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An Amiable Charlatan by E. Phillips Oppenheim

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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."

CHAPTER X--A BROKEN PARTNERSHIP

By what certainly seemed to be, at the time, a stroke of evil fortune, I
invited Mrs. Bundercombe and Eve to lunch with me at Prince's restaurant a
few days after our return from the country. Mrs. Bundercombe was
graciously pleased to accept my invitation; but she did not think it
necessary to alter in any way her usual style of dress for the occasion.

We sailed into Prince's, therefore--Eve charming in a lemon-colored
foulard dress and a black toque; Mrs. Bundercombe in an Okata dressmaker's
conception of a tailor-made gown in some hard, steel-ray material, and a
hat whose imperfections were perhaps mercifully hidden by a veil, which,
instead of providing a really reasonable excuse for its existence by
concealing some portion of Mrs. Bundercombe's features, streamed down
behind her nearly to her feet.

The _maître d'hôtel_ who welcomed me and showed to our table found his
little flow of small talk arrested by that first glimpse of our companion.
He accepted my orders in a chastened manner, and I noticed his eyes
straying every now and then, as though in fearsome fascination, to Mrs.
Bundercombe, who was sitting very upright at the table, with her bony
fingers stretched out and a good deal of gold showing in her teeth as she
talked with Eve in a high nasal voice concerning the absurd food
invariably offered in English restaurants.

Then suddenly her flow of language ceased--the bomb-shell fell! Mrs.
Bundercombe's face became unlike anything I have ever seen or dreamed of.
Even Eve's eyes were round and her expression dubious. I turned my head.

Some three tables away Mr. Bundercombe was lunching with a young lady--a
stranger to us all She was not only a stranger to us all but, though she
was remarkably good looking, there were indications that she scarcely
belonged to our world.

All three of us remained silent for a moment. Then I coughed and took up
the wine list.

"What should you like to drink, Mrs. Bundercombe?" I asked in attempted
unconcern.

Mrs. Bundercombe adjusted her spectacles severely and transferred her
regard to me. I felt somehow as though I were back at school and had been
discovered in some ignominious escapade.

"You are aware, Paul," she replied, "that I drink nothing save a glass of
hot water after my meal. The subject of drink does not interest me. I
appeal to you now as a future member of the family: Fetch Mr. Bundercombe
here!"

I shook my head.

"Mrs. Bundercombe," I said, leaning over the table, "your husband during
his stay in London plunged freely into the Bohemian life of our city. I
will answer for it that he did so simply in pursuance of that hobby of
which we all know. I am convinced----"

"Paul," Mrs. Bundercombe interrupted, her voice if possible a little more
nasal even than usual, "will you fetch Mr. Bundercombe here, or must I
rise from my seat in a public place and remove him myself from--from that
hussy?"

I appealed to Eve.

"Eve," I begged, "please reason with your stepmother. There are certain
situations in life that can be faced in one way only. Mrs. Bundercombe
will no doubt have a few words to say to her husband on his return. Let
her keep them until then."

"Paul is right!" Eve declared. "Do take our advice!" she continued,
turning to her stepmother. "Let us eat our luncheon quite calmly. I am
perfectly certain dad will have some very good reason to give for his
presence here with that young lady."

Mrs. Bundercombe rose to her feet. I hastened to follow her example. We
stood confronting one another.

"It is either you or I, Paul!" she insisted.

"Then it had better be myself," I groaned.

I deposited my napkin on the table and made my way toward Mr. Bundercombe.
I smiled pleasantly at him and bowed apologetically toward his companion.

"Sorry," I said under my breath, "but I am afraid Mrs. Bundercombe means
to make trouble!"

Mr. Bundercombe looked at me with a gloriously blank expression. His
manner was not without dignity.

"I regret to hear," he replied, "that any person by the name of Mrs.
Bundercombe is looking for trouble. I scarcely see, however, how I am
concerned in the matter. You have the advantage of me, sir!"

I stared at him and stooped a little lower.

"She's tearing mad!" I whispered. "You don't want a scene. Couldn't you
make an excuse and slip away?"

Mr. Bundercombe frowned at me. He glanced at the young lady as though
seeking for some explanation.

"Is this young gentleman known to you, Miss Blanche?" he inquired.

She set down her glass and shook her head.

"Never saw him before in my life!" she declared. "What's worrying him?"

"Hitherto," Mr. Bundercombe said, "my somewhat unusual personal appearance
has kept me from an adventure of this sort, but I clearly understand that
I am now being mistaken for some one else. Your references to a Mrs.
Bundercombe, sir, are Greek to me. My name is Parker--Mr. Joseph H.
Parker."

"Do you mean to keep this up?" I protested.

Mr. Bundercombe beckoned to the _maître d'hôtel_ who came hastily to his
side.

"Do you know this gentleman?" he asked.

The _maître d'hôtel_ bowed.

"Certainly, sir," he answered, with a questioning glance toward me. "This
is Mr. Walmsley."

"Then will you take Mr. Walmsley back to his place?" Mr. Bundercombe
begged. "He persists in mistaking me for some one else. I am not
complaining, mind," he added affably; "no complaint whatever! I am quite
sure the young gentleman is genuinely mistaken and does not mean to be in
any way offensive. Only my digestion is not what it should be and these
little _contretemps_ in the middle of luncheon are disturbing. Run away,
sir, please!" he concluded, waving his hand toward me.

The _maître d'hôtel_ looked at me and I looked at the _maître d'hôtel_.
Then I glanced at Mr. Bundercombe, who remained quite unruffled. Finally I
bowed slightly toward the young lady and returned to my place.

"Well?" Mrs. Bundercombe snapped.

"It seems," I said, "that we were mistaken. That isn't Mr. Bundercombe at
all."

Mrs. Bundercombe's face was a study.

"Is this a jest?" she demanded severely.

"I wish it were," I replied. "Anyhow, Mrs. Bundercombe, you must really
excuse me, but there is nothing more I can do. The gentleman whom I
addressed insisted upon it that his name was Mr. Joseph H. Parker. No
doubt he was right. These likenesses are sometimes very deceptive," I
added feebly.

Mrs. Bundercombe rose to her feet. I made no effort to stop her; in fact
her action filled me with pleasurable anticipations. She walked across to
the table at which Mr. Bundercombe was seated. Eve and I both turned in
our places to watch.

"Poor daddy!" Eve murmured under her breath. "Why couldn't he have chosen
a smaller restaurant. He is going to catch it now!"

"I think I'll back your father," I observed. "He is quite at his best this
morning."

The exact words that passed between Mr. Bundercombe and his wife we, alas!
never knew. She turned her left shoulder pointedly toward the young woman,
whom she had designated as a hussy, and talked steadily for about a minute
and a half at Mr. Bundercombe. The history of what followed was reflected
in that gentleman's expressive face. He appeared to listen, at first in
amazement, afterward in annoyance, and finally in downright anger. When at
last he spoke we heard the words distinctly.

"Madam," he said, "I don't know who you are, and I object to being
addressed in a public place by ladies who are strangers to me. Be so good
as to return to your seat. You are mistaking me for some one else. My name
is Joseph H. Parker."

For a lady who had won renown upon the platform as a debater, Mrs.
Bundercombe seemed afflicted with considerable difficulty in framing a
suitable reply; and while she was still a little incoherent Mr.
Bundercombe softly summoned the _maître d'hôtel_. It may have been my
fancy, but I certainly thought I saw a sovereign slipped into the hand of
the latter.

"Charles," Mr. Bundercombe confided, "my luncheon is being spoiled by
people who mistake me for a gentleman who, I believe, does bear a singular
resemblance to me. My name is Parker! This lady insists upon addressing me
as Mr. Bundercombe. I do not wish to make a disturbance, but I insist upon
it that you conduct this lady to her place and see that I am not disturbed
any more."

The _maître d'hôtel's_ attitude was unmistakable. Within the course of a
few seconds Mrs. Bundercombe was restored to us. I thought it best to
ignore the whole matter and plunged at once into a discussion of
gastronomic matters. "I have ordered," I began, "some Maryland chicken."

"Then you can eat it!" Mrs. Bundercombe snapped. "Not a mouthful of food
do I take in this place with that painted hussy sitting by Joseph's side a
few feet away! Oh, I'll fix him when I get him home!"

She drew a little breath between her teeth, but she was as good as her
word. She refused all food and sat with her arms folded, glaring across at
Mr. Bundercombe's table. My admiration for that man of genius was never
greater than on that day. So far from hurrying over his luncheon, he
seemed inclined to prolong it.

There was no lack of conversation between him and his companion. They even
lingered over their coffee and they were still at the table when Eve and I
had finished and Mrs. Bundercombe was sipping the hot water, the only
thing that passed her lips during the entire meal. I paid the bill and
rose. Mrs. Bundercombe, after a moment's hesitation, followed us.

"Eve and I thought of going into the Academy for a few minutes," I said
tentatively as we reached the entrance hall.

Mrs. Bundercombe plumped herself down on a high-backed chair within a yard
of the door.

"I," she announced, "shall wait here for Joseph!"

I realized the futility of any attempt to dissuade her; so we left her
there, spent an hour at the Academy and did a little shopping. On our way
back an idea occurred to me. We reentered the restaurant. Mrs. Bundercombe
was still sitting there in a corner of the hall.

"Thinks he can tire me out, perhaps!" she remarked in an explanatory
manner. "Well, he just can't--that's all!"

I moved a few steps farther in and glanced down the restaurant. Then I
returned.

"But, my dear Mrs. Bundercombe," I said, "your husband has gone long ago!
He went out the other way. I am not sure--but I believe we saw him in Bond
Street quite three quarters of an hour ago."

"There is another way out?" Mrs. Bundercombe asked hastily.

"Certainly there is," I told her; "into Jermyn Street."

"Why was I not told?" she demanded, rising unwillingly to her feet.

"Really," I assured her, "I didn't think of it."

She followed us out. We all walked down Piccadilly.

"Will you please," she said, "direct me to a tea-shop?"

I pointed one out to her. She left us without a word of farewell. Eve and
I turned down into the Haymarket.

"Nice example your parents are setting us!" I remarked.

Eve sighed.

"I wish I knew what dad was up to!" she murmured.

At that moment we met him. He came strolling along, his silk hat a little
on the back of his head, a cigar in his mouth, his hands grasping his cane
behind his back. "Bundercombe or Parker?" I inquired as we came to a
standstill on the pavement.

He grinned.

"Nasty business, that!" he remarked cheerfully. "Why don't you keep to the
Ritz or the Berkeley? Anyway," he added, his tone changing, "I'm glad I met you, Paul. I want your help in a little matter."

I shook my head.

"Quite out of the question!" I declared emphatically.

"Don't forget that Paul is an M.P., dad!" Eve said severely. "You mustn't
attempt to bring him into any of your little affairs."

"On this occasion," Mr. Bundercombe expostulated, "I am on the side of the
law. Mr. Cullen, whom I am probably going to see presently, will be my
brother-in-arms."

"What do you need me for, then?" I asked.

"As to absolutely needing you, perhaps I don't," Mr. Bundercombe admitted.
"On the other hand, it's a very interesting little affair, and one in
which you could take a hand without compromising yourself."

"What about Eve?" I inquired.

"Not this time!" Mr. Bundercombe replied. "The only risk there is about
the affair," he explained, "is that it is just possible there may be a bit
of a scrap."

"What's the program?" I asked.

"To-night, at home, at ten o'clock. Can you manage it?"

"Rather," I answered; "if Eve doesn't mind. This is the night you promised
to go with your mother to a lecture somewhere, isn't it?" I reminded her.

She nodded.

"Very well," she consented resignedly, "so long as you don't let him get
hurt, dad."

"No fear of that!" Mr. Bundercombe declared cheerfully. "If they go for
any one they'll go for me. So long, young people! At ten o'clock, Paul!"

At precisely the hour agreed upon that evening I presented myself at Mr.
Bundercombe's house in Prince's Gardens. I noticed that the manner of the
servant who admitted me was subdued and there was a peculiar gloom about
the place. Very few lights were lit and the farther portion of the house,
of which one could catch a glimpse from the little circular hall, seemed
entirely deserted. I was shown at once into Mr. Bundercombe's study upon
the ground floor. Mr. Bundercombe was seated at a writing table, with his
face toward the door. He greeted me with a friendly nod and pointed to a
little table upon which stood an abundant display of cigars and cigarettes
of all brands.

I helped myself and lit a cigarette.

"May I know something of this evening's program?" I asked.

"Spoil the whole show?" Mr. Bundercombe objected earnestly. "Just play the
part of assistant audience and stick this into your pocket, will you?"

He threw toward me a very small revolver that he had produced from a
drawer.

"Only the last three chambers are loaded," he remarked. "You'll have to
click three times if you do use it. I don't think you'll need to, though.
Take a stall and watch the fun. I'll tell you only this: You remember Bone
Stanley, as he was called in those days--the man who was sent to prison
for fifteen years for bank robbery and for shooting the manager? Down
Hammersmith way it was. The fellow was an American."

"I remember it quite well," I assented. "He was tried for murder and
convicted of manslaughter."

Mr. Bundercombe nodded.

"He was released this afternoon. He'll be here in a few minutes."

"Here!" I exclaimed.

Mr. Bundercombe nodded but did not offer any further explanation. Coupled
with a certain gravity of expression he had the appearance of a schoolboy
for whom a feast was being set out. "Quite a pleasant little evening we
are going to have!" he promised. "You wait!"

I frowned a little uneasily.

"You are quite sure you're not letting me in for--"

Mr. Bundercombe plunged into the middle of my little protest.

"You're all right, Paul!" he assured me. "Cullen's in the house at the
present moment and there are two other detectives with him. They are
letting me run this thing simply because I know more about it than they
do; and for certain reasons I'm not giving my whole hand away. Don't you
worry, Paul! You'll be all right this time. Listen!"

We heard a very feeble ring at the bell. Mr. Bundercombe nodded.

"That's Stanley," he whispered. "Sit down!"

A man was shown into the room a moment later. I leaned forward in my chair
so as to see more distinctly the hero of one of the most famous cases that
had ever been tried in a criminal court. Of his renowned good looks there
was little left. He stood there, still tall, with high cheekbones, furtive
eyes and long mouth. He wore good clothes, his linen was irreproachable,
and he kept his gloves on. Nevertheless the stamp of the prison was upon
him.

"Mr. Stanley?" Mr. Bundercombe said. "Good! I am glad you were prevailed
upon to come."

"I am still wholly in the dark as to what this means!" the newcomer
remarked.

"I'll tell you in a very few sentences," Mr. Bundercombe promised. "Will
you sit down?"

"I prefer to stand," Stanley replied, "until I know exactly in whose house
I am and what your interest in me is."

"Very well!" Mr. Bundercombe agreed. "Here is my history: My name is
Joseph H. Bundercombe. I am an American manufacturer. I have made a
fortune in manufacturing Bundercombe's Reaping Machines. You may call it a
hobby, if you like, but I have always been interested in criminals and
criminal methods--not the lowest type, but men who have pitted their
brains against others and robbed them.

"As soon as I arrived in this country I found an interest in inquiring
into the identities of American criminals imprisoned over here, with a
view to helping any deserving cases. Your name came before me. I studied
your case. I became interested in it. I learned that your time was almost
up. A chance inquiry revealed to me a state of things that I determined to
bring before your knowledge."

"You sent me a telegram," Mr. Stanley interrupted, "as I was stepping on
the steamer at Southampton. I have returned to London for your
explanation."

"You will probably," Mr. Bundercombe remarked genially, "be thankful all
your life that you did. Now listen!"

"Who is this person?" Mr. Stanley asked, indicating me. "He is my
prospective son-in-law, Mr. Paul Walmsley," Mr. Bundercombe explained; "a
member of Parliament. I have asked him to be present because I may need a
little support, and also because it may help to convince you that I am in
earnest.

"Twenty years ago, Mr. Stanley, you came to the conclusion that honest
methods were of little use to any one seeking to make a large fortune. You
joined with two other men, Richard Densmore and Philip Harding, in a
series of semicriminal conspiracies.

"You pooled all your money--you had the most --and you determined that if
you could not make a living honestly you would rob those with less brains
than yourself. When half your capital was gone, this Hammersmith bank
robbery was planned and took place. You were the only one caught and you
held your tongue like a man; but, all the same, you were used as a cat's-
paw."

"In what way?" Stanley asked softly.

"You all three had revolvers; you all three arranged that they should be
uncharged. Cartridges were put into yours without your knowledge. You held
up your revolver and pressed the trigger, believing it to be empty. The
others knew better. You shot the bank manager and in the stupefaction that
followed you became an easy captive. The others escaped."

Stanley moved a little on his feet. His lips were slightly parted, his
eyes fixed upon Mr. Bundercombe.

"What story is this you are telling me?" he muttered.

"A true one!" Mr. Bundercombe continued.

"Now listen! The total amount in possession of your two confederates when
you went into prison was under a thousand pounds. You heard from them
periodically as struggling paupers. Harding met you out of prison. He was
almost in rags. They were at the end of their resources, he told you. He
gave you a hundred pounds, to procure which, he assured you with tears in
his eyes, they had almost beggared themselves. It was to enable you to
leave the country and make a fresh start.

"You were even grateful. You shook him by the hand. You left him at the
hotel at Southampton only an hour before you got my telegram."

"What of it?" Stanley asked.

"Nothing, except this," Mr. Bundercombe concluded: "Your two partners were
so scared at the result of the Hammersmith affair and at your sentence
that they turned over a new leaf. They went into business as outside
stockbrokers--with your capital. The agreement as to a third profits was
still in force. They had what I can describe only as the devil's own luck.
I should say their total capital to-day is at least fifty thousand pounds.

"The time came for you to be released. They had no idea of parting with a
third of their money and taking you into the business. All the time they
had deceived you. They continued the deception. Harding met you as a poor
man. But for me you would have been on your way to South Africa by this
time, with a hundred pounds in your pocket."

"Is what you are telling me the truth?" Stanley demanded.

"Absolutely!" Mr. Bundercombe declared. "I stumbled across the truth in
making inquiries concerning you and your probable future. I had meant, as
a matter of fact, to put up a little money of my own to give you a fresh
start. In the course of these inquiries I happened to run across a young
woman who had been a typist in Harding's office. It was from her I learned
the truth. As he rose in the world Harding seems to have treated the girl
badly. A little kindness and a little attention on my part, and I learned
the truth. She placed me in possession of the whole story after we had
lunched together to-day."

Stanley at last took the chair he had so long refused. He sat with his
arms folded.

"And I kept my mouth closed!" he muttered. "It was their job. I would no
more have pulled the trigger of my revolver than I would have shot myself
--if I had known. It was they who put the cartridges there!"

He sat for a moment quite still. Mr. Bundercombe rang the bell.

"The gentlemen I am expecting," he said, "will be here in a moment. You
can show them in directly they arrive."

The man bowed and withdrew. Mr. Bundercombe turned to his visitor.

"I have made the acquaintance," he continued, "of these two men, your late
partners--sought them out and made it purposely. They are coming here to
see me to-night. They fancy that it is just a friendly call. They know
that I have money to invest. I have even made use of them, employed them
to buy for me bonds of my own choosing. They think it is an affair of a
little business chat, perhaps, and a restaurant supper. Pull yourself
together, Stanley! Go into that corner, behind the curtain. Wait your
time!"

Stanley rose slowly to his feet. His face was drawn as though with pain.

"It isn't so much the money," he muttered, "only I thought--I fancied they
would have been there to meet me, to shake me by the hand, to stay with
me! And they wanted to push me off out of the country!"

He opened his lips a little wider and swore, softly but vindictively. Then
the bell rang. Mr. Bundercombe hastened to push him out of sight. We heard
the sound of strange voices in the hall. When the door was opened it was
obvious that the whole house was lit up. From somewhere in the distance
came the soft music of a piano.

Mr. Harding and Mr. Densmore were announced. I looked at them curiously.
They were both most correctly dressed in evening clothes. They both had
somehow the hard expression of worldly men, tempered not altogether
pleasantly by symptoms of good living. They greeted Mr. Bundercombe with
bluff heartiness. He gave them each a hand.

"Now, my friends," he said, "welcome to my house! Paul," he added, turning
to me, "let me introduce my two friends, Mr. Harding and Mr. Densmore--Mr.
Paul Walmsley. Mr. Walmsley has just been returned for the western
division of Bedfordshire."

They greeted me with more than affability. Mr. Harding assured me he had
read my speeches. Mr. Densmore thought no one was more to be envied than a
man who had the gifts that secured for him a seat in Parliament.

"It's early yet," Mr. Bundercombe declared genially. "Let's sit down. Tell
me a little about English business. It interests me. You bought those
Chilean bonds all right, I see. They are up an eighth to-night."

"A good purchase, Mr. Bundercombe," Mr. Harding assured him; "a very good
purchase! After all, though, there's not much money to be made out of
those government things. Now we've a little affair of our own--what do you
say, Densmore?" he broke off, looking toward his partner. "We could afford
to let Mr. Bundercombe come in a little way with us, I think?"

Mr. Densmore nodded.

"Not more than five," he said warningly. "Remember what you promised the
Rothschild people."

Mr. Harding nodded and crossed his knees. He lit a cigar from the box Mr.
Bundercombe passed round.

"This sounds interesting!" the latter remarked. "I dare say Mr. Walmsley,
too, has a little spare money for investment."

Mr. Densmore sighed, though his eyes were brightening.

"It's too good a thing," he explained confidentially, "to let the world
into. Between ourselves, there's a fortune in it, and we want to keep it
among our friends."

He drew a dummy prospectus from his vest pocket and began a long-winded
recital of some figures in which I was not particularly interested. Mr.
Bundercombe, however, appeared to be greatly impressed by what he heard.

"Gentlemen," he said, "there's just one little thing: American business
methods and English are different in one respect. In my country we've got
a sort of official guide that tells us exactly whom we are dealing with
and what their means are. Now I know you are good fellows and it seems to
me I'll be glad to go into this little affair with you; but we are
strangers financially, aren't we? Now if you were Americans I should say
to you: 'What's your rating?' and you'd tell me, because you'd know that I
could look it up in a business guide in ten minutes."

"Perfectly sound," Mr. Harding admitted--"perfectly! Neither my partner
nor I have anything to conceal. Last Christmas we were worth just over
sixty thousand pounds and since then we've made a bit."

"You've no other partner?" Mr. Bundercombe inquired.

"Certainly not!" Mr. Harding replied.

"Then what about our friend Stanley?" Mr. Bundercombe asked quietly.

Almost as he spoke Stanley walked into the middle of the little group. I
have never in the whole course of my life seen two men so thoroughly and
entirely amazed. Mr. Harding dropped his cigar on the carpet, where he let
it remain. They stared at Stanley as though they were looking upon a
ghost. Both men seemed somehow to have lost their confident bearing--
seemed to have shrunken into smaller, less assertive, meaner beings.

"Sixty thousand pounds," Mr. Bundercombe went on--"one-third of which
belongs to Stanley here."

"Absurd!" Harding faltered.

"Nothing--nothing of the sort!" Densmore declared.

Mr. Bundercombe very carefully lit another cigar. Then he rang the bell.
Harding rose to his feet. He was not looking in the least like the sleek,
opulent gentleman who had entered the room a few minutes before.

"What's that for?" he demanded, pointing to the bell.

The door was already opened. Mr. Bundercombe indicated the young lady who
stood upon the threshold--the lady with whom he had been lunching that day
at Prince's.

"I only wished to have the pleasure," Mr. Bundercombe explained, "of
presenting you two gentlemen--Mr. Harding especially--to this young lady."

"Blanche!" Mr. Harding exclaimed.

Mr. Densmore muttered something under his breath.

"My dear Miss Blanche," said Mr. Bundercombe, moving toward the door, "I
will not ask you to stay, as our interview is scarcely, perhaps, a
pleasant one. I simply wished you to show yourself so that Mr. Harding and
his friend might understand how useless certain denials on their part
would be. My servant will now place you in a taxi; and if you will do me
the honor of calling here at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning I think I can
promise you a satisfactory termination to this little affair."

The girl patted him on the shoulder.

"That's all right, Bundy!" she declared. "I hope you'll take me out to
lunch again! As for him," she added, her eyebrows coming together and
looking toward Harding, "perhaps he'll understand now how well it pays to
be a liar!"

She turned round and left the room amid a stricken silence. Mr.
Bundercombe came back to his place.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I will be brief with you. It has given me the
utmost pleasure to arrange this little meeting on behalf of my friend, Mr.
Stanley. In the room on the other side of the passage is waiting my
lawyer, who will draw up a renewal of your partnership deed with Mr.
Stanley upon terms that we can discuss amicably. In the room behind this
is waiting a particular friend of mine--Mr. Cullen, a detective.

"Remember," Mr. Bundercombe added, his voice suddenly very stern and
threatening, "that through all the years that man--your rightful partner--
has been in prison, through all the agony of his trial, the humiliation of
his sentence, the name of neither one of you has passed his lips! Is it
your wish that the truth shall now be told?"

They shrank back. Harding was pale to the lips. Densmore was shivering.

"Very well, gentlemen," Mr. Bundercombe concluded. "If I send for the
lawyer Mr. Cullen can go. If you choose Mr. Cullen the lawyer can go."

Mr. Harding moistened his lips with his tongue. "We will make an
arrangement," he said. "We have been wrong. Now that I see you here,
Stanley," he continued, looking up with the first show of courage either
of them had exhibited, "I am ashamed! It was a dirty trick! Forget it!
After you were lagged we decided to turn over a new leaf and be honest.
We've been honest--inside the law, at any rate--and we've made money. Come
and take your share of it and forgive!"

"We were brutes!" Densmore agreed.

They were both bending over Stanley. Somehow or other his hands stole out
to them. Mr. Bundercombe and I strolled outside.

"You might tell Mr. Cullen that we shall not require him this evening,"
Mr. Bundercombe instructed the butler. "Bring a bottle of champagne, and
tell the gentleman from Wymans & Wymans and his clerk that we shall be
ready for them in ten minutes."

CHAPTER XI--MR. BUNDERCOMBE'S WINK

I scarcely recognized Mr. Cullen when he first accosted me in the
courtyard of the Milan. At no time of distinguished appearance, a certain
carelessness of dress and gait had brought him now almost on a level with
the loafer in the street. His clothes needed brushing, he was unshaved,
and he looked altogether very much in need of a bath and a new outfit.

"May I have a word with you, Mr. Walmsley?" he asked, standing in the
middle of the pavement in front of me and blocking my progress toward the
Strand.

I hesitated for a moment. His identity was only just then beginning to
dawn upon me.

"Mr. Cullen!" I exclaimed.

"At your service, sir."

I turned round and led the way back into the court.

"This is not a professional visit, I trust?" I said as we passed into the
smoke room.

"Not entirely, sir," Mr. Cullen admitted. "At the same time--" He paused
and looked out the window steadily for a moment, as though in search of
inspiration.

"I trust," I began hastily, "that Mr. Bundercombe has not--"

"Precisely about him, sir, that I came to see you," Mr. Cullen
interrupted. "I am bound to admit that a few weeks ago there was no man in
the world I would have laid my hands on so readily. That day at the Ritz,
however, changed my views completely. I feel," he added, with a dry smile,
"that I got more than level with Mr. Bundercombe when I sent for his
wife."

"So it was you who sent the cables that brought her over!" I remarked.

"But please remember, sir," he begged apologetically, "that I had never
seen the lady. I sent the cables, confidently anticipating that she would
disclaim all knowledge of Mr. Bundercombe. When she arrived, and I
realized that she was actually his wife, I forgave him freely for all the
small annoyances he had caused me: my visit to you this morning, in fact,
is entirely in his interests."

"What has Mr. Bundercombe been up to now?" I asked nervously.

"Nothing serious--at any rate, that I know of," Mr. Cullen assured me.
"For the last fortnight--ever since Mrs. Bundercombe's arrival, in fact--
Mr. Bundercombe has somehow or other managed to keep away from all his old
associates and out of any sort of mischief. Last night, however, I was out
on duty--I haven't had time to go home and change my clothes yet--in a
pretty bad part, shadowing one of the most dangerous swell mobsmen in
Europe--a man you may have heard of, sir. He is commonly known as Dagger
Rodwell."

I hastily disclaimed any acquaintance with the person in question.

"Tell me, though," I begged, "what this has to do with Mr. Bundercombe?"

"Just this," Mr. Cullen explained: "I ran my man to ground in a place
where I wouldn't be seen except professionally--and with him was Mr.
Bundercombe."

"They were not engaged," I asked quickly, "in any lawbreaking escapade at
the time, I trust!"

Mr. Cullen shook his head reassuringly.

"Rodwell only goes in for the very big coups," he said. "Two or three in a
lifetime, if he brought them off, would be enough for him. All the same
there's something planning now and he's fairly got hold of Mr.
Bundercombe. He's a smooth-tongued rascal--absolutely a gentleman to look
at and speak to. What I want you to do, sir, if you're sufficiently
interested, is to take Mr. Bundercombe away for a time."

"Interested!" I groaned. "He'll be my father-in-law in a couple of
months."

"Then if you want him to attend the ceremony, sir," Mr. Cullen advised
earnestly, "you'll get him out of London. He's restless. You may have
noticed that yourself. He's spoiling for an adventure, and Dagger Rodwell
is just the man to make use of him and then leave him high and dry--the
booby for us to save our bacon with. I don't wish any harm to Mr.
Bundercombe, sir--and that's straight! Until the day I met Mrs.
Bundercombe at Liverpool I am free to confess that I was feeling sore
against him. To-day that's all wiped out. We had a pleasant little time at
the Ritz that afternoon, and my opinion of the gentleman is that he's the
right sort, I'm here to give you the office, sir, to get him away from
London--and get him away quick. I may know a trifle more than I've told
you, or I may not; but you'll take my advice if you want to escape
trouble."

"I'll do what I can," I assured him a little blankly. "To tell you the
truth I have been fearing something of this sort. During the last few days
especially his daughter tells me he has been making all sorts of excuses
to get away. I'll do what I can--and many thanks, Mr. Cullen. Let me offer
you something."

Mr. Cullen declined anything except a cigar and went on his way. I called
a taxi and drove round to the very delightful house the Bundercombes had
taken in Prince's Gardens. I caught Mr. Bundercombe on the threshold. He
would have hurried off, but I laid a detaining hand on his arm.

"Come back with me, if you please," I begged. "I have some news. I need to
consult you all."

Mr. Bundercombe glanced at his watch. His manner was a little furtive. He
was not dressed as usual--in frock coat, white waistcoat and silk hat, a
costume that seemed to render more noticeable his great girth and smooth
pink-and-white face--but in a blue serge, double-breasted suit, a bowler
hat, and a style of neckgear a little reminiscent of the Bowery. Something
in his very appearance seemed to me a confirmation of Mr. Cullen's
warning. He looked at his watch and muttered something about an
appointment.

"I promise not to keep you more than a very few minutes," I assured him.
"Come along!"

I kept my arm on his and led him back into the house.

"Eve is in the morning room," he whispered. "Let's go in quietly and
perhaps we shan't be heard."

We crossed the hall on tiptoe in the manner of conspirators. Before we
could enter the room, however, our progress was arrested by a somewhat
metallic cough. Mrs. Bundercombe, in a gray tweed coat and skirt of homely
design, a black hat and black gloves, with a satchel in her hand, from
which were protruding various forms of pamphlet literature, appeared
suddenly on the threshold of the room she had insisted upon having
allotted for her private use, and which she was pleased to call her study.

"Mr. Bundercombe!" she exclaimed portentously, taking no notice whatever
of me.

"My dear?" he replied.

"May I ask the meaning of your leaving the house like a truant schoolboy
at this hour of the morning, and in such garb!" demanded Mrs. Bundercombe,
eying him severely through her pince-nez. "Is your memory failing you,
Joseph Henry? Did you or did you not arrange to accompany me this morning
to a meeting at the offices of the Women's Social Federation?"

"I fear I--er--I had forgotten the matter," Mr. Bundercombe stammered. "An
affair of business--I was rung up on the telephone."

Mrs. Bundercombe stared at him. She said nothing; expression was
sufficient. She turned to me.

"Eve is in the morning room, Mr. Walmsley," she said. "I presume your
visit at this hour of the morning was intended for her."

"Precisely," I admitted. "I will go in and see her."

I opened the door and Mr. Bundercombe rather precipitately preceded me. If
he had contemplated escape, however, he was doomed to disappointment. Mrs.
Bundercombe followed us in. She reminded us of her presence by a hard
cough as Eve saluted me in a somewhat light-hearted fashion.

"Mind, there's mother!" Eve whispered, with a little grimace. "Tell me why
you have come so early, Paul. Are you going to take me out motoring all
day? Or are you going to the dressmaker's with me? I really ought to have
a chaperon of some sort, you know, and mother is much too busy making
friends with the leaders of the Cause over here."

She made a face at me from behind a vase of flowers. Mrs. Bundercombe
apparently thought it well to explain her position.

"I find it," she said, "absolutely incumbent upon me, while on a visit to
this metropolis, to cultivate the acquaintance of the women of this
country who are in sympathy with the great movement in the States with
which I am associated. It is expected of me that I should make my presence
over here known."

"Naturally," I agreed; "naturally, Mrs. Bundercombe. I see by the papers
that you were speaking at a meeting last night. That reminds me," I went
on, "that I really did come down this morning on rather an important
matter, and perhaps it is as well that you are all here, as I should like
your advice. I have received an invitation to stand for the division of
the county in which I live."

They all looked puzzled.

"To stand for Parliament, I mean," I hastily explained to them. "It seems
really rather a good opportunity--as, of course, I am fairly well known in
the district, and the majority against us was only seventy or eighty at
the last election."

"Say, that's interesting!" Mr. Bundercombe declared, putting down his hat,
"I didn't know you were by way of being a professional man, though."

"I'm not," I replied. "You wouldn't call politics a profession exactly."

Mr. Bundercombe was more puzzled than ever. His hand caressed his chin in
familiar fashion.

"Well, it's one way of making a living, isn't it?" he asked. "We call it a
profession on our side."

"It isn't a way of making a living at all!" I assured him. "It costs one a
great deal more than can be made out of it."

Mr. Bundercombe stopped scratching his chin.

Mrs. Bundercombe sat down opposite me and I was perfectly certain that she
would presently have a few remarks to offer. Eve was looking delightfully
interested.

"Say, I'm not quite sure I follow you," Mr. Bundercombe observed. "I am
with you all right when you say that the direct pecuniary payment for
being in Parliament doesn't amount to anything; but what's your pull
worth, eh?"

"My what?" I inquired.

"Dash it all!" Mr. Bundercombe continued a little testily. "I only want to
get at the common sense of the matter. You are thinking of trying for a
seat in Parliament, and you say the four hundred a year you get for it is
nothing. Well, of course, it's nothing. What I want to know is just what
you get out of it indirectly? You get the handling of so much patronage, I
suppose? What is it worth to you, and how much is there?"

I spent the next five minutes in an eloquent attempt to explain the
difference between English and American politics. Mr. Bundercombe was
partly convinced, but more than ever sure that he had found his way into a
country of half-witted people. Eve, however, was much quicker at grasping
the situation.

"I think it's perfectly delightful, Paul!" she declared. "I have read no
end of stories of English electioneering, and they sound such fun! I want
to come down and help. I have tons of new dresses--and I can read up all
about politics going down on the train."

"That brings me," I went on, "to the real object of my visit. I want you
and your father--I want you all," I added heroically--"to come down with
me to Bedfordshire and help. You were coming anyway next week for a little
time, you know. I want to carry you off at once."

Mrs. Bundercombe, who had been only waiting for her opportunity, broke in
at this juncture.

"Young man," she said impressively; "Mr. Walmsley, before I consent to
attend one of your meetings or to associate myself in any way with your
cause, I must ask you one plain and simple question, and insist upon a
plain and simple answer: What are your views as to Woman Suffrage?"

"The views of my party," I answered, with futile diplomacy.

"Enunciate as briefly as possible, but clearly, what the views of your
party are," Mrs. Bundercombe bade me.

"I won't have him heckled!" Eve protested, coming over to my side.

I coughed.

"We are entirely in sympathy," I explained, "with the enfranchisement of
women up to a certain point. We think that unmarried women who own
property and pay taxes should have the vote."

"Rubbish!" Mrs. Bundercombe exclaimed firmly. "We want universal suffrage.
We want men and women placed on exactly the same footing, politically and
socially."

"That," I said, "I am afraid no political party would be prepared to grant
at present."

"Then, save as an opponent, I can attend no political meetings in this
country," Mrs. Bundercombe declared, rising to her feet with a fearsome
air of finality.

I sighed.

"In that case," I confessed, "I am afraid it is useless for me to appeal
to you for help. Perhaps you and your father----" I added, turning to Eve.

"Let them go down to you in the country by all means!" Mrs. Bundercombe
interrupted. "For my part, though my visit to Europe was wholly undesired
--was forced upon me, in fact, by dire circumstances," she added
emphatically, glaring at Mr. Bundercombe--"since I am here I find so much
work ready to my hand, so much appalling ignorance, so much prejudice,
that I conceive it to be my duty to take up during my stay the work which
presents itself here. I accordingly shall not leave London."

Mr. Bundercombe cheered up perceptibly at these words.

"I am rather busy myself," he said; "but perhaps a day or two----"

I thrust my arm through his.

"I rely upon you to help me canvass," I told him. "A lot is done by
personal persuasion."

"Canvass!" Mr. Bundercombe repeated reflectively. "Say, just what do you
mean by that?"

"It is very simple," I assured him. "You go and talk to the farmers and
voters generally, and put a few plain issues before them--we'll post you
up all right as to what to say. Then you wind up by asking for their votes
and interest on my behalf."

"I do that--do I?" Mr. Bundercombe murmured. "Talk to them in a plain,
straightforward way, eh?"

"That's it," I agreed. "A man with sound common sense like yourself could
do me a lot of good."

Mr. Bundercombe was thoughtful, I am convinced that at that moment the
germs of certain ideas which bore fruit a little later on were born in his
mind. I saw him blink several times as he gazed up at the ceiling. I saw a
faint smile gradually expand over his face. A premonition of trouble, even
at that moment, forced itself on me.

"You'll have to be careful, you know," I explained, a little
apprehensively. "You'll have to keep friends with the fellows all the
time. They wouldn't appreciate practical jokes down there and the law as
to bribery and corruption is very strict."

Mr. Bundercombe nodded solemnly.

"If I take the job on," he said, "you can trust me. It seems as though
there might be something in it."

"You'll come down with me, then," I begged, "both of you? Come this
afternoon! The dressmakers can follow you, Eve. It isn't far--an hour in
the train and twenty minutes in the motor. We may have to picnic a little
just to start with, but I know that the most important of the servants are
there, ready and waiting."

"Pray do not let me stand in your way," Mrs. Bundercombe declared, rising.
"My time will be fully occupied. I wish you good morning, Mr. Walmsley. I
have an appointment at a quarter to twelve. You can let me know your final
decision at luncheon-time."

She left the room. Mr. Bundercombe, Eve, and I exchanged glances.

"How far away did you say your place was, Paul?" Mr. Bundercombe asked.

"Right in the country," I told him--"takes you about an hour and a half to
get there."

"I think we'll come," Mr. Bundercombe decided, looking absently out the
window and watching his wife eloquently admonish a taxicab driver, who had
driven up with a cigarette in his mouth. "Yes, I'm all for it!"

My little party at Walmsley Hall was in most respects a complete success.
My sister was able to come and play hostess, and Eve was charmed with my
house and its surroundings. Mr. Bundercombe, however, was a source of some
little anxiety. On the first morning, when we were all preparing to go
out, he drew me on one side.

"Paul," he said--he had, with some difficulty, got into the way of calling
me by my Christian name occasionally --"I want to get wise to this thing.
Where does your political boss hang out?"

"We haven't such a person," I told him.

He seemed troubled. The more he inquired into our electioneering habits,
the less he seemed to understand them.

"What's your platform, anyway?" he asked.

I handed him a copy of my election address, which he read carefully
through, with a large cigar in the corner of his mouth. He handed it back
to me with a somewhat depressed air.

"Seems to kind of lack grit," he remarked, a little doubtfully. "Why don't
you go for the other side a bit more?"

"Look here!" I suggested, mindful that Eve was waiting for me. "You run
down and have a chat with my agent. You'll find him just opposite the town
hall in Bildborough. There's a car going down now."

"I'm on!" he agreed. "Anyway I must get to understand this business."

He departed presently and returned to luncheon with a distinctly
crestfallen air. He beckoned me mysteriously into the library and laid his
hand upon my shoulder in friendly fashion.

"Look here, Paul," he said, "is it too late to change your ticket?"

"Change my what?" I asked him.

"Change your platform--or whatever you call it! You're on the wrong horse,
Paul, my boy. Even your own agent admits it--though I never mentioned your
name at first or told him who I was. All the people round here with votes
are farmers, agricultural laborers and small shopkeepers. Your platform's
of no use to them."

"Well, that's what we've got to find out!" I protested. "Personally, I am
convinced that it is."

"Now look here!" Mr. Bundercombe argued; "these chaps, though they seem
stupid enough, are all out for themselves. They want to vote for what's
going to make life easier for them. What's the good of sticking it into
'em about the Empire! Between you and me I don't think they care a fig for
it. Then all this talk about military service----Gee! They ain't big
enough for it! Disestablishment too--what do they care about that! You let
me write your address for you. Promise 'em a land bill. Promise them the
food on their tables at a bit less. Stick something in about a reduction
in the price of beer. I've seen the other chap's address and it's a
corker! Mostly lies, but thundering good ones. You let me touch yours up a
bit."

"Where have you been?" I asked, a strange misgiving stealing into my mind.
"Have you been talking to Mr. Ansell like this?"

"Ansell? No! Who's he?" Mr. Bundercombe inquired.

"My agent."

Mr. Bundercombe shook his head.

"Chap I palled up with was called Harrison."

I groaned.

"You've been to the other fellow's agent," I told him; "the agent for the
Radical candidate."

Mr. Bundercombe whistled.

"You don't say!" he murmured. "Well, I'll tell you what it is, Paul, there
are no flies on that chap! He's a real nippy little worker--that's what he
is! If you take my advice," he went on persuasively, "you'll swap. We'll
make it worth his while to come over. I've seen your Mr. Ansell--if that's
his name. I saw the name on a brass plate and I saw him come out of his
office--stiff, starched sort of chap, with a thin face and gray side
whiskers!"

"That's the man," I admitted. "He and his father before him, and his
grandfather, have been solicitors to my people for I don't know how many
years!"

"He looked it!" Mr. Bundercombe declared. "A withered old skunk, if ever
there was one! You want a live man to see you through this, Paul. You let
me go down and sound Harrison this afternoon. No reason that I can see why
we shouldn't use this fellow's address, too, if we can make terms with
him."

"Look here!" I said. "Politics over on this side don't admit of such
violent changes. My address is in the printer's hands and I've got to
stick to it; and Ansell will have to be my agent whatever happens. It
isn't all talk that wins these elections. The Walmsleys are well known in
the county and we've done a bit for the country during the last hundred
years. This other fellow--Horrocks, his name is--has never been near the
place before. I grant you he's going to promise a lot of very interesting
things, but that's been going on just a little too long. The people have
had enough of that sort of thing. I think you'll find they'll put more
trust in the little we can promise than in that rigmarole of Harrison's."

Mr. Bundercombe shook his head doubtfully.

"Well," he sighed, "I'm only on the outside edge of this thing yet. I must
give it another morning."

We had a pleasant luncheon party, at which Mr. Bundercombe was introduced
to some of my supporters, with whom--as he usually did with every one--he
soon made himself popular. Eve and I then made our first little effort at
canvassing. Eve's methods differed from her father's.

"I am so sorry," she said as she shook hands with a very influential but
very doubtful voter of the farmer class, "but I don't know anything about
English politics; so I can't talk to you about it as I'd like to. But you
know I am going to marry Mr. Walmsley and come to live here, and it would
be so nice to feel that all my friends had voted for him. If you have a
few minutes to spare, Mr. Brown, would you please tell me just where you
don't agree with Paul? I should so much like to hear, because he tells me
that if once you were on his side he would feel almost comfortable."

Mr. Brown, who had always met my advances with a grim taciturnity that
made conversation exceedingly difficult, proceeded to dissertate upon one
or two of the vexed questions of the day. I ventured to put in a few words
now and then, and after a time he invited us in to tea. When we left he
was more gracious than I had ever known him to be.

"And you must vote for Mr. Walmsley!" Eve declared at the end of her
little speech of thanks, "because I want so much to have you come and take
tea with me on the Terrace at the House of Commons--and I can't unless
Paul is a member, can I?"

"Bribery and corruption!" Mr. Brown laughed. "However, we'll see.
Certainly I have been very much pleased to hear Mr. Walmsley's views upon
several matters. When did you say the village meeting was, Mr. Walmsley?"

"Thursday night," I replied.

"Well, I'll come," he promised.

"You'll take the chair?" I begged. "Nothing could do me more good than
that; and I feel sure, if you look at things----" I was going to be very
eloquent, but Eve interrupted me.

"Let me sit next to you, please," she said, looking up at him with her
large, unusually innocent eyes.

"Oh, well--if you like!" Mr. Brown assented.

We drove off down the avenue in complete silence. When we had turned the
corner Eve gave a little sigh.

"Paul," she declared, "I don't think there's anything I've ever come
across in my life that's half so much fun as electioneering! Please take
me to the next most difficult."

If Eve was a success, however, Mr. Bundercombe was to turn out a great
disappointment. He came home a little later for dinner, looking very
gloomy.

"Paul," he said, as we met for a moment in the smoking room, "Paul, I've
sad news for you."

"I am sorry to hear it," I replied.

"I've looked into this little matter of politics," he continued; "I've
looked into it as thoroughly as I can and I can't support you. You're on
the wrong side, my boy! I've shaken hands with Mr. Horrocks, and that's
the man who'll get the votes in this constituency. I've promised to do
what I can to help him."

I was a little taken aback.

"You're not in earnest!" I exclaimed.

"Dead earnest!" Mr. Bundercombe regretted.

"The chap's convinced me. I feel it's up to me to lend him a hand."

"But surely," I expostulated, "even if you cannot see your way clear to
help me, there's no need for you to go over to the enemy like this! You're
not obliged to interfere in the election at all, are you?"

Mr. Bundercombe sighed.

"Matter of principle with me!" he explained. "I must be doing something. I
can't canvass for you. I'll have to look round a bit for the other chap."

"I really don't see," I began, just a little annoyed, "why you should feel
called upon to interfere in an English election at all, unless it is to
help a friend."

Mr. Bundercombe looked at me and solemnly winked!

"Say, that's the dinner gong!" he announced cheerfully. "Let's be getting
in."

"But I don't quite understand----"

Mr. Bundercombe repeated the wink upon a smaller scale. I followed him
into the drawing-room, still in the dark as to his exact political
position.

The movements of my prospective father-in-law were, for the next few days,
wrapped in a certain mystery. He arrived home one evening, however, in a
state of extreme indignation. As usual when anything had happened to upset
him he came to look for me in the library.

"My boy," he said, "of all the God-forsaken, out-of-the-world, benighted
holes, this Bildborough of yours absolutely takes the cake! For sheer
ignorance --for sheer, thick-headed, bumptious, arrogant ignorance--give
me your farmers!"

"What's wrong?" I asked him.

"Wrong? Listen!" he exclaimed, almost dramatically. "In this district--in
this whole district, mind--there is not a single farmer who has heard of
Bundercombe's Reapers!"

"I farm a bit myself," I reminded him, "and I had never heard of them."

Mr. Bundercombe went to the sideboard and mixed himself a cocktail with
great care.

"Bundercombe's Reapers," he said, as soon as he had disposed of it, "are
the only reapers used by live farmers in the United States of America,
Canada, Australia, or any other country worth a cent!"

"That seems to hit us pretty hard," I remarked. "Have you got an agent
over here?"

"Sure!" Mr. Bundercombe replied. "I don't follow the sales now, so I can't
tell you what he's doing; but we've an agent here--and any country that
doesn't buy Bundercombe's Reapers is off the line as regards agriculture!"

"What are you going to do about it?" I asked.

"Do!" Mr. Bundercombe toyed with his wine glass for a moment and then set
it down. "What I have done," he announced, "is this: I have wired to my
agent. I have ordered him to ship half a dozen machines--if necessary on a
special train--and I am going to give an exhibition on some land I have
hired, over by Little Bildborough, the day after tomorrow."

"That's the day of the election!" I exclaimed.

"You couldn't put it off, I suppose?" he suggested. "That's the day I've
fixed for my exhibition at any rate. I am giving the farmers a free lunch
--slap-up affair it's going to be, I can tell you!"

"I am afraid," I answered, with a wholly wasted sarcasm, "that the affair
has gone too far now for us to consider an alteration in the date."

"Well, well! We must try not to clash," Mr. Bundercombe said
magnanimously. "How long does the voting go on?"

"From eight until eight," I told him.

Mr. Bundercombe was thoughtful.

"It's a long time to hold them!" he murmured.

"To hold whom?" I demanded.

Mr. Bundercombe started slightly.

"Nothing! Nothing! By the by, do you know a chap called Jonas--Henry
Jonas, of Milton Farm?"

"I should think I do!" I groaned. "He's the backbone of the Opposition,
the best speaker they've got and the most popular man."

Mr. Bundercombe smiled sweetly.

"Is that so!" he observed. "Well, well! He is a very intelligent man. I
trust I'll be able to persuade him that any reaper he may be using at the
present moment is a jay compared to Bundercombe's--this season's model!"

"I trust you may," I answered, a trifle tartly. "I am glad you're likely
to do a little business; but you won't mind, my reminding you--will you?--
that you really came down here to give me a leg up with my election, and
not to sell your machines or to spend half your time in the enemy's camp!"

Mr. Bundercombe smiled. It was a curious smile, which seemed somehow to
lose itself in his face. Then the dinner gong sounded and he winked at me
slowly. Again I was conscious of some slight uneasiness. It began to dawn
upon me that there was a scheme somewhere hatching; that Mr. Bundercombe's
activity in the camp of the enemy might perhaps have an unsuspected
significance. I talked to Eve about this after dinner; but she reassured
me.

"Father talks of nothing but his reaping machines," she declared.
"Besides, I am quite sure he would do nothing indiscreet. Only yesterday I
found him studying a copy of the act referring to bribery and corruption.
Dad's pretty smart, you know!"

"I do know that," I admitted. "I wish I knew what he was up to, though."

The next day was the last before the election. The little market of
Bildborough was in a state of considerable excitement. Several open-air
meetings were held toward evening. Eve and I, returning from a motor tour
of the constituency, called at the office of my agent. We chatted with Mr.
Ansell for a little while and then he pointed across the square.

"There's an American there," he said, "that the other side seems to have
got hold of. He's their most popular speaker by a long way; but I gather
they're a little uneasy about him. Didn't I have the pleasure of meeting
him at your house?"

"Mr. Bundercombe!" I sighed. "He came down here to help me!"

Mr. Ansell put on his hat and beckoned mysteriously.

"Come out by the back way," he invited. "We shall hear him. He is going to
speak from the little platform there."

By crossing a hotel yard, a fragment of kitchen garden and a bowling
green, we were able to come within a few yards of where Mr. Bundercombe,
with several other of Mr. Horrocks' supporters, was standing upon a small
raised platform. Two local tradesmen and one helper from London addressed
a few remarks of the usual sort to an apathetic audience, which was
rapidly increasing in size. It was only when Mr. Bundercombe rose to his
feet that the slightest sign of enthusiasm manifested itself. Eve looked
at me with a pleased smile.

"Just look at all of them," she whispered, "how they are hurrying to hear
dad speak!"

"That's all very well," I grumbled; "but he ought to be doing this for
me."

Her fingers pressed my arm.

"Listen!" she said.

Mr. Bundercombe's style was breezy and his jokes were frequent. He stood
in an easy attitude and spoke with remarkable fluency. His first few
remarks, which were mainly humorous, were cheered to the echo. The crowd
was increasing all the time. Presently he took them into his confidence.

"When I came down here a few days ago," we heard him say, "I came meaning
to support my friend, Mr. Walmsley." (Groans and cheers.) "That's all
right, boys!" Mr. Bundercombe continued, "there's nothing the matter with
Mr. Walmsley; but I come from a country where there's a bit more kick
about politics, and I pretty soon made up my mind that the kick wasn't on
the side my young friend belongs to.

"Now just listen to this: As one business man to another, I tell you that
I asked Mr. Walmsley, the first night I was here: 'What are you getting
out of this? Why are you going into Parliament?' He didn't seem to
understand. He pleaded guilty to a four-hundred-a-year fee, but told me at
the same time that it cost him a great deal more than that in extra
charities. I asked him what pull he got through being in Parliament and
how many of his friends he could find places for. All he could do was to
smile and tell me that I didn't understand the way things were done in
this country. He wanted to make me believe that he was anxious to sit in
Parliament there and work day after day just for the honor and glory of
it, or because he thought it was his duty.

"You know I'm an American business man, and that didn't cut any ice with
me; so I dropped in and had a chat with Mr. Horrocks. I soon came to the
conclusion that the candidate I'm here to support to-night is the man who
comes a bit nearer to our idea of practical politics over on the other
side of the pond. Mr. Horrocks doesn't make any bones about it. He wants
that four hundred a year; in fact he needs it!" (Ironical cheers.) "He
wants to call himself M.P. because when he goes out to lecture on
Socialism he'll get a ten-guinea fee instead of five, on account of those
two letters after his name.

"Furthermore his is the party that understands what I call practical
politics. Every job that's going is given to their friends; and if there
aren't enough jobs to go round, why, they get one of their statesmen to
frame a bill--what you call your Insurance Bill is one of them, I believe
--in which there are several hundred offices that need filling. And there
you are!"

Mr. Ansell and I exchanged glances. The enthusiasm that had greeted Mr.
Bundercombe's efforts was giving place now to murmurs and more ironical
cheers. One of his coadjutors on the platform leaned over and whispered in
Mr. Bundercombe's ear. Mr. Bundercombe nodded.

"Gentlemen," he concluded, "I'm told that my time is up. I have explained
my views to you and told you why I think you ought to vote for Mr.
Horrocks. I've nothing to say against the other fellow, except that I
don't understand his point of view. Mr. Horrocks I do understand. He's out
to do himself a bit o'good and it's up to you to help him."

A determined tug at Mr. Bundercombe's coattails by one of the men on the
platform brought him to his seat amid loud bursts of laughter and more
cheers. Eve gripped my arm and we turned slowly away.

"It's a privilege," I declared solemnly, "to have ever known your father!
If I only had an idea what he meant about those reaping machines! You
couldn't give me a hint, I suppose, Eve?" She shook her head.

"Better wait!"

In the excitement of that final day I think both Eve and I completely
forgot all about Mr. Bundercombe. It was not until we were on our way back
from a motor tour through the outlying parts of the district that we were
forcibly reminded of his existence. Quite close to Little Bildborough, the
only absolutely hostile part of my constituency, we came upon what was
really an extraordinary sight. Our chauffeur of his own accord drew up by
the side of the road. Eve and I rose in our places.

In a large field on our left was gathered together apparently the whole
population of the district. In one corner was a huge marquee, through the
open flaps of which we could catch a glimpse of a sumptuously arranged
cold collation. On a long table just outside, covered with a white cloth,
was a vast array of bottles and beside it stood a man in a short linen
jacket, who struck me as being suspiciously like Fritz, the bartender at
one of Mr. Bundercombe's favorite haunts in London.

Toward the center of the field, seated upon a ridiculously inadequate seat
on the top of a reaping machine, was Mr. Bundercombe. He had divested
himself of coat and waistcoat, and was hatless. The perspiration was
streaming down his face as he gripped the steering wheel. He was followed
by a little crowd of children and sympathizing men, who cheered him all
the time.

At a little distance away, on the other side of a red flag, Henry Jonas,
the large farmer of the district, and the speaker on whom my opponent
chiefly relied, was seated upon a similar machine in a similar state of
undress. It was apparent, however, even to us, that Mr. Bundercombe's
progress was at least twice as rapid as his opponent's.

"What on earth is it all about?" I exclaimed, absolutely bewildered.

Eve, who was standing by my side, clasped her hands round my arm.

"It seems to me," she murmured sweetly, "as if dad were trying his reaping
machine against some one else's."

I looked at her demure little smile and I looked at the field in which I
recognized very many of my staunchest opponents. Then I looked at the
marquee. The table there must have been set for at least a hundred people.
Suddenly I received a shock. Seated underneath the hedge, hatless and
coatless, with his hair in picturesque disorder, was Mr. Jonas' cousin,
also a violent opponent of my politics, and a nonconformist. He had a huge
tumbler by his side, which--seeing me--he raised to his lips.

"Good old Walmsley!" he shouted out. "No politics to-day! Much too hot!
Come in and see the reaping match."

He took a long drink and I sat down in the car.

"You know," I said to Mr. Ansell, who was standing on the front seat,
"there'll be trouble about this!"

Mr. Ansell was looking a little grave himself.

"Is Mr. Bundercombe really the manufacturer of that machine?" he asked.

"Of course he is!" Eve replied. "It's the one hobby of his life--or,
rather, it used to be," she corrected herself hastily. "Even now, when he
begins talking about his reaping machine he forgets everything else."

Mr. Ansell hurried away and made a few inquiries. Meanwhile we watched the
progress of the match. Every time Mr. Bundercombe had to turn he rocked in
his seat and retained his balance only with difficulty. At every
successful effort he was loudly cheered by a little group of following
enthusiasts. Mr. Ansell returned, looking a little more cheerful.

"Everything is being given by the Bundercombe Reaping Company," he
announced, "and Mr. Bundercombe's city agent is on the spot prepared to
book orders for the machine. It seems that Mr. Bundercombe has backed
himself at ten to one in ten-pound notes to beat Mr. Jonas by half an
hour, each taking half the field."

"Who's ahead?" Eve asked excitedly.

"Mr. Bundercombe is well ahead," Mr. Ansell replied, "and they say that he
can do better still if he tries. It looks rather," Mr. Ansell concluded,
dropping his voice, "as though he were trying to make the thing last out.
Afterward they are all going to sit down to a free meal--that is, if any
of them are able to sit down," he added, with a glance round the field.
"Hello! Here's Harrison."

Mr. Harrison, recognizing us, descended from his car and came across. He
shook hands with Eve, at whom he glanced in a somewhat peculiar fashion.

"Mr. Walmsley," he said, "a week ago we were rather proud of having
inveigled away one of your adherents. All I can say at the present moment
is that we should have been better satisfied if you had left Mr.
Bundercombe in town."

"Why, he's been speaking against me at nearly every one of your meetings!"
I protested.

"That's all very well," Mr. Harrison complained; "but he's not what I
should call a convincing speaker. He is a democrat all right, and a
people's man--and all the rest of it; but he hasn't got quite the right
way of advocating our principles. I have been obliged to ask him to
discontinue public speaking until after the election. The fact of it is, I
really believe he's cost us a good many more votes than he's gained. All
he says is very well; but when he sits down one feels that our people are
all for what they can get out of it--and yours are prepared to give their
services for nothing."

"What's all this mean?" I asked, waving my hand toward the field.

Mr. Harrison looked at me very steadily indeed. Then he looked at Eve. I
can only hope that my own expression was as guileless as Eve's.

"I told you about that hint we were obliged to give Mr. Bundercombe," Mr.
Harrison went on. "I suppose this is the result of it. He seems to have
bewitched the whole of Little Bildborough. There's Jonas there, who was
due to speak in four places today--he will take no notice of anybody. I
walked by the side of his machine, begging him to get down and come and
keep his engagements, and he took no more notice of me than if I'd been a
rabbit!

"There's his cousin, who has more hold upon the nonconformists of the
district than any man I know--sitting under a hedge drinking out of a
tumbler! There are at least a score of men with their eyes glued on that
tent who ought to be hard at work in the district. I am beginning to doubt
whether they'll even be in in time to vote!"

"Well, we must be getting on, anyway," I said. "See you later, Mr.
Harrison!"

Mr. Harrison nodded a little gloomily and we glided off. Eve squeezed my
hand under the rug.

"Isn't dad a dear!" she murmured in my ear.

Eve was one of the first to congratulate me when, late that night, the
results came in and I found that by a majority of twenty-seven votes I had
been elected the member for the division.

"Aren't you glad now, Paul, dear, that we brought father down to keep him
out of mischief?" she whispered.

Mr. Bundercombe himself held out his hand.

"Paul," he said, "I congratulate you, my boy! I was on the other side; but
I can take a licking with the best of them. Congratulate you heartily!"

He held out his hand and gripped mine. Once more he winked.

CHAPTER XII--THE EMANCIPATION OF LOUIS

At about half past ten the following morning I turned into Prince's
Gardens, to find a four-wheel cab drawn up outside the door of Mr.
Bundercombe's house. On the roof was a dressing case made of some sort of
compressed cane and covered with linen. Accompanying it was a black tin
box, on which was painted, in white letters: "Hannah Bundercombe,
President W.S.F." Standing by the door was a footman with an article in
his hand that I believe is called a grip, which, in the present instance,
I imagine took the place of a dressing case.

I surveyed these preparations with some interest. The temporary departure
of Mrs. Bundercombe would, I felt, have an enlivening influence upon the
establishment. As I turned in at the gate Mrs. Bundercombe herself
appeared. She was followed by a young woman who looked distinctly bored
and whom I was not at first able to place. Mrs. Bundercombe was in a state
of unusual excitement.

"Say, Mr. Walmsley," she began, and her voice seemed to come from her
forehead--it was so shrill and nasal; "how long will it take me to get to
St. Pancras?"

I looked at the four-wheeler, on the roof of which another servant was now
arranging a typewriter in its tin case.

"I should say about thirty-five minutes--in that!" I replied. "A taxi
would do it in a quarter of an hour."

"None of your taxis for me!" Mrs. Bundercombe declared warmly. "I am not
disposed to trust myself to a piece of machinery that can be made to tell
any sort of lies. I like to pay my fare and no more. If thirty-five
minutes will get me to St. Pancras, then I guess I'll make my train."

"You are leaving us for a few days?" I remarked, suddenly catching a
glimpse of a face like a round moon beaming at me from the window.

"I have received a dispatch," Mrs. Bundercombe announced, drawing a letter
with pride from an article that I believe she called her reticule, "signed
by the secretary of the Women's League of Freedom, asking me to address
their members at a meeting to be held at Leeds to-night."

"Very gratifying!" I murmured.

"How the woman knew that I was in England," Mrs. Bundercombe continued,
carefully replacing the missive, "I cannot imagine; but I suppose these
things get about. In any case I felt it my duty to go. Some of us, Mr.
Walmsley," she added, regarding me with a severe air, "think of little
else save the various pleasures we are able to cram into our lives day by
day. Others are always ready to listen to the call of duty."

"I wish you a pleasant journey, Mrs. Bundercombe," I said, raising my hat.
"I suppose I shall find Eve in?"

"No doubt you will!" she snapped.

I glanced at the depressed young woman.

"I am taking a temporary secretary with me," Mrs. Bundercombe explained.
"Recent reports of my speeches in this country have been so unsatisfactory
that I have lost confidence in the Press. I am taking an experienced
shorthand-writer with me, who will furnish the various journals with a
verbatim report of what I say."

"Much more satisfactory, I am sure," I agreed, edging toward the house. "I
wish you a successful meeting, Mrs. Bundercombe. You mustn't miss your
train!"

"And I trust," Mrs. Bundercombe concluded, as she turned to enter the cab,
"that if you accompany Eve in her shopping expeditions to-day, or during
my absence, you will not encourage her in any fresh extravagances."

I made my way into the house and entered the morning room as the cab drove
off. Mr. Bundercombe and Eve were waltzing. Mr. Bundercombe paused at my
entrance and wiped his forehead. He was very hot.

"A little ebullition of feeling, my dear Paul," he explained, "on seeing
you. You met Mrs. Bundercombe? You have heard the news?"

"I gathered," I remarked, "that Mrs. Bundercombe's sense of duty is taking
her to Leeds."

Mr. Bundercombe breathed a resigned sigh.

"We shall be alone," he announced, with ill-concealed jubilation, "if we
have any luck at all, for three days! One never knows, though! I propose
that we celebrate to-night, unless," he added, with a sudden gloom, "you
two want to go off and dine somewhere alone."

"Not likely!" I assured him quickly.

"Daddy!" Eve exclaimed reproachfully.

Mr. Bundercombe cheered up.

"Then, if you're both agreeable," he proposed, "let us go and pay Luigi a
visit. I have rather a fancy to show him a reestablished Mr. Bundercombe.
You know, I sometimes think," he went on, "that Luigi was beginning to
regard me with suspicion!"

"There isn't any doubt about it," I observed dryly.

"We will dine there to-night," Mr. Bundercombe decided, "that is, if you
two are willing."

I hesitated for a moment. Eve was looking at me for my decision.

"I really see no reason why we shouldn't go there," I said. "I have to
take Eve to some rather dull relatives for luncheon, and I suppose we
shall be shopping afterward. It will brighten up the day."

"We will give Luigi no intimation of our coming," Mr. Bundercombe
suggested with relish. "We shall be in no hurry; so we can order our
dinner when we arrive there. At eight o'clock?"

"At eight o'clock!" I agreed.

"More presents, Paul!" Eve informed me, taking my arm. "Come along and
help me unpack! Isn't it fun?"

Luigi's reception of us that night was most gratifying. He escorted us to
the best table in the place, from which he ruthlessly seized the mystic
label that kept it from the onslaughts of less privileged guests. He
congratulated me upon my parliamentary honors and my engagement in the
same breath.

It was perfectly clear to me that Luigi knew all about us. He addressed
Mr. Bundercombe with an air of deep respect in which was visible, too, an
air of relieved apprehension. He took our order himself, with the aid of
an assistant _maître d'hôtel_, at whom Mr. Bundercombe glanced with some
surprise.

"Where is Louis?" he inquired.

"Gone--left!" Luigi answered.

Mr. Bundercombe was obviously disappointed.

"Say, is that so!" he exclaimed, "Why, I thought he was a fixture! Been
here a long time, had'nt he?"

"Nearly twelve years," Luigi admitted.

"Has he got a restaurant of his own?" Mr. Bundercombe asked.

Luigi shook his head.

"On the contrary, sir," he replied, "I think Louis has gone off his head.
He has taken a very much inferior post at a very inferior place. A
restaurant of a different class altogether--not at all _comme il faut_; a
little place for the multitude--Giatron's, in Soho. The foolishness of it
--for all his old clients must be useless! No one would eat in such a hole.
It is most mysterious!"

We dined well and gayly. Mr. Bundercombe renewed many restaurant
acquaintances and I am quite sure he thoroughly enjoyed himself. Every now
and then, however, a shadow rested on his face. Watching him, I felt quite
certain of the reason. It was only during the last few weeks that I had
begun to realize the immense good nature of the man. He was worrying about
Louis.

We sat there until nearly ten o'clock. When we rose to go Mr. Bundercombe
turned to us. "Say," he asked, a little diffidently, "would you people
object to just dropping in at this Giatron's? Or will you go off somewhere
by yourselves and meet me afterward?"

"We will go wherever you go, dad," Eve declared. "We are not going to
leave you alone when we do have an evening off."

"I should like to find out about Louis myself," I interposed. "I always
thought he was the best _maître d'hôtel_ in London."

We drove to Giatron's and found it in a back street--a shabby,
unpretentious-looking place, with a front that had once been white, but
that was now grimy in the extreme. The windows were hung with little
curtains in the French fashion, whose freshness had also long departed.
The restaurant itself was low and teeming with the odor of past dinners.
At this hour it was almost empty. Several untidy-looking waiters were
rearranging tables. In the middle of the room Louis was standing.

He recognized us with a little start, though he made no movement whatever
in our direction. He was certainly a changed being. He stood and looked at
us as though we were ghosts. Mr. Bundercombe waved his hand in friendly
fashion. It was not until then that Louis, with marked unwillingness, came
forward to greet us.

"Come to see your new quarters, Louis!" Mr. Bundercombe said cheerfully.
"Find us a table and serve us some of your special coffee. We will dine
here another evening."

Louis showed us to a table and handed us over to the care of an
unwholesome-looking German waiter, with only a very brief interchange of
courtesies. And then, with a word of excuse, he darted away. Mr.
Bundercombe looked after him wonderingly.

The coffee was brought by the waiter and served without Louis'
reappearance. The effect of his absence on Mr. Bundercombe, however, was
only to make him more determined than ever to get at the bottom of
whatever mystery there might be.

"Just tell Louis, the _maître d'hôtel_, I wish to speak to him," he
instructed the waiter.

The man departed. Ten minutes passed, but there was no sign of Louis. Mr.
Bundercombe sent another and more imperative message. This time Louis
obeyed it. As he crossed the room a little hesitatingly toward us, it was
almost sad to notice the alteration in his appearance. At Luigi's he had
been so smart, so upright, so well dressed. Here he was a changed being.
His hair needed cutting; his linen was no longer irreproachable; his
clothes were dusty and out of shape. The man seemed to have lost all care
of himself and all pride in his work. When at last he reached the table
Mr. Bundercombe did not beat about the bush.

"Louis," he said, "we have been to Stephano's tonight for the first time
for some weeks. I came along here to see you because of what Luigi told
me. Now you can just take this from me: You've got to tell me the truth.
There's something wrong with you! What is it?"

Louis extended his hands. He was making his one effort.

"There is nothing wrong with me," he declared. "I left Stephano's to--as
they say in this country--better myself. I am in charge here--next to
Monsieur Giatron himself. If Monsieur Giatron should go back to Italy I
should be manager. It seemed like a good post. Perhaps I was foolish to
leave."

"Louis," Mr. Bundercombe protested, "I guess I didn't come round here to
listen to lies. You and I had some little dealings together and I feel
I've the right to insist on the truth. Now, then, don't give us any more
trouble--there's a good fellow! If you'd rather talk to me alone invite me
into the office or behind that desk."

Louis looked round the room, which was almost empty, save for the waiters
preparing the tables for supper.

"Mr. Bundercombe," he said, with a little gesture of resignation, "it is
because of those dealings that I came to trouble."

Mr. Bundercombe eyed him steadily.

"Go on!" he ordered.

Louis moved closer still to the table.

"It was those banknotes, Mr. Bundercombe," he confessed. "You gave me one
packet to be destroyed in the kitchen. I obeyed; but I looked at them
first. Never did I see such wonderful work! Those notes--every one seemed
real! Every one, as I put it into the fire, gave my heart a pang.

"And then, the other time--when you slipped them under the table to me
because Mr. Cullen was about! I took them, too, to the fire. I destroyed
one, two, three, four, five--one dozen--two dozen; and then I came to the
last two or three, and my fingers--they went slow. I could not bear it. I
thought what could be done. My wife she was not well. I could send her to
Italy. I owe a little bill. The tips--they had not been good lately.
Behold! There was one ten-pound note left when all the others were
destroyed. I put him in my waistcoat pocket."

"Go on!" Mr. Bundercombe said encouragingly. "No one is blaming you. Upon
my word, it sounds natural enough."

Louis' voice grew a little bolder.

"For some time I hesitated how to change it. Then one day I came here to
see my friend Giatron--we came together from Italy. I hand him the note. I
ask him please change. He give me the change and I stay to have a drink
with the head waiter, who is a friend of mine. Presently Giatron comes
out. He calls me into the office. Then I begin to tremble. He looks at me
and I tremble more.

"Then he knows that he have got me. Giatron's a very cruel man, Mr.
Bundercombe. He make hard terms. He made me give up my good place at
Luigi's. He made me come here and be his head man. He gives me half as
much as Luigi and there are no tips; besides which the place offends me
every moment of the day. The service, the food, the wines--everything is
cheap and bad. I take no pride in my work.

"I go to Giatron and I pray him to let me go. But not so! I know my work
well. He thinks that I will bring clients. Nowhere else could he get a
head man so good as I at the wages of a common waiter. So I stay here--a
slave!"

The man's story was finished. In a sense it seemed ordinary enough, and
yet both Eve and I felt a curious thrill of sympathy as he finished. There
was something almost dramatic in the man's sad voice, his depressed
bearing, the story of this tragedy that had come so suddenly into his
life. One looked round and realized the truth of all he had said. One
realized something, even, of the bitterness of his daily life.

Mr. Bundercombe sipped his coffee thoughtfully.

"Tell me why you did not come to me or write, Louis?" he asked.

The man stretched out his hands.

"But it was to you, sir, that I had broken my word!" he pointed out. "When
you gave me that first little bundle you looked at me so steadfastly--when
you told me that every scrap was to be destroyed; and I promised--I
promised you faithfully. And you asked me afterward about that last batch.
You said to me: 'Louis, you are sure that they are all quite gone?
Remember that there is trouble in the possession of them!' And I told you
a lie!"

Mr. Bundercombe coughed and poured himself out a little more of the
coffee.

"Louis," he declared, "you are a fool! You are a blithering idiot! You are
a jackass! It never occurred to me before. I am the guilty one for placing
such a temptation in your way. Now where's this Monsieur Giatron of
yours?"

Louis looked at him wonderingly. There was a dawn of hope in his face,
blended with a startled fear.

"He arrives in ten minutes," he announced. "He comes down for the supper.
He is here."

Mr. Bundercombe glanced round. A stout man, with a black mustache, had
entered the room. His eyes fell at once on the little group. Mr.
Bundercombe turned round.

"So that is Monsieur Giatron?"

Louis bowed. Mr. Bundercombe beckoned the proprietor to approach.

"An old patron of Luigi's," Mr. Bundercombe explained, introducing
himself--"come round to see our friend Louis, here."

"Delighted, I am very sure!" Mr. Giatron exclaimed, bowing to all of us.
"It will be a great pleasure to us to do the very best possible for any of
Louis' friends."

Mr. Bundercombe rose to his feet. He pointed to the little glass-framed
office at the other side of the room.

"Mr. Giatron," he said, "I have always been a great patron of Louis. You
and I must have a chat. Will you not invite us into your little office and
show us whether there is not something better to be found than this
coffee? We will take a glass of brandy together and drink success to your
restaurant."

Giatron hastened to lead the way. Eve, in response to a glance from her
father, remained at the table; but I followed Mr. Bundercombe. We went
into the office; Giatron himself placed three glasses upon the desk and
produced from a cupboard a bottle of what appeared to be very superior
brandy. Mr. Bundercombe sipped his with relish. Then he glanced at the
closed door.

"Mr. Giatron," he began, "I have been having a chat with Louis. He has
told me of his troubles--told me the reason for his leaving Luigi and
accepting this post with you."

Giatron paused, with the bottle suspended in mid-air. He slowly set it
down. A frown appeared on his face.

"Mind you," Mr. Bundercombe continued, "I am not sympathizing with Louis.
If what he said is true I am inclined to think you have been very
merciful."

Giatron recovered his confidence.

"He tried--Louis tried--my old friend," he complained, "to take advantage
of me; to enrich himself at my expense by means of a false note."

"That is the only point," Mr. Bundercombe said.

"Was the note bad? Do you know I can scarcely bring myself to believe it!"

The restaurant keeper smiled. Very deliberately he produced a great bunch
of keys from his pocket and opened the safe, which stood in a corner of
the office. Mr. Bundercombe whispered a scarcely audible word in my ear
and became absorbed once more in the brandy. Presently Giatron returned.
He laid on the desk and smoothed out carefully what was to all appearances
a ten-pound note.

"If you will examine that carefully, sir," he begged, "you will see that
it is the truth. That note, he is very well made; but he is not a good
Bank of England note."

Mr. Bundercombe slowly adjusted his glasses, placed the note in front of
him and smoothed it carefully with his large hand. "This is very
interesting," he murmured. "Allow me to make a close examination. I've
seen some high-class printing in my----"

Giatron started as though he were shot and jumped round toward me. With
unpardonable clumsiness I had upset my glass in leaning over to look at
the note.

"I'm awfully sorry!" I exclaimed, glancing ruefully at my trousers. "Would
you give me a napkin quickly?"

Giatron hastened to the door of the office and called to a passing waiter.
The napkin was soon procured and I rubbed myself dry. The restaurant
keeper returned to the desk at Mr. Bundercombe's side.

"All I can say," Mr. Bundercombe declared, as he drew away from the note,
which he had been examining, "is that I do not wonder you were deceived,
Mr. Giatron. This note is the most perfect imitation I have ever seen in
my life. A wicked piece of work, sir!"

"You recognize the fact, however, that the note is beyond question
counterfeit?" Mr. Giatron persisted.

"I fear you are right," Mr. Bundercombe admitted. "There is a slight
imperfection. Yes, yes--a very bad business, Mr. Giatron! We must come
here often and try to see whether we cannot make you a second Luigi."

Giatron returned to the safe with the note, which he carefully locked up.

"Very excellent brandy!" Mr. Bundercombe pronounced warmly. "You will see
a great deal more of us, my friend. I promise you that. We shall haunt
you!"

Mr. Giatron bowed to the ground.

"You are always very welcome--and the young lady!"

We rejoined Eve, paid our bill, and made our way to the door. Louis,
looking very pathetic, was in the background. Mr. Bundercombe beckoned to
him.

"Louis, you can give your shark of an employer a week's notice to-night! I
have the note in my pocket," he whispered. "It's cost me a good one; but I
owed you that. On Monday week, Louis, I shall order my dinner from you at
Luigi's."

The man's face was wonderful! He came a little closer. He was shaking at
the knees, his hands were trembling, and his mouth was twitching. "Mr.
Bundercombe," he pleaded hoarsely, "you would not deceive me!"

Mr. Bundercombe looked at him steadfastly.

"On my honor, Louis, the note is in my pocket, already torn in four pieces
when I put my hand into my waistcoat pocket to pay my bill. In three
minutes it will be in a hundred pieces--gone! You need have no fear. The
note Mr. Giatron is guarding so carefully is a very excellent ten-pound
note of my own."

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