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Biscuits by the Ocean

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"I should hope, Comrade Jackson," said Psmith, "that meeting the pater has not unduly alarmed you. It was unexpected, of course; one hardly expects to run into dear relatives when going for a simple evening stroll along the beach, but alas, these things happen."

The look he bestowed upon Mike was a trifle apologetic.

"I thought that I had already met your father," said Mike, perhaps a smidgeon coldly. Then again, what had occurred on the beach had shaken him, and Mike resented being shaken. He felt that a sensible, practical person such as he considered himself to be should be beyond such feelings.

"And so you have." Psmith beamed benevolently. "I assure you, deception was the furthest thing from my mind. Not a single word that has passed these lips has been a lie. Truth first and foremost."

Mike shook his head, as if to say that he would have none of this. In reality though, we can assume that he was beginning to soften already, being not unaware that it would be unreasonable to blame Psmith for what was, as he saw it, a flaw in his own character.

"If it sets your mind at ease, I have been given every reason to believe that I was adopted," went on Psmith. "Alas! Not for me the whirling tentacles, the many eyes, nor even the visage the sight of which may cause many a man to lose their lunch, if not their sanity outright." He sighed. It was a deep, sad sigh, full of longings.

Mike responded to it instantly, albeit with a flash of temper rather than the sympathy that might have been called for. "I should bloody well hope not," he said and then, human nature being what it was, "How'd you end up getting adopted by something like that, anyway?"

"It is a long and sad story. I should warn you, it may move you to shed a few tears, or even more than a few, knowing as I do your sensitive nature." Psmith sighed again.

Mike's scowl suggested he found some flaw with this assessment.

"Some other time, I think," decided Psmith. "The hour grows late, and we would not wish to alarm our valued colleagues. Should we appear tomorrow, looking wan and worn out, I don't doubt the work of all should suffer as word gets around. Both Psmith and Jackson appear wan, even tired. What crisis may have occurred? Have they quarreled? Is this the end of a friendship fated to go down the eons? We might assure them, of course," he continued. "Psmith and Jackson to part ways? Never! Ridiculous. The very idea. Still, how much better not to shock their sensitivities in the first place."

"I don't suppose anyone else knows," said Mike. He was, one might suppose, coming around to the view that the discovery that one's closest friend had, by his own claims, been raised by a being whose appearance suggested a distinct lack of humanity, should be no cause for alarm or unsettlement.

As Psmith had put it: these things happened. If they had not happened to Mike, well, what of it? Many things had never happened to Mike. To give but a few of numerous examples, Mike had never travelled to France. He had never attended a professional football match. He had never stood to be elected. Never had this lack given him a moment's pause. Nor did the fact that he had never done these things himself give him any cause to doubt their existence.

"Inasfar as there is anything to know, assuredly." Psmith appeared to sense the worst had passed. His shoulders untensed, and if he had been walking, one might have seen a fresh spring to his steps.

"Well." Mike hesitated, unsure of how to proceed. "Good," was the word he eventually arrived at.

"It is not that I am worried, naturally," hurried Psmith. "The small-minded may think as they will; it is the great-minded who act. Still, so many take comfort in perceiving the world as they do. Ruled by fools, possibly, and men of greed, but men nonetheless. Small-minded." He shrugged a mite sadly.

Mike furrowed a brow usually un-furrowed. Nature had made him a man of action; friendship had also made him, on occasion, a man of thought. "Well, but what do you want? Or they, rather?"

"They?" Psmith's expression brightened. "As always, Comrade Jackson, you cut right to the heart of the matter. Pointless, to have fretted over how best to make introductions to the rest of the family. Useless, to wonder how best to excuse Aunt Ann's wigs, or to warn you for Cousin Nemo's idea of a practical joke. You need but see a single part and at once, you have grasped the whole of it. While it embarrasses me to say it, it is the end of the world."

"What is?" asked Mike.

"Their, and by extension my, purpose," explained Psmith. "Our raison d'etre, if you wish. It is, I will grant you, not quite the career I might have settled on myself, but one cannot discount the family business as simple as that. One feels the weight of tradition, the burden of expectation. I tell you, it is a heavy load to carry. Not at all an easy thing."

Mike's brow plunged to new depths (or possibly heights) of furrowedness. "But why? And how can it be any sort of tradition? I should think," he added, "that if the world had ended before in the past few centuries or so, someone would have noticed. At the very least, someone'd have written a book."

It should be said that Mike quite approved of books. Nor had he any specific objection to those who wrote them. He read himself, on occasion, although perhaps not quite the sort of thing that would include detailed descriptions of such serious matters as the end of the world.

Or, if they did, some clever hero who possibly resembled Mike in some small way, would come to the rescue at the last minute, thereby incidentally also saving either his best friend, who was much more given to reading, or possibly, but somewhat less likely, an attractive young woman whose clothes had seen rather better days, whose presence certain authors seemed to consider obligatory.

"An excellent question," said Psmith approvingly. "Indeed, indeed."

"It all sounds like rot to me," said Mike, forgetting for the moment whom he was speaking of.

"Comrade Jackson, I believe that I had never experienced our friendship more keenly than in this very moment. Were you of the fairer gender, I might be moved to offer marriage on the spot."

"Well," said Mike. Had he been a young woman, we might have imagined him weeping for joy at Psmith's offer. There might have been hugging, perhaps even a chaste kiss, such as a well-raised young woman might permit a sincere and welcome admirer.

"You simply must come to the next family meeting. I shall introduce you," exulted Psmith. "A good friend, I shall say. Tentacles shall writhe; eye stalks may wave, but I will stand firm. Worry not - your brains will assuredly stay where they are. Your mind, safe and snug, like a pea in a pod."

"That's reassuring," said Mike. A critical listener might have detected a hint of sarcasm.

"In order to prevent the end of the world, certain risks are surely worth taking," said Psmith, who might be critical when the occasion called for it, but refrained from such when, as now, it did not.

"Any risk, I'd say, if that's how you want to put it."

"Precisely," agreed Psmith, placid now that the waters were once again calm and a course had been settled on. "Only think, had you not agreed to a little moonlit walking, we might be looking forwards to another day of endless toil for little reward, beyond the company of our fellow-sufferers. Now, instead, we may rejoice. A worthier goal has appeared to us. A higher purpose cries out to us bewitchingly."

"I was just hoping that I'd get to play cricket," said Mike.

"Who knows?" replied Psmith. "It may come to that after all. A cricket match to decide the very fate of the world. Could there be anything more logical, or nobler?"