Indiscretions of Archie/Chapter 3
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, née 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 I"
"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've 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 Lucille.
"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 of 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!"