The Oversight

‘It’s like a chinese puzzle,’ said Lady Prowche resentfully, staring at a scribbled list of names that spread over two or three loose sheets of notepaper on her writing-table. Most of the names had a pencil mark running through them.

‘What is like a Chinese puzzle?’ asked Lena Luddleford briskly; she rather prided herself on being able to grapple with the minor problems of life.

‘Getting people suitably sorted together. Sir Richard likes me to have a house party about this time of year, and gives me a free hand as to whom I should invite; all he asks is that it should be a peaceable party, with no friction or unpleasantness.’

‘That seems reasonable enough,’ said Lena.

‘Not only reasonable, my dear, but necessary. Sir Richard has his literary work to think of; you can’t expect a man to concentrate on the tribal disputes of Central Asian clansmen when he’s got social feuds blazing under his own roof.’

‘But why should they blaze? Why should there be feuds at all within the compass of a house party?’

‘Exactly; why should they blaze or why should they exist?’ echoed Lady Prowche. ‘The point is that they always do. We have been unlucky; persistently unlucky, now that I come to look back on things. We have always got people of violently opposed views under our roof, and the result has been not merely unpleasantness but explosion.’

‘Do you mean people who disagree on matters of political opinion and religious views?’ asked Lena.

‘No, not that. The broader lines of political or religious difference don’t matter. You can have Church of England and Unitarian and Buddhist under the same roof without courting disaster; the only Buddhist I ever had down here quarrelled with everybody, but that was on account of his naturally squabblesome temperament; it had nothing to do with his religion. And I’ve always found that people can differ profoundly about politics and meet on perfectly good terms at breakfast. Now, Miss Larbor Jones, who was staying here last year, worships Lloyd George as a sort of wingless angel, while Mrs Walters, who was down here at the same time, privately considers him to be—an antelope, let us say.’

‘An antelope?’

‘Well, not an antelope exactly, but something with horns and hoofs and tail.’

‘Oh, I see.’

‘Still, that didn’t prevent them from being the chummiest of mortals on the tennis court and in the billiard- room. They did quarrel finally, about a lead in a doubled hand of no trumps, but that of course is a thing that no amount of judicious guest-grouping could prevent. Mrs Walters had got king, knave, ten, and seven of clubs—’

‘You were saying that there were other lines of demarcation that caused the bother,’ interrupted Lena.

‘Exactly. It is the minor differences and side-issues that give so much trouble,’ said Lady Prowche; ‘not to my dying day shall I forget last year’s upheaval over the Suffragette question. Laura Henniseed left the house in a state of speechless indignation, but before she had reached that state she had used language that would not have been tolerated in the Austrian Reichsrath. Intensive bear-gardening was Sir Richard’s description of the whole affair, and I don’t think he exaggerated.’

‘Of course the Suffragette question is a burning one, and lets loose the most dreadful ill-feeling,’ said Lena; ‘but one can generally find out beforehand what people’s opinions—’

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