REGINALD

I did it—I 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 a 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 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

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 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

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.”