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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMike - Chapter LVII - MR. DOWNING MOVES
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Mike - Chapter LVII - MR. DOWNING MOVES Post by :Andrzej Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :2546

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Mike - Chapter LVII - MR. DOWNING MOVES

CHAPTER LVII - MR. DOWNING MOVES


The rain continued without a break all the morning. The two teams,
after hanging about dismally, and whiling the time away with
stump-cricket in the changing-rooms, lunched in the pavilion at
one o'clock. After which the M.C.C. captain, approaching Adair,
moved that this merry meeting be considered off and himself and
his men permitted to catch the next train back to town. To which
Adair, seeing that it was out of the question that there should be
any cricket that afternoon, regretfully agreed, and the first
Sedleigh _v_. M.C.C. match was accordingly scratched.

Mike and Psmith, wandering back to the house, were met by a damp
junior from Downing's, with a message that Mr. Downing wished to see
Mike as soon as he was changed.

"What's he want me for?" inquired Mike.

The messenger did not know. Mr. Downing, it seemed, had not confided
in him. All he knew was that the housemaster was in the house, and
would be glad if Mike would step across.

"A nuisance," said Psmith, "this incessant demand for you. That's the
worst of being popular. If he wants you to stop to tea, edge away. A
meal on rather a sumptuous scale will be prepared in the study against
your return."

Mike changed quickly, and went off, leaving Psmith, who was fond of
simple pleasures in his spare time, earnestly occupied with a puzzle
which had been scattered through the land by a weekly paper. The prize
for a solution was one thousand pounds, and Psmith had already
informed Mike with some minuteness of his plans for the disposition of
this sum. Meanwhile, he worked at it both in and out of school,
generally with abusive comments on its inventor.

He was still fiddling away at it when Mike returned.

Mike, though Psmith was at first too absorbed to notice it, was
agitated.

"I don't wish to be in any way harsh," said Psmith, without looking
up, "but the man who invented this thing was a blighter of the worst
type. You come and have a shot. For the moment I am baffled. The
whisper flies round the clubs, 'Psmith is baffled.'"

"The man's an absolute drivelling ass," said Mike warmly.

"Me, do you mean?"

"What on earth would be the point of my doing it?"

"You'd gather in a thousand of the best. Give you a nice start in
life."

"I'm not talking about your rotten puzzle."

"What are you talking about?"

"That ass Downing. I believe he's off his nut."

"Then your chat with Comrade Downing was not of the old-College-chums-
meeting-unexpectedly-after-years'-separation type? What has he been
doing to you?"

"He's off his nut."

"I know. But what did he do? How did the brainstorm burst? Did he jump
at you from behind a door and bite a piece out of your leg, or did he
say he was a tea-pot?"

Mike sat down.

"You remember that painting Sammy business?"

"As if it were yesterday," said Psmith. "Which it was, pretty nearly."

"He thinks I did it."

"Why? Have you ever shown any talent in the painting line?"

"The silly ass wanted me to confess that I'd done it. He as good as
asked me to. Jawed a lot of rot about my finding it to my advantage
later on if I behaved sensibly."

"Then what are you worrying about? Don't you know that when a master
wants you to do the confessing-act, it simply means that he hasn't
enough evidence to start in on you with? You're all right. The thing's
a stand-off."

"Evidence!" said Mike, "My dear man, he's got enough evidence to sink
a ship. He's absolutely sweating evidence at every pore. As far as I
can see, he's been crawling about, doing the Sherlock Holmes business
for all he's worth ever since the thing happened, and now he's dead
certain that I painted Sammy."

"_Did you, by the way?" asked Psmith.

"No," said Mike shortly, "I didn't. But after listening to Downing I
almost began to wonder if I hadn't. The man's got stacks of evidence
to prove that I did."

"Such as what?"

"It's mostly about my boots. But, dash it, you know all about that.
Why, you were with him when he came and looked for them."

"It is true," said Psmith, "that Comrade Downing and I spent a very
pleasant half-hour together inspecting boots, but how does he drag you
into it?"

"He swears one of the boots was splashed with paint."

"Yes. He babbled to some extent on that point when I was entertaining
him. But what makes him think that the boot, if any, was yours?"

"He's certain that somebody in this house got one of his boots
splashed, and is hiding it somewhere. And I'm the only chap in the
house who hasn't got a pair of boots to show, so he thinks it's me. I
don't know where the dickens my other boot has gone. Edmund swears he
hasn't seen it, and it's nowhere about. Of course I've got two pairs,
but one's being soled. So I had to go over to school yesterday in
pumps. That's how he spotted me."

Psmith sighed.

"Comrade Jackson," he said mournfully, "all this very sad affair shows
the folly of acting from the best motives. In my simple zeal, meaning
to save you unpleasantness, I have landed you, with a dull, sickening
thud, right in the cart. Are you particular about dirtying your hands?
If you aren't, just reach up that chimney a bit?"

Mike stared, "What the dickens are you talking about?"

"Go on. Get it over. Be a man, and reach up the chimney."

"I don't know what the game is," said Mike, kneeling beside the fender
and groping, "but--_Hullo_!"

"Ah ha!" said Psmith moodily.

Mike dropped the soot-covered object in the fender, and glared at it.

(Illustration: MIKE DROPPED THE SOOT-COVERED OBJECT IN THE FENDER.)

"It's my boot!" he said at last.

"It _is_," said Psmith, "your boot. And what is that red stain
across the toe? Is it blood? No, 'tis not blood. It is red paint."

Mike seemed unable to remove his eyes from the boot.

"How on earth did--By Jove! I remember now. I kicked up against
something in the dark when I was putting my bicycle back that night.
It must have been the paint-pot."

"Then you were out that night?"

"Rather. That's what makes it so jolly awkward. It's too long to tell
you now----"

"Your stories are never too long for me," said Psmith. "Say on!"

"Well, it was like this." And Mike related the events which had led up
to his midnight excursion. Psmith listened attentively.

"This," he said, when Mike had finished, "confirms my frequently stated
opinion that Comrade Jellicoe is one of Nature's blitherers. So that's
why he touched us for our hard-earned, was it?"

"Yes. Of course there was no need for him to have the money at all."

"And the result is that you are in something of a tight place. You're
_absolutely certain you didn't paint that dog? Didn't do it, by
any chance, in a moment of absent-mindedness, and forgot all about it?
No? No, I suppose not. I wonder who did!"

"It's beastly awkward. You see, Downing chased me that night. That was
why I rang the alarm bell. So, you see, he's certain to think that the
chap he chased, which was me, and the chap who painted Sammy, are the
same. I shall get landed both ways."

Psmith pondered.

"It _is a tightish place," he admitted.

"I wonder if we could get this boot clean," said Mike, inspecting it
with disfavour.

"Not for a pretty considerable time."

"I suppose not. I say, I _am in the cart. If I can't produce
this boot, they're bound to guess why."

"What exactly," asked Psmith, "was the position of affairs between you
and Comrade Downing when you left him? Had you definitely parted
brass-rags? Or did you simply sort of drift apart with mutual
courtesies?"

"Oh, he said I was ill-advised to continue that attitude, or some rot,
and I said I didn't care, I hadn't painted his bally dog, and he said
very well, then, he must take steps, and--well, that was about all."

"Sufficient, too," said Psmith, "quite sufficient. I take it, then,
that he is now on the war-path, collecting a gang, so to speak."

"I suppose he's gone to the Old Man about it."

"Probably. A very worrying time our headmaster is having, taking it
all round, in connection with this painful affair. What do you think
his move will be?"

"I suppose he'll send for me, and try to get something out of me."

"_He'll want you to confess, too. Masters are all whales on
confession. The worst of it is, you can't prove an alibi, because
at about the time the foul act was perpetrated, you were playing
Round-and-round-the-mulberry-bush with Comrade Downing. This needs
thought. You had better put the case in my hands, and go out and
watch the dandelions growing. I will think over the matter."

"Well, I hope you'll be able to think of something. I can't."

"Possibly. You never know."

There was a tap at the door.

"See how we have trained them," said Psmith. "They now knock before
entering. There was a time when they would have tried to smash in a
panel. Come in."

A small boy, carrying a straw hat adorned with the school-house
ribbon, answered the invitation.

"Oh, I say, Jackson," he said, "the headmaster sent me over to tell
you he wants to see you."

"I told you so," said Mike to Psmith.

"Don't go," suggested Psmith. "Tell him to write."

Mike got up.

"All this is very trying," said Psmith. "I'm seeing nothing of you
to-day." He turned to the small boy. "Tell Willie," he added, "that
Mr. Jackson will be with him in a moment."

The emissary departed.

"_You're all right," said Psmith encouragingly. "Just you keep
on saying you're all right. Stout denial is the thing. Don't go in for
any airy explanations. Simply stick to stout denial. You can't beat
it."

With which expert advice, he allowed Mike to go on his way.

He had not been gone two minutes, when Psmith, who had leaned back in
his chair, wrapped in thought, heaved himself up again. He stood for a
moment straightening his tie at the looking-glass; then he picked up
his hat and moved slowly out of the door and down the passage. Thence,
at the same dignified rate of progress, out of the house and in at
Downing's front gate.

The postman was at the door when he got there, apparently absorbed in
conversation with the parlour-maid. Psmith stood by politely till the
postman, who had just been told it was like his impudence, caught
sight of him, and, having handed over the letters in an ultra-formal
and professional manner, passed away.

"Is Mr. Downing at home?" inquired Psmith.

He was, it seemed. Psmith was shown into the dining-room on the left
of the hall, and requested to wait. He was examining a portrait of Mr.
Downing which hung on the wall, when the housemaster came in.

"An excellent likeness, sir," said Psmith, with a gesture of the hand
towards the painting.

"Well, Smith," said Mr. Downing shortly, "what do you wish to see me
about?"

"It was in connection with the regrettable painting of your dog, sir."

"Ha!" said Mr. Downing.

"I did it, sir," said Psmith, stopping and flicking a piece of fluff
off his knee.

Content of CHAPTER LVII - MR. DOWNING MOVES (P G Wodehouse's novel: Mike)

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