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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMike - Chapter LI - MAINLY ABOUT BOOTS
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Mike - Chapter LI - MAINLY ABOUT BOOTS Post by :jumpstart Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :1940

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Mike - Chapter LI - MAINLY ABOUT BOOTS

CHAPTER LI - MAINLY ABOUT BOOTS


"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 conundrum.

"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."

"What!"

"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 stripling!"

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, and 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 boot in that
cupboard now, there will be a boot 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 boot."

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

His next act was to take from the shelf a piece of string. Attaching
one end of this to the boot 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 boot. 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 boot swing free. He noticed with approval,
when it had stopped swinging, that it was hidden from above by the
window-sill.

He returned to his place at the mantelpiece.

As an after-thought he took another boot 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 boots
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
boots was splashed with the paint. It is that boot which I believe
Smith to be concealing in this cupboard. Now, do you understand?"

Mr. Outwood looked amazedly at Smith, and Psmith shook his head
sorrowfully at Mr. Outwood. Psmith'a expression said, as plainly as if
he had spoken the words, "We must humour 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
objection?"

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 dumb-bells 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 boot from its
resting-place.

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

"I wondered where that boot 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 boot has no paint on it," he said, glaring at Psmith. "This is
not the boot."

"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 boot 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 dumb-bell
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 focussed 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 boot. 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
like some gruesome burlesque of a nigger minstrel.

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

(Illustration: "DID--YOU--PUT--THAT--BOOT--THERE, SMITH?")

"Yes, sir."

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

"Animal spirits, sir," said Psmith.

"WHAT!"

"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 Chirgwin-like 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 knock-out.

"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 after-glow 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 boot. 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 realised. 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 boot in safe hiding, until he should 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 boot 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.

Content of CHAPTER LI - MAINLY ABOUT BOOTS (P G Wodehouse's novel: Mike)

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