Reginald at the Carlton

‘A most variable climate,’ said the Duchess; ‘and how unfortunate that we should have had that very cold weather at a time when coal was so dear! So distressing for the poor.’

‘Some one has observed that Providence is always on the side of the big dividends,’ remarked Reginald.

The Duchess ate an anchovy in a shocked manner, she was sufficiently old-fashioned to dislike irreverence towards dividends.

Reginald had left the selection of a feeding-ground to her womanly intuition, but he chose the wine himself, knowing that womanly intuition stops short at claret. A woman will cheerfully choose husbands for her less attractive friends, or take sides in a political controversy without the least knowledge of the issues involved-but no woman ever cheerfully chose a claret.

‘Hors d’œuvres have always a pathetic interest for me,’ said Reginald: ‘they remind me of one’s childhood that one goes through, wondering what the next course is going to be like—and during the rest of the menu one wishes one had eaten more of the hors d’œuvres. Don’t you love watching the different ways people have of entering a restaurant? There is the woman who races in as though her whole scheme of life were held together by a one-pin despotism which might abdicate its functions at any moment; it’s really a relief to see her reach her chair in safety. Then there are the people who troop in with an-unpleasant- duty-to-perform air, as if they were angels of Death entering a plague city. You see that type of Briton very much in hotels abroad. And nowadays there are always the Johannes-bourgeois, who bring a Cape- to-Cairo atmosphere with them—what may be called the Rand Manner, I suppose.’

‘Talking about hotels abroad,’ said the Duchess, ‘I am preparing notes for a lecture at the Club on the educational effects of modern travel, dealing chiefly with the moral side of the question. I was talking to Lady Beauwhistle’s aunt the other day—she’s just come back from Paris, you know. Such a sweet woman—’

‘And so silly. In these days of the overeducation of women she’s quite refreshing. They say some people went through the siege of Paris without knowing that France and Germany were at war; but the Beauwhistle aunt is credited with having passed the whole winter in Paris under the impression that the Humberts were a kind of bicycle … Isn’t there a bishop or somebody who believes we shall meet all the animals we have known on earth in another world? How frightfully embarrassing to meet a whole shoal of whitebait you had last known at Prince’s! I’m sure in my nervousness I should talk of nothing but lemons. Still, I daresay they would be quite as offended if one hadn’t eaten them. I know if I were served up at a cannibal feast I should be dreadfully annoyed if any one found fault with me for not being tender enough, or having been kept too long.’

‘My idea about the lecture,’ resumed the Duchess hurriedly, ‘is to inquire whether promiscuous Continental travel doesn’t tend to weaken the moral fibre of the social conscience. There are people one knows, quite nice people when they are in England, who are so different when they are anywhere the other side of the Channel.’

‘The people with what I call Tauchnitz morals,’ observed Reginald. ‘On the whole, I think they get the best of two very desirable worlds. And, after all, they charge so much for excess luggage on some of those foreign lines that it’s really an economy to leave one’s reputation behind one occasionally.’

‘A scandal, my dear Reginald, is as much to be avoided at Monaco or any of those places as at Exeter, let us say.’

‘Scandal, my dear Irene—I may call you Irene, mayn’t I?’

‘I don’t know that you have known me long enough for that.’

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