LEAVE IT TO PSMITH (50)
December 23, 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!
“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.
“I — I ——”
“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.
“Yes, but ——”
“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.
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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