The Innocence of Reginald

Reginald slid a carnation of the newest shade into the buttonhole of his latest lounge coat, and surveyed the result with approval.‘I am just in the mood,’ he observed, ‘to have my portrait painted by some one with an unmistakable future. So comforting to go down to posterity as “Youth with a Pink Carnation” in cataloguecompany with “Child with Bunch of Primroses,” and all that crowd.’

‘Youth,’ said the Other, ‘should suggest innocence.’

‘But never act on the suggestion. I don’t believe the two ever really go together. People talk vaguely about the innocence of a little child, but they take mighty good care not to let it out of their sight for twenty minutes. The watched pot never boils over. I knew a boy once who really was innocent; his parents were in Society, but they never gave him a moment’s anxiety from his infancy. He believed in company prospectuses, and in the purity of elections, and in women marrying for love, and even in a system for winning at roulette. He never quite lost his faith in it, but he dropped more money than his employers could afford to lose. When last I heard of him, he was believing in his innocence; the jury weren’t. All the same, I really am innocent just now of something every one accuses me of having done, and so far as I can see, their accusations will remain unfounded.’

‘Rather an unexpected attitude for you.’

‘I love people who do unexpected things. Didn’t you always adore the man who slew a lion in a pit on a snowy day? But about this unfortunate innocence. Well, quite long ago, when I’d been quarrelling with more people than usual, you among the number-it must have been in November, I never quarrel with you too near Christmas-I had an idea that I’d like to write a book. It was to be a book of personal reminiscences, and was to leave out nothing.’


‘Exactly what the Duchess said when I mentioned it to her. I was provoking and said nothing, and the next thing, of course, was that every one heard that I’d written the book and got it in the press. After that, I might have been goldfish in a glass bowl for all the privacy I got. People attacked me about it in the most unexpected places, and implored or commanded me to leave out things that I’d forgotten had ever happened. I sat behind Miriam Klopstock one night in the dress-circle at His Majesty’s, and she began at once about the incident of the Chow dog in the bathroom, which she insisted must be struck out. We had to argue it in a disjointed fashion, because some of the people wanted to listen to the play, and Miriam takes nines in voices. They had to stop her playing in the “Macaws” Hockey Club because you could hear what she thought when her shins got mixed up in a scrimmage for half a mile on a still day. They are called the Macaws because of their blue-and-yellow costumes, but I understand there was nothing yellow about Miriam’s language. I agreed to make one alteration, as I pretended I had got it a Spitz instead of a Chow, but beyond that I was firm. She megaphoned back two minutes later, “You promised you would never mention it; don’t you ever keep a promise?” When people had stopped glaring in our direction, I replied that I’d as soon think of keeping white mice. I saw her tearing little bits of her programme for a minute or two, and then she leaned back and snorted, “You’re not the boy I took you for,” as though she were an eagle arriving at Olympus with the wrong Ganymede. That was her last audible remark, but she went on tearing up her programme and scattering the pieces around her, till one of her neighbours asked with immense dignity whether she should send for a wastepaper-basket. I didn’t stay for the last act.

‘Then there is Mrs-oh, I never can remember her name; she lives in a street that the cabmen have never heard of, and is at home on Wednesdays. She frightened me horribly once at a private view by saying mysteriously, “I oughtn’t to be here, you know; this is one of my days.” I thought she meant that she was subject to periodical outbreaks and was expecting an attack at any moment. So embarrassing if she had suddenly taken it into her head that she was Cesare Borgia or St Elizabeth of Hungary. That sort of thing would make one unpleasantly conspicuous even at a private view. However, she merely meant to say that it was Wednesday, which at the moment was incontrovertible. Well, she’s on quite different

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