Indiscretions of Archie
P. G. Wodehouse
Part 2 out of 6
The only other occupant of the lift was a striking-looking woman of
foreign appearance, dressed in a way that made Archie feel that she
must be somebody or she couldn't look like that. Her face, too,
seemed vaguely familiar. She entered the lift at the second floor
where the tea-room is, and she had the contented expression of one
who had tea'd to her satisfaction. She got off at the same floor as
Archie, and walked swiftly, in a lithe, pantherist way, round the
bend in the corridor. Archie followed more slowly. When he reached
the door of his room, the passage was empty. He inserted the key in
his door, turned it, pushed the door open, and pocketed the key. He
was about to enter when the bag again squirmed gently in his grip.
From the days of Pandora, through the epoch of Bluebeard's wife,
down to the present time, one of the chief failings of humanity has
been the disposition to open things that were better closed. It
would have been simple for Archie to have taken another step and put
a door between himself and the world, but there came to him the
irresistible desire to peep into the bag now--not three seconds
later, but now. All the way up in the lift he had been battling with
the temptation, and now he succumbed.
The bag was one of those simple bags with a thingummy which you
press. Archie pressed it. And, as it opened, out popped the head of
Peter. His eyes met Archie's. Over his head there seemed to be an
invisible mark of interrogation. His gaze was curious, but kindly.
He appeared to be saying to himself, "Have I found a friend?"
Serpents, or Snakes, says the Encyclopaedia, are reptiles of the
saurian class Ophidia, characterised by an elongated, cylindrical,
limbless, scaly form, and distinguished from lizards by the fact
that the halves (RAMI) of the lower jaw are not solidly united at
the chin, but movably connected by an elastic ligament. The vertebra
are very numerous, gastrocentrous, and procoelous. And, of course,
when they put it like that, you can see at once that a man might
spend hours with combined entertainment and profit just looking at a
Archie would no doubt have done this; but long before he had time
really to inspect the halves (RAMI) of his new friend's lower jaw
and to admire its elastic fittings, and long before the
gastrocentrous and procoelous character of the other's vertebrae
had made any real impression on him, a piercing scream almost at his
elbow--startled him out of his scientific reverie. A door opposite
had opened, and the woman of the elevator was standing staring at
him with an expression of horror and fury that went through, him
like a knife. It was the expression which, more than anything else,
had made Mme. Brudowska what she was professionally. Combined with a
deep voice and a sinuous walk, it enabled her to draw down a matter
of a thousand dollars per week.
Indeed, though the fact gave him little pleasure, Archie, as a
matter of fact, was at this moment getting about--including war-tax
--two dollars and seventy-five cents worth of the great emotional
star for nothing. For, having treated him gratis to the look of
horror and fury, she now moved towards him with the sinuous walk and
spoke in the tone which she seldom permitted herself to use before
the curtain of act two, unless there was a whale of a situation that
called for it in act one.
It was the way she said it.
Archie staggered backwards as though he had been hit between the
eyes, fell through the open door of his room, kicked it to with a
flying foot, and collapsed on the bed. Peter, the snake, who had
fallen on the floor with a squashy sound, looked surprised and
pained for a moment; then, being a philosopher at heart, cheered up
and began hunting for flies under the bureau.
A DISTURBED NIGHT FOR DEAR OLD SQUIFFY
Peril sharpens the intellect. Archie's mind as a rule worked in
rather a languid and restful sort of way, but now it got going with
a rush and a whir. He glared round the room. He had never seen a
room so devoid of satisfactory cover. And then there came to him a
scheme, a ruse. It offered a chance of escape. It was, indeed, a bit
of all right.
Peter, the snake, loafing contentedly about the carpet, found
himself seized by what the Encyclopaedia calls the "distensible
gullet" and looked up reproachfully. The next moment he was in his
bag again; and Archie, bounding silently into the bathroom, was
tearing the cord off his dressing-gown.
There came a banging at the door. A voice spoke sternly. A masculine
voice this time.
"Say! Open this door!"
Archie rapidly attached the dressing-gown cord to the handle of the
bag, leaped to the window, opened it, tied the cord to a projecting
piece of iron on the sill, lowered Peter and the bag into the
depths, and closed the window again. The whole affair took but a few
seconds. Generals have received the thanks of their nations for
displaying less resource on the field of battle.
He opened the-door. Outside stood the bereaved woman, and beside her
a bullet-headed gentleman with a bowler hat on the back of his head,
in whom Archie recognised the hotel detective.
The hotel detective also recognised Archie, and the stern cast of
his features relaxed. He even smiled a rusty but propitiatory smile.
He imagined--erroneously--that Archie, being the son-in-law of the
owner of the hotel, had a pull with that gentleman; and he resolved
to proceed warily lest he jeopardise his job.
"Why, Mr. Moffam!" he said, apologetically. "I didn't know it was
you I was disturbing."
"Always glad to have a chat," said Archie, cordially. "What seems to
be the trouble?"
"My snake!" cried the queen of tragedy. "Where is my snake?"
Archie, looked at the detective. The detective looked at Archie.
"This lady," said the detective, with a dry little cough, "thinks
her snake is in your room, Mr. Moffam,"
"Snake's what the lady said,"
"My snake! My Peter!" Mme. Brudowska's voice shook with emotion. "He
is here--here in this room,"
Archie shook his head.
"No snakes here! Absolutely not! I remember noticing when I came
"The snake is here--here in this room. This man had it in a bag! I
saw him! He is a thief!"
"Easy, ma'am!" protested the detective. "Go easy! This gentleman is
the boss's son-in-law."
"I care not who he is! He has my snake! Here--' here in this room!"
"Mr. Moffam wouldn't go round stealing snakes."
"Rather not," said Archie. "Never stole a snake in my life. None of
the Moffams have ever gone about stealing snakes. Regular family
tradition! Though I once had an uncle who kept gold-fish."
"Here he is! Here! My Peter!"
Archie looked at the detective. The detective looked at Archie. "We
must humour her!" their glances said.
"Of course," said Archie, "if you'd like to search the room, what?
What I mean to say is, this is Liberty Hall. Everybody welcome!
Bring the kiddies!"
"I will search the room!" said Mme. Brudowska.
The detective glanced apologetically at Archie.
"Don't blame me for this, Mr. Moffam," he urged.
"Rather not! Only too glad you've dropped in!"
He took up an easy attitude against the window, and watched the
empress of the emotional drama explore. Presently she desisted,
baffled. For an instant she paused, as though about to speak, then
swept from the room. A moment later a door banged across the
"How do they get that way?" queried the detective, "Well, g'bye, Mr.
Moffam. Sorry to have butted in."
The door closed. Archie waited a few moments, then went to the
window and hauled in the slack. Presently the bag appeared over the
edge of the window-sill.
"Good God!" said Archie.
In the rush and swirl of recent events he must have omitted to see
that the clasp that fastened the bag was properly closed; for the
bag, as it jumped on to the window-sill, gaped at him like a yawning
face. And inside it there was nothing.
Archie leaned as far out of the window as he could manage without
committing suicide. Far below him, the traffic took its usual course
and the pedestrians moved to and fro upon the pavements. There was
no crowding, no excitement. Yet only a few moments before a long
green snake with three hundred ribs, a distensible gullet, and
gastrocentrous vertebras must have descended on that street like the
gentle rain from Heaven upon the place beneath. And nobody seemed
even interested. Not for the first time since he had arrived in
America, Archie marvelled at the cynical detachment of the New
Yorker, who permits himself to be surprised at nothing.
He shut the window and moved away with a heavy Heart. He had not had
the pleasure of an extended acquaintanceship with Peter, but he had
seen enough of him to realise his sterling qualities. Somewhere
beneath Peter's three hundred ribs there had lain a heart of gold,
and Archie mourned for his loss.
Archie had a dinner and theatre engagement that night, and it was
late when he returned to the hotel. He found his father-in-law
prowling restlessly about the lobby. There seemed to be something on
Mr. Brewster's mind. He came up to Archie with a brooding frown on
his square face.
"Who's this man Seacliff?" he demanded, without preamble. "I hear
he's a friend of yours."
"Oh, you've met him, what?" said Archie. "Had a nice little chat
together, yes? Talked of this and that, no!"
"We have not said a word to each other."
"Really? Oh, well, dear old Squiffy is one of those strong, silent
fellers you know. You mustn't mind if he's a bit dumb. He never says
much, but it's whispered round the clubs that he thinks a lot. It
was rumoured in the spring of nineteen-thirteen that Squiffy was on
the point of making a bright remark, but it never came to anything."
Mr. Brewster struggled with his feelings.
"Who is he? You seem to know him."
"Oh yes. Great pal of mine, Squiffy. We went through Eton, Oxford,
and the Bankruptcy Court together. And here's a rummy coincidence.
When they examined ME, I had no assets. And, when they examined
Squiffy, HE had no assets! Rather extraordinary, what?"
Mr. Brewster seemed to be in no mood for discussing coincidences.
"I might have known he was a friend of yours!" he said, bitterly.
"Well, if you want to see him, you'll have to do it outside my
"Why, I thought he was stopping here."
"He is--to-night. To-morrow he can look for some other hotel to
"Great Scot! Has dear old Squiffy been breaking the place up?"
Mr. Brewster snorted.
"I am informed that this precious friend of yours entered my grill-
room at eight o'clock. He must have been completely intoxicated,
though the head waiter tells me he noticed nothing at the time."
Archie nodded approvingly.
"Dear old Squiffy was always like that. It's a gift. However woozled
he might be, it was impossible to detect it with the naked eye. I've
seen the dear old chap many a time whiffled to the eyebrows, and
looking as sober as a bishop. Soberer! When did it begin to dawn on
the lads in the grill-room that the old egg had been pushing the
"The head waiter," said Mr. Brewster, with cold fury, "tells me that
he got a hint of the man's condition when he suddenly got up from
his table and went the round of the room, pulling off all the table-
cloths, and breaking everything that was on them. He then threw a
number of rolls at the diners, and left. He seems to have gone
straight to bed."
"Dashed sensible of him, what? Sound, practical chap, Squiffy. But
where on earth did he get the--er--materials?"
"From his room. I made enquiries. He has six large cases in his
"Squiffy always was a chap of infinite resource! Well, I'm dashed
sorry this should have happened, don't you know."
"If it hadn't been for you, the man would never have come here." Mr.
Brewster brooded coldly. "I don't know why it is, but ever since you
came to this hotel I've had nothing but trouble."
"Dashed sorry!" said Archie, sympathetically.
"Grrh!" said Mr. Brewster.
Archie made his way meditatively to the lift. The injustice of his
father-in-law's attitude pained him. It was absolutely rotten and
all that to be blamed for everything that went wrong in the Hotel
While this conversation was in progress, Lord Seacliff was enjoying
a refreshing sleep in his room on the fourth floor. Two hours
passed. The noise of the traffic in the street below faded away.
Only the rattle of an occasional belated cab broke the silence. In
the hotel all was still. Mr. Brewster had gone to bed. Archie, in
his room, smoked meditatively. Peace may have been said to reign.
At half-past two Lord Seacliff awoke. His hours of slumber were
always irregular. He sat up in bed and switched the light on. He was
a shock-headed young man with a red face and a hot brown eye. He
yawned and stretched himself. His head was aching a little. The room
seemed to him a trifle close. He got out of bed and threw open the
window. Then, returning to bed, he picked up a book and began to
read. He was conscious of feeling a little jumpy, and reading
generally sent him to sleep.
Much has been written on the subject of bed-books. The general
consensus of opinion is that a gentle, slow-moving story makes the
best opiate. If this be so, dear old Squiffy's choice of literature
had been rather injudicious. His book was The Adventures of Sherlock
Holmes, and the particular story, which he selected for perusal was
the one entitled, "The Speckled Band." He was not a great reader,
but, when he read, he liked something with a bit of zip to it.
Squiffy became absorbed. He had read the story before, but a long
time back, and its complications were fresh to him. The tale, it may
be remembered, deals with the activities of an ingenious gentleman
who kept a snake, and used to loose it into people's bedrooms as a
preliminary to collecting on their insurance. It gave Squiffy
pleasant thrills, for he had always had a particular horror of
snakes. As a child, he had shrunk from visiting the serpent house at
the Zoo; and, later, when he had come to man's estate and had put
off childish things, and settled down in real earnest to his self-
appointed mission of drinking up all the alcoholic fluid in England,
the distaste for Ophidia had lingered. To a dislike for real snakes
had been added a maturer shrinking from those which existed only in
his imagination. He could still recall his emotions on the occasion,
scarcely three months before, when he had seen a long, green serpent
which a majority of his contemporaries had assured him wasn't there.
Squiffy read on:--
"Suddenly another sound became audible--a very gentle, soothing
sound, like that of a small jet of steam escaping continuously from
Lord Seacliff looked up from his book with a start Imagination was
beginning to play him tricks. He could have sworn that he had
actually heard that identical sound. It had seemed to come from the
window. He listened again. No! All was still. He returned to his
book and went on reading.
"It was a singular sight that met our eyes. Beside the table, on a
wooden chair, sat Doctor Grimesby Rylott, clad in a long dressing-
gown. His chin was cocked upward and his eyes were fixed in a
dreadful, rigid stare at the corner of the ceiling. Round his brow
he had a peculiar yellow band, with brownish speckles, which seemed
to be bound tightly round his head."
"I took a step forward. In an instant his strange head-gear began to
move, and there reared itself from among his hair the squat,
diamond-shaped head and puffed neck of a loathsome serpent..."
"Ugh!" said Squiffy.
He closed the book and put it down. His head was aching worse than
ever. He wished now that he had read something else. No fellow could
read himself to sleep with this sort of thing. People ought not to
write this sort of thing.
His heart gave a bound. There it was again, that hissing sound. And
this time he was sure it came from the window.
He looked at the window, and remained staring, frozen. Over the
sill, with a graceful, leisurely movement, a green snake was
crawling. As it crawled, it raised its head and peered from side to
side, like a shortsighted man looking for his spectacles. It
hesitated a moment on the edge of the sill, then wriggled to the
floor and began to cross the room. Squiffy stared on.
It would have pained Peter deeply, for he was a snake of great
sensibility, if he had known how much his entrance had disturbed the
occupant of the room. He himself had no feeling but gratitude for
the man who had opened the window and so enabled him to get in out
of the rather nippy night air. Ever since the bag had swung open and
shot him out onto the sill of the window below Archie's, he had been
waiting patiently for something of the kind to happen. He was a
snake who took things as they came, and was prepared to rough it a
bit if necessary; but for the last hour or two he had been hoping
that somebody would do something practical in the way of getting him
in out of the cold. When at home, he had an eiderdown quilt to sleep
on, and the stone of the window-sill was a little trying to a snake
of regular habits. He crawled thankfully across the floor under
Squiffy's bed. There was a pair of trousers there, for his host had
undressed when not in a frame of mind to fold his clothes neatly and
place them upon a chair. Peter looked the trousers over. They were
not an eiderdown quilt, but they would serve. He curled up in them
and went to sleep. He had had an exciting day, and was glad to turn
After about ten minutes, the tension of Squiffy's attitude relaxed.
His heart, which had seemed to suspend its operations, began beating
again. Reason reasserted itself. He peeped cautiously under the bed.
He could see nothing.
Squiffy was convinced. He told himself that he had never really
believed in Peter as a living thing. It stood to reason that there
couldn't really be a snake in his room. The window looked out on
emptiness. His room was several stories above the ground. There was
a stern, set expression on Squiffy's face as he climbed out of bed.
It was the expression of a man who is turning over a new leaf,
starting a new life. He looked about the room for some implement
which would carry out the deed he had to do, and finally pulled out
one of the curtain-rods. Using this as a lever, he broke open the
topmost of the six cases which stood in the corner. The soft wood
cracked and split. Squiffy drew out a straw-covered bottle. For a
moment he stood looking at it, as a man might gaze at a friend on
the point of death. Then, with a sudden determination, he went into
the bathroom. There was a crash of glass and a gurgling sound.
Half an hour later the telephone in Archie's room rang. "I say,
Archie, old top," said the voice of Squiffy.
"Halloa, old bean! Is that you?"
"I say, could you pop down here for a second? I'm rather upset."
"Absolutely! Which room?"
"I'll be with you eftsoons or right speedily."
"Thanks, old man."
"What appears to be the difficulty?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, I thought I saw a snake!"
"I'll tell you all about it when you come down."
Archie found Lord Seacliff seated on his bed. An arresting aroma of
mixed drinks pervaded the atmosphere.
"I say! What?" said Archie, inhaling.
"That's all right. I've been pouring my stock away. Just finished
the last bottle."
"I told you. I thought I saw a snake!"
Squiffy shivered slightly.
Archie hesitated. He perceived that there are moments when silence
is the best policy. He had been worrying himself over the
unfortunate case of his friend, and now that Fate seemed to have
provided a solution, it would be rash to interfere merely to ease
the old bean's mind. If Squiffy was going to reform because he
thought he had seen an imaginary snake, better not to let him know
that the snake was a real one.
"Dashed serious!" he said.
"Bally dashed serious!" agreed Squiffy. "I'm going to cut it out!"
"You don't think," asked Squiffy, with a touch of hopefulness, "that
it could have been a real snake?"
"Never heard of the management supplying them."
"I thought it went under the bed."
"Well, take a look."
"Not me! I say, old top, you know, I simply can't sleep in this room
now. I was wondering if you could give me a doss somewhere in
"Rather! I'm in five-forty-one. Just above. Trot along up. Here's
the key. I'll tidy up a bit here, and join you in a minute."
Squiffy put on a dressing-gown and disappeared. Archie looked under
the bed. From the trousers the head of Peter popped up with its
usual expression of amiable enquiry. Archie nodded pleasantly, and
sat down on the bed. The problem of his little friend's immediate
future wanted thinking over.
He lit a cigarette and remained for a while in thought. Then he
rose. An admirable solution had presented itself. He picked Peter up
and placed him in the pocket of his dressing-gown. Then, leaving the
room, he mounted the stairs till he reached the seventh floor.
Outside a room half-way down the corridor he paused.
From within, through the open transom, came the rhythmical snoring
of a good man taking his rest after the labours of the day. Mr.
Brewster was always a heavy sleeper.
"There's always a way," thought Archie, philosophically, "if a
chappie only thinks of it."
His father-in-law's snoring took on a deeper note. Archie extracted
Peter from his pocket and dropped him gently through the transom.
A LETTER FROM PARKER
As the days went by and he settled down at the Hotel Cosmopolis,
Archie, looking about him and revising earlier judgments, was
inclined to think that of all his immediate circle he most admired
Parker, the lean, grave valet of Mr. Daniel Brewster. Here was a man
who, living in the closest contact with one of the most difficult
persons in New York, contrived all the while to maintain an unbowed
head, and, as far as one could gather from appearances, a tolerably
cheerful disposition. A great man, judge him by what standard you
pleased. Anxious as he was to earn an honest living, Archie would
not have changed places with Parker for the salary of a movie-star.
It was Parker who first directed Archie's attention to the hidden
merits of Pongo. Archie had drifted into his father-in-law's suite
one morning, as he sometimes did in the effort to establish more
amicable relations, and had found it occupied only by the valet, who
was dusting the furniture and bric-a-brac with a feather broom
rather in the style of a man-servant at the rise of the curtain of
an old-fashioned farce. After a courteous exchange of greetings,
Archie sat down and lit a cigarette. Parker went on dusting.
"The guv'nor," said Parker, breaking the silence, "has some nice
little objay dar, sir."
"Objay dar, sir."
Light dawned upon Archie.
"Of course, yes. French for junk. I see what you mean now. Dare say
you're right, old friend. Don't know much about these things
Parker gave an appreciative flick at a vase on the mantelpiece.
"Very valuable, some of the guv'nor's things." He had picked up the
small china figure of the warrior with the spear, and was grooming
it with the ostentatious care of one brushing flies off a sleeping
Venus. He regarded this figure with a look of affectionate esteem
which seemed to Archie absolutely uncalled-for. Archie's taste in
Art was not precious. To his untutored eye the thing was only one
degree less foul than his father-in-law's Japanese prints, which he
had always observed with silent loathing. "This one, now," continued
Parker. "Worth a lot of money. Oh, a lot of money."
"What, Pongo?" said Archie incredulously.
"I always call that rummy-looking what-not Pongo. Don't know what
else you could call him, what!"
The valet seemed to disapprove of this levity. He shook his head and
replaced the figure on the mantelpiece.
"Worth a lot of money," he repeated. "Not by itself, no."
"Oh, not by itself?"
"No, sir. Things like this come in pairs. Somewhere or other there's
the companion-piece to this here, and if the guv'nor could get hold
of it, he'd have something worth having. Something that connoozers
would give a lot of money for. But one's no good without the other.
You have to have both, if you understand my meaning, sir."
"I see. Like filling a straight flush, what?"
Archie gazed at Pongo again, with the dim hope of discovering
virtues not immediately apparent to the casual observer. But without
success. Pongo left him cold--even chilly. He would not have taken
Pongo as a gift, to oblige a dying friend.
"How much would the pair be worth?" he asked. "Ten dollars?"
Parker smiled a gravely superior smile. "A leetle more than that,
sir. Several thousand dollars, more like it."
"Do you mean to say," said Archie, with honest amazement, "that
there are chumps going about loose--absolutely loose--who would pay
that for a weird little object like Pongo?"
"Undoubtedly, sir. These antique china figures are in great demand
Archie looked at Pongo once more, and shook his head.
"Well, well, well! It takes all sorts to make a world, what!"
What might be called the revival of Pongo, the restoration of Pongo
to the ranks of the things that matter, took place several weeks
later, when Archie was making holiday at the house which his father-
in-law had taken for the summer at Brookport. The curtain of the
second act may be said to rise on Archie strolling back from the
golf-links in the cool of an August evening. From time to time he
sang slightly, and wondered idly if Lucille would put the finishing
touch upon the all-rightness of everything by coming to meet him and
sharing his homeward walk.
She came in view at this moment, a trim little figure in a white
skirt and a pale blue sweater. She waved to Archie; and Archie, as
always at the sight of her, was conscious of that jumpy, fluttering
sensation about the heart, which, translated into words, would have
formed the question, "What on earth could have made a girl like that
fall in love with a chump like me?" It was a question which he was
continually asking himself, and one which was perpetually in the
mind also of Mr. Brewster, his father-in-law. The matter of Archie's
unworthiness to be the husband of Lucille was practically the only
one on which the two men saw eye to eye.
"Hallo--allo--allo!" said Archie. "Here we are, what! I was just
hoping you would drift over the horizon,"
Lucille kissed him.
"You're a darling," she said. "And you look like a Greek god in that
"Glad you like it." Archie squinted with some complacency down his
chest. "I always say it doesn't matter what you pay for a suit, so
long as it's right. I hope your jolly old father will feel that way
when he settles up for it."
"Where is father? Why didn't he come back with you?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, he didn't seem any too keen on my
company. I left him in the locker-room chewing a cigar. Gave me the
impression of having something on his mind,"
"Oh, Archie! You didn't beat him AGAIN?"
Archie looked uncomfortable. He gazed out to sea with something of
"Well, as a matter of fact, old thing, to be absolutely frank, I, as
it were, did!"
"Well, yes! I rather fancy I put it across him with some vim and not
a little emphasis. To be perfectly accurate, I licked him by ten and
"But you promised me you would let him beat you to-day. You know how
pleased it would have made him."
"I know. But, light of my soul, have you any idea how dashed
difficult it is to get beaten by your festive parent at golf?"
"Oh, well!" Lucille sighed. "It can't be helped, I suppose." She
felt in the pocket of her sweater. "Oh, there's a letter for you.
I've just been to fetch the mail. I don't know who it can be from.
The handwriting looks like a vampire's. Kind of scrawly."
Archie inspected the envelope. It provided no solution.
"That's rummy! Who could be writing to me?"
"Open it and see."
"Dashed bright scheme! I will, Herbert Parker. Who the deuce is
"Parker? Father's valet's name was Parker. The one he dismissed when
he found he was wearing his shirts."
"Do you mean to say any reasonable chappie would willingly wear the
sort of shirts your father--? I mean to say, there must have been
"Do read the letter. I expect he wants to use your influence with
father to have him taken back."
"MY influence? With your FATHER? Well, I'm dashed. Sanguine sort of
Johnny, if he does. Well, here's what he says. Of course, I remember
jolly old Parker now--great pal of mine."
Dear Sir,--It is some time since the undersigned had the
honour of conversing with you, but I am respectfully trusting
that you may recall me to mind when I mention that until
recently I served Mr. Brewster, your father-in-law, in the
capacity of valet. Owing to an unfortunate misunderstanding,
I was dismissed from that position and am now temporarily out
of a job. "How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, son of
the morning!" (Isaiah xiv. 12.)
"You know," said Archie, admiringly, "this bird is hot stuff! I mean
to say he writes dashed well."
It is not, however, with my own affairs that I desire to
trouble you, dear sir. I have little doubt that all will be
well with me and that I shall not fall like a sparrow to the
ground. "I have been young and now am old; yet have I not
seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread"
(Psalms xzxvii. 25). My object in writing to you is as
follows. You may recall that I had the pleasure of meeting
you one morning in Mr. Brewster's suite, when we had an
interesting talk on the subject of Mr. B.'s objets d'art.
You may recall being particularly interested in a small
china figure. To assist your memory, the figure to which I
allude is the one which you whimsically referred to as Pongo.
I informed you, if you remember, that, could the accompanying
figure be secured, the pair would be extremely valuable.
I am glad to say, dear sir? that this has now transpired, and
is on view at Beale's Art Galleries on West Forty-Fifty Street,
where it will be sold to-morrow at auction, the sale commencing
at two-thirty sharp. If Mr. Brewster cares to attend, he will,
I fancy, have little trouble in securing it at a reasonable price.
I confess that I had thought of refraining from apprising my late
employer of this matter, but more Christian feelings have
prevailed. "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give
him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his
head" (Romans xii. 20). Nor, I must confess, am I altogether
uninfluenced by the thought that my action in this matter may
conceivably lead to Mr. B. consenting to forget the past and to
reinstate me in my former position. However, I am confident that
I can leave this to his good feeling.
I remain, respectfully yours,
Lucille clapped her hands.
"How splendid! Father will be pleased!"
"Yes. Friend Parker has certainly found a way to make the old dad
fond of him. Wish I could!"
"But you can, silly! He'll be delighted when you show him that
"Yes, with Parker. Old Herb. Parker's is the neck he'll fall on--not
"I wish--" she began. She stopped. Her eyes lit up. "Oh, Archie,
darling, I've got an idea!"
"Why don't you slip up to New York to-morrow and buy the thing, and
give it to father as a surprise?"
Archie patted her hand kindly. He hated to spoil her girlish day-
"Yes," he said. "But reflect, queen of my heart! I have at the
moment of going to press just two dollars fifty in specie, which I
took off your father this after-noon. We were playing twenty-five
cents a Hole. He coughed it up without enthusiasm--in fact, with a
nasty hacking sound--but I've got it. But that's all I have got."
"That's all right. You can pawn that ring and that bracelet of
"Oh, I say, what! Pop the family jewels?"
"Only for a day or two. Of course, once you've got the thing, father
will pay us back. He would give you all the money we asked him for,
if he knew what it was for. But I want to surprise him. And if you
were to go to him and ask him for a thousand dollars without telling
him what it was for, he might refuse."
"He might!" said Archie. "He might!"
"It all works out splendidly. To-morrow's the Invitation Handicap,
and father's been looking forward to it for weeks. He'd hate to have
to go up to town himself and not play in it. But you can slip up and
slip back without his knowing anything about it."
"It sounds a ripe scheme. Yes, it has all the ear-marks of a
somewhat fruity wheeze! By Jove, it IS a fruity wheeze! It's an
"Good egg, you know. Halloa, here's a postscript. I didn't see it."
P.S.--I should be glad if you would convey my most
cordial respects to Mrs. Moffam. Will you also inform
her that I chanced to meet Mr. William this morning on
Broadway, just off the boat. He desired me to send his
regards and to say that he would be joining you at
Brookport in the course of a day or so. Mr. B. will be
pleased to have him back. "A wise son maketh a glad
father" (Proverbs x. 1).
"Who's Mr. William?" asked Archie.
"My brother Bill, of course. I've told you all about him."
"Oh yes, of course. Your brother Bill. Rummy to think I've got a
brother-in-law I've never seen."
"You see, we married so suddenly. When we married, Bill was in
"Good God! What for?"
"Not jail, silly. Yale. The university."
"Oh, ah, yes."
"Then he went over to Europe for a trip to broaden his mind. You
must look him up to-morrow when you get back to New York. He's sure
to be at his club."
"I'll make a point of it. Well, vote of thanks to good old Parker!
This really does begin to look like the point in my career where I
start to have your forbidding old parent eating out of my hand."
"Yes, it's an egg, isn't it!"
"Queen of my soul," said Archie enthusiastically, "it's an
The business negotiations in connection with the bracelet and the
ring occupied Archie on his arrival in New York to an extent which
made it impossible for him to call on Brother Bill before lunch. He
decided to postpone the affecting meeting of brothers-in-law to a
more convenient season, and made his way to his favourite table at
the Cosmopolis grill-room for a bite of lunch preliminary to the
fatigues of the sale. He found Salvatore hovering about as usual,
and instructed him to come to the rescue with a minute steak.
Salvatore was the dark, sinister-looking waiter who attended, among
other tables, to the one at the far end of the grill-room at which
Archie usually sat. For several weeks Archie's conversations with
the other had dealt exclusively with the bill of fare and its
contents; but gradually he had found himself becoming more personal.
Even before the war and its democratising influences, Archie had
always lacked that reserve which characterises many Britons; and
since the war he had looked on nearly everyone he met as a brother.
Long since, through the medium of a series of friendly chats, he had
heard all about Salvatore's home in Italy, the little newspaper and
tobacco shop which his mother owned down on Seventh Avenue, and a
hundred other personal details. Archie had an insatiable curiosity
about his fellow-man.
"Well done," said Archie.
"The steak. Not too rare, you know."
"Very good, sare."
Archie looked at the waiter closely. His tone had been subdued and
sad. Of course, you don't expect a waiter to beam all over his face
and give three rousing cheers simply because you have asked him to
bring you a minute steak, but still there was something about
Salvatore's manner that disturbed Archie. The man appeared to have
the pip. Whether he was merely homesick and brooding on the lost
delights of his sunny native land, or whether his trouble was more
definite, could only be ascertained by enquiry. So Archie enquired.
"What's the matter, laddie?" he said sympathetically. "Something on
"I say, there seems to be something on your mind. What's the
The waiter shrugged his shoulders, as if indicating an unwillingness
to inflict his grievances on one of the tipping classes.
"Come on!" persisted Archie encouragingly. "All pals here. Barge
alone, old thing, and let's have it."
Salvatore, thus admonished, proceeded in a hurried undertone--with
one eye on the headwaiter--to lay bare his soul. What he said was
not very coherent, but Archie could make out enough of it to gather
that it was a sad story of excessive hours and insufficient pay. He
mused awhile. The waiter's hard case touched him.
"I'll tell you what," he said at last. "When jolly old Brewster
conies back to town--he's away just now--I'll take you along to him
and we'll beard the old boy in his den. I'll introduce you, and you
get that extract from Italian opera-off your chest which you've just
been singing to me, and you'll find it'll be all right. He isn't
what you might call one of my greatest admirers, but everybody says
he's a square sort of cove and he'll see you aren't snootered. And
now, laddie, touching the matter of that steak."
The waiter disappeared, greatly cheered, and Archie, turning,
perceived that his friend Reggie van Tuyl was entering the room. He
waved to him to join his table. He liked Reggie, and it also
occurred to him that a man of the world like the heir of the van
Tuyls, who had been popping about New York for years, might be able
to give him some much-needed information on the procedure at an
auction sale, a matter on which he himself was profoundly ignorant.
DOING FATHER A BIT OF GOOD
Reggie Van Tuyl approached the table languidly, and sank down into a
chair. He was a long youth with a rather subdued and deflated look,
as though the burden of the van Tuyl millions was more than his
frail strength could support. Most things tired him.
"I say, Reggie, old top," said Archie, "you're just the lad I wanted
to see. I require the assistance of a blighter of ripe intellect.
Tell me, laddie, do you know anything about sales?"
Reggie eyed him sleepily.
"Well, they're sales, you know." He checked a yawn. "Auction sales,
"Yes," said Archie encouragingly. "Something--the name or something
--seemed to tell me that."
"Fellows put things up for sale you know, and other fellows--other
fellows go in and--and buy 'em, if you follow me."
"Yes, but what's the procedure? I mean, what do I do? That's what
I'm after. I've got to buy something at Beale's this afternoon. How
do I set about it?"
"Well," said Reggie, drowsily, "there are several ways of bidding,
you know. You can shout, or you can nod, or you can twiddle your
fingers--" The effort of concentration was too much for him. He
leaned back limply in his chair. "I'll tell you what. I've nothing
to do this afternoon. I'll come with you and show you."
When he entered the Art Galleries a few minutes later, Archie was
glad of the moral support of even such a wobbly reed as Reggie van
Tuyl. There is something about an auction room which weighs heavily
upon the novice. The hushed interior was bathed in a dim, religious
light; and the congregation, seated on small wooden chairs, gazed in
reverent silence at the pulpit, where a gentleman of commanding
presence and sparkling pince-nez was delivering a species of chant.
Behind a gold curtain at the end of the room mysterious forms
flitted to and fro. Archie, who had been expecting something on the
lines of the New York Stock Exchange, which he had once been
privileged to visit when it was in a more than usually feverish
mood, found the atmosphere oppressively ecclesiastical. He sat down
and looked about him. The presiding priest went on with his chant.
"Sixteen-sixteen-sixteen-sixteen-sixteen--worth three hundred--
sixteen-sixteen-sixteen-sixteen-sixteen--ought to bring five
nineteen-nineteen-nineteen." He stopped and eyed the worshippers
with a glittering and reproachful eye. They had, it seemed,
disappointed him. His lips curled, and he waved a hand towards a
grimly uncomfortable-looking chair with insecure legs and a good
deal of gold paint about it. "Gentlemen! Ladies and gentlemen! You
are not here to waste my time; I am not here to waste yours. Am I
seriously offered nineteen dollars for this eighteenth-century
chair, acknowledged to be the finest piece sold in New York for
months and months? Am I--twenty? I thank you. Twenty-twenty-twenty-
twenty. YOUR opportunity! Priceless. Very few extant. Twenty-five-
five-five-five-thirty-thirty. Just what you are looking for. The
only one in the City of New York. Thirty-five-five-five-five. Forty-
forty-forty-forty-forty. Look at those legs! Back it into the light,
Willie. Let the light fall on those legs!"
Willie, a sort of acolyte, manoeuvred the chair as directed. Reggie
van Tuyl, who had been yawning in a hopeless sort of way, showed his
first flicker of interest.
"Willie," he observed, eyeing that youth more with pity than
reproach, "has a face like Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy, don't you think
Archie nodded briefly. Precisely the same criticism had occurred to
"Forty-five-five-five-five-five," chanted the high-priest. "Once
forty-five. Twice forty-five. Third and last call, forty-five. Sold
at forty-five. Gentleman in the fifth row."
Archie looked up and down the row with a keen eye. He was anxious to
see who had been chump enough to give forty-five dollars for such a
frightful object. He became aware of the dog-faced Willie leaning
"Name, please?" said the canine one.
"Eh, what?" said Archie. "Oh, my name's Moffam, don't you know." The
eyes of the multitude made him feel a little nervous "Er--glad to
meet you and all that sort of rot."
"Ten dollars deposit, please," said Willie.
"I don't absolutely follow you, old bean. What is the big thought at
the back of all this?"
"Ten dollars deposit on the chair."
"You bid forty-five dollars for the chair."
"You nodded," said Willie, accusingly. "If," he went on, reasoning
closely, "you didn't want to bid, why did you nod?"
Archie was embarrassed. He could, of course, have pointed out that
he had merely nodded in adhesion to the statement that the other had
a face like Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy; but something seemed to tell
him that a purist might consider the excuse deficient in tact. He
hesitated a moment, then handed over a ten-dollar bill, the price of
Willie's feelings. Willie withdrew like a tiger slinking from the
body of its victim.
"I say, old thing," said Archie to Reggie, "this is a bit thick, you
know. No purse will stand this drain."
Reggie considered the matter. His face seemed drawn under the mental
"Don't nod again," he advised. "If you aren't careful, you get into
the habit of it. When you want to bid, just twiddle your fingers.
Yes, that's the thing. Twiddle!"
He sighed drowsily. The atmosphere of the auction room was close;
you weren't allowed to smoke; and altogether he was beginning to
regret that he had come. The service continued. Objects of varying
unattractiveness came and went, eulogised by the officiating priest,
but coldly received by the congregation. Relations between the
former and the latter were growing more and more distant. The
congregation seemed to suspect the priest of having an ulterior
motive in his eulogies, and the priest seemed to suspect the
congregation of a frivolous desire to waste his time. He had begun
to speculate openly as to why they were there at all. Once, when a
particularly repellent statuette of a nude female with an
unwholesome green skin had been offered at two dollars and had found
no bidders--the congregation appearing silently grateful for his
statement that it was the only specimen of its kind on the
continent--he had specifically accused them of having come into the
auction room merely with the purpose of sitting down and taking the
weight off their feet.
"If your thing--your whatever-it-is, doesn't come up soon, Archie,"
said Reggie, fighting off with an effort the mists of sleep, "I
rather think I shall be toddling along. What was it you came to
"It's rather difficult to describe. It's a rummy-looking sort of
what-not, made of china or something. I call it Pongo. At least,
this one isn't Pongo, don't you know--it's his little brother, but
presumably equally foul in every respect. It's all rather
complicated, I know, but--hallo!" He pointed excitedly. "By Jove!
We're off! There it is! Look! Willie's unleasing it now!"
Willie, who had disappeared through the gold curtain, had now
returned, and was placing on a pedestal a small china figure of
delicate workmanship. It was the figure of a warrior in a suit of
armour advancing with raised spear upon an adversary. A thrill
permeated Archie's frame. Parker had not been mistaken. This was
undoubtedly the companion-figure to the redoubtable Pongo. The two
were identical. Even from where he sat Archie could detect on the
features of the figure on the pedestal the same expression of
insufferable complacency which had alienated his sympathies from the
The high-priest, undaunted by previous rebuffs, regarded the figure
with a gloating enthusiasm wholly unshared by the congregation, who
were plainly looking upon Pongo's little brother as just another of
"This," he said, with a shake in his voice, "is something very
special. China figure, said to date back to the Ming Dynasty.
Unique. Nothing like it on either side of the Atlantic. If I were
selling this at Christie's in London, where people," he said,
nastily, "have an educated appreciation of the beautiful, the rare,
and the exquisite, I should start the bidding at a thousand dollars.
This afternoon's experience has taught me that that might possibly
be too high." His pince-nez sparkled militantly, as he gazed upon
the stolid throng. "Will anyone offer me a dollar for this unique
"Leap at it, old top," said Reggie van Tuyl. "Twiddle, dear boy,
twiddle! A dollar's reasonable."
"One dollar I am offered," said the high-priest, bitterly. "One
gentleman here is not afraid to take a chance. One gentleman here
knows a good thing when he sees one." He abandoned the gently
sarcastic manner for one of crisp and direct reproach. "Come, come,
gentlemen, we are not here to waste time. Will anyone offer me one
hundred dollars for this superb piece of--" He broke off, and seemed
for a moment almost unnerved. He stared at someone in one of the
seats in front of Archie. "Thank you," he said, with a sort of gulp.
"One hundred dollars I am offered! One hundred--one hundred--one
Archie was startled. This sudden, tremendous jump, this wholly
unforeseen boom in Pongos, if one might so describe it, was more
than a little disturbing. He could not see who his rival was, but it
was evident that at least one among those present did not intend to
allow Pongo's brother to slip by without a fight. He looked
helplessly at Reggie for counsel, but Reggie had now definitely
given up the struggle. Exhausted nature had done its utmost, and now
he was leaning back with closed eyes, breathing softly through his
nose. Thrown on his own resources, Archie could think of no better
course than to twiddle his fingers again. He did so, and the high-
priest's chant took on a note of positive exuberance.
"Two hundred I am offered. Much better! Turn the pedestal round,
Willie, and let them look at it. Slowly! Slowly! You aren't spinning
a roulette-wheel. Two hundred. Two-two-two-two-two." He became
suddenly lyrical. "Two-two-two--There was a young lady named Lou,
who was catching a train at two-two. Said the porter, 'Don't worry
or hurry or scurry. It's a minute or two to two-two!' Two-two-two-
Archie's concern increased. He seemed to be twiddling at this
voluble man across seas of misunderstanding. Nothing is harder to
interpret to a nicety than a twiddle, and Archie's idea of the
language of twiddles and the high-priest's idea did not coincide by
a mile. The high-priest appeared to consider that, when Archie
twiddled, it was his intention to bid in hundreds, whereas in fact
Archie had meant to signify that he raised the previous bid by just
one dollar. Archie felt that, if given time, he could make this
clear to the high-priest, but the latter gave him no time. He had
got his audience, so to speak, on the run, and he proposed to hustle
them before they could rally.
"Two hundred--two hundred--two--three--thank you, sir--three-three-
Archie sat limply in his wooden chair. He was conscious of a feeling
which he had only experienced twice in his life--once when he had
taken his first lesson in driving a motor and had trodden on the
accelerator instead of the brake; the second time more recently,
when he had made his first down-trip on an express lift. He had now
precisely the same sensation of being run away with by an
uncontrollable machine, and of having left most of his internal
organs at some little distance from the rest of his body. Emerging
from this welter of emotion, stood out the one clear fact that, be
the opposition bidding what it might, he must nevertheless secure
the prize. Lucille had sent him to New York expressly to do so. She
had sacrificed her jewellery for the cause. She relied on him. The
enterprise had become for Archie something almost sacred. He felt
dimly like a knight of old hot on the track of the Holy Grail.
He twiddled again. The ring and the bracelet had fetched nearly
twelve hundred dollars. Up to that figure his hat was in the ring.
"Eight hundred I am offered. Eight hundred. Eight-eight-eight-eight--"
A voice spoke from somewhere at the back of the room. A quiet, cold,
nasty, determined voice.
Archie rose from his seat and spun round. This mean attack from the
rear stung his fighting spirit. As he rose, a young man sitting
immediately in front of him rose too and stared likewise. He was a
square-built resolute-looking young man, who reminded Archie vaguely
of somebody he had seen before. But Archie was too busy trying to
locate the man at the back to pay much attention to him. He detected
him at last, owing to the fact that the eyes of everybody in that
part of the room were fixed upon him. He was a small man of middle
age, with tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles. He might have been a
professor or something of the kind. Whatever he was, he was
obviously a man to be reckoned with. He had a rich sort of look, and
his demeanour was the demeanour of a man who is prepared to fight it
out on these lines if it takes all the summer.
"Nine hundred I am offered. Nine-nine-nine-nine--"
Archie glared defiantly at the spectacled man.
"A thousand!" he cried.
The irruption of high finance into the placid course of the
afternoon's proceedings had stirred the congregation out of its
lethargy. There were excited murmurs. Necks were craned, feet
shuffled. As for the high-priest, his cheerfulness was now more than
restored, and his faith in his fellow-man had soared from the depths
to a very lofty altitude. He beamed with approval. Despite the
warmth of his praise he would have been quite satisfied to see
Pongo's little brother go at twenty dollars, and the reflection that
the bidding had already reached one thousand and that his commission
was twenty per cent, had engendered a mood of sunny happiness.
"One thousand is bid!" he carolled. "Now, gentlemen, I don't want to
hurry you over this. You are all connoisseurs here, and you don't
want to see a priceless china figure of the Ming Dynasty get away
from you at a sacrifice price. Perhaps you can't all see the figure
where it is. Willie, take it round and show it to 'em. We'll take a
little intermission while you look carefully at this wonderful
figure. Get a move on, Willie! Pick up your feet!"
Archie, sitting dazedly, was aware that Reggie van Tuyl had finished
his beauty sleep and was addressing the young man in the seat in
"Why, hallo," said Reggie. "I didn't know you were back. You
remember me, don't you? Reggie van Tuyl. I know your sister very
well. Archie, old man, I want you to meet my friend, Bill Brewster.
Why, dash it!" He chuckled sleepily. "I was forgetting. Of course!
"How are you?" said the young man. "Talking of my sister," he said
to Reggie, "I suppose you haven't met her husband by any chance? I
suppose you know she married some awful chump?"
"Me," said Archie.
"I married your sister. My name's Moffam."
The young man seemed a trifle taken aback.
"Sorry," he said.
"Not at all," said Archie.
"I was only going by what my father said in his letters," he
explained, in extenuation.
"I'm afraid your jolly old father doesn't appreciate me. But I'm
hoping for the best. If I can rope in that rummy-looking little
china thing that Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy is showing the customers,
he will be all over me. I mean to say, you know, he's got another
like it, and, if he can get a full house, as it were, I'm given to
understand he'll be bucked, cheered, and even braced."
The young man stared.
"Are YOU the fellow who's been bidding against me?"
"Eh, what? Were you bidding against ME?"
"I wanted to buy the thing for my father. I've a special reason for
wanting to get in right with him just now. Are you buying it for
"Absolutely. As a surprise. It was Lucille's idea. His valet, a
chappie named Parker, tipped us off that the thing was to be sold."
"Parker? Great Scot! It was Parker who tipped ME off. I met him on
Broadway, and he told me about it."
"Rummy he never mentioned it in his letter to me. Why, dash it, we
could have got the thing for about two dollars if we had pooled our
"Well, we'd better pool them now, and extinguish that pill at the
back there. I can't go above eleven hundred. That's all I've got."
"I can't go above eleven hundred myself."
"There's just one thing. I wish you'd let me be the one to hand the
thing over to Father. I've a special reason for wanting to make a
hit with him."
"Absolutely!" said Archie, magnanimously. "It's all the same to me.
I only wanted to get him generally braced, as it were, if you know
what I mean."
"That's awfully good of you."
"Not a bit, laddie, no, no, and far from it. Only too glad."
Willie had returned from his rambles among the connoisseurs, and
Pongo's brother was back on his pedestal. The high-priest cleared
his throat and resumed his discourse.
"Now that you have all seen this superb figure we will--I was
offered one thousand--one thousand-one-one-one-one--eleven hundred.
Thank you, sir. Eleven hundred I am offered."
The high-priest was now exuberant. You could see him doing figures
in his head.
"You do the bidding," said Brother Bill.
"Right-o!" said Archie.
He waved a defiant hand.
"Thirteen," said the man at the back.
"Fourteen, dash it!"
The high-priest did everything but sing. He radiated good will and
"Two thousand I am offered. Is there any advance on two thousand?
Come, gentlemen, I don't want to give this superb figure away.
Twenty-one hundred. Twenty-one-one-one-one. This is more the sort of
thing I have been accustomed to. When I was at Sotheby's Rooms in
London, this kind of bidding was a common-place. Twenty-two-two-two-
two-two. One hardly noticed it. Three-three-three. Twenty-three-
three-three. Twenty-three hundred dollars I am offered."
He gazed expectantly at Archie, as a man gazes at some favourite dog
whom he calls upon to perform a trick. But Archie had reached the
end of his tether. The hand that had twiddled so often and so
bravely lay inert beside his trouser-leg, twitching feebly. Archie
"Twenty-three hundred," said the high-priest, ingratiatingly.
Archie made no movement. There was a tense pause. The high-priest
gave a little sigh, like one waking from a beautiful dream.
"Twenty-three hundred," he said. "Once twenty-three. Twice twenty-
three. Third, last, and final call, twenty-three. Sold at twenty-
three hundred. I congratulate you, sir, on a genuine bargain!"
Reggie van Tuyl had dozed off again. Archie tapped his brother-in-
law on the shoulder.
"May as well be popping, what?"
They threaded their way sadly together through the crowd, and made
for the street. They passed into Fifth Avenue without breaking the
"Bally nuisance," said Archie, at last.
"Wonder who that chappie was?"
"Some collector, probably."
"Well, it can't be helped," said Archie.
Brother Bill attached himself to Archie's arm, and became
"I didn't want to mention it in front of van Tuyl," he said,
"because he's such a talking-machine, and it would have been all
over New York before dinner-time. But you're one of the family, and
you can keep a secret."
"Absolutely! Silent tomb and what not."
"The reason I wanted that darned thing was because I've just got
engaged to a girl over in England, and I thought that, if I could
hand my father that china figure-thing with one hand and break the
news with the other, it might help a bit. She's the most wonderful
"I'll bet she is," said Archie, cordially.
"The trouble is she's in the chorus of one of the revues over there,
and Father is apt to kick. So I thought--oh, well, it's no good
worrying now. Come along where it's quiet, and I'll tell you all
"That'll be jolly," said Archie.
SALVATORE CHOOSES THE WRONG MOMENT
Archie reclaimed the family jewellery from its temporary home next
morning; and, having done so, sauntered back to the Cosmopolis. He
was surprised, on entering the lobby, to meet his father-in-law.
More surprising still, Mr. Brewster was manifestly in a mood of
extraordinary geniality. Archie could hardly believe his eyes when
the other waved cheerily to him--nor his ears a moment later when
Mr. Brewster, addressing him as "my boy," asked him how he was and
mentioned that the day was a warm one.
Obviously this jovial frame of mind must be taken advantage of; and
Archie's first thought was of the downtrodden Salvatore, to the tale
of whose wrongs he had listened so sympathetically on the previous
day. Now was plainly the moment for the waiter to submit his
grievance, before some ebb-tide caused the milk of human kindness to
flow out of Daniel Brewster. With a swift "Cheerio!" in his father-
in-law's direction, Archie bounded into the grill-room. Salvatore,
the hour for luncheon being imminent but not yet having arrived, was
standing against the far wall in an attitude of thought.
"Laddie!" cried Archie.
"A most extraordinary thing has happened. Good old Brewster has
suddenly popped up through a trap and is out in the lobby now. And
what's still more weird, he's apparently bucked."
"Braced, you know. In the pink. Pleased about something. If you go
to him now with that yarn of yours, you can't fail. He'll kiss you
on both cheeks and give you his bank-roll and collar-stud. Charge
along and ask the head-waiter if you can have ten minutes off."
Salvatore vanished in search of the potentate named, and Archie
returned to the lobby to bask in the unwonted sunshine.
"Well, well, well, what!" he said. "I thought you were at
"I came up this morning to meet a friend of mine," replied Mr.
Brewster genially. "Professor Binstead."
"Don't think I know him."
"Very interesting man," said Mr. Brewster, still with the same
uncanny amiability. "He's a dabbler in a good many things--science,
phrenology, antiques. I asked him to bid for me at a sale yesterday.
There was a little china figure--"
Archie's jaw fell.
"China figure?" he stammered feebly.
"Yes. The companion to one you may have noticed on my mantelpiece
upstairs. I have been trying to get the pair of them for years. I
should never have heard of this one if it had not been for that
valet of mine, Parker. Very good of him to let me know of it,
considering I had fired him. Ah, here is Binstead."-He moved to
greet the small, middle-aged man with the tortoiseshell-rimmed
spectacles who was bustling across the lobby. "Well, Binstead, so
you got it?"
"I suppose the price wasn't particularly stiff?"
"Twenty-three hundred!" Mr. Brewster seemed to reel in his tracks.
"You gave me carte blanche."
"Yes, but twenty-three hundred!"
"I could have got it for a few dollars, but unfortunately I was a
little late, and, when I arrived, some young fool had bid it up to a
thousand, and he stuck to me till I finally shook him off at twenty-
three hundred. Why, this is the very man! Is he a friend of yours?"
"More a relation than a friend, what? Son-in-law, don't you know!"
Mr. Brewster's amiability had vanished.
"What damned foolery have you been up to NOW?" he demanded. "Can't I
move a step without stubbing my toe on you? Why the devil did you
"We thought it would be rather a fruity scheme. We talked it over
and came to the conclusion that it was an egg. Wanted to get hold of
the rummy little object, don't you know, and surprise you."
"Lucille and I."
"But how did you hear of it at all?"
"Parker, the valet-chappie, you know, wrote me a letter about it."
"Parker! Didn't he tell you that he had told me the figure was to be
"Absolutely not!" A sudden suspicion came to Archie. He was normally
a guileless young man, but even to him the extreme fishiness of the
part played by Herbert Parker had become apparent. "I say, you know,
it looks to me as if friend Parker had been having us all on a bit,
what? I mean to say it was jolly old Herb, who tipped your son off--
Bill, you know--to go and bid for the thing."
"Bill! Was Bill there?"
"Absolutely in person! We were bidding against each other like the
dickens till we managed to get together and get acquainted. And then
this bird--this gentleman--sailed in and started to slip it across
Professor Binstead chuckled--the care-free chuckle of a man who sees
all those around him smitten in the pocket, while he himself remains
"A very ingenious rogue, this Parker of yours, Brewster. His method
seems to have been simple but masterly. I have no doubt that either
he or a confederate obtained the figure and placed it with the
auctioneer, and then he ensured a good price for it by getting us
all to bid against each other. Very ingenious!"
Mr. Brewster struggled with his feelings. Then he seemed to overcome
them and to force himself to look on the bright side.
"Well, anyway," he said. "I've got the pair of figures, and that's
what I wanted. Is that it in that parcel?"
"This is it. I wouldn't trust an express company to deliver it.
Suppose we go up to your room and see how the two look side by
They crossed the lobby to the lift.-The cloud was still on Mr.
Brewster's brow as they stepped out and made their way to his suite.
Like most men who have risen from poverty to wealth by their own
exertions, Mr. Brewster objected to parting with his money
unnecessarily, and it was plain that that twenty-three hundred
dollars still rankled.
Mr. Brewster unlocked the door and crossed the room. Then, suddenly,
he halted, stared, and stared again. He sprang to the bell and
pressed it, then stood gurgling wordlessly.
"Anything wrong, old bean?" queried Archie, solicitously.
"Wrong! Wrong! It's gone!"
The floor-waiter had manifested himself silently in answer to the
bell, and was standing in the doorway.
"Simmons!" Mr. Brewster turned to him wildly. "Has anyone been in
this suite since I went away?"
"Nobody except your valet, sir--Parker. He said he had come to fetch
some things away. I supposed he had come from you, sir, with
Professor Binstead had unwrapped his parcel, and had placed the
Pongo on the table. There was a weighty silence. Archie picked up
the little china figure and balanced it on the palm of his hand. It
was a small thing, he reflected philosophically, but it had made
quite a stir in the world.
Mr. Brewster fermented for a while without speaking.
"So," he said, at last, in a voice trembling with self-pity, "I have
been to all this trouble--"
"And expense," put in Professor Binstead, gently.
"Merely to buy back something which had been stolen from me! And,
owing to your damned officiousness," he cried, turning on Archie, "I
have had to pay twenty-three hundred dollars for it! I don't know
why they make such a fuss about Job. Job never had anything like you
"Of course," argued Archie, "he had one or two boils."
"Boils! What are boils?"
"Dashed sorry," murmured Archie. "Acted for the best. Meant well.
And all that sort of rot!"
Professor Binstead's mind seemed occupied to the exclusion of all
other aspects of the affair, with the ingenuity of the absent
"A cunning scheme!" he said. "A very cunning scheme! This man Parker
must have a brain of no low order. I should like to feel his bumps!"
"I should like to give him some!" said the stricken Mr. Brewster. He
breathed a deep breath. "Oh, well," he said, "situated as I am, with
a crook valet and an imbecile son-in-law, I suppose I ought to be
thankful that I've still got my own property, even if I have had to
pay twenty-three hundred dollars for the privilege of keeping it."
He rounded on Archie, who was in a reverie. The thought of the
unfortunate Bill had just crossed Archie's mind. It would be many
moons, many weary moons, before Mr. Brewster would be in a suitable
mood to listen sympathetically to the story of love's young dream.
"Give me that figure!"
Archie continued to toy absently with Pongo. He was wondering now
how best to break this sad occurrence to Lucille. It would be a
disappointment for the poor girl.
"GIVE ME THAT FIGURE!"
Archie started violently. There was an instant in which Pongo seemed
to hang suspended, like Mohammed's coffin, between heaven and earth,
then the force of gravity asserted itself. Pongo fell with a sharp
crack and disintegrated. And as it did so there was a knock at the
door, and in walked a dark, furtive person, who to the inflamed
vision of Mr. Daniel Brewster looked like something connected with
the executive staff of the Black Hand. With all time at his
disposal, the unfortunate Salvatore had selected this moment for
stating his case.
"Get out!" bellowed Mr. Brewster. "I didn't ring for a waiter."
Archie, his mind reeling beneath the catastrophe, recovered himself
sufficiently to do the honours. It was at his instigation that
Salvatore was there, and, greatly as he wished that he could have
seen fit to choose a more auspicious moment for his business chat,
he felt compelled to do his best to see him through.
"Oh, I say, half a second," he said. "You don't quite understand. As
a matter of fact, this chappie is by way of being downtrodden and
oppressed and what not, and I suggested that he should get hold of
you and speak a few well-chosen words. Of course, if you'd rather--
some other time--"
But Mr. Brewster was not permitted to postpone the interview. Before
he could get his breath, Salvatore had begun to talk. He was a
strong, ambidextrous talker, whom it was hard to interrupt; and it
was not for some moments that Mr. Brewster succeeded in getting a
word in. When he did, he spoke to the point. Though not a linguist,
he had been able to follow the discourse closely enough to realise
that the waiter was dissatisfied with conditions in his hotel; and
Mr. Brewster, as has been indicated, had a short way with people who
criticised the Cosmopolis.
"You're fired!" said Mr. Brewster.
"Oh, I say!" protested Archie.
Salvatore muttered what sounded like a passage from Dante.
"Fired!" repeated Mr. Brewster resolutely. "And I wish to heaven,"
he added, eyeing his son-in-law malignantly, "I could fire you!"
"Well," said Professor Binstead cheerfully, breaking the grim
silence which followed this outburst, "if you will give me your
cheque, Brewster, I think I will be going. Two thousand three
hundred dollars. Make it open, if you will, and then I can run round
the corner and cash it before lunch. That will be capital!"
BRIGHT EYES--AND A FLY
The Hermitage (unrivalled scenery, superb cuisine, Daniel Brewster,
proprietor) was a picturesque summer hotel in the green heart of the
mountains, built by Archie's father-in-law shortly after he assumed
control of the Cosmopolis. Mr. Brewster himself seldom went there,
preferring to concentrate his attention on his New York
establishment; and Archie and Lucille, breakfasting in the airy
dining-room some ten days after the incidents recorded in the last
chapter, had consequently to be content with two out of the three
advertised attractions of the place. Through the window at their
side quite a slab of the unrivalled scenery was visible; some of the
superb cuisine was already on the table; and the fact that the eye
searched in vain for Daniel Brewster, proprietor, filled Archie, at
any rate, with no sense of aching loss. He bore it with equanimity
and even with positive enthusiasm. In Archie's opinion, practically
all a place needed to make it an earthly Paradise was for Mr. Daniel
Brewster to be about forty-seven miles away from it.
It was at Lucille's suggestion that they had come to the Hermitage.
Never a human sunbeam, Mr. Brewster had shown such a bleak front to
the world, and particularly to his son-in-law, in the days following
the Pongo incident, that Lucille had thought that he and Archie
would for a time at least be better apart--a view with which her
husband cordially agreed. He had enjoyed his stay at the Hermitage,
and now he regarded the eternal hills with the comfortable affection
of a healthy man who is breakfasting well.
"It's going to be another perfectly topping day," he observed,
eyeing the shimmering landscape, from which the morning mists were
swiftly shredding away like faint puffs of smoke. "Just the day you
ought to have been here."
"Yes, it's too bad I've got to go. New York will be like an oven."
"Put it off."
"I can't, I'm afraid. I've a fitting."
Archie argued no further. He was a married man of old enough
standing to know the importance of fittings.
"Besides," said Lucille, "I want to see father." Archie repressed an
exclamation of astonishment. "I'll be back to-morrow evening. You
will be perfectly happy."
"Queen of my soul, you know I can't be happy with you away. You
"Yes?" murmured Lucille, appreciately. She never tired of hearing
Archie say this sort of thing.
Archie's voice had trailed off. He was looking across the room.
"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "What an awfully pretty woman!"
"Over there. Just coming in, I say, what wonderful eyes! I don't
think I ever saw such eyes. Did you notice her eyes? Sort of
flashing! Awfully pretty woman!"
Warm though the morning was, a suspicion of chill descended upon the
breakfast-table. A certain coldness seemed to come into Lucille's
face. She could not always share Archie's fresh young enthusiasms.
"Do you think so?"
"Wonderful figure, too!"
"Well, what I mean to say, fair to medium," said Archie, recovering
a certain amount of that intelligence which raises man above the
level of the beasts of the field. "Not the sort of type I admire
myself, of course."
"You know her, don't you?"
"Absolutely not and far from it," said Archie, hastily. "Never met
her in my life."
"You've seen her on the stage. Her name's Vera Silverton. We saw her
"Of course, yes. So we did. I say, I wonder what she's doing here?
She ought to be in New York, rehearsing. I remember meeting what's-
his-name--you know--chappie who writes plays and what not--George
Benham--I remember meeting George Benham, and he told me she was
rehearsing in a piece of his called--I forget the name, but I know
it was called something or other. Well, why isn't she?"
"She probably lost her temper and broke her contract and came away.
She's always doing that sort of thing. She's known for it. She must
be a horrid woman."
"I don't want to talk about her. She used to be married to someone,
and she divorced him. And then she was married to someone else, and
he divorced her. And I'm certain her hair wasn't that colour two
years ago, and I don't think a woman ought to make up like that, and
her dress is all wrong for the country, and those pearls can't be
genuine, and I hate the way she rolls her eyes about, and pink
doesn't suit her a bit. I think she's an awful woman, and I wish you
wouldn't keep on talking about her."
"Right-o!" said Archie, dutifully.
They finished breakfast, and Lucille went up to pack her bag. Archie
strolled out on to the terrace outside the hotel, where he smoked,
communed with nature, and thought of Lucille. He always thought of
Lucille when he was alone, especially when he chanced to find
himself in poetic surroundings like those provided by the unrivalled
scenery encircling the Hotel Hermitage. The longer he was married to
her the more did the sacred institution seem to him a good egg. Mr.
Brewster might regard their marriage as one of the world's most
unfortunate incidents, but to Archie it was, and always had been, a
bit of all right. The more he thought of it the more did he marvel
that a girl like Lucille should have been content to link her lot
with that of a Class C specimen like himself. His meditations were,
in fact, precisely what a happily-married man's meditations ought to
He was roused from them by a species of exclamation or cry almost at
his elbow, and turned to find that the spectacular Miss Silverton
was standing beside him. Her dubious hair gleamed in the sunlight,
and one of the criticised eyes was screwed up. The other gazed at
Archie with an expression of appeal.
"There's something in my eye," she said.
"I wonder if you would mind? It would be so kind of you!"
Archie would have preferred to remove himself, but no man worthy of
the name can decline to come to the rescue of womanhood in distress.
To twist the lady's upper lid back and peer into it and jab at it
with the corner of his handkerchief was the only course open to him.
His conduct may be classed as not merely blameless but definitely
praiseworthy. King Arthur's knights used to do this sort of thing
all the time, and look what people think of them. Lucille,
therefore, coming out of the hotel just as the operation was
concluded, ought not to have felt the annoyance she did. But, of
course, there is a certain superficial intimacy about the attitude
of a man who is taking a fly out of a woman's eye which may
excusably jar upon the sensibilities of his wife. It is an attitude
which suggests a sort of rapprochement or camaraderie or, as Archie
would have put it, what not.
"Thanks so much!" said Miss Silverton.
"Oh no, rather not," said Archie.
"Such a nuisance getting things in your eye."
"I'm always doing it!"
"But I don't often find anyone as clever as you to help me."
Lucille felt called upon to break in on this feast of reason and
flow of soul.
"Archie," she said, "if you go and get your clubs now, I shall just
have time to walk round with you before my train goes."
"Oh, ah!" said Archie, perceiving her for the first time. "Oh, ah,
yes, right-o, yes, yes, yes!"
On the way to the first tee it seemed to Archie that Lucille was
distrait and abstracted in her manner; and it occurred to him, not
for the first time in his life, what a poor support a clear
conscience is in moments of crisis. Dash it all, he didn't see what
else he could have done. Couldn't leave the poor female staggering
about the place with squads of flies wedged in her eyeball.
"Rotten thing getting a fly in your eye," he hazarded at length.
"Dashed awkward, I mean."
"Well, it's a very good way of dispensing with an introduction."
"Oh, I say! You don't mean you think--"
"She's a horrid woman!"
"Absolutely! Can't think what people see in her."
"Well, you seemed to enjoy fussing over her!"
"No, no! Nothing of the kind! She inspired me with absolute what-
d'you-call-it--the sort of thing chappies do get inspired with, you
"You were beaming all over your face."
"I wasn't. I was just screwing up my face because the sun was in my
"All sorts of things seem to be in people's eyes this morning!"
Archie was saddened. That this sort of misunderstanding should have
occurred on such a topping day and at a moment when they were to be
torn asunder for about thirty-six hours made him feel--well, it gave
him the pip. He had an idea that there were words which would have
straightened everything out, but he was not an eloquent young man
and could not find them. He felt aggrieved. Lucille, he considered,
ought to have known that he was immune as regarded females with
flashing eyes and experimentally-coloured hair. Why, dash it, he
could have extracted flies from the eyes of Cleopatra with one hand
and Helen of Troy with the other, simultaneously, without giving
them a second thought. It was in depressed mood that he played a
listless nine holes; nor had life brightened for him when he came
back to the hotel two hours later, after seeing Lucille off in the
train to New York. Never till now had they had anything remotely
resembling a quarrel. Life, Archie felt, was a bit of a wash-out. He
was disturbed and jumpy, and the sight of Miss Silverton, talking to
somebody on a settee in the corner of the hotel lobby, sent him
shooting off at right angles and brought him up with a bump against
the desk behind which the room-clerk sat.
The room-clerk, always of a chatty disposition, was saying something
to him, but Archie did not listen. He nodded mechanically. It was
something about his room. He caught the word "satisfactory."
"Oh, rather, quite!" said Archie.
A fussy devil, the room-clerk! He knew perfectly well that Archie
found his room satisfactory. These chappies gassed on like this so
as to try to make you feel that the management took a personal
interest in you. It was part of their job. Archie beamed absently
and went in to lunch. Lucille's empty seat stared at him mournfully,
increasing his sense of desolation.
He was half-way through his lunch, when the chair opposite ceased to
be vacant. Archie, transferring his gaze from the scenery outside
the window, perceived that his friend, George Benham, the
playwright, had materialised from nowhere and was now in his midst.
"Hallo!" he said.
George Benham was a grave young man whose spectacles gave him the
look of a mournful owl. He seemed to have something on his mind
besides the artistically straggling mop of black hair which swept
down over his brow. He sighed wearily, and ordered fish-pie.
"I thought I saw you come through the lobby just now," he said.
"Oh, was that you on the settee, talking to Miss Silverton?"
"She was talking to ME," said the playwright, moodily.
"What are you doing here?" asked Archie. He could have wished Mr.
Benham elsewhere, for he intruded on his gloom, but, the chappie
being amongst those present, it was only civil to talk to him. "I
thought you were in New York, watching the rehearsals of your jolly
"The rehearsals are hung up. And it looks as though there wasn't
going to be any drama. Good Lord!" cried George Benham, with honest
warmth, "with opportunities opening out before one on every side--
with life extending prizes to one with both hands--when you see
coal-heavers making fifty dollars a week and the fellows who clean
out the sewers going happy and singing about their work--why does a
man deliberately choose a job like writing plays? Job was the only
man that ever lived who was really qualified to write a play, and he
would have found it pretty tough going if his leading woman had been
anyone like Vera Silverton!"
Archie--and it was this fact, no doubt, which accounted for his
possession of such a large and varied circle of friends--was always
able to shelve his own troubles in order to listen to other people's
"Tell me all, laddie," he said. "Release the film! Has she walked
out on you?"
"Left us flat! How did you hear about it? Oh, she told you, of
Archie hastened to try to dispel the idea that he was on any such
terms of intimacy with Miss Silverton.
"No, no! My wife said she thought it must be something of that
nature or order when we saw her come in to breakfast. I mean to
say," said Archie, reasoning closely, "woman can't come into
breakfast here and be rehearsing in New York at the same time. Why
did she administer the raspberry, old friend?"
Mr. Benham helped himself to fish-pie, and spoke dully through the
"Well, what happened was this. Knowing her as intimately as you do--"
"I DON'T know her!"
"Well, anyway, it was like this. As you know, she has a dog--"
"I didn't know she had a dog," protested Archie. It seemed to him
that the world was in conspiracy to link him with this woman.
"Well, she has a dog. A beastly great whacking brute of a bulldog.
And she brings it to rehearsal." Mr. Benham's eyes filled with
tears, as in his emotion he swallowed a mouthful of fish-pie some
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