The New Dimension

It may or may not be true that conscience makes people cowardly: but it was certainly sea-sickness that made Mrs. Miniver brave, so far as air travel was concerned. Though you can hardly claim to be brave, she told herself ashamedly as she fastened the safety-strap across her knees, if your inside feels like curds and whey and your mouth is as dry as pumice. Resigned was a more suitable word for her state of mind. She had always had an exaggerated dread of the air: the reassuring statistics in the newspapers made no difference to her whatever. She was ready to admit that flying was safer than driving a car or crossing a crowded street; but she was irrationally convinced that if she herself went up in an aeroplane it was perfectly certain to crash. If it be not safe for me, she said in effect, what care I how safe it be? And so far neither the enthusiasm of her air-minded contemporaries, nor the calm assumption by the younger generation that it was the only possible way to travel. had ever been able to tempt her into the sky.

But, as every human being knows (for that term automatically excludes anybody who is "a perfect sailor"), there are some sea journeys which can revolutionize all your feelings about death: and one of these is a crossing in bad weather from Kyle of Lochalsh to the Outer Isles. Mrs. Miniver had had the misfortune, ten days before, to coincide with a summer gale: and, crawling weakly ashore at Lochmaddy, she had sworn that nothing would induce her to cross the Little Minch again, unless the weather changed.

The weather did change, of course. The wind dropped suddenly. For more than a week the days were hot and still, the water lapped gently, the narrow sickles of sand between the headlands shone white in the sunlight and whiter under the moon. The smaller islands looked like water-lily leaves floating on a pool. The sea, all day, was blue; but at sunset it was stained and streaked with rose, crimson, and purple, as though some long-foundered ship with a cargo of wine had suddenly broken open in its depths. But the evening before she was due to leave, the wind rose as suddenly as it had fallen. It blew and rained hard all night, and although by next morning the sun was out again the sea was still heaving unattractively. Mrs. Miniver took one look at it and wired to Sollas Airport. It seemed to be the only thing to do; unless indeed she was prepared to spend the rest of her life in the Hebrides, nostalgically beholding in dreams the King's Road, Chelsea.

Peering out of the small rhomboidal window of the plane, she wished, first, that some other passengers would come, to give her confidence; and, second, that no other passengers would come, so that her poltroonery might be unobserved. For her face, she felt certain, must by now be noticeably green.

It seemed as though her second wish at any rate was going to be granted, for there were only two minutes to go and she was still alone. But at the last moment a ramshackle pony-cart came down the road at full canter, and an enormous farmer, followed by a young sheep-dog, clambered into the plane. He turned at the door, shouted something in Gaelic to the woman who drove the cart, and lowered himself gingerly into a seat which seemed far too frail to hold him. The dog, with vast unconcern, curled up on the floor and went to sleep.

"I thought I would be loossing the plane," observed the farmer pleasantly. "It wass my watch that wass fall-ty." He tugged out an old silver turnip and adjusted it with care.

"Do you often fly?" asked Mrs. Miniver. He looked so marvellously incongruous.

"Oh -- yess." He seemed mildly surprised at the question. "I have a brother in Barra. It iss very convenient." His matter-of-factness was reassuring; and she needed reassurance badly, for the plane was now lumbering forward over the rough grass of the landing-field.

"This is my first flight," she yelled above the noise of the engines. She felt rather desperately that she had to tell somebody. "As a matter of fact, I'm scared stiff." She smiled, to pretend she was exaggerating; but she knew that she wasn't. "I suppose," she added, "I shan't mind so much when it's actually up."

"But it iss up," said the farmer. And sure enough, looking out of the window, she saw that the incredible had happened. They were in the air. She could see the rocky headlands edged with a white frill of foam; the deserted crofts, the drystone dykes, the green ridge-and-furrow of the lazy-beds whose only harvest nowadays was the wild iris; and, as they gained height, the whole extraordinary pattern of North Uist, so netted and fretted with lochs that it looked like a piece of lace.

Some hours later, in the train between Glasgow and Stirling, she tried to sort out her impressions. How hopelessly people fail, she thought, when they try to describe flying to someone who has never done it. They leave out all the really important things. They tell you that it saves time and (taking everything into account) money; they tell you that it makes the earth look like a map, cows like ants, and cars like beetles. But they don't tell you that it is staggering, tremendous; that it is not merely an experience but a re-birth; that it gives you for the first time in your life the freedom of a new dimension (for although we know that there are three of them, we are forced to move mainly in two: so that our sense of up-and-downness is necessarily dim and undeveloped compared with our acute perception of the to-and-fro). They don't tell you that when you are up there it is the aeroplane that seems to be the safe solid core of things, while the earth is a distant planet upon which unfamiliar beings move among unthinkable dangers. They don't tell you, either, that you will be torn all the time between an immense arrogance and an immense humility, so that you are at one moment God and at the next a nameless sparrow. Nor do they tell you what it feels like to thread your way among the noble and exciting architecture of the clouds; nor how -- best of all -- you may suddenly find a rainbow arched across the tip of your wing, as though you had caught it in passing and carried it along with you.

If only they had told her these things, she would have flown long ago: for the promise of so much enchantment would have overcome fear.


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