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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> Indiscretions of Archie -> Chapter 8

Indiscretions of Archie - Chapter 8

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



Peril sharpens the intellect. Archie's mind as a rule worked in
rather a languid and restful sort of way, but now it got going with
a rush and a whir. He glared round the room. He had never seen a
room so devoid of satisfactory cover. And then there came to him a
scheme, a ruse. It offered a chance of escape. It was, indeed, a bit
of all right.

Peter, the snake, loafing contentedly about the carpet, found
himself seized by what the Encyclopaedia calls the "distensible
gullet" and looked up reproachfully. The next moment he was in his
bag again; and Archie, bounding silently into the bathroom, was
tearing the cord off his dressing-gown.

There came a banging at the door. A voice spoke sternly. A masculine
voice this time.

"Say! Open this door!"

Archie rapidly attached the dressing-gown cord to the handle of the
bag, leaped to the window, opened it, tied the cord to a projecting
piece of iron on the sill, lowered Peter and the bag into the
depths, and closed the window again. The whole affair took but a few
seconds. Generals have received the thanks of their nations for
displaying less resource on the field of battle.

He opened the-door. Outside stood the bereaved woman, and beside her
a bullet-headed gentleman with a bowler hat on the back of his head,
in whom Archie recognised the hotel detective.

The hotel detective also recognised Archie, and the stern cast of
his features relaxed. He even smiled a rusty but propitiatory smile.
He imagined--erroneously--that Archie, being the son-in-law of the
owner of the hotel, had a pull with that gentleman; and he resolved
to proceed warily lest he jeopardise his job.

"Why, Mr. Moffam!" he said, apologetically. "I didn't know it was
you I was disturbing."

"Always glad to have a chat," said Archie, cordially. "What seems to
be the trouble?"

"My snake!" cried the queen of tragedy. "Where is my snake?"

Archie, looked at the detective. The detective looked at Archie.

"This lady," said the detective, with a dry little cough, "thinks
her snake is in your room, Mr. Moffam,"


"Snake's what the lady said,"

"My snake! My Peter!" Mme. Brudowska's voice shook with emotion. "He
is here--here in this room,"

Archie shook his head.

"No snakes here! Absolutely not! I remember noticing when I came

"The snake is here--here in this room. This man had it in a bag! I
saw him! He is a thief!"

"Easy, ma'am!" protested the detective. "Go easy! This gentleman is
the boss's son-in-law."

"I care not who he is! He has my snake! Here--' here in this room!"

"Mr. Moffam wouldn't go round stealing snakes."

"Rather not," said Archie. "Never stole a snake in my life. None of
the Moffams have ever gone about stealing snakes. Regular family
tradition! Though I once had an uncle who kept gold-fish."

"Here he is! Here! My Peter!"

Archie looked at the detective. The detective looked at Archie. "We
must humour her!" their glances said.

"Of course," said Archie, "if you'd like to search the room, what?
What I mean to say is, this is Liberty Hall. Everybody welcome!
Bring the kiddies!"

"I will search the room!" said Mme. Brudowska.

The detective glanced apologetically at Archie.

"Don't blame me for this, Mr. Moffam," he urged.

"Rather not! Only too glad you've dropped in!"

He took up an easy attitude against the window, and watched the
empress of the emotional drama explore. Presently she desisted,
baffled. For an instant she paused, as though about to speak, then
swept from the room. A moment later a door banged across the

"How do they get that way?" queried the detective, "Well, g'bye, Mr.
Moffam. Sorry to have butted in."

The door closed. Archie waited a few moments, then went to the
window and hauled in the slack. Presently the bag appeared over the
edge of the window-sill.

"Good God!" said Archie.

In the rush and swirl of recent events he must have omitted to see
that the clasp that fastened the bag was properly closed; for the
bag, as it jumped on to the window-sill, gaped at him like a yawning
face. And inside it there was nothing.

Archie leaned as far out of the window as he could manage without
committing suicide. Far below him, the traffic took its usual course
and the pedestrians moved to and fro upon the pavements. There was
no crowding, no excitement. Yet only a few moments before a long
green snake with three hundred ribs, a distensible gullet, and
gastrocentrous vertebras must have descended on that street like the
gentle rain from Heaven upon the place beneath. And nobody seemed
even interested. Not for the first time since he had arrived in
America, Archie marvelled at the cynical detachment of the New
Yorker, who permits himself to be surprised at nothing.

He shut the window and moved away with a heavy Heart. He had not had
the pleasure of an extended acquaintanceship with Peter, but he had
seen enough of him to realise his sterling qualities. Somewhere
beneath Peter's three hundred ribs there had lain a heart of gold,
and Archie mourned for his loss.

Archie had a dinner and theatre engagement that night, and it was
late when he returned to the hotel. He found his father-in-law
prowling restlessly about the lobby. There seemed to be something on
Mr. Brewster's mind. He came up to Archie with a brooding frown on
his square face.

"Who's this man Seacliff?" he demanded, without preamble. "I hear
he's a friend of yours."

"Oh, you've met him, what?" said Archie. "Had a nice little chat
together, yes? Talked of this and that, no!"

"We have not said a word to each other."

"Really? Oh, well, dear old Squiffy is one of those strong, silent
fellers you know. You mustn't mind if he's a bit dumb. He never says
much, but it's whispered round the clubs that he thinks a lot. It
was rumoured in the spring of nineteen-thirteen that Squiffy was on
the point of making a bright remark, but it never came to anything."

Mr. Brewster struggled with his feelings.

"Who is he? You seem to know him."

"Oh yes. Great pal of mine, Squiffy. We went through Eton, Oxford,
and the Bankruptcy Court together. And here's a rummy coincidence.
When they examined ME, I had no assets. And, when they examined
Squiffy, HE had no assets! Rather extraordinary, what?"

Mr. Brewster seemed to be in no mood for discussing coincidences.

"I might have known he was a friend of yours!" he said, bitterly.
"Well, if you want to see him, you'll have to do it outside my

"Why, I thought he was stopping here."

"He is--to-night. To-morrow he can look for some other hotel to
break up."

"Great Scot! Has dear old Squiffy been breaking the place up?"

Mr. Brewster snorted.

"I am informed that this precious friend of yours entered my grill-
room at eight o'clock. He must have been completely intoxicated,
though the head waiter tells me he noticed nothing at the time."

Archie nodded approvingly.

"Dear old Squiffy was always like that. It's a gift. However woozled
he might be, it was impossible to detect it with the naked eye. I've
seen the dear old chap many a time whiffled to the eyebrows, and
looking as sober as a bishop. Soberer! When did it begin to dawn on
the lads in the grill-room that the old egg had been pushing the
boat out?"

"The head waiter," said Mr. Brewster, with cold fury, "tells me that
he got a hint of the man's condition when he suddenly got up from
his table and went the round of the room, pulling off all the table-
cloths, and breaking everything that was on them. He then threw a
number of rolls at the diners, and left. He seems to have gone
straight to bed."

"Dashed sensible of him, what? Sound, practical chap, Squiffy. But
where on earth did he get the--er--materials?"

"From his room. I made enquiries. He has six large cases in his

"Squiffy always was a chap of infinite resource! Well, I'm dashed
sorry this should have happened, don't you know."

"If it hadn't been for you, the man would never have come here." Mr.
Brewster brooded coldly. "I don't know why it is, but ever since you
came to this hotel I've had nothing but trouble."

"Dashed sorry!" said Archie, sympathetically.

"Grrh!" said Mr. Brewster.

Archie made his way meditatively to the lift. The injustice of his
father-in-law's attitude pained him. It was absolutely rotten and
all that to be blamed for everything that went wrong in the Hotel

While this conversation was in progress, Lord Seacliff was enjoying
a refreshing sleep in his room on the fourth floor. Two hours
passed. The noise of the traffic in the street below faded away.
Only the rattle of an occasional belated cab broke the silence. In
the hotel all was still. Mr. Brewster had gone to bed. Archie, in
his room, smoked meditatively. Peace may have been said to reign.

At half-past two Lord Seacliff awoke. His hours of slumber were
always irregular. He sat up in bed and switched the light on. He was
a shock-headed young man with a red face and a hot brown eye. He
yawned and stretched himself. His head was aching a little. The room
seemed to him a trifle close. He got out of bed and threw open the
window. Then, returning to bed, he picked up a book and began to
read. He was conscious of feeling a little jumpy, and reading
generally sent him to sleep.

Much has been written on the subject of bed-books. The general
consensus of opinion is that a gentle, slow-moving story makes the
best opiate. If this be so, dear old Squiffy's choice of literature
had been rather injudicious. His book was The Adventures of Sherlock
Holmes, and the particular story, which he selected for perusal was
the one entitled, "The Speckled Band." He was not a great reader,
but, when he read, he liked something with a bit of zip to it.

Squiffy became absorbed. He had read the story before, but a long
time back, and its complications were fresh to him. The tale, it may
be remembered, deals with the activities of an ingenious gentleman
who kept a snake, and used to loose it into people's bedrooms as a
preliminary to collecting on their insurance. It gave Squiffy
pleasant thrills, for he had always had a particular horror of
snakes. As a child, he had shrunk from visiting the serpent house at
the Zoo; and, later, when he had come to man's estate and had put
off childish things, and settled down in real earnest to his self-
appointed mission of drinking up all the alcoholic fluid in England,
the distaste for Ophidia had lingered. To a dislike for real snakes
had been added a maturer shrinking from those which existed only in
his imagination. He could still recall his emotions on the occasion,
scarcely three months before, when he had seen a long, green serpent
which a majority of his contemporaries had assured him wasn't there.

Squiffy read on:--

"Suddenly another sound became audible--a very gentle, soothing
sound, like that of a small jet of steam escaping continuously from
a kettle."

Lord Seacliff looked up from his book with a start Imagination was
beginning to play him tricks. He could have sworn that he had
actually heard that identical sound. It had seemed to come from the
window. He listened again. No! All was still. He returned to his
book and went on reading.

"It was a singular sight that met our eyes. Beside the table, on a
wooden chair, sat Doctor Grimesby Rylott, clad in a long dressing-
gown. His chin was cocked upward and his eyes were fixed in a
dreadful, rigid stare at the corner of the ceiling. Round his brow
he had a peculiar yellow band, with brownish speckles, which seemed
to be bound tightly round his head."

"I took a step forward. In an instant his strange head-gear began to
move, and there reared itself from among his hair the squat,
diamond-shaped head and puffed neck of a loathsome serpent..."

"Ugh!" said Squiffy.

He closed the book and put it down. His head was aching worse than
ever. He wished now that he had read something else. No fellow could
read himself to sleep with this sort of thing. People ought not to
write this sort of thing.

His heart gave a bound. There it was again, that hissing sound. And
this time he was sure it came from the window.

He looked at the window, and remained staring, frozen. Over the
sill, with a graceful, leisurely movement, a green snake was
crawling. As it crawled, it raised its head and peered from side to
side, like a shortsighted man looking for his spectacles. It
hesitated a moment on the edge of the sill, then wriggled to the
floor and began to cross the room. Squiffy stared on.

It would have pained Peter deeply, for he was a snake of great
sensibility, if he had known how much his entrance had disturbed the
occupant of the room. He himself had no feeling but gratitude for
the man who had opened the window and so enabled him to get in out
of the rather nippy night air. Ever since the bag had swung open and
shot him out onto the sill of the window below Archie's, he had been
waiting patiently for something of the kind to happen. He was a
snake who took things as they came, and was prepared to rough it a
bit if necessary; but for the last hour or two he had been hoping
that somebody would do something practical in the way of getting him
in out of the cold. When at home, he had an eiderdown quilt to sleep
on, and the stone of the window-sill was a little trying to a snake
of regular habits. He crawled thankfully across the floor under
Squiffy's bed. There was a pair of trousers there, for his host had
undressed when not in a frame of mind to fold his clothes neatly and
place them upon a chair. Peter looked the trousers over. They were
not an eiderdown quilt, but they would serve. He curled up in them
and went to sleep. He had had an exciting day, and was glad to turn

After about ten minutes, the tension of Squiffy's attitude relaxed.
His heart, which had seemed to suspend its operations, began beating
again. Reason reasserted itself. He peeped cautiously under the bed.
He could see nothing.

Squiffy was convinced. He told himself that he had never really
believed in Peter as a living thing. It stood to reason that there
couldn't really be a snake in his room. The window looked out on
emptiness. His room was several stories above the ground. There was
a stern, set expression on Squiffy's face as he climbed out of bed.
It was the expression of a man who is turning over a new leaf,
starting a new life. He looked about the room for some implement
which would carry out the deed he had to do, and finally pulled out
one of the curtain-rods. Using this as a lever, he broke open the
topmost of the six cases which stood in the corner. The soft wood
cracked and split. Squiffy drew out a straw-covered bottle. For a
moment he stood looking at it, as a man might gaze at a friend on
the point of death. Then, with a sudden determination, he went into
the bathroom. There was a crash of glass and a gurgling sound.

Half an hour later the telephone in Archie's room rang. "I say,
Archie, old top," said the voice of Squiffy.

"Halloa, old bean! Is that you?"

"I say, could you pop down here for a second? I'm rather upset."

"Absolutely! Which room?"


"I'll be with you eftsoons or right speedily."

"Thanks, old man."

"What appears to be the difficulty?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, I thought I saw a snake!"

"A snake!"

"I'll tell you all about it when you come down."

Archie found Lord Seacliff seated on his bed. An arresting aroma of
mixed drinks pervaded the atmosphere.

"I say! What?" said Archie, inhaling.

"That's all right. I've been pouring my stock away. Just finished
the last bottle."

"But why?"

"I told you. I thought I saw a snake!"


Squiffy shivered slightly.

"Frightfully green!"

Archie hesitated. He perceived that there are moments when silence
is the best policy. He had been worrying himself over the
unfortunate case of his friend, and now that Fate seemed to have
provided a solution, it would be rash to interfere merely to ease
the old bean's mind. If Squiffy was going to reform because he
thought he had seen an imaginary snake, better not to let him know
that the snake was a real one.

"Dashed serious!" he said.

"Bally dashed serious!" agreed Squiffy. "I'm going to cut it out!"

"Great scheme!"

"You don't think," asked Squiffy, with a touch of hopefulness, "that
it could have been a real snake?"

"Never heard of the management supplying them."

"I thought it went under the bed."

"Well, take a look."

Squiffy shuddered.

"Not me! I say, old top, you know, I simply can't sleep in this room
now. I was wondering if you could give me a doss somewhere in

"Rather! I'm in five-forty-one. Just above. Trot along up. Here's
the key. I'll tidy up a bit here, and join you in a minute."

Squiffy put on a dressing-gown and disappeared. Archie looked under
the bed. From the trousers the head of Peter popped up with its
usual expression of amiable enquiry. Archie nodded pleasantly, and
sat down on the bed. The problem of his little friend's immediate
future wanted thinking over.

He lit a cigarette and remained for a while in thought. Then he
rose. An admirable solution had presented itself. He picked Peter up
and placed him in the pocket of his dressing-gown. Then, leaving the
room, he mounted the stairs till he reached the seventh floor.
Outside a room half-way down the corridor he paused.

From within, through the open transom, came the rhythmical snoring
of a good man taking his rest after the labours of the day. Mr.
Brewster was always a heavy sleeper.

"There's always a way," thought Archie, philosophically, "if a
chappie only thinks of it."

His father-in-law's snoring took on a deeper note. Archie extracted
Peter from his pocket and dropped him gently through the transom.

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