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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> Mike and Psmith -> Chapter 22

Mike and Psmith - Chapter 22

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



"Be quick, Smith," he said, as the latter stood looking at him without
making any movement in the direction of the door.

"_Quick_, sir?" said Psmith meditatively, as if he had been asked a

"Go and find Mr. Outwood at once."

Psmith still made no move.

"Do you intend to disobey me, Smith?" Mr. Downing's voice was steely.

"Yes, sir."


"Yes, sir."

There was one of those you-could-have-heard-a-pin-drop silences. Psmith
was staring reflectively at the ceiling. Mr. Downing was looking as if
at any moment he might say, "Thwarted to me face, ha, ha! And by a very

It was Psmith, however, who resumed the conversation. His manner was
almost too respectful; which made it all the more a pity that what he
said did not keep up the standard of docility.

"I take my stand," he said, "on a technical point. I say to myself, 'Mr.
Downing is a man I admire as a human being and respect as a
master. In--'"

"This impertinence is doing you no good, Smith."

Psmith waved a hand deprecatingly.

"If you will let me explain, sir. I was about to say that in any other
place but Mr. Outwood's house, your word would be law. I would fly to do
your bidding. If you pressed a button, I would do the rest. But in Mr.
Outwood's house I cannot do anything except what pleases me or what is
ordered by Mr. Outwood. I ought to have remembered that before. One
cannot," he continued, as who should say, "Let us be reasonable," "one
cannot, to take a parallel case, imagine the colonel commanding the
garrison at a naval station going on board a battleship and ordering the
crew to splice the jibboom spanker. It might be an admirable thing for
the Empire that the jibboom spanker _should_ be spliced at that
particular juncture, but the crew would naturally decline to move in the
matter until the order came from the commander of the ship. So in my
case. If you will go to Mr. Outwood, explain to him how matters stand,
and come back and say to me, 'Psmith, Mr. Outwood wishes you to ask him
to be good enough to come to this study,' then I shall be only too glad
to go and find him. You see my difficulty, sir?"

"Go and fetch Mr. Outwood, Smith. I shall not tell you again."

Psmith flicked a speck of dust from his coat sleeve.

"Very well, Smith."

"I can assure you, sir, at any rate, that if there is a shoe in that
cupboard now, there will be a shoe there when you return."

Mr. Downing stalked out of the room.

"But," added Psmith pensively to himself, as the footsteps died away, "I
did not promise that it would be the same shoe."

He took the key from his pocket, unlocked the cupboard, and took out the
shoe. Then he selected from the basket a particularly battered specimen.
Placing this in the cupboard, he relocked the door.

His next act was to take from the shelf a piece of string. Attaching one
end of this to the shoe that he had taken from the cupboard, he went to
the window. His first act was to fling the cupboard key out into the
bushes. Then he turned to the shoe. On a level with the sill the water
pipe, up which Mike had started to climb the night before, was fastened
to the wall by an iron band. He tied the other end of the string to
this, and let the shoe swing free. He noticed with approval, when it had
stopped swinging, that it was hidden from above by the windowsill.

He returned to his place at the mantelpiece.

As an afterthought he took another shoe from the basket, and thrust it
up the chimney. A shower of soot fell into the grate, blackening
his hand.

The bathroom was a few yards down the corridor. He went there, and
washed off the soot.

When he returned, Mr. Downing was in the study, and with him Mr.
Outwood, the latter looking dazed, as if he were not quite equal to the
intellectual pressure of the situation.

"Where have you been, Smith?" asked Mr. Downing sharply.

"I have been washing my hands, sir."

"H'm!" said Mr. Downing suspiciously.

"Yes, I saw Smith go into the bathroom," said Mr. Outwood. "Smith, I
cannot quite understand what it is Mr. Downing wishes me to do."

"My dear Outwood," snapped the sleuth, "I thought I had made it
perfectly clear. Where is the difficulty?"

"I cannot understand why you should suspect Smith of keeping his shoes
in a cupboard, and," added Mr. Outwood with spirit, catching sight of a
good-gracious-has-the-man-_no_-sense look on the other's face, "Why he
should not do so if he wishes it."

"Exactly, sir," said Psmith, approvingly. "You have touched the spot."

"If I must explain again, my dear Outwood, will you kindly give me your
attention for a moment. Last night a boy broke out of your house, and
painted my dog Sampson red."

"He painted...!" said Mr. Outwood, round-eyed. "Why?"

"I don't know why. At any rate, he did. During the escapade one of his
shoes was splashed with the paint. It is that shoe which I believe Smith
to be concealing in this cupboard. Now, do you understand?"

Mr. Outwood looked amazedly at Psmith, and Psmith shook his head
sorrowfully at Mr. Outwood. Psmith's expression said, as plainly as if
he had spoken the words, "We must humor him."

"So with your permission, as Smith declares that he has lost the key, I
propose to break open the door of this cupboard. Have you any

Mr. Outwood started.

"Objection? None at all, my dear fellow, none at all. Let me see, _what_
is it you wish to do?"

"This," said Mr. Downing shortly.

There was a pair of dumbbells on the floor, belonging to Mike. He never
used them, but they always managed to get themselves packed with the
rest of his belongings on the last day of the holidays. Mr. Downing
seized one of these, and delivered two rapid blows at the cupboard door.
The wood splintered. A third blow smashed the flimsy lock. The cupboard,
with any skeletons it might contain, was open for all to view.

Mr. Downing uttered a cry of triumph, and tore the shoe from its resting

"I told you," he said. "I told you."

"I wondered where that shoe had got to," said Psmith. "I've been looking
for it for days."

Mr. Downing was examining his find. He looked up with an exclamation of
surprise and wrath.

"This shoe has no paint on it," he said, glaring at Psmith. "This is not
the shoe."

"It certainly appears, sir," said Psmith sympathetically, "to be free
from paint. There's a sort of reddish glow just there, if you look at it
sideways," he added helpfully.

"Did you place that shoe there, Smith?"

"I must have done. Then, when I lost the key--"

"Are you satisfied now, Downing?" interrupted Mr. Outwood with asperity,
"or is there any more furniture you wish to break?"

The excitement of seeing his household goods smashed with a dumbbell had
made the archaeological student quite a swashbuckler for the moment. A
little more, and one could imagine him giving Mr. Downing a good,
hard knock.

The sleuth-hound stood still for a moment, baffled. But his brain was
working with the rapidity of a buzz saw. A chance remark of Mr.
Outwood's set him fizzing off on the trail once more. Mr. Outwood had
caught sight of the little pile of soot in the grate. He bent down to
inspect it.

"Dear me," he said, "I must remember to have the chimneys swept. It
should have been done before."

Mr. Downing's eye, rolling in a fine frenzy from heaven to earth, from
earth to heaven, also focused itself on the pile of soot; and a thrill
went through him. Soot in the fireplace! Smith washing his hands! ("You
know my methods, my dear Watson. Apply them.")

Mr. Downing's mind at that moment contained one single thought; and that
thought was, "What ho for the chimney!"

He dived forward with a rush, nearly knocking Mr. Outwood off his feet,
and thrust an arm up into the unknown. An avalanche of soot fell upon
his hand and wrist, but he ignored it, for at the same instant his
fingers had closed upon what he was seeking.

"Ah," he said. "I thought as much. You were not quite clever enough,
after all, Smith."

"No, sir," said Psmith patiently. "We all make mistakes."

"You would have done better, Smith, not to have given me all this
trouble. You have done yourself no good by it."

"It's been great fun, though, sir," argued Psmith.

"Fun!" Mr. Downing laughed grimly. "You may have reason to change your
opinion of what constitutes--"

His voice failed as his eye fell on the all-black toe of the shoe. He
looked up, and caught Psmith's benevolent gaze. He straightened himself
and brushed a bead of perspiration from his face with the back of his
hand. Unfortunately, he used the sooty hand, and the result was that he
looked like a chimney sweep at work.

"Did--you--put--that--shoe--there, Smith?" he asked slowly.

"Yes, sir."

"Then what did you _MEAN_ by putting it there?" roared Mr. Downing.

"Animal spirits, sir," said Psmith.


"Animal spirits, sir."

What Mr. Downing would have replied to this one cannot tell, though one
can guess roughly. For, just as he was opening his mouth, Mr. Outwood,
catching sight of his soot-covered countenance, intervened.

"My dear Downing," he said, "your face. It is positively covered with
soot, positively. You must come and wash it. You are quite black. Really
you present a most curious appearance, most. Let me show you the way
to my room."

In all times of storm and tribulation there comes a breaking point, a
point where the spirit definitely refuses to battle any longer against
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Mr. Downing could not bear
up against this crowning blow. He went down beneath it. In the language
of the ring, he took the count. It was the knockout.

"Soot!" he murmured weakly. "Soot!"

"Your face is covered, my dear fellow, quite covered."

"It certainly has a faintly sooty aspect, sir," said Psmith.

His voice roused the sufferer to one last flicker of spirit.

"You will hear more of this, Smith," he said. "I say you will hear more
of it."

Then he allowed Mr. Outwood to lead him out to a place where there were
towels, soap, and sponges.

* * * * *

When they had gone, Psmith went to the window, and hauled in the string.
He felt the calm afterglow which comes to the general after a
successfully conducted battle. It had been trying, of course, for a man
of refinement, and it had cut into his afternoon, but on the whole it
had been worth it.

The problem now was what to do with the painted shoe. It would take a
lot of cleaning, he saw, even if he could get hold of the necessary
implements for cleaning it. And he rather doubted if he would be able to
do so. Edmund, the boot-boy, worked in some mysterious cell far from the
madding crowd, at the back of the house. In the boot cupboard downstairs
there would probably be nothing likely to be of any use.

His fears were realized. The boot cupboard was empty. It seemed to him
that, for the time being, the best thing he could do would be to place
the shoe in safe hiding, until he would have thought out a scheme.

Having restored the basket to its proper place, accordingly, he went up
to the study again, and placed the red-toed shoe in the chimney, at
about the same height where Mr. Downing had found the other. Nobody
would think of looking there a second time, and it was improbable that
Mr. Outwood really would have the chimneys swept, as he had said. The
odds were that he had forgotten about it already.

Psmith went to the bathroom to wash his hands again, with the feeling
that he had done a good day's work.

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