LEAVE IT TO PSMITH (32)
August 26, 2019
Leave It to Psmith (1923) is the last and most rewarding of four novels featuring the dandy, wit, and would-be adventurer Ronald Eustace Psmith, one of P.G. Wodehouse‘s most popular characters. (“One can date exactly,” Evelyn Waugh claimed, in reference to Psmith’s debut in the 1909 novel Mike, “the first moment when Wodehouse was touched by the sacred flame.”) Leave It to Psmith‘s copyright enters the public domain in 2019; HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize this terrific book here at HILOBROW. Enjoy!
“Fancy!” said Miss Peavey. “If I had not had a headache and come back early, we should never have had this little chat!”
She gazed up at Psmith in her gentle, wistful way as they started together down the broad gravel drive. A timid, soulful little thing she looked.
“No,” said Psmith.
It was not a gushing reply, but he was not feeling at his sunniest. The idea that Miss Peavey might return from Bridgeford in advance of the main body had not occurred to him. As he would have said himself, he had confused the unlikely with the impossible. And the result had been that she had caught him beyond hope of retreat as he sat in his garden chair and thought of Eve Halliday, who on their return from the lake had been seized with a fresh spasm of conscience and had gone back to the library to put in another hour’s work before dinner. To decline Miss Peavey’s invitation to accompany her down the drive in order to see if there were any signs of those who had been doing honor to the late Hartley Reddish, J.P., M.P., had been out of the question. But Psmith, though he went, went without pleasure. Every moment he spent in her society tended to confirm him more and more in the opinion that Miss Peavey was the curse of the species.
“And I have been so longing,” continued his companion, “to have a nice long talk. All these days I have felt that I haven’t been able to get as near you as I should wish.”
“Well, of course, with the others always about —”
“I meant in a spiritual sense, of course.”
“I wanted so much to discuss your wonderful poetry with you. You haven’t so much as mentioned your work since you came here, have you?”
“Ah, but, you see, I am trying to keep my mind off it.”
“My medical adviser warned me that I had been concentrating a trifle too much. He offered me the choice, in fact, between a complete rest and the loony bin.”
“The what, Mr. McTodd?”
“The lunatic asylum, he meant. These medical men express themselves oddly.”
“But surely, then, you ought not to dream of trying to compose if it is as bad as that! And you told Lord Emsworth that you wished to stay at home this afternoon to write a poem.”
Her glance showed nothing but tender solicitude, but inwardly Miss Peavey was telling herself that that would hold him for a while.
“True,” said Psmith; “true! But you know what art is. An inexorable mistress. The inspiration came and I felt that I must take the risk. But it has left me weak, weak.”
“You BIG STIFF!” said Miss Peavey. But not aloud.
They walked on a few steps.
“In fact,” said Psmith, with another inspiration, “I’m not sure l ought not to be going back and resting now.”
Miss Peavey eyed a clump of bushes some dozen yards further down the drive. They were quivering slightly, as though they sheltered some alien intruder; and Miss Peavey, whose temper was apt to be impatient, registered a resolve to tell Edward Cootes that if he couldn’t hide behind a bush without dancing about like a cat on hot bricks he had better give up his profession and take to selling jellied eels. In which, it may be mentioned, she wronged her old friend.
Cootes had been as still as a statue until a moment before, when a large and excitable beetle had fallen down the space between his collar and his neck, an experience which might well have tried the subtlest woodsman.
“Oh, please don’t go in yet!” said Miss Peavey. “It is such a lovely evening. Hark to the music of the breeze in the tree tops! So soothing. Like a far-away harp. I wonder if it is whispering secrets to the birds.”
Psmith forbore to follow her into this region of speculation and they walked past the bushes in silence. Some little distance further on, however, Miss Peavey seemed to relent.
“You are looking tired, Mr. McTodd,” she said anxiously. “I am afraid you really have been overtaxing your strength. Perhaps, after all, you had better go back and lie down.”
“You think so?”
“I am sure of it. I will just stroll on to the gates and see if the car is in sight.”
“I feel that I am deserting you.”
“Oh, please!” said Miss Peavey deprecatingly.
With something of the feelings of a long-sentence convict unexpectedly released immediately on his arrival in jail, Psmith retraced his steps.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that Miss Peavey had disappeared round a bend in the drive, and he paused to light a cigarette. He had just thrown away the match and was walking on, well content with life, when a voice behind him said “Hey!” and the well-remembered form of Mr. Edward Cootes stepped out of the bushes.
“See this?” said Mr. Cootes, exhibiting his revolver.
“I do, indeed, Comrade Cootes,” replied Psmith. “And, if it is not an untimely question, what is the idea?”
“That,” said Mr. Cootes, “is just in case you try any funny business.” And replacing the weapon in a handy pocket he proceeded to slap vigorously at the region between his shoulder blades. He also wriggled with not a little animation. Psmith watched these maneuvers gravely.
“You did not stop me at the pistol’s point merely to watch you go through your Swedish exercises?” he said.
Mr. Cootes paused for an instant.
“Got a beetle or something down my back,” he explained curtly.
“Ah! Then, as you will naturally wish to be alone in such a sad moment, I will be bidding you a cordial good evening and strolling on.”
“No, you don’t!”
“Don’t I?” said Psmith resignedly. “Perhaps you are right, perhaps you are right.” Mr. Cootes replaced the revolver once more. “I take it, then, Comrade Cootes, that you would have speech with me. Carry on, old friend, and get it off your diaphragm. What seems to be on your mind?”
A lucky blow appeared to have stunned Mr. Cootes’ beetle and he was able to give his full attention to the matter in hand. He stared at Psmith with considerable distaste.
“I’m onto you, Bill!” he said.
“My name is not Bill,” said Psmith.
“No,” snapped Mr. Cootes, his annoyance by this time very manifest. “And it’s not McTodd.”
Psmith looked at his companion thoughtfully. This was an unforeseen complication, and for the moment he would readily have admitted that he saw no way of overcoming it. That the other was in no genial frame of mind towards him the expression on his face would have showed, even if actions had not been sufficient indication of the fact. Mr. Cootes, having disposed of his beetle, and being now at leisure to concentrate his whole attention on Psmith, was eying that immaculate young man with a dislike which he did not attempt to conceal.
“Shall we be strolling on?” suggested Psmith. “Walking may assist thought. At the moment I am free to confess that you have opened up a subject which causes me some perplexity. I think, Comrade Cootes, having given the position of affairs a careful examination, that we may say that the next move is with you. I don’t know how you found me out, but you have found me out. What do you propose to do about it?”
“I’d like,” said Mr. Cootes with asperity, “to beat your block off.”
“No doubt. But —”
“I’d like to knock you for a goal!”
Psmith discouraged these Utopian dreams with a deprecating wave of the hand.
“I can readily understand it,” he said courteously. “But to keep within the sphere of practical politics, what is the actual move which you contemplate? You could expose me, no doubt, to my host; but I cannot see how that would profit you.”
“I know that. But you can remember I’ve got that up my sleeve in case you try any funny business.”
“You persist in harping on that possibility, Comrade Cootes. The idea seems to be an obsession with you. I can assure you that I contemplate no such thing. What, to return to the point, do you intend to do?”
They had reached the broad expanse opposite the front door, where the drive, from being a river, spread out into a lake of gravel. Psmith stopped.
“You’ve got to get me into this joint,” said Mr. Cootes.
“I feared that that was what you were about to suggest. In my peculiar position I have naturally no choice but to endeavor to carry out your wishes. Any attempt not to do so would, I imagine, infallibly strike so keen a critic as yourself as funny business. But how can I get you into what you breezily describe as this joint?”
“You can say I’m a friend of yours and ask them to invite me.”
Psmith shook his head gently.
“Not one of your brightest suggestions, Comrade Cootes. Tactfully refraining from stressing the point, which can hardly have escaped your notice, that an instant lowering of my prestige would inevitably ensue should it be supposed that you were a friend of mine, I will merely mention that, being myself merely a guest in this stately home of England, I can hardly go about inviting my chums here for indefinite visits. No, we must find another way…. You’re sure you want to stay? Quite so, I merely asked. Now, let us think.”
Through the belt of rhododendrons which jutted out from one side of the castle a portly form at this point made itself visible, moving high and disposedly in the direction of the back premises of the place. It was Beach the butler, returning from the pleasant ramble in which he had indulged himself on the departure of his employer and the rest of the party. Revived by some gracious hours in the open air, Beach was returning to duty; and with the sight of him there came to Psmith a neat solution of the problem confronting him.
“Oh, Beach!” he called.
“Sir?” responded a fruity voice.
There was a brief pause while the butler navigated into the open. He removed the straw hat which he had donned for his excursion and infolded Psmith in a pop-eyed but not unkindly gaze. A thoughtful critic of country-house humanity, he had long since decided that he approved of Psmith. Since Lady Constance had first begun to offer the hospitality of the castle to the literary and artistic world, he had been profoundly shocked by some of the rare and curious specimens who had nodded their disordered locks and flaunted their ill-cut evening clothes at the dinner table over which he presided; and Psmith had come as a pleasant surprise.
“Sorry to trouble you, Beach.”
“Not at all, sir.”
“This,” said Psmith, indicating Mr. Cootes, who was viewing the scene with a wary and suspicious eye, an eye obviously alert for any signs of funny business, “is my man. My valet, you know. He has just arrived from town. I had to leave him behind to attend the bedside of a sick aunt. Your aunt was better when you came away, Cootes?” he inquired graciously.
Edward Cootes was a man who through a checkered career had acquired to a high degree the faculty of quick thinking. He interpreted this question correctly as a feeler with regard to his views on this new development and decided to accept the situation. True, he had hoped to enter the castle in a slightly higher capacity than that of a gentleman’s personal gentleman, but he was an old campaigner. Once in, as he put it to himself with admirable common sense, he would be in.
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
“Capital!” said Psmith. “Capital! Then will you look after Cootes, Beach?”
“Very good, sir,” said the butler in a voice of cordial approval.
The only point he had found to cavil at in Psmith had been removed, for it had pained him hitherto a little that a gentleman with so nice a taste in clothes as that dignified guest should have embarked on a visit to such a place as Blandings Castle without a personal attendant. Now all was explained and, as far as Beach was concerned, forgiven. He proceeded to escort Mr. Cootes to the rear. They disappeared behind the rhododendrons.
They had hardly gone when a sudden thought came to Psmith as he sat once more in the coolness of the hall. Strange, he reflected, how one overlooked these obvious things. That was how generals lost battles. He pressed the button.
“Sir?” said Beach, appearing through the green-baize door.
“Sorry to trouble you again, Beach.”
“Not at all, sir.”
“I hope you will make Cootes comfortable. I think you will like him. His, when you get to know him, is a very winning personality.”
“He seems a nice young fellow, sir.”
“Oh, by the way, Beach, you might ask him if he brought my revolver from town with him.”
“Yes, sir,” said Beach, who would have scorned to betray emotion if it had been a machine gun.
“He was to have picked it up at the gunsmith’s on his way to the station. I think I saw it sticking out of his pocket. You might bring it to me, will you?”
“Very good, sir.”
Beach retired, to return a moment later. On the silver salver which he carried the lethal weapon was duly reposing.
“Your revolver, sir,” said Beach.
“Thank you,” said Psmith.
SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable |
Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire”.
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