Mike and Psmith
Mike and Psmith
STAKING OUT A CLAIM
Psmith, in the matter of decorating a study and preparing tea in it, was rather a critic than an executant. He was full of ideas, but he preferred to allow Mike to carry them out. It was he who suggested that the wooden bar which ran across the window was unnecessary, but it was Mike who wrenched it from its place. Similarly, it was Mike who abstracted the key from the door of the next study, though the idea was Psmith's.
"Privacy," said Psmith, as he watched Mike light the gas ring, "is what we chiefly need in this age of publicity. If you leave a study door unlocked in these strenuous times, the first thing you know is, somebody comes right in, sits down, and begins to talk about himself. I think with a little care we ought to be able to make this room quite decently comfortable. That putrid calendar must come down, though. Do you think you could make a long arm, and haul it off the parent tintack? Thanks. We make progress. We make progress."
"We shall jolly well make it out of the window," said Mike, spooning up tea from a paperbag with a postcard, "if a sort of young Hackenschmidt turns up and claims the study. What are you going to do about it?"
"Don't let us worry about it. I have a presentiment that he will be an insignificant-looking little weed. How are you getting on with the evening meal?"
"Just ready. What would you give to be at Eton now? I'd give something to be at Wrykyn."
"These school reports," said Psmith sympathetically, "are the very dickens. Many a bright young lad has been soured by them. Hello, what's this, I wonder."
A heavy body had plunged against the door, evidently without a suspicion that there would be any resistance. A rattling of the handle followed, and a voice outside said, "Dash the door!"
"Hackenschmidt!" said Mike.
"The weed," said Psmith. "You couldn't make a long arm, could you, and turn the key? We had better give this merchant audience. Remind me later to go on with my remarks on school reports. I had several bright things to say on the subject."
Mike unlocked the door, and flung it open. Framed in the entrance was a smallish, freckled boy, wearing a pork-pie hat and carrying a bag. On his face was an expression of mingled wrath and astonishment.
Psmith rose courteously from his chair, and moved forward with slow stateliness to do the honors.
"What the dickens," inquired the newcomer, "are you doing here?"
"We were having a little tea," said Psmith, "to restore our tissues after our journey. Come in and join us. We keep open house, we Psmiths. Let me introduce you to Comrade Jackson. A stout fellow. Homely in appearance, perhaps, but one of us. I am Psmith. Your own name will doubtless come up in the course of general chitchat over the teacups."
"My name's Spiller, and this is my study."
Psmith leaned against the mantelpiece, put up his eyeglass, and harangued Spiller in a philosophical vein.
"Of all sad words of tongue or pen," said he, "the saddest are these: 'It might have been.' Too late! That is the bitter cry. If you had torn yourself from the bosom of the Spiller family by an earlier train, all might have been well. But no. Your father held your hand and said huskily, 'Edwin, don't leave us!' Your mother clung to you weeping, and said, 'Edwin, stay!' Your sisters-"
"I want to know what-"
"Your sisters froze on to your knees like little octopuses (or octopi), and screamed, 'Don't go, Edwin!' And so," said Psmith, deeply affected by his recital, "you stayed on till the later train; and, on arrival, you find strange faces in the familiar room, a people that know not Spiller." Psmith went to the table, and cheered himself with a sip of tea. Spiller's sad case had moved him greatly.
The victim of Fate seemed in no way consoled.
"It's beastly cheek, that's what I call it. Are you new chaps?"
"The very latest th