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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> Indiscretions of Archie -> Chapter 21

Indiscretions of Archie - Chapter 21

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



The lobby of the Cosmopolis Hotel was a favourite stamping-ground of
Mr. Daniel Brewster, its proprietor. He liked to wander about there,
keeping a paternal eye on things, rather in the manner of the Jolly
Innkeeper (hereinafter to be referred to as Mine Host) of the old-
fashioned novel. Customers who, hurrying in to dinner, tripped over
Mr. Brewster, were apt to mistake him for the hotel detective--for
his eye was keen and his aspect a trifle austere--but, nevertheless,
he was being as jolly an innkeeper as he knew how. His presence in
the lobby supplied a personal touch to the Cosmopolis which other
New York hotels lacked, and it undeniably made the girl at the book-
stall extraordinarily civil to her clients, which was all to the

Most of the time Mr. Brewster stood in one spot and just looked
thoughtful; but now and again he would wander to the marble slab
behind which he kept the desk-clerk and run his eye over the
register, to see who had booked rooms--like a child examining the
stocking on Christmas morning to ascertain what Santa Claus had
brought him.

As a rule, Mr. Brewster concluded this performance by shoving the
book back across the marble slab and resuming his meditations. But
one night a week or two after the Sausage Chappie's sudden
restoration to the normal, he varied this procedure by starting
rather violently, turning purple, and uttering an exclamation which
was manifestly an exclamation of chagrin. He turned abruptly and
cannoned into Archie, who, in company with Lucille, happened to be
crossing the lobby at the moment on his way to dine in their suite.

Mr. Brewster apologised gruffly; then, recognising his victim,
seemed to regret having done so.

"Oh, it's you! Why can't you look where you're going?" he demanded.
He had suffered much from his son-in-law.

"Frightfully sorry," said Archie, amiably. "Never thought you were
going to fox-trot backwards all over the fairway."

"You mustn't bully Archie," said Lucille, severely, attaching
herself to her father's back hair and giving it a punitive tug,
"because he's an angel, and I love him, and you must learn to love
him, too."

"Give you lessons at a reasonable rate," murmured Archie.

Mr. Brewster regarded his young relative with a lowering eye.

"What's the matter, father darling?" asked Lucille. "You seem upset"

"I am upset!" Mr. Brewster snorted. "Some people have got a nerve!"
He glowered forbiddingly at an inoffensive young man in a light
overcoat who had just entered, and the young man, though his
conscience was quite clear and Mr. Brewster an entire stranger to
him, stopped dead, blushed, and went out again--to dine elsewhere.
"Some people have got the nerve of an army mule!"

"Why, what's happened?"

"Those darned McCalls have registered here!"


"Bit beyond me, this," said Archie, insinuating himself into the
conversation. "Deep waters and what not! Who are the McCalls?"

"Some people father dislikes," said Lucille. "And they've chosen his
hotel to stop at. But, father dear, you mustn't mind. It's really a
compliment. They've come because they know it's the best hotel in
New York."

"Absolutely!" said Archie. "Good accommodation for man and beast!
All the comforts of home! Look on the bright side, old bean. No good
getting the wind up. Cherrio, old companion!"

"Don't call me old companion!"

"Eh, what? Oh, right-o!"

Lucille steered her husband out of the danger zone, and they entered
the lift.

"Poor father!" she said, as they went to their suite, "it's a shame.
They must have done it to annoy him. This man McCall has a place
next to some property father bought in Westchester, and he's
bringing a law-suit against father about a bit of land which he
claims belongs to him. He might have had the tact to go to another
hotel. But, after all, I don't suppose it was the poor little
fellow's fault. He does whatever his wife tells him to."

"We all do that," said Archie the married man.

Lucille eyed him fondly.

"Isn't it a shame, precious, that all husbands haven't nice wives
like me?"

"When I think of you, by Jove," said Archie, fervently, "I want to
babble, absolutely babble!"

"Oh, I was telling you about the McCalls. Mr. McCall is one of those
little, meek men, and his wife's one of those big, bullying women.
It was she who started all the trouble with father. Father and Mr.
McCall were very fond of each other till she made him begin the
suit. I feel sure she made him come to this hotel just to annoy
father. Still, they've probably taken the most expensive suite in
the place, which is something."

Archie was at the telephone. His mood was now one of quiet peace. Of
all the happenings which went to make up existence in New York, he
liked best the cosy tete-a-tete dinners with Lucille in their suite,
which, owing to their engagements--for Lucille was a popular girl,
with many friends--occurred all too seldom.

"Touching now the question of browsing and sluicing," he said.
"I'll be getting them to send along a waiter."

"Oh, good gracious!"

"What's the matter?"

"I've just remembered. I promised faithfully I would go and see Jane
Murchison to-day. And I clean forgot. I must rush."

"But light of my soul, we are about to eat. Pop around and see her
after dinner."

"I can't. She's going to a theatre to-night."

"Give her the jolly old miss-in-baulk, then, for the nonce, and
spring round to-morrow."

"She's sailing for England to-morrow morning, early. No, I must go
and see her now. What a shame! She's sure to make me stop to dinner,
I tell you what. Order something for me, and, if I'm not back in
half an hour, start."

"Jane Murchison," said Archie, "is a bally nuisance."

"Yes. But I've known her since she was eight."

"If her parents had had any proper feeling," said Archie, "they
would have drowned her long before that."

He unhooked the receiver, and asked despondently to be connected
with Room Service. He thought bitterly of the exigent Jane, whom he
recollected dimly as a tall female with teeth. He half thought of
going down to the grill-room on the chance of finding a friend
there, but the waiter was on his way to the room. He decided that he
might as well stay where he was.

The waiter arrived, booked the order, and departed. Archie had just
completed his toilet after a shower-bath when a musical clinking
without announced the advent of the meal. He opened the door. The
waiter was there with a table congested with things under covers,
from which escaped a savoury and appetising odour. In spite of his
depression, Archie's soul perked up a trifle.

Suddenly he became aware that he was not the only person present who
was deriving enjoyment from the scent of the meal. Standing beside
the waiter and gazing wistfully at the foodstuffs was a long, thin
boy of about sixteen. He was one of those boys who seem all legs and
knuckles. He had pale red hair, sandy eyelashes, and a long neck;
and his eyes, as he removed them from the-table and raised them to
Archie's, had a hungry look. He reminded Archie of a half-grown,
half-starved hound.

"That smells good!" said the long boy. He inhaled deeply. "Yes,
sir," he continued, as one whose mind is definitely made up, "that
smells good!"

Before Archie could reply, the telephone bell rang. It was Lucille,
confirming her prophecy that the pest Jane would insist on her
staying to dine.

"Jane," said Archie, into the telephone, "is a pot of poison. The
waiter is here now, setting out a rich banquet, and I shall have to
eat two of everything by myself."

He hung up the receiver, and, turning, met the pale eye of the long
boy, who had propped himself up in the doorway.

"Were you expecting somebody to dinner?" asked the boy.

"Why, yes, old friend, I was."

"I wish--"


"Oh, nothing."

The waiter left. The long boy hitched his back more firmly against
the doorpost, and returned to his original theme.

"That surely does smell good!" He basked a moment in the aroma.
"Yes, sir! I'll tell the world it does!"

Archie was not an abnormally rapid thinker, but he began at this
point to get a clearly defined impression that this lad, if invited,
would waive the formalities and consent to join his meal. Indeed,
the idea Archie got was that, if he were not invited pretty soon, he
would invite himself.

"Yes," he agreed. "It doesn't smell bad, what!"

"It smells GOOD!" said the boy. "Oh, doesn't it! Wake me up in the
night and ask me if it doesn't!"

"Poulet en casserole," said Archie.

"Golly!" said the boy, reverently.

There was a pause. The situation began to seem to Archie a trifle
difficult. He wanted to start his meal, but it began to appear that
he must either do so under the penetrating gaze of his new friend or
else eject the latter forcibly. The boy showed no signs of ever
wanting to leave the doorway.

"You've dined, I suppose, what?" said Archie.

"I never dine."


"Not really dine, I mean. I only get vegetables and nuts and


"Mother is."

"I don't absolutely catch the drift, old bean," said Archie. The boy
sniffed with half-closed eyes as a wave of perfume from the poulet
en casserole floated past him. He seemed to be anxious to intercept
as much of it as possible before it got through the door.

"Mother's a food-reformer," he vouchsafed. "She lectures on it. She
makes Pop and me live on vegetables and nuts and things."

Archie was shocked. It was like listening to a tale from the abyss.

"My dear old chap, you must suffer agonies--absolute shooting
pains!" He had no hesitation now. Common humanity pointed out his
course. "Would you care to join me in a bite now?"

"Would I!" The boy smiled a wan smile. "Would I! Just stop me on the
street and ask me!"

"Come on in, then," said Archie, rightly taking this peculiar phrase
for a formal acceptance. "And close the door. The fatted calf is
getting cold."

Archie was not a man with a wide visiting-list among people with
families, and it was so long since he had seen a growing boy in
action at the table that he had forgotten what sixteen is capable of
doing with a knife and fork, when it really squares its elbows,
takes a deep breath, and gets going. The spectacle which he
witnessed was consequently at first a little unnerving. The long
boy's idea of trifling with a meal appeared to be to swallow it
whole and reach out for more. He ate like a starving Eskimo. Archie,
in the time he had spent in the trenches making the world safe for
the working-man to strike in, had occasionally been quite peckish,
but he sat dazed before this majestic hunger. This was real eating.

There was little conversation. The growing boy evidently did not
believe in table-talk when he could use his mouth for more practical
purposes. It was not until the final roll had been devoured to its
last crumb that the guest found leisure to address his host. Then he
leaned back with a contented sigh.

"Mother," said the human python, "says you ought to chew every
mouthful thirty-three times...."

"Yes, sir! Thirty-three times!" He sighed again, "I haven't ever had
meal like that."

"All right, was it, what?"

"Was it! Was it! Call me up on the 'phone and ask me!-Yes, sir!-
Mother's tipped off these darned waiters not to serve-me anything
but vegetables and nuts and things, darn it!"

"The mater seems to have drastic ideas about the good old feed-bag,

"I'll say she has! Pop hates it as much as me, but he's scared to
kick. Mother says vegetables contain all the proteins you want.
Mother says, if you eat meat, your blood-pressure goes all blooey.
Do you think it does?"

"Mine seems pretty well in the pink."

"She's great on talking," conceded the boy. "She's out to-night
somewhere, giving a lecture on Rational Eating to some ginks. I'll
have to be slipping up to our suite before she gets back." He rose,
sluggishly. "That isn't a bit of roll under that napkin, is it?" he
asked, anxiously.

Archie raised the napkin.

"No. Nothing of that species."

"Oh, well!" said the boy, resignedly. "Then I believe I'll be going.
Thanks very much for the dinner."

"Not a bit, old top. Come again if you're ever trickling round in
this direction."

The long boy removed himself slowly, loath to leave. At the door he
cast an affectionate glance back at the table.

"Some meal!" he said, devoutly. "Considerable meal!"

Archie lit a cigarette. He felt like a Boy Scout who has done his
day's Act of Kindness.

On the following morning it chanced that Archie needed a fresh
supply of tobacco. It was his custom, when this happened, to repair
to a small shop on Sixth Avenue which he had discovered accidentally
in the course of his rambles about the great city. His relations
with Jno. Blake, the proprietor, were friendly and intimate. The
discovery that Mr. Blake was English and had, indeed, until a few
years back maintained an establishment only a dozen doors or so from
Archie's London club, had served as a bond.

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

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

Mr. Blake grunted sorrowfully.

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

"Tell me all, friend of my youth."

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








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

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

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

Archie sighed.

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

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

Mr. Blake relapsed into a tortured silence.

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

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


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

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

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

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

The boy said he had no engagements.

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

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

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

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


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

"Would you like to compete, what?"

The boy smiled a sad smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archie patted his head.

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

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

"Pie!" he said in a hushed voice.

The word was like a battle-cry.

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