I can tell a crook from a mug a bit quicker than most."

"I have suggested to Mr. Moss, my dear," Mr. Parker intervened, turning toward us with beaming face, "just a little early dinner--say, at Stephano's--just as we are, you know. Will this be agreeable to you?"

"Certainly!" Eve assented promptly.

"Mr. Moss will tell us some of his little adventures," Mr. Parker continued, with satisfaction. "Considering that he has had twelve years' continual work, I think you'll all agree with me that his is a wonderful record. He has been compelled to enter into a little involuntary--er-- retirement only once during the whole of that time."

Mr. Moss looked a little puzzled.

"He means lagged, don't he?" he remarked, a light breaking in on him. "Only once in my life--and that for a trifling beano--a lady's bag and a couple of wipes. I tell you it's no joke nowadays, though. They do watch you! The profession ain't what it was."

"You will come with us, won't you, Mr. Walmsley?" Eve begged, turning to me.

"I shall be delighted," I answered, with strenuous mendacity. "Did you say Stephano's, or what do you think of one of these places closer at hand? I was told of a little restaurant in Soho the other day, where the cooking is remarkable."

"I'm all for Stephano's," Mr. Moss declared, grinning; "and the sooner the better. One of the neatest pieces of business I ever did in my life I brought off there in the old bar. To tell you the truth, I'm getting a bit peckish."

"There is no reason," Mr. Parker agreed, "why we should not dine at once. It is very nearly seven o'clock. What do you say?"

"Yoicks! Tally-ho, for the Strand!" Mr. Moss exclaimed, with spirit.

We started off--four in a taxi. It was Mr. Moss who, with florid politeness, handed Eve to her seat; and it was Mr. Moss who entertained us on the way with light conversation.

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