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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMike - Chapter LVIII - THE ARTIST CLAIMS HIS WORK
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Mike - Chapter LVIII - THE ARTIST CLAIMS HIS WORK Post by :swstecker Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :3071

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Mike - Chapter LVIII - THE ARTIST CLAIMS HIS WORK

CHAPTER LVIII - THE ARTIST CLAIMS HIS WORK


The line of action which Psmith had called Stout Denial is an
excellent line to adopt, especially if you really are innocent, but it
does not lead to anything in the shape of a bright and snappy dialogue
between accuser and accused. Both Mike and the headmaster were
oppressed by a feeling that the situation was difficult. The
atmosphere was heavy, and conversation showed a tendency to flag. The
headmaster had opened brightly enough, with a summary of the evidence
which Mr. Downing had laid before him, but after that a massive
silence had been the order of the day. There is nothing in this world
quite so stolid and uncommunicative as a boy who has made up his mind
to be stolid and uncommunicative; and the headmaster, as he sat and
looked at Mike, who sat and looked past him at the bookshelves, felt
awkward. It was a scene which needed either a dramatic interruption or
a neat exit speech. As it happened, what it got was the dramatic
interruption.

The headmaster was just saying, "I do not think you fully realise,
Jackson, the extent to which appearances--" --which was practically
going back to the beginning and starting again--when there was a knock
at the door. A voice without said, "Mr. Downing to see you, sir," and
the chief witness for the prosecution burst in.

"I would not have interrupted you," said Mr. Downing, "but----"

"Not at all, Mr. Downing. Is there anything I can----?"

"I have discovered--I have been informed--In short, it was not
Jackson, who committed the--who painted my dog."

Mike and the headmaster both looked at the speaker. Mike with a
feeling of relief--for Stout Denial, unsupported by any weighty
evidence, is a wearing game to play--the headmaster with astonishment.

"Not Jackson?" said the headmaster.

"No. It was a boy in the same house. Smith."

Psmith! Mike was more than surprised. He could not believe it. There
is nothing which affords so clear an index to a boy's character as the
type of rag which he considers humorous. Between what is a rag and
what is merely a rotten trick there is a very definite line drawn.
Masters, as a rule, do not realise this, but boys nearly always do.
Mike could not imagine Psmith doing a rotten thing like covering a
housemaster's dog with red paint, any more than he could imagine doing
it himself. They had both been amused at the sight of Sammy after the
operation, but anybody, except possibly the owner of the dog, would
have thought it funny at first. After the first surprise, their
feeling had been that it was a scuggish thing to have done and beastly
rough luck on the poor brute. It was a kid's trick. As for Psmith
having done it, Mike simply did not believe it.

"Smith!" said the headmaster. "What makes you think that?"

"Simply this," said Mr. Downing, with calm triumph, "that the boy
himself came to me a few moments ago and confessed."

Mike was conscious of a feeling of acute depression. It did not make
him in the least degree jubilant, or even thankful, to know that he
himself was cleared of the charge. All he could think of was that
Psmith was done for. This was bound to mean the sack. If Psmith had
painted Sammy, it meant that Psmith had broken out of his house at
night: and it was not likely that the rules about nocturnal wandering
were less strict at Sedleigh than at any other school in the kingdom.
Mike felt, if possible, worse than he had felt when Wyatt had been
caught on a similar occasion. It seemed as if Fate had a special
grudge against his best friends. He did not make friends very quickly
or easily, though he had always had scores of acquaintances--and with
Wyatt and Psmith he had found himself at home from the first moment he
had met them.

He sat there, with a curious feeling of having swallowed a heavy
weight, hardly listening to what Mr. Downing was saying. Mr. Downing
was talking rapidly to the headmaster, who was nodding from time to
time.

Mike took advantage of a pause to get up. "May I go, sir?" he said.

"Certainly, Jackson, certainly," said the Head. "Oh, and er--, if you
are going back to your house, tell Smith that I should like to see
him."

"Yes, sir."

He had reached the door, when again there was a knock.

"Come in," said the headmaster.

It was Adair.

"Yes, Adair?"

Adair was breathing rather heavily, as if he had been running.

"It was about Sammy--Sampson, sir," he said, looking at Mr. Downing.

"Ah, we know--. Well, Adair, what did you wish to say."

"It wasn't Jackson who did it, sir."

"No, no, Adair. So Mr. Downing----"

"It was Dunster, sir."

Terrific sensation! The headmaster gave a sort of strangled yelp of
astonishment. Mr. Downing leaped in his chair. Mike's eyes opened to
their fullest extent.

"Adair!"

There was almost a wail in the headmaster's voice. The situation had
suddenly become too much for him. His brain was swimming. That Mike,
despite the evidence against him, should be innocent, was curious,
perhaps, but not particularly startling. But that Adair should inform
him, two minutes after Mr. Downing's announcement of Psmith's
confession, that Psmith, too, was guiltless, and that the real
criminal was Dunster--it was this that made him feel that somebody, in
the words of an American author, had played a mean trick on him, and
substituted for his brain a side-order of cauliflower. Why Dunster, of
all people? Dunster, who, he remembered dizzily, had left the school
at Christmas. And why, if Dunster had really painted the dog, had
Psmith asserted that he himself was the culprit? Why--why anything? He
concentrated his mind on Adair as the only person who could save him
from impending brain-fever.

"Adair!"

"Yes, sir?"

"What--_what do you mean?"

"It _was Dunster, sir. I got a letter from him only five minutes
ago, in which he said that he had painted Sammy--Sampson, the dog,
sir, for a rag--for a joke, and that, as he didn't want any one here
to get into a row--be punished for it, I'd better tell Mr. Downing at
once. I tried to find Mr. Downing, but he wasn't in the house. Then I
met Smith outside the house, and he told me that Mr. Downing had gone
over to see you, sir."

"Smith told you?" said Mr. Downing.

"Yes, sir."

"Did you say anything to him about your having received this letter
from Dunster?"

"I gave him the letter to read, sir."

"And what was his attitude when he had read it?"

"He laughed, sir."

"_Laughed!_" Mr. Downing's voice was thunderous.

"Yes, sir. He rolled about."

Mr. Downing snorted.

"But Adair," said the headmaster, "I do not understand how this thing
could have been done by Dunster. He has left the school."

"He was down here for the Old Sedleighans' match, sir. He stopped the
night in the village."

"And that was the night the--it happened?"

"Yes, sir."

"I see. Well, I am glad to find that the blame cannot be attached to
any boy in the school. I am sorry that it is even an Old Boy. It was a
foolish, discreditable thing to have done, but it is not as bad as if
any boy still at the school had broken out of his house at night to do
it."

"The sergeant," said Mr. Downing, "told me that the boy he saw was
attempting to enter Mr. Outwood's house."

"Another freak of Dunster's, I suppose," said the headmaster. "I shall
write to him."

"If it was really Dunster who painted my dog," said Mr. Downing, "I
cannot understand the part played by Smith in this affair. If he did
not do it, what possible motive could he have had for coming to me of
his own accord and deliberately confessing?"

"To be sure," said the headmaster, pressing a bell. "It is certainly a
thing that calls for explanation. Barlow," he said, as the butler
appeared, "kindly go across to Mr. Outwood's house and inform Smith
that I should like to see him."

"If you please, sir, Mr. Smith is waiting in the hall."

"In the hall!"

"Yes, sir. He arrived soon after Mr. Adair, sir, saying that he would
wait, as you would probably wish to see him shortly."

"H'm. Ask him to step up, Barlow."

"Yes, sir."

There followed one of the tensest "stage waits" of Mike's experience.
It was not long, but, while it lasted, the silence was quite solid.
Nobody seemed to have anything to say, and there was not even a clock
in the room to break the stillness with its ticking. A very faint
drip-drip of rain could be heard outside the window.

Presently there was a sound of footsteps on the stairs. The door was
opened.

"Mr. Smith, sir."

The old Etonian entered as would the guest of the evening who is a few
moments late for dinner. He was cheerful, but slightly deprecating. He
gave the impression of one who, though sure of his welcome, feels that
some slight apology is expected from him. He advanced into the room
with a gentle half-smile which suggested good-will to all men.

"It is still raining," he observed. "You wished to see me, sir?"

"Sit down, Smith."

"Thank you, sir."

He dropped into a deep arm-chair (which both Adair and Mike had
avoided in favour of less luxurious seats) with the confidential
cosiness of a fashionable physician calling on a patient, between whom
and himself time has broken down the barriers of restraint and
formality.

Mr. Downing burst out, like a reservoir that has broken its banks.

"Smith."

Psmith turned his gaze politely in the housemaster's direction.

"Smith, you came to me a quarter of an hour ago and told me that it
was you who had painted my dog Sampson."

"Yes, sir."

"It was absolutely untrue?"

"I am afraid so, sir."

"But, Smith--" began the headmaster.

Psmith bent forward encouragingly.

"----This is a most extraordinary affair. Have you no explanation to
offer? What induced you to do such a thing?"

Psmith sighed softly.

"The craze for notoriety, sir," he replied sadly. "The curse of the
present age."

"What!" cried the headmaster.

"It is remarkable," proceeded Psmith placidly, with the impersonal
touch of one lecturing on generalities, "how frequently, when a murder
has been committed, one finds men confessing that they have done it
when it is out of the question that they should have committed it. It
is one of the most interesting problems with which anthropologists are
confronted. Human nature----"

The headmaster interrupted.

"Smith," he said, "I should like to see you alone for a moment. Mr.
Downing might I trouble--? Adair, Jackson."

He made a motion towards the door.

When he and Psmith were alone, there was silence. Psmith leaned back
comfortably in his chair. The headmaster tapped nervously with his
foot on the floor.

"Er--Smith."

"Sir?"

The headmaster seemed to have some difficulty in proceeding. He paused
again. Then he went on.

"Er--Smith, I do not for a moment wish to pain you, but have
you--er, do you remember ever having had, as a child, let us say,
any--er--severe illness? Any--er--_mental illness?"

"No, sir."

"There is no--forgive me if I am touching on a sad subject--there
is no--none of your near relatives have ever suffered in the way
I--er--have described?"

"There isn't a lunatic on the list, sir," said Psmith cheerfully.

"Of course, Smith, of course," said the headmaster hurriedly, "I did
not mean to suggest--quite so, quite so.... You think, then, that you
confessed to an act which you had not committed purely from some
sudden impulse which you cannot explain?"

"Strictly between ourselves, sir----"

Privately, the headmaster found Psmith's man-to-man attitude somewhat
disconcerting, but he said nothing.

"Well, Smith?"

"I should not like it to go any further, sir."

"I will certainly respect any confidence----"

"I don't want anybody to know, sir. This is strictly between
ourselves."

"I think you are sometimes apt to forget, Smith, the proper relations
existing between boy and--Well, never mind that for the present. We
can return to it later. For the moment, let me hear what you wish to
say. I shall, of course, tell nobody, if you do not wish it."

"Well, it was like this, sir," said Psmith. "Jackson happened to tell
me that you and Mr. Downing seemed to think he had painted Mr.
Downing's dog, and there seemed some danger of his being expelled, so
I thought it wouldn't be an unsound scheme if I were to go and say I
had done it. That was the whole thing. Of course, Dunster writing
created a certain amount of confusion."

There was a pause.

"It was a very wrong thing to do, Smith," said the headmaster, at
last, "but.... You are a curious boy, Smith. Good-night."

He held out his hand.

"Good-night, sir," said Psmith.

"Not a bad old sort," said Psmith meditatively to himself, as he
walked downstairs. "By no means a bad old sort. I must drop in from
time to time and cultivate him."

* * * * *

Mike and Adair were waiting for him outside the front door.

"Well?" said Mike.

"You _are the limit," said Adair. "What's he done?"

"Nothing. We had a very pleasant chat, and then I tore myself away."

"Do you mean to say he's not going to do a thing?"

"Not a thing."

"Well, you're a marvel," said Adair.

Psmith thanked him courteously. They walked on towards the houses.

"By the way, Adair," said Mike, as the latter started to turn in at
Downing's, "I'll write to Strachan to-night about that match."

"What's that?" asked Psmith.

"Jackson's going to try and get Wrykyn to give us a game," said
Adair. "They've got a vacant date. I hope the dickens they'll do it."

"Oh, I should think they're certain to," said Mike. "Good-night."

"And give Comrade Downing, when you see him," said Psmith, "my very
best love. It is men like him who make this Merrie England of ours
what it is."

* * * * *

"I say, Psmith," said Mike suddenly, "what really made you tell
Downing you'd done it?"

"The craving for----"

"Oh, chuck it. You aren't talking to the Old Man now. I believe it was
simply to get me out of a jolly tight corner."

Psmith's expression was one of pain.

"My dear Comrade Jackson," said he, "you wrong me. You make me writhe.
I'm surprised at you. I never thought to hear those words from Michael
Jackson."

"Well, I believe you did, all the same," said Mike obstinately. "And
it was jolly good of you, too."

Psmith moaned.

Content of CHAPTER LVIII - THE ARTIST CLAIMS HIS WORK (P G Wodehouse's novel: Mike)

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