REGINALD ON HOUSE-PARTIES

The drawback is, one never really knows one’s hosts and

hostesses. One gets to know their fox-terriers and their

chrysanthemums, and whether the story about the go-cart can

be turned loose in the drawing-room, or must be told

privately to each member of the party, for fear of shocking

public opinion; but one’s host and hostess are a sort of

human hinterland that one never has the time to explore.

There was a fellow I stayed with once in Warwickshire who

farmed his own land, but was otherwise quite steady. Should

never have suspected him of having a soul, yet not very long

afterwards he eloped with a lion-tamer’s widow and set up as

a golf-instructor somewhere on the Persian Gulf; dreadfully

immoral of course, because he was only an indifferent

player, but still, it showed imagination. His wife was

really to be pitied, because he had been the only person in

the house who understood how to manage the cooks temper, and

now she has to put “D.V.” on her dinner invitations.

Still, that’s better than a domestic scandal; a woman who

leaves her cook never wholly recovers her position in

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 some one else. Not

that I ever indulge in despair about the Future; there

always have been men who have gone about despairing of the

Future, and when the Future arrives it says nice, superior

things about their having acted according to their lights.

It is dreadful to think that other people’s grandchildren

may one day rise up and call one amiable.

There are moments when one sympathizes with Herod.