P. G. Wodehouse
Part 8 out of 8
"During the brawl. Apparently one of his efforts got home on your
elbow instead of your expressive countenance, and whether it was that
your elbow was particularly tough or his wrist particularly fragile, I
don't know. Anyhow, it went. It's nothing bad, but it'll keep him out
of the game to-morrow."
"I say, what beastly rough luck! I'd no idea. I'll go round."
"Not a bad scheme. Close the door gently after you, and if you see
anybody downstairs who looks as if he were likely to be going over to
the shop, ask him to get me a small pot of some rare old jam and tell
the man to chalk it up to me. The jam Comrade Outwood supplies to us
at tea is all right as a practical joke or as a food for those anxious
to commit suicide, but useless to anybody who values life."
On arriving at Mr. Downing's and going to Adair's study, Mike found
that his late antagonist was out. He left a note informing him of his
willingness to play in the morrow's match. The lock-up bell rang as he
went out of the house.
A spot of rain fell on his hand. A moment later there was a continuous
patter, as the storm, which had been gathering all day, broke in
earnest. Mike turned up his coat-collar, and ran back to Outwood's.
"At this rate," he said to himself, "there won't be a match at all
* * * * *
When the weather decides, after behaving well for some weeks, to show
what it can do in another direction, it does the thing thoroughly.
When Mike woke the next morning the world was grey and dripping.
Leaden-coloured clouds drifted over the sky, till there was not a
trace of blue to be seen, and then the rain began again, in the
gentle, determined way rain has when it means to make a day of it.
It was one of those bad days when one sits in the pavilion, damp and
depressed, while figures in mackintoshes, with discoloured buckskin
boots, crawl miserably about the field in couples.
Mike, shuffling across to school in a Burberry, met Adair at Downing's
These moments are always difficult. Mike stopped--he could hardly walk
on as if nothing had happened--and looked down at his feet.
"Coming across?" he said awkwardly.
"Right ho!" said Adair.
They walked on in silence.
"It's only about ten to, isn't it?" said Mike.
Adair fished out his watch, and examined it with an elaborate care
born of nervousness.
"About nine to."
"Good. We've got plenty of time."
"I hate having to hurry over to school."
"So do I."
"I often do cut it rather fine, though."
"Yes. So do I."
"Beastly nuisance when one does."
"It's only about a couple of minutes from the houses to the school, I
should think, shouldn't you?"
"Not much more. Might be three."
"Yes. Three if one didn't hurry."
"Oh, yes, if one didn't hurry."
"Beastly day," said Adair.
"I say," said Mike, scowling at his toes, "awfully sorry about your
"Oh, that's all right. It was my fault."
"Does it hurt?"
"Oh, no, rather not, thanks."
"I'd no idea you'd crocked yourself."
"Oh, no, that's all right. It was only right at the end. You'd have
smashed me anyhow."
"I bet you anything you like you would."
"I bet you I shouldn't.... Jolly hard luck, just before the match."
"Oh, no.... I say, thanks awfully for saying you'd play."
"Oh, rot.... Do you think we shall get a game?"
Adair inspected the sky carefully.
"I don't know. It looks pretty bad, doesn't it?"
"Rotten. I say, how long will your wrist keep you out of cricket?"
"Be all right in a week. Less, probably."
"Now that you and Smith are going to play, we ought to have a jolly
"Rummy, Smith turning out to be a cricketer."
"Yes. I should think he'd be a hot bowler, with his height."
"He must be jolly good if he was only just out of the Eton team last
"What's the time?" asked Mike.
Adair produced his watch once more.
"We've heaps of time."
"Let's stroll on a bit down the road, shall we?"
Mike cleared his throat.
"I've been talking to Smith. He was telling me that you thought I'd
promised to give Stone and Robinson places in the----"
"Oh, no, that's all right. It was only for a bit. Smith told me you
couldn't have done, and I saw that I was an ass to think you could
have. It was Stone seeming so dead certain that he could play for
Lower Borlock if I chucked him from the school team that gave me the
"He never even asked me to get him a place."
"No, I know."
"Of course, I wouldn't have done it, even if he had."
"Of course not."
"I didn't want to play myself, but I wasn't going to do a rotten trick
like getting other fellows away from the team."
"No, I know."
"It was rotten enough, really, not playing myself."
"Oh, no. Beastly rough luck having to leave Wrykyn just when you were
going to be captain, and come to a small school like this."
The excitement of the past few days must have had a stimulating effect
on Mike's mind--shaken it up, as it were: for now, for the second time
in two days, he displayed quite a creditable amount of intuition. He
might have been misled by Adair's apparently deprecatory attitude
towards Sedleigh, and blundered into a denunciation of the place.
Adair had said "a small school like this" in the sort of voice which
might have led his hearer to think that he was expected to say, "Yes,
rotten little hole, isn't it?" or words to that effect. Mike,
fortunately, perceived that the words were used purely from
politeness, on the Chinese principle. When a Chinaman wishes to pay a
compliment, he does so by belittling himself and his belongings.
He eluded the pitfall.
"What rot!" he said. "Sedleigh's one of the most sporting schools I've
ever come across. Everybody's as keen as blazes. So they ought to be,
after the way you've sweated."
Adair shuffled awkwardly.
"I've always been fairly keen on the place," he said. "But I don't
suppose I've done anything much."
"You've loosened one of my front teeth," said Mike, with a grin, "if
that's any comfort to you."
"I couldn't eat anything except porridge this morning. My jaw still
For the first time during the conversation their eyes met, and the
humorous side of the thing struck them simultaneously. They began to
"What fools we must have looked!" said Adair.
"_You_ were all right. I must have looked rotten. I've never had
the gloves on in my life. I'm jolly glad no one saw us except Smith,
who doesn't count. Hullo, there's the bell. We'd better be moving on.
What about this match? Not much chance of it from the look of the sky
"It might clear before eleven. You'd better get changed, anyhow, at
the interval, and hang about in case."
"All right. It's better than doing Thucydides with Downing. We've got
math, till the interval, so I don't see anything of him all day; which
won't hurt me."
"He isn't a bad sort of chap, when you get to know him," said Adair.
"I can't have done, then. I don't know which I'd least soon be,
Downing or a black-beetle, except that if one was Downing one could
tread on the black-beetle. Dash this rain. I got about half a pint
down my neck just then. We sha'n't get a game to-day, of anything like
it. As you're crocked, I'm not sure that I care much. You've been
sweating for years to get the match on, and it would be rather rot
playing it without you."
"I don't know that so much. I wish we could play, because I'm certain,
with you and Smith, we'd walk into them. They probably aren't sending
down much of a team, and really, now that you and Smith are turning
out, we've got a jolly hot lot. There's quite decent batting all the
way through, and the bowling isn't so bad. If only we could have given
this M.C.C. lot a really good hammering, it might have been easier to
get some good fixtures for next season. You see, it's all right for a
school like Wrykyn, but with a small place like this you simply can't
get the best teams to give you a match till you've done something to
show that you aren't absolute rotters at the game. As for the schools,
they're worse. They'd simply laugh at you. You were cricket secretary
at Wrykyn last year. What would you have done if you'd had a challenge
from Sedleigh? You'd either have laughed till you were sick, or else
had a fit at the mere idea of the thing."
"By jove, you've struck about the brightest scheme on record. I never
thought of it before. Let's get a match on with Wrykyn."
"What! They wouldn't play us."
"Yes, they would. At least, I'm pretty sure they would. I had a letter
from Strachan, the captain, yesterday, saying that the Ripton match
had had to be scratched owing to illness. So they've got a vacant
date. Shall I try them? I'll write to Strachan to-night, if you like.
And they aren't strong this year. We'll smash them. What do you say?"
Adair was as one who has seen a vision.
"By Jove," he said at last, "if we only could!"
MR. DOWNING MOVES
The rain continued without a break all the morning. The two teams,
after hanging about dismally, and whiling the time away with
stump-cricket in the changing-rooms, lunched in the pavilion at
one o'clock. After which the M.C.C. captain, approaching Adair,
moved that this merry meeting be considered off and himself and
his men permitted to catch the next train back to town. To which
Adair, seeing that it was out of the question that there should be
any cricket that afternoon, regretfully agreed, and the first
Sedleigh _v_. M.C.C. match was accordingly scratched.
Mike and Psmith, wandering back to the house, were met by a damp
junior from Downing's, with a message that Mr. Downing wished to see
Mike as soon as he was changed.
"What's he want me for?" inquired Mike.
The messenger did not know. Mr. Downing, it seemed, had not confided
in him. All he knew was that the housemaster was in the house, and
would be glad if Mike would step across.
"A nuisance," said Psmith, "this incessant demand for you. That's the
worst of being popular. If he wants you to stop to tea, edge away. A
meal on rather a sumptuous scale will be prepared in the study against
Mike changed quickly, and went off, leaving Psmith, who was fond of
simple pleasures in his spare time, earnestly occupied with a puzzle
which had been scattered through the land by a weekly paper. The prize
for a solution was one thousand pounds, and Psmith had already
informed Mike with some minuteness of his plans for the disposition of
this sum. Meanwhile, he worked at it both in and out of school,
generally with abusive comments on its inventor.
He was still fiddling away at it when Mike returned.
Mike, though Psmith was at first too absorbed to notice it, was
"I don't wish to be in any way harsh," said Psmith, without looking
up, "but the man who invented this thing was a blighter of the worst
type. You come and have a shot. For the moment I am baffled. The
whisper flies round the clubs, 'Psmith is baffled.'"
"The man's an absolute drivelling ass," said Mike warmly.
"Me, do you mean?"
"What on earth would be the point of my doing it?"
"You'd gather in a thousand of the best. Give you a nice start in
"I'm not talking about your rotten puzzle."
"What are you talking about?"
"That ass Downing. I believe he's off his nut."
"Then your chat with Comrade Downing was not of the old-College-chums-
meeting-unexpectedly-after-years'-separation type? What has he been
doing to you?"
"He's off his nut."
"I know. But what did he do? How did the brainstorm burst? Did he jump
at you from behind a door and bite a piece out of your leg, or did he
say he was a tea-pot?"
Mike sat down.
"You remember that painting Sammy business?"
"As if it were yesterday," said Psmith. "Which it was, pretty nearly."
"He thinks I did it."
"Why? Have you ever shown any talent in the painting line?"
"The silly ass wanted me to confess that I'd done it. He as good as
asked me to. Jawed a lot of rot about my finding it to my advantage
later on if I behaved sensibly."
"Then what are you worrying about? Don't you know that when a master
wants you to do the confessing-act, it simply means that he hasn't
enough evidence to start in on you with? You're all right. The thing's
"Evidence!" said Mike, "My dear man, he's got enough evidence to sink
a ship. He's absolutely sweating evidence at every pore. As far as I
can see, he's been crawling about, doing the Sherlock Holmes business
for all he's worth ever since the thing happened, and now he's dead
certain that I painted Sammy."
"_Did_ you, by the way?" asked Psmith.
"No," said Mike shortly, "I didn't. But after listening to Downing I
almost began to wonder if I hadn't. The man's got stacks of evidence
to prove that I did."
"Such as what?"
"It's mostly about my boots. But, dash it, you know all about that.
Why, you were with him when he came and looked for them."
"It is true," said Psmith, "that Comrade Downing and I spent a very
pleasant half-hour together inspecting boots, but how does he drag you
"He swears one of the boots was splashed with paint."
"Yes. He babbled to some extent on that point when I was entertaining
him. But what makes him think that the boot, if any, was yours?"
"He's certain that somebody in this house got one of his boots
splashed, and is hiding it somewhere. And I'm the only chap in the
house who hasn't got a pair of boots to show, so he thinks it's me. I
don't know where the dickens my other boot has gone. Edmund swears he
hasn't seen it, and it's nowhere about. Of course I've got two pairs,
but one's being soled. So I had to go over to school yesterday in
pumps. That's how he spotted me."
"Comrade Jackson," he said mournfully, "all this very sad affair shows
the folly of acting from the best motives. In my simple zeal, meaning
to save you unpleasantness, I have landed you, with a dull, sickening
thud, right in the cart. Are you particular about dirtying your hands?
If you aren't, just reach up that chimney a bit?"
Mike stared, "What the dickens are you talking about?"
"Go on. Get it over. Be a man, and reach up the chimney."
"I don't know what the game is," said Mike, kneeling beside the fender
and groping, "but--_Hullo_!"
"Ah ha!" said Psmith moodily.
Mike dropped the soot-covered object in the fender, and glared at it.
[Illustration: MIKE DROPPED THE SOOT-COVERED OBJECT IN THE FENDER.]
"It's my boot!" he said at last.
"It _is_," said Psmith, "your boot. And what is that red stain
across the toe? Is it blood? No, 'tis not blood. It is red paint."
Mike seemed unable to remove his eyes from the boot.
"How on earth did--By Jove! I remember now. I kicked up against
something in the dark when I was putting my bicycle back that night.
It must have been the paint-pot."
"Then you were out that night?"
"Rather. That's what makes it so jolly awkward. It's too long to tell
"Your stories are never too long for me," said Psmith. "Say on!"
"Well, it was like this." And Mike related the events which had led up
to his midnight excursion. Psmith listened attentively.
"This," he said, when Mike had finished, "confirms my frequently stated
opinion that Comrade Jellicoe is one of Nature's blitherers. So that's
why he touched us for our hard-earned, was it?"
"Yes. Of course there was no need for him to have the money at all."
"And the result is that you are in something of a tight place. You're
_absolutely_ certain you didn't paint that dog? Didn't do it, by
any chance, in a moment of absent-mindedness, and forgot all about it?
No? No, I suppose not. I wonder who did!"
"It's beastly awkward. You see, Downing chased me that night. That was
why I rang the alarm bell. So, you see, he's certain to think that the
chap he chased, which was me, and the chap who painted Sammy, are the
same. I shall get landed both ways."
"It _is_ a tightish place," he admitted.
"I wonder if we could get this boot clean," said Mike, inspecting it
"Not for a pretty considerable time."
"I suppose not. I say, I _am_ in the cart. If I can't produce
this boot, they're bound to guess why."
"What exactly," asked Psmith, "was the position of affairs between you
and Comrade Downing when you left him? Had you definitely parted
brass-rags? Or did you simply sort of drift apart with mutual
"Oh, he said I was ill-advised to continue that attitude, or some rot,
and I said I didn't care, I hadn't painted his bally dog, and he said
very well, then, he must take steps, and--well, that was about all."
"Sufficient, too," said Psmith, "quite sufficient. I take it, then,
that he is now on the war-path, collecting a gang, so to speak."
"I suppose he's gone to the Old Man about it."
"Probably. A very worrying time our headmaster is having, taking it
all round, in connection with this painful affair. What do you think
his move will be?"
"I suppose he'll send for me, and try to get something out of me."
"_He'll_ want you to confess, too. Masters are all whales on
confession. The worst of it is, you can't prove an alibi, because
at about the time the foul act was perpetrated, you were playing
Round-and-round-the-mulberry-bush with Comrade Downing. This needs
thought. You had better put the case in my hands, and go out and
watch the dandelions growing. I will think over the matter."
"Well, I hope you'll be able to think of something. I can't."
"Possibly. You never know."
There was a tap at the door.
"See how we have trained them," said Psmith. "They now knock before
entering. There was a time when they would have tried to smash in a
panel. Come in."
A small boy, carrying a straw hat adorned with the school-house
ribbon, answered the invitation.
"Oh, I say, Jackson," he said, "the headmaster sent me over to tell
you he wants to see you."
"I told you so," said Mike to Psmith.
"Don't go," suggested Psmith. "Tell him to write."
Mike got up.
"All this is very trying," said Psmith. "I'm seeing nothing of you
to-day." He turned to the small boy. "Tell Willie," he added, "that
Mr. Jackson will be with him in a moment."
The emissary departed.
"_You're_ all right," said Psmith encouragingly. "Just you keep
on saying you're all right. Stout denial is the thing. Don't go in for
any airy explanations. Simply stick to stout denial. You can't beat
With which expert advice, he allowed Mike to go on his way.
He had not been gone two minutes, when Psmith, who had leaned back in
his chair, wrapped in thought, heaved himself up again. He stood for a
moment straightening his tie at the looking-glass; then he picked up
his hat and moved slowly out of the door and down the passage. Thence,
at the same dignified rate of progress, out of the house and in at
Downing's front gate.
The postman was at the door when he got there, apparently absorbed in
conversation with the parlour-maid. Psmith stood by politely till the
postman, who had just been told it was like his impudence, caught
sight of him, and, having handed over the letters in an ultra-formal
and professional manner, passed away.
"Is Mr. Downing at home?" inquired Psmith.
He was, it seemed. Psmith was shown into the dining-room on the left
of the hall, and requested to wait. He was examining a portrait of Mr.
Downing which hung on the wall, when the housemaster came in.
"An excellent likeness, sir," said Psmith, with a gesture of the hand
towards the painting.
"Well, Smith," said Mr. Downing shortly, "what do you wish to see me
"It was in connection with the regrettable painting of your dog, sir."
"Ha!" said Mr. Downing.
"I did it, sir," said Psmith, stopping and flicking a piece of fluff
off his knee.
THE ARTIST CLAIMS HIS WORK
The line of action which Psmith had called Stout Denial is an
excellent line to adopt, especially if you really are innocent, but it
does not lead to anything in the shape of a bright and snappy dialogue
between accuser and accused. Both Mike and the headmaster were
oppressed by a feeling that the situation was difficult. The
atmosphere was heavy, and conversation showed a tendency to flag. The
headmaster had opened brightly enough, with a summary of the evidence
which Mr. Downing had laid before him, but after that a massive
silence had been the order of the day. There is nothing in this world
quite so stolid and uncommunicative as a boy who has made up his mind
to be stolid and uncommunicative; and the headmaster, as he sat and
looked at Mike, who sat and looked past him at the bookshelves, felt
awkward. It was a scene which needed either a dramatic interruption or
a neat exit speech. As it happened, what it got was the dramatic
The headmaster was just saying, "I do not think you fully realise,
Jackson, the extent to which appearances--" --which was practically
going back to the beginning and starting again--when there was a knock
at the door. A voice without said, "Mr. Downing to see you, sir," and
the chief witness for the prosecution burst in.
"I would not have interrupted you," said Mr. Downing, "but----"
"Not at all, Mr. Downing. Is there anything I can----?"
"I have discovered--I have been informed--In short, it was not
Jackson, who committed the--who painted my dog."
Mike and the headmaster both looked at the speaker. Mike with a
feeling of relief--for Stout Denial, unsupported by any weighty
evidence, is a wearing game to play--the headmaster with astonishment.
"Not Jackson?" said the headmaster.
"No. It was a boy in the same house. Smith."
Psmith! Mike was more than surprised. He could not believe it. There
is nothing which affords so clear an index to a boy's character as the
type of rag which he considers humorous. Between what is a rag and
what is merely a rotten trick there is a very definite line drawn.
Masters, as a rule, do not realise this, but boys nearly always do.
Mike could not imagine Psmith doing a rotten thing like covering a
housemaster's dog with red paint, any more than he could imagine doing
it himself. They had both been amused at the sight of Sammy after the
operation, but anybody, except possibly the owner of the dog, would
have thought it funny at first. After the first surprise, their
feeling had been that it was a scuggish thing to have done and beastly
rough luck on the poor brute. It was a kid's trick. As for Psmith
having done it, Mike simply did not believe it.
"Smith!" said the headmaster. "What makes you think that?"
"Simply this," said Mr. Downing, with calm triumph, "that the boy
himself came to me a few moments ago and confessed."
Mike was conscious of a feeling of acute depression. It did not make
him in the least degree jubilant, or even thankful, to know that he
himself was cleared of the charge. All he could think of was that
Psmith was done for. This was bound to mean the sack. If Psmith had
painted Sammy, it meant that Psmith had broken out of his house at
night: and it was not likely that the rules about nocturnal wandering
were less strict at Sedleigh than at any other school in the kingdom.
Mike felt, if possible, worse than he had felt when Wyatt had been
caught on a similar occasion. It seemed as if Fate had a special
grudge against his best friends. He did not make friends very quickly
or easily, though he had always had scores of acquaintances--and with
Wyatt and Psmith he had found himself at home from the first moment he
had met them.
He sat there, with a curious feeling of having swallowed a heavy
weight, hardly listening to what Mr. Downing was saying. Mr. Downing
was talking rapidly to the headmaster, who was nodding from time to
Mike took advantage of a pause to get up. "May I go, sir?" he said.
"Certainly, Jackson, certainly," said the Head. "Oh, and er--, if you
are going back to your house, tell Smith that I should like to see
He had reached the door, when again there was a knock.
"Come in," said the headmaster.
It was Adair.
Adair was breathing rather heavily, as if he had been running.
"It was about Sammy--Sampson, sir," he said, looking at Mr. Downing.
"Ah, we know--. Well, Adair, what did you wish to say."
"It wasn't Jackson who did it, sir."
"No, no, Adair. So Mr. Downing----"
"It was Dunster, sir."
Terrific sensation! The headmaster gave a sort of strangled yelp of
astonishment. Mr. Downing leaped in his chair. Mike's eyes opened to
their fullest extent.
There was almost a wail in the headmaster's voice. The situation had
suddenly become too much for him. His brain was swimming. That Mike,
despite the evidence against him, should be innocent, was curious,
perhaps, but not particularly startling. But that Adair should inform
him, two minutes after Mr. Downing's announcement of Psmith's
confession, that Psmith, too, was guiltless, and that the real
criminal was Dunster--it was this that made him feel that somebody, in
the words of an American author, had played a mean trick on him, and
substituted for his brain a side-order of cauliflower. Why Dunster, of
all people? Dunster, who, he remembered dizzily, had left the school
at Christmas. And why, if Dunster had really painted the dog, had
Psmith asserted that he himself was the culprit? Why--why anything? He
concentrated his mind on Adair as the only person who could save him
from impending brain-fever.
"What--_what_ do you mean?"
"It _was_ Dunster, sir. I got a letter from him only five minutes
ago, in which he said that he had painted Sammy--Sampson, the dog,
sir, for a rag--for a joke, and that, as he didn't want any one here
to get into a row--be punished for it, I'd better tell Mr. Downing at
once. I tried to find Mr. Downing, but he wasn't in the house. Then I
met Smith outside the house, and he told me that Mr. Downing had gone
over to see you, sir."
"Smith told you?" said Mr. Downing.
"Did you say anything to him about your having received this letter
"I gave him the letter to read, sir."
"And what was his attitude when he had read it?"
"He laughed, sir."
"_Laughed!_" Mr. Downing's voice was thunderous.
"Yes, sir. He rolled about."
Mr. Downing snorted.
"But Adair," said the headmaster, "I do not understand how this thing
could have been done by Dunster. He has left the school."
"He was down here for the Old Sedleighans' match, sir. He stopped the
night in the village."
"And that was the night the--it happened?"
"I see. Well, I am glad to find that the blame cannot be attached to
any boy in the school. I am sorry that it is even an Old Boy. It was a
foolish, discreditable thing to have done, but it is not as bad as if
any boy still at the school had broken out of his house at night to do
"The sergeant," said Mr. Downing, "told me that the boy he saw was
attempting to enter Mr. Outwood's house."
"Another freak of Dunster's, I suppose," said the headmaster. "I shall
write to him."
"If it was really Dunster who painted my dog," said Mr. Downing, "I
cannot understand the part played by Smith in this affair. If he did
not do it, what possible motive could he have had for coming to me of
his own accord and deliberately confessing?"
"To be sure," said the headmaster, pressing a bell. "It is certainly a
thing that calls for explanation. Barlow," he said, as the butler
appeared, "kindly go across to Mr. Outwood's house and inform Smith
that I should like to see him."
"If you please, sir, Mr. Smith is waiting in the hall."
"In the hall!"
"Yes, sir. He arrived soon after Mr. Adair, sir, saying that he would
wait, as you would probably wish to see him shortly."
"H'm. Ask him to step up, Barlow."
There followed one of the tensest "stage waits" of Mike's experience.
It was not long, but, while it lasted, the silence was quite solid.
Nobody seemed to have anything to say, and there was not even a clock
in the room to break the stillness with its ticking. A very faint
drip-drip of rain could be heard outside the window.
Presently there was a sound of footsteps on the stairs. The door was
"Mr. Smith, sir."
The old Etonian entered as would the guest of the evening who is a few
moments late for dinner. He was cheerful, but slightly deprecating. He
gave the impression of one who, though sure of his welcome, feels that
some slight apology is expected from him. He advanced into the room
with a gentle half-smile which suggested good-will to all men.
"It is still raining," he observed. "You wished to see me, sir?"
"Sit down, Smith."
"Thank you, sir."
He dropped into a deep arm-chair (which both Adair and Mike had
avoided in favour of less luxurious seats) with the confidential
cosiness of a fashionable physician calling on a patient, between whom
and himself time has broken down the barriers of restraint and
Mr. Downing burst out, like a reservoir that has broken its banks.
Psmith turned his gaze politely in the housemaster's direction.
"Smith, you came to me a quarter of an hour ago and told me that it
was you who had painted my dog Sampson."
"It was absolutely untrue?"
"I am afraid so, sir."
"But, Smith--" began the headmaster.
Psmith bent forward encouragingly.
"----This is a most extraordinary affair. Have you no explanation to
offer? What induced you to do such a thing?"
Psmith sighed softly.
"The craze for notoriety, sir," he replied sadly. "The curse of the
"What!" cried the headmaster.
"It is remarkable," proceeded Psmith placidly, with the impersonal
touch of one lecturing on generalities, "how frequently, when a murder
has been committed, one finds men confessing that they have done it
when it is out of the question that they should have committed it. It
is one of the most interesting problems with which anthropologists are
confronted. Human nature----"
The headmaster interrupted.
"Smith," he said, "I should like to see you alone for a moment. Mr.
Downing might I trouble--? Adair, Jackson."
He made a motion towards the door.
When he and Psmith were alone, there was silence. Psmith leaned back
comfortably in his chair. The headmaster tapped nervously with his
foot on the floor.
The headmaster seemed to have some difficulty in proceeding. He paused
again. Then he went on.
"Er--Smith, I do not for a moment wish to pain you, but have
you--er, do you remember ever having had, as a child, let us say,
any--er--severe illness? Any--er--_mental_ illness?"
"There is no--forgive me if I am touching on a sad subject--there
is no--none of your near relatives have ever suffered in the way
"There isn't a lunatic on the list, sir," said Psmith cheerfully.
"Of course, Smith, of course," said the headmaster hurriedly, "I did
not mean to suggest--quite so, quite so.... You think, then, that you
confessed to an act which you had not committed purely from some
sudden impulse which you cannot explain?"
"Strictly between ourselves, sir----"
Privately, the headmaster found Psmith's man-to-man attitude somewhat
disconcerting, but he said nothing.
"I should not like it to go any further, sir."
"I will certainly respect any confidence----"
"I don't want anybody to know, sir. This is strictly between
"I think you are sometimes apt to forget, Smith, the proper relations
existing between boy and--Well, never mind that for the present. We
can return to it later. For the moment, let me hear what you wish to
say. I shall, of course, tell nobody, if you do not wish it."
"Well, it was like this, sir," said Psmith. "Jackson happened to tell
me that you and Mr. Downing seemed to think he had painted Mr.
Downing's dog, and there seemed some danger of his being expelled, so
I thought it wouldn't be an unsound scheme if I were to go and say I
had done it. That was the whole thing. Of course, Dunster writing
created a certain amount of confusion."
There was a pause.
"It was a very wrong thing to do, Smith," said the headmaster, at
last, "but.... You are a curious boy, Smith. Good-night."
He held out his hand.
"Good-night, sir," said Psmith.
"Not a bad old sort," said Psmith meditatively to himself, as he
walked downstairs. "By no means a bad old sort. I must drop in from
time to time and cultivate him."
* * * * *
Mike and Adair were waiting for him outside the front door.
"Well?" said Mike.
"You _are_ the limit," said Adair. "What's he done?"
"Nothing. We had a very pleasant chat, and then I tore myself away."
"Do you mean to say he's not going to do a thing?"
"Not a thing."
"Well, you're a marvel," said Adair.
Psmith thanked him courteously. They walked on towards the houses.
"By the way, Adair," said Mike, as the latter started to turn in at
Downing's, "I'll write to Strachan to-night about that match."
"What's that?" asked Psmith.
"Jackson's going to try and get Wrykyn to give us a game," said
Adair. "They've got a vacant date. I hope the dickens they'll do it."
"Oh, I should think they're certain to," said Mike. "Good-night."
"And give Comrade Downing, when you see him," said Psmith, "my very
best love. It is men like him who make this Merrie England of ours
what it is."
* * * * *
"I say, Psmith," said Mike suddenly, "what really made you tell
Downing you'd done it?"
"The craving for----"
"Oh, chuck it. You aren't talking to the Old Man now. I believe it was
simply to get me out of a jolly tight corner."
Psmith's expression was one of pain.
"My dear Comrade Jackson," said he, "you wrong me. You make me writhe.
I'm surprised at you. I never thought to hear those words from Michael
"Well, I believe you did, all the same," said Mike obstinately. "And
it was jolly good of you, too."
SEDLEIGH _v_. WRYKYN
The Wrykyn match was three-parts over, and things were going badly for
Sedleigh. In a way one might have said that the game was over, and
that Sedleigh had lost; for it was a one day match, and Wrykyn, who
had led on the first innings, had only to play out time to make the
Sedleigh were paying the penalty for allowing themselves to be
influenced by nerves in the early part of the day. Nerves lose more
school matches than good play ever won. There is a certain type of
school batsman who is a gift to any bowler when he once lets his
imagination run away with him. Sedleigh, with the exception of Adair,
Psmith, and Mike, had entered upon this match in a state of the most
azure funk. Ever since Mike had received Strachan's answer and Adair
had announced on the notice-board that on Saturday, July the
twentieth, Sedleigh would play Wrykyn, the team had been all on the
jump. It was useless for Adair to tell them, as he did repeatedly, on
Mike's authority, that Wrykyn were weak this season, and that on their
present form Sedleigh ought to win easily. The team listened, but were
not comforted. Wrykyn might be below their usual strength, but then
Wrykyn cricket, as a rule, reached such a high standard that this
probably meant little. However weak Wrykyn might be--for them--there
was a very firm impression among the members of the Sedleigh first
eleven that the other school was quite strong enough to knock the
cover off _them_. Experience counts enormously in school matches.
Sedleigh had never been proved. The teams they played were the sort of
sides which the Wrykyn second eleven would play. Whereas Wrykyn, from
time immemorial, had been beating Ripton teams and Free Foresters
teams and M.C.C. teams packed with county men and sending men to
Oxford and Cambridge who got their blues as freshmen.
Sedleigh had gone on to the field that morning a depressed side.
It was unfortunate that Adair had won the toss. He had had no choice
but to take first innings. The weather had been bad for the last week,
and the wicket was slow and treacherous. It was likely to get worse
during the day, so Adair had chosen to bat first.
Taking into consideration the state of nerves the team was in, this in
itself was a calamity. A school eleven are always at their worst and
nerviest before lunch. Even on their own ground they find the
surroundings lonely and unfamiliar. The subtlety of the bowlers
becomes magnified. Unless the first pair make a really good start, a
collapse almost invariably ensues.
To-day the start had been gruesome beyond words. Mike, the bulwark of
the side, the man who had been brought up on Wrykyn bowling, and from
whom, whatever might happen to the others, at least a fifty was
expected--Mike, going in first with Barnes and taking first over, had
played inside one from Bruce, the Wrykyn slow bowler, and had been
caught at short slip off his second ball.
That put the finishing-touch on the panic. Stone, Robinson, and the
others, all quite decent punishing batsmen when their nerves allowed
them to play their own game, crawled to the wickets, declined to hit
out at anything, and were clean bowled, several of them, playing back
to half-volleys. Adair did not suffer from panic, but his batting was
not equal to his bowling, and he had fallen after hitting one four.
Seven wickets were down for thirty when Psmith went in.
Psmith had always disclaimed any pretensions to batting skill, but he
was undoubtedly the right man for a crisis like this. He had an
enormous reach, and he used it. Three consecutive balls from Bruce he
turned into full-tosses and swept to the leg-boundary, and, assisted
by Barnes, who had been sitting on the splice in his usual manner, he
raised the total to seventy-one before being yorked, with his score at
thirty-five. Ten minutes later the innings was over, with Barnes not
out sixteen, for seventy-nine.
Wrykyn had then gone in, lost Strachan for twenty before lunch, and
finally completed their innings at a quarter to four for a hundred and
This was better than Sedleigh had expected. At least eight of the team
had looked forward dismally to an afternoon's leather-hunting. But
Adair and Psmith, helped by the wicket, had never been easy,
especially Psmith, who had taken six wickets, his slows playing havoc
with the tail.
It would be too much to say that Sedleigh had any hope of pulling the
game out of the fire; but it was a comfort, they felt, at any rate,
having another knock. As is usual at this stage of a match, their
nervousness had vanished, and they felt capable of better things than
in the first innings.
It was on Mike's suggestion that Psmith and himself went in first.
Mike knew the limitations of the Wrykyn bowling, and he was convinced
that, if they could knock Bruce off, it might be possible to rattle up
a score sufficient to give them the game, always provided that Wrykyn
collapsed in the second innings. And it seemed to Mike that the wicket
would be so bad then that they easily might.
So he and Psmith had gone in at four o'clock to hit. And they had hit.
The deficit had been wiped off, all but a dozen runs, when Psmith was
bowled, and by that time Mike was set and in his best vein. He treated
all the bowlers alike. And when Stone came in, restored to his proper
frame of mind, and lashed out stoutly, and after him Robinson and the
rest, it looked as if Sedleigh had a chance again. The score was a
hundred and twenty when Mike, who had just reached his fifty, skied
one to Strachan at cover. The time was twenty-five past five.
As Mike reached the pavilion, Adair declared the innings closed.
Wrykyn started batting at twenty-five minutes to six, with sixty-nine
to make if they wished to make them, and an hour and ten minutes
during which to keep up their wickets if they preferred to take things
easy and go for a win on the first innings.
At first it looked as if they meant to knock off the runs, for
Strachan forced the game from the first ball, which was Psmith's, and
which he hit into the pavilion. But, at fifteen, Adair bowled him. And
when, two runs later, Psmith got the next man stumped, and finished up
his over with a c-and-b, Wrykyn decided that it was not good enough.
Seventeen for three, with an hour all but five minutes to go, was
getting too dangerous. So Drummond and Rigby, the next pair, proceeded
to play with caution, and the collapse ceased.
This was the state of the game at the point at which this chapter
opened. Seventeen for three had become twenty-four for three, and the
hands of the clock stood at ten minutes past six. Changes of bowling
had been tried, but there seemed no chance of getting past the
batsmen's defence. They were playing all the good balls, and refused
to hit at the bad.
A quarter past six struck, and then Psmith made a suggestion which
altered the game completely.
"Why don't you have a shot this end?" he said to Adair, as they were
crossing over. "There's a spot on the off which might help you a lot.
You can break like blazes if only you land on it. It doesn't help my
leg-breaks a bit, because they won't hit at them."
Barnes was on the point of beginning to bowl, when Adair took the ball
from him. The captain of Outwood's retired to short leg with an air
that suggested that he was glad to be relieved of his prominent post.
The next moment Drummond's off-stump was lying at an angle of
forty-five. Adair was absolutely accurate as a bowler, and he had
dropped his first ball right on the worn patch.
Two minutes later Drummond's successor was retiring to the pavilion,
while the wicket-keeper straightened the stumps again.
There is nothing like a couple of unexpected wickets for altering the
atmosphere of a game. Five minutes before, Sedleigh had been lethargic
and without hope. Now there was a stir and buzz all round the ground.
There were twenty-five minutes to go, and five wickets were down.
Sedleigh was on top again.
The next man seemed to take an age coming out. As a matter of fact, he
walked more rapidly than a batsman usually walks to the crease.
Adair's third ball dropped just short of the spot. The batsman,
hitting out, was a shade too soon. The ball hummed through the air a
couple of feet from the ground in the direction of mid-off, and Mike,
diving to the right, got to it as he was falling, and chucked it up.
After that the thing was a walk-over. Psmith clean bowled a man in his
next over; and the tail, demoralised by the sudden change in the game,
collapsed uncompromisingly. Sedleigh won by thirty-five runs with
eight minutes in hand.
* * * * *
Psmith and Mike sat in their study after lock-up, discussing things in
general and the game in particular.
"I feel like a beastly renegade, playing against Wrykyn," said Mike.
"Still, I'm glad we won. Adair's a jolly good sort, and it'll make him
happy for weeks."
"When I last saw Comrade Adair," said Psmith, "he was going about in a
sort of trance, beaming vaguely and wanting to stand people things at
"He bowled awfully well."
"Yes," said Psmith. "I say, I don't wish to cast a gloom over this
joyful occasion in any way, but you say Wrykyn are going to give
Sedleigh a fixture again next year?"
"Well, have you thought of the massacre which will ensue? You will
have left, Adair will have left. Incidentally, I shall have left.
Wrykyn will swamp them."
"I suppose they will. Still, the great thing, you see, is to get the
thing started. That's what Adair was so keen on. Now Sedleigh has
beaten Wrykyn, he's satisfied. They can get on fixtures with decent
clubs, and work up to playing the big schools. You've got to start
somehow. So it's all right, you see."
"And, besides," said Psmith, reflectively, "in an emergency they can
always get Comrade Downing to bowl for them, what? Let us now sally
out and see if we can't promote a rag of some sort in this abode of
wrath. Comrade Outwood has gone over to dinner at the School House,
and it would be a pity to waste a somewhat golden opportunity. Shall
Back to Full Books