“Very stupid of you, mother,” Jim said, trying to pretend he wasn’t irritated by being interrupted. “They’re every bit as good as men.”
“Fancy being operated on by a woman surgeon. I certainly shouldn’t risk it.”
“You wouldn’t risk it ... you wouldn’t trust them. You’re so desperately personal, mother. You think that contributes to a discussion. All it does contribute to is your hearers’ knowledge of your limitations. It’s uneducated, the way you discuss.”
He smiled at her pleasantly, taking the sting out of his words, turning them into a joke, and she smiled too, to show Neville she didn’t mind, didn’t take it seriously. Jim might hurt her, but if he did no one should know but Jim himself. She knew that at times she irritated even his good temper by being uneducated and so on, so that he scolded her, but he scolded her kindly, not venomously, as Nan did.
“Well, I’ve certainly no right to be uneducated,” she said, “and I can’t say I’m ever called so, except by my children.... Do you remember the discussions father and I used to have, half through the night?”
Jim and Neville did remember and thought “Poor father,” and were silent.
“I should think,” said Mrs. Hilary, “there was very little we didn’t discuss. Politics, books, trades unions, class divisions, moral questions, votes for women, divorce ... we thrashed everything out. We both thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Neville said “I remember.” Familiar echoes came back to her out of the agitated past.
“Those lazy men, all they want is to get a lot of money for doing no work.”
“I like the poor well enough in their places, but I cannot abide them when they try to step into ours.”
“Let women mind their proper business and leave men’s alone.”
“I’m certainly not going to be on calling terms with my grocer’s wife.”
“I hate these affected, posing, would-be clever books. Why can’t people write in good plain English?"...
Richard Hilary, a scholar and a patient man, blinded by conjugal love, had met futilities with arguments, expressions of emotional distaste with facts, trying to lift each absurd wrangle to the level of a discussion; and at last he died, leaving his wife with the conviction that she had been the equal mate of an able man. Her children had to face and conquer, with varying degrees of success, the temptation to undeceive her.
“But I’m interrupting,” said Mrs. Hilary. “I know you two are having a private talk. I’ll leave you alone....”
“No, no, mother.” That was Neville, of course. “Stay and defend me from Jim’s scorn.”
How artificial one had to be in family life! What an absurd thing these emotions made of it!
Mrs. Hilary looked happier, and more settled in her chair.
“Where are Kay and Gerda?” Jim asked.