Breaking The News
Dashing away from the call-box, Mike nearly cannoned into Psmith, who was making his way pensively to the telephone with the object of ringing up the box office of the Haymarket Theatre.
'Sorry,' said Mike. 'Hullo, Smith.'
'Hullo indeed,' said Psmith, courteously. 'I rejoice, Comrade Jackson, to find you going about your commercial duties like a young bomb. How is it, people repeatedly ask me, that Comrade Jackson contrives to catch his employer's eye and win the friendly smile from the head of his department? My reply is that where others walk, Comrade Jackson runs. Where others stroll, Comrade Jackson legs it like a highly-trained mustang of the prairie. He does not loiter. He gets back to his department bathed in perspiration, in level time. He--'
'I say, Smith,' said Mike, 'you might do me a favour.'
'A thousand. Say on.'
'Just look in at the Fixed Deposits and tell old Gregory that I shan't be with him today, will you? I haven't time myself. I must rush!'
Psmith screwed his eyeglass into his eye, and examined Mike carefully.
'What exactly--?' be began.
'Tell the old ass I've popped off.'
'Just so, just so,' murmured Psmith, as one who assents to a thoroughly reasonable proposition. 'Tell him you have popped off. It shall be done. But it is within the bounds of possibility that Comrade Gregory may inquire further. Could you give me some inkling as to why you are popping?'
'My brother Joe has just rung me up from Lords. The county are playing Middlesex and they're one short. He wants me to roll up.'
Psmith shook his head sadly.
'I don't wish to interfere in any way,' he said, 'but I suppose you realize that, by acting thus, you are to some extent knocking the stuffing out of your chances of becoming manager of this bank? If you dash off now, I shouldn't count too much on that marrying the Governor's daughter scheme I sketched out for you last night. I doubt whether this is going to help you to hold the gorgeous East in fee, and all that sort of thing.'
'Oh, dash the gorgeous East.'
'By all means,' said Psmith obligingly. 'I just thought I'd mention it. I'll look in at Lord's this afternoon. I shall send my card up to you, and trust to your sympathetic cooperation to enable me to effect an entry into the pavilion on my face. My father is coming up to London today. I'll bring him along, too.'
'Right ho. Dash it, it's twenty to. So long. See you at Lord's.'
Psmith looked after his retreating form till it had vanished through the swing-door, and shrugged his shoulders resignedly, as if disclaiming all responsibility.
'He has gone without his hat,' he murmured. 'It seems to me that this is practically a case of running amok. And now to break the news to bereaved Comrade Gregory.'
He abandoned his intention of ringing up the Haymarket Theatre, and turning away from the call-box, walked meditatively down the aisle till he came to the Fixed Deposits Department, where the top of Mr Gregory's head was to be seen over the glass barrier, as he applied himself to his work.
Psmith, resting his elbows on the top of the barrier and holding his head between his hands, eyed the absorbed toiler for a moment in silence, then emitted a hollow groan.
Mr Gregory, who was ruling a line in a ledger--most of the work in the Fixed Deposits Department consisted of ruling lines in ledgers, sometimes in black ink, sometimes in red--started as if he had been stung, and made a complete mess of the ruled line. He lifted a fiery, bearded face, and met Psmith's eye, which shone with kindly sympathy.
He found words.
'What the dickens are you standing there for, mooing like a blanked cow?' he inquired.
'I was groaning,' explained Psmith with quiet dignity. 'And why was I groaning?' he continued. 'Because a shadow has fallen on the Fixed Deposits Department. Comrade Jackson, the Pride of the Office, has gone.'
Mr Gregory rose from his seat.
'I don't know who the dickens you are--' he began.
'I am Psmith,' said the old Etonian,
'Oh, you're Smith, are you?'
'With a preliminary P. Which, however, is not sounded.'
'And what's all this dashed nonsense about Jackson?'
'He is gone. Gone like the dew from the petal of a rose.'
'Gone! Where's he gone to?'
Psmith waved his hand gently.
'You misunderstand me. Comrade Jackson has not gone to mix with any member of our gay and thoughtless aristocracy. He has gone to Lord's cricket ground.'
Mr Gregory's beard bristled even more than was its wont.
'What!' he roared. 'Gone to watch a cricket match! Gone--!'
'Not to watch. To play. An urgent summons I need not say. Nothing but an urgent summons could have wrenched him from your very delightful society, I am sure.'
Mr Gregory glared.
'I don't want any of your impudence,' he said.
Psmith nodded gravely.
'We all have these curious likes and dislikes,' he said tolerantly. 'You do not like my impudence. Well, well, some people don't. And now, having broken the sad news, I will return to my own department.'
'Half a minute. You come with me and tell this yarn of yours to Mr Bickersdyke.'
'You think it would interest, amuse him? Perhaps you are right. Let us buttonhole Comrade Bickersdyke.'
Mr Bickersdyke was disengaged. The head of the Fixed Deposits Department stumped into the room. Psmith followed at a more leisurely pace.
'Allow me,' he said with a winning smile, as Mr Gregory opened his mouth to speak, 'to take this opportunity of congratulating you on your success at the election. A narrow but well-deserved victory.'
There was nothing cordial in the manager's manner.
'What do you want?' he said.
'Myself, nothing,' said Psmith. 'But I understand that Mr Gregory has some communication to make.'
'Tell Mr Bickersdyke that story of yours,' said Mr Gregory.
'Surely,' said Psmith reprovingly, 'this is no time for anecdotes. Mr Bickersdyke is busy. He--'
'Tell him what you told me about Jackson.'
Mr Bickersdyke looked up inquiringly.
'Jackson,' said Psmith, 'has been obliged to absent himself from work today owing to an urgent summons from his brother, who, I understand, has suffered a bereavement.'
'It's a lie,' roared Mr Gregory. 'You told me yourself he'd gone to play in a cricket match.'
'True. As I said, he received an urgent summons from his brother.'
'What about the bereavement, then?'
'The team was one short. His brother was very distressed about it. What could Comrade Jackson do? Could he refuse to help his brother when it was in his power? His generous nature is a byword. He did the only possible thing. He consented to play.'
Mr Bickersdyke spoke.
'Am I to understand,' he asked, with sinister calm, 'that Mr Jackson has left his work and gone off to play in a cricket match?'
'Something of that sort has, I believe, happened,' said Psmith. 'He knew, of course,' he added, bowing gracefully in Mr Gregory's direction, 'that he was leaving his work in thoroughly competent hands.'
'Thank you,' said Mr Bickersdyke. 'That will do. You will help Mr Gregory in his department for the time being, Mr Smith. I will arrange for somebody to take your place in your own department.'
'It will be a pleasure,' murmured Psmith.
'Show Mr Smith what he has to do, Mr Gregory,' said the manager.
They left the room.
'How curious, Comrade Gregory,' mused Psmith, as they went, 'are the workings of Fate! A moment back, and your life was a blank. Comrade Jackson, that prince of Fixed Depositors, had gone. How, you said to yourself despairingly, can his place be filled? Then the cloud broke, and the sun shone out again. I came to help you. What you lose on the swings, you make up on the roundabouts. Now show me what I have to do, and then let us make this department sizzle. You have drawn a good ticket, Comrade Gregory.'
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