Grand Magazine, December 1923
CHAPTER XIV (Continued).
“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 awhile. 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.”
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 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 our 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 step-daughter 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—oh, 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?”
“I must explain,” said Psmith, “that until recently I was rather among the submerged tenth. At least, 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?”
“The business note. Always the business note. Can’t we keep all that till later?”
“No. We can’t!”
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 lamplight.
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 . . .”
Eve let the necklace fall with a cry. Psmith spun round. In the doorway stood Mr. Edward Cootes, pointing a pistol.
“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 continued to direct an austere gaze at Eve and Psmith.
“No funny business,” he advised.
“This,” said Psmith to Eve, “is Comrade Cootes, of whom you have heard so much.”
Eve was staring, bewildered, at the poetess who, having annexed the jewels, had begun to look about her with idle curiosity.
“Miss Peavey!” cried Eve. Of all the events of that eventful night, the appearance of Lady Constance’s emotional friend in the rôle of criminal was the most disconcerting. “Miss Peavey!”
“Hello?” responded that lady, agreeably.
“I . . . I . . .”
“We are finding it,” said Psmith, “a little difficult to adjust our minds to the present development. Speaking for myself, I knew, of course, that Comrade Cootes had—shall I say an acquisitive streak in him, but I had always supposed 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 brain 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, far-seeingly. “Otherwise we’ll have them squealing before I can make a getaway.”
“Ed.,” said Miss Peavey, with scorn, “you’ve got a head like a dollar—one bone. 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.”
In the silence into which this rebuke plunged Mr. Cootes, Psmith spoke.
“If, before you go, you can spare us a moment of your valuable time,” he said, “I should be glad of a few words. But may I say that I cordially agree with your condemnation of Comrade Cootes’s recent suggestion. The man is an ass.”
“Say!” observed Mr. Cootes, coming to life again and eager to work off his discomfiture on one whom he had always disliked, “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 mouth!”
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?”
“You seemed to me to talk to him like a wife. Am I addressing Mrs. Cootes?”
“You will be if you stick around awhile.”
“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, sourly.
“Surely,” said Psmith, reproachfully, “these conventions need not be observed among friends? You will find the only weapon I have ever possessed over there on the mantelpiece. It is the one I borrowed from you some days back. I restore it gladly, for I would be the last to wish to introduce a jarring note into this scene of goodwill. All I wanted to say,” he went on, addressing Miss Peavey again, “was that, if you can spare the time, I should like to have a short business chat before you leave us.”
Miss Peavey shook her head.
“I’m sorry, Rollo,” she replied, amiably, “but you can cut that right out. Ed. and I have got the stuff, and we don’t divide up with anyone. I know it’s bad form to do the dirty on folks in the same line of business, but you shouldn’t have butted in. I was here first. Make your mind easy, Bill, you don’t get a penny out of us. Not but what I’d do it for you if I did it for anyone, because you’re a good sort of scout and I’ve always liked you.”
“You overwhelm me,” said Psmith. “May I say that the liking is mutual? Though, before I was aware of this other, deeper side to your nature, I confess that there were times when . . . However, that is not to the point. I would prefer, if you will allow me, to keep now entirely to business. Before I begin, I must say that you flatter me when you suggest that I am a fellow-professional. Miss Halliday and I were merely amateurs in this enterprise. We were employed to get the necklace by Mr. Keeble.”
A sharp barking sound broke in on his remarks. It was Mr. Cootes laughing satirically.
“The fellow it belonged to! That’s good!”
“Ed.!” said Miss Peavey, quietly.
Mr. Cootes went into the silence again.
“The necklace did not belong to Comrade Keeble; it belonged to his wife. Comrade K. wanted to get possession of it because he and Lady Constance own a joint banking-account and he was in need of a certain sum of money—which he desired to obtain without her knowledge.”
“Well, the smooth old guy!” exclaimed Miss Peavey.
“Just one of those simple, affectionate tricks which husbands do play on wives,” said Psmith. “I expect Comrade Cootes will be trying something of the sort on you towards the end of the honeymoon.”
“Say!” cried that maligned gentleman, explosively.
“Ed.!” said Miss Peavey.
“Yes, but . . .”
“Oh, all right.”
“His motives,” continued Psmith, “were, however, far, far different from those which will lead Comrade Cootes to . . .”
“Never you mind about Comrade Cootes,” said Miss Peavey, with quiet determination. “I’ll look after him.”
“I am sure you will, I am sure you will. Well, Mr. Keeble has a step-daughter . . .”
“I know her,” said Miss Peavey. “And I know all about her. And let me tell you it’s a darned shame the way those two have acted to that poor girl. Just because she goes and marries the bird she loves . . .”
Miss Peavey choked. Her acquaintance with Lady Constance had begun just previous to the culmination of the Phyllis-Jackson romance, and her warm heart had been deeply stirred by the raw deal which had been handed to True Love.
Eve sprang forward with a suddenness which nearly caused Mr. Cootes to pull the trigger.
“Oh, Miss Peavey, were you a friend of Phyllis’s, too?”
“One great big family,” murmured Psmith. “Just one great big family.”
“He wanted the money for her, Miss Peavey. Three thousand pounds of it, that is. She and her husband can buy a wonderful farm if they get it, and it will let them live in the country again and be happy. Oh, don’t take away that necklace, Miss Peavey. Give it back to us, and . . .”
Crushed though he had been so frequently by his bride-to-be since the beginning of these exchanges, this frightful request revived Mr. Cootes like water on a fading flower.
“I don’t think!” stammered Mr. Cootes, violently moved. He waved protesting arms. “I don’t think!”
“You don’t,” observed Miss Peavey, severely. “That’s the trouble with you. You ought to try to remember sometimes that that thing balanced on your collar is a head. And be careful what you’re doing with that gun! Waving it about like it was a bouquet or something.” She turned to Eve. “This is beginning to listen good to me. If old Keeble wants that necklace so bad, he’ll be willing to buy it off Ed. and me . . .”
“Precisely,” said Psmith, “what I was about to suggest. Your ready intelligence is inspiring. I am a child in these matters, but from the stories I have read I understand that there is a gentleman called a fence who deals in stolen goods.”
“And he is in the habit of giving the toiler about a quarter of what the goods are worth.”
“That’s right, too.”
“Then if Comrade Keeble gives you sixteen thousand pounds for the necklace, it seems to me that life will be more or less one grand sweet song for all concerned.”
“Sixteen? Where do you get that sixteen stuff? I make it seventeen. You said the kid Phyllis only wanted three thousand.”
“I omitted to mention that Comrade Threepwood, an exceptionally promising and deserving young man, was to have had a reward for pinching the thing. Yes, he, too, was in it! And while he did not actually achieve his object, he has been put to a good deal of trouble and inconvenience . . .”
Mr. Cootes made one last despairing inrush into the conversation.
“Say, if you think we’re going to cough up a thousand pounds just to please a young fool with slicked-back hair and a face like . . .”
It is strange how important events hang so often upon mere accidents. The accident in this case was the fact that Mr. Cootes happened to speak first. The protest which he had made was one which had already formed itself in Miss Peavey’s mind, and the point seemed to her well taken. If Mr. Cootes had kept quiet, as a good man should in the presence of his betrothed, she would have expressed with generous strength the very view to which he had just given utterance. But Miss Peavey, as her general attitude has already hinted, had strong opinions on the rashness of letting the male get above himself.
To endorse and show approval of her fiancé’s outburst would, she felt, infallibly encourage in that gentleman the process of getting above himself. She meant to start her married life right, and the way to do that, she held, was to veto any resolution which her Eddie put forward. So, though in her heart she strongly disapproved of wasting good money in the way Psmith had suggested, she quelled Mr. Cootes with a look and spoke cordially.
“Pooh!” she observed. “What’s a thousand pounds among friends? I’m no hog. Let him have his thousand. For Heaven’s sake, Ed., isn’t around eighty thousand dollars enough for you? . . . All right, Cuthbert, it’s a bet. We’ve got a car waiting down the road and Ed.’s going to sneak off up to London to-night. He’ll get in touch with old Keeble and fix the deal up . . . Well, that seems to be about all. Guess we’ll be going. Come along, Ed.” She turned to Psmith. “It’s nice to think everything’s ended happily.”
“Extremely. You will let me know where to send the plated fish-slice, won’t you?”
“I was hoping, 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 darned nice of you, too. Thank him, Ed.”
Mr. Cootes gulped, but he had the right stuff in him for one about to link his lot with this masterly woman.
“Thanks,” he said, huskily.
“Not at all,” said Psmith.
“Did you say you were going to be married, too?” asked Miss Peavey.
“I feel convinced of it. Perhaps on some future occasion 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 we count the spoons just before you say good-bye. Good night, Miss Peavey. Good night, Comrade Cootes.”
He slapped the latter violently on the back.
“Here, say!” cried Mr. Cootes, with a last flicker of spirit.
“Ed.!” said Miss Peavey.
“Oh, all right,” said Mr. Cootes.
They passed together into the night.
EVE sat down on the battered sofa and rested her chin in her hands. She looked at Psmith, who 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.
“You have a very happy gift of phrase,” he said. “That, as you sensibly say, is that. We must take Comrade Keeble aside on our return and inform him of the happy solution of his troubles.”
“But can we trust them?”
“I am sure we can. A sounder business woman than the future Mrs. Cootes I have never met.”
There was a silence.
“So you’re going to be married?” said Eve.
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, I think so, too. 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. 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 shouted: ‘You know I love those things better than anything in the world!’ And he rushed out of the house never to return. Cynthia told me that he has rushed out of the house, never to return, six times since they were married.”
“In passing,” said Psmith, “I don’t like chicken giblets.”
“Cynthia advised me, if I ever married, to marry someone eccentric. She said it was such fun . . . Well, I don’t think I am ever likely to meet anyone more eccentric than you, am I?” She paused reflectively. “ ‘Mrs. Psmith’ . . . It doesn’t sound much, does it?”
Psmith patted her hand 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’ . . .”
A dull, muffled sound, like distant thunder, began to make itself heard from upstairs.
“Good gracious!” cried Eve. “Freddie! I’d forgotten all about him!”
“The right spirit,” said Psmith. “Quite the right spirit.”
“We must go and let him out.”
“Must we? In a very few minutes his own unaided efforts will enable him to kick down that door.”
“Oh, no, we must 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 it will be jolly to have Comrade Threepwood prattling at our side. I will go and let him out at once.”
“No, don’t bother,” said Eve.
the glad news
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.
“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 realization 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.
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 apologize. 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, frostily. “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 . . .”
“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.
Lord Emsworth returned to the library to wrestle with his problem unaided. 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 bookshelves 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.
“Yes?” 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.”
“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 heart 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 significant point.
“Are you a member of the Senior Conservative Club?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“But I like her,” said Lord Emsworth, as if stating an insuperable objection.
“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 headquarters—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.”
“Yes. That is to say, I never met him.”
“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 justly 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.”
As far as Freddie Threepwood 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.”
“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.
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.
See Part 1 for general notes about this edition.
The serialization of this novel in the Saturday Evening Post in the US had concluded in the issue of March 24, 1923, in substantially the same form as this version. American readers had protested, though, that the ending disappointed them by allowing the professional criminals to profit, and so Wodehouse substantially revised the confrontation in the gamekeeper’s cottage for the book version of the novel, as well as making other modifications throughout the story. The UK book was published by Herbert Jenkins on November 30, 1930, just about the time that the December issue of Grand magazine, containing the concluding episode of the earlier version of the story as transcribed above, was on newsstands in the UK. Even the newspaper serialization in the Birmingham Daily Gazette used the magazine version, though its concluding scenes did not appear until January 1924, more than a month after the revised version was published in book form.
Annotations which apply only to the magazine version of the ending can be found at the end of the closing episode of the Saturday Evening Post serial.
Where this version has Psmith compare himself to Dangerous Dan, all other versions reference Dangerous Dan McGrew, as in the poem by Robert W. Service. Ian Michaud wonders if the Canadian poet’s 1907 book Songs of a Sourdough, which contained “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” have been at the back of Wodehouse’s mind when he decided to make his Canadian poet the author of Songs of Squalor? Except in their writing style, it’s not that big a leap from The Bard of the Yukon to The Singer of Saskatoon.
Beginning at “Shut your mouth!” we have another series of Americanisms watered down for British readers; compare this scene in the closing episode of the Saturday Evening Post serial, which begins “Shut your trap!”
Printer’s errors and/or editorial interventions corrected above:
Magazine had “Shropshire and adjoining countries”; corrected to “counties.”
Magazine had a period after “the bizarre note” instead of the question mark found in other editions.
Magazine had “Eh? What? Oh! Ah yes.”; comma inserted in “Ah, yes” to match other usages in this and previous episode, as well as here in other editions.
Magazine omitted to hyphenate “smoking-room” in “When I came into the smoking room of our mutual club”; it is hyphenated here in other editions and everywhere else in this edition.
Magazine had “these wild, flower-pot throwing bachelors”; second hyphen inserted after “pot” as in other editions.