P.G. Wodehouse.

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He was still fiddling away at it when Mike returned.

Mike, though Psmith was at first too absorbed to notice it, was
agitated.

"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 driveling 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 life."

"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 teapot?"

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 a
stand-off."

"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?" said 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 shoes. 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 shoes, but how does he drag
you into it?"

"He swears one of the shoes 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 shoe, if any, was yours?"

"He's certain that somebody in this house got one of his shoes splashed,
and is hiding it somewhere. And I'm the only chap in the house who
hasn't got a pair of shoes to show, so he thinks it's me. I don't know
where the dickens my other shoe has gone. Of course I've got two pairs,
but one's being soled. So I had to go over to school yesterday in gym
shoes. That's how he spotted me."

Psmith sighed.

"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 - _Hello_!"

"Ah ha!" said Psmith moodily.

Mike dropped the soot-covered object in the fender, and glared at it.

"It's my shoe!" he said at last.

"It _is_," said Psmith, "your shoe. 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 shoe.

"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
you now - "

"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."

Psmith pondered.

"It _is_ a tightish place," he admitted.

"I wonder if we could get this shoe clean," said Mike, inspecting it
with disfavor.

"Not for a pretty considerable time."

"I suppose not. I say, I _am_ in the cart. If I can't produce this shoe,
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 courtesies?"

"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 warpath, 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
today." 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 it."

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, rapt 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 parlor 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 ultraformal 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
toward the painting.

"Well, Smith," said Mr. Downing shortly, "what do you wish to see me
about?"

"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.



29

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 interruption.

The headmaster was just saying, "I do not think you fully realize,
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 realize 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 rotten 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 time.

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 him."

"Yes, sir."

He had reached the door, when again there was a knock.

"Come in," said the headmaster.

It was Adair.

"Yes, 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.

"Adair!"

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.

"Adair!"

"Yes, sir?"

"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 anyone 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.

"Yes, sir."

"Did you say anything to him about your having received this letter from
Dunster?"

"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?"

"Yes, sir."

"I see. Well, I am glad to find that the blame can not 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 it."

"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."

"Yes, sir."

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
opened.

"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 armchair (which both Adair and Mike had avoided
in favor 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 formality.

Mr. Downing burst out, like a reservoir that has broken its banks.

"Smith."

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."

"Yes, sir."

"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 of notoriety, sir," he replied sadly. "The curse of the
present age."

"What!" replied 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 toward 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.

"Er ... Smith."

"Sir?"

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?"

"No, sir."

"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 I ...
er ... have described?"

"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.

"Well, Smith?"

"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 ourselves."

"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 toward the houses.

"By the way, Adair," said Mike, as the latter started to turn in at
Downing's, "I'll write to Strachan tonight 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 Jackson."

"Well, I believe you did, all the same," said Mike obstinately. "And it
was jolly good of you, too."

Psmith moaned.



30

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 game theirs.

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


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