Part 1 out of 8
This etext was prepared by Richard Fane, Haddonfield NJ
by E. M. Forster
One may as well begin with Helen's letters to her sister.
It isn't going to be what we expected. It is old and
little, and altogether delightful--red brick. We can
scarcely pack in as it is, and the dear knows what will
happen when Paul (younger son) arrives tomorrow. From hall
you go right or left into dining-room or drawing-room. Hall
itself is practically a room. You open another door in it,
and there are the stairs going up in a sort of tunnel to the
first-floor. Three bedrooms in a row there, and three
attics in a row above. That isn't all the house really, but
it's all that one notices--nine windows as you look up from
the front garden.
Then there's a very big wych-elm--to the left as you
look up--leaning a little over the house, and standing on
the boundary between the garden and meadow. I quite love
that tree already. Also ordinary elms, oaks--no nastier
than ordinary oaks--pear-trees, apple-trees, and a vine. No
silver birches, though. However, I must get on to my host
and hostess. I only wanted to show that it isn't the least
what we expected. Why did we settle that their house would
be all gables and wiggles, and their garden all
gamboge-coloured paths? I believe simply because we
associate them with expensive hotels--Mrs. Wilcox trailing
in beautiful dresses down long corridors, Mr. Wilcox
bullying porters, etc. We females are that unjust.
I shall be back Saturday; will let you know train
later. They are as angry as I am that you did not come too;
really Tibby is too tiresome, he starts a new mortal disease
every month. How could he have got hay fever in London?
and even if he could, it seems hard that you should give up
a visit to hear a schoolboy sneeze. Tell him that Charles
Wilcox (the son who is here) has hay fever too, but he's
brave, and gets quite cross when we inquire after it. Men
like the Wilcoxes would do Tibby a power of good. But you
won't agree, and I'd better change the subject.
This long letter is because I'm writing before
breakfast. Oh, the beautiful vine leaves! The house is
covered with a vine. I looked out earlier, and Mrs. Wilcox
was already in the garden. She evidently loves it. No
wonder she sometimes looks tired. She was watching the
large red poppies come out. Then she walked off the lawn to
the meadow, whose corner to the right I can just see.
Trail, trail, went her long dress over the sopping grass,
and she came back with her hands full of the hay that was
cut yesterday--I suppose for rabbits or something, as she
kept on smelling it. The air here is delicious. Later on I
heard the noise of croquet balls, and looked out again, and
it was Charles Wilcox practising; they are keen on all
games. Presently he started sneezing and had to stop. Then
I hear more clicketing, and it is Mr. Wilcox practising, and
then, 'a-tissue, a-tissue': he has to stop too. Then Evie
comes out, and does some calisthenic exercises on a machine
that is tacked on to a greengage-tree--they put everything
to use--and then she says 'a-tissue,' and in she goes. And
finally Mrs. Wilcox reappears, trail, trail, still smelling
hay and looking at the flowers. I inflict all this on you
because once you said that life is sometimes life and
sometimes only a drama, and one must learn to distinguish
t'other from which, and up to now I have always put that
down as 'Meg's clever nonsense.' But this morning, it really
does seem not life but a play, and it did amuse me
enormously to watch the W's. Now Mrs. Wilcox has come in.
I am going to wear [omission]. Last night Mrs. Wilcox
wore an [omission], and Evie [omission]. So it isn't
exactly a go-as-you-please place, and if you shut your eyes
it still seems the wiggly hotel that we expected. Not if
you open them. The dog-roses are too sweet. There is a
great hedge of them over the lawn--magnificently tall, so
that they fall down in garlands, and nice and thin at the
bottom, so that you can see ducks through it and a cow.
These belong to the farm, which is the only house near us.
There goes the breakfast gong. Much love. Modified love to
Tibby. Love to Aunt Juley; how good of her to come and keep
you company, but what a bore. Burn this. Will write again
I am having a glorious time. I like them all. Mrs.
Wilcox, if quieter than in Germany, is sweeter than ever,
and I never saw anything like her steady unselfishness, and
the best of it is that the others do not take advantage of
her. They are the very happiest, jolliest family that you
can imagine. I do really feel that we are making friends.
The fun of it is that they think me a noodle, and say so--at
least Mr. Wilcox does--and when that happens, and one
doesn't mind, it's a pretty sure test, isn't it? He says
the most horrid things about women's suffrage so nicely, and
when I said I believed in equality he just folded his arms
and gave me such a setting down as I've never had. Meg,
shall we ever learn to talk less? I never felt so ashamed
of myself in my life. I couldn't point to a time when men
had been equal, nor even to a time when the wish to be equal
had made them happier in other ways. I couldn't say a
word. I had just picked up the notion that equality is good
from some book--probably from poetry, or you. Anyhow, it's
been knocked into pieces, and, like all people who are
really strong, Mr. Wilcox did it without hurting me. On the
other hand, I laugh at them for catching hay fever. We live
like fighting-cocks, and Charles takes us out every day in
the motor--a tomb with trees in it, a hermit's house, a
wonderful road that was made by the Kings of
Mercia--tennis--a cricket match--bridge--and at night we
squeeze up in this lovely house. The whole clan's here
now--it's like a rabbit warren. Evie is a dear. They want
me to stop over Sunday--I suppose it won't matter if I do.
Marvellous weather and the view's marvellous--views westward
to the high ground. Thank you for your letter. Burn this.
Dearest, dearest Meg,--I do not know what you will say:
Paul and I are in love--the younger son who only came here
Margaret glanced at her sister's note and pushed it over the
breakfast-table to her aunt. There was a moment's hush, and
then the flood-gates opened.
"I can tell you nothing, Aunt Juley. I know no more
than you do. We met--we only met the father and mother
abroad last spring. I know so little that I didn't even
know their son's name. It's all so--" She waved her hand
and laughed a little.
"In that case it is far too sudden."
"Who knows, Aunt Juley, who knows?"
"But, Margaret dear, I mean we mustn't be unpractical
now that we've come to facts. It is too sudden, surely."
"But Margaret dear--"
"I'll go for her other letters," said Margaret. "No, I
won't, I'll finish my breakfast. In fact, I haven't them.
We met the Wilcoxes on an awful expedition that we made from
Heidelberg to Speyer. Helen and I had got it into our heads
that there was a grand old cathedral at Speyer--the
Archbishop of Speyer was one of the seven electors--you
know--'Speyer, Maintz, and Koln.' Those three sees once
commanded the Rhine Valley and got it the name of Priest Street."
"I still feel quite uneasy about this business, Margaret."
"The train crossed by a bridge of boats, and at first
sight it looked quite fine. But oh, in five minutes we had
seen the whole thing. The cathedral had been ruined,
absolutely ruined, by restoration; not an inch left of the
original structure. We wasted a whole day, and came across
the Wilcoxes as we were eating our sandwiches in the public
gardens. They too, poor things, had been taken in--they
were actually stopping at Speyer--and they rather liked
Helen insisting that they must fly with us to Heidelberg.
As a matter of fact, they did come on next day. We all took
some drives together. They knew us well enough to ask Helen
to come and see them--at least, I was asked too, but Tibby's
illness prevented me, so last Monday she went alone. That's
all. You know as much as I do now. It's a young man out
the unknown. She was to have come back Saturday, but put
off till Monday, perhaps on account of--I don't know.
She broke off, and listened to the sounds of a London
morning. Their house was in Wickham Place, and fairly
quiet, for a lofty promontory of buildings separated it from
the main thoroughfare. One had the sense of a backwater, or
rather of an estuary, whose waters flowed in from the
invisible sea, and ebbed into a profound silence while the
waves without were still beating. Though the promontory
consisted of flats--expensive, with cavernous entrance
halls, full of concierges and palms--it fulfilled its
purpose, and gained for the older houses opposite a certain
measure of peace. These, too, would be swept away in time,
and another promontory would rise upon their site, as
humanity piled itself higher and higher on the precious soil
Mrs. Munt had her own method of interpreting her
nieces. She decided that Margaret was a little hysterical,
and was trying to gain time by a torrent of talk. Feeling
very diplomatic, she lamented the fate of Speyer, and
declared that never, never should she be so misguided as to
visit it, and added of her own accord that the principles of
restoration were ill understood in Germany. "The Germans,"
she said, "are too thorough, and this is all very well
sometimes, but at other times it does not do."
"Exactly," said Margaret; "Germans are too thorough."
And her eyes began to shine.
"Of course I regard you Schlegels as English," said Mrs.
Munt hastily--"English to the backbone."
Margaret leaned forward and stroked her hand.
"And that reminds me--Helen's letter--"
"Oh, yes, Aunt Juley, I am thinking all right about
Helen's letter. I know--I must go down and see her. I am
thinking about her all right. I am meaning to go down"
"But go with some plan," said Mrs. Munt, admitting into
her kindly voice a note of exasperation. "Margaret, if I
may interfere, don't be taken by surprise. What do you
think of the Wilcoxes? Are they our sort? Are they likely
people? Could they appreciate Helen, who is to my mind a
very special sort of person? Do they care about Literature
and Art? That is most important when you come to think of
it. Literature and Art. Most important. How old would the
son be? She says 'younger son.' Would he be in a position
to marry? Is he likely to make Helen happy? Did you gather--"
"I gathered nothing."
They began to talk at once.
"Then in that case--"
"In that case I can make no plans, don't you see."
"On the contrary--"
"I hate plans. I hate lines of action. Helen isn't a baby."
"Then in that case, my dear, why go down?"
Margaret was silent. If her aunt could not see why she
must go down, she was not going to tell her. She was not
going to say "I love my dear sister; I must be near her at
this crisis of her life." The affections are more reticent
than the passions, and their expression more subtle. If she
herself should ever fall in love with a man, she, like
Helen, would proclaim it from the house-tops, but as she
only loved a sister she used the voiceless language of sympathy.
"I consider you odd girls," continued Mrs. Munt, "and
very wonderful girls, and in many ways far older than your
years. But--you won't be offended? --frankly I feel you are
not up to this business. It requires an older person.
Dear, I have nothing to call me back to Swanage." She spread
out her plump arms. "I am all at your disposal. Let me go
down to this house whose name I forget instead of you."
"Aunt Juley"--she jumped up and kissed her--"I must,
must go to Howards End myself. You don't exactly
understand, though I can never thank you properly for offering."
"I do understand," retorted Mrs. Munt, with immense
confidence. "I go down in no spirit of interference, but to
make inquiries. Inquiries are necessary. Now, I am going
to be rude. You would say the wrong thing; to a certainty
you would. In your anxiety for Helen's happiness you would
offend the whole of these Wilcoxes by asking one of your
impetuous questions--not that one minds offending them."
"I shall ask no questions. I have it in Helen's writing
that she and a man are in love. There is no question to ask
as long as she keeps to that. All the rest isn't worth a
straw. A long engagement if you like, but inquiries,
questions, plans, lines of action--no, Aunt Juley, no."
Away she hurried, not beautiful, not supremely
brilliant, but filled with something that took the place of
both qualities--something best described as a profound
vivacity, a continual and sincere response to all that she
encountered in her path through life.
"If Helen had written the same to me about a
shop-assistant or a penniless clerk--"
"Dear Margaret, do come into the library and shut the
door. Your good maids are dusting the banisters."
"--or if she had wanted to marry the man who calls for
Carter Paterson, I should have said the same." Then, with
one of those turns that convinced her aunt that she was not
mad really and convinced observers of another type that she
was not a barren theorist, she added: "Though in the case of
Carter Paterson I should want it to be a very long
engagement indeed, I must say."
"I should think so," said Mrs. Munt; "and, indeed, I can
scarcely follow you. Now, just imagine if you said anything
of that sort to the Wilcoxes. I understand it, but most
good people would think you mad. Imagine how disconcerting
for Helen! What is wanted is a person who will go slowly,
slowly in this business, and see how things are and where
they are likely to lead to."
Margaret was down on this.
"But you implied just now that the engagement must be
"I think probably it must; but slowly."
"Can you break an engagement off slowly?" Her eyes lit
up. "What's an engagement made of, do you suppose? I think
it's made of some hard stuff, that may snap, but can't
break. It is different to the other ties of life. They
stretch or bend. They admit of degree. They're different."
"Exactly so. But won't you let me just run down to
Howards House, and save you all the discomfort? I will
really not interfere, but I do so thoroughly understand the
kind of thing you Schlegels want that one quiet look round
will be enough for me."
Margaret again thanked her, again kissed her, and then
ran upstairs to see her brother.
He was not so well.
The hay fever had worried him a good deal all night.
His head ached, his eyes were wet, his mucous membrane, he
informed her, was in a most unsatisfactory condition. The
only thing that made life worth living was the thought of
Walter Savage Landor, from whose IMAGINARY CONVERSATIONS she
had promised to read at frequent intervals during the day.
It was rather difficult. Something must be done about
Helen. She must be assured that it is not a criminal
offence to love at first sight. A telegram to this effect
would be cold and cryptic, a personal visit seemed each
moment more impossible. Now the doctor arrived, and said
that Tibby was quite bad. Might it really be best to accept
Aunt Juley's kind offer, and to send her down to Howards End
with a note?
Certainly Margaret was impulsive. She did swing rapidly
from one decision to another. Running downstairs into the
library, she cried--"Yes, I have changed my mind; I do wish
that you would go."
There was a train from King's Cross at eleven. At
half-past ten Tibby, with rare self-effacement, fell asleep,
and Margaret was able to drive her aunt to the station.
"You will remember, Aunt Juley, not to be drawn into
discussing the engagement. Give my letter to Helen, and say
whatever you feel yourself, but do keep clear of the
relatives. We have scarcely got their names straight yet,
and besides, that sort of thing is so uncivilized and wrong.
"So uncivilized?" queried Mrs. Munt, fearing that she
was losing the point of some brilliant remark.
"Oh, I used an affected word. I only meant would you
please only talk the thing over with Helen."
"Only with Helen."
"Because--" But it was no moment to expound the personal
nature of love. Even Margaret shrank from it, and contented
herself with stroking her good aunt's hand, and with
meditating, half sensibly and half poetically, on the
journey that was about to begin from King's Cross.
Like many others who have lived long in a great capital,
she had strong feelings about the various railway termini.
They are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through
them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them alas!
we return. In Paddington all Cornwall is latent and the
remoter west; down the inclines of Liverpool Street lie
fenlands and the illimitable Broads; Scotland is through the
pylons of Euston; Wessex behind the poised chaos of
Waterloo. Italians realize this, as is natural; those of
them who are so unfortunate as to serve as waiters in Berlin
call the Anhalt Bahnhof the Stazione d'Italia, because by it
they must return to their homes. And he is a chilly
Londoner who does not endow his stations with some
personality, and extend to them, however shyly, the emotions
of fear and love.
To Margaret--I hope that it will not set the reader
against her--the station of King's Cross had always
suggested Infinity. Its very situation--withdrawn a little
behind the facile splendours of St. Pancras--implied a
comment on the materialism of life. Those two great arches,
colourless, indifferent, shouldering between them an
unlovely clock, were fit portals for some eternal adventure,
whose issue might be prosperous, but would certainly not be
expressed in the ordinary language of prosperity. If you
think this ridiculous, remember that it is not Margaret who
is telling you about it; and let me hasten to add that they
were in plenty of time for the train; that Mrs. Munt, though
she took a second-class ticket, was put by the guard into a
first (only two seconds on the train, one smoking and the
other babies--one cannot be expected to travel with babies);
and that Margaret, on her return to Wickham Place, was
confronted with the following telegram:
ALL OVER. WISH I HAD NEVER WRITTEN. TELL NO ONE.
But Aunt Juley was gone--gone irrevocably, and no power
on earth could stop her.
Most complacently did Mrs. Munt rehearse her mission. Her
nieces were independent young women, and it was not often
that she was able to help them. Emily's daughters had never
been quite like other girls. They had been left motherless
when Tibby was born, when Helen was five and Margaret
herself but thirteen. It was before the passing of the
Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, so Mrs. Munt could without
impropriety offer to go and keep house at Wickham Place.
But her brother-in-law, who was peculiar and a German, had
referred the question to Margaret, who with the crudity of
youth had answered, "No, they could manage much better
alone." Five years later Mr. Schlegel had died too, and Mrs.
Munt had repeated her offer. Margaret, crude no longer, had
been grateful and extremely nice, but the substance of her
answer had been the same. "I must not interfere a third
time," thought Mrs. Munt. However, of course she did. She
learnt, to her horror, that Margaret, now of age, was taking
her money out of the old safe investments and putting it
into Foreign Things, which always smash. Silence would have
been criminal. Her own fortune was invested in Home Rails,
and most ardently did she beg her niece to imitate her.
"Then we should be together, dear." Margaret, out of
politeness, invested a few hundreds in the Nottingham and
Derby Railway, and though the Foreign Things did admirably
and the Nottingham and Derby declined with the steady
dignity of which only Home Rails are capable, Mrs. Munt
never ceased to rejoice, and to say, "I did manage that, at
all events. When the smash comes poor Margaret will have a
nest-egg to fall back upon." This year Helen came of age,
and exactly the same thing happened in Helen's case; she
also would shift her money out of Consols, but she, too,
almost without being pressed, consecrated a fraction of it
to the Nottingham and Derby Railway. So far so good, but in
social matters their aunt had accomplished nothing. Sooner
or later the girls would enter on the process known as
throwing themselves away, and if they had delayed hitherto,
it was only that they might throw themselves more vehemently
in the future. They saw too many people at Wickham
Place--unshaven musicians, an actress even, German cousins
(one knows what foreigners are), acquaintances picked up at
Continental hotels (one knows what they are too). It was
interesting, and down at Swanage no one appreciated culture
more than Mrs. Munt; but it was dangerous, and disaster was
bound to come. How right she was, and how lucky to be on
the spot when the disaster came!
The train sped northward, under innumerable tunnels. It
was only an hour's journey, but Mrs. Munt had to raise and
lower the window again and again. She passed through the
South Welwyn Tunnel, saw light for a moment, and entered the
North Welwyn Tunnel, of tragic fame. She traversed the
immense viaduct, whose arches span untroubled meadows and
the dreamy flow of Tewin Water. She skirted the parks of
politicians. At times the Great North Road accompanied her,
more suggestive of infinity than any railway, awakening,
after a nap of a hundred years, to such life as is conferred
by the stench of motor-cars, and to such culture as is
implied by the advertisements of antibilious pills. To
history, to tragedy, to the past, to the future, Mrs. Munt
remained equally indifferent; hers but to concentrate on the
end of her journey, and to rescue poor Helen from this
The station for Howards End was at Hilton, one of the
large villages that are strung so frequently along the North
Road, and that owe their size to the traffic of coaching and
pre-coaching days. Being near London, it had not shared in
the rural decay, and its long High Street had budded out
right and left into residential estates. For about a mile a
series of tiled and slated houses passed before Mrs. Munt's
inattentive eyes, a series broken at one point by six Danish
tumuli that stood shoulder to shoulder along the highroad,
tombs of soldiers. Beyond these tumuli habitations
thickened, and the train came to a standstill in a tangle
that was almost a town.
The station, like the scenery, like Helen's letters,
struck an indeterminate note. Into which country will it
lead, England or Suburbia? It was new, it had island
platforms and a subway, and the superficial comfort exacted
by business men. But it held hints of local life, personal
intercourse, as even Mrs. Munt was to discover.
"I want a house," she confided to the ticket boy. "Its
name is Howards Lodge. Do you know where it is?"
"Mr. Wilcox!" the boy called.
A young man in front of them turned round.
"She's wanting Howards End."
There was nothing for it but to go forward, though Mrs.
Munt was too much agitated even to stare at the stranger.
But remembering that there were two brothers, she had the
sense to say to him, "Excuse me asking, but are you the
younger Mr. Wilcox or the elder?"
"The younger. Can I do anything for you?"
"Oh, well"--she controlled herself with difficulty.
"Really. Are you? I--" She moved away from the ticket boy
and lowered her voice. "I am Miss Schlegels aunt. I ought
to introduce myself, oughtn't I? My name is Mrs. Munt."
She was conscious that he raised his cap and said quite
coolly, "Oh, rather; Miss Schlegel is stopping with us. Did
you want to see her?"
"I'll call you a cab. No; wait a mo--" He thought.
"Our motor's here. I'll run you up in it."
"That is very kind--"
"Not at all, if you'll just wait till they bring out a
parcel from the office. This way."
"My niece is not with you by any chance?"
"No; I came over with my father. He has gone on north
in your train. You'll see Miss Schlegel at lunch. You're
coming up to lunch, I hope?"
"I should like to come UP," said Mrs. Munt, not
committing herself to nourishment until she had studied
Helen's lover a little more. He seemed a gentleman, but had
so rattled her round that her powers of observation were
numbed. She glanced at him stealthily. To a feminine eye
there was nothing amiss in the sharp depressions at the
corners of his mouth, nor in the rather box-like
construction of his forehead. He was dark, clean-shaven and
seemed accustomed to command.
"In front or behind? Which do you prefer? It may be
windy in front."
"In front if I may; then we can talk."
"But excuse me one moment--I can't think what they're
doing with that parcel." He strode into the booking-office
and called with a new voice: "Hi! hi, you there! Are you
going to keep me waiting all day? Parcel for Wilcox,
Howards End. Just look sharp!" Emerging, he said in
quieter tones: "This station's abominably organized; if I
had my way, the whole lot of 'em should get the sack. May I
help you in?"
"This is very good of you," said Mrs. Munt, as she
settled herself into a luxurious cavern of red leather, and
suffered her person to be padded with rugs and shawls. She
was more civil than she had intended, but really this young
man was very kind. Moreover, she was a little afraid of
him: his self-possession was extraordinary. "Very good
indeed," she repeated, adding: "It is just what I should
"Very good of you to say so," he replied, with a slight
look of surprise, which, like most slight looks, escaped
Mrs. Munt's attention. "I was just tooling my father over
to catch the down train."
"You see, we heard from Helen this morning."
Young Wilcox was pouring in petrol, starting his engine,
and performing other actions with which this story has no
concern. The great car began to rock, and the form of Mrs.
Munt, trying to explain things, sprang agreeably up and down
among the red cushions. "The mater will be very glad to see
you," he mumbled. "Hi! I say. Parcel for Howards End.
Bring it out. Hi!"
A bearded porter emerged with the parcel in one hand and
an entry book in the other. With the gathering whir of the
motor these ejaculations mingled: "Sign, must I? Why
the--should I sign after all this bother? Not even got a
pencil on you? Remember next time I report you to the
station-master. My time's of value, though yours mayn't
be. Here"--here being a tip.
"Extremely sorry, Mrs. Munt."
"Not at all, Mr. Wilcox."
"And do you object to going through the village? It is
rather a longer spin, but I have one or two commissions."
"I should love going through the village. Naturally I
am very anxious to talk things over with you."
As she said this she felt ashamed, for she was
disobeying Margaret's instructions. Only disobeying them in
the letter, surely. Margaret had only warned her against
discussing the incident with outsiders. Surely it was not
"uncivilized or wrong" to discuss it with the young man
himself, since chance had thrown them together.
A reticent fellow, he made no reply. Mounting by her
side, he put on gloves and spectacles, and off they drove,
the bearded porter--life is a mysterious business--looking
after them with admiration.
The wind was in their faces down the station road,
blowing the dust into Mrs. Munt's eyes. But as soon as they
turned into the Great North Road she opened fire. "You can
well imagine," she said, "that the news was a great shock to
"Mr. Wilcox," she said frankly. "Margaret has told me
everything--everything. I have seen Helen's letter."
He could not look her in the face, as his eyes were
fixed on his work; he was travelling as quickly as he dared
down the High Street. But he inclined his head in her
direction, and said, "I beg your pardon; I didn't catch."
"About Helen. Helen, of course. Helen is a very
exceptional person--I am sure you will let me say this,
feeling towards her as you do--indeed, all the Schlegels are
exceptional. I come in no spirit of interference, but it
was a great shock."
They drew up opposite a draper's. Without replying, he
turned round in his seat, and contemplated the cloud of dust
that they had raised in their passage through the village.
It was settling again, but not all into the road from which
he had taken it. Some of it had percolated through the open
windows, some had whitened the roses and gooseberries of the
wayside gardens, while a certain proportion had entered the
lungs of the villagers. "I wonder when they'll learn wisdom
and tar the roads," was his comment. Then a man ran out of
the draper's with a roll of oilcloth, and off they went again.
"Margaret could not come herself, on account of poor
Tibby, so I am here to represent her and to have a good talk."
"I'm sorry to be so dense," said the young man, again
drawing up outside a shop. "But I still haven't quite understood."
"Helen, Mr. Wilcox--my niece and you."
He pushed up his goggles and gazed at her, absolutely
bewildered. Horror smote her to the heart, for even she
began to suspect that they were at cross-purposes, and that
she had commenced her mission by some hideous blunder.
"Miss Schlegel and myself." he asked, compressing his lips.
"I trust there has been no misunderstanding," quavered
Mrs. Munt. "Her letter certainly read that way."
"That you and she--" She paused, then drooped her eyelids.
"I think I catch your meaning," he said stickily. "What
an extraordinary mistake!"
"Then you didn't the least--" she stammered, getting
blood-red in the face, and wishing she had never been born.
"Scarcely, as I am already engaged to another lady."
There was a moment's silence, and then he caught his breath
and exploded with, "Oh, good God! Don't tell me it's some
silliness of Paul's."
"But you are Paul."
"Then why did you say so at the station?"
"I said nothing of the sort."
"I beg your pardon, you did."
"I beg your pardon, I did not. My name is Charles."
"Younger" may mean son as opposed to father, or second
brother as opposed to first. There is much to be said for
either view, and later on they said it. But they had other
questions before them now.
"Do you mean to tell me that Paul--"
But she did not like his voice. He sounded as if he was
talking to a porter, and, certain that he had deceived her
at the station, she too grew angry.
"Do you mean to tell me that Paul and your niece--"
Mrs. Munt--such is human nature--determined that she
would champion the lovers. She was not going to be bullied
by a severe young man. "Yes, they care for one another very
much indeed," she said. "I dare say they will tell you
about it by-and-by. We heard this morning."
And Charles clenched his fist and cried, "The idiot, the
idiot, the little fool!"
Mrs. Munt tried to divest herself of her rugs. "If that
is your attitude, Mr. Wilcox, I prefer to walk."
"I beg you will do no such thing. I'll take you up this
moment to the house. Let me tell you the thing's
impossible, and must be stopped."
Mrs. Munt did not often lose her temper, and when she
did it was only to protect those whom she loved. On this
occasion she blazed out. "I quite agree, sir. The thing is
impossible, and I will come up and stop it. My niece is a
very exceptional person, and I am not inclined to sit still
while she throws herself away on those who will not
Charles worked his jaws.
"Considering she has only known your brother since
Wednesday, and only met your father and mother at a stray hotel--"
"Could you possibly lower your voice? The shopman will overhear."
"Esprit de classe"--if one may coin the phrase--was
strong in Mrs. Munt. She sat quivering while a member of
the lower orders deposited a metal funnel, a saucepan, and a
garden squirt beside the roll of oilcloth.
"Yes, sir." And the lower orders vanished in a cloud of dust.
"I warn you: Paul hasn't a penny; it's useless."
"No need to warn us, Mr. Wilcox, I assure you. The
warning is all the other way. My niece has been very
foolish, and I shall give her a good scolding and take her
back to London with me."
"He has to make his way out in Nigeria. He couldn't
think of marrying for years and when he does it must be a
woman who can stand the climate, and is in other ways--Why
hasn't he told us? Of course he's ashamed. He knows he's
been a fool. And so he has--a damned fool."
She grew furious.
"Whereas Miss Schlegel has lost no time in publishing
"If I were a man, Mr. Wilcox, for that last remark I'd
box your ears. You're not fit to clean my niece's boots, to
sit in the same room with her, and you dare--you actually
dare--I decline to argue with such a person."
"All I know is, she's spread the thing and he hasn't,
and my father's away and I--"
"And all that I know is--"
"Might I finish my sentence, please?"
Charles clenched his teeth and sent the motor swerving
all over the lane.
So they played the game of Capping Families, a round of
which is always played when love would unite two members of
our race. But they played it with unusual vigour, stating
in so many words that Schlegels were better than Wilcoxes,
Wilcoxes better than Schlegels. They flung decency aside.
The man was young, the woman deeply stirred; in both a vein
of coarseness was latent. Their quarrel was no more
surprising than are most quarrels--inevitable at the time,
incredible afterwards. But it was more than usually
futile. A few minutes, and they were enlightened. The
motor drew up at Howards End, and Helen, looking very pale,
ran out to meet her aunt.
"Aunt Juley, I have just had a telegram from Margaret;
I--I meant to stop your coming. It isn't--it's over."
The climax was too much for Mrs. Munt. She burst into tears.
"Aunt Juley dear, don't. Don't let them know I've been
so silly. It wasn't anything. Do bear up for my sake."
"Paul," cried Charles Wilcox, pulling his gloves off.
"Don't let them know. They are never to know."
"Oh, my darling Helen--"
A very young man came out of the house.
"Paul, is there any truth in this?"
"I didn't--I don't--"
"Yes or no, man; plain question, plain answer. Did or
didn't Miss Schlegel--"
"Charles dear," said a voice from the garden. "Charles,
dear Charles, one doesn't ask plain questions. There aren't
They were all silent. It was Mrs. Wilcox.
She approached just as Helen's letter had described her,
trailing noiselessly over the lawn, and there was actually a
wisp of hay in her hands. She seemed to belong not to the
young people and their motor, but to the house, and to the
tree that overshadowed it. One knew that she worshipped the
past, and that the instinctive wisdom the past can alone
bestow had descended upon her--that wisdom to which we give
the clumsy name of aristocracy. High born she might not
be. But assuredly she cared about her ancestors, and let
them help her. When she saw Charles angry, Paul frightened,
and Mrs. Munt in tears, she heard her ancestors say,
"Separate those human beings who will hurt each other most.
The rest can wait." So she did not ask questions. Still
less did she pretend that nothing had happened, as a
competent society hostess would have done. She said, "Miss
Schlegel, would you take your aunt up to your room or to my
room, whichever you think best. Paul, do find Evie, and
tell her lunch for six, but I'm not sure whether we shall
all be downstairs for it." And when they had obeyed her, she
turned to her elder son, who still stood in the throbbing
stinking car, and smiled at him with tenderness, and without
a word, turned away from him towards her flowers.
"Mother," he called, "are you aware that Paul has been
playing the fool again?"
"It's all right, dear. They have broken off the engagement."
"They do not love any longer, if you prefer it put that
way," said Mrs. Wilcox, stooping down to smell a rose.
Helen and her aunt returned to Wickham Place in a state of
collapse, and for a little time Margaret had three invalids
on her hands. Mrs. Munt soon recovered. She possessed to a
remarkable degree the power of distorting the past, and
before many days were over she had forgotten the part played
by her own imprudence in the catastrophe. Even at the
crisis she had cried, "Thank goodness, poor Margaret is
saved this!" which during the journey to London evolved
into, "It had to be gone through by someone," which in its
turn ripened into the permanent form of "The one time I
really did help Emily's girls was over the Wilcox
business." But Helen was a more serious patient. New ideas
had burst upon her like a thunder clap, and by them and by
her reverberations she had been stunned.
The truth was that she had fallen in love, not with an
individual, but with a family.
Before Paul arrived she had, as it were, been tuned up
into his key. The energy of the Wilcoxes had fascinated
her, had created new images of beauty in her responsive
mind. To be all day with them in the open air, to sleep at
night under their roof, had seemed the supreme joy of life,
and had led to that abandonment of personality that is a
possible prelude to love. She had liked giving in to Mr.
Wilcox, or Evie, or Charles; she had liked being told that
her notions of life were sheltered or academic; that
Equality was nonsense, Votes for Women nonsense, Socialism
nonsense, Art and Literature, except when conducive to
strengthening the character, nonsense. One by one the
Schlegel fetiches had been overthrown, and, though
professing to defend them, she had rejoiced. When Mr.
Wilcox said that one sound man of business did more good to
the world than a dozen of your social reformers, she had
swallowed the curious assertion without a gasp, and had
leant back luxuriously among the cushions of his motor-car.
When Charles said, "Why be so polite to servants? they
don't understand it," she had not given the Schlegel retort
of, "If they don't understand it, I do." No; she had vowed
to be less polite to servants in the future. "I am swathed
in cant," she thought, "and it is good for me to be stripped
of it." And all that she thought or did or breathed was a
quiet preparation for Paul. Paul was inevitable. Charles
was taken up with another girl, Mr. Wilcox was so old, Evie
so young, Mrs. Wilcox so different. Round the absent
brother she began to throw the halo of Romance, to irradiate
him with all the splendour of those happy days, to feel that
in him she should draw nearest to the robust ideal. He and
she were about the same age, Evie said. Most people thought
Paul handsomer than his brother. He was certainly a better
shot, though not so good at golf. And when Paul appeared,
flushed with the triumph of getting through an examination,
and ready to flirt with any pretty girl, Helen met him
halfway, or more than halfway, and turned towards him on the
He had been talking of his approaching exile in Nigeria,
and he should have continued to talk of it, and allowed
their guest to recover. But the heave of her bosom
flattered him. Passion was possible, and he became
passionate. Deep down in him something whispered, "This
girl would let you kiss her; you might not have such a
That was "how it happened," or, rather, how Helen
described it to her sister, using words even more
unsympathetic than my own. But the poetry of that kiss, the
wonder of it, the magic that there was in life for hours
after it--who can describe that? It is so easy for an
Englishman to sneer at these chance collisions of human
beings. To the insular cynic and the insular moralist they
offer an equal opportunity. It is so easy to talk of
"passing emotion," and how to forget how vivid the emotion
was ere it passed. Our impulse to sneer, to forget, is at
root a good one. We recognize that emotion is not enough,
and that men and women are personalities capable of
sustained relations, not mere opportunities for an
electrical discharge. Yet we rate the impulse too highly.
We do not admit that by collisions of this trivial sort the
doors of heaven may be shaken open. To Helen, at all
events, her life was to bring nothing more intense than the
embrace of this boy who played no part in it. He had drawn
her out of the house, where there was danger of surprise and
light; he had led her by a path he knew, until they stood
under the column of the vast wych-elm. A man in the
darkness, he had whispered "I love you" when she was
desiring love. In time his slender personality faded, the
scene that he had evoked endured. In all the variable years
that followed she never saw the like of it again.
"I understand," said Margaret--"at least, I understand
as much as ever is understood of these things. Tell me now
what happened on the Monday morning."
"It was over at once."
"I was still happy while I dressed, but as I came
downstairs I got nervous, and when I went into the
dining-room I knew it was no good. There was Evie--I can't
explain--managing the tea-urn, and Mr. Wilcox reading the
"Was Paul there?"
"Yes; and Charles was talking to him about Stocks and
Shares, and he looked frightened."
By slight indications the sisters could convey much to
each other. Margaret saw horror latent in the scene, and
Helen's next remark did not surprise her.
"Somehow, when that kind of man looks frightened it is
too awful. It is all right for us to be frightened, or for
men of another sort--father, for instance; but for men like
that! When I saw all the others so placid, and Paul mad
with terror in case I said the wrong thing, I felt for a
moment that the whole Wilcox family was a fraud, just a wall
of newspapers and motor-cars and golf-clubs, and that if it
fell I should find nothing behind it but panic and
"I don't think that. The Wilcoxes struck me as being
genuine people, particularly the wife."
"No, I don't really think that. But Paul was so
broad-shouldered; all kinds of extraordinary things made it
worse, and I knew that it would never do--never. I said to
him after breakfast, when the others were practising
strokes, 'We rather lost our heads,' and he looked better at
once, though frightfully ashamed. He began a speech about
having no money to marry on, but it hurt him to make it, and
I--stopped him. Then he said, 'I must beg your pardon over
this, Miss Schlegel; I can't think what came over me last
night.' And I said, 'Nor what over me; never mind.' And then
we parted--at least, until I remembered that I had written
straight off to tell you the night before, and that
frightened him again. I asked him to send a telegram for
me, for he knew you would be coming or something; and he
tried to get hold of the motor, but Charles and Mr. Wilcox
wanted it to go to the station; and Charles offered to send
the telegram for me, and then I had to say that the telegram
was of no consequence, for Paul said Charles might read it,
and though I wrote it out several times, he always said
people would suspect something. He took it himself at last,
pretending that he must walk down to get cartridges, and,
what with one thing and the other, it was not handed in at
the Post Office until too late. It was the most terrible
morning. Paul disliked me more and more, and Evie talked
cricket averages till I nearly screamed. I cannot think how
I stood her all the other days. At last Charles and his
father started for the station, and then came your telegram
warning me that Aunt Juley was coming by that train, and
Paul--oh, rather horrible--said that I had muddled it. But
Mrs. Wilcox knew."
"Everything; though we neither of us told her a word,
and had known all along, I think."
"Oh, she must have overheard you."
"I suppose so, but it seemed wonderful. When Charles and
Aunt Juley drove up, calling each other names, Mrs. Wilcox
stepped in from the garden and made everything less
terrible. Ugh! but it has been a disgusting business. To
think that--" She sighed.
"To think that because you and a young man meet for a
moment, there must be all these telegrams and anger,"
"I've often thought about it, Helen. It's one of the
most interesting things in the world. The truth is that
there is a great outer life that you and I have never
touched--a life in which telegrams and anger count.
Personal relations, that we think supreme, are not supreme
there. There love means marriage settlements, death, death
duties. So far I'm clear. But here my difficulty. This
outer life, though obviously horrid, often seems the real
one--there's grit in it. It does breed character. Do
personal relations lead to sloppiness in the end?"
"Oh, Meg, that's what I felt, only not so clearly, when
the Wilcoxes were so competent, and seemed to have their
hands on all the ropes. "
"Don't you feel it now?"
"I remember Paul at breakfast," said Helen quietly. "I
shall never forget him. He had nothing to fall back upon.
I know that personal relations are the real life, for ever
So the Wilcox episode fell into the background, leaving
behind it memories of sweetness and horror that mingled, and
the sisters pursued the life that Helen had commended. They
talked to each other and to other people, they filled the
tall thin house at Wickham Place with those whom they liked
or could befriend. They even attended public meetings. In
their own fashion they cared deeply about politics, though
not as politicians would have us care; they desired that
public life should mirror whatever is good in the life
within. Temperance, tolerance, and sexual equality were
intelligible cries to them; whereas they did not follow our
Forward Policy in Thibet with the keen attention that it
merits, and would at times dismiss the whole British Empire
with a puzzled, if reverent, sigh. Not out of them are the
shows of history erected: the world would be a grey,
bloodless place were it entirely composed of Miss
Schlegels. But the world being what it is, perhaps they
shine out in it like stars.
A word on their origin. They were not "English to the
backbone," as their aunt had piously asserted. But, on the
other band, they were not "Germans of the dreadful sort."
Their father had belonged to a type that was more prominent
in Germany fifty years ago than now. He was not the
aggressive German, so dear to the English journalist, nor
the domestic German, so dear to the English wit. If one
classed him at all it would be as the countryman of Hegel
and Kant, as the idealist, inclined to be dreamy, whose
Imperialism was the Imperialism of the air. Not that his
life had been inactive. He had fought like blazes against
Denmark, Austria, France. But he had fought without
visualizing the results of victory. A hint of the truth
broke on him after Sedan, when he saw the dyed moustaches of
Napoleon going grey; another when he entered Paris, and saw
the smashed windows of the Tuileries. Peace came--it was
all very immense, one had turned into an Empire--but he knew
that some quality had vanished for which not all
Alsace-Lorraine could compensate him. Germany a commercial
Power, Germany a naval Power, Germany with colonies here and
a Forward Policy there, and legitimate aspirations in the
other place, might appeal to others, and be fitly served by
them; for his own part, he abstained from the fruits of
victory, and naturalized himself in England. The more
earnest members of his family never forgave him, and knew
that his children, though scarcely English of the dreadful
sort, would never be German to the backbone. He had
obtained work in one of our provincial Universities, and
there married Poor Emily (or Die Englanderin as the case may
be), and as she had money, they proceeded to London, and
came to know a good many people. But his gaze was always
fixed beyond the sea. It was his hope that the clouds of
materialism obscuring the Fatherland would part in time, and
the mild intellectual light re-emerge. "Do you imply that
we Germans are stupid, Uncle Ernst?" exclaimed a haughty and
magnificent nephew. Uncle Ernst replied, "To my mind. You
use the intellect, but you no longer care about it. That I
call stupidity." As the haughty nephew did not follow, he
continued, "You only care about the' things that you can
use, and therefore arrange them in the following order:
Money, supremely useful; intellect, rather useful;
imagination, of no use at all. No"--for the other had
protested--"your Pan-Germanism is no more imaginative than
is our Imperialism over here. It is the vice of a vulgar
mind to be thrilled by bigness, to think that a thousand
square miles are a thousand times more wonderful than one
square mile, and that a million square miles are almost the
same as heaven. That is not imagination. No, it kills it.
When their poets over here try to celebrate bigness they are
dead at once, and naturally. Your poets too are dying, your
philosophers, your musicians, to whom Europe has listened
for two hundred years. Gone. Gone with the little courts
that nurtured them--gone with Esterhaz and Weimar. What?
What's that? Your Universities? Oh, yes, you have learned
men, who collect more facts than do the learned men of
England. They collect facts, and facts, and empires of
facts. But which of them will rekindle the light within?"
To all this Margaret listened, sitting on the haughty
It was a unique education for the little girls. The
haughty nephew would be at Wickham Place one day, bringing
with him an even haughtier wife, both convinced that Germany
was appointed by God to govern the world. Aunt Juley would
come the next day, convinced that Great Britain had been
appointed to the same post by the same authority. Were both
these loud-voiced parties right? On one occasion they had
met, and Margaret with clasped hands had implored them to
argue the subject out in her presence. Whereat they
blushed, and began to talk about the weather. "Papa" she
cried--she was a most offensive child--"why will they not
discuss this most clear question?" Her father, surveying
the parties grimly, replied that he did not know. Putting
her head on one side, Margaret then remarked, "To me one of
two things is very clear; either God does not know his own
mind about England and Germany, or else these do not know
the mind of God." A hateful little girl, but at thirteen she
had grasped a dilemma that most people travel through life
without perceiving. Her brain darted up and down; it grew
pliant and strong. Her conclusion was, that any human being
lies nearer to the unseen than any organization, and from
this she never varied.
Helen advanced along the same lines, though with a more
irresponsible tread. In character she resembled her sister,
but she was pretty, and so apt to have a more amusing time.
People gathered round her more readily, especially when they
were new acquaintances, and she did enjoy a little homage
very much. When their father died and they ruled alone at
Wickham Place, she often absorbed the whole of the company,
while Margaret--both were tremendous talkers--fell flat.
Neither sister bothered about this. Helen never apologized
afterwards, Margaret did not feel the slightest rancour.
But looks have their influence upon character. The sisters
were alike as little girls, but at the time of the Wilcox
episode their methods were beginning to diverge; the younger
was rather apt to entice people, and, in enticing them, to
be herself enticed; the elder went straight ahead, and
accepted an occasional failure as part of the game.
Little need be premised about Tibby. He was now an
intelligent man of sixteen, but dyspeptic and difficile.
It will be generally admitted that Beethoven's Fifth
Symphony is the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated
into the ear of man. All sorts and conditions are satisfied
by it. Whether you are like Mrs. Munt, and tap
surreptitiously when the tunes come--of course, not so as to
disturb the others--; or like Helen, who can see heroes and
shipwrecks in the music's flood; or like Margaret, who can
only see the music; or like Tibby, who is profoundly versed
in counterpoint, and holds the full score open on his knee;
or like their cousin, Fraulein Mosebach, who remembers all
the time that Beethoven is "echt Deutsch"; or like Fraulein
Mosebach's young man, who can remember nothing but Fraulein
Mosebach: in any case, the passion of your life becomes more
vivid, and you are bound to admit that such a noise is cheap
at two shillings. It is cheap, even if you hear it in the
Queen's Hall, dreariest music-room in London, though not as
dreary as the Free Trade Hall, Manchester; and even if you
sit on the extreme left of that hall, so that the brass
bumps at you before the rest of the orchestra arrives, it is
"Who is Margaret talking to?" said Mrs. Munt, at the
conclusion of the first movement. She was again in London
on a visit to Wickham Place.
Helen looked down the long line of their party, and said
that she did not know.
"Would it be some young man or other whom she takes an
"I expect so," Helen replied. Music enwrapped her, and
she could not enter into the distinction that divides young
men whom one takes an interest in from young men whom one knows.
"You girls are so wonderful in always having--Oh dear!
one mustn't talk."
For the Andante had begun--very beautiful, but bearing a
family likeness to all the other beautiful Andantes that
Beethoven had written, and, to Helen's mind, rather
disconnecting the heroes and shipwrecks of the first
movement from the heroes and goblins of the third. She
heard the tune through once, and then her attention
wandered, and she gazed at the audience, or the organ, or
the architecture. Much did she censure the attenuated
Cupids who encircle the ceiling of the Queen's Hall,
inclining each to each with vapid gesture, and clad in
sallow pantaloons, on which the October sunlight struck.
"How awful to marry a man like those Cupids!" thought
Helen. Here Beethoven started decorating his tune, so she
heard him through once more, and then she smiled at her
cousin Frieda. But Frieda, listening to Classical Music,
could not respond. Herr Liesecke, too, looked as if wild
horses could not make him inattentive; there were lines
across his forehead, his lips were parted, his pince-nez at
right angles to his nose, and he had laid a thick, white
hand on either knee. And next to her was Aunt Juley, so
British, and wanting to tap. How interesting that row of
people was! What diverse influences had gone to the
making! Here Beethoven, after humming and hawing with great
sweetness, said "Heigho," and the Andante came to an end.
Applause, and a round of "wunderschoning" and
"prachtvolleying" from the German contingent. Margaret
started talking to her new young man; Helen said to her
aunt: "Now comes the wonderful movement: first of all the
goblins, and then a trio of elephants dancing;" and Tibby
implored the company generally to look out for the
transitional passage on the drum.
"On the what, dear?"
"On the DRUM, Aunt Juley."
"No; look out for the part where you think you have done
with the goblins and they come back," breathed Helen, as the
music started with a goblin walking quietly over the
universe, from end to end. Others followed him. They were
not aggressive creatures; it was that that made them so
terrible to Helen. They merely observed in passing that
there was no such thing as splendour or heroism in the
world. After the interlude of elephants dancing, they
returned and made the observation for the second time.
Helen could not contradict them, for, once at all events,
she had felt the same, and had seen the reliable walls of
youth collapse. Panic and emptiness! Panic and emptiness!
The goblins were right.
Her brother raised his finger: it was the transitional
passage on the drum.
For, as if things were going too far, Beethoven took
hold of the goblins and made them do what he wanted. He
appeared in person. He gave them a little push, and they
began to walk in major key instead of in a minor, and
then--he blew with his mouth and they were scattered! Gusts
of splendour, gods and demigods contending with vast swords,
colour and fragrance broadcast on the field of battle,
magnificent victory, magnificent death! Oh, it all burst
before the girl, and she even stretched out her gloved hands
as if it was tangible. Any fate was titanic; any contest
desirable; conqueror and conquered would alike be applauded
by the angels of the utmost stars.
And the goblins--they had not really been there at all?
They were only the phantoms of cowardice and unbelief? One
healthy human impulse would dispel them? Men like the
Wilcoxes, or President Roosevelt, would say yes. Beethoven
knew better. The goblins really had been there. They might
return--and they did. It was as if the splendour of life
might boil over--and waste to steam and froth. In its
dissolution one heard the terrible, ominous note, and a
goblin, with increased malignity, walked quietly over the
universe from end to end. Panic and emptiness! Panic and
emptiness! Even the flaming ramparts of the world might fall.
Beethoven chose to make all right in the end. He built
the ramparts up. He blew with his mouth for the second time,
and again the goblins were scattered. He brought back the
gusts of splendour, the heroism, the youth, the magnificence
of life and of death, and, amid vast roarings of a
superhuman joy, he led his Fifth Symphony to its
conclusion. But the goblins were there. They could
return. He had said so bravely, and that is why one can
trust Beethoven when he says other things.
Helen pushed her way out during the applause. She
desired to be alone. The music summed up to her all that
had happened or could happen in her career. She read it as
a tangible statement, which could never be superseded. The
notes meant this and that to her, and they could have no
other meaning, and life could have no other meaning. She
pushed right out of the building, and walked slowly down the
outside staircase, breathing the autumnal air, and then she
"Margaret," called Mrs. Munt, "is Helen all right?"
"She is always going away in the middle of a programme,"
"The music has evidently moved her deeply," said
"Excuse me," said Margaret's young man, who had for some
time been preparing a sentence, "but that lady has, quite
inadvertently, taken my umbrella."
"Oh, good gracious me! --I am so sorry. Tibby, run
"I shall miss the Four Serious Songs if I do."
"Tibby love, you must go."
"It isn't of any consequence," said the young man, in
truth a little uneasy about his umbrella.
"But of course it is. Tibby! Tibby!"
Tibby rose to his feet, and wilfully caught his person
on the backs of the chairs. By the time he had tipped up
the seat and had found his hat, and had deposited his full
score in safety, it was "too late" to go after Helen. The
Four Serious Songs had begun, and one could not move during
"My sister is so careless," whispered Margaret.
"Not at all," replied the young man; but his voice was
dead and cold.
"If you would give me your address--"
"Oh, not at all, not at all;" and he wrapped his
greatcoat over his knees.
Then the Four Serious Songs rang shallow in Margaret's
ears. Brahms, for all his grumbling and grizzling, had
never guessed what it felt like to be suspected of stealing
an umbrella. For this fool of a young man thought that she
and Helen and Tibby had been playing the confidence trick on
him, and that if he gave his address they would break into
his rooms some midnight or other and steal his walkingstick
too. Most ladies would have laughed, but Margaret really
minded, for it gave her a glimpse into squalor. To trust
people is a luxury in which only the wealthy can indulge;
the poor cannot afford it. As soon as Brahms had grunted
himself out, she gave him her card and said, "That is where
we live; if you preferred, you could call for the umbrella
after the concert, but I didn't like to trouble you when it
has all been our fault."
His face brightened a little when he saw that Wickham
Place was W. It was sad to see him corroded with suspicion,
and yet not daring to be impolite, in case these
well-dressed people were honest after all. She took it as a
good sign that he said to her, "It's a fine programme this
afternoon, is it not?" for this was the remark with which he
had originally opened, before the umbrella intervened.
"The Beethoven's fine," said Margaret, who was not a
female of the encouraging type. "I don't like the Brahms,
though, nor the Mendelssohn that came first--and ugh! I
don't like this Elgar that's coming."
"What, what?" called Herr Liesecke, overhearing. "The
POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE will not be fine?"
"Oh, Margaret, you tiresome girl!" cried her aunt.
"Here have I been persuading Herr Liesecke to stop for POMP
AND CIRCUMSTANCE, and you are undoing all my work. I am so
anxious for him to hear what we are doing in music. Oh, you
mustn't run down our English composers, Margaret."
"For my part, I have heard the composition at Stettin,"
said Fraulein Mosebach. "On two occasions. It is dramatic,
"Frieda, you despise English music. You know you do.
And English art. And English Literature, except Shakespeare
and he's a German. Very well, Frieda, you may go."
The lovers laughed and glanced at each other. Moved by
a common impulse, they rose to their feet and fled from POMP
"We have this call to play in Finsbury Circus, it is
true," said Herr Liesecke, as he edged past her and reached
the gangway just as the music started.
"Margaret--" loudly whispered by Aunt Juley. "Margaret,
Margaret! Fraulein Mosebach has left her beautiful little
bag behind her on the seat."
Sure enough, there was Frieda's reticule, containing her
address book, her pocket dictionary, her map of London, and
"Oh, what a bother--what a family we are! Fr-Frieda!"
"Hush!" said all those who thought the music fine.
"But it's the number they want in Finsbury Circus--"
"Might I--couldn't I--" said the suspicious young man,
and got very red.
"Oh, I would be so grateful."
He took the bag--money clinking inside it--and slipped
up the gangway with it. He was just in time to catch them
at the swing-door, and he received a pretty smile from the
German girl and a fine bow from her cavalier. He returned
to his seat up-sides with the world. The trust that they
had reposed in him was trivial, but he felt that it
cancelled his mistrust for them, and that probably he would
not be "had" over his umbrella. This young man had been
"had" in the past--badly, perhaps overwhelmingly--and now
most of his energies went in defending himself against the
unknown. But this afternoon--perhaps on account of
music--he perceived that one must slack off occasionally, or
what is the good of being alive? Wickham Place, W., though
a risk, was as safe as most things, and he would risk it.
So when the concert was over and Margaret said, "We live
quite near; I am going there now. Could you walk around
with me, and we'll find your umbrella?" he said, "Thank
you," peaceably, and followed her out of the Queen's Hall.
She wished that he was not so anxious to hand a lady
downstairs, or to carry a lady's programme for her--his
class was near enough her own for its manners to vex her.
But she found him interesting on the whole--every one
interested the Schlegels on the whole at that time--and
while her lips talked culture, her heart was planning to
invite him to tea.
"How tired one gets after music!" she began.
"Do you find the atmosphere of Queen's Hall oppressive?"
"But surely the atmosphere of Covent Garden is even more
"Do you go there much?"
"When my work permits, I attend the gallery for, the
Helen would have exclaimed, "So do I. I love the
gallery," and thus have endeared herself to the young man.
Helen could do these things. But Margaret had an almost
morbid horror of "drawing people out," of "making things
go." She had been to the gallery at Covent Garden, but she
did not "attend" it, preferring the more expensive seats;
still less did she love it. So she made no reply.
"This year I have been three times--to FAUST, TOSCA,
and--" Was it "Tannhouser" or "Tannhoyser"? Better not risk
Margaret disliked TOSCA and FAUST. And so, for one
reason and another, they walked on in silence, chaperoned by
the voice of Mrs. Munt, who was getting into difficulties
with her nephew.
"I do in a WAY remember the passage, Tibby, but when
every instrument is so beautiful, it is difficult to pick
out one thing rather than another. I am sure that you and
Helen take me to the very nicest concerts. Not a dull note
from beginning to end. I only wish that our German friends
would have stayed till it finished."
"But surely you haven't forgotten the drum steadily
beating on the low C, Aunt Juley?" came Tibby's voice. "No
one could. It's unmistakable."
"A specially loud part?" hazarded Mrs. Munt. "Of course
I do not go in for being musical," she added, the shot
failing. "I only care for music--a very different thing.
But still I will say this for myself--I do know when I like
a thing and when I don't. Some people are the same about
pictures. They can go into a picture gallery--Miss Conder
can--and say straight off what they feel, all round the
wall. I never could do that. But music is so different to
pictures, to my mind. When it comes to music I am as safe
as houses, and I assure you, Tibby, I am by no means pleased
by everything. There was a thing--something about a faun in
French--which Helen went into ecstasies over, but I thought
it most tinkling and superficial, and said so, and I held to
my opinion too."
"Do you agree?" asked Margaret. "Do you think music is
so different to pictures?"
"I--I should have thought so, kind of," he said.
"So should I. Now, my sister declares they're just the
same. We have great arguments over it. She says I'm dense;
I say she's sloppy." Getting under way, she cried: "Now,
doesn't it seem absurd to you? What is the good of the Arts
if they are interchangeable? What is the good of the ear if
it tells you the same as the eye? Helen's one aim is to
translate tunes into the language of painting, and pictures
into the language of music. It's very ingenious, and she
says several pretty things in the process, but what's
gained, I'd like to know? Oh, it's all rubbish, radically
false. If Monet's really Debussy, and Debussy's really
Monet, neither gentleman is worth his salt--that's my opinion.
Evidently these sisters quarrelled.
"Now, this very symphony that we've just been
having--she won't let it alone. She labels it with meanings
from start to finish; turns it into literature. I wonder if
the day will ever return when music will be treated as
music. Yet I don't know. There's my brother--behind us.
He treats music as music, and oh, my goodness! He makes me
angrier than anyone, simply furious. With him I daren't
An unhappy family, if talented.
"But, of course, the real villain is Wagner. He has
done more than any man in the nineteenth century towards the
muddling of arts. I do feel that music is in a very serious
state just now, though extraordinarily interesting. Every
now and then in history there do come these terrible
geniuses, like Wagner, who stir up all the wells of thought
at once. For a moment it's splendid. Such a splash as
never was. But afterwards--such a lot of mud; and the
wells--as it were, they communicate with each other too
easily now, and not one of them will run quite clear.
That's what Wagner's done."
Her speeches fluttered away from the young man like
birds. If only he could talk like this, he would have
caught the world. Oh to acquire culture! Oh, to pronounce
foreign names correctly! Oh, to be well informed,
discoursing at ease on every subject that a lady started!
But it would take one years. With an hour at lunch and a
few shattered hours in the evening, how was it possible to
catch up with leisured women, who had been reading steadily
from childhood? His brain might be full of names, he might
have even heard of Monet and Debussy; the trouble was that
he could not string them together into a sentence, he could
not make them "tell," he could not quite forget about his
stolen umbrella. Yes, the umbrella was the real trouble.
Behind Monet and Debussy the umbrella persisted, with the
steady beat of a drum. "I suppose my umbrella will be all
right," he was thinking. "I don't really mind about it. I
will think about music instead. I suppose my umbrella will
be all right." Earlier in the afternoon he had worried about
seats. Ought he to have paid as much as two shillings?
Earlier still he had wondered, "Shall I try to do without a
programme?" There had always been something to worry him
ever since he could remember, always something that
distracted him in the pursuit of beauty. For he did pursue
beauty, and therefore, Margaret's speeches did flutter away
from him like birds.
Margaret talked ahead, occasionally saying, "Don't you
think so? don't you feel the same?" And once she stopped,
and said "Oh, do interrupt me!" which terrified him. She
did not attract him, though she filled him with awe. Her
figure was meagre, her face seemed all teeth and eyes, her
references to her sister and brother were uncharitable. For
all her cleverness and culture, she was probably one of
those soulless, atheistical women who have been so shown up
by Miss Corelli. It was surprising (and alarming) that she
should suddenly say, "I do hope that you'll come in and have
"I do hope that you'll come in and have some tea. We
should be so glad. I have dragged you so far out of your way."
They had arrived at Wickham Place. The sun had set, and
the backwater, in deep shadow, was filling with a gentle
haze. To the right of the fantastic skyline of the flats
towered black against the hues of evening; to the left the
older houses raised a square-cut, irregular parapet against
the grey. Margaret fumbled for her latchkey. Of course she
had forgotten it. So, grasping her umbrella by its ferrule,
she leant over the area and tapped at the dining-room window.
"Helen! Let us in!"
"All right," said a voice.
"You've been taking this gentleman's umbrella."
"Taken a what?" said Helen, opening the door. "Oh,
what's that? Do come in! How do you do?"
"Helen, you must not be so ramshackly. You took this
gentleman's umbrella away from Queen's Hall, and he has had
the trouble of coming for it."
"Oh, I am so sorry!" cried Helen, all her hair flying.
She had pulled off her hat as soon as she returned, and had
flung herself into the big dining-room chair. "I do nothing
but steal umbrellas. I am so very sorry! Do come in and
choose one. Is yours a hooky or a nobbly? Mine's a
nobbly--at least, I THINK it is."
The light was turned on, and they began to search the
hall, Helen, who had abruptly parted with the Fifth
Symphony, commenting with shrill little cries.
"Don't you talk, Meg! You stole an old gentleman's silk
top-hat. Yes, she did, Aunt Juley. It is a positive fact.
She thought it was a muff. Oh, heavens! I've knocked the
In and Out card down. Where's Frieda? Tibby, why don't you
ever--No, I can't remember what I was going to say. That
wasn't it, but do tell the maids to hurry tea up. What
about this umbrella?" She opened it. "No, it's all gone
along the seams. It's an appalling umbrella. It must be mine."
But it was not.
He took it from her, murmured a few words of thanks, and
then fled, with the lilting step of the clerk.
"But if you will stop--" cried Margaret. "Now, Helen,
how stupid you've been!"
"Whatever have I done?"
"Don't you see that you've frightened him away? I meant
him to stop to tea. You oughtn't to talk about stealing or
holes in an umbrella. I saw his nice eyes getting so
miserable. No, it's not a bit of good now." For Helen had
darted out into the street, shouting, "Oh, do stop!"
"I dare say it is all for the best," opined Mrs. Munt.
"We know nothing about the young man, Margaret, and your
drawing-room is full of very tempting little things."
But Helen cried: "Aunt Juley, how can you! You make me
more and more ashamed. I'd rather he HAD been a thief and
taken all the apostle spoons than that I--Well, I must shut
the front-door, I suppose. One more failure for Helen."
"Yes, I think the apostle spoons could have gone as
rent," said Margaret. Seeing that her aunt did not
understand, she added: "You remember 'rent.' It was one of
father's words--Rent to the ideal, to his own faith in human
nature. You remember how he would trust strangers, and if
they fooled him he would say, 'It's better to be fooled than
to be suspicious'--that the confidence trick is the work of
man, but the want-of-confidence-trick is the work of the devil."
"I remember something of the sort now," said Mrs. Munt,
rather tartly, for she longed to add, "It was lucky that
your father married a wife with money." But this was unkind,
and she contented herself with, "Why, he might have stolen
the little Ricketts picture as well."
"Better that he had," said Helen stoutly.
"No, I agree with Aunt Juley," said Margaret. "I'd
rather mistrust people than lose my little Ricketts. There
Their brother, finding the incident commonplace, had
stolen upstairs to see whether there were scones for tea.
He warmed the teapot--almost too deftly--rejected the Orange
Pekoe that the parlour-maid had provided, poured in five
spoonfuls of a superior blend, filled up with really boiling
water, and now called to the ladies to be quick or they
would lose the aroma.
"All right, Auntie Tibby," called Helen, while Margaret,
thoughtful again, said: "In a way, I wish we had a real boy
in the house--the kind of boy who cares for men. It would
make entertaining so much easier."
"So do I," said her sister. "Tibby only cares for
cultured females singing Brahms." And when they joined him
she said rather sharply: "Why didn't you make that young man
welcome, Tibby? You must do the host a little, you know.
You ought to have taken his hat and coaxed him into
stopping, instead of letting him be swamped by screaming women."
Tibby sighed, and drew a long strand of hair over his forehead.
"Oh, it's no good looking superior. I mean what I say."
"Leave Tibby alone!" said Margaret, who could not bear
her brother to be scolded.
"Here's the house a regular hen-coop!" grumbled Helen.
"Oh, my dear!" protested Mrs. Munt. "How can you say
such dreadful things! The number of men you get here has
always astonished me. If there is any danger it's the other
"Yes, but it's the wrong sort of men, Helen means."
"No, I don't," corrected Helen. "We get the right sort
of man, but the wrong side of him, and I say that's Tibby's
fault. There ought to be a something about the house--an--I
don't know what."
"A touch of the W.'s, perhaps?"
Helen put out her tongue.
"Who are the W.'s?" asked Tibby.
"The W.'s are things I and Meg and Aunt Juley know about
and you don't, so there!"
"I suppose that ours is a female house," said Margaret,
"and one must just accept it. No, Aunt Juley, I don't mean
that this house is full of women. I am trying to say
something much more clever. I mean that it was irrevocably
feminine, even in father's time. Now I'm sure you
understand! Well, I'll give you another example. It'll
shock you, but I don't care. Suppose Queen Victoria gave a
dinner-party, and that the guests had been Leighton,
Millais, Swinburne, Rossetti, Meredith, Fitzgerald, etc. Do
you suppose that the atmosphere of that dinner would have
been artistic? Heavens no! The very chairs on which they
sat would have seen to that. So with our house--it must be
feminine, and all we can do is to see that it isn't
effeminate. Just as another house that I can mention, but I
won't, sounded irrevocably masculine, and all its inmates
can do is to see that it isn't brutal."
"That house being the W.'s house, I presume," said Tibby.
"You're not going to be told about the W.'s, my child,"
Helen cried, "so don't you think it. And on the other hand,
I don't the least mind if you find out, so don't you think
you've done anything clever, in either case. Give me a cigarette."
"You do what you can for the house," said Margaret.
"The drawing-room reeks of smoke."
"If you smoked too, the house might suddenly turn
masculine. Atmosphere is probably a question of touch and
go. Even at Queen Victoria's dinner-party--if something had
been just a little different--perhaps if she'd worn a
clinging Liberty tea-gown instead of a magenta satin--"
"With an Indian shawl over her shoulders--"
"Fastened at the bosom with a Cairngorm-pin--"
Bursts of disloyal laughter--you must remember that they
are half German--greeted these suggestions, and Margaret
said pensively, "How inconceivable it would be if the Royal
Family cared about Art." And the conversation drifted away
and away, and Helen's cigarette turned to a spot in the
darkness, and the great flats opposite were sown with
lighted windows, which vanished and were relit again, and
vanished incessantly. Beyond them the thoroughfare roared
gently--a tide that could never be quiet, while in the east,
invisible behind the smokes of Wapping, the moon was rising.
"That reminds me, Margaret. We might have taken that
young man into the dining-room, at all events. Only the
majolica plate--and that is so firmly set in the wall. I am
really distressed that he had no tea."
For that little incident had impressed the three women
more than might be supposed. It remained as a goblin
football, as a hint that all is not for the best in the best
of all possible worlds, and that beneath these
superstructures of wealth and art there wanders an ill-fed
boy, who has recovered his umbrella indeed, but who has left
no address behind him, and no name.
We are not concerned with the very poor. They are
unthinkable, and only to be approached by the statistician
or the poet. This story deals with gentlefolk, or with
those who are obliged to pretend that they are gentlefolk.
The boy, Leonard Bast, stood at the extreme verge of
gentility. He was not in the abyss, but he could see it,
and at times people whom he knew had dropped in, and counted
no more. He knew that he was poor, and would admit it: he
would have died sooner than confess any inferiority to the
rich. This may be splendid of him. But he was inferior to
most rich people, there is not the least doubt of it. He
was not as courteous as the average rich man, nor as
intelligent, nor as healthy, nor as lovable. His mind and
his body had been alike underfed, because he was poor, and
because he was modern they were always craving better food.
Had he lived some centuries ago, in the brightly coloured
civilizations of the past, he would have had a definite
status, his rank and his income would have corresponded.
But in his day the angel of Democracy had arisen,
enshadowing the classes with leathern wings, and
proclaiming, "All men are equal--all men, that is to say,
who possess umbrellas," and so he was obliged to assert
gentility, lest he slipped into the abyss where nothing
counts, and the statements of Democracy are inaudible.
As he walked away from Wickham Place, his first care was
to prove that he was as good as the Miss Schlegels.
Obscurely wounded in his pride, he tried to wound them in
return. They were probably not ladies. Would real ladies
have asked him to tea? They were certainly ill-natured and
cold. At each step his feeling of superiority increased.
Would a real lady have talked about stealing an umbrella?
Perhaps they were thieves after all, and if he had gone into
the house they could have clapped a chloroformed
handkerchief over his face. He walked on complacently as
far as the Houses of Parliament. There an empty stomach
asserted itself, and told him he was a fool.
"Evening, Mr. Bast."
"Evening, Mr. Dealtry."
Mr. Dealtry, a fellow clerk, passed on, and Leonard
stood wondering whether he would take the tram as far as a
penny would take him, or whether he would walk. He decided
to walk--it is no good giving in, and he had spent money
enough at Queen's Hall--and he walked over Westminster
Bridge, in front of St. Thomas's Hospital, and through the
immense tunnel that passes under the South-Western main line
at Vauxhall. In the tunnel he paused and listened to the
roar of the trains. A sharp pain darted through his head,
and he was conscious of the exact form of his eye sockets.
He pushed on for another mile, and did not slacken speed
until he stood at the entrance of a road called Camelia
Road, which was at present his home.
Here he stopped again, and glanced suspiciously to right
and left, like a rabbit that is going to bolt into its
hole. A block of flats, constructed with extreme cheapness,
towered on either hand. Farther down the road two more
blocks were being built, and beyond these an old house was
being demolished to accommodate another pair. It was the
kind of scene that may be observed all over London, whatever
the locality--bricks and mortar rising and falling with the
restlessness of the water in a fountain, as the city
receives more and more men upon her soil. Camelia Road
would soon stand out like a fortress, and command, for a
little, an extensive view. Only for a little. Plans were
out for the erection of flats in Magnolia Road also. And
again a few years, and all the flats in either road might be
pulled down, and new buildings, of a vastness at present
unimaginable, might arise where they had fallen.
"Evening, Mr. Bast."
"Evening, Mr. Cunningham."
"Very serious thing this decline of the birth-rate in Manchester."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Very serious thing this decline of the birth-rate in
Manchester," repeated Mr. Cunningham, tapping the Sunday
paper, in which the calamity in question had just been
announced to him.
"Ah, yes," said Leonard, who was not going to let on
that he had not bought a Sunday paper.
"If this kind of thing goes on the population of England
will be stationary in 1960."
"You don't say so."
"I call it a very serious thing, eh?"
"Good-evening, Mr. Cunningham."
"Good-evening, Mr. Bast."
Then Leonard entered Block B of the flats, and turned,
not upstairs, but down, into what is known to house agents
as a semi-basement, and to other men as a cellar. He opened
the door, and cried "Hullo!" with the pseudo-geniality of
the Cockney. There was no reply. "Hullo!" he repeated.
The sitting-room was empty, though the electric light had
been left burning. A look of relief came over his face, and
he flung himself into the armchair.
The sitting-room contained, besides the armchair, two
other chairs, a piano, a three-legged table, and a cosy
corner. Of the walls, one was occupied by the window, the
other by a draped mantelshelf bristling with Cupids.
Opposite the window was the door, and beside the door a
bookcase, while over the piano there extended one of the
masterpieces of Maud Goodman. It was an amorous and not
unpleasant little hole when the curtains were drawn, and the
lights turned on, and the gas-stove unlit. But it struck
that shallow makeshift note that is so often heard in the
modem dwelling-place. It had been too easily gained, and
could be relinquished too easily.
As Leonard was kicking off his boots he jarred the
three-legged table, and a photograph frame, honourably
poised upon it, slid sideways, fell off into the fireplace,
and smashed. He swore in a colourless sort of way, and
picked the photograph up. It represented a young lady
called Jacky, and had been taken at the time when young
ladies called Jacky were often photographed with their
mouths open. Teeth of dazzling whiteness extended along
either of Jacky's jaws, and positively weighted her head
sideways, so large were they and so numerous. Take my word
for it, that smile was simply stunning, and it is only you
and I who will be fastidious, and complain that true joy
begins in the eyes, and that the eyes of Jacky did not
accord with her smile, but were anxious and hungry.
Leonard tried to pull out the fragments of glass, and
cut his fingers and swore again. A drop of blood fell on
the frame, another followed, spilling over on to the exposed
photograph. He swore more vigorously, and dashed to the
kitchen, where he bathed his hands. The kitchen was the
same size as the sitting room; through it was a bedroom.
This completed his home. He was renting the flat furnished:
of all the objects that encumbered it none were his own
except the photograph frame, the Cupids, and the books.
"Damn, damn, damnation!" he murmured, together with such