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Indiscretions of Archie by P. G. Wodehouse

Part 5 out of 6

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To-day he found Mr. Blake in a depressed mood. The tobacconist was a
hearty, red-faced man, who looked like an English sporting publican
--the kind of man who wears a fawn-coloured top-coat and drives to
the Derby in a dog-cart; and usually there seemed to be nothing on
his mind except the vagaries of the weather, concerning which he was
a great conversationalist. But now moodiness had claimed him for its
own. After a short and melancholy "Good morning," he turned to the
task of measuring out the tobacco in silence.

Archie's sympathetic nature was perturbed.--"What's the matter,
laddie?" he enquired. "You would seem to be feeling a bit of an
onion this bright morning, what, yes, no? I can see it with the
naked eye."

Mr. Blake grunted sorrowfully.

"I've had a knock, Mr. Moffam."

"Tell me all, friend of my youth."

Mr. Blake, with a jerk of his thumb, indicated a poster which hung
on the wall behind the counter. Archie had noticed it as he came in,
for it was designed to attract the eye. It was printed in black
letters on a yellow ground, and ran as follows:








Archie examined this document gravely. It conveyed nothing to him
except--what he had long suspected--that his sporting-looking friend
had sporting blood as well as that kind of exterior. He expressed a
kindly hope that the other's Unknown would bring home the bacon.

Mr. Blake laughed one of those hollow, mirthless laughs.

"There ain't any blooming Unknown," he said, bitterly. This man had
plainly suffered. "Yesterday, yes, but not now."

Archie sighed.

"In the midst of life--Dead?" he enquired, delicately.

"As good as," replied the stricken tobacconist. He cast aside his
artificial restraint and became voluble. Archie was one of those
sympathetic souls in whom even strangers readily confided their most
intimate troubles. He was to those in travail of spirit very much
what catnip is to a cat. "It's 'ard, sir, it's blooming 'ard! I'd
got the event all sewed up in a parcel, and now this young feller-
me-lad 'as to give me the knock. This lad of mine--sort of cousin 'e
is; comes from London, like you and me--'as always 'ad, ever since
he landed in this country, a most amazing knack of stowing away
grub. 'E'd been a bit underfed these last two or three years over in
the old country, what with food restrictions and all, and 'e took to
the food over 'ere amazing. I'd 'ave backed 'im against a ruddy
orstridge! Orstridge! I'd 'ave backed 'im against 'arff a dozen
orstridges--take 'em on one after the other in the same ring on the
same evening--and given 'em a handicap, too! 'E was a jewel, that
boy. I've seen him polish off four pounds of steak and mealy
potatoes and then look round kind of wolfish, as much as to ask when
dinner was going to begin! That's the kind of a lad 'e was till this
very morning. 'E would have out-swallowed this 'ere O'Dowd without
turning a hair, as a relish before 'is tea! I'd got a couple of
'undred dollars on 'im, and thought myself lucky to get the odds.
And now--"

Mr. Blake relapsed into a tortured silence.

"But what's the matter with the blighter? Why can't he go over the
top? Has he got indigestion?"

"Indigestion?" Mr. Blaife laughed another of his hollow laughs. "You
couldn't give that boy indigestion if you fed 'im in on safety-razor
blades. Religion's more like what 'e's got."


"Well, you can call it that. Seems last night, instead of goin' and
resting 'is mind at a picture-palace like I told him to, 'e sneaked
off to some sort of a lecture down on Eighth Avenue. 'E said 'e'd
seen a piece about it in the papers, and it was about Rational
Eating, and that kind of attracted 'im. 'E sort of thought 'e might
pick up a few hints, like. 'E didn't know what rational eating was,
but it sounded to 'im as if it must be something to do with food,
and 'e didn't want to miss it. 'E came in here just now," said Mr.
Blake, dully, "and 'e was a changed lad! Scared to death 'e was!
Said the way 'e'd been goin' on in the past, it was a wonder 'e'd
got any stummick left! It was a lady that give the lecture, and this
boy said it was amazing what she told 'em about blood-pressure and
things 'e didn't even know 'e 'ad. She showed 'em pictures, coloured
pictures, of what 'appens inside the injudicious eater's stummick
who doesn't chew his food, and it was like a battlefield! 'E said 'e
would no more think of eatin' a lot of pie than 'e would of shootin'
'imself, and anyhow eating pie would be a quicker death. I reasoned
with 'im, Mr. Moffam, with tears in my eyes. I asked 'im was he
goin' to chuck away fame and wealth just because a woman who didn't
know what she was talking about had shown him a lot of faked
pictures. But there wasn't any doin' anything with him. 'E give me
the knock and 'opped it down the street to buy nuts." Mr. Blake
moaned. "Two 'undred dollars and more gone pop, not to talk of the
fifty dollars 'e would have won and me to get twenty-five of!"

Archie took his tobacco and walked pensively back to the hotel. He
was fond of Jno. Blake, and grieved for the trouble that had come
upon him. It was odd, he felt, how things seemed to link themselves
up together. The woman who had delivered the fateful lecture to
injudicious eaters could not be other than the mother of his young
guest of last night. An uncomfortable woman! Not content with
starving her own family--Archie stopped in his tracks. A pedestrian,
walking behind him, charged into his back, but Archie paid no
attention. He had had one of those sudden, luminous ideas, which
help a man who does not do much thinking as a rule to restore his
average. He stood there for a moment, almost dizzy at the brilliance
of his thoughts; then hurried on. Napoleon, he mused as he walked,
must have felt rather like this after thinking up a hot one to
spring on the enemy.

As if Destiny were suiting her plans to his, one of the first
persons he saw as he entered the lobby of the Cosmopolis was the
long boy. He was standing at the bookstall, reading as much of a
morning paper as could be read free under the vigilant eyes of the
presiding girl. Both he and she were observing the unwritten rules
which govern these affairs--to wit, that you may read without
interference as much as can be read without touching the paper. If
you touch the paper, you lose, and have to buy.

"Well, well, well!" said Archie. "Here we are again, what!" He
prodded the boy amiably in the lower ribs. "You're just the chap I
was looking for. Got anything on for the time being?"

The boy said he had no engagements.

"Then I want you to stagger round with me to a chappie I know on
Sixth Avenue. It's only a couple of blocks away. I think I can do
you a bit of good. Put you on to something tolerably ripe, if you
know what I mean. Trickle along, laddie. You don't need a hat."

They found Mr. Blake brooding over his troubles in an empty shop.

"Cheer up, old thing!" said Archie. "The relief expedition has
arrived." He directed his companion's gaze to the poster. "Cast your
eye over that. How does that strike you?"

The long boy scanned the poster. A gleam appeared in his rather dull


"Some people have all the luck!" said the long boy, feelingly.

"Would you like to compete, what?"

The boy smiled a sad smile.

"Would I! Would I! Say!..."

"I know," interrupted Archie. "Wake you up in the night and ask you!
I knew I could rely on you, old thing." He turned to Mr. Blake.
"Here's the fellow you've been wanting to meet. The finest left-and-
right-hand eater east of the Rockies! He'll fight the good fight for

Mr. Blake's English training had not been wholly overcome by
residence in New York. He still retained a nice eye for the
distinctions of class.

"But this is young gentleman's a young gentleman," he urged,
doubtfully, yet with hope shining in his eye. "He wouldn't do it."

"Of course, he would. Don't be ridic, old thing."

"Wouldn't do what?" asked the boy.

"Why save the old homestead by taking on the champion. Dashed sad
case, between ourselves! This poor egg's nominee has given him the
raspberry at the eleventh hour, and only you can save him. And you
owe it to him to do something you know, because it was your jolly
old mater's lecture last night that made the nominee quit. You must
charge in and take his place. Sort of poetic justice, don't you
know, and what not!" He turned to Mr. Blake. "When is the conflict
supposed to start? Two-thirty? You haven't any important engagement
for two-thirty, have you?"

"No. Mother's lunching at some ladies' club, and giving a lecture
afterwards. I can slip away."

Archie patted his head.

"Then leg it where glory waits you, old bean!"

The long boy was gazing earnestly at the poster. It seemed to
fascinate him.

"Pie!" he said in a hushed voice.

The word was like a battle-cry.



At about nine o'clock next morning, in a suite at the Hotel
Cosmopolis, Mrs. Cora Bates McCall, the eminent lecturer on Rational
Eating, was seated at breakfast with her family. Before her sat Mr.
McCall, a little hunted-looking man, the natural peculiarities of
whose face were accentuated by a pair of glasses of semicircular
shape, like half-moons with the horns turned up. Behind these, Mr.
McCall's eyes played a perpetual game of peekaboo, now peering over
them, anon ducking down and hiding behind them. He was sipping a cup
of anti-caffeine. On his right, toying listlessly with a plateful of
cereal, sat his son, Washington. Mrs. McCall herself was eating a
slice of Health Bread and nut butter. For she practised as well as
preached the doctrines which she had striven for so many years to
inculcate in an unthinking populace. Her day always began with a
light but nutritious breakfast, at which a peculiarly uninviting
cereal, which looked and tasted like an old straw hat that had been
run through a meat chopper, competed for first place in the dislike
of her husband and son with a more than usually offensive brand of
imitation coffee. Mr. McCall was inclined to think that he loathed
the imitation coffee rather more than the cereal, but Washington
held strong views on the latter's superior ghastliness. Both
Washington and his father, however, would have been fair-minded
enough to admit that it was a close thing.

Mrs. McCall regarded her offspring with grave approval.

"I am glad to see, Lindsay," she said to her husband, whose eyes
sprang dutifully over the glass fence as he heard his name, "that
Washy has recovered his appetite. When he refused his dinner last
night, I was afraid that he might be sickening for something.
Especially as he had quite a flushed look. You noticed his flushed

"He did look flushed."

"Very flushed. And his breathing was almost stertorous. And, when he
said that he had no appetite, I am bound to say that I was anxious.
But he is evidently perfectly well this morning. You do feel
perfectly well this morning, Washy?"

The heir of the McCall's looked up from his cereal. He was a long,
thin boy of about sixteen, with pale red hair, sandy eyelashes, and
a long neck.

"Uh-huh," he said.

Mrs. McCall nodded.

"Surely now you will agree, Lindsay, that a careful and rational
diet is what a boy needs? Washy's constitution is superb. He has a
remarkable stamina, and I attribute it entirely to my careful
supervision of his food. I shudder when I think of the growing boys
who are permitted by irresponsible people to devour meat, candy,
pie--" She broke off. "What is the matter, Washy?"

It seemed that the habit of shuddering at the thought of pie ran in
the McCall family, for at the mention of the word a kind of internal
shimmy had convulsed Washington's lean frame, and over his face
there had come an expression that was almost one of pain. He had
been reaching out his hand for a slice of Health Bread, but now he
withdrew it rather hurriedly and sat back breathing hard.

"I'm all right," he said, huskily.

"Pie," proceeded Mrs. McCall, in her platform voice. She stopped
again abruptly. "Whatever is the matter, Washington? You are making
me feel nervous."

"I'm all right."

Mrs. McCall had lost the thread of her remarks. Moreover, having now
finished her breakfast, she was inclined for a little light reading.
One of the subjects allied to the matter of dietary on which she
felt deeply was the question of reading at meals. She was of the
opinion that the strain on the eye, coinciding with the strain on
the digestion, could not fail to give the latter the short end of
the contest; and it was a rule at her table that the morning paper
should not even be glanced at till the conclusion of the meal. She
said that it was upsetting to begin the day by reading the paper,
and events were to prove that she was occasionally right.

All through breakfast the New York Chronicle had been lying neatly
folded beside her plate. She now opened it, and, with a remark about
looking for the report of her yesterday's lecture at the Butterfly
Club, directed her gaze at the front page, on which she hoped that
an editor with the best interests of the public at heart had decided
to place her.

Mr. McCall, jumping up and down behind his glasses, scrutinised her
face closely as she began to read. He always did this on these
occasions, for none knew better than he that his comfort for the day
depended largely on some unknown reporter whom he had never met. If
this unseen individual had done his work properly and as befitted
the importance of his subject, Mrs. McCall's mood for the next
twelve hours would be as uniformly sunny as it was possible for it
to be. But sometimes the fellows scamped their job disgracefully;
and once, on a day which lived in Mr. McCall's memory, they had
failed to make a report at all.

To-day, he noted with relief, all seemed to be well. The report
actually was on the front page, an honour rarely accorded to his
wife's utterances. Moreover, judging from the time it took her to
read the thing, she had evidently been reported at length.

"Good, my dear?" he ventured. "Satisfactory?"

"Eh?" Mrs. McCall smiled meditatively. "Oh, yes, excellent. They
have used my photograph, too. Not at all badly reproduced."

"Splendid!" said Mr. McCall.

Mrs. McCall gave a sharp shriek, and the paper fluttered from her

"My dear!" said Mr. McCall, with concern.

His wife had recovered the paper, and was reading with burning eyes.
A bright wave of colour had flowed over her masterful features. She
was breathing as stertorously as ever her son Washington had done on
the previous night.


A basilisk glare shot across the table and turned the long boy to
stone--all except his mouth, which opened feebly.

"Washington! Is this true?"

Washy closed his mouth, then let it slowly open again.

"My dear!" Mr. McCall's voice was alarmed. "What is it?" His eyes
had climbed up over his glasses and remained there. "What is the
matter? Is anything wrong?"

"Wrong! Read for yourself!"

Mr. McCall was completely mystified. He could not even formulate a
guess at the cause of the trouble. That it appeared to concern his
son Washington seemed to be the one solid fact at his disposal, and
that only made the matter still more puzzling. Where, Mr. McCall
asked himself, did Washington come in?

He looked at the paper, and received immediate enlightenment.
Headlines met his eyes:


There followed a lyrical outburst. So uplifted had the reporter
evidently felt by the importance of his news that he had been unable
to confine himself to prose:--

My children, if you fail to shine or triumph in your
special line; if, let us say, your hopes are bent on
some day being President, and folks ignore your proper
worth, and say you've not a chance on earth--Cheer up!
for in these stirring days Fame may be won in many ways.
Consider, when your spirits fall, the case of Washington

Yes, cast your eye on Washy, please! He looks just like
a piece of cheese: he's not a brilliant sort of chap: he
has a dull and vacant map: his eyes are blank, his face
is red, his ears stick out beside his head. In fact, to
end these compliments, he would be dear at thirty cents.
Yet Fame has welcomed to her Hall this self-same
Washington McCall.

His mother (nee Miss Cora Bates) is one who frequently
orates upon the proper kind of food which every menu
should include. With eloquence the world she weans from
chops and steaks and pork and beans. Such horrid things
she'd like to crush, and make us live on milk and mush.
But oh! the thing that makes her sigh is when she sees
us eating pie. (We heard her lecture last July upon "The
Nation's Menace--Pie.") Alas, the hit it made was small
with Master Washington McCall.

For yesterday we took a trip to see the great Pie
Championship, where men with bulging cheeks and eyes
consume vast quantities of pies. A fashionable West Side
crowd beheld the champion, Spike O'Dowd, endeavour to
defend his throne against an upstart, Blake's Unknown.
He wasn't an Unknown at all. He was young Washington

We freely own we'd give a leg if we could borrow, steal,
or beg the skill old Homer used to show. (He wrote the
Iliad, you know.) Old Homer swung a wicked pen, but we
are ordinary men, and cannot even start to dream of
doing justice to our theme. The subject of that great
repast is too magnificent and vast. We can't describe
(or even try) the way those rivals wolfed their pie.
Enough to say that, when for hours each had extended all
his pow'rs, toward the quiet evenfall O'Dowd succumbed
to young McCall.

The champion was a willing lad. He gave the public all
he had. His was a genuine fighting soul. He'd lots of
speed and much control. No yellow streak did he evince.
He tackled apple-pie and mince. This was the motto on
his shield--"O'Dowds may burst. They never yield." His
eyes began to start and roll. He eased his belt another
hole. Poor fellow! With a single glance one saw that he
had not a chance. A python would have had to crawl and
own defeat from young McCall.

At last, long last, the finish came. His features
overcast with shame, O'Dowd, who'd faltered once or
twice, declined to eat another slice. He tottered off,
and kindly men rallied around with oxygen. But Washy,
Cora Bates's son, seemed disappointed it was done. He
somehow made those present feel he'd barely started on
his meal. We ask him, "Aren't you feeling bad?" "Me!"
said the lion-hearted lad. "Lead me"--he started for the
street--"where I can get a bite to eat!" Oh, what a
lesson does it teach to all of us, that splendid speech!
How better can the curtain fall on Master Washington

Mr. McCall read this epic through, then he looked at his son. He
first looked at him over his glasses, then through his glasses, then
over his glasses again, then through his glasses once more. A
curious expression was in his eyes. If such a thing had not been so
impossible, one would have said that his gaze had in it something of
respect, of admiration, even of reverence.

"But how did they find out your name?" he asked, at length.

Mrs. McCall exclaimed impatiently.

"Is THAT all you have to say?"

"No, no, my dear, of course not, quite so. But the point struck me
as curious."

"Wretched boy," cried Mrs. McCall, "were you insane enough to reveal
your name?"

Washington wriggled uneasily. Unable to endure the piercing stare of
his mother, he had withdrawn to the window, and was looking out with
his back turned. But even there he could feel her eyes on the back
of his neck.

"I didn't think it 'ud matter," he mumbled. "A fellow with
tortoiseshell-rimmed specs asked me, so I told him. How was I to

His stumbling defence was cut short by the opening of the door.

"Hallo-allo-allo! What ho! What ho!"

Archie was standing in the doorway, beaming ingratiatingly on the

The apparition of an entire stranger served to divert the lightning
of Mrs. McCall's gaze from the unfortunate Washy. Archie, catching
it between the eyes, blinked and held on to the wall. He had begun
to regret that he had yielded so weakly to Lucille's entreaty that
he should look in on the McCalls and use the magnetism of his
personality upon them in the hope of inducing them to settle the
lawsuit. He wished, too, if the visit had to be paid that he had
postponed it till after lunch, for he was never at his strongest in
the morning. But Lucille had urged him to go now and get it over,
and here he was.

"I think," said Mrs. McCall, icily, "that you must have mistaken
your room."

Archie rallied his shaken forces.

"Oh, no. Rather not. Better introduce myself, what? My name's
Moffam, you know. I'm old Brewster's son-in-law, and all that sort
of rot, if you know what I mean." He gulped and continued. "I've
come about this jolly old lawsuit, don't you know."

Mr. McCall seemed about to speak, but his wife anticipated him.

"Mr. Brewster's attorneys are in communication with ours. We do not
wish to discuss the matter."

Archie took an uninvited seat, eyed the Health Bread on the
breakfast table for a moment with frank curiosity, and resumed his

"No, but I say, you know! I'll tell you what happened. I hate to
totter in where I'm not wanted and all that, but my wife made such a
point of it. Rightly or wrongly she regards me as a bit of a hound
in the diplomacy line, and she begged me to look you up and see
whether we couldn't do something about settling the jolly old thing.
I mean to say, you know, the old bird--old Brewster, you know--is
considerably perturbed about the affair--hates the thought of being
in a posish where he has either got to bite his old pal McCall in
the neck or be bitten by him--and--well, and so forth, don't you
know! How about it?" He broke off. "Great Scot! I say, what!"

So engrossed had he been in his appeal that he had not observed the
presence of the pie-eating champion, between whom and himself a
large potted plant intervened. But now Washington, hearing the
familiar voice, had moved from the window and was confronting him
with an accusing stare.

"HE made me do it!" said Washy, with the stern joy a sixteen-year-
old boy feels when he sees somebody on to whose shoulders he can
shift trouble from his own. "That's the fellow who took me to the

"What are you talking about, Washington?"

"I'm telling you! He got me into the thing."

"Do you mean this--this--" Mrs. McCall shuddered. "Are you referring
to this pie-eating contest?"

"You bet I am!"

"Is this true?" Mrs. McCall glared stonily at Archie, "Was it you
who lured my poor boy into that--that--"

"Oh, absolutely. The fact is, don't you know, a dear old pal of mine
who runs a tobacco shop on Sixth Avenue was rather in the soup. He
had backed a chappie against the champion, and the chappie was
converted by one of your lectures and swore off pie at the eleventh
hour. Dashed hard luck on the poor chap, don't you know! And then I
got the idea that our little friend here was the one to step in and
save the situash, so I broached the matter to him. And I'll tell you
one thing," said Archie, handsomely, "I don't know what sort of a
capacity the original chappie had, but I'll bet he wasn't in your
son's class. Your son has to be seen to be believed! Absolutely! You
ought to be proud of him!" He turned in friendly fashion to Washy.
"Rummy we should meet again like this! Never dreamed I should find
you here. And, by Jove, it's absolutely marvellous how fit you look
after yesterday. I had a sort of idea you would be groaning on a bed
of sickness and all that."

There was a strange gurgling sound in the background. It resembled
something getting up steam. And this, curiously enough, is precisely
what it was. The thing that was getting up steam was Mr. Lindsay

The first effect of the Washy revelations on Mr. McCall had been
merely to stun him. It was not until the arrival of Archie that he
had had leisure to think; but since Archie's entrance he had been
thinking rapidly and deeply.

For many years Mr. McCall had been in a state of suppressed
revolution. He had smouldered, but had not dared to blaze. But this
startling upheaval of his fellow-sufferer, Washy, had acted upon him
like a high explosive. There was a strange gleam in his eye, a gleam
of determination. He was breathing hard.


His voice had lost its deprecating mildness. It rang strong and

"Yes, pop?"

"How many pies did you eat yesterday?"

Washy considered.

"A good few."

"How many? Twenty?"

"More than that. I lost count. A good few."

"And you feel as well as ever?"

"I feel fine."

Mr. McCall dropped his glasses. He glowered for a moment at the
breakfast table. His eye took in the Health Bread, the imitation
coffee-pot, the cereal, the nut-butter. Then with a swift movement
he seized the cloth, jerked it forcibly, and brought the entire
contents rattling and crashing to the floor.


Mr. McCall met his wife's eye with quiet determination. It was plain
that something had happened in the hinterland of Mr. McCall's soul.

"Cora," he said, resolutely, "I have come to a decision. I've been
letting you run things your own way a little too long in this
family. I'm going to assert myself. For one thing, I've had all I
want of this food-reform foolery. Look at Washy! Yesterday that boy
seems to have consumed anything from a couple of hundredweight to a
ton of pie, and he has thriven on it! Thriven! I don't want to hurt
your feelings, Cora, but Washington and I have drunk our last cup of
anti-caffeine! If you care to go on with the stuff, that's your
look-out. But Washy and I are through."

He silenced his wife with a masterful gesture and turned to Archie.
"And there's another thing. I never liked the idea of that lawsuit,
but I let you talk me into it. Now I'm going to do things my way.
Mr. Moffam, I'm glad you looked in this morning. I'll do just what
you want. Take me to Dan Brewster now, and let's call the thing off,
and shake hands on it."

"Are you mad, Lindsay?"

It was Cora Bates McCall's last shot. Mr. McCall paid no attention
to it. He was shaking hands with Archie.

"I consider you, Mr. Moffam," he said, "the most sensible young man
I have ever met!"

Archie blushed modestly.

"Awfully good of you, old bean," he said. "I wonder if you'd mind
telling my jolly old father-in-law that? It'll be a bit of news for



Archie Moffam's connection with that devastatingly popular ballad,
"Mother's Knee," was one to which he always looked back later with a
certain pride. "Mother's Knee," it will be remembered, went through
the world like a pestilence. Scots elders hummed it on their way to
kirk; cannibals crooned it to their offspring in the jungles of
Borneo; it was a best-seller among the Bolshevists. In the United
States alone three million copies were disposed of. For a man who
has not accomplished anything outstandingly great in his life, it is
something to have been in a sense responsible for a song like that;
and, though there were moments when Archie experienced some of the
emotions of a man who has punched a hole in the dam of one of the
larger reservoirs, he never really regretted his share in the
launching of the thing.

It seems almost bizarre now to think that there was a time when even
one person in the world had not heard "Mother's Knee"; but it came
fresh to Archie one afternoon some weeks after the episode of Washy,
in his suite at the Hotel Cosmopolis, where he was cementing with
cigarettes and pleasant conversation his renewed friendship with
Wilson Hymack, whom he had first met in the neighbourhood of
Armentieres during the war.

"What are you doing these days?" enquired Wilson Hymack.

"Me?" said Archie. "Well, as a matter of fact, there is what you
might call a sort of species of lull in my activities at the moment.
But my jolly old father-in-law is bustling about, running up a new
hotel a bit farther down-town, and the scheme is for me to be
manager when it's finished. From what I have seen in this place,
it's a simple sort of job, and I fancy I shall be somewhat hot
stuff. How are you filling in the long hours?"

"I'm in my uncle's office, darn it!"

"Starting at the bottom and learning the business and all that? A
noble pursuit, no doubt, but I'm bound to say it would give me the
pip in no uncertain manner."

"It gives me," said Wilson Hymack, "a pain in the thorax. I want to
be a composer."

"A composer, eh?"

Archie felt that he should have guessed this. The chappie had a
distinctly artistic look. He wore a bow-tie and all that sort of
thing. His trousers bagged at the knees, and his hair, which during
the martial epoch of his career had been pruned to the roots, fell
about his ears in luxuriant disarray.

"Say! Do you want to hear the best thing I've ever done?"

"Indubitably," said Archie, politely. "Carry on, old bird!"

"I wrote the lyric as well as the melody," said Wilson Hymack, who
had already seated himself at the piano. "It's got the greatest
title you ever heard. It's a lallapaloosa! It's called 'It's a Long
Way Back to Mother's Knee.' How's that? Poor, eh?"

Archie expelled a smoke-ring doubtfully.

"Isn't it a little stale?"

"Stale? What do you mean, stale? There's always room for another
song boosting Mother."

"Oh, is it boosting Mother?" Archie's face cleared. "I thought it
was a hit at the short skirts. Why, of course, that makes all the
difference. In that case, I see no reason why it should not be ripe,
fruity, and pretty well all to the mustard. Let's have it."

Wilson Hymack pushed as much of his hair out of his eyes as he could
reach with one hand, cleared his throat, looked dreamily over the
top of the piano at a photograph of Archie's father-in-law, Mr.
Daniel Brewster, played a prelude, and began to sing in a weak,
high, composer's voice. All composers sing exactly alike, and they
have to be heard to be believed.

"One night a young man wandered through the glitter of Broadway: His
money he had squandered. For a meal he couldn't pay."

"Tough luck!" murmured Archie, sympathetically.

"He thought about the village where his boyhood he had
spent, And yearned for all the simple joys with which
he'd been content."

"The right spirit!" said Archie, with approval. "I'm beginning to
like this chappie!"

"Don't interrupt!"

"Oh, right-o! Carried away and all that!"

"He looked upon the city, so frivolous and gay; And,
as he heaved a weary sigh, these words he then did say:
It's a long way back to Mother's knee,
Mother's knee,
Mother's knee:
It's a long way back to Mother's knee,
Where I used to stand and prattle
With my teddy-bear and rattle:
Oh, those childhood days in Tennessee,
They sure look good to me!
It's a long, long way, but I'm gonna start to-day!
I'm going back,
Believe me, oh!
I'm going back
(I want to go!)
I'm going back--back--on the seven-three
To the dear old shack where I used to be!
I'm going back to Mother's knee!"

Wilson Hymack's voice cracked on the final high note, which was of
an altitude beyond his powers. He turned with a modest cough.

"That'll give you an idea of it!"

"It has, old thing, it has!"

"Is it or is it not a ball of fire?"

"It has many of the earmarks of a sound egg," admitted Archie. "Of

"Of course, it wants singing."

"Just what I was going to suggest."

"It wants a woman to sing it. A woman who could reach out for that
last high note and teach it to take a joke. The whole refrain is
working up to that. You need Tetrazzini or someone who would just
pick that note off the roof and hold it till the janitor came round
to lock up the building for the night."

"I must buy a copy for my wife. Where can I get it?"

"You can't get it! It isn't published. Writing music's the darndest
job!" Wilson Hymack snorted fiercely. It was plain that the man was
pouring out the pent-up emotion of many days. "You write the biggest
thing in years and you go round trying to get someone to sing it,
and they say you're a genius and then shove the song away in a
drawer and forget about it."

Archie lit another cigarette.

"I'm a jolly old child in these matters, old lad," he said, "but why
don't you take it direct to a publisher? As a matter of fact, if it
would be any use to you, I was foregathering with a music-publisher
only the other day. A bird of the name of Blumenthal. He was
lunching in here with a pal of mine, and we got tolerably matey. Why
not let me tool you round to the office to-morrow and play it to

"No, thanks. Much obliged, but I'm not going to play that melody in
any publisher's office with his hired gang of Tin-Pan Alley
composers listening at the keyhole and taking notes. I'll have to
wait till I can find somebody to sing it. Well, I must be going
along. Glad to have seen you again. Sooner or later I'll take you to
hear that high note sung by someone in a way that'll make your spine
tie itself in knots round the back of your neck."

"I'll count the days," said Archie, courteously. "Pip-pip!"

Hardly had the door closed behind the composer when it opened again
to admit Lucille.

"Hallo, light of my soul!" said Archie, rising and embracing his
wife. "Where have you been all the afternoon? I was expecting you
this many an hour past. I wanted you to meet--"

"I've been having tea with a girl down in Greenwich Village. I
couldn't get away before. Who was that who went out just as I came
along the passage?"

"Chappie of the name of Hymack. I met him in France. A composer and
what not."

"We seem to have been moving in artistic circles this afternoon. The
girl I went to see is a singer. At least, she wants to sing, but
gets no encouragement."

"Precisely the same with my bird. He wants to get his music sung but
nobody'll sing it. But I didn't know you knew any Greenwich Village
warblers, sunshine of my home. How did you meet this female?"

Lucille sat down and gazed forlornly at him with her big grey eyes.
She was registering something, but Archie could not gather what it

"Archie, darling, when you married me you undertook to share my
sorrows, didn't you?"

"Absolutely! It's all in the book of words. For better or for worse,
in sickness and in health, all-down-set-'em-up-in-the-other-alley.
Regular iron-clad contract!"

"Then share 'em!" said Lucille. "Bill's in love again!"

Archie blinked.

"Bill? When you say Bill, do you mean Bill? Your brother Bill? My
brother-in-law Bill? Jolly old William, the son and heir of the

"I do."

"You say he's in love? Cupid's dart?"

"Even so!"

"But, I say! Isn't this rather--What I mean to say is, the lad's an
absolute scourge! The Great Lover, what! Also ran, Brigham Young,
and all that sort of thing! Why, it's only a few weeks ago that he
was moaning brokenly about that vermilion-haired female who
subsequently hooked on to old Reggie van Tuyl!"

"She's a little better than that girl, thank goodness. All the same,
I don't think Father will approve."

"Of what calibre is the latest exhibit?"

"Well, she comes from the Middle West, and seems to be trying to be
twice as Bohemian as the rest of the girls down in Greenwich
Village. She wears her hair bobbed and goes about in a kimono. She's
probably read magazine stories about Greenwich Village, and has
modelled herself on them. It's so silly, when you can see Hicks
Corners sticking out of her all the time."

"That one got past me before I could grab it. What did you say she
had sticking out of her?"

"I meant that anybody could see that she came from somewhere out in
the wilds. As a matter of fact, Bill tells me that she was brought
up in Snake Bite, Michigan."

"Snake Bite? What rummy names you have in America! Still, I'll admit
there's a village in England called Nether Wallop, so who am I to
cast the first stone? How is old Bill? Pretty feverish?"

"He says this time it is the real thing."

"That's what they all say! I wish I had a dollar for every time--
Forgotten what I was going to say!" broke off Archie, prudently. "So
you think," he went on, after a pause, "that William's latest is
going to be one more shock for the old dad?"

"I can't imagine Father approving of her."

"I've studied your merry old progenitor pretty closely," said
Archie, "and, between you and me, I can't imagine him approving of

"I can't understand why it is that Bill goes out of his way to pick
these horrors. I know at least twenty delightful girls, all pretty
and with lots of money, who would be just the thing for him; but he
sneaks away and goes falling in love with someone impossible. And
the worst of it is that one always feels one's got to do one's best
to see him through."

"Absolutely! One doesn't want to throw a spanner into the works of
Love's young dream. It behoves us to rally round. Have you heard
this girl sing?"

"Yes. She sang this afternoon."

"What sort of a voice has she got?"

"Well, it's--loud!"

"Could she pick a high note off the roof and hold it till the
janitor came round to lock up the building for the night?"

"What on earth do you mean?"

"Answer me this, woman, frankly. How is her high note? Pretty

"Why, yes."

"Then say no more," said Archie. "Leave this to me, my dear old
better four-fifths! Hand the whole thing over to Archibald, the man
who never lets you down. I have a scheme!"

As Archie approached his suite on the following afternoon he heard
through the closed door the drone of a gruff male voice; and, going
in, discovered Lucille in the company of his brother-in-law.
Lucille, Archie thought, was looking a trifle fatigued. Bill, on the
other hand, was in great shape. His eyes were shining, and his face
looked so like that of a stuffed frog that Archie had no difficulty
in gathering that he had been lecturing on the subject of his latest

"Hallo, Bill, old crumpet!" he said.

"Hallo, Archie!"

"I'm so glad you've come," said Lucille. "Bill is telling me all
about Spectatia."


"Spectatia. The girl, you know. Her name is Spectatia Huskisson."

"It can't be!" said Archie, incredulously.

"Why not?" growled Bill.

"Well, how could it?" said Archie, appealing to him as a reasonable
man. "I mean to say! Spectatia Huskisson! I gravely doubt whether
there is such a name."

"What's wrong with it?" demanded the incensed Bill. "It's a darned
sight better name than Archibald Moffam."

"Don't fight, you two children!" intervened Lucille, firmly. "It's a
good old Middle West name. Everybody knows the Huskissons of Snake
Bite, Michigan. Besides, Bill calls her Tootles."

"Pootles," corrected Bill, austerely.

"Oh, yes, Pootles. He calls her Pootles."

"Young blood! Young blood!" sighed Archie.

"I wish you wouldn't talk as if you were my grandfather."

"I look on you as a son, laddie, a favourite son!"

"If I had a father like you--!"-"Ah, but you haven't, young-feller-
me-lad, and that's the trouble. If you had, everything would be
simple. But as your actual father, if you'll allow me to say so, is
one of the finest specimens of the human vampire-bat in captivity,
something has got to be done about it, and you're dashed lucky to
have me in your corner, a guide, philosopher, and friend, full of
the fruitiest ideas. Now, if you'll kindly listen to me for a

"I've been listening to you ever since you came in."

"You wouldn't speak in that harsh tone of voice if you knew all!
William, I have a scheme!"


"The scheme to which I allude is what Maeterlinck would call a

"What a little marvel he is!" said Lucille, regarding her husband
affectionately. "He eats a lot of fish, Bill. That's what makes him
so clever!"

"Shrimps!" diagnosed Bill, churlishly.

"Do you know the leader of the orchestra in the restaurant
downstairs?" asked Archie, ignoring the slur.

"I know there IS a leader of the orchestra. What about him?"

"A sound fellow. Great pal of mine. I've forgotten his name--"

"Call him Pootles!" suggested Lucille.

"Desist!" said Archie, as a wordless growl proceeded from his
stricken brother-in-law. "Temper your hilarity with a modicum of
reserve. This girlish frivolity is unseemly. Well, I'm going to have
a chat with this chappie and fix it all up."

"Fix what up?"

"The whole jolly business. I'm going to kill two birds with one
stone. I've a composer chappie popping about in the background whose
one ambish. is to have his pet song sung before a discriminating
audience. You have a singer straining at the leash. I'm going to
arrange with this egg who leads the orchestra that your female shall
sing my chappie's song downstairs one night during dinner. How about
it? Is it or is it not a ball of fire?"

"It's not a bad idea," admitted Bill, brightening visibly. "I
wouldn't have thought you had it in you."

"Why not?"


"It's a capital idea," said Lucille. "Quite out of the question, of

"How do you mean?"

"Don't you know that the one thing Father hates more than anything
else in the world is anything like a cabaret? People are always
coming to him, suggesting that it would brighten up the dinner hour
if he had singers and things, and he crushes them into little bits.
He thinks there's nothing that lowers the tone of a place more.
He'll bite you in three places when you suggest it to him!"

"Ah! But has it escaped your notice, lighting system of my soul,
that the dear old dad is not at present in residence? He went off to
fish at Lake What's-its-name this morning."

"You aren't dreaming of doing this without asking him?"

"That was the general idea."

"But he'll be furious when he finds out."

"But will he find out? I ask you, will he?"

"Of course he will."

"I don't see why he should," said Bill, on whose plastic mind the
plan had made a deep impression.

"He won't," said Archie, confidently. "This wheeze is for one night
only. By the time the jolly old guv'nor returns, bitten to the bone
by mosquitoes, with one small stuffed trout in his suit-case,
everything will be over and all quiet once more along the Potomac.
The scheme is this. My chappie wants his song heard by a
publisher. Your girl wants her voice heard by one of the blighters
who get up concerts and all that sort of thing. No doubt you know
such a bird, whom you could invite to the hotel for a bit of

"I know Carl Steinburg. As a matter of fact, I was thinking of
writing to him about Spectatia."

"You're absolutely sure that IS her name?" said Archie, his voice
still tinged with incredulity. "Oh, well, I suppose she told you so
herself, and no doubt she knows best. That will be topping. Rope in
your pal and hold him down at the table till the finish. Lucille,
the beautiful vision on the sky-line yonder, and I will be at
another table entertaining Maxie Blumenthal"

"Who on earth is Maxie Blumenthal?" asked Lucille.

"One of my boyhood chums. A music-publisher. I'll get him to come
along, and then we'll all be set. At the conclusion of the
performance Miss--" Archie winced--"Miss Spectatia Huskisson will
be signed up for a forty weeks' tour, and jovial old Blumenthal
will be making all arrangements for publishing the song. Two birds,
as I indicated before, with one stone! How about it?"

"It's a winner," said Bill.

"Of course," said Archie, "I'm not urging you. I merely make the
suggestion. If you know a better 'ole go to it!"

"It's terrific!" said Bill.

"It's absurd!" said Lucille.

"My dear old partner of joys and sorrows," said Archie, wounded,
"we court criticism, but this is mere abuse. What seems to be the

"The leader of the orchestra would be afraid to do it."

"Ten dollars--supplied by William here--push it over, Bill, old
man--will remove his tremors."

"And Father's certain to find out."

"Am I afraid of Father?" cried Archie, manfully. "Well, yes, I am!"
he added, after a moment's reflection. "But I don't see how he can
possibly get to know."

"Of course he can't," said Bill, decidedly. "Fix it up as soon as
you can, Archie. This is what the doctor ordered."



The main dining-room of the Hotel Cosmopolis is a decorous place.
The lighting is artistically dim, and the genuine old tapestries on
the walls seem, with their mediaeval calm, to discourage any essay
in the riotous. Soft-footed waiters shimmer to and fro over thick,
expensive carpets to the music of an orchestra which abstains wholly
from the noisy modernity of jazz. To Archie, who during the past few
days had been privileged to hear Miss Huskisson rehearsing, the
place had a sort of brooding quiet, like the ocean just before the
arrival of a cyclone. As Lucille had said, Miss Huskisson's voice
was loud. It was a powerful organ, and there was no doubt that it
would take the cloistered stillness of the Cosmopolis dining-room
and stand it on one ear. Almost unconsciously, Archie found himself
bracing his muscles and holding his breath as he had done in France
at the approach of the zero hour, when awaiting the first roar of a
barrage. He listened mechanically to the conversation of Mr.

The music-publisher was talking with some vehemence on the subject
of Labour. A recent printers' strike had bitten deeply into Mr.
Blumenthal's soul. The working man, he considered, was rapidly
landing God's Country in the soup, and he had twice upset his glass
with the vehemence of his gesticulation. He was an energetic right-
and-left-hand talker.

"The more you give 'em the more they want!" he complained. "There's
no pleasing 'em! It isn't only in my business. There's your father,
Mrs. Moffam!"

"Good God! Where?" said Archie, starting.

"I say, take your father's case. He's doing all he knows to get this
new hotel of his finished, and what happens? A man gets fired for
loafing on his job, and Connolly calls a strike. And the building
operations are held up till the thing's settled! It isn't right!"

"It's a great shame," agreed Lucille. "I was reading about it in the
paper this morning."

"That man Connolly's a tough guy. You'd think, being a personal
friend of your father, he would--"

"I didn't know they were friends."

"Been friends for years. But a lot of difference that makes. Out
come the men just the same. It isn't right! I was saying it wasn't
right!" repeated Mr. Blumenthal to Archie, for he was a man who
liked the attention of every member of his audience.

Archie did not reply. He was staring glassily across the room at two
men who had just come in. One was a large, stout, square-faced man
of commanding personality. The other was Mr. Daniel Brewster.

Mr. Blumenthal followed his gaze.

"Why, there is Connolly coming in now!"

"Father!" gasped Lucille.

Her eyes met Archie's. Archie took a hasty drink of ice-water.

"This," he murmured, "has torn it!"

"Archie, you must do something!"

"I know! But what?"

"What's the trouble?" enquired Mr. Blumenthal, mystified.

"Go over to their table and talk to them," said Lucille.

"Me!" Archie quivered. "No, I say, old thing, really!"

"Get them away!"

"How do you mean?"

"I know!" cried Lucille, inspired, "Father promised that you should
be manager of the new hotel when it was built. Well, then, this
strike affects you just as much as anybody else. You have a perfect
right to talk it over with them. Go and ask them to have dinner up
in our suite where you can discuss it quietly. Say that up there
they won't be disturbed by the--the music."

At this moment, while Archie wavered, hesitating like a diver on the
edge of a spring-board who is trying to summon up the necessary
nerve to project himself into the deep, a bell-boy approached the
table where the Messrs. Brewster and Connolly had seated themselves.
He murmured something in Mr. Brewster's ear, and the proprietor of
the Cosmopolis rose and followed him out of the room.

"Quick! Now's your chance!" said Lucille, eagerly. "Father's been
called to the telephone. Hurry!"

Archie took another drink of ice-water to steady his shaking nerve-
centers, pulled down his waistcoat, straightened his tie, and then,
with something of the air of a Roman gladiator entering the arena,
tottered across the room. Lucille turned to entertain the perplexed

The nearer Archie got to Mr. Aloysius Connolly the less did he like
the looks of him. Even at a distance the Labour leader had had a
formidable aspect. Seen close to, he looked even more uninviting.
His face had the appearance of having been carved out of granite,
and the eye which collided with Archie's as the latter, with an
attempt at an ingratiating smile, pulled up a chair and sat down at
the table was hard and frosty. Mr. Connolly gave the impression that
he would be a good man to have on your side during a rough-and-
tumble fight down on the water-front or in some lumber-camp, but he
did not look chummy.

"Hallo-allo-allo!" said Archie.

"Who the devil," inquired Mr. Connolly, "are you?"

"My name's Archibald Moffam."

"That's not my fault."

"I'm jolly old Brewster's son-in-law."

"Glad to meet you."

"Glad to meet YOU," said Archie, handsomely.

"Well, good-bye!" said Mr. Connolly.


"Run along and sell your papers. Your father-in-law and I have
business to discuss."

"Yes, I know."

"Private," added Mr. Connolly.

"Oh, but I'm in on this binge, you know. I'm going to be the manager
of the new hotel."



"Well, well!" said Mr. Connolly, noncommittally.

Archie, pleased with the smoothness with which matters had opened,
bent forward winsomely.

"I say, you know! It won't do, you know! Absolutely no! Not a bit
like it! No, no, far from it! Well, how about it? How do we go?
What? Yes? No?"

"What on earth are you talking about?"

"Call it off, old thing!"

"Call what off?"

"This festive old strike."

"Not on your--hallo, Dan! Back again?"

Mr. Brewster, looming over the table like a thundercloud, regarded
Archie with more than his customary hostility. Life was no pleasant
thing for the proprietor of the Cosmopolis just now. Once a man
starts building hotels, the thing becomes like dram-drinking. Any
hitch, any sudden cutting-off of the daily dose, has the worst
effects; and the strike which was holding up the construction of his
latest effort had plunged Mr. Brewster into a restless gloom. In
addition to having this strike on his hands, he had had to abandon
his annual fishing-trip just when he had begun to enjoy it; and, as
if all this were not enough, here was his son-in-law sitting at his
table. Mr. Brewster had a feeling that this was more than man was
meant to bear.

"What do you want?" he demanded.

"Hallo, old thing!" said Archie. "Come and join the party!"

"Don't call me old thing!"

"Right-o, old companion, just as you say. I say, I was just going to
suggest to Mr. Connolly that we should all go up to my suite and
talk this business over quietly."

"He says he's the manager of your new hotel," said Mr. Connolly. "Is
that right?"

"I suppose so," said Mr. Brewster, gloomily.

"Then I'm doing you a kindness," said Mr. Connolly, "in not letting
it be built."

Archie dabbed at his forehead with his handkerchief. The moments
were flying, and it began to seem impossible to shift these two men.
Mr. Connolly was as firmly settled in his chair as some primeval
rock. As for Mr. Brewster, he, too, had seated himself, and was
gazing at Archie with a weary repulsion. Mr. Brewster's glance
always made Archie feel as though there were soup on his shirt-

And suddenly from the orchestra at the other end of the room there
came a familiar sound, the prelude of "Mother's Knee."

"So you've started a cabaret, Dan?" said Mr. Connolly, in a
satisfied voice. "I always told you you were behind the times here!"

Mr. Brewster jumped.


He stared unbelievingly at the white-robed figure which had just
mounted the orchestra dais, and then concentrated his gaze on

Archie would not have looked at his father-in-law at this juncture
if he had had a free and untrammelled choice; but Mr. Brewster's eye
drew his with something of the fascination which a snake's has for a
rabbit. Mr. Brewster's eye was fiery and intimidating. A basilisk
might have gone to him with advantage for a course of lessons. His
gaze went right through Archie till the latter seemed to feel his
back-hair curling crisply in the flames.

"Is this one of your fool-tricks?"

Even in this tense moment Archie found time almost unconsciously to
admire his father-in-law's penetration and intuition. He seemed to
have a sort of sixth sense. No doubt this was how great fortunes
were made.

"Well, as a matter of fact--to be absolutely accurate--it was like

"Say, cut it out!" said Mr. Connolly. "Can the chatter! I want to

Archie was only too ready to oblige him. Conversation at the moment
was the last thing he himself desired. He managed with a strong
effort to disengage himself from Mr. Brewster's eye, and turned to
the orchestra dais, where Miss Spectatia Huskisson was now beginning
the first verse of Wilson Hymack's masterpiece.

Miss Huskisson, like so many of the female denizens of the Middle
West, was tall and blonde and constructed on substantial lines. She
was a girl whose appearance suggested the old homestead and fried
pancakes and pop coming home to dinner after the morning's
ploughing. Even her bobbed hair did not altogether destroy this
impression. She looked big and strong and healthy, and her lungs
were obviously good. She attacked the verse of the song with
something of the vigour and breadth of treatment with which in other
days she had reasoned with refractory mules. Her diction was the
diction of one trained to call the cattle home in the teeth of
Western hurricanes. Whether you wanted to or not, you heard every

The subdued clatter of knives and forks had ceased. The diners,
unused to this sort of thing at the Cosmopolis, were trying to
adjust their faculties to cope with the outburst. Waiters stood
transfixed, frozen, in attitudes of service. In the momentary lull
between verse and refrain Archie could hear the deep breathing of
Mr. Brewster. Involuntarily he turned to gaze at him once more, as
refugees from Pompeii may have turned to gaze upon Vesuvius; and, as
he did so, he caught sight of Mr. Connolly, and paused in

Mr. Connolly was an altered man. His whole personality had undergone
a subtle change. His face still looked as though hewn from the
living rock, but into his eyes had crept an expression which in
another man might almost have been called sentimental. Incredible as
it seemed to Archie, Mr. Connolly's eyes were dreamy. There was even
in them a suggestion of unshed tears. And when with a vast
culmination of sound Miss Huskisson reached the high note at the end
of the refrain and, after holding it as some storming-party, spent
but victorious, holds the summit of a hard-won redoubt, broke off
suddenly, in the stillness which followed there proceeded from Mr.
Connolly a deep sigh.

Miss Huskisson began the second verse. And Mr. Brewster, seeming to
recover from some kind of a trance, leaped to his feet.

"Great Godfrey!"

"Sit down!" said Mr. Connolly, in a broken voice. "Sit down, Dan!"

"He went back to his mother on the train that very day:
He knew there was no other who could make him bright and
He kissed her on the forehead and he whispered, 'I've come
He told her he was never going any more to roam.
And onward through the happy years, till he grew old and
He never once regretted those brave words he once did say:
It's a long way back to mother's knee--"

The last high note screeched across the room like a shell, and the
applause that followed was like a shell's bursting. One could hardly
have recognised the refined interior of the Cosmopolis dining-room.
Fair women were waving napkins; brave men were hammering on the
tables with the butt-end of knives, for all the world as if they
imagined themselves to be in one of those distressing midnight-revue
places. Miss Huskisson bowed, retired, returned, bowed, and retired
again, the tears streaming down her ample face. Over in a corner
Archie could see his brother-in-law clapping strenuously. A waiter,
with a display of manly emotion that did him credit, dropped an
order of new peas.

"Thirty years ago last October," said Mr. Connolly, in a shaking
voice, "I--"

Mr. Brewster interrupted him violently.

"I'll fire that orchestra-leader! He goes to-morrow! I'll fire--" He
turned on Archie. "What the devil do you mean by it, you--you--"

"Thirty years ago," said Mr. Connolly, wiping away a tear with his
napkin, "I left me dear old home in the old country--"

"MY hotel a bear-garden!"

"Frightfully sorry and all that, old companion--"

"Thirty years ago last October! 'Twas a fine autumn evening the
finest ye'd ever wish to see. Me old mother, she came to the station
to see me off."

Mr. Brewster, who was not deeply interested in Mr. Connolly's old
mother, continued to splutter inarticulately, like a firework trying
to go off.

"'Ye'll always be a good boy, Aloysius?' she said to me," said Mr.
Connolly, proceeding with, his autobiography. "And I said: 'Yes,
Mother, I will!'" Mr. Connolly sighed and applied the napkin again.
"'Twas a liar I was!" he observed, remorsefully. "Many's the dirty
I've played since then. 'It's a long way back to Mother's knee.'
'Tis a true word!" He turned impulsively to Mr. Brewster. "Dan,
there's a deal of trouble in this world without me going out of me
way to make more. The strike is over! I'll send the men back
tomorrow! There's me hand on it!"

Mr. Brewster, who had just managed to co-ordinate his views on the
situation and was about to express them with the generous strength
which was ever his custom when dealing with his son-in-law, checked
himself abruptly. He stared at his old friend and business enemy,
wondering if he could have heard aright. Hope began to creep back
into Mr. Brewster's heart, like a shamefaced dog that has been away
from home hunting for a day or two.

"You'll what!"

"I'll send the men back to-morrow! That song was sent to guide me,
Dan! It was meant! Thirty years ago last October me dear old mother--"

Mr. Brewster bent forward attentively. His views on Mr. Connolly's
dear old mother had changed. He wanted to hear all about her.

"'Twas that last note that girl sang brought it all back to me as if
'twas yesterday. As we waited on the platform, me old mother and I,
out comes the train from the tunnel, and the engine lets off a
screech the way ye'd hear it ten miles away. 'Twas thirty years ago--"

Archie stole softly from the table. He felt that his presence, if it
had ever been required, was required no longer. Looking back, he
could see his father-in-law patting Mr. Connolly affectionately on
the shoulder.

Archie and Lucille lingered over their coffee. Mr. Blumenthal was
out in the telephone-box settling the business end with Wilson
Hymack. The music-publisher had been unstinted in his praise of
"Mother's Knee." It was sure-fire, he said. The words, stated Mr.
Blumenthal, were gooey enough to hurt, and the tune reminded him of
every other song-hit he had ever heard. There was, in Mr.
Blumenthal's opinion, nothing to stop this thing selling a million

Archie smoked contentedly.

"Not a bad evening's work, old thing," he said. "Talk about birds
with one stone!" He looked at Lucille reproachfully. "You don't seem
bubbling over with joy."

"Oh, I am, precious!" Lucille sighed. "I was only thinking about

"What about Bill?"

"Well, it's rather awful to think of him tied for life to that-that

"Oh, we mustn't look on the jolly old dark side. Perhaps--Hallo,
Bill, old top! We were just talking about you."

"Were you?" said Bill Brewster, in a dispirited voice.

"I take it that you want congratulations, what?"

"I want sympathy!"


"Sympathy! And lots of it! She's gone!"

"Gone! Who?"


"How do you mean, gone?"

Bill glowered at the tablecloth.

"Gone home. I've just seen her off in a cab. She's gone back to
Washington Square to pack. She's catching the ten o'clock train back
to Snake Bite. It was that damned song!" muttered Bill, in a
stricken voice. "She says she never realised before she sang it to-
night how hollow New York was. She said it suddenly came over her.
She says she's going to give up her career and go back to her
mother. What the deuce are you twiddling your fingers for?" he broke
off, irritably.

"Sorry, old man. I was just counting."

"Counting? Counting what?"

"Birds, old thing. Only birds!" said Archie.



The morning was so brilliantly fine; the populace popped to and fro
in so active and cheery a manner; and everybody appeared to be so
absolutely in the pink, that a casual observer of the city of New
York would have said that it was one of those happy days. Yet Archie
Moffam, as he turned out of the sun-bathed street into the
ramshackle building on the third floor of which was the studio
belonging to his artist friend, James B. Wheeler, was faintly
oppressed with a sort of a kind of feeling that something was wrong.
He would not have gone so far as to say that he had the pip--it was
more a vague sense of discomfort. And, searching for first causes as
he made his way upstairs, he came to the conclusion that the person
responsible for this nebulous depression was his wife, Lucille. It
seemed to Archie that at breakfast that morning Lucille's manner had
been subtly rummy. Nothing you could put your finger on, still--

Musing thus, he reached the studio, and found the door open and the
room empty. It had the air of a room whose owner has dashed in to
fetch his golf-clubs and biffed off, after the casual fashion of the
artist temperament, without bothering to close up behind him. And
such, indeed, was the case. The studio had seen the last of J. B.
Wheeler for that day: but Archie, not realising this and feeling
that a chat with Mr. Wheeler, who was a light-hearted bird, was what
he needed this morning, sat down to wait. After a few moments, his
gaze, straying over the room, encountered a handsomely framed
picture, and he went across to take a look at it.

J. B. Wheeler was an artist who made a large annual income as an
illustrator for the magazines, and it was a surprise to Archie to
find that he also went in for this kind of thing. For the picture,
dashingly painted in oils, represented a comfortably plump young
woman who, from her rather weak-minded simper and the fact that she
wore absolutely nothing except a small dove on her left shoulder,
was plainly intended to be the goddess Venus. Archie was not much of
a lad around the picture-galleries, but he knew enough about Art to
recognise Venus when he saw her; though once or twice, it is true,
artists had double-crossed him by ringing in some such title as "Day
Dreams," or "When the Heart is Young."

He inspected this picture for awhile, then, returning to his seat,
lit a cigarette and began to meditate on Lucille once more. "Yes,
the dear girl had been rummy at breakfast. She had not exactly said
anything or done anything out of the ordinary; but--well, you know
how it is. We husbands, we lads of the for-better-or-for-worse
brigade, we learn to pierce the mask. There had been in Lucille's
manner that curious, strained sweetness which comes to women whose
husbands have failed to match the piece of silk or forgotten to post
an important letter. If his conscience had not been as clear as
crystal, Archie would have said that that was what must have been
the matter. But, when Lucille wrote letters, she just stepped out of
the suite and dropped them in the mail-chute attached to the
elevator. It couldn't be that. And he couldn't have forgotten
anything else, because--"

"Oh my sainted aunt!"

Archie's cigarette smouldered, neglected, between his fingers. His
jaw had fallen and his eyes were staring glassily before him. He was
appalled. His memory was weak, he knew; but never before had it let
him down, so scurvily as this. This was a record. It stood in a
class by itself, printed in red ink and marked with a star, as the
bloomer of a lifetime. For a man may forget many things: he may
forget his name, his umbrella, his nationality, his spats, and the
friends of his youth: but there is one thing which your married man,
your in-sickness-and-in-health lizard must not forget: and that is
the anniversary of his wedding-day.

Remorse swept over Archie like a wave. His heart bled for Lucille.
No wonder the poor girl had been rummy at breakfast. What girl
wouldn't be rummy at breakfast, tied for life to a ghastly outsider
like himself? He groaned hollowly, and sagged forlornly in his
chair: and, as he did so, the Venus caught his eye. For it was an
eye-catching picture. You might like it or dislike it, but you could
not ignore it.

As a strong swimmer shoots to the surface after a high dive,
Archie's soul rose suddenly from the depths to which it had
descended. He did not often get inspirations, but he got one now.
Hope dawned with a jerk. The one way out had presented itself to
him. A rich present! That was the wheeze. If he returned to her
bearing a rich present, he might, with the help of Heaven and a face
of brass, succeed in making her believe that he had merely pretended
to forget the vital date in order to enhance the surprise.

It was a scheme. Like some great general forming his plan of
campaign on the eve of battle, Archie had the whole binge neatly
worked out inside a minute. He scribbled a note to Mr. Wheeler,
explaining the situation and promising reasonable payment on the
instalment system; then, placing the note in a conspicuous position
on the easel, he leaped to the telephone: and presently found
himself connected with Lucille's room at the Cosmopolis.

"Hullo, darling," he cooed.

There was a slight pause at the other end of the wire.

"Oh, hullo, Archie!"

Lucille's voice was dull and listless, and Archie's experienced ear
could detect that she had been crying. He raised his right foot, and
kicked himself indignantly on the left ankle.

"Many happy returns of the day, old thing!"

A muffled sob floated over the wire.

"Have you only just remembered?" said Lucille in a small voice.

Archie, bracing himself up, cackled gleefully into the receiver.

"Did I take you in, light of my home? Do you mean to say you really
thought I had forgotten? For Heaven's sake!"

"You didn't say a word at breakfast."

"Ah, but that was all part of the devilish cunning. I hadn't got a
present for you then. At least, I didn't know whether it was ready."

"Oh, Archie, you darling!" Lucille's voice had lost its crushed
melancholy. She trilled like a thrush, or a linnet, or any bird that
goes in largely for trilling. "Have you really got me a present?"

"It's here now. The dickens of a fruity picture. One of J. B.
Wheeler's things. You'll like it."

"Oh, I know I shall. I love his work. You are an angel. We'll hang
it over the piano."

"I'll be round with it in something under three ticks, star of my
soul. I'll take a taxi."

"Yes, do hurry! I want to hug you!"

"Right-o!" said Archie. "I'll take two taxis."

It is not far from Washington Square to the Hotel Cosmopolis, and
Archie made the journey without mishap. There was a little
unpleasantness with the cabman before starting--he, on the prudish
plea that he was a married man with a local reputation to keep up,
declining at first to be seen in company with the masterpiece. But,
on Archie giving a promise to keep the front of the picture away
from the public gaze, he consented to take the job on; and, some ten
minutes later, having made his way blushfully through the hotel
lobby and endured the frank curiosity of the boy who worked the
elevator, Archie entered his suite, the picture under his arm.

He placed it carefully against the wall in order to leave himself
more scope for embracing Lucille, and when the joyful reunion--or
the sacred scene, if you prefer so to call it, was concluded, he
stepped forward to turn it round and exhibit it.

"Why, it's enormous," said Lucille. "I didn't know Mr. Wheeler ever
painted pictures that size. When you said it was one of his, I
thought it must be the original of a magazine drawing or something

Archie had moved back and given her an uninterrupted view of the
work of art, and she had started as if some unkindly disposed person
had driven a bradawl into her.

"Pretty ripe, what?" said Archie enthusiastically.

Lucille did not speak for a moment. It may have been sudden joy that
kept her silent. Or, on the other hand, it may not. She stood
looking at the picture with wide eyes and parted lips.

"A bird, eh?" said Archie.

"Y--yes," said Lucille.

"I knew you'd like it," proceeded Archie with animation, "You see?
you're by way of being a picture-hound--know all about the things,
and what not--inherit it from the dear old dad, I shouldn't wonder.
Personally, I can't tell one picture from another as a rule, but I'm
bound to say, the moment I set eyes on this, I said to myself 'What
ho!' or words to that effect, I rather think this will add a touch
of distinction to the home, yes, no? I'll hang it up, shall I?
'Phone down to the office, light of my soul, and tell them to send
up a nail, a bit of string,, and the hotel hammer."

"One moment, darling. I'm not quite sure."


"Where it ought to hang, I mean. You see--"

"Over the piano, you said. The jolly old piano."

"Yes, but I hadn't seen it then."

A monstrous suspicion flitted for an instant into Archie's mind.

"I say, you do like it, don't you?" he said anxiously.

"Oh, Archie, darling! Of course I do!-And it was so sweet of you to
give it to me. But, what I was trying to say was that this picture
is so--so striking that I feel that we ought to wait a little while
and decide where it would have the best effect. The light over the
piano is rather strong."

"You thing it ought to hang in a dimmish light, what?"

"Yes, yes. The dimmer the--I mean, yes, in a dim light. Suppose we
leave it in the corner for the moment--over there--behind the sofa,
and--and I'll think it over. It wants a lot of thought, you know."

"Right-o! Here?"

"Yes, that will do splendidly. Oh, and, Archie."


"I think perhaps... Just turn its face to the wall, will you?"
Lucille gave a little gulp. "It will prevent it getting dusty."

It perplexed Archie a little during the next few days to notice in
Lucille, whom he had always looked on as pre-eminently a girl who
knew her own mind, a curious streak of vacillation. Quite half a
dozen times he suggested various spots on the wall as suitable for
the Venus, but Lucille seemed unable to decide. Archie wished that
she would settle on something definite, for he wanted to invite J.
B. Wheeler to the suite to see the thing. He had heard nothing from
the artist since the day he had removed the picture, and one
morning, encountering him on Broadway, he expressed his appreciation
of the very decent manner in which the other had taken the whole

"Oh, that!" said J. B. Wheeler. "My dear fellow, you're welcome." He
paused for a moment. "More than welcome," he added. "You aren't much
of an expert on pictures, are you?"

"Well," said Archie, "I don't know that you'd call me an absolute
nib, don't you know, but of course I know enough to see that this
particular exhibit is not a little fruity. Absolutely one of the
best things you've ever done, laddie."

A slight purple tinge manifested itself in Mr. Wheeler's round and
rosy face. His eyes bulged.

"What are you talking about, you Tishbite? You misguided son of
Belial, are you under the impression that _I_ painted that thing?"

"Didn't you?"

Mr. Wheeler swallowed a little convulsively.

"My fiancee painted it," he said shortly.

"Your fiancee? My dear old lad, I didn't know you were engaged. Who
is she? Do I know her?"

"Her name is Alice Wigmore. You don't know her."

"And she painted that picture?" Archie was perturbed. "But, I say!
Won't she be apt to wonder where the thing has got to?"

"I told her it had been stolen. She thought it a great compliment,
and was tickled to death. So that's all right."

"And, of course, she'll paint you another."

"Not while I have my strength she won't," said J. B. Wheeler firmly.
"She's given up painting since I taught her golf, thank goodness,
and my best efforts shall be employed in seeing that she doesn't
have a relapse."

"But, laddie," said Archie, puzzled, "you talk as though there were
something wrong with the picture. I thought it dashed hot stuff."

"God bless you!" said J. B. Wheeler.

Archie proceeded on his way, still mystified. Then he reflected that
artists as a class were all pretty weird and rummy and talked more
or less consistently through their hats. You couldn't ever take an
artist's opinion on a picture. Nine out of ten of them had views on
Art which would have admitted them to any looney-bin, and no
questions asked. He had met several of the species who absolutely
raved over things which any reasonable chappie would decline to be
found dead in a ditch with. His admiration for the Wigmore Venus,
which had faltered for a moment during his conversation with J. B.
Wheeler, returned in all its pristine vigour. Absolute rot, he meant
to say, to try to make out that it wasn't one of the ones and just
like mother used to make. Look how Lucille had liked it!

At breakfast next morning, Archie once more brought up the question
of the hanging of the picture. It was absurd to let a thing like
that go on wasting its sweetness behind a sofa with its face to the

"Touching the jolly old masterpiece," he said, "how about it? I
think it's time we hoisted it up somewhere."

Lucille fiddled pensively with her coffee-spoon.

"Archie, dear," she said, "I've been thinking."

"And a very good thing to do," said Archie. "I've often meant to do
it myself when I got a bit of time."

"About that picture, I mean. Did you know it was father's birthday

"Why no, old thing, I didn't, to be absolutely honest. Your revered
parent doesn't confide in me much these days, as a matter of fact."

"Well, it is. And I think we ought to give him a present."

"Absolutely. But how? I'm all for spreading sweetness and light, and
cheering up the jolly old pater's sorrowful existence, but I haven't
a bean. And, what is more, things have come to such a pass that I
scan the horizon without seeing a single soul I can touch. I suppose
I could get into Reggie van Tuyl's ribs for a bit, but--I don't
know--touching poor old Reggie always seems to me rather like
potting a pitting bird."

"Of course, I don't want you to do anything like that. I was
thinking--Archie, darling, would you be very hurt if I gave father
the picture?"

"Oh, I say!"

"Well, I can't think of anything else."

"But wouldn't you miss it most frightfully?"

"Oh, of course I should. But you see--father's birthday--"

Archie had always thought Lucille the dearest and most unselfish
angel in the world, but never had the fact come home to him so
forcibly as now. He kissed her fondly.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "You really are, you know! This is the
biggest thing since jolly old Sir Philip What's-his-name gave the
drink of water to the poor blighter whose need was greater than his,
if you recall the incident. I had to sweat it up at school, I
remember. Sir Philip, poor old bean, had a most ghastly thirst on,
and he was just going to have one on the house, so to speak, when...
but it's all in the history-books. This is the sort of thing Boy
Scouts do! Well, of course, it's up to you, queen of my soul. If you
feel like making the sacrifice, right-o! Shall I bring the pater up
here and show him the picture?"

"No, I shouldn't do that. Do you think you could get into his suite
to-morrow morning and hang it up somewhere? You see, if he had the
chance of--what I mean is, if--yes, I think it would be best to hang
it up and let him discover it there."

"It would give him a surprise, you mean, what?"


Lucille sighed inaudibly. She was a girl with a conscience, and that
conscience was troubling her a little. She agreed with Archie that
the discovery of the Wigmore Venus in his artistically furnished
suite would give Mr. Brewster a surprise. Surprise, indeed, was
perhaps an inadequate word. She was sorry for her father, but the
instinct of self-preservation is stronger than any other emotion.

Archie whistled merrily on the following morning as, having driven a
nail into his father-in-law's wallpaper, he adjusted the cord from
which the Wigmore Venus was suspended. He was a kind-hearted young
man, and, though Mr. Daniel Brewster had on many occasions treated
him with a good deal of austerity, his simple soul was pleased at
the thought of doing him a good turn, He had just completed his work
and was stepping cautiously down, when a voice behind him nearly
caused him to overbalance.

"What the devil?"

Archie turned beamingly.

"Hullo, old thing! Many happy returns of the day!"

Mr. Brewster was standing in a frozen attitude. His strong face was
slightly flushed.

"What--what--?" he gurgled.

Mr. Brewster was not in one of his sunniest moods that morning. The
proprietor of a large hotel has many things to disturb him, and to-
day things had been going wrong. He had come up to his suite with
the idea of restoring his shaken nerve system with a quiet cigar,
and the sight of his son-in-law had, as so frequently happened, made
him feel worse than ever. But, when Archie had descended from the
chair and moved aside to allow him an uninterrupted view of the
picture, Mr. Brewster realised that a worse thing had befallen him
than a mere visit from one who always made him feel that the world
was a bleak place.

He stared at the Venus dumbly. Unlike most hotel-proprietors, Daniel
Brewster was a connoisseur of Art. Connoisseuring was, in fact, his
hobby. Even the public rooms of the Cosmopolis were decorated with
taste, and his own private suite was a shrine of all that was best
and most artistic. His tastes were quiet and restrained, and it is
not too much to say that the Wigmore Venus hit him behind the ear
like a stuffed eel-skin.

So great was the shock that for some moments it kept him silent, and
before he could recover speech Archie had explained.

"It's a birthday present from Lucille, don't you know,"

Mr. Brewster crushed down the breezy speech he had intended to

"Lucille gave me--that?" he muttered.

He swallowed pathetically. He was suffering, but the iron courage of
the Brewsters stood him in good stead. This man was no weakling.
Presently the rigidity of his face relaxed. He was himself again. Of
all things in the world he loved his daughter most, and if, in
whoever mood of temporary insanity, she had brought herself to
suppose that this beastly daub was the sort of thing he would like
for a birthday present, he must accept the situation like a man. He
would on the whole have preferred death to a life lived in the
society of the Wigmore Venus, but even that torment must be endured
if the alternative was the hurting of Lucille's feelings.

"I think I've chosen a pretty likely spot to hang the thing, what?"
said Archie cheerfully. "It looks well alongside those Japanese
prints, don't you think? Sort of stands out."

Mr. Brewster licked his dry lips and grinned a ghastly grin.

"It does stand out!" he agreed.



Archie was not a man who readily allowed himself to become worried,
especially about people who were not in his own immediate circle of
friends, but in the course of the next week he was bound to admit
that he was not altogether easy in his mind about his father-in-
law's mental condition. He had read all sorts of things in the
Sunday papers and elsewhere about the constant strain to which
captains of industry are subjected, a strain which sooner or later
is only too apt to make the victim go all blooey, and it seemed to
him that Mr. Brewster was beginning to find the going a trifle too
tough for his stamina. Undeniably he was behaving in an odd manner,
and Archie, though no physician, was aware that, when the American
business-man, that restless, ever-active human machine, starts

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