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´╗┐Title: Reginald
Author: Saki, 1870-1916
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Reginald" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Transcribed from the 1911 Methuen & Co. (third) edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org.  Proofing by Margaret and David Price.



REGINALD


BY
SAKI
(H. H. MUNRO)

THIRD EDITION

METHUEN & CO. LTD.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
LONDON

_First Published_ . . . _September 1904_

_Second Edition_ . . . _July 1905_

_Third Edition_ . . . _1911_

_These sketches originally appeared in the_ "_Westminster Gazette_," _to
the courtesy of the Proprietor of which the author is indebted for
permission to republish them_.

Contents:

Reginald

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's Drama

Reginald on Tariffs

Reginald's Christmas Revel

Reginald's Rubaiyat

The Innocence of Reginald



REGINALD


I did it--I who should have known better.  I persuaded Reginald to go to
the McKillops' garden-party against his will.

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 garden-parties."

"Should be at a premium in heaven," remarked Reginald complacently.

"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 you."

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 it."

"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 _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 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-two.)

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 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?  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 suddenness.

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 see?"

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 community.

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 easily
pleased.  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 Cousins."

"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 failure."

"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."

"For instance?"

"To die before being painted by Sargent is to go to heaven prematurely."

"With the necessary care and impatience, you may avoid that catastrophe."

"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 Toms."

"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 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 limits."

"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 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 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 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 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 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 upon."

"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 whatever?"

"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 veldt."

"Of course you know it's practically extinct in those regions?"

"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."

"Seraphic?"

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 sympathetically.

"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 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 lion."

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 convert.

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 humour.



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 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 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 dividends.

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 occasionally."

"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 husband"--

"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
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 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 discomfort."



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, 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 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 contributory negligence.

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 over-dressed 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'S DRAMA


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 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
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 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 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.



REGINALD'S RUBAIYAT


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 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 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 read--

   "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 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 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 Thibetan fragment:--

   "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."

"Reginald!"

"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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