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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> Mike and Psmith -> Chapter 26

Mike and Psmith - Chapter 26

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



Psmith was one of those people who lend a dignity to everything they
touch. Under his auspices the most unpromising ventures became somehow
enveloped in an atmosphere of measured stateliness. On the present
occasion, what would have been, without his guiding hand, a mere
unscientific scramble, took on something of the impressive formality of
the National Sporting Club.

"The rounds," he said, producing a watch, as they passed through a gate
into a field a couple of hundred yards from the house gate, "will be of
three minutes' duration, with a minute rest in between. A man who is
down will have ten seconds in which to rise. Are you ready, Comrades
Adair and Jackson? Very well, then. Time."

After which, it was a pity that the actual fight did not quite live up
to its referee's introduction. Dramatically, there should have been
cautious sparring for openings and a number of tensely contested rounds,
as if it had been the final of a boxing competition. But school fights,
when they do occur--which is only once in a decade nowadays, unless you
count junior school scuffles--are the outcome of weeks of suppressed bad
blood, and are consequently brief and furious. In a boxing competition,
however much one may want to win, one does not dislike one's opponent.
Up to the moment when "time" was called, one was probably warmly
attached to him, and at the end of the last round one expects to resume
that attitude of mind. In a fight each party, as a rule, hates
the other.

So it happened that there was nothing formal or cautious about the
present battle. All Adair wanted was to get at Mike, and all Mike wanted
was to get at Adair. Directly Psmith called "time," they rushed together
as if they meant to end the thing in half a minute.

It was this that saved Mike. In an ordinary contest with the gloves,
with his opponent cool and boxing in his true form, he could not have
lasted three rounds against Adair. The latter was a clever boxer, while
Mike had never had a lesson in his life. If Adair had kept away and used
his head, nothing could have prevented his winning.

As it was, however, he threw away his advantages, much as Tom Brown did
at the beginning of his fight with Slogger Williams, and the result was
the same as on that historic occasion. Mike had the greater strength,
and, thirty seconds from the start, knocked his man clean off his feet
with an unscientific but powerful righthander.

This finished Adair's chances. He rose full of fight, but with all the
science knocked out of him. He went in at Mike with both hands. The
Irish blood in him, which for the ordinary events of life made him
merely energetic and dashing, now rendered him reckless. He abandoned
all attempt at guarding. It was the Frontal Attack in its most futile
form, and as unsuccessful as a frontal attack is apt to be. There was a
swift exchange of blows, in the course of which Mike's left elbow,
coming into contact with his opponent's right fist, got a shock which
kept it tingling for the rest of the day; and then Adair went down in
a heap.

He got up slowly and with difficulty. For a moment he stood blinking
vaguely. Then he lurched forward at Mike.

In the excitement of a fight--which is, after all, about the most
exciting thing that ever happens to one in the course of one's life--it
is difficult for the fighters to see what the spectators see. Where the
spectators see an assault on an already beaten man, the fighter himself
only sees a legitimate piece of self-defense against an opponent whose
chances are equal to his own. Psmith saw, as anybody looking on would
have seen, that Adair was done. Mike's blow had taken him within a
fraction of an inch of the point of the jaw, and he was all but knocked
out. Mike could not see this. All he understood was that his man was on
his feet again and coming at him, so he hit out with all his strength;
and this time Adair went down and stayed down.

"Brief," said Psmith, coming forward, "but exciting. We may take that, I
think, to be the conclusion of the entertainment. I will now have a dash
at picking up the slain. I shouldn't stop, if I were you. He'll be
sitting up and taking notice soon, and if he sees you he may want to go
on with the combat, which would do him no earthly good. If it's going to
be continued in our next, there had better be a bit of an interval for
alterations and repairs first."

"Is he hurt much, do you think?" asked Mike. He had seen knockouts
before in the ring, but this was the first time he had ever effected one
on his own account, and Adair looked unpleasantly corpselike.

"_He's_ all right," said Psmith. "In a minute or two he'll be skipping
about like a little lambkin. I'll look after him. You go away and
pick flowers."

Mike put on his coat and walked back to the house. He was conscious of a
perplexing whirl of new and strange emotions, chief among which was a
curious feeling that he rather liked Adair. He found himself thinking
that Adair was a good chap, that there was something to be said for his
point of view, and that it was a pity he had knocked him about so much.
At the same time, he felt an undeniable thrill of pride at having beaten
him. The feat presented that interesting person, Mike Jackson, to him in
a fresh and pleasing light, as one who had had a tough job to face and
had carried it through. Jackson the cricketer he knew, but Jackson the
deliverer of knockout blows was strange to him, and he found this new
acquaintance a man to be respected.

The fight, in fact, had the result which most fights have, if they are
fought fairly and until one side has had enough. It revolutionized
Mike's view of things. It shook him up, and drained the bad blood out of
him. Where before he had seemed to himself to be acting with massive
dignity, he now saw that he had simply been sulking like some wretched
kid. There had appeared to him something rather fine in his policy of
refusing to identify himself in any way with Sedleigh, a touch of the
stone-walls-do-not-a-prison-make sort of thing. He now saw that his
attitude was to be summed up in the words, "Sha'n't play."

It came upon Mike with painful clearness that he had been making an ass
of himself.

He had come to this conclusion, after much earnest thought, when Psmith
entered the study.

"How's Adair?" asked Mike.

"Sitting up and taking nourishment once more. We have been chatting.
He's not a bad cove."

"He's all right," said Mike.

There was a pause. Psmith straightened his tie.

"Look here," he said, "I seldom interfere in terrestrial strife, but it
seems to me that there's an opening here for a capable peacemaker, not
afraid of work, and willing to give his services in exchange for a
comfortable home. Comrade Adair's rather a stoutish fellow in his way.
I'm not much on the 'Play up for the old school, Jones,' game, but
everyone to his taste. I shouldn't have thought anybody would get
overwhelmingly attached to this abode of wrath, but Comrade Adair seems
to have done it. He's all for giving Sedleigh a much-needed boost-up.
It's not a bad idea in its way. I don't see why one shouldn't humor him.
Apparently he's been sweating since early childhood to buck the school
up. And as he's leaving at the end of the term, it mightn't be a scaly
scheme to give him a bit of a send-off, if possible, by making the
cricket season a bit of a banger. As a start, why not drop him a line to
say that you'll play against the M.C.C. tomorrow?"

Mike did not reply at once. He was feeling better disposed toward Adair
and Sedleigh then he had felt, but he was not sure that he was quite
prepared to go as far as a complete climb-down.

"It wouldn't be a bad idea," continued Psmith. "There's nothing like
giving in to a man a bit every now and then. It broadens the soul and
improves the action of the skin. What seems to have fed up Comrade
Adair, to a certain extent, is that Stone apparently led him to
understand that you had offered to give him and Robinson places in your
village team. You didn't, of course?"

"Of course not," said Mike indignantly.

"I told him he didn't know the old _noblesse oblige_ spirit of the
Jacksons. I said that you would scorn to tarnish the Jackson escutcheon
by not playing the game. My eloquence convinced him. However, to return
to the point under discussion, why not?"

"I don't ... What I mean to say ..." began Mike.

"If your trouble is," said Psmith, "that you fear that you may be in
unworthy company--"

"Don't be an ass."

"--Dismiss it. _I_ am playing."

Mike stared.

"You're _what? You_?"

"I," said Psmith, breathing on a coat button, and polishing it with his

"Can you play cricket?"

"You have discovered," said Psmith, "my secret sorrow."

"You're rotting."

"You wrong me, Comrade Jackson."

"Then why haven't you played?"

"Why haven't you?"

"Why didn't you come and play for Lower Borlock, I mean?"

"The last time I played in a village cricket match I was caught at point
by a man in braces. It would have been madness to risk another such
shock to my system. My nerves are so exquisitely balanced that a thing
of that sort takes years off my life."

"No, but look here, Smith, bar rotting. Are you really any good at

"Competent judges at Eton gave me to understand so. I was told that this
year I should be a certainty for Lord's. But when the cricket season
came, where was I? Gone. Gone like some beautiful flower that withers in
the night."

"But you told me you didn't like cricket. You said you only liked
watching it."

"Quite right. I do. But at schools where cricket is compulsory you have
to overcome your private prejudices. And in time the thing becomes a
habit. Imagine my feelings when I found that I was degenerating, little
by little, into a slow left-hand bowler with a swerve. I fought against
it, but it was useless, and after a while I gave up the struggle, and
drifted with the stream. Last year in a house match"--Psmith's voice
took on a deeper tone of melancholy--"I took seven for thirteen in the
second innings on a hard wicket. I did think, when I came here, that I
had found a haven of rest, but it was not to be. I turn out tomorrow.
What Comrade Outwood will say, when he finds that his keenest
archaeological disciple has deserted, I hate to think. However ..."

Mike felt as if a young and powerful earthquake had passed. The whole
face of his world had undergone a quick change. Here was he, the
recalcitrant, wavering on the point of playing for the school, and here
was Psmith, the last person whom he would have expected to be a player,
stating calmly that he had been in the running for a place in the
Eton eleven.

Then in a flash Mike understood. He was not by nature intuitive, but he
read Psmith's mind now. Since the term began, he and Psmith had been
acting on precisely similar motives. Just as he had been disappointed of
the captaincy of cricket at Wrykyn, so had Psmith been disappointed of
his place in the Eton team at Lord's. And they had both worked it off,
each in his own way--Mike sullenly, Psmith whimsically, according to
their respective natures--on Sedleigh.

If Psmith, therefore, did not consider it too much of a climb-down to
renounce his resolution not to play for Sedleigh, there was nothing to
stop Mike doing so, as--at the bottom of his heart--he wanted to do.

"By Jove," he said, "if you're playing, I'll play. I'll write a note to
Adair now. But, I say"--he stopped--"I'm hanged if I'm going to turn out
and field before breakfast tomorrow."

"That's all right. You won't have to. Adair won't be there himself. He's
not playing against the M.C.C. He's sprained his wrist."

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