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Howards End by E. M. Forster

Part 3 out of 8

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the dead prolong their activities. Trusting her husband,
she had left him everything without reserve. She was quite
a poor woman--the house had been all her dowry, and the
house would come to Charles in time. Her water-colours Mr.
Wilcox intended to reserve for Paul, while Evie would take
the jewellery and lace. How easily she slipped out of
life! Charles thought the habit laudable, though he did not
intend to adopt it himself, whereas Margaret would have seen
in it an almost culpable indifference to earthly fame.
Cynicism--not the superficial cynicism that snarls and
sneers, but the cynicism that can go with courtesy and
tenderness--that was the note of Mrs. Wilcox's will. She
wanted not to vex people. That accomplished, the earth
might freeze over her for ever.

No, there was nothing for Charles to wait for. He could
not go on with his honeymoon, so he would go up to London
and work--he felt too miserable hanging about. He and Dolly
would have the furnished flat while his father rested
quietly in the country with Evie. He could also keep an eye
on his own little house, which was being painted and
decorated for him in one of the Surrey suburbs, and in which
he hoped to install himself soon after Christmas. Yes, he
would go up after lunch in his new motor, and the town
servants, who had come down for the funeral, would go up by train.

He found his father's chauffeur in the garage, said,
"Morning" without looking at the man's face, and, bending
over the car, continued: "Hullo! my new car's been driven!"

"Has it, sir?"

"Yes," said Charles, getting rather red; "and whoever's
driven it hasn't cleaned it properly, for there's mud on the
axle. Take it off."

The man went for the cloths without a word. He was a
chauffeur as ugly as sin--not that this did him disservice
with Charles, who thought charm in a man rather rot, and had
soon got rid of the little Italian beast with whom they had started.

"Charles--" His bride was tripping after him over the
hoar-frost, a dainty black column, her little face and
elaborate mourning hat forming the capital thereof.

"One minute, I'm busy. Well, Crane, who's been driving
it, do you suppose?"

"Don't know, I'm sure, sir. No one's driven it since
I've been back, but, of course, there's the fortnight I've
been away with the other car in Yorkshire."

The mud came off easily.

"Charles, your father's down. Something's happened. He
wants you in the house at once. Oh, Charles!"

"Wait, dear, wait a minute. Who had the key to the
garage while you were away, Crane?"

"The gardener, sir."

"Do you mean to tell me that old Penny can drive a motor?"

"No, sir; no one's had the motor out, sir."

"Then how do you account for the mud on the axle?"

"I can't, of course, say for the time I've been in
Yorkshire. No more mud now, sir."

Charles was vexed. The man was treating him as a fool,
and if his heart had not been so heavy he would have
reported him to his father. But it was not a morning for
complaints. Ordering the motor to be round after lunch, he
joined his wife, who had all the while been pouring out some
incoherent story about a letter and a Miss Schlegel.

"Now, Dolly, I can attend to you. Miss Schlegel? What
does she want?"

When people wrote a letter Charles always asked what
they wanted. Want was to him the only cause of action. And
the question in this case was correct, for his wife replied,
"She wants Howards End."

"Howards End? Now, Crane, just don't forget to put on
the Stepney wheel."

"No, sir."

"Now, mind you don't forget, for I--Come, little woman."
When they were out of the chauffeur's sight he put his arm
around her waist and pressed her against him. All his
affection and half his attention--it was what he granted her
throughout their happy married life.

"But you haven't listened, Charles--"

"What's wrong?"

"I keep on telling you--Howards End. Miss Schlegels got

"Got what?" asked Charles, unclasping her. "What the
dickens are you talking about?"

"Now, Charles, you promised not to say those naughty--"

"Look here, I'm in no mood for foolery. It's no morning
for it either."

"I tell you--I keep on telling you--Miss Schlegel--she's
got it--your mother's left it to her--and you've all got to
move out!"


"HOWARDS END!" she screamed, mimicking him, and as she
did so Evie came dashing out of the shrubbery.

"Dolly, go back at once! My father's much annoyed with
you. Charles"--she hit herself wildly--"come in at once to
Father. He's had a letter that's too awful."

Charles began to run, but checked himself, and stepped
heavily across the gravel path. There the house was--the
nine windows, the unprolific vine. He exclaimed, "Schlegels
again!" and as if to complete chaos, Dolly said, "Oh no, the
matron of the nursing home has written instead of her."

"Come in, all three of you!" cried his father, no longer
inert. "Dolly, why have you disobeyed me?"

"Oh, Mr. Wilcox--"

"I told you not to go out to the garage. I've heard you
all shouting in the garden. I won't have it. Come in."

He stood in the porch, transformed, letters in his hand.

"Into the dining-room, every one of you. We can't
discuss private matters in the middle of all the servants.
Here, Charles, here; read these. See what you make."

Charles took two letters, and read them as he followed
the procession. The first was a covering note from the
matron. Mrs. Wilcox had desired her, when the funeral
should be over, to forward the enclosed. The enclosed--it
was from his mother herself. She had written: "To my
husband: I should like Miss Schlegel (Margaret) to have
Howards End."

"I suppose we're going to have a talk about this?" he
remarked, ominously calm.

"Certainly. I was coming out to you when Dolly--"

"Well, let's sit down."

"Come, Evie, don't waste time, sit down."

In silence they drew up to the breakfast-table. The
events of yesterday--indeed, of this morning--suddenly
receded into a past so remote that they seemed scarcely to
have lived in it. Heavy breathings were heard. They were
calming themselves. Charles, to steady them further, read
the enclosure out loud: "A note in my mother's handwriting,
in an envelope addressed to my father, sealed. Inside: 'I
should like Miss Schlegel (Margaret) to have Howards End.'
No date, no signature. Forwarded through the matron of that
nursing home. Now, the question is--"

Dolly interrupted him. "But I say that note isn't
legal. Houses ought to be done by a lawyer, Charles, surely."

Her husband worked his jaw severely. Little lumps
appeared in front of either ear--a symptom that she had not
yet learnt to respect, and she asked whether she might see
the note. Charles looked at his father for permission, who
said abstractedly, "Give it her." She seized it, and at once
exclaimed: "Why, it's only in pencil! I said so. Pencil
never counts."

"We know that it is not legally binding, Dolly," said
Mr. Wilcox, speaking from out of his fortress. "We are
aware of that. Legally, I should be justified in tearing it
up and throwing it into the fire. Of course, my dear, we
consider you as one of the family, but it will be better if
you do not interfere with what you do not understand."

Charles, vexed both with his father and his wife, then
repeated: "The question is--" He had cleared a space of the
breakfast-table from plates and knives, so that he could
draw patterns on the tablecloth. "The question is whether
Miss Schlegel, during the fortnight we were all away,
whether she unduly--" He stopped.

"I don't think that," said his father, whose nature was
nobler than his son's

"Don't think what?"

"That she would have--that it is a case of undue
influence. No, to my mind the question is the--the
invalid's condition at the time she wrote."

"My dear father, consult an expert if you like, but I
don't admit it is my mother's writing."

"Why, you just said it was!" cried Dolly.

"Never mind if I did," he blazed out; "and hold your tongue."

The poor little wife coloured at this, and, drawing her
handkerchief from her pocket, shed a few tears. No one
noticed her. Evie was scowling like an angry boy. The two
men were gradually assuming the manner of the
committee-room. They were both at their best when serving
on committees. They did not make the mistake of handling
human affairs in the bulk, but disposed of them item by
item, sharply. Calligraphy was the item before them now,
and on it they turned their well-trained brains. Charles,
after a little demur, accepted the writing as genuine, and
they passed on to the next point. It is the best--perhaps
the only--way of dodging emotion. They were the average
human article, and had they considered the note as a whole
it would have driven them miserable or mad. Considered item
by item, the emotional content was minimized, and all went
forward smoothly. The clock ticked, the coals blazed
higher, and contended with the white radiance that poured in
through the windows. Unnoticed, the sun occupied his sky,
and the shadows of the tree stems, extraordinarily solid,
fell like trenches of purple across the frosted lawn. It
was a glorious winter morning. Evie's fox terrier, who had
passed for white, was only a dirty grey dog now, so intense
was the purity that surrounded him. He was discredited, but
the blackbirds that he was chasing glowed with Arabian
darkness, for all the conventional colouring of life had
been altered. Inside, the clock struck ten with a rich and
confident note. Other clocks confirmed it, and the
discussion moved towards its close.

To follow it is unnecessary. It is rather a moment when
the commentator should step forward. Ought the Wilcoxes to
have offered their home to Margaret? I think not. The
appeal was too flimsy. It was not legal; it had been
written in illness, and under the spell of a sudden
friendship; it was contrary to the dead woman's intentions
in the past, contrary to her very nature, so far as that
nature was understood by them. To them Howards End was a
house: they could not know that to her it had been a spirit,
for which she sought a spiritual heir. And--pushing one
step farther in these mists--may they not have decided even
better than they supposed? Is it credible that the
possessions of the spirit can be bequeathed at all? Has the
soul offspring? A wych-elm tree, a vine, a wisp of hay with
dew on it--can passion for such things be transmitted where
there is no bond of blood? No; the Wilcoxes are not to be
blamed. The problem is too terrific, and they could not
even perceive a problem. No; it is natural and fitting that
after due debate they should tear the note up and throw it
on to their dining-room fire. The practical moralist may
acquit them absolutely. He who strives to look deeper may
acquit them--almost. For one hard fact remains. They did
neglect a personal appeal. The woman who had died did say
to them, "Do this," and they answered, "We will not."

The incident made a most painful impression on them.
Grief mounted into the brain and worked there
disquietingly. Yesterday they had lamented: "She was a dear
mother, a true wife: in our absence she neglected her health
and died." Today they thought: "She was not as true, as
dear, as we supposed." The desire for a more inward light
had found expression at last, the unseen had impacted on the
seen, and all that they could say was "Treachery." Mrs.
Wilcox had been treacherous to the family, to the laws of
property, to her own written word. How did she expect
Howards End to be conveyed to Miss Schlegel? Was her
husband, to whom it legally belonged, to make it over to her
as a free gift? Was the said Miss Schlegel to have a life
interest in it, or to own it absolutely? Was there to be no
compensation for the garage and other improvements that they
had made under the assumption that all would be theirs some
day? Treacherous! treacherous and absurd! When we think
the dead both treacherous and absurd, we have gone far
towards reconciling ourselves to their departure. That
note, scribbled in pencil, sent through the matron, was
unbusinesslike as well as cruel, and decreased at once the
value of the woman who had written it.

"Ah, well!" said Mr. Wilcox, rising from the table. "I
shouldn't have thought it possible."

"Mother couldn't have meant it," said Evie, still frowning.

"No, my girl, of course not."

"Mother believed so in ancestors too--it isn't like her
to leave anything to an outsider, who'd never appreciate. "

"The whole thing is unlike her," he announced. "If Miss
Schlegel had been poor, if she had wanted a house, I could
understand it a little. But she has a house of her own.
Why should she want another? She wouldn't have any use of
Howards End."

"That time may prove," murmured Charles.

"How?" asked his sister.

"Presumably she knows--mother will have told her. She
got twice or three times into the nursing home. Presumably
she is awaiting developments."

"What a horrid woman!" And Dolly, who had recovered,
cried, "Why, she may be coming down to turn us out now!"

Charles put her right. "I wish she would," he said
ominously. "I could then deal with her."

"So could I," echoed his father, who was feeling rather
in the cold. Charles had been kind in undertaking the
funeral arrangements and in telling him to eat his
breakfast, but the boy as he grew up was a little
dictatorial, and assumed the post of chairman too readily.
"I could deal with her, if she comes, but she won't come.
You're all a bit hard on Miss Schlegel."

"That Paul business was pretty scandalous, though."

"I want no more of the Paul business, Charles, as I said
at the time, and besides, it is quite apart from this
business. Margaret Schlegel has been officious and tiresome
during this terrible week, and we have all suffered under
her, but upon my soul she's honest. She's not in collusion
with the matron. I'm absolutely certain of it. Nor was she
with the doctor. I'm equally certain of that. She did not
hide anything from us, for up to that very afternoon she was
as ignorant as we are. She, like ourselves, was a dupe--"
He stopped for a moment. "You see, Charles, in her terrible
pain your poor mother put us all in false positions. Paul
would not have left England, you would not have gone to
Italy, nor Evie and I into Yorkshire, if only we had known.
Well, Miss Schlegel's position has been equally false. Take
all in all, she has not come out of it badly."

Evie said: "But those chrysanthemums--"

"Or coming down to the funeral at all--" echoed Dolly.

"Why shouldn't she come down? She had the right to, and
she stood far back among the Hilton women. The
flowers--certainly we should not have sent such flowers, but
they may have seemed the right thing to her, Evie, and for
all you know they may be the custom in Germany. "

"Oh, I forget she isn't really English," cried Evie.
"That would explain a lot."

"She's a cosmopolitan," said Charles, looking at his
watch. "I admit I'm rather down on cosmopolitans. My
fault, doubtless. I cannot stand them, and a German
cosmopolitan is the limit. I think that's about all, isn't
it? I want to run down and see Chalkeley. A bicycle will
do. And, by the way, I wish you'd speak to Crane some
time. I'm certain he's had my new car out."

"Has he done it any harm?"


"In that case I shall let it pass. It's not worth while
having a row."

Charles and his father sometimes disagreed. But they
always parted with an increased regard for one another, and
each desired no doughtier comrade when it was necessary to
voyage for a little past the emotions. So the sailors of
Ulysses voyaged past the Sirens, having first stopped one
another's ears with wool.

Chapter 12

Charles need not have been anxious. Miss Schlegel had never
heard of his mother's strange request. She was to hear of
it in after years, when she had built up her life
differently, and it was to fit into position as the
headstone of the corner. Her mind was bent on other
questions now, and by her also it would have been rejected
as the fantasy of an invalid.

She was parting from these Wilcoxes for the second
time. Paul and his mother, ripple and great wave, had
flowed into her life and ebbed out of it for ever. The
ripple had left no traces behind: the wave had strewn at her
feet fragments torn from the unknown. A curious seeker, she
stood for a while at the verge of the sea that tells so
little, but tells a little, and watched the outgoing of this
last tremendous tide. Her friend had vanished in agony, but
not, she believed, in degradation. Her withdrawal had
hinted at other things besides disease and pain. Some leave
our life with tears, others with an insane frigidity; Mrs.
Wilcox had taken the middle course, which only rarer natures
can pursue. She had kept proportion. She had told a little
of her grim secret to her friends, but not too much; she had
shut up her heart--almost, but not entirely. It is thus, if
there is any rule, that we ought to die--neither as victim
nor as fanatic, but as the seafarer who can greet with an
equal eye the deep that he is entering, and the shore that
he must leave.

The last word--whatever it would be--had certainly not
been said in Hilton churchyard. She had not died there. A
funeral is not death, any more than baptism is birth or
marriage union. All three are the clumsy devices, coming
now too late, now too early, by which Society would register
the quick motions of man. In Margaret's eyes Mrs. Wilcox
had escaped registration. She had gone out of life vividly,
her own way, and no dust was so truly dust as the contents
of that heavy coffin, lowered with ceremonial until it
rested on the dust of the earth, no flowers so utterly
wasted as the chrysanthemums that the frost must have
withered before morning. Margaret had once said she "loved
superstition." It was not true. Few women had tried more
earnestly to pierce the accretions in which body and soul
are enwrapped. The death of Mrs. Wilcox had helped her in
her work. She saw a little more clearly than hitherto what
a human being is, and to what he may aspire. Truer
relationships gleamed. Perhaps the last word would be
hope--hope even on this side of the grave.

Meanwhile, she could take an interest in the survivors.
In spite of her Christmas duties, in spite of her brother,
the Wilcoxes continued to play a considerable part in her
thoughts. She had seen so much of them in the final week.
They were not "her sort," they were often suspicious and
stupid, and deficient where she excelled; but collision with
them stimulated her, and she felt an interest that verged
into liking, even for Charles. She desired to protect them,
and often felt that they could protect her, excelling where
she was deficient. Once past the rocks of emotion, they
knew so well what to do, whom to send for; their hands were
on all the ropes, they had grit as well as grittiness, and
she valued grit enormously. They led a life that she could
not attain to--the outer life of "telegrams and anger,"
which had detonated when Helen and Paul had touched in June,
and had detonated again the other week. To Margaret this
life was to remain a real force. She could not despise it,
as Helen and Tibby affected to do. It fostered such virtues
as neatness, decision, and obedience, virtues of the second
rank, no doubt, but they have formed our civilization. They
form character, too; Margaret could not doubt it: they keep
the soul from becoming sloppy. How dare Schlegels despise
Wilcoxes, when it takes all sorts to make a world?

"Don't brood too much," she wrote to Helen, "on the
superiority of the unseen to the seen. It's true, but to
brood on it is mediaeval. Our business is not to contrast
the two, but to reconcile them."

Helen replied that she had no intention of brooding on
such a dull subject. What did her sister take her for? The
weather was magnificent. She and the Mosebachs had gone
tobogganing on the only hill that Pomerania boasted. It was
fun, but overcrowded, for the rest of Pomerania had gone
there too. Helen loved the country, and her letter glowed
with physical exercise and poetry. She spoke of the
scenery, quiet, yet august; of the snow-clad fields, with
their scampering herds of deer; of the river and its quaint
entrance into the Baltic Sea; of the Oderberge, only three
hundred feet high, from which one slid all too quickly back
into the Pomeranian plains, and yet these Oderberge were
real mountains, with pine-forests, streams, and views
complete. "It isn't size that counts so much as the way
things are arranged." In another paragraph she referred to
Mrs. Wilcox sympathetically, but the news had not bitten
into her. She had not realized the accessories of death,
which are in a sense more memorable than death itself. The
atmosphere of precautions and recriminations, and in the
midst a human body growing more vivid because it was in
pain; the end of that body in Hilton churchyard; the
survival of something that suggested hope, vivid in its turn
against life's workaday cheerfulness;--all these were lost
to Helen, who only felt that a pleasant lady could now be
pleasant no longer. She returned to Wickham Place full of
her own affairs--she had had another proposal--and Margaret,
after a moment's hesitation, was content that this should be

The proposal had not been a serious matter. It was the
work of Fraulein Mosebach, who had conceived the large and
patriotic notion of winning back her cousins to the
Fatherland by matrimony. England had played Paul Wilcox,
and lost; Germany played Herr Forstmeister someone--Helen
could not remember his name.

Herr Forstmeister lived in a wood, and standing on the
summit of the Oderberge, he had pointed out his house to
Helen, or rather, had pointed out the wedge of pines in
which it lay. She had exclaimed, "Oh, how lovely! That's
the place for me!" and in the evening Frieda appeared in her
bedroom. "I have a message, dear Helen," etc., and so she
had, but had been very nice when Helen laughed; quite
understood--a forest too solitary and damp--quite agreed,
but Herr Forstmeister believed he had assurance to the
contrary. Germany had lost, but with good-humour; holding
the manhood of the world, she felt bound to win. "And there
will even be someone for Tibby," concluded Helen. "There
now, Tibby, think of that; Frieda is saving up a little girl
for you, in pig-tails and white worsted stockings, but the
feet of the stockings are pink, as if the little girl had
trodden in strawberries. I've talked too much. My head
aches. Now you talk."

Tibby consented to talk. He too was full of his own
affairs, for he had just been up to try for a scholarship at
Oxford. The men were down, and the candidates had been
housed in various colleges, and had dined in hall. Tibby
was sensitive to beauty, the experience was new, and he gave
a description of his visit that was almost glowing. The
august and mellow University, soaked with the richness of
the western counties that it has served for a thousand
years, appealed at once to the boy's taste: it was the kind
of thing he could understand, and he understood it all the
better because it was empty. Oxford is--Oxford: not a mere
receptacle for youth, like Cambridge. Perhaps it wants its
inmates to love it rather than to love one another: such at
all events was to be its effect on Tibby. His sisters sent
him there that he might make friends, for they knew that his
education had been cranky, and had severed him from other
boys and men. He made no friends. His Oxford remained
Oxford empty, and he took into life with him, not the memory
of a radiance, but the memory of a colour scheme.

It pleased Margaret to hear her brother and sister
talking. They did not get on overwell as a rule. For a few
moments she listened to them, feeling elderly and benign.
Then something occurred to her, and she interrupted:

"Helen, I told you about poor Mrs. Wilcox; that sad business?"


"I have had a correspondence with her son. He was
winding up the estate, and wrote to ask me whether his
mother had wanted me to have anything. I thought it good of
him, considering I knew her so little. I said that she had
once spoken of giving me a Christmas present, but we both
forgot about it afterwards."

"I hope Charles took the hint."

"Yes--that is to say, her husband wrote later on, and
thanked me for being a little kind to her, and actually gave
me her silver vinaigrette. Don't you think that is
extraordinarily generous? It has made me like him very
much. He hopes that this will not be the end of our
acquaintance, but that you and I will go and stop with Evie
some time in the future. I like Mr. Wilcox. He is taking
up his work--rubber--it is a big business. I gather he is
launching out rather. Charles is in it, too. Charles is
married--a pretty little creature, but she doesn't seem
wise. They took on the flat, but now they have gone off to
a house of their own."

Helen, after a decent pause, continued her account of
Stettin. How quickly a situation changes! In June she had
been in a crisis; even in November she could blush and be
unnatural; now it was January, and the whole affair lay
forgotten. Looking back on the past six months, Margaret
realized the chaotic nature of our daily life, and its
difference from the orderly sequence that has been
fabricated by historians. Actual life is full of false
clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere. With infinite
effort we nerve ourselves for a crisis that never comes.
The most successful career must show a waste of strength
that might have removed mountains, and the most unsuccessful
is not that of the man who is taken unprepared, but of him
who has prepared and is never taken. On a tragedy of that
kind our national morality is duly silent. It assumes that
preparation against danger is in itself a good, and that
men, like nations, are the better for staggering through
life fully armed. The tragedy of preparedness has scarcely
been handled, save by the Greeks. Life is indeed dangerous,
but not in the way morality would have us believe. It is
indeed unmanageable, but the essence of it is not a battle.
It is unmanageable because it is a romance, and its essence
is romantic beauty.

Margaret hoped that for the future she would be less
cautious, not more cautious, than she had been in the past.

Chapter 13

Over two years passed, and the Schlegel household continued
to lead its life of cultured but not ignoble ease, still
swimming gracefully on the grey tides of London. Concerts
and plays swept past them, money had been spent and renewed,
reputations won and lost, and the city herself, emblematic
of their lives, rose and fell in a continual flux, while her
shallows washed more widely against the hills of Surrey and
over the fields of Hertfordshire. This famous building had
arisen, that was doomed. Today Whitehall had been
transformed: it would be the turn of Regent Street
tomorrow. And month by month the roads smelt more strongly
of petrol, and were more difficult to cross, and human
beings heard each other speak with greater difficulty,
breathed less of the air, and saw less of the sky. Nature
withdrew: the leaves were falling by midsummer; the sun
shone through dirt with an admired obscurity.

To speak against London is no longer fashionable. The
Earth as an artistic cult has had its day, and the
literature of the near future will probably ignore the
country and seek inspiration from the town. One can
understand the reaction. Of Pan and the elemental forces,
the public has heard a little too much--they seem Victorian,
while London is Georgian--and those who care for the earth
with sincerity may wait long ere the pendulum swings back to
her again. Certainly London fascinates. One visualizes it
as a tract of quivering grey, intelligent without purpose,
and excitable without love; as a spirit that has altered
before it can be chronicled; as a heart that certainly
beats, but with no pulsation of humanity. It lies beyond
everything: Nature, with all her cruelty, comes nearer to us
than do these crowds of men. A friend explains himself: the
earth is explicable--from her we came, and we must return to
her. But who can explain Westminster Bridge Road or
Liverpool Street in the morning--the city inhaling--or the
same thoroughfares in the evening--the city exhaling her
exhausted air? We reach in desperation beyond the fog,
beyond the very stars, the voids of the universe are
ransacked to justify the monster, and stamped with a human
face. London is religion's opportunity--not the decorous
religion of theologians, but anthropomorphic, crude. Yes,
the continuous flow would be tolerable if a man of our own
sort--not anyone pompous or tearful--were caring for us up
in the sky.

The Londoner seldom understands his city until it sweeps
him, too, away from his moorings, and Margaret's eyes were
not opened until the lease of Wickham Place expired. She
had always known that it must expire, but the knowledge only
became vivid about nine months before the event. Then the
house was suddenly ringed with pathos. It had seen so much
happiness. Why had it to be swept away? In the streets of
the city she noted for the first time the architecture of
hurry, and heard the language of hurry on the mouths of its
inhabitants--clipped words, formless sentences, potted
expressions of approval or disgust. Month by month things
were stepping livelier, but to what goal? The population
still rose, but what was the quality of the men born? The
particular millionaire who owned the freehold of Wickham
Place, and desired to erect Babylonian flats upon it--what
right had he to stir so large a portion of the quivering
jelly? He was not a fool--she had heard him expose
Socialism--but true insight began just where his
intelligence ended, and one gathered that this was the case
with most millionaires. What right had such men--But
Margaret checked herself. That way lies madness. Thank
goodness she, too, had some money, and could purchase a new home.

Tibby, now in his second year at Oxford, was down for
the Easter vacation, and Margaret took the opportunity of
having a serious talk with him. Did he at all know where he
wanted to live? Tibby didn't know that he did know. Did he
at all know what he wanted to do? He was equally uncertain,
but when pressed remarked that he should prefer to be quite
free of any profession. Margaret was not shocked, but went
on sewing for a few minutes before she replied:

"I was thinking of Mr. Vyse. He never strikes me as
particularly happy."

"Ye-es," said Tibby, and then held his mouth open in a
curious quiver, as if he, too, had thoughts of Mr. Vyse, had
seen round, through, over, and beyond Mr. Vyse, had weighed
Mr. Vyse, grouped him, and finally dismissed him as having
no possible bearing on the subject under discussion. That
bleat of Tibby's infuriated Helen. But Helen was now down
in the dining-room preparing a speech about political
economy. At times her voice could be heard declaiming
through the floor.

"But Mr. Vyse is rather a wretched, weedy man, don't you
think? Then there's Guy. That was a pitiful business.
Besides"--shifting to the general--" every one is the better
for some regular work."


"I shall stick to it," she continued, smiling. "I am
not saying it to educate you; it is what I really think. I
believe that in the last century men have developed the
desire for work, and they must not starve it. It's a new
desire. It goes with a great deal that's bad, but in itself
it's good, and I hope that for women, too, 'not to work'
will soon become as shocking as 'not to be married' was a
hundred years ago."

"I have no experience of this profound desire to which
you allude," enunciated Tibby.

"Then we'll leave the subject till you do. I'm not
going to rattle you round. Take your time. Only do think
over the lives of the men you like most, and see how they've
arranged them."

"I like Guy and Mr. Vyse most," said Tibby faintly, and
leant so far back in his chair that he extended in a
horizontal line from knees to throat.

"And don't think I'm not serious because I don't use the
traditional arguments--making money, a sphere awaiting you,
and so on--all of which are, for various reasons, cant." She
sewed on. "I'm only your sister. I haven't any authority
over you, and I don't want to have any. Just to put before
you what I think the truth. You see"--she shook off the
pince-nez to which she had recently taken--"in a few years
we shall be the same age practically, and I shall want you
to help me. Men are so much nicer than women."

"Labouring under such a delusion, why do you not marry?"

"I sometimes jolly well think I would if I got the chance."

"Has nobody arst you?"

"Only ninnies."

"Do people ask Helen?"


"Tell me about them."


"Tell me about your ninnies, then."

"They were men who had nothing better to do," said his
sister, feeling that she was entitled to score this point.
"So take warning: you must work, or else you must pretend to
work, which is what I do. Work, work, work if you'd save
your soul and your body. It is honestly a necessity, dear
boy. Look at the Wilcoxes, look at Mr. Pembroke. With all
their defects of temper and understanding, such men give me
more pleasure than many who are better equipped and I think
it is because they have worked regularly and honestly.

"Spare me the Wilcoxes," he moaned.

"I shall not. They are the right sort."

"Oh, goodness me, Meg!" he protested, suddenly sitting
up, alert and angry. Tibby, for all his defects, had a
genuine personality.

"Well, they're as near the right sort as you can imagine."

"No, no--oh, no!"

"I was thinking of the younger son, whom I once classed
as a ninny, but who came back so ill from Nigeria. He's
gone out there again, Evie Wilcox tells me--out to his duty."

"Duty" always elicited a groan.

"He doesn't want the money, it is work he wants, though
it is beastly work--dull country, dishonest natives, an
eternal fidget over fresh water and food. A nation who can
produce men of that sort may well be proud. No wonder
England has become an Empire."


"I can't bother over results," said Margaret, a little
sadly. "They are too difficult for me. I can only look at
the men. An Empire bores me, so far, but I can appreciate
the heroism that builds it up. London bores me, but what
thousands of splendid people are labouring to make London--"

"What it is," he sneered.

"What it is, worse luck. I want activity without
civilization. How paradoxical! Yet I expect that is what
we shall find in heaven."

"And I," said Tibby, "want civilization without
activity, which, I expect, is what we shall find in the
other place."

"You needn't go as far as the other place, Tibbi-kins,
if you want that. You can find it at Oxford."


"If I'm stupid, get me back to the house-hunting. I'll
even live in Oxford if you like--North Oxford. I'll live
anywhere except Bournemouth, Torquay, and Cheltenham. Oh
yes, or Ilfracombe and Swanage and Tunbridge Wells and
Surbiton and Bedford. There on no account."

"London, then."

"I agree, but Helen rather wants to get away from
London. However, there's no reason we shouldn't have a
house in the country and also a flat in town, provided we
all stick together and contribute. Though of course--Oh,
how one does maunder on, and to think, to think of the
people who are really poor. How do they live? Not to move
about the world would kill me."

As she spoke, the door was flung open, and Helen burst
in in a state of extreme excitement.

"Oh, my dears, what do you think? You'll never guess.
A woman's been here asking me for her husband. Her WHAT?"
(Helen was fond of supplying her own surprise.) "Yes, for
her husband, and it really is so."

"Not anything to do with Bracknell?" cried Margaret, who
had lately taken on an unemployed of that name to clean the
knives and boots.

"I offered Bracknell, and he was rejected. So was
Tibby. (Cheer up, Tibby!) It's no one we know. I said,
'Hunt, my good woman; have a good look round, hunt under the
tables, poke up the chimney, shake out the antimacassars.
Husband? husband?' Oh, and she so magnificently dressed and
tinkling like a chandelier."

"Now, Helen, what did happen really?"

"What I say. I was, as it were, orating my speech.
Annie opens the door like a fool, and shows a female
straight in on me, with my mouth open. Then we began--very
civilly. 'I want my husband, what I have reason to believe
is here.' No--how unjust one is. She said 'whom,' not
'what.' She got it perfectly. So I said, 'Name, please?'
and she said, 'Lan, Miss,' and there we were.


"Lan or Len. We were not nice about our vowels. Lanoline."

"But what an extraordinary--"

"I said, 'My good Mrs. Lanoline, we have some grave
misunderstanding here. Beautiful as I am, my modesty is
even more remarkable than my beauty, and never, never has
Mr. Lanoline rested his eyes on mine.'"

"I hope you were pleased," said Tibby.

"Of course," Helen squeaked. "A perfectly delightful
experience. Oh, Mrs. Lanoline's a dear--she asked for a
husband as if he was an umbrella. She mislaid him Saturday
afternoon--and for a long time suffered no inconvenience.
But all night, and all this morning her apprehensions grew.
Breakfast didn't seem the same--no, no more did lunch, and
so she strolled up to 2, Wickham Place as being the most
likely place for the missing article."

"But how on earth--"

"Don't begin how on earthing. 'I know what I know,' she
kept repeating, not uncivilly, but with extreme gloom. In
vain I asked her what she did know. Some knew what others
knew, and others didn't, and if they didn't, then others
again had better be careful. Oh dear, she was incompetent!
She had a face like a silkworm, and the dining-room reeks of
orris-root. We chatted pleasantly a little about husbands,
and I wondered where hers was too, and advised her to go to
the police. She thanked me. We agreed that Mr. Lanoline's
a notty, notty man, and hasn't no business to go on the
lardy-da. But I think she suspected me up to the last.
Bags I writing to Aunt Juley about this. Now, Meg,
remember--bags I."

"Bag it by all means," murmured Margaret, putting down
her work. "I'm not sure that this is so funny, Helen. It
means some horrible volcano smoking somewhere, doesn't it?"

"I don't think so--she doesn't really mind. The
admirable creature isn't capable of tragedy."

"Her husband may be, though," said Margaret, moving to
the window.

"Oh, no, not likely. No one capable of tragedy could
have married Mrs. Lanoline."

"Was she pretty?"

"Her figure may have been good once."

The flats, their only outlook, hung like an ornate
curtain between Margaret and the welter of London. Her
thoughts turned sadly to house-hunting. Wickham Place had
been so safe. She feared, fantastically, that her own
little flock might be moving into turmoil and squalor, into
nearer contact with such episodes as these.

"Tibby and I have again been wondering where we'll live
next September," she said at last.

"Tibby had better first wonder what he'll do," retorted
Helen; and that topic was resumed, but with acrimony. Then
tea came, and after tea Helen went on preparing her speech,
and Margaret prepared one, too, for they were going out to a
discussion society on the morrow. But her thoughts were
poisoned. Mrs. Lanoline had risen out of the abyss, like a
faint smell, a goblin football, telling of a life where love
and hatred had both decayed.

Chapter 14

The mystery, like so many mysteries, was explained. Next
day, just as they were dressed to go out to dinner, a Mr.
Bast called. He was a clerk in the employment of the
Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company. Thus much from his
card. He had come "about the lady yesterday." Thus much
from Annie, who had shown him into the dining-room.

"Cheers, children!" cried Helen. "It's Mrs. Lanoline."

Tibby was interested. The three hurried downstairs, to
find, not the gay dog they expected, but a young man,
colourless, toneless, who had already the mournful eyes
above a drooping moustache that are so common in London, and
that haunt some streets of the city like accusing
presences. One guessed him as the third generation,
grandson to the shepherd or ploughboy whom civilization had
sucked into the town; as one of the thousands who have lost
the life of the body and failed to reach the life of the
spirit. Hints of robustness survived in him, more than a
hint of primitive good looks, and Margaret, noting the spine
that might have been straight, and the chest that might have
broadened, wondered whether it paid to give up the glory of
the animal for a tail coat and a couple of ideas. Culture
had worked in her own case, but during the last few weeks
she had doubted whether it humanized the majority, so wide
and so widening is the gulf that stretches between the
natural and the philosophic man, so many the good chaps who
are wrecked in trying to cross it. She knew this type very
well--the vague aspirations, the mental dishonesty, the
familiarity with the outsides of books. She knew the very
tones in which he would address her. She was only
unprepared for an example of her own visiting-card.

"You wouldn't remember giving me this, Miss Schlegel?"
said he, uneasily familiar.

"No; I can't say I do."

"Well, that was how it happened, you see."

"Where did we meet, Mr. Bast? For the minute I don't remember."

"It was a concert at the Queen's Hall. I think you will
recollect," he added pretentiously, "when I tell you that it
included a performance of the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven."

"We hear the Fifth practically every time it's done, so
I'm not sure--do you remember, Helen?"

"Was it the time the sandy cat walked round the balustrade?"

He thought not.

"Then I don't remember. That's the only Beethoven I
ever remember specially."

"And you, if I may say so, took away my umbrella,
inadvertently of course."

"Likely enough," Helen laughed, "for I steal umbrellas
even oftener than I hear Beethoven. Did you get it back?"

"Yes, thank you, Miss Schlegel."

"The mistake arose out of my card, did it?" interposed Margaret.

"Yes, the mistake arose--it was a mistake."

"The lady who called here yesterday thought that you
were calling too, and that she could find you?" she
continued, pushing him forward, for, though he had promised
an explanation, he seemed unable to give one.

"That's so, calling too--a mistake."

"Then why--?" began Helen, but Margaret laid a hand on
her arm.

"I said to my wife," he continued more rapidly--"I said
to Mrs. Bast, 'I have to pay a call on some friends,' and
Mrs. Bast said to me, 'Do go.' While I was gone, however,
she wanted me on important business, and thought I had come
here, owing to the card, and so came after me, and I beg to
tender my apologies, and hers as well, for any inconvenience
we may have inadvertently caused you."

"No inconvenience," said Helen; "but I still don't understand."

An air of evasion characterized Mr. Bast. He explained
again, but was obviously lying, and Helen didn't see why he
should get off. She had the cruelty of youth. Neglecting
her sister's pressure, she said, "I still don't understand.
When did you say you paid this call?"

"Call? What call?" said he, staring as if her question
had been a foolish one, a favourite device of those in mid-stream.

"This afternoon call."

"In the afternoon, of course!" he replied, and looked at
Tibby to see how the repartee went. But Tibby, himself a
repartee, was unsympathetic, and said, "Saturday afternoon
or Sunday afternoon?"


"Really!" said Helen; "and you were still calling on
Sunday, when your wife came here. A long visit."

"I don't call that fair," said Mr. Bast, going scarlet
and handsome. There was fight in his eyes." I know what
you mean, and it isn't so."

"Oh, don't let us mind," said Margaret, distressed again
by odours from the abyss.

"It was something else," he asserted, his elaborate
manner breaking down. "I was somewhere else to what you
think, so there!"

"It was good of you to come and explain," she said.
"The rest is naturally no concern of ours."

"Yes, but I want--I wanted--have you ever read THE

Margaret nodded.

"It's a beautiful book. I wanted to get back to the
Earth, don't you see, like Richard does in the end. Or have
you ever read Stevenson's PRINCE OTTO?"

Helen and Tibby groaned gently.

"That's another beautiful book. You get back to the
Earth in that. I wanted--" He mouthed affectedly. Then
through the mists of his culture came a hard fact, hard as a
pebble. "I walked all the Saturday night," said Leonard.
"I walked." A thrill of approval ran through the sisters.
But culture closed in again. He asked whether they had ever
read E. V. Lucas's OPEN ROAD.

Said Helen, "No doubt it's another beautiful book, but
I'd rather hear about your road."

"Oh, I walked."

"How far?"

"I don't know, nor for how long. It got too dark to see
my watch."

"Were you walking alone, may I ask?"

"Yes," he said, straightening himself; "but we'd been
talking it over at the office. There's been a lot of talk
at the office lately about these things. The fellows there
said one steers by the Pole Star, and I looked it up in the
celestial atlas, but once out of doors everything gets so mixed--"

"Don't talk to me about the Pole Star," interrupted
Helen, who was becoming interested. "I know its little
ways. It goes round and round, and you go round after it."

"Well, I lost it entirely. First of all the street
lamps, then the trees, and towards morning it got cloudy."

Tibby, who preferred his comedy undiluted, slipped from
the room. He knew that this fellow would never attain to
poetry, and did not want to hear him trying. Margaret and
Helen remained. Their brother influenced them more than
they knew: in his absence they were stirred to enthusiasm
more easily.

"Where did you start from?" cried Margaret. "Do tell us

"I took the Underground to Wimbledon. As I came out of
the office I said to myself, 'I must have a walk once in a
way. If I don't take this walk now, I shall never take it.'
I had a bit of dinner at Wimbledon, and then--"

"But not good country there, is it?"

"It was gas-lamps for hours. Still, I had all the
night, and being out was the great thing. I did get into
woods, too, presently."

"Yes, go on," said Helen.

"You've no idea how difficult uneven ground is when it's

"Did you actually go off the roads?"

"Oh yes. I always meant to go off the roads, but the
worst of it is that it's more difficult to find one's way."

"Mr. Bast, you're a born adventurer," laughed Margaret.
"No professional athlete would have attempted what you've
done. It's a wonder your walk didn't end in a broken neck.
Whatever did your wife say?"

"Professional athletes never move without lanterns and
compasses," said Helen. "Besides, they can't walk. It
tires them. Go on."

"I felt like R. L. S. You probably remember how in

"Yes, but the wood. This 'ere wood. How did you get
out of it?"

"I managed one wood, and found a road the other side
which went a good bit uphill. I rather fancy it was those
North Downs, for the road went off into grass, and I got
into another wood. That was awful, with gorse bushes. I
did wish I'd never come, but suddenly it got light--just
while I seemed going under one tree. Then I found a road
down to a station, and took the first train I could back to London."

"But was the dawn wonderful?" asked Helen.

With unforgettable sincerity he replied, "No." The word
flew again like a pebble from the sling. Down toppled all
that had seemed ignoble or literary in his talk, down
toppled tiresome R. L. S. and the "love of the earth" and
his silk top-hat. In the presence of these women Leonard
had arrived, and he spoke with a flow, an exultation, that
he had seldom known.

"The dawn was only grey, it was nothing to mention--"

"Just a grey evening turned upside down. I know."

"--and I was too tired to lift up my head to look at it,
and so cold too. I'm glad I did it, and yet at the time it
bored me more than I can say. And besides--you can believe
me or not as you choose--I was very hungry. That dinner at
Wimbledon--I meant it to last me all night like other
dinners. I never thought that walking would make such a
difference. Why, when you're walking you want, as it were,
a breakfast and luncheon and tea during the night as well,
and I'd nothing but a packet of Woodbines. Lord, I did feel
bad! Looking back, it wasn't what you may call enjoyment.
It was more a case of sticking to it. I did stick. I--I
was determined. Oh, hang it all! what's the good--I mean,
the good of living in a room for ever? There one goes on
day after day, same old game, same up and down to town,
until you forget there is any other game. You ought to see
once in a way what's going on outside, if it's only nothing
particular after all."

"I should just think you ought," said Helen, sitting on
the edge of the table.

The sound of a lady's voice recalled him from sincerity,
and he said: "Curious it should all come about from reading
something of Richard Jefferies."

"Excuse me, Mr. Bast, but you're wrong there. It
didn't. It came from something far greater."

But she could not stop him. Borrow was imminent after
Jefferies--Borrow, Thoreau, and sorrow. R. L. S. brought up
the rear, and the outburst ended in a swamp of books. No
disrespect to these great names. The fault is ours, not
theirs. They mean us to use them for sign-posts, and are
not to blame if, in our weakness, we mistake the sign-post
for the destination. And Leonard had reached the
destination. He had visited the county of Surrey when
darkness covered its amenities, and its cosy villas had
re-entered ancient night. Every twelve hours this miracle
happens, but he had troubled to go and see for himself.
Within his cramped little mind dwelt something that was
greater than Jefferies' books--the spirit that led Jefferies
to write them; and his dawn, though revealing nothing but
monotones, was part of the eternal sunrise that shows George
Borrow Stonehenge.

"Then you don't think I was foolish?" he asked, becoming
again the naive and sweet-tempered boy for whom Nature had
intended him.

"Heavens, no!" replied Margaret.

"Heaven help us if we do!" replied Helen.

"I'm very glad you say that. Now, my wife would never
understand--not if I explained for days."

"No, it wasn't foolish!" cried Helen, her eyes aflame.
"You've pushed back the boundaries; I think it splendid of you."

"You've not been content to dream as we have--"

"Though we have walked, too--"

"I must show you a picture upstairs--"

Here the door-bell rang. The hansom had come to take
them to their evening party.

"Oh, bother, not to say dash--I had forgotten we were
dining out; but do, do, come round again and have a talk."

"Yes, you must--do," echoed Margaret.

Leonard, with extreme sentiment, replied: "No, I shall
not. It's better like this."

"Why better?" asked Margaret.

"No, it is better not to risk a second interview. I
shall always look back on this talk with you as one of the
finest things in my life. Really. I mean this. We can
never repeat. It has done me real good, and there we had
better leave it."

"That's rather a sad view of life, surely."

"Things so often get spoiled."

"I know," flashed Helen, "but people don't."

He could not understand this. He continued in a vein
which mingled true imagination and false. What he said
wasn't wrong, but it wasn't right, and a false note jarred.
One little twist, they felt, and the instrument might be in
tune. One little strain, and it might be silent for ever.
He thanked the ladies very much, but he would not call
again. There was a moment's awkwardness, and then Helen
said: "Go, then; perhaps you know best; but never forget
you're better than Jefferies." And he went. Their hansom
caught him up at the corner, passed with a waving of hands,
and vanished with its accomplished load into the evening.

London was beginning to illuminate herself against the
night. Electric lights sizzled and jagged in the main
thoroughfares, gas-lamps in the side streets glimmered a
canary gold or green. The sky was a crimson battlefield of
spring, but London was not afraid. Her smoke mitigated the
splendour, and the clouds down Oxford Street were a
delicately painted ceiling, which adorned while it did not
distract. She has never known the clear-cut armies of the
purer air. Leonard hurried through her tinted wonders, very
much part of the picture. His was a grey life, and to
brighten it he had ruled off a few corners for romance. The
Miss Schlegels--or, to speak more accurately, his interview
with them--were to fill such a corner, nor was it by any
means the first time that he had talked intimately to
strangers. The habit was analogous to a debauch, an outlet,
though the worst of outlets, for instincts that would not be
denied. Terrifying him, it would beat down his suspicions
and prudence until he was confiding secrets to people whom
he had scarcely seen. It brought him many fears and some
pleasant memories. Perhaps the keenest happiness he had
ever known was during a railway journey to Cambridge, where
a decent-mannered undergraduate had spoken to him. They had
got into conversation, and gradually Leonard flung reticence
aside, told some of his domestic troubles, and hinted at the
rest. The undergraduate, supposing they could start a
friendship, asked him to "coffee after hall," which he
accepted, but afterwards grew shy, and took care not to stir
from the commercial hotel where he lodged. He did not want
Romance to collide with the Porphyrion, still less with
Jacky, and people with fuller, happier lives are slow to
understand this. To the Schlegels, as to the undergraduate,
he was an interesting creature, of whom they wanted to see
more. But they to him were denizens of Romance, who must
keep to the corner he had assigned them, pictures that must
not walk out of their frames.

His behaviour over Margaret's visiting-card had been
typical. His had scarcely been a tragic marriage. Where
there is no money and no inclination to violence tragedy
cannot be generated. He could not leave his wife, and he
did not want to hit her. Petulance and squalor were
enough. Here "that card" had come in. Leonard, though
furtive, was untidy, and left it lying about. Jacky found
it, and then began, "What's that card, eh?" "Yes, don't you
wish you knew what that card was?" "Len, who's Miss
Schlegel?" etc. Months passed, and the card, now as a joke,
now as a grievance, was handed about, getting dirtier and
dirtier. It followed them when they moved from Cornelia
Road to Tulse Hill. It was submitted to third parties. A
few inches of pasteboard, it became the battlefield on which
the souls of Leonard and his wife contended. Why did he not
say, "A lady took my umbrella, another gave me this that I
might call for my umbrella"? Because Jacky would have
disbelieved him? Partly, but chiefly because he was
sentimental. No affection gathered round the card, but it
symbolized the life of culture, that Jacky should never
spoil. At night he would say to himself, "Well, at all
events, she doesn't know about that card. Yah! done her there!"

Poor Jacky! she was not a bad sort, and had a great
deal to bear. She drew her own conclusion--she was only
capable of drawing one conclusion--and in the fulness of
time she acted upon it. All the Friday Leonard had refused
to speak to her, and had spent the evening observing the
stars. On the Saturday he went up, as usual, to town, but
he came not back Saturday night nor Sunday morning, nor
Sunday afternoon. The inconvenience grew intolerable, and
though she was now of a retiring habit, and shy of women,
she went up to Wickham Place. Leonard returned in her
absence. The card, the fatal card, was gone from the pages
of Ruskin, and he guessed what had happened.

"Well?" he had exclaimed, greeting her with peals of
laughter. "I know where you've been, but you don't know
where I've been. "

Jacky sighed, said, "Len, I do think you might explain,"
and resumed domesticity.

Explanations were difficult at this stage, and Leonard
was too silly--or it is tempting to write, too sound a chap
to attempt them. His reticence was not entirely the shoddy
article that a business life promotes, the reticence that
pretends that nothing is something, and hides behind the
DAILY TELEGRAPH. The adventurer, also, is reticent, and it
is an adventure for a clerk to walk for a few hours in
darkness. You may laugh at him, you who have slept nights
on the veldt, with your rifle beside you and all the
atmosphere of adventure past. And you also may laugh who
think adventures silly. But do not be surprised if Leonard
is shy whenever he meets you, and if the Schlegels rather
than Jacky hear about the dawn.

That the Schlegels had not thought him foolish became a
permanent joy. He was at his best when he thought of them.
It buoyed him as he journeyed home beneath fading heavens.
Somehow the barriers of wealth had fallen, and there had
been--he could not phrase it--a general assertion of the
wonder of the world. "My conviction," says the mystic,
"gains infinitely the moment another soul will believe in
it," and they had agreed that there was something beyond
life's daily grey. He took off his top-hat and smoothed it
thoughtfully. He had hitherto supposed the unknown to be
books, literature, clever conversation, culture. One raised
oneself by study, and got upsides with the world. But in
that quick interchange a new light dawned. Was that
something" walking in the dark among the surburban hills?

He discovered that he was going bareheaded down Regent
Street. London came back with a rush. Few were about at
this hour, but all whom he passed looked at him with a
hostility that was the more impressive because it was
unconscious. He put his hat on. It was too big; his head
disappeared like a pudding into a basin, the ears bending
outwards at the touch of the curly brim. He wore it a
little backwards, and its effect was greatly to elongate the
face and to bring out the distance between the eyes and the
moustache. Thus equipped, he escaped criticism. No one
felt uneasy as he titupped along the pavements, the heart of
a man ticking fast in his chest.

Chapter 15

The sisters went out to dinner full of their adventure, and
when they were both full of the same subject, there were few
dinner-parties that could stand up against them. This
particular one, which was all ladies, had more kick in it
than most, but succumbed after a struggle. Helen at one
part of the table, Margaret at the other, would talk of Mr.
Bast and of no one else, and somewhere about the entree
their monologues collided, fell ruining, and became common
property. Nor was this all. The dinner-party was really an
informal discussion club; there was a paper after it, read
amid coffee-cups and laughter in the drawing-room, but
dealing more or less thoughtfully with some topic of general
interest. After the paper came a debate, and in this debate
Mr. Bast also figured, appearing now as a bright spot in
civilization, now as a dark spot, according to the
temperament of the speaker. The subject of the paper had
been, "How ought I to dispose of my money?" the reader
professing to be a millionaire on the point of death,
inclined to bequeath her fortune for the foundation of local
art galleries, but open to conviction from other sources.
The various parts had been assigned beforehand, and some of
the speeches were amusing. The hostess assumed the
ungrateful role of "the millionaire's eldest son," and
implored her expiring parent not to dislocate Society by
allowing such vast sums to pass out of the family. Money
was the fruit of self-denial, and the second generation had
a right to profit by the self-denial of the first. What
right had "Mr. Bast" to profit? The National Gallery was
good enough for the likes of him. After property had had
its say--a saying that is necessarily ungracious--the
various philanthropists stepped forward. Something must be
done for "Mr. Bast": his conditions must be improved without
impairing his independence; he must have a free library, or
free tennis-courts; his rent must be paid in such a way that
he did not know it was being paid; it must be made worth his
while to join the Territorials; he must be forcibly parted
from his uninspiring wife, the money going to her as
compensation; he must be assigned a Twin Star, some member
of the leisured classes who would watch over him ceaselessly
(groans from Helen); he must be given food but no clothes,
clothes but no food, a third-return ticket to Venice,
without either food or clothes when he arrived there. In
short, he might be given anything and everything so long as
it was not the money itself.

And here Margaret interrupted.

"Order, order, Miss Schlegel!" said the reader of the
paper. "You are here, I understand, to advise me in the
interests of the Society for the Preservation of Places of
Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. I cannot have you
speaking out of your role. It makes my poor head go round,
and I think you forget that I am very ill."

"Your head won't go round if only you'll listen to my
argument," said Margaret. "Why not give him the money
itself. You're supposed to have about thirty thousand a year."

"Have I? I thought I had a million."

"Wasn't a million your capital? Dear me! we ought to
have settled that. Still, it doesn't matter. Whatever
you've got, I order you to give as many poor men as you can
three hundred a year each. "

"But that would be pauperizing them," said an earnest
girl, who liked the Schlegels, but thought them a little
unspiritual at times.

"Not if you gave them so much. A big windfall would not
pauperize a man. It is these little driblets, distributed
among too many, that do the harm. Money's educational.
It's far more educational than the things it buys." There
was a protest. "In a sense," added Margaret, but the
protest continued. "Well, isn't the most civilized thing
going, the man who has learnt to wear his income properly?"

"Exactly what your Mr. Basts won't do."

"Give them a chance. Give them money. Don't dole them
out poetry-books and railway-tickets like babies. Give them
the wherewithal to buy these things. When your Socialism
comes it may be different, and we may think in terms of
commodities instead of cash. Till it comes give people
cash, for it is the warp of civilization, whatever the woof
may be. The imagination ought to play upon money and
realize it vividly, for it's the--the second most important
thing in the world. It is so sluffed over and hushed up,
there is so little clear thinking--oh, political economy, of
course, but so few of us think clearly about our own private
incomes, and admit that independent thoughts are in nine
cases out of ten the result of independent means. Money:
give Mr. Bast money, and don't bother about his ideals.
He'll pick up those for himself."

She leant back while the more earnest members of the
club began to misconstrue her. The female mind, though
cruelly practical in daily life, cannot bear to hear ideals
belittled in conversation, and Miss Schlegel was asked
however she could say such dreadful things, and what it
would profit Mr. Bast if he gained the whole world and lost
his own soul. She answered, "Nothing, but he would not gain
his soul until he had gained a little of the world." Then
they said, "No they did not believe it," and she admitted
that an overworked clerk may save his soul in the
superterrestrial sense, where the effort will be taken for
the deed, but she denied that he will ever explore the
spiritual resources of this world, will ever know the rarer
joys of the body, or attain to clear and passionate
intercourse with his fellows. Others had attacked the
fabric of Society-Property, Interest, etc.; she only fixed
her eyes on a few human beings, to see how, under present
conditions, they could be made happier. Doing good to
humanity was useless: the many-coloured efforts thereto
spreading over the vast area like films and resulting in an
universal grey. To do good to one, or, as in this case, to
a few, was the utmost she dare hope for.

Between the idealists, and the political economists,
Margaret had a bad time. Disagreeing elsewhere, they agreed
in disowning her, and in keeping the administration of the
millionaire's money in their own hands. The earnest girl
brought forward a scheme of "personal supervision and mutual
help," the effect of which was to alter poor people until
they became exactly like people who were not so poor. The
hostess pertinently remarked that she, as eldest son, might
surely rank among the millionaire's legatees. Margaret
weakly admitted the claim, and another claim was at once set
up by Helen, who declared that she had been the
millionaire's housemaid for over forty years, overfed and
underpaid; was nothing to be done for her, so corpulent and
poor? The millionaire then read out her last will and
testament, in which she left the whole of her fortune to the
Chancellor of the Exchequer. Then she died. The serious
parts of the discussion had been of higher merit than the
playful--in a men's debate is the reverse more
general? --but the meeting broke up hilariously enough, and
a dozen happy ladies dispersed to their homes.

Helen and Margaret walked the earnest girl as far as
Battersea Bridge Station, arguing copiously all the way.
When she had gone they were conscious of an alleviation, and
of the great beauty of the evening. They turned back
towards Oakley Street. The lamps and the plane-trees,
following the line of the embankment, struck a note of
dignity that is rare in English cities. The seats, almost
deserted, were here and there occupied by gentlefolk in
evening dress, who had strolled out from the houses behind
to enjoy fresh air and the whisper of the rising tide.
There is something continental about Chelsea Embankment. It
is an open space used rightly, a blessing more frequent in
Germany than here. As Margaret and Helen sat down, the city
behind them seemed to be a vast theatre, an opera-house in
which some endless trilogy was performing, and they
themselves a pair of satisfied subscribers, who did not mind
losing a little of the second act.




"Doesn't matter."

The earnest girl's train rumbled away over the bridge.

"I say, Helen--"


"Are we really going to follow up Mr. Bast?"

"I don't know."

"I think we won't."

"As you like."

"It's no good, I think, unless you really mean to know
people. The discussion brought that home to me. We got on
well enough with him in a spirit of excitement, but think of
rational intercourse. We mustn't play at friendship. No,
it's no good."

"There's Mrs. Lanoline, too," Helen yawned. "So dull."

"Just so, and possibly worse than dull."

"I should like to know how he got hold of your card."

"But he said--something about a concert and an umbrella--"

"Then did the card see the wife--"

"Helen, come to bed."

"No, just a little longer, it is so beautiful. Tell me;
oh yes; did you say money is the warp of the world?"


"Then what's the woof?"

"Very much what one chooses," said Margaret. "It's
something that isn't money--one can't say more."

"Walking at night?"


"For Tibby, Oxford?"

"It seems so."

"For you?"

"Now that we have to leave Wickham Place, I begin to
think it's that. For Mrs. Wilcox it was certainly Howards End."

One's own name will carry immense distances. Mr.
Wilcox, who was sitting with friends many seats away, heard
his, rose to his feet, and strolled along towards the speakers.

"It is sad to suppose that places may ever be more
important than people," continued Margaret.

"Why, Meg? They're so much nicer generally. I'd rather
think of that forester's house in Pomerania than of the fat
Herr Forstmeister who lived in it."

"I believe we shall come to care about people less and
less, Helen. The more people one knows the easier it
becomes to replace them. It's one of the curses of London.
I quite expect to end my life caring most for a place."

Here Mr. Wilcox reached them. It was several weeks
since they had met.

"How do you do?" he cried. "I thought I recognized your
voices. Whatever are you both doing down here?"

His tones were protective. He implied that one ought
not to sit out on Chelsea Embankment without a male escort.
Helen resented this, but Margaret accepted it as part of the
good man's equipment.

"What an age it is since I've seen you, Mr. Wilcox. I
met Evie in the Tube, though, lately. I hope you have good
news of your son."

"Paul?" said Mr. Wilcox, extinguishing his cigarette,
and sitting down between them. "Oh, Paul's all right. We
had a line from Madeira. He'll be at work again by now."

"Ugh--" said Helen, shuddering from complex causes.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Isn't the climate of Nigeria too horrible?"

"Someone's got to go," he said simply. "England will
never keep her trade overseas unless she is prepared to make
sacrifices. Unless we get firm in West Africa, Ger--untold
complications may follow. Now tell me all your news."

"Oh, we've had a splendid evening," cried Helen, who
always woke up at the advent of a visitor. "We belong to a
kind of club that reads papers, Margaret and I--all women,
but there is a discussion after. This evening it was on how
one ought to leave one's money--whether to one's family, or
to the poor, and if so how--oh, most interesting."

The man of business smiled. Since his wife's death he
had almost doubled his income. He was an important figure
at last, a reassuring name on company prospectuses, and life
had treated him very well. The world seemed in his grasp as
he listened to the River Thames, which still flowed inland
from the sea. So wonderful to the girls, it held no
mysteries for him. He had helped to shorten its long tidal
trough by taking shares in the lock at Teddington, and if he
and other capitalists thought good, some day it could be
shortened again. With a good dinner inside him and an
amiable but academic woman on either flank, he felt that his
hands were on all the ropes of life, and that what he did
not know could not be worth knowing.

"Sounds a most original entertainment!" he exclaimed,
and laughed in his pleasant way. "I wish Evie would go to
that sort of thing. But she hasn't the time. She's taken
to breed Aberdeen terriers--jolly little dogs.

"I expect we'd better be doing the same, really."

"We pretend we're improving ourselves, you see," said
Helen a little sharply, for the Wilcox glamour is not of the
kind that returns, and she had bitter memories of the days
when a speech such as he had just made would have impressed
her favourably. "We suppose it is a good thing to waste an
evening once a fortnight over a debate, but, as my sister
says, it may be better to breed dogs."

"Not at all. I don't agree with your sister. There's
nothing like a debate to teach one quickness. I often wish
I had gone in for them when I was a youngster. It would
have helped me no end."


"Yes. Quickness in argument. Time after time I've
missed scoring a point because the other man has had the
gift of the gab and I haven't. Oh, I believe in these discussions."

The patronizing tone thought Margaret, came well enough
from a man who was old enough to be their father. She had
always maintained that Mr. Wilcox had a charm. In times of
sorrow or emotion his inadequacy had pained her, but it was
pleasant to listen to him now, and to watch his thick brown
moustache and high forehead confronting the stars. But
Helen was nettled. The aim of THEIR debates she implied was

"Oh yes, it doesn't much matter what subject you take,"
said he.

Margaret laughed and said, "But this is going to be far
better than the debate itself." Helen recovered herself and
laughed too. "No, I won't go on," she declared. "I'll just
put our special case to Mr. Wilcox."

"About Mr. Bast? Yes, do. He'll be more lenient to a
special case.

"But, Mr. Wilcox, do first light another cigarette.
It's this. We've just come across a young fellow, who's
evidently very poor, and who seems interest--"

"What's his profession?"


"What in?"

"Do you remember, Margaret?"

"Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company."

"Oh yes; the nice people who gave Aunt Juley a new
hearth-rug. He seems interesting, in some ways very, and
one wishes one could help him. He is married to a wife whom
he doesn't seem to care for much. He likes books, and what
one may roughly call adventure, and if he had a chance--But
he is so poor. He lives a life where all the money is apt
to go on nonsense and clothes. One is so afraid that
circumstances will be too strong for him and that he will
sink. Well, he got mixed up in our debate. He wasn't the
subject of it, but it seemed to bear on his point. Suppose
a millionaire died, and desired to leave money to help such
a man. How should he be helped? Should he be given three
hundred pounds a year direct, which was Margaret's plan?
Most of them thought this would pauperize him. Should he
and those like him be given free libraries? I said 'No!' He
doesn't want more books to read, but to read books rightly.
My suggestion was he should be given something every year
towards a summer holiday, but then there is his wife, and
they said she would have to go too. Nothing seemed quite
right! Now what do you think? Imagine that you were a
millionaire, and wanted to help the poor. What would you do?"

Mr. Wilcox, whose fortune was not so very far below the
standard indicated, laughed exuberantly. "My dear Miss
Schlegel, I will not rush in where your sex has been unable
to tread. I will not add another plan to the numerous
excellent ones that have been already suggested. My only
contribution is this: let your young friend clear out of the
Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company with all possible speed."

"Why?" said Margaret.

He lowered his voice. "This is between friends. It'll
be in the Receiver's hands before Christmas. It'll smash,"
he added, thinking that she had not understood.

"Dear me, Helen, listen to that. And he'll have to get
another place!"

"Will have? Let him leave the ship before it sinks.
Let him get one now."

"Rather than wait, to make sure?"


"Why's that?"

Again the Olympian laugh, and the lowered voice.
"Naturally the man who's in a situation when he applies
stands a better chance, is in a stronger position, than the
man who isn't. It looks as if he's worth something. I know
by myself--(this is letting you into the State secrets)--it
affects an employer greatly. Human nature, I'm afraid."

"I hadn't thought of that," murmured Margaret, while
Helen said, "Our human nature appears to be the other way
round. We employ people because they're unemployed. The
boot man, for instance."

"And how does he clean the boots?"

"Not well," confessed Margaret.

"There you are!"

"Then do you really advise us to tell this youth--"

"I advise nothing," he interrupted, glancing up and down
the Embankment, in case his indiscretion had been
overheard. "I oughtn't to have spoken--but I happen to
know, being more or less behind the scenes. The
Porphyrion's a bad, bad concern--Now, don't say I said so.
It's outside the Tariff Ring."

"Certainly I won't say. In fact, I don't know what that

"I thought an insurance company never smashed," was
Helen's contribution. "Don't the others always run in and
save them?"

"You're thinking of reinsurance," said Mr. Wilcox
mildly. "It is exactly there that the Porphyrion is weak.
It has tried to undercut, has been badly hit by a long
series of small fires, and it hasn't been able to reinsure.
I'm afraid that public companies don't save one another for love."

"'Human nature,' I suppose," quoted Helen, and he
laughed and agreed that it was. When Margaret said that she
supposed that clerks, like every one else, found it
extremely difficult to get situations in these days, he
replied, "Yes, extremely," and rose to rejoin his friends.
He knew by his own office--seldom a vacant post, and
hundreds of applicants for it; at present no vacant post.

"And how's Howards End looking?" said Margaret, wishing
to change the subject before they parted. Mr. Wilcox was a
little apt to think one wanted to get something out of him.

"It's let."

"Really. And you wandering homeless in long-haired
Chelsea? How strange are the ways of Fate!"

"No; it's let unfurnished. We've moved."

"Why, I thought of you both as anchored there for ever.
Evie never told me."

"I dare say when you met Evie the thing wasn't settled.
We only moved a week ago. Paul has rather a feeling for the
old place, and we held on for him to have his holiday there;
but, really, it is impossibly small. Endless drawbacks. I
forget whether you've been up to it?"

"As far as the house, never."

"Well, Howards End is one of those converted farms.
They don't really do, spend what you will on them. We
messed away with a garage all among the wych-elm roots, and
last year we enclosed a bit of the meadow and attempted a
mockery. Evie got rather keen on Alpine plants. But it
didn't do--no, it didn't do. You remember, or your sister
will remember, the farm with those abominable guinea-fowls,
and the hedge that the old woman never would cut properly,
so that it all went thin at the bottom. And, inside the
house, the beams--and the staircase through a
door--picturesque enough, but not a place to live in." He
glanced over the parapet cheerfully. "Full tide. And the
position wasn't right either. The neighbourhood's getting
suburban. Either be in London or out of it, I say; so we've
taken a house in Ducie Street, close to Sloane Street, and a
place right down in Shropshire--Oniton Grange. Ever heard
of Oniton? Do come and see us--right away from everywhere,
up towards Wales. "

"What a change!" said Margaret. But the change was in
her own voice, which had become most sad. "I can't imagine
Howards End or Hilton without you."

"Hilton isn't without us," he replied. "Charles is
there still."

"Still?" said Margaret, who had not kept up with the
Charles'. "But I thought he was still at Epsom. They were
furnishing that Christmas--one Christmas. How everything
alters! I used to admire Mrs. Charles from our windows very
often. Wasn't it Epsom?"

"Yes, but they moved eighteen months ago. Charles, the
good chap"--his voice dropped--"thought I should be lonely.
I didn't want him to move, but he would, and took a house at
the other end of Hilton, down by the Six Hills. He had a
motor, too. There they all are, a very jolly party--he and
she and the two grandchildren."

"I manage other people's affairs so much better than
they manage them themselves," said Margaret as they shook
hands. "When you moved out of Howards End, I should have
moved Mr. Charles Wilcox into it. I should have kept so
remarkable a place in the family."

"So it is," he replied. "I haven't sold it, and don't
mean to."

"No; but none of you are there."

"Oh, we've got a splendid tenant--Hamar Bryce, an
invalid. If Charles ever wanted it--but he won't. Dolly is
so dependent on modern conveniences. No, we have all
decided against Howards End. We like it in a way, but now
we feel that it is neither one thing nor the other. One
must have one thing or the other."

"And some people are lucky enough to have both. You're
doing yourself proud, Mr. Wilcox. My congratulations."

"And mine," said Helen.

"Do remind Evie to come and see us--two, Wickham Place.
We shan't be there very long, either."

"You, too, on the move?"

"Next September," Margaret sighed.

"Every one moving! Good-bye."

The tide had begun to ebb. Margaret leant over the
parapet and watched it sadly. Mr. Wilcox had forgotten his
wife, Helen her lover; she herself was probably forgetting.
Every one moving. Is it worth while attempting the past
when there is this continual flux even in the hearts of men?

Helen roused her by saying: "What a prosperous vulgarian
Mr. Wilcox has grown! I have very little use for him in
these days. However, he did tell us about the Porphyrion.
Let us write to Mr. Bast as soon as ever we get home, and
tell him to clear out of it at once."

"Do; yes, that's worth doing. Let us."

"Let's ask him to tea."

Chapter 16

Leonard accepted the invitation to tea next Saturday. But
he was right; the visit proved a conspicuous failure.

"Sugar?" said Margaret.

"Cake?" said Helen. "The big cake or the little
deadlies? I'm afraid you thought my letter rather odd, but
we'll explain--we aren't odd, really--not affected, really.
We're over-expressive: that's all. "

As a lady's lap-dog Leonard did not excel. He was not
an Italian, still less a Frenchman, in whose blood there
runs the very spirit of persiflage and of gracious
repartee. His wit was the Cockney's; it opened no doors
into imagination, and Helen was drawn up short by "The more
a lady has to say, the better," administered waggishly.

"Oh, yes," she said.

"Ladies brighten--"

"Yes, I know. The darlings are regular sunbeams. Let
me give you a plate."

"How do you like your work?" interposed Margaret.

He, too, was drawn up short. He would not have these
women prying into his work. They were Romance, and so was
the room to which he had at last penetrated, with the queer
sketches of people bathing upon its walls, and so were the
very tea-cups, with their delicate borders of wild
strawberries. But he would not let Romance interfere with
his life. There is the devil to pay then.

"Oh, well enough," he answered.

"Your company is the Porphyrion, isn't it?"

"Yes, that's so"--becoming rather offended. "It's funny
how things get round."

"Why funny?" asked Helen, who did not follow the
workings of his mind. "It was written as large as life on
your card, and considering we wrote to you there, and that
you replied on the stamped paper--"

"Would you call the Porphyrion one of the big Insurance
Companies?" pursued Margaret.

"It depends what you call big."

"I mean by big, a solid, well-established concern, that
offers a reasonably good career to its employes."

"I couldn't say--some would tell you one thing and
others another," said the employe uneasily. "For my own
part"--he shook his head--"I only believe half I hear. Not
that even; it's safer. Those clever ones come to the worse
grief, I've often noticed. Ah, you can't be too careful."

He drank, and wiped his moustache, which was going to be
one of those moustaches that always droop into

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