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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> Mike and Psmith -> Chapter 21

Mike and Psmith - Chapter 21

1. Preface

2. Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 9

11. Chapter 10

12. Chapter 11

13. Chapter 12

14. Chapter 13

15. Chapter 14

16. Chapter 15

17. Chapter 16

18. Chapter 17

19. Chapter 18

20. Chapter 19

21. Chapter 20

22. Chapter 21

23. Chapter 22

24. Chapter 23

25. Chapter 24

26. Chapter 25

27. Chapter 26

28. Chapter 27

29. Chapter 28

30. Chapter 29

31. Chapter 30



The shoe became the center of attention, the cynosure of all eyes. Mr.
Downing fixed it with the piercing stare of one who feels that his brain
is tottering. The headmaster looked at it with a mildly puzzled
expression. Psmith, putting up his eyeglass, gazed at it with a sort of
affectionate interest, as if he were waiting for it to do a trick of
some kind.

Mr. Downing was the first to break the silence.

"There was paint on this shoe," he said vehemently. "I tell you there
was a splash of red paint across the toe. Smith will bear me out in
this. Smith, you saw the paint on this shoe?"

"Paint, sir?"

"What! Do you mean to tell me that you did _not_ see it?"

"No, sir. There was no paint on this shoe."

"This is foolery. I saw it with my own eyes. It was a broad splash right
across the toe."

The headmaster interposed.

"You must have made a mistake, Mr. Downing. There is certainly no trace
of paint on this shoe. These momentary optical delusions are, I fancy,
not uncommon. Any doctor will tell you--"

"I had an aunt, sir," said Psmith chattily, "who was remarkably

"It is absurd. I cannot have been mistaken," said Mr. Downing. "I am
positively certain the toe of this shoe was red when I found it."

"It is undoubtedly black now, Mr. Downing."

"A sort of chameleon shoe," murmured Psmith.

The goaded housemaster turned on him.

"What did you say, Smith?"

"Did I speak, sir?" said Psmith, with the start of one coming suddenly
out of a trance.

Mr. Downing looked searchingly at him.

"You had better be careful, Smith."

"Yes, sir."

"I strongly suspect you of having something to do with this."

"Really, Mr. Downing," said the headmaster, "this is surely improbable.
Smith could scarcely have cleaned the shoe on his way to my house. On
one occasion I inadvertently spilled some paint on a shoe of my own. I
can assure you that it does not brush off. It needs a very systematic
cleaning before all traces are removed."

"Exactly, sir," said Psmith. "My theory, if I may...?"

"Certainly Smith."

Psmith bowed courteously and proceeded.

"My theory, sir, is that Mr. Downing was deceived by the light-and-shade
effects on the toe of the shoe. The afternoon sun, streaming in through
the window, must have shone on the shoe in such a manner as to give it a
momentary and fictitious aspect of redness. If Mr. Downing recollects,
he did not look long at the shoe. The picture on the retina of the eye,
consequently, had not time to fade. I remember thinking myself, at the
moment, that the shoe appeared to have a certain reddish tint. The

"Bag!" said Mr. Downing shortly.

"Well, really," said the headmaster, "it seems to me that that is the
only explanation that will square with the facts. A shoe that is really
smeared with red paint does not become black of itself in the course of
a few minutes."

"You are very right, sir," said Psmith with benevolent approval. "May I
go now, sir? I am in the middle of a singularly impressive passage of
Cicero's speech _De senectute_."

"I am sorry that you should leave your preparation till Sunday, Smith.
It is a habit of which I altogether disapprove."

"I am reading it, sir," said Psmith, with simple dignity, "for pleasure.
Shall I take the shoe with me, sir?"

"If Mr. Downing does not want it?"

The housemaster passed the fraudulent piece of evidence to Psmith
without a word, and the latter, having included both masters in a kindly
smile, left the garden.

Pedestrians who had the good fortune to be passing along the road
between the headmaster's house and Mr. Outwood's at that moment saw
what, if they had but known it, was a most unusual sight, the spectacle
of Psmith running. Psmith's usual mode of progression was a dignified
walk. He believed in the contemplative style rather than the hustling.

On this occasion, however, reckless of possible injuries to the crease
of his trousers, he raced down the road, and turning in at Outwood's
gate, bounded upstairs like a highly trained professional athlete.

On arriving at the study, his first act was to remove a shoe from the
top of the pile in the basket, place it in the small cupboard under the
bookshelf, and lock the cupboard. Then he flung himself into a chair
and panted.

"Brain," he said to himself approvingly, "is what one chiefly needs in
matters of this kind. Without brain, where are we? In the soup, every
time. The next development will be when Comrade Downing thinks it over,
and is struck with the brilliant idea that it's just possible that the
shoe he gave me to carry and the shoe I did carry were not one shoe but
two shoes. Meanwhile ..."

He dragged up another chair for his feet and picked up his novel.

He had not been reading long when there was a footstep in the passage,
and Mr. Downing appeared.

The possibility, in fact the probability, of Psmith's having substituted
another shoe for the one with the incriminating splash of paint on it
had occurred to him almost immediately on leaving the headmaster's
garden. Psmith and Mike, he reflected, were friends. Psmith's impulse
would be to do all that lay in his power to shield Mike. Feeling
aggrieved with himself that he had not thought of this before, he, too,
hurried over to Outwood's.

Mr. Downing was brisk and peremptory.

"I wish to look at these shoes again," he said. Psmith, with a sigh,
laid down his novel, and rose to assist him.

"Sit down, Smith," said the housemaster. "I can manage without your

Psmith sat down again, carefully tucking up the knees of his trousers,
and watched him with silent interest through his eyeglass.

The scrutiny irritated Mr. Downing.

"Put that thing away, Smith," he said.

"That thing, sir?"

"Yes, that ridiculous glass. Put it away."

"Why, sir?"

"Why! Because I tell you to do so."

"I guessed that that was the reason, sir," sighed Psmith, replacing the
eyeglass in his waistcoat pocket. He rested his elbows on his knees, and
his chin on his hands, and resumed his contemplative inspection of the
shoe expert, who, after fidgeting for a few moments, lodged another

"Don't sit there staring at me, Smith."

"I was interested in what you were doing, sir."

"Never mind. Don't stare at me in that idiotic way."

"May I read, sir?" asked Psmith, patiently.

"Yes, read if you like."

"Thank you, sir."

Psmith took up his book again, and Mr. Downing, now thoroughly
irritated, pursued his investigations in the boot basket.

He went through it twice, but each time without success. After the
second search, he stood up, and looked wildly round the room. He was as
certain as he could be of anything that the missing piece of evidence
was somewhere in the study. It was no use asking Psmith point-blank
where it was, for Psmith's ability to parry dangerous questions with
evasive answers was quite out of the common.

His eye roamed about the room. There was very little cover there, even
for so small a fugitive as a number nine shoe. The floor could be
acquitted, on sight, of harboring the quarry.

Then he caught sight of the cupboard, and something seemed to tell him
that there was the place to look.

"Smith!" he said.

Psmith had been reading placidly all the while.

"Yes, sir?"

"What is in this cupboard?"

"That cupboard, sir?"

"Yes. This cupboard." Mr. Downing rapped the door irritably.

"Just a few odd trifles, sir. We do not often use it. A ball of string,
perhaps. Possibly an old notebook. Nothing of value or interest.

"Open it."

"I think you will find that it is locked, sir."

"Unlock it."

"But where is the key, sir?"

"Have you not got the key?"

"If the key is not in the lock, sir, you may depend upon it that it will
take a long search to find it."

"Where did you see it last?"

"It was in the lock yesterday morning. Jackson might have taken it."

"Where is Jackson?"

"Out in the field somewhere, sir."

Mr. Downing thought for a moment.

"I don't believe a word of it," he said shortly. "I have my reasons for
thinking that you are deliberately keeping the contents of that cupboard
from me. I shall break open the door."

Psmith got up.

"I'm afraid you mustn't do that, sir."

Mr. Downing stared, amazed.

"Are you aware whom you are talking to, Smith?" he inquired icily.

"Yes, sir. And I know it's not Mr. Outwood, to whom that cupboard
happens to belong. If you wish to break it open, you must get his
permission. He is the sole lessee and proprietor of that cupboard. I am
only the acting manager."

Mr. Downing paused. He also reflected. Mr. Outwood in the general rule
did not count much in the scheme of things, but possibly there were
limits to the treating of him as if he did not exist. To enter his house
without his permission and search it to a certain extent was all very
well. But when it came to breaking up his furniture, perhaps...!

On the other hand, there was the maddening thought that if he left the
study in search of Mr. Outwood, in order to obtain his sanction for the
house-breaking work which he proposed to carry through, Smith would be
alone in the room. And he knew that if Smith were left alone in the
room, he would instantly remove the shoe to some other hiding place. He
thoroughly disbelieved the story of the lost key. He was perfectly
convinced that the missing shoe was in the cupboard.

He stood chewing these thoughts for a while, Psmith in the meantime
standing in a graceful attitude in front of the cupboard, staring
into vacancy.

Then he was seized with a happy idea. Why should he leave the room at
all? If he sent Smith, then he himself could wait and make certain that
the cupboard was not tampered with.

"Smith," he said, "go and find Mr. Outwood, and ask him to be good
enough to come here for a moment."

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