Things began to get dangerous on the third night of snowfall. Jackson, it transpired, was something of an octopus when he slept. Psmith considered it deeply impolite of him to endanger a man’s composure so, but couldn’t quite work out a way to approach the thing. His courage, normally buoyed up by a serenely keen sense of the ridiculous futility of life’s endeavours, failed at the idea of Jackson’s stolidly handsome face staring blankly at him.
Besides, he couldn’t think of a suitably witty way to phrase it, and Psmith rarely said anything serious without making sure it was also witty.
So it occurred that Rupert Psmith of Shropshire, attired in a silk dressing gown that was honestly too impractical for a winter holiday in Scotland, had escaped from the only warm place in the cottage – the bed that he and Jackson had decided, in a manly and practical fashion, to share during the freezing nights until the end of this cold snap – and was shivering in an armchair while Mike Jackson, also of Shropshire, snored.
The small fire in the room was dying, and if the coal delivery couldn’t make it through the snow tomorrow then they would be in a pretty pickle. Psmith drew his knees up to his chin and wrapped his arms around them, staring into the hazy warm depths of the embers. This was not exactly what he had been expecting, frankly, and it was starting to wear even on Psmith, who normally faced outrageous fortune’s slings and arrows with a bland smile and a detachedly inquisitive look through his eyeglass.
The problem, it had to be admitted, was Jackson. Psmith admired this thought for a while, and then dug the point of his chin into his knee and sighed. That was rather a falsehood. The problem was not Jackson, who was, as always, an excellent right hand in a crisis, a solid exemplar of sunny amiability and practical good sense. The problem was never Jackson.
The problem was Psmith, and he was beginning to realise that it always would be.
There was a snore which became a startled snort from the bed, and Jackson suddenly sat bolt-upright, the flickering of the fire casting a distorted shadow of his form onto the wall. “Huh?” he said. “What? Take that – oh. Sorry, Psmith.”
“Not at all,” Psmith said with an airy wave of his hand. He hoped his voice was equally light, but he was a little too cold and a little too mournful to fully modulate it.
Jackson, of course, noticed, with the deep sympathy that was such an attractive part of his character. “You all right, Psmith?” he said, voice still husky with sleep. “What are you doing?”
“Perfectly in the pink, Comrade Jackson, believe me. Merely enjoying the charm of this lovely room, lit by the orange glow of the day’s last fire. It is for such moments as these, Comrade Jackson,” Psmith said, warming to his theme, “that battles are fought, and poets’ pens are dipped. Why, the shadows which fall on your eminent visage -” He stopped abruptly, aware of the dizzying sensation of danger.
“Rot,” Jackson said, but it was gentle. “You look cold.”
Psmith hugged his knees a little tighter. “Possibly,” he allowed after a moment. “I may have been engaged in my contemplation for too long.”
“Come back and sleep then,” Jackson said, patiently, and rolled onto his back. “Damn it, this blasted weather can’t go on forever. We’ll wake up tomorrow and it will have cleared, I’m sure.”
“Mmmm,” Psmith agreed, and unfolded himself. He approached the bed again, breath somewhat bated. Jackson smiled sleepily up at him, the shadows which Psmith had so narrowly avoided rhapsodising about still turning his face lovely in their contrasts, and Psmith realised that he had reached something of that tide in the affairs of men.
“I say, Jackson,” he said, voice a little uneven, and then he ran out of words.
Jackson’s face changed, subtly shading in eyes and mouth and jaw through a few different variations of shock and surprise. Psmith watched with a sickly sort of curiosity, and waited for the axe to fall. It did not fall. Instead, he began to realise that washing over Jackson’s face was the slow dawning of something like interest.
Jackson generally viewed Psmith with interest, as one waiting amiably for a performing clown to do another diverting trick, but this time the emotion was sharper, more focused, and caught Psmith entirely by surprise. “Yes, Psmith?” Jackson said, and Psmith noticed with something a little like alarm and a little like joy that there was an oddly predatory note in the dear voice.
“Oh,” he said. “Well. This puts a whole different spin on things, Comrade Jackson. It reminds me somewhat of the time that I -”
Psmith never finished his story, as Jackson made a long arm and pulled him rather neatly into the bed. He landed with a soft thump, a smile painted across his face that he was not sure he would ever be able to dislodge.