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INDISCRETIONS OF ARCHIE
P. G. WODEHOUSE
It wasn’t Archie’s fault really. Its true he went to America and fell in love with Lucille, the daughter of a millionaire hotel proprietor and if he did marry her–well, what else was there to do?
From his point of view, the whole thing was a thoroughly good egg; but Mr. Brewster, his father-in-law, thought differently, Archie had neither money nor occupation, which was distasteful in the eyes of the industrious Mr. Brewster; but the real bar was the fact that he had once adversely criticised one of his hotels.
Archie does his best to heal the breach; but, being something of an ass, genus priceless, he finds it almost beyond his powers to placate “the man-eating fish” whom Providence has given him as a father-in-law
INDISCRETIONS OF ARCHIE
P. G. WODEHOUSE
AUTHOR OF “THE LITTLE WARRIOR,” “A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS,” “ONEASY MONEY,” ETC.
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
COPYRIGHT,1921, BY GEORGE H, DORAN COMPANY COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE COMPANY (COSMOPOLITAN MAGAZINE)
PRINTED IN-THE-UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
DEDICATION TO B. W. KING-HALL
My dear Buddy,–
We have been friends for eighteen years. A considerable proportion of my books were written under your hospitable roof. And yet I have never dedicated one to you. What will be the verdict of Posterity on this? The fact is, I have become rather superstitious about dedications. No sooner do you label a book with the legend–
than X cuts you in Piccadilly, or you bring a lawsuit against him. There is a fatality about it. However, I can’t imagine anyone quarrelling with you, and I am getting more attractive all the time, so let’s take a chance.
P. G. WODEHOUSE.
I DISTRESSING SCENE IN A HOTEL
II A SHOCK FOR MR. BREWSTER
III MR. BREWSTER DELIVERS SENTENCE IV WORK WANTED
V STRANGE EXPERIENCE OF AN ARTIST’S MODEL VI THE BOMB
VII MR. ROSCOE SHERRIFF HAS AN IDEA VIII A DISTURBED NIGHT FOR DEAR OLD SQUIFFY IX A LETTER FROM PARKER
X DOING FATHER A BIT OF GOOD
XI SALVATORE CHOOSES THE WRONG MOMENT XII BRIGHT EYES-AND A FLY
XIII RALLYING ROUND PERCY
XIV THE SAD CASE OF LOONEY BIDDLE XV SUMMER STORMS
XVI ARCHIE ACCEPTS A SITUATION
XVII BROTHER BILL’S ROMANCE
XVIII THE SAUSAGE CHAPPIE
XIX REGGIE COMES TO LIFE
XX THE SAUSAGE CHAPPIE CLICKS
XXI THE-GROWING BOY
XXII WASHY STEPS INTO THE HALL OF FAME XXIII MOTHER’S-KNEE
XXIV THE MELTING OF MR. CONNOLLY
XXV THE WIGMORE VENUS
XXVI A TALE OF A GRANDFATHER
“I say, laddie!” said Archie.
“Sir?” replied the desk-clerk alertly. All the employes of the Hotel Cosmopolis were alert. It was one of the things on which Mr. Daniel Brewster, the proprietor, insisted. And as he was always wandering about the lobby of the hotel keeping a personal eye on affairs, it was never safe to relax.
“I want to see the manager.”
“Is there anything I could do, sir?”
Archie looked at him doubtfully.
“Well, as a matter of fact, my dear old desk-clerk,” he said, “I want to kick up a fearful row, and it hardly seems fair to lug you into it. Why you, I mean to say? The blighter whose head I want on a charger is the bally manager.”
At this point a massive, grey-haired man, who had been standing close by, gazing on the lobby with an air of restrained severity, as if daring it to start anything, joined in the conversation.
“I am the manager,” he said.
His eye was cold and hostile. Others, it seemed to say, might like Archie Moffam, but not he. Daniel Brewster was bristling for combat. What he had overheard had shocked him to the core of his being. The Hotel Cosmopolis was his own private, personal property, and the thing dearest to him in the world, after his daughter Lucille. He prided himself on the fact that his hotel was not like other New York hotels, which were run by impersonal companies and shareholders and boards of directors, and consequently lacked the paternal touch which made the Cosmopolis what it was. At other hotels things went wrong, and clients complained. At the Cosmopolis things never went wrong, because he was on the spot to see that they didn’t, and as a result clients never complained. Yet here was this long, thin, string-bean of an Englishman actually registering annoyance and dissatisfaction before his very eyes.
“What is your complaint?” he enquired frigidly.
Archie attached himself to the top button of Mr. Brewster’s coat, and was immediately dislodged by an irritable jerk of the other’s substantial body.
“Listen, old thing! I came over to this country to nose about in search of a job, because there doesn’t seem what you might call a general demand for my services in England. Directly I was demobbed, the family started talking about the Land of Opportunity and shot me on to a liner. The idea was that I might get hold of something in America–“
He got hold of Mr. Brewster’s coat-button, and was again shaken off.
“Between ourselves, I’ve never done anything much in England, and I fancy the family were getting a bit fed. At any rate, they sent me over here–“
Mr. Brewster disentangled himself for the third time.
“I would prefer to postpone the story of your life,” he said coldly, “and be informed what is your specific complaint against the Hotel Cosmopolis.”
“Of course, yes. The jolly old hotel. I’m coming to that. Well, it was like this. A chappie on the boat told me that this was the best place to stop at in New York–“
“He was quite right,” said Mr. Brewster.
“Was he, by Jove! Well, all I can say, then, is that the other New York hotels must be pretty mouldy, if this is the best of the lot! I took a room here last night,” said Archie quivering with self-pity, “and there was a beastly tap outside somewhere which went drip-drip- drip all night and kept me awake.”
Mr. Brewster’s annoyance deepened. He felt that a chink had been found in his armour. Not even the most paternal hotel-proprietor can keep an eye on every tap in his establishment.
“Drip-drip-drip!” repeated Archie firmly. “And I put my boots outside the door when I went to bed, and this morning they hadn’t been touched. I give you my solemn word! Not touched.”
“Naturally,” said Mr. Brewster. “My employes are honest”
“But I wanted them cleaned, dash it!”
“There is a shoe-shining parlour in the basement. At the Cosmopolis shoes left outside bedroom doors are not cleaned.”
“Then I think the Cosmopolis is a bally rotten hotel!”
Mr. Brewster’s compact frame quivered. The unforgivable insult had been offered. Question the legitimacy of Mr. Brewster’s parentage, knock Mr. Brewster down and walk on his face with spiked shoes, and you did not irremediably close all avenues to a peaceful settlement. But make a remark like that about his hotel, and war was definitely declared.
“In that case,” he said, stiffening, “I must ask you to give up your room.”
“I’m going to give it up! I wouldn’t stay in the bally place another minute.”
Mr. Brewster walked away, and Archie charged round to the cashier’s desk to get his bill. It had been his intention in any case, though for dramatic purposes he concealed it from his adversary, to leave the hotel that morning. One of the letters of introduction which he had brought over from England had resulted in an invitation from a Mrs. van Tuyl to her house-party at Miami, and he had decided to go there at once.
“Well,” mused Archie, on his way to the station, “one thing’s certain. I’ll never set foot in THAT bally place again!”
But nothing in this world is certain.
A SHOCK FOR MR. BREWSTER
Mr. Daniel Brewster sat in his luxurious suite at the Cosmopolis, smoking one of his admirable cigars and chatting with his old friend, Professor Binstead. A stranger who had only encountered Mr. Brewster in the lobby of the hotel would have been surprised at the appearance of his sitting-room, for it had none of the rugged simplicity which was the keynote of its owner’s personal appearance. Daniel Brewster was a man with a hobby, He was what Parker, his valet, termed a connoozer. His educated taste in Art was one of the things which went to make the Cosmopolis different from and superior to other New York hotels. He had personally selected the tapestries in the dining-room and the various paintings throughout the building. And in his private capacity he was an enthusiastic collector of things which Professor Binstead, whose tastes lay in the same direction, would have stolen without a twinge of conscience if he could have got the chance.
The professor, a small man of middle age who wore tortoiseshell- rimmed spectacles, flitted covetously about the room, inspecting its treasures with a glistening eye. In a corner, Parker, a grave, lean individual, bent over the chafing-dish, in which he was preparing for his employer and his guest their simple lunch.
“Brewster,” said Professor Binstead, pausing at the mantelpiece.
Mr. Brewster looked up amiably. He was in placid mood to-day. Two weeks and more had passed since the meeting with Archie recorded in the previous chapter, and he had been able to dismiss that disturbing affair from his mind. Since then, everything had gone splendidly with Daniel Brewster, for he had just accomplished his ambition of the moment by completing the negotiations for the purchase of a site further down-town, on which he proposed to erect a new hotel. He liked building hotels. He had the Cosmopolis, his first-born, a summer hotel in the mountains, purchased in the previous year, and he was toying with the idea of running over to England and putting up another in London, That, however, would have to wait. Meanwhile, he would concentrate on this new one down-town. It had kept him busy and worried, arranging for securing the site; but his troubles were over now.
“Yes?” he said.
Professor Binstead had picked up a small china figure of delicate workmanship. It represented a warrior of pre-khaki days advancing with a spear upon some adversary who, judging from the contented expression on the warrior’s face, was smaller than himself.
“Where did you get this?”
“That? Mawson, my agent, found it in a little shop on the east side.”
“Where’s the other? There ought to be another. These things go in pairs. They’re valueless alone.”
Mr. Brewster’s brow clouded.
“I know that,” he said shortly. “Mawson’s looking for the other one everywhere. If you happen across it, I give you carte blanche to buy it for me.”
“It must be somewhere.”
“Yes. If you find it, don’t worry about the expense. I’ll settle up, no matter what it is.”
“I’ll bear it in mind,” said Professor Binstead. “It may cost you a lot of money. I suppose you know that.”
“I told you I don’t care what it costs.”
“It’s nice to be a millionaire,” sighed Professor Binstead.
“Luncheon is served, sir,” said Parker.
He had stationed himself in a statutesque pose behind Mr. Brewster’s chair, when there was a knock at the door. He went to the door, and returned with a telegram.
“Telegram for you, sir.”
Mr. Brewster nodded carelessly. The contents of the chafing-dish had justified the advance advertising of their odour, and he was too busy to be interrupted.
“Put it down. And you needn’t wait, Parker.”
“Very good, sir.”
The valet withdrew, and Mr. Brewster resumed his lunch.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” asked Professor Binstead, to whom a telegram was a telegram.
“It can wait. I get them all day long. I expect it’s from Lucille, saying what train she’s making.”
“She returns to-day?”
“Yes, Been at Miami.” Mr. Brewster, having dwelt at adequate length on the contents of the chafing-dish, adjusted his glasses and took up the envelope. “I shall be glad–Great Godfrey!”
He sat staring at the telegram, his mouth open. His friend eyed him solicitously.
“No bad news, I hope?”
Mr. Brewster gurgled in a strangled way.
“Bad news? Bad–? Here, read it for yourself.”
Professor Binstead, one of the three most inquisitive men in New York, took the slip of paper with gratitude.
“‘Returning New York to-day with darling Archie,'” he read. “‘Lots of love from us both. Lucille.'” He gaped at his host. “Who is Archie?” he enquired.
“Who is Archie?” echoed Mr. Brewster helplessly. “Who is–? That’s just what I would like to know.”
“‘Darling Archie,'” murmured the professor, musing over the telegram. “‘Returning to-day with darling Archie.’ Strange!”
Mr. Brewster continued to stare before him. When you send your only daughter on a visit to Miami minus any entanglements and she mentions in a telegram that she has acquired a darling Archie, you are naturally startled. He rose from the table with a bound. It had occurred to him that by neglecting a careful study of his mail during the past week, as was his bad habit when busy, he had lost an opportunity of keeping abreast with current happenings. He recollected now that a letter had arrived from Lucille some time ago, and that he had put it away unopened till he should have leisure to read it. Lucille was a dear girl, he had felt, but her letters when on a vacation seldom contained anything that couldn’t wait a few days for a reading. He sprang for his desk, rummaged among his papers, and found what he was seeking.
It was a long letter, and there was silence in the room for some moments while he mastered its contents. Then he turned to the professor, breathing heavily.
“Yes?” said Professor Binstead eagerly. “Yes?”
“What is it?” demanded the professor in an agony.
Mr. Brewster sat down again with a thud.
“Married! To an Englishman!”
“Bless my soul!”
“She says,” proceeded Mr. Brewster, referring to the letter again, “that they were both so much in love that they simply had to slip off and get married, and she hopes I won’t be cross. Cross!” gasped Mr. Brewster, gazing wildly at his friend.
“Disturbing! You bet it’s disturbing! I don’t know anything about the fellow. Never heard of him in my life. She says he wanted a quiet wedding because he thought a fellow looked such a chump getting married! And I must love him, because he’s all set to love me very much!”
Mr. Brewster put the letter down.
“I have met some very agreeable Englishmen,” said Professor Binstead.
“I don’t like Englishmen,” growled Mr. Brewster. “Parker’s an Englishman.”
“Yes. I believe he wears my shirts on the sly,'” said Mr. Brewster broodingly, “If I catch him–! What would you do about this, Binstead?”
“Do?” The professor considered the point judiciary. “Well, really, Brewster, I do not see that there is anything you can do. You must simply wait and meet the man. Perhaps he will turn out an admirable son-in-law.”
“H’m!” Mr. Brewster declined to take an optimistic view. “But an Englishman, Binstead!” he said with pathos. “Why,” he went on, memory suddenly stirring, “there was an Englishman at this hotel only a week or two ago who went about knocking it in a way that would have amazed you! Said it was a rotten place! MY hotel!”
Professor Binstead clicked his tongue sympathetically. He understood his friend’s warmth.
MR. BREWSTER DELIVERS SENTENCE
At about the same moment that Professor Binstead was clicking his tongue in Mr. Brewster’s sitting-room, Archie Moffam sat contemplating his bride in a drawing-room on the express from Miami. He was thinking that this was too good to be true. His brain had been in something of a whirl these last few days, but this was one thought that never failed to emerge clearly from the welter.
Mrs. Archie Moffam, nee Lucille Brewster, was small and slender. She had a little animated face, set in a cloud of dark hair. She was so altogether perfect that Archie had frequently found himself compelled to take the marriage-certificate out of his inside pocket and study it furtively, to make himself realise that this miracle of good fortune had actually happened to him.
“Honestly, old bean–I mean, dear old thing,–I mean, darling,” said Archie, “I can’t believe it!”
“What I mean is, I can’t understand why you should have married a blighter like me.”
Lucille’s eyes opened. She squeezed his hand.
“Why, you’re the most wonderful thing in the world, precious!– Surely you know that?”
“Absolutely escaped my notice. Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure! You wonder-child! Nobody could see you without loving you!”
Archie heaved an ecstatic sigh. Then a thought crossed his mind. It was a thought which frequently came to mar his bliss.
“I say, I wonder if your father will think that!”
“Of course he will!”
“We rather sprung this, as it were, on the old lad,” said Archie dubiously. “What sort of a man IS your father?”
“Father’s a darling, too.”
“Rummy thing he should own that hotel,” said Archie. “I had a frightful row with a blighter of a manager there just before I left for Miami. Your father ought to sack that chap. He was a blot on the landscape!”
It had been settled by Lucille during the journey that Archie should be broken gently to his father-in-law. That is to say, instead of bounding blithely into Mr. Brewster’s presence hand in hand, the happy pair should separate for half an hour or so, Archie hanging around in the offing while Lucille saw her father and told him the whole story, or those chapters of it which she had omitted from her letter for want of space. Then, having impressed Mr. Brewster sufficiently with his luck in having acquired Archie for a son-in- law, she would lead him to where his bit of good fortune awaited him.
The programme worked out admirably in its earlier stages. When the two emerged from Mr. Brewster’s room to meet Archie, Mr. Brewster’s general idea was that fortune had smiled upon him in an almost unbelievable fashion and had presented him with a son-in-law who combined in almost equal parts the more admirable characteristics of Apollo, Sir Galahad, and Marcus Aurelius. True, he had gathered in the course of the conversation that dear Archie had no occupation and no private means; but Mr. Brewster felt that a great-souled man like Archie didn’t need them. You can’t have everything, and Archie, according to Lucille’s account, was practically a hundred per cent man in soul, looks, manners, amiability, and breeding. These are the things that count. Mr. Brewster proceeded to the lobby in a glow of optimism and geniality.
Consequently, when he perceived Archie, he got a bit of a shock.
“Hullo–ullo–ullo!” said Archie, advancing happily.
“Archie, darling, this is father,” said Lucille.
“Good Lord!” said Archie.
There was one of those silences. Mr. Brewster looked at Archie. Archie gazed at Mr. Brewster. Lucille, perceiving without understanding why that the big introduction scene had stubbed its toe on some unlooked-for obstacle, waited anxiously for enlightenment. Meanwhile, Archie continued to inspect Mr. Brewster, and Mr. Brewster continued to drink in Archie.
After an awkward pause of about three and a quarter minutes, Mr. Brewster swallowed once or twice, and finally spoke.
“Is this true?”
Lucille’s grey eyes clouded over with perplexity and apprehension.
“Have you really inflicted this–THIS on me for a son-in-law?” Mr. Brewster swallowed a few more times, Archie the while watching with a frozen fascination the rapid shimmying of his new relative’s Adam’s-apple. “Go away! I want to have a few words alone with this– This–WASSYOURDAMNAME?” he demanded, in an overwrought manner, addressing Archie for the first time.
“I told you, father. It’s Moom.”
“It’s spelt M-o-f-f-a-m, but pronounced Moom.”
“To rhyme,” said Archie, helpfully, “with Bluffinghame.”
“Lu,” said Mr. Brewster, “run away! I want to speak to-to-to–“
“You called me THIS before,” said Archie.
“You aren’t angry, father, dear?” said Lucilla
“Oh no! Oh no! I’m tickled to death!”
When his daughter had withdrawn, Mr. Brewster drew a long breath.
“Now then!” he said.
“Bit embarrassing, all this, what!” said Archie, chattily. “I mean to say, having met before in less happy circs. and what not. Rum coincidence and so forth! How would it be to bury the jolly old hatchet–start a new life–forgive and forget–learn to love each other–and all that sort of rot? I’m game if you are. How do we go? Is it a bet?”
Mr. Brewster remained entirely unsoftened by this manly appeal to his better feelings.
“What the devil do you mean by marrying my daughter?”
“Well, it sort of happened, don’t you know! You know how these things ARE! Young yourself once, and all that. I was most frightfully in love, and Lu seemed to think it wouldn’t be a bad scheme, and one thing led to another, and–well, there you are, don’t you know!”
“And I suppose you think you’ve done pretty well for yourself?”
“Oh, absolutely! As far as I’m concerned, everything’s topping! I’ve never felt so braced in my life!”
“Yes!” said Mr. Brewster, with bitterness, “I suppose, from your view-point, everything IS ‘topping.’ You haven’t a cent to your name, and you’ve managed to fool a rich man’s daughter into marrying you. I suppose you looked me up in Bradstreet before committing yourself?”
This aspect of the matter had not struck Archie until this moment.
“I say!” he observed, with dismay. “I never looked at it like that before! I can see that, from your point of view, this must look like a bit of a wash-out!”
“How do you propose to support Lucille, anyway?”
Archie ran a finger round the inside of his collar. He felt embarrassed, His father-in-law was opening up all kinds of new lines of thought.
“Well, there, old bean,” he admitted, frankly, “you rather have me!” He turned the matter over for a moment. “I had a sort of idea of, as it were, working, if you know what I mean.”
“Working at what?”
“Now, there again you stump me somewhat! The general scheme was that I should kind of look round, you know, and nose about and buzz to and fro till something turned up. That was, broadly speaking, the notion!”
“And how did you suppose my daughter was to live while you were doing all this?”
“Well, I think,” said Archie, “I THINK we rather expected YOU to rally round a bit for the nonce!”
“I see! You expected to live on me?”
“Well, you put it a bit crudely, but–as far as I had mapped anything out–that WAS what you might call the general scheme of procedure. You don’t think much of it, what? Yes? No?”
Mr. Brewster exploded.
“No! I do not think much of it! Good God! You go out of my hotel–MY hotel–calling it all the names you could think of–roasting it to beat the band–“
“Trifle hasty!” murmured Archie, apologetically. “Spoke without thinking. Dashed tap had gone DRIP-DRIP-DRIP all night–kept me awake–hadn’t had breakfast–bygones be bygones–!”
“Don’t interrupt! I say, you go out of my hotel, knocking it as no one has ever knocked it since it was built, and you sneak straight off and marry my daughter without my knowledge.”
“Did think of wiring for blessing. Slipped the old bean, somehow. You know how one forgets things!”
“And now you come back and calmly expect me to fling my arms round you and kiss you, and support you for the rest of your life!”
“Only while I’m nosing about and buzzing to and fro.”
“Well, I suppose I’ve got to support you. There seems no way out of it. I’ll tell you exactly what I propose to do. You think my hotel is a pretty poor hotel, eh? Well, you’ll have plenty of opportunity of judging, because you’re coming to live here. I’ll let you have a suite and I’ll let you have your meals, but outside of that–nothing doing! Nothing doing! Do you understand what I mean?”
“Absolutely! You mean, ‘Napoo!'”
“You can sign bills for a reasonable amount in my restaurant, and the hotel will look after your laundry. But not a cent do you get out me. And, if you want your shoes shined, you can pay for it yourself in the basement. If you leave them outside your door, I’ll instruct the floor-waiter to throw them down the air-shaft. Do you understand? Good! Now, is there anything more you want to ask?”
Archie smiled a propitiatory smile.
“Well, as a matter of fact, I was going to ask if you would stagger along and have a bite with us in the grill-room?”
“I will not!”
“I’ll sign the bill,” said Archie, ingratiatingly. “You don’t think much of it? Oh, right-o!”
It seemed to Archie, as he surveyed his position at the end of the first month of his married life, that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds. In their attitude towards America, visiting Englishmen almost invariably incline to extremes, either detesting all that therein is or else becoming enthusiasts on the subject of the country, its climate, and its institutions. Archie belonged to the second class. He liked America and got on splendidly with Americans from the start. He was a friendly soul, a mixer; and in New York, that city of mixers, he found himself at home. The atmosphere of good-fellowship and the open-hearted hospitality of everybody he met appealed to him. There were moments when it seemed to him as though New York had simply been waiting for him to arrive before giving the word to let the revels commence.
Nothing, of course, in this world is perfect; and, rosy as were the glasses through which Archie looked on his new surroundings, he had to admit that there was one flaw, one fly in the ointment, one individual caterpillar in the salad. Mr. Daniel Brewster, his father-in-law, remained consistently unfriendly. Indeed, his manner towards his new relative became daily more and more a manner which would have caused gossip on the plantation if Simon Legree had exhibited it in his relations with Uncle Tom. And this in spite of the fact that Archie, as early as the third morning of his stay, had gone to him and in the most frank and manly way had withdrawn his criticism of the Hotel Cosmopolis, giving it as his considered opinion that the Hotel Cosmopolis on closer inspection appeared to be a good egg, one of the best and brightest, and a bit of all right.
“A credit to you, old thing,” said Archie cordially.
“Don’t call me old thing!” growled Mr. Brewster.
“Eight-o, old companion!” said Archie amiably.
Archie, a true philosopher, bore this hostility with fortitude, but it worried Lucille.
“I do wish father understood you better,” was her wistful comment when Archie had related the conversation.
“Well, you know,” said Archie, “I’m open for being understood any time he cares to take a stab at it.”
“You must try and make him fond of you.”
“But how? I smile winsomely at him and what not, but he doesn’t respond.”
“Well, we shall have to think of something. I want him to realise what an angel you are. You ARE an angel, you know.”
“Of course you are.”
“It’s a rummy thing,” said Archie, pursuing a train of thought which was constantly with him, “the more I see of you, the more I wonder how you can have a father like–I mean to say, what I mean to say is, I wish I had known your mother; she must have been frightfully attractive.”
“What would really please him, I know,” said Lucille, “would be if you got some work to do. He loves people who work.”
“Yes?” said Archie doubtfully. “Well, you know, I heard him interviewing that chappie behind the desk this morning, who works like the dickens from early morn to dewy eve, on the subject of a mistake in his figures; and, if he loved him, he dissembled it all right. Of course, I admit that so far I haven’t been one of the toilers, but the dashed difficult thing is to know how to start. I’m nosing round, but the openings for a bright young man seem so scarce.”
“Well, keep on trying. I feel sure that, if you could only find something to do, it doesn’t matter what, father would be quite different.”
It was possibly the dazzling prospect of making Mr. Brewster quite different that stimulated Archie. He was strongly of the opinion that any change in his father-in-law must inevitably be for the better. A chance meeting with James B. Wheeler, the artist, at the Pen-and-Ink Club seemed to open the way.
To a visitor to New York who has the ability to make himself liked it almost appears as though the leading industry in that city was the issuing of two-weeks’ invitation-cards to clubs. Archie since his arrival had been showered with these pleasant evidences of his popularity; and he was now an honorary member of so many clubs of various kinds that he had not time to go to them all. There were the fashionable clubs along Fifth Avenue to which his friend Reggie van Tuyl, son of his Florida hostess, had introduced him. There were the businessmen’s clubs of which he was made free by more solid citizens. And, best of all, there were the Lambs’, the Players’, the Friars’, the Coffee-House, the Pen-and-Ink,–and the other resorts of the artist, the author, the actor, and the Bohemian. It was in these that Archie spent most of his time, and it was here that he made the acquaintance of J. B. Wheeler, the popular illustrator.
To Mr. Wheeler, over a friendly lunch, Archie had been confiding some of his ambitions to qualify as the hero of one of the Get-on- or-get-out-young-man-step-lively-books.
“You want a job?” said Mr. Wheeler.
“I want a job,” said Archie.
Mr. Wheeler consumed eight fried potatoes in quick succession. He was an able trencherman.
“I always looked on you as one of our leading lilies of the field,” he said. “Why this anxiety to toil and spin?”
“Well, my wife, you know, seems to think it might put me one-up with the jolly old dad if I did something.”
“And you’re not particular what you do, so long as it has the outer aspect of work?”
“Anything in the world, laddie, anything in the world.”
“Then come and pose for a picture I’m doing,” said J. B. Wheeler. “It’s for a magazine cover. You’re just the model I want, and I’ll pay you at the usual rates. Is it a go?”
“You’ve only got to stand still and look like a chunk of wood. You can do that, surely?”
“I can do that,” said Archie.
“Then come along down to my studio to-morrow.”
“Eight-o!” said Archie.
STRANGE EXPERIENCES OF AN ARTIST’S MODEL
“I say, old thing!”
Archie spoke plaintively. Already he was looking back ruefully to the time when he had supposed that an artist’s model had a soft job. In the first five minutes muscles which he had not been aware that he possessed had started to ache like neglected teeth. His respect for the toughness and durability of artists’ models was now solid. How they acquired the stamina to go through this sort of thing all day and then bound off to Bohemian revels at night was more than he could understand.
“Don’t wobble, confound you!” snorted Mr. Wheeler.
“Yes, but, my dear old artist,” said Archie, “what you don’t seem to grasp–what you appear not to realise–is that I’m getting a crick in the back.”
“You weakling! You miserable, invertebrate worm. Move an inch and I’ll murder you, and come and dance on your grave every Wednesday and Saturday. I’m just getting it.”
“It’s in the spine that it seems to catch me principally.”
“Be a man, you faint-hearted string-bean!” urged J. B. Wheeler. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Why, a girl who was posing for me last week stood for a solid hour on one leg, holding a tennis racket over her head and smiling brightly withal.”
“The female of the species is more india-rubbery than the male,” argued Archie.
“Well, I’ll be through in a few minutes. Don’t weaken. Think how proud you’ll be when you see yourself on all the bookstalls.”
Archie sighed, and braced himself to the task once more. He wished he had never taken on this binge. In addition to his physical discomfort, he was feeling a most awful chump. The cover on which Mr. Wheeler was engaged was for the August number of the magazine, and it had been necessary for Archie to drape his reluctant form in a two-piece bathing suit of a vivid lemon colour; for he was supposed to be representing one of those jolly dogs belonging to the best families who dive off floats at exclusive seashore resorts. J. B. Wheeler, a stickler for accuracy, had wanted him to remove his socks and shoes; but there Archie had stood firm. He was willing to make an ass of himself, but not a silly ass.
“All right,” said J. B. Wheeler, laying down his brush. “That will do for to-day. Though, speaking without prejudice and with no wish to be offensive, if I had had a model who wasn’t a weak-kneed, jelly-backboned son of Belial, I could have got the darned thing finished without having to have another sitting.”
“I wonder why you chappies call this sort of thing ‘sitting,'” said Archie, pensively, as he conducted tentative experiments in osteopathy on his aching back. “I say, old thing, I could do with a restorative, if you have one handy. But, of course, you haven’t, I suppose,” he added, resignedly. Abstemious as a rule, there were moments when Archie found the Eighteenth Amendment somewhat trying.
J. B. Wheeler shook his head.
“You’re a little previous,” he said. “But come round in another day or so, and I may be able to do something for you.” He moved with a certain conspirator-like caution to a corner of the room, and, lifting to one side a pile of canvases, revealed a stout barrel, which, he regarded with a fatherly and benignant eye. “I don’t mind telling you that, in the fullness of time, I believe this is going to spread a good deal of sweetness and light.”
“Oh, ah,” said Archie, interested. “Home-brew, what?”
“Made with these hands. I added a few more raisins yesterday, to speed things up a bit. There is much virtue in your raisin. And, talking of speeding things up, for goodness’ sake try to be a bit more punctual to-morrow. We lost an hour of good daylight to-day.”
“I like that! I was here on the absolute minute. I had to hang about on the landing waiting for you.”
“Well, well, that doesn’t matter,” said J. B. Wheeler, impatiently, for the artist soul is always annoyed by petty details. “The point is that we were an hour late in getting to work. Mind you’re here to-morrow at eleven sharp.”
It was, therefore, with a feeling of guilt and trepidation that Archie mounted the stairs on the following morning; for in spite of his good resolutions he was half an hour behind time. He was relieved to find that his friend had also lagged by the wayside. The door of the studio was ajar, and he went in, to discover the place occupied by a lady of mature years, who was scrubbing the floor with a mop. He went into the bedroom and donned his bathing suit. When he emerged, ten minutes later, the charwoman had gone, but J. B. Wheeler was still absent. Rather glad of the respite, he sat down to kill time by reading the morning paper, whose sporting page alone he had managed to master at the breakfast table.
There was not a great deal in the paper to interest him. The usual bond-robbery had taken place on the previous day, and the police were reported hot on the trail of the Master-Mind who was alleged to be at the back of these financial operations. A messenger named Henry Babcock had been arrested and was expected to become confidential. To one who, like Archie, had never owned a bond, the story made little appeal. He turned with more interest to a cheery half-column on the activities of a gentleman in Minnesota who, with what seemed to Archie, as he thought of Mr. Daniel Brewster, a good deal of resource and public spirit, had recently beaned his father- in-law with the family meat-axe. It was only after he had read this through twice in a spirit of gentle approval that it occurred to him that J. B. Wheeler was uncommonly late at the tryst. He looked at his watch, and found that he had been in the studio three-quarters of an hour.
Archie became restless. Long-suffering old bean though he was, he considered this a bit thick. He got up and went out on to the landing, to see if there were any signs of the blighter. There were none. He began to understand now what had happened. For some reason or other the bally artist was not coming to the studio at all that day. Probably he had called up the hotel and left a message to this effect, and Archie had just missed it. Another man might have waited to make certain that his message had reached its destination, but not woollen-headed Wheeler, the most casual individual in New York.
Thoroughly aggrieved, Archie turned back to the studio to dress and go away.
His progress was stayed by a solid, forbidding slab of oak. Somehow or other, since he had left the room, the door had managed to get itself shut.
“Oh, dash it!” said Archie.
The mildness of the expletive was proof that the full horror of the situation had not immediately come home to him. His mind in the first few moments was occupied with the problem of how the door had got that way. He could not remember shutting it. Probably he had done it unconsciously. As a child, he had been taught by sedulous elders that the little gentleman always closed doors behind him, and presumably his subconscious self was still under the influence. And then, suddenly, he realised that this infernal, officious ass of a subconscious self had deposited him right in the gumbo. Behind that closed door, unattainable as youthful ambition, lay his gent’s heather-mixture with the green twill, and here he was, out in the world, alone, in a lemon-coloured bathing suit.
In all crises of human affairs there are two broad courses open to a man. He can stay where he is or he can go elsewhere. Archie, leaning on the banisters, examined these alternatives narrowly. If he stayed where he was he would have to spend the night on this dashed landing. If he legged it, in this kit, he would be gathered up by the constabulary before he had gone a hundred yards. He was no pessimist, but he was reluctantly forced to the conclusion that he was up against it.
It was while he was musing with a certain tenseness on these things that the sound of footsteps came to him from below. But almost in the first instant the hope that this might be J. B. Wheeler, the curse of the human race, died away. Whoever was coming up the stairs was running, and J. B. Wheeler never ran upstairs. He was not one of your lean, haggard, spiritual-looking geniuses. He made a large income with his brush and pencil, and spent most of it in creature comforts. This couldn’t be J. B. Wheeler.
It was not. It was a tall, thin man whom he had never seen before. He appeared to be in a considerable hurry. He let himself into the studio on the floor below, and vanished without even waiting to shut the door.
He had come and disappeared in almost record time, but, brief though his passing had been, it had been long enough to bring consolation to Archie. A sudden bright light had been vouchsafed to Archie, and he now saw an admirably ripe and fruity scheme for ending his troubles. What could be simpler than to toddle down one flight of stairs and in an easy and debonair manner ask the chappie’s permission to use his telephone? And what could be simpler, once he was at the ‘phone, than to get in touch with somebody at the Cosmopolis who would send down a few trousers and what not in a kit bag. It was a priceless solution, thought Archie, as he made his way downstairs. Not even embarrassing, he meant to say. This chappie, living in a place like this, wouldn’t bat an eyelid at the spectacle of a fellow trickling about the place in a bathing suit. They would have a good laugh about the whole thing.
“I say, I hate to bother you–dare say you’re busy and all that sort of thing–but would you mind if I popped in for half a second and used your ‘phone?”
That was the speech, the extremely gentlemanly and well-phrased speech. Which Archie had prepared to deliver the moment the man appeared. The reason he did not deliver it was that the man did not appear. He knocked, but nothing stirred.
Archie now perceived that the door was ajar, and that on an envelope attached with a tack to one of the panels was the name “Elmer M. Moon” He pushed the door a little farther open and tried again.
“Oh, Mr. Moon! Mr. Moon!” He waited a moment. “Oh, Mr. Moon! Mr. Moon! Are you there, Mr. Moon?”
He blushed hotly. To his sensitive ear the words had sounded exactly like the opening line of the refrain of a vaudeville song-hit. He decided to waste no further speech on a man with such an unfortunate surname until he could see him face to face and get a chance of lowering his voice a bit. Absolutely absurd to stand outside a chappie’s door singing song-hits in a lemon-coloured bathing suit. He pushed the door open and walked in; and his subconscious self, always the gentleman, closed it gently behind him.
“Up!” said a low, sinister, harsh, unfriendly, and unpleasant voice.
“Eh?” said Archie, revolving sharply on his axis.
He found himself confronting the hurried gentleman who had run upstairs. This sprinter had produced an automatic pistol, and was pointing it in a truculent manner at his head. Archie stared at his host, and his host stared at him.
“Put your hands up,” he said.
“Oh, right-o! Absolutely!” said Archie. “But I mean to say–“
The other was drinking him in with considerable astonishment. Archie’s costume seemed to have made a powerful impression upon him.
“Who the devil are you?” he enquired.
“Me? Oh, my name’s–“
“Never mind your name. What are you doing here?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, I popped in to ask if I might use your ‘phone. You see–“
A certain relief seemed to temper the austerity of the other’s gaze. As a visitor, Archie, though surprising, seemed to be better than he had expected.
“I don’t know what to do with you,” he said, meditatively.
“If you’d just let me toddle to the ‘phone–“
“Likely!” said the man. He appeared to reach a decision. “Here, go into that room.”
He indicated with a jerk of his head the open door of what was apparently a bedroom at the farther end of the studio.
“I take it,” said Archie, chattily, “that all this may seem to you not a little rummy.”
“I was only saying–“
“Well, I haven’t time to listen. Get a move on!”
The bedroom was in a state of untidiness which eclipsed anything which Archie had ever witnessed. The other appeared to be moving house. Bed, furniture, and floor were covered with articles of clothing. A silk shirt wreathed itself about Archie’s ankles as he stood gaping, and, as he moved farther into the room, his path was paved with ties and collars.
“Sit down!” said Elmer M. Moon, abruptly.
“Right-o! Thanks,” said Archie, “I suppose you wouldn’t like me to explain, and what not, what?”
“No!” said Mr. Moon. “I haven’t got your spare time. Put your hands behind that chair.”
Archie did so, and found them immediately secured by what felt like a silk tie. His assiduous host then proceeded to fasten his ankles in a like manner. This done, he seemed to feel that he had done all that was required of him, and he returned to the packing of a large suitcase which stood by the window.
“I say!” said Archie.
Mr. Moon, with the air of a man who has remembered something which he had overlooked, shoved a sock in his guest’s mouth and resumed his packing. He was what might be called an impressionist packer. His aim appeared to be speed rather than neatness. He bundled his belongings in, closed the bag with some difficulty, and, stepping to the window, opened it. Then he climbed out on to the fire-escape, dragged the suit-case after him, and was gone.
Archie, left alone, addressed himself to the task of freeing his prisoned limbs. The job proved much easier than he had expected. Mr. Moon, that hustler, had wrought for the moment, not for all time. A practical man, he had been content to keep his visitor shackled merely for such a period as would permit him to make his escape unhindered. In less than ten minutes Archie, after a good deal of snake-like writhing, was pleased to discover that the thingummy attached to his wrists had loosened sufficiently to enable him to use his hands. He untied himself and got up.
He now began to tell himself that out of evil cometh good. His encounter with the elusive Mr. Moon had not been an agreeable one, but it had had this solid advantage, that it had left him right in the middle of a great many clothes. And Mr. Moon, whatever his moral defects, had the one excellent quality of taking about the same size as himself. Archie, casting a covetous eye upon a tweed suit which lay on the bed, was on the point of climbing into the trousers when on the outer door of the studio there sounded a forceful knocking.
“Open up here!”
Archie bounded silently out into the other room and stood listening tensely. He was not a naturally querulous man, but he did feel at this point that Fate was picking on him with a somewhat undue severity.
“In th’ name av th’ Law!”
There are times when the best of us lose our heads. At this juncture Archie should undoubtedly have gone to the door, opened it, explained his presence in a few well-chosen words, and generally have passed the whole thing off with ready tact. But the thought of confronting a posse of police in his present costume caused him to look earnestly about him for a hiding-place.
Up against the farther wall was a settee with a high, arching back, which might have been put there for that special purpose. He inserted himself behind this, just as a splintering crash announced that the Law, having gone through the formality of knocking with its knuckles, was now getting busy with an axe. A moment later the door had given way, and the room was full of trampling feet. Archie wedged himself against the wall with the quiet concentration of a clam nestling in its shell, and hoped for the best.
It seemed to him that his immediate future depended for better or for worse entirely on the native intelligence of the Force. If they were the bright, alert men he hoped they were, they would see all that junk in the bedroom and, deducing from it that their quarry had stood not upon the order of his going but had hopped it, would not waste time in searching a presumably empty apartment. If, on the other hand, they were the obtuse, flat-footed persons who occasionally find their way into the ranks of even the most enlightened constabularies, they would undoubtedly shift the settee and drag him into a publicity from which his modest soul shrank. He was enchanted, therefore, a few moments later, to hear a gruff voice state that th’ mutt had beaten it down th’ fire-escape. His opinion of the detective abilities of the New York police force rose with a bound.
There followed a brief council of war, which, as it took place in the bedroom, was inaudible to Archie except as a distant growling noise. He could distinguish no words, but, as it was succeeded by a general trampling of large boots in the direction of the door and then by silence, he gathered that the pack, having drawn the studio and found it empty, had decided to return to other and more profitable duties. He gave them a reasonable interval for removing themselves, and then poked his head cautiously over the settee.
All was peace. The place was empty. No sound disturbed the stillness.
Archie emerged. For the first time in this morning of disturbing occurrences he began to feel that God was in his heaven and all right with the world. At last things were beginning to brighten up a bit, and life might be said to have taken on some of the aspects of a good egg. He stretched himself, for it is cramping work lying under settees, and, proceeding to the bedroom, picked up the tweed trousers again.
Clothes had a fascination for Archie. Another man, in similar circumstances, might have hurried over his toilet; but Archie, faced by a difficult choice of ties, rather strung the thing out. He selected a specimen which did great credit to the taste of Mr. Moon, evidently one of our snappiest dressers, found that it did not harmonise with the deeper meaning of the tweed suit, removed it, chose another, and was adjusting the bow and admiring the effect, when his attention was diverted by a slight sound which was half a cough and half a sniff; and, turning, found himself gazing into the clear blue eyes of a large man in uniform, who had stepped into the room from the fire-escape. He was swinging a substantial club in a negligent sort of way, and he looked at Archie with a total absence of bonhomie.
“Ah!” he observed.
“Oh, THERE you are!” said Archie, subsiding weakly against the chest of drawers. He gulped. “Of course, I can see you’re thinking all this pretty tolerably weird and all that,” he proceeded, in a propitiatory voice.
The policeman attempted no analysis of his emotions, He opened a mouth which a moment before had looked incapable of being opened except with the assistance of powerful machinery, and shouted a single word.
A distant voice gave tongue in answer. It was like alligators roaring to their mates across lonely swamps.
There was a rumble of footsteps in the region of the stairs, and presently there entered an even larger guardian of the Law than the first exhibit. He, too, swung a massive club, and, like his colleague, he gazed frostily at Archie.
“God save Ireland!” he remarked.
The words appeared to be more in the nature of an expletive than a practical comment on the situation. Having uttered them, he draped himself in the doorway like a colossus, and chewed gum.
“Where ja get him?” he enquired, after a pause.
“Found him in here attimpting to disguise himself.”
“I told Cap. he was hiding somewheres, but he would have it that he’d beat it down th’ escape,” said the gum-chewer, with the sombre triumph of the underling whose sound advice has been overruled by those above him. He shifted his wholesome (or, as some say, unwholesome) morsel to the other side of his mouth, and for the first time addressed Archie directly. “Ye’re pinched!” he observed.
Archie started violently. The bleak directness of the speech roused him with a jerk from the dream-like state into which he had fallen. He had not anticipated this. He had assumed that there would be a period of tedious explanations to be gone through before he was at liberty to depart to the cosy little lunch for which his interior had been sighing wistfully this long time past; but that he should be arrested had been outside his calculations. Of course, he could put everything right eventually; he could call witnesses to his character and the purity of his intentions; but in the meantime the whole dashed business would be in all the papers, embellished with all those unpleasant flippancies to which your newspaper reporter is so prone to stoop when he sees half a chance. He would feel a frightful chump. Chappies would rot him about it to the most fearful extent. Old Brewster’s name would come into it, and he could not disguise it from himself that his father-in-law, who liked his name in the papers as little as possible, would be sorer than a sunburned neck.
“No, I say, you know! I mean, I mean to say!”
“Pinched!” repeated the rather larger policeman.
“And annything ye say,” added his slightly smaller colleague, “will be used agenst ya ‘t the trial.”
“And if ya try t’escape,” said the first speaker, twiddling his club, “ya’ll getja block knocked off.”
And, having sketched out this admirably clear and neatly-constructed scenario, the two relapsed into silence. Officer Cassidy restored his gum to circulation. Officer Donahue frowned sternly at his boots.
“But, I say,” said Archie, “it’s all a mistake, you know. Absolutely a frightful error, my dear old constables. I’m not the lad you’re after at all. The chappie you want is a different sort of fellow altogether. Another blighter entirely.”
New York policemen never laugh when on duty. There is probably something in the regulations against it. But Officer Donahue permitted the left corner of his mouth to twitch slightly, and a momentary muscular spasm disturbed the calm of Officer Cassidy’s granite features, as a passing breeze ruffles the surface of some bottomless lake.
“That’s what they all say!” observed Officer Donahue.
“It’s no use tryin’ that line of talk,” said Officer Cassidy. “Babcock’s squealed.”
“Sure. Squealed ‘s morning,” said Officer Donahue.
Archie’s memory stirred vaguely.
“Babcock?” he said. “Do you know, that name seems familiar to me, somehow. I’m almost sure I’ve read it in the paper or something.”
“Ah, cut it out!” said Officer Cassidy, disgustedly. The two constables exchanged a glance of austere disapproval. This hypocrisy pained them. “Read it in th’ paper or something!”
“By Jove! I remember now. He’s the chappie who was arrested in that bond business. For goodness’ sake, my dear, merry old constables,” said Archie, astounded, “you surely aren’t labouring under the impression that I’m the Master-Mind they were talking about in the paper? Why, what an absolutely priceless notion! I mean to say, I ask you, what! Frankly, laddies, do I look like a Master-Mind?”
Officer Cassidy heaved a deep sigh, which rumbled up from his interior like the first muttering of a cyclone.
“If I’d known,” he said, regretfully, “that this guy was going to turn out a ruddy Englishman, I’d have taken a slap at him with m’ stick and chanced it!”
Officer Donahue considered the point well taken.
“Ah!” he said, understandingly. He regarded Archie with an unfriendly eye. “I know th’ sort well! Trampling on th’ face av th’ poor!”
“Ya c’n trample on the poor man’s face,” said Officer Cassidy, severely; “but don’t be surprised if one day he bites you in the leg!”
“But, my dear old sir,” protested Archie, “I’ve never trampled–“
“One of these days,” said Officer Donahue, moodily, “the Shannon will flow in blood to the sea!”
Officer Cassidy uttered a glad cry.
“Why couldn’t we hit him a lick,” he suggested, brightly, “an’ tell th’ Cap. he resisted us in th’ exercise of our jooty?”
An instant gleam of approval and enthusiasm came into Officer Donahue’s eyes. Officer Donahue was not a man who got these luminous inspirations himself, but that did not prevent him appreciating them in others and bestowing commendation in the right quarter. There was nothing petty or grudging about Officer Donahue.
“Ye’re the lad with the head, Tim!” he exclaimed admiringly.
“It just sorta came to me,” said Mr. Cassidy, modestly.
“It’s a great idea, Timmy!”
“Just happened to think of it,” said Mr. Cassidy, with a coy gesture of self-effacement.
Archie had listened to the dialogue with growing uneasiness. Not for the first time since he had made their acquaintance, he became vividly aware of the exceptional physical gifts of these two men. The New York police force demands from those who would join its ranks an extremely high standard of stature and sinew, but it was obvious that jolly old Donahue and Cassidy must have passed in first shot without any difficulty whatever.
“I say, you know,” he observed, apprehensively.
And then a sharp and commanding voice spoke from the outer room.
“Donahue! Cassidy! What the devil does this mean?”
Archie had a momentary impression that an angel had fluttered down to his rescue. If this was the case, the angel had assumed an effective disguise–that of a police captain. The new arrival was a far smaller man than his subordinates–so much smaller that it did Archie good to look at him. For a long time he had been wishing that it were possible to rest his eyes with the spectacle of something of a slightly less out-size nature than his two companions.
“Why have you left your posts?”
The effect of the interruption on the Messrs. Cassidy and Donahue was pleasingly instantaneous. They seemed to shrink to almost normal proportions, and their manner took on an attractive deference.
Officer Donahue saluted.
“If ye plaze, sorr–“
Officer Cassidy also saluted, simultaneously.
“‘Twas like this, sorr–“
The captain froze Officer Cassidy with a glance and, leaving him congealed, turned to Officer Donahue.
“Oi wuz standing on th’ fire-escape, sorr,” said Officer Donahue, in a tone of obsequious respect which not only delighted, but astounded Archie, who hadn’t known he could talk like that, “accordin’ to instructions, when I heard a suspicious noise. I crope in, sorr, and found this duck–found the accused, sorr–in front of the mirror, examinin’ himself. I then called to Officer Cassidy for assistance. We pinched–arrested um, sorr.”
The captain looked at Archie. It seemed to Archie that he looked at him coldly and with contempt.
“Who is he?”
“The Master-Mind, sorr.”
“The accused, sorr. The man that’s wanted.”
“You may want him. I don’t,” said the captain. Archie, though relieved, thought he might have put it more nicely. “This isn’t Moon. It’s not a bit like him.”
“Absolutely not!” agreed Archie, cordially. “It’s all a mistake, old companion, as I was trying to–“
“Cut it out!”
“You’ve seen the photographs at the station. Do you mean to tell me you see any resemblance?”
“If ye plaze, sorr,” said Officer Cassidy, coming to life.
“We thought he’d bin disguising himself, the way he wouldn’t be recognised.”
“You’re a fool!” said the captain.
“Yes, sorr,” said Officer Cassidy, meekly.
“So are you, Donahue.”
Archie’s respect for this chappie was going up all the time. He seemed to be able to take years off the lives of these massive blighters with a word. It was like the stories you read about lion- tamers. Archie did not despair of seeing Officer Donahue and his old college chum Cassidy eventually jumping through hoops.
“Who are you?” demanded the captain, turning to Archie.
“Well, my name is–“
“What are you doing here?”
“Well, it’s rather a longish story, you know. Don’t want to bore you, and all that.”
“I’m here to listen. You can’t bore ME.”
“Dashed nice of you to put it like that,” said Archie, gratefully. “I mean to say, makes it easier and so forth. What I mean is, you know how rotten you feel telling the deuce of a long yarn and wondering if the party of the second part is wishing you would turn off the tap and go home. I mean–“
“If,” said the captain, “you’re reciting something, stop. If you’re trying to tell me what you’re doing here, make it shorter and easier.”
Archie saw his point. Of course, time was money–the modern spirit of hustle–all that sort of thing.
“Well, it was this bathing suit, you know,” he said.
“What bathing suit?”
“Mine, don’t you know, A lemon-coloured contrivance. Rather bright and so forth, but in its proper place not altogether a bad egg. Well, the whole thing started, you know, with my standing on a bally pedestal sort of arrangement in a diving attitude–for the cover, you know. I don’t know if you have ever done anything of that kind yourself, but it gives you a most fearful crick in the spine. However, that’s rather beside the point, I suppose–don’t know why I mentioned it. Well, this morning he was dashed late, so I went out–“
“What the devil are you talking about?”
Archie looked at him, surprised.
“Aren’t I making it clear?”
“Well, you understand about the bathing suit, don’t you? The jolly old bathing suit, you’ve grasped that, what?”
“Oh, I say,” said Archie. “That’s rather a nuisance. I mean to say, the bathing suit’s what you might call the good old pivot of the whole dashed affair, you see. Well, you understand about the cover, what? You’re pretty clear on the subject of the cover?”
“Why, for the magazine.”
“Now there you rather have me. One of these bright little periodicals, you know, that you see popping to and fro on the bookstalls.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the captain. He looked at Archie with an expression of distrust and hostility. “And I’ll tell you straight out I don’t like the looks of you. I believe you’re a pal of his.”
“No longer,” said Archie, firmly. “I mean to say, a chappie who makes you stand on a bally pedestal sort of arrangement and get a crick in the spine, and then doesn’t turn up and leaves you biffing all over the countryside in a bathing suit–“
The reintroduction of the bathing suit motive seemed to have the worst effect on the captain. He flushed darkly.
“Are you trying to josh me? I’ve a mind to soak you!”
“If ye plaze, sorr,” cried Officer Donahue and Officer Cassidy in chorous. In the course of their professional career they did not often hear their superior make many suggestions with which they saw eye to eye, but he had certainly, in their opinion, spoken a mouthful now.
“No, honestly, my dear old thing, nothing was farther from my thoughts–“
He would have spoken further, but at this moment the world came to an end. At least, that was how it sounded. Somewhere in the immediate neighbourhood something went off with a vast explosion, shattering the glass in the window, peeling the plaster from the ceiling, and sending him staggering into the inhospitable arms of Officer Donahue.
The three guardians of the Law stared at one another.
“If ye plaze, sorr,” said. Officer Cassidy, saluting.
“May I spake, sorr?”
“Something’s exploded, sorr!”
The information, kindly meant though it was, seemed to annoy the captain.
“What the devil did you think I thought had happened?” he demanded, with not a little irritation, “It was a bomb!”
Archie could have corrected this diagnosis, for already a faint but appealing aroma of an alcoholic nature was creeping into the room through a hole in the ceiling, and there had risen before his eyes the picture of J. B. Wheeler affectionately regarding that barrel of his on the previous morning in the studio upstairs. J. B. Wheeler had wanted quick results, and he had got them. Archie had long since ceased to regard J. B. Wheeler as anything but a tumour on the social system, but he was bound to admit that he had certainly done him a good turn now. Already these honest men, diverted by the superior attraction of this latest happening, appeared to have forgotten his existence.
“Sorr!” said Officer Donahue.
“It came from upstairs, sorr.”
“Of course it came from upstairs. Cassidy!”
“Get down into the street, call up the reserves, and stand at the front entrance to keep the crowd back. We’ll have the whole city here in five minutes.”
“Don’t let anyone in.”
“Well, see that you don’t. Come along, Donahue, now. Look slippy.”
“On the spot, sorr!” said Officer Donahue.
A moment later Archie had the studio to himself. Two minutes later he was picking his way cautiously down the fire-escape after the manner of the recent Mr. Moon. Archie had not seen much of Mr. Moon, but he had seen enough to know that in certain crises his methods were sound and should be followed. Elmer Moon was not a good man; his ethics were poor and his moral code shaky; but in the matter of legging it away from a situation of peril and discomfort he had no superior.
MR. ROSCOE SHERRIFF HAS AN IDEA
Archie inserted a fresh cigarette in his long holder and began to smoke a little moodily. It was about a week after his disturbing adventures in J. B. Wheeler’s studio, and life had ceased for the moment to be a thing of careless enjoyment. Mr. Wheeler, mourning over his lost home-brew and refusing, like Niobe, to be comforted, has suspended the sittings for the magazine cover, thus robbing Archie of his life-work. Mr. Brewster had not been in genial mood of late. And, in addition to all this, Lucille was away on a visit to a school-friend. And when Lucille went away, she took with her the sunshine. Archie was not surprised at her being popular and in demand among her friends, but that did not help him to become reconciled to her absence.
He gazed rather wistfully across the table at his friend, Roscoe Sherriff, the Press-agent, another of his Pen-and-Ink Club acquaintances. They had just finished lunch, and during the meal Sherriff, who, like most men of action, was fond of hearing the sound of his own voice and liked exercising it on the subject of himself, had been telling Archie a few anecdotes about his professional past. From these the latter had conceived a picture of Roscoe Sherriff’s life as a prismatic thing of energy and adventure and well-paid withal–just the sort of life, in fact, which he would have enjoyed leading himself. He wished that he, too, like the Press-agent, could go about the place “slipping things over” and “putting things across.” Daniel Brewster, he felt, would have beamed upon a son-in-law like Roscoe Sherriff.
“The more I see of America,” sighed Archie, “the more it amazes me. All you birds seem to have been doing things from the cradle upwards. I wish I could do things!”
“Well, why don’t you?”
Archie flicked the ash from his cigarette into the finger-bowl.
“Oh, I don’t know, you know,” he said, “Somehow, none of our family ever have. I don’t know why it is, but whenever a Moffam starts out to do things he infallibly makes a bloomer. There was a Moffam in the Middle Ages who had a sudden spasm of energy and set out to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, dressed as a wandering friar. Rum ideas they had in those days.”
“Did he get there?”
“Absolutely not! Just as he was leaving the front door his favourite hound mistook him for a tramp–or a varlet, or a scurvy knave, or whatever they used to call them at that time–and bit him in the fleshy part of the leg.”
“Well, at least he started.”
“Enough to make a chappie start, what?”
Roscoe Sherriff sipped his coffee thoughtfully. He was an apostle of Energy, and it seemed to him that he could make a convert of Archie and incidentally do himself a bit of good. For several days he had been, looking for someone like Archie to help him in a small matter which he had in mind.
“If you’re really keen on doing things,” he said, “there’s something you can do for me right away.”
Archie beamed. Action was what his soul demanded.
“Anything, dear boy, anything! State your case!”
“Would you have any objection to putting up a snake for me?”
“Putting up a snake?”
“Just for a day or two.”
“But how do you mean, old soul? Put him up where?”
“Wherever you live. Where do you live? The Cosmopolis, isn’t it? Of course! You married old Brewster’s daughter. I remember reading about it.”
“But, I say, laddie, I don’t want to spoil your day and disappoint you and so forth, but my jolly old father-in-law would never let me keep a snake. Why, it’s as much as I can do to make him let me stop on in the place.”
“He wouldn’t know.”
“There’s not much that goes on in the hotel that he doesn’t know,” said Archie, doubtfully.
“He mustn’t know. The whole point of the thing is that it must be a dead secret.”
Archie flicked some more ash into the finger-bowl.
“I don’t seem absolutely to have grasped the affair in all its aspects, if you know what I mean,” he said. “I mean to say–in the first place–why would it brighten your young existence if I entertained this snake of yours?”
“It’s not mine. It belongs to Mme. Brudowska. You’ve heard of her, of course?”
“Oh yes. She’s some sort of performing snake female in vaudeville or something, isn’t she, or something of that species or order?”
“You’re near it, but not quite right. She is the leading exponent of high-brow tragedy on any stage in the civilized world.”
“Absolutely! I remember now. My wife lugged me to see her perform one night. It all comes back to me. She had me wedged in an orchestra-stall before I knew what I was up against, and then it was too late. I remember reading in some journal or other that she had a pet snake, given her by some Russian prince or other, what?”
“That,” said Sherriff, “was the impression I intended to convey when I sent the story to the papers. I’m her Press-agent. As a matter of fact, I bought Peter-its name’s Peter-myself down on the East Side. I always believe in animals for Press-agent stunts. I’ve nearly always had good results. But with Her Nibs I’m handicapped. Shackled, so to speak. You might almost say my genius is stifled. Or strangled, if you prefer it,”
“Anything you say,” agreed Archie, courteously, “But how? Why is your what-d’you-call-it what’s-its-named?”
“She keeps me on a leash. She won’t let me do anything with a kick in it. If I’ve suggested one rip-snorting stunt, I’ve suggested twenty, and every time she turns them down on the ground that that sort of thing is beneath the dignity of an artist in her position. It doesn’t give a fellow a chance. So now I’ve made up my mind to do her good by stealth. I’m going to steal her snake.”
“Steal it? Pinch it, as it were?”
“Yes. Big story for the papers, you see. She’s grown very much attached to Peter. He’s her mascot. I believe she’s practically kidded herself into believing that Russian prince story. If I can sneak it away and keep it away for a day or two, she’ll do the rest. She’ll make such a fuss that the papers will be full of it.”
“Wow, any ordinary woman would work in with me. But not Her Nibs. She would call it cheap and degrading and a lot of other things. It’s got to be a genuine steal, and, if I’m caught at it, I lose my job. So that’s where you come in.”
“But where am I to keep the jolly old reptile?”
“Oh, anywhere. Punch a few holes in a hat-box, and make it up a shakedown inside. It’ll be company for you.”
“Something in that. My wife’s away just now and it’s a bit lonely in the evenings.”
“You’ll never be lonely with Peter around. He’s a great scout. Always merry and bright”
“He doesn’t bite, I suppose, or sting or what-not?”
“He may what-not occasionally. It depends on the weather. But, outside of that, he’s as harmless as a canary.”
“Dashed dangerous things, canaries,” said Archie, thoughtfully. “They peck at you.”
“Don’t weaken!” pleaded the Press-agent
“Oh, all right. I’ll take him. By the way, touching the matter of browsing and sluicing. What do I feed him on?”
“Oh, anything. Bread-and-milk or fruit or soft-boiled egg or dog- biscuit or ants’-eggs. You know–anything you have yourself. Well, I’m much obliged for your hospitality. I’ll do the same for you another time. Now I must be getting along to see to the practical end of the thing. By the way, Her Nibs lives at the Cosmopolis, too. Very convenient. Well, so long. See you later.”
Archie, left alone, began for the first time to have serious doubts. He had allowed himself to be swayed by Mr. Sherriff’s magnetic personality, but now that the other had removed himself he began to wonder if he had been entirely wise to lend his sympathy and co- operation to the scheme. He had never had intimate dealings with a snake before, but he had kept silkworms as a child, and there had been the deuce of a lot of fuss and unpleasantness over them. Getting into the salad and what-not. Something seemed to tell him that he was asking for trouble with a loud voice, but he had given his word and he supposed he would have to go through with it.
He lit another cigarette and wandered out into Fifth Avenue. His usually smooth brow was ruffled with care. Despite the eulogies which Sherriff had uttered concerning Peter, he found his doubts increasing. Peter might, as the Press-agent had stated, be a great scout, but was his little Garden of Eden on the fifth floor of the Cosmopolis Hotel likely to be improved by the advent of even the most amiable and winsome of serpents? However–
“Moffam! My dear fellow!”
The voice, speaking suddenly in his ear from behind, roused Archie from his reflections. Indeed, it roused him so effectually that he jumped a clear inch off the ground and bit his tongue. Revolving on his axis, he found himself confronting a middle-aged man with a face like a horse. The man was dressed in something of an old-world style. His clothes had an English cut. He had a drooping grey moustache. He also wore a grey bowler hat flattened at the crown– but who are we to judge him?
“Archie Moffam! I have been trying to find you all the morning.”
Archie had placed him now. He had not seen General Mannister for several years–not, indeed, since the days when he used to meet him at the home of young Lord Seacliff, his nephew. Archie had been at Eton and Oxford with Seacliff, and had often visited him in the Long Vacation.
“Halloa, General! What ho, what ho! What on earth are you doing over here?”
“Let’s get out of this crush, my boy.” General Mannister steered Archie into a side-street, “That’s better.” He cleared his throat once or twice, as if embarrassed. “I’ve brought Seacliff over,” he said, finally.
“Dear old Squiffy here? Oh, I say! Great work!”
General Mannister did not seem to share his enthusiasm. He looked like a horse with a secret sorrow. He coughed three times, like a horse who, in addition to a secret sorrow, had contracted asthma.
“You will find Seacliff changed,” he said. “Let me see, how long is it since you and he met?”
“I was demobbed just about a year ago. I saw him in Paris about a year before that. The old egg got a bit of shrapnel in his foot or something, didn’t he? Anyhow, I remember he was sent home.”
“His foot is perfectly well again now. But, unfortunately, the enforced inaction led to disastrous results. You recollect, no doubt, that Seacliff always had a–a tendency;–a–a weakness–it was a family failing–“
“Mopping it up, do you mean? Shifting it? Looking on the jolly old stuff when it was red and what not, what?”
“Dear old Squiffy was always rather-a lad for the wassail-bowl. When I met him in Paris, I remember, he was quite tolerably blotto.”
“Precisely. And the failing has, I regret to say, grown on him since he returned from the war. My poor sister was extremely worried. In fact, to cut a long story short, I induced him to accompany me to America. I am attached to the British Legation in Washington now, you know.”
“I wished Seacliff to come with me to Washington, but he insists on remaining in New York. He stated specifically that the thought of living in Washington gave him the–what was the expression he used?”
“The pip. Precisely.”
“But what was the idea of bringing him to America?”
“This admirable Prohibition enactment has rendered America–to my mind–the ideal place for a young man of his views.” The General looked at his watch. “It is most fortunate that I happened to run into you, my dear fellow. My train for Washington leaves in another hour, and I have packing to do. I want to leave poor Seacliff in your charge while I am gone.”
“Oh, I say! What!”
“You can look after him. I am credibly informed that even now there are places in New York where a determined young man may obtain the– er–stuff, and I should be infinitely obliged–and my poor sister would be infinitely grateful–if you would keep an eye on him.” He hailed a taxi-cab. “I am sending Seacliff round to the Cosmopolis to-night. I am sure you, will do everything you can. Good-bye, my boy, good-bye.”
Archie continued his walk. This, he felt, was beginning to be a bit thick. He smiled a bitter, mirthless smile as he recalled the fact that less than half an hour had elapsed since he had expressed a regret that he did not belong to the ranks of those who do things. Fate since then had certainly supplied him with jobs with a lavish hand. By bed-time he would be an active accomplice to a theft, valet and companion to a snake he had never met, and–as far as could gather the scope of his duties–a combination of nursemaid and private detective to dear old Squiffy.
It was past four o’clock when he returned to the Cosmopolis. Roscoe Sherriff was pacing the lobby of the hotel nervously, carrying a small hand-bag.
“Here you are at last! Good heavens, man, I’ve been waiting two hours.”
“Sorry, old bean. I was musing a bit and lost track of the time.”
The Press-agent looked cautiously round. There was nobody within earshot.
“Here he is!” he said.
“Where?” said Archie, staring blankly.
“In this bag. Did you expect to find him strolling arm-in-arm with me round the lobby? Here you are! Take him!”
He was gone. And Archie, holding the bag, made his way to the lift. The bag squirmed gently in his grip.