Beelingo.com

Mike: A Public School Story

CHAPTER LV

CLEARING THE AIR

Psmith was one of those people who lend a dignity to everything they touch.  Under his auspices the most unpromising ventures became somehow enveloped in an atmosphere of measured stateliness.  On the present occasion, what would have been, without his guiding hand, a mere unscientific scramble, took on something of the impressive formality of the National Sporting Club.

“The rounds,” he said, producing a watch, as they passed through a gate into a field a couple of hundred yards from the house gate, “will be of three minutes’ duration, with a minute rest in between.  A man who is down will have ten seconds in which to rise.  Are you ready, Comrades Adair and Jackson?  Very well, then.  Time.”

After which, it was a pity that the actual fight did not quite live up to its referee’s introduction.  Dramatically, there should have been cautious sparring for openings and a number of tensely contested rounds, as if it had been the final of a boxing competition.  But school fights, when they do occur—­which is only once in a decade nowadays, unless you count junior school scuffles—­are the outcome of weeks of suppressed bad blood, and are consequently brief and furious.  In a boxing competition, however much one may want to win, one does not dislike one’s opponent.  Up to the moment when “time” was called, one was probably warmly attached to him, and at the end of the last round one expects to resume that attitude of mind.  In a fight each party, as a rule, hates the other.

So it happened that there was nothing formal or cautious about the present battle.  All Adair wanted was to get at Mike, and all Mike wanted was to get at Adair.  Directly Psmith called “time,” they rushed together as if they meant to end the thing in half a minute.

It was this that saved Mike.  In an ordinary contest with the gloves, with his opponent cool and boxing in his true form, he could not have lasted three rounds against Adair.  The latter was a clever boxer, while Mike had never had a lesson in his life.  If Adair had kept away and used his head, nothing could have prevented him winning.

As it was, however, he threw away his advantages, much as Tom Brown did at the beginning of his fight with Slogger Williams, and the result was the same as on that historic occasion.  Mike had the greater strength, and, thirty seconds from the start, knocked his man clean off his feet with an unscientific but powerful right-hander.

This finished Adair’s chances.  He rose full of fight, but with all the science knocked out of him.  He went in at Mike with both hands.  The Irish blood in him, which for the ordinary events of life made him merely energetic and dashing, now rendered him reckless.  He abandoned all attempt at guarding.  It was the Frontal Attack in its most futile form, and as unsuccessful as a frontal attack is apt to be.  There was a swift exchange of blows, in the course of which Mike’s left elbow, coming into contact with his opponent’s right fist, got a shock which kept it tingling for the rest of the day; and then Adair went down in a heap.

He got up slowly and with difficulty.  For a moment he stood blinking vaguely.  Then he lurched forward at Mike.

In the excitement of a fight—­which is, after all, about the most exciting thing that ever happens to one in the course of one’s life—­it is difficult for the fighters to see what the spectators see.  Where the spectators see an assault on an already beaten man, the fighter himself only sees a legitimate piece of self-defence against an opponent whose chances are equal to his own.  Psmith saw, as anybody looking on would have seen, that Adair was done.  Mike’s blow had taken him within a fraction of an inch of the point of the jaw, and he was all but knocked out.  Mike could not see this.  All he understood was that his man was on his feet again and coming at him, so he hit out with all his strength; and this time Adair went down and stayed down.

“Brief,” said Psmith, coming forward, “but exciting.  We may take that, I think, to be the conclusion of the entertainment.  I will now have a dash at picking up the slain.  I shouldn’t stop, if I were you.  He’ll be sitting up and taking notice soon, and if he sees you he may want to go on with the combat, which would do him no earthly good.  If it’s going to be continued in our next, there had better be a bit of an interval for alterations and repairs first.”

“Is he hurt much, do you think?” asked Mike.  He had seen knock-outs before in the ring, but this was the first time he had ever effected one on his own account, and Adair looked unpleasantly corpse-like.

He’s all right,” said Psmith.  “In a minute or two he’ll be skipping about like a little lambkin.  I’ll look after him.  You go away and pick flowers.”

Mike put on his coat and walked back to the house.  He was conscious of a perplexing whirl of new and strange emotions, chief among which was a curious feeling that he rather liked Adair.  He found himself thinking that Adair was a good chap, that there was something to be said for his point of view, and that it was a pity he had knocked him about so much.  At the same time, he felt an undeniable thrill of pride at having beaten him.  The feat presented that interesting person, Mike Jackson, to him in a fresh and pleasing light, as one who had had a tough job to face and had carried it through.  Jackson, the cricketer, he knew, but Jackson, the deliverer of knock-out blows, was strange to him, and he found this new acquaintance a man to be respected.

The fight, in fact, had the result which most fights have, if they are fought fairly and until one side has had enough.  It revolutionised Mike’s view of things.  It shook him up, and drained the bad blood out of him.  Where, before, he had seemed to himself to be acting with massive dignity, he now saw that he had simply been sulking like some wretched kid.  There had appeared to him something rather fine in his policy of refusing to identify himself in any way with Sedleigh, a touch of the stone-walls-do-not-a-prison-make sort of thing.  He now saw that his attitude was to be summed up in the words, “Sha’n’t play.”

It came upon Mike with painful clearness that he had been making an ass of himself.

He had come to this conclusion, after much earnest thought, when Psmith entered the study.

“How’s Adair?” asked Mike.

“Sitting up and taking nourishment once more.  We have been chatting.  He’s not a bad cove.”

“He’s all right,” said Mike.

There was a pause.  Psmith straightened his tie.

“Look here,” he said, “I seldom interfere in terrestrial strife, but it seems to me that there’s an opening here for a capable peace-maker, not afraid of work, and willing to give his services in exchange for a comfortable home.  Comrade Adair’s rather a stoutish fellow in his way.  I’m not much on the ‘Play up for the old school, Jones,’ game, but every one to his taste.  I shouldn’t have thought anybody would get overwhelmingly attached to this abode of wrath, but Comrade Adair seems to have done it.  He’s all for giving Sedleigh a much-needed boost-up.  It’s not a bad idea in its way.  I don’t see why one shouldn’t humour him.  Apparently he’s been sweating since early childhood to buck the school up.  And as he’s leaving at the end of the term, it mightn’t be a scaly scheme to give him a bit of a send-off, if possible, by making the cricket season a bit of a banger.  As a start, why not drop him a line to say that you’ll play against the M.C.C. to-morrow?”

Mike did not reply at once.  He was feeling better disposed towards Adair and Sedleigh than he had felt, but he was not sure that he was quite prepared to go as far as a complete climb-down.

“It wouldn’t be a bad idea,” continued Psmith.  “There’s nothing like giving a man a bit in every now and then.  It broadens the soul and improves the action of the skin.  What seems to have fed up Comrade Adair, to a certain extent, is that Stone apparently led him to understand that you had offered to give him and Robinson places in your village team.  You didn’t, of course?”

“Of course not,” said Mike indignantly.

“I told him he didn’t know the old noblesse oblige spirit of the Jacksons.  I said that you would scorn to tarnish the Jackson escutcheon by not playing the game.  My eloquence convinced him.  However, to return to the point under discussion, why not?”

“I don’t—­What I mean to say—­” began Mike.

“If your trouble is,” said Psmith, “that you fear that you may be in unworthy company——­”

“Don’t be an ass.”

“——­Dismiss it. I am playing.”

Mike stared.

“You’re what?  You?”

“I,” said Psmith, breathing on a coat-button, and polishing it with his handkerchief.

“Can you play cricket?”

“You have discovered,” said Psmith, “my secret sorrow.”

“You’re rotting.”

“You wrong me, Comrade Jackson.”

“Then why haven’t you played?”

“Why haven’t you?”

“Why didn’t you come and play for Lower Borlock, I mean?”

“The last time I played in a village cricket match I was caught at point by a man in braces.  It would have been madness to risk another such shock to my system.  My nerves are so exquisitely balanced that a thing of that sort takes years off my life.”

“No, but look here, Smith, bar rotting.  Are you really any good at cricket?”

“Competent judges at Eton gave me to understand so.  I was told that this year I should be a certainty for Lord’s.  But when the cricket season came, where was I?  Gone.  Gone like some beautiful flower that withers in the night.”

“But you told me you didn’t like cricket.  You said you only liked watching it.”

“Quite right.  I do.  But at schools where cricket is compulsory you have to overcome your private prejudices.  And in time the thing becomes a habit.  Imagine my feelings when I found that I was degenerating, little by little, into a slow left-hand bowler with a swerve.  I fought against it, but it was useless, and after a while I gave up the struggle, and drifted with the stream.  Last year, in a house match”—­Psmith’s voice took on a deeper tone of melancholy—­“I took seven for thirteen in the second innings on a hard wicket.  I did think, when I came here, that I had found a haven of rest, but it was not to be.  I turn out to-morrow.  What Comrade Outwood will say, when he finds that his keenest archaeological disciple has deserted, I hate to think.  However——­”

Mike felt as if a young and powerful earthquake had passed.  The whole face of his world had undergone a quick change.  Here was he, the recalcitrant, wavering on the point of playing for the school, and here was Psmith, the last person whom he would have expected to be a player, stating calmly that he had been in the running for a place in the Eton eleven.

Then in a flash Mike understood.  He was not by nature intuitive, but he read Psmith’s mind now.  Since the term began, he and Psmith had been acting on precisely similar motives.  Just as he had been disappointed of the captaincy of cricket at Wrykyn, so had Psmith been disappointed of his place in the Eton team at Lord’s.  And they had both worked it off, each in his own way—­Mike sullenly, Psmith whimsically, according to their respective natures—­on Sedleigh.

If Psmith, therefore, did not consider it too much of a climb-down to renounce his resolution not to play for Sedleigh, there was nothing to stop Mike doing so, as—­at the bottom of his heart—­he wanted to do.

“By Jove,” he said, “if you’re playing, I’ll play.  I’ll write a note to Adair now.  But, I say—­” he stopped—­“I’m hanged if I’m going to turn out and field before breakfast to-morrow.”

“That’s all right.  You won’t have to.  Adair won’t be there himself.  He’s not playing against the M.C.C.  He’s sprained his wrist.”

CHAPTER LVI

IN WHICH PEACE IS DECLARED

“Sprained his wrist?” said Mike.  “How did he do that?”

“During the brawl.  Apparently one of his efforts got home on your elbow instead of your expressive countenance, and whether it was that your elbow was particularly tough or his wrist particularly fragile, I don’t know.  Anyhow, it went.  It’s nothing bad, but it’ll keep him out of the game to-morrow.”

“I say, what beastly rough luck!  I’d no idea.  I’ll go round.”

“Not a bad scheme.  Close the door gently after you, and if you see anybody downstairs who looks as if he were likely to be going over to the shop, ask him to get me a small pot of some rare old jam and tell the man to chalk it up to me.  The jam Comrade Outwood supplies to us at tea is all right as a practical joke or as a food for those anxious to commit suicide, but useless to anybody who values life.”

On arriving at Mr. Downing’s and going to Adair’s study, Mike found that his late antagonist was out.  He left a note informing him of his willingness to play in the morrow’s match.  The lock-up bell rang as he went out of the house.

A spot of rain fell on his hand.  A moment later there was a continuous patter, as the storm, which had been gathering all day, broke in earnest.  Mike turned up his coat-collar, and ran back to Outwood’s.  “At this rate,” he said to himself, “there won’t be a match at all to-morrow.”


When the weather decides, after behaving well for some weeks, to show what it can do in another direction, it does the thing thoroughly.  When Mike woke the next morning the world was grey and dripping.  Leaden-coloured clouds drifted over the sky, till there was not a trace of blue to be seen, and then the rain began again, in the gentle, determined way rain has when it means to make a day of it.

It was one of those bad days when one sits in the pavilion, damp and depressed, while figures in mackintoshes, with discoloured buckskin boots, crawl miserably about the field in couples.

Mike, shuffling across to school in a Burberry, met Adair at Downing’s gate.

These moments are always difficult.  Mike stopped—­he could hardly walk on as if nothing had happened—­and looked down at his feet.

“Coming across?” he said awkwardly.

“Right ho!” said Adair.

They walked on in silence.

“It’s only about ten to, isn’t it?” said Mike.

Adair fished out his watch, and examined it with an elaborate care born of nervousness.

“About nine to.”

“Good.  We’ve got plenty of time.”

“Yes.”

“I hate having to hurry over to school.”

“So do I.”

“I often do cut it rather fine, though.”

“Yes.  So do I.”

“Beastly nuisance when one does.”

“Beastly.”

“It’s only about a couple of minutes from the houses to the school, I should think, shouldn’t you?”

“Not much more.  Might be three.”

“Yes.  Three if one didn’t hurry.”

“Oh, yes, if one didn’t hurry.”

Another silence.

“Beastly day,” said Adair.

“Rotten.”

Silence again.

“I say,” said Mike, scowling at his toes, “awfully sorry about your wrist.”

“Oh, that’s all right.  It was my fault.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Oh, no, rather not, thanks.”

“I’d no idea you’d crocked yourself.”

“Oh, no, that’s all right.  It was only right at the end.  You’d have smashed me anyhow.”

“Oh, rot.”

“I bet you anything you like you would.”

“I bet you I shouldn’t....  Jolly hard luck, just before the match.”

“Oh, no....  I say, thanks awfully for saying you’d play.”

“Oh, rot....  Do you think we shall get a game?”

Adair inspected the sky carefully.

“I don’t know.  It looks pretty bad, doesn’t it?”

“Rotten.  I say, how long will your wrist keep you out of cricket?”

“Be all right in a week.  Less, probably.”

“Good.”

“Now that you and Smith are going to play, we ought to have a jolly good season.”

“Rummy, Smith turning out to be a cricketer.”

“Yes.  I should think he’d be a hot bowler, with his height.”

“He must be jolly good if he was only just out of the Eton team last year.”

“Yes.”

“What’s the time?” asked Mike.

Adair produced his watch once more.

“Five to.”

“We’ve heaps of time.”

“Yes, heaps.”

“Let’s stroll on a bit down the road, shall we?”

“Right ho!”

Mike cleared his throat.

“I say.”

“Hullo?”

“I’ve been talking to Smith.  He was telling me that you thought I’d promised to give Stone and Robinson places in the——­”

“Oh, no, that’s all right.  It was only for a bit.  Smith told me you couldn’t have done, and I saw that I was an ass to think you could have.  It was Stone seeming so dead certain that he could play for Lower Borlock if I chucked him from the school team that gave me the idea.”

“He never even asked me to get him a place.”

“No, I know.”

“Of course, I wouldn’t have done it, even if he had.”

“Of course not.”

“I didn’t want to play myself, but I wasn’t going to do a rotten trick like getting other fellows away from the team.”

“No, I know.”

“It was rotten enough, really, not playing myself.”

“Oh, no.  Beastly rough luck having to leave Wrykyn just when you were going to be captain, and come to a small school like this.”

The excitement of the past few days must have had a stimulating effect on Mike’s mind—­shaken it up, as it were:  for now, for the second time in two days, he displayed quite a creditable amount of intuition.  He might have been misled by Adair’s apparently deprecatory attitude towards Sedleigh, and blundered into a denunciation of the place.  Adair had said “a small school like this” in the sort of voice which might have led his hearer to think that he was expected to say, “Yes, rotten little hole, isn’t it?” or words to that effect.  Mike, fortunately, perceived that the words were used purely from politeness, on the Chinese principle.  When a Chinaman wishes to pay a compliment, he does so by belittling himself and his belongings.

He eluded the pitfall.

“What rot!” he said.  “Sedleigh’s one of the most sporting schools I’ve ever come across.  Everybody’s as keen as blazes.  So they ought to be, after the way you’ve sweated.”

Adair shuffled awkwardly.

“I’ve always been fairly keen on the place,” he said.  “But I don’t suppose I’ve done anything much.”

“You’ve loosened one of my front teeth,” said Mike, with a grin, “if that’s any comfort to you.”

“I couldn’t eat anything except porridge this morning.  My jaw still aches.”

For the first time during the conversation their eyes met, and the humorous side of the thing struck them simultaneously.  They began to laugh.

“What fools we must have looked!” said Adair.

You were all right.  I must have looked rotten.  I’ve never had the gloves on in my life.  I’m jolly glad no one saw us except Smith, who doesn’t count.  Hullo, there’s the bell.  We’d better be moving on.  What about this match?  Not much chance of it from the look of the sky at present.”

“It might clear before eleven.  You’d better get changed, anyhow, at the interval, and hang about in case.”

“All right.  It’s better than doing Thucydides with Downing.  We’ve got math, till the interval, so I don’t see anything of him all day; which won’t hurt me.”

“He isn’t a bad sort of chap, when you get to know him,” said Adair.

“I can’t have done, then.  I don’t know which I’d least soon be, Downing or a black-beetle, except that if one was Downing one could tread on the black-beetle.  Dash this rain.  I got about half a pint down my neck just then.  We sha’n’t get a game to-day, of anything like it.  As you’re crocked, I’m not sure that I care much.  You’ve been sweating for years to get the match on, and it would be rather rot playing it without you.”

“I don’t know that so much.  I wish we could play, because I’m certain, with you and Smith, we’d walk into them.  They probably aren’t sending down much of a team, and really, now that you and Smith are turning out, we’ve got a jolly hot lot.  There’s quite decent batting all the way through, and the bowling isn’t so bad.  If only we could have given this M.C.C. lot a really good hammering, it might have been easier to get some good fixtures for next season.  You see, it’s all right for a school like Wrykyn, but with a small place like this you simply can’t get the best teams to give you a match till you’ve done something to show that you aren’t absolute rotters at the game.  As for the schools, they’re worse.  They’d simply laugh at you.  You were cricket secretary at Wrykyn last year.  What would you have done if you’d had a challenge from Sedleigh?  You’d either have laughed till you were sick, or else had a fit at the mere idea of the thing.”

Mike stopped.

“By Jove, you’ve struck about the brightest scheme on record.  I never thought of it before.  Let’s get a match on with Wrykyn.”

“What!  They wouldn’t play us.”

“Yes, they would.  At least, I’m pretty sure they would.  I had a letter from Strachan, the captain, yesterday, saying that the Ripton match had had to be scratched owing to illness.  So they’ve got a vacant date.  Shall I try them?  I’ll write to Strachan to-night, if you like.  And they aren’t strong this year.  We’ll smash them.  What do you say?”

Adair was as one who has seen a vision.

“By Jove,” he said at last, “if we only could!”

CHAPTER LVII

MR. DOWNING MOVES

The rain continued without a break all the morning.  The two teams, after hanging about dismally, and whiling the time away with stump-cricket in the changing-rooms, lunched in the pavilion at one o’clock.  After which the M.C.C. captain, approaching Adair, moved that this merry meeting be considered off and himself and his men permitted to catch the next train back to town.  To which Adair, seeing that it was out of the question that there should be any cricket that afternoon, regretfully agreed, and the first Sedleigh v.  M.C.C. match was accordingly scratched.

Mike and Psmith, wandering back to the house, were met by a damp junior from Downing’s, with a message that Mr. Downing wished to see Mike as soon as he was changed.

“What’s he want me for?” inquired Mike.

The messenger did not know.  Mr. Downing, it seemed, had not confided in him.  All he knew was that the housemaster was in the house, and would be glad if Mike would step across.

“A nuisance,” said Psmith, “this incessant demand for you.  That’s the worst of being popular.  If he wants you to stop to tea, edge away.  A meal on rather a sumptuous scale will be prepared in the study against your return.”

Mike changed quickly, and went off, leaving Psmith, who was fond of simple pleasures in his spare time, earnestly occupied with a puzzle which had been scattered through the land by a weekly paper.  The prize for a solution was one thousand pounds, and Psmith had already informed Mike with some minuteness of his plans for the disposition of this sum.  Meanwhile, he worked at it both in and out of school, generally with abusive comments on its inventor.

He was still fiddling away at it when Mike returned.

Mike, though Psmith was at first too absorbed to notice it, was agitated.

“I don’t wish to be in any way harsh,” said Psmith, without looking up, “but the man who invented this thing was a blighter of the worst type.  You come and have a shot.  For the moment I am baffled.  The whisper flies round the clubs, ‘Psmith is baffled.’”

“The man’s an absolute drivelling ass,” said Mike warmly.

“Me, do you mean?”

“What on earth would be the point of my doing it?”

“You’d gather in a thousand of the best.  Give you a nice start in life.”

“I’m not talking about your rotten puzzle.”

“What are you talking about?”

“That ass Downing.  I believe he’s off his nut.”

“Then your chat with Comrade Downing was not of the old-College-chums-meeting-unexpectedly-after-years’-separation type?  What has he been doing to you?”

“He’s off his nut.”

“I know.  But what did he do?  How did the brainstorm burst?  Did he jump at you from behind a door and bite a piece out of your leg, or did he say he was a tea-pot?”

Mike sat down.

“You remember that painting Sammy business?”

“As if it were yesterday,” said Psmith.  “Which it was, pretty nearly.”

“He thinks I did it.”

“Why?  Have you ever shown any talent in the painting line?”

“The silly ass wanted me to confess that I’d done it.  He as good as asked me to.  Jawed a lot of rot about my finding it to my advantage later on if I behaved sensibly.”

“Then what are you worrying about?  Don’t you know that when a master wants you to do the confessing-act, it simply means that he hasn’t enough evidence to start in on you with?  You’re all right.  The thing’s a stand-off.”

“Evidence!” said Mike, “My dear man, he’s got enough evidence to sink a ship.  He’s absolutely sweating evidence at every pore.  As far as I can see, he’s been crawling about, doing the Sherlock Holmes business for all he’s worth ever since the thing happened, and now he’s dead certain that I painted Sammy.”

Did you, by the way?” asked Psmith.

“No,” said Mike shortly, “I didn’t.  But after listening to Downing I almost began to wonder if I hadn’t.  The man’s got stacks of evidence to prove that I did.”

“Such as what?”

“It’s mostly about my boots.  But, dash it, you know all about that.  Why, you were with him when he came and looked for them.”

“It is true,” said Psmith, “that Comrade Downing and I spent a very pleasant half-hour together inspecting boots, but how does he drag you into it?”

“He swears one of the boots was splashed with paint.”

“Yes.  He babbled to some extent on that point when I was entertaining him.  But what makes him think that the boot, if any, was yours?”

“He’s certain that somebody in this house got one of his boots splashed, and is hiding it somewhere.  And I’m the only chap in the house who hasn’t got a pair of boots to show, so he thinks it’s me.  I don’t know where the dickens my other boot has gone.  Edmund swears he hasn’t seen it, and it’s nowhere about.  Of course I’ve got two pairs, but one’s being soled.  So I had to go over to school yesterday in pumps.  That’s how he spotted me.”

Psmith sighed.

“Comrade Jackson,” he said mournfully, “all this very sad affair shows the folly of acting from the best motives.  In my simple zeal, meaning to save you unpleasantness, I have landed you, with a dull, sickening thud, right in the cart.  Are you particular about dirtying your hands?  If you aren’t, just reach up that chimney a bit?”

Mike stared, “What the dickens are you talking about?”

“Go on.  Get it over.  Be a man, and reach up the chimney.”

“I don’t know what the game is,” said Mike, kneeling beside the fender and groping, “but—­Hullo!”

“Ah ha!” said Psmith moodily.

Mike dropped the soot-covered object in the fender, and glared at it.

“It’s my boot!” he said at last.

“It is,” said Psmith, “your boot.  And what is that red stain across the toe?  Is it blood?  No, ’tis not blood.  It is red paint.”

Mike seemed unable to remove his eyes from the boot.

“How on earth did—­By Jove!  I remember now.  I kicked up against something in the dark when I was putting my bicycle back that night.  It must have been the paint-pot.”

“Then you were out that night?”

“Rather.  That’s what makes it so jolly awkward.  It’s too long to tell you now——­”

“Your stories are never too long for me,” said Psmith.  “Say on!”

“Well, it was like this.”  And Mike related the events which had led up to his midnight excursion.  Psmith listened attentively.

“This,” he said, when Mike had finished, “confirms my frequently stated opinion that Comrade Jellicoe is one of Nature’s blitherers.  So that’s why he touched us for our hard-earned, was it?”

“Yes.  Of course there was no need for him to have the money at all.”

“And the result is that you are in something of a tight place.  You’re absolutely certain you didn’t paint that dog?  Didn’t do it, by any chance, in a moment of absent-mindedness, and forgot all about it?  No?  No, I suppose not.  I wonder who did!”

“It’s beastly awkward.  You see, Downing chased me that night.  That was why I rang the alarm bell.  So, you see, he’s certain to think that the chap he chased, which was me, and the chap who painted Sammy, are the same.  I shall get landed both ways.”

Psmith pondered.

“It is a tightish place,” he admitted.

“I wonder if we could get this boot clean,” said Mike, inspecting it with disfavour.

“Not for a pretty considerable time.”

“I suppose not.  I say, I am in the cart.  If I can’t produce this boot, they’re bound to guess why.”

“What exactly,” asked Psmith, “was the position of affairs between you and Comrade Downing when you left him?  Had you definitely parted brass-rags?  Or did you simply sort of drift apart with mutual courtesies?”

“Oh, he said I was ill-advised to continue that attitude, or some rot, and I said I didn’t care, I hadn’t painted his bally dog, and he said very well, then, he must take steps, and—­well, that was about all.”

“Sufficient, too,” said Psmith, “quite sufficient.  I take it, then, that he is now on the war-path, collecting a gang, so to speak.”

“I suppose he’s gone to the Old Man about it.”

“Probably.  A very worrying time our headmaster is having, taking it all round, in connection with this painful affair.  What do you think his move will be?”

“I suppose he’ll send for me, and try to get something out of me.”

He’ll want you to confess, too.  Masters are all whales on confession.  The worst of it is, you can’t prove an alibi, because at about the time the foul act was perpetrated, you were playing Round-and-round-the-mulberry-bush with Comrade Downing.  This needs thought.  You had better put the case in my hands, and go out and watch the dandelions growing.  I will think over the matter.”

“Well, I hope you’ll be able to think of something.  I can’t.”

“Possibly.  You never know.”

There was a tap at the door.

“See how we have trained them,” said Psmith.  “They now knock before entering.  There was a time when they would have tried to smash in a panel.  Come in.”

A small boy, carrying a straw hat adorned with the school-house ribbon, answered the invitation.

“Oh, I say, Jackson,” he said, “the headmaster sent me over to tell you he wants to see you.”

“I told you so,” said Mike to Psmith.

“Don’t go,” suggested Psmith.  “Tell him to write.”

Mike got up.

“All this is very trying,” said Psmith.  “I’m seeing nothing of you to-day.”  He turned to the small boy.  “Tell Willie,” he added, “that Mr. Jackson will be with him in a moment.”

The emissary departed.

You’re all right,” said Psmith encouragingly.  “Just you keep on saying you’re all right.  Stout denial is the thing.  Don’t go in for any airy explanations.  Simply stick to stout denial.  You can’t beat it.”

With which expert advice, he allowed Mike to go on his way.

He had not been gone two minutes, when Psmith, who had leaned back in his chair, wrapped in thought, heaved himself up again.  He stood for a moment straightening his tie at the looking-glass; then he picked up his hat and moved slowly out of the door and down the passage.  Thence, at the same dignified rate of progress, out of the house and in at Downing’s front gate.

The postman was at the door when he got there, apparently absorbed in conversation with the parlour-maid.  Psmith stood by politely till the postman, who had just been told it was like his impudence, caught sight of him, and, having handed over the letters in an ultra-formal and professional manner, passed away.

“Is Mr. Downing at home?” inquired Psmith.

He was, it seemed.  Psmith was shown into the dining-room on the left of the hall, and requested to wait.  He was examining a portrait of Mr. Downing which hung on the wall, when the housemaster came in.

“An excellent likeness, sir,” said Psmith, with a gesture of the hand towards the painting.

“Well, Smith,” said Mr. Downing shortly, “what do you wish to see me about?”

“It was in connection with the regrettable painting of your dog, sir.”

“Ha!” said Mr. Downing.

“I did it, sir,” said Psmith, stopping and flicking a piece of fluff off his knee.


1 of 2
2 of 2