"Leave it to Psmith", Ch. 13
‘Hands up!’ said Mr Cootes with the uncouth curtness of one who has not had the advantages of a refined home and a nice upbringing. He advanced warily, preceded by the revolver. It was a dainty, miniature weapon, such as might have been the property of some gentle lady. Mr Cootes had, in fact, borrowed it from Miss Peavey, who at this juncture entered the room in a black and silver dinner-dress surmounted by a Rose du Barri wrap, her spiritual face glowing softly in the subdued light.
‘Attaboy, Ed,’ observed Miss Peavey crisply.
She swooped on the table and gathered up the necklace. Mr Cootes, though probably gratified by the tribute, made no acknowledgement of it, but continued to direct an austere gaze at Eve and Psmith.
‘No funny business,’ he advised.
‘I would be the last person,’ said Psmith agreeably, ‘to advocate anything of the sort. This,’ he said to Eve, ‘is Comrade Cootes, of whom you have heard so much.’
Eve was staring, bewildered, at the poetess, who, satisfied with the manner in which the preliminaries had been conducted, had begun looking about her with idle curiosity.
‘Miss Peavey!’ cried Eve. Of all the events of this eventful night the appearance of Lady Constance’s emotional friend in the rôle of criminal was the most disconcerting. ‘Miss Peavey!’
‘Hallo?’ responded that lady agreeably.
‘What, I think, Miss Halliday is trying to say,’ cut in Psmith, ‘is that she is finding it a little difficult to adjust her mind to the present development. I, too, must confess myself somewhat at a loss. I knew, of course, that Comrade Cootes had — shall I say an acquisitive streak in him, but you I had always supposed to be one hundred per cent, soul — and snowy white at that.’
‘Yeah?’ said Miss Peavey, but faintly interested.
‘I imagined that you were a poetess.’
‘So I am a poetess,’ retorted Miss Peavey hotly. ‘Just you start in joshing my poems and see how quick I’ll bean you with a brick. Well, Ed, no sense in sticking around here. Let’s go.
‘We’ll have to tie these birds up,’ said Mr Cootes. ‘Otherwise we’ll have them squealing before I can make a getaway.’
‘Ed,’ said Miss Peavey with the scorn which her colleague so often excited in her, ‘try to remember sometimes that that thing balanced on your collar is a head, not a hubbard squash. And be careful what you’re doing with that gat! Waving it about like it was a bouquet or something. How are they going to squeal? They can’t say a thing without telling everyone they snitched the stuff first.’
‘That’s right,’ admitted Mr Cootes.
‘Well, then, don’t come butting in.’
The silence into which this rebuke plunged Mr Cootes gave Psmith the opportunity to resume speech. An opportunity of which he was glad, for, while he had nothing of definitely vital import to say, he was optimist enough to feel that his only hope of recovering the necklace was to keep the conversation going on the chance of something turning up. Affable though his manner was, he had never lost sight of the fact that one leap would take him across the space of floor separating him from Mr Cootes. At present, that small but effective revolver precluded anything in the nature of leaps, however short, but if in the near future anything occurred to divert his adversary’s vigilance even momentarily.... He pursued a policy of watchful waiting, and in the meantime started to talk again.
‘If, before you go,’ he said, ‘you can spare us a moment of your valuable time, I should be glad of a few words. And, first, may I say that I cordially agree with your condemnation of Comrade Cootes’s recent suggestion. The man is an ass.’
‘Say!’ cried Mr Cootes, coming to life again, ‘that’ll be about all from you. If there wasn’t ladies present, I’d bust you one.’
‘Ed,’ said Miss Peavey with quiet authority, ‘shut your trap!’
Mr Cootes subsided once more. Psmith gazed at him through his monocle, interested.
‘Pardon me,’ he said, ‘but — if it is not a rude question — are you two married?’
‘You seemed to me to talk to him like a wife. Am I addressing Mrs Cootes?’
‘You will be if you stick around a while.’
‘A thousand congratulations to Comrade Cootes. Not quite so many to you, possibly, but fully that number of good wishes.’
He moved towards the poetess with extended hand. ‘I am thinking of getting married myself shortly.’
‘Keep those hands up,’ said Mr Cootes.
‘Surely,’ said Psmith reproachfully, ‘these conventions need not be observed among friends? You will find the only revolver I have ever possessed over there on the mantelpiece. Go and look at it.’
‘Yes, and have you jumping on my back the moment I took my eyes off you!’
‘There is a suspicious vein in your nature, Comrade Cootes,’ sighed Psmith, ‘which I do not like to see. Fight against it.’ He turned to Miss Peavey once more. ‘To resume a pleasanter topic, you will let me know where to send the plated fish-slice, won’t you?’
‘Huh?’ said the lady.
‘I was hoping,’ proceeded Psmith, ‘if you do not think it a liberty on the part of one who has known you but a short time, to be allowed to send you a small wedding-present in due season. And one of these days, perhaps, when I too am married, you and Comrade Cootes will come and visit us in our little home. You will receive a hearty, unaffected welcome. You must not be offended if, just before you say good-bye, we count the spoons.’
"Sunset at Blandings", CHAPTER THREE
UNCLES occasionally find their nephews trying and are inclined to compare them to their disadvantage with the young men they knew when they were young men, but it is a very rare uncle who is unable to fraternize with his nieces. And of all his many nieces Gally was fondest of Vicky. She was pretty, a girl whom it was a pleasure to take to race meetings and garden parties, and she had that animation which in his younger days he had found so attractive in music hall artistes and members of the personnel of the chorus.
This animation was missing now. After that tempestuous greeting she had relapsed into a melancholy which would have entitled her to step straight into one of those sombre plays they put on for one performance on Sunday after¬noons, and no questions asked. Gally gazed at her, con¬cerned. Beach, that shrewd diagnostician, had been right, he felt, though his ‘somewhat depressed’ had been an understatement. Here was plainly a niece whose soul had been passed through the wringer, a niece who had drained the bitter cup and, what is more, had found a dead mouse at the bottom of it. Her demeanour reminded him of a girl he had once taken to Henley Regatta — at the moment when she had discovered that a beetle had fallen down the back of her summer sports wear.
‘What on earth’s the matter?’ he asked.
‘Don’t be an ass,’ said Gally irritably. ‘You’re obviously as down among the wines and spirits as Mariana at the moated grange.’
‘I’m all right, except that I wish I was dead.’
‘Were dead, surely,’ said Gally, who was a purist. ‘What do you want to be dead for? Great Scott!’ he exclaimed, suddenly enlightened. ‘Have you been jugged? Are you doing a stretch? Is that why you’re at Blandings?’
The question did not display such amazing intuition as anyone unfamiliar with Blandings Castle might have supposed. All old English families have their traditions, and the one most rigorously observed in the family to which Vicky belonged ruled that if a young female member of it fell in love with the wrong man she was instantly shipped off to Blandings, there to remain until she came, as the expression was, to her senses.
Young male members who fell in love with the wrong girls were sent to South Africa, as Gally had been thirty years ago. It was all rather unpleasant for the lovelorn juveniles, but better than if they had been living in the Middle Ages, when they would probably have had their heads cut off.
Gally, taking for granted that the reply to his question would be in the affirmative, became reminiscent.
‘Lord love a duck,’ he said emotionally, ‘it seems only yesterday that they had me serving a term in the lowest dungeon below the castle moat because of Dolly Henderson.’
Feminine curiosity momentarily overcame Vicky’s depression. She knew vaguely that there had been some sort of trouble with Uncle Gally centuries ago, and she was glad to be about to get the facts.
‘Were you imprisoned at Blandings?’
‘With gyves upon my wrists.’
‘I thought you were sent to South Africa.’
‘Later, after I had been well gnawed by rats.’
‘Who was Dolly Henderson?’
‘Music halls. She sang at the old Oxford and the Tivoli.’
‘Pink. And she was the only woman I ever wanted to marry.’
‘Yes, it was rather a nasty knock when my father bunged a spanner into the works. You never knew him, did you?’
‘I met him once when I was a very small child. He paralysed me.’
‘I don’t wonder. That voice, those bushy eyebrows. You must have thought you were seeing some sinister monster out of a fairy story. Clarence is a great im¬provement as head of the family. If I told Clarence I wanted to marry somebody, there wouldn’t be any family curses and thumping of tables; he would just say “Capital, capital, capital”, and that would be that. But don’t let’s talk about me. Are you very much in love?’
‘What’s his name?’
‘Which of course makes your stepmother shudder at the sight of him.’
‘She’s never seen him.’
‘But she would shudder if she did. Lack of the stuff is always the rock on which the frail craft of love comes a stinker where Blandings Castle is concerned.’
"Sunset at Blandings", CHAPTER FIFTEEN
FLORENCE may have been asleep at the moment when Lord Emsworth knocked on her door, but she was wide awake now. It was her practice to put mud on her face before retiring to rest, and such was her emotion as he delivered what a gossip column writer would have called his exclusive that this mud cracked from side to side like the mirror of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott.
‘Is this a joke, Clarence?’ she demanded, directing at him a look lower in temperature even than those which Jeff had had to face on his arrival. ‘Are you trying to be funny?’
‘Certainly not,’ said Lord Emsworth indignantly. He had not tried to be funny since the remote days of school, when it had taken the form of pulling a chair away from a friend who was about to sit down. ‘I tell you I saw them. I came out of my room and there they were, as close together as the paper on the wall. I was delighted, of course.’
‘Naturally. I knew how greatly you objected to the chap you thought Victoria was in love with, and what could be better than that she should have had second thoughts while there was still time and taken up with my friend Smith, a charming fellow thoroughly sound on pigs?’
‘And a penniless artist who has to take any tuppenny job that’s offered to him.’
‘If you consider painting the portrait of Empress of Blandings a tuppenny job, I disagree with you,’ said Lord Emsworth with dignity. ‘And he isn’t a penniless artist. Galahad tells me he is very well off, and only paints pigs because he loves them.’
At the sound of that name Florence started so violently that more mud fell from her face. Experience had taught her that no good could ever come of anything with which Galahad was connected. She began to feel like the man in the poem who on a lonely road did walk in fear and dread and having once looked back walked on and turned no more his head, because he knew a frightful fiend did close behind him tread. Galahad and frightful fiends, not much to choose between them. She was normally a pale woman, as any woman with a brother like that had a right to be, but now she turned scarlet.
‘Galahad!’ she cried.
‘Smith’s a friend of his. It was he who arranged for him to come to the castle. I had been trying with no success to get Royal Academicians and people like that to paint the Empress, but Galahad said No, what I wanted was an eager young enthusiastic chap like Smith. So he sounded him about coming here, and fortunately he was at liberty. So he came. But I mustn’t keep you up. You’re anxious to turn in. Is that mud you’ve got on your face? How very peculiar. I always say you never know what women will be up to next. Well, good night, Florence, good night,’ said Lord Emsworth, and he trotted off to renew his interrupted study of Whiffle.
If he had supposed that on his departure Florence would curl up and go to sleep, he erred. Late though the hour was, nothing was further from her thoughts than slumber. She sat in a chair, her powerful brain working like a dynamo.
It was of Galahad that she was thinking. It seemed incredible that even he could have had the audacity to introduce into Blandings Castle the infamous Bennison at the thought of whom she had been shuddering for weeks, but he might well have done so. Long association with him had told her that the slogan that ruled his life was Anything Goes.
(Упомянута любимая – согласно многочисленным отсылкам в бландингской саге – книга лорда Эмсуорта Whiffle’s "On the Care of the Pig", которую он в предыдущей главе взял перечитать еще раз.)