The Saturday Evening Post, February 17, 1923
THE rain had stopped when Psmith stepped out into the street, and the sun was shining again in that half-blustering, half-apologetic manner which it affects on its reappearance after a summer shower. The pavements glistened cheerfully and the air had a welcome freshness. Pausing at the corner, he meditated idly as to the best method of passing the hour and twenty minutes which must elapse before he could reasonably think of lunching. The fact that the offices of the Morning Globe were within easy strolling distance decided him to go thither and see if the first post had brought anything in the shape of answers to his advertisement. And his energy was rewarded a few minutes later when Box 365, on being opened, yielded up quite a little budget of literary matter; no fewer than seven letters in all; a nice bag.
What, however, had appeared at first sight evidence of a pleasing ebullition of enterprise on the part of the newspaper-reading public turned out on closer inspection, when he had retired to a corner where he could concentrate in peace, a hollow delusion. Enterprising in a sense though the communications were—and they certainly showed the writers as men of considerable ginger and business push—to Psmith they came as a disappointment. He had expected better things. These letters were not at all what he had paid good money to receive. They missed the point altogether. The right spirit, it seemed to him, was entirely absent.
The first envelope, attractive though it looked from the outside, being of an expensive brand of stationery and gayly adorned with a somewhat startling crest, merely contained a pleasantly worded offer from a Mr. Alistair MacDougall to advance him any sum from ten to fifty thousand pounds on his note of hand only. The second revealed a similar proposal from another Scot named Colin MacDonald, while in the third Mr. Ian Campbell was prepared to go as high as one hundred thousand. All three philanthropists had but one stipulation to make—they would have no dealings with minors. Youth, with all its glorious traditions, did not seem to appeal to them. But they cordially urged Psmith, in the event of his having celebrated his twenty-first birthday, to come round to the office and take the stuff away in a sack.
Keeping his head well in the midst of this shower of riches, Psmith dropped the three letters with a sigh into the waste-paper basket and opened the next in order. This was a bulky envelope and its contents consisted of a printed brochure entitled This Night Shall Thy Soul Be Required of Thee, while, by a curious and appropriate coincidence, Number Five proved to be a circular from an energetic firm of coffin makers offering to bury him for eight pounds ten. Number Six, also printed, was a manifesto from one Howard Hill, of Newmarket, recommending him to apply without delay for Hill’s Three-Horse Special, without which—“Who,” demanded Mr. Hill in large type, “gave you Wibbly-Wob for the Jubilee Cup?”—no sportsman could hope to accomplish the undoing of the bookmakers.
Although by doing so he convicted himself of that very lack of enterprise which he had just been deploring in the great public, Psmith placed this communication in the waste-paper basket. There now remained only Number Seven, and a slight flicker of hope returned to him when he perceived that this envelope was addressed by hand.
Beyond a doubt he had kept the pick of the bunch to the last. Here was something which made up for all those other disappointments. Written in a scrawly and apparently agitated hand, the letter ran as follows:
If R. Psmith will meet the writer in the lobby of the Piccadilly Palace Hotel at twelve sharp, Friday, July first, business may result if business meant and terms reasonable. R. Psmith will wear a pink chrysanthemum in his buttonhole, and will say to the writer, “There will be rain in Northumberland tomorrow,” to which the writer will reply, “Good for the crops.” Kindly be punctual.
A pleased smile played about Psmith’s solemn face as he read this communication for the second time. This, he felt, was the right stuff. This was much more the sort of thing for which he had been hoping. Although his closest friend, Mike Jackson, was a young man of complete ordinariness, Psmith’s tastes when he sought companionship lay as a rule in the direction of the bizarre. He preferred his humanity eccentric. And the writer, to judge him by this specimen of his correspondence, appeared to be eccentric enough for the most exacting taste. Whether this promising person turned out to be a ribald jester or an earnest crank, Psmith felt no doubt whatever as to the advisability of following the matter up. Whichever he might be, his society ought to afford entertainment during the interval before lunch. Psmith glanced at his watch. The hour was a quarter to twelve. He would be able to secure the necessary chrysanthemum and reach the Piccadilly Palace Hotel by twelve sharp, thus achieving the businesslike punctuality on which the unknown writer seemed to set such store.
It was not until he had entered a florist’s shop on the way to the tryst that it was borne in upon him that the adventure was going to have its drawbacks. The first of these was the chrysanthemum. Preoccupied with the rest of the communication, Psmith, when he had read the letter, had not given much thought to the decoration which it would be necessary for him to wear; and it was only when, in reply to his demand for a chrysanthemum, the florist came forward, almost hidden, like the army at Dunsinane, behind what looked like a small shrubbery, that he realized what he, a correct and fastidious dresser, was up against.
“Is that a chrysanthemum?”
“Yes, sir. Pink chrysanthemum.”
“Yes, sir. One pink chrysanthemum.”
Psmith regarded the repellent object with disfavor through his eyeglass. Then, having placed it in his buttonhole, he proceeded on his way, feeling like some wild thing peering through the undergrowth. The distressing shrub completely spoiled his walk.
Arrived at the hotel, and standing in the lobby, he perceived the existence of further complications. The lobby was in its usual state of congestion, it being a recognized meeting place for those who did not find it convenient to go so far east as that traditional rendezvous of Londoners, the spot under the clock at Charing Cross Station; and the writer, though giving instructions as to how Psmith should ornament his exterior, had carelessly omitted to mention how he himself was to be recognized. A rollicking, slap-dash conspirator, was Psmith’s opinion.
It seemed best to take up a position as nearly as possible in the center of the lobby and stand there until the writer, lured by the chrysanthemum, should come forward and start something. This he accordingly did; but when, at the end of ten minutes, nothing had happened beyond a series of collisions with perhaps a dozen hurrying visitors to the hotel, he decided on a more active course. A young man of sporting appearance had been standing beside him for the last five minutes, and ever and anon this young man had glanced with some impatience at his watch. He was plainly waiting for someone, so Psmith tried the formula on him.
“There will be rain,” said Psmith, “in Northumberland tomorrow.”
The young man looked at him, not without interest certainly, but without that gleam of intelligence in his eyes which Psmith had hoped to see.
“What?” he replied.
“There will be rain in Northumberland tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Zadkiel,” said the young man. “Deuced gratifying, I’m sure. I suppose you couldn’t predict the winner of the Goodwood Cup as well?”
He then withdrew rapidly to intercept a young woman in a large hat who had just come through the swing doors. Psmith was forced to the conclusion that this was not his man. He was sorry on the whole, for he had seemed a pleasant fellow.
As Psmith had taken up the stationary position and the population of the lobby was for the most part in a state of flux, he was finding himself next to someone new all the time; and now he decided to accost the individual whom the reshuffle had just brought elbow to elbow with him. This was a jovial-looking soul with a flowered waistcoat, a white hat and a mottled face. Just the man who might have written that letter.
The effect upon this person of Psmith’s meteorological remark was instantaneous. A light of the utmost friendliness shone in his beautifully shaven face as he turned. He seized Psmith’s hand and gripped it with a delightful heartiness.
He had the air of a man who has found a friend, and what is more an old friend. He had a sort of journeys-end-in-lovers-meeting look.
“My dear old chap!” he cried. “I’ve been waiting for you to speak for the last five minutes. Knew we’d met before somewhere, but couldn’t place you. Face familiar as the dickens, of course. Well, well, well! And how are they all?”
“Who?” said Psmith courteously.
“Why, the boys, my dear chap!”
“Oh, the boys?”
“The dear old boys,” said the other, specifying more exactly. He slapped Psmith on the shoulder. “What times those were, eh?”
“Which?” said Psmith.
“The times we all used to have together.”
“Oh, those?” said Psmith.
Something of discouragement seemed to creep over the other’s exuberance, as a cloud creeps over the summer sky. But he persevered. “Fancy meeting you again like this!”
“It is a small world,” agreed Psmith.
“I’d ask you to come and have a drink,” said the jovial one with the slight increase of intensity which comes to a man who approaches the core of a business deal, “but the fact is my ass of a man sent me out this morning without a penny. Forgot to give me my note case. Damn careless! I’ll have to sack the fellow.”
“Most annoying, certainly,” said Psmith.
“I wish I could have stood you a drink,” said the other wistfully.
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen the saddest are these: It might have been,” sighed Psmith.
“I’ll tell you what,” said the jovial one, inspired. “Lend me a fiver, my dear old boy. That’s the best way out of the difficulty. I can send it round to your hotel or wherever you are this evening when I get home.”
A sweet, sad smile played over Psmith’s face.
“Leave me, comrade!” he murmured.
“Pass along, old friend, pass along!”
Resignation displaced joviality in the other’s countenance.
“Nothing doing?” he inquired.
“Well, there was no harm in trying,” argued the other.
“You see,” said the now far less jovial man confidentially, “you look such a perfect mug with that eyeglass that it tempts a chap.”
“I can quite understand how it must.”
The white hat disappeared through the swing doors and Psmith returned to his quest. He engaged the attention of a middle-aged man in a snuff-colored suit who had just come within hail.
“There will be rain in Northumberland tomorrow,” he said.
The man peered at him inquiringly. “Hey?” he said.
Psmith repeated his observation.
“Huh?” said the man.
Psmith was beginning to lose the unruffled calm which made him such an impressive figure to the public eye. He had not taken into consideration the possibility that the object of his search might be deaf. It undoubtedly added to the embarrassment of the pursuit. To have to stand in the lobby of a large London hotel, bellowing barometric predictions concerning the northern counties was no occupation for a man of sentiment. He was moving away when he felt his coat sleeve clutched.
Psmith turned. The hand which still grasped his sleeve belonged to an elegantly dressed young man of somewhat nervous and feverish appearance. During his recent vigil Psmith had noticed this young man standing not far away, and had had half a mind to include him in the platoon of new friends he was making that morning. There was something about the other’s face which stirred a chord in his memory. He had the feeling that they had met before. But where, memory failed to state.
“I say,” said this young man in a tense whisper, “did I hear you say that there would be rain in Northumberland tomorrow?”
“If,” said Psmith, “you were anywhere within the radius of a dozen yards while I was chatting with the recent deaf adder, I think it is possible that you did.”
“Good for the crops,” said the young man. “Come over here where we can talk quietly.”
“SO YOU’RE R. Psmith?” said the young man when they had made their way to a remote corner of the lobby, apart from the throng.
“I say, dash it, you’re frightfully late, you know! I told you to be here at twelve sharp. It’s nearly twelve past.”
“You wrong me,” said Psmith. “I arrived here precisely at twelve; since when I have been standing like Patience on a monument——”
“Let it go,” said Psmith; “it is not important.”
“I asked you to wear a pink chrysanthemum; so I could recognize you, you know.”
“I am wearing a pink chrysanthemum. I should have imagined that that was a fact that the most casual could hardly have overlooked.”
“That thing?” The other gazed disparagingly at the floral decoration. “I thought it was some kind of cabbage. I meant one of those little what-d’-you-call-its that people do wear in their buttonholes.”
“Carnation! That’s right.”
Psmith removed the chrysanthemum and dropped it behind his chair. He looked at his companion reproachfully.
“If you had studied botany at school, comrade,” he said, “much misery might have been averted. I cannot begin to tell you the spiritual agony I suffered, trailing through the metropolis behind that shrub.”
Whatever decent sympathy and remorse the other might have shown at these words was swept away in the shock resultant on a glance at his watch. Not for an instant during this brief return of his to London had Freddie Threepwood been unmindful of his father’s stern injunction to him to catch the 12:50 train back to Market Blandings. If he missed it there would be the deuce of a lot of unpleasantness, and unpleasantness in the home was the one thing Freddie wanted to avoid nowadays; for, like the prudent convict in a prison, he hoped by exemplary behavior to get his sentence of imprisonment at Blandings Castle reduced for good conduct.
“Good Lord! I’ve only got about five minutes. Got to talk quick—about this thing—this business—that advertisement of yours.”
“Ah, yes, my advertisement. It interested you?”
“Was it on the level?”
“Assuredly. We Psmiths do not deceive.”
Freddie looked at him doubtfully.
“You know, you aren’t a bit like I expected you’d be.”
“In what respect,” inquired Psmith, “do I fall short of the ideal?”
“It isn’t so much falling short. It’s—oh, I don’t know—well, yes, I thought you’d be a tougher specimen altogether. I got the impression from your advertisement that you were down and out and ready for anything, and you look as if you were on your way to a garden party at Buckingham Palace.”
“Ah!” said Psmith, enlightened. “It is my costume that is causing these doubts in your mind. This is the second time this morning that such a misunderstanding has occurred. Have no misgivings, Comrade I-Have-Yet-to-Have-the-Privilege-of-Learning-Your-Name. These trousers may sit well; but if they do it is because the pockets are empty.”
“Are you really broke?”
“As broke as the Ten Commandments.”
“I’m hanged if I can believe it.”
“Suppose I brush my hat the wrong way for a moment,” said Psmith obligingly. “Would that help?”
His companion remained silent for a few moments. In spite of the fact that he was in so great a hurry and that every minute that passed brought nearer the moment when he would be compelled to tear himself away and make a dash for Paddington Station, Freddie was finding it difficult to open the subject he had come there to discuss.
“Look here,” he said at length, “I shall have to trust you, dash it!”
“You could pursue no better course.”
“It’s like this. I’m trying to raise a thousand quid——”
“I regret that I cannot offer to advance it to you myself. I have, indeed, already been compelled to decline to lend a gentleman who claimed to be an old friend of mine so small a sum as a fiver. But there is a dear obliging soul of the name of Alistair MacDougall who——”
“Good Lord! You don’t think I’m trying to touch you?”
“That impression did flit through my mind.”
“Oh, dash it, no! No, but—well, as I was saying, I’m frightfully keen to get hold of a thousand quid.”
“So am I,” said Psmith. “Two minds with but a single thought. How do you propose to start about it? For my part, I must freely confess that I haven’t a notion. I am stumped. The cry goes through the chancelleries, ‘Psmith is baffled!’ ”
“I say, old thing,” said Freddie plaintively, “you couldn’t talk a bit less, could you? I’ve only got about two minutes.”
“I beg your pardon. An old failing of mine, I fear. Proceed.”
“It’s so dashed difficult to know how to begin a thing. I mean, it’s all a bit complicated till you get the hang of it. Look here, you said in your advertisement that you had no objection to crime.”
Psmith considered the point.
“Within reason—and if undetected—I see no objection to twopenn’orth of crime.”
“Well, look here—look here—well, look here,” said Freddie, “will you steal my aunt’s diamond necklace?”
Psmith placed his monocle in his eye and bent gravely toward his companion.
“Steal your aunt’s necklace?” he said indulgently.
“You do not think she might consider it a liberty from one to whom she has never been introduced?”
What Freddie might have replied to this pertinent question will never be known, for at this moment, looking nervously at his watch for the twentieth time, he observed that the hands had passed the half hour and were well on their way to twenty-five minutes to one. He bounded up with a cry:
“I must go! I shall miss that damned train!”
“And meanwhile——” said Psmith.
The familiar phrase—the words “and meanwhile” had occurred at least once in each of the many films which Freddie had ever seen—had the effect of wrenching the latter’s mind back to the subject in hand for the moment. Freddie was not a clear-thinking young man, but even he could see that he had left the negotiations suspended at a very unsatisfactory point. Nevertheless, he had to catch that 12:50.
“Write and tell me what you think about it,” panted Freddie, skimming through the lobby like a swallow.
“You have unfortunately omitted to leave a name and address,” Psmith pointed out, following him at an easy jog trot.
In spite of his hurry, a prudence born of much movie seeing restrained Freddie from supplying the information asked for. Give away your name and address and you never knew what might happen.
“I’ll write to you,” he cried, racing for a cab.
“I shall count the minutes,” said Psmith courteously.
“Drive like blazes!” said Freddie to the chauffeur.
“Where?” inquired the man, not unreasonably.
“Eh? Oh, Paddington.”
The cab whirled off, and Psmith, pleasantly conscious of a morning not ill spent, gazed after it pensively for a moment. Then, with the feeling that the authorities of Colney Hatch or some kindred establishment had been extraordinarily negligent, he permitted his mind to turn with genial anticipation in the direction of lunch. For, though he had celebrated his first day of emancipation from Billingsgate Fish Market by rising late and breakfasting later, he had become aware by now of that not unpleasant emptiness which is the silent luncheon gong of the soul.
THE minor problem now presented itself of where to lunch, and with scarcely a moment’s consideration he dismissed those large, noisy and bustling restaurants which lie near Piccadilly Circus. After a morning spent with Eve Halliday and the young man—he was sure he had seen the fellow before somewhere—who was going about the place asking people to steal his aunt’s necklace, it was imperative that he select some place where he could sit and think quietly. Any food of which he partook must be consumed in calm, even cloistral surroundings, unpolluted by the presence of a first violin who tied himself into knots and an orchestra in whose lexicon there was no such word as “piano.” One of his clubs seemed indicated.
In the days of his prosperity Psmith’s father, an enthusiastic clubman, had enrolled his son’s name on the list of several institutions; and now, although the lean years had arrived, he was still a member of six, and would continue to be a member till the beginning of the new year and the consequent call for fresh subscriptions. These clubs ranged from the Drones, frankly frivolous, to the Senior Conservative, solidly worthy. Almost immediately Psmith perceived that for such a mood as was upon him at the moment the latter might have been specially constructed. He turned, therefore, to the east, and having proceeded for some ten minutes at a stately walk in the direction of the river, found himself at the entrance of a massive edifice of salmon-colored stone, from every inch of whose placid front quiet respectability shone like an aura.
Anybody familiar with the interior of the Senior Conservative Club would have applauded his choice. In the whole of London no better haven could have been found by one desirous of staying his interior with excellently cooked food while passing his soul under a leisurely examination. They fed you well at the Drones, too, no doubt; but there Youth held carnival, and the thoughtful man, examining his soul, was apt at any moment to have his meditations broken in upon by a chunk of bread dexterously thrown by some bright spirit at an adjoining table. No horror of that description could possibly occur at the Senior Conservative.
The Senior Conservative has six thousand one hundred and eleven members. Some of the six thousand one hundred and eleven are more respectable than the others; but they are all respectable, whether they be numbered among the oldest inhabitants, like the Earl of Emsworth, who joined as a country member in 1888, or are among the recent creations of the last election of candidates. If any of the six thousand one hundred and eleven ever had a tendency to be anything but respectable they outgrew the fever long ago; for, with the exception of a few striplings in the middle forties, they are all well advanced in years. They are bald, reverend men, who look as if they are on their way to the City to preside at directors’ meetings or have dropped in after an important conference with the Prime Minister at Downing Street as to the prospects at the coming by-election in the Little Wabsley Division.
With the quiet dignity which atoned for his lack of years in this stronghold of mellow worth, Psmith mounted the steps, passed through the doors which were obligingly flung open for him by two uniformed dignitaries, and made his way to the coffee room through a group of white-haired sages who were discussing what Gladstone had said in ’78.
Having selected a table in the middle of the room and ordered a simple and appetizing lunch, Psmith gave himself up to thoughts of Eve Halliday. As he had confessed to his young friend Mr. Walderwick, she had made a powerful impression upon him. He was tearing himself from his daydreams in order to wrestle with a mutton chop, when a foreign body shot into his orbit and blundered heavily against the table. Looking up, he perceived a long, thin, elderly gentleman of pleasantly vague aspect who immediately began to apologize.
“My dear sir, I am extremely sorry. I trust I have caused no damage.”
“Not at all,” replied Psmith courteously.
“The fact is I have mislaid my glasses. Blind as a bat without them. Can’t see where I’m going.”
A gloomy-looking young man with long and disordered hair who stood at the elderly gentleman’s elbow coughed suggestively. He was shuffling restlessly and appeared to be anxious to close the episode and move on; a young man, evidently, of highly strung temperament. He had a sullen air. The elderly gentleman started vaguely at the sound of the cough.
“Eh?” he said as if in answer to some spoken remark. “Oh, yes, quite so, quite so, my dear fellow. Mustn’t stop here chatting, eh? Had to apologize, though. Nearly upset this gentleman’s table. Can’t see where I’m going without my glasses. Blind as a bat. Eh? What? Quite so, quite so.”
He ambled off, doddering cheerfully, while his companion still preserved his look of sulky aloofness. Psmith gazed after them with interest.
“Can you tell me,” he asked of the waiter, who was rallying round with the potatoes, “who that was?”
The waiter followed his glance.
“Don’t know who the young gentleman is, sir. Guest here, I fancy. The old gentleman is the Earl of Emsworth. Lives in the country and doesn’t often come to the club. Very absent-minded gentleman, they tell me. Potatoes, sir?”
“Thank you,” said Psmith.
He was pleased with himself, as everyone is after a successful effort of memory. The mention of Lord Emsworth’s name had had the effect of enabling him at last to place the incoherent youth who had so enlivened this morning. Freddie Threepwood! He had not seen him since the days when they were at Eton together, but he remembered him now; and he was conscious of a considerable curiosity as to why Freddie, who at school had been—if a boneheaded—at least a blameless boy, should now be promoting schemes for the theft of his aunt’s jewelry. It might be interesting, he thought, to run down to Blandings Castle and pay a call on his old schoolfellow and inquire.
The waiter returned.
“I have been looking at the guest book, sir. The name of the gentleman lunching with Lord Emsworth is Mr. Ralston McTodd.”
“Thank you very much. I am sorry you had the trouble.”
“No trouble, sir.”
Psmith resumed his meal.
THE sullen demeanor of the young man who had accompanied Lord Emsworth through the coffee room accurately reflected the emotions which were vexing his troubled soul. Ralston McTodd, the powerful young singer of Saskatoon—“Plumbs the depths of human emotion and strikes a new note”—Montreal Star. “Very readable”—Ypsilanti Herald—had not enjoyed his lunch. The pleasing sense of importance induced by the fact that for the first time in his life he was hobnobbing with a genuine earl had given way after ten minutes of his host’s society to a mingled despair and irritation which had grown steadily deeper as the meal proceeded. It is not too much to say that by the time the fish course arrived it would have been a considerable relief to Mr. Ralston McTodd’s feelings if he could have taken up the butter dish and banged it down, butter and all, on the top of his lordship’s bald head.
A temperamental young man was Ralston McTodd. He liked to be the center of the picture, to do the talking, to air his views, to be listened to respectfully and with interest by a submissive audience. At the meal which had just concluded none of these reasonable demands had been permitted to him. From the very beginning Lord Emsworth had collared the conversation and held it with a gentle, bleating persistency against all assaults. Five times had Mr. McTodd almost succeeded in launching one of his best epigrams, only to see it swept away on the tossing flood of a lecture on hollyhocks. At the sixth attempt he had managed to get it out, complete and sparkling, and the old ass opposite him had taken it in his stride like a hurdle and gone galloping off about the mental and moral defects of a creature named Angus McAllister, who appeared to be his head gardener or something of the kind. The luncheon, though he was a hearty feeder and as a rule appreciative of good cooking, had turned to ashes in Mr. McTodd’s mouth; and it was a soured and chafing singer of Saskatoon who dropped scowlingly into an armchair by the window of the lower smoking room a few moments later. We introduce Ralston McTodd to the reader, in short, at a moment when he is very near the breaking point. A little more provocation, and goodness knows what he will do. For the time being he is merely leaning back in his chair and scowling. He has a faint hope that a cigar may bring some relief, and he is waiting for one to be ordered for him.
The Earl of Emsworth did not see the scowl. He had not really seen Mr. McTodd at all from the moment of his arrival at the club, when somebody who sounded like the head porter had informed him that a gentleman was waiting to see him and had led him up to a shapeless blur which had introduced itself as his expected guest. The loss of his glasses had had its usual effect on Lord Emsworth, making the world a misty place in which indefinite objects swam dimly like fish in muddy water. Not that this mattered much, seeing that he was in London, for in London there was never anything worth looking at. Beyond a vague feeling that it would be more comfortable on the whole if he had his glasses—a feeling just strong enough to have made him send off a messenger boy to his hotel to hunt for them—Lord Emsworth had not allowed lack of vision to interfere with his enjoyment of the proceedings.
And, unlike Mr. McTodd, he had been enjoying himself very much. A good listener, this young man, he felt. Very soothing the way he had constituted himself a willing audience, never interrupting or thrusting himself forward, as is so often the deplorable tendency of the modern young man. Lord Emsworth was bound to admit that, much as he had disliked the idea of going to London to pick up this poet or whatever he was, the thing had turned out better than he had expected. He liked McTodd’s silent but obvious interest in flowers, his tacit but warm-hearted sympathy in the matter of Angus McAllister. He was glad he was coming to Blandings. It would be agreeable to conduct him personally through the gardens, to introduce him to Angus McAllister and allow him to plumb for himself the black abysses of that outcast’s mental processes. Meanwhile he had forgotten all about ordering that cigar.
“In large gardens where ample space permits,” said Lord Emsworth, dropping cozily into his chair and taking up the conversation at the point where it had been broken off, “nothing is more desirable than that there should be some places, or one at least, of quiet greenery alone, without any flowers whatever. I see that you agree with me.”
Mr. McTodd had not agreed with him. The grunt which Lord Emsworth had taken for an exclamation of rapturous adhesion to his sentiments had been merely a sort of bubble of sound rising from the tortured depths of Mr. McTodd’s suffering soul; the cry, as the poet beautifully puts it, “of some strong smoker in his agony.” The desire to smoke had now gripped Mr. McTodd’s very vitals; but as some lingering remains of the social sense kept him from asking point-blank for the cigar for which he yearned, he sought in his mind for a way of approaching the subject obliquely.
“In no other way,” proceeded Lord Emsworth, “can the brilliancy of flowers be so keenly enjoyed as by——”
“Talking of flowers,” said Mr. McTodd, “it is a fact, I believe, that tobacco smoke is good for roses. I understand the green fly——”
“——as by pacing for a time,” said Lord Emsworth, “in some cool green alley and then passing on to the flowery places. It is partly, no doubt, the unconscious working out of some optical law, the explanation of which in everyday language is that the eye——”
“Some people say that smoking is bad for the eyes. I don’t agree with them,” said Mr. McTodd warmly.
“——being, as it were, saturated with the green color, is the more attuned to receive the others, especially the reds. It was probably some such consideration that influenced the designers of the many old gardens of England in devoting so much attention to the cult of the yew tree. When you come to Blandings, my dear fellow, I will show you our celebrated yew alley, and when you see it you will agree that I was right in taking the stand I did against Angus McAllister’s pernicious views.”
“I was lunching in a club yesterday,” said Mr. McTodd, with the splendid McTodd doggedness, “where they had no matches on the tables in the smoking room—only spills. It made it very inconvenient——”
“Angus McAllister,” said Lord Emsworth, “is a professional gardener. I need say no more. You know as well as I do, my dear fellow, what professional gardeners are like when it is a question of moss——”
“What it meant was that when you wanted to light your after-luncheon cigar you had to get up and go to a gas burner on a bracket at the other end of the room——”
“Moss, for some obscure reason, appears to infuriate them. It rouses their basest passions. Nature intended a yew alley to be carpeted with a mossy growth. The mossy path in the yew alley at Blandings is in true relation for color to the trees and grassy edges; yet will you credit it that that soulless disgrace to Scotland actually wished to grub it all up and have a rolled gravel path staring up from beneath those immemorial trees? I have already told you how I was compelled to give in to him in the matter of the hollyhocks—head gardeners of any ability at all are rare in these days and one has to make concessions—but this was too much. I was perfectly friendly and civil about it. ‘Certainly, McAllister,’ I said, ‘you may have your gravel path if you wish it. I make but one proviso, that you construct it over my dead body. Only when I am weltering in my blood on the threshold of that yew alley shall you disturb one inch of my beautiful moss. Try to remember, McAllister,’ I said, still quite cordially, ‘that you are not laying out a recreation ground in a Glasgow suburb; you are proposing to make an eyesore of what is possibly the most beautiful nook in one of the finest and oldest gardens in the United Kingdom.’ He made some repulsive Scotch noise at the back of his throat, and there the matter rests. Let me, my dear fellow,” said Lord Emsworth, writhing down into the depths of his chair like an aristocratic snake until his spine rested snugly against the leather—“let me describe for you the yew alley at Blandings. Entering from the west——”
Mr. McTodd gave up the struggle and sank back, filled with black and deleterious thoughts, into a tobaccoless hell. The smoking room was full now, and on all sides fragrant blue clouds arose from the little groups of serious thinkers who were discussing the bank rate and tomorrow night’s debate in the House. Mr. McTodd, as he watched them, had something of the emotions of the peri excluded from paradise. So reduced was he by this time that he would have accepted gratefully the meanest straight-cut cigarette in place of the fine cigar of his dreams. But even this poor substitute for smoking was denied him.
Lord Emsworth droned on. Having approached from the west, he was well inside the yew alley now.
“Many of the yews, no doubt, have taken forms other than those that were originally designed. Some are like turned chessmen; some might be taken for adaptations of human figures, for one can trace here and there a hat-covered head or a spreading petticoat. Some rise in solid blocks, with rounded roof and stemless mushroom finial. These have for the most part arched recesses, forming arbors. One of the tallest—— Eh? What?”
Lord Emsworth blinked at the waiter who had sidled up. A moment before he had been a hundred-odd miles away, and it was not easy to adjust his mind immediately to the fact that he was in the smoking room of the Senior Conservative Club.
“A messenger boy has just arrived with this, your lordship.”
Lord Emsworth peered in a dazed and woolly manner at the proffered spectacle case. Intelligence returned to him.
“Oh, thank you! Thank you very much! My glasses! Capital! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
He removed the glasses from their case and placed them on his nose; and instantly the world sprang into being before his eyes, sharp and well-defined. It was like coming out of a fog.
“Dear me!” he said in a self-congratulatory voice.
Then abruptly he sat up, transfixed. The lower smoking room at the Senior Conservative Club is on the street level, and Lord Emsworth’s chair faced the large window. Through this, as he raised his now spectacled face, he perceived for the first time that among the row of shops on the opposite side of the street was a jaunty new florist’s. It had been there, as a matter of fact, for some months; but it had not been there at his last visit to the metropolis, and he stared at it raptly, as a small boy would stare at a saucer of ice cream if such a thing had suddenly descended from heaven immediately in front of him. And, like a small boy in such a situation, he had eyes for nothing else. He did not look at his guest. Indeed, in the ecstasy of his discovery he had completely forgotten that he had a guest.
Any flower shop, however small, was a magnet to the Earl of Emsworth, and this was a particularly spacious and arresting flower shop. Its window was gay with summer blooms. It shone like a beacon. And Lord Emsworth, slowly rising from his chair, pointed like a dog that sees a pheasant.
“Bless my soul!” he murmured.
If the reader has followed with the closeness which it deserves the extremely entertaining conversation of his lordship recorded in the last few paragraphs, he will have noted a reference to hollyhocks. Lord Emsworth had ventilated the hollyhock question at some little length while seated at the luncheon table. But, as we had not the good fortune to be present at that enjoyable meal, a brief résumé of the situation must now be given and the intelligent public allowed to judge between his lordship and the uncompromising McAllister.
Briefly, the position was this: Many head gardeners are apt to favor, in the hollyhock, forms that one cannot but think have for their aim an ideal that is a false and unworthy one. Angus McAllister, clinging to the head-gardeneresque standard of beauty and correct form, would not sanction the wider outer petal. The flower, so Angus held, must be very tight and very round, like the uniform of a major general. Lord Emsworth, on the other hand, considered this view narrow, and claimed the liberty to try for the very highest and truest beauty in hollyhocks. The loosely folded inner petals of the hollyhock, he considered, invited a wonderful play and brilliancy of color; while the wide outer petal, with its slightly waved surface and gently frilled edge—well, anyway, Lord Emsworth liked his hollyhocks floppy and Angus McAllister liked them tight, and bitter warfare had resulted; in which, as we have seen, his lordship had been compelled to give way. He had been brooding on this defeat ever since, and in the florist opposite he saw a possible sympathizer, a potential ally, an intelligent chum with whom he could get together and thoroughly damn Angus McAllister’s Glaswegian obstinacy.
You could not have suspected Lord Emsworth, from a casual glance, of having within him the ability to move rapidly; but it is a fact that he was out of the smoking room and skimming down the front steps of the club before Mr. McTodd’s jaw, which had fallen at the spectacle of his host bounding out of his horizon of vision like a rabbit, had time to hitch itself up again. A moment later, Mr. McTodd, happening to direct his gaze out of the window, saw him whiz across the road and vanish into the florist’s shop.
It was at this juncture that Psmith, having finished his lunch, came downstairs to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee. The room was rather crowded, and the chair which Lord Emsworth had vacated offered a wide invitation. He made his way to it.
“Is this chair occupied?” he inquired politely—so politely that Mr. McTodd’s reply sounded by contrast even more violent than it might otherwise have done.
“No, it isn’t!” snapped Mr. McTodd.
Psmith seated himself. He was feeling agreeably disposed to conversation.
“Lord Emsworth has left you, then?” he said.
“Is he a friend of yours?” inquired Mr. McTodd in a voice that suggested that he was perfectly willing to accept a proxy as a target for his spleen.
“I know him by sight—nothing more.”
“Blast him!” muttered Mr. McTodd with indescribable virulence.
Psmith eyed him inquiringly.
“Correct me if I am wrong,” he said. “But I seem to detect in your manner a certain half-veiled annoyance. Is anything the matter?”
Mr. McTodd barked bitterly.
“Oh, no; nothing’s the matter; nothing whatever, except that that old beaver”—here he wronged Lord Emsworth, who, whatever his faults, was not a bearded man—“that old beaver invited me to lunch, talked all the time about his infernal flowers, never let me get a word in edgeways, hadn’t the common civility to offer me a cigar, and now has gone off without a word of apology and buried himself in that shop over the way. I’ve never been so insulted in my life!” raved Mr. McTodd.
“Scarcely the perfect host,” admitted Psmith.
“And if he thinks,” said Mr. McTodd, rising, “that I’m going to go and stay with him at his beastly castle after this he’s mistaken. I’m supposed to go down there with him this evening—and perhaps the old fossil thinks I will! After this!” A horrid laugh rolled up from Mr. McTodd’s interior. “Likely! I see myself! After being insulted like this—would you?” he demanded.
Psmith gave the matter thought.
“I am inclined to think no.”
“And so am I damned well inclined to think no!” cried Mr. McTodd. “I’m going away now, this very minute. And if that old coyote ever comes back you can tell him he’s seen the last of me.”
And Ralston McTodd, his blood boiling with justifiable indignation and pique to a degree dangerous on such a warm day, stalked off towards the door with a hard, set face. Through the door he stalked to the cloakroom for his hat and cane; then, his lips moving silently, he stalked through the hall, stalked down the steps and passed from the scene, stalking furiously round the corner in quest of a tobacconist’s. At the moment of his disappearance the Earl of Emsworth had just begun to give the sympathetic florist a limpid character sketch of Angus McAllister.
Psmith shook his head sadly. These clashings of human temperament were very lamentable. They disturbed the after-luncheon repose of the man of sensibility. He ordered coffee and endeavored to forget the painful scene by thinking of Eve Halliday.
THE florist who had settled down to ply his trade opposite the Senior Conservative Club was a delightful fellow, thoroughly sound on the hollyhock question and so informative in the matter of Delphiniums, Achilleas, Coreopsis, Eryngiums, Geums, lupines, bergamots and early Phloxes that Lord Emsworth gave himself up wholeheartedly to the feast of reason and the flow of soul; and it was only some fifteen minutes later that he remembered that he had left a guest languishing in the lower smoking room and that this guest might be thinking him a trifle remiss in the observance of the sacred duties of hospitality.
“Bless my soul, yes!” said his lordship, coming out from under the influence with a start.
Even then he could not bring himself to dash abruptly from the shop. Twice he reached the door, and twice pottered back to sniff at flowers and say something he had forgotten to mention about the stronger-growing Clematis. Finally, however, with one last, longing look behind, he tore himself away and trotted back across the street.
Arrived in the lower smoking room, he stood in the doorway for a moment, peering. The place had been a blur to him when he had left it; but he remembered that he had been sitting in the middle window, and as there were only two seats by the window, that tall, dark young man in one of them must be the guest he had deserted. That he could be a changeling never occurred to Lord Emsworth. So pleasantly had the time passed in the shop across the way that he had the impression that he had been gone only a couple of minutes or so. He made his way to where the young man sat. A vague idea came into his head that the other had grown a bit in his absence, but it passed.
“My dear fellow,” he said genially as he slid into the other chair, “I really must apologize.”
It was plain to Psmith that the other was under a misapprehension, and a really nice-minded young man would no doubt have put the matter right at once. The fact that it never for a single instant occurred to Psmith to do so was due, no doubt, to some innate defect in his character. He was essentially a young man who took life as it came, and the more inconsequently it came the better he liked it. Presently, he reflected, it would become necessary for him to make some excuse and steal quietly out of the other’s life; but meanwhile the situation seemed to him to present entertaining possibilities.
“Not at all,” he replied graciously; “not at all.”
“I was afraid for the moment,” said Lord Emsworth, “that you might—quite naturally—be offended.”
“Shouldn’t have left you like that. Shocking bad manners. But, my dear fellow, I simply had to pop across the street.”
“Most decidedly,” said Psmith. “Always pop across streets. It is the secret of a happy and successful life.”
Lord Emsworth looked at him a little perplexedly and wondered if he had caught the last remark correctly. It hadn’t seemed to make sense, somehow. But his mind had never been designed for the purpose of dwelling closely on problems for any length of time, and he let it go.
“Beautiful roses that man has,” he observed. “Really an extraordinarily fine display.”
“Indeed?” said Psmith.
“Nothing to touch mine, though. I wish, my dear fellow, you could have been down at Blandings at the beginning of the month. My roses were at their best then. It's too bad you weren’t there to see them.”
“The fault no doubt was mine,” said Psmith.
“Of course, you weren’t in England then.”
“Ah, that explains it!”
“Still, I shall have plenty of flowers to show you when you are at Blandings. I expect,” said Lord Emsworth, at last showing a hostlike disposition to give his guest a belated innings, “I expect you’ll write one of your poems about my gardens, eh?”
Psmith was conscious of distinct gratification. Weeks of toil among the herrings of Billingsgate had left him with a sort of haunting fear that even in private life there clung to him the miasma of the fish market. Yet here was a perfectly unprejudiced observer looking squarely at him and mistaking him for a poet, showing that in spite of all he had gone through there must still be something notably spiritual and unfishy about his outward appearance.
“Very possibly,” he said. “Very possibly.”
“I suppose you get ideas for your poetry from all sorts of things,” said Lord Emsworth, nobly resisting the temptation to collar the conversation again.
He was feeling extremely friendly towards this poet fellow. The chap’s silent interest in his conversation at lunch had done much to dispel his prejudice against literary men as a class. Moreover, it was deuced civil of him not to be put out and huffy at being left alone in the smoking room.
“From practically everything,” said Psmith, “except fish.”
“I have never written a poem about fish.”
“No?” said Lord Emsworth, again feeling that a pin had worked loose in the machinery of the conversation.
“I was once offered a princely sum,” went on Psmith, now floating happily along on the tide of his native exuberance, “to write a ballad for the Fishmongers Gazette entitled Herbert the Turbot. But I was firm. I declined.”
“Indeed?” said Lord Emsworth.
“One has one’s self-respect,” said Psmith.
“Oh, decidedly,” said Lord Emsworth.
“It was painful, of course. The editor broke down completely when he realized that my refusal was final. However, I sent him on with a letter of introduction to John Drinkwater, who, I believe, turned him out quite a good little effort on the theme.”
At this moment, when Lord Emsworth was feeling a trifle dizzy, and Psmith, on whom conversation always acted as a mental stimulus, was on the point of plunging even deeper into the agreeable depths of light persiflage, a waiter approached.
“A lady to see you, your lordship.”
“Eh? Ah, yes, of course, of course. I was expecting her. It is a Miss—what is the name? Holliday? Halliday! It is a Miss Halliday,” he said in explanation to Psmith, “who is coming down to Blandings to catalogue the library. My secretary, Baxter, told her to call here and see me. If you will excuse me for a moment, my dear fellow——”
As Lord Emsworth disappeared it occurred to Psmith that the moment had arrived for him to get his hat and steal softly out of the other’s life forever. Only so could confusion and embarrassing explanations be avoided, and it was Psmith’s guiding rule in life always to avoid explanations. It might, he felt, cause Lord Emsworth a momentary pang when he returned to the smoking room and found that he was a poet short; but what is that in these modern days when poets are so plentiful that it is almost impossible to fling a brick in any public place without damaging some stern young singer? Psmith’s view of the matter was that, if Lord Emsworth was bent on associating with poets, there was bound to be another one along in a minute. He was on the point, therefore, of rising, when the laziness induced by a good lunch decided him to remain in his comfortable chair for a few minutes longer. He was in one of those moods of rare tranquility which it is rash to break.
He lit another cigarette, and his thoughts, as they had done after the departure of Mr. McTodd, turned dreamily in the direction of the girl he had met at Miss Clarkson’s employment bureau. He mused upon her with gentle melancholy. Sad, he felt, that two obviously kindred spirits like himself and her should meet in the whirl of London life, only to separate again—presumably forever—simply because the etiquette governing those who are created male and female forbids a man to cement a chance acquaintanceship by ascertaining the lady’s name and address, asking her to lunch and swearing eternal friendship. He sighed as he gazed thoughtfully out of the lower smoking-room window. As he had indicated in his conversation with Mr. Walderwick, those blue eyes and that cheerful, friendly face had made a deep impression on Psmith’s emotions. Who was she? Where did she live? And was he ever to see her again?
He was. Even as he asked himself the question, two figures came down the steps of the club and paused. One was Lord Emsworth without his hat. The other—and Psmith’s usually orderly heart gave a spasmodic bound at the sight of her—was the very girl who was occupying his thoughts. There she stood, as blue-eyed, as fair-haired, as indescribably jolly and charming as ever.
Psmith rose from his chair with a vehemence almost equal to that recently displayed by Mr. McTodd. It was his intention to add himself immediately to the group. He raced across the room in a manner that drew censorious glances from the local graybeards, many of whom had half a mind to write to the committee about it.
But when he reached the open air the pavement at the foot of the club steps was empty. The girl was just vanishing round the corner into the Strand, and of Lord Emsworth there was no sign whatever.
By this time, however, Psmith had acquired a useful working knowledge of his lordship’s habits, and he knew where to look. He crossed the street and headed for the florist’s shop.
“Ah, my dear fellow,” said his lordship amiably, suspending his conversation with the proprietor on the subject of Delphiniums, “must you be off? Don’t forget that our train leaves Paddington at five sharp. You book your ticket for Market Blandings.”
Psmith had come into the shop merely with the intention of asking his lordship if he happened to know Miss Halliday's address, but these words opened out such a vista of attractive possibilities that he abandoned this tame program immediately. He remembered now that among the recent Mr. McTodd’s remarks on things in general had been one to the effect that he had received an invitation to visit Blandings Castle, of which invitation he did not propose to avail himself; and he argued that if he had acted as substitute for Mr. McTodd at the club, he might well continue the kindly work by officiating for him at Blandings.
Looking at the matter altruistically, he would prevent his kind host much disappointment by taking this course; and, looking at it from a more personal viewpoint, only by going to Blandings could he renew his acquaintance with this girl. Psmith had never been one of those who hang back diffidently when adventure calls, and he did not hang back now.
“At five sharp,” he said. “I will be there.”
“Capital, my dear fellow,” said his lordship.
“Does Miss Halliday travel with us?”
“Eh? No, she is coming down in a day or two.”
“I shall look forward to meeting her,” said Psmith.
He turned to the door, and Lord Emsworth, with a farewell beam, resumed his conversation with the florist.
(to be continued)
Editors’ notes and corrections:
Annotations to the UK book edition of this novel are available elsewhere on this site.
In Part I, the long paragraph beginning “Psmith was beginning to lose the unruffled calm” ends in the magazine with a two-word exclamation: “I say!” Since this is a new speaker, we have made it a paragraph of its own, as it is in the UK serial. Both US and UK book editions omit this two-word speech, as well as omitting the sentence “To have to stand . . . man of sentiment.” In addition, the next paragraph in book editions concludes at “making that morning.” In books, Psmith does not later recognize Freddie in the train as a younger fellow Old Etonian.
At the opening of Part III, the phrase set off by dashes beginning “he was sure” is omitted from both US and UK book texts.
In the fourth paragraph of Part III, the magazine failed to capitalize “City” referring to London’s financial district, as it appears in all other versions.
Near the end of Part III, the paragraph beginning “He was pleased with himself” is omitted entirely in US and UK books.
In the first paragraph of Part IV, magazine had “Plumbs the depths of humane emotion”; corrected above to “human” as in all other editions of the story.
In the first paragraph of Part IV, all other versions have the spelling “Ipsilanti”; we assume that Wodehouse did not know the proper spelling of the Michigan town, and that the Post editor corrected it to Ypsilanti, as shown above.
In Part V, in the paragraph beginning “He lit another cigarette,” magazine omitted the comma after “and his thoughts,” found in all other versions and required by grammar.