Part 2 out of 8
other words as he had learnt from older men. Then he raised
his hand to his forehead and said, "Oh, damn it all--" which
meant something different. He pulled himself together. He
drank a little tea, black and silent, that still survived
upon an upper shelf. He swallowed some dusty crumbs of
cake. Then he went back to the sitting-room, settled
himself anew, and began to read a volume of Ruskin.
"Seven miles to the north of Venice--"
How perfectly the famous chapter opens! How supreme its
command of admonition and of poetry! The rich man is
speaking to us from his gondola.
"Seven miles to the north of Venice the banks of sand
which nearer the city rise little above low-water mark
attain by degrees a higher level, and knit themselves at
last into fields of salt morass, raised here and there into
shapeless mounds, and intercepted by narrow creeks of sea."
Leonard was trying to form his style on Ruskin: he
understood him to be the greatest master of English Prose.
He read forward steadily, occasionally making a few notes.
"Let us consider a little each of these characters in
succession, and first (for of the shafts enough has been
said already), what is very peculiar to this church--its luminousness."
Was there anything to be learnt from this fine
sentence? Could he adapt it to the needs of daily life?
Could he introduce it, with modifications, when he next
wrote a letter to his brother, the lay-reader? For example--
"Let us consider a little each of these characters in
succession, and first (for of the absence of ventilation
enough has been said already), what is very peculiar to this
flat--its obscurity. "
Something told him that the modifications would not do;
and that something, had he known it, was the spirit of
English Prose. "My flat is dark as well as stuffy." Those
were the words for him.
And the voice in the gondola rolled on, piping
melodiously of Effort and Self-Sacrifice, full of high
purpose, full of beauty, full even of sympathy and the love
of men, yet somehow eluding all that was actual and
insistent in Leonard's life. For it was the voice of one
who had never been dirty or hungry, and had not guessed
successfully what dirt and hunger are.
Leonard listened to it with reverence. He felt that he
was being done good to, and that if he kept on with Ruskin,
and the Queen's Hall Concerts, and some pictures by Watts,
he would one day push his head out of the grey waters and
see the universe. He believed in sudden conversion, a
belief which may be right, but which is peculiarly
attractive to a half-baked mind. It is the bias of much
popular religion: in the domain of business it dominates the
Stock Exchange, and becomes that "bit of luck" by which all
successes and failures are explained. "If only I had a bit
of luck, the whole thing would come straight. . . . He's
got a most magnificent place down at Streatham and a 20
h.-p. Fiat, but then, mind you, he's had luck. . . . I'm
sorry the wife's so late, but she never has any luck over
catching trains." Leonard was superior to these people; he
did believe in effort and in a steady preparation for the
change that he desired. But of a heritage that may expand
gradually, he had no conception: he hoped to come to Culture
suddenly, much as the Revivalist hopes to come to Jesus.
Those Miss Schlegels had come to it; they had done the
trick; their hands were upon the ropes, once and for all.
And meanwhile, his flat was dark, as well as stuffy.
Presently there was a noise on the staircase. He shut
up Margaret's card in the pages of Ruskin, and opened the
door. A woman entered, of whom it is simplest to say that
she was not respectable. Her appearance was awesome. She
seemed all strings and bell-pulls--ribbons, chains, bead
necklaces that clinked and caught--and a boa of azure
feathers hung round her neck, with the ends uneven. Her
throat was bare, wound with a double row of pearls, her arms
were bare to the elbows, and might again be detected at the
shoulder, through cheap lace. Her hat, which was flowery,
resembled those punnets, covered with flannel, which we
sowed with mustard and cress in our childhood, and which
germinated here yes, and there no. She wore it on the back
of her head. As for her hair, or rather hairs, they are too
complicated to describe, but one system went down her back,
lying in a thick pad there, while another, created for a
lighter destiny, rippled around her forehead. The face--the
face does not signify. It was the face of the photograph,
but older, and the teeth were not so numerous as the
photographer had suggested, and certainly not so white.
Yes, Jacky was past her prime, whatever that prime may have
been. She was descending quicker than most women into the
colourless years, and the look in her eyes confessed it.
"What ho!" said Leonard, greeting that apparition with
much spirit, and helping it off with its boa.
Jacky, in husky tones, replied, "What ho!"
"Been out?" he asked. The question sounds superfluous,
but it cannot have been really, for the lady answered, "No,"
adding, "Oh, I am so tired."
"I'm tired," said he, hanging the boa up.
"Oh, Len, I am so tired."
"I've been to that classical concert I told you about,"
"I came back as soon as it was over."
"Any one been round to our place?" asked Jacky.
"Not that I've seen. I met Mr. Cunningham outside, and
we passed a few remarks."
"What, not Mr. Cunnginham?"
"Oh, you mean Mr. Cunningham."
"Yes. Mr. Cunningham."
"I've been out to tea at a lady friend's."
Her secret being at last given to the world, and the
name of the lady-friend being even adumbrated, Jacky made no
further experiments in the difficult and tiring art of
conversation. She never had been a great talker. Even in
her photographic days she had relied upon her smile and her
figure to attract, and now that she was--
"On the shelf,
On the shelf,
Boys, boys, I'm on the shelf,"
she was not likely to find her tongue. Occasional
bursts of song (of which the above is an example) still
issued from her lips, but the spoken word was rare.
She sat down on Leonard's knee, and began to fondle
him. She was now a massive woman of thirty-three, and her
weight hurt him, but he could not very well say anything.
Then she said, "Is that a book you're reading?" and he said,
"That's a book," and drew it from her unreluctant grasp.
Margaret's card fell out of it. It fell face downwards, and
he murmured, "Bookmarker."
"What is it?" he asked, a little wearily, for she only
had one topic of conversation when she sat upon his knee.
"You do love me?"
"Jacky, you know that I do. How can you ask such questions!"
"But you do love me, Len, don't you?"
"Of course I do."
A pause. The other remark was still due.
"Well? What is it?"
"Len, you will make it all right?"
"I can't have you ask me that again," said the boy,
flaring up into a sudden passion. "I've promised to marry
you when I'm of age, and that's enough. My word's my word.
I've promised to marry you as soon as ever I'm twenty-one,
and I can't keep on being worried. I've worries enough. It
isn't likely I'd throw you over, let alone my word, when
I've spent all this money. Besides, I'm an Englishman, and
I never go back on my word. Jacky, do be reasonable. Of
course I'll marry you. Only do stop badgering me."
"When's your birthday, Len?"
"I've told you again and again, the eleventh of November
next. Now get off my knee a bit; someone must get supper, I
Jacky went through to the bedroom, and began to see to
her hat. This meant blowing at it with short sharp puffs.
Leonard tidied up the sitting-room, and began to prepare
their evening meal. He put a penny into the slot of the
gas-meter, and soon the flat was reeking with metallic
fumes. Somehow he could not recover his temper, and all the
time he was cooking he continued to complain bitterly.
"It really is too bad when a fellow isn't trusted. It
makes one feel so wild, when I've pretended to the people
here that you're my wife--all right, you shall be my
wife--and I've bought you the ring to wear, and I've taken
this flat furnished, and it's far more than I can afford,
and yet you aren't content, and I've also not told the truth
when I've written home." He lowered his voice. "He'd stop
it." In a tone of horror, that was a little luxurious, he
repeated: "My brother'd stop it. I'm going against the
whole world, Jacky.
"That's what I am, Jacky. I don't take any heed of what
anyone says. I just go straight forward, I do. That's
always been my way. I'm not one of your weak knock-kneed
chaps. If a woman's in trouble, I don't leave her in the
lurch. That's not my street. No, thank you.
"I'll tell you another thing too. I care a good deal
about improving myself by means of Literature and Art, and
so getting a wider outlook. For instance, when you came in
I was reading Ruskin's STONES OF VENICE. I don't say this to
boast, but just to show you the kind of man I am. I can
tell you, I enjoyed that classical concert this afternoon."
To all his moods Jacky remained equally indifferent.
When supper was ready--and not before--she emerged from the
bedroom, saying: "But you do love me, don't you?"
They began with a soup square, which Leonard had just
dissolved in some hot water. It was followed by the
tongue--a freckled cylinder of meat, with a little jelly at
the top, and a great deal of yellow fat at the
bottom--ending with another square dissolved in water
(jelly: pineapple), which Leonard had prepared earlier in
the day. Jacky ate contentedly enough, occasionally looking
at her man with those anxious eyes, to which nothing else in
her appearance corresponded, and which yet seemed to mirror
her soul. And Leonard managed to convince his stomach that
it was having a nourishing meal.
After supper they smoked cigarettes and exchanged a few
statements. She observed that her "likeness" had been
broken. He found occasion to remark, for the second time,
that he had come straight back home after the concert at
Queen's Hall. Presently she sat upon his knee. The
inhabitants of Camelia Road tramped to and fro outside the
window, just on a level with their heads, and the family in
the flat on the ground-floor began to sing, "Hark, my soul,
it is the Lord."
"That tune fairly gives me the hump," said Leonard.
Jacky followed this, and said that, for her part, she
thought it a lovely tune.
"No; I'll play you something lovely. Get up, dear, for
He went to the piano and jingled out a little Grieg. He
played badly and vulgarly, but the performance was not
without its effect, for Jacky said she thought she'd be
going to bed. As she receded, a new set of interests
possessed the boy, and he began to think of what had been
said about music by that odd Miss Schlegel--the one that
twisted her face about so when she spoke. Then the thoughts
grew sad and envious. There was the girl named Helen, who
had pinched his umbrella, and the German girl who had smiled
at him pleasantly, and Herr someone, and Aunt someone, and
the brother--all, all with their hands on the ropes. They
had all passed up that narrow, rich staircase at Wickham
Place, to some ample room, whither he could never follow
them, not if he read for ten hours a day. Oh, it was not
good, this continual aspiration. Some are born cultured;
the rest had better go in for whatever comes easy. To see
life steadily and to see it whole was not for the likes of him.
From the darkness beyond the kitchen a voice called, "Len?"
"You in bed?" he asked, his forehead twitching.
Presently she called him again.
"I must clean my boots ready for the morning," he answered.
Presently she called him again.
"I rather want to get this chapter done."
He closed his ears against her.
"All right, Jacky, nothing; I'm reading a book."
"What?" he answered, catching her degraded deafness.
Presently she called him again.
Ruskin had visited Torcello by this time, and was
ordering his gondoliers to take him to Murano. It occurred
to him, as he glided over the whispering lagoons, that the
power of Nature could not be shortened by the folly, nor her
beauty altogether saddened by the misery, of such as
"Oh, Margaret," cried her aunt next morning, "such a most
unfortunate thing has happened. I could not get you alone."
The most unfortunate thing was not very serious. One of
the flats in the ornate block opposite had been taken
furnished by the Wilcox family, "coming up, no doubt, in the
hope of getting into London society." That Mrs. Munt should
be the first to discover the misfortune was not remarkable,
for she was so interested in the flats, that she watched
their every mutation with unwearying care. In theory she
despised them--they took away that old-world look--they cut
off the sun--flats house a flashy type of person. But if
the truth had been known, she found her visits to Wickham
Place twice as amusing since Wickham Mansions had arisen,
and would in a couple of days learn more about them than her
nieces in a couple of months, or her nephew in a couple of
years. She would stroll across and make friends with the
porters, and inquire what the rents were, exclaiming for
example: "What! a hundred and twenty for a basement?
You'll never get it!" And they would answer: "One can but
try, madam." The passenger lifts, the provision lifts, the
arrangement for coals (a great temptation for a dishonest
porter), were all familiar matters to her, and perhaps a
relief from the politico-economical-aesthetic atmosphere that
reigned at the Schlegels'.
Margaret received the information calmly, and did not
agree that it would throw a cloud over poor Helen's life.
"Oh, but Helen isn't a girl with no interests," she
explained. "She has plenty of other things and other people
to think about. She made a false start with the Wilcoxes,
and she'll be as willing as we are to have nothing more to
do with them."
"For a clever girl, dear, how very oddly you do talk.
Helen'll HAVE to have something more to do with them, now
that they're all opposite. She may meet that Paul in the
street. She cannot very well not bow."
"Of course she must bow. But look here; let's do the
flowers. I was going to say, the will to be interested in
him has died, and what else matters? I look on that
disastrous episode (over which you were so kind) as the
killing of a nerve in Helen. It's dead, and she'll never be
troubled with it again. The only things that matter are the
things that interest one. Bowing, even calling and leaving
cards, even a dinner-party--we can do all those things to
the Wilcoxes, if they find it agreeable; but the other
thing, the one important thing--never again. Don't you see?"
Mrs. Munt did not see, and indeed Margaret was making a
most questionable statement--that any emotion, any interest
once vividly aroused, can wholly die.
"I also have the honour to inform you that the Wilcoxes
are bored with us. I didn't tell you at the time--it might
have made you angry, and you had enough to worry you--but I
wrote a letter to Mrs. W., and apologized for the trouble
that Helen had given them. She didn't answer it."
"How very rude!"
"I wonder. Or was it sensible?"
"No, Margaret, most rude."
"In either case one can class it as reassuring."
Mrs. Munt sighed. She was going back to Swanage on the
morrow, just as her nieces were wanting her most. Other
regrets crowded upon her: for instance, how magnificently
she would have cut Charles if she had met him face to face.
She had already seen him, giving an order to the porter--and
very common he looked in a tall hat. But unfortunately his
back was turned to her, and though she had cut his back, she
could not regard this as a telling snub.
"But you will be careful, won't you?" she exhorted.
"Oh, certainly. Fiendishly careful."
"And Helen must be careful, too,"
"Careful over what?" cried Helen, at that moment coming
into the room with her cousin.
"Nothing," said Margaret, seized with a momentary awkwardness.
"Careful over what, Aunt Juley?"
Mrs. Munt assumed a cryptic air. "It is only that a
certain family, whom we know by name but do not mention, as
you said yourself last night after the concert, have taken
the flat opposite from the Mathesons--where the plants are
in the balcony."
Helen began some laughing reply, and then disconcerted
them all by blushing. Mrs. Munt was so disconcerted that
she exclaimed, "What, Helen, you don't mind them coming, do
you?" and deepened the blush to crimson.
"Of course I don't mind," said Helen a little crossly.
"It is that you and Meg are both so absurdly grave about it,
when there's nothing to be grave about at all."
"I'm not grave," protested Margaret, a little cross in
"Well, you look grave; doesn't she, Frieda?"
"I don't feel grave, that's all I can say; you're going
quite on the wrong tack."
"No, she does not feel grave," echoed Mrs. Munt. "I can
bear witness to that. She disagrees--"
"Hark!" interrupted Fraulein Mosebach. "I hear Bruno
entering the hall."
For Herr Liesecke was due at Wickham Place to call for
the two younger girls. He was not entering the hall--in
fact, he did not enter it for quite five minutes. But
Frieda detected a delicate situation, and said that she and
Helen had much better wait for Bruno down below, and leave
Margaret and Mrs. Munt to finish arranging the flowers.
Helen acquiesced. But, as if to prove that the situation
was not delicate really, she stopped in the doorway and said:
"Did you say the Mathesons' flat, Aunt Juley? How
wonderful you are! I never knew that the woman who laced
too tightly's name was Matheson."
"Come, Helen," said her cousin.
"Go, Helen," said her aunt; and continued to Margaret
almost in the same breath: "Helen cannot deceive me, She
"Oh, hush!" breathed Margaret. "Frieda'll hear you, and
she can be so tiresome."
"She minds," persisted Mrs. Munt, moving thoughtfully
about the room, and pulling the dead chrysanthemums out of
the vases. "I knew she'd mind--and I'm sure a girl ought
to! Such an experience! Such awful coarse-grained people!
I know more about them than you do, which you forget, and if
Charles had taken you that motor drive--well, you'd have
reached the house a perfect wreck. Oh, Margaret, you don't
know what you are in for. They're all bottled up against
the drawing-room window. There's Mrs. Wilcox--I've seen
her. There's Paul. There's Evie, who is a minx. There's
Charles--I saw him to start with. And who would an elderly
man with a moustache and a copper-coloured face be?"
"Mr. Wilcox, possibly."
"I knew it. And there's Mr. Wilcox."
"It's a shame to call his face copper colour,"
complained Margaret. "He has a remarkably good complexion
for a man of his age."
Mrs. Munt, triumphant elsewhere, could afford to concede
Mr. Wilcox his complexion. She passed on from it to the
plan of campaign that her nieces should pursue in the
future. Margaret tried to stop her.
"Helen did not take the news quite as I expected, but
the Wilcox nerve is dead in her really, so there's no need
"It's as well to be prepared."
"No--it's as well not to be prepared."
Her thought drew being from the obscure borderland. She
could not explain in so many words, but she felt that those
who prepare for all the emergencies of life beforehand may
equip themselves at the expense of joy. It is necessary to
prepare for an examination, or a dinner-party, or a possible
fall in the price of stock: those who attempt human
relations must adopt another method, or fail. "Because I'd
sooner risk it," was her lame conclusion.
"But imagine the evenings," exclaimed her aunt, pointing
to the Mansions with the spout of the watering-can. "Turn
the electric light on her or there, and it's almost the same
room. One evening they may forget to draw their blinds
down, and you'll see them; and the next, you yours, and
they'll see you. Impossible to sit out on the balconies.
Impossible to water the plants, or even speak. Imagine
going out of the front-door, and they come out opposite at
the same moment. And yet you tell me that plans are
unnecessary, and you'd rather risk it."
"I hope to risk things all my life."
"Oh, Margaret, most dangerous."
"But after all," she continued with a smile, "there's
never any great risk as long as you have money."
"Oh, shame! What a shocking speech!"
"Money pads the edges of things," said Miss Schlegel.
"God help those who have none."
"But this is something quite new!" said Mrs. Munt, who
collected new ideas as a squirrel collects nuts, and was
especially attracted by those that are portable.
"New for me; sensible people have acknowledged it for
years. You and I and the Wilcoxes stand upon money as upon
islands. It is so firm beneath our feet that we forget its
very existence. It's only when we see someone near us
tottering that we realize all that an independent income
means. Last night, when we were talking up here round the
fire, I began to think that the very soul of the world is
economic, and that the lowest abyss is not the absence of
love, but the absence of coin."
"I call that rather cynical."
"So do I. But Helen and I, we ought to remember, when we
are tempted to criticize others, that we are standing on
these islands, and that most of the others, are down below
the surface of the sea. The poor cannot always reach those
whom they want to love, and they can hardly ever escape from
those whom they love no longer. We rich can. Imagine the
tragedy last June, if Helen and Paul Wilcox had been poor
people, and couldn't invoke railways and motor-cars to part them."
"That's more like Socialism," said Mrs. Munt suspiciously.
"Call it what you like. I call it going through life
with one's hand spread open on the table. I'm tired of
these rich people who pretend to be poor, and think it shows
a nice mind to ignore the piles of money that keep their
feet above the waves. I stand each year upon six hundred
pounds, and Helen upon the same, and Tibby will stand upon
eight, and as fast as our pounds crumble away into the sea
they are renewed--from the sea, yes, from the sea. And all
our thoughts are the thoughts of six-hundred-pounders, and
all our speeches; and because we don't want to steal
umbrellas ourselves, we forget that below the sea people do
want to steal them, and do steal them sometimes, and that
what's a joke up here is down there reality--"
"There they go--there goes Fraulein Mosebach. Really,
for a German she does dress charmingly. Oh--!"
"What is it?"
"Helen was looking up at the Wilcoxes' flat."
"Why shouldn't she?"
"I beg your pardon, I interrupted you. What was it you
were saying about reality?"
"I had worked round to myself, as usual," answered
Margaret in tones that were suddenly preoccupied.
"Do tell me this, at all events. Are you for the rich
or for the poor?"
"Too difficult. Ask me another. Am I for poverty or
for riches? For riches. Hurrah for riches!"
"For riches!" echoed Mrs. Munt, having, as it were, at
last secured her nut.
"Yes. For riches. Money for ever!"
"So am I, and so, I am afraid, are most of my
acquaintances at Swanage, but I am surprised that you agree
"Thank you so much, Aunt Juley. While I have talked
theories, you have done the flowers."
"Not at all, dear. I wish you would let me help you in
more important things."
"Well, would you be very kind? Would you come round
with me to the registry office? There's a housemaid who
won't say yes but doesn't say no."
On their way thither they too looked up at the Wilcoxes'
flat. Evie was in the balcony, "staring most rudely,"
according to Mrs. Munt. Oh yes, it was a nuisance, there
was no doubt of it. Helen was proof against a passing
encounter but--Margaret began to lose confidence. Might it
reawake the dying nerve if the family were living close
against her eyes? And Frieda Mosebach was stopping with
them for another fortnight, and Frieda was sharp, abominably
sharp, and quite capable of remarking, "You love one of the
young gentlemen opposite, yes?" The remark would be untrue,
but of the kind which, if stated often enough, may become
true; just as the remark, "England and Germany are bound to
fight," renders war a little more likely each time that it
is made, and is therefore made the more readily by the
gutter press of either nation. Have the private emotions
also their gutter press? Margaret thought so, and feared
that good Aunt Juley and Frieda were typical specimens of
it. They might, by continual chatter, lead Helen into a
repetition of the desires of June. Into a repetition--they
could not do more; they could not lead her into lasting
love. They were--she saw it clearly--Journalism; her
father, with all his defects and wrong-headedness, had been
Literature, and had he lived, he would have persuaded his
The registry office was holding its morning reception.
A string of carriages filled the street. Miss Schlegel
waited her turn, and finally had to be content with an
insidious "temporary," being rejected by genuine housemaids
on the ground of her numerous stairs. Her failure depressed
her, and though she forgot the failure, the depression
remained. On her way home she again glanced up at the
Wilcoxes' flat, and took the rather matronly step of
speaking about the matter to Helen.
"Helen, you must tell me whether this thing worries you."
"If what?" said Helen, who was washing her hands for lunch.
"The W.'s coming."
"No, of course not."
"Really." Then she admitted that she was a little
worried on Mrs. Wilcox's account; she implied that Mrs.
Wilcox might reach backward into deep feelings, and be
pained by things that never touched the other members of
that clan. "I shan't mind if Paul points at our house and
says, 'There lives the girl who tried to catch me.' But she might."
"If even that worries you, we could arrange something.
There's no reason we should be near people who displease us
or whom we displease, thanks to our money. We might even go
away for a little."
"Well, I am going away. Frieda's just asked me to
Stettin, and I shan't be back till after the New Year. Will
that do? Or must I fly the country altogether? Really,
Meg, what has come over you to make such a fuss?"
"Oh, I'm getting an old maid, I suppose. I thought I
minded nothing, but really I--I should be bored if you fell
in love with the same man twice and"--she cleared her
throat--"you did go red, you know, when Aunt Juley attacked
you this morning. I shouldn't have referred to it otherwise."
But Helen's laugh rang true, as she raised a soapy hand
to heaven and swore that never, nowhere and nohow, would she
again fall in love with any of the Wilcox family, down to
its remotest collaterals.
The friendship between Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox, which was
to develop so--quickly and with such strange results, may
perhaps have had its beginnings at Speyer, in the spring.
Perhaps the elder lady, as she gazed at the vulgar, ruddy
cathedral, and listened to the talk of Helen and her
husband, may have detected in the other and less charming of
the sisters a deeper sympathy, a sounder judgment. She was
capable of detecting such things. Perhaps it was she who
had desired the Miss Schlegels to be invited to Howards End,
and Margaret whose presence she had particularly desired.
All this is speculation: Mrs. Wilcox has left few clear
indications behind her. It is certain that she came to call
at Wickham Place a fortnight later, the very day that Helen
was going with her cousin to Stettin.
"Helen!" cried Fraulein Mosebach in awestruck tones (she
was now in her cousin's confidence)--"his mother has
forgiven you!" And then, remembering that in England the
new-comer ought not to call before she is called upon, she
changed her tone from awe to disapproval, and opined that
Mrs. Wilcox was "keine Dame."
"Bother the whole family!" snapped Margaret. "Helen,
stop giggling and pirouetting, and go and finish your
packing. Why can't the woman leave us alone?"
"I don't know what I shall do with Meg," Helen retorted,
collapsing upon the stairs. "She's got Wilcox and Box upon
the brain. Meg, Meg, I don't love the young gentleman; I
don't love the young gentleman, Meg, Meg. Can a body speak plainer?"
"Most certainly her love has died," asserted Fraulein Mosebach.
"Most certainly it has, Frieda, but that will not
prevent me from being bored with the Wilcoxes if I return
Then Helen simulated tears, and Fraulein Mosebach, who
thought her extremely amusing, did the same. "Oh, boo hoo!
boo hoo hoo! Meg's going to return the call, and I can't.
'Cos why? 'Cos I'm going to German-eye."
"If you are going to Germany, go and pack; if you
aren't, go and call on the Wilcoxes instead of me."
"But, Meg, Meg, I don't love the young gentleman; I
don't love the young--0 lud, who's that coming down the
stairs? I vow 'tis my brother. 0 crimini!"
A male--even such a male as Tibby--was enough to stop
the foolery. The barrier of sex, though decreasing among
the civilized, is still high, and higher on the side of
women. Helen could tell her sister all, and her cousin much
about Paul; she told her brother nothing. It was not
prudishness, for she now spoke of "the Wilcox ideal" with
laughter, and even with a growing brutality. Nor was it
precaution, for Tibby seldom repeated any news that did not
concern himself. It was rather the feeling that she
betrayed a secret into the camp of men, and that, however
trivial it was on this side of the barrier, it would become
important on that. So she stopped, or rather began to fool
on other subjects, until her long-suffering relatives drove
her upstairs. Fraulein Mosebach followed her, but lingered
to say heavily over the banisters to Margaret, "It is all
right--she does not love the young man--he has not been
worthy of her."
"Yes, I know; thanks very much."
"I thought I did right to tell you."
"Ever so many thanks."
"What's that?" asked Tibby. No one told him, and he
proceeded into the dining-room, to eat Elvas plums.
That evening Margaret took decisive action. The house
was very quiet, and the fog--we are in November now--pressed
against the windows like an excluded ghost. Frieda and
Helen and all their luggage had gone. Tibby, who was not
feeling well, lay stretched on a sofa by the fire. Margaret
sat by him, thinking. Her mind darted from impulse to
impulse, and finally marshalled them all in review. The
practical person, who knows what he wants at once, and
generally knows nothing else, will excuse her of
indecision. But this was the way her mind worked. And when
she did act, no one could accuse her of indecision then.
She hit out as lustily as if she had not considered the
matter at all. The letter that she wrote Mrs. Wilcox glowed
with the native hue of resolution. The pale cast of thought
was with her a breath rather than a tarnish, a breath that
leaves the colours all the more vivid when it has been wiped
Dear Mrs. Wilcox,
I have to write something discourteous. It would be
better if we did not meet. Both my sister and my aunt
have given displeasure to your family, and, in my
sister's case, the grounds for displeasure might recur.
As far as I know, she no longer occupies her thoughts
with your son. But it would not be fair, either to her
or to you, if they met, and it is therefore right that
our acquaintance which began so pleasantly, should end.
I fear that you will not agree with this; indeed, I
know that you will not, since you have been good enough
to call on us. It is only an instinct on my part, and no
doubt the instinct is wrong. My sister would,
undoubtedly, say that it is wrong. I write without her
knowledge, and I hope that you will not associate her
with my discourtesy.
M. J. Schlegel
Margaret sent this letter round by post. Next morning
she received the following reply by hand:
Dear Miss Schlegel,
You should not have written me such a letter. I
called to tell you that Paul has gone abroad.
Margaret's cheeks burnt. She could not finish her
breakfast. She was on fire with shame. Helen had told her
that the youth was leaving England, but other things had
seemed more important, and she had forgotten. All her
absurd anxieties fell to the ground, and in their place
arose the certainty that she had been rude to Mrs. Wilcox.
Rudeness affected Margaret like a bitter taste in the
mouth. It poisoned life. At times it is necessary, but woe
to those who employ it without due need. She flung on a hat
and shawl, just like a poor woman, and plunged into the fog,
which still continued. Her lips were compressed, the letter
remained in her hand, and in this state she crossed the
street, entered the marble vestibule of the flats, eluded
the concierges, and ran up the stairs till she reached the
She sent in her name, and to her surprise was shown
straight into Mrs. Wilcox's bedroom.
"Oh, Mrs. Wilcox, I have made the baddest blunder. I am
more, more ashamed and sorry than I can say."
Mrs. Wilcox bowed gravely. She was offended, and did
not pretend to the contrary. She was sitting up in bed,
writing letters on an invalid table that spanned her knees.
A breakfast tray was on another table beside her. The light
of the fire, the light from the window, and the light of a
candle-lamp, which threw a quivering halo round her hands,
combined to create a strange atmosphere of dissolution.
"I knew he was going to India in November, but I forgot."
"He sailed on the 17th for Nigeria, in Africa."
"I knew--I know. I have been too absurd all through. I
am very much ashamed."
Mrs. Wilcox did not answer.
"I am more sorry than I can say, and I hope that you
will forgive me."
"It doesn't matter, Miss Schlegel. It is good of you to
have come round so promptly."
"It does matter," cried Margaret. "I have been rude to
you; and my sister is not even at home, so there was not
even that excuse.
"She has just gone to Germany."
"She gone as well," murmured the other. "Yes,
certainly, it is quite safe--safe, absolutely, now."
"You've been worrying too!" exclaimed Margaret, getting
more and more excited, and taking a chair without
invitation. "How perfectly extraordinary! I can see that
you have. You felt as I do; Helen mustn't meet him again."
"I did think it best."
"That's a most difficult question," said Mrs. Wilcox,
smiling, and a little losing her expression of annoyance.
"I think you put it best in your letter--it was an instinct,
which may be wrong."
"It wasn't that your son still--"
"Oh no; he often--my Paul is very young, you see."
"Then what was it?"
She repeated: "An instinct which may be wrong."
"In other words, they belong to types that can fall in
love, but couldn't live together. That's dreadfully
probable. I'm afraid that in nine cases out of ten Nature
pulls one way and human nature another."
"These are indeed 'other words,'" said Mrs. Wilcox." I
had nothing so coherent in my head. I was merely alarmed
when I knew that my boy cared for your sister."
"Ah, I have always been wanting to ask you. How did you
know? Helen was so surprised when our aunt drove up, and
you stepped forward and arranged things. Did Paul tell you?"
"There is nothing to be gained by discussing that," said
Mrs. Wilcox after a moment's pause.
"Mrs. Wilcox, were you very angry with us last June? I
wrote you a letter and you didn't answer it."
"I was certainly against taking Mrs. Matheson's flat. I
knew it was opposite your house."
"But it's all right now?"
"I think so."
"You only think? You aren't sure? I do love these
little muddles tidied up?"
"Oh yes, I'm sure," said Mrs. Wilcox, moving with
uneasiness beneath the clothes. "I always sound uncertain
over things. It is my way of speaking."
"That's all right, and I'm sure too."
Here the maid came in to remove the breakfast-tray.
They were interrupted, and when they resumed conversation it
was on more normal lines.
"I must say good-bye now--you will be getting up."
"No--please stop a little longer--I am taking a day in
bed. Now and then I do."
"I thought of you as one of the early risers."
"At Howards End--yes; there is nothing to get up for in London."
"Nothing to get up for?" cried the scandalized
Margaret. "When there are all the autumn exhibitions, and
Ysaye playing in the afternoon! Not to mention people."
"The truth is, I am a little tired. First came the
wedding, and then Paul went off, and, instead of resting
yesterday, I paid a round of calls."
"Yes; Charles, my elder son, is married."
"We took the flat chiefly on that account, and also that
Paul could get his African outfit. The flat belongs to a
cousin of my husband's, and she most kindly offered it to
us. So before the day came we were able to make the
acquaintance of Dolly's people, which we had not yet done."
Margaret asked who Dolly's people were.
"Fussell. The father is in the Indian army--retired;
the brother is in the army. The mother is dead."
So perhaps these were the "chinless sunburnt men" whom
Helen had espied one afternoon through the window. Margaret
felt mildly interested in the fortunes of the Wilcox
family. She had acquired the habit on Helen's account, and
it still clung to her. She asked for more information about
Miss Dolly Fussell that was, and was given it in even,
unemotional tones. Mrs. Wilcox's voice, though sweet and
compelling, had little range of expression. It suggested
that pictures, concerts, and people are all of small and
equal value. Only once had it quickened--when speaking of
"Charles and Albert Fussell have known one another some
time. They belong to the same club, and are both devoted to
golf. Dolly plays golf too, though I believe not so well,
and they first met in a mixed foursome. We all like her,
and are very much pleased. They were married on the 11th, a
few days before Paul sailed. Charles was very anxious to
have his brother as best man, so he made a great point of
having it on the 11th. The Fussells would have preferred it
after Christmas, but they were very nice about it. There is
Dolly's photograph--in that double frame."
"Are you quite certain that I'm not interrupting, Mrs. Wilcox?"
"Then I will stay. I'm enjoying this."
Dolly's photograph was now examined. It was signed "For
dear Mims," which Mrs. Wilcox interpreted as "the name she
and Charles had settled that she should call me." Dolly
looked silly, and had one of those triangular faces that so
often prove attractive to a robust man. She was very
pretty. From her Margaret passed to Charles, whose features
prevailed opposite. She speculated on the forces that had
drawn the two together till God parted them. She found time
to hope that they would be happy.
"They have gone to Naples for their honeymoon."
"I can hardly imagine Charles in Italy."
"Doesn't he care for travelling?"
"He likes travel, but he does see through foreigners
so. What he enjoys most is a motor tour in England, and I
think that would have carried the day if the weather had not
been so abominable. His father gave him a car of his own
for a wedding present, which for the present is being stored
at Howards End."
"I suppose you have a garage there?"
"Yes. My husband built a little one only last month, to
the west of the house, not far from the wych-elm, in what
used to be the paddock for the pony."
The last words had an indescribable ring about them.
"Where's the pony gone?" asked Margaret after a pause.
"The pony? Oh, dead, ever so long ago." "The wych-elm I
remember. Helen spoke of it as a very splendid tree."
"It is the finest wych-elm in Hertfordshire. Did your
sister tell you about the teeth?"
"Oh, it might interest you. There are pigs' teeth stuck
into the trunk, about four feet from the ground. The
country people put them in long ago, and they think that if
they chew a piece of the bark, it will cure the toothache.
The teeth are almost grown over now, and no one comes to the
"I should. I love folklore and all festering superstitions."
"Do you think that the tree really did cure toothache,
if one believed in it?"
"Of course it did. It would cure anything--once."
"Certainly I remember cases--you see I lived at Howards
End long, long before Mr. Wilcox knew it. I was born there."
The conversation again shifted. At the time it seemed
little more than aimless chatter. She was interested when
her hostess explained that Howards End was her own
property. She was bored when too minute an account was
given of the Fussell family, of the anxieties of Charles
concerning Naples, of the movements of Mr. Wilcox and Evie,
who were motoring in Yorkshire. Margaret could not bear
being bored. She grew inattentive, played with the
photograph frame, dropped it, smashed Dolly's glass,
apologized, was pardoned, cut her finger thereon, was
pitied, and finally said she must be going--there was all
the housekeeping to do, and she had to interview Tibby's
Then the curious note was struck again.
"Good-bye, Miss Schlegel, good-bye. Thank you for
coming. You have cheered me up."
"I'm so glad!"
"I--I wonder whether you ever think about yourself.?"
"I think of nothing else," said Margaret, blushing, but
letting her hand remain in that of the invalid.
"I wonder. I wondered at Heidelberg."
"I almost think--"
"Yes?" asked Margaret, for there was a long pause--a
pause that was somehow akin to the flicker of the fire, the
quiver of the reading-lamp upon their hands, the white blur
from the window; a pause of shifting and eternal shadows.
"I almost think you forget you're a girl."
Margaret was startled and a little annoyed. "I'm
twenty-nine," she remarked. "That not so wildly girlish."
Mrs. Wilcox smiled.
"What makes you say that? Do you mean that I have been
gauche and rude?"
A shake of the head. "I only meant that I am fifty-one,
and that to me both of you--Read it all in some book or
other; I cannot put things clearly."
"Oh, I've got it--inexperience. I'm no better than
Helen, you mean, and yet I presume to advise her."
"Yes. You have got it. Inexperience is the word."
"Inexperience," repeated Margaret, in serious yet
buoyant tones. "Of course, I have everything to
learn--absolutely everything--just as much as Helen. Life's
very difficult and full of surprises. At all events, I've
got as far as that. To be humble and kind, to go straight
ahead, to love people rather than pity them, to remember the
submerged--well, one can't do all these things at once,
worse luck, because they're so contradictory. It's then
that proportion comes in--to live by proportion. Don't
BEGIN with proportion. Only prigs do that. Let proportion
come in as a last resource, when the better things have
failed, and a deadlock--Gracious me, I've started preaching!"
"Indeed, you put the difficulties of life splendidly,"
said Mrs. Wilcox, withdrawing her hand into the deeper
shadows. "It is just what I should have liked to say about
Mrs. Wilcox cannot be accused of giving Margaret much
information about life. And Margaret, on the other hand,
has made a fair show of modesty, and has pretended to an
inexperience that she certainly did not feel. She had kept
house for over ten years; she had entertained, almost with
distinction; she had brought up a charming sister, and was
bringing up a brother. Surely, if experience is attainable,
she had attained it.
Yet the little luncheon-party that she gave in Mrs.
Wilcox's honour was not a success. The new friend did not
blend with the "one or two delightful people" who had been
asked to meet her, and the atmosphere was one of polite
bewilderment. Her tastes were simple, her knowledge of
culture slight, and she was not interested in the New
English Art Club, nor in the dividing-line between
Journalism and Literature, which was started as a
conversational hare. The delightful people darted after it
with cries of joy, Margaret leading them, and not till the
meal was half over did they realize that the principal guest
had taken no part in the chase. There was no common topic.
Mrs. Wilcox, whose life had been spent in the service of
husband and sons, had little to say to strangers who had
never shared it, and whose age was half her own. Clever
talk alarmed her, and withered her delicate imaginings; it
was the social; counterpart of a motorcar, all jerks, and
she was a wisp of hay, a flower. Twice she deplored the
weather, twice criticized the train service on the Great
Northern Railway. They vigorously assented, and rushed on,
and when she inquired whether there was any news of Helen,
her hostess was too much occupied in placing Rothenstein to
answer. The question was repeated: "I hope that your sister
is safe in Germany by now." Margaret checked herself and
said, "Yes, thank you; I heard on Tuesday." But the demon of
vociferation was in her, and the next moment she was off again.
"Only on Tuesday, for they live right away at Stettin.
Did you ever know any one living at Stettin?"
"Never," said Mrs. Wilcox gravely, while her neighbour,
a young man low down in the Education Office, began to
discuss what people who lived at Stettin ought to look
like. Was there such a thing as Stettininity? Margaret
"People at Stettin drop things into boats out of
overhanging warehouses. At least, our cousins do, but
aren't particularly rich. The town isn't interesting,
except for a clock that rolls its eyes, and the view of the
Oder, which truly is something special. Oh, Mrs. Wilcox,
you would love the Oder! The river, or rather rivers--there
seem to be dozens of them--are intense blue, and the plain
they run through an intensest green."
"Indeed! That sounds like a most beautiful view, Miss Schlegel."
"So I say, but Helen, who will muddle things, says no,
it's like music. The course of the Oder is to be like
music. It's obliged to remind her of a symphonic poem. The
part by the landing-stage is in B minor, if I remember
rightly, but lower down things get extremely mixed. There
is a slodgy theme in several keys at once, meaning
mud-banks, and another for the navigable canal, and the exit
into the Baltic is in C sharp major, pianissimo."
"What do the overhanging warehouses make of that?" asked
the man, laughing.
"They make a great deal of it," replied Margaret,
unexpectedly rushing off on a new track. "I think it's
affectation to compare the Oder to music, and so do you, but
the overhanging warehouses of Stettin take beauty seriously,
which we don't, and the average Englishman doesn't, and
despises all who do. Now don't say 'Germans have no taste,'
or I shall scream. They haven't. But--but--such a
tremendous but! --they take poetry seriously. They do take
"Is anything gained by that?"
"Yes, yes. The German is always on the lookout for
beauty. He may miss it through stupidity, or misinterpret
it, but he is always asking beauty to enter his life, and I
believe that in the end it will come. At Heidelberg I met a
fat veterinary surgeon whose voice broke with sobs as he
repeated some mawkish poetry. So easy for me to laugh--I,
who never repeat poetry, good or bad, and cannot remember
one fragment of verse to thrill myself with. My blood
boils--well, I'm half German, so put it down to
patriotism--when I listen to the tasteful contempt of the
average islander for things Teutonic, whether they're
Bocklin or my veterinary surgeon. 'Oh, Bocklin,' they say;
'he strains after beauty, he peoples Nature with gods too
consciously.' Of course Bocklin strains, because he wants
something--beauty and all the other intangible gifts that
are floating about the world. So his landscapes don't come
off, and Leader's do."
"I am not sure that I agree. Do you?" said he, turning
to Mrs. Wilcox.
She replied: "I think Miss Schlegel puts everything
splendidly"; and a chill fell on the conversation.
"Oh, Mrs. Wilcox, say something nicer than that. It's
such a snub to be told you put things splendidly. "
"I do not mean it as a snub. Your last speech
interested me so much. Generally people do not seem quite
to like Germany. I have long wanted to hear what is said on
the other side."
"The other side? Then you do disagree. Oh, good! Give
us your side."
"I have no side. But my husband"--her voice softened,
the chill increased--"has very little faith in the
Continent, and our children have all taken after him."
"On what grounds? Do they feel that the Continent is in
Mrs. Wilcox had no idea; she paid little attention to
grounds. She was not intellectual, nor even alert, and it
was odd that, all the same, she should give the idea of
greatness. Margaret, zigzagging with her friends over
Thought and Art, was conscious of a personality that
transcended their own and dwarfed their activities. There
was no bitterness in Mrs. Wilcox; there was not even
criticism; she was lovable, and no ungracious or
uncharitable word had passed her lips. Yet she and daily
life were out of focus: one or the other must show blurred.
And at lunch she seemed more out of focus than usual, and
nearer the line that divides life from a life that may be of
"You will admit, though, that the Continent--it seems
silly to speak of 'the Continent,' but really it is all more
like itself than any part of it is like England. England is
unique. Do have another jelly first. I was going to say
that the Continent, for good or for evil, is interested in
ideas. Its Literature and Art have what one might call the
kink of the unseen about them, and this persists even
through decadence and affectation. There is more liberty of
action in England, but for liberty of thought go to
bureaucratic Prussia. People will there discuss with
humility vital questions that we here think ourselves too
good to touch with tongs."
"I do not want to go to Prussian" said Mrs. Wilcox--"not
even to see that interesting view that you were describing.
And for discussing with humility I am too old. We never
discuss anything at Howards End."
"Then you ought to!" said Margaret. "Discussion keeps a
house alive. It cannot stand by bricks and mortar alone."
"It cannot stand without them," said Mrs. Wilcox,
unexpectedly catching on to the thought, and rousing, for
the first and last time, a faint hope in the breasts of the
delightful people. "It cannot stand without them, and I
sometimes think--But I cannot expect your generation to
agree, for even my daughter disagrees with me here."
"Never mind us or her. Do say!"
"I sometimes think that it is wiser to leave action and
discussion to men."
There was a little silence.
"One admits that the arguments against the suffrage are
extraordinarily strong," said a girl opposite, leaning
forward and crumbling her bread.
"Are they? I never follow any arguments. I am only too
thankful not to have a vote myself."
"We didn't mean the vote, though, did we?" supplied
Margaret. "Aren't we differing on something much wider,
Mrs. Wilcox? Whether women are to remain what they have
been since the dawn of history; or whether, since men have
moved forward so far, they too may move forward a little
now. I say they may. I would even admit a biological change."
"I don't know, I don't know."
"I must be getting back to my overhanging warehouse,"
said the man. "They've turned disgracefully strict.
Mrs. Wilcox also rose.
"Oh, but come upstairs for a little. Miss Quested
plays. Do you like MacDowell? Do you mind him only having
two noises? If you must really go, I'll see you out. Won't
you even have coffee?"
They left the dining-room, closing the door behind them,
and as Mrs. Wilcox buttoned up her jacket, she said: "What
an interesting life you all lead in London!"
"No, we don't," said Margaret, with a sudden revulsion.
"We lead the lives of gibbering monkeys. Mrs.
Wilcox--really--We have something quiet and stable at the
bottom. We really have. All my friends have. Don't
pretend you enjoyed lunch, for you loathed it, but forgive
me by coming again, alone, or by asking me to you."
"I am used to young people," said Mrs. Wilcox, and with
each word she spoke the outlines of known things grew dim.
"I hear a great deal of chatter at home, for we, like you,
entertain a great deal. With us it is more sport and
politics, but--I enjoyed my lunch very much, Miss Schlegel,
dear, and am not pretending, and only wish I could have
joined in more. For one thing, I'm not particularly well
just today. For another, you younger people move so quickly
that it dazes me. Charles is the same, Dolly the same. But
we are all in the same boat, old and young. I never forget that."
They were silent for a moment. Then, with a newborn
emotion, they shook hands. The conversation ceased suddenly
when Margaret re-entered the dining-room: her friends had
been talking over her new friend, and had dismissed her as
Several days passed.
Was Mrs. Wilcox one of the unsatisfactory people--there
are many of them--who dangle intimacy and then withdraw it?
They evoke our interests and affections, and keep the life
of the spirit dawdling round them. Then they withdraw.
When physical passion is involved, there is a definite name
for such behaviour--flirting--and if carried far enough it
is punishable by law. But no law--not public opinion
even--punishes those who coquette with friendship, though
the dull ache that they inflict, the sense of misdirected
effort and exhaustion, may be as intolerable. Was she one
Margaret feared so at first, for, with a Londoner's
impatience, she wanted everything to be settled up
immediately. She mistrusted the periods of quiet that are
essential to true growth. Desiring to book Mrs. Wilcox as a
friend, she pressed on the ceremony, pencil, as it were, in
hand, pressing the more because the rest of the family were
away, and the opportunity seemed favourable. But the elder
woman would not be hurried. She refused to fit in with the
Wickham Place set, or to reopen discussion of Helen and
Paul, whom Margaret would have utilized as a short-cut. She
took her time, or perhaps let time take her, and when the
crisis did come all was ready.
The crisis opened with a message: would Miss Schlegel
come shopping? Christmas was nearing, and Mrs. Wilcox felt
behind-hand with the presents. She had taken some more days
in bed, and must make up for lost time. Margaret accepted,
and at eleven o'clock one cheerless morning they started out
in a brougham.
"First of all," began Margaret, "we must make a list and
tick off the people's names. My aunt always does, and this
fog may thicken up any moment. Have you any ideas?"
"I thought we would go to Harrod's or the Haymarket
Stores," said Mrs. Wilcox rather hopelessly. "Everything is
sure to be there. I am not a good shopper. The din is so
confusing, and your aunt is quite right--one ought to make a
list. Take my notebook, then, and write your own name at
the top of the page."
"Oh, hooray!" said Margaret, writing it. "How very kind
of you to start with me!" But she did not want to receive
anything expensive. Their acquaintance was singular rather
than intimate, and she divined that the Wilcox clan would
resent any expenditure on outsiders; the more compact
families do. She did not want to be thought a second Helen,
who would snatch presents since she could not snatch young
men, nor to be exposed, like a second Aunt Juley, to the
insults of Charles. A certain austerity of demeanour was
best, and she added: "I don't really want a Yuletide gift,
though. In fact, I'd rather not."
"Because I've odd ideas about Christmas. Because I have
all that money can buy. I want more people, but no more things."
"I should like to give you something worth your
acquaintance, Miss Schlegel, in memory of your kindness to
me during my lonely fortnight. It has so happened that I
have been left alone, and you have stopped me from
brooding. I am too apt to brood."
"If that is so," said Margaret, "if I have happened to
be of use to you, which I didn't know, you cannot pay me
back with anything tangible."
" I suppose not, but one would like to. Perhaps I shall
think of something as we go about."
Her name remained at the head of the list, but nothing
was written opposite it. They drove from shop to shop. The
air was white, and when they alighted it tasted like cold
pennies. At times they passed through a clot of grey. Mrs.
Wilcox's vitality was low that morning, and it was Margaret
who decided on a horse for this little girl, a golliwog for
that, for the rector's wife a copper warming-tray. "We
always give the servants money." "Yes, do you, yes, much
easier," replied Margaret, but felt the grotesque impact of
the unseen upon the seen, and saw issuing from a forgotten
manger at Bethlehem this torrent of coins and toys.
Vulgarity reigned. Public-houses, besides their usual
exhortation against temperance reform, invited men to "Join
our Christmas goose club"--one bottle of gin, etc., or two,
according to subscription. A poster of a woman in tights
heralded the Christmas pantomime, and little red devils, who
had come in again that year, were prevalent upon the
Christmas-cards. Margaret was no morbid idealist. She did
not wish this spate of business and self-advertisement
checked. It was only the occasion of it that struck her
with amazement annually. How many of these vacillating
shoppers and tired shop-assistants realized that it was a
divine event that drew them together? She realized it,
though standing outside in the matter. She was not a
Christian in the accepted sense; she did not believe that
God had ever worked among us as a young artisan. These
people, or most of them, believed it, and if pressed, would
affirm it in words. But the visible signs of their belief
were Regent Street or Drury Lane, a little mud displaced, a
little money spent, a little food cooked, eaten, and
forgotten. Inadequate. But in public who shall express the
unseen adequately? It is private life that holds out the
mirror to infinity; personal intercourse, and that alone,
that ever hints at a personality beyond our daily vision.
"No, I do like Christmas on the whole," she announced.
"In its clumsy way, it does approach Peace and Goodwill.
But oh, it is clumsier every year."
"Is it? I am only used to country Christmases."
"We are usually in London, and play the game with
vigour--carols at the Abbey, clumsy midday meal, clumsy
dinner for the maids, followed by Christmas-tree and dancing
of poor children, with songs from Helen. The drawing-room
does very well for that. We put the tree in the
powder-closet, and draw a curtain when the candles are
lighted, and with the looking-glass behind it looks quite
pretty. I wish we might have a powder-closet in our next
house. Of course, the tree has to be very small, and the
presents don't hang on it. No; the presents reside in a
sort of rocky landscape made of crumpled brown paper."
"You spoke of your 'next house,' Miss Schlegel. Then
are you leaving Wickham Place?"
"Yes, in two or three years, when the lease expires. We
"Have you been there long?"
"All our lives."
"You will be very sorry to leave it."
"I suppose so. We scarcely realize it yet. My
father--" She broke off, for they had reached the stationery
department of the Haymarket Stores, and Mrs. Wilcox wanted
to order some private greeting cards.
"If possible, something distinctive," she sighed. At
the counter she found a friend, bent on the same errand, and
conversed with her insipidly, wasting much time. "My
husband and our daughter are motoring."
"Bertha too? Oh, fancy, what a coincidence!" Margaret,
though not practical, could shine in such company as this.
While they talked, she went through a volume of specimen
cards, and submitted one for Mrs. Wilcox's inspection. Mrs.
Wilcox was delighted--so original, words so sweet; she would
order a hundred like that, and could never be sufficiently
grateful. Then, just as the assistant was booking the
order, she said: "Do you know, I'll wait. On second
thoughts, I'll wait. There's plenty of time still, isn't
there, and I shall be able to get Evie's opinion."
They returned to the carriage by devious paths; when
they were in, she said, "But couldn't you get it renewed?"
"I beg your pardon?" asked Margaret.
"The lease, I mean."
"Oh, the lease! Have you been thinking of that all the
time? How very kind of you!"
"Surely something could be done."
"No; values have risen too enormously. They mean to
pull down Wickham Place, and build flats like yours."
"But how horrible!"
"Landlords are horrible."
Then she said vehemently: "It is monstrous, Miss
Schlegel; it isn't right. I had no idea that this was
hanging over you. I do pity you from the bottom of my
heart. To be parted from your house, your father's
house--it oughtn't to be allowed. It is worse than dying.
I would rather die than--Oh, poor girls! Can what they call
civilization be right, if people mayn't die in the room
where they were born? My dear, I am so sorry--"
Margaret did not know what to say. Mrs. Wilcox had been
overtired by the shopping, and was inclined to hysteria.
"Howards End was nearly pulled down once. It would have
"Howards End must be a very different house to ours. We
are fond of ours, but there is nothing distinctive about
it. As you saw, it is an ordinary London house. We shall
easily find another."
"So you think."
"Again my lack of experience, I suppose!" said Margaret,
easing away from the subject. "I can't say anything when
you take up that line, Mrs. Wilcox. I wish I could see
myself as you see me--foreshortened into a backfisch. Quite
the ingenue. Very charming--wonderfully well read for my
age, but incapable--"
Mrs. Wilcox would not be deterred. "Come down with me
to Howards End now," she said, more vehemently than ever.
"I want you to see it. You have never seen it. I want to
hear what you say about it, for you do put things so wonderfully."
Margaret glanced at the pitiless air and then at the
tired face of her companion. "Later on I should love it,"
she continued, "but it's hardly the weather for such an
expedition, and we ought to start when we're fresh. Isn't
the house shut up, too?"
She received no answer. Mrs. Wilcox appeared to be annoyed.
"Might I come some other day?"
Mrs. Wilcox bent forward and tapped the glass. "Back to
Wickham Place, please!" was her order to the coachman.
Margaret had been snubbed.
"A thousand thanks, Miss Schlegel, for all your help."
"Not at all."
"It is such a comfort to get the presents off my
mind--the Christmas-cards especially. I do admire your choice."
It was her turn to receive no answer. In her turn
Margaret became annoyed.
"My husband and Evie will be back the day after
tomorrow. That is why I dragged you out shopping today. I
stayed in town chiefly to shop, but got through nothing, and
now he writes that they must cut their tour short, the
weather is so bad, and the police-traps have been so
bad--nearly as bad as in Surrey. Ours is such a careful
chauffeur, and my husband feels it particularly hard that
they should be treated like roadhogs."
"Well, naturally he--he isn't a road-hog."
"He was exceeding the speed-limit, I conclude. He must
expect to suffer with the lower animals."
Mrs. Wilcox was silenced. In growing discomfort they
drove homewards. The city seemed Satanic, the narrower
streets oppressing like the galleries of a mine. No harm
was done by the fog to trade, for it lay high, and the
lighted windows of the shops were thronged with customers.
It was rather a darkening of the spirit which fell back upon
itself, to find a more grievous darkness within. Margaret
nearly spoke a dozen times, but something throttled her.
She felt petty and awkward, and her meditations on Christmas
grew more cynical. Peace? It may bring other gifts, but is
there a single Londoner to whom Christmas is peaceful? The
craving for excitement and for elaboration has ruined that
blessing. Goodwill? Had she seen any example of it in the
hordes of purchasers? Or in herself. She had failed to
respond to this invitation merely because it was a little
queer and imaginative--she, whose birthright it was to
nourish imagination! Better to have accepted, to have tired
themselves a little by the journey, than coldly to reply,
"Might I come some other day?" Her cynicism left her.
There would be no other day. This shadowy woman would never
ask her again.
They parted at the Mansions. Mrs. Wilcox went in after
due civilities, and Margaret watched the tall, lonely figure
sweep up the hall to the lift. As the glass doors closed on
it she had the sense of an imprisonment. The beautiful head
disappeared first, still buried in the muff, the long
trailing skirt followed. A woman of undefinable rarity was
going up heaven-ward, like a specimen in a bottle. And into
what a heaven--a vault as of hell, sooty black, from which
At lunch her brother, seeing her inclined for silence,
insisted on talking. Tibby was not ill-natured, but from
babyhood something drove him to do the unwelcome and the
unexpected. Now he gave her a long account of the
day-school that he sometimes patronized. The account was
interesting, and she had often pressed him for it before,
but she could not attend now, for her mind was focussed on
the invisible. She discerned that Mrs. Wilcox, though a
loving wife and mother, had only one passion in life--her
house--and that the moment was solemn when she invited a
friend to share this passion with her. To answer "another
day" was to answer as a fool. "Another day" will do for
brick and mortar, but not for the Holy of Holies into which
Howards End had been transfigured. Her own curiosity was
slight. She had heard more than enough about it in the
summer. The nine windows, the vine, and the wych-elm had no
pleasant connections for her, and she would have preferred
to spend the afternoon at a concert. But imagination
triumphed. While her brother held forth she determined to
go, at whatever cost, and to compel Mrs. Wilcox to go, too.
When lunch was over she stepped over to the flats.
Mrs. Wilcox had just gone away for the night.
Margaret said that it was of no consequence, hurried
downstairs, and took a hansom to King's Cross. She was
convinced that the escapade was important, though it would
have puzzled her to say why. There was a question of
imprisonment and escape, and though she did not know the
time of the train, she strained her eyes for the St.
Then the clock of King's Cross swung into sight, a
second moon in that infernal sky, and her cab drew up at the
station. There was a train for Hilton in five minutes. She
took a ticket, asking in her agitation for a single. As she
did so, a grave and happy voice saluted her and thanked her.
"I will come if I still may," said Margaret, laughing nervously.
"You are coming to sleep, dear, too. It is in the
morning that my house is most beautiful. You are coming to
stop. I cannot show you my meadow properly except at
sunrise. These fogs"--she pointed at the station
roof--"never spread far. I dare say they are sitting in the
sun in Hertfordshire, and you will never repent joining them.
"I shall never repent joining you."
"It is the same."
They began the walk up the long platform. Far at its
end stood the train, breasting the darkness without. They
never reached it. Before imagination could triumph, there
were cries of "Mother! Mother!" and a heavy-browed girl
darted out of the cloak-room and seized Mrs. Wilcox by the arm.
"Evie!" she gasped. "Evie, my pet--"
The girl called, "Father! I say! look who's here."
"Evie, dearest girl, why aren't you in Yorkshire?"
"No--motor smash--changed plans--Father's coming."
"Why, Ruth!" cried Mr. Wilcox, joining them. "What in
the name of all that's wonderful are you doing here, Ruth?"
Mrs. Wilcox had recovered herself.
"Oh, Henry dear! --here's a lovely surprise--but let me
introduce--but I think you know Miss Schlegel."
"Oh, yes," he replied, not greatly interested. "But
how's yourself, Ruth?"
"Fit as a fiddle," she answered gaily.
"So are we and so was our car, which ran A-1 as far as
Ripon, but there a wretched horse and cart which a fool of a
"Miss Schlegel, our little outing must be for another day."
"I was saying that this fool of a driver, as the
policeman himself admits--"
"Another day, Mrs. Wilcox. Of course."
"--But as we've insured against third party risks, it
won't so much matter--"
"--Cart and car being practically at right angles--"
The voices of the happy family rose high. Margaret was
left alone. No one wanted her. Mrs. Wilcox walked out of
King's Cross between her husband and her daughter, listening
to both of them.
The funeral was over. The carriages rolled away through the
soft mud, and only the poor remained. They approached to
the newly-dug shaft and looked their last at the coffin, now
almost hidden beneath the spadefuls of clay. It was their
moment. Most of them were women from the dead woman's
district, to whom black garments had been served out by Mr.
Wilcox's orders. Pure curiosity had brought others. They
thrilled with the excitement of a death, and of a rapid
death, and stood in groups or moved between the graves, like
drops of ink. The son of one of them, a wood-cutter, was
perched high above their heads, pollarding one of the
churchyard elms. From where he sat he could see the village
of Hilton, strung upon the North Road, with its accreting
suburbs; the sunset beyond, scarlet and orange, winking at
him beneath brows of grey; the church; the plantations; and
behind him an unspoilt country of fields and farms. But he,
too, was rolling the event luxuriously in his mouth. He
tried to tell his mother down below all that he had felt
when he saw the coffin approaching: how he could not leave
his work, and yet did not like to go on with it; how he had
almost slipped out of the tree, he was so upset; the rooks
had cawed, and no wonder--it was as if rooks knew too. His
mother claimed the prophetic power herself--she had seen a
strange look about Mrs. Wilcox for some time. London had
done the mischief, said others. She had been a kind lady;
her grandmother had been kind, too--a plainer person, but
very kind. Ah, the old sort was dying out! Mr. Wilcox, he
was a kind gentleman. They advanced to the topic again and
again, dully, but with exaltation. The funeral of a rich
person was to them what the funeral of Alcestis or Ophelia
is to the educated. It was Art; though remote from life, it
enhanced life's values, and they witnessed it avidly.
The grave-diggers, who had kept up an undercurrent of
disapproval--they disliked Charles; it was not a moment to
speak of such things, but they did not like Charles
Wilcox--the grave-diggers finished their work and piled up
the wreaths and crosses above it. The sun set over Hilton:
the grey brows of the evening flushed a little, and were
cleft with one scarlet frown. Chattering sadly to each
other, the mourners passed through the lych-gate and
traversed the chestnut avenues that led down to the
village. The young wood-cutter stayed a little longer,
poised above the silence and swaying rhythmically. At last
the bough fell beneath his saw. With a grunt, he descended,
his thoughts dwelling no longer on death, but on love, for
he was mating. He stopped as he passed the new grave; a
sheaf of tawny chrysanthemums had caught his eye. "They
didn't ought to have coloured flowers at buryings," he
reflected. Trudging on a few steps, he stopped again,
looked furtively at the dusk, turned back, wrenched a
chrysanthemum from the sheaf, and hid it in his pocket.
After him came silence absolute. The cottage that
abutted on the churchyard was empty, and no other house
stood near. Hour after hour the scene of the interment
remained without an eye to witness it. Clouds drifted over
it from the west; or the church may have been a ship,
high-prowed, steering with all its company towards
infinity. Towards morning the air grew colder, the sky
clearer, the surface of the earth hard and sparkling above
the prostrate dead. The wood-cutter, returning after a
night of joy, reflected: "They lilies, they chrysants; it's
a pity I didn't take them all."
Up at Howards End they were attempting breakfast.
Charles and Evie sat in the dining-room, with Mrs. Charles.
Their father, who could not bear to see a face, breakfasted
upstairs. He suffered acutely. Pain came over him in
spasms, as if it was physical, and even while he was about
to eat, his eyes would fill with tears, and he would lay
down the morsel untasted.
He remembered his wife's even goodness during thirty
years. Not anything in detail--not courtship or early
raptures--but just the unvarying virtue, that seemed to him
a woman's noblest quality. So many women are capricious,
breaking into odd flaws of passion or frivolity. Not so his
wife. Year after year, summer and winter, as bride and
mother, she had been the same, he had always trusted her.
Her tenderness! Her innocence! The wonderful innocence
that was hers by the gift of God. Ruth knew no more of
worldly wickedness and wisdom than did the flowers in her
garden, or the grass in her field. Her idea of
business--"Henry, why do people who have enough money try to
get more money?" Her idea of politics--"I am sure that if
the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no
more wars." Her idea of religion--ah, this had been a cloud,
but a cloud that passed. She came of Quaker stock, and he
and his family, formerly Dissenters, were now members of the
Church of England. The rector's sermons had at first
repelled her, and she had expressed a desire for "a more
inward light," adding, "not so much for myself as for baby"
(Charles). Inward light must have been granted, for he
heard no complaints in later years. They brought up their
three children without dispute. They had never disputed.
She lay under the earth now. She had gone, and as if to
make her going the more bitter, had gone with a touch of
mystery that was all unlike her. "Why didn't you tell me
you knew of it?" he had moaned, and her faint voice had
answered: "I didn't want to, Henry--I might have been
wrong--and every one hates illnesses." He had been told of
the horror by a strange doctor, whom she had consulted
during his absence from town. Was this altogether just?
Without fully explaining, she had died. It was a fault on
her part, and--tears rushed into his eyes--what a little
fault! It was the only time she had deceived him in those
He rose to his feet and looked out of the window, for
Evie had come in with the letters, and he could meet no
one's eye. Ah yes--she had been a good woman--she had been
steady. He chose the word deliberately. To him steadiness
included all praise.
He himself, gazing at the wintry garden, is in
appearance a steady man. His face was not as square as his
son's, and, indeed, the chin, though firm enough in outline,
retreated a little, and the lips, ambiguous, were curtained
by a moustache. But there was no external hint of
weakness. The eyes, if capable of kindness and
goodfellowship, if ruddy for the moment with tears, were the
eyes of one who could not be driven. The forehead, too, was
like Charles's. High and straight, brown and polished,
merging abruptly into temples and skull, it has the effect
of a bastion that protected his head from the world. At
times it had the effect of a blank wall. He had dwelt
behind it, intact and happy, for fifty years.
"The post's come, Father," said Evie awkwardly.
"Thanks. Put it down."
"Has the breakfast been all right?"
The girl glanced at him and at it with constraint. She
did not know what to do.
"Charles says do you want the TIMES?"
"No, I'll read it later."
"Ring if you want anything, Father, won't you?"
"I've all I want."
Having sorted the letters from the circulars, she went
back to the dining-room.
"Father's eaten nothing," she announced, sitting down
with wrinkled brows behind the tea-urn--
Charles did not answer, but after a moment he ran
quickly upstairs, opened the door, and said: "Look here,
Father, you must eat, you know"; and having paused for a
reply that did not come, stole down again. "He's going to
read his letters first, I think," he said evasively; "I dare
say he will go on with his breakfast afterwards." Then he
took up the TIMES, and for some time there was no sound
except the clink of cup against saucer and of knife on plate.
Poor Mrs. Charles sat between her silent companions,
terrified at the course of events, and a little bored. She
was a rubbishy little creature, and she knew it. A telegram
had dragged her from Naples to the death-bed of a woman whom
she had scarcely known. A word from her husband had plunged
her into mourning. She desired to mourn inwardly as well,
but she wished that Mrs. Wilcox, since fated to die, could
have died before the marriage, for then less would have been
expected of her. Crumbling her toast, and too nervous to
ask for the butter, she remained almost motionless, thankful
only for this, that her father-in-law was having his
At last Charles spoke. "They had no business to be
pollarding those elms yesterday," he said to his sister.
"I must make a note of that," he continued. "I am
surprised that the rector allowed it."
"Perhaps it may not be the rector's affair."
"Whose else could it be?"
"The lord of the manor."
"Thank you, Evie dear. Charles--"
"I didn't know one could pollard elms. I thought one
only pollarded willows."
"Oh no, one can pollard elms."
"Then why oughtn't the elms in the churchyard to be pollarded?"
Charles frowned a little, and turned again to his
sister. "Another point. I must speak to Chalkeley."
"Yes, rather; you must complain to Chalkeley.
"It's no good him saying he is not responsible for those
men. He is responsible."
Brother and sister were not callous. They spoke thus,
partly because they desired to keep Chalkeley up to the
mark--a healthy desire in its way--partly because they
avoided the personal note in life. All Wilcoxes did. It
did not seem to them of supreme importance. Or it may be as
Helen supposed: they realized its importance, but were
afraid of it. Panic and emptiness, could one glance behind.
They were not callous, and they left the breakfast-table
with aching hearts. Their mother never had come in to
breakfast. It was in the other rooms, and especially in the
garden, that they felt her loss most. As Charles went out
to the garage, he was reminded at every step of the woman
who had loved him and whom he could never replace. What
battles he had fought against her gentle conservatism! How
she had disliked improvements, yet how loyally she had
accepted them when made! He and his father--what trouble
they had had to get this very garage! With what difficulty
had they persuaded her to yield them to the paddock for
it--the paddock that she loved more dearly than the garden
itself! The vine--she had got her way about the vine. It
still encumbered the south wall with its unproductive
branches. And so with Evie, as she stood talking to the
cook. Though she could take up her mother's work inside the
house, just as the man could take it up without, she felt
that something unique had fallen out of her life. Their
grief, though less poignant than their father's, grew from
deeper roots, for a wife may be replaced; a mother never.
Charles would go back to the office. There was little
to do at Howards End. The contents of his mother's will had
been long known to them. There were no legacies, no
annuities, none of the posthumous bustle with which some of