REGINALD'S CHRISTMAS REVEL

They say (said Reginald) that there’s nothing sadder than

victory except defeat. If you’ve ever stayed with dull

people during what is alleged to be the festive season, you

can probably revise that saying. I shall never forget

putting in a Christmas at the Babwolds’. Mrs. Babwold is

some relation of my father’s—a sort of

to-be-left-till-called-for cousin—and that was considered

sufficient reason for my having to accept her invitation at

about the sixth time of asking; though why the sins of the

father should be visited by the children—you won’t find

any notepaper in that drawer; that’s where I keep old menus

and first-night programmes.

Mrs. Babwold wears a rather solemn personality, and has

never been known to smile, even when saying disagreeable

things to her friends or making out the Stores list. She

takes her pleasures sadly. A state elephant at a Durbar

gives one a very similar impression. Her husband gardens in

all weathers. When a man goes out in the pouring rain to

brush caterpillars off rose trees, I generally imagine his

life indoors leaves something to be desired; anyway, it must

be very unsettling for the caterpillars.

Of course there were other people there. There was a

Major Somebody who had shot things in Lapland, or somewhere

of that sort; I forget what they were, but it wasn’t for

want of reminding. We had them cold with every meal almost,

and he was continually giving us details of what they

measured from tip to tip, as though he thought we were going

to make them warm under-things for the winter. I used to

listen to him with a rapt attention that I thought rather

suited me, and then one day I quite modestly gave the

dimensions of an okapi I had shot in the Lincolnshire fens.

The Major turned a beautiful Tyrian scarlet (I remember

thinking at the time that I should like my bathroom hung in

that colour), and I think that at that moment he almost

found it in his heart to dislike me. Mrs. Babwold put on a

first-aid-to-the-injured expression, and asked him why he

didn’t publish a book of his sporting reminiscences; it

would be so interesting. She didn’t remember till

afterwards that he had given her two fat volumes on the

subject, with his portrait and autograph as a frontispiece

and an appendix on the habits of the Arctic mussel.

It was in the evening that we cast aside the cares and

distractions of the day and really lived. Cards were

thought to be too frivolous and empty a way of passing the

time, so most of them played what they called a book game.

You went out into the hall—to get an inspiration, I

suppose—then you came in again with a muffler tied round

your neck and looked silly, and the others were supposed to

guess that you were Wee MacGreegor. I held out against

the inanity as long as I decently could, but at last, in a

lapse of good-nature, I consented to masquerade as a book,

only I warned them that it would take some time to carry

out. They waited for the best part of forty minutes while I

went and played wineglass skittles with the page-boy in the

pantry; you play it with a champagne cork, you know, and the

one who knocks down the most glasses without breaking them

wins. I won, with four unbroken out of seven; I think

William suffered from over-anxiousness. They were rather

mad in the drawing-room at my not having come back, and they

weren’t a bit pacified when I told them afterwards that I

was At the end of the passage.

“I never did like Kipling,” was Mrs. Babwold’s comment,

when the situation dawned upon her. “I couldn’t see

anything clever in Earthworms out of Tuscany—or is that

by Darwin?”

Of course these games are very educational, but,

personally, I prefer bridge.

On Christmas evening we were supposed to be specially

festive in the Old English fashion. The hall was horribly

draughty, but it seemed to be the proper place to revel in,

and it was decorated with Japanese fans and Chinese

lanterns, which gave it a very Old English effect. A young

lady with a confidential voice favoured us with a long

recitation about a little girl who died or did something

equally hackneyed, and then the Major gave us a graphic

account of a struggle he had with a wounded bear. I

privately wished that the bears would win sometimes on these

occasions; at least they wouldn’t go vapouring about it

afterwards. Before we had time to recover our spirits, we

were indulged with some thought-reading by a young man whom

one knew instinctively had a good mother and an indifferent

tailor—the sort of young man who talks unflaggingly

through the thickest soup, and smooths his hair dubiously as

though he thought it might hit back. The thought-reading

was rather a success; he announced that the hostess was

thinking about poetry, and she admitted that her mind was

dwelling on one of Austin’s odes. Which was near enough. I

fancy she had been really wondering whether a scrag-end of

mutton and some cold plum-pudding would do for the kitchen

dinner next day. As a crowning dissipation, they all sat

down to play progressive halma, with milk-chocolate for

prizes. I’ve been carefully brought up, and I don’t like to

play games of skill for milk-chocolate, so I invented a

headache and retired from the scene. I had been preceded a

few minutes earlier by Miss Langshan-Smith, a rather

formidable lady, who always got up at some uncomfortable

hour in the morning, and gave you the impression that she

had been in communication with most of the European

Governments before breakfast. There was a paper pinned on

her door with a signed request that she might be called

particularly early on the morrow. Such an opportunity does

not come twice in a lifetime. I covered up everything

except the signature with another notice, to the effect that

before these words should meet the eye she would have ended

a misspent life, was sorry for the trouble she was giving,

and would like a military funeral. A few minutes later I

violently exploded an air-filled paper bag on the landing,

and gave a stage moan that could have been heard in the

cellars. Then I pursued my original intention and went to

bed. The noise those people made in forcing open the good

lady’s door was positively indecorous; she resisted

gallantly, but I believe they searched her for bullets for

about a quarter of an hour, as if she had been a historic

battlefield.

I hate travelling on Boxing Day, but one must occasionally

do things that one dislikes.