The Innocence of Reginald by Saki

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 someone with an unmistakable future.  So comforting to go down to posterity as ‘Youth with a Pink Carnation’ in catalogue—company 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 everyone 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 everyone heard that I’d written the book and got it in the press.  After that, I might have been a gold-fish 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 out 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 Cesar 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 a different tack to the Klopstock.  She doesn’t visit anywhere very extensively, and, of course, she’s awfully keen for me to drag in an incident that occurred at one of the Beauwhistle garden-parties, when she says she accidentally hit the shins of a Serene Somebody or other with a croquet mallet and that he swore at her in German.  As a matter of fact, he went on discoursing on the Gordon-Bennett affair in French.  (I never can remember if it’s a new submarine or a divorce.  Of course, how stupid of me!)  To be disagreeably exact, I fancy she missed him by about two inches—over-anxiousness, probably—but she likes to think she hit him.  I’ve felt that way with a partridge which I always imagine keeps on flying strong, out of false pride, till it’s the other side of the hedge.  She said she could tell me everything she was wearing on the occasion.  I said I didn’t want my book to read like a laundry list, but she explained that she didn’t mean those sort of things.”

“And there’s the Chilworth boy, who can be charming as long as he’s content to be stupid and wear what he’s told to; but he gets the idea now and then that he’d like to be epigrammatic, and the result is like watching a rook trying to build a nest in a gale.  Since he got wind of the book, he’s been persecuting me to work in something of his about the Russians and the Yalu Peril, and is quite sulky because I won’t do it.”

“Altogether, I think it would be rather a brilliant inspiration if you were to suggest a fortnight in Paris.”

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