The crying need of our modern civilisation

From The Feast of Nemesis, in Saki’s Beasts and Super-Beasts:

“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.”

“Of course the thing would have to be done furtively and politely,” said Clovis; “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,’ and you send them a calendar, and daily for six days after Christmas the male Webley asks the female Webley if she has remembered to thank you for the calendar you sent them.  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?’  Then you’d get up awfully early on the allotted day and climb over into their garden and dig for truffles on their tennis court with a good gardening fork, choosing, of course, that part of the court 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.”

“I shouldn’t,” said Mrs. Thackenbury, though her air of protest sounded a bit forced; “I should feel rather a worm for doing such a thing.”

“You exaggerate the power of upheaval which a worm would be able to bring into play in the limited time available,” said Clovis; “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 a badger in a hurry.”

“They might guess I had done it,” said Mrs. Thackenbury.

“Of course they would,” said Clovis; “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.

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