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Title: Leave it to Psmith
Author: Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE

  * Italics are denoted by underscores as in _italics_.

  * Obvious printer errors have been silently corrected.

  * Original spelling was kept, but variant spellings were made
    consistent when a predominant usage was found.

  * Ellipses are shown spaced (“. . .” instead of “...”), as in
    the printed original.



LEAVE IT TO PSMITH



WHAT THIS STORY IS ABOUT


Freddie Threepwood and his uncle are in difficulties. Freddie wants a
thousand pounds to start a bookmaker’s business and to marry Eve, while
his uncle wants to raise three thousand pounds, unbeknown to his wife,
to help a runaway daughter. Freddie persuades his uncle to steal his
wife’s necklace and sees Psmith’s advertisement in a daily paper.

Freddie enlists the services of Psmith to steal the necklace. There
are plots and counterplots. Psmith is not successful in stealing the
necklace but succeeds in stealing the affections of Eve.


_BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

  THE HEART OF A GOOF           7s. 6d. net
  CARRY ON, JEEVES              3s. 6d. net
  UKRIDGE                       3s. 6d. net
  THE INIMITABLE JEEVES         2s. 6d. net
  THE GIRL ON THE BOAT          2s. 6d. net
  JILL THE RECKLESS             2s. 6d. net
  A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS          2s. 6d. net
  LOVE AMONG THE CHICKENS       2s. 6d. net
  A GENTLEMAN OF LEISURE        2s. 6d. net
  INDISCRETIONS OF ARCHIE       2s. 6d. net
  PICCADILLY JIM                2s. 6d. net
  ADVENTURES OF SALLY           2s. 6d. net
  THE CLICKING OF CUTHBERT      2s. 6d. net
  THE COMING OF BILL            2s. 6d. net



  LEAVE IT
  TO PSMITH

  BY
  P. G. WODEHOUSE

  HERBERT JENKINS LIMITED
  3 YORK STREET LONDON S.W.1



[Illustration: A HERBERT JENKINS’ BOOK]


_Printed in Great Britain by Wyman & Sons Ltd., London, Reading and
Fakenham_



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                           PAGE

     I DARK PLOTTINGS AT BLANDINGS CASTLE              7

    II ENTER PSMITH                                   38

   III EVE BORROWS AN UMBRELLA                        59

    IV PAINFUL SCENE AT THE DRONES CLUB               66

     V PSMITH APPLIES FOR EMPLOYMENT                  70

    VI LORD EMSWORTH MEETS A POET                     80

   VII BAXTER SUSPECTS                               112

  VIII CONFIDENCES ON THE LAKE                       135

    IX PSMITH ENGAGES A VALET                        167

     X SENSATIONAL OCCURRENCE AT A POETRY READING    206

    XI ALMOST ENTIRELY ABOUT FLOWER-POTS             239

   XII MORE ON THE FLOWER-POT THEME                  270

  XIII PSMITH RECEIVES GUESTS                        282

   XIV PSMITH ACCEPTS EMPLOYMENT                     313



  TO MY DAUGHTER LEONORA,
  QUEEN OF HER SPECIES.



LEAVE IT TO PSMITH



CHAPTER I

DARK PLOTTINGS AT BLANDINGS CASTLE


§ 1

At the open window of the great library of Blandings Castle, drooping
like a wet sock, as was his habit when he had nothing to prop his spine
against, the Earl of Emsworth, that amiable and boneheaded peer, stood
gazing out over his domain.

It was a lovely morning and the air was fragrant with gentle summer
scents. Yet in his lordship’s pale blue eyes there was a look of
melancholy. His brow was furrowed, his mouth peevish. And this was
all the more strange in that he was normally as happy as only a
fluffy-minded man with excellent health and a large income can be. A
writer, describing Blandings Castle in a magazine article, had once
said: “Tiny mosses have grown in the cavities of the stones, until,
viewed near at hand, the place seems shaggy with vegetation.” It would
not have been a bad description of the proprietor. Fifty-odd years of
serene and unruffled placidity had given Lord Emsworth a curiously
moss-covered look. Very few things had the power to disturb him.
Even his younger son, the Hon. Freddie Threepwood, could only do it
occasionally.

Yet now he was sad. And--not to make a mystery of it any longer--the
reason of his sorrow was the fact that he had mislaid his glasses and
without them was as blind, to use his own neat simile, as a bat. He was
keenly aware of the sunshine that poured down on his gardens, and was
yearning to pop out and potter among the flowers he loved. But no man,
pop he never so wisely, can hope to potter with any good result if the
world is a mere blur.

The door behind him opened, and Beach the butler entered, a dignified
procession of one.

“Who’s that?” inquired Lord Emsworth, spinning on his axis.

“It is I, your lordship--Beach.”

“Have you found them?”

“Not yet, your lordship,” sighed the butler.

“You can’t have looked.”

“I have searched assiduously, your lordship, but without avail. Thomas
and Charles also announce non-success. Stokes has not yet made his
report.”

“Ah!”

“I am re-despatching Thomas and Charles to your lordship’s bedroom,”
said the Master of the Hunt. “I trust that their efforts will be
rewarded.”

Beach withdrew, and Lord Emsworth turned to the window again. The
scene that spread itself beneath him--though he was unfortunately
not able to see it--was a singularly beautiful one, for the castle,
which is one of the oldest inhabited houses in England, stands upon
a knoll of rising ground at the southern end of the celebrated Vale
of Blandings in the county of Shropshire. Away in the blue distance
wooded hills ran down to where the Severn gleamed like an unsheathed
sword; while up from the river rolling park-land, mounting and dipping,
surged in a green wave almost to the castle walls, breaking on the
terraces in a many-coloured flurry of flowers as it reached the spot
where the province of Angus McAllister, his lordship’s head gardener,
began. The day being June the thirtieth, which is the very high-tide
time of summer flowers, the immediate neighbourhood of the castle was
ablaze with roses, pinks, pansies, carnations, hollyhocks, columbines,
larkspurs, London pride, Canterbury bells, and a multitude of other
choice blooms of which only Angus could have told you the names. A
conscientious man was Angus; and in spite of being a good deal hampered
by Lord Emsworth’s amateur assistance, he showed excellent results
in his department. In his beds there was much at which to point with
pride, little to view with concern.

Scarcely had Beach removed himself when Lord Emsworth was called upon
to turn again. The door had opened for the second time, and a young man
in a beautifully-cut suit of grey flannel was standing in the doorway.
He had a long and vacant face topped by shining hair brushed back and
heavily brilliantined after the prevailing mode, and he was standing on
one leg. For Freddie Threepwood was seldom completely at his ease in
his parent’s presence.

“Hallo, guv’nor.”

“Well, Frederick?”

It would be paltering with the truth to say that Lord Emsworth’s
greeting was a warm one. It lacked the note of true affection. A few
weeks before he had had to pay a matter of five hundred pounds to
settle certain racing debts for his offspring; and, while this had
not actually dealt an irretrievable blow at his bank account, it had
undeniably tended to diminish Freddie’s charm in his eyes.

“Hear you’ve lost your glasses, guv’nor.”

“That is so.”

“Nuisance, what?”

“Undeniably.”

“Ought to have a spare pair.”

“I have broken my spare pair.”

“Tough luck! And lost the other?”

“And, as you say, lost the other.”

“Have you looked for the bally things?”

“I have.”

“Must be somewhere, I mean.”

“Quite possibly.”

“Where,” asked Freddie, warming to his work, “did you see them last?”

“Go away!” said Lord Emsworth, on whom his child’s conversation had
begun to exercise an oppressive effect.

“Eh?”

“Go away!”

“Go away?”

“Yes, go away!”

“Right ho!”

The door closed. His lordship returned to the window once more.

He had been standing there some few minutes when one of those miracles
occurred which happen in libraries. Without sound or warning a section
of books started to move away from the parent body and, swinging out in
a solid chunk into the room, showed a glimpse of a small, study-like
apartment. A young man in spectacles came noiselessly through and the
books returned to their place.

The contrast between Lord Emsworth and the new-comer, as they stood
there, was striking, almost dramatic. Lord Emsworth was so acutely
spectacle-less; Rupert Baxter, his secretary, so pronouncedly
spectacled. It was his spectacles that struck you first as you saw the
man. They gleamed efficiently at you. If you had a guilty conscience,
they pierced you through and through; and even if your conscience was
one hundred per cent. pure you could not ignore them. “Here,” you said
to yourself, “is an efficient young man in spectacles.”

In describing Rupert Baxter as efficient, you did not overestimate him.
He was essentially that. Technically but a salaried subordinate, he
had become by degrees, owing to the limp amiability of his employer,
the real master of the house. He was the Brains of Blandings, the man
at the switch, the person in charge, and the pilot, so to speak, who
weathered the storm. Lord Emsworth left everything to Baxter, only
asking to be allowed to potter in peace; and Baxter, more than equal to
the task, shouldered it without wincing.

Having got within range, Baxter coughed; and Lord Emsworth, recognising
the sound, wheeled round with a faint flicker of hope. It might be that
even this apparently insoluble problem of the missing pince-nez would
yield before the other’s efficiency.

“Baxter, my dear fellow, I’ve lost my glasses. My glasses. I have
mislaid them. I cannot think where they can have gone to. You haven’t
seen them anywhere by any chance?”

“Yes, Lord Emsworth,” replied the secretary, quietly equal to the
crisis. “They are hanging down your back.”

“Down my back? Why, bless my soul!” His lordship tested the statement
and found it--like all Baxter’s statements--accurate. “Why, bless my
soul, so they are! Do you know, Baxter, I really believe I must be
growing absent-minded.” He hauled in the slack, secured the pince-nez,
adjusted them beamingly. His irritability had vanished like the dew off
one of his roses. “Thank you, Baxter, thank you. You are invaluable.”

And with a radiant smile Lord Emsworth made buoyantly for the door, en
route for God’s air and the society of McAllister. The movement drew
from Baxter another cough--a sharp, peremptory cough this time; and
his lordship paused, reluctantly, like a dog whistled back from the
chase. A cloud fell over the sunniness of his mood. Admirable as Baxter
was in so many respects, he had a tendency to worry him at times; and
something told Lord Emsworth that he was going to worry him now.

“The car will be at the door,” said Baxter with quiet firmness, “at two
sharp.”

“Car? What car?”

“The car to take you to the station.”

“Station? What station?”

Rupert Baxter preserved his calm. There were times when he found his
employer a little trying, but he never showed it.

“You have perhaps forgotten, Lord Emsworth, that you arranged with Lady
Constance to go to London this afternoon.”

“Go to London!” gasped Lord Emsworth, appalled. “In weather like this?
With a thousand things to attend to in the garden? What a perfectly
preposterous notion! Why should I go to London? I hate London.”

“You arranged with Lady Constance that you would give Mr. McTodd lunch
to-morrow at your club.”

“Who the devil is Mr. McTodd?”

“The well-known Canadian poet.”

“Never heard of him.”

“Lady Constance has long been a great admirer of his work. She wrote
inviting him, should he ever come to England, to pay a visit to
Blandings. He is now in London and is to come down to-morrow for two
weeks. Lady Constance’s suggestion was that, as a compliment to Mr.
McTodd’s eminence in the world of literature, you should meet him in
London and bring him back here yourself.”

Lord Emsworth remembered now. He also remembered that this positively
infernal scheme had not been his sister Constance’s in the first place.
It was Baxter who had made the suggestion, and Constance had approved.
He made use of the recovered pince-nez to glower through them at his
secretary; and not for the first time in recent months was aware of
a feeling that this fellow Baxter was becoming a dashed infliction.
Baxter was getting above himself, throwing his weight about, making
himself a confounded nuisance. He wished he could get rid of the man.
But where could he find an adequate successor? That was the trouble.
With all his drawbacks, Baxter was efficient. Nevertheless, for a
moment Lord Emsworth toyed with the pleasant dream of dismissing him.
And it is possible, such was his exasperation, that he might on this
occasion have done something practical in that direction, had not the
library door at this moment opened for the third time, to admit yet
another intruder--at the sight of whom his lordship’s militant mood
faded weakly.

“Oh--hallo, Connie!” he said, guiltily, like a small boy caught in the
jam cupboard. Somehow his sister always had this effect upon him.

Of all those who had entered the library that morning the new arrival
was the best worth looking at. Lord Emsworth was tall and lean and
scraggy; Rupert Baxter thick-set and handicapped by that vaguely grubby
appearance which is presented by swarthy young men of bad complexion;
and even Beach, though dignified, and Freddie, though slim, would
never have got far in a beauty competition. But Lady Constance Keeble
really took the eye. She was a strikingly handsome woman in the
middle forties. She had a fair, broad brow, teeth of a perfect even
whiteness, and the carriage of an empress. Her eyes were large and
grey, and gentle--and incidentally misleading, for gentle was hardly
the adjective which anybody who knew her would have applied to Lady
Constance. Though genial enough when she got her way, on the rare
occasions when people attempted to thwart her she was apt to comport
herself in a manner reminiscent of Cleopatra on one of the latter’s bad
mornings.

“I hope I am not disturbing you,” said Lady Constance with a bright
smile. “I just came in to tell you to be sure not to forget, Clarence,
that you are going to London this afternoon to meet Mr. McTodd.”

“I was just telling Lord Emsworth,” said Baxter, “that the car would be
at the door at two.”

“Thank you, Mr. Baxter. Of course I might have known that you would not
forget. You are so wonderfully capable. I don’t know what in the world
we would do without you.”

The Efficient Baxter bowed. But, though gratified, he was not
overwhelmed by the tribute. The same thought had often occurred to him
independently.

“If you will excuse me,” he said, “I have one or two things to attend
to . . .”

“Certainly, Mr. Baxter.”

The Efficient One withdrew through the door in the bookshelf. He
realised that his employer was in fractious mood, but knew that he was
leaving him in capable hands.

Lord Emsworth turned from the window, out of which he had been gazing
with a plaintive detachment.

“Look here, Connie,” he grumbled feebly. “You know I hate literary
fellows. It’s bad enough having them in the house, but when it comes to
going to London to fetch ’em . . .”

He shuffled morosely. It was a perpetual grievance of his, this
practice of his sister’s of collecting literary celebrities and dumping
them down in the home for indeterminate visits. You never knew when
she was going to spring another on you. Already since the beginning of
the year he had suffered from a round dozen of the species at brief
intervals; and at this very moment his life was being poisoned by the
fact that Blandings was sheltering a certain Miss Aileen Peavey, the
mere thought of whom was enough to turn the sunshine off as with a tap.

“Can’t stand literary fellows,” proceeded his lordship. “Never could.
And, by Jove, literary females are worse. Miss Peavey . . .” Here words
temporarily failed the owner of Blandings. “Miss Peavey . . .” he
resumed after an eloquent pause. “Who is Miss Peavey?”

“My dear Clarence,” replied Lady Constance tolerantly, for the fine
morning had made her mild and amiable, “if you do not know that Aileen
is one of the leading poetesses of the younger school, you must be very
ignorant.”

“I don’t mean that. I know she writes poetry. I mean who _is_ she?
You suddenly produced her here like a rabbit out of a hat,” said his
lordship, in a tone of strong resentment. “Where did you find her?”

“I first made Aileen’s acquaintance on an Atlantic liner when Joe and I
were coming back from our trip round the world. She was very kind to me
when I was feeling the motion of the vessel. . . . If you mean what is
her family, I think Aileen told me once that she was connected with the
Rutlandshire Peaveys.”

“Never heard of them!” snapped Lord Emsworth. “And, if they’re anything
like Miss Peavey, God help Rutlandshire!”

Tranquil as Lady Constance’s mood was this morning, an ominous
stoniness came into her grey eyes at these words, and there is little
doubt that in another instant she would have discharged at her mutinous
brother one of those shattering come-backs for which she had been
celebrated in the family from nursery days onward; but at this juncture
the Efficient Baxter appeared again through the bookshelf.

“Excuse me,” said Baxter, securing attention with a flash of his
spectacles. “I forgot to mention, Lord Emsworth, that, to suit
everybody’s convenience, I have arranged that Miss Halliday shall call
to see you at your club to-morrow after lunch.”

“Good Lord, Baxter!” The harassed peer started as if he had been bitten
in the leg. “Who’s Miss Halliday? Not another literary female?”

“Miss Halliday is the young lady who is coming to Blandings to
catalogue the library.”

“Catalogue the library? What does it want cataloguing for?”

“It has not been done since the year 1885.”

“Well, and look how splendidly we’ve got along without it,” said Lord
Emsworth acutely.

“Don’t be so ridiculous, Clarence,” said Lady Constance, annoyed. “The
catalogue of a great library like this must be brought up to date.”
She moved to the door. “I do wish you would try to wake up and take
an interest in things. If it wasn’t for Mr. Baxter, I don’t know what
would happen.”

And with a beaming glance of approval at her ally she left the room.
Baxter, coldly austere, returned to the subject under discussion.

“I have written to Miss Halliday suggesting two-thirty as a suitable
hour for the interview.”

“But look here . . .”

“You will wish to see her before definitely confirming the engagement.”

“Yes, but look here, I wish you wouldn’t go tying me up with all these
appointments.”

“I thought that as you were going to London to meet Mr. McTodd . . .”

“But I’m not going to London to meet Mr. McTodd,” cried Lord Emsworth
with weak fury. “It’s out of the question. I can’t possibly leave
Blandings. The weather may break at any moment. I don’t want to miss a
day of it.”

“The arrangements are all made.”

“Send the fellow a wire . . . ‘unavoidably detained.’”

“I could not take the responsibility for such a course myself,” said
Baxter coldly. “But possibly if you were to make the suggestion to Lady
Constance . . .”

“Oh, dash it!” said Lord Emsworth unhappily, at once realising the
impossibility of the scheme. “Oh, well, if I’ve got to go, I’ve got to
go,” he said after a gloomy pause. “But to leave my garden and stew in
London at this time of the year . . .”

There seemed nothing further to say on the subject. He took off his
glasses, polished them, put them on again, and shuffled to the door.
After all, he reflected, even though the car was coming for him at two,
at least he had the morning, and he proposed to make the most of it.
But his first careless rapture at the prospect of pottering among his
flowers was dimmed, and would not be recaptured. He did not entertain
any project so mad as the idea of defying his sister Constance, but he
felt extremely bitter about the whole affair. Confound Constance! . . .
Dash Baxter! . . . Miss Peavey . . .

The door closed behind Lord Emsworth.


§ 2

Lady Constance meanwhile, proceeding downstairs, had reached the big
hall, when the door of the smoking-room opened and a head popped out. A
round, grizzled head with a healthy pink face attached to it.

“Connie!” said the head.

Lady Constance halted.

“Yes, Joe?”

“Come in here a minute,” said the head. “Want to speak to you.”

Lady Constance went into the smoking-room. It was large and cosily
book-lined, and its window looked out on to an Italian garden. A wide
fire-place occupied nearly the whole of one side of it, and in front
of this, his legs spread to an invisible blaze, Mr. Joseph Keeble had
already taken his stand. His manner was bluff, but an acute observer
might have detected embarrassment in it.

“What is it, Joe?” asked Lady Constance, and smiled pleasantly at her
husband. When, two years previously, she had married this elderly
widower, of whom the world knew nothing beyond the fact that he had
amassed a large fortune in South African diamond mines, there had
not been wanting cynics to set the match down as one of convenience,
a purely business arrangement by which Mr. Keeble exchanged his
money for Lady Constance’s social position. Such was not the case. It
had been a genuine marriage of affection on both sides. Mr. Keeble
worshipped his wife, and she was devoted to him, though never foolishly
indulgent. They were a happy and united couple.

Mr. Keeble cleared his throat. He seemed to find some difficulty
in speaking. And when he spoke it was not on the subject which he
had intended to open, but on one which had already been worn out in
previous conversations.

“Connie, I’ve been thinking about that necklace again.”

Lady Constance laughed.

“Oh, don’t be silly, Joe. You haven’t called me into this stuffy room
on a lovely morning like this to talk about that for the hundredth
time.”

“Well, you know, there’s no sense in taking risks.”

“Don’t be absurd. What risks can there be?”

“There was a burglary over at Winstone Court, not ten miles from here,
only a day or two ago.”

“Don’t be so fussy, Joe.”

“That necklace cost nearly twenty thousand pounds,” said Mr. Keeble, in
the reverent voice in which men of business traditions speak of large
sums.

“I know.”

“It ought to be in the bank.”

“Once and for all, Joe,” said Lady Constance, losing her amiability
and becoming suddenly imperious and Cleopatrine, “I will _not_ keep
that necklace in a bank. What on earth is the use of having a beautiful
necklace if it is lying in the strong-room of a bank all the time?
There is the County Ball coming on, and the Bachelors’ Ball after that,
and . . . well, I _need_ it. I will send the thing to the bank when we
pass through London on our way to Scotland, but not till then. And I
do wish you would stop worrying me about it.”

There was a silence. Mr. Keeble was regretting now that his unfortunate
poltroonery had stopped him from tackling in a straightforward and
manly fashion the really important matter which was weighing on his
mind: for he perceived that his remarks about the necklace, eminently
sensible though they were, had marred the genial mood in which his wife
had begun this interview. It was going to be more difficult now than
ever to approach the main issue. Still, ruffled though she might be,
the thing had to be done: for it involved a matter of finance, and in
matters of finance Mr. Keeble was no longer a free agent. He and Lady
Constance had a mutual banking account, and it was she who supervised
the spending of it. This was an arrangement, subsequently regretted by
Mr. Keeble, which had been come to in the early days of the honeymoon,
when men are apt to do foolish things.

Mr. Keeble coughed. Not the sharp, efficient cough which we have heard
Rupert Baxter uttering in the library, but a feeble, strangled thing
like the bleat of a diffident sheep.

“Connie,” he said. “Er--Connie.”

And at the words a sort of cold film seemed to come over Lady
Constance’s eyes: for some sixth sense told her what subject it was
that was now about to be introduced.

“Connie, I--er--had a letter from Phyllis this morning.”

Lady Constance said nothing. Her eyes gleamed for an instant, then
became frozen again. Her intuition had not deceived her.

Into the married life of this happy couple only one shadow had
intruded itself up to the present. But unfortunately it was a shadow
of considerable proportions, a kind of super-shadow; and its effect
had been chilling. It was Phyllis, Mr. Keeble’s stepdaughter, who had
caused it--by the simple process of jilting the rich and suitable young
man whom Lady Constance had attached to her (rather in the manner
of a conjurer forcing a card upon his victim) and running off and
marrying a far from rich and quite unsuitable person of whom all that
seemed to be known was that his name was Jackson. Mr. Keeble, whose
simple creed was that Phyllis could do no wrong, had been prepared to
accept the situation philosophically; but his wife’s wrath had been
deep and enduring. So much so that the mere mentioning of the girl’s
name must be accounted to him for a brave deed, Lady Constance having
specifically stated that she never wished to hear it again.

Keenly alive to this prejudice of hers, Mr. Keeble stopped after making
his announcement, and had to rattle his keys in his pocket in order to
acquire the necessary courage to continue. He was not looking at his
wife, but he knew just how forbidding her expression must be. This task
of his was no easy, congenial task for a pleasant summer morning.

“She says in her letter,” proceeded Mr. Keeble, his eyes on the carpet
and his cheeks a deeper pink, “that young Jackson has got the chance of
buying a big farm . . . in Lincolnshire, I think she said . . . if he
can raise three thousand pounds.”

He paused, and stole a glance at his wife. It was as he had feared. She
had congealed. Like some spell, the name Jackson had apparently turned
her to marble. It was like the Pygmalion and Galatea business working
the wrong way round. She was presumably breathing, but there was no
sign of it.

“So I was just thinking,” said Mr. Keeble, producing another
_obbligato_ on the keys, “it just crossed my mind . . . it isn’t
as if the thing were a speculation . . . the place is apparently
coining money . . . present owner only selling because he wants to go
abroad . . . it occurred to me . . . and they would pay good interest
on the loan . . .”

“What loan?” inquired the statue icily, coming to life.

“Well, what I was thinking . . . just a suggestion, you know . . . what
struck me was that if you were willing we might . . . good investment,
you know, and nowadays it’s deuced hard to find good investments . . .
I was thinking that we might lend them the money.”

He stopped. But he had got the thing out and felt happier. He
rattled his keys again, and rubbed the back of his head against the
mantelpiece. The friction seemed to give him confidence.

“We had better settle this thing once and for all, Joe,” said Lady
Constance. “As you know, when we were married, I was ready to do
everything for Phyllis. I was prepared to be a mother to her. I gave
her every chance, took her everywhere. And what happened?”

“Yes, I know. But . . .”

“She became engaged to a man with plenty of money . . .”

“Shocking young ass,” interjected Mr. Keeble, perking up for a moment
at the recollection of the late lamented, whom he had never liked. “And
a rip, what’s more. I’ve heard stories.”

“Nonsense! If you are going to believe all the gossip you hear about
people, nobody would be safe. He was a delightful young man and he
would have made Phyllis perfectly happy. Instead of marrying him, she
chose to go off with this--Jackson.” Lady Constance’s voice quivered.
Greater scorn could hardly have been packed into two syllables. “After
what has happened, I certainly intend to have nothing more to do with
her. I shall not lend them a penny, so please do not let us continue
this discussion any longer. I hope I am not an unjust woman, but I must
say that I consider, after the way Phyllis behaved . . .”

The sudden opening of the door caused her to break off. Lord Emsworth,
mould-stained and wearing a deplorable old jacket, pottered into the
room. He peered benevolently at his sister and his brother-in-law, but
seemed unaware that he was interrupting a conversation.

“‘Gardening As A Fine Art,’” he murmured. “Connie, have you seen a
book called ‘Gardening As A Fine Art’? I was reading it in here last
night. ‘Gardening As A Fine Art.’ That is the title. Now, where can
it have got to?” His dreamy eye flitted to and fro. “I want to show
it to McAllister. There is a passage in it that directly refutes his
anarchistic views on . . .”

“It is probably on one of the shelves,” said Lady Constance shortly.

“On one of the shelves?” said Lord Emsworth, obviously impressed by
this bright suggestion. “Why, of course, to be sure.”

Mr. Keeble was rattling his keys moodily. A mutinous expression was
on his pink face. These moments of rebellion did not come to him very
often, for he loved his wife with a dog-like affection and had grown
accustomed to being ruled by her, but now resentment filled him.
She was unreasonable, he considered. She ought to have realised how
strongly he felt about poor little Phyllis. It was too infernally
cold-blooded to abandon the poor child like an old shoe simply
because . . .

“Are you going?” he asked, observing his wife moving to the door.

“Yes. I am going into the garden,” said Lady Constance. “Why? Was there
anything else you wanted to talk to me about?”

“No,” said Mr. Keeble despondently. “Oh, no.”

Lady Constance left the room, and a deep masculine silence fell.
Mr. Keeble rubbed the back of his head meditatively against the
mantelpiece, and Lord Emsworth scratched among the book-shelves.

“Clarence!” said Mr. Keeble suddenly. An idea--one might almost say an
inspiration--had come to him.

“Eh?” responded his lordship absently. He had found his book and was
turning its pages, absorbed.

“Clarence, can you . . .”

“Angus McAllister,” observed Lord Emsworth bitterly, “is an obstinate,
stiff-necked son of Belial. The writer of this book distinctly states
in so many words . . .”

“Clarence, can you lend me three thousand pounds on good security and
keep it dark from Connie?”

Lord Emsworth blinked.

“Keep something dark from Connie?” He raised his eyes from his book in
order to peer at this visionary with a gentle pity. “My dear fellow, it
can’t be done.”

“She would never know. I will tell you just why I want this money . . .”

“Money?” Lord Emsworth’s eye had become vacant again. He was reading
once more. “Money? Money, my dear fellow? Money? Money? What money? If
I have said once,” declared Lord Emsworth, “that Angus McAllister is
all wrong on the subject of hollyhocks, I’ve said it a hundred times.”

“Let me explain. This three thousand pounds . . .”

“My dear fellow, no. No, no. It was like you,” said his lordship with
a vague heartiness, “it was like you--good and generous--to make
this offer, but I have ample, thank you, ample. I don’t _need_ three
thousand pounds.”

“You don’t understand. I . . .”

“No, no. No, no. But I am very much obliged, all the same. It was kind
of you, my dear fellow, to give me the opportunity. Very kind. Very,
very, very kind,” proceeded his lordship, trailing to the door and
reading as he went. “Oh, very, very, very . . .”

The door closed behind him.

“Oh, _damn_!” said Mr. Keeble.

He sank into a chair in a state of profound dejection. He thought of
the letter he would have to write to Phyllis. Poor little Phyllis . . .
he would have to tell her that what she asked could not be managed.
And why, thought Mr. Keeble sourly, as he rose from his seat and went
to the writing-table, could it not be managed? Simply because he was a
weak-kneed, spineless creature who was afraid of a pair of grey eyes
that had a tendency to freeze.

“_My dear Phyllis_,” he wrote.

Here he stopped. How on earth was he to put it? What a letter to have
to write! Mr. Keeble placed his head between his hands and groaned
aloud.

“Hallo, Uncle Joe!”

The letter-writer, turning sharply, was aware--without pleasure--of his
nephew Frederick, standing beside his chair. He eyed him resentfully,
for he was not only exasperated but startled. He had not heard the door
open. It was as if the smooth-haired youth had popped up out of a trap.

“Came in through the window,” explained the Hon. Freddie. “I say, Uncle
Joe.”

“Well, what is it?”

“I say, Uncle Joe,” said Freddie, “can you lend me a thousand quid?”

Mr. Keeble uttered a yelp like a pinched Pomeranian.


§ 3

As Mr. Keeble, red-eyed and overwrought, rose slowly from his chair
and began to swell in ominous silence, his nephew raised his hand
appealingly. It began to occur to the Hon. Freddie that he had perhaps
not led up to his request with the maximum of smooth tact.

“Half a jiffy!” he entreated. “I say, don’t go in off the deep end for
just a second. I can explain.”

Mr. Keeble’s feelings expressed themselves in a loud snort.

“Explain!”

“Well, I can. Whole trouble was, I started at the wrong end. Shouldn’t
have sprung it on you like that. The fact is, Uncle Joe, I’ve got a
scheme. I give you my word that, if you’ll only put off having apoplexy
for about three minutes,” said Freddie, scanning his fermenting
relative with some anxiety, “I can shove you on to a good thing.
Honestly I can. And all I say is, if this scheme I’m talking about is
worth a thousand quid to you, will you slip it across? I’m game to
spill it and leave it to your honesty to cash up if the thing looks
good to you.”

“A thousand pounds!”

“Nice round sum,” urged Freddie ingratiatingly.

“Why,” demanded Mr. Keeble, now somewhat recovered, “do you want a
thousand pounds?”

“Well, who doesn’t, if it comes to that?” said Freddie. “But I don’t
mind telling you my special reason for wanting it at just this moment,
if you’ll swear to keep it under your hat as far as the guv’nor is
concerned.”

“If you mean that you wish me not to repeat to your father anything you
may tell me in confidence, naturally I should not dream of doing such a
thing.”

Freddie looked puzzled. His was no lightning brain.

“Can’t quite work that out,” he confessed. “Do you mean you will tell
him or you won’t?”

“I will not tell him.”

“Good old Uncle Joe!” said Freddie, relieved. “A topper! I’ve always
said so. Well, look here, you know all the trouble there’s been about
my dropping a bit on the races lately?”

“I do.”

“Between ourselves, I dropped about five hundred of the best. And I
just want to ask you one simple question. _Why_ did I drop it?”

“Because you were an infernal young ass.”

“Well, yes,” agreed Freddie, having considered the point, “you might
put it that way, of course. But why was I an ass?”

“Good God!” exclaimed the exasperated Mr. Keeble. “Am I a
psycho-analyst?”

“I mean to say, if you come right down to it, I lost all that stuff
simply because I was on the wrong side of the fence. It’s a mug’s game
betting on horses. The only way to make money is to be a bookie, and
that’s what I’m going to do if you’ll part with that thousand. Pal
of mine, who was up at Oxford with me, is in a bookie’s office, and
they’re game to take me in too if I can put up a thousand quid. Only I
must let them know quick, because the offer’s not going to be open for
ever. You’ve no notion what a deuce of a lot of competition there is
for that sort of job.”

Mr. Keeble, who had been endeavouring with some energy to get a word in
during this harangue, now contrived to speak.

“And do you seriously suppose that I would . . . But what’s the use of
wasting time talking? I have no means of laying my hands on the sum you
mention. If I had,” said Mr. Keeble wistfully. “If I had . . .” And his
eye strayed to the letter on the desk, the letter which had got as far
as “My dear Phyllis” and stuck there.

Freddie gazed upon him with cordial sympathy.

“Oh, I know how you’re situated, Uncle Joe, and I’m dashed sorry for
you. I mean, Aunt Constance and all that.”

“What!” Irksome as Mr. Keeble sometimes found the peculiar condition
of his financial arrangements, he had always had the consolation of
supposing that they were a secret between his wife and himself. “What
do you mean?”

“Well, I know that Aunt Constance keeps an eye on the doubloons and
checks the outgoings pretty narrowly. And I think it’s a dashed shame
that she won’t unbuckle to help poor old Phyllis. A girl,” said
Freddie, “I always liked. Bally shame! Why the dickens shouldn’t she
marry that fellow Jackson? I mean, love’s love,” said Freddie, who felt
strongly on this point.

Mr. Keeble was making curious gulping noises.

“Perhaps I ought to explain,” said Freddie, “that I was having a quiet
after-breakfast smoke outside the window there and heard the whole
thing. I mean, you and Aunt Constance going to the mat about poor old
Phyllis and you trying to bite the guv’nor’s ear and so forth.”

Mr. Keeble bubbled for awhile.

“You--you listened!” he managed to ejaculate at length.

“And dashed lucky for you,” said Freddie with a cordiality unimpaired
by the frankly unfriendly stare under which a nicer-minded youth would
have withered; “dashed lucky for you that I did. Because I’ve got a
scheme.”

Mr. Keeble’s estimate of his young relative’s sagacity was not a high
one, and it is doubtful whether, had the latter caught him in a less
despondent mood, he would have wasted time in inquiring into the
details of this scheme, the mention of which had been playing in and
out of Freddie’s conversation like a will-o’-the-wisp. But such was his
reduced state at the moment that a reluctant gleam of hope crept into
his troubled eye.

“A scheme? Do you mean a scheme to help me out of--out of my
difficulty?”

“Absolutely! You want the best seats, we have ’em. I mean,” Freddie
went on in interpretation of these peculiar words, “you want three
thousand quid, and I can show you how to get it.”

“Then kindly do so,” said Mr. Keeble; and, having opened the door,
peered cautiously out, and closed it again, he crossed the room and
shut the window.

“Makes it a bit fuggy, but perhaps you’re right,” said Freddie, eyeing
these manœuvres. “Well, it’s like this, Uncle Joe. You remember what
you were saying to Aunt Constance about some bird being apt to sneak up
and pinch her necklace?”

“I do.”

“Well, why not?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, why don’t you?”

Mr. Keeble regarded his nephew with unconcealed astonishment. He had
been prepared for imbecility, but this exceeded his expectations.

“Steal my wife’s necklace!”

“That’s it. Frightfully quick you are, getting on to an idea. Pinch
Aunt Connie’s necklace. For, mark you,” continued Freddie, so far
forgetting the respect due from a nephew as to tap his uncle sharply
on the chest, “if a husband pinches anything from a wife, it isn’t
stealing. That’s law. I found that out from a movie I saw in town.”

The Hon. Freddie was a great student of the movies. He could tell a
super-film from a super-super-film at a glance, and what he did not
know about erring wives and licentious clubmen could have been written
in a sub-title.

“Are you insane?” growled Mr. Keeble.

“It wouldn’t be hard for you to get hold of it. And once you’d got it
everybody would be happy. I mean, all you’d have to do would be to draw
a cheque to pay for another one for Aunt Connie--which would make her
perfectly chirpy, as well as putting you one up, if you follow me. Then
you would have the other necklace, the pinched one, to play about with.
See what I mean? You could sell it privily and by stealth, ship Phyllis
her three thousand, push across my thousand, and what was left over
would be a nice little private account for you to tuck away somewhere
where Aunt Connie wouldn’t know anything about it. And a dashed useful
thing,” said Freddie, “to have up your sleeve in case of emergencies.”

“Are you . . . ?”

Mr. Keeble was on the point of repeating his previous remark when
suddenly there came the realisation that, despite all preconceived
opinions, the young man was anything but insane. The scheme, at which
he had been prepared to scoff, was so brilliant, yet simple, that it
seemed almost incredible that its sponsor could have worked it out for
himself.

“Not my own,” said Freddie modestly, as if in answer to the thought.
“Saw much the same thing in a movie once. Only there the fellow, if
I remember, wanted to do down an insurance company, and it wasn’t a
necklace that he pinched but bonds. Still, the principle’s the same.
Well, how do we go, Uncle Joe? How about it? Is that worth a thousand
quid or not?”

Even though he had seen in person to the closing of the door and the
window, Mr. Keeble could not refrain from a conspirator-like glance
about him. They had been speaking with lowered voices, but now words
came from him in an almost inaudible whisper.

“Could it really be done? Is it feasible?”

“Feasible? Why, dash it, what the dickens is there to stop you? You
could do it in a second. And the beauty of the whole thing is that, if
you were copped, nobody could say a word, because husband pinching from
wife isn’t stealing. Law.”

The statement that in the circumstances indicated nobody could say a
word seemed to Mr. Keeble so at variance with the facts that he was
compelled to challenge it.

“Your aunt would have a good deal to say,” he observed ruefully.

“Eh? Oh, yes, I see what you mean. Well, you would have to risk that.
After all, the chances would be dead against her finding out.”

“But she might.”

“Oh, well, if you put it like that, I suppose she might.”

“Freddie, my boy,” said Mr. Keeble weakly, “I daren’t do it!”

The vision of his thousand pounds slipping from his grasp so wrought
upon Freddie that he expressed himself in a manner far from fitting in
one of his years towards an older man.

“Oh, I say, don’t be such a rabbit!”

Mr. Keeble shook his head.

“No,” he repeated, “I daren’t.”

It might have seemed that the negotiations had reached a deadlock, but
Freddie, with a thousand pounds in sight, was in far too stimulated
a condition to permit so tame an ending to such a promising plot. As
he stood there, chafing at his uncle’s pusillanimity, an idea was
vouchsafed to him.

“By Jove! I’ll tell you what!” he cried.

“Not so loud!” moaned the apprehensive Mr. Keeble. “Not so loud!”

“I’ll tell you what,” repeated Freddie in a hoarse whisper. “How would
it be if _I_ did the pinching?”

“What!”

“How would it . . .”

“Would you?” Hope, which had vanished from Mr. Keeble’s face, came
flooding back. “My boy, would you really?”

“For a thousand quid you bet I would.”

Mr. Keeble clutched at his young relative’s hand and gripped it
feverishly.

“Freddie,” he said, “the moment you place that necklace in my hands, I
will give you not a thousand but two thousand pounds.”

“Uncle Joe,” said Freddie with equal intensity, “it’s a bet!”

Mr. Keeble mopped at his forehead.

“You think you can manage it?”

“Manage it?” Freddie laughed a light laugh. “Just watch me!”

Mr. Keeble grasped his hand again with the utmost warmth.

“I must go out and get some air,” he said. “I’m all upset. May I really
leave this matter to you, Freddie?”

“Rather!”

“Good! Then to-night I will write to Phyllis and say that I may be able
to do what she wishes.”

“Don’t say ‘may,’” cried Freddie buoyantly. “The word is ‘will.’ Bally
will! What ho!”


§ 4

Exhilaration is a heady drug; but, like other drugs, it has the
disadvantage that its stimulating effects seldom last for very
long. For perhaps ten minutes after his uncle had left him, Freddie
Threepwood lay back in his chair in a sort of ecstasy. He felt strong,
vigorous, alert. Then by degrees, like a chilling wind, doubt began
to creep upon him--faintly at first, then more and more insistently,
till by the end of a quarter of an hour he was in a state of pronounced
self-mistrust. Or, to put it with less elegance, he was suffering from
an exceedingly severe attack of cold feet.

The more he contemplated the venture which he had undertaken, the
less alluring did it appear to him. His was not a keen imagination,
but even he could shape with a gruesome clearness a vision of the
frightful bust-up that would ensue should he be detected stealing his
Aunt Constance’s diamond necklace. Common decency would in such an
event seal his lips as regarded his Uncle Joseph’s share in the matter.
And even if--as might conceivably happen--common decency failed at the
crisis, reason told him that his Uncle Joseph would infallibly disclaim
any knowledge of or connection with the rash act. And then where would
he be? In the soup, undoubtedly. For Freddie could not conceal it from
himself that there was nothing in his previous record to make it seem
inconceivable to his nearest and dearest that he should steal the
jewellery of a female relative for purely personal ends. The verdict
in the event of detection would be one of uncompromising condemnation.

And yet he hated the idea of meekly allowing that two thousand pounds
to escape from his clutch . . .

A young man’s cross-roads.

       *       *       *       *       *

The agony of spirit into which these meditations cast him had brought
him up with a bound from the comfortable depths of his arm-chair and
had set him prowling restlessly about the room. His wanderings led him
at this point to collide somewhat painfully with the long table on
which Beach the butler, a tidy soul, was in the habit of arranging in
a neat row the daily papers, weekly papers, and magazines which found
their way into the castle. The shock had the effect of rousing him
from his stupor, and in an absent way he clutched the nearest daily
paper, which happened to be the _Morning Globe_, and returned to his
chair in the hope of quieting his nerves with a perusal of the racing
intelligence. For, though far removed now from any practical share
in the doings of the racing world, he still took a faint melancholy
interest in ascertaining what Captain Curb, the Head Lad, Little
Brighteyes, and the rest of the newspaper experts fancied for the day’s
big event. He lit a cigarette and unfolded the journal.

The next moment, instead of passing directly, as was his usual
practice, to the last page, which was devoted to sport, he was gazing
with a strange dry feeling in his throat at a certain advertisement on
page one.

It was a well-displayed advertisement, and one that had caught the
eye of many other readers of the paper that morning. It was worded to
attract attention, and it had achieved its object. But where others
who read it had merely smiled and marvelled idly how anybody could
spend good money putting nonsense like this in the paper, to Freddie
its import was wholly serious. It read to him like the Real Thing.
His motion-picture-trained mind accepted this advertisement at its
face-value.

It ran as follows:--

  _LEAVE IT TO PSMITH!_

  Psmith Will Help You

  Psmith Is Ready For Anything

  DO YOU WANT

  Someone To Manage Your Affairs?

  Someone To Handle Your Business?

  Someone To Take The Dog For A Run?

  Someone To Assassinate Your Aunt?

  PSMITH WILL DO IT

  CRIME NOT OBJECTED TO

  Whatever Job You Have To Offer

  (Provided It Has Nothing To Do With Fish)

  _LEAVE IT TO PSMITH!_

  Address Applications To ‘R. Psmith, Box 365’

  _LEAVE IT TO PSMITH!_

Freddie laid the paper down with a deep intake of breath. He picked it
up again, and read the advertisement a second time. Yes, it sounded
good.

More, it had something of the quality of a direct answer to prayer.
Very vividly now Freddie realised that what he had been wishing for was
a partner to share the perils of this enterprise which he had so rashly
undertaken. In fact, not so much to share them as to take them off his
shoulders altogether. And such a partner he was now in a position to
command. Uncle Joe was going to give him two thousand if he brought the
thing off. This advertisement fellow would probably be charmed to come
in for a few hundred . . .

       *       *       *       *       *

Two minutes later, Freddie was at the writing-desk, scribbling a
letter. From time to time he glanced furtively over his shoulder at the
door. But the house was still. No footsteps came to interrupt him at
his task.


§ 5

Freddie went out into the garden. He had not wandered far when from
somewhere close at hand there was borne to him on the breeze a remark
in a high voice about Scottish obstinacy, which could only have
proceeded from one source. He quickened his steps.

“Hallo, guv’nor.”

“Well, Frederick?”

Freddie shuffled.

“I say, guv’nor, do you think I might go up to town with you this
afternoon?”

“What!”

“Fact is, I ought to see my dentist. Haven’t been to him for a deuce of
a time.”

“I cannot see the necessity for you to visit a London dentist. There
is an excellent man in Shrewsbury, and you know I have the strongest
objection to your going to London.”

“Well, you see, this fellow understands my snappers. Always been to
him, I mean to say. Anybody who knows anything about these things will
tell you greatest mistake go buzzing about to different dentists.”

Already Lord Emsworth’s attention was wandering back to the waiting
McAllister.

“Oh, very well, very well.”

“Thanks awfully, guv’nor.”

“But on one thing I insist, Frederick. I cannot have you loafing about
London the whole day. You must catch the twelve-fifty train back.”

“Right ho. That’ll be all right, guv’nor.”

“Now, listen to reason, McAllister,” said his lordship. “That is all I
ask you to do--listen to reason . . .”



CHAPTER II

ENTER PSMITH


§ 1

At about the hour when Lord Emsworth’s train, whirling him and his son
Freddie to London, had reached the half-way point in its journey, a
very tall, very thin, very solemn young man, gleaming in a speckless
top hat and a morning-coat of irreproachable fit, mounted the steps
of Number Eighteen, Wallingford Street, West Kensington, and rang the
front-door bell. This done, he removed the hat; and having touched his
forehead lightly with a silk handkerchief, for the afternoon sun was
warm, gazed about him with a grave distaste.

“A scaly neighbourhood!” he murmured.

The young man’s judgment was one at which few people with an eye for
beauty would have cavilled. When the great revolution against London’s
ugliness really starts and yelling hordes of artists and architects,
maddened beyond endurance, finally take the law into their own hands
and rage through the city burning and destroying, Wallingford Street,
West Kensington, will surely not escape the torch. Long since it must
have been marked down for destruction. For, though it possesses certain
merits of a low practical kind, being inexpensive in the matter of
rents and handy for the buses and the Underground, it is a peculiarly
beastly little street. Situated in the middle of one of those
districts where London breaks out into a sort of eczema of red brick,
it consists of two parallel rows of semi-detached villas, all exactly
alike, each guarded by a ragged evergreen hedge, each with coloured
glass of an extremely regrettable nature let into the panels of the
front door; and sensitive young impressionists from the artists’ colony
up Holland Park way may sometimes be seen stumbling through it with
hands over their eyes, muttering between clenched teeth “How long? How
long?”

A small maid-of-all-work appeared in answer to the bell, and stood
transfixed as the visitor, producing a monocle, placed it in his right
eye and inspected her through it.

“A warm afternoon,” he said cordially.

“Yes, sir.”

“But pleasant,” urged the young man. “Tell me, is Mrs. Jackson at home?”

“No, sir.”

“Not at home?”

“No, sir.”

The young man sighed.

“Ah well,” he said, “we must always remember that these disappointments
are sent to us for some good purpose. No doubt they make us more
spiritual. Will you inform her that I called? The name is Psmith.
P-smith.”

“Peasmith, sir?”

“No, no. P-s-m-i-t-h. I should explain to you that I started life
without the initial letter, and my father always clung ruggedly to the
plain Smith. But it seemed to me that there were so many Smiths in the
world that a little variety might well be introduced. Smythe I look on
as a cowardly evasion, nor do I approve of the too prevalent custom of
tacking another name on in front by means of a hyphen. So I decided to
adopt the Psmith. The p, I should add for your guidance, is silent, as
in phthisis, psychic, and ptarmigan. You follow me?”

“Y-yes, sir.”

“You don’t think,” he said anxiously, “that I did wrong in pursuing
this course?”

“N-no, sir.”

“Splendid!” said the young man, flicking a speck of dust from his
coat-sleeve. “Splendid! Splendid!”

And with a courteous bow he descended the steps and made his way down
the street. The little maid, having followed him with bulging eyes till
he was out of sight, closed the door and returned to her kitchen.

Psmith strolled meditatively on. The genial warmth of the afternoon
soothed him. He hummed lightly--only stopping when, as he reached the
end of the street, a young man of his own age, rounding the corner
rapidly, almost ran into him.

“Sorry,” said the young man. “Hallo, Smith.”

Psmith gazed upon him with benevolent affection.

“Comrade Jackson,” he said, “this is well met. The one man of all
others whom I would have wished to encounter. We will pop off
somewhere, Comrade Jackson, should your engagements permit, and restore
our tissues with a cup of tea. I had hoped to touch the Jackson family
for some slight refreshment, but I was informed that your wife was out.”

Mike Jackson laughed.

“Phyllis isn’t out. She . . .”

“Not out? Then,” said Psmith, pained, “there has been dirty work done
this day. For I was turned from the door. It would not be exaggerating
to say that I was given the bird. Is this the boasted Jackson
hospitality?”

“Phyllis is giving a tea to some of her old school pals,” explained
Mike. “She told the maid to say she wasn’t at home to anybody else. I’m
not allowed in myself.”

“Enough, Comrade Jackson!” said Psmith agreeably. “Say no more. If you
yourself have been booted out in spite of all the loving, honouring,
and obeying your wife promised at the altar, who am I to complain? And
possibly, one can console oneself by reflecting, we are well out of
it. These gatherings of old girls’-school chums are not the sort of
function your man of affairs wants to get lugged into. Capital company
as we are, Comrade Jackson, we should doubtless have been extremely
in the way. I suppose the conversation would have dealt exclusively
with reminiscences of the dear old school, of tales of surreptitious
cocoa-drinking in the dormitories and what the deportment mistress said
when Angela was found chewing tobacco in the shrubbery. Yes, I fancy we
have not missed a lot. . . . By the way, I don’t think much of the new
home. True, I only saw it from the outside, but . . . no, I don’t think
much of it.”

“Best we can afford.”

“And who,” said Psmith, “am I to taunt my boyhood friend with his
honest poverty? Especially as I myself am standing on the very brink of
destitution.”

“You?”

“I in person. That low moaning sound you hear is the wolf bivouacked
outside my door.”

“But I thought your uncle gave you rather a good salary.”

“So he did. But my uncle and I are about to part company. From now on
he, so to speak, will take the high road and I’ll take the low road. I
dine with him to-night, and over the nuts and wine I shall hand him
the bad news that I propose to resign my position in the firm. I have
no doubt that he supposed he was doing me a good turn by starting me in
his fish business, but even what little experience I have had of it has
convinced me that it is not my proper sphere. The whisper flies round
the clubs ‘Psmith has not found his niche!’

“I am not,” said Psmith, “an unreasonable man. I realise that humanity
must be supplied with fish. I am not averse from a bit of fish myself.
But to be professionally connected with a firm that handles the
material in the raw is not my idea of a large life-work. Remind me to
tell you some time what it feels like to sling yourself out of bed at
four a.m. and go down to toil in Billingsgate Market. No, there is
money in fish--my uncle has made a pot of it--but what I feel is that
there must be other walks in life for a bright young man. I chuck it
to-night.”

“What are you going to do, then?”

“That, Comrade Jackson, is more or less on the knees of the gods.
To-morrow morning I think I will stroll round to an employment agency
and see how the market for bright young men stands. Do you know a good
one?”

“Phyllis always goes to Miss Clarkson’s in Shaftesbury Avenue.
But . . .”

“Miss Clarkson’s in Shaftesbury Avenue. I will make a note of it . . .
Meanwhile, I wonder if you saw the _Morning Globe_ to-day?”

“No. Why?”

“I had an advertisement in it, in which I expressed myself as
willing--indeed, eager--to tackle any undertaking that had nothing to
do with fish. I am confidently expecting shoals of replies. I look
forward to winnowing the heap and selecting the most desirable.”

“Pretty hard to get a job these days,” said Mike doubtfully.

“Not if you have something superlatively good to offer.”

“What have you got to offer?”

“My services,” said Psmith with faint reproach.

“What as?”

“As anything. I made no restrictions. Would you care to take a look at
my manifesto? I have a copy in my pocket.”

Psmith produced from inside his immaculate waistcoat a folded clipping.

“I should welcome your opinion of it, Comrade Jackson. I have
frequently said that for sturdy common sense you stand alone. Your
judgment should be invaluable.”

The advertisement, which some hours earlier had so electrified the Hon.
Freddie Threepwood in the smoking-room at Blandings Castle, seemed to
affect Mike, whose mind was of the stolid and serious type, somewhat
differently. He finished his perusal and stared speechlessly.

“Neat, don’t you think?” said Psmith. “Covers the ground adequately? I
think so, I think so.”

“Do you mean to say you’re going to put drivel like that in the paper?”
asked Mike.

“I _have_ put it in the paper. As I told you, it appeared this morning.
By this time to-morrow I shall no doubt have finished sorting out the
first batch of replies.”

Mike’s emotion took him back to the phraseology of school days.

“You _are_ an ass!”

Psmith restored the clipping to his waistcoat pocket.

“You wound me, Comrade Jackson,” he said. “I had expected a broader
outlook from you. In fact, I rather supposed that you would have rushed
round instantly to the offices of the journal and shoved in a similar
advertisement yourself. But nothing that you can say can damp my
buoyant spirit. The cry goes round Kensington (and district) ‘Psmith is
off!’ In what direction the cry omits to state: but that information
the future will supply. And now, Comrade Jackson, let us trickle into
yonder tea-shop and drink success to the venture in a cup of the
steaming. I had a particularly hard morning to-day among the whitebait,
and I need refreshment.”


§ 2

After Psmith had withdrawn his spectacular person from it, there was
an interval of perhaps twenty minutes before anything else occurred to
brighten the drabness of Wallingford Street. The lethargy of afternoon
held the thoroughfare in its grip. Occasionally a tradesman’s cart
would rattle round the corner, and from time to time cats appeared,
stalking purposefully among the evergreens. But at ten minutes to five
a girl ran up the steps of Number Eighteen and rang the bell.

She was a girl of medium height, very straight and slim; and her fair
hair, her cheerful smile, and the boyish suppleness of her body all
contributed to a general effect of valiant gaiety, a sort of golden
sunniness--accentuated by the fact that, like all girls who looked to
Paris for inspiration in their dress that season, she was wearing black.

The small maid appeared again.

“Is Mrs. Jackson at home?” said the girl. “I think she’s expecting me.
Miss Halliday.”

“Yes, miss?”

A door at the end of the narrow hall had opened.

“Is that you, Eve?”

“Hallo, Phyl, darling.”

Phyllis Jackson fluttered down the passage like a rose-leaf on the
wind, and hurled herself into Eve’s arms. She was small and fragile,
with great brown eyes under a cloud of dark hair. She had a wistful
look, and most people who knew her wanted to pet her. Eve had always
petted her, from their first days at school together.

“Am I late or early?” asked Eve.

“You’re the first, but we won’t wait. Jane, will you bring tea into the
drawing-room.”

“Yes’m.”

“And, remember, I don’t want to see anyone for the rest of the
afternoon. If anybody calls, tell them I’m not at home. Except Miss
Clarkson and Mrs. McTodd, of course.”

“Yes’m.”

“Who is Mrs. McTodd?” inquired Eve. “Is that Cynthia?”

“Yes. Didn’t you know she had married Ralston McTodd, the Canadian
poet? You knew she went out to Canada?”

“I knew that, yes. But I hadn’t heard that she was married. Funny how
out of touch one gets with girls who were one’s best friends at school.
Do you realise it’s nearly two years since I saw you?”

“I know. Isn’t it awful! I got your address from Elsa Wentworth two or
three days ago, and then Clarkie told me that Cynthia was over here on
a visit with her husband, so I thought how jolly it would be to have a
regular reunion. We three were such friends in the old days. . . . You
remember Clarkie, of course? Miss Clarkson, who used to be English
mistress at Wayland House.”

“Yes, of course. Where did you run into her?”

“Oh, I see a lot of her. She runs a Domestic Employment Agency in
Shaftesbury Avenue now, and I have to go there about once a fortnight
to get a new maid. She supplied Jane.”

“Is Cynthia’s husband coming with her this afternoon?”

“No. I wanted it to be simply us four. Do you know him? But of course
you don’t. This is his first visit to England.”

“I know his poetry. He’s quite a celebrity. Cynthia’s lucky.”

They had made their way into the drawing-room, a gruesome little
apartment full of all those antimacassars, wax flowers, and china dogs
inseparable from the cheaper type of London furnished house. Eve,
though the exterior of Number Eighteen should have prepared her for all
this, was unable to check a slight shudder as she caught the eye of the
least prepossessing of the dogs, goggling at her from the mantelpiece.

“Don’t look at them,” recommended Phyllis, following her gaze. “I try
not to. We’ve only just moved in here, so I haven’t had time to make
the place nice. Here’s tea. All right, Jane, put it down there. Tea,
Eve?”

Eve sat down. She was puzzled and curious. She threw her mind back to
the days at school and remembered the Phyllis of that epoch as almost
indecently opulent. A millionaire stepfather there had been then, she
recollected. What had become of him now, that he should allow Phyllis
to stay in surroundings like this? Eve scented a mystery, and in her
customary straightforward way went to the heart of it.

“Tell me all about yourself,” she said, having achieved as much comfort
as the peculiar structure of her chair would permit. “And remember that
I haven’t seen you for two years, so don’t leave anything out.”

“It’s so difficult to know where to start.”

“Well, you signed your letter ‘Phyllis Jackson.’ Start with the
mysterious Jackson. Where does he come in? The last I heard about
you was an announcement in the _Morning Post_ that you were engaged
to--I’ve forgotten the name, but I’m certain it wasn’t Jackson.”

“Rollo Mountford.”

“Was it? Well, what has become of Rollo? You seem to have mislaid him.
Did you break off the engagement?”

“Well, it--sort of broke itself off. I mean, you see, I went and
married Mike.”

“Eloped with him, do you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Good heavens!”

“I’m awfully ashamed about that, Eve. I suppose I treated Rollo awfully
badly.”

“Never mind. A man with a name like that was made for suffering.”

“I never really cared for him. He had horrid swimmy eyes . . .”

“I understand. So you eloped with your Mike. Tell me about him. Who is
he? What does he do?”

“Well, at present he’s master at a school. But he doesn’t like it. He
wants to get back to the country again. When I met him, he was agent
on a place in the country belonging to some people named Smith. Mike
had been at school and Cambridge with the son. They were very rich
then and had a big estate. It was the next place to the Edgelows. I
had gone to stay with Mary Edgelow--I don’t know if you remember her
at school? I met Mike first at a dance, and then I met him out riding,
and then--well, after that we used to meet every day. And we fell in
love right from the start and we went and got married. Oh, Eve, I wish
you could have seen our darling little house. It was all over ivy and
roses, and we had horses and dogs and . . .”

Phyllis’ narrative broke off with a gulp. Eve looked at her
sympathetically. All her life she herself had been joyously
impecunious, but it had never seemed to matter. She was strong and
adventurous, and revelled in the perpetual excitement of trying to make
both ends meet. But Phyllis was one of those sweet porcelain girls
whom the roughnesses of life bruise instead of stimulating. She needed
comfort and pleasant surroundings. Eve looked morosely at the china
dog, which leered back at her with an insufferable good-fellowship.

“We had hardly got married,” resumed Phyllis, blinking, “when poor
Mr. Smith died and the whole place was broken up. He must have been
speculating or something, I suppose, because he hardly left any money,
and the estate had to be sold. And the people who bought it--they were
coal people from Wolverhampton--had a nephew for whom they wanted the
agent job, so Mike had to go. So here we are.”

Eve put the question which she had been waiting to ask ever since she
had entered the house.

“But what about your stepfather? Surely, when we were at school, you
had a rich stepfather in the background. Has he lost his money, too?”

“No.”

“Well, why doesn’t he help you, then?”

“He would, I know, if he was left to himself. But it’s Aunt Constance.”

“What’s Aunt Constance? And who _is_ Aunt Constance?”

“Well, I call her that, but she’s really my stepmother--sort of. I
suppose she’s really my step-stepmother. My stepfather married again
two years ago. It was Aunt Constance who was so furious when I married
Mike. She wanted me to marry Rollo. She has never forgiven me, and she
won’t let my stepfather do anything to help us.”

“But the man must be a worm!” said Eve indignantly. “Why doesn’t he
insist? You always used to tell me how fond he was of you.”

“He isn’t a worm, Eve. He’s a dear. It’s just that he has let her
boss him. She’s rather a terror, you know. She can be quite nice,
and they’re awfully fond of each other, but she is as hard as nails
sometimes.” Phyllis broke off. The front door had opened, and there
were footsteps in the hall. “Here’s Clarkie. I hope she has brought
Cynthia with her. She was to pick her up on her way. Don’t talk about
what I’ve been telling you in front of her, Eve, there’s an angel.”

“Why not?”

“She’s so motherly about it. It’s sweet of her, but . . .”

Eve understood.

“All right. Later on.”

The door opened to admit Miss Clarkson.

The adjective which Phyllis had applied to her late schoolmistress
was obviously well chosen. Miss Clarkson exuded motherliness. She was
large, wholesome, and soft, and she swooped on Eve like a hen on its
chicken almost before the door had closed.

“Eve! How nice to see you after all this time! My dear, you’re looking
perfectly lovely! And _so_ prosperous. What a beautiful hat!”

“I’ve been envying it ever since you came, Eve,” said Phyllis. “Where
did you get it?”

“Madeleine Sœurs, in Regent Street.”

Miss Clarkson, having acquired and stirred a cup of tea, started to
improve the occasion. Eve had always been a favourite of hers at
school. She beamed affectionately upon her.

“Now doesn’t this show--what I always used to say to you in the dear
old days, Eve--that one must never despair, however black the outlook
may seem? I remember you at school, dear, as poor as a church mouse,
and with no prospects, none whatever. And yet here you are--rich . . .”

Eve laughed. She got up and kissed Miss Clarkson. She regretted that
she was compelled to strike a jarring note, but it had to be done.

“I’m awfully sorry, Clarkie dear,” she said, “but I’m afraid I’ve
misled you. I’m just as broke as I ever was. In fact, when Phyllis
told me you were running an Employment Agency, I made a note to come
and see you and ask if you had some attractive billet to dispose of.
Governess to a thoroughly angelic child would do. Or isn’t there some
nice cosy author or something who wants his letters answered and his
press-clippings pasted in an album?”

“Oh, my dear!” Miss Clarkson was deeply concerned. “I did hope . . .
That hat . . . !”

“The hat’s the whole trouble. Of course I had no business even to think
of it, but I saw it in the shop-window and coveted it for days, and
finally fell. And then, you see, I had to live up to it--buy shoes and
a dress to match. I tell you it was a perfect orgy, and I’m thoroughly
ashamed of myself now. Too late, as usual.”

“Oh, dear! You always were such a wild, impetuous child, even at
school. I remember how often I used to speak to you about it.”

“Well, when it was all over and I was sane again, I found I had only a
few pounds left, not nearly enough to see me through till the relief
expedition arrived. So I thought it over and decided to invest my
little all.”

“I hope you chose something safe?”

“It ought to have been. The _Sporting Express_ called it ‘To-day’s
Safety Bet.’ It was Bounding Willie for the two-thirty race at Sandown
last Wednesday.”

“Oh, dear!”

“That’s what I said when poor old Willie came in sixth. But it’s
no good worrying, is it? What it means is that I simply must find
something to do that will carry me through till I get my next
quarter’s allowance. And that won’t be till September. . . . But don’t
let’s talk business here. I’ll come round to your office, Clarkie,
to-morrow. . . . Where’s Cynthia? Didn’t you bring her?”

“Yes, I thought you were going to pick Cynthia up on your way,
Clarkie,” said Phyllis.

If Eve’s information as to her financial affairs had caused Miss
Clarkson to mourn, the mention of Cynthia plunged her into the very
depths of woe. Her mouth quivered and a tear stole down her cheek. Eve
and Phyllis exchanged bewildered glances.

“I say,” said Eve after a moment’s pause and a silence broken only by
a smothered sob from their late instructress, “we aren’t being very
cheerful, are we, considering that this is supposed to be a joyous
reunion? Is anything wrong with Cynthia?”

So poignant was Miss Clarkson’s anguish that Phyllis, in a flutter of
alarm, rose and left the room swiftly in search of the only remedy that
suggested itself to her--her smelling-salts.

“Poor dear Cynthia!” moaned Miss Clarkson.

“Why, what’s the matter with her?” asked Eve. She was not callous to
Miss Clarkson’s grief, but she could not help the tiniest of smiles. In
a flash she had been transported to her school-days, when the other’s
habit of extracting the utmost tragedy out of the slimmest material had
been a source of ever-fresh amusement to her. Not for an instant did
she expect to hear any worse news of her old friend than that she was
in bed with a cold or had twisted her ankle.

“She’s married, you know,” said Miss Clarkson.

“Well, I see no harm in that, Clarkie. If a few more Safety Bets go
wrong, I shall probably have to rush out and marry someone myself. Some
nice, rich, indulgent man who will spoil me.”

“Oh, Eve, my dear,” pleaded Miss Clarkson, bleating with alarm, “do
please be careful whom you marry. I never hear of one of my girls
marrying without feeling that the worst may happen and that, all
unknowing, she may be stepping over a grim precipice!”

“You don’t _tell_ them that, do you? Because I should think it would
rather cast a damper on the wedding festivities. Has Cynthia gone
stepping over grim precipices? I was just saying to Phyllis that I
envied her, marrying a celebrity like Ralston McTodd.”

Miss Clarkson gulped.

“The man must be a _fiend_!” she said brokenly. “I have just left
poor dear Cynthia in floods of tears at the Cadogan Hotel--she has a
very nice quiet room on the fourth floor, though the carpet does not
harmonise with the wall-paper. . . . She was broken-hearted, poor
child. I did what I could to console her, but it was useless. She
always was so highly strung. I must be getting back to her very soon.
I only came on here because I did not want to disappoint you two dear
girls . . .”

“Why?” said Eve with quiet intensity. She knew from experience that
Miss Clarkson, unless firmly checked, would pirouette round and round
the point for minutes without ever touching it.

“Why?” echoed Miss Clarkson, blinking as if the word was something
solid that had struck her unexpectedly.

“Why was Cynthia in floods of tears?”

“But I’m telling you, my dear. That man has left her!”

“Left her!”

“They had a quarrel, and he walked straight out of the hotel. That
was the day before yesterday, and he has not been back since. This
afternoon the curtest note came from him to say that he never intended
to return. He had secretly and in a most underhand way arranged for his
luggage to be removed from the hotel to a District Messenger office,
and from there he has taken it no one knows where. He has completely
disappeared.”

Eve stared. She had not been prepared for news of this momentous order.

“But what did they quarrel about?”

“Cynthia, poor child, was too overwrought to tell me!”

Eve clenched her teeth.

“The beast! . . . Poor old Cynthia. . . . Shall I come round with you?”

“No, my dear, better let me look after her alone. I will tell her to
write and let you know when she can see you. I must be going, Phyllis
dear,” she said, as her hostess re-entered, bearing a small bottle.

“But you’ve only just come!” said Phyllis, surprised.

“Poor old Cynthia’s husband has left her,” explained Eve briefly. “And
Clarkie’s going back to look after her. She’s in a pretty bad way, it
seems.”

“Oh, no!”

“Yes, indeed. And I really must be going at once,” said Miss Clarkson.

Eve waited in the drawing-room till the front door banged and Phyllis
came back to her. Phyllis was more wistful than ever. She had been
looking forward to this tea-party, and it had not been the happy
occasion she had anticipated. The two girls sat in silence for a moment.

“What brutes some men are!” said Eve at length.

“Mike,” said Phyllis dreamily, “is an angel.”

Eve welcomed the unspoken invitation to return to a more agreeable
topic. She felt very deeply for the stricken Cynthia, but she hated
aimless talk, and nothing could have been more aimless than for her
and Phyllis to sit there exchanging lamentations concerning a tragedy
of which neither knew more than the bare outlines. Phyllis had her
tragedy, too, and it was one where Eve saw the possibility of doing
something practical and helpful. She was a girl of action, and was glad
to be able to attack a living issue.

“Yes, let’s go on talking about you and Mike,” she said. “At present I
can’t understand the position at all. When Clarkie came in, you were
just telling me about your stepfather and why he wouldn’t help you. And
I thought you made out a very poor case for him. Tell me some more.
I’ve forgotten his name, by the way.”

“Keeble.”

“Oh? Well, I think you ought to write and tell him how hard-up you are.
He may be under the impression that you are still living in luxury and
don’t need any help. After all, he can’t know unless you tell him. And
I should ask him straight out to come to the rescue. It isn’t as if it
was your Mike’s fault that you’re broke. He married you on the strength
of a very good position which looked like a permanency, and lost it
through no fault of his own. I should write to him, Phyl. Pitch it
strong.”

“I have. I wrote to-day. Mike’s just been offered a wonderful
opportunity. A sort of farm place in Lincolnshire. You know. Cows and
things. Just what he would like and just what he would do awfully well.
And we only need three thousand pounds to get it. . . . But I’m afraid
nothing will come of it.”

“Because of Aunt Constance, you mean?”

“Yes.”

“You must _make_ something come of it.” Eve’s chin went up. She looked
like a Goddess of Determination. “If I were you, I’d haunt their
doorstep till they had to give you the money to get rid of you. The
idea of anybody doing that absurd driving-into-the-snow business in
these days! Why _shouldn’t_ you marry the man you were in love with? If
I were you, I’d go and chain myself to their railings and howl like a
dog till they rushed out with cheque-books just to get some peace. Do
they live in London?”

“They are down in Shropshire at present at a place called Blandings
Castle.”

Eve started.

“Blandings Castle? Good gracious!”

“Aunt Constance is Lord Emsworth’s sister.”

“But this is the most extraordinary thing. I’m going to Blandings
myself in a few days.”

“No!”

“They’ve engaged me to catalogue the castle library.”

“But, Eve, were you only joking when you asked Clarkie to find you
something to do? She took you quite seriously.”

“No, I wasn’t joking. There’s a drawback to my going to Blandings. I
suppose you know the place pretty well?”

“I’ve often stayed there. It’s beautiful.”

“Then you know Lord Emsworth’s second son, Freddie Threepwood?”

“Of course.”

“Well, he’s the drawback. He wants to marry me, and I certainly don’t
want to marry him. And what I’ve been wondering is whether a nice easy
job like that, which would tide me over beautifully till September, is
attractive enough to make up for the nuisance of having to be always
squelching poor Freddie. I ought to have thought of it right at the
beginning, of course, when he wrote and told me to apply for the
position, but I was so delighted at the idea of regular work that it
didn’t occur to me. Then I began to wonder. He’s such a persevering
young man. He proposes early and often.”

“Where did you meet Freddie?”

“At a theatre party. About two months ago. He was living in London
then, but he suddenly disappeared and I had a heart-broken letter
from him, saying that he had been running up debts and things and his
father had snatched him away to live at Blandings, which apparently is
Freddie’s idea of the Inferno. The world seems full of hard-hearted
relatives.”

“Oh, Lord Emsworth isn’t really hard-hearted. You will love him. He’s
so dreamy and absent-minded. He potters about the garden all the time.
I don’t think you’ll like Aunt Constance much. But I suppose you won’t
see a great deal of her.”

“Whom _shall_ I see much of--except Freddie, of course?”

“Mr. Baxter, Lord Emsworth’s secretary, I expect. I don’t like him at
all. He’s a sort of spectacled cave-man.”

“He doesn’t sound attractive. But you say the place is nice?”

“It’s gorgeous. I should go, if I were you, Eve.”

“Well, I had intended not to. But now you’ve told me about Mr. Keeble
and Aunt Constance, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll have to look in at
Clarkie’s office to-morrow and tell her I’m fixed up and shan’t need
her help. I’m going to take your sad case in hand, darling. I shall go
to Blandings, and I will dog your stepfather’s footsteps. . . . Well, I
must be going. Come and see me to the front door, or I’ll be losing my
way in the miles of stately corridors. . . . I suppose I mayn’t smash
that china dog before I go? Oh, well, I just thought I’d ask.”

Out in the hall the little maid-of-all-work bobbed up and intercepted
them.

“I forgot to tell you, mum, a gentleman called. I told him you was out.”

“Quite right, Jane.”

“Said his name was Smith, ’m.”

Phyllis gave a cry of dismay.

“Oh, no! What a shame! I particularly wanted you to meet him, Eve. I
wish I’d known.”

“Smith?” said Eve. “The name seems familiar. Why were you so anxious
for me to meet him?”

“He’s Mike’s best friend. Mike worships him. He’s the son of the Mr.
Smith I was telling you about--the one Mike was at school and Cambridge
with. He’s a perfect darling, Eve, and you would love him. He’s just
your sort. I do wish we had known. And now you’re going to Blandings
for goodness knows how long, and you won’t be able to see him.”

“What a pity,” said Eve, politely uninterested.

“I’m so sorry for him.”

“Why?”

“He’s in the fish business.”

“Ugh!”

“Well, he hates it, poor dear. But he was left stranded like all the
rest of us after the crash, and he was put into the business by an
uncle who is a sort of fish magnate.”

“Well, why does he stay there, if he dislikes it so much?” said Eve
with indignation. The helpless type of man was her pet aversion. “I
hate a man who’s got no enterprise.”

“I don’t think you could call him unenterprising. He never struck me
like that. . . . You simply must meet him when you come back to London.”

“All right,” said Eve indifferently. “Just as you like. I might put
business in his way. I’m very fond of fish.”



CHAPTER III

EVE BORROWS AN UMBRELLA


What strikes the visitor to London most forcibly, as he enters the
heart of that city’s fashionable shopping district, is the almost
entire absence of ostentation in the shop-windows, the studied
avoidance of garish display. About the front of the premises of Messrs.
Thorpe & Briscoe, for instance, who sell coal in Dover Street, there
is as a rule nothing whatever to attract fascinated attention. You
might give the place a glance as you passed, but you would certainly
not pause and stand staring at it as at the Sistine Chapel or the
Taj Mahal. Yet at ten-thirty on the morning after Eve Halliday had
taken tea with her friend Phyllis Jackson in West Kensington, Psmith,
lounging gracefully in the smoking-room window of the Drones Club,
which is immediately opposite the Thorpe & Briscoe establishment, had
been gazing at it fixedly for a full five minutes. One would have said
that the spectacle enthralled him. He seemed unable to take his eyes
off it.

There is always a reason for the most apparently inexplicable
happenings. It is the practice of Thorpe (or Briscoe) during the months
of summer to run out an awning over the shop. A quiet, genteel awning,
of course, nothing to offend the eye--but an awning which offers a
quite adequate protection against those sudden showers which are such
a delightfully piquant feature of the English summer: one of which
had just begun to sprinkle the West End of London with a good deal of
heartiness and vigour. And under this awning, peering plaintively out
at the rain, Eve Halliday, on her way to the Ada Clarkson Employment
Bureau, had taken refuge. It was she who had so enchained Psmith’s
interest. It was his considered opinion that she improved the Thorpe &
Briscoe frontage by about ninety-five per cent.

Pleased and gratified as Psmith was to have something nice to look at
out of the smoking-room window, he was also somewhat puzzled. This girl
seemed to him to radiate an atmosphere of wealth. Starting at farthest
south and proceeding northward, she began in a gleam of patent-leather
shoes. Fawn stockings, obviously expensive, led up to a black crêpe
frock. And then, just as the eye was beginning to feel that there
could be nothing more, it was stunned by a supreme hat of soft, dull
satin with a black bird of Paradise feather falling down over the left
shoulder. Even to the masculine eye, which is notoriously to seek in
these matters, a whale of a hat. And yet this sumptuously upholstered
young woman had been marooned by a shower of rain beneath the awning of
Messrs. Thorpe & Briscoe. Why, Psmith asked himself, was this? Even,
he argued, if Charles the chauffeur had been given the day off or was
driving her father the millionaire to the City to attend to his vast
interests, she could surely afford a cab-fare? We, who are familiar
with the state of Eve’s finances, can understand her inability to take
cabs, but Psmith was frankly perplexed.

Being, however, both ready-witted and chivalrous, he perceived that
this was no time for idle speculation. His not to reason why; his
obvious duty was to take steps to assist Beauty in distress. He
left the window of the smoking-room, and, having made his way with a
smooth dignity to the club’s cloak-room, proceeded to submit a row of
umbrellas to a close inspection. He was not easy to satisfy. Two which
he went so far as to pull out of the rack he returned with a shake of
the head. Quite good umbrellas, but not fit for this special service.
At length, however, he found a beauty, and a gentle smile flickered
across his solemn face. He put up his monocle and gazed searchingly at
this umbrella. It seemed to answer every test. He was well pleased with
it.

“Whose,” he inquired of the attendant, “is this?”

“Belongs to the Honourable Mr. Walderwick, sir.”

“Ah!” said Psmith tolerantly.

He tucked the umbrella under his arm and went out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Eve Halliday, lightening up the sombre austerity of Messrs.
Thorpe & Briscoe’s shop-front, continued to think hard thoughts of the
English climate and to inspect the sky in the hope of detecting a spot
of blue. She was engaged in this cheerless occupation when at her side
a voice spoke.

“Excuse me!”

A hatless young man was standing beside her, holding an umbrella. He
was a striking-looking young man, very tall, very thin, and very well
dressed. In his right eye there was a monocle, and through this he
looked down at her with a grave friendliness. He said nothing further,
but, taking her fingers, clasped them round the handle of the umbrella,
which he had obligingly opened, and then with a courteous bow proceeded
to dash with long strides across the road, disappearing through the
doorway of a gloomy building which, from the number of men who had
gone in and out during her vigil, she had set down as a club of some
sort.

A good many surprising things had happened to Eve since first she
had come to live in London, but nothing quite so surprising as this.
For several minutes she stood where she was without moving, staring
round-eyed at the building opposite. The episode was, however,
apparently ended. The young man did not reappear. He did not even show
himself at the window. The club had swallowed him up. And eventually
Eve, deciding that this was not the sort of day on which to refuse
umbrellas even if they dropped inexplicably from heaven, stepped out
from under the awning, laughing helplessly, and started to resume her
interrupted journey to Miss Clarkson’s.

       *       *       *       *       *

The offices of the Ada Clarkson International Employment Bureau
(“Promptitude--Courtesy--Intelligence”) are at the top of Shaftesbury
Avenue, a little way past the Palace Theatre. Eve, closing the
umbrella, which had prevented even a spot of rain falling on her hat,
climbed the short stair leading to the door and tapped on the window
marked “Enquiries.”

“Can I see Miss Clarkson?”

“What name, please?” responded Enquiries promptly and with intelligent
courtesy.

“Miss Halliday.”

Brief interlude, involving business with speaking-tube.

“Will you go into the private office, please,” said Enquiries a moment
later, in a voice which now added respect to the other advertised
qualities, for she had had time to observe and digest the hat.

Eve passed in through the general waiting-room with its
magazine-covered table, and tapped at the door beyond marked “Private.”

“Eve, dear!” exclaimed Miss Clarkson the moment she had entered, “I
don’t know how to tell you, but I have been looking through my books
and I have nothing, simply nothing. There is not a single place that
you could possibly take. What _is_ to be done?”

“That’s all right, Clarkie.”

“But . . .”

“I didn’t come to talk business. I came to ask after Cynthia. How is
she?”

Miss Clarkson sighed.

“Poor child, she is still in a dreadful state, and no wonder. No news
at all from her husband. He has simply deserted her.”

“Poor darling! Can’t I see her?”

“Not at present. I have persuaded her to go down to Brighton for a
day or two. I think the sea air will pick her up. So much better than
mooning about in a London hotel. She is leaving on the eleven o’clock
train. I gave her your love, and she was most grateful that you should
have remembered your old friendship and be sorry for her in her
affliction.”

“Well, I can write to her. Where is she staying?”

“I don’t know her Brighton address, but no doubt the Cadogan Hotel
would forward letters. I think she would be glad to hear from you,
dear.”

Eve looked sadly at the framed testimonials which decorated the wall.
She was not often melancholy, but it was such a beast of a day and all
her friends seemed to be having such a bad time.

“Oh, Clarkie,” she said, “what a lot of trouble there is in the world!”

“Yes, yes!” sighed Miss Clarkson, a specialist on this subject.

“All the horses you back finish sixth and all the girls you like best
come croppers. Poor little Phyllis! weren’t you sorry for her?”

“But her husband, surely, is most devoted?”

“Yes, but she’s frightfully hard up, and you remember how opulent she
used to be at school. Of course, it must sound funny hearing me pitying
people for having no money. But somehow other people’s hard-upness
always seems so much worse than mine. Especially poor old Phyl’s,
because she really isn’t fit to stand it. I’ve been used to being
absolutely broke all my life. Poor dear father always seemed to be
writing an article against time, with creditors scratching earnestly
at the door.” Eve laughed, but her eyes were misty. “He was a brick,
wasn’t he? I mean, sending me to a first-class school like Wayland
House when he often hadn’t enough money to buy tobacco, poor angel. I
expect he wasn’t always up to time with fees, was he?”

“Well, my dear, of course I was only an assistant mistress at Wayland
House and had nothing to do with the financial side, but I did hear
sometimes. . .”

“Poor darling father! Do you know, one of my earliest recollections--I
couldn’t have been more than ten--is of a ring at the front-door bell
and father diving like a seal under the sofa and poking his head out
and imploring me in a hoarse voice to hold the fort. I went to the door
and found an indignant man with a blue paper. I prattled so prettily
and innocently that he not only went away quite contentedly but
actually patted me on the head and gave me a penny. And when the door
had shut father crawled out from under the sofa and gave me twopence,
making threepence in all--a good morning’s work. I bought father a
diamond ring with it at a shop down the street, I remember. At least
I thought it was a diamond. They may have swindled me, for I was very
young.”

“You have had a hard life, dear.”

“Yes, but hasn’t it been a lark! I’ve loved every minute of it.
Besides, you can’t call me really one of the submerged tenth. Uncle
Thomas left me a hundred and fifty pounds a year, and mercifully I’m
not allowed to touch the capital. If only there were no hats or safety
bets in the world, I should be smugly opulent. . . . But I mustn’t
keep you any longer, Clarkie dear. I expect the waiting-room is full
of dukes who want cooks and cooks who want dukes, all fidgeting and
wondering how much longer you’re going to keep them. Good-bye, darling.”

And, having kissed Miss Clarkson fondly and straightened her hat, which
the other’s motherly embrace had disarranged, Eve left the room.



CHAPTER IV

PAINFUL SCENE AT THE DRONES CLUB


Meanwhile, at the Drones Club, a rather painful scene had been taking
place. Psmith, regaining the shelter of the building, had made his way
to the wash-room, where, having studied his features with interest
for a moment in the mirror, he smoothed his hair, which the rain had
somewhat disordered, and brushed his clothes with extreme care. He then
went to the cloak-room for his hat. The attendant regarded him as he
entered with the air of one whose mind is not wholly at rest.

“Mr. Walderwick was in here a moment ago, sir,” said the attendant.

“Yes?” said Psmith, mildly interested. “An energetic, bustling soul,
Comrade Walderwick. Always somewhere. Now here, now there.”

“Asking about his umbrella, he was,” pursued the attendant with a touch
of coldness.

“Indeed? Asking about his umbrella, eh?”

“Made a great fuss about it, sir, he did.”

“And rightly,” said Psmith with approval. “The good man loves his
umbrella.”

“Of course I had to tell him that you had took it, sir.”

“I would not have it otherwise,” assented Psmith heartily. “I like
this spirit of candour. There must be no reservations, no subterfuges
between you and Comrade Walderwick. Let all be open and above-board.”

“He seemed very put out, sir. He went off to find you.”

“I am always glad of a chat with Comrade Walderwick,” said Psmith.
“Always.”

He left the cloak-room and made for the hall, where he desired the
porter to procure him a cab. This having drawn up in front of the club,
he descended the steps and was about to enter it, when there was a
hoarse cry in his rear, and through the front door there came bounding
a pinkly indignant youth, who called loudly:

“Here! Hi! Smith! Dash it!”

Psmith climbed into the cab and gazed benevolently out at the new-comer.

“Ah, Comrade Walderwick!” he said. “What have we on our mind?”

“Where’s my umbrella?” demanded the pink one. “The cloak-room waiter
says you took my umbrella. I mean, a joke’s a joke, but that was a
dashed good umbrella.”

“It was, indeed,” Psmith agreed cordially. “It may be of interest to
you to know that I selected it as the only possible one from among a
number of competitors. I fear this club is becoming very mixed, Comrade
Walderwick. You with your pure mind would hardly believe the rottenness
of some of the umbrellas I inspected in the cloak-room.”

“Where is it?”

“The cloak-room? You turn to the left as you go in at the main entrance
and . . .”

“My umbrella, dash it! Where’s my umbrella?”

“Ah, there,” said Psmith, and there was a touch of manly regret in his
voice, “you have me. I gave it to a young lady in the street. Where she
is at the present moment I could not say.”

The pink youth tottered slightly.

“You gave my umbrella to a girl?”

“A very loose way of describing her. You would not speak of her in
that light fashion if you had seen her. Comrade Walderwick, she was
wonderful! I am a plain, blunt, rugged man, above the softer emotions
as a general thing, but I frankly confess that she stirred a chord in
me which is not often stirred. She thrilled my battered old heart,
Comrade Walderwick. There is no other word. Thrilled it!”

“But, dash it! . . .”

Psmith reached out a long arm and laid his hand paternally on the
other’s shoulder.

“Be brave, Comrade Walderwick!” he said. “Face this thing like a man!
I am sorry to have been the means of depriving you of an excellent
umbrella, but as you will readily understand I had no alternative. It
was raining. She was over there, crouched despairingly beneath the
awning of that shop. She wanted to be elsewhere, but the moisture
lay in wait to damage her hat. What could I do? What could any man
worthy of the name do but go down to the cloak-room and pinch the
best umbrella in sight and take it to her? Yours was easily the best.
There was absolutely no comparison. I gave it to her, and she has
gone off with it, happy once more. This explanation,” said Psmith,
“will, I am sure, sensibly diminish your natural chagrin. You have
lost your umbrella, Comrade Walderwick, but in what a cause! In what
a cause, Comrade Walderwick! You are now entitled to rank with Sir
Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh. The latter is perhaps the closer
historical parallel. He spread his cloak to keep a queen from wetting
her feet. You--by proxy--yielded up your umbrella to save a girl’s
hat. Posterity will be proud of you, Comrade Walderwick. I shall be
vastly surprised if you do not go down in legend and song. Children in
ages to come will cluster about their grandfather’s knees, saying,
‘Tell us how the great Walderwick lost his umbrella, grandpapa!’ And
he will tell them, and they will rise from the recital better, deeper,
broader children. . . . But now, as I see that the driver has started
his meter, I fear I must conclude this little chat--which I, for one,
have heartily enjoyed. Drive on,” he said, leaning out of the window.
“I want to go to Ada Clarkson’s International Employment Bureau in
Shaftesbury Avenue.”

The cab moved off. The Hon. Hugo Walderwick, after one passionate
glance in its wake, realised that he was getting wet and went back into
the club.

       *       *       *       *       *

Arriving at the address named, Psmith paid his cab and, having mounted
the stairs, delicately knuckled the ground-glass window of Enquiries.

“My dear Miss Clarkson,” he began in an affable voice, the instant the
window had shot up, “if you can spare me a few moments of your valuable
time . . .”

“Miss Clarkson’s engaged.”

Psmith scrutinised her gravely through his monocle.

“Aren’t _you_ Miss Clarkson?”

Enquiries said she was not.

“Then,” said Psmith, “there has been a misunderstanding, for which,” he
added cordially, “I am to blame. Perhaps I could see her anon? You will
find me in the waiting-room when required.”

He went into the waiting-room, and, having picked up a magazine from
the table, settled down to read a story in _The Girl’s Pet_--the
January number of the year 1919, for Employment Agencies, like
dentists, prefer their literature of a matured vintage. He was absorbed
in this when Eve came out of the private office.



CHAPTER V

PSMITH APPLIES FOR EMPLOYMENT


Psmith rose courteously as she entered.

“My dear Miss Clarkson,” he said, “if you can spare me a moment of your
valuable time . . .”

“Good gracious!” said Eve. “How extraordinary!”

“A singular coincidence,” agreed Psmith.

“You never gave me time to thank you for the umbrella,” said Eve
reproachfully. “You must have thought me awfully rude. But you took my
breath away.”

“My dear Miss Clarkson, please do not . . .”

“Why do you keep calling me that?”

“Aren’t _you_ Miss Clarkson either?”

“Of course I’m not.”

“Then,” said Psmith, “I must start my quest all over again. These
constant checks are trying to an ardent spirit. Perhaps you are a young
bride come to engage her first cook?”

“No. I’m not married.”

“Good!”

Eve found his relieved thankfulness a little embarrassing. In the
momentary pause which followed his remark, Enquiries entered alertly.

“Miss Clarkson will see you now, sir.”

“Leave us,” said Psmith with a wave of his hand. “We would be alone.”

Enquiries stared; then, awed by his manner and general appearance of
magnificence, withdrew.

“I suppose really,” said Eve, toying with the umbrella, “I ought to
give this back to you.” She glanced at the dripping window. “But it
_is_ raining rather hard, isn’t it?”

“Like the dickens,” assented Psmith.

“Then would you mind very much if I kept it till this evening?”

“Please do.”

“Thanks ever so much. I will send it back to you to-night if you will
give me the name and address.”

Psmith waved his hand deprecatingly.

“No, no. If it is of any use to you, I hope that you will look on it as
a present.”

“A present!”

“A gift,” explained Psmith.

“But I really can’t go about accepting expensive umbrellas from people.
Where shall I send it?”

“If you insist, you may send it to the Hon. Hugo Walderwick, Drones
Club, Dover Street. But it really isn’t necessary.”

“I won’t forget. And thank you very much, Mr. Walderwick.”

“Why do you call me that?”

“Well, you said . . .”

“Ah, I see. A slight confusion of ideas. No, I am not Mr. Walderwick.
And between ourselves I should hate to be. His is a very C3
intelligence. Comrade Walderwick is merely the man to whom the umbrella
belongs.”

Eve’s eyes opened wide.

“Do you mean to say you gave me somebody else’s umbrella?”

“I had unfortunately omitted to bring my own out with me this morning.”

“I never heard of such a thing!”

“Merely practical Socialism. Other people are content to talk about the
Redistribution of Property. I go out and do it.”

“But won’t he be awfully angry when he finds out it has gone?”

“He _has_ found out. And it was pretty to see his delight. I explained
the circumstances, and he was charmed to have been of service to you.”

The door opened again, and this time it was Miss Clarkson in person
who entered. She had found Enquiries’ statement over the speaking-tube
rambling and unsatisfactory, and had come to investigate for herself
the reason why the machinery of the office was being held up.

“Oh, I must go,” said Eve, as she saw her. “I’m interrupting your
business.”

“I’m so glad you’re still here, dear,” said Miss Clarkson. “I have just
been looking over my files, and I see that there _is_ one vacancy. For
a nurse,” said Miss Clarkson with a touch of the apologetic in her
voice.

“Oh, no, that’s all right,” said Eve. “I don’t really need anything.
But thanks ever so much for bothering.”

She smiled affectionately upon the proprietress, bestowed another smile
upon Psmith as he opened the door for her, and went out. Psmith turned
away from the door with a thoughtful look upon his face.

“Is that young lady a nurse?” he asked.

“Do you want a nurse?” inquired Miss Clarkson, at once the woman of
business.

“I want that nurse,” said Psmith with conviction.

“She is a delightful girl,” said Miss Clarkson with enthusiasm. “There
is no one in whom I would feel more confidence in recommending to a
position. She is a Miss Halliday, the daughter of a very clever but
erratic writer, who died some years ago. I can speak with particular
knowledge of Miss Halliday, for I was for many years an assistant
mistress at Wayland House, where she was at school. She is a charming,
warm-hearted, impulsive girl. . . . But you will hardly want to hear
all this.”

“On the contrary,” said Psmith, “I could listen for hours. You have
stumbled upon my favourite subject.”

Miss Clarkson eyed him a little doubtfully, and decided that it would
be best to reintroduce the business theme.

“Perhaps, when you say you are looking for a nurse, you mean you need a
hospital nurse?”

“My friends have sometimes suggested it.”

“Miss Halliday’s greatest experience has, of course, been as a
governess.”

“A governess is just as good,” said Psmith agreeably.

Miss Clarkson began to be conscious of a sensation of being out of her
depth.

“How old are your children, sir?” she asked.

“I fear,” said Psmith, “you are peeping into Volume Two. This romance
has only just started.”

“I am afraid,” said Miss Clarkson, now completely fogged, “I do not
quite understand. What exactly are you looking for?”

Psmith flicked a speck of fluff from his coat-sleeve.

“A job,” he said.

“A job!” echoed Miss Clarkson, her voice breaking in an amazed squeak.

Psmith raised his eyebrows.

“You seem surprised. Isn’t this a job emporium?”

“This _is_ an Employment Bureau,” admitted Miss Clarkson.

“I knew it, I knew it,” said Psmith. “Something seemed to tell me.
Possibly it was the legend ‘Employment Bureau’ over the door. And
those framed testimonials would convince the most sceptical. Yes, Miss
Clarkson, I want a job, and I feel somehow that you are the woman
to find it for me. I have inserted an advertisement in the papers,
expressing my readiness to undertake any form of employment, but I have
since begun to wonder if after all this will lead to wealth and fame.
At any rate, it is wise to attack the great world from another angle as
well, so I come to you.”

“But you must excuse me if I remark that this application of yours
strikes me as most extraordinary.”

“Why? I am young, active, and extremely broke.”

“But your--er--your clothes . . .”

Psmith squinted, not without complacency, down a faultlessly fitting
waistcoat, and flicked another speck of dust off his sleeve.

“You consider me well dressed?” he said. “You find me natty? Well,
well, perhaps you are right, perhaps you are right. But consider, Miss
Clarkson. If one expects to find employment in these days of strenuous
competition, one must be neatly and decently clad. Employers look
askance at a baggy trouser-leg. A zippy waistcoat is more to them than
an honest heart. This beautiful crease was obtained with the aid of the
mattress upon which I tossed feverishly last night in my attic room.”

“I can’t take you seriously.”

“Oh, don’t say that, please.”

“You really want me to find you work?”

“I prefer the term ‘employment.’”

Miss Clarkson produced a notebook.

“If you are really not making this application just as a joke . . .”

“I assure you, no. My entire capital consists, in specie, of about ten
pounds.”

“Then perhaps you will tell me your name.”

“Ah! Things are beginning to move. The name is Psmith. P-smith. The p
is silent.”

“Psmith?”

“Psmith.”

Miss Clarkson brooded over this for a moment in almost pained silence,
then recovered her slipping grip of affairs.

“I think,” she said, “you had better give me a few particulars about
yourself.”

“There is nothing I should like better,” responded Psmith warmly. “I
am always ready--I may say eager--to tell people the story of my life,
but in this rushing age I get little encouragement. Let us start at
the beginning. My infancy. When I was but a babe, my eldest sister was
bribed with sixpence an hour by my nurse to keep an eye on me and see
that I did not raise Cain. At the end of the first day she struck for a
shilling, and got it. We now pass to my boyhood. At an early age I was
sent to Eton, everybody predicting a bright career for me. Those were
happy days, Miss Clarkson. A merry, laughing lad with curly hair and a
sunny smile, it is not too much to say that I was the pet of the place.
The old cloisters. . . . But I am boring you. I can see it in your eye.”

“No, no,” protested Miss Clarkson. “But what I meant was . . . I
thought you might have had some experience in some particular line
of . . . In fact, what sort of work . . . ?”

“Employment.”

“What sort of employment do you require?”

“Broadly speaking,” said Psmith, “any reasonably salaried position that
has nothing to do with fish.”

“Fish!” quavered Miss Clarkson, slipping again. “Why fish?”

“Because, Miss Clarkson, the fish trade was until this morning my walk
in life, and my soul has sickened of it.”

“You are in the _fish_ trade?” squeaked Miss Clarkson, with an amazed
glance at the knife-like crease in his trousers.

“These are not my working clothes,” said Psmith, following and
interpreting her glance. “Yes, owing to a financial upheaval in my
branch of the family, I was until this morning at the beck and call
of an uncle who unfortunately happens to be a Mackerel Monarch or a
Sardine Sultan, or whatever these merchant princes are called who rule
the fish market. He insisted on my going into the business to learn
it from the bottom up, thinking, no doubt, that I would follow in his
footsteps and eventually work my way to the position of a Whitebait
Wizard. Alas! he was too sanguine. It was not to be,” said Psmith
solemnly, fixing an owl-like gaze on Miss Clarkson through his eyeglass.

“No?” said Miss Clarkson.

“No. Last night I was obliged to inform him that the fish business
was all right, but it wouldn’t do, and that I proposed to sever my
connection with the firm for ever. I may say at once that there ensued
something in the nature of a family earthquake. Hard words,” sighed
Psmith. “Black looks. Unseemly wrangle. And the upshot of it all was
that my uncle washed his hands of me and drove me forth into the great
world. Hence my anxiety to find employment. My uncle has definitely
withdrawn his countenance from me, Miss Clarkson.”

“Dear, dear!” murmured the proprietress sympathetically.

“Yes. He is a hard man, and he judges his fellows solely by their
devotion to fish. I never in my life met a man so wrapped up in a
subject. For years he has been practically a monomaniac on the subject
of fish. So much so that he actually looks like one. It is as if he
had taken one of those auto-suggestion courses and had kept saying
to himself, ‘Every day, in every way, I grow more and more like a
fish.’ His closest friends can hardly tell now whether he more nearly
resembles a halibut or a cod. . . . But I am boring you again with this
family gossip?”

He eyed Miss Clarkson with such a sudden and penetrating glance that
she started nervously.

“No, no,” she exclaimed.

“You relieve my apprehensions. I am only too well aware that, when
fairly launched on the topic of fish, I am more than apt to weary my
audience. I cannot understand this enthusiasm for fish. My uncle used
to talk about an unusually large catch of pilchards in Cornwall in
much the same awed way as a right-minded curate would talk about the
spiritual excellence of his bishop. To me, Miss Clarkson, from the very
start, the fish business was what I can only describe as a wash-out. It
nauseated my finer feelings. It got right in amongst my fibres. I had
to rise and partake of a simple breakfast at about four in the morning,
after which I would make my way to Billingsgate Market and stand for
some hours knee-deep in dead fish of every description. A jolly life
for a cat, no doubt, but a bit too thick for a Shropshire Psmith.
Mine, Miss Clarkson, is a refined and poetic nature. I like to be
surrounded by joy and life, and I know nothing more joyless and deader
than a dead fish. Multiply that dead fish by a million, and you have
an environment which only a Dante could contemplate with equanimity.
My uncle used to tell me that the way to ascertain whether a fish
was fresh was to peer into its eyes. Could I spend the springtime
of life staring into the eyes of dead fish? No!” He rose. “Well, I
will not detain you any longer. Thank you for the unfailing courtesy
and attention with which you have listened to me. You can understand
now why my talents are on the market and why I am compelled to state
specifically that no employment can be considered which has anything
to do with fish. I am convinced that you will shortly have something
particularly good to offer me.”

“I don’t know that I can say that, Mr. Psmith.”

“The p is silent, as in pshrimp,” he reminded her. “Oh, by the way,” he
said, pausing at the door, “there is one other thing before I go. While
I was waiting for you to be disengaged, I chanced on an instalment of a
serial story in _The Girl’s Pet_ for January, 1919. My search for the
remaining issues proved fruitless. The title was ‘Her Honour At Stake,’
by Jane Emmeline Moss. You don’t happen to know how it all came out
in the end, do you? Did Lord Eustace ever learn that, when he found
Clarice in Sir Jasper’s rooms at midnight, she had only gone there to
recover some compromising letters for a girl friend? You don’t know?
I feared as much. Well, good morning, Miss Clarkson, good morning. I
leave my future in your hands with a light heart.”

“I will do my best for you, of course.”

“And what,” said Psmith cordially, “could be better than Miss
Clarkson’s best?”

He closed the door gently behind him, and went out. Struck by a kindly
thought, he tapped upon Enquiries’ window, and beamed benevolently as
her bobbed head shot into view.

“They tell me,” he said, “that Aspidistra is much fancied for the four
o’clock race at Birmingham this afternoon. I give the information
without prejudice, for what it is worth. Good day!”



CHAPTER VI

LORD EMSWORTH MEETS A POET


§ 1

The rain had stopped when Psmith stepped out into the street, and
the sun was shining again in that half blustering, half apologetic
manner which it affects on its reappearance after a summer shower. The
pavements glistened cheerfully, and the air had a welcome freshness.
Pausing at the corner, he pondered for a moment as to the best method
of passing the hour and twenty minutes which must elapse before he
could reasonably think of lunching. The fact that the offices of the
_Morning Globe_ were within easy strolling distance decided him to go
thither and see if the first post had brought anything in the shape
of answers to his advertisements. And his energy was rewarded a few
minutes later when Box 365 on being opened yielded up quite a little
budget of literary matter. No fewer than seven letters in all. A nice
bag.

What, however, had appeared at first sight evidence of a pleasing
ebullition of enterprise on the part of the newspaper-reading public
turned out on closer inspection, when he had retired to a corner where
he could concentrate in peace, a hollow delusion. Enterprising in a
sense though the communications were--and they certainly showed the
writers as men of considerable ginger and business push--to Psmith they
came as a disappointment. He had expected better things. These letters
were not at all what he had paid good money to receive. They missed
the point altogether. The right spirit, it seemed to him, was entirely
absent.

The first envelope, attractive though it looked from the outside, being
of an expensive brand of stationery and gaily adorned with a somewhat
startling crest merely contained a pleasantly-worded offer from a Mr.
Alistair MacDougall to advance him any sum from ten to fifty thousand
pounds on his note of hand only. The second revealed a similar proposal
from another Scot named Colin MacDonald. While in the third Mr. Ian
Campbell was prepared to go as high as one hundred thousand. All three
philanthropists had but one stipulation to make--they would have no
dealings with minors. Youth, with all its glorious traditions, did not
seem to appeal to them. But they cordially urged Psmith, in the event
of his having celebrated his twenty-first birthday, to come round to
the office and take the stuff away in a sack.

Keeping his head well in the midst of this shower of riches, Psmith
dropped the three letters with a sigh into the waste-paper basket,
and opened the next in order. This was a bulky envelope, and its
contents consisted of a printed brochure entitled, “This Night Shall
Thy Soul Be Required Of Thee”--while, by a curious and appropriate
coincidence, Number Five proved to be a circular from an energetic firm
of coffin-makers offering to bury him for eight pounds ten. Number
Six, also printed, was a manifesto from one Howard Hill, of Newmarket,
recommending him to apply without delay for “Hill’s Three-Horse
Special,” without which--(“Who,” demanded Mr. Hill in large type, “gave
you Wibbly-Wob for the Jubilee Cup?”)--no sportsman could hope to
accomplish the undoing of the bookmakers.

Although by doing so he convicted himself of that very lack of
enterprise which he had been deploring in the great public, Psmith
placed this communication with the others in the waste-paper baskets.
There now remained only Number Seven, and a slight flicker of hope
returned to him when he perceived that this envelope was addressed by
hand and not in typescript. He opened it.

Beyond a doubt he had kept the pick of the bunch to the last. Here was
something that made up for all those other disappointments. Written in
a scrawly and apparently agitated hand, the letter ran as follows:

  “_If R. Psmith will meet the writer in the lobby of the Piccadilly
  Palace Hotel at twelve sharp, Friday, July 1, business may result
  if business meant and terms reasonable. R. Psmith will wear a pink
  chrysanthemum in his buttonhole, and will say to the writer, ‘There
  will be rain in Northumberland to-morrow,’ to which the writer will
  reply, ‘Good for the crops.’ Kindly be punctual._”

A pleased smile played about Psmith’s solemn face as he read this
communication for the second time. It was much more the sort of thing
for which he had been hoping. Although his closest friend, Mike
Jackson, was a young man of complete ordinariness, Psmith’s tastes
when he sought companionship lay as a rule in the direction of the
bizarre. He preferred his humanity eccentric. And “the writer,” to
judge him by this specimen of his correspondence, appeared to be
eccentric enough for the most exacting taste. Whether this promising
person turned out to be a ribald jester or an earnest crank, Psmith
felt no doubt whatever as to the advisability of following the matter
up. Whichever he might be, his society ought to afford entertainment
during the interval before lunch. Psmith glanced at his watch. The
hour was a quarter to twelve. He would be able to secure the necessary
chrysanthemum and reach the Piccadilly Palace Hotel by twelve sharp,
thus achieving the businesslike punctuality on which the unknown writer
seemed to set such store.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not until he had entered a florist’s shop on the way to the
tryst that it was borne in upon him that the adventure was going
to have its drawbacks. The first of these was the chrysanthemum.
Preoccupied with the rest of the communication, Psmith, when he had
read the letter, had not given much thought to the decoration which
it would be necessary for him to wear; and it was only when, in reply
to his demand for a chrysanthemum, the florist came forward, almost
hidden, like the army at Dunsinane, behind what looked like a small
shrubbery, that he realised what he, a correct and fastidious dresser,
was up against.

“Is that a chrysanthemum?”

“Yes, sir. Pink chrysanthemum.”

“One?”

“Yes, sir. One pink chrysanthemum.”

Psmith regarded the repellent object with disfavour through his
eyeglass. Then, having placed it in his buttonhole, he proceeded on his
way, feeling like some wild thing peering through the undergrowth. The
distressing shrub completely spoiled his walk.

Arrived at the hotel and standing in the lobby, he perceived the
existence of further complications. The lobby was in its usual state of
congestion, it being a recognised meeting-place for those who did not
find it convenient to go as far east as that traditional rendezvous of
Londoners, the spot under the clock at Charing Cross Station; and “the
writer,” while giving instructions as to how Psmith should ornament his
exterior, had carelessly omitted to mention how he himself was to be
recognised. A rollicking, slap-dash conspirator, was Psmith’s opinion.

It seemed best to take up a position as nearly as possible in the
centre of the lobby and stand there until “the writer,” lured by
the chrysanthemum, should come forward and start something. This
he accordingly did, but when at the end of ten minutes nothing had
happened beyond a series of collisions with perhaps a dozen hurrying
visitors to the hotel, he decided on a more active course. A young
man of sporting appearance had been standing beside him for the last
five minutes, and ever and anon this young man had glanced with some
impatience at his watch. He was plainly waiting for someone, so Psmith
tried the formula on him.

“There will be rain,” said Psmith, “in Northumberland to-morrow.”

The young man looked at him, not without interest, certainly, but
without that gleam of intelligence in his eye which Psmith had hoped to
see.

“What?” he replied.

“There will be rain in Northumberland to-morrow.”

“Thanks, Zadkiel,” said the young man. “Deuced gratifying, I’m sure. I
suppose you couldn’t predict the winner of the Goodwood Cup as well?”

He then withdrew rapidly to intercept a young woman in a large hat
who had just come through the swing doors. Psmith was forced to the
conclusion that this was not his man. He was sorry on the whole, for he
had seemed a pleasant fellow.

As Psmith had taken up a stationary position and the population of
the lobby was for the most part in a state of flux, he was finding
himself next to someone new all the time; and now he decided to accost
the individual whom the re-shuffle had just brought elbow to elbow
with him. This was a jovial-looking soul with a flowered waistcoat, a
white hat, and a mottled face. Just the man who might have written that
letter.

The effect upon this person of Psmith’s meteorological remark was
instantaneous. A light of the utmost friendliness shone in his
beautifully-shaven face as he turned. He seized Psmith’s hand and
gripped it with a delightful heartiness. He had the air of a man who
has found a friend, and what is more, an old friend. He had a sort of
journeys-end-in-lovers’-meeting look.

“My dear old chap!” he cried. “I’ve been waiting for you to speak for
the last five minutes. Knew we’d met before somewhere, but couldn’t
place you. Face familiar as the dickens, of course. Well, well, well!
And how are they all?”

“Who?” said Psmith courteously.

“Why, the boys, my dear chap.”

“Oh, the boys?”

“The dear old boys,” said the other, specifying more exactly. He
slapped Psmith on the shoulder. “What times those were, eh?”

“Which?” said Psmith.

“The times we all used to have together.”

“Oh, _those_?” said Psmith.

Something of discouragement seemed to creep over the other’s
exuberance, as a cloud creeps over the summer sky. But he persevered.

“Fancy meeting you again like this!”

“It is a small world,” agreed Psmith.

“I’d ask you to come and have a drink,” said the jovial one, with the
slight increase of tensity which comes to a man who approaches the
core of a business deal, “but the fact is my ass of a man sent me out
this morning without a penny. Forgot to give me my note-case. Damn’
careless! I’ll have to sack the fellow.”

“Annoying, certainly,” said Psmith.

“I wish I could have stood you a drink,” said the other wistfully.

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might
have been,’” sighed Psmith.

“I’ll tell you what,” said the jovial one, inspired. “Lend me a fiver,
my dear old boy. That’s the best way out of the difficulty. I can send
it round to your hotel or wherever you are this evening when I get
home.”

A sweet, sad smile played over Psmith’s face.

“Leave me, comrade!” he murmured.

“Eh?”

“Pass along, old friend, pass along.”

Resignation displaced joviality in the other’s countenance.

“Nothing doing?” he inquired.

“Nothing.”

“Well, there was no harm in trying,” argued the other.

“None whatever.”

“You see,” said the now far less jovial man confidentially, “you look
such a perfect mug with that eyeglass that it tempts a chap.”

“I can quite understand how it must!”

“No offence.”

“Assuredly not.”

The white hat disappeared through the swing doors, and Psmith returned
to his quest. He engaged the attention of a middle-aged man in a
snuff-coloured suit who had just come within hail.

“There will be rain in Northumberland to-morrow,” he said.

The man peered at him inquiringly.

“Hey?” he said.

Psmith repeated his observation.

“Huh?” said the man.

Psmith was beginning to lose the unruffled calm which made him
such an impressive figure to the public eye. He had not taken into
consideration the possibility that the object of his search might be
deaf. It undoubtedly added to the embarrassment of the pursuit. He was
moving away, when a hand fell on his sleeve.

Psmith turned. The hand which still grasped his sleeve belonged to
an elegantly dressed young man of somewhat nervous and feverish
appearance. During his recent vigil Psmith had noticed this young man
standing not far away, and had had half a mind to include him in the
platoon of new friends he was making that morning.

“I say,” said this young man in a tense whisper, “did I hear you say
that there would be rain in Northumberland to-morrow?”

“If,” said Psmith, “you were anywhere within the radius of a dozen
yards while I was chatting with the recent deaf adder, I think it is
possible that you did.”

“Good for the crops,” said the young man. “Come over here where we can
talk quietly.”


§ 2

“So you’re R. Psmith?” said the young man, when they had made their way
to a remote corner of the lobby, apart from the throng.

“The same.”

“I say, dash it, you’re frightfully late, you know. I told you to be
here at twelve sharp. It’s nearly twelve past.”

“You wrong me,” said Psmith. “I arrived here precisely at twelve. Since
when, I have been standing like Patience on a monument. . . .”

“Like what?”

“Let it go,” said Psmith. “It is not important.”

“I asked you to wear a pink chrysanthemum. So I could recognise you,
you know.”

“I _am_ wearing a pink chrysanthemum. I should have imagined that that
was a fact that the most casual could hardly have overlooked.”

“That thing?” The other gazed disparagingly at the floral decoration.
“I thought it was some kind of cabbage. I meant one of those little
what-d’you-may-call-its that people do wear in their button-holes.”

“Carnation, possibly?”

“Carnation! That’s right.”

Psmith removed the chrysanthemum and dropped it behind his chair. He
looked at his companion reproachfully.

“If you had studied botany at school, comrade,” he said, “much misery
might have been averted. I cannot begin to tell you the spiritual agony
I suffered, trailing through the metropolis behind that shrub.”

Whatever decent sympathy and remorse the other might have shown at
these words was swept away in the shock resultant on a glance at his
watch. Not for an instant during this brief return of his to London
had Freddie Threepwood been unmindful of his father’s stern injunction
to him to catch the twelve-fifty train back to Market Blandings. If
he missed it, there would be the deuce of a lot of unpleasantness,
and unpleasantness in the home was the one thing Freddie wanted to
avoid nowadays; for, like a prudent convict in a prison, he hoped by
exemplary behaviour to get his sentence of imprisonment at Blandings
Castle reduced for good conduct.

“Good Lord! I’ve only got about five minutes. Got to talk quick. . . .
About this thing. This business. That advertisement of yours.”

“Ah, yes. My advertisement. It interested you?”

“Was it on the level?”

“Assuredly. We Psmiths do not deceive.”

Freddie looked at him doubtfully.

“You know, you aren’t a bit like I expected you’d be.”

“In what respect,” inquired Psmith, “do I fall short of the ideal?”

“It isn’t so much falling short. It’s--oh, I don’t know . . . Well,
yes, if you want to know, I thought you’d be a tougher specimen
altogether. I got the impression from your advertisement that you were
down and out and ready for anything, and you look as if you were on
your way to a garden-party at Buckingham Palace.”

“Ah!” said Psmith, enlightened. “It is my costume that is causing these
doubts in your mind. This is the second time this morning that such a
misunderstanding has occurred. Have no misgivings. These trousers may
sit well, but, if they do, it is because the pockets are empty.”

“Are you really broke?”

“As broke as the Ten Commandments.”

“I’m hanged if I can believe it.”

“Suppose I brush my hat the wrong way for a moment?” said Psmith
obligingly. “Would that help?”

His companion remained silent for a few moments. In spite of the fact
that he was in so great a hurry and that every minute that passed
brought nearer the moment when he would be compelled to tear himself
away and make a dash for Paddington Station, Freddie was finding it
difficult to open the subject he had come there to discuss.

“Look here,” he said at length, “I shall have to trust you, dash it.”

“You could pursue no better course.”

“It’s like this. I’m trying to raise a thousand quid . . .”

“I regret that I cannot offer to advance it to you myself. I have,
indeed, already been compelled to decline to lend a gentleman who
claimed to be an old friend of mine so small a sum as a fiver. But
there is a dear, obliging soul of the name of Alistair MacDougall
who . . .”

“Good Lord! You don’t think I’m trying to touch you?”

“That impression did flit through my mind.”

“Oh, dash it, no. No, but--well, as I was saying, I’m frightfully keen
to get hold of a thousand quid.”

“So am I,” said Psmith. “Two minds with but a single thought. How
do _you_ propose to start about it? For my part, I must freely
confess that I haven’t a notion. I am stumped. The cry goes round the
chancelleries, ‘Psmith is baffled!’”

“I say, old thing,” said Freddie plaintively, “you couldn’t talk a bit
less, could you? I’ve only got about two minutes.”

“I beg your pardon. Proceed.”

“It’s so dashed difficult to know how to begin the thing. I mean, it’s
all a bit complicated till you get the hang of it. . . . Look here, you
said in your advertisement that you had no objection to crime.”

Psmith considered the point.

“Within reason--and if undetected--I see no objection to two-pennorth
of crime.”

“Well, look here . . . look here . . . Well, look here,” said Freddie,
“will you steal my aunt’s diamond necklace?”

Psmith placed his monocle in his eye and bent gravely toward his
companion.

“Steal your aunt’s necklace?” he said indulgently.

“Yes.”

“You do not think she might consider it a liberty from one to whom she
has never been introduced?”

What Freddie might have replied to this pertinent question will never
be known, for at this moment, looking nervously at his watch for the
twentieth time, he observed that the hands had passed the half-hour and
were well on their way to twenty-five minutes to one. He bounded up
with a cry.

“I must go! I shall miss that damned train!”

“And meanwhile . . . ?” said Psmith.

The familiar phrase--the words “And meanwhile” had occurred at least
once in every film Freddie had ever seen--had the effect of wrenching
the latter’s mind back to the subject in hand for a moment. Freddie was
not a clear-thinking young man, but even he could see that he had left
the negotiations suspended at a very satisfactory point. Nevertheless,
he had to catch that twelve-fifty.

“Write and tell me what you think about it,” panted Freddie, skimming
through the lobby like a swallow.

“You have unfortunately omitted to leave a name and address,” Psmith
pointed out, following him at an easy jog-trot.

In spite of his hurry, a prudence born of much movie-seeing restrained
Freddie from supplying the information asked for. Give away your name
and address and you never knew what might happen.

“I’ll write to you,” he cried, racing for a cab.

“I shall count the minutes,” said Psmith courteously.

“Drive like blazes!” said Freddie to the chauffeur.

“Where?” inquired the man, not unreasonably.

“Eh? Oh, Paddington.”

The cab whirled off, and Psmith, pleasantly conscious of a morning
not ill-spent, gazed after it pensively for a moment. Then, with
the feeling that the authorities of Colney Hatch or some kindred
establishment had been extraordinarily negligent, he permitted his mind
to turn with genial anticipation in the direction of lunch. For, though
he had celebrated his first day of emancipation from Billingsgate Fish
Market by rising late and breakfasting later, he had become aware by
now of that not unpleasant emptiness which is the silent luncheon-gong
of the soul.


§ 3

The minor problem now presented itself of where to lunch; and with
scarcely a moment’s consideration he dismissed those large, noisy, and
bustling restaurants which lie near Piccadilly Circus. After a morning
spent with Eve Halliday and the young man who was going about the place
asking people to steal his aunt’s necklace, it was imperative that he
select some place where he could sit and think quietly. Any food of
which he partook must be consumed in calm, even cloistral surroundings,
unpolluted by the presence of a first violin who tied himself into
knots and an orchestra in whose lexicon there was no such word as
_piano_. One of his clubs seemed indicated.

In the days of his prosperity, Psmith’s father, an enthusiastic
clubman, had enrolled his son’s name on the list of several
institutions: and now, although the lean years had arrived, he
was still a member of six, and would continue to be a member till
the beginning of the new year and the consequent call for fresh
subscriptions. These clubs ranged from the Drones, frankly frivolous,
to the Senior Conservative, solidly worthy. Almost immediately Psmith
decided that for such a mood as was upon him at the moment, the latter
might have been specially constructed.

Anybody familiar with the interior of the Senior Conservative Club
would have applauded his choice. In the whole of London no better
haven could have been found by one desirous of staying his interior
with excellently-cooked food while passing his soul under a leisurely
examination. They fed you well at the Drones, too, no doubt: but
there Youth held carnival, and the thoughtful man, examining his
soul, was apt at any moment to have his meditations broken in upon
by a chunk of bread, dexterously thrown by some bright spirit at an
adjoining table. No horror of that description could possibly occur
at the Senior Conservative. The Senior Conservative has six thousand
one hundred and eleven members. Some of the six thousand one hundred
and eleven are more respectable than the others, but they are all
respectable--whether they be numbered among the oldest inhabitants like
the Earl of Emsworth, who joined as a country member in 1888, or are
among the recent creations of the last election of candidates. They are
bald, reverend men, who look as if they are on their way to the City to
preside at directors’ meetings or have dropped in after conferring with
the Prime Minister at Downing Street as to the prospects at the coming
by-election in the Little Wabsley Division.

With the quiet dignity which atoned for his lack in years in this
stronghold of mellow worth, Psmith mounted the steps, passed through
the doors which were obligingly flung open for him by two uniformed
dignitaries, and made his way to the coffee-room. Here, having
selected a table in the middle of the room and ordered a simple and
appetising lunch, he gave himself up to thoughts of Eve Halliday. As
he had confessed to his young friend Mr. Walderwick, she had made
a powerful impression upon him. He was tearing himself from his
day-dreams in order to wrestle with a mutton chop, when a foreign body
shot into his orbit and blundered heavily against the table. Looking
up, he perceived a long, thin, elderly gentleman of pleasantly vague
aspect, who immediately began to apologise.

“My dear sir, I am extremely sorry. I trust I have caused no damage.”

“None whatever,” replied Psmith courteously.

“The fact is, I have mislaid my glasses. Blind as a bat without them.
Can’t see where I’m going.”

A gloomy-looking young man with long and disordered hair, who stood at
the elderly gentleman’s elbow, coughed suggestively. He was shuffling
restlessly, and appeared to be anxious to close the episode and move
on. A young man, evidently, of highly-strung temperament. He had a
sullen air.

The elderly gentleman started vaguely at the sound of the cough.

“Eh?” he said, as if in answer to some spoken remark. “Oh, yes, quite
so, quite so, my dear fellow. Mustn’t stop here chatting, eh? Had to
apologise, though. Nearly upset this gentleman’s table. Can’t see where
I’m going without my glasses. Blind as a bat. Eh? What? Quite so, quite
so.”

He ambled off, doddering cheerfully, while his companion still
preserved his look of sulky aloofness. Psmith gazed after them with
interest.

“Can you tell me,” he asked of the waiter, who was rallying round with
the potatoes, “who that was?”

The waiter followed his glance.

“Don’t know who the young gentleman is, sir. Guest here, I fancy. The
old gentleman is the Earl of Emsworth. Lives in the country and doesn’t
often come to the club. Very absent-minded gentleman, they tell me.
Potatoes, sir?”

“Thank you,” said Psmith.

The waiter drifted away, and returned.

“I have been looking at the guest-book, sir. The name of the gentleman
lunching with Lord Emsworth is Mr. Ralston McTodd.”

“Thank you very much. I am sorry you had the trouble.”

“No trouble, sir.”

Psmith resumed his meal.


§ 4

The sullen demeanour of the young man who had accompanied Lord Emsworth
through the coffee-room accurately reflected the emotions which were
vexing his troubled soul. Ralston McTodd, the powerful young singer
of Saskatoon (“Plumbs the depths of human emotion and strikes a new
note”--_Montreal Star_. “Very readable”--_Ipsilanti Herald_), had not
enjoyed his lunch. The pleasing sense of importance induced by the fact
that for the first time in his life he was hob-nobbing with a genuine
earl had given way after ten minutes of his host’s society to a mingled
despair and irritation which had grown steadily deeper as the meal
proceeded. It is not too much to say that by the time the fish course
arrived it would have been a relief to Mr. McTodd’s feelings if he
could have taken up the butter-dish and banged it down, butter and all,
on his lordship’s bald head.

A temperamental young man was Ralston McTodd. He liked to be the
centre of the picture, to do the talking, to air his views, to be
listened to respectfully and with interest by a submissive audience.
At the meal which had just concluded none of these reasonable demands
had been permitted to him. From the very beginning, Lord Emsworth
had collared the conversation and held it with a gentle, bleating
persistency against all assaults. Five times had Mr. McTodd almost
succeeded in launching one of his best epigrams, only to see it swept
away on the tossing flood of a lecture on hollyhocks. At the sixth
attempt he had managed to get it out, complete and sparkling, and the
old ass opposite him had taken it in his stride like a hurdle and gone
galloping off about the mental and moral defects of a creature named
Angus McAllister, who appeared to be his head gardener or something of
the kind. The luncheon, though he was a hearty feeder and as a rule
appreciative of good cooking, had turned to ashes in Mr. McTodd’s
mouth, and it was a soured and chafing Singer of Saskatoon who dropped
scowlingly into an arm-chair by the window of the lower smoking-room a
few moments later. We introduce Ralston McTodd to the reader, in short,
at a moment when he is very near the breaking-point. A little more
provocation, and goodness knows what he may not do. For the time being,
he is merely leaning back in his chair and scowling. He has a faint
hope, however, that a cigar may bring some sort of relief, and he is
waiting for one to be ordered for him.

The Earl of Emsworth did not see the scowl. He had not really seen
Mr. McTodd at all from the moment of his arrival at the club, when
somebody, who sounded like the head porter, had informed him that a
gentleman was waiting to see him and had led him up to a shapeless
blur which had introduced itself as his expected guest. The loss
of his glasses had had its usual effect on Lord Emsworth, making
the world a misty place in which indefinite objects swam dimly like
fish in muddy water. Not that this mattered much, seeing that he was
in London, for in London there was never anything worth looking at.
Beyond a vague feeling that it would be more comfortable on the whole
if he had his glasses--a feeling just strong enough to have made him
send off a messenger boy to his hotel to hunt for them--Lord Emsworth
had not allowed lack of vision to interfere with his enjoyment of the
proceedings.

And, unlike Mr. McTodd, he had been enjoying himself very much. A
good listener, this young man, he felt. Very soothing, the way he
had constituted himself a willing audience, never interrupting or
thrusting himself forward, as is so often the deplorable tendency of
the modern young man. Lord Emsworth was bound to admit that, much as
he had disliked the idea of going to London to pick up this poet or
whatever he was, the thing had turned out better than he had expected.
He liked Mr. McTodd’s silent but obvious interest in flowers, his tacit
but warm-hearted sympathy in the matter of Angus McAllister. He was
glad he was coming to Blandings. It would be agreeable to conduct him
personally through the gardens, to introduce him to Angus McAllister
and allow him to plumb for himself the black abysses of that outcast’s
mental processes.

Meanwhile, he had forgotten all about ordering that cigar . . .

“In large gardens where ample space permits,” said Lord Emsworth,
dropping cosily into his chair and taking up the conversation at the
point where it had been broken off, “nothing is more desirable than
that there should be some places, or one at least, of quiet greenery
alone, without any flowers whatever. I see that you agree with me.”

Mr. McTodd had not agreed with him. The grunt which Lord Emsworth had
taken for an exclamation of rapturous adhesion to his sentiments had
been merely a sort of bubble of sound rising from the tortured depths
of Mr. McTodd’s suffering soul--the cry, as the poet beautifully puts
it, “of some strong smoker in his agony.” The desire to smoke had now
gripped Mr. McTodd’s very vitals; but, as some lingering remains of the
social sense kept him from asking point-blank for the cigar for which
he yearned, he sought in his mind for a way of approaching the subject
obliquely.

“In no other way,” proceeded Lord Emsworth, “can the brilliancy of
flowers be so keenly enjoyed as by . . .”

“Talking of flowers,” said Mr. McTodd, “it is a fact, I believe, that
tobacco smoke is good for roses.”

“. . . as by pacing for a time,” said Lord Emsworth, “in some cool,
green alley, and then passing on to the flowery places. It is partly,
no doubt, the unconscious working out of some optical law, the
explanation of which in everyday language is that the eye . . .”

“Some people say that smoking is bad for the eyes. I don’t agree with
them,” said Mr. McTodd warmly.

“. . . being, as it were, saturated with the green colour, is the more
attuned to receive the others, especially the reds. It was probably
some such consideration that influenced the designers of the many old
gardens of England in devoting so much attention to the cult of the yew
tree. When you come to Blandings, my dear fellow, I will show you our
celebrated yew alley. And, when you see it, you will agree that I was
right in taking the stand I did against Angus McAllister’s pernicious
views.”

“I was lunching in a club yesterday,” said Mr. McTodd, with the
splendid McTodd doggedness, “where they had no matches on the tables in
the smoking-room. Only spills. It made it very inconvenient . . .”

“Angus McAllister,” said Lord Emsworth, “is a professional gardener.
I need say no more. You know as well as I do, my dear fellow, what
professional gardeners are like when it is a question of moss . . .”

“What it meant was that, when you wanted to light your after-luncheon
cigar, you had to get up and go to a gas-burner on a bracket at the
other end of the room . . .”

“Moss, for some obscure reason, appears to infuriate them. It rouses
their basest passions. Nature intended a yew alley to be carpeted with
a mossy growth. The mossy path in the yew alley at Blandings is in
true relation for colour to the trees and grassy edges; yet will you
credit it that that soulless disgrace to Scotland actually wished to
grub it all up and have a rolled gravel path staring up from beneath
those immemorial trees! I have already told you how I was compelled
to give in to him in the matter of the hollyhocks--head gardeners
of any ability at all are rare in these days and one has to make
concessions--but this was too much. I was perfectly friendly and civil
about it. ‘Certainly, McAllister,’ I said, ‘you may have your gravel
path if you wish it. I make but one proviso, that you construct it over
my dead body. Only when I am weltering in my blood on the threshold of
that yew alley shall you disturb one inch of my beautiful moss. Try to
remember, McAllister,’ I said, still quite cordially, ‘that you are not
laying out a recreation ground in a Glasgow suburb--you are proposing
to make an eyesore of what is possibly the most beautiful nook in one
of the finest and oldest gardens in the United Kingdom.’ He made some
repulsive Scotch noise at the back of his throat, and there the matter
rests. . . . Let me, my dear fellow,” said Lord Emsworth, writhing down
into the depths of his chair like an aristocratic snake until his spine
rested snugly against the leather, “let me describe for you the Yew
Alley at Blandings. Entering from the west . . .”

Mr. McTodd gave up the struggle and sank back, filled with black and
deleterious thoughts, into a tobacco-less hell. The smoking-room was
full now, and on all sides fragrant blue clouds arose from the little
groups of serious thinkers who were discussing what Gladstone had said
in ’78. Mr. McTodd, as he watched them, had something of the emotions
of the Peri excluded from Paradise. So reduced was he by this time that
he would have accepted gratefully the meanest straight-cut cigarette in
place of the Corona of his dreams. But even this poor substitute for
smoking was denied him.

Lord Emsworth droned on. Having approached from the west, he was now
well inside the yew alley.

“Many of the yews, no doubt, have taken forms other than those that
were originally designed. Some are like turned chessmen; some might
be taken for adaptations of human figures, for one can trace here
and there a hat-covered head or a spreading petticoat. Some rise in
solid blocks with rounded roof and stemless mushroom finial. These
have for the most part arched recesses, forming arbours. One of the
tallest . . . Eh? What?”

Lord Emsworth blinked vaguely at the waiter who had sidled up. A
moment before he had been a hundred odd miles away, and it was not
easy to adjust his mind immediately to the fact that he was in the
smoking-room of the Senior Conservative Club.

“Eh? What?”

“A messenger boy has just arrived with these, your lordship.”

Lord Emsworth peered in a dazed and woolly manner at the proffered
spectacle-case. Intelligence returned to him.

“Oh, thank you. Thank you very much. My glasses. Capital! Thank you,
thank you, thank you.”

He removed the glasses from their case and placed them on his nose:
and instantly the world sprang into being before his eyes, sharp and
well-defined. It was like coming out of a fog.

“Dear me!” he said in a self-congratulatory voice.

Then abruptly he sat up, transfixed. The lower smoking-room at the
Senior Conservative Club is on the street level, and Lord Emsworth’s
chair faced the large window. Through this, as he raised his now
spectacled face, he perceived for the first time that among the row of
shops on the opposite side of the road was a jaunty new florist’s. It
had not been there at his last visit to the metropolis, and he stared
at it raptly, as a small boy would stare at a saucer of ice-cream if
such a thing had suddenly descended from heaven immediately in front of
him. And, like a small boy in such a situation, he had eyes for nothing
else. He did not look at his guest. Indeed, in the ecstasy of his
discovery, he had completely forgotten that he had a guest.

Any flower shop, however small, was a magnet to the Earl of Emsworth.
And this was a particularly spacious and arresting flower shop. Its
window was gay with summer blooms. And Lord Emsworth, slowly rising
from his chair, “pointed” like a dog that sees a pheasant.

“Bless my soul!” he murmured.

If the reader has followed with the closeness which it deserves the
extremely entertaining conversation of his lordship recorded in the
last few paragraphs, he will have noted a reference to hollyhocks. Lord
Emsworth had ventilated the hollyhock question at some little length
while seated at the luncheon table. But, as we had not the good fortune
to be present at that enjoyable meal, a brief résumé of the situation
must now be given and the intelligent public allowed to judge between
his lordship and the uncompromising McAllister.

Briefly, the position was this. Many head gardeners are apt to favour
in the hollyhock forms that one cannot but think have for their aim
an ideal that is a false and unworthy one. Angus McAllister, clinging
to the head-gardeneresque standard of beauty and correct form, would
not sanction the wide outer petal. The flower, so Angus held, must
be very tight and very round, like the uniform of a major-general.
Lord Emsworth, on the other hand, considered this view narrow, and
claimed the liberty to try for the very highest and truest beauty
in hollyhocks. The loosely-folded inner petals of the hollyhock, he
considered, invited a wonderful play and brilliancy of colour; while
the wide outer petal, with its slightly waved surface and gently
frilled edge . . . well, anyway, Lord Emsworth liked his hollyhocks
floppy and Angus McAllister liked them tight, and bitter warfare had
resulted, in which, as we have seen, his lordship had been compelled to
give way. He had been brooding on this defeat ever since, and in the
florist opposite he saw a possible sympathiser, a potential ally, an
intelligent chum with whom he could get together and thoroughly damn
Angus McAllister’s Glaswegian obstinacy.

You would not have suspected Lord Emsworth, from a casual glance, of
having within him the ability to move rapidly; but it is a fact that
he was out of the smoking-room and skimming down the front steps of
the club before Mr. McTodd’s jaw, which had fallen at the spectacle of
his host bounding out of his horizon of vision like a jack-rabbit, had
time to hitch itself up again. A moment later, Mr. McTodd, happening
to direct his gaze out of the window, saw him whiz across the road and
vanish into the florist’s shop.

It was at this juncture that Psmith, having finished his lunch,
came downstairs to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee. The room was rather
crowded, and the chair which Lord Emsworth had vacated offered a wide
invitation. He made his way to it.

“Is this chair occupied?” he inquired politely. So politely that Mr.
McTodd’s reply sounded by contrast even more violent than it might
otherwise have done.

“No, it isn’t!” snapped Mr. McTodd.

Psmith seated himself. He was feeling agreeably disposed to
conversation.

“Lord Emsworth has left you then?” he said.

“Is he a friend of yours?” inquired Mr. McTodd in a voice that
suggested that he was perfectly willing to accept a proxy as a target
for his wrath.

“I know him by sight. Nothing more.”

“Blast him!” muttered Mr. McTodd with indescribable virulence.

Psmith eyed him inquiringly.

“Correct me if I am wrong,” he said, “but I seem to detect in your
manner a certain half-veiled annoyance. Is anything the matter?”

Mr. McTodd barked bitterly.

“Oh, no. Nothing’s the matter. Nothing whatever, except that that old
beaver--”--here he wronged Lord Emsworth, who, whatever his faults, was
not a bearded man--“that old beaver invited me to lunch, talked all the
time about his infernal flowers, never let me get a word in edgeways,
hadn’t the common civility to offer me a cigar, and now has gone off
without a word of apology and buried himself in that shop over the way.
I’ve never been so insulted in my life!” raved Mr. McTodd.

“Scarcely the perfect host,” admitted Psmith.

“And if he thinks,” said Mr. McTodd, rising, “that I’m going to go and
stay with him at his beastly castle after this, he’s mistaken. I’m
supposed to go down there with him this evening. And perhaps the old
fossil thinks I will! After this!” A horrid laugh rolled up from Mr.
McTodd’s interior. “Likely! I see myself! After being insulted like
this . . . Would _you_?” he demanded.

Psmith gave the matter thought.

“I am inclined to think no.”

“And so am I damned well inclined to think no!” cried Mr. McTodd. “I’m
going away now, this very minute. And if that old total loss ever comes
back, you can tell him he’s seen the last of me.”

And Ralston McTodd, his blood boiling with justifiable indignation and
pique to a degree dangerous on such a warm day, stalked off towards
the door with a hard, set face. Through the door he stalked to the
cloak-room for his hat and cane; then, his lips moving silently, he
stalked through the hall, stalked down the steps, and passed from the
scene, stalking furiously round the corner in quest of a tobacconist’s.
At the moment of his disappearance, the Earl of Emsworth had just
begun to give the sympathetic florist a limpid character-sketch of
Angus McAllister.

       *       *       *       *       *

Psmith shook his head sadly. These clashings of human temperament were
very lamentable. They disturbed the after-luncheon repose of the man of
sensibility. He ordered coffee, and endeavoured to forget the painful
scene by thinking of Eve Halliday.


§ 5

The florist who had settled down to ply his trade opposite the Senior
Conservative Club was a delightful fellow, thoroughly sound on the
hollyhock question and so informative in the matter of delphiniums,
achilleas, coreopsis, eryngiums, geums, lupines, bergamot and early
phloxes that Lord Emsworth gave himself up whole-heartedly to the feast
of reason and the flow of soul; and it was only some fifteen minutes
later that he remembered that he had left a guest languishing in the
lower smoking-room and that this guest might be thinking him a trifle
remiss in the observance of the sacred duties of hospitality.

“Bless my soul, yes!” said his lordship, coming out from under the
influence with a start.

Even then he could not bring himself to dash abruptly from the shop.
Twice he reached the door and twice pottered back to sniff at flowers
and say something he had forgotten to mention about the Stronger
Growing Clematis. Finally, however, with one last, longing, lingering
look behind, he tore himself away and trotted back across the road.

Arrived in the lower smoking-room, he stood in the doorway for a
moment, peering. The place had been a blur to him when he had left it,
but he remembered that he had been sitting in the middle window and,
as there were only two seats by the window, that tall, dark young man
in one of them must be the guest he had deserted. That he could be a
changeling never occurred to Lord Emsworth. So pleasantly had the time
passed in the shop across the way that he had the impression that he
had only been gone a couple of minutes or so. He made his way to where
the young man sat. A vague idea came into his head that the other had
grown a bit in his absence, but it passed.

“My dear fellow,” he said genially, as he slid into the other chair, “I
really must apologise.”

It was plain to Psmith that the other was under a misapprehension, and
a really nice-minded young man would no doubt have put the matter right
at once. The fact that it never for a single instant occurred to Psmith
to do so was due, no doubt, to some innate defect in his character.
He was essentially a young man who took life as it came, and the more
inconsequently it came the better he liked it. Presently, he reflected,
it would become necessary for him to make some excuse and steal quietly
out of the other’s life; but meanwhile the situation seemed to him to
present entertaining possibilities.

“Not at all,” he replied graciously. “Not at all.”

“I was afraid for a moment,” said Lord Emsworth, “that you might--quite
naturally--be offended.”

“Absurd!”

“Shouldn’t have left you like that. Shocking bad manners. But, my dear
fellow, I simply had to pop across the street.”

“Most decidedly,” said Psmith. “Always pop across streets. It is the
secret of a happy and successful life.”

Lord Emsworth looked at him a little perplexedly, and wondered if he
had caught the last remark correctly. But his mind had never been
designed for the purpose of dwelling closely on problems for any
length of time, and he let it go.

“Beautiful roses that man has,” he observed. “Really an extraordinarily
fine display.”

“Indeed?” said Psmith.

“Nothing to touch mine, though. I wish, my dear fellow, you could have
been down at Blandings at the beginning of the month. My roses were at
their best then. It’s too bad you weren’t there to see them.”

“The fault no doubt was mine,” said Psmith.

“Of course you weren’t in England then.”

“Ah! That explains it.”

“Still, I shall have plenty of flowers to show you when you are at
Blandings. I expect,” said Lord Emsworth, at last showing a host-like
disposition to give his guest a belated innings, “I expect you’ll write
one of your poems about my gardens, eh?”

Psmith was conscious of a feeling of distinct gratification. Weeks of
toil among the herrings of Billingsgate had left him with a sort of
haunting fear that even in private life there clung to him the miasma
of the fish market. Yet here was a perfectly unprejudiced observer
looking squarely at him and mistaking him for a poet--showing that in
spite of all he had gone through there must still be something notably
spiritual and unfishy about his outward appearance.

“Very possibly,” he said. “Very possibly.”

“I suppose you get ideas for your poetry from all sorts of things,”
said Lord Emsworth, nobly resisting the temptation to collar the
conversation again. He was feeling extremely friendly towards this poet
fellow. It was deuced civil of him not to be put out and huffy at being
left alone in the smoking-room.

“From practically everything,” said Psmith, “except fish.”

“Fish?”

“I have never written a poem about fish.”

“No?” said Lord Emsworth, again feeling that a pin had worked loose in
the machinery of the conversation.

“I was once offered a princely sum,” went on Psmith, now floating
happily along on the tide of his native exuberance, “to write a ballad
for the _Fishmonger’s Gazette_ entitled, ‘Herbert the Turbot.’ But I
was firm. I declined.”

“Indeed?” said Lord Emsworth.

“One has one’s self-respect,” said Psmith.

“Oh, decidedly,” said Lord Emsworth.

“It was painful, of course. The editor broke down completely when he
realised that my refusal was final. However, I sent him on with a
letter of introduction to John Drinkwater, who, I believe, turned him
out quite a good little effort on the theme.”

At this moment, when Lord Emsworth was feeling a trifle dizzy, and
Psmith, on whom conversation always acted as a mental stimulus, was on
the point of plunging even deeper into the agreeable depths of light
persiflage, a waiter approached.

“A lady to see you, your lordship.”

“Eh? Ah, yes, of course, of course. I was expecting her. It is a Miss
---- what is the name? Holliday? Halliday. It is a Miss Halliday,” he
said in explanation to Psmith, “who is coming down to Blandings to
catalogue the library. My secretary, Baxter, told her to call here and
see me. If you will excuse me for a moment, my dear fellow?”

“Certainly.”

As Lord Emsworth disappeared, it occurred to Psmith that the moment
had arrived for him to get his hat and steal softly out of the other’s
life for ever. Only so could confusion and embarrassing explanations
be avoided. And it was Psmith’s guiding rule in life always to avoid
explanations. It might, he felt, cause Lord Emsworth a momentary
pang when he returned to the smoking-room and found that he was a
poet short, but what is that in these modern days when poets are so
plentiful that it is almost impossible to fling a brick in any public
place without damaging some stern young singer. Psmith’s view of the
matter was that, if Lord Emsworth was bent on associating with poets,
there was bound to be another one along in a minute. He was on the
point, therefore, of rising, when the laziness induced by a good lunch
decided him to remain in his comfortable chair for a few minutes
longer. He was in one of those moods of rare tranquillity which it is
rash to break.

He lit another cigarette, and his thoughts, as they had done after the
departure of Mr. McTodd, turned dreamily in the direction of the girl
he had met at Miss Clarkson’s Employment Bureau. He mused upon her with
a gentle melancholy. Sad, he felt, that two obviously kindred spirits
like himself and her should meet in the whirl of London life, only
to separate again--presumably for ever--simply because the etiquette
governing those who are created male and female forbids a man to cement
a chance acquaintanceship by ascertaining the lady’s name and address,
asking her to lunch, and swearing eternal friendship. He sighed as he
gazed thoughtfully out of the lower smoking-room window. As he had
indicated in his conversation with Mr. Walderwick, those blue eyes and
that cheerful, friendly face had made a deep impression on him. Who was
she? Where did she live? And was he ever to see her again?

He was. Even as he asked himself the question, two figures came down
the steps of the club, and paused. One was Lord Emsworth, without his
hat. The other--and Psmith’s usually orderly heart gave a spasmodic
bound at the sight of her--was the very girl who was occupying
his thoughts. There she stood, as blue-eyed, as fair-haired, as
indescribably jolly and charming as ever.

Psmith rose from his chair with a vehemence almost equal to that
recently displayed by Mr. McTodd. It was his intention to add himself
immediately to the group. He raced across the room in a manner that
drew censorious glances from the local greybeards, many of whom had
half a mind to write to the committee about it.

But when he reached the open air the pavement at the foot of the club
steps was empty. The girl was just vanishing round the corner into the
Strand, and of Lord Emsworth there was no sign whatever.

By this time, however, Psmith had acquired a useful working knowledge
of his lordship’s habits, and he knew where to look. He crossed the
street and headed for the florist’s shop.

“Ah, my dear fellow,” said his lordship amiably, suspending his
conversation with the proprietor on the subject of delphiniums, “must
you be off? Don’t forget that our train leaves Paddington at five
sharp. You take your ticket for Market Blandings.”

Psmith had come into the shop merely with the intention of asking his
lordship if he happened to know Miss Halliday’s address, but these
words opened out such a vista of attractive possibilities that he had
abandoned this tame programme immediately. He remembered now that among
Mr. McTodd’s remarks on things in general had been one to the effect
that he had received an invitation to visit Blandings Castle--of which
invitation he did not propose to avail himself; and he argued that if
he had acted as substitute for Mr. McTodd at the club, he might well
continue the kindly work by officiating for him at Blandings. Looking
at the matter altruistically, he would prevent his kind host much
disappointment by taking this course; and, looking at it from a more
personal viewpoint, only by going to Blandings could he renew his
acquaintance with this girl. Psmith had never been one of those who
hang back diffidently when Adventure calls, and he did not hang back
now.

“At five sharp,” he said. “I will be there.”

“Capital, my dear fellow,” said his lordship.

“Does Miss Halliday travel with us?”

“Eh? No, she is coming down in a day or two.”

“I shall look forward to meeting her,” said Psmith. He turned to the
door, and Lord Emsworth with a farewell beam resumed his conversation
with the florist.



CHAPTER VII

BAXTER SUSPECTS


§ 1

The five o’clock train, having given itself a spasmodic jerk, began to
move slowly out of Paddington Station. The platform past which it was
gliding was crowded with a number of the fauna always to be seen at
railway stations at such moments, but in their ranks there was no sign
of Mr. Ralston McTodd: and Psmith, as he sat opposite Lord Emsworth
in a corner seat of a first-class compartment, felt that genial glow
of satisfaction which comes to the man who has successfully taken a
chance. Until now, he had been half afraid that McTodd, having changed
his mind, might suddenly appear with bag and baggage--an event which
must necessarily have caused confusion and discomfort. His mind was
now tranquil. Concerning the future he declined to worry. It would, no
doubt, contain its little difficulties, but he was prepared to meet
them in the right spirit; and his only trouble in the world now was the
difficulty he was experiencing in avoiding his lordship’s legs, which
showed a disposition to pervade the compartment like the tentacles
of an octopus. Lord Emsworth rather ran to leg, and his practice of
reclining when at ease on the base of his spine was causing him to
straddle, like Apollyon in Pilgrim’s Progress, “right across the way.”
It became manifest that in a journey lasting several hours his society
was likely to prove irksome. For the time being, however, he endured
it, and listened with polite attention to his host’s remarks on the
subject of the Blandings gardens. Lord Emsworth, in a train moving
in the direction of home, was behaving like a horse heading for his
stable. He snorted eagerly, and spoke at length and with emotion of
roses and herbaceous borders.

“It will be dark, I suppose, by the time we arrive,” he said
regretfully, “but the first thing to-morrow, my dear fellow, I must
take you round and show you my gardens.”

“I shall look forward to it keenly,” said Psmith. “They are, I can
readily imagine, distinctly oojah-cum-spiff.”

“I beg your pardon?” said Lord Emsworth with a start.

“Not at all,” said Psmith graciously.

“Er--what did you say?” asked his lordship after a slight pause.

“I was saying that, from all reports, you must have a very nifty
display of garden-produce at your rural seat.”

“Oh, yes. Oh, most,” said his lordship, looking puzzled. He examined
Psmith across the compartment with something of the peering curiosity
which he would have bestowed upon a new and unclassified shrub. “Most
extraordinary!” he murmured. “I trust, my dear fellow, you will not
think me personal, but, do you know, nobody would imagine that you were
a poet. You don’t look like a poet, and, dash it, you don’t talk like a
poet.”

“How should a poet talk?”

“Well . . .” Lord Emsworth considered the point. “Well, Miss
Peavey . . . But of course you don’t know Miss Peavey . . . Miss Peavey
is a poetess, and she waylaid me the other morning while I was having
a most important conference with McAllister on the subject of bulbs and
asked me if I didn’t think that it was fairies’ tear-drops that made
the dew. Did you ever hear such dashed nonsense?”

“Evidently an aggravated case. Is Miss Peavey staying at the castle?”

“My dear fellow, you couldn’t shift her with blasting-powder. Really
this craze of my sister Constance for filling the house with these
infernal literary people is getting on my nerves. I can’t stand these
poets and what not. Never could.”

“We must always remember, however,” said Psmith gravely, “that poets
are also God’s creatures.”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed his lordship, aghast. “I had forgotten that
you were one. What will you think of me, my dear fellow! But, of
course, as I said a moment ago, you are different. I admit that when
Constance told me that she had invited you to the house I was not
cheered, but, now that I have had the pleasure of meeting you . . .”

The conversation had worked round to the very point to which Psmith
had been wishing to direct it. He was keenly desirous of finding out
why Mr. McTodd had been invited to Blandings and--a still more vital
matter--of ascertaining whether, on his arrival there as Mr. McTodd’s
understudy, he was going to meet people who knew the poet by sight. On
this latter point, it seemed to him, hung the question of whether he
was about to enjoy a delightful visit to a historic country house in
the society of Eve Halliday--or leave the train at the next stop and
omit to return to it.

“It was extremely kind of Lady Constance,” he hazarded, “to invite a
perfect stranger to Blandings.”

“Oh, she’s always doing that sort of thing,” said his lordship. “It
didn’t matter to her that she’d never seen you in her life. She had
read your books, you know, and liked them: and when she heard that you
were coming to England, she wrote to you.”

“I see,” said Psmith, relieved.

“Of course, it is all right as it has turned out,” said Lord Emsworth
handsomely. “As I say, you’re different. And how you came to write
that . . . that . . .”

“Bilge?” suggested Psmith.

“The very word I was about to employ, my dear fellow . . . No, no,
I don’t mean that . . . I--I . . . Capital stuff, no doubt, capital
stuff . . . but . . .”

“I understand.”

“Constance tried to make me read the things, but I couldn’t. I fell
asleep over them.”

“I hope you rested well.”

“I--er--the fact is, I suppose they were beyond me. I couldn’t see any
sense in the things.”

“If you would care to have another pop at them,” said Psmith agreeably,
“I have a complete set in my bag.”

“No, no, my dear fellow, thank you very much, thank you a thousand
times. I--er--find that reading in the train tries my eyes.”

“Ah! You would prefer that I read them aloud?”

“No, no.” A look of hunted alarm came into his lordship’s speaking
countenance at the suggestion. “As a matter of fact, I generally take a
short nap at the beginning of a railway journey. I find it refreshing
and--er--in short, refreshing. You will excuse me?”

“If you think you can get to sleep all right without the aid of my
poems, certainly.”

“You won’t think me rude?”

“Not at all, not at all. By the way, am I likely to meet any old
friends at Blandings?”

“Eh? Oh no. There will be nobody but ourselves. Except my sister and
Miss Peavey, of course. You said you had not met Miss Peavey, I think?”

“I have not had that pleasure. I am, of course, looking forward to it
with the utmost keenness.”

Lord Emsworth eyed him for a moment, astonished: then concluded the
conversation by closing his eyes defensively. Psmith was left to his
reflections, which a few minutes later were interrupted by a smart kick
on the shin, as Lord Emsworth, a jumpy sleeper, began to throw his long
legs about. Psmith moved to the other end of the seat, and, taking his
bag down from the rack, extracted a slim volume bound in squashy mauve.
After gazing at this in an unfriendly manner for a moment, he opened it
at random and began to read. His first move on leaving Lord Emsworth
at the florist’s had been to spend a portion of his slender capital on
the works of Ralston McTodd in order not to be taken at a disadvantage
in the event of questions about them at Blandings: but he speedily
realised, as he dipped into the poems, that anything in the nature of
a prolonged study of them was likely to spoil his little holiday. They
were not light summer reading.

    “_Across the pale parabola of Joy_ . . .”

A gurgling snort from the other end of the compartment abruptly
detached his mind from its struggle with this mystic line. He perceived
that his host had slipped even further down on to his spine and was now
lying with open mouth in an attitude suggestive of dislocation. And as
he looked, there was a whistling sound, and another snore proceeded
from the back of his lordship’s throat.

Psmith rose and took his book of poems out into the corridor with
the purpose of roaming along the train until he should find an empty
compartment in which to read in peace.

With the two adjoining compartments he had no luck. One was occupied by
an elderly man with a retriever, while the presence of a baby in the
other ruled it out of consideration. The third, however, looked more
promising. It was not actually empty, but there was only one occupant,
and he was asleep. He was lying back in the far corner with a large
silk handkerchief draped over his face and his feet propped up on the
seat opposite. His society did not seem likely to act as a bar to the
study of Mr. McTodd’s masterpieces. Psmith sat down and resumed his
reading.

    “_Across the pale parabola of Joy_ . . .”

Psmith knitted his brow. It was just the sort of line which was likely
to have puzzled his patroness, Lady Constance, and he anticipated that
she would come to him directly he arrived and ask for an explanation.
It would obviously be a poor start for his visit to confess that he had
no theory as to its meaning himself. He tried it again.

    “_Across the pale parabola of Joy_ . . .”

A sound like two or three pigs feeding rather noisily in the middle of
a thunderstorm interrupted his meditations. Psmith laid his book down
and gazed in a pained way across the compartment. There came to him a
sense of being unfairly put upon, as towards the end of his troubles
it might have come upon Job. This, he felt, was too much. He was being
harried.

The man in the corner went on snoring.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is always a way. Almost immediately Psmith saw what Napoleon
would have done in this crisis. On the seat beside the sleeper was
lying a compact little suit-case with hard, sharp edges. Rising softly,
Psmith edged along the compartment and secured this. Then, having
balanced it carefully on the rack above the sleeper’s stomach, he
returned to his seat to await developments.

These were not long in coming. The train, now flying at its best speed
through open country, was shaking itself at intervals in a vigorous
way as it raced along. A few seconds later it apparently passed over
some points, and shivered briskly down its whole length. The suit-case
wobbled insecurely, hesitated, and fell chunkily in the exact middle
of its owner’s waistcoat. There was a smothered gulp beneath the
handkerchief. The sleeper sat up with a jerk. The handkerchief fell
off. And there was revealed to Psmith’s interested gaze the face of the
Hon. Freddie Threepwood.


§ 2

“Goo!” observed Freddie. He removed the bag from his midriff and began
to massage the stricken spot. Then suddenly perceiving that he was not
alone he looked up and saw Psmith.

“Goo!” said Freddie, and sat staring wildly.

Nobody is more alive than we are to the fact that the dialogue of
Frederick Threepwood, recorded above, is not bright. Nevertheless,
those were his opening remarks, and the excuse must be that he had
passed through a trying time and had just received two shocks, one
after the other. From the first of these, the physical impact of the
suit-case, he was recovering; but the second had simply paralysed him.
When, the mists of sleep having cleared away, he saw sitting but a few
feet away from him on the train that was carrying him home the very man
with whom he had plotted in the lobby of the Piccadilly Palace Hotel, a
cold fear gripped Freddie’s very vitals.

Freddie’s troubles had begun when he just missed the twelve-fifty
train. This disaster had perturbed him greatly, for he could not
forget his father’s stern injunctions on the subject. But what had
really upset him was the fact that he had come within an ace of
missing the five o’clock train as well. He had spent the afternoon in
a motion-picture palace, and the fascination of the film had caused
him to lose all sense of time, so that only the slow fade-out on the
embrace and the words “The End” reminded him to look at his watch. A
mad rush had got him to Paddington just as the five o’clock express was
leaving the station. Exhausted, he had fallen into a troubled sleep,
from which he had been aroused by a violent blow in the waistcoat and
the nightmare vision of Psmith in the seat across the compartment. One
cannot wonder in these circumstances that Freddie did not immediately
soar to the heights of eloquence.

The picture which the Hon. Frederick Threepwood had selected for his
patronage that afternoon was the well-known super-super-film, “Fangs Of
The Past,” featuring Bertha Blevitch and Maurice Heddlestone--which,
as everybody knows, is all about blackmail. Green-walled by primeval
hills, bathed in the golden sunshine of peace and happiness, the
village of Honeydean slumbered in the clear morning air. But off
the train from the city stepped A Stranger--(The Stranger--Maxwell
Bannister). He inquired of a passing rustic--(The Passing
Rustic--Claude Hepworth)--the way to the great house where Myrtle Dale,
the Lady Bountiful of the village . . . well, anyway, it is all about
blackmail, and it had affected Freddie profoundly. It still coloured
his imagination, and the conclusion to which he came the moment he saw
Psmith was that the latter had shadowed him and was following him home
with the purpose of extracting hush-money.

While he was still gurgling wordlessly, Psmith opened the conversation.

“A delightful and unexpected pleasure, comrade. I thought you had left
the Metropolis some hours since.”

As Freddie sat looking like a cornered dormouse a voice from the
corridor spoke.

“Ah, there you are, my dear fellow!”

Lord Emsworth was beaming in the doorway. His slumbers, like those of
Freddie, had not lasted long. He had been aroused only a few minutes
after Psmith’s departure by the arrival of the retriever from the next
compartment, which, bored by the society of its owner, had strolled off
on a tour of investigation and, finding next door an old acquaintance
in the person of his lordship, had jumped on the seat and licked his
face with such hearty good will that further sleep was out of the
question. Being awake, Lord Emsworth, as always when he was awake, had
begun to potter.

When he saw Freddie his amiability suffered a shock.

“Frederick! I thought I told you to be sure to return on the
twelve-fifty train!”

“Missed it, guv’nor,” mumbled Freddie thickly. “Not my fault.”

“H’mph!” His father seemed about to pursue the subject, but the fact
that a stranger and one who was his guest was present apparently
decided him to avoid anything in the shape of family wrangles. He
peered from Freddie to Psmith and back again. “Do you two know each
other?” he said.

“Not yet,” said Psmith. “We only met a moment ago.”

“My son Frederick,” said Lord Emsworth, rather in the voice with which
he would have called attention to the presence of a slug among his
flowers. “Frederick, this is Mr. McTodd, the poet, who is coming to
stay at Blandings.”

Freddie started, and his mouth opened. But, meeting Psmith’s friendly
gaze, he closed the orifice again without speaking. He licked his lips
in an overwrought way.

“You’ll find me next door, if you want me,” said Lord Emsworth to
Psmith. “Just discovered that George Willard, very old friend of mine,
is in there. Never saw him get on the train. His dog came into my
compartment and licked my face. One of my neighbours. A remarkable
rose-grower. As you are so interested in flowers, I will take you over
to his place some time. Why don’t you join us now?”

“I would prefer, if you do not mind,” said Psmith, “to remain here for
the moment and foster what I feel sure is about to develop into a great
and lasting friendship. I am convinced that your son and I will have
much to talk about together.”

“Very well, my dear fellow. We will meet at dinner in the
restaurant-car.”

Lord Emsworth pottered off, and Psmith rose and closed the door. He
returned to his seat to find Freddie regarding him with a tortured
expression in his rather prominent eyes. Freddie’s brain had had more
exercise in the last few minutes than in years of his normal life, and
he was feeling the strain.

“I say, what?” he observed feebly.

“If there is anything,” said Psmith kindly, “that I can do to clear
up any little difficulty that is perplexing you, call on me. What is
biting you?”

Freddie swallowed convulsively.

“I say, he said your name was McTodd!”

“Precisely.”

“But you said it was Psmith.”

“It is.”

“Then why did father call you McTodd?”

“He thinks I am. It is a harmless error, and I see no reason why it
should be discouraged.”

“But why does he think you’re McTodd?”

“It is a long story, which you may find tedious. But, if you really
wish to hear it . . .”

Nothing could have exceeded the raptness of Freddie’s attention as he
listened to the tale of the encounter with Lord Emsworth at the Senior
Conservative Club.

“Do you mean to say,” he demanded at its conclusion, “that you’re
coming to Blandings pretending to be this poet blighter?”

“That is the scheme.”

“But why?”

“I have my reasons, Comrade--what is the name? Threepwood? I thank
you. You will pardon me, Comrade Threepwood, if I do not go into them.
And now,” said Psmith, “to resume our very interesting chat which was
unfortunately cut short this morning, why do you want me to steal your
aunt’s necklace?”

Freddie jumped. For the moment, so tensely had the fact of his
companion’s audacity chained his interest, he had actually forgotten
about the necklace.

“Great Scott!” he exclaimed. “Why, of course!”

“You still have not made it quite clear.”

“It fits splendidly.”

“The necklace?”

“I mean to say, the great difficulty would have been to find a way of
getting you into the house, and here you are, coming there as this poet
bird. Topping!”

“If,” said Psmith, regarding him patiently through his eyeglass, “I do
not seem to be immediately infected by your joyous enthusiasm, put it
down to the fact that I haven’t the remotest idea what you’re talking
about. Could you give me a pointer or two? What, for instance, assuming
that I agreed to steal your aunt’s necklace, would you expect me to do
with it, when and if stolen?”

“Why, hand it over to me.”

“I see. And what would you do with it?”

“Hand it over to my uncle.”

“And whom would he hand it over to?”

“Look here,” said Freddie, “I might as well start at the beginning.”

“An excellent idea.”

The speed at which the train was now proceeding had begun to render
conversation in anything but stentorian tones somewhat difficult.
Freddie accordingly bent forward till his mouth almost touched Psmith’s
ear.

“You see, it’s like this. My uncle, old Joe Keeble . . .”

“Keeble?” said Psmith. “Why,” he murmured meditatively, “is that name
familiar?”

“Don’t interrupt, old lad,” pleaded Freddie.

“I stand corrected.”

“Uncle Joe has a stepdaughter--Phyllis her name is--and some time ago
she popped off and married a cove called Jackson . . .”

Psmith did not interrupt the narrative again, but as it proceeded
his look of interest deepened. And at the conclusion he patted his
companion encouragingly on the shoulder.

“The proceeds, then, of this jewel-robbery, if it comes off,” he said,
“will go to establish the Jackson home on a firm footing? Am I right in
thinking that?”

“Absolutely.”

“There is no danger--you will pardon the suggestion--of you clinging
like glue to the swag and using it to maintain yourself in the position
to which you are accustomed?”

“Absolutely not. Uncle Joe is giving me--er--giving me a bit for
myself. Just a small bit, you understand. This is the scheme. You sneak
the necklace and hand it over to me. I push the necklace over to Uncle
Joe, who hides it somewhere for the moment. There is the dickens of a
fuss, and Uncle Joe comes out strong by telling Aunt Constance that
he’ll buy her another necklace, just as good. Then he takes the stones
out of the necklace, has them reset, and gives them to Aunt Constance.
Looks like a new necklace, if you see what I mean. Then he draws a
cheque for twenty thousand quid, which Aunt Constance naturally thinks
is for the new necklace, and he shoves the money somewhere as a little
private account. He gives Phyllis her money, and everybody’s happy.
Aunt Constance has got her necklace, Phyllis has got her money, and all
that’s happened is that Aunt Constance’s and Uncle Joe’s combined bank
balance has had a bit of a hole knocked in it. See?”

“I see. It is a little difficult to follow all the necklaces. I seemed
to count about seventeen of them while you were talking, but I suppose
I was wrong. Yes, I see, Comrade Threepwood, and I may say at once that
you can rely on my co-operation.”

“You’ll do it?”

“I will.”

“Of course,” said Freddie awkwardly, “I’ll see that you get a bit all
right. I mean . . .”

Psmith waved his hand deprecatingly.

“My dear Comrade Threepwood, let us not become sordid on this glad
occasion. As far as I am concerned, there will be no charge.”

“What! But look here . . .”

“Any assistance I can give will be offered in a purely amateur spirit.
I would have mentioned before, only I was reluctant to interrupt you,
that Comrade Jackson is my boyhood chum, and that Phyllis, his wife,
injects into my life the few beams of sunshine that illumine its dreary
round. I have long desired to do something to ameliorate their lot,
and now that the chance has come I am delighted. It is true that I am
not a man of affluence--my bank-manager, I am told, winces in a rather
painful manner whenever my name is mentioned--but I am not so reduced
that I must charge a fee for performing, on behalf of a pal, a simple
act of courtesy like pinching a twenty thousand pound necklace.”

“Good Lord! Fancy that!”

“Fancy what, Comrade Threepwood?”

“Fancy your knowing Phyllis and her husband.”

“It is odd, no doubt. But true. Many a whack at the cold beef have I
had on Sunday evenings under their roof, and I am much obliged to you
for putting in my way this opportunity of repaying their hospitality.
Thank you!”

“Oh, that’s all right,” said Freddie, somewhat bewildered by this
eloquence.

“Even if the little enterprise meets with disaster, the reflection that
I did my best for the young couple will be a great consolation to me
when I am serving my bit of time in Wormwood Scrubbs. It will cheer me
up. The jailers will cluster outside the door to listen to me singing
in my cell. My pet rat, as he creeps out to share the crumbs of my
breakfast, will wonder why I whistle as I pick the morning’s oakum.
I shall join in the hymns on Sundays in a way that will electrify
the chaplain. That is to say, if anything goes wrong and I am what
I believe is technically termed ‘copped.’ I say ‘if,’” said Psmith,
gazing solemnly at his companion. “But I do not intend to be copped. I
have never gone in largely for crime hitherto, but something tells me
I shall be rather good at it. I look forward confidently to making a
nice, clean job of the thing. And now, Comrade Threepwood, I must ask
you to excuse me while I get the half-nelson on this rather poisonous
poetry of good old McTodd’s. From the cursory glance I have taken at
it, the stuff doesn’t seem to mean anything. I think the boy’s _non
compos_. _You_ don’t happen to understand the expression ‘Across the
pale parabola of Joy,’ do you? . . . I feared as much. Well, pip-pip
for the present, Comrade Threepwood. I shall now ask you to retire
into your corner and amuse yourself for awhile as you best can. I must
concentrate, concentrate.”

And Psmith, having put his feet up on the opposite seat and reopened
the mauve volume, began to read. Freddie, his mind still in a whirl,
looked out of the window at the passing scenery in a mood which was a
nice blend of elation and apprehension.


§ 3

Although the hands of the station clock pointed to several minutes past
nine, it was still apparently early evening when the train drew up
at the platform of Market Blandings and discharged its distinguished
passengers. The sun, taken in as usual by the never-failing practical
joke of the Daylight Saving Act, had only just set, and a golden
afterglow lingered on the fields as the car which had met the train
purred over the two miles of country road that separated the little
town from the castle. As they passed in between the great stone
gate-posts and shot up the winding drive, the soft murmur of the
engines seemed to deepen rather than break the soothing stillness.
The air was fragrant with indescribable English scents. Somewhere
in the distance sheep-bells tinkled; rabbits, waggling white tails,
bolted across the path; and once a herd of agitated deer made a brief
appearance among the trees. The only thing that disturbed the magic
hush was the fluting voice of Lord Emsworth, on whom the spectacle of
his beloved property had acted as an immediate stimulant. Unlike his
son Freddie, who sat silent in his corner wrestling with his hopes
and fears, Lord Emsworth had plunged into a perfect Niagara of speech
the moment the car entered the park. In a high tenor voice, and with
wide, excited gestures, he pointed out to Psmith oaks with a history
and rhododendrons with a past: his conversation as they drew near the
castle and came in sight of the flower-beds taking on an almost lyrical
note and becoming a sort of anthem of gladness, through which, like
some theme in the minor, ran a series of opprobrious observations on
the subject of Angus McAllister.

Beach, the butler, solicitously scooping them out of the car at the
front door, announced that her ladyship and Miss Peavey were taking
their after-dinner coffee in the arbour by the bowling-green; and
presently Psmith, conducted by his lordship, found himself shaking
hands with a strikingly handsome woman in whom, though her manner
was friendliness itself, he could detect a marked suggestion of the
formidable. Æsthetically, he admired Lady Constance’s appearance, but
he could not conceal from himself that in the peculiar circumstances
he would have preferred something rather more fragile and drooping.
Lady Constance conveyed the impression that anybody who had the choice
between stealing anything from her and stirring up a nest of hornets
with a short walking-stick would do well to choose the hornets.

“How do you do, Mr. McTodd?” said Lady Constance with great amiability.
“I am so glad you were able to come after all.”

Psmith wondered what she meant by “after all,” but there were so many
things about his present situation calculated to tax the mind that he
had no desire to probe slight verbal ambiguities. He shook her hand and
replied that it was very kind of her to say so.

“We are quite a small party at present,” continued Lady Constance, “but
we are expecting a number of people quite soon. For the moment Aileen
and you are our only guests. Oh, I am sorry, I should have . . . Miss
Peavey, Mr. McTodd.”

The slim and willowy female who during this brief conversation had been
waiting in an attitude of suspended animation, gazing at Psmith with
large, wistful eyes, stepped forward. She clasped Psmith’s hand in
hers, held it, and in a low, soft voice, like thick cream made audible,
uttered one reverent word.

“_Maître!_”

“I beg your pardon?” said Psmith. A young man capable of bearing
himself with calm and dignity in most circumstances, however trying, he
found his poise wobbling under the impact of Miss Aileen Peavey.

Miss Peavey often had this effect on the less soulful type of man,
especially in the mornings, when such men are not at their strongest
and best. When she came into the breakfast-room of a country house,
brave men who had been up a bit late the night before quailed and tried
to hide behind newspapers. She was the sort of woman who tells a man
who is propping his eyes open with his fingers and endeavouring to
correct a headache with strong tea, that she was up at six watching the
dew fade off the grass, and didn’t he think that those wisps of morning
mist were the elves’ bridal-veils. She had large, fine, melancholy
eyes, and was apt to droop dreamily.

“Master!” said Miss Peavey, obligingly translating.

There did not seem to be any immediate come-back to a remark like this,
so Psmith contented himself with beaming genially at her through his
monocle: and Miss Peavey came to bat again.

“How wonderful that you were able to come--after all!”

Again this “after all” motive creeping into the theme. . . .

“You know Miss Peavey’s work, of course?” said Lady Constance, smiling
pleasantly on her two celebrities.

“Who does not?” said Psmith courteously.

“Oh, _do_ you?” said Miss Peavey, gratification causing her slender
body to perform a sort of ladylike shimmy down its whole length. “I
scarcely hoped that you would know my name. My Canadian sales have not
been large.”

“Quite large enough,” said Psmith. “I mean, of course,” he added with a
paternal smile, “that, while your delicate art may not have a universal
appeal in a young country, it is intensely appreciated by a small and
select body of the intelligentsia.”

And if that was not the stuff to give them, he reflected with not a
little complacency, he was dashed.

“Your own wonderful poems,” replied Miss Peavey, “are, of course, known
the whole world over. Oh, Mr. McTodd, you can hardly appreciate how I
feel, meeting you. It is like the realisation of some golden dream of
childhood. It is like . . .”

Here the Hon. Freddie Threepwood remarked suddenly that he was going
to pop into the house for a whisky and soda. As he had not previously
spoken, his observation had something of the effect of a voice from
the tomb. The daylight was ebbing fast now, and in the shadows he had
contrived to pass out of sight as well as out of mind. Miss Peavey
started like an abruptly awakened somnambulist, and Psmith was at last
able to release his hand, which he had begun to look on as gone beyond
his control for ever. Until this fortunate interruption there had
seemed no reason why Miss Peavey should not have continued to hold it
till bedtime.

Freddie’s departure had the effect of breaking a spell. Lord Emsworth,
who had been standing perfectly still with vacant eyes, like a dog
listening to a noise a long way off, came to life with a jerk.

“I’m going to have a look at my flowers,” he announced.

“Don’t be silly, Clarence,” said his sister. “It’s much too dark to see
flowers.”

“I could smell ’em,” retorted his lordship argumentatively.

It seemed as if the party must break up, for already his lordship had
begun to potter off, when a new-comer arrived to solidify it again.

“Ah, Baxter, my dear fellow,” said Lord Emsworth. “Here we are, you
see.”

“Mr. Baxter,” said Lady Constance, “I want you to meet Mr. McTodd.”

“Mr. McTodd!” said the new arrival, on a note of surprise.

“Yes, he found himself able to come after all.”

“Ah!” said the Efficient Baxter.

It occurred to Psmith as a passing thought, to which he gave no more
than a momentary attention, that this spectacled and capable-looking
man was gazing at him, as they shook hands, with a curious intensity.
But possibly, he reflected, this was merely a species of optical
illusion due to the other’s spectacles. Baxter, staring through his
spectacles, often gave people the impression of possessing an eye that
could pierce six inches of harveyised steel and stick out on the other
side. Having registered in his consciousness the fact that he had been
stared at keenly by this stranger, Psmith thought no more of the matter.

In thus lightly dismissing the Baxterian stare, Psmith had acted
injudiciously. He should have examined it more closely and made
an effort to analyse it, for it was by no means without its
message. It was a stare of suspicion. Vague suspicion as yet, but
nevertheless suspicion. Rupert Baxter was one of those men whose chief
characteristic is a disposition to suspect their fellows. He did not
suspect them of this or that definite crime: he simply suspected them.
He had not yet definitely accused Psmith in his mind of any specific
tort or malfeasance. He merely had a nebulous feeling that he would
bear watching.

Miss Peavey now fluttered again into the centre of things. On the
arrival of Baxter she had withdrawn for a moment into the background,
but she was not the woman to stay there long. She came forward holding
out a small oblong book, which, with a languishing firmness, she
pressed into Psmith’s hands.

“Could I persuade you, Mr. McTodd,” said Miss Peavey pleadingly, “to
write some little thought in my autograph-book and sign it? I have a
fountain-pen.”

Light flooded the arbour. The Efficient Baxter, who knew where
everything was, had found and pressed the switch. He did this not so
much to oblige Miss Peavey as to enable him to obtain a clearer view
of the visitor. With each minute that passed the Efficient Baxter was
finding himself more and more doubtful in his mind about this visitor.

“There!” said Miss Peavey, welcoming the illumination.

Psmith tapped his chin thoughtfully with the fountain-pen. He felt
that he should have foreseen this emergency earlier. If ever there was
a woman who was bound to have an autograph-book, that woman was Miss
Peavey.

“Just some little thought . . .”

Psmith hesitated no longer. In a firm hand he wrote the words “Across
the pale parabola of Joy . . .” added an unfaltering “Ralston McTodd,”
and handed the book back.

“How strange,” sighed Miss Peavey.

“May I look?” said Baxter, moving quickly to her side.

“How strange!” repeated Miss Peavey. “To think that you should have
chosen that line! There are several of your more mystic passages that I
meant to ask you to explain, but particularly ‘Across the pale parabola
of Joy’ . . .”

“You find it difficult to understand?”

“A little, I confess.”

“Well, well,” said Psmith indulgently, “perhaps I did put a bit of
top-spin on that one.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I say, perhaps it is a little obscure. We must have a long chat about
it--later on.”

“Why not now?” demanded the Efficient Baxter, flashing his spectacles.

“I am rather tired,” said Psmith with gentle reproach, “after my
journey. Fatigued. We artists . . .”

“Of course,” said Miss Peavey, with an indignant glance at the
secretary. “Mr. Baxter does not understand the sensitive poetic
temperament.”

“A bit unspiritual, eh?” said Psmith tolerantly. “A trifle earthy? So
I thought, so I thought. One of these strong, hard men of affairs, I
shouldn’t wonder.”

“Shall we go and find Lord Emsworth, Mr. McTodd?” said Miss Peavey,
dismissing the fermenting Baxter with a scornful look. “He wandered off
just now. I suppose he is among his flowers. Flowers are very beautiful
by night.”

“Indeed, yes,” said Psmith. “And also by day. When I am surrounded by
flowers, a sort of divine peace floods over me, and the rough, harsh
world seems far away. I feel soothed, tranquil. I sometimes think, Miss
Peavey, that flowers must be the souls of little children who have died
in their innocence.”

“What a beautiful thought, Mr. McTodd!” exclaimed Miss Peavey
rapturously.

“Yes,” agreed Psmith. “Don’t pinch it. It’s copyright.”

The darkness swallowed them up. Lady Constance turned to the Efficient
Baxter, who was brooding with furrowed brow.

“Charming, is he not?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said I thought Mr. McTodd was charming.”

“Oh, quite.”

“Completely unspoiled.”

“Oh, decidedly.”

“I am so glad that he was able to come after all. That telegram he sent
this afternoon cancelling his visit seemed so curt and final.”

“So I thought it.”

“Almost as if he had taken offence at something and decided to have
nothing to do with us.”

“Quite.”

Lady Constance shivered delicately. A cool breeze had sprung up. She
drew her wrap more closely about her shapely shoulders, and began to
walk to the house. Baxter did not accompany her. The moment she had
gone he switched off the light and sat down, chin in hand. That massive
brain was working hard.



CHAPTER VIII

CONFIDENCES ON THE LAKE


§ 1

“Miss Halliday,” announced the Efficient Baxter, removing another
letter from its envelope and submitting it to a swift, keen scrutiny,
“arrives at about three to-day. She is catching the twelve-fifty train.”

He placed the letter on the pile beside his plate; and, having
decapitated an egg, peered sharply into its interior as if hoping
to surprise guilty secrets. For it was the breakfast hour, and the
members of the house party, scattered up and down the long table, were
fortifying their tissues against another day. An agreeable scent of
bacon floated over the scene like a benediction.

Lord Emsworth looked up from the seed catalogue in which he was
immersed. For some time past his enjoyment of the meal had been marred
by a vague sense of something missing, and now he knew what it was.

“Coffee!” he said, not violently, but in the voice of a good man
oppressed. “I want coffee. Why have I no coffee? Constance, my dear, I
should have coffee. Why have I none?”

“I’m sure I gave you some,” said Lady Constance, brightly presiding
over the beverages at the other end of the table.

“Then where is it?” demanded his lordship clinchingly.

Baxter--almost regretfully, it seemed--gave the egg a clean bill of
health, and turned in his able way to cope with this domestic problem.

“Your coffee is behind the catalogue you are reading, Lord Emsworth.
You propped the catalogue against your cup.”

“Did I? Did I? Why, so I did! Bless my soul!” His lordship, relieved,
took an invigorating sip. “What were you saying just then, my dear
fellow?”

“I have had a letter from Miss Halliday,” said Baxter. “She writes that
she is catching the twelve-fifty train at Paddington, which means that
she should arrive at Market Blandings at about three.”

“Who,” asked Miss Peavey, in a low, thrilling voice, ceasing for a
moment to peck at her plate of kedgeree, “is Miss Halliday?”

“The exact question I was about to ask myself,” said Lord Emsworth.
“Baxter, my dear fellow, who is Miss Halliday?”

Baxter, with a stifled sigh, was about to refresh his employer’s
memory, when Psmith anticipated him. Psmith had been consuming toast
and marmalade with his customary languid grace and up till now had
firmly checked all attempts to engage him in conversation.

“Miss Halliday,” he said, “is a very old and valued friend of mine. We
two have, so to speak, pulled the gowans fine. I had been hoping to
hear that she had been sighted on the horizon.”

The effect of these words on two of the company was somewhat
remarkable. Baxter, hearing them, gave such a violent start that
he spilled half the contents of his cup: and Freddie, who had been
flitting like a butterfly among the dishes on the sideboard and had
just decided to help himself to scrambled eggs, deposited a liberal
spoonful on the carpet, where it was found and salvaged a moment later
by Lady Constance’s spaniel.

Psmith did not observe these phenomena, for he had returned to his
toast and marmalade. He thus missed encountering perhaps the keenest
glance that had ever come through Rupert Baxter’s spectacles. It was
not a protracted glance, but while it lasted it was like the ray from
an oxy-acetylene blowpipe.

“A friend of yours?” said Lord Emsworth. “Indeed? Of course, Baxter,
I remember now. Miss Halliday is the young lady who is coming to
catalogue the library.”

“What a delightful task!” cooed Miss Peavey. “To live among the
stored-up thoughts of dead and gone genius!”

“You had better go down and meet her, my dear fellow,” said Lord
Emsworth. “At the station, you know,” he continued, clarifying his
meaning. “She will be glad to see you.”

“I was about to suggest it myself,” said Psmith.

“Though why the library needs cataloguing,” said his lordship,
returning to a problem which still vexed his soul when he had leisure
to give a thought to it, “I can’t . . . However . . .”

He finished his coffee and rose from the table. A stray shaft of
sunlight had fallen provocatively on his bald head, and sunshine always
made him restive.

“Are you going to your flowers, Lord Emsworth?” asked Miss Peavey.

“Eh? What? Yes. Oh, yes. Going to have a look at those lobelias.”

“I will accompany you, if I may,” said Psmith.

“Eh? Why, certainly, certainly.”

“I have always held,” said Psmith, “that there is no finer tonic than a
good look at a lobelia immediately after breakfast. Doctors, I believe,
recommend it.”

“Oh, I say,” said Freddie hastily, as he reached the door, “can I have
a couple of words with you a bit later on?”

“A thousand if you wish it,” said Psmith. “You will find me somewhere
out there in the great open spaces where men are men.”

He included the entire company in a benevolent smile, and left the room.

“How charming he is!” sighed Miss Peavey. “Don’t you think so, Mr.
Baxter?”

The Efficient Baxter seemed for a moment to find some difficulty in
replying.

“Oh, very,” he said, but not heartily.

“And such a _soul_! It shines on that wonderful brow of his, doesn’t
it?”

“He has a good forehead,” said Lady Constance. “But I wish he wouldn’t
wear his hair so short. Somehow it makes him seem unlike a poet.”

Freddie, alarmed, swallowed a mouthful of scrambled egg.

“Oh, he’s a poet all right,” he said hastily.

“Well, really, Freddie,” said Lady Constance, piqued, “I think we
hardly need _you_ to tell us that.”

“No, no, of course. But what I mean is, in spite of his wearing his
hair short, you know.”

“I ventured to speak to him of that yesterday,” said Miss Peavey, “and
he said he rather expected to be wearing it even shorter very soon.”

“Freddie!” cried Lady Constance with asperity. “What _are_ you doing?”

A brown lake of tea was filling the portion of the tablecloth
immediately opposite the Hon. Frederick Threepwood. Like the Efficient
Baxter a few minutes before, sudden emotion had caused him to upset his
cup.


§ 2

The scrutiny of his lordship’s lobelias had palled upon Psmith at
a fairly early stage in the proceedings, and he was sitting on the
terrace wall enjoying a meditative cigarette when Freddie found him.

“Ah, Comrade Threepwood,” said Psmith, “welcome to Blandings Castle!
You said something about wishing to have speech with me, if I remember
rightly?”

The Hon. Freddie shot a nervous glance about him, and seated himself on
the wall.

“I say,” he said, “I wish you wouldn’t say things like that.”

“Like what, Comrade Threepwood?”

“What you said to the Peavey woman.”

“I recollect having a refreshing chat with Miss Peavey yesterday
afternoon,” said Psmith, “but I cannot recall saying anything
calculated to bring the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty. What
observation of mine was it that meets with your censure?”

“Why, that stuff about expecting to wear your hair shorter. If you’re
going to go about saying that sort of thing--well, dash it, you might
just as well give the whole bally show away at once and have done with
it.”

Psmith nodded gravely.

“Your generous heat, Comrade Threepwood, is not unjustified. It was
undoubtedly an error of judgment. If I have a fault--which I am not
prepared to admit--it is a perhaps ungentlemanly desire to pull that
curious female’s leg. A stronger man than myself might well find it
hard to battle against the temptation. However, now that you have
called it to my notice, it shall not occur again. In future I will
moderate the persiflage. Cheer up, therefore, Comrade Threepwood,
and let us see that merry smile of yours, of which I hear such good
reports.”

The appeal failed to alleviate Freddie’s gloom. He smote morosely at a
fly which had settled on his furrowed brow.

“I’m getting as jumpy as a cat,” he said.

“Fight against this unmanly weakness,” urged Psmith. “As far as I can
see, everything is going along nicely.”

“I’m not so sure. I believe that blighter Baxter suspects something.”

“What do you think he suspects?”

“Why, that there’s something fishy about you.”

Psmith winced.

“I would be infinitely obliged to you, Comrade Threepwood, if you would
not use that particular adjective. It awakens old memories, all very
painful. But let us go more deeply into this matter, for you interest
me strangely. Why do you think that cheery old Baxter, a delightful
personality if ever I met one, suspects me?”

“It’s the way he looks at you.”

“I know what you mean, but I attribute no importance to it. As far
as I have been able to ascertain during my brief visit, he looks at
everybody and everything in precisely the same way. Only last night at
dinner I observed him glaring with keen mistrust at about as blameless
and innocent a plate of clear soup as was ever dished up. He then
proceeded to shovel it down with quite undisguised relish. So possibly
you are all wrong about his motive for looking at me like that. It may
be admiration.”

“Well, I don’t like it.”

“Nor, from an æsthetic point of view, do I. But we must bear these
things manfully. We must remind ourselves that it is Baxter’s
misfortune rather than his fault that he looks like a dyspeptic lizard.”

Freddie was not to be consoled. His gloom deepened.

“And it isn’t only Baxter.”

“What else is on your mind?”

“The whole atmosphere of the place is getting rummy, if you know what I
mean.” He bent towards Psmith and whispered pallidly. “I say, I believe
that new housemaid is a detective!”

Psmith eyed him patiently.

“Which new housemaid, Comrade Threepwood? Brooding, as I do, pretty
tensely all the time on deep and wonderful subjects, I have little
leisure to keep tab on the domestic staff. _Is_ there a new housemaid?”

“Yes. Susan, her name is.”

“Susan? Susan? That sounds all right. Just the name a real housemaid
would have.”

“Did you ever,” demanded Freddie earnestly, “see a real housemaid sweep
under a bureau?”

“Does she?”

“Caught her at it in my room this morning.”

“But isn’t it a trifle far-fetched to imagine that she is a detective?
Why should she be a detective?”

“Well, I’ve seen such a dashed lot of films where the housemaid or the
parlourmaid or what not were detectives. Makes a fellow uneasy.”

“Fortunately,” said Psmith, “there is no necessity to remain in a state
of doubt. I can give you an unfailing method by means of which you may
discover if she is what she would have us believe her.”

“What’s that?”

“Kiss her.”

“Kiss her!”

“Precisely. Go to her and say, ‘Susan, you’re a very pretty girl . . .’”

“But she isn’t.”

“We will assume, for purposes of argument, that she is. Go to her and
say, ‘Susan, you are a very pretty girl. What would you do if I were
to kiss you?’ If she is a detective, she will reply, ‘How dare you,
sir!’ or, possibly, more simply, ‘Sir!’ Whereas if she is the genuine
housemaid I believe her to be and only sweeps under bureaux out of
pure zeal, she will giggle and remark, ‘Oh, don’t be silly, sir!’ You
appreciate the distinction?”

“How do you know?”

“My grandmother told me, Comrade Threepwood. My advice to you, if the
state of doubt you are in is affecting your enjoyment of life, is to
put the matter to the test at the earliest convenient opportunity.”

“I’ll think it over,” said Freddie dubiously.

Silence fell upon him for a space, and Psmith was well content to have
it so. He had no specific need of Freddie’s prattle to help him enjoy
the pleasant sunshine and the scent of Angus McAllister’s innumerable
flowers. Presently, however, his companion was off again. But now there
was a different note in his voice. Alarm seemed to have given place to
something which appeared to be embarrassment. He coughed several times,
and his neatly-shod feet, writhing in self-conscious circles, scraped
against the wall.

“I say!”

“You have our ear once more, Comrade Threepwood,” said Psmith politely.

“I say, what I really came out here to talk about was something else.
I say, are you really a pal of Miss Halliday’s?”

“Assuredly. Why?”

“I say!” A rosy blush mantled the Hon. Freddie’s young cheek. “I say, I
wish you would put in a word for me, then.”

“Put in a word for you?”

Freddie gulped.

“I love her, dash it!”

“A noble emotion,” said Psmith courteously. “When did you feel it
coming on?”

“I’ve been in love with her for months. But she won’t look at me.”

“That, of course,” agreed Psmith, “must be a disadvantage. Yes, I
should imagine that that would stick the gaff into the course of true
love to no small extent.”

“I mean, won’t take me seriously, and all that. Laughs at me, don’t you
know, when I propose. What would you do?”

“I should stop proposing,” said Psmith, having given the matter thought.

“But I can’t.”

“Tut, tut!” said Psmith severely. “And, in case the expression is new
to you, what I mean is ‘Pooh, pooh!’ Just say to yourself, ‘From now on
I will not start proposing until after lunch.’ That done, it will be an
easy step to do no proposing during the afternoon. And by degrees you
will find that you can give it up altogether. Once you have conquered
the impulse for the after-breakfast proposal, the rest will be easy.
The first one of the day is always the hardest to drop.”

“I believe she thinks me a mere butterfly,” said Freddie, who had not
been listening to this most valuable homily.

Psmith slid down from the wall and stretched himself.

“Why,” he said, “are butterflies so often described as ‘mere’? I
have heard them so called a hundred times, and I cannot understand
the reason. . . . Well, it would, no doubt, be both interesting
and improving to go into the problem, but at this point, Comrade
Threepwood, I leave you. I would brood.”

“Yes, but, I say, will you?”

“Will I what?”

“Put in a word for me?”

“If,” said Psmith, “the subject crops up in the course of the
chit-chat, I shall be delighted to spread myself with no little vim on
the theme of your fine qualities.”

He melted away into the shrubbery, just in time to avoid Miss Peavey,
who broke in on Freddie’s meditations a moment later and kept him
company till lunch.


§ 3

The twelve-fifty train drew up with a grinding of brakes at the
platform of Market Blandings, and Psmith, who had been whiling away the
time of waiting by squandering money which he could ill afford on the
slot-machine which supplied butter-scotch, turned and submitted it to a
grave scrutiny. Eve Halliday got out of a third-class compartment.

“Welcome to our village, Miss Halliday,” said Psmith, advancing.

Eve regarded him with frank astonishment.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Lord Emsworth was kind enough to suggest that, as we were such old
friends, I should come down in the car and meet you.”

“Are we old friends?”

“Surely. Have you forgotten all those happy days in London?”

“There was only one.”

“True. But think how many meetings we crammed into it.”

“Are you staying at the castle?”

“Yes. And what is more, I am the life and soul of the party. Have you
anything in the shape of luggage?”

“I nearly always take luggage when I am going to stay a month or so in
the country. It’s at the back somewhere.”

“I will look after it. You will find the car outside. If you care to go
and sit in it, I will join you in a moment. And, lest the time hangs
heavy on your hands, take this. Butter-scotch. Delicious, and, so I
understand, wholesome. I bought it specially for you.”

A few minutes later, having arranged for the trunk to be taken to the
castle, Psmith emerged from the station and found Eve drinking in the
beauties of the town of Market Blandings.

“What a delightful old place,” she said as they drove off. “I almost
wish I lived here.”

“During the brief period of my stay at the castle,” said Psmith, “the
same thought has occurred to me. It is the sort of place where one
feels that one could gladly settle down into a peaceful retirement and
grow a honey-coloured beard.” He looked at her with solemn admiration.
“Women are wonderful,” he said.

“And why, Mr. Bones, are women wonderful?” asked Eve.

“I was thinking at the moment of your appearance. You have just stepped
off the train after a four-hour journey, and you are as fresh and
blooming as--if I may coin a simile--a rose. How do you do it? When I
arrived I was deep in alluvial deposits, and have only just managed to
scrape them off.”

“When did you arrive?”

“On the evening of the day on which I met you.”

“But it’s so extraordinary. That you should be here, I mean. I was
wondering if I should ever see you again.” Eve coloured a little, and
went on rather hurriedly. “I mean, it seems so strange that we should
always be meeting like this.”

“Fate, probably,” said Psmith. “I hope it isn’t going to spoil your
visit?”

“Oh, no.”

“I could have done with a trifle more emphasis on the last word,”
said Psmith gently. “Forgive me for criticising your methods of voice
production, but surely you can see how much better it would have
sounded spoken thus: ‘Oh, _no_!’”

Eve laughed.

“Very well, then,” she said. “Oh, _no_!”

“Much better,” said Psmith. “Much better.”

He began to see that it was going to be difficult to introduce a eulogy
of the Hon. Freddie Threepwood into this conversation.

“I’m very glad you’re here,” said Eve, resuming the talk after a slight
pause. “Because, as a matter of fact, I’m feeling just the least bit
nervous.”

“Nervous? Why?”

“This is my first visit to a place of this size.” The car had turned
in at the big stone gates, and they were bowling smoothly up the
winding drive. Through an avenue of trees to the right the great bulk
of the castle had just appeared, grey and imposing against the sky.
The afternoon sun glittered on the lake beyond it. “Is everything very
stately?”

“Not at all. We are very homely folk, we of Blandings Castle. We go
about, simple and unaffected, dropping gracious words all over the
place. Lord Emsworth didn’t overawe you, did he?”

“Oh, he’s a dear. And, of course, I know Freddie quite well.”

Psmith nodded. If she knew Freddie quite well, there was naturally no
need to talk about him. He did not talk about him, therefore.

“Have you known Lord Emsworth long?” asked Eve.

“I met him for the first time the day I met you.”

“Good gracious!” Eve stared. “And he invited you to the castle?”

Psmith smoothed his waistcoat.

“Strange, I agree. One can only account for it, can one not, by
supposing that I radiate some extraordinary attraction. Have you
noticed it?”

“No!”

“No?” said Psmith, surprised. “Ah, well,” he went on tolerantly, “no
doubt it will flash upon you quite unexpectedly sooner or later. Like a
thunderbolt or something.”

“I think you’re terribly conceited.”

“Not at all,” said Psmith. “Conceited? No, no. Success has not spoiled
me.”

“Have you had any success?”

“None whatever.” The car stopped. “We get down here,” said Psmith,
opening the door.

“Here? Why?”

“Because, if we go up to the house, you will infallibly be pounced on
and set to work by one Baxter--a delightful fellow, but a whale for
toil. I propose to conduct you on a tour round the grounds, and then we
will go for a row on the lake. You will enjoy that.”

“You seem to have mapped out my future for me.”

“I have,” said Psmith with emphasis, and in the monocled eye that met
hers Eve detected so beaming a glance of esteem and admiration that she
retreated warily into herself and endeavoured to be frigid.

“I’m afraid I haven’t time to wander about the grounds,” she said
aloofly. “I must be going and seeing Mr. Baxter.”

“Baxter,” said Psmith, “is not one of the natural beauties of the
place. Time enough to see him when you are compelled to . . . We are
now in the southern pleasaunce or the west home-park or something. Note
the refined way the deer are cropping the grass. All the ground on
which we are now standing is of historic interest. Oliver Cromwell went
through here in 1550. The record has since been lowered.”

“I haven’t time . . .”

“Leaving the pleasaunce on our left, we proceed to the northern
messuage. The dandelions were imported from Egypt by the ninth Earl.”

“Well, anyhow,” said Eve mutinously, “I won’t come on the lake.”

“You will enjoy the lake,” said Psmith. “The newts are of the famous
old Blandings strain. They were introduced, together with the
water-beetles, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Lord Emsworth, of
course, holds manorial rights over the mosquito-swatting.”

Eve was a girl of high and haughty spirit, and as such strongly
resented being appropriated and having her movements directed by one
who, in spite of his specious claims, was almost a stranger. But
somehow she found her companion’s placid assumption of authority
hard to resist. Almost meekly she accompanied him through meadow and
shrubbery, over velvet lawns and past gleaming flower-beds, and her
indignation evaporated as her eyes absorbed the beauty of it all. She
gave a little sigh. If Market Blandings had seemed a place in which one
might dwell happily, Blandings Castle was a paradise.

“Before us now,” said Psmith, “lies the celebrated Yew Alley, so called
from the yews which hem it in. Speaking in my capacity of guide to the
estate, I may say that when we have turned this next corner you will
see a most remarkable sight.”

And they did. Before them, as they passed in under the boughs of an
aged tree lay a green vista, faintly dappled with stray shafts of
sunshine. In the middle of this vista the Hon. Frederick Threepwood was
embracing a young woman in the dress of a housemaid.


§ 4

Psmith was the first of the little group to recover from the shock of
this unexpected encounter, the Hon. Freddie the last. That unfortunate
youth, meeting Eve’s astonished eye as he raised his head, froze where
he stood and remained with his mouth open until she had disappeared,
which she did a few moments later, led away by Psmith, who, as he
went, directed at his young friend a look in which surprise, pain, and
reproof were so nicely blended that it would have been hard to say
which predominated. All that a spectator could have said with certainty
was that Psmith’s finer feelings had suffered a severe blow.

“A painful scene,” he remarked to Eve, as he drew her away in the
direction of the house. “But we must always strive to be charitable. He
may have been taking a fly out of her eye, or teaching her jiu-jitsu.”

He looked at her searchingly.

“You seem less revolted,” he said, “than one might have expected.
This argues a sweet, shall we say angelic disposition and confirms my
already high opinion of you.”

“Thank you.”

“Not at all. Mark you,” said Psmith, “I don’t think that this sort of
thing is a hobby of Comrade Threepwood’s. He probably has many other
ways of passing his spare time. Remember that before you pass judgment
upon him. Also--Young Blood, and all that sort of thing.”

“I haven’t any intention of passing judgment upon him. It doesn’t
interest me what Mr. Threepwood does, either in his spare time or out
of it.”

“His interest in you, on the other hand, is vast. I forgot to tell you
before, but he loves you. He asked me to mention it if the conversation
happened to veer round in that direction.”

“I know he does,” said Eve ruefully.

“And does the fact stir no chord in you?”

“I think he’s a nuisance.”

“That,” said Psmith cordially, “is the right spirit. I like to see
it. Very well, then, we will discard the topic of Freddie, and I will
try to find others that may interest, elevate, and amuse you. We are
now approaching the main buildings. I am no expert in architecture,
so cannot tell you all I could wish about the façade, but you can see
there _is_ a façade, and in my opinion--for what it is worth--a jolly
good one. We approach by a sweeping gravel walk.”

“I am going in to report to Mr. Baxter,” said Eve with decision. “It’s
too absurd. I mustn’t spend my time strolling about the grounds. I must
see Mr. Baxter at once.”

Psmith inclined his head courteously.

“Nothing easier. That big, open window there is the library. Doubtless
Comrade Baxter is somewhere inside, toiling away among the archives.”

“Yes, but I can’t announce myself by shouting to him.”

“Assuredly not,” said Psmith. “No need for that at all. Leave it to
me.” He stooped and picked up a large flower-pot which stood under
the terrace wall, and before Eve could intervene had tossed it
lightly through the open window. A muffled thud, followed by a sharp
exclamation from within, caused a faint smile of gratification to
illumine his solemn countenance. “He _is_ in. I thought he would be.
Ah, Baxter,” he said graciously, as the upper half of a body surmounted
by a spectacled face framed itself suddenly in the window, “a pleasant,
sunny afternoon. How is everything?”

The Efficient Baxter struggled for utterance.

“You look like the Blessed Damozel gazing down from the gold bar of
Heaven,” said Psmith genially. “Baxter, I want to introduce you to Miss
Halliday. She arrived safely after a somewhat fatiguing journey. You
will like Miss Halliday. If I had a library, I could not wish for a
more courteous, obliging, and capable cataloguist.”

This striking and unsolicited testimonial made no appeal to the
Efficient Baxter. His mind seemed occupied with other matters.

“Did you throw that flower-pot?” he demanded coldly.

“You will no doubt,” said Psmith, “wish on some later occasion to have
a nice long talk with Miss Halliday in order to give her an outline of
her duties. I have been showing her the grounds and am about to take
her for a row on the lake. But after that she will--and I know I may
speak for Miss Halliday in this matter--be entirely at your disposal.”

“Did you throw that flower-pot?”

“I look forward confidently to the pleasantest of associations between
you and Miss Halliday. You will find her,” said Psmith warmly, “a
willing assistant, a tireless worker.”

“Did you . . . ?”

“But now,” said Psmith, “I must be tearing myself away. In order to
impress Miss Halliday, I put on my best suit when I went to meet her.
For a row upon the lake something simpler in pale flannel is indicated.
I shall only be a few minutes,” he said to Eve. “Would you mind meeting
me at the boat-house?”

“I am not coming on the lake with you.”

“At the boat-house in--say--six and a quarter minutes,” said Psmith
with a gentle smile, and pranced into the house like a long-legged
mustang.

Eve remained where she stood, struggling between laughter and
embarrassment. The Efficient Baxter was still leaning wrathfully out of
the library window, and it began to seem a little difficult to carry on
an ordinary conversation. The problem of what she was to say in order
to continue the scene in an agreeable manner was solved by the arrival
of Lord Emsworth, who pottered out from the bushes with a rake in his
hand. He stood eyeing Eve for a moment, then memory seemed to wake.
Eve’s appearance was easier to remember, possibly, than some of the
things which his lordship was wont to forget. He came forward beamingly.

“Ah, there you are, Miss . . . Dear me, I’m really afraid I have
forgotten your name. My memory is excellent as a rule, but I cannot
remember names . . . Miss Halliday! Of course, of course. Baxter, my
dear fellow,” he proceeded, sighting the watcher at the window, “this
is Miss Halliday.”

“Mr. McTodd,” said the Efficient One sourly, “has already introduced me
to Miss Halliday.”

“Has he? Deuced civil of him, deuced civil of him. But where _is_ he?”
inquired his lordship, scanning the surrounding scenery with a vague
eye.

“He went into the house. After,” said Baxter in a cold voice, “throwing
a flower-pot at me.”

“Doing what?”

“He threw a flower-pot at me,” said Baxter, and vanished moodily.

Lord Emsworth stared at the open window, then turned to Eve for
enlightenment.

“_Why_ did Baxter throw a flower-pot at McTodd?” he said. “And,” he
went on, ventilating an even deeper question, “where the deuce did he
get a flower-pot? There are no flower-pots in the library.”

Eve, on her side, was also seeking information.

“Did you say his name was McTodd, Lord Emsworth?”

“No, no. Baxter. That was Baxter, my secretary.”

“No, I mean the one who met me at the station.”

“Baxter did not meet you at the station. The man who met you at the
station,” said Lord Emsworth, speaking slowly, for women are so apt to
get things muddled, “was McTodd. He’s staying here. Constance asked
him, and I’m bound to say when I first heard of it I was not any too
well pleased. I don’t like poets as a rule. But this fellow’s so
different from the other poets I’ve met. Different altogether. And,”
said Lord Emsworth with not a little heat, “I strongly object to Baxter
throwing flower-pots at him. I won’t _have_ Baxter throwing flower-pots
at my guests,” he said firmly; for Lord Emsworth, though occasionally a
little vague, was keenly alive to the ancient traditions of his family
regarding hospitality.

“Is Mr. McTodd a poet?” said Eve, her heart beating.

“Eh? Oh yes, yes. There seems to be no doubt about that. A Canadian
poet. Apparently they have poets out there. And,” demanded his
lordship, ever a fair-minded man, “why not? A remarkably growing
country. I was there in the year ’98. Or was it,” he added,
thoughtfully passing a muddy hand over his chin and leaving a rich
brown stain, “’99? I forget. My memory isn’t good for dates. . . . If
you will excuse me, Miss--Miss Halliday, of course--if you will excuse
me, I must be leaving you. I have to see McAllister, my head gardener.
An obstinate man. A Scotchman. If you go into the house, my sister
Constance will give you a cup of tea. I don’t know what the time is,
but I suppose there will be tea soon. Never take it myself.”

“Mr. McTodd asked me to go for a row on the lake.”

“On the lake, eh? On the _lake_?” said his lordship, as if this was
the last place in the neighbourhood where he would have expected to
hear of people proposing to row. Then he brightened. “Of course, yes,
on the lake. I think you will like the lake. I take a dip there myself
every morning before breakfast. I find it good for the health and
appetite. I plunge in and swim perhaps fifty yards, and then return.”
Lord Emsworth suspended the gossip from the training-camp in order to
look at his watch. “Dear me,” he said, “I must be going. McAllister
has been waiting fully ten minutes. Good-bye, then, for the present,
Miss--er--good-bye.”

And Lord Emsworth ambled off, on his face that look of tense
concentration which it always wore when interviews with Angus
McAllister were in prospect--the look which stern warriors wear when
about to meet a foeman worthy of their steel.


§ 5

There was a cold expression in Eve’s eyes as she made her way slowly
to the boat-house. The information which she had just received had
come as a shock, and she was trying to adjust her mind to it. When
Miss Clarkson had told her of the unhappy conclusion to her old school
friend’s marriage to Ralston McTodd, she had immediately, without
knowing anything of the facts, arrayed herself loyally on Cynthia’s
side and condemned the unknown McTodd uncompromisingly and without
hesitation. It was many years since she had seen Cynthia, and their
friendship might almost have been said to have lapsed; but Eve’s
affection, when she had once given it, was a durable thing, capable of
surviving long separation. She had loved Cynthia at school, and she
could feel nothing but animosity towards anyone who had treated her
badly. She eyed the glittering water of the lake from under lowered
brows, and prepared to be frigid and hostile when the villain of the
piece should arrive. It was only when she heard footsteps behind her
and turned to perceive Psmith hurrying up, radiant in gleaming flannel,
that it occurred to her for the first time that there might have been
faults on both sides. She had not known Psmith long, it was true, but
already his personality had made a somewhat deep impression on her,
and she was loath to believe that he could be the callous scoundrel
of her imagination. She decided to suspend judgment until they should
be out in mid-water and in a position to discuss the matter without
interruption.

“I am a little late,” said Psmith, as he came up. “I was detained by
our young friend Freddie. He came into my room and started talking
about himself at the very moment when I was tying my tie and needed
every ounce of concentration for that delicate task. The recent painful
episode appeared to be weighing on his mind to some extent.” He helped
Eve into the boat and started to row. “I consoled him as best I could
by telling him that it would probably have made you think all the more
highly of him. I ventured the suggestion that girls worship the strong,
rough, dashing type of man. And, after I had done my best to convince
him that he was a strong, rough, dashing man, I came away. By now, of
course, he may have had a relapse into despair; so, if you happen to
see a body bobbing about in the water as we row along, it will probably
be Freddie’s.”

“Never mind about Freddie.”

“I don’t if you don’t,” said Psmith agreeably. “Very well, then, if we
see a body, we will ignore it.” He rowed on a few strokes. “Correct me
if I am wrong,” he said, resting on his oars and leaning forward, “but
you appear to be brooding about something. If you will give me a clue,
I will endeavour to assist you to grapple with any little problem which
is troubling you. What is the matter?”

Eve, questioned thus directly, found it difficult to open the subject.
She hesitated a moment, and let the water ripple through her fingers.

“I have only just found out your name, Mr. McTodd,” she said at length.

Psmith nodded.

“It is always thus,” he said. “Passing through this life, we meet a
fellow-mortal, chat awhile, and part; and the last thing we think of
doing is to ask him in a manly and direct way what his label is. There
is something oddly furtive and shamefaced in one’s attitude towards
people’s names. It is as if we shrank from probing some hideous secret.
We say to ourselves ‘This pleasant stranger may be a Snooks or a
Buggins. Better not inquire.’ But in my case . . .”

“It was a great shock to me.”

“Now there,” said Psmith, “I cannot follow you. I wouldn’t call McTodd
a bad name, as names go. Don’t you think there is a sort of Highland
strength about it? It sounds to me like something out of ‘The Lady of
the Lake’ or ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel.’ ‘The stag at eve had drunk
its fill adoon the glen beyint the hill, and welcomed with a friendly
nod old Scotland’s pride, young Laird McTodd.’ You don’t think it has a
sort of wild romantic ring?”

“I ought to tell you, Mr. McTodd,” said Eve, “that I was at school with
Cynthia.”

Psmith was not a young man who often found himself at a loss, but this
remark gave him a bewildered feeling such as comes in dreams. It was
plain to him that this delightful girl thought she had said something
serious, even impressive; but for the moment it did not seem to him to
make sense. He sparred warily for time.

“Indeed? With Cynthia? That must have been jolly.”

The harmless observation appeared to have the worst effect upon his
companion. The frown came back to her face.

“Oh, don’t speak in that flippant, sneering way,” she said. “It’s so
cheap.”

Psmith, having nothing to say, remained silent, and the boat drifted
on. Eve’s face was delicately pink, for she was feeling extraordinarily
embarrassed. There was something in the solemn gaze of the man
before her which made it difficult for her to go on. But, with the
stout-heartedness which was one of her characteristics, she stuck to
her task.

“After all,” she said, “however you may feel about her now, you must
have been fond of poor Cynthia at one time, or I don’t see why you
should have married her.”

Psmith, for want of conversation, had begun rowing again. The start he
gave at these remarkable words caused him to skim the surface of the
water with the left oar in such a manner as to send a liberal pint into
Eve’s lap. He started forward with apologies.

“Oh, never mind about that,” said Eve impatiently. “It doesn’t
matter. . . . Mr. McTodd,” she said, and there was a note of gentleness
in her voice, “I do wish you would tell me what the trouble was.”

Psmith stared at the floor of the boat in silence. He was wrestling
with a feeling of injury. True, he had not during their brief
conversation at the Senior Conservative Club specifically inquired of
Mr. McTodd whether he was a bachelor, but somehow he felt that the man
should have dropped some hint as to his married state. True, again,
Mr. McTodd had not asked him to impersonate him at Blandings Castle.
And yet, undeniably, he felt that he had a grievance. Psmith’s was
an orderly mind. He had proposed to continue the pleasant relations
which had begun between Eve and himself, seeing to it that every day
they became a little pleasanter, until eventually, in due season, they
should reach the point where it would become possible to lay heart and
hand at her feet. For there was no doubt in his mind that in a world
congested to overflowing with girls Eve Halliday stood entirely alone.
And now this infernal Cynthia had risen from nowhere to stand between
them. Even a young man as liberally endowed with calm assurance as he
was might find it awkward to conduct his wooing with such a handicap as
a wife in the background.

Eve misinterpreted his silence.

“I suppose you are thinking that it is no business of mine?”

Psmith came out of his thoughts with a start.

“No, no. Not at all.”

“You see, I’m devoted to Cynthia--and I like you.”

She smiled for the first time. Her embarrassment was passing.

“That is the whole point,” she said. “I do like you. And I’m quite sure
that if you were really the sort of man I thought you when I first
heard about all this, I shouldn’t. The friend who told me about you
and Cynthia made it seem as if the whole fault had been yours. I got
the impression that you had been very unkind to Cynthia. I thought
you must be a brute. And when Lord Emsworth told me who you were, my
first impulse was to hate you. I think if you had come along just then
I should have been rather horrid to you. But you were late, and that
gave me time to think it over. And then I remembered how nice you had
been to me and I felt somehow that--that you must really be quite
nice, and it occurred to me that there might be some explanation. And
I thought that--perhaps--if you would let me interfere in your private
affairs--and if things hadn’t gone too far--I might do something to
help--try to bring you together, you know.”

She broke off, a little confused, for now that the words were out she
was conscious of a return of her former shyness. Even though she was
an old friend of Cynthia’s, there did seem something insufferably
officious in this meddling. And when she saw the look of pain on her
companion’s face, she regretted that she had spoken. Naturally, she
thought, he was offended.

In supposing that Psmith was offended she was mistaken. Internally he
was glowing with a renewed admiration for all those beautiful qualities
in her which he had detected, before they had ever met, at several
yards’ range across the street from the window of the Drones Club
smoking-room. His look of pain was due to the fact that, having now
had time to grapple with the problem, he had decided to dispose of
this Cynthia once and for all. He proposed to eliminate her for ever
from his life. And the elimination of even such a comparative stranger
seemed to him to call for a pained look. So he assumed one.

“That,” he said gravely, “would, I fear, be impossible. It is like you
to suggest it, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the kindness
which has made you interest yourself in my troubles, but it is too late
for any reconciliation. Cynthia and I are divorced.”

For a moment the temptation had come to him to kill the woman off with
some wasting sickness, but this he resisted as tending towards possible
future complications. He was resolved, however, that there should be no
question of bringing them together again.

He was disturbed to find Eve staring at him in amazement.

“Divorced? But how can you be divorced? It’s only a few days since you
and she were in London together.”

Psmith ceased to wonder that Mr. McTodd had had trouble with his wife.
The woman was a perfect pest.

“I used the term in a spiritual rather than a legal sense,” he replied.
“True, there has been no actual decree, but we are separated beyond
hope of reunion.” He saw the distress in Eve’s eyes and hurried on.
“There are things,” he said, “which it is impossible for a man to
overlook, however broad-minded he may be. Love, Miss Halliday, is a
delicate plant. It needs tending, nursing, assiduous fostering. This
cannot be done by throwing the breakfast bacon at a husband’s head.”

“What!” Eve’s astonishment was such that the word came out in a
startled squeak.

“_In_ the dish,” said Psmith sadly.

Eve’s blue eyes opened wide.

“_Cynthia_ did that!”

“On more than one occasion. Her temper in the mornings was terrible. I
have known her lift the cat over two chairs and a settee with a single
kick. And all because there were no mushrooms.”

“But--but I can’t believe it!”

“Come over to Canada,” said Psmith, “and I will show you the cat.”

“Cynthia did that!--Cynthia--why, she was always the gentlest little
creature.”

“At school, you mean?”

“Yes.”

“That,” said Psmith, “would, I suppose, be before she had taken to
drink.”

“Taken to drink!”

Psmith was feeling happier. A passing thought did come to him that all
this was perhaps a trifle rough on the absent Cynthia, but he mastered
the unmanly weakness. It was necessary that Cynthia should suffer in
the good cause. Already he had begun to detect in Eve’s eyes the faint
dawnings of an angelic pity, and pity is recognised by all the best
authorities as one of the most valuable emotions which your wooer can
awaken.

“Drink!” Eve repeated, with a little shudder.

“We lived in one of the dry provinces of Canada, and, as so often
happens, that started the trouble. From the moment when she installed
a private still her downfall was swift. I have seen her, under the
influence of home-brew, rage through the house like a devastating
cyclone . . . I hate speaking like this of one who was your friend,”
said Psmith, in a low, vibrating voice. “I would not tell these things
to anyone but you. The world, of course, supposes that the entire blame
for the collapse of our home was mine. I took care that it should be
so. The opinion of the world matters little to me. But with you it is
different. I should not like you to think badly of me, Miss Halliday.
I do not make friends easily--I am a lonely man--but somehow it has
seemed to me since we met that you and I might be friends.”

Eve stretched her hand out impulsively.

“Why, of course!”

Psmith took her hand and held it far longer than was strictly speaking
necessary.

“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you.”

He turned the nose of the boat to the shore, and rowed slowly back.

“I have suffered,” said Psmith gravely, as he helped her ashore. “But,
if you will be my friend, I think that I may forget.”

They walked in silence up the winding path to the castle.


§ 6

To Psmith five minutes later, as he sat in his room smoking a cigarette
and looking dreamily out at the distant hills, there entered the Hon.
Frederick Threepwood, who, having closed the door behind him, tottered
to the bed and uttered a deep and discordant groan. Psmith, his mind
thus rudely wrenched from pleasant meditations, turned and regarded the
gloomy youth with disfavour.

“At any other time, Comrade Threepwood,” he said politely but with
firmness, “certainly. But not now. I am not in the vein.”

“What?” said the Hon. Freddie vacantly.

“I say that at any other time I shall be delighted to listen to your
farmyard imitations, but not now. At the moment I am deep in thoughts
of my own, and I may say frankly that I regard you as more or less of
an excrescence. I want solitude, solitude. I am in a beautiful reverie,
and your presence jars upon me somewhat profoundly.”

The Hon. Freddie ruined the symmetry of his hair by passing his fingers
feverishly through it.

“Don’t _talk_ so much! I never met a fellow like you for talking.”
Having rumpled his hair to the left, he went through it again and
rumpled it to the right. “I say, do you know what? You’ve jolly well
got to clear out of here quick!” He got up from the bed, and approached
the window. Having done which, he bent towards Psmith and whispered in
his ear. “The game’s up!”

Psmith withdrew his ear with a touch of hauteur, but he looked at
his companion with a little more interest. He had feared, when he
saw Freddie stagger in with such melodramatic despair and emit so
hollow a groan, that the topic on which he wished to converse was the
already exhausted one of his broken heart. It now began to appear that
weightier matters were on his mind.

“I fail to understand you, Comrade Threepwood,” he said. “The last time
I had the privilege of conversing with you, you informed me that Susan,
or whatever her name is, merely giggled and told you not to be silly
when you embraced her. In other words, she is _not_ a detective. What
has happened since then to get you all worked up?”

“Baxter!”

“What has Baxter been doing?”

“Only giving the whole bally show away to me, that’s all,” said
Freddie feverishly. He clutched Psmith’s arm violently, causing that
exquisite to utter a slight moan and smooth out the wrinkles thus
created in his sleeve. “Listen! I’ve just been talking to the blighter.
I was passing the library just now, when he popped out of the door and
hauled me in. And, dash it, he hadn’t been talking two seconds before
I realised that he has seen through the whole dam’ thing practically
from the moment you got here. Though he doesn’t seem to know that I’ve
anything to do with it, thank goodness.”

“I should imagine not, if he makes you his confidant. Why did he do
that, by the way? What made him select you as the recipient of his
secrets?”

“As far as I can make out, his idea was to form a gang, if you know
what I mean. He said a lot of stuff about him and me being the only
two able-bodied young men in the place, and we ought to be prepared to
tackle you if you started anything.”

“I see. And now tell me how our delightful friend ever happened
to begin suspecting that I was not all I seemed to be. I had been
flattering myself that I had put the little deception over with
complete success.”

“Well, in the first place, dash it, that dam’ fellow McTodd--the real
one, you know--sent a telegram saying that he wasn’t coming. So it
seemed rummy to Baxter bang from the start when you blew in all merry
and bright.”

“Ah! That was what they all meant by saying they were glad I had come
‘after all.’ A phrase which at the moment, I confess, rather mystified
me.”

“And then you went and wrote in the Peavey female’s autograph-book.”

“In what way was that a false move?”

“Why, that was the biggest bloomer on record, as it has turned out,”
said Freddie vehemently. “Baxter apparently keeps every letter that
comes to the place on a file, and he’d skewered McTodd’s original
letter with the rest. I mean, the one he wrote accepting the invitation
to come here. And Baxter compared his handwriting with what you wrote
in the Peavey’s album, and, of course, they weren’t a dam’ bit alike.
And that put the lid on it.”

Psmith lit another cigarette and drew at it thoughtfully. He realised
that he had made a tactical error in underestimating the antagonism of
the Efficient One.

“Does he seem to have any idea why I have come to the castle?” he asked.

“Any idea? Why, dash it, the very first thing he said to me was that
you must have come to sneak Aunt Connie’s necklace.”

“In that case, why has he made no move till to-day? I should have
supposed that he would long since have denounced me before as large an
audience as he could assemble. Why this reticence on the part of genial
old Baxter?”

A crimson flush of chivalrous indignation spread itself over Freddie’s
face.

“He told me that, too.”

“There seems to have been no reserves between Comrade Baxter and
yourself. And very healthy, too, this spirit of confidence. What was
his reason for abstaining from loosing the bomb?”

“He said he was pretty sure you wouldn’t try to do anything on your
own. He thought you would wait till your accomplice arrived. And, damn
him,” cried Freddie heatedly, “do you know who he’s got the infernal
gall to think is your accomplice? Miss Halliday! Dash him!”

Psmith smoked in thoughtful silence.

“Well, of course, now that this has happened,” said Freddie, “I suppose
it’s no good thinking of going on with the thing. You’d better pop off,
what? If I were you, I’d leg it to-day and have your luggage sent on
after you.”

Psmith threw away his cigarette and stretched himself. During the last
few moments he had been thinking with some tenseness.

“Comrade Threepwood,” he said reprovingly, “you suggest a cowardly and
weak-minded action. I admit that the outlook would be distinctly rosier
if no such person as Baxter were on the premises, but nevertheless the
thing must be seen through to a finish. At least we have this advantage
over our spectacled friend, that we know he suspects me and he doesn’t
know we know. I think that with a little resource and ingenuity we may
yet win through.” He turned to the window and looked out. “Sad,” he
sighed, “that these idyllic surroundings should have become oppressed
with a cloud of sinister menace. One thinks one sees a faun popping
about in the undergrowth, and on looking more closely perceives that
it is in reality a detective with a notebook. What one fancied was the
piping of Pan turns out to be a police-whistle, summoning assistance.
Still, we must bear these things without wincing. They are our cross.
What you have told me will render me, if possible, warier and more
snake-like than ever, but my purpose remains firm. The cry goes round
the castle battlements ‘Psmith intends to keep the old flag flying!’
So charge off and soothe your quivering ganglions with a couple of
aspirins, Comrade Threepwood, and leave me to my thoughts. All will
doubtless come right in the future.”



CHAPTER IX

PSMITH ENGAGES A VALET


§ 1

From out of the scented shade of the big cedar on the lawn in front of
the castle Psmith looked at the flower-beds, jaunty and gleaming in the
afternoon sun; then he looked back at Eve, incredulity in every feature.

“I must have misunderstood you. Surely,” he said in a voice vibrant
with reproach, “you do not seriously intend to _work_ in weather like
this?”

“I must. I’ve got a conscience. They aren’t paying me a handsome
salary--a fairly handsome salary--to sit about in deck-chairs.”

“But you only came yesterday.”

“Well, I ought to have worked yesterday.”

“It seems to me,” said Psmith, “the nearest thing to slavery that I
have ever struck. I had hoped, seeing that everybody had gone off and
left us alone, that we were going to spend a happy and instructive
afternoon together under the shade of this noble tree, talking of this
and that. Is it not to be?”

“No, it is not. It’s lucky you’re not the one who’s supposed to be
cataloguing this library. It would never get finished.”

“And why, as your employer would say, should it? He has expressed
the opinion several times in my hearing that the library has jogged
along quite comfortably for a great number of years without being
catalogued. Why shouldn’t it go on like that indefinitely?”

“It’s no good trying to tempt me. There’s nothing I should like better
than to loaf here for hours and hours, but what would Mr. Baxter say
when he got back and found out?”

“It is becoming increasingly clear to me each day that I stay in this
place,” said Psmith moodily, “that Comrade Baxter is little short of a
blister on the community. Tell me, how do you get on with him?”

“I don’t like him much.”

“Nor do I. It is on these communities of taste that life-long
attachments are built. Sit down and let us exchange confidences on the
subject of Baxter.”

Eve laughed.

“I won’t. You’re simply trying to lure me into staying out here and
neglecting my duty. I really must be off now. You have no idea what a
lot of work there is to be done.”

“You are entirely spoiling my afternoon.”

“No, I’m not. You’ve got a book. What is it?”

Psmith picked up the brightly-jacketed volume and glanced at it.

“_The Man With The Missing Toe._ Comrade Threepwood lent it to me. He
has a vast store of this type of narrative. I expect he will be wanting
you to catalogue his library next.”

“Well, it looks interesting.”

“Ah, but what does it _teach_? How long do you propose to shut yourself
up in that evil-smelling library?”

“An hour or so.”

“Then I shall rely on your society at the end of that period. We might
go for another saunter on the lake.”

“All right. I’ll come and find you when I’ve finished.”

Psmith watched her disappear into the house, then seated himself once
more in the long chair under the cedar. A sense of loneliness oppressed
him. He gave one look at _The Man With The Missing Toe_, and, having
rejected the entertainment it offered, gave himself up to meditation.

Blandings Castle dozed in the midsummer heat like a Palace of Sleep.
There had been an exodus of its inmates shortly after lunch, when Lord
Emsworth, Lady Constance, Mr. Keeble, Miss Peavey, and the Efficient
Baxter had left for the neighbouring town of Bridgeford in the big
car, with the Hon. Freddie puffing in its wake in a natty two-seater.
Psmith, who had been invited to accompany them, had declined on the
plea that he wished to write a poem. He felt but a tepid interest
in the afternoon’s programme, which was to consist of the unveiling
by his lordship of the recently completed memorial to the late
Hartley Reddish, Esq., J.P., for so many years Member of Parliament
for the Bridgeford and Shifley Division of Shropshire. Not even the
prospect of hearing Lord Emsworth--clad, not without vain protest
and weak grumbling, in a silk hat, morning coat, and sponge-bag
trousers--deliver a speech, had been sufficient to lure him from the
castle grounds.

But at the moment when he had uttered his refusal, thereby incurring
the ill-concealed envy both of Lord Emsworth and his son Freddie, the
latter also an unwilling celebrant, he had supposed that his solitude
would be shared by Eve. This deplorable conscientiousness of hers, this
morbid craving for work, had left him at a loose end. The time and the
place were both above criticism, but, as so often happens in this life
of ours, he had been let down by the girl.

But, though he chafed for awhile, it was not long before the dreamy
peace of the afternoon began to exercise a soothing effect upon him.
With the exception of the bees that worked with their usual misguided
energy among the flowers and an occasional butterfly which flitted past
in the sunshine, all nature seemed to be taking a siesta. Somewhere
out of sight a lawn-mower had begun to emphasise the stillness with
its musical whir. A telegraph-boy on a red bicycle passed up the drive
to the front door, and seemed to have some difficulty in establishing
communication with the domestic staff--from which Psmith deduced that
Beach, the butler, like a good opportunist, was taking advantage of
the absence of authority to enjoy a nap in some distant lair of his
own. Eventually a parlourmaid appeared, accepted the telegram and
(apparently) a rebuke from the boy, and the bicycle passed out of
sight, leaving silence and peace once more.

The noblest minds are not proof against atmospheric conditions of this
kind. Psmith’s eyes closed, opened, closed again. And presently his
regular breathing, varied by an occasional snore, was added to the rest
of the small sounds of the summer afternoon.

The shadow of the cedar was appreciably longer when he awoke with that
sudden start which generally terminates sleep in a garden-chair. A
glance at his watch told him that it was close on five o’clock, a fact
which was confirmed a moment later by the arrival of the parlourmaid
who had answered the summons of the telegraph-boy. She appeared to
be the sole survivor of the little world that had its centre in the
servants’ hall. A sort of female Casabianca.

“I have put your tea in the hall, sir.”

“You could have performed no nobler or more charitable task,” Psmith
assured her; and, having corrected a certain stiffness of limb by
means of massage, went in. It occurred to him that Eve, assiduous
worker though she was, might have knocked off in order to keep him
company.

The hope proved vain. A single cup stood bleakly on the tray. Either
Eve was superior to the feminine passion for tea or she was having hers
up in the library. Filled with something of the sadness which he had
felt at the sight of the toiling bees, Psmith embarked on his solitary
meal, wondering sorrowfully at the perverseness which made girls work
when there was no one to watch them.

It was very agreeable here in the coolness of the hall. The great door
of the castle was open, and through it he had a view of lawns bathed in
a thirst-provoking sunlight. Through the green-baize door to his left,
which led to the servants’ quarters, an occasional sharp giggle gave
evidence of the presence of humanity, but apart from that he might have
been alone in the world. Once again he fell into a dreamy meditation,
and there is little reason to doubt that he would shortly have
disgraced himself by falling asleep for the second time in a single
afternoon, when he was restored to alertness by the sudden appearance
of a foreign body in the open doorway. Against the background of golden
light a black figure had abruptly manifested itself.

The sharp pang of apprehension which ran through Psmith’s consciousness
like an electric shock, causing him to stiffen like some wild creature
surprised in the woods, was due to the momentary belief that the
new-comer was the local vicar, of whose conversational powers he had
had experience on the second day of his visit. Another glance showed
him that he had been too pessimistic. This was not the vicar. It was
someone whom he had never seen before--a slim and graceful young man
with a dark, intelligent face, who stood blinking in the subdued light
of the hall with eyes not yet accustomed to the absence of strong
sunshine. Greatly relieved, Psmith rose and approached him.

“Hallo!” said the new-comer. “I didn’t see you. It’s quite dark in here
after outside.”

“The light is pleasantly dim,” agreed Psmith.

“Is Lord Emsworth anywhere about?”

“I fear not. He has legged it, accompanied by the entire household, to
superintend the unveiling of a memorial at Bridgeford to--if my memory
serves me rightly--the late Hartley Reddish, Esq., J.P., M.P. Is there
anything I can do?”

“Well, I’ve come to stay, you know.”

“Indeed?”

“Lady Constance invited me to pay a visit as soon as I reached England.”

“Ah! Then you have come from foreign parts?”

“Canada.”

Psmith started slightly. This, he perceived, was going to complicate
matters. The last thing he desired was the addition to the Blandings
circle of one familiar with Canada. Nothing would militate against his
peace of mind more than the society of a man who would want to exchange
with him views on that growing country.

“Oh, Canada?” he said.

“I wired,” proceeded the other, “but I suppose it came after everybody
had left. Ah, that must be my telegram on that table over there. I
walked up from the station.” He was rambling idly about the hall after
the fashion of one breaking new ground. He paused at an occasional
table, the one where, when taking after-dinner coffee, Miss Peavey was
wont to sit. He picked up a book, and uttered a gratified laugh. “One
of my little things,” he said.

“One of what?” said Psmith.

“This book. _Songs of Squalor._ I wrote it.”

“You wrote it!”

“Yes. My name’s McTodd. Ralston McTodd. I expect you have heard them
speak of me?”


§ 2

The mind of a man who has undertaken a mission as delicate as Psmith’s
at Blandings Castle is necessarily alert. Ever since he had stepped
into the five o’clock train at Paddington, when his adventure might
have been said formally to have started, Psmith had walked warily,
like one in a jungle on whom sudden and unexpected things might pounce
out at any moment. This calm announcement from the slim young man,
therefore, though it undoubtedly startled him, did not deprive him of
his faculties. On the contrary, it quickened them. His first action
was to step nimbly to the table on which the telegram lay awaiting the
return of Lord Emsworth, his second was to slip the envelope into his
pocket. It was imperative that telegrams signed McTodd should not lie
about loose while he was enjoying the hospitality of the castle.

This done, he confronted the young man.

“Come, come!” he said with quiet severity.

He was extremely grateful to a kindly Providence which had arranged
that this interview should take place at a time when nobody but himself
was in the house.

“You say that you are Ralston McTodd, the author of these poems?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then what,” said Psmith incisively, “Is a pale parabola of Joy?”

“Er--what?” said the new-comer in an enfeebled voice. There was
manifest in his demeanour now a marked nervousness.

“And here is another,” said Psmith. “‘The----’ Wait a minute, I’ll get
it soon. Yes. ‘The sibilant, scented silence that shimmered where we
sat.’ Could you oblige me with a diagram of that one?”

“I--I---- What are you talking about?”

Psmith stretched out a long arm and patted him almost affectionately on
the shoulder.

“It’s lucky you met me before you had to face the others,” he said.
“I fear that you undertook this little venture without thoroughly
equipping yourself. They would have detected your imposture in the
first minute.”

“What do you mean--imposture? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Psmith waggled his forefinger at him reproachfully.

“My dear Comrade, I may as well tell you at once that the genuine
McTodd is an old and dear friend of mine. I had a long and entertaining
conversation with him only a few days ago. So that, I think we may
confidently assert, is that. Or am I wrong?”

“Oh, hell!” said the young man. And, flopping bonelessly into a chair,
he mopped his forehead in undisguised and abject collapse.

Silence reigned for awhile.

“What,” inquired the visitor, raising a damp face that shone pallidly
in the dim light, “are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing, Comrade--by the way, what is your name?”

“Cootes.”

“Nothing, Comrade Cootes. Nothing whatever. You are free to leg it
hence whenever you feel disposed. In fact, the sooner you do so, the
better I shall be pleased.”

“Say! That’s darned good of you.”

“Not at all, not at all.”

“You’re an ace----”

“Oh, hush!” interrupted Psmith modestly. “But before you go tell me one
or two things. I take it that your object in coming here was to have a
pop at Lady Constance’s necklace?”

“Yes.”

“I thought as much. And what made you suppose that the real McTodd
would not be here when you arrived?”

“Oh, that was all right. I travelled over with that guy McTodd on the
boat, and saw a good deal of him when we got to London. He was full of
how he’d been invited here, and I got it out of him that no one here
knew him by sight. And then one afternoon I met him in the Strand, all
worked up. Madder than a hornet. Said he’d been insulted and wouldn’t
come down to this place if they came and begged him on their bended
knees. I couldn’t make out what it was all about, but apparently he
had met Lord Emsworth and hadn’t been treated right. He told me he was
going straight off to Paris.”

“And did he?”

“Sure. I saw him off myself at Charing Cross. That’s why it seemed such
a cinch coming here instead of him. It’s just my darned luck that the
first man I run into is a friend of his. How was I to know that he had
any friends this side? He told me he’d never been in England before.”

“In this life, Comrade Cootes,” said Psmith, “we must always
distinguish between the Unlikely and the Impossible. It was unlikely,
as you say, that you would meet any friend of McTodd’s in this
out-of-the-way spot; and you rashly ordered your movements on the
assumption that it was impossible. With what result? The cry goes round
the Underworld, ‘Poor old Cootes has made a bloomer!’”

“You needn’t rub it in.”

“I am only doing so for your good. It is my earnest hope that you
will lay this lesson to heart and profit by it. Who knows that it may
not be the turning-point in your career? Years hence, when you are
a white-haired and opulent man of leisure, having retired from the
crook business with a comfortable fortune, you may look back on your
experience of to-day and realise that it was the means of starting
you on the road to Success. You will lay stress on it when you are
interviewed for the _Weekly Burglar_ on ‘How I Began’ . . . But,
talking of starting on roads, I think that perhaps it would be as well
if you now had a dash at the one leading to the railway-station. The
household may be returning at any moment now.”

“That’s right,” agreed the visitor.

“I think so,” said Psmith. “I think so. You will be happier when you
are away from here. Once outside the castle precincts, a great weight
will roll off your mind. A little fresh air will put the roses in your
cheeks. You know your way out?”

He shepherded the young man to the door and with a cordial push started
him on his way. Then with long strides he ran upstairs to the library
to find Eve.

       *       *       *       *       *

At about the same moment, on the platform of Market Blandings station,
Miss Aileen Peavey was alighting from the train which had left
Bridgeford some half an hour earlier. A headache, the fruit of standing
about in the hot sun, had caused her to forgo the pleasure of hearing
Lord Emsworth deliver his speech: and she had slipped back on a
convenient train with the intention of lying down and resting. Finding,
on reaching Market Blandings, that her head was much better, and the
heat of the afternoon being now over, she started to walk to the
castle, greatly refreshed by a cool breeze which had sprung up from the
west. She left the town at almost the exact time when the disconsolate
Mr. Cootes was passing out of the big gates at the end of the castle
drive.


§ 3

The grey melancholy which accompanied Mr. Cootes like a diligent
spectre as he began his walk back to the town of Market Blandings, and
which not even the delightful evening could dispel, was due primarily,
of course, to that sickening sense of defeat which afflicts a man whose
high hopes have been wrecked at the very instant when success has
seemed in sight. Once or twice in the life of every man there falls to
his lot something which can only be described as a soft snap, and it
had seemed to Mr. Cootes that this venture of his to Blandings Castle
came into that category. He had, like most members of his profession,
had his ups and downs in the past, but at last, he told himself, the
goddess Fortune had handed him something on a plate with watercress
round it. Once established in the castle, there would have been a
hundred opportunities of achieving the capture of Lady Constance’s
necklace: and it had looked as though all he had to do was to walk in,
announce himself, and be treated as the honoured guest. As he slouched
moodily between the dusty hedges that fringed the road to Market
Blandings, Edward Cootes tasted the bitterness that only those know
whose plans have been upset by the hundredth chance.

But this was not all. In addition to the sadness of frustrated hope, he
was also experiencing the anguish of troubled memories. Not only was
the Present torturing him, but the Past had come to life and jumped
out and bitten him. A sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier
things, and this was what Edward Cootes was doing now. It is at moments
like this that a man needs a woman’s tender care, and Mr. Cootes had
lost the only woman in whom he could have confided his grief, the only
woman who would have understood and sympathised.

We have been introduced to Mr. Cootes at a point in his career when he
was practising upon dry land; but that was not his chosen environment.
Until a few months back his business had lain upon deep waters. The
salt scent of the sea was in his blood. To put it more exactly, he had
been by profession a card-sharper on the Atlantic liners; and it was
during this period that he had loved and lost. For three years and
more he had worked in perfect harmony with the lady who, though she
adopted a variety of names for purposes of travel, was known to her
immediate circle as Smooth Lizzie. He had been the practitioner, she
the decoy, and theirs had been one of those ideal business partnerships
which one so seldom meets with in a world of cynicism and mistrust.
Comradeship had ripened into something deeper and more sacred, and it
was all settled between them that when they next touched New York, Mr.
Cootes, if still at liberty, should proceed to the City Hall for a
marriage-licence; when they had quarrelled--quarrelled irrevocably over
one of those trifling points over which lovers do quarrel. Some absurd
dispute as to the proper division of the quite meagre sum obtained
from a cattle millionaire on their last voyage had marred their golden
dreams. One word had led to another. The lady, after woman’s habit,
had the last of the series, and even Mr. Cootes was forced to admit
that it was a pippin. She had spoken it on the pier at New York, and
then passed out of his life. And with her had gone all his luck. It
was as if her going had brought a curse upon him. On the very next
trip he had had an unfortunate misunderstanding with an irritable
gentleman from the Middle West, who, piqued at what he considered--not
unreasonably--the undue proportion of kings and aces in the hands
which Mr. Cootes had been dealing himself, expressed his displeasure
by biting off the first joint of the other’s right index finger--thus
putting an abrupt end to a brilliant career. For it was on this finger
that Mr. Cootes principally relied for the almost magical effects
which he was wont to produce with a pack of cards after a little quiet
shuffling.

With an aching sense of what might have been he thought now of his lost
Lizzie. Regretfully he admitted to himself that she had always been
the brains of the firm. A certain manual dexterity he had no doubt
possessed, but it was ever Lizzie who had been responsible for the
finer work. If they had still been partners, he really believed that
she could have discovered some way of getting round the obstacles which
had reared themselves now between himself and the necklace of Lady
Constance Keeble. It was in a humble and contrite spirit that Edward
Cootes proceeded on his way to Market Blandings.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Peavey, meanwhile, who, it will be remembered, was moving slowly
along the road from the Market Blandings end, was finding her walk both
restful and enjoyable. There were moments, it has to be recorded, when
the society of her hostess and her hostess’s relations was something of
a strain to Miss Peavey; and she was glad to be alone. Her headache had
disappeared, and she revelled in the quiet evening hush. About now, if
she had not had the sense to detach herself from the castle platoon,
she would, she reflected, be listening to Lord Emsworth’s speech on the
subject of the late Hartley Reddish, J.P., M.P.: a topic which even the
noblest of orators might have failed to render really gripping. And
what she knew of her host gave her little confidence in his powers of
oratory.

Yes, she was well out of it. The gentle breeze played soothingly upon
her face. Her delicately modelled nostrils drank in gratefully the
scent from the hedgerows. Somewhere out of sight a thrush was singing.
And so moved was Miss Peavey by the peace and sweetness of it all that
she, too, began to sing.

Had those who enjoyed the privilege of her acquaintance at Blandings
Castle been informed that Miss Peavey was about to sing, they would
doubtless have considered themselves on firm ground if called upon
to make a conjecture as to the type of song which she would select.
Something quaint, dreamy, a little wistful . . . that would have been
the universal guess . . . some old-world ballad, possibly . . .

What Miss Peavey actually sang--in a soft, meditative voice like that
of a linnet waking to greet a new dawn--was that curious composition
known as “The Beale Street Blues.”

As she reached the last line, she broke off abruptly. She was, she
perceived, no longer alone. Down the road toward her, walking
pensively like one with a secret sorrow, a man was approaching; and
for an instant, as she turned the corner, something in his appearance
seemed to catch her by the throat and her breath came sharply.

“Gee!” said Miss Peavey.

She was herself again the next moment. A chance resemblance had misled
her. She could not see the man’s face, for his head was bent, but how
was it possible . . .

And then, when he was quite close, he raised his head, and the county
of Shropshire, as far as it was visible to her amazed eyes, executed
a sudden and eccentric dance. Trees bobbed up and down, hedgerows
shimmied like a Broadway chorus; and from out of the midst of the
whirling country-side a voice spoke.

“Liz!”

“Eddie!” ejaculated Miss Peavey faintly, and sat down in a heap on a
grassy bank.


§ 4

“Well, for goodness’ sake!” said Miss Peavey.

Shropshire had become static once more. She stared at him, wide-eyed.

“Can you tie it!” said Miss Peavey.

She ran her gaze over him once again from head to foot.

“Well, if this ain’t the cat’s whiskers!” said Miss Peavey. And with
this final pronouncement she rose from her bank, somewhat restored, and
addressed herself to the task of picking up old threads.

“Wherever,” she inquired, “did you spring from, Ed?”

There was nothing but affection in her voice. Her gaze was that of a
mother contemplating her long-lost child. The past was past and a new
era had begun. In the past she had been compelled to describe this man
as a hunk of cheese and to express the opinion that his crookedness
was such as to enable him to hide at will behind a spiral staircase;
but now, in the joy of this unexpected reunion, all these harsh views
were forgotten. This was Eddie Cootes, her old side-kick, come back to
her after many days, and only now was it borne in upon her what a gap
in her life his going had made. She flung herself into his arms with a
glad cry.

Mr. Cootes, who had not been expecting this demonstration of esteem,
staggered a trifle at the impact, but recovered himself sufficiently
to return the embrace with something of his ancient warmth. He was
delighted at this cordiality, but also surprised. The memory of the
lady’s parting words on the occasion of their last meeting was still
green, and he had not realised how quickly women forget and forgive,
and how a sensitive girl, stirred by some fancied injury, may address a
man as a pie-faced plugugly and yet retain in her inmost heart all the
old love and affection. He kissed Miss Peavey fondly.

“Liz,” he said with fervour, “you’re prettier than ever.”

“Now you behave,” responded Miss Peavey coyly.

The arrival of a baaing flock of sheep, escorted by a priggish dog and
followed by a couple of the local peasantry, caused an intermission in
these tender exchanges; and by the time the procession had moved off
down the road they were in a more suitable frame of mind to converse
quietly and in a practical spirit, to compare notes, and to fill up the
blanks.

“Wherever,” inquired Miss Peavey again, “did you spring from, Ed? You
could of knocked me down with a feather when I saw you coming along the
road. I couldn’t have believed it was you, this far from the ocean.
What are you doing inland like this? Taking a vacation, or aren’t you
working the boats any more?”

“No, Liz,” said Mr. Cootes sadly. “I’ve had to give that up.”

And he exhibited the hiatus where an important section of his finger
had been and told his painful tale. His companion’s sympathy was balm
to his wounded soul.

“The risks of the profession, of course,” said Mr. Cootes moodily,
removing the exhibit in order to place his arm about her slender waist.
“Still, it’s done me in. I tried once or twice, but I couldn’t seem to
make the cards behave no more, so I quit. Ah, Liz,” said Mr. Cootes
with feeling, “you can take it from me that I’ve had no luck since
you left me. Regular hoodoo there’s been on me. If I’d walked under a
ladder on a Friday to smash a mirror over the dome of a black cat I
couldn’t have had it tougher.”

“You poor boy!”

Mr. Cootes nodded sombrely.

“Tough,” he agreed, “but there it is. Only this afternoon my jinx
gummed the game for me and threw a spanner into the prettiest little
scenario you ever thought of . . . But let’s not talk about my
troubles. What are you doing now, Liz?”

“Me? Oh, I’m living near here.”

Mr. Cootes started.

“Not married?” he exclaimed in alarm.

“No!” cried Miss Peavey with vehemence, and shot a tender glance up at
his face. “And I guess you know why, Ed.”

“You don’t mean . . . you hadn’t forgotten me?”

“As if I could ever forget you, Eddie! There’s only one tintype on _my_
mantelpiece.”

“But it struck me . . . it sort of occurred to me as a passing thought
that, when we saw each other last, you were a mite peeved with your
Eddie . . .”

It was the first allusion either of them had made to the past
unpleasantness, and it caused a faint blush to dye Miss Peavey’s soft
cheek.

“Oh, shucks!” she said. “I’d forgotten all about that next day. I was
good and mad at the time, I’ll allow, but if only you’d called me up
next morning, Ed . . .”

There was a silence, as they mused on what might have been.

“What are you doing, living here?” asked Mr. Cootes after a pregnant
pause. “Have you retired?”

“No, _sir_. I’m sitting in at a game with real worthwhile stakes. But,
darn it,” said Miss Peavey regretfully, “I’m wondering if it isn’t too
big for me to put through alone. Oh, Eddie, if only there was some way
you and me could work it together like in the old days.”

“What is it?”

“Diamonds, Eddie. A necklace. I’ve only had one look at it so far, but
that was enough. Some of the best ice I’ve saw in years, Ed. Worth
every cent of a hundred thousand berries.”

The coincidence drew from Mr. Cootes a sharp exclamation.

“A necklace!”

“Listen, Ed, while I slip you the low-down. And, say, if you knew the
relief it was to me talking good United States again! Like taking off
a pair of tight shoes. I’m doing the high-toned stuff for the moment.
Soulful. _You_ remember, like I used to pull once or twice in the old
days. Just after you and me had that little spat of ours I thought I’d
take another trip in the old _Atlantic_--force of habit or something,
I guess. Anyway, I sailed, and we weren’t two days out from New York
when I made the biggest kind of a hit with the dame this necklace
belongs to. Seemed to take a shine to me right away . . .”

“I don’t blame her!” murmured Mr. Cootes devotedly.

“Now don’t you interrupt,” said Miss Peavey, administering a gratified
slap. “Where was I? Oh yes. This here now Lady Constance Keeble I’m
telling you about . . .”

“What!”

“What’s the matter now?”

“Lady Constance Keeble?”

“That’s the name. She’s Lord Emsworth’s sister, who lives at a big
place up the road. Blandings Castle it’s called. She didn’t seem like
she was able to let me out of her sight, and I’ve been with her off and
on ever since we landed. I’m visiting at the castle now.”

A deep sigh, like the groan of some great spirit in travail, forced
itself from between Mr. Cootes’s lips.

“Well, wouldn’t that jar you!” he demanded of circumambient space. “Of
all the lucky ones! getting into the place like that, with the band
playing and a red carpet laid down for you to walk on! Gee, if you
fell down a well, Liz, you’d come up with the bucket. You’re a human
horseshoe, that’s what you are. Say, listen. Lemme-tell-ya-sumf’n. Do
you know what _I’ve_ been doing this afternoon? Only trying to edge
into the dam’ place myself and getting the air two minutes after I was
past the front door.”

“What! _You_, Ed?”

“Sure. You’re not the only one that’s heard of that collection of ice.”

“Oh, Ed!” Bitter disappointment rang in Miss Peavey’s voice. “If only
you could have worked it! Me and you partners again! It hurts to think
of it. What was the stuff you pulled to get you in?”

Mr. Cootes so far forgot himself in his agony of spirit as to
expectorate disgustedly at a passing frog. And even in this trivial
enterprise failure dogged him. He missed the frog, which withdrew into
the grass with a cold look of disapproval.

“Me?” said Mr. Cootes. “I thought I’d got it smooth. I’d chummed up
with a fellow who had been invited down to the place and had thought it
over and decided not to go, so I said to myself what’s the matter with
going there instead of him. A gink called McTodd this was, a poet, and
none of the folks had ever set eyes on him, except the old man, who’s
too short-sighted to see anyone, so . . .”

Miss Peavey interrupted.

“You don’t mean to tell me, Ed Cootes, that you thought you could get
into the castle by pretending to be Ralston McTodd?”

“Sure I did. Why not? It didn’t seem like there was anything to it.
A cinch, that’s what it looked like. And the first guy I meet in the
joint is a mutt who knows this McTodd well. We had a couple of words,
and I beat it. I know when I’m not wanted.”

“But, Ed! Ed! What do you mean? Ralston McTodd is at the castle now,
this very moment.”

“How’s that?”

“Sure. Been there coupla days and more. Long, thin bird with an
eyeglass.”

Mr. Cootes’s mind was in a whirl. He could make nothing of this matter.

“Nothing like it! McTodd’s not so darned tall or so thin, if it comes
to that. And he didn’t wear no eyeglass all the time I was with him.
This . . .” He broke off sharply. “My gosh! I wonder!” he cried. “Liz!
How many men are there in the joint right now?”

“Only four besides Lord Emsworth. There’s a big party coming down for
the County Ball, but that’s all there is at present. There’s Lord
Emsworth’s son, Freddie . . .”

“What does he look like?”

“Sort of a dude with blond hair slicked back. Then there’s Mr. Keeble.
He’s short with a red face.”

“And?”

“And Baxter. He’s Lord Emsworth’s secretary. Wears spectacles.”

“And that’s the lot?”

“That’s all there is, not counting this here McTodd and the help.”

Mr. Cootes brought his hand down with a resounding report on his leg.
The mildly pleasant look which had been a feature of his appearance
during his interview with Psmith had vanished now, its place taken by
one of an extremely sinister malevolence.

“And I let him shoo me out as if I was a stray pup!” he muttered
through clenched teeth. “Of all the bunk games!”

“What _are_ you talking about, Ed?”

“And I thanked him! _Thanked_ him!” moaned Edward Cootes, writhing at
the memory. “I thanked him for letting me go!”

“Eddie Cootes, whatever are you . . . ?”

“Listen, Liz.” Mr. Cootes mastered his emotion with a strong effort. “I
blew into that joint and met this fellow with the eyeglass, and he told
me he knew McTodd well and that I wasn’t him. And, from what you tell
me, this must be the very guy that’s passing himself off as McTodd!
Don’t you see? This baby must have started working on the same lines
I did. Got to know McTodd, found he wasn’t coming to the castle, and
came down instead of him, same as me. Only he got there first, damn
him! Wouldn’t that give you a pain in the neck!”

Amazement held Miss Peavey dumb for an instant. Then she spoke.

“The big stiff!” said Miss Peavey.

Mr. Cootes, regardless of a lady’s presence, went even further in his
censure.

“I had a feeling from the first that there was something not on the
level about that guy!” said Miss Peavey. “Gee! He must be after that
necklace too.”

“Sure he’s after the necklace,” said Mr. Cootes impatiently. “What did
you think he’d come down for? A change of air?”

“But, Ed! Say! Are you going to let him get away with it?”

“Am _I_ going to let him get away with it!” said Mr. Cootes, annoyed by
the foolish question. “Wake me up in the night and ask me!”

“But what are you going to do?”

“Do!” said Mr. Cootes. “Do! I’ll tell you what I’m going to . . .” He
paused, and the stern resolve that shone in his face seemed to flicker.
“Say, what the hell _am_ I going to do?” he went on somewhat weakly.

“You won’t get anything by putting the folks wise that he’s a fake.
That would be the finish of him, but it wouldn’t get _you_ anywhere.”

“No,” said Mr. Cootes.

“Wait a minute while I think,” said Miss Peavey.

There was a pause. Miss Peavey sat with knit brows.

“How would it be . . . ?” ventured Mr. Cootes.

“Cheese it!” said Miss Peavey.

Mr. Cootes cheesed it. The minutes ticked on.

“I’ve got it,” said Miss Peavey. “This guy’s ace-high with Lady
Constance. You’ve got to get him alone right away and tell him he’s got
to get you invited to the place as a friend of his.”

“I knew you’d think of something, Liz,” said Mr. Cootes, almost humbly.
“You always were a wonder like that. How am I to get him alone?”

“I can fix that. I’ll ask him to come for a stroll with me. He’s not
what you’d call crazy about me, but he can’t very well duck if I keep
after him. We’ll go down the drive. You’ll be in the bushes--I’ll show
you the place. Then I’ll send him to fetch me a wrap or something, and
while I walk on he’ll come back past where you’re hiding, and you jump
out at him.”

“Liz,” said Mr. Cootes, lost in admiration, “when it comes to doping
out a scheme, you’re the snake’s eyebrows!”

“But what are you going to do if he just turns you down?”

Mr. Cootes uttered a bleak laugh, and from the recesses of his costume
produced a neat little revolver.

“_He_ won’t turn me down!” he said.


§ 5

“Fancy!” said Miss Peavey. “If I had not had a headache and come back
early, we should never have had this little chat!”

She gazed up at Psmith in her gentle, wistful way as they started
together down the broad gravel drive. A timid, soulful little thing she
looked.

“No,” said Psmith.

It was not a gushing reply, but he was not feeling at his sunniest.
The idea that Miss Peavey might return from Bridgeford in advance of
the main body had not occurred to him. As he would have said himself,
he had confused the Unlikely with the Impossible. And the result had
been that she had caught him beyond hope of retreat as he sat in his
garden-chair and thought of Eve Halliday, who on their return from the
lake had been seized with a fresh spasm of conscience and had gone back
to the library to put in another hour’s work before dinner. To decline
Miss Peavey’s invitation to accompany her down the drive in order to
see if there were any signs of those who had been doing honour to the
late Hartley Reddish, M.P., had been out of the question. But Psmith,
though he went, went without pleasure. Every moment he spent in her
society tended to confirm him more and more in the opinion that Miss
Peavey was the curse of the species.

“And I have been so longing,” continued his companion, “to have a nice,
long talk. All these days I have felt that I haven’t been able to get
as _near_ you as I should wish.”

“Well, of course, with the others always about . . .”

“I meant in a spiritual sense, of course.”

“I see.”

“I wanted so much to discuss your wonderful poetry with you. You
haven’t so much as _mentioned_ your work since you came here. _Have_
you!”

“Ah, but, you see, I am trying to keep my mind off it.”

“Really? Why?”

“My medical adviser warned me that I had been concentrating a trifle
too much. He offered me the choice, in fact, between a complete rest
and the loony-bin.”

“The _what_, Mr. McTodd?”

“The lunatic asylum, he meant. These medical men express themselves
oddly.”

“But surely, then, you ought not to _dream_ of trying to compose if it
is as bad as that? And you told Lord Emsworth that you wished to stay
at home this afternoon to write a poem.”

Her glance showed nothing but tender solicitude, but inwardly Miss
Peavey was telling herself that _that_ would hold him for awhile.

“True,” said Psmith, “true. But you know what Art is. An inexorable
mistress. The inspiration came, and I felt that I must take the risk.
But it has left me weak, weak.”

“You BIG STIFF!” said Miss Peavey. But not aloud.

They walked on a few steps.

“In fact,” said Psmith, with another inspiration, “I’m not sure I ought
not to be going back and resting now.”

Miss Peavey eyed a clump of bushes some dozen yards farther down the
drive. They were quivering slightly, as though they sheltered some
alien body; and Miss Peavey, whose temper was apt to be impatient,
registered a resolve to tell Edward Cootes that, if he couldn’t hide
behind a bush without dancing about like a cat on hot bricks, he had
better give up his profession and take to selling jellied eels. In
which, it may be mentioned, she wronged her old friend. He had been as
still as a statue until a moment before, when a large and excitable
beetle had fallen down the space between his collar and his neck, an
experience which might well have tried the subtlest woodsman.

“Oh, please don’t go in yet,” said Miss Peavey. “It is such a lovely
evening. Hark to the music of the breeze in the tree-tops. So soothing.
Like a far-away harp. I wonder if it is whispering secrets to the
birds.”

Psmith forbore to follow her into this region of speculation, and they
walked past the bushes in silence.

Some little distance farther on, however, Miss Peavey seemed to relent.

“You _are_ looking tired, Mr. McTodd,” she said anxiously. “I am afraid
you really have been overtaxing your strength. Perhaps after all you
had better go back and lie down.”

“You think so?”

“I am sure of it. I will just stroll on to the gates and see if the car
is in sight.”

“I feel that I am deserting you.”

“Oh, please!” said Miss Peavey deprecatingly.

With something of the feelings of a long-sentence convict unexpectedly
released immediately on his arrival in jail, Psmith retraced his steps.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that Miss Peavey had disappeared
round a bend in the drive; and he paused to light a cigarette. He had
just thrown away the match and was walking on, well content with life,
when a voice behind him said “Hey!” and the well-remembered form of Mr.
Edward Cootes stepped out of the bushes.

“See this?” said Mr. Cootes, exhibiting his revolver.

“I do indeed, Comrade Cootes,” replied Psmith. “And, if it is not an
untimely question, what is the idea?”

“That,” said Mr. Cootes, “is just in case you try any funny business.”
And, replacing the weapon in a handy pocket, he proceeded to slap
vigorously at the region between his shoulder blades. He also wriggled
with not a little animation.

Psmith watched these manœuvres gravely.

“You did not stop me at the pistol’s point merely to watch you go
through your Swedish exercises?” he said.

Mr. Cootes paused for an instant.

“Got a beetle or something down my back,” he explained curtly.

“Ah? Then, as you will naturally wish to be alone in such a sad moment,
I will be bidding you a cordial good evening and strolling on.”

“No, you don’t!”

“Don’t I?” said Psmith resignedly. “Perhaps you are right, perhaps you
are right.” Mr. Cootes replaced the revolver once more. “I take it,
then, Comrade Cootes, that you would have speech with me. Carry on, old
friend, and get it off your diaphragm. What seems to be on your mind?”

A lucky blow appeared to have stunned Mr. Cootes’s beetle, and he was
able to give his full attention to the matter in hand. He stared at
Psmith with considerable distaste.

“I’m on to you, Bill!” he said.

“My name is not Bill,” said Psmith.

“No,” snapped Mr. Cootes, his annoyance by this time very manifest.
“And it’s not McTodd.”

Psmith looked at his companion thoughtfully. This was an unforeseen
complication, and for the moment he would readily have admitted that he
saw no way of overcoming it. That the other was in no genial frame of
mind towards him the expression on his face would have showed, even if
his actions had not been sufficient indication of the fact. Mr. Cootes,
having disposed of his beetle and being now at leisure to concentrate
his whole attention on Psmith, was eyeing that immaculate young man
with a dislike which he did not attempt to conceal.

“Shall we be strolling on?” suggested Psmith. “Walking may assist
thought. At the moment I am free to confess that you have opened up
a subject which causes me some perplexity. I think, Comrade Cootes,
having given the position of affairs a careful examination, that we may
say that the next move is with you. What do you propose to do about it?”

“I’d like,” said Mr. Cootes with asperity, “to beat your block off.”

“No doubt. But . . .”

“I’d like to knock you for a goal!”

Psmith discouraged these Utopian dreams with a deprecating wave of the
hand.

“I can readily understand it,” he said courteously. “But, to keep
within the sphere of practical politics, what is the actual move which
you contemplate? You could expose me, no doubt, to my host, but I
cannot see how that would profit you.”

“I know that. But you can remember I’ve got that up my sleeve in case
you try any funny business.”

“You persist in harping on that possibility, Comrade Cootes. The idea
seems to be an obsession with you. I can assure you that I contemplate
no such thing. What, to return to the point, do you intend to do?”

They had reached the broad expanse opposite the front door, where the
drive, from being a river, spread out into a lake of gravel. Psmith
stopped.

“You’ve got to get me into this joint,” said Mr. Cootes.

“I feared that that was what you were about to suggest. In my peculiar
position I have naturally no choice but to endeavour to carry out your
wishes. Any attempt not to do so would, I imagine, infallibly strike so
keen a critic as yourself as ‘funny business.’ But how can I get you
into what you breezily describe as ‘this joint’?”

“You can say I’m a friend of yours and ask them to invite me.”

Psmith shook his head gently.

“Not one of your brightest suggestions, Comrade Cootes. Tactfully
refraining from stressing the point that an instant lowering of my
prestige would inevitably ensue should it be supposed that you were a
friend of mine, I will merely mention that, being myself merely a guest
in this stately home of England, I can hardly go about inviting my
chums here for indefinite visits. No, we must find another way. . . .
You’re sure you want to stay? Quite so, quite so, I merely asked. . . .
Now, let us think.”

Through the belt of rhododendrons which jutted out from one side of the
castle a portly form at this point made itself visible, moving high and
disposedly in the direction of the back premises. It was Beach, the
butler, returning from the pleasant ramble in which he had indulged
himself on the departure of his employer and the rest of the party.
Revived by some gracious hours in the open air, Beach was returning to
duty. And with the sight of him there came to Psmith a neat solution of
the problem confronting him.

“Oh, Beach,” he called.

“Sir?” responded a fruity voice. There was a brief pause while the
butler navigated into the open. He removed the straw hat which he had
donned for his excursion, and enfolded Psmith in a pop-eyed but not
unkindly gaze. A thoughtful critic of country-house humanity, he had
long since decided that he approved of Psmith. Since Lady Constance had
first begun to offer the hospitality of the castle to the literary and
artistic world, he had been profoundly shocked by some of the rare and
curious specimens who had nodded their disordered locks and flaunted
their ill-cut evening clothes at the dinner-table over which he
presided; and Psmith had come as a pleasant surprise.

“Sorry to trouble you, Beach.”

“Not at all, sir.”

“This,” said Psmith, indicating Mr. Cootes, who was viewing the scene
with a wary and suspicious eye, an eye obviously alert for any signs
of funny business, “is my man. My valet, you know. He has just arrived
from town. I had to leave him behind to attend the bedside of a sick
aunt. Your aunt was better when you came away, Cootes?” he inquired
graciously.

Mr. Cootes correctly interpreted this question as a feeler with regard
to his views on this new development, and decided to accept the
situation. True, he had hoped to enter the castle in a slightly higher
capacity than that of a gentleman’s personal gentleman, but he was an
old campaigner. Once in, as he put it to himself with admirable common
sense, he would be in.

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

“Capital,” said Psmith. “Capital. Then will you look after Cootes,
Beach.”

“Very good, sir,” said the butler in a voice of cordial approval. The
only point he had found to cavil at in Psmith had been removed; for it
had hitherto pained him a little that a gentleman with so nice a taste
in clothes as that dignified guest should have embarked on a visit to
such a place as Blandings Castle without a personal attendant. Now
all was explained and, as far as Beach was concerned, forgiven. He
proceeded to escort Mr. Cootes to the rear. They disappeared behind the
rhododendrons.

They had hardly gone when a sudden thought came to Psmith as he sat
once more in the coolness of the hall. He pressed the bell. Strange,
he reflected, how one overlooked these obvious things. That was how
generals lost battles.

“Sir?” said Beach, appearing through the green baize door.

“Sorry to trouble you again, Beach.”

“Not at all, sir.”

“I hope you will make Cootes comfortable. I think you will like him.
His, when you get to know him, is a very winning personality.”

“He seems a nice young fellow, sir.”

“Oh, by the way, Beach. You might ask him if he brought my revolver
from town with him.”

“Yes, sir,” said Beach, who would have scorned to betray emotion if it
had been a Lewis gun.

“I think I saw it sticking out of his pocket. You might bring it to me,
will you?”

“Very good, sir.”

Beach retired, to return a moment later. On the silver salver which he
carried the lethal weapon was duly reposing.

“Your revolver, sir,” said Beach.

“Thank you,” said Psmith.


§ 6

For some moments after the butler had withdrawn in his stately
pigeon-toed way through the green baize door, Psmith lay back in his
chair with the feeling that something attempted, something done, had
earned a night’s repose. He was not so sanguine as to suppose that he
had actually checkmated an adversary of Mr. Cootes’s strenuousness
by the simple act of removing a revolver from his possession; but
there was no denying the fact that the feel of the thing in his
pocket engendered a certain cosy satisfaction. The little he had seen
of Mr. Cootes had been enough to convince him that the other was a
man who was far better off without an automatic pistol. There was
an impulsiveness about his character which did not go well with the
possession of fire-arms.

Psmith’s meditations had taken him thus far when they were interrupted
by an imperative voice.

“Hey!”

Only one person of Psmith’s acquaintance was in the habit of opening
his remarks in this manner. It was consequently no surprise to him to
find Mr. Edward Cootes standing at his elbow.

“Hey!”

“All right, Comrade Cootes,” said Psmith with a touch of austerity,
“I heard you the first time. And may I remind you that this habit of
yours of popping out from unexpected places and saying ‘Hey!’ is one
which should be overcome. Valets are supposed to wait till rung for. At
least, I think so. I must confess that until this moment I have never
had a valet.”

“And you wouldn’t have one now if I could help it,” responded Mr.
Cootes.

Psmith raised his eyebrows.

“Why,” he inquired, surprised, “this peevishness? Don’t you like being
a valet?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You astonish me. I should have thought you would have gone singing
about the house. Have you considered that the tenancy of such a
position throws you into the constant society of Comrade Beach, than
whom it would be difficult to imagine a more delightful companion?”

“Old stiff!” said Mr. Cootes sourly. “If there’s one thing that makes
me tired, it’s a guy that talks about his darned stomach all the time.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The Beach gook,” explained Mr. Cootes, “has got something wrong with
the lining of his stomach, and if I hadn’t made my getaway he’d be
talking about it yet.”

“If you fail to find entertainment and uplift in first-hand information
about Comrade Beach’s stomach, you must indeed be hard to please. I
am to take it, then, that you came snorting out here, interrupting my
daydreams, merely in order to seek my sympathy?”

Mr. Cootes gazed upon him with a smouldering eye.

“I came to tell you I suppose you think you’re darned smart.”

“And very nice of you, too,” said Psmith, touched. “A pretty
compliment, for which I am not ungrateful.”

“You got that gun away from me mighty smoothly, didn’t you?”

“Since you mention it, yes.”

“And now I suppose you think you’re going to slip in ahead of me and
get away with that necklace? Well, say, listen, lemme tell you it’ll
take someone better than a half-baked string-bean like you to put one
over on me.”

“I seem,” said Psmith, pained, “to detect a certain animus creeping
into your tone. Surely we can be trade rivals without this spirit of
hostility. My attitude towards you is one of kindly tolerance.”

“Even if you get it, where do you think you’re going to hide it? And,
believe me, it’ll take some hiding. Say, lemme tell you something.
I’m your valet, ain’t I? Well, then, I can come into your room and
be tidying up whenever I darn please, can’t I? Sure I can. I’ll tell
the world I can do just that little thing. And you take it from me,
Bill . . .”

“You persist in the delusion that my name is William . . .”

“You take it from me, Bill, that if ever that necklace disappears and
it isn’t me that’s done the disappearing, you’ll find me tidying up in
a way that’ll make you dizzy. I’ll go through that room of yours with a
fine-tooth comb. So chew on that, will you?”

And Edward Cootes, moving sombrely across the hall, made a sinister
exit. The mood of cool reflection was still to come, when he would
realise that, in his desire to administer what he would have described
as a hot one, he had acted a little rashly in putting his enemy on
his guard. All he was thinking now was that his brief sketch of the
position of affairs would have the effect of diminishing Psmith’s
complacency a trifle. He had, he flattered himself, slipped over
something that could be classed as a jolt.

Nor was he unjustified in this view. The aspect of the matter on which
he had touched was one that had not previously presented itself to
Psmith: and, musing on it as he resettled himself in his chair, he
could see that it afforded food for thought. As regarded the disposal
of the necklace, should it ever come into his possession, he had formed
no definite plan. He had assumed that he would conceal it somewhere
until the first excitement of the chase slackened, and it was only now
that he realised the difficulty of finding a suitable hiding-place
outside his bedroom. Yes, it was certainly a matter on which, as Mr.
Cootes had suggested, he would do well to chew. For ten minutes,
accordingly, he did so. And--it being practically impossible to keep a
good man down--at the end of that period he was rewarded with an idea.
He rose from his chair and pressed the bell.

“Ah, Beach,” he said affably, as the green baize door swung open, “I
must apologise once more for troubling you. I keep ringing, don’t I?”

“No trouble at all, sir,” responded the butler paternally. “But if
you were ringing to summon your personal attendant, I fear he is not
immediately available. He left me somewhat abruptly a few moments ago.
I was not aware that you would be requiring his services until the
dressing-gong sounded, or I would have detained him.”

“Never mind. It was you I wished to see. Beach,” said Psmith, “I am
concerned about you. I learn from my man that the lining of your
stomach is not all it should be.”

“That is true, sir,” replied Beach, an excited gleam coming into his
dull eyes. He shivered slightly, as might a war-horse at the sound of
the bugle. “I do have trouble with the lining of my stomach.”

“Every stomach has a silver lining.”

“Sir?”

“I said, tell me all about it.”

“Well, really, sir . . .” said Beach wistfully.

“To please me,” urged Psmith.

“Well, sir, it is extremely kind of you to take an interest. It
generally starts with a dull shooting pain on the right side of the
abdomen from twenty minutes to half an hour after the conclusion of a
meal. The symptoms . . .”

There was nothing but courteous sympathy in Psmith’s gaze as he
listened to what sounded like an eyewitness’s account of the San
Francisco earthquake, but inwardly he was wishing that his companion
could see his way to making it a bit briefer and snappier. However, all
things come to an end. Even the weariest river winds somewhere to the
sea. With a moving period, the butler finally concluded his narrative.

“Parks’ Pepsinine,” said Psmith promptly.

“Sir?”

“That’s what you want. Parks’ Pepsinine. It would set you right in no
time.”

“I will make a note of the name, sir. The specific has not come to my
notice until now. And, if I may say so,” added Beach, with a glassy but
adoring look at his benefactor, “I should like to express my gratitude
for your kindness.”

“Not at all, Beach, not at all. Oh, Beach,” he said, as the other
started to manœuvre towards the door, “I’ve just remembered. There was
something else I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Yes, sir?”

“I thought it might be as well to speak to you about it before
approaching Lady Constance. The fact is, Beach, I am feeling cramped.”

“Indeed, sir? I forgot to mention that one of the symptoms from which I
suffer is a sharp cramp.”

“Too bad. But let us, if you do not mind, shelve for the moment the
subject of your interior organism and its ailments. When I say I am
feeling cramped, I mean spiritually. Have you ever written poetry,
Beach?”

“No, sir.”

“Ah! Then it may be a little difficult for you to understand my
feelings. My trouble is this. Out in Canada, Beach, I grew accustomed
to doing my work in the most solitary surroundings. You remember that
passage in my _Songs of Squalor_ which begins ‘Across the pale parabola
of Joy . . .’?”

“I fear, sir . . .”

“You missed it? Tough luck. Try to get hold of it some time. It’s a
bird. Well, that passage was written in a lonely hut on the banks of
the Saskatchewan, miles away from human habitation. I am like that,
Beach. I need the stimulus of the great open spaces. When I am
surrounded by my fellows, inspiration slackens and dies. You know how
it is when there are people about. Just as you are starting in to write
a nifty, someone comes and sits down on the desk and begins talking
about himself. Every time you get going nicely, in barges some alien
influence and the Muse goes blooey. You see what I mean?”

“Yes, sir,” said Beach, gaping slightly.

“Well, that is why for a man like me existence in Blandings Castle
has its drawbacks. I have got to get a place where I can be alone,
Beach--alone with my dreams and visions. Some little eyrie perched
on the cliffs of Time. . . . In other words, do you know of an empty
cottage somewhere on the estate where I could betake myself when in the
mood and swing a nib without any possibility of being interrupted?”

“A little cottage, sir?”

“A little cottage. With honeysuckle over the door, and Old Mister Moon
climbing up above the trees. A cottage, Beach, where I can meditate,
where I can turn the key in the door and bid the world go by. Now that
the castle is going to be full of all these people who are coming
for the County Ball, it is imperative that I wangle such a haven.
Otherwise, a considerable slab of priceless poetry will be lost to
humanity for ever.”

“You desire,” said Beach, feeling his way cautiously, “a small cottage
where you can write poetry, sir?”

“You follow me like a leopard. Do you know of such a one?”

“There is an unoccupied gamekeeper’s cottage in the west wood, sir, but
it is an extremely humble place.”

“Be it never so humble, it will do for me. Do you think Lady Constance
would be offended if I were to ask for the loan of it for a few days?”

“I fancy that her ladyship would receive the request with equanimity,
sir. She is used to . . . She is not unaccustomed . . . Well, I can
only say, sir, that there was a literary gentleman visiting the castle
last summer who expressed a desire to take sun-baths in the garden each
morning before breakfast. In the nood, sir. And, beyond instructing me
to warn the maids, her ladyship placed no obstacle in the way of the
fulfilment of his wishes. So . . .”

“So a modest request like mine isn’t likely to cause a heart-attack?
Admirable! You don’t know what it means to me to feel that I shall
soon have a little refuge of my own, to which I can retreat and be in
solitude.”

“I can imagine that it must be extremely gratifying, sir.”

“Then I will put the motion before the Board directly Lady Constance
returns.”

“Very good, sir.”

“I should like to splash it on the record once more, Beach, that I am
much obliged to you for your sympathy and advice in this matter. I knew
you would not fail me.”

“Not at all, sir. I am only too glad to have been able to be of
assistance.”

“Oh, and, Beach . . .”

“Sir?”

“Just one other thing. Will you be seeing Cootes, my valet, again
shortly?”

“Quite shortly, sir, I should imagine.”

“Then would you mind just prodding him smartly in the lower ribs . . .”

“Sir?” cried Beach, startled out of his butlerian calm. He swallowed
a little convulsively. For eighteen months and more, ever since Lady
Constance Keeble had first begun to cast her fly and hook over the
murky water of the artistic world and jerk its denizens on to the pile
carpets of Blandings Castle, Beach had had his fill of eccentricity.
But until this moment he had hoped that Psmith was going to prove an
agreeable change from the stream of literary lunatics which had been
coming and going all that weary time. And lo! Psmith’s name led all the
rest. Even the man who had come for a week in April and had wanted to
eat jam with his fish paled in comparison.

“Prod him in the ribs, sir?” he quavered.

“Prod him in the ribs,” said Psmith firmly. “And at the same time
whisper in his ear the word ‘Aha!’” Beach licked his dry lips.

“Aha, sir?”

“Aha! And say it came from me.”

“Very good, sir. The matter shall be attended to,” said Beach. And with
a muffled sound that was half a sigh, half a death-rattle, he tottered
through the green-baize door.



CHAPTER X

SENSATIONAL OCCURRENCE AT A POETRY READING


§ 1

Breakfast was over, and the guests of Blandings had scattered to their
morning occupations. Some were writing letters, some were in the
billiard-room: some had gone to the stables, some to the links: Lady
Constance was interviewing the housekeeper, Lord Emsworth harrying
head-gardener McAllister among the flower-beds: and in the Yew Alley,
the dappled sunlight falling upon her graceful head, Miss Peavey walked
pensively up and down.

She was alone. It is a sad but indisputable fact that in this imperfect
world Genius is too often condemned to walk alone--if the earthier
members of the community see it coming and have time to duck. Not one
of the horde of visitors who had arrived overnight for the County Ball
had shown any disposition whatever to court Miss Peavey’s society.

One regrets this. Except for that slight bias towards dishonesty
which led her to steal everything she could lay her hands on that was
not nailed down, Aileen Peavey’s was an admirable character; and,
oddly enough, it was the noble side of her nature to which these
coarse-fibred critics objected. Of Miss Peavey, the purloiner of
other people’s goods, they knew nothing; the woman they were dodging
was Miss Peavey, the poetess. And it may be mentioned that, however
much she might unbend in the presence of a congenial friend like Mr.
Edward Cootes, she was a perfectly genuine poetess. Those six volumes
under her name in the British Museum catalogue were her own genuine
and unaided work: and, though she had been compelled to pay for the
production of the first of the series, the other five had been brought
out at her publisher’s own risk, and had even made a little money.

Miss Peavey, however, was not sorry to be alone: for she had that on
her mind which called for solitary thinking. The matter engaging her
attention was the problem of what on earth had happened to Mr. Edward
Cootes. Two days had passed since he had left her to go and force
Psmith at the pistol’s point to introduce him into the castle: and
since that moment he had vanished completely. Miss Peavey could not
understand it.

His non-appearance was all the more galling in that her superb brain
had just completed in every detail a scheme for the seizure of Lady
Constance Keeble’s diamond necklace; and to the success of this plot
his aid was an indispensable adjunct. She was in the position of a
general who comes from his tent with a plan of battle all mapped out,
and finds that his army has strolled off somewhere and left him. Little
wonder that, as she paced the Yew Alley, there was a frown on Miss
Peavey’s fair forehead.

The Yew Alley, as Lord Emsworth had indicated in his extremely
interesting lecture to Mr. Ralston McTodd at the Senior Conservative
Club, contained among other noteworthy features certain yews which rose
in solid blocks with rounded roof and stemless mushroom finials, the
majority possessing arched recesses, forming arbors. As Miss Peavey was
passing one of these, a voice suddenly addressed her.

“Hey!”

Miss Peavey started violently.

“Anyone about?”

A damp face with twigs sticking to it was protruding from a near-by
yew. It rolled its eyes in an ineffectual effort to see round the
corner.

Miss Peavey drew nearer, breathing heavily. The question as to the
whereabouts of her wandering boy was solved; but the abruptness of his
return had caused her to bite her tongue; and joy, as she confronted
him, was blended with other emotions.

“You dish-faced gazooni!” she exclaimed heatedly, her voice trembling
with a sense of ill-usage, “where do you get that stuff, hiding in
trees, and barking a girl’s head off?”

“Sorry, Liz. I . . .”

“And where,” proceeded Miss Peavey, ventilating another grievance,
“have you been all this darned time? Gosh-dingit, you leave me a coupla
days back saying you’re going to stick up this bozo that calls himself
McTodd with a gat and make him get you into the house, and that’s the
last I see of you. What’s the big idea?”

“It’s all right, Liz. He did get me into the house. I’m his valet.
That’s why I couldn’t get at you before. The way the help has to keep
itself to itself in this joint, we might as well have been in different
counties. If I hadn’t happened to see you snooping off by yourself this
morning . . .”

Miss Peavey’s keen mind grasped the position of affairs.

“All right, all right,” she interrupted, ever impatient of long
speeches from others. “I understand. Well, this is good, Ed. It
couldn’t have worked out better. I’ve got a scheme all doped out, and
now you’re here we can get busy.”

“A scheme?”

“A pippin,” assented Miss Peavey.

“It’ll need to be,” said Mr. Cootes, on whom the events of the last few
days had caused pessimism to set its seal. “I tell you that McTodd gook
is smooth. He somehow,” said Mr. Cootes prudently, for he feared harsh
criticisms from his lady-love should he reveal the whole truth, “he
somehow got wise to the notion that, as I was his valet, I could go and
snoop round in his room, where he’d be wanting to hide the stuff if he
ever got it, and now he’s gone and got them to let him have a kind of
shack in the woods.”

“H’m!” said Miss Peavey. “Well,” she resumed after a thoughtful pause,
“I’m not worrying about him. Let him go and roost in the woods all he
wants to. I’ve got a scheme all ready, and it’s gilt-edged. And, unless
you ball up your end of it, Ed, it can’t fail to drag home the gravy.”

“Am I in it?”

“You bet you’re in it. I can’t work it without you. That’s what’s been
making me so darned mad when you didn’t show up all this time.”

“Spill it, Liz,” said Mr. Cootes humbly. As always in the presence of
this dynamic woman, he was suffering from an inferiority complex. From
the very start of their combined activities she had been the brains of
the firm, he merely the instrument to carry into effect the plans she
dictated.

Miss Peavey glanced swiftly up and down the Yew Alley. It was still the
same peaceful, lonely spot. She turned to Mr. Cootes again, and spoke
with brisk decision.

“Now, listen, Ed, and get this straight, because maybe I shan’t have
another chance of talking to you.”

“I’m listening,” said Mr. Cootes obsequiously.

“Well, to begin with, now that the house is full, Her Nibs is wearing
that necklace every night. And you can take it from me, Ed, that you
want to put on your smoked glasses before you look at it. It’s a
lalapaloosa.”

“As good as that?”

“Ask me! You don’t know the half of it.”

“Where does she keep it, Liz? Have you found that out?” asked Mr.
Cootes, a gleam of optimism playing across his sad face for an instant.

“No, I haven’t. And I don’t want to. I’ve not got time to waste
monkeying about with safes and maybe having the whole bunch pile on the
back of my neck. I believe in getting things easy. Well, to-night this
bimbo that calls himself McTodd is going to give a reading of his poems
in the big drawing-room. You know where that is?”

“I can find out.”

“And you better had find out,” said Miss Peavey vehemently. “And before
to-night at that. Well, there you are. Do you begin to get wise?”

Mr. Cootes, his head protruding unhappily from the yew tree, would have
given much to have been able to make the demanded claim to wisdom,
for he knew of old the store his alert partner set upon quickness
of intellect. He was compelled, however, to disturb the branches by
shaking his head.

“You always were pretty dumb,” said Miss Peavey with scorn. “I’ll say
that you’ve got good solid qualities, Ed--from the neck up. Why, I’m
going to sit behind Lady Constance while that goof is shooting his fool
head off, and I’m going to reach out and grab that necklace off of her.
See?”

“But, Liz”--Mr. Cootes diffidently summoned up courage to point out
what appeared to him to be a flaw in the scheme--“if you start any
strong-arm work in front of everybody like the way you say, won’t
they . . . ?”

“No, they won’t. And I’ll tell you why they won’t. They aren’t going to
see me do it, because when I do it it’s going to be good and dark in
that room. And it’s going to be dark because you’ll be somewheres out
at the back of the house, wherever they keep the main electric-light
works, turning the switch as hard as you can go. See? That’s your end
of it, and pretty soft for you at that. All you have to do is to find
out where the thing is and what you have to do to it to put out all the
lights in the joint. I guess I can trust you not to bungle that?”

“Liz,” said Mr. Cootes, and there was reverence in his voice, “you can
do just that little thing. But what . . . ?”

“All right, I know what you’re going to say. What happens after that,
and how do I get away with the stuff? Well, the window’ll be open, and
I’ll just get to it and fling the necklace out. See? There’ll be a big
fuss going on in the room on account of the darkness and all that, and
while everybody’s cutting up and what-the-helling, you’ll pick up your
dogs and run round as quick as you can make it and pouch the thing. I
guess it won’t be hard for you to locate it. The window’s just over the
terrace, all smooth turf, and it isn’t real dark nights now, and you
ought to have plenty of time to hunt around before they can get the
lights going again. . . . Well, what do you think of it?” There was a
brief silence.

“Liz,” said Mr. Cootes at length.

“Is it or is it not,” demanded Miss Peavey, “a ball of fire?”

“Liz,” said Mr. Cootes, and his voice was husky with such awe as some
young officer of Napoleon’s staff might have felt on hearing the
details of the latest plan of campaign, “Liz, I’ve said it before, and
I’ll say it again. When it comes to the smooth stuff, old girl, you’re
the oyster’s eye-tooth!”

And, reaching out an arm from the recesses of the yew, he took Miss
Peavey’s hand in his and gave it a tender squeeze. A dreamy look came
into the poetess’s fine eyes, and she giggled a little. Dumb-bell
though he was, she loved this man.


§ 2

“Mr. Baxter!”

“Yes, Miss Halliday?”

The Brains of Blandings looked abstractedly up from his desk. It was
only some half-hour since luncheon had finished, but already he was in
the library surrounded by large books like a sea-beast among rocks.
Most of his time was spent in the library when the castle was full of
guests, for his lofty mind was ill-attuned to the frivolous babblings
of Society butterflies.

“I wonder if you could spare me this afternoon?” said Eve.

Baxter directed the glare of his spectacles upon her inquisitorially.

“The whole afternoon?”

“If you don’t mind. You see, I had a letter by the second post from a
great friend of mine, saying that she will be in Market Blandings this
afternoon and asking me to meet her there. I must see her, Mr. Baxter,
_please_. You’ve no notion how important it is.”

Eve’s manner was excited, and her eyes as they met Baxter’s sparkled in
a fashion that might have disturbed a man made of less stern stuff. If
it had been the Hon. Freddie Threepwood, for instance, who had been
gazing into their blue depths, that impulsive youth would have tied
himself into knots and yapped like a dog. Baxter, the superman, felt
no urge towards any such display. He reviewed her request calmly and
judicially, and decided that it was a reasonable one.

“Very well, Miss Halliday.”

“Thank you ever so much. I’ll make up for it by working twice as hard
to-morrow.”

Eve flitted to the door, pausing there to bestow a grateful smile upon
him before going out; and Baxter returned to his reading. For a moment
he was conscious of a feeling of regret that this quite attractive and
uniformly respectful girl should be the partner in crime of a man of
whom he disapproved even more than he disapproved of most malefactors.
Then he crushed down the weak emotion and was himself again.

Eve trotted downstairs, humming happily to herself. She had expected
a longer and more strenuous struggle before she obtained her order of
release, and told herself that, despite a manner which seldom deviated
from the forbidding, Baxter was really quite nice. In short, it seemed
to her that nothing could possibly occur to mar the joyfulness of this
admirable afternoon; and it was only when a voice hailed her as she was
going through the hall a few minutes later that she realised that she
was mistaken. The voice, which trembled throatily, was that of the Hon.
Freddie; and her first look at him told Eve, an expert diagnostician,
that he was going to propose to her again.

“Well, Freddie?” said Eve resignedly.

The Hon. Frederick Threepwood was a young man who was used to hearing
people say “Well, Freddie?” resignedly when he appeared. His father
said it; his Aunt Constance said it; all his other aunts and uncles
said it. Widely differing personalities in every other respect, they
all said “Well, Freddie?” resignedly directly they caught sight of him.
Eve’s words, therefore, and the tone in which they were spoken, did not
damp him as they might have damped another. His only feeling was one of
solemn gladness at the thought that at last he had managed to get her
alone for half a minute.

The fact that this was the first time he had been able to get her
alone since her arrival at the castle had caused Freddie a good deal
of sorrow. Bad luck was what he attributed it to, thereby giving the
object of his affections less credit than was her due for a masterly
policy of evasion. He sidled up, looking like a well-dressed sheep.

“Going anywhere?” he inquired.

“Yes. I’m going to Market Blandings. Isn’t it a lovely afternoon?
I suppose you are busy all the time now that the house is full?
Good-bye,” said Eve.

“Eh?” said Freddie, blinking.

“Good-bye. I must be hurrying.”

“Where did you say you were going?”

“Market Blandings.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“No, I want to be alone. I’ve got to meet someone there.”

“Come with you as far as the gates,” said Freddie, the human limpet.

The afternoon sun seemed to Eve to be shining a little less brightly as
they started down the drive. She was a kind-hearted girl, and it irked
her to have to be continually acting as a black frost in Freddie’s
garden of dreams. There appeared, however, to be but two ways out of
the thing: either she must accept him or he must stop proposing. The
first of these alternatives she resolutely declined to consider, and,
as far as was ascertainable from his actions, Freddie declined just
as resolutely to consider the second. The result was that solitary
interviews between them were seldom wholly free from embarrassing
developments.

They walked for a while in silence. Then:

“You’re dashed hard on a fellow,” said Freddie.

“How’s your putting coming on?” asked Eve.

“Eh?”

“Your putting. You told me you had so much trouble with it.”

She was not looking at him, for she had developed a habit of not
looking at him on these occasions; but she assumed that the odd sound
which greeted her remark was a hollow, mirthless laugh.

“My putting!”

“Well, you told me yourself it’s the most important part of golf.”

“Golf! Do you think I have time to worry about golf these days?”

“Oh, how splendid, Freddie! Are you really doing some work of some
kind? It’s quite time, you know. Think how pleased your father will be.”

“I say,” said Freddie, “I do think you might marry a chap.”

“I suppose I shall some day,” said Eve, “if I meet the right one.”

“No, no!” said Freddie despairingly. She was not usually so dense as
this. He had always looked on her as a dashed clever girl. “I mean
_me_.”

Eve sighed. She had hoped to avert the inevitable.

“Oh, Freddie!” she exclaimed, exasperated. She was still sorry for
him, but she could not help being irritated. It was such a splendid
afternoon and she had been feeling so happy. And now he had spoiled
everything. It always took her at least half an hour to get over the
nervous strain of refusing his proposals.

“I love you, dash it!” said Freddie.

“Well, do stop loving me,” said Eve. “I’m an awful girl, really. I’d
make you miserable.”

“Happiest man in the world,” corrected Freddie devoutly.

“I’ve got a frightful temper.”

“You’re an angel.”

Eve’s exasperation increased. She always had a curious fear that one of
these days, if he went on proposing, she might say “Yes” by mistake.
She wished that there was some way known to science of stopping him
once and for all. And in her desperation she thought of a line of
argument which she had not yet employed.

“It’s so absurd, Freddie,” she said. “Really, it is. Apart from the
fact that I don’t want to marry you, how can you marry anyone--anyone,
I mean, who hasn’t plenty of money?”

“Wouldn’t dream of marrying for money.”

“No, of course not, but . . .”

“Cupid,” said Freddie woodenly, “pines and sickens in a gilded cage.”

Eve had not expected to be surprised by anything her companion might
say, it being her experience that he possessed a vocabulary of about
forty-three words and a sum-total of ideas that hardly ran into two
figures; but this poetic remark took her back.

“What!”

Freddie repeated the observation. When it had been flashed on the
screen as a spoken sub-title in the six-reel wonder film, “Love or
Mammon” (Beatrice Comely and Brian Fraser), he had approved and made a
note of it.

“Oh!” said Eve, and was silent. As Miss Peavey would have put it, it
held her for a while. “What I meant,” she went on after a moment, “was
that you can’t possibly marry a girl without money unless you’ve some
money of your own.”

“I say, dash it!” A strange note of jubilation had come into the
wooer’s voice. “I say, is that really all that stands between us?
Because . . .”

“No, it isn’t!”

“Because, look here, I’m going to have quite a good deal of money at
any moment. It’s more or less of a secret, you know--in fact a pretty
deadish secret--so keep it dark, but Uncle Joe is going to give me a
couple of thousand quid. He promised me. Two thousand of the crispest.
Absolutely!”

“Uncle Joe?”

“_You_ know. Old Keeble. He’s going to give me a couple of thousand
quid, and then I’m going to buy a partnership in a bookie’s business
and simply coin money. Stands to reason, I mean. You can’t help making
your bally fortune. Look at all the mugs who are losing money all the
time at the races. It’s the bookies that get the stuff. A pal of mine
who was up at Oxford with me is in a bookie’s office, and they’re going
to let me in if I . . .”

The momentous nature of his information had caused Eve to deviate now
from her policy of keeping her eyes off Freddie when in emotional vein.
And, if she had desired to check his lecture on finance, she could
have chosen no better method than to look at him; for, meeting her
gaze, Freddie immediately lost the thread of his discourse and stood
yammering. A direct hit from Eve’s eyes always affected him in this
way.

“Mr. Keeble is going to give you two thousand pounds!”

A wave of mortification swept over Eve. If there was one thing on which
she prided herself, it was the belief that she was a loyal friend,
a staunch pal; and now for the first time she found herself facing
the unpleasant truth that she had been neglecting Phyllis Jackson’s
interests in the most abominable way ever since she had come to
Blandings. She had definitely promised Phyllis that she would tackle
this stepfather of hers and shame him with burning words into yielding
up the three thousand pounds which Phyllis needed so desperately for
her Lincolnshire farm. And what had she done? Nothing.

Eve was honest to the core, even in her dealings with herself. A less
conscientious girl might have argued that she had had no opportunity
of a private interview with Mr. Keeble. She scorned to soothe herself
with this specious plea. If she had given her mind to it she could have
brought about a dozen private interviews, and she knew it. No. She
had allowed the pleasant persistence of Psmith to take up her time,
and Phyllis and her troubles had been thrust into the background. She
confessed, despising herself, that she had hardly given Phyllis a
thought.

And all the while this Mr. Keeble had been in a position to scatter
largess, thousands of pounds of it, to undeserving people like Freddie.
Why, a word from her about Phyllis would have . . .

“Two thousand pounds?” she repeated dizzily. “Mr. Keeble!”

“Absolutely!” cried Freddie radiantly. The first shock of looking into
her eyes had passed, and he was now revelling in that occupation.

“What for?”

Freddie’s rapt gaze flickered. Love, he perceived, had nearly caused
him to be indiscreet.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he mumbled. “He’s just giving it me, you know,
don’t you know.”

“Did you simply go to him and ask him for it?”

“Well--er--well, yes. That was about the strength of it.”

“And he didn’t object?”

“No. He seemed rather pleased.”

“Pleased!” Eve found breathing difficult. She was feeling rather like a
man who suddenly discovers that the hole in his back yard which he has
been passing nonchalantly for months is a goldmine. If the operation of
extracting money from Mr. Keeble was not only easy but also agreeable
to the victim . . . She became aware of a sudden imperative need for
Freddie’s absence. She wanted to think this thing over.

“Well, then,” said Freddie, “coming back to it, will you?”

“What?” said Eve, distrait.

“Marry me, you know. What I mean to say is, I worship the very
ground you walk on, and all that sort of rot . . . I mean, and all
that. And now that you realise that I’m going to get this couple of
thousand . . . and the bookie’s business . . . and what not, I mean to
say . . .”

“Freddie,” said Eve tensely, expressing her harassed nerves in a voice
that came hotly through clenched teeth, “go away!”

“Eh?”

“I don’t want to marry you, and I’m sick of having to keep on telling
you so. Will you please go away and leave me alone?” She stopped. Her
sense of fairness told her that she was working off on her hapless
suitor venom which should have been expended on herself. “I’m sorry,
Freddie,” she said, softening; “I didn’t mean to be such a beast as
that. I know you’re awfully fond of me, but really, really I can’t
marry you. You don’t want to marry a girl who doesn’t love you, do you?”

“Yes, I do,” said Freddie stoutly. “If it’s you, I mean. Love is a
tiny seed that coldness can wither, but if tended and nurtured in the
fostering warmth of an honest heart . . .”

“But, Freddie.”

“Blossoms into a flower,” concluded Freddie rapidly. “What I mean to
say is, love would come after marriage.”

“Nonsense!”

“Well, that’s the way it happened in ‘A Society Mating.’”

“Freddie,” said Eve, “I really don’t want to talk any more. Will you be
a dear and just go away? I’ve got a lot of thinking to do.”

“Oh, thinking?” said Freddie, impressed. “Right ho!”

“Thank you so much.”

“Oh--er--not at all. Well, pip-pip.”

“Good-bye.”

“See you later, what?”

“Of course, of course.”

“Fine! Well, toodle-oo!”

And the Hon. Freddie, not ill-pleased--for it seemed to him that at
long last he detected signs of melting in the party of the second
part--swivelled round on his long legs and started for home.


§ 3

The little town of Market Blandings was a peaceful sight as it slept
in the sun. For the first time since Freddie had left her, Eve became
conscious of a certain tranquillity as she entered the old grey High
Street, which was the centre of the place’s life and thought. Market
Blandings had a comforting air of having been exactly the same for
centuries. Troubles might vex the generations it housed, but they did
not worry that lichened church with its sturdy four-square tower, nor
those red-roofed shops, nor the age-old inns whose second stories
bulged so comfortably out over the pavements. As Eve walked in slow
meditation towards the “Emsworth Arms,” the intensely respectable
hostelry which was her objective, archways met her gaze, opening with a
picturesque unexpectedness to show heartening glimpses of ancient nooks
all cool and green. There was about the High Street of Market Blandings
a suggestion of a slumbering cathedral close. Nothing was modern in
it except the moving-picture house--and even that called itself an
Electric Theatre, and was ivy-covered and surmounted by stone gables.

On second thoughts, that statement is too sweeping. There was one other
modern building in the High Street--Jno. Banks, Hairdresser, to wit,
and Eve was just coming abreast of Mr. Banks’s emporium now.

In any ordinary surroundings these premises would have been a tolerably
attractive sight, but in Market Blandings they were almost an eyesore;
and Eve, finding herself at the door, was jarred out of her reverie as
if she had heard a false note in a solemn anthem. She was on the point
of hurrying past, when the door opened and a short, solid figure came
out. And at the sight of this short, solid figure Eve stopped abruptly.

It was with the object of getting his grizzled locks clipped in
preparation for the County Ball that Joseph Keeble had come to Mr.
Banks’s shop as soon as he had finished lunch. As he emerged now into
the High Street he was wondering why he had permitted Mr. Banks to
finish off the job with a heliotrope-scented hair-wash. It seemed to
Mr. Keeble that the air was heavy with heliotrope, and it came to him
suddenly that heliotrope was a scent which he always found particularly
objectionable.

Ordinarily Joseph Keeble was accustomed to show an iron front to
hairdressers who tried to inflict lotions upon him; and the reason his
vigilance had relaxed under the ministrations of Jno. Banks was that
the second post, which arrived at the castle at the luncheon hour,
had brought him a plaintive letter from his stepdaughter Phyllis--the
second he had had from her since the one which had caused him to
tackle his masterful wife in the smoking-room. Immediately after
the conclusion of his business deal with the Hon. Freddie, he had
written to Phyllis in a vein of optimism rendered glowing by Freddie’s
promises, assuring her that at any moment he would be in a position to
send her the three thousand pounds which she required to clinch the
purchase of that dream-farm in Lincolnshire. To this she had replied
with thanks. And after that there had been a lapse of days and still
he had not made good. Phyllis was becoming worried, and said so in six
closely-written pages.

Mr. Keeble, as he sat in the barber’s chair going over this letter in
his mind, had groaned in spirit, while Jno. Banks with gleaming eyes
did practically what he liked with the heliotrope bottle. Not for the
first time since the formation of their partnership, Joseph Keeble was
tormented with doubts as to his wisdom in entrusting a commission so
delicate as the purloining of his wife’s diamond necklace to one of his
nephew Freddie’s known feebleness of intellect. Here, he told himself
unhappily, was a job of work which would have tested the combined
abilities of a syndicate consisting of Charles Peace and the James
Brothers, and he had put it in the hands of a young man who in all
his life had only once shown genuine inspiration and initiative--on
the occasion when he had parted his hair in the middle at a time when
all the other members of the Bachelors’ Club were brushing it straight
back. The more Mr. Keeble thought of Freddie’s chances, the slimmer
they appeared. By the time Jno. Banks had released him from the spotted
apron he was thoroughly pessimistic, and as he passed out of the door,
“so perfumed that the winds were love-sick with him,” his estimate of
his colleague’s abilities was reduced to a point where he began to
doubt whether the stealing of a mere milk-can was not beyond his scope.
So deeply immersed was he in these gloomy thoughts that Eve had to call
his name twice before he came out of them.

“Miss Halliday?” he said apologetically. “I beg your pardon. I was
thinking.”

Eve, though they had hardly exchanged a word since her arrival at the
castle, had taken a liking to Mr. Keeble; and she felt in consequence
none of the embarrassment which might have handicapped her in the
discussion of an extremely delicate matter with another man. By nature
direct and straightforward, she came to the point at once.

“Can you spare me a moment or two, Mr. Keeble?” she said. She glanced
at the clock on the church tower and saw that she had ample time before
her own appointment. “I want to talk to you about Phyllis.” Mr. Keeble
jerked his head back in astonishment, and the world became noisome with
heliotrope. It was as if the Voice of Conscience had suddenly addressed
him.

“Phyllis!” he gasped, and the letter crackled in his breast-pocket.

“Your stepdaughter Phyllis.”

“Do you know her?”

“She was my best friend at school. I had tea with her just before I
came to the castle.”

“Extraordinary!” said Mr. Keeble.

A customer in quest of a shave thrust himself between them and went
into the shop. They moved away a few paces.

“Of course if you say it is none of my business . . .”

“My dear young lady . . .”

“Well, it _is_ my business, because she’s my friend,” said Eve firmly.
“Mr. Keeble, Phyllis told me she had written to you about buying that
farm. Why don’t you help her?”

The afternoon was warm, but not warm enough to account for the
moistness of Mr. Keeble’s brow. He drew out a large handkerchief and
mopped his forehead. A hunted look was in his eyes. The hand which was
not occupied with the handkerchief had sought his pocket and was busy
rattling keys.

“I want to help her. I would do anything in the world to help her.”

“Then why don’t you?”

“I--I am curiously situated.”

“Yes, Phyllis told me something about that. I can see that it is a
difficult position for you. But, Mr. Keeble, surely, surely if you
can manage to give Freddie Threepwood two thousand pounds to start a
bookmaker’s business . . .”

Her words were cut short by a strangled cry from her companion. Sheer
panic was in his eyes now, and in his heart an overwhelming regret that
he had ever been fool enough to dabble in crime in the company of a
mere animated talking-machine like his nephew Freddie. This girl knew!
And if she knew, how many others knew? The young imbecile had probably
babbled his hideous secret into the ears of every human being in the
place who would listen to him.

“He told you!” he stammered. “He t-told you!”

“Yes. Just now.”

“Goosh!” muttered Mr. Keeble brokenly.

Eve stared at him in surprise. She could not understand this emotion.
The handkerchief, after a busy session, was lowered now, and he was
looking at her imploringly.

“You haven’t told anyone?” he croaked hoarsely.

“Of course not. I said I had only heard of it just now.”

“You wouldn’t tell anyone?”

“Why should I?”

Mr. Keeble’s breath, which had seemed to him for a moment gone for
ever, began to return timidly. Relief for a space held him dumb. What
nonsense, he reflected, these newspapers and people talked about the
modern girl. It was this very broad-mindedness of hers, to which they
objected so absurdly, that made her a creature of such charm. She
might behave in certain ways in a fashion that would have shocked her
grandmother, but how comforting it was to find her calm and unmoved in
the contemplation of another’s crime. His heart warmed to Eve.

“You’re wonderful!” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Of course,” argued Mr. Keeble, “it isn’t really stealing.”

“What!”

“I shall buy my wife another necklace.”

“You will--what?”

“So everything will be all right. Constance will be perfectly happy,
and Phyllis will have her money, and . . .”

Something in Eve’s astonished gaze seemed to smite Mr. Keeble.

“Don’t you _know_?” he broke off.

“Know? Know what?”

Mr. Keeble perceived that he had wronged Freddie. The young ass had
been a fool even to mention the money to this girl, but he had at
least, it seemed, stopped short of disclosing the entire plot. An
oyster-like reserve came upon him.

“Nothing, nothing,” he said hastily. “Forget what I was going to say.
Well, I must be going, I must be going.”

Eve clutched wildly at his retreating sleeve. Unintelligible though
his words had been, one sentence had come home to her, the one about
Phyllis having her money. It was no time for half-measures. She grabbed
him.

“Mr. Keeble,” she cried urgently. “I don’t know what you mean, but you
were just going to say something which sounded . . . Mr. Keeble, do
trust me. I’m Phyllis’s best friend, and if you’ve thought out any way
of helping her I wish you would tell me . . . You must tell me. I might
be able to help . . .”

Mr. Keeble, as she began her broken speech, had been endeavouring with
deprecatory tugs to disengage his coat from her grasp. But now he
ceased to struggle. Those doubts of Freddie’s efficiency, which had
troubled him in Jno. Banks’s chair, still lingered. His opinion that
Freddie was but a broken reed had not changed. Indeed, it had grown.
He looked at Eve. He looked at her searchingly. Into her pleading
eyes he directed a stare that sought to probe her soul, and saw there
honesty, sympathy, and--better still--intelligence. He might have stood
and gazed into Freddie’s fishy eyes for weeks without discovering a
tithe of such intelligence. His mind was made up. This girl was an
ally. A girl of dash and vigour. A girl worth a thousand Freddies--not,
however, reflected Mr. Keeble, that that was saying much. He hesitated
no longer.

“It’s like this,” said Mr. Keeble.


§ 4

The information, authoritatively conveyed to him during breakfast
by Lady Constance, that he was scheduled that night to read select
passages from Ralston McTodd’s _Songs of Squalor_ to the entire
house-party assembled in the big drawing-room, had come as a complete
surprise to Psmith, and to his fellow-guests--such of them as were
young and of the soulless sex--as a shock from which they found it
hard to rally. True, they had before now gathered in a vague sort
of way that he was one of those literary fellows, but so normal and
engaging had they found his whole manner and appearance that it had
never occurred to them that he concealed anything up his sleeve as
lethal as _Songs of Squalor_. Among these members of the younger set
the consensus of opinion was that it was a bit thick, and that at such
a price even the lavish hospitality of Blandings was scarcely worth
having. Only those who had visited the castle before during the era
of her ladyship’s flirtation with Art could have been described as
resigned. These stout hearts argued that while this latest blister was
probably going to be pretty bad, he could hardly be worse than the
chappie who had lectured on Theosophy last November, and must almost of
necessity be better than the bird who during the Shifley race-week had
attempted in a two-hour discourse to convert them to vegetarianism.

Psmith himself regarded the coming ordeal with equanimity. He was not
one of those whom the prospect of speaking in public afflicts with
nervous horror. He liked the sound of his own voice, and night, when it
came, found him calmly cheerful. He listened contentedly to the murmur
of the drawing-room filling up as he strolled on the star-lit terrace,
smoking a last cigarette before duty called him elsewhere. And when,
some few yards away, seated on the terrace wall gazing out into the
velvet darkness, he perceived Eve Halliday, his sense of well-being
became acute.

All day he had been conscious of a growing desire for another of those
cosy chats with Eve which had done so much to make life agreeable for
him during his stay at Blandings. Her prejudice--which he deplored--in
favour of doing a certain amount of work to justify her salary, had
kept him during the morning away from the little room off the library
where she was wont to sit cataloguing books; and when he had gone there
after lunch he had found it empty. As he approached her now, he was
thinking pleasantly of all those delightful walks, those excellent
driftings on the lake, and those cheery conversations which had gone
to cement his conviction that of all possible girls she was the only
possible one. It seemed to him that in addition to being beautiful she
brought out all that was best in him of intellect and soul. That is
to say, she let him talk oftener and longer than any girl he had ever
known.

It struck him as a little curious that she made no move to greet him.
She remained apparently unaware of his approach. And yet the summer
night was not of such density as to hide him from view--and, even
if she could not see him, she must undoubtedly have heard him; for
only a moment before he had tripped with some violence over a large
flower-pot, one of a row of sixteen which Angus McAllister, doubtless
for some good purpose, had placed in the fairway that afternoon.

“A pleasant night,” he said, seating himself gracefully beside her on
the wall.

She turned her head for a brief instant, and, having turned it, looked
away again.

“Yes,” she said.

Her manner was not effusive, but Psmith persevered.

“The stars,” he proceeded, indicating them with a kindly yet not
patronising wave of the hand. “Bright, twinkling, and--if I may say
so--rather neatly arranged. When I was a mere lad, someone whose name
I cannot recollect taught me which was Orion. Also Mars, Venus, and
Jupiter. This thoroughly useless chunk of knowledge has, I am happy to
say, long since passed from my mind. However, I am in a position to
state that that wiggly thing up there a little to the right is King
Charles’s Wain.”

“Yes?”

“Yes, indeed, I assure you.” It struck Psmith that Astronomy was not
gripping his audience, so he tried Travel. “I hear,” he said, “you went
to Market Blandings this afternoon.”

“Yes.”

“An attractive settlement.”

“Yes.”

There was a pause. Psmith removed his monocle and polished it
thoughtfully. The summer night seemed to him to have taken on a touch
of chill.

“What I like about the English rural districts,” he went on, “is
that when the authorities have finished building a place they stop.
Somewhere about the reign of Henry the Eighth, I imagine that the
master-mason gave the final house a pat with his trowel and said,
‘Well, boys, that’s Market Blandings.’ To which his assistants no doubt
assented with many a hearty ‘Grammercy!’ and ‘I’fackins!’ these being
expletives to which they were much addicted. And they went away and
left it, and nobody has touched it since. And I, for one, thoroughly
approve. I think it makes the place soothing. Don’t you?”

“Yes.”

As far as the darkness would permit, Psmith subjected Eve to an
inquiring glance through his monocle. This was a strange new
mood in which he had found her. Hitherto, though she had always
endeared herself to him by permitting him the major portion of
the dialogue, they had usually split conversations on at least a
seventy-five--twenty-five basis. And though it gratified Psmith to be
allowed to deliver a monologue when talking with most people, he found
Eve more companionable when in a slightly chattier vein.

“Are you coming in to hear me read?” he asked.

“No.”

It was a change from “Yes,” but that was the best that could be said of
it. A good deal of discouragement was always required to damp Psmith,
but he could not help feeling a slight diminution of buoyancy. However,
he kept on trying.

“You show your usual sterling good sense,” he said approvingly. “A
scalier method of passing the scented summer night could hardly be
hit upon.” He abandoned the topic of the reading. It did not grip.
That was manifest. It lacked appeal. “I went to Market Blandings this
afternoon, too,” he said. “Comrade Baxter informed me that you had gone
thither, so I went after you. Not being able to find you, I turned in
for half an hour at the local moving-picture palace. They were showing
Episode Eleven of a serial. It concluded with the heroine, kidnapped by
Indians, stretched on the sacrificial altar with the high-priest making
passes at her with a knife. The hero meanwhile had started to climb a
rather nasty precipice on his way to the rescue. The final picture was
a close-up of his fingers slipping slowly off a rock. Episode Twelve
next week.”

Eve looked out into the night without speaking.

“I’m afraid it won’t end happily,” said Psmith with a sigh. “I think
he’ll save her.”

Eve turned on him with a menacing abruptness.

“Shall I tell you why I went to Market Blandings this afternoon?” she
said.

“Do,” said Psmith cordially. “It is not for me to criticise, but as
a matter of fact I was rather wondering when you were going to begin
telling me all about your adventures. I have been monopolising the
conversation.”

“I went to meet Cynthia.”

Psmith’s monocle fell out of his eye and swung jerkily on its cord. He
was not easily disconcerted, but this unexpected piece of information,
coming on top of her peculiar manner, undoubtedly jarred him. He
foresaw difficulties, and once again found himself thinking hard
thoughts of this confounded female who kept bobbing up when least
expected. How simple life would have been, he mused wistfully, had
Ralston McTodd only had the good sense to remain a bachelor.

“Oh, Cynthia?” he said.

“Yes, Cynthia,” said Eve. The inconvenient Mrs. McTodd possessed a
Christian name admirably adapted for being hissed between clenched
teeth, and Eve hissed it in this fashion now. It became evident to
Psmith that the dear girl was in a condition of hardly suppressed fury
and that trouble was coming his way. He braced himself to meet it.

“Directly after we had that talk on the lake, the day I arrived,”
continued Eve tersely, “I wrote to Cynthia, telling her to come here at
once and meet me at the ‘Emsworth Arms’ . . .”

“In the High Street,” said Psmith. “I know it. Good beer.”

“What!”

“I said they sell good beer . . .”

“Never mind about the beer,” cried Eve.

“No, no. I merely mentioned it in passing.”

“At lunch to-day I got a letter from her saying that she would be there
this afternoon. So I hurried off. I wanted----” Eve laughed a hollow,
mirthless laugh of a calibre which even the Hon. Freddie Threepwood
would have found beyond his powers, and he was a specialist--“I wanted
to try to bring you two together. I thought that if I could see her and
have a talk with her that you might become reconciled.”

Psmith, though obsessed with a disquieting feeling that he was fighting
in the last ditch, pulled himself together sufficiently to pat her hand
as it lay beside him on the wall like some white and fragile flower.

“That was like you,” he murmured. “That was an act worthy of your great
heart. But I fear that the rift between Cynthia and myself has reached
such dimensions . . .”

Eve drew her hand away. She swung round, and the battery of her
indignant gaze raked him furiously.

“I saw Cynthia,” she said, “and she told me that her husband was in
Paris.”

“Now, how in the world,” said Psmith, struggling bravely but with a
growing sense that they were coming over the plate a bit too fast for
him, “how in the world did she get an idea like that?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“I do, indeed.”

“Then I’ll tell you. She got the idea because she had had a letter from
him, begging her to join him there. She had just finished telling me
this, when I caught sight of you from the inn window, walking along
the High Street. I pointed you out to Cynthia, and she said she had
never seen you before in her life.”

“Women soon forget,” sighed Psmith.

“The only excuse I can find for you,” stormed Eve in a vibrant
undertone necessitated by the fact that somebody had just emerged from
the castle door and they no longer had the terrace to themselves, “is
that you’re mad. When I think of all you said to me about poor Cynthia
on the lake that afternoon, when I think of all the sympathy I wasted
on you . . .”

“Not wasted,” corrected Psmith firmly. “It was by no means wasted. It
made me love you--if possible--even more.”

Eve had supposed that she had embarked on a tirade which would last
until she had worked off her indignation and felt composed again, but
this extraordinary remark scattered the thread of her harangue so
hopelessly that all she could do was to stare at him in amazed silence.

“Womanly intuition,” proceeded Psmith gravely, “will have told you long
ere this that I love you with a fervour which with my poor vocabulary
I cannot hope to express. True, as you are about to say, we have known
each other but a short time, as time is measured. But what of that?”

Eve raised her eyebrows. Her voice was cold and hostile.

“After what has happened,” she said, “I suppose I ought not to be
surprised at finding you capable of anything, but--are you really
choosing this moment to--to propose to me?”

“To employ a favourite word of your own--yes.”

“And you expect me to take you seriously?”

“Assuredly not. I look upon the present disclosure purely as a sighting
shot. You may regard it, if you will, as a kind of formal proclamation.
I wish simply to go on record as an aspirant to your hand. I want you,
if you will be so good, to make a note of my words and give them a
thought from time to time. As Comrade Cootes--a young friend of mine
whom you have not yet met--would say, ‘Chew on them.’”

“I . . .”

“It is possible,” continued Psmith, “that black moments will come to
you--for they come to all of us, even the sunniest--when you will find
yourself saying, ‘Nobody loves me!’ On such occasions I should like
you to add, ‘No, I am wrong. There _is_ somebody who loves me.’ At
first, it may be, that reflection will bring but scant balm. Gradually,
however, as the days go by and we are constantly together and my nature
unfolds itself before you like the petals of some timid flower beneath
the rays of the sun . . .”

Eve’s eyes opened wider. She had supposed herself incapable of further
astonishment, but she saw that she had been mistaken.

“You surely aren’t dreaming of staying on here _now_?” she gasped.

“Most decidedly. Why not?”

“But--but what is to prevent me telling everybody that you are not Mr.
McTodd?”

“Your sweet, generous nature,” said Psmith. “Your big heart. Your
angelic forbearance.”

“Oh!”

“Considering that I only came here as McTodd--and if you had seen
him you would realise that he is not a person for whom the man
of sensibility and refinement would lightly allow himself to be
mistaken--I say considering that I only took on the job of understudy
so as to get to the castle and be near you, I hardly think that you
will be able to bring yourself to get me slung out. You must try to
understand what happened. When Lord Emsworth started chatting with
me under the impression that I was Comrade McTodd, I encouraged the
mistake purely with the kindly intention of putting him at his ease.
Even when he informed me that he was expecting me to come down to
Blandings with him on the five o’clock train, it never occurred to
me to do so. It was only when I saw you talking to him in the street
and he revealed the fact that you were about to enjoy his hospitality
that I decided that there was no other course open to the man of
spirit. Consider! Twice that day you had passed out of my life--may I
say taking the sunshine with you?--and I began to fear you might pass
out of it for ever. So, loath though I was to commit the solecism of
planting myself in this happy home under false pretences, I could see
no other way. And here I am!”

“You _must_ be mad!”

“Well, as I was saying, the days will go by, you will have ample
opportunity of studying my personality, and it is quite possible that
in due season the love of an honest heart may impress you as worth
having. I may add that I have loved you since the moment when I saw
you sheltering from the rain under that awning in Dover Street, and I
recall saying as much to Comrade Walderwick when he was chatting with
me some short time later on the subject of his umbrella. I do not press
you for an answer now . . .”

“I should hope not!”

“I merely say ‘Think it over.’ It is nothing to cause you mental
distress. Other men love you. Freddie Threepwood loves you. Just add me
to the list. That is all I ask. Muse on me from time to time. Reflect
that I may be an acquired taste. You probably did not like olives the
first time you tasted them. Now you probably do. Give me the same
chance you would an olive. Consider, also, how little you actually have
against me. What, indeed, does it amount to, when you come to examine
it narrowly? All you have against me is the fact that I am not Ralston
McTodd. Think how comparatively few people _are_ Ralston McTodd. Let
your meditations proceed along these lines and . . .”

He broke off, for at this moment the individual who had come out of
the front door a short while back loomed beside them, and the glint of
starlight on glass revealed him as the Efficient Baxter.

“Everybody is waiting, Mr. McTodd,” said the Efficient Baxter. He spoke
the name, as always, with a certain sardonic emphasis.

“Of course,” said Psmith affably, “of course. I was forgetting. I will
get to work at once. You are quite sure you do not wish to hear a
scuttleful of modern poetry, Miss Halliday?”

“Quite sure.”

“And yet even now, so our genial friend here informs us, a bevy of
youth and beauty is crowding the drawing-room, agog for the treat.
Well, well! It is these strange clashings of personal taste which
constitute what we call Life. I think I will write a poem about it
some day. Come, Comrade Baxter, let us be up and doing. I must not
disappoint my public.”

For some moments after the two had left her--Baxter silent and chilly,
Psmith, all debonair chumminess, kneading the other’s arm and pointing
out as they went objects of interest by the wayside--Eve remained
on the terrace wall, thinking. She was laughing now, but behind her
amusement there was another feeling, and one that perplexed her. A good
many men had proposed to her in the course of her career, but none of
them had ever left her with this odd feeling of exhilaration. Psmith
was different from any other man who had come her way, and difference
was a quality which Eve esteemed. . . .

She had just reached the conclusion that life for whatever girl might
eventually decide to risk it in Psmith’s company would never be dull,
when strange doings in her immediate neighbourhood roused her from her
meditations.

The thing happened as she rose from her seat on the wall and started to
cross the terrace on her way to the front door. She had stopped for an
instant beneath the huge open window of the drawing-room to listen to
what was going on inside. Faintly, with something of the quality of a
far-off phonograph, the sound of Psmith reading came to her; and even
at this distance there was a composed blandness about his voice which
brought a smile to her lips.

And then, with a startling abruptness, the lighted window was dark. And
she was aware that all the lighted windows on that side of the castle
had suddenly become dark. The lamp that shone over the great door
ceased to shine. And above the hubbub of voices in the drawing-room she
heard Psmith’s patient drawl.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I think the lights have gone out.”

The night air was rent by a single piercing scream. Something flashed
like a shooting star and fell at her feet; and, stooping, Eve found in
her hands Lady Constance Keeble’s diamond necklace.


§ 5

To be prepared is everything in this life. Ever since her talk with Mr.
Joseph Keeble in the High Street of Market Blandings that afternoon
Eve’s mind had been flitting nimbly from one scheme to another, all
designed to end in this very act of seizing the necklace in her hands
and each rendered impracticable by some annoying flaw. And now that
Fate in its impulsive way had achieved for her what she had begun to
feel she could never accomplish for herself, she wasted no time in
bewildered inaction. The miracle found her ready for it.

For an instant she debated with herself the chances of a dash through
the darkened hall up the stairs to her room. But the lights might go
on again, and she might meet someone. Memories of sensational novels
read in the past told her that on occasions such as this people were
detained and searched. . . .

Suddenly, as she stood there, she found the way. Close beside her,
lying on its side, was the flower-pot which Psmith had overturned as he
came to join her on the terrace wall. It might have defects as a cache,
but at the moment she could perceive none. Most flower-pots are alike,
but this was a particularly easily-remembered flower-pot: for in its
journeying from the potting shed to the terrace it had acquired on its
side a splash of white paint. She would be able to distinguish it from
its fellows when, late that night, she crept out to retrieve the spoil.
And surely nobody would ever think of suspecting . . .

She plunged her fingers into the soft mould, and straightened herself,
breathing quickly. It was not an ideal piece of work, but it would
serve.

She rubbed her fingers on the turf, put the flower-pot back in the row
with the others, and then, like a flying white phantom, darted across
the terrace and into the house. And so with beating heart, groping her
way, to the bathroom to wash her hands.

The twenty-thousand-pound flower-pot looked placidly up at the winking
stars.


§ 6

It was perhaps two minutes later that Mr. Cootes, sprinting lustily,
rounded the corner of the house and burst on to the terrace. Late as
usual.



CHAPTER XI

ALMOST ENTIRELY ABOUT FLOWER-POTS


§ 1

The Efficient Baxter prowled feverishly up and down the yielding carpet
of the big drawing-room. His eyes gleamed behind their spectacles, his
dome-like brow was corrugated. Except for himself, the room was empty.
As far as the scene of the disaster was concerned, the tumult and the
shouting had died. It was going on vigorously in practically every
other part of the house, but in the drawing-room there was stillness,
if not peace.

Baxter paused, came to a decision, went to the wall and pressed the
bell.

“Thomas,” he said when that footman presented himself a few moments
later.

“Sir?”

“Send Susan to me.”

“Susan, sir?”

“Yes, Susan,” snapped the Efficient One, who had always a short
way with the domestic staff. “Susan, Susan, Susan. . . . The new
parlourmaid.”

“Oh, yes, sir. Very good, sir.”

Thomas withdrew, outwardly all grave respectfulness, inwardly piqued,
as was his wont, at the airy manner in which the secretary flung his
orders about at the castle. The domestic staff at Blandings lived in a
perpetual state of smouldering discontent under Baxter’s rule.

“Susan,” said Thomas when he arrived in the lower regions, “you’re to
go up to the drawing-room. Nosey Parker wants you.”

The pleasant-faced young woman whom he addressed laid down her knitting.

“Who?” she asked.

“Mister Blooming Baxter. When you’ve been here a little longer you’ll
know that he’s the feller that owns the place. How he got it I don’t
know. Found it,” said Thomas satirically, “in his Christmas stocking, I
expect. Anyhow, you’re to go up.”

Thomas’s fellow-footman, Stokes, a serious-looking man with a bald
forehead, shook that forehead solemnly.

“Something’s the matter,” he asserted. “You can’t tell me that wasn’t a
scream we heard when them lights was out. Or,” he added weightily, for
he was a man who looked at every side of a question, “a shriek. It was
a shriek or scream. I said so at the time. ‘There,’ I said, ‘listen!’ I
said. ‘That’s somebody screaming,’ I said. ‘Or shrieking.’ Something’s
up.”

“Well, Baxter hasn’t been murdered, worse luck,” said Thomas. “He’s up
there screaming or shrieking for Susan. ‘Send Susan to me!’” proceeded
Thomas, giving an always popular imitation. “‘Susan, Susan, Susan.’ So
you’d best go, my girl, and see what he wants.”

“Very well.”

“And, Susan,” said Thomas, a tender note creeping into his voice, for
already, brief as had been her sojourn at Blandings, he had found the
new parlourmaid making a deep impression on him, “if it’s a row of any
kind . . .”

“Or description,” interjected Stokes.

“Or description,” continued Thomas, accepting the word, “if ’e’s ’arsh
with you for some reason or other, you come right back to me and sob
out your troubles on my chest, see? Lay your little ’ead on my shoulder
and tell me all about it.”

The new parlourmaid, primly declining to reply to this alluring
invitation, started on her journey upstairs; and Thomas, with a not
unmanly sigh, resumed his interrupted game of halfpenny nap with
colleague Stokes.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Efficient Baxter had gone to the open window and was gazing out
into the night when Susan entered the drawing-room.

“You wished to see me, Mr. Baxter?”

The secretary spun round. So softly had she opened the door, and
so noiselessly had she moved when inside the room, that it was not
until she spoke that he had become aware of her arrival. It was a
characteristic of this girl Susan that she was always apt to be among
those present some time before the latter became cognisant of the fact.

“Oh, good evening, Miss Simmons. You came in very quietly.”

“Habit,” said the parlourmaid.

“You gave me quite a start.”

“I’m sorry. What was it,” she asked, dismissing in a positively
unfeeling manner the subject of her companion’s jarred nerves, “that
you wished to see me about?”

“Shut that door.”

“I have. I always shut doors.”

“Please sit down.”

“No, thank you, Mr. Baxter. It might look odd if anyone should come
in.”

“Of course. You think of everything.”

“I always do.”

Baxter stood for a moment, frowning.

“Miss Simmons,” he said, “when I thought it expedient to install a
private detective in this house, I insisted on Wragge’s sending you. We
had worked together before . . .”

“Sixteenth of December, 1918, to January twelve, 1919, when you were
secretary to Mr. Horace Jevons, the American millionaire,” said Miss
Simmons as promptly as if he had touched a spring. It was her hobby to
remember dates with precision.

“Exactly. I insisted upon your being sent because I knew from
experience that you were reliable. At that time I looked on your
presence here merely as a precautionary measure. Now, I am sorry to
say . . .”

“Did someone steal Lady Constance’s necklace to-night?”

“Yes!”

“When the lights went out just now?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, why couldn’t you say so at once? Good gracious, man, you don’t
have to break the thing gently to me.”

The Efficient Baxter, though he strongly objected to being addressed as
“man,” decided to overlook the solecism.

“The lights suddenly went out,” he said. “There was a certain amount of
laughter and confusion. Then a piercing shriek . . .”

“I heard it.”

“And immediately after Lady Constance’s voice crying that her jewels
had been snatched from her neck.”

“Then what happened?”

“Still greater confusion, which lasted until one of the maids arrived
with a candle. Eventually the lights went on again, but of the necklace
there was no sign whatever.”

“Well? Were you expecting the thief to wear it as a watch-chain or hang
it from his teeth?”

Baxter was finding his companion’s manner more trying every minute, but
he preserved his calm.

“Naturally the doors were barred and a complete search instituted.
And extremely embarrassing it was. With the single exception of the
scoundrel who has been palming himself off as McTodd, all those present
were well-known members of Society.”

“Well-known members of Society might not object to getting hold of
a twenty-thousand pound necklace. But still, with the McTodd fellow
there, you oughtn’t to have had far to look. What had he to say about
it?”

“He was among the first to empty his pockets.”

“Well, then, he must have hidden the thing somewhere.”

“Not in this room. I have searched assiduously.”

“H’m.”

There was a silence.

“It is baffling,” said Baxter, “baffling.”

“It is nothing of the kind,” replied Miss Simmons tartly. “This wasn’t
a one-man job. How could it have been? I should be inclined to call
it a three-man job. One to switch off the lights, one to snatch the
necklace, and one to--was that window open all the time? I thought
so--and one to pick up the necklace when the second fellow threw it out
on to the terrace.”

“Terrace!”

The word shot from Baxter’s lips with explosive force. Miss Simmons
looked at him curiously.

“Thought of something?”

“Miss Simmons,” said the Efficient One impressively, “everybody
was assembled in here waiting for the reading to begin, but the
pseudo-McTodd was nowhere to be found. I discovered him eventually on
the terrace in close talk with the Halliday girl.”

“His partner,” said Miss Simmons, nodding. “We thought so all along.
And let me add my little bit. There’s a fellow down in the servants’
hall that calls himself a valet, and I’ll bet he didn’t know what a
valet was till he came here. I thought he was a crook the moment I set
eyes on him. I can tell ’em in the dark. Now, do you know whose valet
he is? This McTodd fellow’s!”

Baxter bounded to and fro like a caged tiger.

“And with my own ears,” he cried excitedly, “I heard the Halliday girl
refuse to come to the drawing-room to listen to the reading. She was
out on the terrace throughout the whole affair. Miss Simmons, we must
act! We must act!”

“Yes, but not like idiots,” replied the detective frostily.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you can’t charge out, as you looked as if you wanted to just
then, and denounce these crooks where they sit. We’ve got to go
carefully.”

“But meanwhile they will smuggle the necklace away!”

“They won’t smuggle any necklace away, not while I’m around.
Suspicion’s no good. We’ve made out a nice little case against the
three of them, but it’s no use unless we catch them with the goods.
The first thing we have to do is to find out where they’ve hidden the
stuff. And that’ll take patience. I’ll start by searching that girl’s
room. Then I’ll search the valet fellow’s room. And if the stuff isn’t
there, it’ll mean they’ve hidden it out in the open somewhere.”

“But this McTodd fellow. This fellow who poses as McTodd. He may have
it all the while.”

“No. I’ll search his room, too, but the stuff won’t be there. He’s the
fellow who’s going to get it in the end, because he’s got that place
out in the woods to hide it in. But they wouldn’t have had time to slip
it to him yet. That necklace is somewhere right here. And if,” said
Miss Simmons with grim facetiousness, “they can hide it from me, they
may keep it as a birthday present.”


§ 2

How wonderful, if we pause to examine it, is Nature’s inexorable law of
compensation. Instead of wasting time in envy of our mental superiors,
we would do well to reflect that these gifts of theirs which excite our
wistful jealousy are ever attended by corresponding penalties. To take
an example that lies to hand, it was the very fact that he possessed a
brain like a buzz-saw that rendered the Efficient Baxter a bad sleeper.
Just as he would be dropping off, bing! would go that brain of his,
melting the mists of sleep like snow in a furnace.

This was so even when life was running calmly for him and without
excitement. To-night, his mind, bearing the load it did, firmly
declined even to consider the question of slumber. The hour of two,
chiming from the clock over the stables, found him as wide awake as
ever he was at high noon.

Lying in bed in the darkness, he reviewed the situation as far as he
had the data. Shortly before he retired, Miss Simmons had made her
report about the bedrooms. Though subjected to the severest scrutiny,
neither Psmith’s boudoir nor Cootes’s attic nor Eve’s little nook on
the third floor had yielded up treasure of any description. And this,
Miss Simmons held, confirmed her original view that the necklace must
be lying concealed in what might almost be called a public spot--on
some window-ledge, maybe, or somewhere in the hall. . . .

Baxter lay considering this theory. It did appear to be the only
tenable one; but it offended him by giving the search a frivolous
suggestion of being some sort of round game like Hunt the Slipper or
Find the Thimble. As a child he had held austerely aloof from these
silly pastimes, and he resented being compelled to play them now.
Still . . .

He sat up, thinking. He had heard a noise.

       *       *       *       *       *

The attitude of the majority of people towards noises in the night is
one of cautious non-interference. But Rupert Baxter was made of sterner
stuff. The sound had seemed to come from downstairs somewhere--perhaps
from that very hall where, according to Miss Simmons, the stolen
necklace might even now be lying hid. Whatever it was, it must
certainly not be ignored. He reached for the spectacles which lay
ever ready to his hand on the table beside him: then climbed out of
bed, and, having put on a pair of slippers and opened the door, crept
forth into the darkness. As far as he could ascertain by holding his
breath and straining his ears, all was still from cellar to roof; but
nevertheless he was not satisfied. He continued to listen. His room
was on the second floor, one of a series that ran along a balcony
overlooking the hall; and he stood, leaning over the balcony rail, a
silent statue of Vigilance.

       *       *       *       *       *

The noise which had acted so electrically upon the Efficient Baxter
had been a particularly noisy noise; and only the intervening distance
and the fact that his door was closed had prevented it sounding to him
like an explosion. It had been caused by the crashing downfall of a
small table containing a vase, a jar of potpourri, an Indian sandalwood
box of curious workmanship, and a cabinet-size photograph of the Earl
of Emsworth’s eldest son, Lord Bosham; and the table had fallen because
Eve, _en route_ across the hall in quest of her precious flower-pot,
had collided with it while making for the front door. Of all indoor
sports--and Eve, as she stood pallidly among the ruins, would have been
the first to endorse this dictum--the one which offers the minimum
of pleasure to the participant is that of roaming in pitch darkness
through the hall of a country-house. Easily navigable in the daytime,
these places become at night mere traps for the unwary.

Eve paused breathlessly. So terrific had the noise sounded to her
guilty ears that every moment she was expecting doors to open all over
the castle, belching forth shouting men with pistols. But as nothing
happened, courage returned to her, and she resumed her journey. She
found the great door, ran her fingers along its surface, and drew the
chain. The shooting back of the bolts occupied but another instant, and
then she was out on the terrace running her hardest towards the row of
flower-pots.

Up on his balcony, meanwhile, the Efficient Baxter was stopping,
looking, and listening. The looking brought no results, for all below
was black as pitch; but the listening proved more fruitful. Faintly
from down in the well of the hall there floated up to him a peculiar
sound like something rustling in the darkness. Had he reached the
balcony a moment earlier, he would have heard the rattle of the chain
and the click of the bolts; but these noises had occurred just before
he came out of his room. Now all that was audible was this rustling.

He could not analyse the sound, but the fact that there was any sound
at all in such a place at such an hour increased his suspicions that
dark doings were toward which would pay for investigation. With
stealthy steps he crept to the head of the stairs and descended.

One uses the verb “descend” advisedly, for what is required is some
word suggesting instantaneous activity. About Baxter’s progress from
the second floor to the first there was nothing halting or hesitating.
He, so to speak, did it now. Planting his foot firmly on a golf-ball
which the Hon. Freddie Threepwood, who had been practising putting in
the corridor before retiring to bed, had left in his casual fashion
just where the steps began, he took the entire staircase in one
majestic, volplaning sweep. There were eleven stairs in all separating
his landing from the landing below, and the only ones he hit were the
third and tenth. He came to rest with a squattering thud on the lower
landing, and for a moment or two the fever of the chase left him.

The fact that many writers in their time have commented at some length
on the mysterious manner in which Fate is apt to perform its work must
not deter us now from a brief survey of this latest manifestation of
its ingenious methods. Had not his interview with Eve that afternoon so
stimulated the Hon. Freddie as to revive in him a faint yet definite
desire to putt, there would have been no golf-ball waiting for Baxter
on the stairs. And had he been permitted to negotiate the stairs in a
less impetuous manner, Baxter would not at this juncture have switched
on the light.

It had not been his original intention to illuminate the theatre of
action, but after that Lucifer-like descent from the second floor to
the first he was taking no more chances. “Safety First” was Baxter’s
slogan. As soon, therefore, as he had shaken off a dazed sensation of
mental and moral collapse, akin to that which comes to the man who
steps on the teeth of a rake and is smitten on the forehead by the
handle, he rose with infinite caution to his feet and, feeling his way
down by the banisters, groped for the switch and pressed it. And so it
came about that Eve, heading for home with her precious flower-pot in
her arms, was stopped when at the very door by a sudden warning flood
of light. Another instant, and she would have been across the threshold
of disaster.

For a moment paralysis gripped her. The light had affected her like
someone shouting loudly and unexpectedly in her ear. Her heart gave
one convulsive bound, and she stood frozen. Then, filled with a blind
desire for flight, she dashed like a hunted rabbit into the friendly
shelter of a clump of bushes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Baxter stood blinking. Gradually his eyes adjusted themselves to the
light, and immediately they had done so he was seized by a fresh frenzy
of zeal. Now that all things were made visible to him he could see that
that faint rustling sound had been caused by a curtain flapping in the
breeze, and that the breeze which made the curtain flap was coming in
through the open front door.

Baxter wasted no time in abstract thought. He acted swiftly and with
decision. Straightening his spectacles on his nose, he girded up his
pyjamas and galloped out into the night.

       *       *       *       *       *

The smooth terrace slept under the stars. To a more poetic man than
Baxter it would have seemed to wear that faintly reproachful air which
a garden always assumes when invaded at unseemly hours by people who
ought to be in bed. Baxter, never fanciful, was blind to this. He was
thinking, thinking. That shaking-up on the stairs had churned into
activity the very depths of his brain and he was at the fever-point
of his reasoning powers. A thought had come like a full-blown rose,
flushing his brow. Miss Simmons, arguing plausibly, had suggested that
the stolen necklace might be concealed in the hall. Baxter, inspired,
fancied not. Whoever it was that had been at work in the hall just now
had been making for the garden. It was not the desire to escape which
had led him--or her--to open the front door, for the opening had been
done before he, Baxter, had come out on to the balcony--otherwise he
must have heard the shooting of the bolts. No. The enemy’s objective
had been the garden. In other words, the terrace. And why? Because
somewhere on the terrace was the stolen necklace.

Standing there in the starlight, the Efficient Baxter endeavoured to
reconstruct the scene, and did so with remarkable accuracy. He saw the
jewels flashing down. He saw them picked up. But there he stopped. Try
as he might, he could not see them hidden. And yet that they had been
hidden--and that within a few feet of where he was now standing--he
felt convinced.

He moved from his position near the door and began to roam restlessly.
His slippered feet padded over the soft turf.

       *       *       *       *       *

Eve peered out from her clump of bushes. It was not easy to see any
great distance, but Fate, her friend, was still with her. There had
been a moment that night when Baxter, disrobing for bed, had wavered
absently between his brown and his lemon-coloured pyjamas, little
recking of what hung upon the choice. Fate had directed his hand to the
lemon-coloured, and he had put them on; with the result that he shone
now in the dim light like the white plume of Navarre. Eve could follow
his movements perfectly, and, when he was far enough away from his base
to make the enterprise prudent, she slipped out and raced for home and
safety. Baxter at the moment was leaning on the terrace wall, thinking,
thinking, thinking.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was possibly the cool air, playing about his bare ankles, that at
last chilled the secretary’s dashing mood and brought the disquieting
thought that he was doing something distinctly dangerous in remaining
out here in the open like this. A gang of thieves are ugly customers,
likely to stick at little when a valuable necklace is at stake, and
it came to the Efficient Baxter that in his light pyjamas he must
be offering a tempting mark for any marauder lurking--say in those
bushes. And at the thought, the summer night, though pleasantly mild,
grew suddenly chilly. With an almost convulsive rapidity he turned to
re-enter the house. Zeal was well enough, but it was silly to be rash.
He covered the last few yards of his journey at a rare burst of speed.

It was at this point that he discovered that the lights in the hall had
been switched off and that the front door was closed and bolted.


§ 3

It is the opinion of most thoughtful students of life that happiness
in this world depends chiefly on the ability to take things as they
come. An instance of one who may be said to have perfected this
attitude is to be found in the writings of a certain eminent Arabian
author who tells of a traveller who, sinking to sleep one afternoon
upon a patch of turf containing an acorn, discovered when he woke that
the warmth of his body had caused the acorn to germinate and that he
was now some sixty feet above the ground in the upper branches of a
massive oak. Unable to descend, he faced the situation equably. “I
cannot,” he observed, “adapt circumstances to my will: therefore I
shall adapt my will to circumstances. I decide to remain here.” Which
he did.

Rupert Baxter, as he stood before the barred door of Blandings Castle,
was very far from imitating this admirable philosopher. To find oneself
locked out of a country-house at half-past two in the morning in
lemon-coloured pyjamas can never be an unmixedly agreeable experience,
and Baxter was a man less fitted by nature to endure it with equanimity
than most men. His was a fiery and an arrogant soul, and he seethed in
furious rebellion against the intolerable position into which Fate had
manœuvred him. He even went so far as to give the front door a petulant
kick. Finding, however, that this hurt his toes and accomplished no
useful end, he addressed himself to the task of ascertaining whether
there was any way of getting in--short of banging the knocker and
rousing the house, a line of action which did not commend itself to
him. He made a practice of avoiding as far as possible the ribald type
of young man of which the castle was now full, and he had no desire to
meet them at this hour in his present costume. He left the front door
and proceeded to make a circuit of the castle walls; and his spirits
sank even lower. In the Middle Ages, during that stormy period of
England’s history when walls were built six feet thick and a window was
not so much a window as a handy place for pouring molten lead on the
heads of visitors, Blandings had been an impregnable fortress. But in
all its career it can seldom have looked more of a fortress to anyone
than it did now to the Efficient Baxter.

One of the disadvantages of being a man of action, impervious to the
softer emotions, is that in moments of trial the beauties of Nature are
powerless to soothe the anguished heart. Had Baxter been of a dreamy
and poetic temperament he might now have been drawing all sorts of
balm from the loveliness of his surroundings. The air was full of the
scent of growing things; strange, shy creatures came and went about him
as he walked; down in the woods a nightingale had begun to sing; and
there was something grandly majestic in the huge bulk of the castle
as it towered against the sky. But Baxter had temporarily lost his
sense of smell; he feared and disliked the strange, shy creatures; the
nightingale left him cold; and the only thought the towering castle
inspired in him was that it looked as if a fellow would need half a ton
of dynamite to get into it.

Baxter paused. He was back now near the spot from which he had
started, having completed two laps without finding any solution of his
difficulties. The idea in his mind had been to stand under somebody’s
window and attract the sleeper’s attention with soft, significant
whistles. But the first whistle he emitted had sounded to him in the
stillness of early morn so like a steam syren that thereafter he had
merely uttered timid, mouse-like sounds which the breezes had carried
away the moment they crept out. He proposed now to halt for awhile
and rest his lips before making another attempt. He proceeded to the
terrace wall and sat down. The clock over the stables struck three.

To the restless type of thinker like Rupert Baxter, the act of sitting
down is nearly always the signal for the brain to begin working with
even more than its customary energy. The relaxed body seems to invite
thought. And Baxter, having suspended for the moment his physical
activities--and glad to do so, for his slippers hurt him--gave himself
up to tense speculation as to the hiding-place of Lady Constance
Keeble’s necklace. From the spot where he now sat he was probably, he
reflected, actually in a position to see that hiding-place--if only,
when he saw it, he were able to recognise it for what it was. Somewhere
out here--in yonder bushes or in some unsuspected hole in yonder
tree--the jewels must have been placed. Or . . .

Something seemed to go off inside Baxter like a touched spring. One
moment, he was sitting limply, keenly conscious of a blister on the
sole of his left foot; the next, regardless of the blister, he was
off the wall and racing madly along the terrace in a flurry of flying
slippers. Inspiration had come to him.

Day dawns early in the summer months, and already a sort of unhealthy
pallor had begun to manifest itself in the sky. It was still far from
light, but objects hitherto hidden in the gloom had begun to take
on uncertain shape. And among these there had come into the line of
Baxter’s vision a row of fifteen flower-pots.

There they stood, side by side, round and inviting, each with a
geranium in its bed of mould. Fifteen flower-pots. There had originally
been sixteen, but Baxter knew nothing of that. All he knew was that he
was on the trail.

The quest for buried treasure is one which right through the ages
has exercised an irresistible spell over humanity. Confronted with a
spot where buried treasure may lurk, men do not stand upon the order
of their digging; they go at it with both hands. No solicitude for his
employer’s geraniums came to hamper Rupert Baxter’s researches. To
grasp the first flower-pot and tilt out its contents was with him the
work of a moment. He scrabbled his fingers through the little pile of
mould . . .

Nothing.

A second geranium lay broken on the ground . . .

Nothing.

A third . . .

       *       *       *       *       *

The Efficient Baxter straightened himself painfully. He was unused to
stooping, and his back ached. But physical discomfort was forgotten in
the agony of hope frustrated. As he stood there, wiping his forehead
with an earth-stained hand, fifteen geranium corpses gazed up at him in
the growing light, it seemed with reproach. But Baxter felt no remorse.
He included all geraniums, all thieves, and most of the human race in
one comprehensive black hatred.

All that Rupert Baxter wanted in this world now was bed. The clock over
the stables had just struck four, and he was aware of an overpowering
fatigue. Somehow or other, if he had to dig through the walls with his
bare hands, he must get into the house. He dragged himself painfully
from the scene of carnage and blinked up at the row of silent windows
above him. He was past whistling now. He stooped for a pebble, and
tossed it up at the nearest window.

Nothing happened. Whoever was sleeping up there continued to sleep. The
sky had turned pink, birds were twittering in the ivy, other birds had
begun to sing in the bushes. All Nature, in short, was waking--except
the unseen sluggard up in that room.

He threw another pebble . . .

       *       *       *       *       *

It seemed to Rupert Baxter that he had been standing there throwing
pebbles through a nightmare eternity. The whole universe had now become
concentrated in his efforts to rouse that log-like sleeper; and for a
brief instant fatigue left him, driven away by a sort of Berserk fury.
And there floated into his mind, as if from some previous existence,
a memory of somebody once standing near where he was standing now and
throwing a flower-pot in at a window at someone. Who it was that had
thrown the thing at whom, he could not at the moment recall; but the
outstanding point on which his mind focused itself was the fact that
the man had had the right idea. This was no time for pebbles. Pebbles
were feeble and inadequate. With one voice the birds, the breezes, the
grasshoppers, the whole chorus of Nature waking to another day seemed
to shout to him, “Say it with flower-pots!”


§ 4

The ability to sleep soundly and deeply is the prerogative, as has been
pointed out earlier in this straightforward narrative of the simple
home-life of the English upper classes, of those who do not think
quickly. The Earl of Emsworth, who had not thought quickly since the
occasion in the summer of 1874 when he had heard his father’s footsteps
approaching the stable-loft in which he, a lad of fifteen, sat smoking
his first cigar, was an excellent sleeper. He started early and
finished late. It was his gentle boast that for more than twenty years
he had never missed his full eight hours. Generally he managed to get
something nearer ten.

But then, as a rule, people did not fling flower-pots through his
window at four in the morning.

Even under this unusual handicap, however, he struggled bravely to
preserve his record. The first of Baxter’s missiles, falling on a
settee, produced no change in his regular breathing. The second, which
struck the carpet, caused him to stir. It was the third, colliding
sharply with his humped back, that definitely woke him. He sat up in
bed and stared at the thing.

In the first moment of his waking, relief was, oddly enough, his chief
emotion. The blow had roused him from a disquieting dream in which he
had been arguing with Angus McAllister about early spring bulbs, and
McAllister, worsted verbally, had hit him in the ribs with a spud. Even
in his dream Lord Emsworth had been perplexed as to what his next move
ought to be; and when he found himself awake and in his bedroom he
was at first merely thankful that the necessity for making a decision
had at any rate been postponed. Angus McAllister might on some future
occasion smite him with a spud, but he had not done it yet.

There followed a period of vague bewilderment. He looked at the
flower-pot. It held no message for him. He had not put it there. He
never took flower-pots to bed. Once, as a child, he had taken a dead
pet rabbit, but never a flower-pot. The whole affair was completely
inscrutable; and his lordship, unable to solve the mystery, was on the
point of taking the statesmanlike course of going to sleep again, when
something large and solid whizzed through the open window and crashed
against the wall, where it broke, but not into such small fragments
that he could not perceive that in its prime it, too, had been a
flower-pot. And at this moment his eyes fell on the carpet and then on
the settee; and the affair passed still farther into the realm of the
inexplicable. The Hon. Freddie Threepwood, who had a poor singing-voice
but was a game trier, had been annoying his father of late by crooning
a ballad ending in the words:

    “_It is not raining rain at all:_
        _It’s raining vi-o-lets._”

It seemed to Lord Emsworth now that matters had gone a step farther. It
was raining flower-pots.

The customary attitude of the Earl of Emsworth towards all mundane
affairs was one of vague detachment; but this phenomenon was so
remarkable that he found himself stirred to quite a little flutter
of excitement and interest. His brain still refused to cope with the
problem of why anybody should be throwing flower-pots into his room at
this hour--or, indeed, at any hour; but it seemed a good idea to go and
ascertain who this peculiar person was.

He put on his glasses and hopped out of bed and trotted to the window.
And it was while he was on his way there that memory stirred in him, as
some minutes ago it had stirred in the Efficient Baxter. He recalled
that odd episode of a few days back, when that delightful girl, Miss
What’s-her-name, had informed him that his secretary had been throwing
flower-pots at that poet fellow, McTodd. He had been annoyed, he
remembered, that Baxter should so far have forgotten himself. Now,
he found himself more frightened than annoyed. Just as every dog is
permitted one bite without having its sanity questioned, so, if you
consider it in a broad-minded way, may every man be allowed to throw
one flower-pot. But let the thing become a habit, and we look askance.
This strange hobby of his appeared to be growing on Baxter like a
drug, and Lord Emsworth did not like it at all. He had never before
suspected his secretary of an unbalanced mind, but now he mused, as
he tiptoed cautiously to the window, that the Baxter sort of man, the
energetic restless type, was just the kind that does go off his head.
Just some such calamity as this, his lordship felt, he might have
foreseen. Day in, day out, Rupert Baxter had been exercising his brain
ever since he had come to the castle--and now he had gone and sprained
it. Lord Emsworth peeped timidly out from behind a curtain.

His worst fears were realised. It was Baxter, sure enough; and a
tousled, wild-eyed Baxter incredibly clad in lemon-coloured pyjamas.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lord Emsworth stepped back from the window. He had seen sufficient. The
pyjamas had in some curious way set the coping-stone on his dismay,
and he was now in a condition approximating to panic. That Baxter
should be so irresistibly impelled by his strange mania as actually
to omit to attire himself decently before going out on one of these
flower-pot-hurling expeditions of his seemed to make it all so sad and
hopeless. The dreamy peer was no poltroon, but he was past his first
youth, and it came to him very forcibly that the interviewing and
pacifying of secretaries who ran amok was young man’s work. He stole
across the room and opened the door. It was his purpose to put this
matter into the hands of an agent. And so it came about that Psmith was
aroused some few minutes later from slumber by a touch on the arm and
sat up to find his host’s pale face peering at him in the weird light
of early morning.

“My dear fellow,” quavered Lord Emsworth.

Psmith, like Baxter, was a light sleeper; and it was only a moment
before he was wide awake and exerting himself to do the courtesies.

“Good morning,” he said pleasantly. “Will you take a seat.”

“I am extremely sorry to be obliged to wake you, my dear fellow,” said
his lordship, “but the fact of the matter is, my secretary, Baxter, has
gone off his head.”

“Much?” inquired Psmith, interested.

“He is out in the garden in his pyjamas, throwing flower-pots through
my window.”

“Flower-pots?”

“Flower-pots!”

“Oh, flower-pots!” said Psmith, frowning thoughtfully, as if he had
expected it would be something else. “And what steps are you proposing
to take? That is to say,” he went on, “unless you wish him to continue
throwing flower-pots.”

“My dear fellow . . . !”

“Some people like it,” explained Psmith. “But you do not? Quite so,
quite so. I understand perfectly. We all have our likes and dislikes.
Well, what would you suggest?”

“I was hoping that you might consent to go down--er--having possibly
armed yourself with a good stout stick--and induce him to desist and
return to bed.”

“A sound suggestion in which I can see no flaw,” said Psmith
approvingly. “If you will make yourself at home in here--pardon me for
issuing invitations to you in your own house--I will see what can be
done. I have always found Comrade Baxter a reasonable man, ready to
welcome suggestions from outside sources, and I have no doubt that we
shall easily be able to reach some arrangement.”

He got out of bed, and, having put on his slippers, and his monocle,
paused before the mirror to brush his hair.

“For,” he explained, “one must be natty when entering the presence of a
Baxter.”

He went to the closet and took from among a number of hats a neat
Homburg. Then, having selected from a bowl of flowers on the
mantelpiece a simple white rose, he pinned it in the coat of his
pyjama-suit and announced himself ready.


§ 5

The sudden freshet of vicious energy which had spurred the Efficient
Baxter on to his recent exhibition of marksmanship had not lasted.
Lethargy was creeping back on him even as he stooped to pick up the
flower-pot which had found its billet on Lord Emsworth’s spine. And, as
he stood there after hurling that final missile, he had realised that
that was his last shot. If that produced no results, he was finished.

And, as far as he could gather, it had produced no results whatever.
No head had popped inquiringly out of the window. No sound of anybody
stirring had reached his ears. The place was as still as if he had been
throwing marsh-mallows. A weary sigh escaped from Baxter’s lips. And
a moment later he was reclining on the ground with his head propped
against the terrace wall, a beaten man.

His eyes closed. Sleep, which he had been denying to himself for so
long, would be denied no more. When Psmith arrived, daintily swinging
the Hon. Freddie Threepwood’s niblick like a clouded cane, he had just
begun to snore.

       *       *       *       *       *

Psmith was a kindly soul. He did not like Rupert Baxter, but that was
no reason why he should allow him to continue lying on turf wet with
the morning dew, thus courting lumbago and sciatica. He prodded Baxter
in the stomach with the niblick, and the secretary sat up, blinking.
And with returning consciousness came a burning sense of grievance.

“Well, you’ve been long enough,” he growled. Then, as he rubbed his
red-rimmed eyes and was able to see more clearly, he perceived who it
was that had come to his rescue. The spectacle of Psmith of all people
beaming benignly down at him was an added offence. “Oh, it’s you?” he
said morosely.

“I in person,” said Psmith genially. “Awake, beloved! Awake, for
morning in the bowl of night has flung the stone that puts the stars to
flight; and lo! the hunter of the East has caught the Sultan’s turret
in a noose of light. The Sultan himself,” he added, “you will find
behind yonder window, speculating idly on your motives for bunging
flower-pots at him. Why, if I may venture the question, _did_ you?”

Baxter was in no confiding mood. Without replying, he rose to his feet
and started to trudge wearily along the terrace to the front door.
Psmith fell into step beside him.

“If I were you,” said Psmith, “and I offer the suggestion in the most
cordial spirit of goodwill, I would use every effort to prevent this
passion for flinging flower-pots from growing upon me. I know you
will say that you can take it or leave it alone; that just one more
pot won’t hurt you; but can you stop at one? Isn’t it just that first
insidious flower-pot that does all the mischief? Be a man, Comrade
Baxter!” He laid his hand appealingly on the secretary’s shoulder.
“The next time the craving comes on you, fight it. Fight it! Are you,
the heir of the ages, going to become a slave to a habit? Tush! You
know and I know that there is better stuff in you than that. Use your
will-power, man, use your will-power.”

Whatever reply Baxter might have intended to make to this powerful
harangue--and his attitude as he turned on his companion suggested that
he had much to say--was checked by a voice from above.

“Baxter! My dear fellow!”

The Earl of Emsworth, having observed the secretary’s awakening from
the safe observation-post of Psmith’s bedroom, and having noted that he
seemed to be exhibiting no signs of violence, had decided to make his
presence known. His panic had passed, and he wanted to go into first
causes.

Baxter gazed wanly up at the window.

“I can explain everything, Lord Emsworth.”

“What?” said his lordship, leaning farther out.

“I can explain everything,” bellowed Baxter.

“It turns out after all,” said Psmith pleasantly, “to be very simple.
He was practising for the Jerking The Geranium event at the next
Olympic Games.”

Lord Emsworth adjusted his glasses.

“Your face is dirty,” he said, peering down at his dishevelled
secretary. “Baxter, my dear fellow, your face is dirty.”

“I was digging,” replied Baxter sullenly.

“What?”

“Digging!”

“The terrier complex,” explained Psmith. “What,” he asked kindly,
turning to his companion, “were you digging for? Forgive me if the
question seems an impertinent one, but we are naturally curious.”

Baxter hesitated.

“What were you digging for?” asked Lord Emsworth.

“You see,” said Psmith. “_He_ wants to know.”

Not for the first time since they had become associated, a mad feeling
of irritation at his employer’s woolly persistence flared up in
Rupert Baxter’s bosom. The old ass was always pottering about asking
questions. Fury and want of sleep combined to dull the secretary’s
normal prudence. Dimly he realised that he was imparting Psmith, the
scoundrel who he was convinced was the ringleader of last night’s
outrage, valuable information; but anything was better than to have to
stand here shouting up at Lord Emsworth. He wanted to get it over and
go to bed.

“I thought Lady Constance’s necklace was in one of the flower-pots,” he
shrilled.

“What?”

The secretary’s powers of endurance gave out. This maddening
inquisition, coming on top of the restless night he had had, was too
much for him. With a low moan he made one agonised leap for the front
door and passed through it to where beyond these voices there was peace.

Psmith, deprived thus abruptly of his stimulating society, remained
for some moments standing near the front door, drinking in with grave
approval the fresh scents of the summer morning. It was many years
since he had been up and about as early as this, and he had forgotten
how delightful the first beginnings of a July day can be. Unlike
Baxter, on whose self-centred soul these things had been lost, he
revelled in the soft breezes, the singing birds, the growing pinkness
of the eastern sky. He awoke at length from his reverie to find that
Lord Emsworth had toddled down and was tapping him on the arm.

“_What_ did he say?” inquired his lordship. He was feeling like a
man who has been cut off in the midst of an absorbing telephone
conversation.

“Say?” said Psmith. “Oh, Comrade Baxter? Now, let me think. What _did_
he say?”

“Something about something being in a flower-pot,” prompted his
lordship.

“Ah, yes. He said he thought that Lady Constance’s necklace was in one
of the flower-pots.”

“What!”

Lord Emsworth, it should be mentioned, was not completely in touch with
recent happenings in his home. His habit of going early to bed had
caused him to miss the sensational events in the drawing-room: and,
as he was a sound sleeper, the subsequent screams--or, as Stokes the
footman would have said, shrieks--had not disturbed him. He stared at
Psmith, aghast. For a while the apparent placidity of Baxter had lulled
his first suspicions, but now they returned with renewed force.

“Baxter thought my sister’s necklace was in a flower-pot?” he gasped.

“So I understood him to say.”

“But why should my sister keep her necklace in a flower-pot?”

“Ah, there you take me into deep waters.”

“The man’s mad,” cried Lord Emsworth, his last doubts removed. “Stark,
staring mad! I thought so before, and now I’m convinced of it.”

His lordship was no novice in the symptoms of insanity. Several of
his best friends were residing in those palatial establishments set
in pleasant parks and surrounded by high walls with broken bottles on
them, to which the wealthy and aristocratic are wont to retire when
the strain of modern life becomes too great. And one of his uncles by
marriage, who believed that he was a loaf of bread, had made his first
public statement on the matter in the smoking-room of this very castle.
What Lord Emsworth did not know about lunatics was not worth knowing.

“I must get rid of him,” he said. And at the thought the fair morning
seemed to Lord Emsworth to take on a sudden new beauty. Many a time
had he toyed wistfully with the idea of dismissing his efficient but
tyrannical secretary, but never before had that sickeningly competent
young man given him any reasonable cause to act. Hitherto, moreover, he
had feared his sister’s wrath should he take the plunge. But now . . .
Surely even Connie, pig-headed as she was, could not blame him for
dispensing with the services of a secretary who thought she kept her
necklaces in flower-pots, and went out into the garden in the early
dawn to hurl them at his bedroom window.

His demeanour took on a sudden buoyancy. He hummed a gay air.

“Get rid of him,” he murmured, rolling the blessed words round his
tongue. He patted Psmith genially on the shoulder. “Well, my dear
fellow,” he said, “I suppose we had better be getting back to bed and
seeing if we can’t get a little sleep.”

Psmith gave a little start. He had been somewhat deeply immersed in
thought.

“Do not,” he said courteously, “let me keep you from the hay if you
wish to retire. To me--you know what we poets are--this lovely morning
has brought inspiration. I think I will push off to my little nook in
the woods, and write a poem about something.”

He accompanied his host up the silent stairs, and they parted with
mutual good will at their respective doors. Psmith, having cleared his
brain with a hurried cold bath, began to dress.

As a rule, the donning of his clothes was a solemn ceremony over
which he dwelt lovingly; but this morning he abandoned his customary
leisurely habit. He climbed into his trousers with animation, and
lingered but a moment over the tying of his tie. He was convinced that
there was that before him which would pay for haste.

Nothing in this world is sadder than the frequency with which we
suspect our fellows without just cause. In the happenings of the night
before, Psmith had seen the hand of Edward Cootes. Edward Cootes, he
considered, had been indulging in what--in another--he would certainly
have described as funny business. Like Miss Simmons, Psmith had quickly
arrived at the conclusion that the necklace had been thrown out of
the drawing-room window by one of those who made up the audience at
his reading: and it was his firm belief that it had been picked up
and hidden by Mr. Cootes. He had been trying to think ever since
where that persevering man could have concealed it, and Baxter had
provided the clue. But Psmith saw clearer than Baxter. The secretary,
having disembowelled fifteen flower-pots and found nothing, had
abandoned his theory. Psmith went further, and suspected the existence
of a sixteenth. And he proposed as soon as he was dressed to sally
downstairs in search of it.

He put on his shoes, and left the room, buttoning his waistcoat as he
went.


§ 6

The hands of the clock over the stables were pointing to half-past
five when Eve Halliday, tiptoeing furtively, made another descent of
the stairs. Her feelings as she went were very different from those
which had caused her to jump at every sound when she had started on
this same journey three hours earlier. Then, she had been a prowler
in the darkness and, as such, a fitting object of suspicion: now, if
she happened to run into anybody, she was merely a girl who, unable
to sleep, had risen early to take a stroll in the garden. It was a
distinction that made all the difference.

Moreover, it covered the facts. She had not been able to sleep--except
for an hour when she had dozed off in a chair by her window; and she
certainly proposed to take a stroll in the garden. It was her intention
to recover the necklace from the place where she had deposited it, and
bury it somewhere where no one could possibly find it. There it could
lie until she had a chance of meeting and talking to Mr. Keeble, and
ascertaining what was the next step he wished taken.

Two reasons had led Eve, after making her panic dash back into the
house after lurking in the bushes while Baxter patrolled the terrace,
to leave her precious flower-pot on the sill of the window beside the
front door. She had read in stories of sensation that for purposes
of concealment the most open place is the best place: and, secondly,
the nearer the front door she put the flower-pot, the less distance
would she have to carry it when the time came for its removal. In
the present excited condition of the household, with every guest an
amateur detective, the spectacle of a girl tripping downstairs with a
flower-pot in her arms would excite remark.

Eve felt exhilarated. She was not used to getting only one hour’s sleep
in the course of a night, but excitement and the reflection that she
had played a difficult game and won it against odds bore her up so
strongly that she was not conscious of fatigue: and so uplifted did she
feel that as she reached the landing above the hall she abandoned her
cautious mode of progress and ran down the remaining stairs. She had
the sensation of being in the last few yards of a winning race.

       *       *       *       *       *

The hall was quite light now. Every object in it was plainly visible.
There was the huge dinner-gong: there was the long leather settee:
there was the table which she had upset in the darkness. And there was
the sill of the window by the front door. But the flower-pot which had
been on it was gone.



CHAPTER XII

MORE ON THE FLOWER-POT THEME


In any community in which a sensational crime has recently been
committed, the feelings of the individuals who go to make up that
community must of necessity vary somewhat sharply according to the
degree in which the personal fortunes of each are affected by the
outrage. Vivid in their own way as may be the emotions of one who sees
a fellow-citizen sandbagged in a quiet street, they differ in kind from
those experienced by the victim himself. And so, though the theft of
Lady Constance Keeble’s diamond necklace had stirred Blandings Castle
to its depths, it had not affected all those present in quite the
same way. It left the house-party divided into two distinct schools
of thought--the one finding in the occurrence material for gloom and
despondency, the other deriving from it nothing but joyful excitement.

To this latter section belonged those free young spirits who had
chafed at the prospect of being herded into the drawing-room on the
eventful night to listen to Psmith’s reading of _Songs of Squalor_.
It made them tremble now to think of what they would have missed, had
Lady Constance’s vigilance relaxed sufficiently to enable them to
execute the quiet sneak for the billiard-room of which even at the
eleventh hour they had thought so wistfully. As far as the Reggies,
Berties, Claudes, and Archies at that moment enjoying Lord Emsworth’s
hospitality were concerned the thing was top-hole, priceless, and
indisputably what the doctor ordered. They spent a great deal of their
time going from one country-house to another, and as a rule found the
routine a little monotonous. A happening like that of the previous
night gave a splendid zip to rural life. And when they reflected that,
right on top of this binge, there was coming the County Ball, it seemed
to them that God was in His heaven and all right with the world. They
stuck cigarettes in long holders, and collected in groups, chattering
like starlings.

The gloomy brigade, those with hearts bowed down, listened to their
effervescent babbling with wan distaste. These last were a small body
numerically, but very select. Lady Constance might have been described
as their head and patroness. Morning found her still in a state
bordering on collapse. After breakfast, however, which she took in her
room, and which was sweetened by an interview with Mr. Joseph Keeble,
her husband, she brightened considerably. Mr. Keeble, thought Lady
Constance, behaved magnificently. She had always loved him dearly, but
never so much as when, abstaining from the slightest reproach of her
obstinacy in refusing to allow the jewels to be placed in the bank, he
spaciously informed her that he would buy her another necklace, just
as good and costing every penny as much as the old one. It was at this
point that Lady Constance almost seceded from the ranks of gloom. She
kissed Mr. Keeble gratefully, and attacked with something approaching
animation the boiled egg at which she had been pecking when he came in.

But a few minutes later the average of despair was restored by the
enrolment of Mr. Keeble in the ranks of the despondent. He had
gladsomely assumed overnight that one of his agents, either Eve or
Freddie, had been responsible for the disappearance of the necklace.
The fact that Freddie, interviewed by stealth in his room, gapingly
disclaimed any share in the matter had not damped him. He had never
expected results from Freddie. But when, after leaving Lady Constance,
he encountered Eve and was given a short outline of history, beginning
with her acquisition of the necklace, and ending--like a modern
novel--on the sombre note of her finding the flower-pot gone, he too
sat him down and mourned as deeply as anyone.

Passing with a brief mention over Freddie, whose morose bearing was
the subject of considerable comment among the younger set; over Lord
Emsworth, who woke at twelve o’clock disgusted to find that he had
missed several hours among his beloved flower-beds; and over the
Efficient Baxter, who was roused from sleep at twelve-fifteen by Thomas
the footman knocking on his door in order to hand him a note from his
employer enclosing a cheque, and dispensing with his services; we come
to Miss Peavey.

At twenty minutes past eleven on this morning when so much was
happening to so many people, Miss Peavey stood in the Yew Alley gazing
belligerently at the stemless mushroom finial of a tree about half-way
between the entrance and the point where the alley merged into the
west wood. She appeared to be soliloquising. For, though words were
proceeding from her with considerable rapidity, there seemed to be no
one in sight to whom they were being addressed. Only an exceptionally
keen observer would have noted a slight significant quivering among the
tree’s tightly-woven branches.

“You poor bone-headed fish,” the poetess was saying with that
strained tenseness which results from the churning up of a generous
and emotional nature, “isn’t there anything in this world you can do
without tumbling over your feet and making a mess of it? All I ask of
you is to stroll under a window and pick up a few jewels, and now you
come and tell me . . .”

“But, Liz!” said the tree plaintively.

“I do all the difficult part of the job. All that there was left for
you to handle was something a child of three could have done on its
ear. And now . . .”

“But, Liz! I’m telling you I couldn’t find the stuff. I was down there
all right, but I couldn’t find it.”

“You couldn’t find it!” Miss Peavey pawed restlessly at the soft turf
with a shapely shoe. “You’re the sort of dumb Isaac that couldn’t find
a bass-drum in a telephone-booth. You didn’t _look_.”

“I did look. Honest, I did.”

“Well, the stuff was there. I threw it down the moment the lights went
out.”

“Somebody must have got there first, and swiped it.”

“Who could have got there first? Everybody was up in the room where I
was.

“Am I sure? Am I . . .” The poetess’s voice trailed off. She was
staring down the Yew Alley at a couple who had just entered. She hissed
a warning in a sharp undertone. “Hsst! Cheese it, Ed. There’s someone
coming.”

The two intruders who had caused Miss Peavey to suspend her remarks to
her erring lieutenant were of opposite sexes--a tall girl with fair
hair, and a taller young man irreproachably clad in white flannels
who beamed down at his companion through a single eyeglass. Miss
Peavey gazed at them searchingly as they approached. A sudden thought
had come to her at the sight of them. Mistrusting Psmith as she had
done ever since Mr. Cootes had unmasked him for the impostor that he
was, the fact that they were so often together had led her to extend
her suspicion to Eve. It might, of course, be nothing but a casual
friendship, begun here at the castle; but Miss Peavey had always felt
that Eve would bear watching. And now, seeing them together again this
morning, it had suddenly come to her that she did not recall having
observed Eve among the gathering in the drawing-room last night. True,
there had been many people present, but Eve’s appearance was striking,
and she was sure that she would have noticed her, if she had been
there. And, if she had not been there, why should she not have been
on the terrace? Somebody had been on the terrace last night, that was
certain. For all her censorious attitude in their recent conversation,
Miss Peavey had not really in her heart believed that even a dumb-bell
like Eddie Cootes would not have found the necklace if it had been
lying under the window on his arrival.

“Oh, good morning, Mr. McTodd,” she cooed. “I’m feeling _so_ upset
about this terrible affair. Aren’t _you_, Miss Halliday?”

“Yes,” said Eve, and she had never said a more truthful word.

Psmith, for his part, was in more debonair and cheerful mood even than
was his wont. He had examined the position of affairs and found life
good. He was particularly pleased with the fact that he had persuaded
Eve to stroll with him this morning and inspect his cottage in the
woods. Buoyant as was his temperament, he had been half afraid that
last night’s interview on the terrace might have had disastrous effects
on their intimacy. He was now feeling full of kindliness and goodwill
towards all mankind--even Miss Peavey; and he bestowed on the poetess
a dazzling smile.

“We must always,” he said, “endeavour to look on the bright side. It
was a pity, no doubt, that my reading last night had to be stopped at
a cost of about twenty thousand pounds to the Keeble coffers, but let
us not forget that but for that timely interruption I should have gone
on for about another hour. I am like that. My friends have frequently
told me that when once I start talking it requires something in the
nature of a cataclysm to stop me. But, of course, there are drawbacks
to everything, and last night’s rannygazoo perhaps shook your nervous
system to some extent?”

“I was dreadfully frightened,” said Miss Peavey. She turned to Eve with
a delicate shiver. “Weren’t _you_, Miss Halliday?”

“I wasn’t there,” said Eve absently.

“Miss Halliday,” explained Psmith, “has had in the last few days
some little experience of myself as orator, and with her usual good
sense decided not to go out of her way to get more of me than was
absolutely necessary. I was perhaps a trifle wounded at the moment,
but on thinking it over came to the conclusion that she was perfectly
justified in her attitude. I endeavour always in my conversation to
instruct, elevate, and entertain, but there is no gainsaying the fact
that a purist might consider enough of my chit-chat to be sufficient.
Such, at any rate, was Miss Halliday’s view, and I honour her for it.
But here I am, rambling on again just when I can see that you wish to
be alone. We will leave you, therefore, to muse. No doubt we have been
interrupting a train of thought which would have resulted but for my
arrival in a rondel or a ballade or some other poetic morceau. Come,
Miss Halliday. A weird and repellent female,” he said to Eve as they
drew out of hearing, “created for some purpose which I cannot fathom.
Everything in this world, I like to think, is placed there for some
useful end: but why the authorities unleashed Miss Peavey on us is
beyond me. It is not too much to say that she gives me a pain in the
gizzard.”

Miss Peavey, unaware of these harsh views, had watched them out of
sight, and now she turned excitedly to the tree which sheltered her
ally.

“Ed!”

“Hello?” replied the muffled voice of Mr. Cootes.

“Did you hear?”

“No.”

“Oh, my heavens!” cried his overwrought partner. “He’s gone deaf now!
That girl--you didn’t hear what she was saying? She said that she
wasn’t in the drawing-room when those lights went out. Ed, she was down
below on the terrace, that’s where she was, picking up the stuff. And
if it isn’t hidden somewheres in that McTodd’s shack down there in the
woods I’ll eat my Sunday rubbers.”

Eve, with Psmith prattling amiably at her side, pursued her way
through the wood. She was wondering why she had come. She ought, she
felt, to have been very cold and distant to this young man after what
had occurred between them last night. But somehow it was difficult
to be cold and distant with Psmith. He cheered her stricken soul. By
the time they reached the little clearing and came in sight of the
squat, shed-like building with its funny windows and stained door, her
spirits, always mercurial, had risen to a point where she found herself
almost able to forget her troubles.

“What a horrible-looking place!” she exclaimed. “Whatever did you want
it for?”

“Purely as a nook,” said Psmith, taking out his key. “You know how the
man of sensibility and refinement needs a nook. In this rushing age
it is imperative that the thinker shall have a place, however humble,
where he can be alone.”

“But you aren’t a thinker.”

“You wrong me. For the last few days I have been doing some extremely
brisk thinking. And the strain has taken its toll. The fierce whirl of
life at Blandings is wearing me away. There are dark circles under my
eyes and I see floating spots.” He opened the door. “Well, here we are.
Will you pop in for a moment?”

Eve went in. The single sitting-room of the cottage certainly bore out
the promise of the exterior. It contained a table with a red cloth, a
chair, three stuffed birds in a glass case on the wall, and a small
horsehair sofa. A depressing musty scent pervaded the place, as if a
cheese had recently died there in painful circumstances. Eve gave a
little shiver of distaste.

“I understand your silent criticism,” said Psmith. “You are saying to
yourself that plain living and high thinking is evidently the ideal of
the gamekeepers on the Blandings estate. They are strong, rugged men
who care little for the refinements of interior decoration. But shall
we blame them? If I had to spend most of the day and night chivvying
poachers and keeping an eye on the local rabbits, I imagine that in my
off-hours practically anything with a roof would satisfy me. It was in
the hope that you might be able to offer some hints and suggestions
for small improvements here and there that I invited you to inspect
my little place. There is no doubt that it wants doing up a bit, by
a woman’s gentle hand. Will you take a look round and give out a few
ideas? The wall-paper is, I fear, a fixture, but in every other
direction consider yourself untrammelled.”

Eve looked about her.

“Well,” she began dubiously, “I don’t think . . .”

She stopped abruptly, tingling all over. A second glance had shown
her something which her first careless inspection had overlooked.
Half hidden by a ragged curtain, there stood on the window-sill a
large flower-pot containing a geranium. And across the surface of the
flower-pot was a broad splash of white paint.

“You were saying . . . ?” said Psmith courteously.

Eve did not reply. She hardly heard him. Her mind was in a confused
whirl. A monstrous suspicion was forming itself in her brain.

“You are admiring the shrub?” said Psmith. “I found it lying about up
at the castle this morning and pinched it. I thought it would add a
touch of colour to the place.”

Eve, looking at him keenly as his gaze shifted to the flower-pot, told
herself that her suspicion had been absurd. Surely this blandness could
not be a cloak for guilt.

“Where did you find it?”

“By one of the windows in the hall, more or less wasting its sweetness.
I am bound to say I am a little disappointed in the thing. I had a sort
of idea it would turn the old homestead into a floral bower, but it
doesn’t seem to.”

“It’s a beautiful geranium.”

“There,” said Psmith, “I cannot agree with you. It seems to me to have
the glanders or something.”

“It only wants watering.”

“And unfortunately this cosy little place appears to possess no water
supply. I take it that the late proprietor when in residence used to
trudge to the back door of the castle and fetch what he needed in a
bucket. If this moribund plant fancies that I am going to spend my time
racing to and fro with refreshments, it is vastly mistaken. To-morrow
it goes into the dustbin.”

Eve shut her eyes. She was awed by a sense of having arrived at a
supreme moment. She had the sensations of a gambler who risks all on a
single throw.

“What a shame!” she said, and her voice, though she tried to control
it, shook. “You had better give it to me. I’ll take care of it. It’s
just what I want for my room.”

“Pray take it,” said Psmith. “It isn’t mine, but pray take it. And very
encouraging it is, let me add, that you should be accepting gifts from
me in this hearty fashion; for it is well known that there is no surer
sign of the dawning of the divine emotion--love,” he explained, “than
this willingness to receive presents from the hands of the adorer. I
make progress, I make progress.”

“You don’t do anything of the kind,” said Eve. Her eyes were sparkling
and her heart sang within her. In the revulsion of feeling which had
come to her on finding her suspicions unfounded she was aware of a warm
friendliness towards this absurd young man.

“Pardon me,” said Psmith firmly. “I am quoting an established
authority--Auntie Belle of _Home Gossip_.”

“I must be going,” said Eve. She took the flower-pot and hugged it to
her. “I’ve got work to do.”

“Work, work, always work!” sighed Psmith. “The curse of the age. Well,
I will escort you back to your cell.”

“No, you won’t,” said Eve. “I mean, thank you for your polite offer,
but I want to be alone.”

“Alone?” Psmith looked at her, astonished. “When you have the chance
of being with _me_? This is a strange attitude.”

“Good-bye,” said Eve. “Thank you for being so hospitable and lavish.
I’ll try to find some cushions and muslin and stuff to brighten up this
place.”

“Your presence does that adequately,” said Psmith, accompanying her to
the door. “By the way, returning to the subject we were discussing last
night, I forgot to mention, when asking you to marry me, that I can do
card-tricks.”

“Really?”

“And also a passable imitation of a cat calling to her young. Has this
no weight with you? Think! These things come in very handy in the long
winter evenings.”

“But I shan’t be there when you are imitating cats in the long winter
evenings.”

“I think you are wrong. As I visualise my little home, I can see you
there very clearly, sitting before the fire. Your maid has put you into
something loose. The light of the flickering flames reflects itself
in your lovely eyes. You are pleasantly tired after an afternoon’s
shopping, but not so tired as to be unable to select a card--_any_
card--from the pack which I offer . . .”

“Good-bye,” said Eve.

“If it must be so--good-bye. For the present. I shall see you anon?”

“I expect so.”

“Good! I will count the minutes.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Eve walked rapidly away. As she snuggled the flower-pot under her arm
she was feeling like a child about to open its Christmas stocking.
Before she had gone far, a shout stopped her and she perceived Psmith
galloping gracefully in her wake.

“Can you spare me a moment?” said Psmith.

“Certainly.”

“I should have added that I can also recite ‘Gunga-Din.’ Will you think
that over?”

“I will.”

“Thank you,” said Psmith. “Thank you. I have a feeling that it may just
turn the scale.”

He raised his hat ambassadorially and galloped away again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Eve found herself unable to wait any longer. Psmith was out of sight
now, and the wood was very still and empty. Birds twittered in the
branches, and the sun made little pools of gold upon the ground. She
cast a swift glance about her and crouched down in the shelter of a
tree.

The birds stopped singing. The sun no longer shone. The wood had become
cold and sinister. For Eve, with a heart of lead, was staring blankly
at a little pile of mould at her feet; mould which she had sifted again
and again in a frenzied, fruitless effort to find a necklace which was
not there.

The empty flower-pot seemed to leer up at her in mockery.



CHAPTER XIII

PSMITH RECEIVES GUESTS


§ 1

Blandings Castle was astir from roof to hall. Lights blazed, voices
shouted, bells rang. All over the huge building there prevailed a vast
activity like that of a barracks on the eve of the regiment’s departure
for abroad. Dinner was over, and the Expeditionary Force was making
its final preparations before starting off in many motor-cars for
the County Ball at Shifley. In the bedrooms on every floor, Reggies,
doubtful at the last moment about their white ties, were feverishly
arranging new ones; Berties brushed their already glistening hair; and
Claudes shouted to Archies along the passages insulting inquiries as to
whether they had been sneaking their handkerchiefs. Valets skimmed like
swallows up and down corridors, maids fluttered in and out of rooms in
aid of Beauty in distress. The noise penetrated into every nook and
corner of the house. It vexed the Efficient Baxter, going through his
papers in the library preparatory to leaving Blandings on the morrow
for ever. It disturbed Lord Emsworth, who stoutly declining to go
within ten miles of the County Ball, had retired to his room with a
book on Herbaceous Borders. It troubled the peace of Beach the butler,
refreshing himself after his activities around the dinner table with a
glass of sound port in the housekeeper’s room. The only person in the
place who paid no attention to it was Eve Halliday.

Eve was too furious to pay attention to anything but her deleterious
thoughts. As she walked on the terrace, to which she had fled in quest
of solitude, her teeth were set and her blue eyes glowed belligerently.
As Miss Peavey would have put it in one of her colloquial moods, she
was mad clear through. For Eve was a girl of spirit, and there is
nothing your girl of spirit so keenly resents as being made a fool of,
whether it be by Fate or by a fellow human creature. Eve was in the
uncomfortable position of having had this indignity put upon her by
both. But, while as far as Fate was concerned she merely smouldered
rebelliously, her animosity towards Psmith was vivid in the extreme.

A hot wave of humiliation made her writhe as she remembered the
infantile guilelessness with which she had accepted the preposterous
story he had told her in explanation of his presence at Blandings in
another man’s name. He had been playing with her all the time--fooling
her--and, most unforgivable crime of all, he had dared to pretend
that he was fond of her and--Eve’s face burned again--to make
her--almost--fond of him. How he must have laughed . . .

Well, she was not beaten yet. Her chin went up and she began to walk
quicker. He was clever, but she would be cleverer. The game was not
over . . .

“Hallo!”

A white waistcoat was gleaming at her side. Polished shoes shuffled on
the turf. Light hair, brushed and brilliantined to the last possible
pitch of perfection, shone in the light of the stars. The Hon. Freddie
Threepwood was in her midst.

“Well, Freddie?” said Eve resignedly.

“I say,” said Freddie in a voice in which self-pity fought with
commiseration for her. “Beastly shame you aren’t coming to the hop.”

“I don’t mind.”

“But I do, dash it! The thing won’t be anything without you. A bally
wash-out. And I’ve been trying out some new steps with the Victrola.”

“Well, there will be plenty of other girls there for you to step on.”

“I don’t _want_ other girls, dash them. I want you.”

“That’s very nice of you,” said Eve. The first truculence of her manner
had softened. She reminded herself, as she had so often been obliged
to remind herself before, that Freddie meant well. “But it can’t be
helped. I’m only an employée here, not a guest. I’m not invited.”

“I know,” said Freddie. “And that’s what makes it so dashed sickening.
It’s like that picture I saw once, ‘A Modern Cinderella.’ Only there
the girl nipped off to the dance--disguised, you know--and had a most
topping time. I wish life was a bit more like the movies.”

“Well, it was enough like the movies last night when . . . Oh!”

Eve stopped. Her heart gave a sudden jump. Somehow the presence of
Freddie was so inextricably associated in her mind with limp proposals
of marriage that she had completely forgotten that there was another
and a more dashing side to his nature, that side which Mr. Keeble had
revealed to her at their meeting in Market Blandings on the previous
afternoon. She looked at him with new eyes.

“Anything up?” said Freddie.

Eve took him excitedly by the sleeve and drew him farther away from
the house. Not that there was any need to do so, for the bustle within
continued unabated.

“Freddie,” she whispered, “listen! I met Mr. Keeble yesterday after I
had left you, and he told me all about how you and he had planned to
steal Lady Constance’s necklace.”

“Good Lord!” cried Freddie, and leaped like a stranded fish.

“And I’ve got an idea,” said Eve.

She had, and it was one which had only in this instant come to her.
Until now, though she had tilted her chin bravely and assured herself
that the game was not over and that she was not yet beaten, a small
discouraging voice had whispered to her all the while that this was
mere bravado. What, the voice had asked, are you going to do? And she
had not been able to answer it. But now, with Freddie as an ally, she
could act.

“Told you all about it?” Freddie was muttering pallidly. He had never
had a very high opinion of his Uncle Joseph’s mentality, but he had
supposed him capable of keeping a thing like that to himself. He was,
indeed, thinking of Mr. Keeble almost the identical thoughts which
Mr. Keeble in the first moments of his interview with Eve in Market
Blandings had thought of him. And these reflections brought much the
same qualms which they had brought to the elder conspirator. Once these
things got talked about, mused Freddie agitatedly, you never knew where
they would stop. Before his mental eye there swam a painful picture of
his Aunt Constance, informed of the plot, tackling him and demanding
the return of her necklace. “Told you all about it?” he bleated, and,
like Mr. Keeble, mopped his brow.

“It’s all right,” said Eve impatiently. “It’s quite all right. He asked
me to steal the necklace, too.”

“You?” said Freddie, gaping.

“Yes.”

“My Gosh!” cried Freddie, electrified. “Then was it you who got the
thing last night?”

“Yes it was. But . . .”

For a moment Freddie had to wrestle with something that was almost a
sordid envy. Then better feelings prevailed. He quivered with manly
generosity. He gave Eve’s hand a tender pat. It was too dark for her to
see it, but he was registering renunciation.

“Little girl,” he murmured, “there’s no one I’d rather got that
thousand quid than you. If I couldn’t have it myself, I mean to say.
Little girl . . .”

“Oh, be quiet!” cried Eve. “I wasn’t doing it for any thousand pounds.
I didn’t want Mr. Keeble to give me money . . .”

“You didn’t want him to give you money!” repeated Freddie wonderingly.

“I just wanted to help Phyllis. She’s my friend.”

“Pals, pardner, pals! Pals till hell freezes!” cried Freddie, deeply
moved.

“What _are_ you talking about?”

“Sorry. That was a sub-title from a thing called ‘Prairie Nell,’ you
know. Just happened to cross my mind. It was in the second reel where
the two fellows are . . .”

“Yes, yes; never mind.”

“Thought I’d mention it.”

“Tell me . . .”

“It seemed to fit in.”

“Do _stop_, Freddie!”

“Right-ho!”

“Tell me,” resumed Eve, “is Mr. McTodd going to the ball?”

“Eh? Why, yes, I suppose so.”

“Then, listen. You know that little cottage your father has let him
have?”

“Little cottage?”

“Yes. In the wood past the Yew Alley.”

“Little cottage? I never heard of any little cottage.”

“Well, he’s got one,” said Eve. “And as soon as everybody has gone to
the ball you and I are going to burgle it.”

“What!”

“Burgle it!”

“Burgle it?”

“Yes, _burgle_ it!”

Freddie gulped.

“Look here, old thing,” he said plaintively. “This is a bit beyond me.
It doesn’t seem to me to make sense.”

Eve forced herself to be patient. After all, she reflected, perhaps
she had been approaching the matter a little rapidly. The desire to
beat Freddie violently over the head passed, and she began to speak
slowly, and, as far as she could manage it, in words of one syllable.

“I can make it quite clear if you will listen and not say a word till
I’ve done. This man who calls himself McTodd is not Mr. McTodd at all.
He is a thief who got into the place by saying that he was McTodd. He
stole the jewels from me last night and hid them in his cottage.”

“But, I say!”

“Don’t interrupt. I know he has them there, so when he has gone to the
ball and the coast is clear you and I will go and search till we find
them.”

“But, I say!”

Eve crushed down her impatience once more.

“Well?”

“Do you really think this cove has got the necklace?”

“I know he has.”

“Well, then, it’s jolly well the best thing that could possibly have
happened, because I got him here to pinch it for Uncle Joseph.”

“What!”

“Absolutely. You see, I began to have a doubt or two as to whether I
was quite equal to the contract, so I roped in this bird by way of a
gang.”

“You got him here? You mean you sent for him and arranged that he
should pass himself off as Mr. McTodd?”

“Well, no, not exactly that. He was coming here as McTodd anyway, as
far as I can gather. But I’d talked it over with him, you know, before
that and asked him to pinch the necklace.”

“Then you know him quite well? He is a friend of yours?”

“I wouldn’t say that exactly. But he said he was a great pal of Phyllis
and her husband.”

“Did he tell you that?”

“Absolutely!”

“When?”

“In the train.”

“I mean, was it before or after you had told him why you wanted the
necklace stolen?”

“Eh? Let me think. After.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me exactly what happened,” said Eve. “I can’t understand it at
all at present.”

Freddie marshalled his thoughts.

“Well, let’s see. Well, to start with, I told Uncle Joe I would pinch
the necklace and slip it to him, and he said if I did he’d give me a
thousand quid. As a matter of fact, he made it two thousand, and very
decent of him, I thought it. Is that straight?”

“Yes.”

“Then I sort of got cold feet. Began to wonder, don’t you know, if I
hadn’t bitten off rather more than I could chew.”

“Yes.”

“And then I saw this advertisement in the paper.”

“Advertisement? What advertisement?”

“There was an advertisement in the paper saying if anybody wanted
anything done simply apply to this chap. So I wrote him a letter
and went up and had a talk with him in the lobby of the Piccadilly
Palace. Only, unfortunately, I’d promised the guv’nor I’d catch the
twelve-fifty home, so I had to dash off in the middle. Must have
thought me rather an ass, it’s sometimes occurred to me since. I mean,
practically all I said was, ‘Will you pinch my aunt’s necklace?’
and then buzzed off to catch the train. Never thought I’d see the
man again, but when I got into the five o’clock train--I missed the
twelve-fifty--there he was, as large as life, and the guv’nor suddenly
trickled in from another compartment and introduced him to me as McTodd
the poet. Then the guv’nor legged it, and this chap told me he wasn’t
really McTodd, only pretending to be McTodd.”

“Didn’t that strike you as strange?”

“Yes, rather rummy.”

“Did you ask him why he was doing such an extraordinary thing?”

“Oh, yes. But he wouldn’t tell me. And then he asked me why I wanted
him to pinch Aunt Connie’s necklace, and it suddenly occurred to me
that everything was working rather smoothly--I mean, him being on his
way to the castle like that. Right on the spot, don’t you know. So I
told him all about Phyllis, and it was then that he said that he had
been a pal of hers and her husband’s for years. So we fixed it up that
he was to get the necklace and hand it over. I must say I was rather
drawn to the chappie. He said he didn’t want any money for swiping the
thing.”

Eve laughed bitterly.

“Why should he, when he was going to get twenty thousand pounds’ worth
of diamonds and keep them? Oh, Freddie, I should have thought that even
you would have seen through him. You go to this perfect stranger and
tell him that there is a valuable necklace waiting here to be stolen,
you find him on his way to steal it, and you trust him implicitly just
because he tells you he knows Phyllis--whom he had never heard of in
his life till you mentioned her. Freddie, really!”

The Hon. Freddie scratched his beautifully shaven chin.

“Well, when you put it like that,” he said, “I must own it does sound a
bit off. But he seemed such a dashed matey sort of bird. Cheery and all
that. I liked the feller.”

“What nonsense!”

“Well, but you liked him, too. I mean to say, you were about with him a
goodish lot.”

“I hate him!” said Eve angrily. “I wish I had never seen him. And if I
let him get away with that necklace and cheat poor little Phyllis out
of her money, I’ll--I’ll . . .”

She raised a grimly determined chin to the stars. Freddie watched her
admiringly.

“I say, you know, you are a wonderful girl,” he said.

“He _shan’t_ get away with it, if I have to pull the place down.”

“When you chuck your head up like that you remind me a bit of
What’s-her-name, the Famous Players star--you know, girl who was in
‘Wed To A Satyr.’ Only,” added Freddie hurriedly, “she isn’t half so
pretty. I say, I was rather looking forward to that County Ball, but
now this has happened I don’t mind missing it a bit. I mean, it seems
to draw us closer together somehow, if you follow me. I say, honestly,
all kidding aside, you think that love might some day awaken in . . .”

“We shall want a lamp, of course,” said Eve.

“Eh?”

“A lamp--to see with when we are in the cottage. Can you get one?”

Freddie reluctantly perceived that the moment for sentiment had not
arrived.

“A lamp? Oh, yes, of course. Rather.”

“Better get two,” said Eve. “And meet me here about half an hour after
everybody has gone to the ball.”


§ 2

The tiny sitting-room of Psmith’s haven of rest in the woods had never
reached a high standard of decorativeness even in its best days; but
as Eve paused from her labours and looked at it in the light of her
lamp about an hour after her conversation with Freddie on the terrace,
it presented a picture of desolation which would have startled the
plain-living game-keeper to whom it had once been a home. Even Freddie,
though normally an unobservant youth, seemed awed by the ruin he had
helped to create.

“Golly!” he observed. “I say, we’ve rather mucked the place up a bit!”

It was no over-statement. Eve had come to the cottage to search, and
she had searched thoroughly. The torn carpet lay in a untidy heap
against the wall. The table was overturned. Boards had been wrenched
from the floor, bricks from the chimney-place. The horsehair sofa was
in ribbons, and the one small cushion in the room lay limply in a
corner, its stuffing distributed north, south, east and west. There was
soot everywhere--on the walls, on the floor, on the fire-place, and
on Freddie. A brace of dead bats, the further result of the latter’s
groping in a chimney which had not been swept for seven months, reposed
in the fender. The sitting-room had never been luxurious; it was now
not even cosy.

Eve did not reply. She was struggling with what she was fair-minded
enough to see was an entirely unjust fever of irritation, with her
courteous and obliging assistant as its object. It was wrong, she
knew, to feel like this. That she should be furious at her failure to
find the jewels was excusable, but she had no possible right to be
furious with Freddie. It was not his fault that soot had poured from
the chimney in lieu of diamonds. If he had asked for a necklace and
been given a dead bat, he was surely more to be pitied than censured.
Yet Eve, eyeing his grimy face, would have given very much to have
been able to scream loudly and throw something at him. The fact was,
the Hon. Freddie belonged to that unfortunate type of humanity which
automatically gets blamed for everything in moments of stress.

“Well, the bally thing isn’t here,” said Freddie. He spoke thickly, as
a man will whose mouth is covered with soot.

“I know it isn’t,” said Eve. “But this isn’t the only room in the
house.”

“Think he might have hidden the stuff upstairs?”

“Or downstairs.”

Freddie shook his head, dislodging a portion of a third bat.

“Must be upstairs, if it’s anywhere. Mean to say, there isn’t any
downstairs.”

“There’s the cellar,” said Eve. “Take your lamp and go and have a look.”

For the first time in the proceedings a spirit of disaffection seemed
to manifest itself in the bosom of her assistant. Up till this moment
Freddie had taken his orders placidly and executed them with promptness
and civility. Even when the first shower of soot had driven him choking
from the fire-place, his manly spirit had not been crushed; he had
merely uttered a startled “Oh, I say!” and returned gallantly to the
attack. But now he obviously hesitated.

“Go on,” said Eve impatiently.

“Yes, but, I say, you know . . .”

“What’s the matter?”

“I don’t think the chap would be likely to hide a necklace in the
cellar. I vote we give it a miss and try upstairs.”

“Don’t be silly, Freddie. He may have hidden it anywhere.”

“Well, to be absolutely honest, I’d much rather not go into any bally
cellar, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Why ever not?”

“Beetles. Always had a horror of beetles. Ever since I was a kid.”

Eve bit her lip. She was feeling, as Miss Peavey had so often felt
when associated in some delicate undertaking with Edward Cootes, that
exasperating sense of man’s inadequacy which comes to high-spirited
girls at moments such as these. To achieve the end for which she
had started out that night she would have waded waist-high through
a sea of beetles. But, divining with that sixth sense which tells
women when the male has been pushed just so far and can be pushed no
farther, that Freddie, wax though he might be in her hands in any other
circumstances, was on this one point adamant, she made no further
effort to bend him to her will.

“All right,” she said. “I’ll go down into the cellar. You go and look
upstairs.”

“No. I say, sure you don’t mind?”

Eve took up her lamp and left the craven.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a girl of iron resolution and unswerving purpose, Eve’s inspection
of the cellar was decidedly cursory. A distinct feeling of relief came
over her as she stood at the top of the steps and saw by the light of
the lamp how small and bare it was. For, impervious as she might be
to the intimidation of beetles, her armour still contained a chink.
She was terribly afraid of rats. And even when the rays of the lamp
disclosed no scuttling horrors, she still lingered for a moment before
descending. You never knew with rats. They pretended not to be there
just to lure you on, and then came out and whizzed about your ankles.
However, the memory of her scorn for Freddie’s pusillanimity forced her
on, and she went down.

The word “cellar” is an elastic one. It can be applied equally to the
acres of bottle-fringed vaults which lie beneath a great pile like
Blandings Castle and to a hole in the ground like the one in which she
now found herself. This cellar was easily searched. She stamped on its
stone flags with an ear strained to detect any note of hollowness, but
none came. She moved the lamp so that it shone into every corner, but
there was not even a crack in which a diamond necklace could have been
concealed. Satisfied that the place contained nothing but a little
coal-dust and a smell of damp decay, Eve passed thankfully out.

The law of elimination was doing its remorseless work. It had ruled
out the cellar, the kitchen, and the living-room--that is to say, the
whole of the lower of the two floors which made up the cottage. There
now remained only the rooms upstairs. There were probably not more than
two, and Freddie must already have searched one of these. The quest
seemed to be nearing its end. As Eve made for the narrow staircase that
led to the second floor, the lamp shook in her hand and cast weird
shadows. Now that success was in sight, the strain was beginning to
affect her nerves.

It was to nerves that in the first instant of hearing it she attributed
what sounded like a soft cough in the sitting-room, a few feet from
where she stood. Then a chill feeling of dismay gripped her. It could
only, she thought, be Freddie, returned from his search; and if Freddie
had returned from his search already, what could it mean except that
those upstairs rooms, on which she had counted so confidently, had
proved as empty as the others? Freddie was not one of your restrained,
unemotional men. If he had found the necklace he would have been
downstairs in two bounds, shouting. His silence was ominous. She opened
the door and went quickly in.

“Freddie,” she began, and broke off with a gasp.

It was not Freddie who had coughed. It was Psmith. He was seated on
the remains of the horsehair sofa, toying with an automatic pistol and
gravely surveying through his monocle the ruins of a home.


§ 3

“Good evening,” said Psmith.

It was not for a philosopher like himself to display astonishment. He
was, however, undeniably feeling it. When, a few minutes before, he
had encountered Freddie in this same room, he had received a distinct
shock; but a rough theory which would account for Freddie’s presence in
his home-from-home he had been able to work out. He groped in vain for
one which would explain Eve.

Mere surprise, however, was never enough to prevent Psmith talking. He
began at once.

“It was nice of you,” he said, rising courteously, “to look in. Won’t
you sit down? On the sofa, perhaps? Or would you prefer a brick?”

Eve was not yet equal to speech. She had been so firmly convinced
that he was ten miles away at Shifley that his presence here in the
sitting-room of the cottage had something of the breath-taking quality
of a miracle. The explanation, if she could have known it, was simple.
Two excellent reasons had kept Psmith from gracing the County Ball
with his dignified support. In the first place, as Shifley was only
four miles from the village where he had spent most of his life,
he had regarded it as probable, if not certain, that he would have
encountered there old friends to whom it would have been both tedious
and embarrassing to explain why he had changed his name to McTodd.
And secondly, though he had not actually anticipated a nocturnal raid
on his little nook, he had thought it well to be on the premises that
evening in case Mr. Edward Cootes should have been getting ideas into
his head. As soon, therefore, as the castle had emptied itself and the
wheels of the last car had passed away down the drive, he had pocketed
Mr. Cootes’s revolver and proceeded to the cottage.

Eve recovered her self-possession. She was not a girl given to collapse
in moments of crisis. The first shock of amazement had passed; a
humiliating feeling of extreme foolishness, which came directly after,
had also passed; she was now grimly ready for battle.

“Where is Mr. Threepwood?” she asked.

“Upstairs. I have put him in storage for a while. Do not worry about
Comrade Threepwood. He has lots to think about. He is under the
impression that if he stirs out he will be instantly shot.”

“Oh? Well, I want to put this lamp down. Will you please pick up that
table?”

“By all means. But--I am a novice in these matters--ought I not first
to say ‘Hands up!’ or something?”

“Will you please pick up that table?”

“A friend of mine--one Cootes--you must meet him some time--generally
remarks ‘Hey!’ in a sharp, arresting voice on these occasions.
Personally I consider the expression too abrupt. Still, he has had
great experience . . .”

“Will you please pick up that table?”

“Most certainly. I take it, then, that you would prefer to dispense
with the usual formalities. In that case, I will park this revolver on
the mantelpiece while we chat. I have taken a curious dislike to the
thing. It makes me feel like Dangerous Dan McGrew.”

Eve put down the lamp, and there was silence for a moment. Psmith
looked about him thoughtfully. He picked up one of the dead bats and
covered it with his handkerchief.

“Somebody’s mother,” he murmured reverently.

Eve sat down on the sofa.

“Mr. . . .” She stopped. “I can’t call you Mr. McTodd. Will you please
tell me your name?”

“Ronald,” said Psmith. “Ronald Eustace.”

“I suppose you have a surname?” snapped Eve. “Or an alias?”

Psmith eyed her with a pained expression.

“I may be hyper-sensitive,” he said, “but that last remark sounded
to me like a dirty dig. You seem to imply that I am some sort of a
criminal.”

Eve laughed shortly.

“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. There’s not much sense in
pretending now, is there? What is your name?”

“Psmith. The p is silent.”

“Well, Mr. Smith, I imagine you understand why I am here?”

“I took it for granted that you had come to fulfil your kindly promise
of doing the place up a bit. Will you be wounded if I say frankly that
I preferred it the way it was before? All this may be the last word in
ultra-modern interior decoration, but I suppose I am old-fashioned.
The whisper flies round Shropshire and adjoining counties, ‘Psmith
is hide-bound. He is not attuned to up-to-date methods.’ Honestly,
don’t you think you have rather unduly stressed the bizarre note? This
soot . . . these dead bats . . .”

“I have come to get that necklace.”

“Ah! The necklace!”

“I’m going to get it, too.”

Psmith shook his head gently.

“There,” he said, “if you will pardon me, I take issue with you. There
is nobody to whom I would rather give that necklace than you, but there
are special circumstances connected with it which render such an action
impossible. I fancy, Miss Halliday, that you have been misled by your
young friend upstairs. No; let me speak,” he said, raising a hand.
“You know what a treat it is to me. The way I envisage the matter is
thus. I still cannot understand as completely as I could wish how you
come to be mixed up in the affair, but it is plain that in some way or
other Comrade Threepwood has enlisted your services, and I regret to be
obliged to inform you that the motives animating him in this quest are
not pure. To put it crisply, he is engaged in what Comrade Cootes, to
whom I alluded just now, would call ‘funny business’.”

“I . . .”

“Pardon me,” said Psmith. “If you will be patient for a few minutes
more, I shall have finished and shall then be delighted to lend an
attentive ear to any remarks you may wish to make. As it occurs to
me--indeed, you hinted as much yourself just now--that my own position
in this little matter has an appearance which to the uninitiated might
seem tolerably rummy, I had better explain how I come to be guarding a
diamond necklace which does not belong to me. I rely on your womanly
discretion to let the thing go no further.”

“Will you please . . .”

“In one moment. The facts are as follows. Our mutual friend Mr. Keeble,
Miss Halliday, has a stepdaughter who is married to one Comrade Jackson
who, if he had no other claim to fame, would go ringing down through
history for this reason, that he and I were at school together and that
he is my best friend. We two have sported on the green--ooh, a lot of
times. Well, owing to one thing and another, the Jackson family is
rather badly up against it at the present . . .”

Eve jumped up angrily.

“I don’t believe a word of it,” she cried. “What is the use of trying
to fool me like this? You had never heard of Phyllis before Freddie
spoke about her in the train . . .”

“Believe me . . .”

“I won’t. Freddie got you down here to help him steal that necklace and
give it to Mr. Keeble so that he could help Phyllis, and now you’ve got
it and are trying to keep it for yourself.”

Psmith started slightly. His monocle fell from its place.

“Is _everybody_ in this little plot! Are you also one of Comrade
Keeble’s corps of assistants?”

“Mr. Keeble asked me to try to get the necklace for him.”

Psmith replaced his monocle thoughtfully.

“This,” he said, “opens up a new line of thought. Can it be that I
have been wronging Comrade Threepwood all this time? I must confess
that, when I found him here just now standing like Marius among the
ruins of Carthage (the allusion is a classical one, and the fruit of an
expensive education), I jumped--I may say, sprang--to the conclusion
that he was endeavouring to double-cross both myself and the boss by
getting hold of the necklace with a view to retaining it for his own
benefit. It never occurred to me that he might be crediting me with the
same sinful guile.”

Eve ran to him and clutched his arm.

“Mr. Smith, is this really true? Are you really a friend of Phyllis?”

“She looks on me as a grandfather. Are _you_ a friend of hers?”

“We were at school together.”

“This,” said Psmith cordially, “is one of the most gratifying moments
of my life. It makes us all seem like one great big family.”

“But I never heard Phyllis speak about you.”

“Strange!” said Psmith. “Strange. Surely she was not ashamed of her
humble friend?”

“Her what?”

“I must explain,” said Psmith, “that until recently I was earning a
difficult livelihood by slinging fish about in Billingsgate Market. It
is possible that some snobbish strain in Comrade Jackson’s bride, which
I confess I had not suspected, kept her from admitting that she was
accustomed to hob-nob with one in the fish business.”

“Good gracious!” cried Eve.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Smith . . . Fish business . . . Why, it was you who called at
Phyllis’s house while I was there. Just before I came down here. I
remember Phyllis saying how sorry she was that we had not met. She said
you were just my sort of . . . I mean, she said she wanted me to meet
you.”

“This,” said Psmith, “is becoming more and more gratifying every
moment. It seems to me that you and I were made for each other. I am
your best friend’s best friend and we both have a taste for stealing
other people’s jewellery. I cannot see how you can very well resist the
conclusion that we are twin-souls.”

“Don’t be silly.”

“We shall get into that series of ‘Husbands and Wives Who Work
Together.’”

“Where is the necklace?”

Psmith sighed.

“The business note. Always the business note. Can’t we keep all that
till later?”

“No. We can’t.”

“Ah, well!”

Psmith crossed the room, and took down from the wall the case of
stuffed birds.

“The one place,” said Eve, with mortification, “where we didn’t think
of looking!”

Psmith opened the case and removed the centre bird, a depressed-looking
fowl with glass eyes which stared with a haunting pathos. He felt in
its interior and pulled out something that glittered and sparkled in
the lamp-light.

“Oh!”

Eve ran her fingers almost lovingly through the jewels as they lay
before her on the little table.

“Aren’t they beautiful!”

“Distinctly. I think I may say that of all the jewels I have ever
stolen . . .”

“HEY!”

Eve let the necklace fall with a cry. Psmith spun round. In the doorway
stood Mr. Edward Cootes, pointing a pistol.


§ 4

“Hands up!” said Mr. Cootes with the uncouth curtness of one who has
not had the advantages of a refined home and a nice upbringing. He
advanced warily, preceded by the revolver. It was a dainty, miniature
weapon, such as might have been the property of some gentle lady. Mr.
Cootes had, in fact, borrowed it from Miss Peavey, who at this juncture
entered the room in a black and silver dinner-dress surmounted by a
Rose du Barri wrap, her spiritual face glowing softly in the subdued
light.

“Attaboy, Ed,” observed Miss Peavey crisply.

She swooped on the table and gathered up the necklace. Mr. Cootes,
though probably gratified by the tribute, made no acknowledgment of it,
but continued to direct an austere gaze at Eve and Psmith.

“No funny business,” he advised.

“I would be the last person,” said Psmith agreeably, “to advocate
anything of the sort. This,” he said to Eve, “is Comrade Cootes, of
whom you have heard so much.”

Eve was staring, bewildered, at the poetess, who, satisfied with the
manner in which the preliminaries had been conducted, had begun looking
about her with idle curiosity.

“Miss Peavey!” cried Eve. Of all the events of this eventful night the
appearance of Lady Constance’s emotional friend in the rôle of criminal
was the most disconcerting. “Miss _Peavey_!”

“Hallo?” responded that lady agreeably.

“I . . .  I . . .”

“What, I think, Miss Halliday is trying to say,” cut in Psmith, “is
that she is finding it a little difficult to adjust her mind to the
present development. I, too, must confess myself somewhat at a loss. I
knew, of course, that Comrade Cootes had--shall I say an acquisitive
streak in him, but you I had always supposed to be one hundred per
cent. soul--and snowy white at that.”

“Yeah?” said Miss Peavey, but faintly interested.

“I imagined that you were a poetess.”

“So I am a poetess,” retorted Miss Peavey hotly. “Just you start in
joshing my poems and see how quick I’ll bean you with a brick. Well,
Ed, no sense in sticking around here. Let’s go.”

“We’ll have to tie these birds up,” said Mr. Cootes. “Otherwise we’ll
have them squealing before I can make a getaway.”

“Ed,” said Miss Peavey with the scorn which her colleague so often
excited in her, “try to remember sometimes that that thing balanced
on your collar is a head, not a hubbard squash. And be careful what
you’re doing with that gat! Waving it about like it was a bouquet or
something. How are they going to squeal? They can’t say a thing without
telling everyone they snitched the stuff first.”

“That’s right,” admitted Mr. Cootes.

“Well, then, don’t come butting in.”

The silence into which this rebuke plunged Mr. Cootes gave Psmith the
opportunity to resume speech. An opportunity of which he was glad,
for, while he had nothing of definitely vital import to say, he was
optimist enough to feel that his only hope of recovering the necklace
was to keep the conversation going on the chance of something turning
up. Affable though his manner was, he had never lost sight of the fact
that one leap would take him across the space of floor separating
him from Mr. Cootes. At present, that small but effective revolver
precluded anything in the nature of leaps, however short, but if in the
near future anything occurred to divert his adversary’s vigilance even
momentarily. . . . He pursued a policy of watchful waiting, and in the
meantime started to talk again.

“If, before you go,” he said, “you can spare us a moment of your
valuable time, I should be glad of a few words. And, first, may I say
that I cordially agree with your condemnation of Comrade Cootes’s
recent suggestion. The man is an ass.”

“Say!” cried Mr. Cootes, coming to life again, “that’ll be about all
from you. If there wasn’t ladies present, I’d bust you one.”

“Ed,” said Miss Peavey with quiet authority, “shut your trap!”

Mr. Cootes subsided once more. Psmith gazed at him through his monocle,
interested.

“Pardon me,” he said, “but--if it is not a rude question--are you two
married?”

“Eh?”

“You seemed to me to talk to him like a wife. Am I addressing Mrs.
Cootes?”

“You will be if you stick around a while.”

“A thousand congratulations to Comrade Cootes. Not quite so many to
you, possibly, but fully that number of good wishes.” He moved towards
the poetess with extended hand. “I am thinking of getting married
myself shortly.”

“Keep those hands up,” said Mr. Cootes.

“Surely,” said Psmith reproachfully, “these conventions need not be
observed among friends? You will find the only revolver I have ever
possessed over there on the mantelpiece. Go and look at it.”

“Yes, and have you jumping on my back the moment I took my eyes off
you!”

“There is a suspicious vein in your nature, Comrade Cootes,” sighed
Psmith, “which I do not like to see. Fight against it.” He turned to
Miss Peavey once more. “To resume a pleasanter topic, you will let me
know where to send the plated fish-slice, won’t you?”

“Huh?” said the lady.

“I was hoping,” proceeded Psmith, “if you do not think it a liberty
on the part of one who has known you but a short time, to be allowed
to send you a small wedding-present in due season. And one of these
days, perhaps, when I too am married, you and Comrade Cootes will come
and visit us in our little home. You will receive a hearty, unaffected
welcome. You must not be offended if, just before you say good-bye, we
count the spoons.”

One would scarcely have supposed Miss Peavey a sensitive woman, yet at
this remark an ominous frown clouded her white forehead. Her careless
amiability seemed to wane. She raked Psmith with a glittering eye.

“You’re talking a dam’ lot,” she observed coldly.

“An old failing of mine,” said Psmith apologetically, “and one
concerning which there have been numerous complaints. I see now
that I have been boring you, and I hope that you will allow me to
express. . . .”

He broke off abruptly, not because he had reached the end of his
remarks, but because at this moment there came from above their heads
a sudden sharp cracking sound, and almost simultaneously a shower of
plaster fell from the ceiling, followed by the startling appearance
of a long, shapely leg, which remained waggling in space. And from
somewhere out of sight there filtered down a sharp and agonised oath.

Time and neglect had done their work with the flooring of the room in
which Psmith had bestowed the Hon. Freddie Threepwood, and, creeping
cautiously about in the dark, he had had the misfortune to go through.

But, as so often happens in this life, the misfortune of one is the
good fortune of another. Badly as the accident had shaken Freddie, from
the point of view of Psmith it was almost ideal. The sudden appearance
of a human leg through the ceiling at a moment of nervous tension is
enough to unman the stoutest-hearted, and Edward Cootes made no attempt
to conceal his perturbation. Leaping a clear six inches from the floor,
he jerked up his head and quite unintentionally pulled the trigger of
his revolver. A bullet ripped through the plaster.

The leg disappeared. Not for an instant since he had been shut in that
upper room had Freddie Threepwood ceased to be mindful of Psmith’s
parting statement that he would be shot if he tried to escape, and Mr.
Cootes’ bullet seemed to him a dramatic fulfilment of that promise.
Wrenching his leg with painful energy out of the abyss, he proceeded
to execute a backward spring which took him to the far wall--at which
point, as it was impossible to get any farther away from the centre of
events, he was compelled to halt his retreat. Having rolled himself
up into as small a ball as he could manage, he sat where he was,
trying not to breathe. His momentary intention of explaining through
the hole that the entire thing had been a regrettable accident, he
prudently abandoned. Unintelligent though he had often proved himself
in other crises of his life, he had the sagacity now to realise that
the neighbourhood of the hole was unhealthy and should be avoided. So,
preserving a complete and unbroken silence, he crouched there in the
darkness, only asking to be left alone.

And it seemed, as the moments slipped by, that this modest wish was
to be gratified. Noises and the sound of voices came up to him from
the room below, but no more bullets. It would be paltering with the
truth to say that this put him completely at his ease, but still it was
something. Freddie’s pulse began to return to the normal.

Mr. Cootes’, on the other hand, was beating with a dangerous quickness.
Swift and objectionable things had been happening to Edward Cootes in
that lower room. His first impression was that the rift in the plaster
above him had been instantly followed by the collapse of the entire
ceiling, but this was a mistaken idea. All that had occurred was that
Psmith, finding Mr. Cootes’ eye and pistol functioning in another
direction, had sprung forward, snatched up a chair, hit the unfortunate
man over the head with it, relieved him of his pistol, leaped to the
mantelpiece, removed the revolver which lay there, and now, holding
both weapons in an attitude of menace, was regarding him censoriously
through a gleaming eyeglass.

“No funny business, Comrade Cootes,” said Psmith.

Mr. Cootes picked himself up painfully. His head was singing. He
looked at the revolvers, blinked, opened his mouth and shut it again.
He was oppressed with a sense of defeat. Nature had not built him for
a man of violence. Peaceful manipulation of a pack of cards in the
smoke-room of an Atlantic liner was a thing he understood and enjoyed:
rough-and-tumble encounters were alien to him and distasteful. As far
as Mr. Cootes was concerned, the war was over.

But Miss Peavey was a woman of spirit. Her hat was still in the ring.
She clutched the necklace in a grasp of steel, and her fine eyes glared
defiance.

“You think yourself smart, don’t you?” she said.

Psmith eyed her commiseratingly. Her valorous attitude appealed to him.
Nevertheless, business was business.

“I am afraid,” he said regretfully, “that I must trouble you to hand
over that necklace.”

“Try and get it,” said Miss Peavey.

Psmith looked hurt.

“I am a child in these matters,” he said, “but I had always gathered
that on these occasions the wishes of the man behind the gun were
automatically respected.”

“I’ll call your bluff,” said Miss Peavey firmly. “I’m going to walk
straight out of here with this collection of ice right now, and I’ll
bet you won’t have the nerve to start any shooting. Shoot a woman? Not
you!”

Psmith nodded gravely.

“Your knowledge of psychology is absolutely correct. Your trust in my
sense of chivalry rests on solid ground. But,” he proceeded, cheering
up, “I fancy that I see a way out of the difficulty. An idea has been
vouchsafed to me. I shall shoot--not you, but Comrade Cootes. This will
dispose of all unpleasantness. If you attempt to edge out through that
door I shall immediately proceed to plug Comrade Cootes in the leg. At
least, I shall try. I am a poor shot and may hit him in some more vital
spot, but at least he will have the consolation of knowing that I did
my best and meant well.”

“Hey!” cried Mr. Cootes. And never, in a life liberally embellished
with this favourite ejaculation of his, had he uttered it more
feelingly. He shot a feverish glance at Miss Peavey; and, reading in
her face indecision rather than that instant acquiescence which he had
hoped to see, cast off his customary attitude of respectful humility
and asserted himself. He was no cave-man, but this was one occasion
when he meant to have his own way. With an agonised bound he reached
Miss Peavey’s side, wrenched the necklace from her grasp and flung it
into the enemy’s camp. Eve stooped and picked it up.

“I thank you,” said Psmith with a brief bow in her direction.

Miss Peavey breathed heavily. Her strong hands clenched and unclenched.
Between her parted lips her teeth showed in a thin white line. Suddenly
she swallowed quickly, as if draining a glass of unpalatable medicine.

“Well,” she said in a low, even voice, “that seems to be about all.
Guess we’ll be going. Come along, Ed, pick up the Henries.”

“Coming, Liz,” replied Mr. Cootes humbly.

They passed together into the night.


§ 5

Silence followed their departure. Eve, weak with the reaction from
the complex emotions which she had undergone since her arrival at the
cottage, sat on the battered sofa, her chin resting in her hands. She
looked at Psmith, who, humming a light air, was delicately piling with
the toe of his shoe a funeral mound over the second of the dead bats.

“So that’s that!” she said.

Psmith looked up with a bright and friendly smile.

“You have a very happy gift of phrase,” he said. “That, as you sensibly
say, is that.”

Eve was silent for awhile. Psmith completed the obsequies and stepped
back with the air of a man who has done what he can for a fallen friend.

“Fancy Miss Peavey being a thief!” said Eve. She was somehow feeling
a disinclination to allow the conversation to die down, and yet she
had an idea that, unless it was permitted to die down, it might
become embarrassingly intimate. Subconsciously, she was endeavouring
to analyse her views on this long, calm person who had so recently
added himself to the list of those who claimed to look upon her with
affection.

“I confess it came as something of a shock to me also,” said Psmith.
“In fact, the revelation that there was this other, deeper side to her
nature materially altered the opinion I had formed of her. I found
myself warming to Miss Peavey. Something that was akin to respect began
to stir within me. Indeed, I almost wish that we had not been compelled
to deprive her of the jewels.”

“‘We’?” said Eve. “I’m afraid I didn’t do much.”

“Your attitude was exactly right,” Psmith assured her. “You afforded
just the moral support which a man needs in such a crisis.”

Silence fell once more. Eve returned to her thoughts. And then, with a
suddenness which surprised her, she found that she had made up her mind.

“So you’re going to be married?” she said.

Psmith polished his monocle thoughtfully.

“I think so,” he said. “I think so. What do _you_ think?”

Eve regarded him steadfastly. Then she gave a little laugh.

“Yes,” she said, “I think so, too.” She paused. “Shall I tell you
something?”

“You could tell me nothing more wonderful than that.”

“When I met Cynthia in Market Blandings, she told me what the trouble
was which made her husband leave her. What do you suppose it was?”

“From my brief acquaintance with Comrade McTodd, I would hazard the
guess that he tried to stab her with the bread-knife. He struck me as a
murderous-looking specimen.”

“They had some people to dinner, and there was chicken, and Cynthia
gave all the giblets to the guests, and her husband bounded out of his
seat with a wild cry, and, shouting ‘You _know_ I love those things
better than anything in the world!’ rushed from the house, never to
return!”

“Precisely how I would have wished him to rush, had I been Mrs. McTodd.”

“Cynthia told me that he had rushed from the house, never to return,
six times since they were married.”

“May I mention--in passing--” said Psmith, “that I do not like chicken
giblets?”

“Cynthia advised me,” proceeded Eve, “if ever I married, to marry
someone eccentric. She said it was such fun. Well, I don’t suppose I am
ever likely to meet anyone more eccentric than you, am I?”

“I think you would be unwise to wait on the chance.”

“The only thing is . . .,” said Eve reflectively. “‘Mrs. Smith’ . . .
It doesn’t _sound_ much, does it?”

Psmith beamed encouragingly.

“We must look into the future,” he said. “We must remember that I am
only at the beginning of what I am convinced is to be a singularly
illustrious career. ‘Lady Psmith’ is better . . . ‘Baroness Psmith’
better still . . . And--who knows?--‘The Duchess of Psmith’ . . .”

“Well, anyhow,” said Eve, “you were wonderful just now, simply
wonderful. The way you made one spring . . .”

“Your words,” said Psmith, “are music to my ears, but we must not
forget that the foundations of the success of the manœuvre were laid
by Comrade Threepwood. Had it not been for the timely incursion of his
leg . . .”

“Good gracious!” cried Eve. “Freddie! I had forgotten all about him!”

“The right spirit,” said Psmith. “Quite the right spirit.”

“We must go and let him out.”

“Just as you say. And then he can come with us on the stroll I was
about to propose that we should take through the woods. It is a lovely
night, and what could be jollier than to have Comrade Threepwood
prattling at our side? I will go and let him out at once.”

“No, don’t bother,” said Eve.



CHAPTER XIV

PSMITH ACCEPTS EMPLOYMENT


The golden stillness of a perfect summer morning brooded over Blandings
Castle and its adjacent pleasure-grounds. From a sky of unbroken blue
the sun poured down its heartening rays on all those roses, pinks,
pansies, carnations, hollyhocks, columbines, larkspurs, London pride
and Canterbury bells which made the gardens so rarely beautiful.
Flannelled youths and maidens in white serge sported in the shade; gay
cries arose from the tennis-courts behind the shrubbery; and birds,
bees, and butterflies went about their business with a new energy and
zip. In short, the casual observer, assuming that he was addicted to
trite phrases, would have said that happiness reigned supreme.

But happiness, even on the finest mornings, is seldom universal. The
strolling youths and maidens were happy; the tennis-players were happy;
the birds, bees, and butterflies were happy. Eve, walking in pleasant
meditation on the terrace, was happy. Freddie Threepwood was happy
as he lounged in the smoking-room and gloated over the information,
received from Psmith in the small hours, that his thousand pounds
was safe. Mr. Keeble, writing to Phyllis to inform her that she
might clinch the purchase of the Lincolnshire farm, was happy. Even
Head-gardener Angus McAllister was as happy as a Scotsman can ever be.
But Lord Emsworth, drooping out of the library window, felt only a
nervous irritation more in keeping with the blizzards of winter than
with the only fine July that England had known in the last ten years.

We have seen his lordship in a similar attitude and a like frame of
mind on a previous occasion; but then his melancholy had been due to
the loss of his glasses. This morning these were perched firmly on his
nose and he saw all things clearly. What was causing his gloom now
was the fact that some ten minutes earlier his sister Constance had
trapped him in the library, full of jarring rebuke on the subject of
the dismissal of Rupert Baxter, the world’s most efficient secretary.
It was to avoid her compelling eye that Lord Emsworth had turned to the
window. And what he saw from that window thrust him even deeper into
the abyss of gloom. The sun, the birds, the bees, the butterflies, and
the flowers called to him to come out and have the time of his life,
but he just lacked the nerve to make a dash for it.

“I think you must be mad,” said Lady Constance bitterly, resuming her
remarks and starting at the point where she had begun before.

“Baxter’s mad,” retorted his lordship, also re-treading old ground.

“You are too absurd!”

“He threw flower-pots at me.”

“Do please stop talking about those flower-pots. Mr. Baxter has
explained the whole thing to me, and surely even you can see that his
behaviour was perfectly excusable.”

“I don’t like the fellow,” cried Lord Emsworth, once more retreating to
his last line of trenches--the one line from which all Lady Constance’s
eloquence had been unable to dislodge him.

There was a silence, as there had been a short while before when the
discussion had reached this same point.

“You will be helpless without him,” said Lady Constance.

“Nothing of the kind,” said his lordship.

“You know you will. Where will you ever get another secretary capable
of looking after everything like Mr. Baxter? You know you are a perfect
child, and unless you have someone whom you can trust to manage your
affairs I cannot see what will happen.”

Lord Emsworth made no reply. He merely gazed wanly from the window.

“Chaos,” moaned Lady Constance.

His lordship remained mute, but now there was a gleam of something
approaching pleasure in his pale eyes; for at this moment a car rounded
the corner of the house from the direction of the stables and stood
purring at the door. There was a trunk on the car and a suit-case. And
almost simultaneously the Efficient Baxter entered the library, clothed
and spatted for travel.

“I have come to say good-bye, Lady Constance,” said Baxter coldly and
precisely, flashing at his late employer through his spectacles a look
of stern reproach. “The car which is taking me to the station is at the
door.”

“Oh, Mr. Baxter.” Lady Constance, strong woman though she was,
fluttered with distress. “Oh, Mr. Baxter.”

“Good-bye.” He gripped her hand in brief farewell and directed his
spectacles for another tense instant upon the sagging figure at the
window. “Good-bye, Lord Emsworth.”

“Eh? What? Oh! Ah, yes. Good-bye, my dear fel----, I mean, good-bye.
I--er--hope you will have a pleasant journey.”

“Thank you,” said Baxter.

“But, Mr. Baxter,” said Lady Constance.

“Lord Emsworth,” said the ex-secretary icily, “I am no longer in your
employment . . .”

“But, Mr. Baxter,” moaned Lady Constance, “surely . . . even now . . .
misunderstanding . . . talk it all over quietly . . .”

Lord Emsworth started violently.

“Here!” he protested, in much the same manner as that in which the
recent Mr. Cootes had been wont to say “Hey!”

“I fear it is too late,” said Baxter, to his infinite relief, “to
talk things over. My arrangements are already made and cannot be
altered. Ever since I came here to work for Lord Emsworth, my former
employer--an American millionaire named Jevons--has been making me
flattering offers to return to him. Until now a mistaken sense of
loyalty has kept me from accepting these offers, but this morning I
telegraphed to Mr. Jevons to say that I was at liberty and could join
him at once. It is too late now to cancel this promise.”

“Quite, quite, oh certainly, quite, mustn’t dream of it, my dear
fellow. No, no, no, indeed no,” said Lord Emsworth with an effervescent
cordiality which struck both his hearers as in the most dubious taste.

Baxter merely stiffened haughtily, but Lady Constance was so poignantly
affected by the words and the joyous tone in which they were uttered
that she could endure her brother’s loathly society no longer. Shaking
Baxter’s hand once more and gazing stonily for a moment at the worm by
the window, she left the room.

For some seconds after she had gone, there was silence--a silence which
Lord Emsworth found embarrassing. He turned to the window again and
took in with one wistful glance the roses, the pinks, the pansies, the
carnations, the hollyhocks, the columbines, the larkspurs, the London
pride and the Canterbury bells. And then suddenly there came to him
the realisation that with Lady Constance gone there no longer existed
any reason why he should stay cooped up in this stuffy library on the
finest morning that had ever been sent to gladden the heart of man. He
shivered ecstatically from the top of his bald head to the soles of his
roomy shoes, and, bounding gleefully from the window, started to amble
across the room.

“Lord Emsworth!”

His lordship halted. His was a one-track mind, capable of accommodating
only one thought at a time--if that, and he had almost forgotten that
Baxter was still there. He eyed his late secretary peevishly.

“Yes, yes? Is there anything . . . ?”

“I should like to speak to you for a moment.”

“I have a most important conference with McAllister . . .”

“I will not detain you long. Lord Emsworth, I am no longer in your
employment, but I think it my duty to say before I go . . .”

“No, no, my dear fellow, I quite understand. Quite, quite, quite.
Constance has been going over all that. I know what you are trying to
say. That matter of the flower-pots. Please do not apologise. It is
quite all right. I was startled at the time, I own, but no doubt you
had excellent motives. Let us forget the whole affair.”

Baxter ground an impatient heel into the carpet.

“I had no intention of referring to the matter to which you allude,” he
said. “I merely wished . . .”

“Yes, yes, of course.” A vagrant breeze floated in at the window,
languid with summer scents, and Lord Emsworth, sniffing, shuffled
restlessly. “Of course, of course, of course. Some other time, eh?
Yes, yes, that will be capital. Capital, capital, cap----”

The Efficient Baxter uttered a sound that was partly a cry, partly a
snort. Its quality was so arresting that Lord Emsworth paused, his
fingers on the door-handle, and peered back at him, startled.

“Very well,” said Baxter shortly. “Pray do not let me keep you. If you
are not interested in the fact that Blandings Castle is sheltering a
criminal . . .”

It was not easy to divert Lord Emsworth when in quest of Angus
McAllister, but this remark succeeded in doing so. He let go of the
door-handle and came back a step or two into the room.

“Sheltering a criminal?”

“Yes.” Baxter glanced at his watch. “I must go now or I shall miss
my train,” he said curtly. “I was merely going to tell you that this
fellow who calls himself Ralston McTodd is not Ralston McTodd at all.”

“Not Ralston McTodd?” repeated his lordship blankly. “But----” He
suddenly perceived a flaw in the argument. “But he _said_ he was,”
he pointed out cleverly. “Yes, I remember distinctly. He said he was
McTodd.”

“He is an impostor. And I imagine that if you investigate you will find
that it is he and his accomplices who stole Lady Constance’s necklace.”

“But, my dear fellow . . .”

Baxter walked briskly to the door.

“You need not take my word for it,” he said. “What I say can easily be
proved. Get this so-called McTodd to write his name on a piece of paper
and then compare it with the signature to the letter which the real
McTodd wrote when accepting Lady Constance’s invitation to the castle.
You will find it filed away in the drawer of that desk there.”

Lord Emsworth adjusted his glasses and stared at the desk as if he
expected it to do a conjuring-trick.

“I will leave you to take what steps you please,” said Baxter. “Now
that I am no longer in your employment, the thing does not concern me
one way or another. But I thought you might be glad to hear the facts.”

“Oh, I _am_!” responded his lordship, still peering vaguely. “Oh, I
_am_! Oh, yes, yes, yes. Oh, yes, yes . . .”

“Good-bye.”

“But, Baxter . . .”

Lord Emsworth trotted out on to the landing, but Baxter had got off to
a good start and was almost out of sight round the bend of the stairs.

“But, my dear fellow . . .” bleated his lordship plaintively over the
banisters.

From below, out on the drive, came the sound of an automobile getting
into gear and moving off, than which no sound is more final. The great
door of the castle closed with a soft but significant bang--as doors
close when handled by an untipped butler. Lord Emsworth returned to the
library to wrestle with his problem unaided.

He was greatly disturbed. Apart from the fact that he disliked
criminals and impostors as a class, it was a shock to him to learn that
the particular criminal and impostor then in residence at Blandings was
the man for whom, brief as had been the duration of their acquaintance,
he had conceived a warm affection. He was fond of Psmith. Psmith
soothed him. If he had had to choose any member of his immediate circle
for the rôle of criminal and impostor, he would have chosen Psmith last.

He went to the window again and looked out. There was the sunshine,
there were the birds, there were the hollyhocks, carnations, and
Canterbury bells, all present and correct; but now they failed to
cheer him. He was wondering dismally what on earth he was going to do.
What _did_ one do with criminals and impostors? Had ’em arrested, he
supposed. But he shrank from the thought of arresting Psmith. It seemed
so deuced unfriendly.

He was still meditating gloomily when a voice spoke behind him.

“Good morning. I am looking for Miss Halliday. You have not seen her by
any chance? Ah, there she is down there on the terrace.”

Lord Emsworth was aware of Psmith beside him at the window, waving
cordially to Eve, who waved back.

“I thought possibly,” continued Psmith, “that Miss Halliday would be in
her little room yonder”--he indicated the dummy book-shelves through
which he had entered. “But I am glad to see that the morning is so fine
that she has given toil the miss-in-baulk. It is the right spirit,”
said Psmith. “I like to see it.”

Lord Emsworth peered at him nervously through his glasses. His
embarrassment and his distaste for the task that lay before him
increased as he scanned his companion in vain for those signs of
villainy which all well-regulated criminals and impostors ought to
exhibit to the eye of discernment.

“I am surprised to find you indoors,” said Psmith, “on so glorious a
morning. I should have supposed that you would have been down there
among the shrubs, taking a good sniff at a hollyhock or something.”

Lord Emsworth braced himself for the ordeal.

“Er, my dear fellow . . . that is to say . . .” He paused. Psmith was
regarding him almost lovingly through his monocle, and it was becoming
increasingly difficult to warm up to the work of denouncing him.

“You were observing . . . ?” said Psmith.

Lord Emsworth uttered curious buzzing noises.

“I have just parted from Baxter,” he said at length, deciding to
approach the subject in more roundabout fashion.

“Indeed?” said Psmith courteously.

“Yes. Baxter has gone.”

“For ever?”

“Er--yes.”

“Splendid!” said Psmith. “Splendid, splendid.”

Lord Emsworth removed his glasses, twiddled them on their cord, and
replaced them on his nose.

“He made . . . He--er--the fact is, he made . . . Before he went Baxter
made a most remarkable statement . . . a charge . . . Well, in short,
he made a very strange statement about you.”

Psmith nodded gravely.

“I had been expecting something of the kind,” he said. “He said, no
doubt, that I was not really Ralston McTodd?”

His lordship’s mouth opened feebly.

“Er--yes,” he said.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you about that,” said Psmith amiably. “It is
quite true. I am not Ralston McTodd.”

“You--you admit it!”

“I am proud of it.”

Lord Emsworth drew himself up. He endeavoured to assume the attitude of
stern censure which came so naturally to him in interviews with his son
Frederick. But he met Psmith’s eye and sagged again. Beneath the solemn
friendliness of Psmith’s gaze hauteur was impossible.

“Then what the deuce are you doing here under his name?” he asked,
placing his finger in statesmanlike fashion on the very nub of the
problem. “I mean to say,” he went on, making his meaning clearer, “if
you aren’t McTodd, why did you come here saying you were McTodd?”

Psmith nodded slowly.

“The point is well taken,” he said. “I was expecting you to ask that
question. Primarily--I want no thanks, but primarily I did it to save
you embarrassment.”

“Save me embarrassment?”

“Precisely. When I came into the smoking-room of our mutual club that
afternoon when you had been entertaining Comrade McTodd at lunch, I
found him on the point of passing out of your life for ever. It seems
that he had taken umbrage to some slight extent because you had buzzed
off to chat with the florist across the way instead of remaining with
him. And, after we had exchanged a pleasant word or two, he legged it,
leaving you short one modern poet. On your return I stepped into the
breach to save you from the inconvenience of having to return here
without a McTodd of any description. No one, of course, could have been
more alive than myself to the fact that I was merely a poor substitute,
a sort of synthetic McTodd, but still I considered that I was better
than nothing, so I came along.”

His lordship digested this explanation in silence. Then he seized on a
magnificent point.

“Are you a member of the Senior Conservative Club?”

“Most certainly.”

“Why, then, dash it,” cried his lordship, paying to that august
stronghold of respectability as striking a tribute as it had ever
received, “if you’re a member of the Senior Conservative, you can’t be
a criminal. Baxter’s an ass!”

“Exactly.”

“Baxter would have it that you had stolen my sister’s necklace.”

“I can assure you that I have not got Lady Constance’s necklace.”

“Of course not, of course not, my dear fellow. I’m only telling you
what that idiot Baxter said. Thank goodness I’ve got rid of the
fellow.” A cloud passed over his now sunny face. “Though, confound it,
Connie was right about one thing.” He relapsed into a somewhat moody
silence.

“Yes?” said Psmith.

“Eh?” said his lordship.

“You were saying that Lady Constance had been right about one thing.”

“Oh, yes. She was saying that I should have a hard time finding another
secretary as capable as Baxter.”

Psmith permitted himself to bestow an encouraging pat on his host’s
shoulder.

“You have touched on a matter,” he said, “which I had intended to
broach to you at some convenient moment when you were at leisure. If
you would care to accept my services, they are at your disposal.”

“Eh?”

“The fact is,” said Psmith, “I am shortly about to be married, and it
is more or less imperative that I connect with some job which will
ensure a moderate competence. Why should I not become your secretary?”

“You want to be my secretary?”

“You have unravelled my meaning exactly.”

“But I’ve never had a married secretary.”

“I think that you would find a steady married man an improvement
on these wild, flower-pot-throwing bachelors. If it would help to
influence your decision, I may say that my bride-to-be is Miss
Halliday, probably the finest library-cataloguist in the United
Kingdom.”

“Eh? Miss Halliday? That girl down there?”

“No other,” said Psmith, waving fondly at Eve as she passed underneath
the window. “In fact, the same.”

“But I like her,” said Lord Emsworth, as if stating an insuperable
objection.

“Excellent.”

“She’s a nice girl.”

“I quite agree with you.”

“Do you think you could really look after things here like Baxter?”

“I am convinced of it.”

“Then, my dear fellow--well, really I must say . . . I must say . . .
well, I mean, why shouldn’t you?”

“Precisely,” said Psmith. “You have put in a nutshell the very thing I
have been trying to express.”

“But have you had any experience as a secretary?”

“I must admit that I have not. You see, until recently I was more or
less one of the idle rich. I toiled not, neither did I--except once,
after a bump-supper at Cambridge--spin. My name, perhaps I ought to
reveal to you, is Psmith--the p is silent--and until very recently I
lived in affluence not far from the village of Much Middlefold in this
county. My name is probably unfamiliar to you, but you may have heard
of the house which was for many years the Psmith head-quarters--Corfby
Hall.”

Lord Emsworth jerked his glasses off his nose.

“Corfby Hall! Are you the son of the Smith who used to own Corfby Hall?
Why, bless my soul, I knew your father well.”

“Really?”

“Yes. That is to say, I never met him.”

“No?”

“But I won the first prize for roses at the Shrewsbury Flower Show the
year he won the prize for tulips.”

“It seems to draw us very close together,” said Psmith.

“Why, my dear boy,” cried Lord Emsworth jubilantly, “if you are really
looking for a position of some kind and would care to be my secretary,
nothing could suit me better. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Why, bless my
soul . . .”

“I am extremely obliged,” said Psmith. “And I shall endeavour to give
satisfaction. And surely, if a mere Baxter could hold down the job, it
should be well within the scope of a Shropshire Psmith. I think so, I
think so. . . . And now, if you will excuse me, I think I will go down
and tell the glad news to the little woman, if I may so describe her.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Psmith made his way down the broad staircase at an even better pace
than that recently achieved by the departing Baxter, for he rightly
considered each moment of this excellent day wasted that was not spent
in the company of Eve. He crooned blithely to himself as he passed
through the hall, only pausing when, as he passed the door of the
smoking-room, the Hon. Freddie Threepwood suddenly emerged.

“Oh, I say!” said Freddie. “Just the fellow I wanted to see. I was
going off to look for you.”

Freddie’s tone was cordiality itself. As far as Freddie was concerned,
all that had passed between them in the cottage in the west wood last
night was forgiven and forgotten.

“Say on, Comrade Threepwood,” replied Psmith; “and, if I may offer the
suggestion, make it snappy, for I would be elsewhere. I have man’s work
before me.”

“Come over here.” Freddie drew him into a far corner of the hall and
lowered his voice to a whisper. “I say, it’s all right, you know.”

“Excellent!” said Psmith. “Splendid! This is great news. What is all
right?”

“I’ve just seen Uncle Joe. He’s going to cough up the money he promised
me.”

“I congratulate you.”

“So now I shall be able to get into that bookie’s business and make a
pile. And, I say, you remember my telling you about Miss Halliday?”

“What was that?”

“Why, that I loved her, I mean, and all that.”

“Ah, yes.”

“Well, look here, between ourselves,” said Freddie earnestly, “the
whole trouble all along has been that she thought I hadn’t any money to
get married on. She didn’t actually say so in so many words, but you
know how it is with women--you can read between the lines, if you know
what I mean. So now everything’s going to be all right. I shall simply
go to her and say, ‘Well, what about it?’ and--well, and so on, don’t
you know?”

Psmith considered the point gravely.

“I see your reasoning, Comrade Threepwood,” he said. “I can detect but
one flaw in it.”

“Flaw? What flaw?”

“The fact that Miss Halliday is going to marry _me_.”

The Hon. Freddie’s jaw dropped. His prominent eyes became more
prawn-like.

“What!”

Psmith patted his shoulder commiseratingly.

“Be a man, Comrade Threepwood, and bite the bullet. These things will
happen to the best of us. Some day you will be thankful that this has
occurred. Purged in the holocaust of a mighty love, you will wander out
into the sunset, a finer, broader man. . . . And now I must reluctantly
tear myself away. I have an important appointment.” He patted his
shoulder once more. “If you would care to be a page at the wedding,
Comrade Threepwood, I can honestly say that there is no one whom I
would rather have in that capacity.”

And with a stately gesture of farewell, Psmith passed out on to the
terrace to join Eve.


THE END





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