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Psmith's Familiar Ring

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The train platform was crowded, as train platforms often are at the hour of the morning when the whole world -- or so it may seem -- converges on London. Businessmen, eager to join the daily whirl of commerce, made up most of the crowd at this particular station, and the rest was filled in with young lads in the uniform of a nearby day school, a bevy of typists in dark colored dresses and cheerful hats bedecked with ribbons, and the occasional rough-handed worker carrying the tools of his trade.

In this crowd, one young man seemed out of place. He stood like a statue in the middle of the station, and the crowd flowed around him as the waters part around a large stone. Not a schoolboy, not a worker... One could imagine him is the halls of commerce, but only with difficulty. His suit was too fine, and his stillness too absolute.

But then he moved, and the mystery was solved. "Comrade Jackson!" he called out. He was only here to meet someone.

The young man thus greeted also stood out in this morning's crowd. The descriptor 'ordinary' captured him exactly, and yet his stride was too active and athletic to disappear into the bustle of those whose sole exercise of a day was the trek to the lunchroom and back.

"Smith," Mike Jackson said, stopping in front of the statuesque gentleman. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm surprised that you should ask. I would have thought that the matter explained itself, but no matter. Comrade Jackson, I am here to accompany you."

"I got that much. But there's no need for you to come along. It's my mistake, and I'll fix it."

"There's no question of that. I have every confidence in you. No matter the gravity of the situation, Jackson will deal with it with aplomb and tact. I am simply here as Exhibit A, the bereft bridegroom. I will say not a word, but the the gravity of my demeanor and the light of love and loss in my eye will add to the earnestness of your plea. When they see my devotion and my honest devastation at the error that has been made, they will beg us to take back the ring of my ancestors, and get married at all speed."

"Well, as long as you're here, you might as come round with me," Mike admitted. "It can't hurt."

"Excellent," Psmith said.

"But as for silence, I won't hold you to it. Just try not to talk their ears off, that's all."

"It may happen that I will find it behooves me to make the smallest plea of my own, but I shall do it with taste and decorum," Psmith promised. "I will shed no tears, nor will I--"

"Are you coming?" Mike, having made his decision, hurried into motion whilst Psmith was still waxing eloquent. Mike had his eye on the taxi stand, where one lone taxi waited.

Psmith, who had never hurried in his life, nevertheless managed to keep up with Mike by the simple expedient of lengthening his stride. His height did the rest.

Once settled in the taxi, Psmith turned to Mike. "Now, tell me all. Where are we going?"

"The bloke's name is Jevons. American, rich as anything. He snapped up the ring the very instant I walked out of the place."

"Jevons. A pleasing name," Psmith mused. "It's unfortunate his fancy fell upon my mother's wedding ring -- the only piece of jewelry I didn't actually intend for you to sell -- but I feel certain he will be understanding."

"I hope so. Some of these Americans can be very sharp," Mike said. His jaw tightened. "But whatever it takes, you know I'm good for it. Even if Phyllis and I have to--"

"Comrade Jackson, don't say another word. The fault is entirely mine. If only weddings were not such an expensive proposition, but there's nothing for it. Only the very best will do, and if the old must be sold to make way for the new...but I've said this before. The simple truth is that I asked you to sell those of the ancient relics of the Psmith household that might fetch a pretty penny on the open market, and I do not blame you in the least that your alacrity exceeded my expectations."

"Well, I'm dashed sorry about it," Mike said. "I should have recognized that ring. One of a kind, Eve's been bending Phyllis's ear about it for weeks."

"The look in her eye when I showed her the ring is a look that will live in my heart forever," Psmith said sentimentally. "Eve must not be disappointed."

* * *

Jevons lived in a tall house with enough windows for a substantial greenhouse, if only they weren't separated by the occasional expanse of stone. Psmith nodded approvingly at the architecture. "A cheery place," he murmured, and rang the bell.

"You are to be congratulated, I can think of few things that would give me more pleasure than the charge of such a house as this," he told the butler when the door opened. "Please tell Mr. Jevons that Psmith and Jackson are here. Psmith, it is vital to note, is spelled with a silent P, an in pterodactyl, pneumatic, and psalm."

"I'm expected," Mike clarified hastily. "Mike Jackson."

The butler gave the pair of young men an inscrutable look, and then stood aside to let them into the front hall. "I will inquire," he said. "Please wait here."

"I say, look at that," Mike said, his eyes instantly drawn to a bronze statue of a batsman that occupied pride of place across from the door. "Have you ever seen anything like it?"

"I believe I can safely say that I haven't," Psmith said.

"You can see exactly what kind of bowler he's facing, and just how he's going to swing his bat, just from how he's standing."

"It is a good sign," Psmith agreed. "We will get on with the inhabitants of this house, Comrade Jackson."

"I should jolly well think so." Mike stood in the center of the hallway, shifting from one foot to the other, taking in the only piece of artwork he had ever seen that he really got at the gut level. It spoke to him. He had heard that this was something that could happen with art, but he'd never before experienced it.

Meanwhile, Psmith wandered around, examining the colorful and disturbingly geometrical artwork that filled the walls and peering into the eyes of the bronze lion yawning by the window. Voices drifted down from upstairs, but the words could not be made out. Nevertheless, Psmith cocked his head.

"That voice. That voice. It has a familiar ring to it," Psmith murmured to himself. "Comrade Jackson, does that calm and precise voice we can hear ring a bell for you? Can you identify the owner?"

Mike listened, then shook his head. "Can't say that it does," he told Psmith.

"This is bothersome," Psmith declared. He was overwhelmed with that feeling of vague fellowship that marks the recognition of someone with whom time has been spent and words have been exchanged, but it is a sad truth that such a feeling is gratifying only when accompanied by the conviction that the time and the words had been congenial. Instead of this pleasant conviction, Psmith had the niggling sense that congeniality had been maintained only by the expenditure of an impressive amount of effort on his part. "Not that I begrudge any amount of effort for the sake of conviviality," he told Mike. "But it is best to be prepared. If only I could hear him better..."

Psmith's wish was soon to be granted. "Show them up," the voice said, followed by the sound of a door opening and simultaneously the measured tread of the butler returning. "If you will follow me," the butler said. They meekly followed him up the stairs, Mike with a reluctant glance back at the bronze cricketer.

The room they were showed into was clearly a library, but more than that, it was a working library. The signs were clear: there was a shortage of chairs suitable to nap in, and on the well-proportioned shelves, none of the books matched. They were all shapes and sizes, some of them in glittering leather and gilt, and some of them in cheap paper dust jackets. Some of them were paperbacks, and these had the creases of a book that has been read.

The room was well lit, with light from the tall windows reaching even the furthest corner. And in this furthest corner there was a desk, and at this desk sat a thickset young man in gleaming spectacles, sorting through papers with an air of efficiency.

Without looking up, the young man said, "I will be with you in a moment. It seems that the piece of jewelry that you're looking for hasn't been entered into our records as of yet, but--"

He looked up and whatever else he might have been about to say was swallowed like an extremely unpleasant dose of cod liver oil. His puckered expression proclaimed that he hated cod liver oil.

Psmith exclaimed in delight, "I should have known! Comrade Baxter, I'm surprised to run into you again. I thought our fine frolics were finished when you left Blandings Castle."

"You!" Baxter snarled.

"Yes, it is I, Psmith!"

"Get out. I won't have you here!" It cannot be said that Baxter shouted. This, after all, was a library, and Baxter was far too well-mannered. But what he lacked in volume he more than made up in sheer vehemence, and for an instant, before he controlled himself, his face contorted into an expression that defied all the strictures of civilization.

"Comrade Baxter, you wound me," Psmith said, gently chiding. "After all we've been through together."

At this, Baxter was rendered speechless, but not motionless. Thrusting his chair away from him, he lunged and grabbed a wooden box from a side table.

Psmith continued, "I don't expect a cheer or a parade, but I would have thought that a kind word for an old friend..."

Possession of the box seemed to calm Baxter. He was quite self-possessed, even supercilious, as he said, "I'm afraid I really cannot discuss jewelry with a known impostor and suspected thief."

"What's going on here?" Mike asked. "You can't hold a rag like that stuff at Blandings against a bloke," he told Baxter. "This is bigger than that. He's getting married."

Psmith, meanwhile, had backed away slowly toward one of the windows. Out of the direct line of sight, he fiddled with this and that and let Mike take over. It might be the time for a straightforward appeal, he thought to himself, and Mike did not disappoint him.

"The fact is, you've got something against Smith, but why don't you just sell the ring back to me? Leave Smith out of it. I made a big mistake selling it, and I'm willing to pay to get it back. Simple as that."

But even this failed to move Baxter. "You really must be going," he said, and summoned the butler to show them out.

There was no arguing with Baxter.

* * *

"It's a setback, I cannot deny it, but the situation is not hopeless," Psmith said as they strolled away from the house that had seen their most recent upset. "Do not be despondent, Comrade Jackson. All is not lost."

"If it's not lost, I don't see it being found," Mike said frankly.

"You lack vision," Psmith said sadly. "But as my friend Comrade Cootes might have said, one must expect a few hitches on the way to getting hitched. A wise man, Comrade Cootes. You have not had the pleasure of his acquaintance, but you are missing out. A more charming character you will never meet, though there are distinct bits of tarnish in the sterling of his soul."

"Is this another of your friends from Blandings?" Mike asked with an entirely understandable skepticism.

"Indeed he is, but he has long since left the castle for greener pastures. I could not tell you why he's so high in my mind, something must have reminded me of him, perhaps one of these passersby has a face that's almost as long as his, and it imprinted on my mind..."

Mike returned to a more pressing subject. "That's all very well, but what are we going to do about the ring?"

"Have no fear, Comrade Jackson," Psmith said serenely. "I have a plan."

* * *

Late that night, at a time when lights all over the city were dark, and even the night owls were yawning and stumbling off to bed, two exceedingly well dressed young men strolled down that very same street.

"Why did you insist that we dress up? Aren't burglars supposed to wear black?" Mike whispered.

"Exactly. You took the words from my mouth. If anyone sees us, they'll think we live here and we just forgot our key," Psmith said, swinging up onto the railing. From there, he stepped across the gap to a the ledge of the ground floor window. Mike soon followed, and they used the protruding stonework to climb up to the level of the library, where earlier Psmith had unlatched one of the windows. In silence, they slid through into the library.

"Now what?" Mike asked in a breathy whisper. Instinctively, he moved away from the window, but Psmith declined to follow. Instead, he forged his own path, moving in and out of the dim light from the row of windows until he reached the desk in the corner.

"Now we look for that box that we saw Comrade Baxter grasping to his chest as if it contained his heart. That is valuable item indeed, some would say practically mythical, but I think the box contained something even more valuable to me. Namely--"

A thump did what could only rarely be done in other circumstances: it completely silenced Psmith. As one, Mike and Psmith dove behind the desk.

They were just beginning to think that just possibly they'd overreacted, and perhaps it had only been the plumbing, when the door opened -- there was very little light at that end of the room, but the light from the hallway illuminated a shadowy form.

"I have you now! Did you think I wouldn't see--"

The lights clicked on, revealing the shadowy form to be a woman. Baxter, caught in the act of leaping out from a secret door hidden behind a bookcase, stopped in confusion. He drew himself to his full height. "I'm sorry, I thought you were someone else."

"Why, who else could I be?" The woman was smartly dressed despite the hour, and did not seem impressed by Baxter in the least. "I thought I heard a noise in here, but I suppose it was only you lurking about."

"I was lying in wait for thieves," Baxter said with dignity.

The woman gulped, but then rallied. "I see. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about." She worried her lip with her teeth for a moment, and then added brightly, "Oh Baxter, that reminds me, I think there's an error in my husband's calendar. I told you about the flower show, didn't I?"

"Of course. It is fully accounted for."

"And yet, I was looking at the calendar in John's office only a minute ago, and there was another function on the date of the flower show. Perhaps you could look into it when you have the time."

Baxter hesitated, torn between two conflicting impulses. Being the efficient secretary that he was, the urge to prove what he knew with absolute certainty -- that he had in no way made a mistake -- was strong. But the urge to remain and catch any thieves that might come sneaking about was stronger.

"Of course, if you don't have the time, I could look into it, I'm sure I can fix things up--"

"No, Mrs. Jevons, that won't be necessary," Baxter said. "I will do so immediately."

"Thank you," Mrs. Jevons said. She waited until the door had closed quite firmly behind Baxter, and then said, "Are you the thief? It's okay to come out now. I'm alone. Heavens, what are you doing up here? I left the front door open for you."

The silence that followed was rich in perplexity. Unsurprisingly, it was Psmith who broke it, standing up and regarding Mrs. Jevons with a benign eye. "You're expecting thieves? We dare not disappoint you; here we are." He dragged a reluctant Mike up to stand beside him.

"My goodness, there are two of you? You must be very successful thieves," Mrs. Jevons said.

Psmith moved out from behind the desk so she could admire the crisp crease in his trousers as well as the perfect line of his coat. "So far, I would have to rate us as about average. Of course, my colleague, Comrade Jackson, is new to the business, so I'm showing him the ropes."

"How nice," Mrs. Jevons said, uninterested in the details. She continued briskly, "Now if you'll come with me, I'll show you what needs stealing."

"Of course," Psmith said. "After you." As Mrs. Jevons opened the door, he gave a little cough. "But perhaps...Comrade Baxter, you know..."

"Oh, don't worry about him. He'll be up in John's office for age, looking for the calendar."

"And if he finds it?"

"No fear of that. I hid it under the mattress in the guest bedroom," Mrs. Jevons said with a satisfied smirk.

"Very ingenious," Psmith said with grave approval. "I like that." He made to follow Mrs. Jevons, but was stopped by Mike's feverish grip on his arm. Mike pulled him back toward the window.

"What are you doing?" Mike asked, agonized. "We can't just..." But here he was stymied, because he didn't know what they were about to do. He just knew, all the way down to his bones, that stealing a ring that you'd accidentally sold was one thing, but following a strange woman around a stranger's house was a bad idea. Especially when that woman was on speaking terms with thieves.

"I'm sparing her the inconvenience of finding that she is woefully mistaken," Psmith said. "And I'm sparing us the inconvenience of being caught in someone else's house without the excuse of being invited, which I would have thought you would approve of. Here is a the invitation, we need only take advantage of it."

"But--"

"Are you coming?" Mrs. Jevons said. There was a tinge of irritation in her tone that threatened to turn even sharper if her wishes were not attended to.

"Instantly," Psmith said, and suiting actions to words, strode across the room to take his place behind her. Mike saw no option but to follow.

Mrs. Jevons proceeded to give the two dapper thieves a tour of the artwork she wanted stolen. She pointed to a painting here, a statue there, an ungainly bowl on a delicate table. The servants had the night off and Mr. Jevons was away, so there was only one point that they had to take care. Mrs. Jevons put one finger to her lips and the three of them tiptoed past a door from behind which mutterings could be heard.

"The estimable Baxter is hard at work," Psmith observed when they were safely clear.

Mrs. Jevons did not reply; she was staring at the top of a handsome grandfather clock in an alcove. "Do you want us to steal the clock as well?" Psmith inquired courteously.

"No, no, oh dear," Mrs. Jevons said, and reached up and groped around the top of the clock, and retrieved a wooden box what Mike and Psmith instantly recognized. "I wonder what this was doing there," she said.

"Such mysteries abound," Psmith said. "Especially in the vicinity of our good friend Baxter, you will soon notice. No doubt he thought to hide it."

"Why ever would he do that?" Mrs. Jevons asked in bewilderment. "Perhaps the maid--"

"Why ever indeed? You would have to ask him, I have no insight into the mystery that is the mind of Baxter. Would you like me to take that for you?"

Mrs. Jevons started, and tucked the box under her arm. "No, thank you. I'll take care of it."

Psmith and Mike were understandably quite distracted as the tour continued. They stared at the wooden box with eager eyes as they were taken up the hallway and down the stairs, ending at last with the bronze cricketer that Mike had liked so much earlier.

"You expect a self-respecting thief to steal this?" Psmith asked with interest. "Is it worth much?"

"You've got the wrong idea entirely," Mrs. Jevons said quickly, taking the indulgent gaze of Psmith as a reproof. "It's not for the money, nothing's insured. It's just...John has no taste. But I wouldn't want him to think no one could ever want his treasures, poor dear. He's so proud of it." She shook her head sadly at the cricket statue. "The only use I have for this is to put things I want to take upstairs on the flat bit. You see?" In example, she balanced the wooden box with one end on the cricketer's upraised arm and the other on his shoulder.

"Good Lord," Mike said, shocked. "You're ruining it." He picked up the box and set it on the edge of the staircase. "It's a jolly good statue," he said pugnaciously.

Psmith and Mrs. Jevons exchanged glances, Psmith being very careful not to let his eyes stray to the box. "I could just force John to clear it all away, but I don't want to hurt his feelings," Mrs. Jevons said, speaking directly to Psmith.

"It shows a becoming delicacy of feeling," Psmith agreed. "I truly suspect that if--"

But before his suspicions could be voiced, a crash that shook the whole house came from somewhere upstairs.

"I do believe that is our friend Comrade Baxter," Psmith said with academic interest. "I wonder what he could be doing up there."

Mrs. Jevons sighed. "I'd better go check," she said. "I do hope he hasn't knocked over one of my plants. He's such a treasure in for John in all other ways, but he has such an unreasonable attitude toward potted plants."

"Go," Psmith said grandly. "You are needed. In your absence we'll get hopping on all this thievery, and be gone before you know it."

Mrs. Jevons gave Psmith an odd look. "You know, you're nothing at all like I was expecting of a burglar," she said.

"Many have said that before," Psmith said to Mrs. Jevons retreating back. "The word goes round: 'Psmith is unexpected!'"

When they were alone, Psmith moved instantly toward the wooden box. When opened, it proved to contain a variety of jewelry, gleaming gold and shining silver and sparkling gems.

"I say, this statue is hollow," Mike said. "There's a hole right here. I bet it's not nearly as heavy as it looks."

"Yes, yes," Psmith murmured, his mind on other things. He held up a ring from the box, admiring it in the light from the chandelier.

But his admiration was doomed to be short lived. Baxter, who all had thought upstairs, had in fact overturned a large plant as a distraction and then then rushed down the back stairway and was now lurking in the darkened doorway to the morning room. When he saw the ring, he rushed forward like a player in the game the Americans call football, tackled Psmith and wrestled the ring from his hand.

"I've got you now," he crowed.

"Baxter!" Mrs. Jevons shouted from the top of the stairs. "I want to talk to you at once."

"Don't come down here. These men are thieves!" Baxter shouted back.

"Of course they are," Mrs. Jevons bellowed. It was a lady-like bellow. She progressed down the stairs like an angry debutante at a ball full of annoying little sisters who have ruined everything and need to be told what for. "But you, on the other hand..."

"They're thieves," Baxter shouted, under the mistaken impression that Mrs. Jevons could not have heard what he said.

"And you are going to come up and look at what you've done to my very best pot of--"

"Thieves," Baxter shrieked as Mrs. Jevons grabbed him by the ear and began pulling. He stumbled into the statue of the cricketer, pushing it along for a few feet.

"I say--" Mike exclaimed.

"You'll ruin the hardwood floor," Psmith completed for him, thoughtfully closing the lid of the wooden box and stepping well out of the way.

With one final twist, Baxter freed his ear from Mrs. Jevons' grasp. A second later, he found the hole in the hollow statue -- beneath the arm of the cricketer -- and dropped the ring inside, where in made a surprisingly loud and sustained series of clinking noises as it dropped through a veritable maze of little projections inside and found the bottom.

"Why you beastly goat of a chap--" Mike said, stepping forward with his fist clenched.

Baxter stared him down. Mike gritted his teeth, his fist twitched, but it was no use. Mike could no more hit a man who was only looking at him than he could leap the English channel.

"Permit me to explain," Baxter said to Mrs. Jevons, and ducked. Her grab for his ear failed. "I will come with you, if you will only permit me to explain," he said, hold one hand defensively over his ear.

"This had better be good," Mrs. Jevons said grimly.

"I assure you--"

She herded Baxter up the stairs. When Mike and Psmith were once again the only inhabitants of the front hallway, Mike turned to Psmith. "I supposed we'd better take the whole statue," he said heavily.

"If you wish it, I have no objections," Psmith said. "I will let you take the base, and I'll just keep it balanced like this..."

At that very precarious moment, the front door opened and a young man entered from the outside. "Hallo!" he said. "What are you doing?"

Mike grunted in panic, too burdened to make a more seemly noise. Psmith patted his shoulder to calm him. "Carry on, Comrade Jackson," he said in a soothing voice, and then shifted his gaze to the newcomer. "We are presently engaged in stealing this statue," he said. "I realize that you may think that this is your proper job, Comrade Cootes, but the truth of the matter is that we were here first."

"Steal that thing?" Cootes said, incredulous. "I'd rather steal a scuttle of coal. Hey, what are you really doing here? You're not poaching in on my business again, are you? I had an arrangement here, woman wants a bunch of stuff out of the house."

"I thought I saw you earlier today, in the street," Psmith said. "It perplexed me, but no longer."

Mike could hold onto it no longer; he set the statue down with a thump, and straightened, holding his back. "You know him?" he asked.

"Comrade Jackson, I would like you to meet my friend Comrade Cootes," Psmith said. "I was telling you about him earlier. Only good things," he assumed Cootes. "I did not touch at all on your propensity for stealing things, you'll be happy to know. And this is my oldest friend and companion in all my youthful indiscretions, Comrade Jackson."

"How do," Cootes said perfunctorily. "Now about what you think you're doing here..." His hand strayed toward the inside of his jacket.

"We're only taking this statue which you've already said you don't want," Psmith said. "Comrade Jackson has taken a shine to it. You must make your own arrangements with the lady of the house for anything else. She promised to return shortly."

"Well, fine, but no funny business," Cootes agreed reluctantly.

"Splendid! An amicable agreement has been reached, to the vast relief of all involved. And now you must tell us everything about yourself. Have you yet married that charming if somewhat overwhelming female poetess who I last saw in your company? Tell us the tale as we return to our labor, it will pass the time."

"You'd like that, but I've got better things to do than pass the time," Cootes said. "I'm just going to get started with that painting over there." He pointed to a colorful still life.

"As you will," Psmith sighed.

Mike picked up the statue again, and Psmith offered a helping hand to balance it, while Cootes struggled with the painting, which seemed to be bolted to the wall.

A shriek rang out.

"These interruptions are becoming tiresome," Psmith said.

Mrs. Jevons shrieked again from the top of the staircase. This time the heartfelt words could be made out. "Not that one! Is nothing safe in this house? First my flowers, now my best painting of flowers! No! No!" She hurried down the stairs and tugged Cootes away from the painting. His face was not familiar to her. "Who are you?" she demanded. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm Cootes, you shoulda been expecting me," that worthy said. "I'm here from Mrs. Gasconade, for the stuff."

Mrs. Jevons paused. "But then who..."

Psmith's polite smile was cut short as Baxter raced past the cluster and slammed bodily into the front door. "No one is going anywhere," Baxter shouted. All eyes were on him as he pulled a key out of his pocket and the lock snicked, locking them all in together.

Mike groaned and let the statue down again.

"Hey," Cootes said. "I know you. What's going on in here? Is this some sort of a joke?"

"I have notified the authorities of this situation." Baxter paused to take a deep breath. "And they will be here shortly." He stared at Mrs. Jevons, his mouth forming a grim line. "Surely, you must realize that it was the only thing I could do."

"I told you to clean up the mess upstairs," Mrs. Jevons snapped. "You've ruined everything. John is going to be so angry at you."

"When you were consorting with thieves--"

"Hey, who are you calling a thief? I'm a respectable gentleman's gentleman--"

Baxter grabbed Cootes by the lapels. He had had a difficult night, and was in no mood to listen to lies. "You're a thief! Don't try to deny it. You were a thief at Blandings, working with that other thief over there, and you're a thief now. This time I've got proof and I'm going to have you dragged away in chains.

"Perhaps handcuffs are more likely," Psmith interjected helpfully.

"Take it easy," Cootes said, squirming. Baxter released him like he was letting go of a leech, and feared it would stick to his hand.

"Yes, take it easy," Mrs. Jevons ordered. "This is my house, and if I want to hire thieves like Mr. Cootes for my own personal reasons--"

"If I might say a word--" Psmith began.

"No," Mrs. Jevons snapped. "I don't know who you are, if you're not a thief--"

"Oh he's a thief, all right," Cootes said.

"I knew it," Baxter said. "In fact, if you would only listen, I will tell you how I thwarted their cunning plan--"

"Are those two with you?" Mrs. Jevons asked Cootes.

"Hell no. And so far as I'm concerned, they can just butt out, they're not wanted here," Cootes said. "This is my job--"

"--and secured the valuable ring that was their target," Baxter said, his voice rising toward the scratchy heights of vociferation. "When the authorities come--"

"I'll tell them that there's nothing happening here," Mrs. Jevons said.

"You say it," Cootes said. "If she wants to hire a respectable gentleman's gentleman to do her a favor that might just involve taking away some valuable but unwanted items..."

"I will not allow it!" Baxter said.

"Much you have to say about it," Cootes returned, quick as anything. "You're outnumbered."

Baxter appealed to Mrs. Jevons. "Surely you will not side with this thief..."

Everyone seemed to have forgotten Mike and Psmith. Even Baxter: he had moved in front of the statue that held the ring as secure as a penny in a bank, but having secured the goods, he was engaged in his argument to the exclusion of all else. His all-important goal was to convince Mrs. Jevons that thieves should be punished; he had no attention to spare for the thieves themselves.

They slowly edged away. Psmith whispered, as soon as they were on the stairs, "A delicate situation, but perhaps we should leave them to sort it out for themselves."

"I'm not arguing," Mike said.

"I'm afraid you will simply have to do without the cricket statue," Psmith said, pausing in the door to the library.

"Too bad about your ring," Mike agreed.

"Oh, as to that..." Psmith reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold ring. "It wasn't mine that Baxter disposed of so neatly. I picked mine out of the box whilst Mrs. Jevons was distracting him."

Mike stared. "But then all that lugging about of the statue?" he asked with a groan.

"My dear chap, I thought you wanted it."

Mike transferred his boggled stare from the ring to Psmith's face, and then at the statue, abandoned by the front door and just barely visible over the railing from where they stood.

Angry words were being exchanged below. "You bet I do, and if I don't start getting a bit more respect around here, you're going to be very sorry about it, too. In ten seconds, I add the painting to my side of the hallway."

"No! Take the Chinese bowl instead. I don't like it as much."

"Mrs. Jevons, I beg of you, don't encourage this paltry thief--"

"Hey. You shut up. And you--"

"I don't think Phyllis would like it," Mike said finally. "Bound to be trouble."

After a judicious pause, Psmith nodded. "No doubt you are right," he said, and passed into the library. They left bills to the exact amount that Jevons had paid for the ring on one of the tables where no one could miss it, and left through the library window.

When they reached the pavement, Mike paused, listening to the ongoing argument from inside. "Well, we got away with it!" he said, and laughed the laugh of a man who never expected to be saying those words. "What a lark. I thought for sure we'd be stuck in there forever, dragging around statues and arguing about who was a thief."

"An eccentric household indeed," Psmith said. "I envy them. They will never be bored."

"And you will?" Mike asked incredulously.

"Not if my dearest Eve has anything to say about it," Psmith said with satisfaction. "With this ring I will wed her, and eccentricity is her delight. It is her goal in life. And I will always strive not to disappoint."

From inside, there was a shout that was loud enough to rattle the window. "He's gone! He can't be! No, he must be nearby, he wouldn't have left his ring! I'll find him if it's the last thing I do, the dastard!"

Mike and Psmith strolled away.