P. G. Wodehouse
Part 7 out of 8
Mr. Downing had read all the Holmes stories with great attention, and
had thought many times what an incompetent ass Doctor Watson was; but,
now that he had started to handle his own first case, he was compelled
to admit that there was a good deal to be said in extenuation of
Watson's inability to unravel tangles. It certainly was uncommonly
hard, he thought, as he paced the cricket field after leaving Sergeant
Collard, to detect anybody, unless you knew who had really done the
crime. As he brooded over the case in hand, his sympathy for Dr.
Watson increased with every minute, and he began to feel a certain
resentment against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was all very well for
Sir Arthur to be so shrewd and infallible about tracing a mystery to
its source, but he knew perfectly well who had done the thing before
Now that he began really to look into this matter of the alarm bell
and the painting of Sammy, the conviction was creeping over him that
the problem was more difficult than a casual observer might imagine.
He had got as far as finding that his quarry of the previous night was
a boy in Mr. Outwood's house, but how was he to get any farther? That
was the thing. There were, of course, only a limited number of boys in
Mr. Outwood's house as tall as the one he had pursued; but even if
there had been only one other, it would have complicated matters. If
you go to a boy and say, "Either you or Jones were out of your house
last night at twelve o'clock," the boy does not reply, "Sir, I cannot
tell a lie--I was out of my house last night at twelve o'clock." He
simply assumes the animated expression of a stuffed fish, and leaves
the next move to you. It is practically Stalemate.
All these things passed through Mr. Downing's mind as he walked up and
down the cricket field that afternoon.
What he wanted was a clue. But it is so hard for the novice to tell
what is a clue and what isn't. Probably, if he only knew, there were
clues lying all over the place, shouting to him to pick them up.
What with the oppressive heat of the day and the fatigue of hard
thinking, Mr. Downing was working up for a brain-storm, when Fate once
more intervened, this time in the shape of Riglett, a junior member of
Riglett slunk up in the shamefaced way peculiar to some boys, even
when they have done nothing wrong, and, having capped Mr. Downing with
the air of one who has been caught in the act of doing something
particularly shady, requested that he might be allowed to fetch his
bicycle from the shed.
"Your bicycle?" snapped Mr. Downing. Much thinking had made him
irritable. "What do you want with your bicycle?"
Riglett shuffled, stood first on his left foot, then on his right,
blushed, and finally remarked, as if it were not so much a sound
reason as a sort of feeble excuse for the low and blackguardly fact
that he wanted his bicycle, that he had got leave for tea that
Then Mr. Downing remembered. Riglett had an aunt resident about three
miles from the school, whom he was accustomed to visit occasionally on
Sunday afternoons during the term.
He felt for his bunch of keys, and made his way to the shed, Riglett
shambling behind at an interval of two yards.
Mr. Downing unlocked the door, and there on the floor was the Clue!
A clue that even Dr. Watson could not have overlooked.
Mr. Downing saw it, but did not immediately recognise it for what it
was. What he saw at first was not a Clue, but just a mess. He had a
tidy soul and abhorred messes. And this was a particularly messy mess.
The greater part of the flooring in the neighbourhood of the door was
a sea of red paint. The tin from which it had flowed was lying on its
side in the middle of the shed. The air was full of the pungent scent.
"Pah!" said Mr. Downing.
Then suddenly, beneath the disguise of the mess, he saw the clue. A
foot-mark! No less. A crimson foot-mark on the grey concrete!
Riglett, who had been waiting patiently two yards away, now coughed
plaintively. The sound recalled Mr. Downing to mundane matters.
"Get your bicycle, Riglett," he said, "and be careful where you tread.
Somebody has upset a pot of paint on the floor."
Riglett, walking delicately through dry places, extracted his bicycle
from the rack, and presently departed to gladden the heart of his
aunt, leaving Mr. Downing, his brain fizzing with the enthusiasm of
the detective, to lock the door and resume his perambulation of the
Give Dr. Watson a fair start, and he is a demon at the game. Mr.
Downing's brain was now working with a rapidity and clearness which a
professional sleuth might have envied.
Paint. Red paint. Obviously the same paint with which Sammy had been
decorated. A foot-mark. Whose foot-mark? Plainly that of the criminal
who had done the deed of decoration.
There were two things, however, to be considered. Your careful
detective must consider everything. In the first place, the paint
might have been upset by the ground-man. It was the ground-man's
paint. He had been giving a fresh coating to the wood-work in front of
the pavilion scoring-box at the conclusion of yesterday's match. (A
labour of love which was the direct outcome of the enthusiasm for work
which Adair had instilled into him.) In that case the foot-mark might
_Note one_: Interview the ground-man on this point.
In the second place Adair might have upset the tin and trodden in its
contents when he went to get his bicycle in order to fetch the doctor
for the suffering MacPhee. This was the more probable of the two
contingencies, for it would have been dark in the shed when Adair went
_Note two_ Interview Adair as to whether he found, on returning to
the house, that there was paint on his boots.
Things were moving.
* * * * *
He resolved to take Adair first. He could get the ground-man's address
Passing by the trees under whose shade Mike and Psmith and Dunster had
watched the match on the previous day, he came upon the Head of his
house in a deck-chair reading a book. A summer Sunday afternoon is the
time for reading in deck-chairs.
"Oh, Adair," he said. "No, don't get up. I merely wished to ask you if
you found any paint on your boots when you returned to the house last
"Paint, sir?" Adair was plainly puzzled. His book had been
interesting, and had driven the Sammy incident out of his head.
"I see somebody has spilt some paint on the floor of the bicycle shed.
You did not do that, I suppose, when you went to fetch your bicycle?"
"It is spilt all over the floor. I wondered whether you had happened
to tread in it. But you say you found no paint on your boots this
"No, sir, my bicycle is always quite near the door of the shed. I
didn't go into the shed at all."
"I see. Quite so. Thank you, Adair. Oh, by the way, Adair, where does
"I forget the name of his cottage, sir, but I could show you in a
second. It's one of those cottages just past the school gates, on the
right as you turn out into the road. There are three in a row. His is
the first you come to. There's a barn just before you get to them."
"Thank you. I shall be able to find them. I should like to speak to
Markby for a moment on a small matter."
A sharp walk took him to the cottages Adair had mentioned. He
rapped at the door of the first, and the ground-man came out in
his shirt-sleeves, blinking as if he had just woke up, as was
indeed the case.
"You remember that you were painting the scoring-box in the pavilion
last night after the match?"
"Yes, sir. It wanted a lick of paint bad. The young gentlemen will
scramble about and get through the window. Makes it look shabby, sir.
So I thought I'd better give it a coating so as to look ship-shape
when the Marylebone come down."
"Just so. An excellent idea. Tell me, Markby, what did you do with the
pot of paint when you had finished?"
"Put it in the bicycle shed, sir."
"On the floor?"
"On the floor, sir? No. On the shelf at the far end, with the can of
whitening what I use for marking out the wickets, sir."
"Of course, yes. Quite so. Just as I thought."
"Do you want it, sir?"
"No, thank you, Markby, no, thank you. The fact is, somebody who had
no business to do so has moved the pot of paint from the shelf to the
floor, with the result that it has been kicked over, and spilt. You
had better get some more to-morrow. Thank you, Markby. That is all I
wished to know."
Mr. Downing walked back to the school thoroughly excited. He was hot
on the scent now. The only other possible theories had been tested and
successfully exploded. The thing had become simple to a degree. All he
had to do was to go to Mr. Outwood's house--the idea of searching a
fellow-master's house did not appear to him at all a delicate task;
somehow one grew unconsciously to feel that Mr. Outwood did not really
exist as a man capable of resenting liberties--find the paint-splashed
boot, ascertain its owner, and denounce him to the headmaster.
Picture, Blue Fire and "God Save the King" by the full strength of the
company. There could be no doubt that a paint-splashed boot must be in
Mr. Outwood's house somewhere. A boy cannot tread in a pool of paint
without showing some signs of having done so. It was Sunday, too, so
that the boot would not yet have been cleaned. Yoicks! Also Tally-ho!
This really was beginning to be something like business.
Regardless of the heat, the sleuth-hound hurried across to Outwood's
as fast as he could walk.
The only two members of the house not out in the grounds when he
arrived were Mike and Psmith. They were standing on the gravel drive
in front of the boys' entrance. Mike had a deck-chair in one hand and
a book in the other. Psmith--for even the greatest minds will
sometimes unbend--was playing diabolo. That is to say, he was trying
without success to raise the spool from the ground.
"There's a kid in France," said Mike disparagingly, as the bobbin
rolled off the string for the fourth time, "who can do it three
thousand seven hundred and something times."
Psmith smoothed a crease out of his waistcoat and tried again. He had
just succeeded in getting the thing to spin when Mr. Downing arrived.
The sound of his footsteps disturbed Psmith and brought the effort to
"Enough of this spoolery," said he, flinging the sticks through the
open window of the senior day-room. "I was an ass ever to try it. The
philosophical mind needs complete repose in its hours of leisure.
He stared after the sleuth-hound, who had just entered the house.
"What the dickens," said Mike, "does he mean by barging in as if he'd
bought the place?"
"Comrade Downing looks pleased with himself. What brings him round in
this direction, I wonder! Still, no matter. The few articles which he
may sneak from our study are of inconsiderable value. He is welcome to
them. Do you feel inclined to wait awhile till I have fetched a chair
"I'll be going on. I shall be under the trees at the far end of the
"'Tis well. I will be with you in about two ticks."
Mike walked on towards the field, and Psmith, strolling upstairs to
fetch his novel, found Mr. Downing standing in the passage with the
air of one who has lost his bearings.
"A warm afternoon, sir," murmured Psmith courteously, as he passed.
"I--er--wish to go round the dormitories."
It was Psmith's guiding rule in life never to be surprised at
anything, so he merely inclined his head gracefully, and said nothing.
"I should be glad if you would fetch the keys and show me where the
"With acute pleasure, sir," said Psmith. "Or shall I fetch Mr.
"Do as I tell you, Smith," snapped Mr. Downing.
Psmith said no more, but went down to the matron's room. The matron
being out, he abstracted the bunch of keys from her table and rejoined
"Shall I lead the way, sir?" he asked.
Mr. Downing nodded.
"Here, sir," said Psmith, opening a door, "we have Barnes' dormitory.
An airy room, constructed on the soundest hygienic principles. Each
boy, I understand, has quite a considerable number of cubic feet of
air all to himself. It is Mr. Outwood's boast that no boy has ever
asked for a cubic foot of air in vain. He argues justly----"
He broke off abruptly and began to watch the other's manoeuvres in
silence. Mr. Downing was peering rapidly beneath each bed in turn.
"Are you looking for Barnes, sir?" inquired Psmith politely. "I think
he's out in the field."
Mr. Downing rose, having examined the last bed, crimson in the face
with the exercise.
"Show me the next dormitory, Smith," he said, panting slightly.
"This," said Psmith, opening the next door and sinking his voice to an
awed whisper, "is where _I_ sleep!"
Mr. Downing glanced swiftly beneath the three beds. "Excuse me, sir,"
said Psmith, "but are we chasing anything?"
"Be good enough, Smith," said Mr. Downing with asperity, "to keep your
remarks to yourself."
"I was only wondering, sir. Shall I show you the next in order?"
They moved on up the passage.
Drawing blank at the last dormitory, Mr. Downing paused, baffled.
Psmith waited patiently by. An idea struck the master.
"The studies, Smith," he cried.
"Aha!" said Psmith. "I beg your pardon, sir. The observation escaped
me unawares. The frenzy of the chase is beginning to enter into my
blood. Here we have----"
Mr. Downing stopped short.
"Is this impertinence studied, Smith?"
"Ferguson's study, sir? No, sir. That's further down the passage. This
Mr. Downing looked at him closely. Psmith's face was wooden in its
gravity. The master snorted suspiciously, then moved on.
"Whose is this?" he asked, rapping a door.
"This, sir, is mine and Jackson's."
"What! Have you a study? You are low down in the school for it."
"I think, sir, that Mr. Outwood gave it us rather as a testimonial to
our general worth than to our proficiency in school-work."
Mr. Downing raked the room with a keen eye. The absence of bars from
the window attracted his attention.
"Have you no bars to your windows here, such as there are in my
"There appears to be no bar, sir," said Psmith, putting up his
Mr Downing was leaning out of the window.
"A lovely view, is it not, sir?" said Psmith. "The trees, the field,
the distant hills----"
Mr. Downing suddenly started. His eye had been caught by the water-pipe
at the side of the window. The boy whom Sergeant Collard had seen
climbing the pipe must have been making for this study.
He spun round and met Psmith's blandly inquiring gaze. He looked at
Psmith carefully for a moment. No. The boy he had chased last night
had not been Psmith. That exquisite's figure and general appearance
were unmistakable, even in the dusk.
"Whom did you say you shared this study with, Smith?"
"Jackson, sir. The cricketer."
"Never mind about his cricket, Smith," said Mr. Downing with
"He is the only other occupant of the room?"
"Nobody else comes into it?"
"If they do, they go out extremely quickly, sir."
"Ah! Thank you, Smith."
"Not at all, sir."
Mr. Downing pondered. Jackson! The boy bore him a grudge. The boy was
precisely the sort of boy to revenge himself by painting the dog
Sammy. And, gadzooks! The boy whom he had pursued last night had been
just about Jackson's size and build!
Mr. Downing was as firmly convinced at that moment that Mike's had
been the hand to wield the paint-brush as he had ever been of anything
in his life.
"Smith!" he said excitedly.
"On the spot, sir," said Psmith affably.
"Where are Jackson's boots?"
There are moments when the giddy excitement of being right on the
trail causes the amateur (or Watsonian) detective to be incautious.
Such a moment came to Mr. Downing then. If he had been wise, he would
have achieved his object, the getting a glimpse of Mike's boots, by a
devious and snaky route. As it was, he rushed straight on.
"His boots, sir? He has them on. I noticed them as he went out just
"Where is the pair he wore yesterday?"
"Where are the boots of yester-year?" murmured Psmith to himself. "I
should say at a venture, sir, that they would be in the basket
downstairs. Edmund, our genial knife-and-boot boy, collects them, I
believe, at early dawn."
"Would they have been cleaned yet?"
"If I know Edmund, sir--no."
"Smith," said Mr. Downing, trembling with excitement, "go and bring
that basket to me here."
Psmith's brain was working rapidly as he went downstairs. What exactly
was at the back of the sleuth's mind, prompting these manoeuvres, he
did not know. But that there was something, and that that something
was directed in a hostile manner against Mike, probably in connection
with last night's wild happenings, he was certain. Psmith had noticed,
on leaving his bed at the sound of the alarm bell, that he and
Jellicoe were alone in the room. That might mean that Mike had gone
out through the door when the bell sounded, or it might mean that he
had been out all the time. It began to look as if the latter solution
were the correct one.
* * * * *
He staggered back with the basket, painfully conscious the while that
it was creasing his waistcoat, and dumped is down on the study floor.
Mr. Downing stooped eagerly over it. Psmith leaned against the wall,
and straightened out the damaged garment.
"We have here, sir," he said, "a fair selection of our various
Mr. Downing looked up.
"You dropped none of the boots on your way up, Smith?"
"Not one, sir. It was a fine performance."
Mr. Downing uttered a grunt of satisfaction, and bent once more to his
task. Boots flew about the room. Mr. Downing knelt on the floor beside
the basket, and dug like a terrier at a rat-hole.
At last he made a dive, and, with an exclamation of triumph, rose to
his feet. In his hand he held a boot.
"Put those back again, Smith," he said.
The ex-Etonian, wearing an expression such as a martyr might have worn
on being told off for the stake, began to pick up the scattered
footgear, whistling softly the tune of "I do all the dirty work," as
he did so.
"That's the lot, sir," he said, rising.
"Ah. Now come across with me to the headmaster's house. Leave the
basket here. You can carry it back when you return."
"Shall I put back that boot, sir?"
"Certainly not. I shall take this with me, of course."
"Shall I carry it, sir?"
Mr. Downing reflected.
"Yes, Smith," he said. "I think it would be best."
It occurred to him that the spectacle of a housemaster wandering
abroad on the public highway, carrying a dirty boot, might be a trifle
undignified. You never knew whom you might meet on Sunday afternoon.
Psmith took the boot, and doing so, understood what before had puzzled
Across the toe of the boot was a broad splash of red paint.
He knew nothing, of course, of the upset tin in the bicycle shed;
but when a housemaster's dog has been painted red in the night, and
when, on the following day, the housemaster goes about in search of a
paint-splashed boot, one puts two and two together. Psmith looked at
the name inside the boot. It was "Brown, boot-maker, Bridgnorth."
Bridgnorth was only a few miles from his own home and Mike's.
Undoubtedly it was Mike's boot.
"Can you tell me whose boot that is?" asked Mr. Downing.
Psmith looked at it again.
"No, sir. I can't say the little chap's familiar to me."
"Come with me, then."
Mr. Downing left the room. After a moment Psmith followed him.
The headmaster was in his garden. Thither Mr. Downing made his way,
the boot-bearing Psmith in close attendance.
The Head listened to the amateur detective's statement with interest.
"Indeed?" he said, when Mr. Downing had finished.
"Indeed? Dear me! It certainly seems--It is a curiously well-connected
thread of evidence. You are certain that there was red paint on this
boot you discovered in Mr. Outwood's house?"
"I have it with me. I brought it on purpose to show to you. Smith!"
"You have the boot?"
"Ah," said the headmaster, putting on a pair of pince-nez, "now let me
look at--This, you say, is the--? Just so. Just so. Just.... But, er,
Mr. Downing, it may be that I have not examined this boot with
sufficient care, but--Can _you_ point out to me exactly where
this paint is that you speak of?"
Mr. Downing stood staring at the boot with a wild, fixed stare. Of any
suspicion of paint, red or otherwise, it was absolutely and entirely
THE DESTROYER OF EVIDENCE
The boot became the centre of attraction, the cynosure of all eyes.
Mr. Downing fixed it with the piercing stare of one who feels that his
brain is tottering. The headmaster looked at it with a mildly puzzled
expression. Psmith, putting up his eyeglass, gazed at it with a sort
of affectionate interest, as if he were waiting for it to do a trick
of some kind.
Mr. Downing was the first to break the silence.
"There was paint on this boot," he said vehemently. "I tell you there
was a splash of red paint across the toe. Smith will bear me out in
this. Smith, you saw the paint on this boot?"
"What! Do you mean to tell me that you did _not_ see it?"
"No, sir. There was no paint on this boot."
"This is foolery. I saw it with my own eyes. It was a broad splash
right across the toe."
The headmaster interposed.
"You must have made a mistake, Mr. Downing. There is certainly no
trace of paint on this boot. These momentary optical delusions are,
I fancy, not uncommon. Any doctor will tell you----"
"I had an aunt, sir," said Psmith chattily, "who was remarkably
"It is absurd. I cannot have been mistaken," said Mr. Downing. "I am
positively certain the toe of this boot was red when I found it."
"It is undoubtedly black now, Mr. Downing."
"A sort of chameleon boot," murmured Psmith.
The goaded housemaster turned on him.
"What did you say, Smith?"
"Did I speak, sir?" said Psmith, with the start of one coming suddenly
out of a trance.
Mr. Downing looked searchingly at him.
"You had better be careful, Smith."
"I strongly suspect you of having something to do with this."
"Really, Mr. Downing," said the headmaster, "that is surely
improbable. Smith could scarcely have cleaned the boot on his way to
my house. On one occasion I inadvertently spilt some paint on a shoe
of my own. I can assure you that it does not brush off. It needs a
very systematic cleaning before all traces are removed."
"Exactly, sir," said Psmith. "My theory, if I may----?"
Psmith bowed courteously and proceeded.
"My theory, sir, is that Mr. Downing was deceived by the light and
shade effects on the toe of the boot. The afternoon sun, streaming in
through the window, must have shone on the boot in such a manner as to
give it a momentary and fictitious aspect of redness. If Mr. Downing
recollects, he did not look long at the boot. The picture on the
retina of the eye, consequently, had not time to fade. I remember
thinking myself, at the moment, that the boot appeared to have a
certain reddish tint. The mistake----"
"Bah!" said Mr. Downing shortly.
"Well, really," said the headmaster, "it seems to me that that is the
only explanation that will square with the facts. A boot that is
really smeared with red paint does not become black of itself in the
course of a few minutes."
"You are very right, sir," said Psmith with benevolent approval. "May
I go now, sir? I am in the middle of a singularly impressive passage
of Cicero's speech De Senectute."
"I am sorry that you should leave your preparation till Sunday, Smith.
It is a habit of which I altogether disapprove."
"I am reading it, sir," said Psmith, with simple dignity, "for
pleasure. Shall I take the boot with me, sir?"
"If Mr. Downing does not want it?"
The housemaster passed the fraudulent piece of evidence to Psmith
without a word, and the latter, having included both masters in a
kindly smile, left the garden.
Pedestrians who had the good fortune to be passing along the road
between the housemaster's house and Mr. Outwood's at that moment saw
what, if they had but known it, was a most unusual sight, the
spectacle of Psmith running. Psmith's usual mode of progression was a
dignified walk. He believed in the contemplative style rather than the
On this occasion, however, reckless of possible injuries to the crease
of his trousers, he raced down the road, and turning in at Outwood's
gate, bounded upstairs like a highly trained professional athlete.
On arriving at the study, his first act was to remove a boot from the
top of the pile in the basket, place it in the small cupboard under
the bookshelf, and lock the cupboard. Then he flung himself into a
chair and panted.
"Brain," he said to himself approvingly, "is what one chiefly needs in
matters of this kind. Without brain, where are we? In the soup, every
time. The next development will be when Comrade Downing thinks it
over, and is struck with the brilliant idea that it's just possible
that the boot he gave me to carry and the boot I did carry were not
one boot but two boots. Meanwhile----"
He dragged up another chair for his feet and picked up his novel.
He had not been reading long when there was a footstep in the passage,
and Mr. Downing appeared.
The possibility, in fact the probability, of Psmith having substituted
another boot for the one with the incriminating splash of paint on it
had occurred to him almost immediately on leaving the headmaster's
garden. Psmith and Mike, he reflected, were friends. Psmith's impulse
would be to do all that lay in his power to shield Mike. Feeling
aggrieved with himself that he had not thought of this before, he,
too, hurried over to Outwood's.
Mr. Downing was brisk and peremptory.
"I wish to look at these boots again," he said. Psmith, with a sigh,
laid down his novel, and rose to assist him.
"Sit down, Smith," said the housemaster. "I can manage without your
Psmith sat down again, carefully tucking up the knees of his trousers,
and watched him with silent interest through his eyeglass.
The scrutiny irritated Mr. Downing.
"Put that thing away, Smith," he said.
"That thing, sir?"
"Yes, that ridiculous glass. Put it away."
"Why! Because I tell you to do so."
"I guessed that that was the reason, sir," sighed Psmith replacing the
eyeglass in his waistcoat pocket. He rested his elbows on his knees,
and his chin on his hands, and resumed his contemplative inspection of
the boot-expert, who, after fidgeting for a few moments, lodged
"Don't sit there staring at me, Smith."
"I was interested in what you were doing, sir."
"Never mind. Don't stare at me in that idiotic way."
"May I read, sir?" asked Psmith, patiently.
"Yes, read if you like."
"Thank you, sir."
Psmith took up his book again, and Mr. Downing, now thoroughly
irritated, pursued his investigations in the boot-basket.
He went through it twice, but each time without success. After the
second search, he stood up, and looked wildly round the room. He was
as certain as he could be of anything that the missing piece of
evidence was somewhere in the study. It was no use asking Psmith
point-blank where it was, for Psmith's ability to parry dangerous
questions with evasive answers was quite out of the common.
His eye roamed about the room. There was very little cover there, even
for so small a fugitive as a number nine boot. The floor could be
acquitted, on sight, of harbouring the quarry.
Then he caught sight of the cupboard, and something seemed to tell him
that there was the place to look.
"Smith!" he said.
Psmith had been reading placidly all the while.
"What is in this cupboard?"
"That cupboard, sir?"
"Yes. This cupboard." Mr. Downing rapped the door irritably.
"Just a few odd trifles, sir. We do not often use it. A ball of
string, perhaps. Possibly an old note-book. Nothing of value or
"I think you will find that it is locked, sir."
"But where is the key, sir?"
"Have you not got the key?"
"If the key is not in the lock, sir, you may depend upon it that it
will take a long search to find it."
"Where did you see it last?"
"It was in the lock yesterday morning. Jackson might have taken it."
"Where is Jackson?"
"Out in the field somewhere, sir."
Mr. Downing thought for a moment.
"I don't believe a word of it," he said shortly. "I have my reasons
for thinking that you are deliberately keeping the contents of that
cupboard from me. I shall break open the door."
Psmith got up.
"I'm afraid you mustn't do that, sir."
Mr. Downing stared, amazed.
"Are you aware whom you are talking to, Smith?" he inquired acidly.
"Yes, sir. And I know it's not Mr. Outwood, to whom that cupboard
happens to belong. If you wish to break it open, you must get his
permission. He is the sole lessee and proprietor of that cupboard. I
am only the acting manager."
Mr. Downing paused. He also reflected. Mr. Outwood in the general rule
did not count much in the scheme of things, but possibly there were
limits to the treating of him as if he did not exist. To enter his
house without his permission and search it to a certain extent was all
very well. But when it came to breaking up his furniture, perhaps----!
On the other hand, there was the maddening thought that if he left
the study in search of Mr. Outwood, in order to obtain his sanction
for the house-breaking work which he proposed to carry through,
Smith would be alone in the room. And he knew that, if Smith were
left alone in the room, he would instantly remove the boot to some
other hiding-place. He thoroughly disbelieved the story of the lost
key. He was perfectly convinced that the missing boot was in the
He stood chewing these thoughts for awhile, Psmith in the meantime
standing in a graceful attitude in front of the cupboard, staring into
Then he was seized with a happy idea. Why should he leave the room at
all? If he sent Smith, then he himself could wait and make certain
that the cupboard was not tampered with.
"Smith," he said, "go and find Mr. Outwood, and ask him to be good
enough to come here for a moment."
MAINLY ABOUT BOOTS
"Be quick, Smith," he said, as the latter stood looking at him without
making any movement in the direction of the door.
"_Quick_, sir?" said Psmith meditatively, as if he had been asked
"Go and find Mr. Outwood at once."
Psmith still made no move.
"Do you intend to disobey me, Smith?" Mr. Downing's voice was steely.
There was one of those you-could-have-heard-a-pin-drop silences.
Psmith was staring reflectively at the ceiling. Mr. Downing was
looking as if at any moment he might say, "Thwarted to me face, ha,
ha! And by a very stripling!"
It was Psmith, however, who resumed the conversation. His manner was
almost too respectful; which made it all the more a pity that what he
said did not keep up the standard of docility.
"I take my stand," he said, "on a technical point. I say to myself,
'Mr. Downing is a man I admire as a human being and respect as a
"This impertinence is doing you no good, Smith."
Psmith waved a hand deprecatingly.
"If you will let me explain, sir. I was about to say that in any
other place but Mr. Outwood's house, your word would be law. I would
fly to do your bidding. If you pressed a button, I would do the rest.
But in Mr. Outwood's house I cannot do anything except what pleases me
or what is ordered by Mr. Outwood. I ought to have remembered that
before. One cannot," he continued, as who should say, "Let us be
reasonable," "one cannot, to take a parallel case, imagine the colonel
commanding the garrison at a naval station going on board a battleship
and ordering the crew to splice the jibboom spanker. It might be an
admirable thing for the Empire that the jibboom spanker _should_
be spliced at that particular juncture, but the crew would naturally
decline to move in the matter until the order came from the commander
of the ship. So in my case. If you will go to Mr. Outwood, and explain
to him how matters stand, and come back and say to me, 'Psmith, Mr.
Outwood wishes you to ask him to be good enough to come to this
study,' then I shall be only too glad to go and find him. You see my
"Go and fetch Mr. Outwood, Smith. I shall not tell you again."
Psmith flicked a speck of dust from his coat-sleeve.
"Very well, Smith."
"I can assure you, sir, at any rate, that if there is a boot in that
cupboard now, there will be a boot there when you return."
Mr. Downing stalked out of the room.
"But," added Psmith pensively to himself, as the footsteps died away,
"I did not promise that it would be the same boot."
He took the key from his pocket, unlocked the cupboard, and took out
the boot. Then he selected from the basket a particularly battered
specimen. Placing this in the cupboard, he re-locked the door.
His next act was to take from the shelf a piece of string. Attaching
one end of this to the boot that he had taken from the cupboard, he
went to the window. His first act was to fling the cupboard-key out
into the bushes. Then he turned to the boot. On a level with the sill
the water-pipe, up which Mike had started to climb the night before,
was fastened to the wall by an iron band. He tied the other end of the
string to this, and let the boot swing free. He noticed with approval,
when it had stopped swinging, that it was hidden from above by the
He returned to his place at the mantelpiece.
As an after-thought he took another boot from the basket, and thrust
it up the chimney. A shower of soot fell into the grate, blackening
The bathroom was a few yards down the corridor. He went there, and
washed off the soot.
When he returned, Mr. Downing was in the study, and with him Mr.
Outwood, the latter looking dazed, as if he were not quite equal to
the intellectual pressure of the situation.
"Where have you been, Smith?" asked Mr. Downing sharply.
"I have been washing my hands, sir."
"H'm!" said Mr. Downing suspiciously.
"Yes, I saw Smith go into the bathroom," said Mr. Outwood. "Smith, I
cannot quite understand what it is Mr. Downing wishes me to do."
"My dear Outwood," snapped the sleuth, "I thought I had made it
perfectly clear. Where is the difficulty?"
"I cannot understand why you should suspect Smith of keeping his boots
in a cupboard, and," added Mr. Outwood with spirit, catching sight of
a Good-Gracious-has-the-man-_no_-sense look on the other's face,"
why he should not do so if he wishes it."
"Exactly, sir," said Psmith, approvingly. "You have touched the spot."
"If I must explain again, my dear Outwood, will you kindly give me
your attention for a moment. Last night a boy broke out of your house,
and painted my dog Sampson red."
"He painted--!" said Mr. Outwood, round-eyed. "Why?"
"I don't know why. At any rate, he did. During the escapade one of his
boots was splashed with the paint. It is that boot which I believe
Smith to be concealing in this cupboard. Now, do you understand?"
Mr. Outwood looked amazedly at Smith, and Psmith shook his head
sorrowfully at Mr. Outwood. Psmith'a expression said, as plainly as if
he had spoken the words, "We must humour him."
"So with your permission, as Smith declares that he has lost the key,
I propose to break open the door of this cupboard. Have you any
Mr. Outwood started.
"Objection? None at all, my dear fellow, none at all. Let me see,
_what_ is it you wish to do?"
"This," said Mr. Downing shortly.
There was a pair of dumb-bells on the floor, belonging to Mike. He
never used them, but they always managed to get themselves packed with
the rest of his belongings on the last day of the holidays. Mr.
Downing seized one of these, and delivered two rapid blows at the
cupboard-door. The wood splintered. A third blow smashed the flimsy
lock. The cupboard, with any skeletons it might contain, was open for
all to view.
Mr. Downing uttered a cry of triumph, and tore the boot from its
"I told you," he said. "I told you."
"I wondered where that boot had got to," said Psmith. "I've been
looking for it for days."
Mr. Downing was examining his find. He looked up with an exclamation
of surprise and wrath.
"This boot has no paint on it," he said, glaring at Psmith. "This is
not the boot."
"It certainly appears, sir," said Psmith sympathetically, "to be free
from paint. There's a sort of reddish glow just there, if you look at
it sideways," he added helpfully.
"Did you place that boot there, Smith?"
"I must have done. Then, when I lost the key----"
"Are you satisfied now, Downing?" interrupted Mr. Outwood with
asperity, "or is there any more furniture you wish to break?"
The excitement of seeing his household goods smashed with a dumb-bell
had made the archaeological student quite a swashbuckler for the
moment. A little more, and one could imagine him giving Mr. Downing a
good, hard knock.
The sleuth-hound stood still for a moment, baffled. But his brain was
working with the rapidity of a buzz-saw. A chance remark of Mr.
Outwood's set him fizzing off on the trail once more. Mr. Outwood had
caught sight of the little pile of soot in the grate. He bent down to
"Dear me," he said, "I must remember to have the chimneys swept. It
should have been done before."
Mr. Downing's eye, rolling in a fine frenzy from heaven to earth, from
earth to heaven, also focussed itself on the pile of soot; and a
thrill went through him. Soot in the fireplace! Smith washing his
hands! ("You know my methods, my dear Watson. Apply them.")
Mr. Downing's mind at that moment contained one single thought; and
that thought was "What ho for the chimney!"
He dived forward with a rush, nearly knocking Mr. Outwood off his
feet, and thrust an arm up into the unknown. An avalanche of soot fell
upon his hand and wrist, but he ignored it, for at the same instant
his fingers had closed upon what he was seeking.
"Ah," he said. "I thought as much. You were not quite clever enough,
after all, Smith."
"No, sir," said Psmith patiently. "We all make mistakes."
"You would have done better, Smith, not to have given me all this
trouble. You have done yourself no good by it."
"It's been great fun, though, sir," argued Psmith.
"Fun!" Mr. Downing laughed grimly. "You may have reason to change your
opinion of what constitutes----"
His voice failed as his eye fell on the all-black toe of the boot. He
looked up, and caught Psmith's benevolent gaze. He straightened
himself and brushed a bead of perspiration from his face with the back
of his hand. Unfortunately, he used the sooty hand, and the result was
like some gruesome burlesque of a nigger minstrel.
"Did--you--put--that--boot--there, Smith?" he asked slowly.
[Illustration: "DID--YOU--PUT--THAT--BOOT--THERE, SMITH?"]
"Then what did you _MEAN_ by putting it there?" roared Mr.
"Animal spirits, sir," said Psmith.
"Animal spirits, sir."
What Mr. Downing would have replied to this one cannot tell, though
one can guess roughly. For, just as he was opening his mouth, Mr.
Outwood, catching sight of his Chirgwin-like countenance, intervened.
"My dear Downing," he said, "your face. It is positively covered with
soot, positively. You must come and wash it. You are quite black.
Really, you present a most curious appearance, most. Let me show you
the way to my room."
In all times of storm and tribulation there comes a breaking-point, a
point where the spirit definitely refuses, to battle any longer
against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Mr. Downing could
not bear up against this crowning blow. He went down beneath it. In
the language of the Ring, he took the count. It was the knock-out.
"Soot!" he murmured weakly. "Soot!"
"Your face is covered, my dear fellow, quite covered."
"It certainly has a faintly sooty aspect, sir," said Psmith.
His voice roused the sufferer to one last flicker of spirit.
"You will hear more of this, Smith," he said. "I say you will hear
more of it."
Then he allowed Mr. Outwood to lead him out to a place where there
were towels, soap, and sponges.
* * * * *
When they had gone, Psmith went to the window, and hauled in the
string. He felt the calm after-glow which comes to the general after a
successfully conducted battle. It had been trying, of course, for a
man of refinement, and it had cut into his afternoon, but on the whole
it had been worth it.
The problem now was what to do with the painted boot. It would take a
lot of cleaning, he saw, even if he could get hold of the necessary
implements for cleaning it. And he rather doubted if he would be able
to do so. Edmund, the boot-boy, worked in some mysterious cell, far
from the madding crowd, at the back of the house. In the boot-cupboard
downstairs there would probably be nothing likely to be of any use.
His fears were realised. The boot-cupboard was empty. It seemed to him
that, for the time being, the best thing he could do would be to place
the boot in safe hiding, until he should have thought out a scheme.
Having restored the basket to its proper place, accordingly, he went
up to the study again, and placed the red-toed boot in the chimney, at
about the same height where Mr. Downing had found the other. Nobody
would think of looking there a second time, and it was improbable that
Mr. Outwood really would have the chimneys swept, as he had said. The
odds were that he had forgotten about it already.
Psmith went to the bathroom to wash his hands again, with the feeling
that he had done a good day's work.
ON THE TRAIL AGAIN
The most massive minds are apt to forget things at times. The most
adroit plotters make their little mistakes. Psmith was no exception to
the rule. He made the mistake of not telling Mike of the afternoon's
It was not altogether forgetfulness. Psmith was one of those people
who like to carry through their operations entirely by themselves.
Where there is only one in a secret the secret is more liable to
remain unrevealed. There was nothing, he thought, to be gained from
telling Mike. He forgot what the consequences might be if he did not.
So Psmith kept his own counsel, with the result that Mike went over to
school on the Monday morning in pumps.
Edmund, summoned from the hinterland of the house to give his opinion
why only one of Mike's boots was to be found, had no views on the
subject. He seemed to look on it as one of those things which no
fellow can understand.
"'Ere's one of 'em, Mr. Jackson," he said, as if he hoped that Mike
might be satisfied with a compromise.
"One? What's the good of that, Edmund, you chump? I can't go over to
school in one boot."
Edmund turned this over in his mind, and then said, "No, sir," as much
as to say, "I may have lost a boot, but, thank goodness, I can still
understand sound reasoning."
"Well, what am I to do? Where is the other boot?"
"Don't know, Mr. Jackson," replied Edmund to both questions.
"Well, I mean--Oh, dash it, there's the bell."
And Mike sprinted off in the pumps he stood in.
It is only a deviation from those ordinary rules of school life, which
one observes naturally and without thinking, that enables one to
realise how strong public-school prejudices really are. At a school,
for instance, where the regulations say that coats only of black
or dark blue are to be worn, a boy who appears one day in even the
most respectable and unostentatious brown finds himself looked on
with a mixture of awe and repulsion, which would be excessive if he
had sand-bagged the headmaster. So in the case of boots. School rules
decree that a boy shall go to his form-room in boots, There is no real
reason why, if the day is fine, he should not wear shoes, should he
prefer them. But, if he does, the thing creates a perfect sensation.
Boys say, "Great Scott, what _have_ you got on?" Masters say,
"Jones, _what_ are you wearing on your feet?" In the few minutes
which elapse between the assembling of the form for call-over and the
arrival of the form-master, some wag is sure either to stamp on the
shoes, accompanying the act with some satirical remark, or else to
pull one of them off, and inaugurate an impromptu game of football
with it. There was once a boy who went to school one morning in
Mike had always been coldly distant in his relations to the rest of
his form, looking on them, with a few exceptions, as worms; and the
form, since his innings against Downing's on the Friday, had regarded
Mike with respect. So that he escaped the ragging he would have had to
undergo at Wrykyn in similar circumstances. It was only Mr. Downing
who gave trouble.
There is a sort of instinct which enables some masters to tell when a
boy in their form is wearing shoes instead of boots, just as people
who dislike cats always know when one is in a room with them. They
cannot see it, but they feel it in their bones.
Mr. Downing was perhaps the most bigoted anti-shoeist in the whole
list of English schoolmasters. He waged war remorselessly against
shoes. Satire, abuse, lines, detention--every weapon was employed by
him in dealing with their wearers. It had been the late Dunster's
practice always to go over to school in shoes when, as he usually did,
he felt shaky in the morning's lesson. Mr. Downing always detected him
in the first five minutes, and that meant a lecture of anything from
ten minutes to a quarter of an hour on Untidy Habits and Boys Who
Looked like Loafers--which broke the back of the morning's work
nicely. On one occasion, when a particularly tricky bit of Livy was on
the bill of fare, Dunster had entered the form-room in heel-less
Turkish bath-slippers, of a vivid crimson; and the subsequent
proceedings, including his journey over to the house to change the
heel-less atrocities, had seen him through very nearly to the quarter
to eleven interval.
Mike, accordingly, had not been in his place for three minutes when
Mr. Downing, stiffening like a pointer, called his name.
"Yes, sir?" said Mike.
"_What_ are you wearing on your feet, Jackson?"
"You are wearing pumps? Are you not aware that PUMPS are not the
proper things to come to school in? Why are you wearing _PUMPS_?"
The form, leaning back against the next row of desks, settled itself
comfortably for the address from the throne.
"I have lost one of my boots, sir."
A kind of gulp escaped from Mr. Downing's lips. He stared at Mike for
a moment in silence. Then, turning to Stone, he told him to start
Stone, who had been expecting at least ten minutes' respite, was taken
unawares. When he found the place in his book and began to construe,
he floundered hopelessly. But, to his growing surprise and
satisfaction, the form-master appeared to notice nothing wrong. He
said "Yes, yes," mechanically, and finally "That will do," whereupon
Stone resumed his seat with the feeling that the age of miracles had
Mr. Downing's mind was in a whirl. His case was complete. Mike's
appearance in shoes, with the explanation that he had lost a boot,
completed the chain. As Columbus must have felt when his ship ran into
harbour, and the first American interviewer, jumping on board, said,
"Wal, sir, and what are your impressions of our glorious country?" so
did Mr. Downing feel at that moment.
When the bell rang at a quarter to eleven, he gathered up his gown,
and sped to the headmaster.
THE KETTLE METHOD
It was during the interval that day that Stone and Robinson,
discussing the subject of cricket over a bun and ginger-beer at the
school shop, came to a momentous decision, to wit, that they were fed
up with Adair administration and meant to strike. The immediate cause
of revolt was early-morning fielding-practice, that searching test of
cricket keenness. Mike himself, to whom cricket was the great and
serious interest of life, had shirked early-morning fielding-practice
in his first term at Wrykyn. And Stone and Robinson had but a luke-warm
attachment to the game, compared with Mike's.
As a rule, Adair had contented himself with practice in the afternoon
after school, which nobody objects to; and no strain, consequently,
had been put upon Stone's and Robinson's allegiance. In view of the
M.C.C. match on the Wednesday, however, he had now added to this an
extra dose to be taken before breakfast. Stone and Robinson had left
their comfortable beds that day at six o'clock, yawning and heavy-eyed,
and had caught catches and fielded drives which, in the cool morning
air, had stung like adders and bitten like serpents. Until the sun has
really got to work, it is no joke taking a high catch. Stone's dislike
of the experiment was only equalled by Robinson's. They were neither of
them of the type which likes to undergo hardships for the common good.
They played well enough when on the field, but neither cared greatly
whether the school had a good season or not. They played the game
entirely for their own sakes.
The result was that they went back to the house for breakfast with a
never-again feeling, and at the earliest possible moment met to debate
as to what was to be done about it. At all costs another experience
like to-day's must be avoided.
"It's all rot," said Stone. "What on earth's the good of sweating
about before breakfast? It only makes you tired."
"I shouldn't wonder," said Robinson, "if it wasn't bad for the heart.
Rushing about on an empty stomach, I mean, and all that sort of
"Personally," said Stone, gnawing his bun, "I don't intend to stick
"Nor do I."
"I mean, it's such absolute rot. If we aren't good enough to play for
the team without having to get up overnight to catch catches, he'd
better find somebody else."
At this moment Adair came into the shop.
"Fielding-practice again to-morrow," he said briskly, "at six."
"Before breakfast?" said Robinson.
"Rather. You two must buck up, you know. You were rotten to-day." And
he passed on, leaving the two malcontents speechless.
Stone was the first to recover.
"I'm hanged if I turn out to-morrow," he said, as they left the shop.
"He can do what be likes about it. Besides, what can he do, after all?
Only kick us out of the team. And I don't mind that."
"Nor do I."
"I don't think he will kick us out, either. He can't play the M.C.C.
with a scratch team. If he does, we'll go and play for that village
Jackson plays for. We'll get Jackson to shove us into the team."
"All right," said Robinson. "Let's."
Their position was a strong one. A cricket captain may seem to be an
autocrat of tremendous power, but in reality he has only one weapon,
the keenness of those under him. With the majority, of course, the
fear of being excluded or ejected from a team is a spur that drives.
The majority, consequently, are easily handled. But when a cricket
captain runs up against a boy who does not much care whether he plays
for the team or not, then he finds himself in a difficult position,
and, unless he is a man of action, practically helpless.
Stone and Robinson felt secure. Taking it all round, they felt that
they would just as soon play for Lower Borlock as for the school. The
bowling of the opposition would be weaker in the former case, and the
chance of making runs greater. To a certain type of cricketer runs are
runs, wherever and however made.
The result of all this was that Adair, turning out with the team next
morning for fielding-practice, found himself two short. Barnes was
among those present, but of the other two representatives of Outwood's
house there were no signs.
Barnes, questioned on the subject, had no information to give, beyond
the fact that he had not seen them about anywhere. Which was not a
great help. Adair proceeded with the fielding-practice without further
At breakfast that morning he was silent and apparently wrapped in
thought. Mr. Downing, who sat at the top of the table with Adair on
his right, was accustomed at the morning meal to blend nourishment of
the body with that of the mind. As a rule he had ten minutes with the
daily paper before the bell rang, and it was his practice to hand on
the results of his reading to Adair and the other house-prefects, who,
not having seen the paper, usually formed an interested and
appreciative audience. To-day, however, though the house-prefects
expressed varying degrees of excitement at the news that Tyldesley had
made a century against Gloucestershire, and that a butter famine was
expected in the United States, these world-shaking news-items seemed
to leave Adair cold. He champed his bread and marmalade with an
He was wondering what to do in this matter of Stone and Robinson.
Many captains might have passed the thing over. To take it for granted
that the missing pair had overslept themselves would have been a safe
and convenient way out of the difficulty. But Adair was not the sort
of person who seeks for safe and convenient ways out of difficulties.
He never shirked anything, physical or moral.
He resolved to interview the absentees.
It was not until after school that an opportunity offered itself. He
went across to Outwood's and found the two non-starters in the senior
day-room, engaged in the intellectual pursuit of kicking the wall and
marking the height of each kick with chalk. Adair's entrance coincided
with a record effort by Stone, which caused the kicker to overbalance
and stagger backwards against the captain.
"Sorry," said Stone. "Hullo, Adair!"
"Don't mention it. Why weren't you two at fielding-practice this
Robinson, who left the lead to Stone in all matters, said nothing.
"We didn't turn up," he said.
"I know you didn't. Why not?"
Stone had rehearsed this scene in his mind, and he spoke with the
coolness which comes from rehearsal.
"We decided not to."
"Yes. We came to the conclusion that we hadn't any use for early-morning
Adair's manner became ominously calm.
"You were rather fed-up, I suppose?"
"That's just the word."
"Sorry it bored you."
"It didn't. We didn't give it the chance to."
Robinson laughed appreciatively.
"What's the joke, Robinson?" asked Adair.
"There's no joke," said Robinson, with some haste. "I was only
thinking of something."
"I'll give you something else to think about soon."
"It's no good making a row about it, Adair. You must see that you
can't do anything. Of course, you can kick us out of the team, if you
like, but we don't care if you do. Jackson will get us a game any
Wednesday or Saturday for the village he plays for. So we're all
right. And the school team aren't such a lot of flyers that you can
afford to go chucking people out of it whenever you want to. See what
"You and Jackson seem to have fixed it all up between you."
"What are you going to do? Kick us out?"
"Good. I thought you'd see it was no good making a beastly row. We'll
play for the school all right. There's no earthly need for us to turn
out for fielding-practice before breakfast."
"You don't think there is? You may be right. All the same, you're
going to to-morrow morning."
"Six sharp. Don't be late."
"Don't be an ass, Adair. We've told you we aren't going to."
"That's only your opinion. I think you are. I'll give you till five
past six, as you seem to like lying in bed."
"You can turn out if you feel like it. You won't find me there."
"That'll be a disappointment. Nor Robinson?"
"No," said the junior partner in the firm; but he said it without any
deep conviction. The atmosphere was growing a great deal too tense for
"You've quite made up your minds?"
"Yes," said Stone.
"Right," said Adair quietly, and knocked him down.
He was up again in a moment. Adair had pushed the table back, and was
standing in the middle of the open space.
"You cad," said Stone. "I wasn't ready."
"Well, you are now. Shall we go on?"
Stone dashed in without a word, and for a few moments the two might
have seemed evenly matched to a not too intelligent spectator. But
science tells, even in a confined space. Adair was smaller and lighter
than Stone, but he was cooler and quicker, and he knew more about the
game. His blow was always home a fraction of a second sooner than his
opponent's. At the end of a minute Stone was on the floor again.
He got up slowly and stood leaning with one hand on the table.
"Suppose we say ten past six?" said Adair. "I'm not particular to a
minute or two."
Stone made no reply.
"Will ten past six suit you for fielding-practice to-morrow?" said
"All right," said Stone.
"Thanks. How about you, Robinson?"
Robinson had been a petrified spectator of the Captain-Kettle-like
manoeuvres of the cricket captain, and it did not take him long to
make up his mind. He was not altogether a coward. In different
circumstances he might have put up a respectable show. But it takes a
more than ordinarily courageous person to embark on a fight which he
knows must end in his destruction. Robinson knew that he was nothing
like a match even for Stone, and Adair had disposed of Stone in a
little over one minute. It seemed to Robinson that neither pleasure
nor profit was likely to come from an encounter with Adair.
"All right," he said hastily, "I'll turn up."
"Good," said Adair. "I wonder if either of you chaps could tell me
which is Jackson's study."
Stone was dabbing at his mouth with a handkerchief, a task which
precluded anything in the shape of conversation; so Robinson replied
that Mike's study was the first you came to on the right of the
corridor at the top of the stairs.
"Thanks," said Adair. "You don't happen to know if he's in, I
"He went up with Smith a quarter of an hour ago. I don't know if he's
"I'll go and see," said Adair. "I should like a word with him if he
ADAIR HAS A WORD WITH MIKE
Mike, all unconscious of the stirring proceedings which had been going
on below stairs, was peacefully reading a letter he had received that
morning from Strachan at Wrykyn, in which the successor to the cricket
captaincy which should have been Mike's had a good deal to say in a
lugubrious strain. In Mike's absence things had been going badly with
Wrykyn. A broken arm, contracted in the course of some rash
experiments with a day-boy's motor-bicycle, had deprived the team of
the services of Dunstable, the only man who had shown any signs of
being able to bowl a side out. Since this calamity, wrote Strachan,
everything had gone wrong. The M.C.C., led by Mike's brother Reggie,
the least of the three first-class-cricketing Jacksons, had smashed
them by a hundred and fifty runs. Geddington had wiped them off the
face of the earth. The Incogs, with a team recruited exclusively from
the rabbit-hutch--not a well-known man on the side except Stacey,
a veteran who had been playing for the club since Fuller Pilch's
time--had got home by two wickets. In fact, it was Strachan's opinion
that the Wrykyn team that summer was about the most hopeless gang of
dead-beats that had ever made an exhibition of itself on the school
grounds. The Ripton match, fortunately, was off, owing to an outbreak
of mumps at that shrine of learning and athletics--the second outbreak
of the malady in two terms. Which, said Strachan, was hard lines on
Ripton, but a bit of jolly good luck for Wrykyn, as it had saved them
from what would probably have been a record hammering, Ripton having
eight of their last year's team left, including Dixon, the fast
bowler, against whom Mike alone of the Wrykyn team had been able to
make runs in the previous season. Altogether, Wrykyn had struck a bad
Mike mourned over his suffering school. If only he could have been
there to help. It might have made all the difference. In school
cricket one good batsman, to go in first and knock the bowlers off
their length, may take a weak team triumphantly through a season. In
school cricket the importance of a good start for the first wicket is
As he put Strachan's letter away in his pocket, all his old bitterness
against Sedleigh, which had been ebbing during the past few days,
returned with a rush. He was conscious once more of that feeling of
personal injury which had made him hate his new school on the first
day of term.
And it was at this point, when his resentment was at its height, that
Adair, the concrete representative of everything Sedleighan, entered
There are moments in life's placid course when there has got to be the
biggest kind of row. This was one of them.
* * * * *
Psmith, who was leaning against the mantelpiece, reading the serial
story in a daily paper which he had abstracted from the senior day-room,
made the intruder free of the study with a dignified wave of the hand,
and went on reading. Mike remained in the deck-chair in which he was
sitting, and contented himself with glaring at the newcomer.
Psmith was the first to speak.
"If you ask my candid opinion," he said, looking up from his paper, "I
should say that young Lord Antony Trefusis was in the soup already. I
seem to see the _consommé_ splashing about his ankles. He's had a
note telling him to be under the oak-tree in the Park at midnight.
He's just off there at the end of this instalment. I bet Long Jack,
the poacher, is waiting there with a sandbag. Care to see the paper,
Comrade Adair? Or don't you take any interest in contemporary
"Thanks," said Adair. "I just wanted to speak to Jackson for a
"Fate," said Psmith, "has led your footsteps to the right place. That
is Comrade Jackson, the Pride of the School, sitting before you."
"What do you want?" said Mike.
He suspected that Adair had come to ask him once again to play for the
school. The fact that the M.C.C. match was on the following day made
this a probable solution of the reason for his visit. He could think
of no other errand that was likely to have set the head of Downing's
paying afternoon calls.
"I'll tell you in a minute. It won't take long."
"That," said Psmith approvingly, "is right. Speed is the key-note of
the present age. Promptitude. Despatch. This is no time for loitering.
We must be strenuous. We must hustle. We must Do It Now. We----"
"Buck up," said Mike.
"Certainly," said Adair. "I've just been talking to Stone and
"An excellent way of passing an idle half-hour," said Psmith.
"We weren't exactly idle," said Adair grimly. "It didn't last long,
but it was pretty lively while it did. Stone chucked it after the
Mike got up out of his chair. He could not quite follow what all this
was about, but there was no mistaking the truculence of Adair's
manner. For some reason, which might possibly be made dear later,
Adair was looking for trouble, and Mike in his present mood felt that
it would be a privilege to see that he got it.
Psmith was regarding Adair through his eyeglass with pain and
"Surely," he said, "you do not mean us to understand that you have
been _brawling_ with Comrade Stone! This is bad hearing. I
thought that you and he were like brothers. Such a bad example for
Comrade Robinson, too. Leave us, Adair. We would brood. Oh, go thee,
knave, I'll none of thee. Shakespeare."
Psmith turned away, and resting his elbows on the mantelpiece, gazed
at himself mournfully in the looking-glass.
"I'm not the man I was," he sighed, after a prolonged inspection.
"There are lines on my face, dark circles beneath my eyes. The fierce
rush of life at Sedleigh is wasting me away."
"Stone and I had a discussion about early-morning fielding-practice,"
said Adair, turning to Mike.
Mike said nothing.
"I thought his fielding wanted working up a bit, so I told him to turn
out at six to-morrow morning. He said he wouldn't, so we argued it
out. He's going to all right. So is Robinson."
Mike remained silent.
"So are you," added Adair.
"I get thinner and thinner," said Psmith from the mantelpiece.
Mike looked at Adair, and Adair looked at Mike, after the manner of
two dogs before they fly at one another. There was an electric silence
in the study. Psmith peered with increased earnestness into the glass.
"Oh?" said Mike at last. "What makes you think that?"
"I don't think. I know."
"Any special reason for my turning out?"
"You're going to play for the school against the M.C.C. to-morrow, and
I want you to get some practice."
"I wonder how you got that idea!"
"Curious I should have done, isn't it?"
"Very. You aren't building on it much, are you?" said Mike politely.
"I am, rather," replied Adair with equal courtesy.
"I'm afraid you'll be disappointed."
"I don't think so."
"My eyes," said Psmith regretfully, "are a bit close together.
However," he added philosophically, "it's too late to alter that now."
Mike drew a step closer to Adair.
"What makes you think I shall play against the M.C.C.?" he asked
"I'm going to make you."
Mike took another step forward. Adair moved to meet him.
"Would you care to try now?" said Mike.
For just one second the two drew themselves together preparatory to
beginning the serious business of the interview, and in that second
Psmith, turning from the glass, stepped between them.
"Get out of the light, Smith," said Mike.
Psmith waved him back with a deprecating gesture.
"My dear young friends," he said placidly, "if you _will_ let
your angry passions rise, against the direct advice of Doctor Watts,
I suppose you must, But when you propose to claw each other in my
study, in the midst of a hundred fragile and priceless ornaments, I
lodge a protest. If you really feel that you want to scrap, for
goodness sake do it where there's some room. I don't want all the
study furniture smashed. I know a bank whereon the wild thyme grows,
only a few yards down the road, where you can scrap all night if you
want to. How would it be to move on there? Any objections? None? Then
shift ho! and let's get it over."
CLEARING THE AIR
Psmith was one of those people who lend a dignity to everything they
touch. Under his auspices the most unpromising ventures became somehow
enveloped in an atmosphere of measured stateliness. On the present
occasion, what would have been, without his guiding hand, a mere
unscientific scramble, took on something of the impressive formality
of the National Sporting Club.
"The rounds," he said, producing a watch, as they passed through a
gate into a field a couple of hundred yards from the house gate, "will
be of three minutes' duration, with a minute rest in between. A man
who is down will have ten seconds in which to rise. Are you ready,
Comrades Adair and Jackson? Very well, then. Time."
After which, it was a pity that the actual fight did not quite live up
to its referee's introduction. Dramatically, there should have been
cautious sparring for openings and a number of tensely contested
rounds, as if it had been the final of a boxing competition. But
school fights, when they do occur--which is only once in a decade
nowadays, unless you count junior school scuffles--are the outcome of
weeks of suppressed bad blood, and are consequently brief and furious.
In a boxing competition, however much one may want to win, one does
not dislike one's opponent. Up to the moment when "time" was called,
one was probably warmly attached to him, and at the end of the last
round one expects to resume that attitude of mind. In a fight each
party, as a rule, hates the other.
So it happened that there was nothing formal or cautious about the
present battle. All Adair wanted was to get at Mike, and all Mike
wanted was to get at Adair. Directly Psmith called "time," they rushed
together as if they meant to end the thing in half a minute.
It was this that saved Mike. In an ordinary contest with the gloves,
with his opponent cool and boxing in his true form, he could not have
lasted three rounds against Adair. The latter was a clever boxer,
while Mike had never had a lesson in his life. If Adair had kept away
and used his head, nothing could have prevented him winning.
As it was, however, he threw away his advantages, much as Tom Brown
did at the beginning of his fight with Slogger Williams, and the
result was the same as on that historic occasion. Mike had the greater
strength, and, thirty seconds from the start, knocked his man clean
off his feet with an unscientific but powerful right-hander.
This finished Adair's chances. He rose full of fight, but with all the
science knocked out of him. He went in at Mike with both hands. The
Irish blood in him, which for the ordinary events of life made him
merely energetic and dashing, now rendered him reckless. He abandoned
all attempt at guarding. It was the Frontal Attack in its most futile
form, and as unsuccessful as a frontal attack is apt to be. There was
a swift exchange of blows, in the course of which Mike's left elbow,
coming into contact with his opponent's right fist, got a shock which
kept it tingling for the rest of the day; and then Adair went down in
He got up slowly and with difficulty. For a moment he stood blinking
vaguely. Then he lurched forward at Mike.
In the excitement of a fight--which is, after all, about the most
exciting thing that ever happens to one in the course of one's life--it
is difficult for the fighters to see what the spectators see. Where
the spectators see an assault on an already beaten man, the fighter
himself only sees a legitimate piece of self-defence against an
opponent whose chances are equal to his own. Psmith saw, as anybody
looking on would have seen, that Adair was done. Mike's blow had taken
him within a fraction of an inch of the point of the jaw, and he was
all but knocked out. Mike could not see this. All he understood was
that his man was on his feet again and coming at him, so he hit out
with all his strength; and this time Adair went down and stayed down.
"Brief," said Psmith, coming forward, "but exciting. We may take that,
I think, to be the conclusion of the entertainment. I will now have a
dash at picking up the slain. I shouldn't stop, if I were you. He'll
be sitting up and taking notice soon, and if he sees you he may want
to go on with the combat, which would do him no earthly good. If it's
going to be continued in our next, there had better be a bit of an
interval for alterations and repairs first."
"Is he hurt much, do you think?" asked Mike. He had seen knock-outs
before in the ring, but this was the first time he had ever effected
one on his own account, and Adair looked unpleasantly corpse-like.
"_He's_ all right," said Psmith. "In a minute or two he'll be
skipping about like a little lambkin. I'll look after him. You go away
and pick flowers."
Mike put on his coat and walked back to the house. He was conscious of
a perplexing whirl of new and strange emotions, chief among which was
a curious feeling that he rather liked Adair. He found himself
thinking that Adair was a good chap, that there was something to be
said for his point of view, and that it was a pity he had knocked him
about so much. At the same time, he felt an undeniable thrill of pride
at having beaten him. The feat presented that interesting person, Mike
Jackson, to him in a fresh and pleasing light, as one who had had a
tough job to face and had carried it through. Jackson, the cricketer,
he knew, but Jackson, the deliverer of knock-out blows, was strange to
him, and he found this new acquaintance a man to be respected.
The fight, in fact, had the result which most fights have, if they are
fought fairly and until one side has had enough. It revolutionised
Mike's view of things. It shook him up, and drained the bad blood out
of him. Where, before, he had seemed to himself to be acting with
massive dignity, he now saw that he had simply been sulking like some
wretched kid. There had appeared to him something rather fine in his
policy of refusing to identify himself in any way with Sedleigh, a
touch of the stone-walls-do-not-a-prison-make sort of thing. He now
saw that his attitude was to be summed up in the words, "Sha'n't
It came upon Mike with painful clearness that he had been making an
ass of himself.
He had come to this conclusion, after much earnest thought, when
Psmith entered the study.
"How's Adair?" asked Mike.
"Sitting up and taking nourishment once more. We have been chatting.
He's not a bad cove."
"He's all right," said Mike.
There was a pause. Psmith straightened his tie.
"Look here," he said, "I seldom interfere in terrestrial strife, but
it seems to me that there's an opening here for a capable peace-maker,
not afraid of work, and willing to give his services in exchange for a
comfortable home. Comrade Adair's rather a stoutish fellow in his way.
I'm not much on the 'Play up for the old school, Jones,' game, but
every one to his taste. I shouldn't have thought anybody would get
overwhelmingly attached to this abode of wrath, but Comrade Adair
seems to have done it. He's all for giving Sedleigh a much-needed
boost-up. It's not a bad idea in its way. I don't see why one
shouldn't humour him. Apparently he's been sweating since early
childhood to buck the school up. And as he's leaving at the end of the
term, it mightn't be a scaly scheme to give him a bit of a send-off,
if possible, by making the cricket season a bit of a banger. As a
start, why not drop him a line to say that you'll play against the
Mike did not reply at once. He was feeling better disposed towards
Adair and Sedleigh than he had felt, but he was not sure that he was
quite prepared to go as far as a complete climb-down.
"It wouldn't be a bad idea," continued Psmith. "There's nothing like
giving a man a bit in every now and then. It broadens the soul and
improves the action of the skin. What seems to have fed up Comrade
Adair, to a certain extent, is that Stone apparently led him to
understand that you had offered to give him and Robinson places in
your village team. You didn't, of course?"
"Of course not," said Mike indignantly.
"I told him he didn't know the old _noblesse oblige_ spirit of
the Jacksons. I said that you would scorn to tarnish the Jackson
escutcheon by not playing the game. My eloquence convinced him.
However, to return to the point under discussion, why not?"
"I don't--What I mean to say--" began Mike.
"If your trouble is," said Psmith, "that you fear that you may be in
"Don't be an ass."
"----Dismiss it. _I_ am playing."
"You're what? You?"
"I," said Psmith, breathing on a coat-button, and polishing it with
"Can you play cricket?"
"You have discovered," said Psmith, "my secret sorrow."
"You wrong me, Comrade Jackson."
"Then why haven't you played?"
"Why haven't you?"
"Why didn't you come and play for Lower Borlock, I mean?"
"The last time I played in a village cricket match I was caught at
point by a man in braces. It would have been madness to risk another
such shock to my system. My nerves are so exquisitely balanced that a
thing of that sort takes years off my life."
"No, but look here, Smith, bar rotting. Are you really any good at
"Competent judges at Eton gave me to understand so. I was told that
this year I should be a certainty for Lord's. But when the cricket
season came, where was I? Gone. Gone like some beautiful flower that
withers in the night."
"But you told me you didn't like cricket. You said you only liked
"Quite right. I do. But at schools where cricket is compulsory you
have to overcome your private prejudices. And in time the thing
becomes a habit. Imagine my feelings when I found that I was
degenerating, little by little, into a slow left-hand bowler with a
swerve. I fought against it, but it was useless, and after a while I
gave up the struggle, and drifted with the stream. Last year, in a
house match"--Psmith's voice took on a deeper tone of melancholy--"I
took seven for thirteen in the second innings on a hard wicket. I did
think, when I came here, that I had found a haven of rest, but it was
not to be. I turn out to-morrow. What Comrade Outwood will say, when
he finds that his keenest archaeological disciple has deserted, I hate
to think. However----"
Mike felt as if a young and powerful earthquake had passed. The whole
face of his world had undergone a quick change. Here was he, the
recalcitrant, wavering on the point of playing for the school, and
here was Psmith, the last person whom he would have expected to be a
player, stating calmly that he had been in the running for a place in
the Eton eleven.
Then in a flash Mike understood. He was not by nature intuitive, but
he read Psmith's mind now. Since the term began, he and Psmith had
been acting on precisely similar motives. Just as he had been
disappointed of the captaincy of cricket at Wrykyn, so had Psmith been
disappointed of his place in the Eton team at Lord's. And they had
both worked it off, each in his own way--Mike sullenly, Psmith
whimsically, according to their respective natures--on Sedleigh.
If Psmith, therefore, did not consider it too much of a climb-down to
renounce his resolution not to play for Sedleigh, there was nothing to
stop Mike doing so, as--at the bottom of his heart--he wanted to do.
"By Jove," he said, "if you're playing, I'll play. I'll write a note
to Adair now. But, I say--" he stopped--"I'm hanged if I'm going to
turn out and field before breakfast to-morrow."
"That's all right. You won't have to. Adair won't be there himself.
He's not playing against the M.C.C. He's sprained his wrist."
IN WHICH PEACE IS DECLARED
"Sprained his wrist?" said Mike. "How did he do that?"
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