What Happened to Forester - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

What Happened to Forester ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim



Major Andrew Forester is a retired British Army officer, of no discernible occupation, who wanders about Europe, England and the United States. He is looking for adventure, but not outside the bounds of the acceptable. He is willing to skirt the law, but not break it. His peripatetic life style brings him in contact with scam artists, gold-diggers, art thieves, industrial spies, taxi dancers, and flappers. Sometimes he benefits from these associations, but at other times he is their victim. He does this all with style, impeccable clothing, and a humorous tolerance of human failings. „What Happened to Forester” is collection of short stories which includes the following ones: „Ange Marie”, „The modern marauder”, „The shrew of Madrid”, „An ethical dilemma”, „The fugitive of Adelphie terrace”, „The battling pacifist” and others.

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I FIRST saw Ange Marie as a friend and I were in the act of quitting one of the eleven tavernes, a casual acquaintance with which entitles you to the freedom of the night life of Marseilles. I made some excuse to loiter.

“What a lovely child!” I exclaimed.

My companion smiled mysteriously. He was a connection of the Chef de Sûreté, and such a smile meant something.

“She is very beautiful,” he admitted, “but a word of advice to you, my friend: if ever you should have an hour to spare here, and seek a feminine companion for these rounds–do not choose Ange Marie.”

Nevertheless, I continued to loiter for the sole purpose of watching her. Her face was oval and almost j»erfect in shape; her complexion transparent; her eyes the clearest, sweetest brown imaginable. She was dressed with nunlike simplicity–a plain black gown, with what seemed to be a wide collar of gauzy white material round the neck, a simple hat, elegant shoes and bag–a noticeable figure apart from her beauty amongst the more flamboyant sisters of her craft. To her companion I took an immediate dislike. He was a thin, aesthetic-looking Englishman, middle-aged, clean-shaven, with an unpleasant mouth and a curious glitter in his eyes, one of which seemed to be set farther back in his head than the other, giving the impression of a squint. He was badly dressed in ill-fitting dinner clothes, and every detail of his toilet was as annoying as his personality. They danced together–he very badly and she divinely–and as they passed Ange Marie glanced up at me. Perhaps she understood my admiration; at any rate she smiled. My companion passed his arm through mine.

“Enough for to-night, my friend, I think,” he remarked significantly. “We go.”

At my hotel, where we parted, he laid his hand upon my shoulder. He had been liaison officer to my regiment during the War, there had been some question of my having rendered him a valuable service, and for two people who saw one another seldom we were certainly friends.

“Andrew,” he said, “I want you to promise me something.”

I knew perfectly well what that something would be. The matter had been in my mind.

“Don’t leave the hotel again to-night,” he begged.

I hesitated. The allure of Ange Marie was insidious. I was approaching middle age, a somewhat dull person at times, as a soldier retired from the Army before his time is inclined to be, but still with that unsatisfied craving for adventures which should remain, perhaps, the heritage of youth alone. I was entirely alone in the world, too, without ties or responsibilities, and the idea of an hour’s flirtation and a dance with her was extraordinarily attractive.

“I do not speak without reason,” my friend continued earnestly. “Ange Marie is watched by the police. She is strongly suspected already of two–irregularities. She is not a safe companion, and, although we do our best, Marseilles is Marseilles.”

“All right,” I promised regretfully. “It is late enough, anyway. All the same, I don’t believe that the child could do any one harm.”

Whereupon we parted.

I boarded the P. & O. boat for Tilbury late on the following afternoon. The major part of the passengers, in a hurry to reach their journey’s end, had already departed by train, and the ship was handed over to the tub-and-hose activities of the lascars. I occupied myself, therefore, for half an hour, in unpacking, but just as we started I made my way on deck to find a very distressed looking steward–an old friend of mine, as a matter of fact– watching the removal of the gangway.

“What’s wrong, Brown?” I inquired.

“Gent in the next cabin to yours gone and got left behind, sir,” he confided dolefully. “He landed last night–said he’d be back before midnight. Ain’t set eyes upon him since.”

“Did he take any clothes with him?”

“Not a stitch except what he stood up in. Left his things all lying about, too, and his drawers open. I’ve just locked up his cabin.”

I saw Brown again later in the evening. He was seated on a trunk in one of the side gangways, and there was a dejection in his manner scarcely to be accounted for by the mere loss of a tip.

“Heard anything of your missing passenger?” I asked.

Brown shook his head.

“He’s come to harm, sir–that’s what he’s come to,” was the lugubrious reply. “Stands to sense he don’t go out in his dinner clothes and not come back all night unless there’s trouble.”

“What sort of a fellow was he?” I inquired. “Did he drink?”

“Drink? Lord love you, he was a missionary,” the man exclaimed–“and a miserable one at that! Always gloomy and muttering to himself, he was. When he told me that he was going to dine on shore when there was a free dinner on board, I couldn’t believe it. Name of McPherson–but there was nothing Scotch about him except his stinginess, and I don’t suppose that was his fault.”

“Had he money with him?”

“All he possessed, I believe. Anyway, there was one drawer in his cabin he always kept locked, and that was wide open and empty when I went down this morning.”

“A missionary,” I reflected. “Well, I suppose a missionary might get into trouble just the some as any ordinary human being.”

“Trouble costs money,” the steward observed succinctly. “And he hadn’t got any–a lean, swivelled-eyed sort of a card. I ain’t got much pity for him, but I ‘ates Marseilles, and there’s something about his empty room gives me the shivers.”

“Lean, swivelled-eyed!” I started–perceptibly, I suppose, for Brown looked at me with curiosity.

“Describe him,” I insisted.

The steward settled down to.his task with enthusiasm.

“He was long, tall, dark, and lean as a pikestaff. He’d got a kind of glitter in his eyes, and one of them turned inwards a bit. He’d fished out what he called his ‘dress suit’ last night. He’d never worn it but once all the voyage–coat down almost to his knees, baggy trousers, and a wisp of a tie. He looked a card, I can tell you!”

On the very steps of the wireless room, to which I presently made my way, I paused. Ange Marie, Ange Marie, what have you to do with missionaries? I knew perfectly well why I hesitated. I was afraid of bringing trouble on Ange Marie. Nevertheless, I did my duty, and sent a marconigram to the Chef de Sûreté at Marseilles.

It is not always that a good action brings its own reward, and in this case it certainly did not. At Tilbury, half an hour of my time was taken up by a very persistent gentleman from Scotland Yard who introduced himself by tapping my shoulder in the most official fashion, besieged me with questions about my doings in Marseilles, and was particularly curious as to why I imagined that the man whom I saw in the Taverne des Grenouilles was the missing passenger from the boat. It was not until he was perfectly sure that he had collected all the information I was able to impart that he condescended to answer my own questions. McPherson had been found drowned in Marseilles Harbour, and Ange Marie was in prison. Would I go back to Marseilles and give evidence? I would not. And more than ever I regretted having sent that marconigram.

My week-end host, Gordon Pensent, apologised for the cocktails which stood upon the tray side by side with the goblets of Amontillado.

“As a wine merchant, and one of the old school,” he said, “you must know how I detest these things, but my wife insists.”

“Your wife!” I exclaimed.

Pensent was a man of some fifty years of age, and I had looked upon him as a confirmed bachelor. He nodded.

“A little adventure which happened to me when I was making the tour of my vineyards a month or so ago,” he confided–“and here is the result.”

There was the sound of light footsteps outside, the opening of the door– and Ange Marie! Pensent was never a suspicious man, and he was quite willing to believe that my momentary stupefaction was due to surprise at finding him married at all, and to his wife’s unusual beauty. She had not abandoned her simplicity of style, but the Rue de la Paix had confirmed her exquisite taste and added its finishing touches. She was still without adornment, but a single string of pearls gleamed upon her neck. She herself, though she recognised me, was wonderful. She played the hostess perfectly. She chattered of her old home in the Dauphiné, where she and Pensent had apparently met, praised the beauty of England but deplored its climate. Pensent, whose French was far from fluent, enacted the role of elderly and adoring spouse to the point of fatuousness. It was all very muddling, and here was I face to face with another problem connected with Ange Marie. Whether it was her cleverness or her intense confidence in my discretion, I could not tell, hut she showed no signs of wanting to speak to me privately. Nevertheless, when the opportunity came–as it did in the lounge after dinner–she was swift to take advantage of it.

“Until to-morrow, no word–I insist.”

“What happened?” I demanded.

She looked around. It was a very beautiful lounge, with an encircling gallery, now, however, empty. Pensent had always been a rich man, and the house was famous.

“That crazy Englishman with whom I spent the evening–he was found drowned. He sobbed like a child for his sins. What had I to do with him or his conscience? As to money–it was the pocket-money of a child he had. Nevertheless, they were severe.

They sent me to prison for a month, and banished me from Marseilles for a year.”

“And then?”

“Monsieur–my husband now–he came to the village where I lived. I told him that I was a governess taking a holiday. If you wish to speak, you must, but you will wait until to-morrow.”

“I will wait,” I promised.

So this was the second problem with which I was confronted concerning Ange Marie.

She managed well, for in the morning she was deputed to show me some improvements on the estate whilst Pensent went to church. She led me straight to a charming little cottage dower house which I remembered to have been occupied by Pensent’s sister, and here, upon the veranda, from which was a pleasant view of the gardens, house and lake, was set a small luncheon table, at which were seated two typical French peasants. The man was brown of skin with grey moustache and closely cropped beard and head. He wore his English clothes a little awkwardly, but his elastic-side brown shoes remained typically French. The woman was bent a little in figure. She wore a white, close-fitting cap and dress of stiff black silk. Her face was brown and wrinkled, and her hand, which Ange Marie was caressing affectionately, was hard and gnarled like a walnut shell.

Papa and Maman and Ange Marie!

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