An Amiable Charlatan - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

An Amiable Charlatan ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim



The Englishman is enjoying his dinner at Stephano’s, it was an ordinary evening. Suddenly a man comes quickly to his desk, begins to eat his food and quietly transfers him a package under the table. This is how Paul Welmsley’s acquaintance with American adventurer Joseph Parker and his beautiful daughter Eve begin. Very interesting adventure story for easy reading.

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The thing happened so suddenly that I really had very little time to make up my mind what course to adopt under somewhat singular circumstances. I was seated at my favorite table against the wall on the right-hand side in Stephano’s restaurant, with a newspaper propped up before me, a glass of hock by my side, and a portion of the plat du jour, which happened to be chicken en casserole, on the plate in front of me.

I was, in fact, halfway through dinner when, without a word of warning, a man who seemed to enter with a lightfooted speed that, considering his size, was almost incredible, drew a chair toward him and took the vacant place at my table. My glass of wine and my plate were moved with smooth and marvelous haste to his vicinity. Under cover of the tablecloth a packet–I could not tell what it contained–was thrust into my hand.

“Sir,” he said, raising my glass of wine to his lips, “I am forced to take somewhat of a liberty. You can render me the service of a lifetime! Kindly accept the situation.”

I stared at him for a moment quite blankly. Then I recognized him; and, transferring at once the packet to my trousers pocket, I drew another glass toward me and poured out the remainder of my half-bottle of hock. So much, at any rate, I felt I had saved!

“I shall offer you presently,” my self-invited guest continued, with his mouth full of my chicken, “the fullest explanation. I shall also ask you to do me the honor of dining with me. I think I am right in saying that we are not altogether strangers?”

“I know you very well by sight,” I told him. “I have seen you here several times before with a young lady.”

“Exactly,” he agreed. “My daughter, sir.”

“Then for the sake of your daughter,” I said, with an enthusiasm that was not in the least assumed, “I can assure you that, whether as host or guest, you are very welcome to sit at my table. As for this packet–”

“Keep it for a few moments, my young friend,” the newcomer interrupted, “just while I recover my breath, that is all. Have confidence in me. Things may happen here very shortly. Sit tight and you will never regret it. My name, so far as you are concerned, is Joseph H. Parker. Tell me, you are facing the door, some one has just entered. Who is it?”

“A stranger,” I replied; “a stranger to this place, I am sure. He is tall and dark; he is a little lantern-jawed–a hatchet-shaped face, I should call it.”

“My man, right enough,” Mr. Joseph H. Parker muttered. “Don’t seem to notice him particularly,” he added, “but tell me what he is doing.”

“He seems to have entered in a hurry,” I announced, “and is now taking off his overcoat. He is wearing, I perceive, a bowler hat, a dinner jacket, the wrong-shaped collar; and he appears to have forgotten to change his boots.”

“That’s Cullen, all right,” Mr. Joseph H. Parker groaned. “You’re a person of observation, sir. Well, I’ve been in tighter corners than this–thanks to you!”

“Who is Mr. Cullen and what does he want?” I asked.

“Mr. Cullen,” my guest declared, sampling the fresh bottle of wine which had just been brought to him, “is one of those misguided individuals whose lack of faith in his fellows will bring him some time or other to a bad end. My young friend, sip that wine thoughtfully–don’t hurry over it–and tell me whether my choice is not better than yours?”

“Possibly,” I remarked, with a glance at the yellow seal, “your pocket is longer. By the by, your friend is coming toward us.”

“It is not a question of pocket,” Mr. Parker continued, disregarding my remark, “it is a question of taste and judgment; discrimination is perhaps the word I should use. Now in my younger days–Eh? What’s that?”

The person named Cullen had paused at my table. His hand was resting gently upon the shoulder of my self-invited guest. Mr. Parker looked up and appeared to recognize him with much surprise.

“You, my dear fellow!” he exclaimed. “Say, I’m delighted to see you–I am sure! But would you mind–just a little lower with your fingers! Too professional a touch altogether!”

Mr. Cullen smiled, and from that moment I took a dislike to him–a dislike that did much toward determining the point of view from which I was inclined to consider various succeeding incidents. He was by no means a person of prepossessing appearance. His cheeks were colorless save for a sort of yellowish tinge. His mouth reminded me of the mouth of a horse; his teeth were irregular and poor.

Yet there was about the man a certain sense of power. His eyes were clear and bright. His manner was imbued with the reserve strength of a man who knows his own mind and does not fear to speak it.

“I am sorry to interrupt you at your dinner, Mr. Parker,” he said, his eyes traveling all over the table as though taking in its appointments and condition.

“Of no consequence at all,” Mr. Parker assured him; “in fact I have nearly finished. If you are thinking of dining here let me recommend this chicken en casserole. I have tasted nothing so good for days!”

Mr. Cullen thanked him mechanically. His mind, however, was obviously filled with other things. He was puzzled.

“You must have a double about this evening, I fancy,” he remarked. “I could have sworn I saw you coming out of a certain little house in Adam Street not a couple of minutes ago. You know the little house I mean?”

Mr. Parker smiled.

“Seems as though that double were all right,” he said. “I am halfway through my dinner, as you can see, and I’m a slow eater–especially in pleasant company. Shake hands with my friend–Mr. Paul Walmsley, Mr. Cullen.”

My surprise at hearing my own name correctly given was only equaled by the admiration I also felt for my companion’s complete and absolute assurance. Mr. Cullen and I exchanged a perfunctory handshake, which left me without any change in my feelings toward him.

“Another of my mistakes, I suppose,” Mr. Cullen said quietly. “I am afraid on this occasion, however, that I must trouble you, Mr. Parker. An affair of a few moments only. I won’t even suggest Bow Street–at present. If you could take a stroll with me–even into Luigi’s office would do.”

Mr. Parker put down his knife and fork with a little gesture of irritation. His broad, good-natured face was for the moment clouded. “Say, Cullen,” he remonstrated, “don’t you think you’re carrying this a bit too far, you know? There isn’t a man I enjoy a half-hour’s chat with more than you; but in the middle of dinner–dinner with a friend too–”

“I try to do my duty,” Mr. Cullen interrupted, “and I am afraid that I am not at liberty to study your comfort.”

Mr. Parker sighed heavily.

“Do you mind, Walmsley, having my plate kept warm and reminding the man that I ordered asparagus to follow?” my new friend remarked, as he rose to his feet. “Mr. Cullen wants a word or two with me in private, and Mr. Cullen is a man who will have his own way.”

I nodded as indifferently as possible and the two men walked off together toward the entrance. Then I summoned my waiter.

“Bring me,” I ordered, “a fresh portion of chicken and order some asparagus to follow. Keep my friend’s chicken warm and order him some asparagus also.”

Leaning back in my chair I tried to puzzle out the probable meaning of this somewhat extraordinary happening. My acquiescence in the attitude that had been so suddenly forced upon me was owing entirely to one circumstance. Mr. Joseph H. Parker I had recognized at his first entrance as a regular habitué of the restaurant. He was usually accompanied by a young lady who, from the first moment I had seen her, had produced an effect upon my not too susceptible disposition for which I was wholly unable to account, but which was the sole reason why I had given up my club and all other restaurants and occupied that particular place for the last fortnight.

I had put the two down as an American and his daughter traveling in England for pleasure; and my continual presence at the restaurant was wholly inspired by the hope that some opportunity might arise by means of which I could make their acquaintance. Adventures, in the ordinary sense of the word, had never appealed to me. I was privileged to possess many charming acquaintances among the other sex, but not one of them had ever inspired me with anything save the most ordinary feelings of friendship and admiration.

The opportunity I desired had now apparently come. I had made the acquaintance of Mr. Joseph H. Parker–made it in an unceremonious manner, perhaps, but still under circumstances that would probably result in his being willing to acknowledge himself my debtor. I had a packet of something belonging to him in my pocket, which was presumably valuable. His friend, Mr. Cullen, I detested, and the reference to Bow Street puzzled me. However, I had no doubt that in a few minutes everything would be explained. Meantime I permitted myself to indulge in certain very pleasurable anticipations.

In the course of about a quarter of an hour Mr. Joseph H. Parker reappeared. He came down the room humming a tune and apparently quite pleased with himself. I took the opportunity of studying his personal appearance a little more closely. He was not tall, but he was distinctly fat. He had a large double chin, but a certain freshness of complexion and massiveness about his forehead relieved his face from any suspicion of grossness. He had a large and humorous mouth, delightful eyes and plentiful eyebrows. His iron-gray hair was brushed carefully back from his forehead. He gave one the idea of strength, notwithstanding the disabilities of his figure. He smiled contentedly as he seated himself once more at my table.

“Really,” he began, “I scarcely know how to excuse myself, Mr. Walmsley. However, thanks to you, we can now dine in comfort. Until now I fear I have taken your good offices very much for granted; but I assure you it will give me the greatest pleasure to make your closer acquaintance and to impress upon you my extreme sense of obligation.”

“You are very kind,” I replied. “By the by, might I ask how you know my name?”

“My young friend,” Mr. Parker said, eying with approval the fresh portion of chicken that had been brought him, “it is my business to know many things. I go about the world with my eyes and ears open. Things that escape other people interest me. Your name is Mr. Paul Walmsley. You are one of a class of men that practically doesn’t exist in America. You have no particular occupation that I know of, save that you have a small estate in the country, which no doubt takes up some of your time. You have rooms in London, which you occupy occasionally. You probably write a little–I have noticed that you are fond of watching people.”

“You really seem to know a good deal about me,” I confessed, a little taken aback.

“I am not far from the mark, am I?”

“You are not,” I admitted.

“As regards your lack of occupation,” Mr. Parker went on, “I am not the man to blame you for it. There are very few things in life a man can settle down to nowadays. To a person of imagination the ordinary routine of the professions and the ordinary curriculum of business life is a species of slavery. We live in overcivilized times. There seems to be very little room anywhere for a man to gratify his natural instincts for change and adventure.”

I murmured my acquiescence with his sentiments and my companion paused for a few minutes, his whole attention devoted to his dinner.

“Might one inquire,” I asked, after a brief pause, “as to your own profession? You are an American, are you not?”

“I am most certainly an American,” Mr. Parker assented.

“In business?” I asked.

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