by Saki (H.H. Munro)
I did it---I should have known better. I persuaded
Reginald to go to the McKillops' garden-party against his
We all make mistakes occasionally. ``They know you're
here, and they'll think it so funny if you don't go. And I
want particularly to be in with Mrs. McKillop just now.''
``I know, you want one of her smoke Persian kittens as a
prospective wife for Wumples---or a husband, is it?''
(Reginald has a magnificent scorn for details, other than
sartorial.) ``And I am expected to undergo social martyrdom
to suit the connubial exigencies---''
``Reginald! It's nothing of the kind, only I'm sure Mrs.
McKillop would be pleased if I brought you. Young men of
your brilliant attractions are rather at a premium at her
``Should be at a premium in heaven,'' remarked Reginald
``There will be very few of you there, if that is what you
mean. But seriously, there won't be any great strain upon
your powers of endurance; I promise you that you shan't have
to play croquet, or talk to the Archdeacon's wife, or do
anything that is likely to bring on physical prostration.
You can just wear your sweetest clothes and a moderately
amiable expression, and eat chocolate-creams with the
appetite of a _blas<e'>_ parrot. Nothing more is demanded
Reginald shut his eyes. ``There will be the exhaustingly
up-to-date young women who will ask me if I have seen _San
Toy_; a less progressive grade who will yearn to hear about
the Diamond jubilee---the historic event, not the horse.
With a little encouragement, they will inquire if I saw the
Allies march into Paris. Why are women so fond of raking up
the past? They're as bad as tailors, who invariably remember
what you owe them for a suit long after you've ceased to
``I'll order lunch for one o'clock; that will give you two
and a half hours to dress in.''
Reginald puckered his brow into a tortured frown, and I
knew that my point was gained. He was debating what tie
would go with which waistcoat.
Even then I had my misgivings.
During the drive to the McKillops' Reginald was possessed
with a great peace, which was not wholly to be accounted for
by the fact that he had inveigled his feet into shoes a size
too small for them. I misgave more than ever, and having
once launched Reginald on to the McKillops' lawn, I
established him near a seductive dish of _marrons
glac<e'>s_, and as far from the Archdeacon's wife as
possible; as I drifted away to a diplomatic distance I heard
with painful distinctness the eldest Mawkby girl asking him
if he had seen _San Toy_.
It must have been ten minutes later, not more, and I had
been having _quite_ an enjoyable chat with my hostess, and
had promised to lend her _The Eternal City_ and my recipe
for rabbit mayonnaise, and was just about to offer a kind
home for her third Persian kitten, when I perceived, out of
the corner of my eye, that Reginald was not where I had left
him, and that the _marrons glac<e'>s_ were untasted. At the
same moment I became aware that old Colonel Mendoza was
essaying to tell his classic story of how he introduced golf
into India, and that Reginald was in dangerous proximity.
There are occasions when Reginald is caviare to the Colonel.
``When I was at Poona in '76---''
``My dear Colonel,'' purred Reginald, ``fancy admitting
such a thing! Such a give-away for one's age! I wouldn't
admit being on this planet in '76.'' (Reginald in his
wildest lapses into veracity never admits to being more than
The Colonel went to the colour of a fig that has attained
great ripeness, and Reginald, ignoring my efforts to
intercept him glided away to another part of the lawn. I
found him a few minutes later happily engaged in teaching
the youngest Rampage boy the approved theory of mixing
absinthe, within full earshot of his mother. Mrs. Rampage
occupies a prominent place in local Temperance movements.
As soon as I had broken up this unpromising
_t<e^>te-<a`>-t<e^>te_ and settled Reginald where he could
watch the croquet players losing their tempers, I wandered
off to find my hostess and renew the kitten negotiations at
the point where they had been interrupted. I did not
succeed in running her down at once, and eventually it was
Mrs. McKillop who sought me out, and her conversation was
not of kittens.
``Your cousin is discussing _Zaza_ with the Archdeacon's
wife; at least, he is discussing, she is ordering her
She spoke in the dry, staccato tone of one who repeats a
French exercise, and I knew that as far as Millie McKillop
was concerned, Wumples was devoted to a lifelong celibacy.
``If you don't mind,'' I said hurriedly, ``I think we'd
like our carriage ordered too,'' and I made a forced march
in the direction of the croquet ground.
I found every one talking nervously and feverishly of the
weather and the war in South Africa, except Reginald, who
was reclining in a comfortable chair with the dreamy,
far-away look that a volcano might wear just after it had
desolated entire villages. The Archdeacon's wife was
buttoning up her gloves with a concentrated deliberation
that was fearful to behold. I shall have to treble my
subscription to her Cheerful Sunday Evenings Fund before I
dare set foot in her house again.
At that particular moment the croquet players finished
their game, which had been going on without a symptom of
finality during the whole afternoon. Why, I ask, should it
have stopped precisely when a counter-attraction was so
necessary? Every one seemed to drift towards the area of
disturbance, of which the chairs of the Archdeacon's wife
and Reginald formed the storm-centre. Conversation flagged,
and there settled upon the company that expectant hush that
precedes the dawn---when your neighbours don't happen to
``What did the Caspian Sea?'' asked Reginald, with
There were symptoms of a stampede. The Archdeacon's wife
looked at me. Kipling or some one has described somewhere
the look a foundered camel gives when the caravan moves on
and leaves it to its fate. The peptonized reproach in the
good lady's eyes brought the passage vividly to my mind.
I played my last card.
``Reginald, it's getting late, and a sea-mist is coming
on.'' I knew that the elaborate curl over his right eyebrow
was not guaranteed to survive a sea-mist.
``Never, never again, will I take you to a garden-party.
Never.... You behaved abominably.... What did the Caspian
A shade of genuine regret for misused opportunities passed
over Reginald's face.
``After all,'' he said, ``I believe an apricot tie would
have gone better with the lilac waistcoat.''
REGINALD ON CHRISTMAS PRESENTS
I wish it to be distinctly understood (said Reginald) that
I don't want a ``George, Prince of Wales'' Prayer-book as a
Christmas present. The fact cannot be too widely known.
There ought (he continued) to be technical education
classes on the science of present-giving. No one seems to
have the faintest notion of what any one else wants, and the
prevalent ideas on the subject are not creditable to a
There is, for instance, the female relative in the country
who ``knows a tie is always useful,'' and sends you some
spotted horror that you could only wear in secret or in
Tottenham Court Road. It _might_ have been useful had she
kept it to tie up currant bushes with, when it would have
served the double purpose of supporting the branches and
frightening away the birds---for it is an admitted fact that
the ordinary tomtit of commerce has a sounder <ae>sthetic
taste than the average female relative in the country.
Then there are aunts. They are always a difficult class
to deal with in the matter of presents. The trouble is that
one never catches them really young enough. By the time one
has educated them to an appreciation of the fact that one
does not wear red woollen mittens in the West End, they die,
or quarrel with the family, or do something equally
inconsiderate. That is why the supply of trained aunts is
always so precarious.
There is my Aunt Agatha, _par exemple_, who sent me a pair
of gloves last Christmas, and even got so far as to choose a
kind that was being worn and had the correct number of
buttons. But---_they were nines!_ I sent them to a boy whom
I hated intimately: he didn't wear them, of course, but he
could have---that was where the bitterness of death came in.
It was nearly as consoling as sending white flowers to his
funeral. Of course I wrote and told my aunt that they were
the one thing that had been wanting to make existence
blossom like a rose; I am afraid she thought me
frivolous---she comes from the North, where they live in the
fear of Heaven and the Earl of Durham. (Reginald affects an
exhaustive knowledge of things political, which furnishes an
excellent excuse for not discussing them.) Aunts with a dash
of foreign extraction in them are the most satisfactory in
the way of understanding these things; but if you can't
choose your aunt, it is wisest in the long run to choose the
present and send her the bill.
Even friends of one's own set, who might be expected to
know better, have curious delusions on the subject. I am
not collecting copies of the cheaper editions of Omar
Khayy<a'>m. I gave the last four that I received to the
lift-boy, and I like to think of him reading them, with
FitzGerald's notes, to his aged mother. Lift-boys always
have aged mothers; shows such nice feeling on their part, I
Personally, I can't see where the difficulty in choosing
suitable presents lies. No boy who had brought himself up
properly could fail to appreciate one of those decorative
bottles of liqueurs that are so reverently staged in Morel's
window---and it wouldn't in the least matter if one did get
duplicates. And there would always be the supreme moment of
dreadful uncertainty whether it was _cr<e^>me de menthe_ or
Chartreuse---like the expectant thrill on seeing your
partner's hand turned up at bridge. People may say what
they like about the decay of Christianity; the religious
system that produced green Chartreuse can never really die.
And then, of course, there are liqueur glasses, and
crystallized fruits, and tapestry curtains, and heaps of
other necessaries of life that make really sensible
presents---not to speak of luxuries, such as having one's
bills paid, or getting something quite sweet in the way of
jewellery. Unlike the alleged Good Woman of the Bible, I'm
not above rubies. When found, by the way, she must have
been rather a problem at Christmas-time; nothing short of a
blank cheque would have fitted the situation. Perhaps it's
as well that she's died out.
The great charm about me (concluded Reginald) is that I am
so easily pleased. But I draw the line at a ``Prince of
REGINALD ON THE ACADEMY
``One goes to the Academy in self-defence,'' said
Reginald. ``It is the one topic one has in common with the
``It is almost a religious observance with them,'' said
the Other. ``A kind of artistic Mecca, and when the good
ones die they go---''
``To the Chantrey Bequest. The mystery is _what_ they
find to talk about in the country.''
``There are two subjects of conversation in the country:
Servants, and Can fowls be made to pay? The first, I
believe, is compulsory, the second optional.''
``As a function,'' resumed Reginald, ``the Academy is a
``You think it would be tolerable without the pictures?''
``The pictures are all right, in their way; after all, one
can always _look_ at them if one is bored with one's
surroundings, or wants to avoid an imminent acquaintance.''
``Even that doesn't always save one. There is the
inevitable female whom you met once in Devonshire, or the
Matoppo Hills, or somewhere, who charges up to you with the
remark that it's funny how one always meets people one knows
at the Academy. Personally, I _don't_ think it funny.''
``I suffered in that way just now,'' said Reginald
plaintively, ``from a woman whose word I had to take that
she had met me last summer in Brittany.''
``I hope you were not too brutal?''
``I merely told her with engaging simplicity that the art
of life was the avoidance of the unattainable.''
``Did she try and work it out on the back of her catalogue?''
``Not there and then. She murmured something about being
`so clever.' Fancy coming to the Academy to be clever!''
``To be clever in the afternoon argues that one is dining
nowhere in the evening.''
``Which reminds me that I can't remember whether I
accepted an invitation from you to dine at Kettner's
``On the other hand, I can remember with startling
distinctness not having asked you to.''
``So much certainty is unbecoming in the young; so we'll
consider that settled. What were you talking about? Oh,
pictures. Personally, I rather like them; they are so
refreshingly real and probable, they take one away from the
unrealities of life.''
``One likes to escape from oneself occasionally.''
``That is the disadvantage of a portrait; as a rule, one's
bitterest friends can find nothing more to ask than the
faithful unlikeness that goes down to posterity as oneself.
I hate posterity---it's so fond of having the last word. Of
course, as regards portraits, there are exceptions.''
``To die before being painted by Sargent is to go to
``With the necessary care and impatience, you may avoid
``If you're going to be rude,'' said Reginald, ``I shall
dine with you tomorrow night as well. The chief vice of the
Academy,'' he continued, ``is its nomenclature. Why, for
instance, should an obvious trout-stream with a palpable
rabbit sitting in the foreground be called `an evening dream
of unbeclouded peace,' or something of that sort?''
``You think,'' said the Other, ``that a name should
economize description rather than stimulate imagination?''
``Properly chosen, it should do both. There is my lady
kitten at home, for instance; I've called it Derry.''
``Suggests nothing to my imagination but protracted sieges
and religious animosities. of course, I don't know your
``Oh, you're silly. It's a sweet name, and it answers to
it---when it wants to. Then, if there are any unseemly
noises in the night, they can be explained succinctly: Derry
``You might almost charge for the advertisement. But as
applied to pictures, don't you think your system would be
too subtle, say, for the Country Cousins?''
``Every reformation must have its victims. You can't
expect the fatted calf to share the enthusiasm of the angels
over the prodigals return. Another darling weakness of the
Academy is that none of its luminaries must `arrive' in a
hurry. You can see them coming for years, like a Balkan
trouble or a street improvement, and by the time they have
painted a thousand or so square yards of canvas, their work
begins to be recognized.''
``Some one who Must Not be Contradicted said that a man
must be a success by the time he's thirty, or never.''
``To have reached thirty,'' said Reginald, ``is to have
failed in life.''
REGINALD AT THE THEATRE
``After all,'' said the Duchess vaguely, ``there are
certain things you can't get away from. Right and wrong,
good conduct and moral rectitude, have certain well-defined
``So, for the matter of that,'' replied Reginald, ``has
the Russian Empire. The trouble is that the limits are not
always in the same place.''
Reginald and the Duchess regarded each other with mutual
distrust, tempered by a scientific interest. Reginald
considered that the Duchess had much to learn; in
particular, not to hurry out of the Carlton as though afraid
of losing one's last 'bus. A woman, he said, who is
careless of disappearances is capable of leaving town before
Goodwood, and dying at the wrong moment of an unfashionable
The Duchess thought that Reginald did not exceed the
ethical standard which circumstances demanded.
``Of course,'' she resumed combatively, ``it's the
prevailing fashion to believe in perpetual change and
mutability, and all that sort of thing, and to say we are
all merely an improved form of primeval ape---of course you
subscribe to that doctrine?''
``I think it decidedly premature; in most people I know
the process is far from complete.''
``And equally of course you are quite irreligious?''
``Oh, by no means. The fashion just now is a Roman
Catholic frame of mind with an Agnostic conscience: you get
the medi<ae>val picturesqueness of the one with the modern
conveniences of the other.''
The Duchess suppressed a sniff. She was one of those
people who regard the Church of England with patronizing
affection, as if it were something that had grown up in
their kitchen garden.
``But there are other things,'' she continued, ``which I
suppose are to a certain extent sacred even to you.
Patriotism, for instance, and Empire, and Imperial
responsibility, and blood-is-thicker-than-water, and all
that sort of thing.''
Reginald waited for a couple of minutes before replying,
while the Lord of Rimini temporarily monopolized the
acoustic possibilities of the theatre.
``That is the worst of a tragedy,'' he observed, ``one
can't always hear oneself talk. Of course I accept the
Imperial idea and the responsibility. After all, I would
just as soon think in Continents as anywhere else. And some
day, when the season is over and we have the time, you shall
explain to me the exact blood-brotherhood and all that sort
of thing that exists between a French Canadian and a mild
Hindoo and a Yorkshireman, for instance.''
``Oh, well, `dominion over palm and pine,' you know,''
quoted the Duchess hopefully; ``of course we mustn't forget
that we're all part of the great Anglo-Saxon Empire.''
``Which for its part is rapidly becoming a suburb of
Jerusalem. A very pleasant suburb, I admit, and quite a
charming Jerusalem. But still a suburb.''
``Really, to be told one's living in a suburb when one is
conscious of spreading the benefits of civilization all over
the world! Philanthropy---I suppose you will say _that_ is
a comfortable delusion; and yet even you must admit that
whenever want or misery or starvation is known to exist,
however distant or difficult of access, we instantly
organize relief on the most generous scale, and distribute
it, if need be, to the uttermost ends of the earth.''
The Duchess paused, with a sense of ultimate triumph. She
had made the same observation at a drawing-room meeting, and
it had been extremely well received.
``I wonder,'' said Reginald, ``if you have ever walked
down the Embankment on a winter night?''
``Gracious, no, child! Why do you ask?''
``I didn't; I only wondered. And even your philanthropy,
practised in a world where everything is based on
competition, must have a debit as well as a credit account.
The young ravens cry for food.''
``And are fed.''
``Exactly. Which presupposes that something else is fed
``Oh, you're simply exasperating. You've been reading
Nietzsche till you haven't got any sense of moral proportion
left. May I ask if you are governed by _any_ laws of
``There are certain fixed rules that one observes for
one's own comfort. For instance, never be flippantly rude
to any inoffensive, grey-bearded stranger that you may meet
in pine forests or hotel smoking-rooms on the Continent. It
always turns out to be the King of Sweden.''
``The restraint must be dreadfully irksome to you. When I
was younger, boys of your age used to be nice and
``Now we are only nice. One must specialize in these days. Which
reminds me of the man I read of in some sacred book who was given a
choice of what he most desired. And because he didn't ask for titles
and honours and dignities, but only for immense wealth, these other
things came to him also.''
``I am sure you didn't read about him in any sacred
``Yes; I fancy you will find him in Debrett.''
REGINALD'S PEACE POEM
``I'm writing a poem on Peace,'' said Reginald, emerging
from a sweeping operation through a tin of mixed biscuits,
in whose depths a macaroon or two might yet be lurking.
``Something of the kind seems to have been attempted
already,'' said the Other.
``Oh, I know; but I may never have the chance again.
Besides, I've got a new fountain pen. I don't pretend to
have gone on any very original lines; in writing about Peace
the thing is to say what everybody else is saying, only to
say it better. It begins with the usual ornithological
`When the widgeon westward winging
Heard the folk Vereeniginging,
Heard the shouting and the singing---' ''
``Vereeniginging is good, but why widgeon?''
``Why not? Anything that winged westward would naturally
begin with a _w_.''
``Need it wing westward?''
``The bird must go somewhere. You wouldn't have it hang
around and look foolish. Then I've brought in something
about the heedless hartebeest galloping over the deserted
``Of course you know it's practically extinct in those
``I can't help that, it gallops so nicely. I make it have
all sorts of unexpected yearnings:
'Mother, may I go and maffick,
Tear around and hinder traffic?'
Of course you'll say there would be no traffic worth
bothering about on the bare and sun-scorched veldt, but
there's no other word that rhymes with maffick.''
Reginald considered. ``It might do, but I've got a lot
about angels later on. You must have angels in a Peace
poem; I know dreadfully little about their habits.''
``They can do unexpected things, like the hartebeest.''
``Of course. Then I turn on London, the City of Dreadful
Nocturnes, resonant with hymns of joy and thanksgiving:
'And the sleeper, eye unlidding,
Heard a voice for ever bidding
Much farewell to Dolly Gray;
Turning weary on his truckle-
Bed he heard the honeysuckle
Lauded in apiarian lay.'
Longfellow at his best wrote nothing like that.''
``I agree with you.''
``I wish you wouldn't. I've a sweet temper, but I can't
stand being agreed with. And I'm so worried about the
Reginald stared dismally at the biscuit-tin, which now
presented an unattractive array of rejected cracknels.
``I believe,`` he murmured , ''if I could find a woman
with an unsatisfied craving for cracknels, I should marry
``What is the tragedy of the aasvogel?'' asked the Other
``Oh, simply that there's no rhyme for it. I thought
about it all the time I was dressing---it's dreadfully bad
for one to think whilst one's dressing---and all lunch-time,
and I'm still hung up over it. I feel like those
unfortunate automobilists who achieve an unenviable
notoriety by coming to a hopeless stop with their cars in
the most crowded thoroughfares. I'm afraid I shall have to
drop the aasvogel, and it did give such lovely local colour
to the thing.''
``Still you've got the heedless hartebeest.''
``And quite a decorative bit of moral admonition---when
you've worried the meaning out---
'Cease, War, thy bubbling madness that the wine shares,
And bid thy legions turn their swords to mine shares.'
Mine shares seems to fit the case better than ploughshares.
There's lots more about the blessings of Peace, shall I go
on reading it?''
``If I must make a choice, I think I would rather they
went on with the war.''
REGINALD'S CHOIR TREAT
``Never,'' wrote Reginald to his most darling friend, ``be
a pioneer. It's the Early Christian that gets the fattest
Reginald, in his way, was a pioneer.
None of the rest of his family had anything approaching
Titian hair or a sense of humour, and they used primroses as
a table decoration.
It follows that they never understood Reginald, who came
down late to breakfast, and nibbled toast, and said
disrespectful things about the universe. The family ate
porridge, and believed in everything, even the weather
Therefore the family was relieved when the vicar's
daughter undertook the reformation of Reginald. Her name
was Amabel; it was the vicar's one extravagance. Amabel was
accounted a beauty and intellectually gifted; she never
played tennis, and was reputed to have read Maeterlinck's
_Life of the Bee_. If you abstain from tennis and read
Maeterlinck in a small country village, you are of necessity
intellectual. Also she had been twice to F<e'>camp to pick
up a good French accent from the Americans staying there;
consequently she had a knowledge of the world which might be
considered useful in dealings with a worldling.
Hence the congratulations in the family when Amabel
undertook the reformation of its wayward member.
Amabel commenced operations by asking her unsuspecting
pupil to tea in the vicarage garden; she believed in the
healthy influence of natural surroundings, never having been
in Sicily, where things are different.
And like every woman who has ever preached repentance to
unregenerate youth, she dwelt on the sin of an empty life,
which always seems so much more scandalous in the country,
where people rise early to see if a new strawberry has
happened during the night.
Reginald recalled the lilies of the field, ``which simply
sat and looked beautiful, and defied competition.''
``But that is not an example for us to follow,'' gasped
``Unfortunately, we can't afford to. You don't know what
a world of trouble I take in trying to rival the lilies in
their artistic simplicity.''
``You are really indecently vain of your appearance. A
good life is infinitely preferable to good looks.''
``You agree with me that the two are incompatible. I
always say beauty is only sin deep.''
Amabel began to realize that the battle is not always to
the strong-minded. With the immemorial resource of her sex,
she abandoned the frontal attack and laid stress on her
unassisted labours in parish work, her mental loneliness,
her discouragements---and at the right moment she produced
strawberries and cream. Reginald was obviously affected by
the latter, and when his preceptress suggested that he might
begin the strenuous life by helping her to supervise the
annual outing of the bucolic infants who composed the local
choir, his eyes shone with the dangerous enthusiasm of a
Reginald entered on the strenuous life alone, as far as
Amabel was concerned. The most virtuous women are not proof
against damp grass, and Amabel kept her bed with a cold.
Reginald called it a dispensation; it had been the dream of
his life to stage-manage a choir outing. With strategic
insight, he led his shy, bullet-headed charges to the
nearest woodland stream and allowed them to bathe; then he
seated himself on their discarded garments and discoursed on
their immediate future, which, he decreed, was to embrace a
Bacchanalian procession through the village. Forethought
had provided the occasion with a supply of tin whistles, but
the introduction of a he-goat from a neighbouring orchard
was a brilliant afterthought. Properly, Reginald explained,
there should have been an outfit of panther skins; as it
was, those who had spotted handkerchiefs were allowed to
wear them, which they did with thankfulness. Reginald
recognized the impossibility, in the time at his disposal,
of teaching his shivering neophytes a chant in honour of
Bacchus, so he started them off with a more familiar, if
less appropriate, temperance hymn. After all, he said, it
is the spirit of the thing that counts. Following the
etiquette of dramatic authors on first nights, he remained
discreetly in the background while the procession, with
extreme diffidence and the goat, wound its way lugubriously
towards the village. The singing had died down long before
the main street was reached, but the miserable wailing of
pipes brought the inhabitants to their doors. Reginald said
he had seen something like it in pictures; the villagers had
seen nothing like it in their lives, and remarked as much
Reginald's family never forgave him. They had no sense of
REGINALD ON WORRIES
I have (said Reginald) an aunt who worries. She's not
really an aunt---a sort of amateur one, and they aren't
really worries. She is a social success, and has no
domestic tragedies worth speaking of, so she adopts any
decorative sorrows that are going, myself included. In that
way she's the antithesis, or whatever you call it, to those
sweet, uncomplaining women one knows who have seen trouble,
and worn blinkers ever since. Of course, one just loves
them for it, but I must confess they make me uncomfy; they
remind one so of a duck that goes flapping about with forced
cheerfulness long after its head's been cut off. Ducks have
no repose. Now, my aunt has a shade of hair that suits her,
and a cook who quarrels with the other servants, which is
always a hopeful sign, and a conscience that's absentee for
about eleven months of the year, and only turns up at Lent
to annoy her husband's people, who are considerably Lower
than the angels, so to speak: with all these natural
advantages---she says her particular tint of bronze is a
natural advantage, and there can be no two opinions as to
the advantage---of course she has to send out for her
afflictions, like those restaurants where they haven't got a
licence. The system has this advantage, that you can fit
your unhappinesses in with your other engagements, whereas
real worries have a way of arriving at meal-times, and when
you're dressing, or other solemn moments. I knew a canary
once that had been trying for months and years to hatch out
a family, and every one looked upon it as a blameless
infatuation, like the sale of Delagoa Bay, which would be an
annual loss to the Press agencies if it ever came to pass;
and one day the bird really did bring it off, in the middle
of family prayers. I say the middle, but it was also the
end: you can't go on being thankful for daily bread when you
are wondering what on earth very new canaries expect to be
At present she's rather in a Balkan state of mind about
the treatment of the Jews in Roumania. Personally, I think
the Jews have estimable qualities; they're so kind to their
poor---and to our rich. I daresay in Roumania the cost of
living beyond one's income isn't so great. Over here the
trouble is that so many people who have money to throw about
seem to have such vague ideas where to throw it. That fund,
for instance, to relieve the victims of sudden
disasters---what is a sudden disaster? There's Marion
Mulciber, who _would_ think she could play bridge, just as
she would think she could ride down a hill on a bicycle; on
that occasion she went to a hospital, now shes gone into a
Sisterhood---lost all she had, you know, and gave the rest
to Heaven. Still, you can't call it a sudden calamity;
_that_ occurred when poor dear Marion was born. The doctors
said at the time that she couldn't live more than a
fortnight, and she's been trying ever since to see if she
could. Women are so opinionated.
And then there's the Education Question---not that I can
see that there's anything to worry about in that direction.
To my mind, education is an absurdly overrated affair. At
least, one never took it very seriously at school, where
everything was done to bring it prominently under one's
notice. Anything that is worth knowing one practically
teaches oneself, and the rest obtrudes itself sooner or
later. The reason one's elders know so comparatively little
is because they have to unlearn so much that they acquired
by way of education before we were born. Of course I'm a
believer in Nature-study; as I said to Lady Beauwhistle, if
you want a lesson in elaborate artificiality, just watch the
studied unconcern of a Persian cat entering a crowded salon,
and then go and practise it for a fortnight. The
Beauwhistles weren't born in the Purple, you know, but
they're getting there on the instalment system---so much
down, and the rest when you feel like it. They have kind
hearts, and they never forget birthdays. I forget what he
was, something in the City, where the patriotism comes from;
and she---oh, well, her frocks are built in Paris, but she
wears them with a strong English accent. So public-spirited
of her. I think she must have been very strictly brought
up, she's so desperately anxious to do the wrong thing
correctly. Not that it really matters nowadays, as I told
her: I know some perfectly virtuous people who are received
REGINALD ON HOUSE-PARTIES
The drawback is, one never really _knows_ one's hosts and
hostesses. One gets to know their fox-terriers and their
chrysanthemums, and whether the story about the go-cart can
be turned loose in the drawing-room, or must be told
privately to each member of the party, for fear of shocking
public opinion; but one's host and hostess are a sort of
human hinterland that one never has the time to explore.
There was a fellow I stayed with once in Warwickshire who
farmed his own land, but was otherwise quite steady. Should
never have suspected him of having a soul, yet not very long
afterwards he eloped with a lion-tamer's widow and set up as
a golf-instructor somewhere on the Persian Gulf; dreadfully
immoral of course, because he was only an indifferent
player, but still, it showed imagination. His wife was
really to be pitied, because he had been the only person in
the house who understood how to manage the cooks temper, and
now she has to put ``D.V.'' on her dinner invitations.
Still, that's better than a domestic scandal; a woman who
leaves her cook never wholly recovers her position in
I suppose the same thing holds good with the hosts; they
seldom have more than a superficial acquaintance with their
guests, and so often just when they do get to know you a bit
better, they leave off knowing you altogether. There was
_rather_ a breath of winter in the air when I left those
Dorsetshire people. You see, they had asked me down to
shoot, and I'm not particularly immense at that sort of
thing. There's such a deadly sameness about partridges;
when you've missed one, you've missed the lot---at least,
that's been my experience. And they tried to rag me in the
smoking-room about not being able to hit a bird at five
yards, a sort of bovine ragging that suggested cows buzzing
round a gadfly and thinking they were teasing it. So I got
up the next morning at early dawn---I know it was dawn,
because there were lark-noises in the sky, and the grass
looked as if it had been left out all night---and hunted up
the most conspicuous thing in the bird line that I could
find, and measured the distance, as nearly as it would let
me, and shot away all I knew. They said afterwards that it
was a tame bird; that's simply _silly_, because it was
awfully wild at the first few shots. Afterwards it quieted
down a bit, and when its legs had stopped waving farewells
to the landscape I got a gardener-boy to drag it into the
hall, where everybody must see it on their way to the
breakfast-room. I breakfasted upstairs myself. I gathered
afterwards that the meal was tinged with a very unchristian
spirit. I suppose it's unlucky to bring peacock's feathers
into a house; anyway, there was a blue-pencilly look in my
hostess's eye when I took my departure.
Some hostesses, of course, will forgive anything, even
unto pavonicide (is there such a word?), as long as one is
nice-looking and sufficiently unusual to counterbalance some
of the others; and there _are_ others---the girl, for
instance, who reads Meredith, and appears at meals with
unnatural punctuality in a frock that's made at home and
repented at leisure. She eventually finds her way to India
and gets married, and comes home to admire the Royal
Academy, and to imagine that an indifferent prawn curry is
for ever an effective substitute for all that we have been
taught to believe is luncheon. It's then that she is really
dangerous; but at her worst she is never quite so bad as the
woman who fires Exchange and Mart questions at you without
the least provocation. Imagine the other day, just when I
was doing my best to understand half the things I was
saying, being asked by one of those seekers after country
home truths how many fowls she could keep in a run ten feet
by six, or whatever it was! I told her whole crowds, as long
as she kept the door shut, and the idea didn't seem to have
struck her before; at least, she brooded over it for the
rest of dinner.
Of course, as I say, one never really _knows_ one's
ground, and one may make mistakes occasionally. But then
one's mistakes sometimes turn out assets in the long-run: if
we had never bungled away our American colonies we might
never have had the boy from the States to teach us how to
wear our hair and cut our clothes, and we must get our ideas
from somewhere, I suppose. Even the Hooligan was probably
invented in China centuries before we thought of him.
England must wake up, as the Duke of Devonshire said the
other day, wasn't it? Oh, well, it was some one else. Not
that I ever indulge in despair about the Future; there
always have been men who have gone about despairing of the
Future, and when the Future arrives it says nice, superior
things about their having acted according to their lights.
It is dreadful to think that other people's grandchildren
may one day rise up and call one amiable.
There are moments when one sympathizes with Herod.
REGINALD AT THE CARLTON
``A most variable climate,'' said the Duchess; ``and how
unfortunate that we should have had that very cold weather
at a time when coal was so dear! So distressing for the
``Some one has observed that Providence is always on the
side of the big dividends,'' remarked Reginald.
The Duchess ate an anchovy in a shocked manner; she was
sufficiently old-fashioned to dislike irreverence towards
Reginald had left the selection of a feeding-ground to her
womanly intuition, but he chose the wine himself, knowing
that womanly intuition stops short at claret. A woman will
cheerfully choose husbands for her less attractive friends,
or take sides in a political controversy without the least
knowledge of the issues involved---but no woman ever
cheerfully chose a claret.
``Hors d'<oe>uvres have always a pathetic interest for
me,'' said Reginald: ``they remind me of one's childhood
that one goes through, wondering what the next course is
going to be like---and during the rest of the menu one
wishes one had eaten more of the hors d'<oe>vres. Don't you
love watching the different ways people have of entering a
restaurant? There is the woman who races in as though her
whole scheme of life were held together by a one-pin
despotism which might abdicate its functions at any moment;
it's really a relief to see her reach her chair in safety.
Then there are the people who troop in with
an-unpleasant-duty-to-perform air, as if they were angels of
Death entering a plague city. You see that type of Briton
very much in hotels abroad. And nowadays there are always
the Johannes-bourgeois, who bring a Cape-to-Cairo atmosphere
with them---what may be called the Rand Manner, I suppose.''
``Talking about hotels abroad,'' said the Duchess, ``I am
preparing notes for a lecture at the Club on the educational
effects of modern travel, dealing chiefly with the moral
side of the question. I was talking to Lady Beauwhistle's
aunt the other day---she's just come back from Paris, you
know. Such a sweet woman---''
``And so silly. In these days of the overeducation of
women she's quite refreshing. They say some people went
through the siege of Paris without knowing that France and
Germany were at war; but the Beauwhistle aunt is credited
with having passed the whole winter in Paris under the
impression that the Humberts were a kind of bicycle....
Isn't there a bishop or somebody who believes we shall meet
all the animals we have known on earth in another world? How
frightfully embarrassing to meet a whole shoal of whitebait
you had last known at Prince's! I'm sure in my nervousness I
should talk of nothing but lemons. Still, I daresay they
would be quite as offended if one hadn't eaten them. I know
if I were served up at a cannibal feast I should be
dreadfully annoyed if any one found fault with me for not
being tender enough, or having been kept too long.''
``My idea about the lecture,'' resumed the Duchess
hurriedly, ``is to inquire whether promiscuous Continental
travel doesn't tend to weaken the moral fibre of the social
conscience. There are people one knows, quite nice people
when they are in England, who are so _different_ when they
are anywhere the other side of the Channel.''
``The people with what I call Tauchnitz morals,'' observed
Reginald. ``On the whole, I think they get the best of two
very desirable worlds. And, after all, they charge so much
for excess luggage on some of those foreign lines that it's
really an economy to leave one's reputation behind one
``A scandal, my dear Reginald, is as much to be avoided at
Monaco or any of those places as at Exeter, let us say.''
``Scandal, my dear Irene---I may call you Irene, mayn't
``I don't know that you have known me long enough for
``I've known you longer than your god-parents had when
they took the liberty of calling you that name. Scandal is
merely the compassionate allowance which the gay make to the
humdrum. Think how many blameless lives are brightened by
the blazing indiscretions of other people. Tell me, who is
the woman with the old lace at the table on our left? Oh,
that doesn't matter; it's quite the thing nowadays to stare
at people as if they were yearlings at Tattersall's.''
``Mrs. Spelvexit? Quite a charming woman; separated from
``Incompatibility of income?''
``Oh, nothing of that sort. By miles of frozen ocean, I
was going to say. He explores ice-floes and studies the
movements of herrings, and has written a most interesting
book on the home-life of the Esquimaux; but naturally he has
very little home-life of his own.''
``A husband who comes home with the Gulf Stream would be
rather a tied-up asset.''
``His wife is exceedingly sensible about it. She collects
postage-stamps. Such a resource. Those people with her are
the Whimples, very old acquaintances of mine; they're always
having trouble, poor things.'
``Trouble is not one of those fancies you can take up and
drop at any moment; it's like a grouse-moor or the
opium-habit---once you start it you've got to keep it up.''
``Their eldest son was such a disappointment to them; they
wanted him to be a linguist, and spent no end of money on
having him taught to speak---oh, dozens of languages!---and
then he became a Trappist monk. And the youngest, who was
intended for the American marriage market, has developed
political tendencies, and writes pamphlets about the housing
of the poor. Of course it's a most important question, and
I devote a good deal of time to it myself in the mornings;
but, as Laura Whimple says, it's as well to have an
establishment of one's own before agitating about other
people's. She feels it very keenly, but she always
maintains a cheerful appetite, which I think is so unselfish
``There are different ways of taking disappointment.
There was a girl I knew who nursed a wealthy uncle through a
long illness, borne by her with Christian fortitude, and
then he died and left his money to a swine-fever hospital.
She found she'd about cleared stock in fortitude by that
time, and now she gives drawing-room recitations. That's
what I call being vindictive.''
``Life is full of its disappointments,'' observed the
Duchess, ``and I suppose the art of being happy is to
disguise them as illusions. But that, my dear Reginald,
becomes more difficult as one grows older.''
``I think it's more generally practised than you imagine.
The young have aspirations that never come to pass, the old
have reminiscences of what never happened. It's only the
middle-aged who are really conscious of their
limitations---that is why one should be so patient with
them. But one never is.''
``After all,'' said the Duchess, ``the disillusions of
life may depend on our way of assessing it. In the minds of
those who come after us we may be remembered for qualities
and successes which we quite left out of the reckoning.''
``It's not always safe to depend on the commemorative
tendencies of those who come after us. There may have been
disillusionments in the lives of the medi<ae>val saints, but
they would scarcely have been better pleased if they could
have foreseen that their names would be associated nowadays
chiefly with racehorses and the cheaper clarets. And now,
if you can tear yourself away from the salted almonds, we'll
go and have coffee under the palms that are so necessary for
REGINALD ON BESETTING SINS
The Woman who Told the Truth
There was once (said Reginald) a woman who told the truth.
Not all at once, of course, but the habit grew upon her
gradually, like lichen on an apparently healthy tree. She
had no children---otherwise it might have been different.
It began with little things, for no particular reason except
that her life was a rather empty one, and it is so easy to
slip into the habit of telling the truth in little matters.
And then it became difficult to draw the line at more
important things, until at last she took to telling the
truth about her age; she said she was forty-two and five
months---by that time, you see, she was veracious even to
months. It may have been pleasing to the angels, but her
elder sister was not gratified. On the Woman's birthday,
instead of the opera-tickets which she had hoped for, her
sister gave her a view of Jerusalem from the Mount of
Olives, which is not quite the same thing. The revenge of
an elder sister may be long in coming, but, like a
South-Eastern express, it arrives in its own good time.
The friends of the Woman tried to dissuade her from
over-indulgence in the practice, but she said she was wedded
to the truth; whereupon it was remarked that it was scarcely
logical to be so much together in public. (No really
provident woman lunches regularly with her husband if she
wishes to burst upon him as a revelation at dinner. He must
have time to forget; an afternoon is not enough.) And after
a while her friends began to thin out in patches. Her
passion for the truth was not compatible with a large
visiting-list. For instance, she told Miriam Klopstock
_exactly_ how she looked at the Ilexes' ball. Certainly
Miriam had asked for her candid opinion, but the Woman
prayed in church every Sunday for peace in our time, and it
was not consistent.
It was unfortunate, every one agreed, that she had no
family; with a child or two in the house, there is an
unconscious check upon too free an indulgence in the truth.
Children are given us to discourage our better emotions.
That is why the stage, with all its efforts, can never be as
artificial as life; even in an Ibsen drama one must reveal
to the audience things that one would suppress before the
children or servants.
Fate may have ordained the truth-telling from the
commencement and should justly bear some of the blame; but
in having no children the Woman was guilty, at least, of
Little by little she felt she was becoming a slave to what
had once been merely an idle propensity; and one day she
knew. Every woman tells ninety per cent of the truth to her
dressmaker; the other ten per cent is the irreducible
minimum of deception beyond which no self-respecting client
trespasses. Madame Draga's establishment was a
meeting-ground for naked truths and overdressed fictions,
and it was here, the Woman felt, that she might make a final
effort to recall the artless mendacity of past days. Madame
herself was in an inspiring mood, with the air of a sphinx
who knew all things and preferred to forget most of them.
As a War Minister she might have been celebrated, but she
was content to be merely rich.
``If I take it in here, and---Miss Howard, one moment, if
you please---and there, and round like this---so---I really
think you will find it quite easy.''
The Woman hesitated; it seemed to require such a small
effort to simply acquiesce in Madame's views. But habit had
become too strong. ``I'm afraid,'' she faltered, ``it's
just the least little bit in the world too---''
And by that least little bit she measured the deeps and
eternities of her thraldom to fact. Madame was not best
pleased at being contradicted on a professional matter, and
when Madame lost her temper you usually found it afterwards
in the bill.
And at last the dreadful thing came, as the Woman had
foreseen all along that it must; it was one of those paltry
little truths with which she harried her waking hours. On a
raw Wednesday morning, in a few ill-chosen words, she told
the cook that she drank. She remembered the scene
afterwards as vividly as though it had been painted in her
mind by Abbey. The cook was a good cook, as cooks go; and
as cooks go she went.
Miriam Klopstock came to lunch the next day. Women and
elephants never forget an injury.
Reginald closed his eyes with the elaborate weariness of
one who has rather nice eyelashes and thinks it useless to
conceal the fact.
``One of these days,'' he said, ``I shall write a really
great drama. No one will understand the drift of it, but
every one wiII go back to their homes with a vague feeling
of dissatisfaction with their lives and surroundings. Then
they will put up new wall-papers and forget.''
``But how about those that have oak panelling all over the
house?'' said the Other.
``They can always put down new stair-carpets,'' pursued
Reginald, ``and, anyhow, I'm not responsible for the
audience having a happy ending. The play would be quite
sufficient strain on one's energies. I should get a bishop
to say it was immoral and beautiful---no dramatist has
thought of that before, and every one would come to condemn
the bishop, and they would stay on out of sheer nervousness.
After all, it requires a great deal of moral courage to
leave in a marked manner in the middle of the second act,
when your carriage isn't ordered till twelve. And it would
commence with wolves worrying something on a lonely
waste---you wouldn't see them, of course; but you would hear
them snarling and scrunching, and I should arrange to have a
wolfy fragrance suggested across the footlights. It would
look so well on the programmes, `Wolves in the first act, by
Jamrach.' And old Lady Whortleberry, who never misses a
first night, would scream. She's always been nervous since
she lost her first husband. He died quite abruptly while
watching a county cricket match; two and a half inches of
rain had fallen for seven runs, and it was supposed that the
excitement killed him. Anyhow, it gave her quite a shock;
it was the first husband she'd lost, you know, and now she
always screams if anything thrilling happens too soon after
dinner. And after the audience had heard the Whortleberry
scream the thing would be fairly launched.''
``And the plot?''
``The plot,'' said Reginald, ``would be one of those
little everyday tragedies that one sees going on all round
one. In my mind's eye there is the case of the
Mudge-Jervises, which in an unpretentious way has quite an
Enoch Arden intensity underlying it. They'd only been
married some eighteen months or so, and circumstances had
prevented their seeing much of each other. With him there
was always a foursome or something that had to be played and
replayed in different parts of the country, and she went in
for slumming quite as seriously as if it was a sport. With
her, I suppose, it was. She belonged to the Guild of the
Poor Dear Souls, and they hold the record for having nearly
reformed a washerwoman. No one has ever really reformed a
washerwoman, and that is why the competition is so keen.
You can rescue charwomen by fifties with a little tea and
personal magnetism, but with washerwomen it's different;
wages are too high. This particular laundress, who came
from Bermondsey or some such place, was really rather a
hopeful venture, and they thought at last that she might be
safely put in the window as a specimen of successful work.
So they had her paraded at a drawing-room ``At Home'' at
Agatha Camelford's; it was sheer bad luck that some liqueur
chocolates had been turned loose by mistake among the
refreshments---really liqueur chocolates, with very little
chocolate. And of course the old soul found them out, and
cornered the entire stock. It was like finding a
whelk-stall in a desert, as she afterwards partially
expressed herself. When the liqueurs began to take effect,
she started to give them imitations of farmyard animals as
they know them in Bermondsey. She began with a dancing
bear, and you know Agatha doesn't approve of dancing, except
at Buckingham Palace under proper supervision. And then she
got up on the piano and gave them an organ monkey; I gather
she went in for realism rather than a Maeterlinckian
treatment of the subject. Finally, she fell into the piano
and said she was a parrot in a cage, and for an impromptu
performance I believe she was very word-perfect; no one had
heard anything like it, except Baroness Boobelstein who has
attended sittings of the Austrian Reichsrath. Agatha is
trying the Rest-cure at Buxton.''
``But the tragedy?''
``Oh, the Mudge-Jervises. Well, they were getting along
quite happily, and their married life was one continuous
exchange of picture-postcards; and then one day they were
thrown together on some neutral ground where foursomes and
washerwomen overlapped, and discovered that they were
hopelessly divided on the Fiscal Question. They have
thought it best to separate, and she is to have the custody
of the Persian kittens for nine months in the year---they go
back to him for the winter, when she is abroad. There you
have the material for a tragedy drawn straight from
life---and the piece could be called `The Price They Paid
for Empire.' And of course one would have to work in studies
of the struggle of hereditary tendency against environment
and all that sort of thing. The woman's father could have
been an Envoy to some of the smaller German Courts; that's
where she'd get her passion for visiting the poor, in spite
of the most careful upbringing. _C'est le premier pa qui
compte_, as the cuckoo said when it swallowed its
foster-parent. That, I think, is quite clever.''
``And the wolves?''
``Oh, the wolves would be a sort of elusive undercurrent
in the background that would never be satisfactorily
explained. After all, life teems with things that have no
earthly reason. And whenever the characters could think of
nothing brilliant to say about marriage or the War Office,
they could open a window and listen to the howling of the
wolves. But that would be very seldom.''
REGINALD ON TARIFFS
I'm not going to discuss the Fiscal Question (said
Reginald); I wish to be original. At the same time, I think
one suffers more than one realizes from the system of free
imports. I should like, for instance, a really prohibitive
duty put upon the partner who declares on a weak red suit
and hopes for the best. Even a free outlet for compressed
verbiage doesn't balance matters. And I think there should
be a sort of bounty-fed export (is that the right
expression?) of the people who impress on you that you ought
to take life seriously. There are only two classes that
really can't help taking life seriously---schoolgirls of
thirteen and Hohenzollerns; they might be exempt. Albanians
come under another heading; they take life whenever they get
the opportunity. The one Albanian that I was ever on
speaking terms with was rather a decadent example. He was a
Christian and a grocer, and I don't fancy he had ever killed
anybody. I didn't like to question him on the subject---
that showed my delicacy. Mrs. Nicorax says I have no
delicacy; she hasn't forgiven me about the mice. You see,
when I was staying down there, a mouse used to cake-walk
about my room half the night, and none of their silly patent
traps seemed to take its fancy as a bijou residence, so I
determined to appeal to the better side of it---which with
mice is the inside. So I called it Percy, and put little
delicacies down near its hole every night, and that kept it
quiet while I read Max Nordau's _Degeneration_ and other
reproving literature, and went to sleep. And now she says
there is a whole colony of mice in that room.
That isn't where the indelicacy comes in. She went out
riding with me, which was entirely her own suggestion, and
as we were coming home through some meadows she made a quite
unnecessary attempt to see if her pony would jump a rather
messy sort of brook that was there. It wouldn't. It went
with her as far as the water's edge, and from that point
Mrs. Nicorax went on alone. Of course I had to fish her out
from the bank, and my riding-breeches are not cut with a
view to salmon-fishing---it's rather an art even to ride in
them. Her habit-skirt was one of those open questions that
need not be adhered to in emergencies, and on this occasion
it remained behind in some water-weeds. She wanted me to
fish about for that too, but I felt I had done enough
Pharaoh's daughter business for an October afternoon, and I
was beginning to want my tea. So I bundled her up on to her
pony, and gave her a lead towards home as fast as I cared to
go. What with the wet and the unusual responsibility, her
abridged costume did not stand the pace particularly well,
and she got quite querulous when I shouted back that I had
no pins with me---and no string. Some women expect so much
from a fellow. When we got into the drive she wanted to go
up the back way to the stables, but the ponies know they
always get sugar at the front door, and I never attempt to
hold a pulling pony; as for Mrs. Nicorax it took her all she
knew to keep a firm hand on her seceding garments, which, as
her maid remarked afterwards, were more _tout_ than
_ensemble_. Of course nearly the whole house-party were out
on the lawn watching the sunset---the only day this month
that it's occurred to the sun to show itself, as Mrs. Nic.
viciously observed---and I shall never forget the expression
on her husband's face as we pulled up. ``My darling, this is
too much!'' was his first spoken comment; taking into
consideration the state of her toilet, it was the most
brilliant thing I had ever heard him say, and I went into
the library to be alone and scream. Mrs. Nicorax says I
have no delicacy.
Talking about tariffs, the lift-boy, who reads extensively
between the landings, says it won't do to tax raw
commodities. What, exactly, is a raw commodity? Mrs. Van
Challaby says men are raw commodities till you marry them;
after they've struck Mrs. Van C., I can fancy they pretty
soon become a finished article. Certainly she's had a good
deal of experience to support her opinion. She lost one
husband in a railway accident, and mislaid another in the
Divorce Court, and the current one has just got himself
squeezed in a Beef Trust. ``What was he doing in a Beef
Trust, anyway?'' she asked tearfully, and I suggested that
perhaps he had an unhappy home. I only said it for the sake
of making conversation; which it did. Mrs. Van Challaby
said things about me which in her calmer moments she would
have hesitated to spell. It's a pity people can't discuss
fiscal matters without getting wild. However, she wrote
next day to ask if I could get her a Yorkshire terrier of
the size and shade that's being worn now, and that's as near
as a woman can be expected to get to owning herself in the
wrong. And she will tie a salmon-pink bow to its collar,
and call it ``Reggie,'' and take it with her
everywhere---like poor Miriam Klopstock, who _would_ take
her Chow with her to the bathroom, and while she was bathing
it was playing at she-bears with her garments. Miriam is
always late for breakfast, and she wasn't really missed till
the middle of lunch.
However, I'm not going any further into the Fiscal
Question. Only I should like to be protected from the
partner with a weak red tendency.
REGINALD'S CHRISTMAS REVEL
They say (said Reginald) that there's nothing sadder than
victory except defeat. If you've ever stayed with dull
people during what is alleged to be the festive season, you
can probably revise that saying. I shall never forget
putting in a Christmas at the Babwolds'. Mrs. Babwold is
some relation of my father's---a sort of
to-be-left-till-called-for cousin---and that was considered
sufficient reason for my having to accept her invitation at
about the sixth time of asking; though why the sins of the
father should be visited by the children---you won't find
any notepaper in that drawer; that's where I keep old menus
and first-night programmes.
Mrs. Babwold wears a rather solemn personality, and has
never been known to smile, even when saying disagreeable
things to her friends or making out the Stores list. She
takes her pleasures sadly. A state elephant at a Durbar
gives one a very similar impression. Her husband gardens in
all weathers. When a man goes out in the pouring rain to
brush caterpillars off rose trees, I generally imagine his
life indoors leaves something to be desired; anyway, it must
be very unsettling for the caterpillars.
Of course there were other people there. There was a
Major Somebody who had shot things in Lapland, or somewhere
of that sort; I forget what they were, but it wasn't for
want of reminding. We had them cold with every meal almost,
and he was continually giving us details of what they
measured from tip to tip, as though he thought we were going
to make them warm under-things for the winter. I used to
listen to him with a rapt attention that I thought rather
suited me, and then one day I quite modestly gave the
dimensions of an okapi I had shot in the Lincolnshire fens.
The Major turned a beautiful Tyrian scarlet (I remember
thinking at the time that I should like my bathroom hung in
that colour), and I think that at that moment he almost
found it in his heart to dislike me. Mrs. Babwold put on a
first-aid-to-the-injured expression, and asked him why he
didn't publish a book of his sporting reminiscences; it
would be so interesting. She didn't remember till
afterwards that he had given her two fat volumes on the
subject, with his portrait and autograph as a frontispiece
and an appendix on the habits of the Arctic mussel.
It was in the evening that we cast aside the cares and
distractions of the day and really lived. Cards were
thought to be too frivolous and empty a way of passing the
time, so most of them played what they called a book game.
You went out into the hall---to get an inspiration, I
suppose---then you came in again with a muffler tied round
your neck and looked silly, and the others were supposed to
guess that you were _Wee MacGreegor_. I held out against
the inanity as long as I decently could, but at last, in a
lapse of good-nature, I consented to masquerade as a book,
only I warned them that it would take some time to carry
out. They waited for the best part of forty minutes while I
went and played wineglass skittles with the page-boy in the
pantry; you play it with a champagne cork, you know, and the
one who knocks down the most glasses without breaking them
wins. I won, with four unbroken out of seven; I think
William suffered from over-anxiousness. They were rather
mad in the drawing-room at my not having come back, and they
weren't a bit pacified when I told them afterwards that I
was _At the end of the passage_.
``I never did like Kipling,'' was Mrs. Babwold's comment,
when the situation dawned upon her. ``I couldn't see
anything clever in _Earthworms out of Tuscany_---or is that
Of course these games are very educational, but,
personally, I prefer bridge.
On Christmas evening we were supposed to be specially
festive in the Old English fashion. The hall was horribly
draughty, but it seemed to be the proper place to revel in,
and it was decorated with Japanese fans and Chinese
lanterns, which gave it a very Old English effect. A young
lady with a confidential voice favoured us with a long
recitation about a little girl who died or did something
equally hackneyed, and then the Major gave us a graphic
account of a struggle he had with a wounded bear. I
privately wished that the bears would win sometimes on these
occasions; at least they wouldn't go vapouring about it
afterwards. Before we had time to recover our spirits, we
were indulged with some thought-reading by a young man whom
one knew instinctively had a good mother and an indifferent
tailor---the sort of young man who talks unflaggingly
through the thickest soup, and smooths his hair dubiously as
though he thought it might hit back. The thought-reading
was rather a success; he announced that the hostess was
thinking about poetry, and she admitted that her mind was
dwelling on one of Austin's odes. Which was near enough. I
fancy she had been really wondering whether a scrag-end of
mutton and some cold plum-pudding would do for the kitchen
dinner next day. As a crowning dissipation, they all sat
down to play progressive halma, with milk-chocolate for
prizes. I've been carefully brought up, and I don't like to
play games of skill for milk-chocolate, so I invented a
headache and retired from the scene. I had been preceded a
few minutes earlier by Miss Langshan-Smith, a rather
formidable lady, who always got up at some uncomfortable
hour in the morning, and gave you the impression that she
had been in communication with most of the European
Governments before breakfast. There was a paper pinned on
her door with a signed request that she might be called
particularly early on the morrow. Such an opportunity does
not come twice in a lifetime. I covered up everything
except the signature with another notice, to the effect that
before these words should meet the eye she would have ended
a misspent life, was sorry for the trouble she was giving,
and would like a military funeral. A few minutes later I
violently exploded an air-filled paper bag on the landing,
and gave a stage moan that could have been heard in the
cellars. Then I pursued my original intention and went to
bed. The noise those people made in forcing open the good
lady's door was positively indecorous; she resisted
gallantly, but I believe they searched her for bullets for
about a quarter of an hour, as if she had been a historic
I hate travelling on Boxing Day, but one must occasionally
do things that one dislikes.
The other day (confided Reginald), when I was killing time
in the bathroom and making bad resolutions for the New Year,
it occurred to qme that I would like to be a poet. The chief
qualification, I understand, is that you must be born.
Well, I hunted up my birth certificate, and found that I was
all right on that score, and then I got to work on a Hymn to
the New Year, which struck me as having possibilities. It
suggested extremely unusual things to absolutely unlikely
people, which I believe is the art of first-class catering
in any department. Quite the best verse in it went
something like this:
``Have you heard the groan of a gravelled grouse,
Or the snarl of a snaffled snail
(Husband or mother, like me, or spouse),
Have you lain a-creep in the darkened house
Where the wounded wombats wail?''
It was quite improbable that any one had, you know, and
that's where it stimulated the imagination and took people
out of their narrow, humdrum selves. No one has ever called
me narrow or humdrum, but even I felt worked up now and then
at the thought of that house with the stricken wombats in
it. It simply wasn't nice. But the editors were unanimous
in leaving it alone; they said the thing had been done
before and done worse, and that the market for that sort of
work was extremely limited.
It was just on the top of that discouragement that the
Duchess wanted me to write something in her
album---something Persian, you know, and just a little bit
decadent---and I thought a quatrain on an unwholesome egg
would meet the requirements of the case. So I started in
``Cackle, cackle, little hen,
How I wonder if and when
Once you laid the egg that I
Met, alas! too late. Amen.''
The Duchess objected to the Amen, which I thought gave an
air of forgiveness and _chose jug<e'>e_ to the whole thing;
also she said it wasn't Persian enough, as though I were
trying to sell her a kitten whose mother had married for
love rather than pedigree. So I recast it entirely, and the
new version read:
``The hen that laid three moons ago, who knows
In what Dead Yesterday her shades repose;
To some election turn thy waning span
And rain thy rottenness on fiscal foes.''
I thought there was enough suggestion of decay in that to
satisfy a jackal, and to me there was something infinitely
pathetic and appealing in the idea of the egg having a sort
of St. Luke's summer of commercial usefulness. But the
Duchess begged me to leave out any political allusions;
she's the president of a Women's Something or other, and she
said it might be taken as an endorsement of deplorable
methods. I never can remember which Party Irene discourages
with her support, but I shan't forget an occasion when I was
staying at her place and she gave me a pamphlet to leave at
the house of a doubtful voter, and some grapes and things
for a woman who was suffering from a chill on the top of a
patent medicine. I thought it much cleverer to give the
grapes to the former and the political literature to the
sick woman, and the Duchess was quite absurdly annoyed about
it afterwards. It seems the leaflet was addressed ``To
those about to wobble''---l wasn't responsible for the silly
title of the thing---and the woman never recovered; anyway,
the voter was completely won over by the grapes and jellies,
and I think that should have balanced matters. The Duchess
called it bribery, and said it might have compromised the
candidate she was supporting; he was expected to subscribe
to church funds and chapel funds, and football and cricket
clubs and regattas, and bazaars and beanfeasts and
bell-ringers, and poultry shows and ploughing matches, and
reading-rooms and choir outings, and shooting trophies and
testimonials, and anything of that sort; but bribery would
not have been tolerated.
I fancy I have perhaps more talent for electioneering than
for poetry, and I was really getting extended over this
quatrain business. The egg began to be unmanageable, and
the Duchess suggested something with a French literary ring
about it. I hunted back in my mind for the most familiar
French classic that I could take liberties with, and after a
little exercise of memory I turned out the following:
``Hast thou the pen that once the gardener had?
I have it not; and know, these pears are bad.
Oh, larger than the horses of the Prince
Are those the general drives in Kaikobad.''
Even that didn't altogether satisfy Irene; I fancy the
geography of it puzzled her. She probably thought Kaikobad
was an unfashionable German spa, where you'd meet
matrimonial bargain-hunters and emergency Servian kings. My
temper was beginning to slip its moorings by that time. I
look rather nice when I lose my temper. (I hoped you would
say I lose it very often. I mustn't monopolize the
``Of course, if you want something really Persian and
passionate, with red wine and bulbuls in it,'' I went on to
suggest; but she grabbed the book from me.
``Not for worlds. Nothing with red wine or passion in it.
Dear Agatha gave me the album, and she would be mortified to
I said I didn't believe Agatha had a quick, and we got
quite heated in arguing the matter. Finally, the Duchess
declared I shouldn't write anything nasty in her book, and I
said I shouldn't write anything in her nasty book, so there
wasn't a very wide point of difference between us. For the
rest of the afternoon I pretended to be sulking, but I was
really working back to that quatrain, like a fox-terrier
that's buried a deferred lunch in a private flower-bed.
When I got an opportunity I hunted up Agatha's autograph,
which had the front page all to itself, and, copying her
prim handwriting as well as I could, I inserted above it the
following Thibetan fragment:
``With Thee, oh, my Beloved, to do a d<a^>k
(a d<a^>k I believe is a sort of uncomfortable post-journey)
On the pack-saddle of a grunting yak,
With never room for chilling chaperon,
'Twere better than a Panhard in the Park.''
That Agatha would get on to a yak in company with a lover
even in the comparative seclusion of Thibet is unthinkable.
I very much doubt if she'd do it with her own husband in the
privacy of the Simplon tunnel. But poetry, as I've remarked
before, should always stimulate the imagination.
By the way, when you asked me the other day to dine with
you on the 14th, I said I was dining with the Duchess.
Well, I'm not. I'm dining with you.
THE INNOCENCE OF REGINALD
Reginald slid a carnation of the newest shade into the
buttonhole of his latest lounge coat, and surveyed the
result with approval. ``I am just in the mood,'' he
observed, ``to have my portrait painted by some one with an
unmistakable future. So comforting to go down to posterity
as `Youth with a Pink Carnation' in catalogue-company with
`Child with Bunch of Primroses,' and all that crowd.''
``Youth,'' said the Other, ``should suggest innocence.''
``But never act on the suggestion. I don't believe the
two ever really go together. People talk vaguely about the
innocence of a little child, but they take mighty good care
not to let it out of their sight for twenty minutes. The
watched pot never boils over. I knew a boy once who really
was innocent; his parents were in Society, but they never
gave him a moment's anxiety from his infancy. He believed
in company prospectuses, and in the purity of elections, and
in women marrying for love, and even in a system for winning
at roulette. He never quite lost his faith in it, but he
dropped more money than his employers could afford to lose.
When last I heard of him, he was believing in his innocence;
the jury weren't. All the same, I really am innocent just
now of something every one accuses me of having done, and so
far as I can see, their accusations will remain unfounded.''
``Rather an unexpected attitude for you.''
``I love people who do unexpected things. Didn't you
always adore the man who slew a lion in a pit on a snowy
day? But about this unfortunate innocence. Well, quite long
ago, when I'd been quarrelling with more people than usual,
you among the number---it must have been in November, I
never quarrel with you too near Christmas---I had an idea
that I'd like to write a book. It was to be a book of
personal reminiscences, and was to leave out nothing.''
``Exactly what the Duchess said when I mentioned it to
her. I was provoking and said nothing, and the next thing,
of course, was that every one heard that I'd written the
book and got it in the press. After that, I might have been
a goldfish in a glass bowl for all the privacy I got.
People attacked me about it in the most unexpected places,
and implored or commanded me to leave out things that I'd
forgotten had ever happened. I sat behind Miriam Klopstock
one night in the dress-circle at His Majestys, and she began
at once about the incident of the Chow dog in the bathroom,
which she insisted must be struck out. We had to argue it in
a disjointed fashion, because some of the people wanted to
listen to the play, and Miriam takes nine in voices. They
had to stop her playing in the `Macaws' Hockey Club because
you could hear what she thought when her shins got mixed up
in a scrimmage for half a mile on a still day. They are
called the Macaws because of their blue-and-yellow costumes,
but I understand there was nothing yellow about Miriam's
language. I agreed to make one alteration, as I pretended I
had got it a Spitz instead of a Chow, but beyond that I was
firm. She megaphoned back two minutes later, `You promised
you would never mention it; don't you ever keep a promise?'
When people had stopped glaring in our direction, I replied
that I'd as soon think of keeping white mice. I saw her
tearing little bits out of her programme for a minute or
two, and then she leaned back and snorted, `You're not the
boy I took you for,' as though she were an eagle arriving at
Olympus with the wrong Ganymede. That was her last audible
remark, but she went on tearing up her programme and
scattering the pieces around her, till one of her neighbours
asked with immense dignity whether she should send for a
wastepaper-basket. I didn't stay for the last act.
``Then there is Mrs.---oh, I never can remember her name;
she lives in a street that the cabmen have never heard of,
and is at home on Wednesdays. She frightened me horribly
once at a private view by saying mysteriously, `I oughtn't
to be here, you know; this is one of my days.' I thought she
meant that she was subject to periodical outbreaks and was
expecting an attack at any moment. So embarrassing if she
had suddenly taken it into her head that she was Cesare
Borgia or St. Elizabeth of Hungary. That sort of thing
would make one unpleasantly conspicuous even at a private
view. However, she merely meant to say that it was
Wednesday, which at the moment was incontrovertible. Well,
she's on quite a different tack to the Klopstock. She
doesn't visit anywhere very extensively, and, of course,
she's awfully keen for me to drag in an incident that
occurred at one of the Beauwhistle garden-parties, when she
says she accidentally hit the shins of a Serene Somebody or
other with a croquet mallet and that he swore at her in
German. As a matter of fact, he went on discoursing on the
Gordon-Bennett affair in French. (I never can remember if
it's a new submarine or a divorce. Of course, how stupid of
me!) To be disagreeably exact, I fancy she missed him by
about two inches---overanxiousness, probably---but she likes
to think she hit him. I've felt that way with a partridge
which I always imagine keeps on flying strong, out of false
pride, till it's the other side of the hedge. She said she
could tell me everything she was wearing on the occasion. I
said I didn't want my book to read like a laundry list, but
she explained that she didn't mean those sort of things.
``And there's the Chilworth boy, who can be charming as
long as he's content to be stupid and wear what he's told
to; but he gets the idea now and then that he'd like to be
epigrammatic, and the result is like watching a rook trying
to build a nest in a gale. Since he got wind of the book,
he's been persecuting me to work in something of his about
the Russians and the Yalu Peril, and is quite sulky because
I won't do it.
``Altogether, I think it would be rather a brilliant
inspiration if you were to suggest a fortnight in Paris.''
[End of REGINALD by H.H.Munro]