Saki (H. H. Munro)
This etext was transcribed by David Price, email email@example.com,
from the 1911 Methuen & Co. edition. Proofing was by Margaret Price.
by Saki (H. H. Munro)
Reginald on Christmas Presents
Reginald on the Academy
Reginald at the Theatre
Reginald's Peace Poem
Reginald's Choir Treat
Reginald on Worries
Reginald on House-Parties
Reginald at the Carlton
Reginald on Besetting Sins
Reginald on Tariffs
Reginald's Christmas Revel
The Innocence of Reginald
I did it--I who 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 moderately
amiable expression, and eat chocolate-creams with the
appetite of a blase parrot. Nothing more is demanded of
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 wear
"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 glaces, 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
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 glaces 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 twenty-
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 tete-a-tete 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 carriage."
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 everyone 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
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?
Everyone 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 keep poultry.
"What did the Caspian Sea?" asked Reginald, with appalling
There were symptoms of a stampede. The Archdeacon's wife
looked at me. Kipling or someone has described somewhere the
look a foundered camel gives when the caravan moves on and
leaves it to its fate. The peptonised 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 anyone else wants, and the prevalent
ideas on the subject are not creditable to a civilised
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 aesthetic 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 Khayyam. 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 think.
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 creme 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
crystallised 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
But I draw the line at a "Prince of Wales" Prayer-book.
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 Country
"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 to-night."
"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 heaven
"With the necessary care and impatience, you may avoid that
"If you're going to be rude," said Reginald, "I shall dine
with you to-morrow 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 economise
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 kitten"
"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 and
"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 prodigal's 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 recognised."
"Someone 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
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 Good-wood,
and dying at the wrong moment of an unfashionable disease.
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
"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
mediaeval 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 patronising affection,
as if it were something that had grown up in their kitchen
"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 monopolised 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 civilisation 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 organise
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 conduct
"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 innocent."
"Now we are only nice. One must specialise 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 book."
"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 emotion -
'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 honey-suckle
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 aasvogel."
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 her."
"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 motoriety 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
"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 forecast.
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 Fecamp 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 Amabel.
"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 realise 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 recognised 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 freely.
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 everyone
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 fed on.
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 she's 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 over-rated 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 everywhere.
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 cook's 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 Society.
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
Dorset-shire 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 someone 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 sympathises 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 poor."
"Someone 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'oeuvres 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'oeuvres. 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 Johannesbourgeois, 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 over-education 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 anyone 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?"
"I don't know that you have known me long enough for that."
"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 her
"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 of her."
"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
"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 mediaeval 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 our
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
It was unfortunate, everyone 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
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 everyone
will 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 everyone 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
"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 realises 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 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
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
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 by Darwin?"
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 an historic battlefield.
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 me 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 anyone 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
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 with -
"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 jugee 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
"The hen that laid thee 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"--I 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 bellringers, 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
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 had.
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 monopolise the conversation.)
"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 away 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
the quick" -
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
wouldn'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
"With Thee, oh, my Beloved, to do a dak
(a dak I believe is a sort of uncomfortable post-journey)
On the pack-saddle of a grunting yak,
With never room for chilling chaperone,
'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 someone 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 everyone 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 everyone heard that I'd written the book and
got it in the press. After that, I might have been a gold-
fish 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 Majesty's, 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 nines 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 Cesar 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--over-
anxiousness, 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."
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