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 realize 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

recognized 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.