I did it—I should have known better. I persuaded
Reginald to go to the McKillops’ garden-party against his
We all make mistakes occasionally. “They know you’re
here, and they’ll think it so funny if you don’t go. And I
want particularly to be in with Mrs. McKillop just now.”
“I know, you want one of her smoke Persian kittens as a
prospective wife for Wumples—or a husband, is it?”
(Reginald has a magnificent scorn for details, other than
sartorial.) “And I am expected to undergo social martyrdom
to suit the connubial exigencies—”
“Reginald! It’s nothing of the kind, only I’m sure Mrs.
McKillop would be pleased if I brought you. Young men of
your brilliant attractions are rather at a premium at her
“Should be at a premium in heaven,” remarked Reginald
“There will be very few of you there, if that is what you
mean. But seriously, there won’t be any great strain upon
your powers of endurance; I promise you that you shan’t have
to play croquet, or talk to the Archdeacon’s wife, or do
anything that is likely to bring on physical prostration.
You can just wear your sweetest clothes and a moderately
amiable expression, and eat chocolate-creams with the
appetite of a blase parrot. Nothing more is demanded
Reginald shut his eyes. “There will be the exhaustingly
up-to-date young women who will ask me if I have seen San
Toy; a less progressive grade who will yearn to hear about
the Diamond jubilee—the historic event, not the horse.
With a little encouragement, they will inquire if I saw the
Allies march into Paris. Why are women so fond of raking up
the past? They’re as bad as tailors, who invariably remember
what you owe them for a suit long after you’ve ceased to
“I’ll order lunch for one o’clock; that will give you two
and a half hours to dress in.”
Reginald puckered his brow into a tortured frown, and I
knew that my point was gained. He was debating what tie
would go with which waistcoat.
Even then I had my misgivings.
During the drive to the McKillops’ Reginald was possessed
with a great peace, which was not wholly to be accounted for
by the fact that he had inveigled his feet into shoes a size
too small for them. I misgave more than ever, and having
once launched Reginald on to the McKillops’ lawn, I
established him near a seductive dish of marrons
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
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
She spoke in the dry, staccato tone of one who repeats a
French exercise, and I knew that as far as Millie McKillop
was concerned, Wumples was devoted to a lifelong celibacy.
“If you don’t mind,” I said hurriedly, “I think we’d
like our carriage ordered too,” and I made a forced march
in the direction of the croquet ground.
I found every one talking nervously and feverishly of the
weather and the war in South Africa, except Reginald, who
was reclining in a comfortable chair with the dreamy,
far-away look that a volcano might wear just after it had
desolated entire villages. The Archdeacon’s wife was
buttoning up her gloves with a concentrated deliberation
that was fearful to behold. I shall have to treble my
subscription to her Cheerful Sunday Evenings Fund before I
dare set foot in her house again.
At that particular moment the croquet players finished
their game, which had been going on without a symptom of
finality during the whole afternoon. Why, I ask, should it
have stopped precisely when a counter-attraction was so
necessary? Every one seemed to drift towards the area of
disturbance, of which the chairs of the Archdeacon’s wife
and Reginald formed the storm-centre. Conversation flagged,
and there settled upon the company that expectant hush that
precedes the dawn—when your neighbours don’t happen to
“What did the Caspian Sea?” asked Reginald, with
There were symptoms of a stampede. The Archdeacon’s wife
looked at me. Kipling or some one has described somewhere
the look a foundered camel gives when the caravan moves on
and leaves it to its fate. The peptonized reproach in the
good lady’s eyes brought the passage vividly to my mind.
I played my last card.
“Reginald, it’s getting late, and a sea-mist is coming
on.” I knew that the elaborate curl over his right eyebrow
was not guaranteed to survive a sea-mist.
“Never, never again, will I take you to a garden-party.
Never…. You behaved abominably…. What did the Caspian
A shade of genuine regret for misused opportunities passed
over Reginald’s face.
“After all,” he said, “I believe an apricot tie would
have gone better with the lilac waistcoat.”