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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> Indiscretions of Archie -> Chapter 10

Indiscretions of Archie - Chapter 10

1. Chapter 1

2. Chapter 2

3. Chapter 3

4. Chapter 4

5. Chapter 5

6. Chapter 6

7. Chapter 7

8. Chapter 8

9. Chapter 9

10. Chapter 10

11. Chapter 11

12. Chapter 12

13. Chapter 13

14. Chapter 14

15. Chapter 15

16. Chapter 16

17. Chapter 17

18. Chapter 18

19. Chapter 19

20. Chapter 20

21. Chapter 21

22. Chapter 22

23. Chapter 23

24. Chapter 24

25. Chapter 25

26. Chapter 26

27. Dedication and Contents



Reggie Van Tuyl approached the table languidly, and sank down into a
chair. He was a long youth with a rather subdued and deflated look,
as though the burden of the van Tuyl millions was more than his
frail strength could support. Most things tired him.

"I say, Reggie, old top," said Archie, "you're just the lad I wanted
to see. I require the assistance of a blighter of ripe intellect.
Tell me, laddie, do you know anything about sales?"

Reggie eyed him sleepily.


"Auction sales."

Reggie considered.

"Well, they're sales, you know." He checked a yawn. "Auction sales,
you understand."

"Yes," said Archie encouragingly. "Something--the name or something
--seemed to tell me that."

"Fellows put things up for sale you know, and other fellows--other
fellows go in and--and buy 'em, if you follow me."

"Yes, but what's the procedure? I mean, what do I do? That's what
I'm after. I've got to buy something at Beale's this afternoon. How
do I set about it?"

"Well," said Reggie, drowsily, "there are several ways of bidding,
you know. You can shout, or you can nod, or you can twiddle your
fingers--" The effort of concentration was too much for him. He
leaned back limply in his chair. "I'll tell you what. I've nothing
to do this afternoon. I'll come with you and show you."

When he entered the Art Galleries a few minutes later, Archie was
glad of the moral support of even such a wobbly reed as Reggie van
Tuyl. There is something about an auction room which weighs heavily
upon the novice. The hushed interior was bathed in a dim, religious
light; and the congregation, seated on small wooden chairs, gazed in
reverent silence at the pulpit, where a gentleman of commanding
presence and sparkling pince-nez was delivering a species of chant.
Behind a gold curtain at the end of the room mysterious forms
flitted to and fro. Archie, who had been expecting something on the
lines of the New York Stock Exchange, which he had once been
privileged to visit when it was in a more than usually feverish
mood, found the atmosphere oppressively ecclesiastical. He sat down
and looked about him. The presiding priest went on with his chant.

"Sixteen-sixteen-sixteen-sixteen-sixteen--worth three hundred--
sixteen-sixteen-sixteen-sixteen-sixteen--ought to bring five
nineteen-nineteen-nineteen." He stopped and eyed the worshippers
with a glittering and reproachful eye. They had, it seemed,
disappointed him. His lips curled, and he waved a hand towards a
grimly uncomfortable-looking chair with insecure legs and a good
deal of gold paint about it. "Gentlemen! Ladies and gentlemen! You
are not here to waste my time; I am not here to waste yours. Am I
seriously offered nineteen dollars for this eighteenth-century
chair, acknowledged to be the finest piece sold in New York for
months and months? Am I--twenty? I thank you. Twenty-twenty-twenty-
twenty. YOUR opportunity! Priceless. Very few extant. Twenty-five-
five-five-five-thirty-thirty. Just what you are looking for. The
only one in the City of New York. Thirty-five-five-five-five. Forty-
forty-forty-forty-forty. Look at those legs! Back it into the light,
Willie. Let the light fall on those legs!"

Willie, a sort of acolyte, manoeuvred the chair as directed. Reggie
van Tuyl, who had been yawning in a hopeless sort of way, showed his
first flicker of interest.

"Willie," he observed, eyeing that youth more with pity than
reproach, "has a face like Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy, don't you think

Archie nodded briefly. Precisely the same criticism had occurred to

"Forty-five-five-five-five-five," chanted the high-priest. "Once
forty-five. Twice forty-five. Third and last call, forty-five. Sold
at forty-five. Gentleman in the fifth row."

Archie looked up and down the row with a keen eye. He was anxious to
see who had been chump enough to give forty-five dollars for such a
frightful object. He became aware of the dog-faced Willie leaning
towards him.

"Name, please?" said the canine one.

"Eh, what?" said Archie. "Oh, my name's Moffam, don't you know." The
eyes of the multitude made him feel a little nervous "Er--glad to
meet you and all that sort of rot."

"Ten dollars deposit, please," said Willie.

"I don't absolutely follow you, old bean. What is the big thought at
the back of all this?"

"Ten dollars deposit on the chair."

"What chair?"

"You bid forty-five dollars for the chair."


"You nodded," said Willie, accusingly. "If," he went on, reasoning
closely, "you didn't want to bid, why did you nod?"

Archie was embarrassed. He could, of course, have pointed out that
he had merely nodded in adhesion to the statement that the other had
a face like Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy; but something seemed to tell
him that a purist might consider the excuse deficient in tact. He
hesitated a moment, then handed over a ten-dollar bill, the price of
Willie's feelings. Willie withdrew like a tiger slinking from the
body of its victim.

"I say, old thing," said Archie to Reggie, "this is a bit thick, you
know. No purse will stand this drain."

Reggie considered the matter. His face seemed drawn under the mental

"Don't nod again," he advised. "If you aren't careful, you get into
the habit of it. When you want to bid, just twiddle your fingers.
Yes, that's the thing. Twiddle!"

He sighed drowsily. The atmosphere of the auction room was close;
you weren't allowed to smoke; and altogether he was beginning to
regret that he had come. The service continued. Objects of varying
unattractiveness came and went, eulogised by the officiating priest,
but coldly received by the congregation. Relations between the
former and the latter were growing more and more distant. The
congregation seemed to suspect the priest of having an ulterior
motive in his eulogies, and the priest seemed to suspect the
congregation of a frivolous desire to waste his time. He had begun
to speculate openly as to why they were there at all. Once, when a
particularly repellent statuette of a nude female with an
unwholesome green skin had been offered at two dollars and had found
no bidders--the congregation appearing silently grateful for his
statement that it was the only specimen of its kind on the
continent--he had specifically accused them of having come into the
auction room merely with the purpose of sitting down and taking the
weight off their feet.

"If your thing--your whatever-it-is, doesn't come up soon, Archie,"
said Reggie, fighting off with an effort the mists of sleep, "I
rather think I shall be toddling along. What was it you came to

"It's rather difficult to describe. It's a rummy-looking sort of
what-not, made of china or something. I call it Pongo. At least,
this one isn't Pongo, don't you know--it's his little brother, but
presumably equally foul in every respect. It's all rather
complicated, I know, but--hallo!" He pointed excitedly. "By Jove!
We're off! There it is! Look! Willie's unleasing it now!"

Willie, who had disappeared through the gold curtain, had now
returned, and was placing on a pedestal a small china figure of
delicate workmanship. It was the figure of a warrior in a suit of
armour advancing with raised spear upon an adversary. A thrill
permeated Archie's frame. Parker had not been mistaken. This was
undoubtedly the companion-figure to the redoubtable Pongo. The two
were identical. Even from where he sat Archie could detect on the
features of the figure on the pedestal the same expression of
insufferable complacency which had alienated his sympathies from the
original Pongo.

The high-priest, undaunted by previous rebuffs, regarded the figure
with a gloating enthusiasm wholly unshared by the congregation, who
were plainly looking upon Pongo's little brother as just another of
those things.

"This," he said, with a shake in his voice, "is something very
special. China figure, said to date back to the Ming Dynasty.
Unique. Nothing like it on either side of the Atlantic. If I were
selling this at Christie's in London, where people," he said,
nastily, "have an educated appreciation of the beautiful, the rare,
and the exquisite, I should start the bidding at a thousand dollars.
This afternoon's experience has taught me that that might possibly
be too high." His pince-nez sparkled militantly, as he gazed upon
the stolid throng. "Will anyone offer me a dollar for this unique

"Leap at it, old top," said Reggie van Tuyl. "Twiddle, dear boy,
twiddle! A dollar's reasonable."

Archie twiddled.

"One dollar I am offered," said the high-priest, bitterly. "One
gentleman here is not afraid to take a chance. One gentleman here
knows a good thing when he sees one." He abandoned the gently
sarcastic manner for one of crisp and direct reproach. "Come, come,
gentlemen, we are not here to waste time. Will anyone offer me one
hundred dollars for this superb piece of--" He broke off, and seemed
for a moment almost unnerved. He stared at someone in one of the
seats in front of Archie. "Thank you," he said, with a sort of gulp.
"One hundred dollars I am offered! One hundred--one hundred--one

Archie was startled. This sudden, tremendous jump, this wholly
unforeseen boom in Pongos, if one might so describe it, was more
than a little disturbing. He could not see who his rival was, but it
was evident that at least one among those present did not intend to
allow Pongo's brother to slip by without a fight. He looked
helplessly at Reggie for counsel, but Reggie had now definitely
given up the struggle. Exhausted nature had done its utmost, and now
he was leaning back with closed eyes, breathing softly through his
nose. Thrown on his own resources, Archie could think of no better
course than to twiddle his fingers again. He did so, and the high-
priest's chant took on a note of positive exuberance.

"Two hundred I am offered. Much better! Turn the pedestal round,
Willie, and let them look at it. Slowly! Slowly! You aren't spinning
a roulette-wheel. Two hundred. Two-two-two-two-two." He became
suddenly lyrical. "Two-two-two--There was a young lady named Lou,
who was catching a train at two-two. Said the porter, 'Don't worry
or hurry or scurry. It's a minute or two to two-two!' Two-two-two-

Archie's concern increased. He seemed to be twiddling at this
voluble man across seas of misunderstanding. Nothing is harder to
interpret to a nicety than a twiddle, and Archie's idea of the
language of twiddles and the high-priest's idea did not coincide by
a mile. The high-priest appeared to consider that, when Archie
twiddled, it was his intention to bid in hundreds, whereas in fact
Archie had meant to signify that he raised the previous bid by just
one dollar. Archie felt that, if given time, he could make this
clear to the high-priest, but the latter gave him no time. He had
got his audience, so to speak, on the run, and he proposed to hustle
them before they could rally.

"Two hundred--two hundred--two--three--thank you, sir--three-three-

Archie sat limply in his wooden chair. He was conscious of a feeling
which he had only experienced twice in his life--once when he had
taken his first lesson in driving a motor and had trodden on the
accelerator instead of the brake; the second time more recently,
when he had made his first down-trip on an express lift. He had now
precisely the same sensation of being run away with by an
uncontrollable machine, and of having left most of his internal
organs at some little distance from the rest of his body. Emerging
from this welter of emotion, stood out the one clear fact that, be
the opposition bidding what it might, he must nevertheless secure
the prize. Lucille had sent him to New York expressly to do so. She
had sacrificed her jewellery for the cause. She relied on him. The
enterprise had become for Archie something almost sacred. He felt
dimly like a knight of old hot on the track of the Holy Grail.

He twiddled again. The ring and the bracelet had fetched nearly
twelve hundred dollars. Up to that figure his hat was in the ring.

"Eight hundred I am offered. Eight hundred. Eight-eight-eight-eight--"

A voice spoke from somewhere at the back of the room. A quiet, cold,
nasty, determined voice.


Archie rose from his seat and spun round. This mean attack from the
rear stung his fighting spirit. As he rose, a young man sitting
immediately in front of him rose too and stared likewise. He was a
square-built resolute-looking young man, who reminded Archie vaguely
of somebody he had seen before. But Archie was too busy trying to
locate the man at the back to pay much attention to him. He detected
him at last, owing to the fact that the eyes of everybody in that
part of the room were fixed upon him. He was a small man of middle
age, with tortoise-shell-rimmed spectacles. He might have been a
professor or something of the kind. Whatever he was, he was
obviously a man to be reckoned with. He had a rich sort of look, and
his demeanour was the demeanour of a man who is prepared to fight it
out on these lines if it takes all the summer.

"Nine hundred I am offered. Nine-nine-nine-nine--"

Archie glared defiantly at the spectacled man.

"A thousand!" he cried.

The irruption of high finance into the placid course of the
afternoon's proceedings had stirred the congregation out of its
lethargy. There were excited murmurs. Necks were craned, feet
shuffled. As for the high-priest, his cheerfulness was now more than
restored, and his faith in his fellow-man had soared from the depths
to a very lofty altitude. He beamed with approval. Despite the
warmth of his praise he would have been quite satisfied to see
Pongo's little brother go at twenty dollars, and the reflection that
the bidding had already reached one thousand and that his commission
was twenty per cent, had engendered a mood of sunny happiness.

"One thousand is bid!" he carolled. "Now, gentlemen, I don't want to
hurry you over this. You are all connoisseurs here, and you don't
want to see a priceless china figure of the Ming Dynasty get away
from you at a sacrifice price. Perhaps you can't all see the figure
where it is. Willie, take it round and show it to 'em. We'll take a
little intermission while you look carefully at this wonderful
figure. Get a move on, Willie! Pick up your feet!"

Archie, sitting dazedly, was aware that Reggie van Tuyl had finished
his beauty sleep and was addressing the young man in the seat in

"Why, hallo," said Reggie. "I didn't know you were back. You
remember me, don't you? Reggie van Tuyl. I know your sister very
well. Archie, old man, I want you to meet my friend, Bill Brewster.
Why, dash it!" He chuckled sleepily. "I was forgetting. Of course!
He's your--"

"How are you?" said the young man. "Talking of my sister," he said
to Reggie, "I suppose you haven't met her husband by any chance? I
suppose you know she married some awful chump?"

"Me," said Archie.

"How's that?"

"I married your sister. My name's Moffam."

The young man seemed a trifle taken aback.

"Sorry," he said.

"Not at all," said Archie.

"I was only going by what my father said in his letters," he
explained, in extenuation.

Archie nodded.

"I'm afraid your jolly old father doesn't appreciate me. But I'm
hoping for the best. If I can rope in that rummy-looking little
china thing that Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy is showing the customers,
he will be all over me. I mean to say, you know, he's got another
like it, and, if he can get a full house, as it were, I'm given to
understand he'll be bucked, cheered, and even braced."

The young man stared.

"Are YOU the fellow who's been bidding against me?"

"Eh, what? Were you bidding against ME?"

"I wanted to buy the thing for my father. I've a special reason for
wanting to get in right with him just now. Are you buying it for
him, too?"

"Absolutely. As a surprise. It was Lucille's idea. His valet, a
chappie named Parker, tipped us off that the thing was to be sold."

"Parker? Great Scot! It was Parker who tipped ME off. I met him on
Broadway, and he told me about it."

"Rummy he never mentioned it in his letter to me. Why, dash it, we
could have got the thing for about two dollars if we had pooled our

"Well, we'd better pool them now, and extinguish that pill at the
back there. I can't go above eleven hundred. That's all I've got."

"I can't go above eleven hundred myself."

"There's just one thing. I wish you'd let me be the one to hand the
thing over to Father. I've a special reason for wanting to make a
hit with him."

"Absolutely!" said Archie, magnanimously. "It's all the same to me.
I only wanted to get him generally braced, as it were, if you know
what I mean."

"That's awfully good of you."

"Not a bit, laddie, no, no, and far from it. Only too glad."

Willie had returned from his rambles among the connoisseurs, and
Pongo's brother was back on his pedestal. The high-priest cleared
his throat and resumed his discourse.

"Now that you have all seen this superb figure we will--I was
offered one thousand--one thousand-one-one-one-one--eleven hundred.
Thank you, sir. Eleven hundred I am offered."

The high-priest was now exuberant. You could see him doing figures
in his head.

"You do the bidding," said Brother Bill.

"Right-o!" said Archie.

He waved a defiant hand.

"Thirteen," said the man at the back.

"Fourteen, dash it!"






"Two thousand!"

The high-priest did everything but sing. He radiated good will and

"Two thousand I am offered. Is there any advance on two thousand?
Come, gentlemen, I don't want to give this superb figure away.
Twenty-one hundred. Twenty-one-one-one-one. This is more the sort of
thing I have been accustomed to. When I was at Sotheby's Rooms in
London, this kind of bidding was a common-place. Twenty-two-two-two-
two-two. One hardly noticed it. Three-three-three. Twenty-three-
three-three. Twenty-three hundred dollars I am offered."

He gazed expectantly at Archie, as a man gazes at some favourite dog
whom he calls upon to perform a trick. But Archie had reached the
end of his tether. The hand that had twiddled so often and so
bravely lay inert beside his trouser-leg, twitching feebly. Archie
was through.

"Twenty-three hundred," said the high-priest, ingratiatingly.

Archie made no movement. There was a tense pause. The high-priest
gave a little sigh, like one waking from a beautiful dream.

"Twenty-three hundred," he said. "Once twenty-three. Twice twenty-
three. Third, last, and final call, twenty-three. Sold at twenty-
three hundred. I congratulate you, sir, on a genuine bargain!"

Reggie van Tuyl had dozed off again. Archie tapped his brother-in-
law on the shoulder.

"May as well be popping, what?"

They threaded their way sadly together through the crowd, and made
for the street. They passed into Fifth Avenue without breaking the

"Bally nuisance," said Archie, at last.


"Wonder who that chappie was?"

"Some collector, probably."

"Well, it can't be helped," said Archie.

Brother Bill attached himself to Archie's arm, and became

"I didn't want to mention it in front of van Tuyl," he said,
"because he's such a talking-machine, and it would have been all
over New York before dinner-time. But you're one of the family, and
you can keep a secret."

"Absolutely! Silent tomb and what not."

"The reason I wanted that darned thing was because I've just got
engaged to a girl over in England, and I thought that, if I could
hand my father that china figure-thing with one hand and break the
news with the other, it might help a bit. She's the most wonderful

"I'll bet she is," said Archie, cordially.

"The trouble is she's in the chorus of one of the revues over there,
and Father is apt to kick. So I thought--oh, well, it's no good
worrying now. Come along where it's quiet, and I'll tell you all
about her."

"That'll be jolly," said Archie.

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