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Psmith in the City, Page 1

P. G. Wodehouse

  Produced by Suzanne L. Shell, Charles Franks and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team.

  Psmith in the City

  by P. G. Wodehouse

  [Dedication]to Leslie Havergal Bradshaw


  1. Mr Bickersdyke Walks behind the Bowler's Arm

  2. Mike Hears Bad News

  3. The New Era Begins

  4. First Steps in a Business Career

  5. The Other Man

  6. Psmith Explains

  7. Going into Winter Quarters

  8. The Friendly Native

  9. The Haunting of Mr Bickersdyke

  10. Mr Bickersdyke Addresses His Constituents

  11. Misunderstood

  12. In a Nutshell

  13. Mike is Moved On

  14. Mr Waller Appears in a New Light

  15. Stirring Times on the Common

  16. Further Developments

  17. Sunday Supper

  18. Psmith Makes a Discovery

  19. The Illness of Edward

  20. Concerning a Cheque

  21. Psmith Makes Inquiries

  22. And Takes Steps

  23. Mr Bickersdyke Makes a Concession

  24. The Spirit of Unrest

  25. At the Telephone

  26. Breaking the News

  27. At Lord's

  28. Psmith Arranges His Future

  29. And Mike's

  30. The Last Sad Farewells

  1. Mr Bickersdyke Walks behind the Bowler's Arm

  Considering what a prominent figure Mr John Bickersdyke was to be inMike Jackson's life, it was only appropriate that he should make adramatic entry into it. This he did by walking behind the bowler's armwhen Mike had scored ninety-eight, causing him thereby to be cleanbowled by a long-hop.

  It was the last day of the Ilsworth cricket week, and the house teamwere struggling hard on a damaged wicket. During the first two matchesof the week all had been well. Warm sunshine, true wickets, tea in theshade of the trees. But on the Thursday night, as the team champedtheir dinner contentedly after defeating the Incogniti by two wickets,a pattering of rain made itself heard upon the windows. By bedtime ithad settled to a steady downpour. On Friday morning, when the team ofthe local regiment arrived in their brake, the sun was shining oncemore in a watery, melancholy way, but play was not possible beforelunch. After lunch the bowlers were in their element. The regiment,winning the toss, put together a hundred and thirty, due principally toa last wicket stand between two enormous corporals, who swiped ateverything and had luck enough for two whole teams. The house teamfollowed with seventy-eight, of which Psmith, by his usual golfmethods, claimed thirty. Mike, who had gone in first as the star bat ofthe side, had been run out with great promptitude off the first ball ofthe innings, which his partner had hit in the immediate neighbourhoodof point. At close of play the regiment had made five without loss.This, on the Saturday morning, helped by another shower of rain whichmade the wicket easier for the moment, they had increased to a hundredand forty-eight, leaving the house just two hundred to make on a pitchwhich looked as if it were made of linseed.

  It was during this week that Mike had first made the acquaintance ofPsmith's family. Mr Smith had moved from Shropshire, and taken IlsworthHall in a neighbouring county. This he had done, as far as could beascertained, simply because he had a poor opinion of Shropshirecricket. And just at the moment cricket happened to be the pivot of hislife.

  'My father,' Psmith had confided to Mike, meeting him at the station inthe family motor on the Monday, 'is a man of vast but volatile brain.He has not that calm, dispassionate outlook on life which marks yourtrue philosopher, such as myself. I--'

  'I say,' interrupted Mike, eyeing Psmith's movements with apprehension,'you aren't going to drive, are you?'

  'Who else? As I was saying, I am like some contented spectator of aPageant. My pater wants to jump in and stage-manage. He is a man ofhobbies. He never has more than one at a time, and he never has thatlong. But while he has it, it's all there. When I left the house thismorning he was all for cricket. But by the time we get to the ground hemay have chucked cricket and taken up the Territorial Army. Don't besurprised if you find the wicket being dug up into trenches, when wearrive, and the pro. moving in echelon towards the pavilion. No,' headded, as the car turned into the drive, and they caught a glimpse ofwhite flannels and blazers in the distance, and heard the sound of batmeeting ball, 'cricket seems still to be topping the bill. Come along,and I'll show you your room. It's next to mine, so that, if brooding onLife in the still hours of the night, I hit on any great truth, I shallpop in and discuss it with you.'

  While Mike was changing, Psmith sat on his bed, and continued todiscourse.

  'I suppose you're going to the 'Varsity?' he said.

  'Rather,' said Mike, lacing his boots. 'You are, of course? Cambridge,I hope. I'm going to King's.'

  'Between ourselves,' confided Psmith, 'I'm dashed if I know what'sgoing to happen to me. I am the thingummy of what's-its-name.'

  'You look it,' said Mike, brushing his hair.

  'Don't stand there cracking the glass,' said Psmith. 'I tell you I ampractically a human three-shies-a-penny ball. My father is poising melightly in his hand, preparatory to flinging me at one of the milkycocos of Life. Which one he'll aim at I don't know. The least thingfills him with a whirl of new views as to my future. Last week we wereout shooting together, and he said that the life of the gentleman-farmerwas the most manly and independent on earth, and that he had a goodmind to start me on that. I pointed out that lack of early traininghad rendered me unable to distinguish between a threshing-machine anda mangel-wurzel, so he chucked that. He has now worked round toCommerce. It seems that a blighter of the name of Bickersdyke iscoming here for the week-end next Saturday. As far as I can saywithout searching the Newgate Calendar, the man Bickersdyke's careerseems to have been as follows. He was at school with my pater, wentinto the City, raked in a certain amount of doubloons--probablydishonestly--and is now a sort of Captain of Industry, manager of somebank or other, and about to stand for Parliament. The result of theseexcesses is that my pater's imagination has been fired, and at time ofgoing to press he wants me to imitate Comrade Bickersdyke. However,there's plenty of time. That's one comfort. He's certain to change hismind again. Ready? Then suppose we filter forth into the arena?'

  Out on the field Mike was introduced to the man of hobbies. Mr Smith,senior, was a long, earnest-looking man who might have been Psmith in agrey wig but for his obvious energy. He was as wholly on the move asPsmith was wholly statuesque. Where Psmith stood like some dignifiedpiece of sculpture, musing on deep questions with a glassy eye, hisfather would be trying to be in four places at once. When Psmithpresented Mike to him, he shook hands warmly with him and started asentence, but broke off in the middle of both performances to dashwildly in the direction of the pavilion in an endeavour to catch animpossible catch some thirty yards away. The impetus so gained carriedhim on towards Bagley, the Ilsworth Hall ground-man, with whom a momentlater he was carrying on an animated discussion as to whether he had orhad not seen a dandelion on the field that morning. Two minutesafterwards he had skimmed away again. Mike, as he watched him, began toappreciate Psmith's reasons for feeling some doubt as to what would behis future walk in life.

  At lunch that day Mike sat next to Mr Smith, and improved hisacquaintance with him; and by the end of the week they were onexcellent terms. Psmith's father had Psmith's gift of getting on wellwith people.

  On this Saturday, as Mike buckled on his pads, Mr Smith bounded up,full of advice and encouragement.

  'My boy,' he said, 'we rely on you. These others'--he indicated with adisparaging wave of the hand the rest of the team, who were visiblethrough the window
of the changing-room--'are all very well. Decentclub bats. Good for a few on a billiard-table. But you're our hope on awicket like this. I have studied cricket all my life'--till that summerit is improbable that Mr Smith had ever handled a bat--'and I know afirst-class batsman when I see one. I've seen your brothers play. Pooh,you're better than any of them. That century of yours against the GreenJackets was a wonderful innings, wonderful. Now look here, my boy. Iwant you to be careful. We've a lot of runs to make, so we mustn't takeany risks. Hit plenty of boundaries, of course, but be careful.Careful. Dash it, there's a youngster trying to climb up the elm. He'llbreak his neck. It's young Giles, my keeper's boy. Hi! Hi, there!'

  He scudded out to avert the tragedy, leaving Mike to digest his expertadvice on the art of batting on bad wickets.

  Possibly it was the excellence of this advice which induced Mike toplay what was, to date, the best innings of his life. There are momentswhen the batsman feels an almost super-human fitness. This came to Mikenow. The sun had begun to shine strongly. It made the wicket moredifficult, but it added a cheerful touch to the scene. Mike felt calmand masterful. The bowling had no terrors for him. He scored nine offhis first over and seven off his second, half-way through which he losthis partner. He was to undergo a similar bereavement several times thatafternoon, and at frequent intervals. However simple the bowling mightseem to him, it had enough sting in it to worry the rest of the teamconsiderably. Batsmen came and went at the other end with such rapiditythat it seemed hardly worth while their troubling to come in at all.Every now and then one would give promise of better things by liftingthe slow bowler into the pavilion or over the boundary, but it alwayshappened that a similar stroke, a few balls later, ended in an easycatch. At five o'clock the Ilsworth score was eighty-one for sevenwickets, last man nought, Mike not out fifty-nine. As most of the houseteam, including Mike, were dispersing to their homes or were due forvisits at other houses that night, stumps were to be drawn at six. Itwas obvious that they could not hope to win. Number nine on the list,who was Bagley, the ground-man, went in with instructions to play for adraw, and minute advice from Mr Smith as to how he was to do it. Mikehad now begun to score rapidly, and it was not to be expected that hecould change his game; but Bagley, a dried-up little man of the typewhich bowls for five hours on a hot August day without exhibiting anysymptoms of fatigue, put a much-bound bat stolidly in front of everyball he received; and the Hall's prospects of saving the game grewbrighter.

  At a quarter to six the professional left, caught at very silly pointfor eight. The score was a hundred and fifteen, of which Mike had madeeighty-five.

  A lengthy young man with yellow hair, who had done some good fastbowling for the Hall during the week, was the next man in. In previousmatches he had hit furiously at everything, and against the GreenJackets had knocked up forty in twenty minutes while Mike was puttingthe finishing touches to his century. Now, however, with his host'swarning ringing in his ears, he adopted the unspectacular, or Bagley,style of play. His manner of dealing with the ball was that of oneplaying croquet. He patted it gingerly back to the bowler when it wasstraight, and left it icily alone when it was off the wicket. Mike,still in the brilliant vein, clumped a half-volley past point to theboundary, and with highly scientific late cuts and glides brought hisscore to ninety-eight. With Mike's score at this, the total at ahundred and thirty, and the hands of the clock at five minutes to six,the yellow-haired croquet exponent fell, as Bagley had fallen, a victimto silly point, the ball being the last of the over.

  Mr Smith, who always went in last for his side, and who so far had notreceived a single ball during the week, was down the pavilion steps andhalf-way to the wicket before the retiring batsman had taken half adozen steps.

  'Last over,' said the wicket-keeper to Mike. 'Any idea how many you'vegot? You must be near your century, I should think.'

  'Ninety-eight,' said Mike. He always counted his runs.

  'By Jove, as near as that? This is something like a finish.'

  Mike left the first ball alone, and the second. They were too wide ofthe off-stump to be hit at safely. Then he felt a thrill as the thirdball left the bowler's hand. It was a long-hop. He faced square to pullit.

  And at that moment Mr John Bickersdyke walked into his life across thebowling-screen.

  He crossed the bowler's arm just before the ball pitched. Mike lostsight of it for a fraction of a second, and hit wildly. The next momenthis leg stump was askew; and the Hall had lost the match.

  'I'm sorry,' he said to Mr Smith. 'Some silly idiot walked across thescreen just as the ball was bowled.'

  'What!' shouted Mr Smith. 'Who was the fool who walked behind thebowler's arm?' he yelled appealingly to Space.

  'Here he comes, whoever he is,' said Mike.

  A short, stout man in a straw hat and a flannel suit was walkingtowards them. As he came nearer Mike saw that he had a hard, thin-lippedmouth, half-hidden by a rather ragged moustache, and that behind a pairof gold spectacles were two pale and slightly protruding eyes, which,like his mouth, looked hard.

  'How are you, Smith,' he said.

  'Hullo, Bickersdyke.' There was a slight internal struggle, and then MrSmith ceased to be the cricketer and became the host. He chattedamiably to the new-comer.

  'You lost the game, I suppose,' said Mr Bickersdyke.

  The cricketer in Mr Smith came to the top again, blended now, however,with the host. He was annoyed, but restrained in his annoyance.

  'I say, Bickersdyke, you know, my dear fellow,' he said complainingly,'you shouldn't have walked across the screen. You put Jackson off, andmade him get bowled.'

  'The screen?'

  'That curious white object,' said Mike. 'It is not put up merely as anornament. There's a sort of rough idea of giving the batsman a chanceof seeing the ball, as well. It's a great help to him when people comecharging across it just as the bowler bowls.'

  Mr Bickersdyke turned a slightly deeper shade of purple, and was aboutto reply, when what sporting reporters call 'the veritable ovation'began.

  Quite a large crowd had been watching the game, and they expressedtheir approval of Mike's performance.

  There is only one thing for a batsman to do on these occasions. Mikeran into the pavilion, leaving Mr Bickersdyke standing.