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.”

“Some one has observed that Providence is always on the

side of the big dividends,” remarked Reginald.

The Duchess ate an anchovy in a shocked manner; she was

sufficiently old-fashioned to dislike irreverence towards

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’oevres. Don’t you

love watching the different ways people have of entering a

restaurant? There is the woman who races in as though her

whole scheme of life were held together by a one-pin

despotism which might abdicate its functions at any moment;

it’s really a relief to see her reach her chair in safety.

Then there are the people who troop in with

an-unpleasant-duty-to-perform air, as if they were angels of

Death entering a plague city. You see that type of Briton

very much in hotels abroad. And nowadays there are always

the Johannes-bourgeois, who bring a Cape-to-Cairo atmosphere

with them—what may be called the Rand Manner, I suppose.”

“Talking about hotels abroad,” said the Duchess, “I am

preparing notes for a lecture at the Club on the educational

effects of modern travel, dealing chiefly with the moral

side of the question. I was talking to Lady Beauwhistle’s

aunt the other day—she’s just come back from Paris, you

know. Such a sweet woman—”

“And so silly. In these days of the overeducation of

women she’s quite refreshing. They say some people went

through the siege of Paris without knowing that France and

Germany were at war; but the Beauwhistle aunt is credited

with having passed the whole winter in Paris under the

impression that the Humberts were a kind of bicycle….

Isn’t there a bishop or somebody who believes we shall meet

all the animals we have known on earth in another world? How

frightfully embarrassing to meet a whole shoal of whitebait

you had last known at Prince’s! I’m sure in my nervousness I

should talk of nothing but lemons. Still, I daresay they

would be quite as offended if one hadn’t eaten them. I know

if I were served up at a cannibal feast I should be

dreadfully annoyed if any one found fault with me for not

being tender enough, or having been kept too long.”

“My idea about the lecture,” resumed the Duchess

hurriedly, “is to inquire whether promiscuous Continental

travel doesn’t tend to weaken the moral fibre of the social

conscience. There are people one knows, quite nice people

when they are in England, who are so different when they

are anywhere the other side of the Channel.”

“The people with what I call Tauchnitz morals,” observed

Reginald. “On the whole, I think they get the best of two

very desirable worlds. And, after all, they charge so much

for excess luggage on some of those foreign lines that it’s

really an economy to leave one’s reputation behind one

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.”