Grand Magazine, July 1923
PSMITH placed his monocle in his eye and bent gravely toward his companion.
“Steal your aunt’s necklace?” he said, indignantly.
“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 impertinent 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 each of the many films which Freddie had ever seen—had the effect of wrenching the latter’s mind back to the subject in hand for the moment. Freddie was not a clear-thinking young man, but even he could see that he had left the negotiations suspended at a very unsatisfactory 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 know what might happen.
“I’ll write to you,” he cried, racing for a cab.
“I shall count the minutes,” said Psmith, courteously.
“Drive like the 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.
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—he was sure he had seen the fellow before somewhere—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. 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 perceived that for such a mood as was upon him at the moment the latter might have been specially constructed. He turned, therefore, to the east, and having proceeded for some ten minutes at a stately walk in the direction of the river, found himself at the entrance of a massive edifice of salmon-coloured stone, from every inch of whose placid front quiet respectability shone like an aura.
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 member in 1888, or are among the recent creations of the last election of candidates. If any of the six thousand one hundred and eleven ever had a tendency to be anything but respectable they outgrew the fever long ago; for, with the exception of a few striplings in the middle forties, they are all well advanced in years. 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 of the coming by-election in the Little Wabsley Division.
With the quiet dignity which atoned for his lack of 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 through a group of white-haired sages who were discussing what Gladstone had said in ’78.
Having selected a table in the middle of the room and ordered a simple and appetizing lunch, Psmith 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 apologize.
“My dear sir, I am extremely sorry. I trust I have caused no damage?”
“Not at all,” 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 apologize, 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 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.
He was pleased with himself, as everyone is after a successful effort of memory. The mention of Lord Emsworth’s name had had the effect of enabling him at last to place the incoherent youth who had so enlivened this morning. Freddie Threepwood! He had not seen him since the days when they were at Eton together, but he remembered him now; and he was conscious of a considerable curiosity as to why Freddie, who at school had been—if a bone-headed—at least a blameless boy, should now be promoting schemes for the theft of his aunt’s jewellery. It might be interesting, he thought, to run down to Blandings Castle and pay a call on his old schoolfellow and inquire.
The waiter 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.
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 hobnobbing 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 will 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 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. I understand the green-fly . . .”
“. . . 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 every-day 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 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! 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 the Bank Rate and to-morrow night’s debate in the House. 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 well inside the yew alley now.
“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 . . . Eh? What?”
Lord Emsworth blinked vaguely at the waiter who had sidled up.
“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 been there, as a matter of fact, for some months, but 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. It shone like a beacon. And Lord Emsworth, slowly rising from his chair, “pointed” like a dog that sees a pheasant.
“Bless my soul!” he murmured.
You could 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 rabbit, had time to hitch itself up again. A moment later Mr. McTodd, happening to direct his gaze out of the window, saw him whizz 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. Psmith 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 spleen.
“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 coyote 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.
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, lupins, 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 apologize.”
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 the moment,” said Lord Emsworth, “that you might—quite naturally—be offended.”
“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. It hadn’t seemed to make sense, somehow. 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 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. The chap’s silent interest in his conversation at lunch had done much to dispel his prejudice against literary men as a class. Moreover, 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.”
“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 Fishmongers’ 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 realized that my refusal was final. However, I sent him on with a letter of introduction to John Drinkwater, who would, I felt sure, turn 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?”
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 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 Psmith’s emotions. 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 book 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 the recent 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.
the poetic temperament
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 which 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’ teardrops that made the dew. Did you ever hear such dashed nonsense?”
“Evidently an aggravated case. Is Miss Peavey staying at the Castle?”
“Is she! 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 . . .”
“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 what it was all about.”
“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 realized, 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 farther 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 from the back of his lordship’s throat there proceeded another snore.
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 read it again and tried to evolve one.
“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. The silk handkerchief was heaving gently like seaweed on a ground-swell. He felt aggrieved, and 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 gaze the face of the Hon. Freddie Threepwood.
“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.
“Coo!” 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 primæval 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. And as the vision of Lady Constance rose before his eyes and he remembered how he had asked this man before him to steal her necklace, damp perspiration beaded Freddie’s forehead and he strove in vain for speech.
While he was still gurgling wordlessly, Psmith opened the conversation.
“A delightful and unexpected encounter, Comrade Threepwood. I thought you had left the metropolis some hours since.”
Freddie looked like a cornered dormouse. The mention of his name had confirmed his worst fears.
“I was sure, when I saw you at the hotel, that we had met before, but it was only later that I managed to place you. The solution of the mystery is a pleasing and joyful one. We were at Eton together, Comrade Threepwood. Not intimates, alas! for you were some years my junior, and the charm of your personality, now so marked, had not then developed. Still, it is possible that you may remember me?”
At this moment 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 goodwill 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, quickly. “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 feel 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!”
“But you said we were at Eton together.”
“I don’t remember you.”
“And yet I gave you every cause to, Comrade Threepwood. I recollect administering six of the best and juiciest to you with the back of a hair-brush on one occasion when you and other bright spirits sneaked into my room and started to upset the furniture.”
Memory woke like a flash in the Hon. Freddie.
“Great Scott! I remember!”
“I thought you would. I took considerable pains to impress my personality on you.”
“But—— Good Lord! Of course I remember you now—your name was Smith.”
“It still is. Psmith. The p is silent.”
“But father called 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.”
“I have my reasons, Comrade Threepwood. You will pardon me 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.”
“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 step-daughter—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?”
“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?”
“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 Mike 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 deranged. 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.
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 gateposts 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 a number of interesting objects by the wayside—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.
On arrival Psmith 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 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.
“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 . . . Mr. McTodd, Miss Peavey.”
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:—
“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.
“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!”
“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 lady-like 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 realization 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 quality of a voice from the tomb.
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.
Freddie’s departure had the effect of breaking a spell. Lord Emsworth, who had been standing perfectly still with vacant eyes, 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.”
(Another long instalment of this delightful story will appear in our next issue.)
See Part 1 for general notes about this edition.
Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine had “and prepared to be anxious to close the episode”; corrected to “appeared” as in other versions.
Magazine had “left the guest languishing”; corrected to “a guest” as in other versions.
Magazine had comma after “you are at Blandings” and period after “belated innings”; corrected to match US magazine and UK book.
Magazine repeated the word “notably” from a few lines earlier, printing “Lord Emsworth, notably resisting the temptation”; corrected to “nobly” as in other editions.
Magazine had “He returned to his feet”; corrected to “seat” as in other versions.
Magazine had a comma instead of a question mark in “How do you do, Mr. McTodd?”; corrected to match other editions.