LEAVE IT TO PSMITH (44)
November 18, 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!
The sudden freshet of vicious energy which had spurred the Efficient Baxter on to his recent exhibition of marksmanship had not lasted. Lethargy was creeping back on him even as he stooped to pick up the flowerpot which had found its billet on Lord Emsworth’s spine. And as he stood there after hurling that final missile, he had realized that that was his last shot. If that produced no results he was finished.
And, as far as he could gather, it had produced no results whatever. No head had popped inquiringly out of the window; no sound of anybody stirring had reached his ears. The place was as still as if he had been throwing marshmallows. A weary sigh escaped from Baxter’s lips, and a moment later he was reclining on the ground with his head propped against the terrace wall, a beaten man.
His eyes closed. Sleep, which he had been denying to himself for so long, would be denied no more. When Psmith arrived, daintily swinging the Hon. Freddie Threepwood’s niblick like a cane, he had just begun to snore.
Psmith was a kindly soul. He did not like Rupert Baxter, but that was no reason why he should allow him to continue lying on turf wet with the morning dew, thus courting lumbago and sciatica. He prodded Baxter in the stomach with the niblick, and the secretary sat up, blinking, and with returning consciousness came a burning sense of grievance.
“Well, you’ve been long enough,” he growled. Then, as he rubbed his red-rimmed eyes and was able to see more clearly, he perceived who it was that had come to his rescue. The spectacle of Psmith of all people beaming benignly down at him was an added offense. “Oh, it’s you!” he said morosely.
“I, in person,” said Psmith genially. “Awake, beloved! Awake, for morning in the bowl of night has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight; and lo! the hunter of the East has caught the Sultan’s turret in a noose of light. The sultan himself,” he added, “is lurking behind yonder window, speculating idly on your motives for bunging flowerpots at him. Why, if I may venture the question, did you?”
Baxter was in no confiding mood. Without replying, he rose to his feet and started to trudge wearily along the terrace to the front door. Psmith fell into step beside him.
“If I were you,” said Psmith, “and I offer the suggestion in the most cordial spirit of good will, I would use every effort to prevent this passion for flinging flowerpots from growing upon me. I know you will say that you can take it or leave it alone; that just one more pot won’t hurt you; but can you stop at one? Isn’t it just that first insidious flowerpot that does all the mischief? Be a man, Comrade Baxter!” He laid his hand appealingly on the secretary’s shoulder. “The next time the craving comes on you, fight it. Fight it! Are you, the heir of the ages, going to become a slave to a habit? Tush! You know and I know that there is better stuff in you than that. Use your will power, man, use your will power!”
Whatever reply Baxter might have intended to make to this powerful harangue — and his attitude as he turned on his companion suggested that he had much to say — was checked by a voice from above:
“Baxter! My dear fellow!”
The Earl of Emsworth, having observed the secretary’s awakening from the safe observation post of Psmith’s bedroom, and having noted that he seemed to be exhibiting no signs of violence, had decided to make his presence known. His panic had passed and he wanted to go into first causes.
Baxter gazed wanly up at the window.
“I can explain everything, Lord Emsworth.”
“What?” said his lordship, leaning farther out.
“I can explain everything,” bellowed Baxter.
“It turns out, after all,” said Psmith pleasantly, “to be very simple. He was practicing for the jerking-the-geranium event at the next Olympic games.”
Lord Emsworth adjusted his glasses.
“Your face is dirty,” he said, peering down at his disheveled secretary. “Baxter, my dear fellow, your face is dirty.”
“I was digging,” replied Baxter sullenly.
“The terrier complex,” explained Psmith. “What,” he asked kindly, turning to his companion, “were you digging for? Forgive me if the question seems an impertinent one, but we are naturally curious.”
“What were you digging for?” asked Lord Emsworth.
“You see?” said Psmith. “He wants to know.”
Not for the first time since they had become associated, a mad feeling of irritation at his employer’s woolly persistence flared up in Rupert Baxter’s bosom. The old ass was always pottering about asking questions. Fury and want of sleep combined to dull the secretary’s normal prudence. Dimly he realized that he was imparting to Psmith, the scoundrel who he was convinced was the ringleader of last night’s outrage, valuable information; but anything was better than to have to stand here shouting up at Lord Emsworth. He wanted to get it over and go to bed.
“I thought Lady Constance’s necklace was in one of the flowerpots,” he shrilled.
The secretary’s powers of endurance gave out. This maddening inquisition, coming on top of the dreadful night he had had, was too much for him. With a low moan he made one agonized leap for the front door and passed through it to where beyond these voices there was peace.
Psmith, deprived thus abruptly of his stimulating society, remained for some moments standing near the front door, drinking in with grave approval the fresh scents of the summer morning. It was many years since he had been up and about as early as this, and he had forgotten how delightful the first beginnings of a July day can be. Unlike Baxter, on whose self-centered soul these things had been lost, he reveled in the soft breezes, the singing birds, the growing pinkness of the eastern sky. He awoke at length from his reverie to find that Lord Emsworth had toddled down and was tapping him on the arm.
“What did he say?” inquired his lordship. He was feeling like a man who has been cut off in the midst of an absorbing telephone conversation.
“Say?” said Psmith. “Oh, Comrade Baxter? Now let me think. What did he say?”
“Something about something being in a flowerpot,” prompted his lordship.
“Ah, yes! He said he thought that Lady Constance’s necklace was in one of the flowerpots.”
Lord Emsworth, it should be mentioned, was not completely in touch with recent happenings in his home. His habit of going early to bed had caused him to miss the sensational events in the drawing-room; and as he was a sound sleeper, the subsequent screams — or, as Stokes the footman would have said, shrieks — had not disturbed him.
He stared at Psmith, aghast. For a while the apparent placidity of Baxter had lulled his first suspicions, but now they returned with renewed force.
“Baxter thought my sister’s necklace was in a flowerpot?” he gasped.
“So I understood him to say.”
“But why should my sister keep her necklace in a flowerpot?”
“Ah, there you take me into deep waters.”
“The man’s mad!” cried Lord Emsworth, his last doubts removed. “Stark, staring mad! I thought so before, and now I’m convinced of it.”
His lordship was no novice in the symptoms of insanity. Several of his best friends were residing in those palatial establishments set in pleasant parks and surrounded by high walls with broken bottles on them, to which the wealthy and aristocratic are wont to retire when the strain of modern life becomes too great.
Moreover, one of his uncles by marriage, who believed that he was a loaf of bread, had made his first public statement on the matter in the smoking room of this very castle. What Lord Emsworth did not know about lunatics was not worth knowing.
“I must get rid of him,” he said, and at the thought the fair morning seemed to Lord Emsworth to take on a sudden new beauty.
Many a time had he toyed wistfully with the idea of dismissing his efficient but tyrannical secretary, but never before had that sickeningly competent young man given him any reasonable cause to act. Hitherto, moreover, he had feared his sister’s wrath should he take the plunge. But now — surely even Connie, pig-headed as she was, could not blame him for dispensing with the services of a secretary who thought she kept her necklaces in flowerpots and went out into the garden in the early dawn to hurl them at his bedroom window.
His demeanor took on a sudden buoyancy. He hummed a gay air.
“Get rid of him,” he murmured, rolling the blessed words round his tongue. He patted Psmith genially on the shoulder. “Well, my dear fellow,” he said, “I suppose we had better be getting back to bed and seeing if we can’t get a little sleep.”
Psmith gave a little start. He had been somewhat deeply immersed in thought.
“Do not,” he said courteously, “let me keep you from the hay if you wish to retire. To me — you know what we poets are — this lovely morning has brought inspiration. I think I will push off to my little nook in the woods and write a poem about something.”
He accompanied his host up the silent stairs and they parted with mutual good will at their respective doors. Psmith, having cleared his brain with a hurried cold bath, began to dress.
As a rule, the donning of his clothes was a solemn ceremony over which he dwelt lovingly; but this morning he abandoned his customary leisurely habit. He climbed into his trousers with animation and lingered but a moment over the tying of his tie. He was convinced that there was that before him which would pay for haste.
Nothing in this world is sadder than the frequency with which we suspect our fellows without just cause. In the happenings of the night before Psmith had seen the hand of Edward Cootes. Edward Cootes, he considered, had been indulging in what — in another — he would certainly have described as funny business. Like Miss Simmons, Psmith had quickly arrived at the conclusion that the necklace had been thrown out of the drawing-room window by one of those who made up the audience at his reading; and it was his firm belief that it had been picked up and hidden by Mr. Cootes. He had been trying to think ever since where that persevering man could have concealed it, and Baxter had provided the clue. But Psmith saw clearer than Baxter. The secretary, having disemboweled fifteen flowerpots and found nothing, had abandoned his theory. Psmith went further, and suspected the existence of a sixteenth; and he proposed as soon as he was dressed to sally downstairs in search of it.
He put on his shoes and left the room, buttoning his waistcoat as he went.
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.”
RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HILOBROW’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.” More info here.
READ GORGEOUS PAPERBACKS: HiLoBooks has reissued the following 10 obscure but amazing Radium Age science fiction novels in beautiful print editions: 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, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.