The Little Gentleman from Okehampstead - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Little Gentleman from Okehampstead ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim



The Little Gentleman from Okehampstead” is a collection of connected stories about Mendel Honeywood, a diminutive insurance agent who skips out on his family and his hometown of Okehampstead, Massachusetts, and arrives in England, without a cent, to enter into a life of „crime”. He meets up with James Van Clarence Smith, disinherited scion of the wealthy American millionaires, and Lady Felicia Lakenham, upper-class, with a very small income. These three engage in somewhat shady adventures in the art world, politics, and international finance, as they seek to make their fortunes. It’s all great fun and Oppenheim keeps the action moving along swiftly, as he always did. If you haven’t discovered the joys of Oppenheim’s mysteries there is a good place to start.

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Liczba stron: 185

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IT was about half-past five in the afternoon when a taxicab with a moderate amount of luggage, palpably trans-Atlantic in origin, drew up before the Milan Hotel and its solitary occupant, brushing on one side the question of payment or instructions to the commissionaire, passed through the swing-doors and made his way towards the office. He carried a visiting-card in his hand, and his expression was one of bland, almost childlike, amiability. By the side of the reception clerk who presently accosted him, there seemed something almost pathetic in his lack of height and stature. He was, in fact, little more than five foot two and a half, and thin in proportion. His face was clean-shaven and lined, he wore gold-rimmed spectacles, and his hair was sprinkled with grey. His clothes were of the type called on this side “very American.”

“Mr. Mendel Honeywood, my name is,” he explained, looking hopefully up at the august person who had confronted him–“of New York. My friend Mr. Charles P. Disney recommended me to apply to you for accommodation. He stayed here for some time last spring, I believe.”

The clerk bowed without comment. He was used to this ingenuous belief in the efficacy of such an introduction from trans-Atlantic visitors. However, he had rooms to let, and this applicant, if undistinguished, seemed at any rate harmless.

“We are very full, Mr. Honeywood,” he said, in his well-known, doubting manner. “What class of accommodation did you require?”

“A bed and bathroom, any way,” was the almost wistful reply. “I came over on the City of Florence. We had a wretched voyage, and I have, unfortunately, a weak stomach.”

The reception clerk, without a word, turned over the pages of a book which lay on the counter by his side, tore out a green slip and scribbled a number upon it. A porter, hovering in the background, glanced at it and hurried out for the luggage.

“If you will come this way, Mr. Honeywood,” the clerk observed, “I will show you your room.”

The newcomer’s gratitude was almost pathetic.

“Will you be so kind as to have the hall-porter pay the taxicab,” he begged. “I am not yet thoroughly acquainted with the handling of English money.”

Everything was done in accordance with Mr. Honeywood’s wishes. In a few minutes he was seated in a very comfortable chair in a very comfortable room, watching the unstrapping of his suit-case by a porter with lingering propensities. Finally, with a gentle sigh, he handed out half-a-crown, and the man withdrew. The traveller was left to his own reflections–reflections which were apparently of a somewhat mixed character. He first of all surveyed his immediate surroundings with an air of satisfaction. Then he proceeded to a task not altogether so pleasing. He drew from his breast-pocket a note-book, shook it out, thrust his fingers into every partition and finally replaced it with a sigh. He then turned out and examined the corners of every pocket of his clothes, disclosing thereby a variety of useful but inexpensive articles, but not a single coin of the realm. Finally, he leaned back in his easy-chair with his hands in his pockets, and summarised the position.

“Free board and lodgings, say, for a week. So much to the good. An excellent address–also to the good. Not a darned cent to buy myself a drink with–very much to the bad!”

His mental stocktaking could scarcely be termed encouraging, but Mr. Honeywood was obviously an optimist. After a brief rest, he decided to make use of such luxuries as were afforded to him without payment. He thoroughly enjoyed a very luxurious bath, and dressed himself leisurely in black trousers and waistcoat, a white shirt, and a garment which he alluded to as a “tuxedo.” His contemplated visit to the barber’s shop he was obliged to abandon with reluctance, but he shaved himself with great care, and finally dallied forth and rang for the lift with a little more confidence than he had displayed in entering the hotel. His first need being for refreshment of a trans-Atlantic character, he inquired the way to the American Bar, and seated himself in an easy-chair in the small smoking-room adjoining.

The situation was not without its pathos. This little man of harmless and genial appearance liked cocktails, and many excellently mixed ones were being handed about on silver trays by an attentive waiter. To order one, give his number, and be told that this was against the rule, might jeopardise his position in the hotel, all the more important to him by reason of his financial position. To sit there and watch other men consuming what he so greatly desired, he felt, was fast becoming impossible. At that moment, however, Fate solved the question for him. A tall, exceedingly good-looking young man of distinguished appearance came through the swing-doors and passed on towards the bar. He was dressed for the evening in the height of fashion, his silk hat was just a trifle tilted on the back of his head, and he carried a silk-lined overcoat on his arm. He glanced at the disconsolate lounger as he passed, with the faintest expression of half-supercilious curiosity. Then a smile parted his lips, and he paused. Mr. Honeywood’s answering smile of recognition was beatific and ingratiating.

“Cleaned you out the other night, didn’t they?” the young man asked.

Mr. Honeywood glanced around as though to be sure that no one was listening.

“Every cent,” he confessed sorrowfully. “I had to borrow the money to get here from the deck-steward.”

His questioner laughed softly.

“Your first trip across?” he inquired.

“That’s so,” was the candid admission. “I’m in an insurance office. I was coming across for a short vacation.”

“What did they rook you of?”

“Seven hundred dollars,” the victim confessed, with a little choke, “and since you’ve been so kind as to speak to me, I might confess that I haven’t a quarter to buy myself a cocktail.”

The young man laughed, and threw his overcoat into a vacant chair in which he ensconced himself.

“Tim,” he ordered, “two dry Martinis, quickly.”

“This is exceedingly kind of you,” Mr. Honeywood declared warmly. “I can assure you I very much appreciate it.”

“Note of fellow-sympathy,” his benefactor declared carelessly. “You’re broke for a few hundred dollars, I’m the same for a few millions.”

“But I beg your pardon,” Mr. Honeywood asked timidly, “aren’t you Mr. Van Clarence Smith?”

“That’s my name.”

“Then of course you’re joking! Your family is one of the richest and most respected in the States.”

“My family may be,” the young man replied curtly, “but they’ve given me the chuck. However, that doesn’t matter. Whatever induced you, with your limited knowledge of the world, to sit down and play bridge with such a gang?”

Mr. Honeywood coughed apologetically.

“If it had been poker,” he explained, “I should never have dreamed of it, but as a matter of fact I play bridge every Saturday evening at the Okehampstead Golf Club, where I am supposed to play a very fair game. I quite expected to hold my own…. Ah!”

The cocktails arrived, and Mr. Honeywood gave himself up to a few moments’ undiluted rapture.

“Bring a couple more, Tim,” his companion directed, throwing a note upon the tray.

“I ought not to drink these,” Mr. Honeywood murmured, “being dyspeptic. I seldom have the courage to refuse one, however.”

“Even if you’d been able to play bridge decently,” the young man continued, “you wouldn’t have had the ghost of a chance in that crowd. Didn’t you realise that there wasn’t one of them who couldn’t stack the cards as he chose?”

“I am rather good at card tricks myself,” Mr. Honeywood said gently. “Where I went wrong was, I forgot that there would be three deals against one.”

Mr. Van Clarence Smith paused in the act of raising his wine-glass to his lips. Then he laughed incredulously.

“Perhaps you are not such a greenhorn as you look, eh?”

“I should not have dreamed of playing unfairly except in self-defence,” was the quiet remonstrance. “When I saw what was happening, I dealt myself a hundred aces and two kings, and my partner eight spades, with a card of re-entry. The worst of it was that before the deal came round to me again, the thing was over.”

Mr. Van Clarence Smith laughed until the tears stood in his eyes. He sipped his second cocktail with far more appreciation than his first.

“What are you, anyway?” he asked bluntly. “One of the lads, eh?”

“I am in the insurance business,” Mr. Honeywood replied mildly.

“Going to do any business over here?”

“If any opportunity should present itself,”

Mr. Honeywood confessed, “I should be only too thankful of the opportunity of replacing the amount I had set on one side for my holiday.”

“I may look you up,” Mr. Van Clarence Smith declared. “Care to borrow a fiver to keep you going?”

“It would be exceedingly kind of you, sir,” was the grateful reply.

The scion of a princely house departed, but Mr. Mendel Honeywood, notwithstanding his dyspeptic condition, indulged in a third cocktail. Afterwards, he made his way into the grill room, and, humbly taking his turn to address a portly and Mogul-like individual who was busy dispensing favours to a little queue of clients, begged for an inconspicuous corner in which he could dine. Pleased with his humility, the great man made a tour of the room with his prospective patron at his heels. For once it appeared that the eternal shibboleth of the place was justified. There was not a single vacant table. The great man, however, was never beaten. He stooped and whispered in the ear of a youth who was dining alone, received an acquiescent reply, and swept around to his unassuming follower.

“This gentleman will allow you a seat at his table, sir,” he announced.

The great man bowed and passed on, to receive with kindly patience the complaints of a duke, whose window table had been appropriated. Mr. Mendel Honeywood seated himself and bowed with his best Okehampstead manners to the young man whom he recognised at once as the type of the young Englishman of fashion immortalised in the comic papers of his country.

“It is very good of you to allow me to share your table, sir,” he said. “The place seems full.”

The young man scrutinised his companion through an eyeglass, and continued his dinner.

“Top-hole grub here,” he remarked simply. “Regular flapper market, too.”

Mr. Honeywood coughed, and ordered a modest meal. His companion called for the wine-list. Mr. Mendel Honeywood ventured to intervene.

“Sir,” he said, “you have shown a most hospitable courtesy to a stranger about to take his first meal on British soil. Will you do me the favour of drinking a glass of wine with me?”

The young man closed the wine-list which he had been studying, and appeared to consider the proposition favourably.

“Will it run to pop?” he asked.

Mr. Honeywood appeared troubled. Light suddenly, however, broke in upon him.

“Champagne?” he exclaimed. “By all means! Do me the kindness to order a bottle. I know that your English taste is good. I myself am not acquainted with the best vintages.”

The young man graciously consented, and ordered Pommery 1904, which matter being settled, he proceeded to engage his host in sprightly conversation.

“American, what?” he inquired.

“I am from Okehampstead, in Massachusetts State,” was the genial reply. “My name is Horace P. Mendel Honeywood, and I am in the insurance business.”

“Harold Underwood here,” the young man confided. “I am articled to a lawyer. No end of a swat, what?”

“I have always understood that the study of the law in its initial stages is somewhat strenuous,” Mr. Underwood remarked sympathetically.

“Sickening grind! … See those two old Johnnies over at the corner table by the door?”

Mr. Honeywood glanced in the direction indicated.

“Two middle-aged gentlemen, with somewhat fresh complexions? Yes, I see them.”

“My uncles. Simply rolling in it. Fifty thou, a year each!”


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This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

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