The Feast of Nemesis

By Saki

Mrs. Thackenbury
It’s a good thing Saint Valentine’s Day has dropped out of vogue with my peers. What with Christmas and New Year and Easter, not to speak of birthdays, there are quite enough remembrance days now. 
Me
How sad.
Mrs. Thackenbury
I tried to save myself trouble at Christmas by just sending flowers to all my friends, but it wouldn’t work, dear Clovis. 
Me
I recall you saying, Auntie, that Gertrude has eleven hot-houses and about thirty gardeners, so it would have been ridiculous to send flowers to her.
Mrs. Thackenbury
Certainly, and Milly has just started a florist’s shop, so that, too, was out. The stress of having to decide in a hurry what to give to Gertrude and Milly just got to me, it completely ruined my Christmas, and then the awful monotony of the letters of thanks.
Me
The trouble is, all these days of intrusive remembrance harp so persistently on one aspect of human nature and entirely ignore the other.
Mrs. Thackenbury
That may be the trouble. But I had not analyzed the reasons for my unhappiness so precisely.
Me
At New Year we are emboldened and encouraged to send gushing messages of optimistic goodwill and servile affection to people whom we would scarcely ask to lunch. If you are at a restaurant on New Year’s Eve you are permitted and expected to join hands and sing ‘For Auld Lang Syne’ with strangers you never want to see again. 
Mrs. Thackenbury
Yes, and 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.
Me
We all have our carefully treasured list of ‘people who must not be let off.’ I remember when I was at a private school, the last Monday of the term was consecrated to the settlement of feuds and grudges; of course in those years any day would do.  Still, if one had chastised a smaller boy for being cheeky weeks before, one was always permitted to recall it to him. That is, by reconstructing the crime.
Mrs. Thackenbury
I should call it reconstructing the punishment, 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.
Me
Of course the thing would have to be done furtively and politely. The charm of it would be that it would never be perfunctory like the other thing.  Now, for instance, you say to yourself: ‘I must show the Webleys some attention at Christmas, they were kind to dear Bertie at Bournemouth.’  
Mrs. Thackenbury
Painful illustration, Clovis, with your mention of those foul Webleys, but apt.
Me
Well, transplant that idea to the other and more human side of your nature, and say to yourself: ‘Next Thursday is Nemesis Day; what on earth can I do to those odious people next door who made such an absurd fuss when Ping Yang bit their youngest child?’
Mrs. Thackenbury
So, then what?
Me
  Then you’d get up awfully early on the allotted day and climb over into their garden and dig for truffles on their grass tennis court with a good gardening fork, choosing, of course, that spot that was screened from observation by the laurel bushes.  You wouldn’t find any truffles but you would find a great peace, such as no amount of present-giving could ever bestow.
Mrs. Thackenbury
No. I should feel rather a worm for doing such a thing.
Me
You exaggerate the power of upheaval which a worm would be able to bring into play in the limited time available. If you put in a strenuous ten minutes with a really useful fork, the result ought to suggest the operations of an unusually masterful mole or badger.
Mrs. Thackenbury
They might guess I had done it.
Me
Of course they would! That would be half the satisfaction of the thing, just as you like people at Christmas to know what presents or cards you’ve sent them.  
Mrs. Thackenbury
The thing would be much easier to manage, of course, when you were on outwardly friendly terms.
Me
True. That greedy little Agnes Blaik, for instance, who thinks of nothing but her food; it would be quite simple to ask her to a picnic in some wild woodland spot and lose her just before lunch; and when you found her again every morsel of food could have been eaten up.
Mrs. Thackenbury
It would require no ordinary human strategy to lose Agnes Blaik when luncheon was imminent: in fact, I don’t believe it could be done.
Me
Then have all the other guests, people whom you dislike, and lose the luncheon.  It could have been sent by accident in the wrong direction.
Mrs. Thackenbury
It would be a ghastly picnic.
Me
For them, but not for you. You would have had an early lunch beforehand, and could improve matters by detailing the items of the coming banquet—the lobster Newburg and the egg mayonnaise, and the chafing-dish curry.  
Mrs. Thackenbury
I would never give her lobster.
Me
In any event, Agnes Blaik would be delirious long before you got to detailing the list of wines, and during the endless wait, you could induce them to play silly games, such as that idiotic one of ‘the dinner-party,’ in which every one has to choose the name of a dish and do something futile when it is mentioned. They would probably burst into tears when their dish was named.  It would be a heavenly picnic!
Mrs. Thackenbury
I was making a mental list of the people I would like to invite to the picnic.  And that odious young man, Waldo Plubley, the hypochondriac—have you thought of anything that one could do to him?
Me
If there was anything like a general observance of the festival, Waldo would be in such demand you would have to claim him weeks beforehand. But even then, if there were an east wind blowing or a cloud, he might be too careful of his precious self to come out.
Mrs. Thackenbury
  It would be rather jolly if you could lure him into a hammock in the orchard, and drop a water balloon on him!
Me
Or put him near the spot where there is a wasps’ nest every summer.  A comfortable hammock on a warm afternoon would appeal to his indolent tastes, and then, when he was getting drowsy, a lighted fusee thrown into the nest would bring the wasps out in a mass, and they would soon find a ‘home away from home’ on Waldo’s fat body.  It takes some doing to get out of a hammock in a hurry.
Mrs. Thackenbury
But they might sting him to death!
Me
Not if you didn’t want to go as far as that, you could have some wet straw ready, and set it alight under the hammock at the same time that the fusee was thrown into the nest. The smoke would keep all but the most militant of the wasps just outside the stinging line, and Waldo would escape serious damage, and could be eventually restored to his mother, swollen in places, but still perfectly recognisable.
Mrs. Thackenbury
His mother would be my enemy for life.
Me
That would be one greeting less to exchange at Christmas.

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