It was Reggie Bruttle’s own idea for converting what had threatened to be an albino elephant into a beast of burden that should help him along the stony road of his finances. “The Limes,” which had come to him by inheritance without any accompanying provision for its upkeep, was one of those pretentious, unaccommodating mansions which none but a man of wealth could afford to live in, and which not one wealthy man in a hundred would choose on its merits. It might easily languish in the estate market for years, set round with noticeboards proclaiming it, in the eyes of a sceptical world, to be an eminently desirable residence.
Reggie’s scheme was to turn it into the headquarters of a prolonged country-house party, in session during the months from October till the end of March–a party consisting of young or youngish people of both sexes, too poor to be able to do much hunting or shooting on a serious scale, but keen on getting their fill of golf, bridge, dancing, and occasional theatre-going. No one was to be on the footing of a paying guest, but every one was to rank as a paying host; a committee would look after the catering and expenditure, and an informal sub-committee would make itself useful in helping forward the amusement side of the scheme.
As it was only an experiment, there was to be a general agreement on the part of those involved in it to be as lenient and mutually helpful to one another as possible. Already a promising nucleus, including one or two young married couples, had been got together, and the thing seemed to be fairly launched.
“With good management and a little unobtrusive hard work, I think the thing ought to be a success,” said Reggie, and Reggie was one of those people who are painstaking first and optimistic afterwards.
“There is one rock on which you will unfailingly come to grief, manage you never so wisely,” said Major Dagberry, cheerfully; “the women will quarrel. Mind you,” continued this prophet of disaster, “I don’t say that some of the men won’t quarrel too, probably they will; but the women are bound to. You can’t prevent it; it’s in the nature of the sex. The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world, in a volcanic sense. A woman will endure discomforts, and make sacrifices, and go without things to an heroic extent, but the one luxury she will not go without is her quarrels. No matter where she may be, or how transient her appearance on a scene, she will instal her feminine feuds as assuredly as a Frenchman would concoct soup in the waste of the Arctic regions. At the commencement of a sea voyage, before the male traveller knows half a dozen of his fellow passengers by sight, the average woman will have started a couple of enmities, and laid in material for one or two more–provided, of course, that there are sufficient women aboard to permit quarrelling in the plural. If there’s no one else she will quarrel with the stewardess. This experiment of yours is to run for six months; in less than five weeks there will be war to the knife declaring itself in half a dozen different directions.”
“Oh, come, there are only eight women in the party; they won’t pick quarrels quite so soon as that,” protested Reggie.
“They won’t all originate quarrels, perhaps,” conceded the Major, “but they will all take sides, and just as Christmas is upon you, with its conventions of peace and good will, you will find yourself in for a glacial epoch of cold, unforgiving hostility, with an occasional Etna flare of open warfare. You can’t help it, old boy; but, at any rate, you can’t say you were not warned.”