The Saturday Evening Post, March 24, 1923
IN ANY community in which a sensational crime has recently been committed the feelings of the individuals who go to make up that community must of necessity vary somewhat sharply according to the degree in which the personal fortunes of each are affected by the outrage. Vivid in their own way as may be the emotions of one who sees a fellow citizen sandbagged in a quiet street, they differ in kind from those experienced by the victim himself.
And so, though the theft of Lady Constance Keeble’s diamond necklace had stirred Blandings Castle to its depths, it had not affected all those present in quite the same way. It left the house party divided into two distinct schools of thought—the one finding in the occurrence material for gloom and despondency, the other deriving from it nothing but joyful excitement.
To this latter section belonged those free young spirits who had chafed at the prospect of being herded into the drawing-room on the eventful night to listen to Psmith’s reading of Songs of Squalor. It made them tremble now to think of what they would have missed had Lady Constance’s vigilance relaxed sufficiently to enable them to execute the quiet sneak for the billiard room, of which even at the eleventh hour they had thought so wistfully. As far as the Reggies, Berties, Claudes and Archies at that moment enjoying Lord Emsworth’s hospitality were concerned, the thing was top-hole, priceless, and indisputably what the doctor ordered. They spent a great deal of their time going from one country house to another, and as a rule found the routine a little monotonous. A happening like that of the previous night gave a splendid zip to rural life. And when they reflected that, right on top of this binge, there was coming the County Ball, it seemed to them that God was in his heaven and all right with the world. They stuck cigarettes in long holders and collected in groups, chattering like starlings.
The gloomy brigade, those with hearts bowed down, listened to their effervescent babbling with wan distaste. These last were a small body numerically, but very select. Lady Constance might have been described as their head and patroness. Morning found her still in a state bordering on collapse. After breakfast, however, which she took in her room and which was sweetened by an interview with Mr. Joseph Keeble, her husband, she brightened considerably. Mr. Keeble, thought Lady Constance, behaved magnificently. She had always loved him dearly; but never so much as when, abstaining from the slightest reproach of her obstinacy in refusing to allow the jewels to be placed in the bank, he spaciously informed her that he would buy her another necklace, just as good and costing every penny as much as the old one.
It was at this point that Lady Constance almost seceded from the ranks of gloom. She kissed Mr. Keeble gratefully and attacked with something approaching animation the boiled egg at which she had been pecking when he came in.
But a few minutes later the average of despair was restored by the enrollment of Mr. Keeble in the ranks of the despondent. He had gladsomely assumed overnight that one of his agents, either Eve or Freddie, had been responsible for the disappearance of the necklace. The fact that Freddie, interviewed by stealth in his room, gapingly disclaimed any share in the matter had not damped him. He had never expected results from Freddie. But when, after leaving Lady Constance, he encountered Eve and was given a short outline of history, beginning with her acquisition of the necklace and ending—like a modern novel—on the somber note of her finding the flowerpot gone, he, too, sat him down and mourned as deeply as anyone.
Passing with a brief mention over Freddie, whose morose bearing was the subject of considerable comment among the younger set; over Lord Emsworth, who woke at twelve o’clock disgusted to find that he had missed several hours among his beloved flower beds; and over the Efficient Baxter, who was roused from sleep at 12:15 by Thomas the footman knocking on his door in order to hand him a note from his employer inclosing a check and dispensing with his services; we come to Miss Peavey.
At twenty minutes past eleven on this morning when so much was happening to so many people, Miss Peavey stood in the Yew Alley gazing belligerently at the stemless mushroom finial of a tree about halfway between the entrance and the point where the alley merged into the west wood. She appeared to be soliloquizing. For, though words were proceeding from her with considerable rapidity, there seemed to be no one in sight to whom they were being addressed. Only an exceptionally keen observer would have noted a slight significant quivering among the tree’s tightly woven branches.
“You poor bone-headed fish,” the poetess was saying with that strained tenseness which results from the churning up of a generous and emotional nature, “isn’t there anything in this world you can do without tumbling over your feet and making a mess of it? All I ask of you is to stroll round under a window and pick up a few jewels, and now you come and tell me——”
“But, Liz!” said the tree plaintively.
“I do all the difficult part of the job. All that there was left for you to handle was something a child of three could have done on its ear. And now——”
“But, Liz! I’m telling you I couldn’t find the stuff! I was down there all right, but I couldn’t find it!”
“You couldn’t find it!” Miss Peavey pawed restlessly at the soft turf with a shapely shoe. “You’re the sort of dumb Isaac that couldn’t find a bass drum in a telephone booth. You didn’t look!”
“I did look! Honest, I did!”
“Well, the stuff was there. I threw it down the moment the lights went out.”
“Somebody must have got there first and swiped it.”
“Who could have got there first? Everybody was up in the room where I was. . . . Am I sure? Am I——” The poetess’ voice trailed off. She was staring down the Yew Alley at a couple who had just entered. She hissed a warning in a sharp undertone. “H-s-st! Cheese it, Ed! There’s someone coming.”
The two intruders who had caused Miss Peavey to suspend her remarks to her erring lieutenant were of opposite sexes—a tall girl with fair hair and a taller young man irreproachably clad in white flannels who beamed down at his companion through a single eyeglass. Miss Peavey gazed at them searchingly as they approached. A sudden thought had come to her at the sight of them. Mistrusting Psmith as she had done ever since Mr. Cootes had unmasked him for the impostor that he was, the fact that they were so often together had led her to extend her suspicion to Eve. It might, of course, be nothing but a casual friendship, begun here at the castle; but Miss Peavey had always felt that Eve would bear watching. And now, seeing them together again this morning, it had suddenly come to her that she did not recall having observed Eve among the gathering in the drawing-room last night. True, there had been many people present; but Eve’s appearance was striking, and she was sure that she would have noticed her if she had been there. And if she had not been there, why should she not have been on the terrace? Somebody had been on the terrace last night, that was certain. For all her censorious attitude in their recent conversation, Miss Peavey had not really in her heart believed that even a dumb-bell like Eddie Cootes would not have found the necklace if it had been lying under the window on his arrival.
“Oh, good morning,” she cooed. “I’m feeling so upset about this terrible affair. Aren’t you, Miss Halliday?”
“Yes,” said Eve, and she had never said a more truthful word.
Psmith, for his part, was in more debonair and cheerful mood even than was his wont. He had examined the position of affairs and found life good. He was particularly pleased with the fact that he had persuaded Eve to stroll with him this morning and inspect his cottage in the woods. Buoyant as was his temperament, he had been half afraid that last night’s interview on the terrace might have had disastrous effects on their intimacy. He was now feeling full of kindliness and good will towards all mankind—even Miss Peavey—and he bestowed on the poetess a dazzling smile.
“We must always,” he said, “endeavor to look on the bright side. It was a pity, no doubt, that my reading last night had to be stopped at a cost of about twenty thousand pounds to the Keeble coffers; but let us not forget that but for that timely interruption I should have gone on for about another hour. I am like that. My friends have frequently told me that when once I start talking it requires something in the nature of a cataclysm to stop me. But, of course, there are drawbacks to everything, and last night’s rannygazoo perhaps shook your nervous system to an extent greater than we at first realized.”
“I was dreadfully frightened,” said Miss Peavey. She turned to Eve with a delicate shiver. “Weren’t you, Miss Halliday?”
“I wasn’t there,” said Eve absently
“Miss Halliday,” explained Psmith, “has had, the last few days, some little experience of myself as orator, and with her usual good sense decided not to go out of her way to get more of me than was absolutely necessary. I was perhaps a trifle wounded at the moment, but on thinking it over came to the conclusion that she was perfectly justified in her attitude. I endeavor always in my conversation to instruct, elevate and entertain, but there is no gainsaying the fact that a purist might consider enough of my chit-chat to be sufficient. Such, at any rate, was Miss Halliday’s view, and I honor her for it. But here I am rambling on again just when I can see that you wish to be alone. We will leave you, therefore, to muse. No doubt we have been interrupting a train of thought which would have resulted but for my arrival in a rondel or a ballade or some other poetic morceau. Come, Miss Halliday. A weird and repellent female,” he said to Eve as they drew out of hearing, “created for some purpose which I cannot fathom. Everything in this world, I like to think, is placed there for some useful end; but why the authorities unleashed Miss Peavey on us is beyond me. It is not too much to say that she gives me a pain in the gizzard.”
Miss Peavey, unaware of these harsh views, had watched them out of sight; and now she turned excitedly to the tree which sheltered her ally.
“Hello!” replied the muffled voice of Mr. Cootes.
“Did you hear?”
“Oh, my heavens!” cried his overwrought partner. “He’s gone deaf now! That girl—you didn’t hear what she was saying? She said that she wasn’t in the drawing-room when those lights went out. Ed, she was down below on the terrace; that’s where she was, picking up the stuff. And if it isn’t hidden somewheres in that McTodd guy’s shack down there in the woods I’ll eat my Sunday rubbers.”
Eve, with Psmith prattling amiably at her side, pursued her way through the wood. She was wondering why she had come. She ought, she felt, to have been very cold and distant to this young man after what had occurred between them last night. But somehow it was difficult to be cold and distant with Psmith. He cheered her stricken soul. By the time they reached the little clearing and came in sight of the squat, shedlike building with its funny windows and stained door, her spirits, always mercurial, had risen to a point where she found herself almost able to forget her troubles.
“What a horrible-looking place!” she exclaimed. “Whatever did you want it for?”
“Purely as a nook,” said Psmith, taking out his key. “You know how the man of sensibility and refinement needs a nook. In this rushing age it is imperative that the thinker shall have a place, however humble, where he can be alone.”
“But you aren’t a thinker.”
“You wrong me. For the last few days I have been doing some extremely brisk thinking, and the strain has taken its toll. The fierce whirl of life at Blandings is wearing me away. There are dark circles under my eyes and I see floating spots.” He opened the door. “Well, here we are. Will you pop in for a moment?”
Eve went in. The single sitting room of the cottage certainly bore out the promise of the exterior. It contained a table with a red cloth, a chair, three stuffed birds in a glass case on the wall, and a small horsehair sofa. A depressing musty scent pervaded the place, as if a cheese had recently died there in painful circumstances. Eve gave a little shiver of distaste.
“I understand your silent criticism,” said Psmith. “You are saying to yourself that plain living and high thinking is evidently the ideal of the gamekeepers on the Blandings estate. They are strong, rugged men who care little for the refinements of interior decoration. But shall we blame them? If I had to spend most of the day and night chivvying poachers and keeping an eye on the local rabbits I imagine that in my off hours practically anything with a roof would satisfy me. It was in the hope that you might be able to offer some hints and suggestions for small improvements here and there that I invited you to inspect my little place. There is no doubt that it wants doing up a bit by a woman’s gentle hand. Will you give out a few ideas? The wall paper is, I fear, a fixture; but in every other direction consider yourself untrammeled.”
Eve looked about her.
“Well,” she began dubiously, “I don’t think——”
She stopped abruptly, tingling all over. A second glance had shown her something which her first careless inspection had overlooked. Half hidden by a ragged curtain, there stood on the window sill a large flowerpot containing a geranium, and across the surface of the flowerpot was a broad splash of white paint.
“You were saying——?” said Psmith courteously.
Eve did not reply. She hardly heard him. Her mind was in a confused whirl. A monstrous suspicion was forming itself in her brain.
“You are admiring the shrub?” said Psmith. “I found it lying about up at the castle this morning and pinched it. I thought it would add a touch of color to the place.”
Eve, looking at him keenly as his gaze shifted to the flowerpot, told herself that her suspicion had been absurd. Surely this blandness could not be a cloak for guilt.
“Where did you find it?”
“By one of the windows in the hall, more or less wasting its sweetness. I am bound to say I am a little disappointed in the thing. I had a sort of idea it would turn the old homestead into a floral bower, but it doesn’t seem to.”
“It’s a beautiful geranium.”
“There,” said Psmith, “I cannot agree with you. It seems to me to have the glanders or something.”
“It only wants watering.”
“And unfortunately this cozy little place appears to possess no water supply. I take it that the late proprietor when in residence used to trudge to the back door of the castle and fetch what he needed in a bucket. If this moribund plant fancies that I am going to spend my time racing to and fro with refreshments, it is vastly mistaken. Tomorrow it goes into the dustbin.”
Eve shut her eyes. She was awed by a sense of having arrived at a supreme moment. She had the sensations of a gambler who risks all on a single throw.
“What a shame!” she said; and her voice, though she tried to control it, shook. “You had better give it to me. I’ll take care of it. It’s just what I want for my room.”
“Pray take it,” said Psmith. “It isn’t mine, but pray take it. And very encouraging it is, let me add, that you should be accepting gifts from me in this hearty fashion; for it is well known that there is no surer sign of the dawning of the divine emotion—love,” he explained, “than this willingness to receive presents from the hands of the adorer. I make progress, I make progress.”
“You don’t do anything of the kind,” said Eve rather heatedly.
Her eyes were sparkling and her heart sang within her. In the revulsion of feeling which had come to her on finding her suspicions unfounded she was aware of a warm friendliness towards this absurd young man.
“Pardon me,” said Psmith firmly. “I am quoting an established authority—Auntie Belle, of Home Gossip.”
“I must be going,” said Eve. She took the flowerpot and hugged it to her. “I’ve got work to do.”
“Work, work, always work!” sighed Psmith. “The curse of the age. Well, I will escort you back to your cell.”
“No, you won’t,” said Eve. “I mean, thank you for your polite offer; but I want to be alone.”
“Alone?” Psmith looked at her, astonished. “When you have the chance of being with me? This is a strange attitude.”
“Good-by,” said Eve. “Thank you for being so hospitable and lavish. I’ll try to find some cushions and muslin and stuff to brighten up this place.”
“Your presence does that adequately,” said Psmith, accompanying her to the door. “By the way, returning to the subject we were discussing last night, I forgot to mention, when asking you to marry me, that I can do card tricks.”
“And also a passable imitation of a cat calling to her young. Has this no weight with you? Think! These things come in very handy in the long winter evenings.”
“But I shan’t be there when you are imitating cats in the long winter evenings.”
“I think you are wrong. As I visualize my little home, I can see you there very clearly, sitting before the fire. Your maid has put you into something loose. The light of the flickering flames reflects itself in your lovely eyes. You are pleasantly tired after an afternoon’s shopping, but not so tired as to be unable to select a card—any card—from the pack which I offer.”
“Good-by,” said Eve.
“If it must be so, good-by—for the present. I shall see you anon?”
“I expect so.”
“Good! I shall count the minutes.”
Eve walked rapidly away. As she snuggled the flowerpot under her arm she was feeling like a child about to open its Christmas stocking. Before she had gone far a shout stopped her, and she perceived Psmith galloping gracefully in her wake.
“Can you spare me a moment?” said Psmith.
“I should have added that I can also recite Gunga Din. Will you think that over?”
“Thank you,” said Psmith. “Thank you. I have a feeling that it may just turn the scale.”
He raised his hat ambassadorially and galloped away again.
Eve found herself unable to wait any longer. Psmith was out of sight now, and the wood was very still and empty. Birds twittered in the branches and the sun made little pools of gold upon the ground. She cast a swift glance about her and crouched down in the shelter of a tree.
The birds stopped singing. The sun no longer shone. The wood had become cold and sinister. For Eve, with a heart of lead, was staring blankly at a little pile of mold at her feet; mold which she had sifted again and again in a frenzied, fruitless effort to find a necklace which was not there.
The empty flowerpot seemed to leer up at her in mockery.
BLANDINGS CASTLE was astir from roof to hall. Lights blazed, voices shouted, bells rang. All over the huge building there prevailed a vast activity like that of a barracks on the eve of the regiment’s departure for abroad. Dinner was over and the expeditionary force was making its final preparations before starting off in many motor cars for the County Ball at Shifley. In the bedrooms on every floor Reggies, doubtful at the last moment about their white ties, were feverishly arranging new ones; Berties brushed their already glistening hair; and Claudes shouted to Archies along the passages insulting inquiries as to whether they had been sneaking their handkerchiefs. Valets skimmed like swallows up and down corridors, maids fluttered in and out of rooms in aid of Beauty in distress. The noise penetrated into every nook and corner of the house. It vexed the Efficient Baxter, going through his papers in the library preparatory to leaving Blandings on the morrow forever. It disturbed Lord Emsworth, who, stoutly declining to go within ten miles of the County Ball, had retired to his room with a book on herbaceous borders. It troubled the peace of Beach the butler, refreshing himself after his activities with a glass of sound port in the housekeeper’s room. The only person in the place who paid no attention to it was Eve Halliday.
Eve was too furious to pay attention to anything but her deleterious thoughts. As she walked on the terrace, to which she had fled in quest of solitude, her teeth were set and her blue eyes glowed belligerently. As Miss Peavey would have put it in one of her colloquial moods, she was mad clear through. For Eve was a girl of spirit, and there is nothing your girl of spirit so keenly resents as being made a fool of, whether it be by fate or by a fellow human creature. Eve was in the uncomfortable position of having had this indignity put upon her by both. But though as far as fate was concerned she merely smoldered rebelliously, her animosity towards Psmith was vivid in the extreme.
A hot wave of humiliation made her writhe as she remembered the infantile guilelessness with which she had accepted the preposterous story he had told her in explanation of his presence at Blandings in another man’s name. He had been playing with her all the time, fooling her; and, most unforgivable crime of all, he had dared to pretend that he was fond of her, and—Eve’s face burned again—to make her—almost—fond of him. How he must have laughed!
Well, she was not beaten yet. Her chin went up and she began to walk quicker. He was clever, but she would be cleverer. The game was not over——
A white waistcoat was gleaming at her side. Polished shoes shuffled on the turf. Light hair, brushed and brilliantined, shone in the light of the stars. The Hon. Freddie Threepwood was in her midst.
“Well, Freddie?” said Eve resignedly.
“I say,” said Freddie in a voice in which self-pity fought with commiseration for her, “beastly shame you aren’t coming to the hop.”
“I don’t mind.”
“But I do, dash it! The thing won’t be anything without you. A bally washout. And I’ve been trying out some new steps with the phonograph.”
“Well, there will be plenty of other girls there for you to step on.”
“I don’t want other girls, dash them! I want you!”
“That’s very nice of you,” said Eve. The first truculence of her manner had softened. She reminded herself, as she had so often been obliged to remind herself before, that Freddie meant well. “But it can’t be helped. I’m only an employe here, not a guest. I’m not invited.”
“I know,” said Freddie, “and that’s what makes it so dashed sickening. It’s like that picture I saw once, A Modern Cinderella. Only there the girl nipped off to the dance—disguised, you know—and had a most topping time. I wish life was a bit more like the movies.”
“Well, it was enough like the movies last night when—oh!”
Eve stopped. Her heart gave a sudden jump. Somehow the presence of Freddie was so inextricably associated in her mind with limp proposals of marriage that she had completely forgotten that there was another and a more dashing side to his nature, that side which Mr. Keeble had revealed to her at their meeting in Market Blandings on the previous afternoon. She looked at him with new eyes.
“Anything up?” said Freddie.
Eve took him excitedly by the sleeve and drew him farther away from the house. Not that there was any need to do so, for the bustle within continued unabated.
“Freddie,” she whispered, “listen! I met Mr. Keeble yesterday after I had left you and he told me all about how you and he had planned to steal Lady Constance’s necklace.”
“Good Lord!” cried the Hon. Freddie Threepwood.
“And I’ve got an idea,” said Eve.
She had, and it was one which had only in this instant come to her. Until now, though she had tilted her chin bravely and assured herself that the game was not over and that she was not yet beaten, a small discouraging voice had whispered to her all the while that this was mere bravado. “What,” the voice had asked, “are you going to do?” And she had not been able to answer it. But now, with Freddie as an ally, she could act.
“Told you all about it?” Freddie was muttering pallidly.
He had never had a very high opinion of his Uncle Joseph’s mentality, but he had supposed him capable of keeping a thing like that to himself. He was, indeed, thinking of Mr. Keeble almost the identical thoughts that Mr. Keeble, in the first moments of his interview with Eve in Market Blandings, had thought of him; and these reflections brought much the same qualms that they had brought to the elder conspirator. Once these things got talked about, mused Freddie agitatedly, you never knew where they would stop. Before his mental eye there swam a painful picture of his Aunt Constance, informed of the plot, tackling him and demanding the return of her necklace.
“Told you all about it?” he bleated, and, like Mr. Keeble, mopped his brow.
“It’s all right,” said Eve impatiently. “It’s quite all right. He asked me to steal the necklace too.”
“You?” said Freddie, gaping.
“My gosh!” cried Freddie, electrified. “Then was it you who got the thing last night?”
“Yes, it was. But——”
For a moment Freddie had to wrestle with something that was almost a sordid envy. Then better feelings prevailed. He quivered with manly generosity. He gave Eve’s hand a tender pat. It was too dark for her to see it, but he was registering renunciation.
“Little girl,” he murmured, “there’s no one I’d rather got that thousand quid than you. If I couldn’t have it myself, I mean to say. Little girl——”
“Oh, be quiet!” cried Eve. “I wasn’t doing it for any thousand pounds. I didn’t want Mr. Keeble to give me money.”
“You didn’t want him to give you money!” repeated Freddie wonderingly.
“I just wanted to help Phyllis. She’s my friend.”
“Pals, pardner, pals! Pals till hell freezes!” cried Freddie, deeply moved.
“What are you talking about?”
“Sorry. That was a subtitle from a thing called Prairie Nell, you know. Just happened to cross my mind. It was in the second reel where the two fellows are——”
“Yes, yes; never mind.”
“Thought I’d mention it.”
“It seemed to fit in.”
“Do stop, Freddie!”
“Tell me,” resumed Eve, “is Mr. McTodd going to the ball?”
“Eh? Why, yes, I suppose so.”
“Then, listen! You know that little cottage your father has let him have?”
“Yes. In the wood past the Yew Alley.”
“Little cottage? I never heard of any little cottage.”
“Well, he’s got one,” said Eve. “And as soon as everybody has gone to the ball you and I are going to burgle it.”
“Yes, burgle it!”
“Look here, old thing,” he said plaintively, “this is a bit beyond me. It doesn’t seem to me to make sense.”
Eve forced herself to be patient. After all, she reflected, perhaps she had been approaching the matter a little rapidly. The desire to beat Freddie violently over the head passed, and she began to speak slowly and, as far as she could manage it, in words of one syllable.
“I can make it quite clear if you will listen and not say a word till I’ve done. This man who calls himself McTodd is not Mr. McTodd at all. He is a thief who got into the place by saying that he was McTodd. He stole the jewels from me last night and hid them in his cottage.”
“But, I say!”
“Don’t interrupt! I know he has them there, so when he has gone to the ball and the coast is clear you and I will go and search till we find them.”
“But, I say!”
Eve crushed down her impatience once more.
“Do you really think this cove has got the necklace?”
“I know he has.”
“Well, then, it’s jolly well the best thing that could possibly have happened, because I got him here to pinch it for Uncle Joseph.”
“Absolutely! You see, I began to have a doubt or two as to whether I was quite equal to the contract, so I roped in this bird by way of a gang.”
“You got him here? You mean you sent for him and arranged that he should pass himself off as Mr. McTodd?”
“Well, no, not exactly that. He was coming here as McTodd, anyway, as far as I can gather. But I’d talked it over with him, you know, before that and asked him to pinch the necklace.”
“Then you know him quite well? He is a friend of yours?”
“I wouldn’t say that exactly. He says he was at school with me.”
“Yes. I’m dashed if I can remember him though. And he said he was a great pal of Phyllis and her husband.”
“Did he tell you that?”
“In the train.”
“I mean, was it before or after you had told him why you wanted the necklace stolen?”
“Eh? Let me think. After.”
“Tell me exactly what happened,” said Eve. “I can’t understand it at all at present.”
Freddie marshaled his thoughts.
“Well, let’s see. Well, to start with, I told Uncle Joe I would pinch the necklace and slip it to him, and he said if I did he’d give me a thousand quid. As a matter of fact, he made it two thousand, and very decent of him, I thought it. Is that straight?”
“Then I sort of got cold feet. Began to wonder, don’t you know, if I hadn’t bitten off rather more than I could chew.”
“And then I saw this advertisement in the paper.”
“Advertisement? What advertisement?”
“There was an advertisement in the paper, saying if anybody wanted anything done simply apply to this chap. So I wrote him a letter and went up and had a talk with him in the lobby of the Piccadilly Palace. Only, unfortunately, I’d promised the guv’nor I’d catch the 12:50 home, so I had to dash off in the middle. Must have thought me rather an ass, it’s sometimes occurred to me since. I mean, practically all I said was, ‘Will you pinch my aunt’s necklace?’ and then buzzed off to catch the train. Never thought I’d see the man again, but when I got into the five o’clock train—I missed the 12:50—there he was as large as life, and the guv’nor suddenly trickled in from another compartment and introduced him to me as McTodd the poet.
“Now, he’d just told me he’d been at school with me, and I knew jolly well I hadn’t known anybody called McTodd at Eton, so I said, ‘What ho!’ or words to that effect. He then said he wasn’t really McTodd, only pretending to be McTodd.”
“Didn’t that strike you as strange?”
“Yes, rather rummy.”
“Did you ask him why he was doing such an extraordinary thing?”
“Oh, yes. But he wouldn’t tell me. And then he asked me why I wanted him to pinch Aunt Connie’s necklace, and it suddenly occurred to me that everything was working rather smoothly—I mean, him being on his way to the castle like that. Right on the spot, don’t you know. So I told him all about Phyllis, and it was then that he said that he had been a pal of hers and her husband’s for years. So we fixed it up that he was to get the necklace and hand it over. I must say I was rather drawn to the chappie. He said he didn’t want any money for swiping the thing.”
Eve laughed bitterly.
“Why should he, when he was going to get twenty thousand pounds’ worth of diamonds and keep them? Oh, Freddie, I should have thought that even you would have seen through him! You go to this perfect stranger and tell him that there is a valuable necklace waiting here to be stolen, you find him on his way to steal it, and you trust him implicitly just because he tells you he knows Phyllis—whom he had never heard of in his life till you mentioned her. Freddie, really!”
The Honorable Freddie scratched his beautifully shaven chin.
“Well, when you put it like that,” he said, “I must own it does sound a bit off. But he seemed such a dashed matey sort of bird. Cheery and all that. I liked the feller.”
“Well, but you liked him too. I mean to say, you were about with him a goodish lot.”
“I hate him!” said Eve angrily. “I wish I had never seen him. And if I let him get away with that necklace and cheat poor little Phyllis out of her money, I’ll—I’ll——”
She raised a grimly determined chin to the stars. Freddie watched her admiringly.
“I say, you know, you are a wonderful girl,” he said.
“He shan’t get away with it if I have to pull the place down.”
“When you chuck your head up like that you remind me a bit of What’s-Her-Name, the motion-picture star, you know, girl who was in Wed to a Satyr. Only,” added Freddie hurriedly, “she isn’t half so pretty. I say, I was rather looking forward to that jolly old county ball, but now this has happened I don’t mind missing it a bit. I mean, it seems to draw us closer together somehow, if you follow me. I say, honestly, all kidding aside, you think that love might some day awaken in——”
“We shall want a lamp,” said Eve.
“A lamp. To see with when we are in the cottage. Can you get one?”
Freddie reluctantly perceived that the moment for sentiment had not arrived.
“A lamp? Oh, yes, of course. Rather.”
“Better get two,” said Eve. “And meet me here about half an hour after everybody has gone to the ball.”
THE tiny sitting room of Psmith’s haven of rest in the woods had never reached a high standard of decorativeness even in its best days; but as Eve paused from her labors and looked at it in the light of her lamp about an hour after her conversation with Freddie on the terrace it presented a picture of desolation that would have startled the plain-living gamekeeper to whom it had once been a home. Even Freddie, though normally an unobservant youth, seemed awed by the ruin he had helped to create.
“Golly!” he observed. “I say, we’ve rather mucked the place up a bit!”
It was no overstatement. Eve had come to the cottage to search, and she had searched thoroughly. The torn carpet lay in an untidy heap against the wall. The table was overturned. Boards had been wrenched from the floor, bricks from the chimney place. The horsehair sofa was in ribbons and the one small cushion in the room lay limply in a corner, its stuffing distributed north, south, east and west. There was soot everywhere—on the walls, on the floor, on the fireplace and on Freddie. A brace of dead bats, the further result of the latter’s groping in a chimney which had not been swept for seven months, reposed in the fender. The sitting room had never been luxurious; it was now not even cozy.
Eve did not reply. She was struggling with what she was fair-minded enough to see was an entirely unjust fever of irritation, with her courteous and obliging assistant as its object. It was wrong, she knew, to feel like this. That she should be furious at her failure to find the jewels was excusable, but she had no possible right to be furious with Freddie. It was not his fault that soot had poured from the chimney in lieu of diamonds. If he had asked for a necklace and been given a dead bat, he was surely more to be pitied than censured. Yet Eve, eying his grimy face, would have given very much to have been able to scream loudly and throw something at him. The fact is the Honorable Freddie belonged to that unfortunate type of humanity which automatically gets blamed for everything in moments of stress.
“Well, the bally thing isn’t here,” said Freddie.
He spoke thickly, as a man will whose mouth is covered with soot.
“I know it isn’t,” said Eve. “But this isn’t the only room in the house.”
“Think he might have hidden the stuff upstairs?”
Freddie shook his head, dislodging a portion of a third bat.
“Must be upstairs, if it’s anywhere. Mean to say, there isn’t any downstairs.”
“There’s the cellar,” said Eve. “Take your lamp and go and have a look.”
For the first time in the proceedings a spirit of disaffection seemed to manifest itself in the bosom of her assistant. Up till this moment Freddie had taken his orders placidly and executed them with promptness and civility. Even when the first shower of soot had driven him choking from the fireplace his manly spirit had not been crushed; he had merely uttered a startled “Oh, I say!” and returned gallantly to the attack. But now he obviously hesitated.
“Go on,” said Eve impatiently.
“Yes, but, I say, you know——“
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t think the chap would be likely to hide a necklace in the cellar. I vote we give it a miss and try upstairs.”
“Don’t be silly, Freddie. He may have hidden it anywhere.”
“Well, to be absolutely honest, I’d much rather not go into any bally cellar, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Why ever not?”
“Beetles. Always had a horror of beetles. Ever since I was a kid.”
Eve bit her lip. She was feeling, as Miss Peavey had so often felt when associated in some delicate undertaking with Edward Cootes, that exasperating sense of man’s inadequacy which comes to high-spirited girls at moments such as these. To achieve the end for which she had started out that night she would have waded waist high through a sea of beetles. But, divining with that sixth sense which tells women when the male has been pushed just so far and can be pushed no farther that Freddie, wax though he might be in her hands in any other circumstances, was on this one point adamant, she made no further effort to bend him to her will.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll go down into the cellar. You go and look upstairs.”
“No, I say, sure you don’t mind?”
Eve took up her lamp and left the craven.
For a girl of iron resolution and unswerving purpose, Eve’s inspection of the cellar was decidedly cursory. A distinct feeling of relief came over her as she stood at the top of the steps and saw by the light of the lamp how small and bare it was. For, impervious as she might be to the intimidation of beetles, her armor still contained a chink. She was terribly afraid of rats. And even when the rays of the lamp disclosed no scuttling horrors, she still lingered for a moment before descending. You never knew with rats. They pretended not to be there just to lure you on, and then came out and whizzed about your ankles. However, the memory of her scorn for Freddie’s pusillanimity forced her on, and she went down.
The word “cellar” is an elastic one. It can be applied equally to the acres of bottle-fringed vaults which lie beneath a great pile like Blandings Castle and to a hole in the ground like the one in which she now found herself. This cellar was easily searched. She stamped on its stone flags with an ear strained to detect any note of hollowness, but none came. She moved the lamp so that it shone into every corner, but there was not even a crack in which a diamond necklace could have been concealed. Satisfied that the place contained nothing but a little coal dust and a smell of damp decay, Eve passed thankfully out.
The law of elimination was doing its remorseless work. It had ruled out the cellar, the kitchen and the living room—that is to say, the whole of the lower of the two floors which made up the cottage. There now remained only the rooms upstairs. There were probably not more than two, and Freddie must already have searched one of these. The quest seemed to be nearing its end. As Eve made for the narrow staircase that led to the second floor the lamp shook in her hand and cast weird shadows. Now that success was in sight, the strain was beginning to affect her nerves.
It was to nerves that in the first instant of hearing it she attributed what sounded like a soft cough in the sitting room, a few feet from where she stood. Then a chill feeling of dismay gripped her. It could only, she thought, be Freddie, returned from his search; and if Freddie had returned from his search already, what could it mean except that those upstairs rooms, on which she had counted so confidently, had proved as empty as the others? Freddie was not one of your restrained, unemotional men. If he had found the necklace he would have been downstairs in two bounds, shouting. His silence was ominous. She opened the door and went quickly in.
“Freddie——” she began, and broke off with a gasp.
It was not Freddie who had coughed. It was Psmith. He was seated on the remains of the horsehair sofa, toying with an automatic pistol and gravely surveying through his monocle the ruins of a home.
“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’s 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 breathtaking 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’ automatic and proceeded to the cottage.
Eve recovered her self-possession. She was not a girl given to collapse in moments of crisis. The first shock of amazement had passed; a humiliating feeling of extreme foolishness, which came directly after, had also passed; she was now grimly ready for battle.
“Where is Mr. Threepwood?” she asked.
“Upstairs. I have put him in storage for a while. Do not worry about Comrade Threepwood. He has lots to think about. He is under the impression that if he stirs out he will be instantly shot.”
“Oh! Well, I want to put this lamp down. Will you please pick up that table?”
“By all means. But—I am a novice in these matters—ought I not first to say, ‘Hands up!’ or something?”
“Will you please pick up that table?”
“A friend of mine—one Cootes—you must meet him some time—generally remarks ‘Hey!’ in a sharp, arresting voice on these occasions. Personally I consider the expression too abrupt. Still, he has had great experience.”
“Will you please pick up that table?”
“Most certainly. I take it, then, that you would prefer to dispense with the usual formalities. In that case I will park this automatic on the mantelpiece while we chat. I have taken a curious dislike to the thing. It makes me feel like Dangerous Dan McGrew.”
Eve put down the lamp, and there was silence for a moment. Psmith looked about him thoughtfully. He picked up one of the dead bats and covered it with his handkerchief.
“Somebody’s mother,” he murmured reverently.
Eve sat down on the sofa.
“Mr.——” She stopped. “I can’t call you Mr. McTodd. Will you please tell me your name?”
“Ronald,” said Psmith. “Ronald Eustace.”
“I suppose you have a surname?” snapped Eve. “Or an alias?”
Psmith eyed her with a pained expression.
“I may be hypersensitive,” 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 fulfill 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 hidebound. 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.”
“Pardon me,” said Psmith. “If you will be patient for a few minutes more, I shall have finished and shall then be delighted to lend an attentive ear to any remarks you may wish to make. As it occurs to me—indeed, you hinted as much yourself just now—that my own position in this little matter has an appearance which to the uninitiated might seem tolerably rummy, I had better explain how I come to be guarding a diamond necklace which does not belong to me. I rely on your womanly discretion to let the thing go no further.”
“Will you please——”
“In one moment. The facts are as follows: Our mutual friend Mr. Keeble, Miss Halliday, has a stepdaughter who is married to one Comrade Jackson, who, if he had no other claim to fame, would go ringing down through history for this reason—that he and I were at school together and that he is my best friend. We two have sported on the green—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.”
“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 endeavoring 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 hobnob 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’ 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 jewelry. 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 center 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.
“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 bean you with a brick. Well, Ed, no sense in sticking around here. Let’s go.”
“We’ll have to tie these birds up,” said Mr. Cootes farseeingly. “Otherwise we’ll have them squealing before I can make a get-away.”
“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. And may I say that I cordially agree with your condemnation of Comrade Cootes’ 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 trap!”
Mr. Cootes subsided once more. Psmith gazed at him through his monocle, interested.
“Pardon me,” he said, “but—if it is not a rude question—are you two married?”
“You seemed to me to talk to him like a wife. Am I addressing Mrs. Cootes?”
“You will be if you stick around a while.”
“A thousand congratulations to Comrade Cootes. Not quite so many to you, possibly, but fully that number of good wishes.” He moved towards the poetess with extended hand. “I am thinking of getting married myself shortly.”
“Keep those hands up,” said Mr. Cootes 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 good will. 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 divvy 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 nickel 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 guy 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.
“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 stepdaughter——”
“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 stiffs 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’ 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, not a Hubbard squash. And be careful what you’re doing with that gat! 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 though 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 oil can 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.
“Gee!” she observed. “What’s a thousand pounds among friends? I’m no hog. Let the poor zimp have his thousand. For heaven’s sake, Ed, isn’t around eighty thousand dollars enough for you? Who d’you think you are—the Prince of Wales or something? . . . 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 tonight. 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, pick up the Henries.”
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-by. 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 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. Flanneled 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 morning, 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 past 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 retreading old ground.
“You are too absurd!”
“He threw flowerpots at me.”
“Do please stop talking about those flowerpots. Mr. Baxter has explained the whole thing to me, and surely even you can see that his behavior 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 time 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 suitcase, and almost simultaneously the Efficient Baxter entered the library, clothed and spatted for travel.
“I have come to say good-by, 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-by.” He gripped her hand in brief farewell and directed his spectacles for another tense instant upon the sagging figure at the window. “Good-by, Lord Emsworth.”
“Eh? What? Oh! Ah, yes! Good-by, my dear fel—I mean good-by. 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 flowerpots. 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——”
Lord Emsworth trotted out onto the landing, but Baxter had got off to a good start and was almost out of sight round the bend of the stairs.
“But, my dear fellow!” bleated his lordship plaintively over the banisters.
From below, out on the drive, came the sound of an automobile getting into gear and moving off, than which no sound is more final. The great door of the castle closed with a soft but significant bang—as doors close when handled by an untipped butler. Lord Emsworth returned to the library to wrestle with his problem unaided.
He was greatly disturbed. Apart from the fact that he disliked criminals and impostors as a class, it was a shock to him to learn that the particular criminal and impostor then in residence at Blandings was the man for whom, brief as had been the duration of their acquaintance, he had conceived a warm affection. He was fond of Psmith. Psmith soothed him. If he had had to choose any member of his immediate circle for the rôle of criminal and impostor he would have chosen Psmith last.
He went to the window again and looked out. There was the sunshine, there were the birds, there were the hollyhocks, carnations and Canterbury bells, all present and correct; but now they failed to cheer him. He was wondering dismally what on earth he was going to do. What did one do with criminals and impostors? Had ’em arrested, he supposed. But he shrank from the thought of arresting Psmith. It seemed so deuced unfriendly.
He was still meditating gloomily when a voice spoke behind him.
“Good morning. I am looking for Miss Halliday. You have not seen her by any chance? Ah, there she is down there on the terrace.”
Lord Emsworth was aware of Psmith beside him at the window, waving cordially to Eve, who waved back.
“I thought possibly,” continued Psmith, “that Miss Halliday would be in her little room yonder.” He indicated the dummy 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 endeavored to assume the attitude of stern censure which came so naturally to him in interviews with his son Frederick. But he met Psmith’s eye and sagged again. Beneath the solemn friendliness of Psmith’s gaze hauteur was impossible.
“Then what the deuce are you doing here under his name?” he asked, placing his finger in statesmanlike fashion on the very nub of the problem. “I mean to say,” he went on, making his meaning clearer, “if you aren’t McTodd, why did you come here saying you were McTodd?”
Psmith nodded slowly.
“The point is well taken,” he said. “I was expecting you to ask that question. Primarily—I want no thanks—but primarily I did it to save you embarrassment.”
“Save me embarrassment?”
“Precisely. When I came into the smoking room of our mutual club that afternoon when you had been entertaining Comrade McTodd at lunch, I found him on the point of passing out of your life forever. 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 insure a moderate competence.”
“You want to be my secretary?”
“You have unraveled 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, flowerpot-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 endeavor 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 Honorable Freddie’s jaw dropped. His prominent eyes became more prawnlike.
Psmith patted his shoulder.
“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 onto the terrace to join Eve.
Annotations to the UK book edition of this novel are available elsewhere on this site.
The denouement in the cottage, in which Psmith suggests that Mr. Keeble pay Miss Peavey and Ed Cootes more than what a fence would give them for the necklace, was apparently roundly protested by readers of the magazine serial who felt that crime should not pay. Wodehouse rewrote much of the scene quite substantially for the hardcover appearances of the novel, beginning after “Well, then, don’t come butting in.”
In the early portion of this scene, the rather feeble insult “you’ve got a head like a dollar—one bone” was replaced in the book by the much crisper insult “try to remember sometimes that that thing balanced on your collar is a head, not a hubbard squash” which appears later in the magazine in dialogue deleted during the revision. [The OED cites “bone” as North American slang for a dollar, with the earliest quote in 1896 from George Ade, Wodehouse’s favorite source of American slang.]
As mentioned in an earlier episode, the rewrite also omitted the recognition in the train that both Freddie and Psmith had been at Eton together, so that mention in Chapter XIII here is collapsed in the book to “I wouldn’t say that exactly. But he said he was a great pal of Phyllis and her husband.” Also, in the book version, most of a later paragraph beginning “Now, he’d just told me” is omitted, and the previous paragraph closes with “Then the guv’nor legged it, and this chap told me he wasn’t really McTodd, only pretending to be McTodd.”
References omitted in the revision for hardcover publication:
submerged tenth: See Something Fresh.
one grand sweet song: See Right Ho, Jeeves.
Printer’s errors and editorial alterations corrected above:
“You were saying”—said Psmith courteously.
omitting the question mark and putting the dash outside the quotation marks. US and UK books have an ellipsis and question mark inside the quotes; here we have used a long dash instead of the ellipsis, to match the SEP style elsewhere.
Magazine had an extraneous comma in “You never knew, with rats.” It has been omitted to match US and UK book editions.
Magazine had “surmounted by a rose Du Barry wrap”; corrected to “Rose du Barri” as in all other editions; this is a French name for a pink color developed at the Sèvres porcelain factory.
Magazine had “Comrade K wanted to get possession of it”; we have inserted a period after ‘K.’ to match its appearance in the UK serial as well as Wodehouse’s usual practice with initials.
Magazine had “To indorse and show approval of her fiancé’s outburst”; changed to “endorse” as in UK serial, and as Wodehouse always spells it.
Magazine had “she has given toil the miss-in-balk”; corrected to “miss-in-baulk” since “balk” is a baseball term and “miss-in-baulk” is a billiards term, referring to a deliberate avoidance of hitting a ball under certain circumstances.