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The Feast Of Nemesis
"IT'S a good thing that Saint Valentine's Day has dropped out of vogue," said Mrs.
Thackenbury; "what with Christmas and New Year and Easter, not to speak of birthdays,
there are quite enough remembrance days as it is. I tried to save myself trouble at
Christmas by just sending flowers to all my friends, but it wouldn't work; Gertrude has
eleven hot-houses and about thirty gardeners, so it would have been ridiculous to send
flowers to her, and Milly has just started a florist's shop, so it was equally out of the
question there. The stress of having to decide in a hurry what to give to Gertrude and
Milly just when I thought I'd got the whole question nicely off my mind completely
ruined my Christmas, and then the awful monotony of the letters of thanks: 'Thank you so
much for your lovely flowers. It was so good of you to think of me.' Of course in the
majority of cases I hadn't thought about the recipients at all; their names were down in
my list of 'people who must not be left out.' If I trusted to remembering them there would
be some awful sins of omission."
"The trouble is," said Clovis to his aunt, "all these days of intrusive remembrance harp so
persistently on one aspect of human nature and entirely ignore the other; that is why they
become so perfunctory and artificial. At Christmas and New Year you are emboldened
and encouraged by convention to send gushing messages of optimistic goodwill and
servile affection to people whom you would scarcely ask to lunch unless some one else
had failed you at the last moment; if you are supping at a restaurant on New Year's Eve
you are permitted and expected to join hands and sing 'For Auld Lang Syne' with
strangers whom you have never seen before and never want to see again. But no licence
is allowed in the opposite direction."
"Opposite direction; what opposite direction?" queried Mrs. Thackenbury.
"There is no outlet for demonstrating your feelings towards people whom you simply
loathe. That is really the crying need of our modern civilisation. Just think how jolly it
would be if a recognised day were set apart for the paying off of old scores and grudges,
a day when one could lay oneself out to be gracefully vindictive to a carefully treasured
list of 'people who must not be let off.' I remember when I was at a private school we had
one day, the last Monday of the term I think it was, consecrated to the settlement of feuds
and grudges; of course we did not appreciate it as much as it deserved, because, after all,
any day of the term could be used for that purpose. Still, if one had chastised a smaller
boy for being cheeky weeks before, one was always permitted on that day to recall the
episode to his memory by chastising him again. That is what the French call
reconstructing the crime."
"I should call it reconstructing the punishment," said Mrs. Thackenbury; "and, anyhow, I
don't see how you could introduce a system of primitive schoolboy vengeance into
civilised adult life. We haven't outgrown our passions, but we are supposed to have
learned how to keep them within strictly decorous limits."