The Exploits of Pudgy Pete - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Exploits of Pudgy Pete ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim



The Exploits of Pudgy Pete” story was written in 1927 by E. Phillips Oppenheim. Peter Bragg and his tormentor from school days George Angus, join forces to run a modern „Enguiry Agency” in London. The cases which come to them are complex, romantic, dangerous, humorous, and clever. Together the two solve social and criminal problems, and find their romantic mates. These short story collection by Mr. Oppenheim containing also: „Drama in the Dolls’ House”, „A Comedy in Divorce”, „Lady Katherine’s Better Nature”, „Three to Four”, „The Ninety-Ninth Thread” and others. These stories were originally written as separate magazine stories, then published together.

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THE Honourable George Vincent Angus, ascending by means of the automatic lift to his rooms, which were situated in the upper regions of the Bellevue Flats, caught the gleam of a brilliantly polished oblong strip of brass affixed to one of the dark mahogany doors on the first floor. He touched the button which arrested the progress of the elevator, and, stepping out, crossed the thickly-carpeted corridor and studied the very neat, obviously new, name-plate.

“Mr Peter Bragg,” he murmured to himself. “What a name!”

Whereupon he rang the bell, which was immediately answered by a most correct-looking manservant of middle age.

“Is Mr. Peter Bragg at home?” the visitor enquired.

“Have you an appointment, sir?” the man countered.

“I have no appointment,” Angus confessed, “but I have a great desire for a word with Mr. Peter Bragg. My name is of no consequence. I shall not detain your master for more than a few minutes.”

“I will enquire through the secretary, sir, whether Mr. Bragg is able to see you,” the butler conceded. “Will you step into the waiting-room?”

He threw open the door of a small but handsome apartment on the right-hand side of the hall–an apartment furnished and panelled throughout in light oak. A table stood in the middle of the room piled with magazines, few of which appeared to have been opened. There was a general air of stiffness and newness about the furniture–as though it had been bought for show and not for any practical use.

“What the devil does this fellow want a waiting-room for?” Angus reflected, as he stood on the hearth-rug gazing around him. “Doesn’t look as though anyone had ever been inside the place either.”

The butler, reappearing before he had time for any further speculation, bowed respectfully.

“Mr. Bragg will see you, sir,” he announced, with the air of one bringing good news.

Angus was ushered into a large, impressive-looking apartment opening out from the waiting-room. A man was seated at a handsome rosewood desk nearly in the middle of the room, with his back to the light–a desk upon which stood a telephone, a set of push-bells, a pile of papers arranged with methodical care, several cardboard folders similar to those used in Government offices, and very little else. He looked at his visitor through horn-rimmed glasses without changing his position.

“You wish to see me?” he enquired. “My name is Bragg.”

Angus acknowledged the information courteously and sank, uninvited, into a high-backed chair placed at a convenient distance from the table.

“Very glad to make your acquaintance.” he murmured.

Mr. Peter Bragg coughed slightly. He was short and inclined towards a certain rotundity of figure, clean-shaven, of pink and white complexion, and of singularly youthful appearance–an effect which his glasses seemed designed to counteract. He was wearing the right sort of clothes, but in a sense he seemed almost as new as his furniture.

“What might be your name and the nature of your business?” he enquired.

“Business? Oh, I haven’t any business,” Angus admitted carelessly. “Mere matter of curiosity, my looking you up. Seemed such a queer thing, you see, a fellow having a brass plate outside his door in the Bellevue Flats. Of course you know that no doctors or dentists or those sort of people are allowed here.”

Mr. Peter Bragg had the air of one endeavouring to be patient with an impossible person.

“Do I understand you to say that you rang my bell and introduced yourself here for the sole purpose of asking me why I chose the most ordinary means of indicating my exact whereabouts to my friends?”

“Something like that,” Angus assented, with unabated good-humour. “It’s a very nice plate–lettering in quite good taste, and all that, so long as you have to have it. Unusual name yours, by-the-by. Seems to me I’ve heard it before somewhere.”

“Will it be of interest to you,” the young man at the table asked gently, “if I confess that I find your visit something of an intrusion?”

Angus smiled at him pleasantly, and the smile of a young man as good-looking and agreeable as the Honourable George Vincent Angus was a hard thing to resist.

“Don’t get huffy,” he begged. “Have a cigarette?”

Mr. Peter Bragg waved away the proffered case.

“Thank you,” he declined. “I seldom smoke during the daytime.”

Angus selected a cigarette for himself, tapped it on the arm of his chair, lit it, and, leaning a little further back, assumed a more comfortable position. His involuntary host watched him with impassive expression.

“Quite a friendly call, I can assure you,” the former continued. “I’m a sort of neighbour, as I explained, only I camp out in the attic. I say, you wouldn’t mind taking off those spectacles for a moment, would you?”

Mr. Peter Bragg hesitated, but finally complied. His visitor rose to his feet, sat on the edge of the rosewood table, and, leaning over, patted him on the shoulder.

“Pudgy Pete, by Jove!” he exclaimed. “I knew there was something familiar about you. I believe I christened you myself. Fancy your not remembering me!”

“I remember you perfectly,” was the composed reply. “You are the Honourable George Vincent Angus, second son of Lord Moningham, and you were expelled from Marlowe’s during my second year.”

Angus indulged in a little grimace.

“No need to drag up those trifling indiscretions of youth,” he murmured deprecatingly. “You went on to Harrow afterwards, didn’t you? That’s where I lost sight of you.”

“I went to Harrow.” Peter Bragg admitted. “Owing, I suppose, to family influence, you were received into Walter’s, and afterwards at Eton.”

“Family influence had nothing whatever to do with it,” Angus protested cheerfully. “My cricket worked the oracle. Besides, all that I had done was to lock old Marlowe up and take his class the day he wouldn’t let us go to see the football match.”

“A gross act of insubordination in which I am thankful to remember that I took no part,” Peter Bragg declared.

“Oh, shut up!” his visitor enjoined. “Anyway, here we are now, and let’s get back to it. What the devil do you mean by sporting a brass plate outside that magnificent mahogany door of yours, and why have you what your butler calls a ‘waiting-room’? I can understand a pal dropping in to see you now and then, but why on earth should anyone ‘wait’ to see you?”

Peter Bragg leaned back in his chair. The tips of his fingers were pressed together. His nails were almost too well manicured.

“You always were a curious, interfering sort of chap, Angus,” he remarked. “I see you haven’t changed.”

“Not in the least,” was the prompt admission. “Just the same as ever. Pudgy. If a thing interests me, I like to know all about it. Now be a good little man and tell me what you are up to.”

“I have established myself,” Peter Bragg announced, with an air of some dignity, “as a consulting detective.”

“As a what?” the other gasped.

“As a consulting detective, or investigator, if you prefer the word. My headquarters are in the Strand, where all the routine work is done. This is my West End branch, where I interview important clients.”

Angus stared at his late schoolfellow for a moment incredulously. Then he suddenly began to grin, and afterwards to laugh. He laughed long and pleasantly, but his mirth was apparently not infectious.

His companion’s frown deepened. Angus slid from the table, resumed his chair, crossed his legs, and leaned back with the air of one whose sense of humour has been pleasantly stimulated.

“Come to remember it,” he reflected, “you were always reading detective stories at school. Marlowe must have taken a whole library away from you at different times. Tell me. Pudgy–I’m not mistaken, am I?–you were at the bottom of every class there, weren’t you?”

“I believe so.”

“There was some question before my unfortunate little affair of your being asked to leave, eh? ‘abnormal lack of intelligence,’ the old man use to say you displayed.”

“I was not a success at school,” Peter Bragg condescended to admit. “Many men, though, who have prospered in the world exceedingly, have commenced life in the same fashion.”

Angus nodded sympathetically. He had still the air of a man moved to gentle but continuous mirth. A twinkle of humour remained in his eyes. The idea of Pudgy Pete as a detective appealed to him irresistibly.

“I trust for your own sake, Peter,” he said, “that you are not–er–dependent for your livelihood upon success in your profession?”

“My livelihood,” Peter Bragg confided, “is already secured. My uncle–”

“My God, of course! Bragg’s Knife Polish, wasn’t it? The old man left you a matter of half a million, didn’t he?”

“He left me a considerable fortune,” was the somewhat stiff admission.

“I see,” Angus murmured. “So you’re taking this up just as a hobby. Any clients yet?” Peter Bragg coughed.

“You will excuse me,” he begged, “if I refrain from discussing the details of my business with you. A certain amount of secrecy–”

“Oh, chuck it, Pudgy,” his visitor begged, lighting another cigarette. “You always were a funny boy, and with all that money why shouldn’t you play at doing what you want to? Won’t you get a little bored with it, though–sitting here waiting for clients?”

“I don’t anticipate having to wait very long,” was the calm reply. “I took over the business of Macpherson’s, Limited, with all their staff, and there is always plenty doing there in a minor sort of way. They consult me occasionally, and I deal with the important cases here.”

“You mean to say that you have already an established organisation?” Angus demanded.

Peter Bragg made no immediate reply. He rang one of the bells by his side, and almost at once, through a door communicating with an inner apartment, a young woman appeared. She was plainly dressed, and her dark, chestnut-coloured hair was brushed severely back from her forehead, as though to attract as little attention as possible to the fineness of its quality. She was creamily pale and she wore tinted glasses which one instinctively felt were unnecessary. In movements and speech she was a study of quiescence.

“Has number seven report come in yet. Miss Ash?” her employer asked.

“Ten minutes ago, sir.”

“Bring it, please.”

Her errand was completed in an incredibly short space of time, considering that she had not once given the impression of haste. Peter Bragg opened the folder which she had brought, straightened his spectacles upon his nose, and, after a glance at his visitor, commenced to read.

“At three o’clock yesterday afternoon,” he began–“having lunched at the Ritz, by-the-by–you arrived at Ranelagh intending to play polo against the Incogniti. You found, however, that a back had already been chosen, and you decided to wait for Saturday’s match. In the bar afterwards–”

Angus was leaning forward in his chair. His indifferent expression had vanished. He was staring at his erstwhile school-fellow in frank amazement.

“What the–”

“Let me finish, I beg of you,” Peter Bragg went on, with an expostulatory wave of the hand. “In the bar afterwards you met a Captain Milner with whom you had a somewhat prolonged conversation, chiefly concerned with a string of polo ponies which are up for side somewhere in Gloucestershire. Later you found your father, Lord Moningham, on the lawn, and had tea with him. Then, at Lady Sybil Fakenham’s urgent request, you made up a four at tennis. You had your flannels in the dressing-room, but you were obliged to borrow some shoes. Towards six o’clock you drove back to town, dined at Moningham House and returned to your rooms for a short time, where you received a visitor. Afterwards you supped at the Embassy with friends, called in at your Club, and arrived back here shortly after two. Correct, I think.”

Peter Bragg pushed the folder away from him and leaned back in his chair. Angus had risen to his feet. He was a little bewildered, more than a little inclined to be angry.

“Will you explain,” he demanded, “what the devil you mean by having my footsteps dogged?”

“There is no law, you know, against anything of the sort,” was the good-tempered reply–“nothing to prevent my having your movements watched if it amuses me. Let me remove any anxiety you may feel, at once, though. We have nothing against you. You are not one of our cases, nor, I hope, are you likely to be. The fact of the matter is that I never allow our City staff to be idle, and whenever we have a man doing nothing I turn him on to the first person I can think of, and demand a report. He never knows whether the thing is serious or not and it keeps him from rusting.”

The position as between the two men had become curiously reversed. It was Peter Bragg now who was good-humoured, airy, and indifferent, his companion whose face had darkened, and who had shown signs for several moments of annoyance if not of anger. Suddenly, however, the humour of the situation appealed to him. He burst out laughing.

“Do you mean, after all, then, Pudgy,” he exclaimed, “that I am to take you seriously? Gad, I wish you’d take me into partnership,”

Peter Bragg took off his glasses and wiped them, looking more ridiculously youthful than ever.

“Oh, I’m in this thing seriously enough as you may find out some tiny or another,” he declared. “I have proved to you that I have an organisation. Perhaps you’d like to be present whilst I interview a client. Sit down again, do. Light another cigarette if you want to,”

He touched a bell. The butler entered almost immediately. “Is Miss Burton in the waiting-room?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You can show her in.”

Angus rose uncertainly to his feet.

“I say, if she’s really a client, she won’t want me here,” he observed. “I’ll toddle off.”

Peter Bragg motioned him back.

“I have a particular reason for wishing you to remain,” he confided.

There was no time for further protest, for the door had already been opened and the young lady was being ushered in. Both men rose to their feet. She came timidly forward.

“This is Miss Burton, is it not?” Peter Bragg said. “My name is Bragg. I am very glad to meet you. Please take a seat. Permit me to introduce my friend, Mr. George Angus. I will explain his presence later.”

The girl accepted the chair which Angus had offered her. She looked up at him with a timid little smile.

“You remember me, Mr. Angus?” she asked.

“Of course I do,” he answered, with a sudden wave of recollection. “You were governess to my sister’s children, weren’t you? Spent a summer at Moningham once?”

She nodded.

“Your sister was always very kind to me,” she said. “Unfortunately, as the children grew older my French wasn’t good enough. I have been for two years now with Mrs. Goldberg in Gloucester Terrace.”

Angus looked at her kindly. He had indistinct but pleasant memories of the timid, blue-eyed young woman whom his nieces had adored. He turned towards his old schoolfellow.

“I think I’ll be getting along, Peter,” he suggested. “If Miss Burton wishes to consult you, I am sure she would rather see you alone.”

“Unless the young lady feels that way about it, I should prefer you to remain,” Peter Bragg announced. “Two heads are better than one, and I have an idea that you may be interested in her story. Have you any objection to Mr. Angus’s presence, Miss Burton?”

She shook her head. The look of trouble which had been in her face when she had first entered the room had returned. Her eyes were dim and her forehead wrinkled. She was obviously very nervous.

“I don’t mind in the least, Mr. Bragg,” she assented. “I don’t know whether anyone can help me, though. It all seems so terrible.”

“Please tell your story.” he directed. “Tell us in as few words as possible, but leave nothing out.”

She clasped her hands in front of her. She sat looking at neither of them–looking at one particular spot in the wall.

“I am quite poor,” she began. “The few relatives I have are not very near ones, and they are also poor. I was happy at Lady Cranston’s. I have been miserable ever since. A few months ago piece of very good fortune came to me. The only nice man who ever visited at Mrs. Goldberg’s, began to take some notice of me. To my surprise, one day he asked me to marry him. We were to have been married next Thursday.”

She paused and showed signs of breaking down.

“Now the trouble, please,” Peter Bragg demanded briskly.

“Eighteen months ago,” she went on, “I met a man in the Park, where I used to walk sometimes in the evening. He looked nice and he obviously wanted to speak to me. My life with Mrs. Goldberg was very unhappy. I never had a moment’s pleasure, or anyone to say a kind word. I let him speak to me. We became very friendly. He was always sympathetic, and that counted for so much. He didn’t want to marry me–I think he was married already, but separated from his wife. I went on seeing him even after I knew. We had dinners together, and very often he used to beg me to go away with him. I never meant to. I don’t think I ever should have done, but my life was so dreary that I couldn’t break off with him altogether. I used to write him letters–foolish letters, and a great many of them. One day, as I was reading the morning paper, I had a terrible shock. I saw that he had been run over by a taxi-cab in St. James’s Street and killed.”

Angus ventured upon a murmured word of sympathy: Peter Bragg remained silent.

“We were leaving for Scotland the next day,” she went on, “and when we came back after three or four months, Mr. Poynton, the gentleman I am engaged to, began to call. I suppose it was very heartless of me, but I had almost forgotten about Mr. Sinclair–that was the other gentleman’s name–when last week I received this letter.”

She handed it across the table. Peter Bragg smoothed out the folds and read aloud:

“It is dated,” he announced, “from number eleven, Dinsmoor Street, West Kensington, and it is signed,” he added, turning over the sheet, “by Philip Drayton, Major–

“My dear young Lady,

“I am writing you with the utmost reluctance a letter which I fear may distress you, and which certainly treats of a very disagreeable affair. An old servant of mine, George Roberts, lies ill in a London hospital. He is penniless and has apparently a family dependent upon him. He has in his possession a packet of letters written by you, addressed to his late employer, a Mr. Sinclair, who was killed in a taxi-cab accident. The scoundrel should, of course, have returned them to you, and he assured me that he fully intended to do so. Now, however, he has met with unexpected reverses, and although I must do him the justice to admit that he seems heartily ashamed of himself, he insists upon having a thousand pounds far them, or inviting a Mr. Poynton, to whom I think you are engaged, to purchase them at that price. I did my best to make Roberts see the enormity of his proposed action, but he insists upon it that his first duty is to his wife and family whom he is leaving penniless. I have persuaded him to entrust the letters to my care, and I think you had better come and see me and discuss the matter.

“Sincerely yours,

“Philip Drayton.”

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