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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAn Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 9. The Exposure
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An Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 9. The Exposure Post by :Howlerckc Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :2738

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An Amiable Charlatan - Chapter 9. The Exposure

CHAPTER IX. THE EXPOSURE

The next morning at twelve o'clock I took a taxi-cab round to Banton Street. The hall porter, who was beginning to know me well, seemed a little surprised at my appearance.

"Is the young lady upstairs?" I asked.

He was distinctly taken aback.

"Mr. Parker and his daughter have gone," he told me. I stopped on my way to the stairs.

"Gone?" I repeated.

"Went off this morning," he continued; "two taxi-cabs full of luggage."

"Aren't they coming back?"

"No signs of it."

"Did they leave any address?"

"None!"

"Are you sure?" I persisted. "Please ask at the office."

The porter left me for a moment, but returned shaking his head.

"Mr. Parker said there would be no messages or letters, and accordingly he left no address."

I turned slowly away. The hall porter followed me. He was drawing something from his waistcoat pocket.

"I wouldn't do a thing," he declared, "to get Mr. Parker into any trouble --for a nicer, freer-handed gentleman never came inside the hotel; but I don't know as there's much harm in showing you this, being as you're a friend. I picked it up in the sitting room after they'd gone."

He held out a cablegram. Before I realized what I was doing, I had read it. It was handed in at New York:

"Look out! H----sailed last Saturday!"

"Pretty badly scared of H----he was!" the hall porter remarked. "Ten minutes after that cablegram came they were hard at it, packing."

I gave the man a tip and drove back to my rooms, where I spent a restless morning, then lunched at my club and returned to the Milan afterward, only in the hope that I might find there a note or a message. There was nothing, however. Just as I was starting to go out the telephone bell rang. I took up the receiver. It was Eve's voice.

"Is that Mr. Walmsley?"

"It is," I admitted. "How are you, Eve?"

"Quite well, thank you."

"Still in London?"

"Certainly. Would you like to come and have tea with me?"

"Rather!" I replied enthusiastically. "Where are you?"

"Hiding!"

"That's all right," I replied. "I shan't give it away. Where shall I find you?"

"Well," she said, "we talked it over and decided that the best hiding place was one of the larger hotels. We are at the Ritz."

"I'll come right along if I may."

"Very well," she agreed. "Ask for Mr. Bundercombe."

I groaned under my breath, but I made no further comment; and in a very few minutes I presented myself at the Ritz Hotel. I was escorted upstairs and ushered into a very delightful suite on the second floor. Eve rose to meet me from behind a little tea-table. She was charmingly dressed and looking exceedingly well. Mr. Bundercombe, on the other hand, who was walking up and down the apartment with his hands behind his back, was distinctly nervous. He nodded at my entrance.

"How are you, Walmsley?" he said. "How are you?"

"I am quite well, sir, thank you," I replied, a little stupefied.

"Say, I'm afraid we are making a great mistake here," he went on anxiously. "We've slipped a point too near to the wind this time."

"If you'll allow me to tell you exactly what I think," I ventured, "frankly I think you have made a mistake. There's that matter of Reggie Sidley. He was worrying me all yesterday morning to find out where you were, and when I evaded the point he told me straight that he didn't believe you were the Bundercombes at all. He is always in and out of this place, and if he sees your name on the register--or his mother, Lady Enterdean, sees it--it seems to me it's about all up!"

"A piece of bravado, I must admit," Mr. Parker muttered--"a piece of absolute bravado! But there's the young woman who's responsible!" he added, shaking his fist at Eve. "I may have suggested our coming to your party as the Bundercombes, but it was Eve's idea that we put up this little piece of bluff. Now I'm all for Paris!" he went on insinuatingly.

At that precise moment I felt that there was nothing I wanted so much as to get Eve away from the Ritz, and I fell in with the scheme.

"We'll all go," I suggested. "I haven't had a week in Paris for a long time."

Eve handed me my tea.

"Don't count me in!" she begged. "I never felt less inclined to move from anywhere. If being Eve Bundercombe means living at the Ritz I think I'd rather go on. The life of an adventuress is, after all, just a little strenuous and I am tired of living on the thin edge of nothing."

"Perhaps, before you know where you are," Mr. Bundercombe remarked gloomily, "you'll be living on the thin edge of a little less than nothing!"

There was a knock at the door. We all looked at one another. A magnificent person with powdered hair, breeches and silk stockings presented himself.

"Lord Reginald Sidley!" he announced.

In walked Reggie. He was correctly attired for calling and he carried a most immaculate silk hat in his hand. I fully expected to see him drop it on the floor, but he did nothing of the sort. He laid it upon a small table, paused for one second to shake his fist at me, and advanced toward Eve with both hands outstretched.

"At last I have found you, then!" he exclaimed. "Miss Bundercombe! Well, I am glad to see you!"

"Hello, Reggie!" she answered sweetly. "What a time you've been looking us up."

He was taken aback.

"Well, I like that!" he gasped. "And--how are you, Mr. Bundercombe?"

"Glad to see you!" Mr. Bundercombe replied cheerlessly.

The meeting had taken place and I seemed to be the only person in the room who was suffering from any sort of shock. Reggie was still holding one of Eve's hands and was almost incoherent.

"Come, I like that! I like that!" he exclaimed. "A long time looking you up indeed! Why didn't you let me know you were here? There hasn't been a line from you or from your father. We couldn't believe it when we heard that you had been at the dinner the other evening. I was never so disappointed in my life!"

I gripped Mr. Bundercombe by the arm and led him firmly to one side.

"Look here," I said, "is your name Bundercombe?"

"It is," he admitted gloomily.

"Are you a millionaire?" I persisted.

"Multi!" he groaned.

"Then what the blazes--what the----"

I stopped short. Once more the door was opened--this time without the formality of a knock. If Mr. Bundercombe had seemed anxious and depressed before it was obvious now that the worst had happened. All the cheerful life seemed to have faded from his good-humored face. He had literally collapsed in his clothes. Even Eve gave a little shriek.

Upon the threshold stood Mr. Cullen, and by his side a lady who might have been anywhere between fifty and sixty years old. She was dressed in a particularly unattractive checked traveling suit, with a little satchel suspended from a shiny black leather band round her waist. She wore a small hat that was much too juvenile for her; and from the back of it a blue veil, which she had pushed on one side, hung nearly to the floor. Her complexion was very yellow; she had a square jaw; and through her spectacles her eyes glittered in a most unpleasant fashion. Her greeting was scarcely conciliatory.

"So I've got you at last, have I? Say, this is a pretty chase you've led me! Do you know I've had to desert my post as president of the Great Amalgamated Meeting of the Free Women of the West to come and look after you two? Do you know that three thousand women had to listen to a substitute last Thursday?--and after I'd spent two months getting my facts for them! Do you know that you're the laughing-stock of Okata?"

"No one asked you to come, mother," Eve remarked with a sigh.

"Asked me to come, indeed!" the newcomer retorted. "Look at you both! I've heard all about your doings. This gentleman by my side has told me a few things. I'll talk to you presently, young woman. But say, is there anywhere on the face of this earth such a miserable, addle-headed lunatic as that man whom it's my misfortune to call my husband?"

She shook her fist at Mr. Bundercombe, who seemed to have become still smaller. Then she looked at me, and at Reggie, who was standing with his mouth wide open. She fixed upon us as her audience.

"Look at him!" she went on, stretching out her hands. "There's a respectable American for you! For thirty years he works as a man should-- for it's what a man's made for--and thanks to his wife's help and advice he prospers. Look at him, I ask you! A baby can see that he hasn't the brains of a chicken. Yet there he stands--Joseph H. Bundercombe, of Bundercombe's Reapers, with eight million dollars' worth of stock to his name!"

I saw Reggie's eyes go up to the ceiling and I knew he was dividing eight million dollars by five. An expression almost of reverence passed into his face as he achieved the result. We none of us felt the slightest inclination to interrupt. Mrs. Bundercombe's long, skinny forefinger drew a little nearer to her victim. Then she coughed--the short, dry cough of the professional speaker--and continued:

"Wouldn't you believe that was success enough for any reasonable mortal? Wouldn't you say that, with a wife holding an honored and great position in the State, and his daughter by his side, he'd settle down out there and live a respectable, decent life? Not he! First of all he wants to travel.

"What does he do, then, but take up what he calls a hobby! He buys and gloats over every silly detective story that was ever written; practises disguises and making himself up, as he calls it; takes lessons in conjuring; haunts the police courts; consorts with criminals--in short, behaves like a great overgrown child in his own native city, where the name of Bundercombe--from the feminine standpoint--realizes everything that stands for freedom and greatness. The time came when it was necessary for me to put down my foot once and for all. I called him to me.

"'Joseph Henry Bundercombe,' I said,'there must be an end to this!' 'There shall be,' he promised. The next day he and Eve, my misguided stepdaughter, were on their way to Europe; and I am credibly informed they cheated a commercial traveler at cards on the way to New York. That I find him at liberty now, it seems to me, is entirely owing to the clemency and kindness of this gentleman, who recognized my description at Scotland Yard and brought me here."

"Say, all I'm prepared to admit about that is that it was somehow fortunate," Mr. Bundercombe remarked with a sudden revival of his old self, "that it fell to my lot to have Mr. Cullen investigate some of my small adventures!"

"Mr. Bundercombe," said Cullen severely, "I think you will do well to listen to your wife and to take her advice. There are one or two of these little affairs, you must remember, that are not entirely closed yet."

Mr. Bundercombe sighed. He adopted an attitude of resignation.

"Well, Cullen," he replied, "if my career of crime is really to come to an end I don't want to bear you any ill will. We'll just take a stroll downstairs and talk about it."

Mrs. Bundercombe, with a quick movement to the left, blocked the way.

"That means a visit to the bar!" she declared. "I know you, Mr. Bundercombe. You'll stay right here and listen to a little more of what I've got to say. Who this gentleman may be I don't at present know," she went on, turning suddenly upon me; "but I am agreeable to listen to his name if any one has the manners to mention it."

"Walmsley, madam," I told her quickly, "Paul Walmsley. I have the honor to be engaged to marry your stepdaughter."

Mrs. Bundercombe looked at me in stony silence. Twice she opened her lips, and I am quite sure that if words had come they would have been unkind ones. Twice apparently, however, her command of language seemed inadequate.

"So you're going to marry an Englishman," she said, glaring at Eve.

"I am going to marry Mr. Walmsley, mother," Eve agreed sweetly. "He has been such a kind friend to us during the last few days--and I rather fancy I shall like living on this side."

"Dear me! Dear me! I hadn't heard of this!" Mr. Bundercombe remarked with interest. "You and I will go downstairs and have a little chat about it, Mr. Walmsley."

He made another strategic movement toward the door, which was promptly and effectually frustrated by his wife.

"No, you don't!" Mrs. Bundercombe prohibited. "I've a good deal more to say yet. I haven't been dragged over the ocean three thousand miles to have you all slip away directly I arrive. A nice state of things indeed! My husband, Joseph H. Bundercombe, a suspect at Scotland Yard, followed everywhere by detectives; and my daughter----"

"Stepdaughter, please," Eve interrupted.

"Stepdaughter then!--talking about marrying a man she's probably known about twenty-four hours and met at a bar or in a thieves' kitchen, or something of the sort! If you must marry an Englishman," she continued with rising voice, "why don't you marry Lord Reginald Sidley there? His father is an earl, anyway."

"His uncle's one," Reggie put in gloomily, jerking his head toward me. "Old Walmsley's all right."

Eve patted his hand.

"Good boy!" she said. "You know I never encouraged you--did I, Reggie?'"

"Encouraged me!" he protested. "I think, on the whole, you said the rudest things to me I ever heard in my life--from a girl, anyway. I imagine," he added, taking up his hat, "that it's up to me to leave this little domestic gathering."

"I'll see you out," Mr. Bundercombe declared with alacrity.

Mrs. Bundercombe, with her eyes steadily fixed upon her husband, stepped back until she blocked the doorway.

"My dear Hannah!"

"Your dear nothing!" she interrupted ruthlessly.

"You just sit down by the side of your daughter there and let me tell you both what I think of you and what I'm going to do about it."

"I think," I suggested, "a little taxi drive----Your mother and father no doubt have a great deal to say to one another, and you can receive your little lecture later."

Eve assented at once; and Mrs. Bundercombe, for some reason or other, only entered a faint protest against our departure. It was about five o'clock in the afternoon and the streets were crowded with every description of vehicle. The sun was still warm; there was a faint pink light in the sky-- a perfume of lilac in the air from the window-boxes and flower-barrows. I took Eve's fingers in mine and held them. I think she knew that something in the nature of an inquisition was coming, for she sat very demure, her eyes fixed on the road ahead.

"Eve," I asked, "how about Mrs. Samuelson's jewels?"

"They were returned to her from 'a repentant criminal,'" Eve murmured.

"And the forged banknotes made by the young man in the Adelphi?"

"They were all destroyed as fast as father could buy them," she explained. "He has found the boy a post now with some printer in America."

"And the two thousand pounds at the gaming club--that first night?"

"Daddy made it three and sent it to a hospital. He thought it would do them more good."

"You know, you're a shocking pair!" I said severely.

"Paul," she sighed, "you never can know how dull it was at Okata."

"I'm jolly glad it was!" I told her. "It gives me a better chance--doesn't it?"

"And we'll give daddy a good time whenever we can?" she pleaded.

"Always," I promised. "He's one of the best!"

"He's so clever, too!"

"Clever, without a doubt," I admitted, "only I think perhaps we might get him to use his talents in a more orthodox way. By the by," I added, putting my head out of the window, "I think it's getting a little chilly."

I ordered the taxi closed and we returned to the hotel. The hall porter drew me on one side confidentially.

"Mr. Bundercombe and the other gentleman, sir," he announced, "are waiting for you in the bar."

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