Left and Right

The conversation at dinner had been so heated that by the end of it Mrs. Miniver had developed mental, moral, and physical indigestion. Teresa Frant, usually a brilliant mixer of unlikely human ingredients, had experimented for once a little too boldly. Or perhaps (for one never knew with Teresa) she had done it out of mischief. She had never had any use for her rich diehard sister-in-law Agnes Lingfield; but if she really wanted to bait her she could have chosen a more effective, because less far-fetched, opponent than little Neish. For in addition to the personal antipathy which had struck almost visible sparks from their finger-tips at the moment of introduction, these two people were so irrevocably separated by race, class, age, sex, religion, politics, and cast of mind that it seemed absurd to classify them both as human beings. The Zoo authorities had clearly put one or the other of them into the wrong cage. Therefore the argument which had sprung up between them during dinner had ended by being not so much a duel as a brawl: and while duels with food are both entertaining and eupeptic, brawls are neither.

It began by Lady Lingfield turning to Neish and saying through impalpable lorgnettes, "I hear you're one of these Layba people: I've always wondered what it feels like to be a Socialist." To which Neish replied with savage dryness: "Mebbe ye'd better j'st try it some time and see?" Oh dear, oh dear, thought Mrs. Miniver; from that moment on she resigned herself to a headache, and got it. Silly of Teresa. She herself, if Teresa had asked her to, could have battled with Agnes far more effectively, because from a closer range. But between a woman who thought that for her kitchenmaid to use face-powder was the beginning of Bolshevism, and a man who believed that the 30-mile speed limit was the thin end of the Totalitarian wedge, there could be no useful interchange of ideas.

Besides, Mrs. Miniver was beginning to feel more than a little weary of exchanging ideas (especially political ones) and of hearing other people exchange theirs. It's all very well, she reflected, when the ideas have had time to flower, or at least to bud, so that we can pick them judiciously, present them with a bow, and watch them unfold in the warmth of each other's understanding: but there is far too much nowadays of pulling up the wretched little things just to see how they are growing. Half the verbal sprigs we hand each other are nothing but up-ended rootlets, earthy and immature: left longer in the ground they might have come to something, but once they are exposed we seldom manage to replant them. It is largely the fault, no doubt, of the times we live in. Things happen too quickly, crisis follows crisis, the soil of our minds is perpetually disturbed. Each of us, to relieve his feelings, broadcasts his own running commentary on the preposterous and bewildering events of the hour: and this, nowadays. is what passes for conversation. For once in a way Mrs. Miniver felt glad when her hostess, with a scythe-like sweep of the eye, mowed down the women and carried them off (unprotesting Sabines) to the drawing-room. Agnes Lingfield, her very shoulder-blades expressing a sense of outrage, preceded the others up the stairs and retired at once, in rather marked silence, to powder her nose.

"Teresa, you are very naughty. How could you?"

"Put Neish next to Agnes? My dear, she's a joke woman; cross between a Wallis Mills and a Helen Hokinson. She's got fatty degeneration of the soul. Do her a lot of good to be shaken up."

"Up to a point, yes. But not quite so violently as that. It's probably made her think that everybody who is even faintly progressive is like Neish. And it's certainly made him think that everybody who doesn't belong to the extreme Left is like Agnes. I shall have to spend the rest of the evening trying to convince him that they aren't."

"Do, darling," said Teresa impenitently. "That'll be just your line. As a matter of fact," she added, "I very much doubt whether people like Neish and Agnes ever think at all. They just feel."

"Oh, no," said Mrs. Miniver. "They do both, I'm certain. But the trouble is, they keep the two processes entirely separate. They've never learnt to think with their hearts or feel with their minds."

"That sounds grand," said Teresa ironically (they were old friends). "Does it mean anything, or were you just trying it out to see what it sounded like?"

"It either means nothing at all," said Mrs. Miniver, "or else it's the discovery of the century. I'll think it over and let you know."

Agnes Lingfield came back into the room, her face more nearly matt but her eyes still gleaming.

"Well, Teresa. I must say, your Left-wing friends . . ."

Oh, Lord, thought Mrs. Miniver, we're off again; and, anyway, I'm sick and tired of being offered nothing but that same old choice. Left wing . . . Right wing . . . it's so limited; why doesn't it ever occur to any of them that what one is really longing for is the wishbone?


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