LEAVE IT TO PSMITH (47)
December 10, 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!
Blandings Caastle 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.”
“Tell me ——”
“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.”
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.
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