LEAVE IT TO PSMITH (51)
December 28, 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!
Eve sat down on the battered sofa and rested her chin in her hands. She looked at Psmith, who was delicately piling with the toe of his shoe a funeral mound over the second of the dead bats.
“So that’s that!” she said.
Psmith looked up.
“You have a very happy gift of phrase,” he said. “That, as you sensibly say, is that. We must take Comrade Keeble aside on our return and inform him of the happy solution of his troubles.”
“But can we trust them?”
“I am sure we can. A sounder business woman than the future Mrs. Cootes I have never met.”
There was a silence.
“So you’re going to be married?” said Eve.
Psmith polished his monocle thoughtfully.
“I think so,” he said. “I think so. What do you think?”
Eve regarded him steadfastly. Then she gave a little laugh.
“Yes, I think so too. Shall I tell you something?”
“You could tell me nothing more wonderful than that.”
“When I met Cynthia in Market Blandings she told me what the trouble was which made her husband leave her. They had some people to dinner, and there was chicken, and Cynthia gave all the giblets to the guests, and her husband bounded out of his seat with a wild cry and shouted ‘You know I love those things better than anything in the world!’ And he rushed out of the house, never to return. Cynthia told me that he has rushed out of the house, never to return, six times since they were married.”
“In passing,” said Psmith, “I don’t like chicken giblets.”
“Cynthia advised me, if I ever married, to marry someone eccentric. She said it was such fun. Well, I don’t think I am ever likely to meet anyone more eccentric than you, am I?” She paused reflectively. “‘Mrs. Psmith’ — it doesn’t sound much, does it?”
Psmith patted her hand encouragingly.
“We must look into the future,” he said. “We must remember that I am only at the beginning of what I am convinced is to be a singularly illustrious career. ‘Lady Psmith’ is better; ‘Baroness Psmith’ better still; and — who knows? — the ‘Duchess of Psmith’ ——”
A dull, muffled sound, like distant thunder, began to make itself heard from upstairs.
“Good gracious!” cried Eve. “Freddie! I’d forgotten all about him!”
“The right spirit,” said Psmith. “Quite the right spirit.”
“We must go and let him out.”
“Must we? In a very few minutes his own unaided efforts will enable him to kick down that door.”
“Oh, no, we must let him out!”
“Just as you say. And then he can come with us on the stroll I was about to propose that we should take through the woods. It is a lovely night, and it will be jolly to have Comrade Threepwood prattling at our side. I will go and let him out at once.”
“No, don’t bother,” said Eve.
The golden stillness of a perfect summer morning brooded over Blandings Castle and its adjacent pleasure grounds. From a sky of unbroken blue the sun poured down its heartening rays on all those roses, pinks, pansies, carnations, hollyhocks, columbines, larkspurs, London pride and Canterbury bells which made the gardens so rarely beautiful. Flanneled youths and maidens in white serge sported in the shade; gay cries arose from the tennis courts behind the shrubbery; and birds, bees and butterflies went about their business with a new energy and zip. In short, the casual observer, assuming that he was addicted to trite phrases, would have said that happiness reigned supreme.
But happiness, even on the finest morning, is seldom universal. The strolling youths and maidens were happy; the tennis players were happy; the birds, bees and butterflies were happy. Eve, walking in pleasant meditation on the terrace, was happy. Freddie Threepwood was happy as he lounged in the smoking room and gloated over the information, received from Psmith in the small hours, that his thousand pounds was safe. Mr. Keeble, writing to Phyllis to inform her that she might clinch the purchase of the Lincolnshire farm, was happy. Even Head Gardener Angus McAllister was as happy as a Scotsman can ever be. But Lord Emsworth, drooping out of the library window, felt only a nervous irritation more in keeping with the blizzards of winter than with the only fine July that England had known in the past ten years.
We have seen his lordship in a similar attitude and a like frame of mind on a previous occasion; but then his melancholy had been due to the loss of his glasses. This morning these were perched firmly on his nose and he saw all things clearly. What was causing his gloom now was the fact that some ten minutes earlier his sister Constance had trapped him in the library, full of jarring rebuke on the subject of the dismissal of Rupert Baxter, the world’s most efficient secretary. It was to avoid her compelling eye that Lord Emsworth had turned to the window. And what he saw from that window thrust him even deeper into the abyss of gloom. The sun, the birds, the bees, the butterflies and the flowers called to him to come out and have the time of his life; but he just lacked the nerve to make a dash for it.
“I think you must be mad,” said Lady Constance bitterly, resuming her remarks and starting at the point where she had begun before.
“Baxter’s mad,” retorted his lordship, also retreading old ground.
“You are too absurd!”
“He threw flowerpots at me.”
“Do please stop talking about those flowerpots. Mr. Baxter has explained the whole thing to me, and surely even you can see that his behavior was perfectly excusable.”
“I don’t like the fellow,” cried Lord Emsworth, once more retreating to his last line of trenches — the one line from which all Lady Constance’s eloquence had been unable to dislodge him.
There was a silence, as there had been a short time before when the discussion had reached this same point.
“You will be helpless without him,” said Lady Constance.
“Nothing of the kind,” said his lordship.
“You know you will. Where will you ever get another secretary capable of looking after everything like Mr. Baxter? You know you are a perfect child, and unless you have someone whom you can trust to manage your affairs I cannot see what will happen.”
Lord Emsworth made no reply. He merely gazed wanly from the window.
“Chaos!” moaned Lady Constance.
His lordship remained mute; but now there was a gleam of something approaching pleasure in his pale eyes, for at this moment a car rounded the corner of the house from the direction of the stables and stood purring at the door. There was a trunk on the car, and a suitcase, and almost simultaneously the Efficient Baxter entered the library, clothed and spatted for travel.
“I have come to say good-by, Lady Constance,” said Baxter coldly and precisely, flashing at his late employer through his spectacles a look of stern reproach. “The car which is taking me to the station is at the door.”
“Oh, Mr. Baxter!” Lady Constance, strong woman though she was, fluttered with distress. “Oh, Mr. Baxter!”
“Good-by.” He gripped her hand in brief farewell and directed his spectacles for another tense instant upon the sagging figure at the window. “Good-by, Lord Emsworth.”
“Eh? What? Oh! Ah, yes! Good-by, my dear fel — I mean good-by. I — er — hope you will have a pleasant journey.”
“Thank you,” said Baxter.
“But, Mr. Baxter,” said Lady Constance.
“Lord Emsworth,” said the ex-secretary icily, “I am no longer in your employment.”
“But, Mr. Baxter,” moaned Lady Constance, “surely — even now — misunderstanding — talk it all over quietly ——”
Lord Emsworth started violently.
“Here!” he protested.
“I fear it is too late,” said Baxter, to his infinite relief, “to talk things over. My arrangements are already made and cannot be altered. Ever since I came here to work for Lord Emsworth, my former employer — an American millionaire named Jevons — has been making me flattering offers to return to him. Until now a mistaken sense of loyalty has kept me from accepting these offers, but this morning I telegraphed to Mr. Jevons to say that I was at liberty and could join him at once. It is too late now to cancel this promise.”
“Quite, quite! Oh, certainly, quite! Mustn’t dream of it, my dear fellow! No, no, no! Indeed, no!” said Lord Emsworth with an effervescent cordiality which struck both his hearers as in the most dubious taste.
Baxter merely stiffened haughtily; but Lady Constance was so poignantly affected by the words and the joyous tone in which they were uttered that she could endure her brother’s loathly society no longer. Shaking Baxter’s hand once more, and gazing stonily for a moment at the worm by the window, she left the room.
For some seconds after she had gone there was silence — a silence which Lord Emsworth found embarrassing. He turned to the window again and took in with one wistful glance the roses, the pinks, the pansies, the carnations, the hollyhocks, the columbines, the larkspurs, the London pride and the Canterbury bells. And then suddenly there came to him the realization that with Lady Constance gone there no longer existed any reason why he should stay cooped up in this stuffy library on the finest morning that had ever been sent to gladden the heart of man. He shivered ecstatically from the top of his bald head to the soles of his roomy shoes and, bounding gleefully from the window, started to amble across the room.
His lordship halted. His was a one-track mind capable of accommodating only one thought at a time — if that — and he had almost forgotten that Baxter was still there. He eyed his late secretary peevishly.
“Yes, yes? Is there anything ——”
“I should like to speak to you for a moment.”
“I have a most important conference with McAllister ——”
“I will not detain you long. Lord Emsworth, I am no longer in your employment, but I think it my duty to say before I go ——”
“No, no, my dear fellow! I quite understand. Quite, quite, quite! Constance has been going over all that. I know what you are trying to say — that matter of the flowerpots. Please do not apologize. It is quite all right. I was startled at the time, I own, but no doubt you had excellent motives. Let us forget the whole affair.”
Baxter ground an impatient heel into the carpet.
“I had no intention of referring to the matter to which you allude,” he said frostily. “I merely wished ——”
“Yes, yes, of course.” A vagrant breeze floated in at the window, languid with summer scents; and Lord Emsworth, sniffing, shuffled restlessly. “Of course, of course, of course! Some other time, eh? Yes, yes, that will be capital. Capital, capital, cap ——”
The Efficient Baxter uttered a sound that was partly a cry, partly a snort. Its quality was so arresting that Lord Emsworth paused, his fingers on the door handle, and peered back at him, startled.
“Very well,” said Baxter shortly. “Pray do not let me keep you. If you are not interested in the fact that Blandings Castle is sheltering a criminal ——”
It was not easy to divert Lord Emsworth when in quest of Angus McAllister, but this remark succeeded in doing so. He let go of the door handle and came back a step or two into the room.
“Sheltering a criminal?”
“Yes.” Baxter glanced at his watch. “I must go now or I shall miss my train,” he said curtly. “I was merely going to tell you that this fellow who calls himself Ralston McTodd is not Ralston McTodd at all.”
“Not Ralston McTodd?” repeated his lordship blankly. “But ——” He suddenly perceived a flaw in the argument. “But he said he was,” he pointed out cleverly. “Yes, I remember distinctly. He said he was McTodd.”
“He is an impostor; and I imagine that if you investigate you will find that it is he and his accomplices who stole Lady Constance’s necklace.”
“But, my dear fellow ——”
Baxter walked briskly to the door.
“You need not take my word for it,” he said. “What I say can easily be proved. Get this so-called McTodd to write his name on a piece of paper and then compare it with the signature to the letter which the real McTodd wrote when accepting Lady Constance’s invitation to the castle. You will find it filed away in the drawer of that desk there.”
Lord Emsworth adjusted his glasses and stared at the desk as if he expected it to do a conjuring trick.
“I will leave you to take what steps you please,” said Baxter. “Now that I am no longer in your employment the thing does not concern me one way or another. But I thought you might be glad to hear the facts.”
“Oh, I am!” responded his lordship, still peering vaguely. “Oh, I am! Oh, yes, yes, yes! Oh, yes, yes ——”
“But, Baxter ——”
Lord Emsworth trotted out onto the landing, but Baxter had got off to a good start and was almost out of sight round the bend of the stairs.
“But, my dear fellow!” bleated his lordship plaintively over the banisters.
From below, out on the drive, came the sound of an automobile getting into gear and moving off, than which no sound is more final. The great door of the castle closed with a soft but significant bang — as doors close when handled by an untipped butler. Lord Emsworth returned to the library to wrestle with his problem unaided.
He was greatly disturbed. Apart from the fact that he disliked criminals and impostors as a class, it was a shock to him to learn that the particular criminal and impostor then in residence at Blandings was the man for whom, brief as had been the duration of their acquaintance, he had conceived a warm affection. He was fond of Psmith. Psmith soothed him. If he had had to choose any member of his immediate circle for the rôle of criminal and impostor he would have chosen Psmith last.
He went to the window again and looked out. There was the sunshine, there were the birds, there were the hollyhocks, carnations and Canterbury bells, all present and correct; but now they failed to cheer him. He was wondering dismally what on earth he was going to do. What did one do with criminals and impostors? Had ’em arrested, he supposed. But he shrank from the thought of arresting Psmith. It seemed so deuced unfriendly.
He was still meditating gloomily when a voice spoke behind him.
“Good morning. I am looking for Miss Halliday. You have not seen her by any chance? Ah, there she is down there on the terrace.”
Lord Emsworth was aware of Psmith beside him at the window, waving cordially to Eve, who waved back.
“I thought possibly,” continued Psmith, “that Miss Halliday would be in her little room yonder.” He indicated the dummy bookshelves through which he had entered. “But I am glad to see that the morning is so fine that she has given toil the miss-in-baulk. It is the right spirit,” said Psmith. “I like to see it.”
Lord Emsworth peered at him nervously through his glasses. His embarrassment and his distaste for the task that lay before him increased as he scanned his companion in vain for those signs of villainy which all well-regulated criminals and impostors ought to exhibit to the eye of discernment.
“I am surprised to find you indoors,” said Psmith, “on so glorious a morning. I should have supposed that you would have been down there among the shrubs, taking a good sniff at a hollyhock or something.”
Lord Emsworth braced himself for the ordeal.
“Er — my dear fellow — that is to say ——”
He paused. Psmith was regarding him almost lovingly through his monocle, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to warm up to the work of denouncing him.
“Yes?” said Psmith.
Lord Emsworth uttered curious buzzing noises.
“I have just parted from Baxter,” he said at length, deciding to approach the subject in more roundabout fashion.
“Indeed!” said Psmith courteously.
“Yes; Baxter has gone.”
“Er — yes.”
“Splendid!” said Psmith. “Splendid, splendid!”
Lord Emsworth removed his glasses, twiddled them on their cord and replaced them on his nose.
“He made — he — er — the fact is, he made — before he went Baxter made a most remarkable statement — a charge. Well, in short, he made a very strange statement about you.”
Psmith nodded gravely.
“I had been expecting something of the kind,” he said. “He said, no doubt, that I was not really Ralston McTodd?”
His lordship’s mouth opened feebly.
“Er — yes,” he said.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you about that,” said Psmith amiably. “It is quite true. I am not Ralston McTodd.”
“You — you admit it?”
“I am proud of it.”
Lord Emsworth drew himself up. He endeavored to assume the attitude of stern censure which came so naturally to him in interviews with his son Frederick. But he met Psmith’s eye and sagged again. Beneath the solemn friendliness of Psmith’s gaze hauteur was impossible.
“Then what the deuce are you doing here under his name?” he asked, placing his finger in statesmanlike fashion on the very nub of the problem. “I mean to say,” he went on, making his meaning clearer, “if you aren’t McTodd, why did you come here saying you were McTodd?”
Psmith nodded slowly.
“The point is well taken,” he said. “I was expecting you to ask that question. Primarily — I want no thanks — but primarily I did it to save you embarrassment.”
“Save me embarrassment?”
“Precisely. When I came into the smoking room of our mutual club that afternoon when you had been entertaining Comrade McTodd at lunch, I found him on the point of passing out of your life forever. It seems that he had taken umbrage to some slight extent because you had buzzed off to chat with the florist across the way instead of remaining with him. And after we had exchanged a pleasant word or two he legged it, leaving you short one modern poet. On your return I stepped into the breach to save you from the inconvenience of having to return here without a McTodd of any description. No one, of course, could have been more alive than myself to the fact that I was merely a poor substitute, a sort of synthetic McTodd; but still I considered that I was better than nothing, so I came along.”
His lordship digested this explanation in silence. Then he seized on a significant point.
“Are you a member of the Senior Conservative Club?”
“Why, then, dash it,” cried his lordship, paying to that august stronghold of respectability as striking a tribute as it had ever received, “if you’re a member of the Senior Conservative you can’t be a criminal! Baxter’s an ass!”
“Baxter would have it that you had stolen my sister’s necklace.”
“I can assure you that I have not got Lady Constance’s necklace.”
“Of course not, of course not, my dear fellow! I’m only telling you what that idiot Baxter said. Thank goodness, I’ve got rid of the fellow.” A cloud passed over his now sunny face. “Though, confound it, Connie was right about one thing.”
He relapsed into a somewhat moody silence.
“Yes?” said Psmith.
“Eh?” said his lordship.
“You were saying that Lady Constance had been right about one thing.”
“Oh, yes! She was saying that I should have a hard time finding another secretary as capable as Baxter.”
Psmith permitted himself to bestow an encouraging pat on his host’s shoulder.
“You have touched on a matter,” he said, “which I had intended to broach to you at some convenient moment when you were at leisure. If you would care to accept my services they are at your disposal.”
“The fact is,” said Psmith, “I am shortly about to be married, and it is more or less imperative that I connect with some job which will insure a moderate competence.”
“You want to be my secretary?”
“You have unraveled my meaning exactly.”
“But I’ve never had a married secretary.”
“I think that you would find a steady married man an improvement on these wild, flowerpot-throwing bachelors. If it would help to influence your decision, I may say that my bride-to-be is Miss Halliday, probably the finest library cataloguist in the United Kingdom.”
“Eh? Miss Halliday? That girl down there?”
“No other,” said Psmith, waving fondly at Eve as she passed underneath the window.
“But I like her,” said Lord Emsworth, as if stating an insuperable objection.
“She’s a nice girl.”
“I quite agree with you.”
“Do you think you could really look after things here like Baxter?”
“I am convinced of it.”
“Then, my dear fellow — well, really I must say — I must say — well, I mean, why shouldn’t you?”
“Precisely,” said Psmith. “You have put in a nutshell the very thing I have been trying to express.”
“But have you had any experience as a secretary?”
“I must admit that I have not. You see, until recently I was more or less one of the idle rich. I toiled not, neither did I — except once, after a bump supper at Cambridge — spin. My name, perhaps I ought to reveal to you, is Psmith — the P is silent — and until very recently I lived in affluence not far from the village of Much Middlefold in this county. My name is probably unfamiliar to you, but you may have heard of the house which was for many years the Psmith headquarters — Corfby Hall.”
Lord Emsworth jerked his glasses off his nose.
“Corfby Hall! Are you the son of the Smith who used to own Corfby Hall? Why, bless my soul, I knew your father well!”
“Yes — that is to say, I never met him.”
“But I won the first prize for roses at the Shrewsbury Flower Show the year he won the prize for tulips.”
“It seems to draw us very close together,” said Psmith.
“Why, my dear boy.” cried Lord Emsworth jubilantly, “if you are really looking for a position of some kind and would care to be my secretary, nothing could suit me better! Nothing, nothing, nothing! Why, bless my soul ——”
“I am extremely obliged,” said Psmith, “and I shall endeavor to give satisfaction. And surely, if a mere Baxter could hold down the job it should be well within the scope of a Shropshire Psmith. I think so, I think so. And now, if you will excuse me, I think I will go down and tell the glad news to the little woman, if I may so describe her.”
Psmith made his way down the broad staircase at an even better pace than that recently achieved by the departing Baxter, for he justly considered each moment of this excellent day wasted that was not spent in the company of Eve. He crooned blithely to himself as he passed through the hall, only pausing when, as he passed the door of the smoking room, the Hon. Freddie Threepwood suddenly emerged.
“Oh, I say!” said Freddie. “Just the fellow I wanted to see. I was going off to look for you.”
As far as Freddie Threepwood was concerned, all that had passed between them in the cottage in the west wood last night was forgiven and forgotten.
“Say on, Comrade Threepwood,” replied Psmith, “and, if I may offer the suggestion, make it snappy, for I would be elsewhere. I have man’s work before me.”
“Come over here.” Freddie drew him into a far corner of the hall and lowered his voice to a whisper. “I say, it’s all right, you know.”
“Excellent!” said Psmith. “Splendid! This is great news. What is all right?”
“I’ve just seen Uncle Joe. He’s going to cough up the money he promised me.”
“I congratulate you.”
“So now I shall be able to get into that bookie’s business and make a pile. And, I say, you remember my telling you about Miss Halliday.”
“What was that?”
“Why, that I loved her, I mean, and all that.”
“Well, look here, between ourselves,” said Freddie earnestly, “the whole trouble all along has been that she thought I hadn’t any money to get married on. She didn’t actually say so in so many words, but you know how it is with women; you can read between the lines, if you know what I mean. So now everything’s going to be all right. I shall simply go to her and say, ‘Well, what about it?’ and — well, and so on, don’t you know.”
Psmith considered the point gravely.
“I see your reasoning, Comrade Threepwood,” he said. “I can detect but one flaw in it.”
“Flaw? What flaw?”
“The fact that Miss Halliday is going to marry me.”
The Honorable Freddie’s jaw dropped. His prominent eyes became more prawnlike.
Psmith patted his shoulder.
“Be a man, Comrade Threepwood, and bite the bullet. These things will happen to the best of us. Some day you will be thankful that this has occurred. Purged in the holocaust of a mighty love, you will wander out into the sunset, a finer, broader man…. And now I must reluctantly tear myself away. I have an important appointment.” He patted his shoulder once more. “If you would care to be a page at the wedding, Comrade Threepwood, I can honestly say that there is no one whom I would rather have in that capacity.”
And with a stately gesture of farewell Psmith passed out onto the terrace to join Eve.
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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