Part 4 out of 8
tea-cups--more bother than they're worth, surely, and not
"I quite agree, and that's why I was curious to know: is
it a solid, well-established concern?"
Leonard had no idea. He understood his own corner of
the machine, but nothing beyond it. He desired to confess
neither knowledge nor ignorance, and under these
circumstances, another motion of the head seemed safest. To
him, as to the British public, the Porphyrion was the
Porphyrion of the advertisement--a giant, in the classical
style, but draped sufficiently, who held in one hand a
burning torch, and pointed with the other to St. Paul's and
Windsor Castle. A large sum of money was inscribed below,
and you drew your own conclusions. This giant caused
Leonard to do arithmetic and write letters, to explain the
regulations to new clients, and re-explain them to old
ones. A giant was of an impulsive morality--one knew that
much. He would pay for Mrs. Munt's hearth-rug with
ostentatious haste, a large claim he would repudiate
quietly, and fight court by court. But his true fighting
weight, his antecedents, his amours with other members of
the commercial Pantheon--all these were as uncertain to
ordinary mortals as were the escapades of Zeus. While the
gods are powerful, we learn little about them. It is only
in the days of their decadence that a strong light beats
"We were told the Porphyrion's no go," blurted Helen.
"We wanted to tell you; that's why we wrote."
"A friend of ours did think that it is unsufficiently
reinsured," said Margaret.
Now Leonard had his clue. He must praise the
Porphyrion. "You can tell your friend," he said, "that he's
The young man coloured a little. In his circle to be
wrong was fatal. The Miss Schlegels did not mind being
wrong. They were genuinely glad that they had been
misinformed. To them nothing was fatal but evil.
"Wrong, so to speak," he added.
"How 'so to speak'?"
"I mean I wouldn't say he's right altogether."
But this was a blunder. "Then he is right partly," said
the elder woman, quick as lightning.
Leonard replied that every one was right partly, if it
came to that.
"Mr. Bast, I don't understand business, and I dare say
my questions are stupid, but can you tell me what makes a
concern 'right' or 'wrong'?"
Leonard sat back with a sigh.
"Our friend, who is also a business man, was so
positive. He said before Christmas--"
"And advised you to clear out of it," concluded Helen.
"But I don't see why he should know better than you do."
Leonard rubbed his hands. He was tempted to say that he
knew nothing about the thing at all. But a commercial
training was too strong for him. Nor could he say it was a
bad thing, for this would be giving it away; nor yet that it
was good, for this would be giving it away equally. He
attempted to suggest that it was something between the two,
with vast possibilities in either direction, but broke down
under the gaze of four sincere eyes. As yet he scarcely
distinguished between the two sisters. One was more
beautiful and more lively, but "the Miss Schlegels" still
remained a composite Indian god, whose waving arms and
contradictory speeches were the product of a single mind.
"One can but see," he remarked, adding, "as Ibsen says,
'things happen.'" He was itching to talk about books and
make the most of his romantic hour. Minute after minute
slipped away, while the ladies, with imperfect skill,
discussed the subject of reinsurance or praised their
anonymous friend. Leonard grew annoyed--perhaps rightly.
He made vague remarks about not being one of those who
minded their affairs being talked over by others, but they
did not take the hint. Men might have shown more tact.
Women, however tactful elsewhere, are heavy-handed here.
They cannot see why we should shroud our incomes and our
prospects in a veil. "How much exactly have you, and how
much do you expect to have next June?" And these were women
with a theory, who held that reticence about money matters
is absurd, and that life would be truer if each would state
the exact size of the golden island upon which he stands,
the exact stretch of warp over which he throws the woof that
is not money. How can we do justice to the pattern
And the precious minutes slipped away, and Jacky and
squalor came nearer. At last he could bear it no longer,
and broke in, reciting the names of books feverishly. There
was a moment of piercing joy when Margaret said, "So YOU
like Carlyle," and then the door opened, and "Mr. Wilcox,
Miss Wilcox" entered, preceded by two prancing puppies.
"Oh, the dears! Oh, Evie, how too impossibly sweet!"
screamed Helen, falling on her hands and knees.
"We brought the little fellows round," said Mr. Wilcox.
"I bred 'em myself."
"Oh, really! Mr. Bast, come and play with puppies."
"I've got to be going now," said Leonard sourly.
"But play with puppies a little first."
"This is Ahab, that's Jezebel," said Evie, who was one
of those who name animals after the less successful
characters of Old Testament history.
"I've got to be going."
Helen was too much occupied with puppies to notice him.
"Mr. Wilcox, Mr. Ba--Must you be really? Good-bye!"
"Come again," said Helen from the floor.
Then Leonard's gorge arose. Why should he come again?
What was the good of it? He said roundly: "No, I shan't; I
knew it would be a failure."
Most people would have let him go. "A little mistake.
We tried knowing another class--impossible." But the
Schlegels had never played with life. They had attempted
friendship, and they would take the consequences. Helen
retorted, "I call that a very rude remark. What do you want
to turn on me like that for?" and suddenly the drawing-room
re-echoed to a vulgar row.
"You ask me why I turn on you?"
"What do you want to have me here for?"
"To help you, you silly boy!" cried Helen. "And don't shout."
"I don't want your patronage. I don't want your tea. I
was quite happy. What do you want to unsettle me for?" He
turned to Mr. Wilcox. "I put it to this gentleman. I ask
you, sir, am to have my brain picked?"
Mr. Wilcox turned to Margaret with the air of humorous
strength that he could so well command. "Are we intruding,
Miss Schlegel? Can we be of any use or shall we go?"
But Margaret ignored him.
"I'm connected with a leading insurance company, sir. I
receive what I take to be an invitation from these--ladies"
(he drawled the word). "I come, and it's to have my brain
picked. I ask you, is it fair?"
"Highly unfair," said Mr. Wilcox, drawing a gasp from
Evie, who knew that her father was becoming dangerous.
"There, you hear that? Most unfair, the gentleman
says. There! Not content with"--pointing at Margaret--"you
can't deny it." His voice rose: he was falling into the
rhythm of a scene with Jacky. "But as soon as I'm useful
it's a very different thing. 'Oh yes, send for him.
Cross-question him. Pick his brains.' Oh yes. Now, take me
on the whole, I'm a quiet fellow: I'm law-abiding, I don't
wish any unpleasantness; but I--I--"
"You," said Margaret--"you--you--"
Laughter from Evie, as at a repartee.
"You are the man who tried to walk by the Pole Star."
"You saw the sunrise."
"You tried to get away from the fogs that are stifling
us all--away past books and houses to the truth. You were
looking for a real home. "
"I fail to see the connection," said Leonard, hot with
"So do I." There was a pause. "You were that last
Sunday--you are this today. Mr. Bast! I and my sister have
talked you over. We wanted to help you; we also supposed
you might help us. We did not have you here out of
charity--which bores us--but because we hoped there would be
a connection between last Sunday and other days. What is
the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind,
if they do not enter into our daily lives? They have never
entered into mine, but into yours, we thought--Haven't we
all to struggle against life's daily greyness, against
pettiness, against mechanical cheerfulness, against
suspicion? I struggle by remembering my friends; others I
have known by remembering some place--some beloved place or
tree--we thought you one of these."
"Of course, if there's been any misunderstanding,"
mumbled Leonard, "all I can do is to go. But I beg to
state--" He paused. Ahab and Jezebel danced at his boots
and made him look ridiculous. "You were picking my brain
for official information--I can prove it--I--He blew his
nose and left them.
"Can I help you now?" said Mr. Wilcox, turning to
Margaret. "May I have one quiet word with him in the hall?"
"Helen, go after him--do anything--ANYTHING--to make the
"But really--" said their visitor. "Ought she to?"
At once she went.
He resumed. "I would have chimed in, but I felt that
you could polish him off for yourselves--I didn't
interfere. You were splendid, Miss Schlegel--absolutely
splendid. You can take my word for it, but there are very
few women who could have managed him."
"Oh yes," said Margaret distractedly.
"Bowling him over with those long sentences was what
fetched me," cried Evie.
"Yes, indeed," chuckled her father; "all that part about
'mechanical cheerfulness'--oh, fine!"
"I'm very sorry," said Margaret, collecting herself.
"He's a nice creature really. I cannot think what set him
off. It has been most unpleasant for you."
"Oh, _I_ didn't mind." Then he changed his mood. He
asked if he might speak as an old friend, and, permission
given, said: "Oughtn't you really to be more careful?"
Margaret laughed, though her thoughts still strayed
after Helen. "Do you realize that it's all your fault?" she
said. "You're responsible."
"This is the young man whom we were to warn against the
Porphyrion. We warn him, and--look!"
Mr. Wilcox was annoyed. "I hardly consider that a fair
deduction," he said.
"Obviously unfair," said Margaret. "I was only thinking
how tangled things are. It's our fault mostly--neither
yours nor his."
"Miss Schlegel, you are too kind."
"Yes, indeed," nodded Evie, a little contemptuously.
"You behave much too well to people, and then they
impose on you. I know the world and that type of man, and
as soon as I entered the room I saw you had not been
treating him properly. You must keep that type at a
distance. Otherwise they forget themselves. Sad, but
true. They aren't our sort, and one must face the fact."
"Do admit that we should never have had the outburst if
he was a gentleman."
"I admit it willingly," said Margaret, who was pacing up
and down the room. "A gentleman would have kept his
suspicions to himself."
Mr. Wilcox watched her with a vague uneasiness.
"What did he suspect you of?"
"Of wanting to make money out of him."
"Intolerable brute! But how were you to benefit?"
"Exactly. How indeed! Just horrible, corroding
suspicion. One touch of thought or of goodwill would have
brushed it away. Just the senseless fear that does make men
"I come back to my original point. You ought to be more
careful, Miss Schlegel. Your servants ought to have orders
not to let such people in."
She turned to him frankly. "Let me explain exactly why
we like this man, and want to see him again."
"That's your clever way of thinking. I shall never
believe you like him."
"I do. Firstly, because he cares for physical
adventure, just as you do. Yes, you go motoring and
shooting; he would like to go camping out. Secondly, he
cares for something special IN adventure. It is quickest to
call that special something poetry--"
"Oh, he's one of that writer sort."
"No--oh no! I mean he may be, but it would be loathsome
stiff. His brain is filled with the husks of books,
culture--horrible; we want him to wash out his brain and go
to the real thing. We want to show him how he may get
upsides with life. As I said, either friends or the
country, some"--she hesitated--"either some very dear person
or some very dear place seems necessary to relieve life's
daily grey, and to show that it is grey. If possible, one
should have both."
Some of her words ran past Mr. Wilcox. He let them run
past. Others he caught and criticized with admirable lucidity.
"Your mistake is this, and it is a very common mistake.
This young bounder has a life of his own. What right have
you to conclude it is an unsuccessful life, or, as you call
"One minute. You know nothing about him. He probably
has his own joys and interests--wife, children, snug little
home. That's where we practical fellows"--he smiled--"are
more tolerant than you intellectuals. We live and let live,
and assume that things are jogging on fairly well elsewhere,
and that the ordinary plain man may be trusted to look after
his own affairs. I quite grant--I look at the faces of the
clerks in my own office, and observe them to be dull, but I
don't know what's going on beneath. So, by the way, with
London. I have heard you rail against London, Miss
Schlegel, and it seems a funny thing to say but I was very
angry with you. What do you know about London? You only
see civilization from the outside. I don't say in your
case, but in too many cases that attitude leads to
morbidity, discontent, and Socialism."
She admitted the strength of his position, though it
undermined imagination. As he spoke, some outposts of
poetry and perhaps of sympathy fell ruining, and she
retreated to what she called her "second line"--to the
special facts of the case.
"His wife is an old bore," she said simply. "He never
came home last Saturday night because he wanted to be alone,
and she thought he was with us."
"Yes." Evie tittered. "He hasn't got the cosy home that
you assumed. He needs outside interests."
"Naughty young man!" cried the girl.
"Naughty?" said Margaret, who hated naughtiness more
than sin. "When you're married, Miss Wilcox, won't you want
"He has apparently got them," put in Mr. Wilcox slyly.
"Yes, indeed, Father."
"He was tramping in Surrey, if you mean that," said
Margaret, pacing away rather crossly.
"Oh, I dare say!"
"Miss Wilcox, he was!"
"M-m-m-m!" from Mr. Wilcox, who thought the episode
amusing, if risque. With most ladies he would not have
discussed it, but he was trading on Margaret's reputation as
an emanicipated woman.
"He said so, and about such a thing he wouldn't lie."
They both began to laugh.
"That's where I differ from you. Men lie about their
positions and prospects, but not about a thing of that sort."
He shook his head. "Miss Schlegel, excuse me, but I
know the type."
"I said before--he isn't a type. He cares about
adventures rightly. He's certain that our smug existence
isn't all. He's vulgar and hysterical and bookish, but I
don't think that sums him up. There's manhood in him as
well. Yes, that's what I'm trying to say. He's a real man."
As she spoke their eyes met, and it was as if Mr.
Wilcox's defences fell. She saw back to the real man in
him. Unwittingly she had touched his emotions. A woman and
two men--they had formed the magic triangle of sex, and the
male was thrilled to jealousy, in case the female was
attracted by another male. Love, say the ascetics, reveals
our shameful kinship with the beasts. Be it so: one can
bear that; jealousy is the real shame. It is jealousy, not
love, that connects us with the farmyard intolerably, and
calls up visions of two angry cocks and a complacent hen.
Margaret crushed complacency down because she was
civilized. Mr. Wilcox, uncivilized, continued to feel anger
long after he had rebuilt his defences, and was again
presenting a bastion to the world.
"Miss Schlegel, you're a pair of dear creatures, but you
really MUST be careful in this uncharitable world. What
does your brother say?"
"Surely he has some opinion?"
"He laughs, if I remember correctly."
"He's very clever, isn't he?" said Evie, who had met and
detested Tibby at Oxford.
"Yes, pretty well--but I wonder what Helen's doing."
"She is very young to undertake this sort of thing,"
said Mr. Wilcox.
Margaret went out into the landing. She heard no sound,
and Mr. Bast's topper was missing from the hall.
"Helen!" she called.
"Yes!" replied a voice from the library.
"You in there?"
"Yes--he's gone some time."
Margaret went to her. "Why, you're all alone," she said.
"Yes--it's all right, Meg--Poor, poor creature--"
"Come back to the Wilcoxes and tell me later--Mr. W.
much concerned, and slightly titillated."
"Oh, I've no patience with him. I hate him. Poor dear
Mr. Bast! he wanted to talk literature, and we would talk
business. Such a muddle of a man, and yet so worth pulling
through. I like him extraordinarily. "
"Well done," said Margaret, kissing her, "but come into
the drawing-room now, and don't talk about him to the
Wilcoxes. Make light of the whole thing."
Helen came and behaved with a cheerfulness that
reassured their visitor--this hen at all events was fancy-free.
"He's gone with my blessing," she cried, "and now for puppies."
As they drove away, Mr. Wilcox said to his daughter:
"I am really concerned at the way those girls go on.
They are as clever as you make 'em, but unpractical--God
bless me! One of these days they'll go too far. Girls like
that oughtn't to live alone in London. Until they marry,
they ought to have someone to look after them. We must look
in more often--we're better than no one. You like them,
don't you, Evie?"
Evie replied: "Helen's right enough, but I can't stand
the toothy one. And I shouldn't have called either of them girls."
Evie had grown up handsome. Dark-eyed, with the glow of
youth under sunburn, built firmly and firm-lipped, she was
the best the Wilcoxes could do in the way of feminine
beauty. For the present, puppies and her father were the
only things she loved, but the net of matrimony was being
prepared for her, and a few days later she was attracted to
a Mr. Percy Cahill, an uncle of Mrs. Charles, and he was
attracted to her.
The Age of Property holds bitter moments even for a
proprietor. When a move is imminent, furniture becomes
ridiculous, and Margaret now lay awake at nights wondering
where, where on earth they and all their belongings would be
deposited in September next. Chairs, tables, pictures,
books, that had rumbled down to them through the
generations, must rumble forward again like a slide of
rubbish to which she longed to give the final push, and send
toppling into the sea. But there were all their father's
books--they never read them, but they were their father's,
and must be kept. There was the marble-topped
chiffonier--their mother had set store by it, they could not
remember why. Round every knob and cushion in the house
sentiment gathered, a sentiment that was at times personal,
but more often a faint piety to the dead, a prolongation of
rites that might have ended at the grave.
It was absurd, if you came to think of it; Helen and
Tibby came to think of it: Margaret was too busy with the
house-agents. The feudal ownership of land did bring
dignity, whereas the modern ownership of movables is
reducing us again to a nomadic horde. We are reverting to
the civilization of luggage, and historians of the future
will note how the middle classes accreted possessions
without taking root in the earth, and may find in this the
secret of their imaginative poverty. The Schlegels were
certainly the poorer for the loss of Wickham Place. It had
helped to balance their lives, and almost to counsel them.
Nor is their ground-landlord spiritually the richer. He has
built flats on its site, his motor-cars grow swifter, his
exposures of Socialism more trenchant. But he has spilt the
precious distillation of the years, and no chemistry of his
can give it back to society again.
Margaret grew depressed; she was anxious to settle on a
house before they left town to pay their annual visit to
Mrs. Munt. She enjoyed this visit, and wanted to have her
mind at ease for it. Swanage, though dull, was stable, and
this year she longed more than usual for its fresh air and
for the magnificent downs that guard it on the north. But
London thwarted her; in its atmosphere she could not
concentrate. London only stimulates, it cannot sustain; and
Margaret, hurrying over its surface for a house without
knowing what sort of a house she wanted, was paying for many
a thrilling sensation in the past. She could not even break
loose from culture, and her time was wasted by concerts
which it would be a sin to miss, and invitations which it
would never do to refuse. At last she grew desperate; she
resolved that she would go nowhere and be at home to no one
until she found a house, and broke the resolution in half an
Once she had humorously lamented that she had never been
to Simpson's restaurant in the Strand. Now a note arrived
from Miss Wilcox, asking her to lunch there. Mr. Cahill was
coming, and the three would have such a jolly chat, and
perhaps end up at the Hippodrome. Margaret had no strong
regard for Evie, and no desire to meet her fiance, and she
was surprised that Helen, who had been far funnier about
Simpson's, had not been asked instead. But the invitation
touched her by its intimate tone. She must know Evie Wilcox
better than she supposed, and declaring that she "simply
must," she accepted.
But when she saw Evie at the entrance of the restaurant,
staring fiercely at nothing after the fashion of athletic
women, her heart failed her anew. Miss Wilcox had changed
perceptibly since her engagement. Her voice was gruffer,
her manner more downright, and she was inclined to patronize
the more foolish virgin. Margaret was silly enough to be
pained at this. Depressed at her isolation, she saw not
only houses and furniture, but the vessel of life itself
slipping past her, with people like Evie and Mr. Cahill on board.
There are moments when virtue and wisdom fail us, and
one of them came to her at Simpson's in the Strand. As she
trod the staircase, narrow, but carpeted thickly, as she
entered the eating-room, where saddles of mutton were being
trundled up to expectant clergymen, she had a strong, if
erroneous, conviction of her own futility, and wished she
had never come out of her backwater, where nothing happened
except art and literature, and where no one ever got married
or succeeded in remaining engaged. Then came a little
surprise. "Father might be of the party--yes, Father was."
With a smile of pleasure she moved forward to greet him, and
her feeling of loneliness vanished.
"I thought I'd get round if I could," said he. "Evie
told me of her little plan, so I just slipped in and secured
a table. Always secure a table first. Evie, don't pretend
you want to sit by your old father, because you don't. Miss
Schlegel, come in my side, out of pity. My goodness, but
you look tired! Been worrying round after your young clerks?"
"No, after houses," said Margaret, edging past him into
the box. "I'm hungry, not tired; I want to eat heaps."
"That's good. What'll you have?"
"Fish pie," said she, with a glance at the menu.
"Fish pie! Fancy coming for fish pie to Simpson's.
It's not a bit the thing to go for here. "
"Go for something for me, then," said Margaret, pulling
off her gloves. Her spirits were rising, and his reference
to Leonard Bast had warmed her curiously.
"Saddle of mutton," said he after profound reflection:
"and cider to drink. That's the type of thing. I like this
place, for a joke, once in a way. It is so thoroughly Old
English. Don't you agree?"
"Yes," said Margaret, who didn't. The order was given,
the joint rolled up, and the carver, under Mr. Wilcox's
direction, cut the meat where it was succulent, and piled
their plates high. Mr. Cahill insisted on sirloin, but
admitted that he had made a mistake later on. He and Evie
soon fell into a conversation of the "No, I didn't; yes, you
did" type--conversation which, though fascinating to those
who are engaged in it, neither desires nor deserves the
attention of others.
"It's a golden rule to tip the carver. Tip everywhere's
"Perhaps it does make life more human."
"Then the fellows know one again. Especially in the
East, if you tip, they remember you from year's end to
"Have you been in the East?"
"Oh, Greece and the Levant. I used to go out for sport
and business to Cyprus; some military society of a sort
there. A few piastres, properly distributed, help to keep
one's memory green. But you, of course, think this
shockingly cynical. How's your discussion society getting
on? Any new Utopias lately?"
"No, I'm house-hunting, Mr. Wilcox, as I've already told
you once. Do you know of any houses?"
"Afraid I don't."
"Well, what's the point of being practical if you can't
find two distressed females a house? We merely want a small
house with large rooms, and plenty of them."
"Evie, I like that! Miss Schlegel expects me to turn
house agent for her!"
"What's that, Father?
"I want a new home in September, and someone must find
it. I can't."
"Percy, do you know of anything?"
"I can't say I do," said Mr. Cahill.
"How like you! You're never any good."
"Never any good. Just listen to her! Never any good.
"Well, you aren't. Miss Schlegel, is he?"
The torrent of their love, having splashed these drops
at Margaret, swept away on its habitual course. She
sympathized with it now, for a little comfort had restored
her geniality. Speech and silence pleased her equally, and
while Mr. Wilcox made some preliminary inquiries about
cheese, her eyes surveyed the restaurant, and admired its
well-calculated tributes to the solidity of our past.
Though no more Old English than the works of Kipling, it had
selected its reminiscences so adroitly that her criticism
was lulled, and the guests whom it was nourishing for
imperial purposes bore the outer semblance of Parson Adams
or Tom Jones. Scraps of their talk jarred oddly on the
ear. "Right you are! I'll cable out to Uganda this
evening," came from the table behind. "Their Emperor wants
war; well, let him have it," was the opinion of a
clergyman. She smiled at such incongruities. "Next time,"
she said to Mr. Wilcox, "you shall come to lunch with me at
Mr. Eustace Miles's."
"No, you'd hate it," she said, pushing her glass towards
him for some more cider. "It's all proteids and
body-buildings, and people come up to you and beg your
pardon, but you have such a beautiful aura."
"Never heard of an aura? Oh, happy, happy man! I scrub
at mine for hours. Nor of an astral plane?"
He had heard of astral planes, and censured them.
"Just so. Luckily it was Helen's aura, not mine, and
she had to chaperone it and do the politenesses. I just sat
with my handkerchief in my mouth till the man went."
"Funny experiences seem to come to you two girls. No
one's ever asked me about my--what d'ye call it? Perhaps
I've not got one."
"You're bound to have one, but it may be such a terrible
colour that no one dares mention it."
"Tell me, though, Miss Schlegel, do you really believe
in the supernatural and all that?"
"Too difficult a question."
"Why's that? Gruyere or Stilton?"
"Better have Stilton."
"Stilton. Because, though I don't believe in auras, and
think Theosophy's only a halfway-house--"
"--Yet there may be something in it all the same," he
concluded, with a frown.
"Not even that. It may be halfway in the wrong
direction. I can't explain. I don't believe in all these
fads, and yet I don't like saying that I don't believe in them."
He seemed unsatisfied, and said: "So you wouldn't give
me your word that you DON'T hold with astral bodies and all
the rest of it?"
"I could," said Margaret, surprised that the point was
of any importance to him. "Indeed, I will. When I talked
about scrubbing my aura, I was only trying to be funny. But
why do you want this settled?"
"I don't know."
"Now, Mr. Wilcox, you do know."
"Yes, I am," "No, you're not," burst from the lovers
opposite. Margaret was silent for a moment, and then
changed the subject.
"How's your house?"
"Much the same as when you honoured it last week."
"I don't mean Ducie Street. Howards End, of course."
"Why 'of course'?"
"Can't you turn out your tenant and let it to us? We're
"Let me think. I wish I could help you. But I thought
you wanted to be in town. One bit of advice: fix your
district, then fix your price, and then don't budge. That's
how I got both Ducie Street and Oniton. I said to myself,
'I mean to be exactly here,' and I was, and Oniton's a place
in a thousand."
"But I do budge. Gentlemen seem to mesmerize
houses--cow them with an eye, and up they come, trembling.
Ladies can't. It's the houses that are mesmerizing me.
I've no control over the saucy things. Houses are alive. No?"
"I'm out of my depth," he said, and added: "Didn't you
talk rather like that to your office boy?"
"Did I? --I mean I did, more or less. I talk the same
way to every one--or try to."
"Yes, I know. And how much do you suppose that he
understood of it?"
"That's his lookout. I don't believe in suiting my
conversation to my company. One can doubtless hit upon some
medium of exchange that seems to do well enough, but it's no
more like the real thing than money is like food. There's
no nourishment in it. You pass it to the lower classes, and
they pass it back to you, and this you call 'social
intercourse' or 'mutual endeavour,' when it's mutual
priggishness if it's anything. Our friends at Chelsea don't
see this. They say one ought to be at all costs
intelligible, and sacrifice--"
"Lower classes," interrupted Mr. Wilcox, as it were
thrusting his hand into her speech. "Well, you do admit
that there are rich and poor. That's something."
Margaret could not reply. Was he incredibly stupid, or
did he understand her better than she understood herself?
"You do admit that, if wealth was divided up equally, in
a few years there would be rich and poor again just the
same. The hard-working man would come to the top, the
wastrel sink to the bottom."
"Every one admits that."
"Your Socialists don't."
"My Socialists do. Yours mayn't; but I strongly suspect
yours of being not Socialists, but ninepins, which you have
constructed for your own amusement. I can't imagine any
living creature who would bowl over quite so easily."
He would have resented this had she not been a woman.
But women may say anything--it was one of his holiest
beliefs--and he only retorted, with a gay smile: "I don't
care. You've made two damaging admissions, and I'm heartily
with you in both."
In time they finished lunch, and Margaret, who had
excused herself from the Hippodrome, took her leave. Evie
had scarcely addressed her, and she suspected that the
entertainment had been planned by the father. He and she
were advancing out of their respective families towards a
more intimate acquaintance. It had begun long ago. She had
been his wife's friend, and, as such, he had given her that
silver vinaigrette as a memento. It was pretty of him to
have given that vinaigrette, and he had always preferred her
to Helen--unlike most men. But the advance had been
astonishing lately. They had done more in a week than in
two years, and were really beginning to know each other.
She did not forget his promise to sample Eustace Miles,
and asked him as soon as she could secure Tibby as his
chaperon. He came, and partook of body-building dishes with
Next morning the Schlegels left for Swanage. They had
not succeeded in finding a new home.
As they were seated at Aunt Juley's breakfast-table at The
Bays, parrying her excessive hospitality and enjoying the
view of the bay, a letter came for Margaret and threw her
into perturbation. It was from Mr. Wilcox. It announced an
"important change" in his plans. Owing to Evie's marriage,
he had decided to give up his house in Ducie Street, and was
willing to let it on a yearly tenancy. It was a
businesslike letter, and stated frankly what he would do for
them and what he would not do. Also the rent. If they
approved, Margaret was to come up AT ONCE--the words were
underlined, as is necessary when dealing with women--and to
go over the house with him. If they disapproved, a wire
would oblige, as he should put it into the hands of an agent.
The letter perturbed, because she was not sure what it
meant. If he liked her, if he had manoeuvred to get her to
Simpson's, might this be a manoeuvre to get her to London,
and result in an offer of marriage? She put it to herself
as indelicately as possible, in the hope that her brain
would cry, "Rubbish, you're a self-conscious fool!" But her
brain only tingled a little and was silent, and for a time
she sat gazing at the mincing waves, and wondering whether
the news would seem strange to the others.
As soon as she began speaking, the sound of her own
voice reassured her. There could be nothing in it. The
replies also were typical, and in the buff of conversation
her fears vanished.
"You needn't go though--" began her hostess.
"I needn't, but hadn't I better? It's really getting
rather serious. We let chance after chance slip, and the
end of it is we shall be bundled out bag and baggage into
the street. We don't know what we WANT, that's the mischief
"No, we have no real ties," said Helen, helping herself
"Shan't I go up to town today, take the house if it's
the least possible, and then come down by the afternoon
train tomorrow, and start enjoying myself. I shall be no
fun to myself or to others until this business is off my mind."
"But you won't do anything rash, Margaret?"
"There's nothing rash to do."
"Who ARE the Wilcoxes?" said Tibby, a question that
sounds silly, but was really extremely subtle, as his aunt
found to her cost when she tried to answer it. "I don't
MANAGE the Wilcoxes; I don't see where they come IN."
"No more do I," agreed Helen. "It's funny that we just
don't lose sight of them. Out of all our hotel
acquaintances, Mr. Wilcox is the only one who has stuck. It
is now over three years, and we have drifted away from far
more interesting people in that time.
"Interesting people don't get one houses."
"Meg, if you start in your honest-English vein, I shall
throw the treacle at you."
"It's a better vein than the cosmopolitan," said
Margaret, getting up. "Now, children, which is it to be?
You know the Ducie Street house. Shall I say yes or shall I
say no? Tibby love--which? I'm specially anxious to pin
"It all depends what meaning you attach to the word 'possi--'"
"It depends on nothing of the sort. Say 'yes.'"
Then Margaret spoke rather seriously. "I think," she
said, "that our race is degenerating. We cannot settle even
this little thing; what will it be like when we have to
settle a big one?"
"It will be as easy as eating," returned Helen.
"I was thinking of Father. How could he settle to leave
Germany as he did, when he had fought for it as a young man,
and all his feelings and friends were Prussian? How could
he break loose with Patriotism and begin aiming at something
else? It would have killed me. When he was nearly forty he
could change countries and ideals--and we, at our age, can't
change houses. It's humiliating."
"Your father may have been able to change countries,"
said Mrs. Munt with asperity, "and that may or may not be a
good thing. But he could change houses no better than you
can, in fact, much worse. Never shall I forget what poor
Emily suffered in the move from Manchester."
"I knew it," cried Helen. "I told you so. It is the
little things one bungles at. The big, real ones are
nothing when they come."
"Bungle, my dear! You are too little to recollect--in
fact, you weren't there. But the furniture was actually in
the vans and on the move before the lease for Wickham Place
was signed, and Emily took train with baby--who was Margaret
then--and the smaller luggage for London, without so much as
knowing where her new home would be. Getting away from that
house may be hard, but it is nothing to the misery that we
all went through getting you into it."
Helen, with her mouth full, cried: "And that's the man
who beat the Austrians, and the Danes, and the French, and
who beat the Germans that were inside himself. And we're
"Speak for yourself," said Tibby. "Remember that I am
"Helen may be right."
"Of course she's right," said Helen.
Helen might be right, but she did not go up to London.
Margaret did that. An interrupted holiday is the worst of
the minor worries, and one may be pardoned for feeling
morbid when a business letter snatches one away from the sea
and friends. She could not believe that her father had ever
felt the same. Her eyes had been troubling her lately, so
that she could not read in the train, and it bored her to
look at the landscape, which she had seen but yesterday. At
Southampton she "waved" to Frieda: Frieda was on her way
down to join them at Swanage, and Mrs. Munt had calculated
that their trains would cross. But Frieda was looking the
other way, and Margaret travelled on to town feeling
solitary and old-maidish. How like an old maid to fancy
that Mr. Wilcox was courting her! She had once visited a
spinster--poor, silly, and unattractive--whose mania it was
that every man who approached her fell in love. How
Margaret's heart had bled for the deluded thing! How she
had lectured, reasoned, and in despair acquiesced! "I may
have been deceived by the curate, my dear, but the young
fellow who brings the midday post really is fond of me, and
has, as a matter fact--" It had always seemed to her the
most hideous corner of old age, yet she might be driven into
it herself by the mere pressure of virginity.
Mr. Wilcox met her at Waterloo himself. She felt
certain that he was not the same as usual; for one thing, he
took offence at everything she said.
"This is awfully kind of you," she began, "but I'm
afraid it's not going to do. The house has not been built
that suits the Schlegel family."
"What! Have you come up determined not to deal?"
"Not exactly? In that case let's be starting."
She lingered to admire the motor, which was new and a
fairer creature than the vermilion giant that had borne Aunt
Juley to her doom three years before.
"Presumably it's very beautiful," she said. "How do you
like it, Crane?"
"Come, let's be starting," repeated her host. "How on
earth did you know that my chauffeur was called Crane?"
"Why, I know Crane: I've been for a drive with Evie
once. I know that you've got a parlourmaid called Milton.
I know all sorts of things."
"Evie!" he echoed in injured tones. "You won't see
her. She's gone out with Cahill. It's no fun, I can tell
you, being left so much alone. I've got my work all
day--indeed, a great deal too much of it--but when I come
home in the evening, I tell you, I can't stand the house."
"In my absurd way, I'm lonely too," Margaret replied.
"It's heart-breaking to leave one's old home. I scarcely
remember anything before Wickham Place, and Helen and Tibby
were born there. Helen says--"
"You, too, feel lonely?"
"Horribly. Hullo, Parliament's back!"
Mr. Wilcox glanced at Parliament contemptuously. The
more important ropes of life lay elsewhere. "Yes, they are
talking again." said he. "But you were going to say--"
"Only some rubbish about furniture. Helen says it alone
endures while men and houses perish, and that in the end the
world will be a desert of chairs and sofas--just imagine
it! --rolling through infinity with no one to sit upon them."
"Your sister always likes her little joke.
"She says 'Yes,' my brother says 'No,' to Ducie Street.
It's no fun helping us, Mr. Wilcox, I assure you."
"You are not as unpractical as you pretend. I shall
never believe it."
Margaret laughed. But she was--quite as unpractical.
She could not concentrate on details. Parliament, the
Thames, the irresponsive chauffeur, would flash into the
field of house-hunting, and all demand some comment or
response. It is impossible to see modern life steadily and
see it whole, and she had chosen to see it whole. Mr.
Wilcox saw steadily. He never bothered over the mysterious
or the private. The Thames might run inland from the sea,
the chauffeur might conceal all passion and philosophy
beneath his unhealthy skin. They knew their own business,
and he knew his.
Yet she liked being with him. He was not a rebuke, but
a stimulus, and banished morbidity. Some twenty years her
senior, he preserved a gift that she supposed herself to
have already lost--not youth's creative power, but its
self-confidence and optimism. He was so sure that it was a
very pleasant world. His complexion was robust, his hair
had receded but not thinned, the thick moustache and the
eyes that Helen had compared to brandy-balls had an
agreeable menace in them, whether they were turned towards
the slums or towards the stars. Some day--in the
millennium--there may be no need for his type. At present,
homage is due to it from those who think themselves
superior, and who possibly are."
"At all events you responded to my telegram promptly,"
"Oh, even I know a good thing when I see it."
"I'm glad you don't despise the goods of this world."
"Heavens, no! Only idiots and prigs do that."
"I am glad, very glad," he repeated, suddenly softening
and turning to her, as if the remark had pleased him.
"There is so much cant talked in would-be intellectual
circles. I am glad you don't share it. Self-denial is all
very well as a means of strengthening the character. But I
can't stand those people who run down comforts. They have
usually some axe to grind. Can you?"
"Comforts are of two kinds," said Margaret, who was
keeping herself in hand--"those we can share with others,
like fire, weather, or music; and those we can't--food, for
instance. It depends."
"I mean reasonable comforts, of course. I shouldn't
like to think that you--" He bent nearer; the sentence died
unfinished. Margaret's head turned very stupid, and the
inside of it seemed to revolve like the beacon in a
lighthouse. He did not kiss her, for the hour was half-past
twelve, and the car was passing by the stables of Buckingham
Palace. But the atmosphere was so charged with emotion that
people only seemed to exist on her account, and she was
surprised that Crane did not realize this, and turn round.
Idiot though she might be, surely Mr. Wilcox was more--how
should one put it? --more psychological than usual. Always
a good judge of character for business purposes, he seemed
this afternoon to enlarge his field, and to note qualities
outside neatness, obedience, and decision.
"I want to go over the whole house," she announced when
they arrived. "As soon as I get back to Swanage, which will
be tomorrow afternoon, I'll talk it over once more with
Helen and Tibby, and wire you 'yes' or 'no.'"
"Right. The dining-room." And they began their survey.
The dining-room was big, but over-furnished. Chelsea
would have moaned aloud. Mr. Wilcox had eschewed those
decorative schemes that wince, and relent, and refrain, and
achieve beauty by sacrificing comfort and pluck. After so
much self-colour and self-denial, Margaret viewed with
relief the sumptuous dado, the frieze, the gilded
wall-paper, amid whose foliage parrots sang. It would never
do with her own furniture, but those heavy chairs, that
immense side-board loaded with presentation plate, stood up
against its pressure like men. The room suggested men, and
Margaret, keen to derive the modern capitalist from the
warriors and hunters of the past, saw it as an ancient
guest-hall, where the lord sat at meat among his thanes.
Even the Bible--the Dutch Bible that Charles had brought
back from the Boer War--fell into position. Such a room
"Now the entrance-hall."
The entrance-hall was paved.
"Here we fellows smoke."
We fellows smoked in chairs of maroon leather. It was
as if a motor-car had spawned. "Oh, jolly!" said Margaret,
sinking into one of them.
"You do like it?" he said, fixing his eyes on her
upturned face, and surely betraying an almost intimate
note. "It's all rubbish not making oneself comfortable.
"Ye-es. Semi-rubbish. Are those Cruikshanks?"
"Gillrays. Shall we go on upstairs?"
"Does all this furniture come from Howards End?"
"The Howards End furniture has all gone to Oniton."
"Does--However, I'm concerned with the house, not the
furniture. How big is this smoking-room?"
"Thirty by fifteen. No, wait a minute. Fifteen and a half?."
"Ah, well. Mr. Wilcox, aren't you ever amused at the
solemnity with which we middle classes approach the subject
They proceeded to the drawing-room. Chelsea managed
better here. It was sallow and ineffective. One could
visualize the ladies withdrawing to it, while their lords
discussed life's realities below, to the accompaniment of
cigars. Had Mrs. Wilcox's drawing-room looked thus at
Howards End? Just as this thought entered Margaret's brain,
Mr. Wilcox did ask her to be his wife, and the knowledge
that she had been right so overcame her that she nearly fainted.
But the proposal was not to rank among the world's great
"Miss Schlegel"--his voice was firm--"I have had you up
on false pretences. I want to speak about a much more
serious matter than a house."
Margaret almost answered: "I know--"
"Could you be induced to share my--is it probable--"
"Oh, Mr. Wilcox!" she interrupted, holding the piano and
averting her eyes. "I see, I see. I will write to you
afterwards if I may."
He began to stammer. "Miss Schlegel--Margaret--you
"Oh yes! Indeed, yes!" said Margaret.
"I am asking you to be my wife."
So deep already was her sympathy, that when he said, "I
am asking you to be my wife," she made herself give a little
start. She must show surprise if he expected it. An
immense joy came over her. It was indescribable. It had
nothing to do with humanity, and most resembled the
all-pervading happiness of fine weather. Fine weather is
due to the sun, but Margaret could think of no central
radiance here. She stood in his drawing-room happy, and
longing to give happiness. On leaving him she realized that
the central radiance had been love.
"You aren't offended, Miss Schlegel?"
"How could I be offended?"
There was a moment's pause. He was anxious to get rid
of her, and she knew it. She had too much intuition to look
at him as he struggled for possessions that money cannot
buy. He desired comradeship and affection, but he feared
them, and she, who had taught herself only to desire, and
could have clothed the struggle with beauty, held back, and
hesitated with him.
"Good-bye," she continued. "You will have a letter from
me--I am going back to Swanage tomorrow.
"Good-bye, and it's you I thank."
"I may order the motor round, mayn't I?"
"That would be most kind."
"I wish I had written instead. Ought I to have written?"
"Not at all."
"There's just one question--"
She shook her head. He looked a little bewildered, and
They parted without shaking hands: she had kept the
interview, for his sake, in tints of the quietest grey. Yet
she thrilled with happiness ere she reached her own house.
Others had loved her in the past, if one may apply to their
brief desires so grave a word, but those others had been
"ninnies"--young men who had nothing to do, old men who
could find nobody better. And she had often "loved," too,
but only so far as the facts of sex demanded: mere yearnings
for the masculine, to be dismissed for what they were worth,
with a smile. Never before had her personality been
touched. She was not young or very rich, and it amazed her
that a man of any standing should take her seriously. As
she sat trying to do accounts in her empty house, amidst
beautiful pictures and noble books, waves of emotion broke,
as if a tide of passion was flowing through the night air.
She shook her head, tried to concentrate her attention, and
failed. In vain did she repeat: "But I've been through this
sort of thing before." She had never been through it; the
big machinery, as opposed to the little, had been set in
motion, and the idea that Mr. Wilcox loved, obsessed her
before she came to love him in return.
She would come to no decision yet. "Oh, sir, this is so
sudden"--that prudish phrase exactly expressed her when her
time came. Premonitions are not preparation. She must
examine more closely her own nature and his; she must talk
it over judicially with Helen. It had been a strange
love-scene--the central radiance unacknowledged from first
to last. She, in his place, would have said "Ich liebe
dich," but perhaps it was not his habit to open the heart.
He might have done it if she had pressed him--as a matter of
duty, perhaps; England expects every man to open his heart
once; but the effort would have jarred him, and never, if
she could avoid it, should he lose those defences that he
had chosen to raise against the world. He must never be
bothered with emotional talk, or with a display of
sympathy. He was an elderly man now, and it would be futile
and impudent to correct him.
Mrs. Wilcox strayed in and out, ever a welcome ghost;
surveying the scene, thought Margaret, without one hint of
If one wanted to show a foreigner England, perhaps the
wisest course would be to take him to the final section of
the Purbeck Hills, and stand him on their summit, a few
miles to the east of Corfe. Then system after system of our
island would roll together under his feet. Beneath him is
the valley of the Frome, and all the wild lands that come
tossing down from Dorchester, black and gold, to mirror
their gorse in the expanses of Poole. The valley of the
Stour is beyond, unaccountable stream, dirty at Blandford,
pure at Wimborne--the Stour, sliding out of fat fields, to
marry the Avon beneath the tower of Christchurch. The
valley of the Avon--invisible, but far to the north the
trained eye may see Clearbury Ring that guards it, and the
imagination may leap beyond that on to Salisbury Plain
itself, and beyond the Plain to all the glorious downs of
Central England. Nor is Suburbia absent. Bournemouth's
ignoble coast cowers to the right, heralding the pine-trees
that mean, for all their beauty, red houses, and the Stock
Exchange, and extend to the gates of London itself. So
tremendous is the City's trail! But the cliffs of
Freshwater it shall never touch, and the island will guard
the Island's purity till the end of time. Seen from the
west, the Wight is beautiful beyond all laws of beauty. It
is as if a fragment of England floated forward to greet the
foreigner--chalk of our chalk, turf of our turf, epitome of
what will follow. And behind the fragment lies Southampton,
hostess to the nations, and Portsmouth, a latent fire, and
all around it, with double and treble collision of tides,
swirls the sea. How many villages appear in this view! How
many castles! How many churches, vanished or triumphant!
How many ships, railways, and roads! What incredible
variety of men working beneath that lucent sky to what final
end! The reason fails, like a wave on the Swanage beach;
the imagination swells, spreads, and deepens, until it
becomes geographic and encircles England.
So Frieda Mosebach, now Frau Architect Liesecke, and
mother to her husband's baby, was brought up to these
heights to be impressed, and, after a prolonged gaze, she
said that the hills were more swelling here than in
Pomerania, which was true, but did not seem to Mrs. Munt
apposite. Poole Harbour was dry, which led her to praise
the absence of muddy foreshore at Friedrich Wilhelms Bad,
Rugen, where beech-trees hang over the tideless Baltic, and
cows may contemplate the brine. Rather unhealthy Mrs. Munt
thought this would be, water being safer when it moved about.
"And your English lakes--Vindermere, Grasmere--are they,
"No, Frau Liesecke; but that is because they are fresh
water, and different. Salt water ought to have tides, and
go up and down a great deal, or else it smells. Look, for
instance, at an aquarium."
"An aquarium! Oh, MEESIS Munt, you mean to tell me that
fresh aquariums stink less than salt? Why, when Victor, my
brother-in-law, collected many tadpoles--"
"You are not to say 'stink,'" interrupted Helen; "at
least, you may say it, but you must pretend you are being
funny while you say it."
"Then 'smell.' And the mud of your Pool down there--does
it not smell, or may I say 'stink, ha, ha'?"
"There always has been mud in Poole Harbour," said Mrs.
Munt, with a slight frown. "The rivers bring it down, and a
most valuable oyster-fishery depends upon it."
"Yes, that is so," conceded Frieda; and another
international incident was closed.
"'Bournemouth is,'" resumed their hostess, quoting a
local rhyme to which she was much attached--" 'Bournemouth
is, Poole was, and Swanage is to be the most important town
of all and biggest of the three.' Now, Frau Liesecke, I have
shown you Bournemouth, and I have shown you Poole, so let us
walk backward a little, and look down again at Swanage."
"Aunt Juley, wouldn't that be Meg's train?"
A tiny puff of smoke had been circling the harbour, and
now was bearing southwards towards them over the black and
"Oh, dearest Margaret, I do hope she won't be overtired."
"Oh, I do wonder--I do wonder whether she's taken the house."
"I hope she hasn't been hasty."
"So do I--oh, so do I."
"Will it be as beautiful as Wickham Place?" Frieda asked.
"I should think it would. Trust Mr. Wilcox for doing
himself proud. All those Ducie Street houses are beautiful
in their modern way, and I can't think why he doesn't keep
on with it. But it's really for Evie that he went there,
and now that Evie's going to be married--"
"You've never seen Miss Wilcox, Frieda. How absurdly
matrimonial you are!"
"But sister to that Paul?"
"And to that Charles," said Mrs. Munt with feeling.
"Oh, Helen, Helen, what a time that was!"
Helen laughed. "Meg and I haven't got such tender
hearts. If there's a chance of a cheap house, we go for it."
"Now look, Frau Liesecke, at my niece's train. You see,
it is coming towards us--coming, coming; and, when it gets
to Corfe, it will actually go THROUGH the downs, on which we
are standing, so that, if we walk over, as I suggested, and
look down on Swanage, we shall see it coming on the other
side. Shall we?"
Frieda assented, and in a few minutes they had crossed
the ridge and exchanged the greater view for the lesser.
Rather a dull valley lay below, backed by the slope of the
coastward downs. They were looking across the Isle of
Purbeck and on to Swanage, soon to be the most important
town of all, and ugliest of the three. Margaret's train
reappeared as promised, and was greeted with approval by her
aunt. It came to a standstill in the middle distance, and
there it had been planned that Tibby should meet her, and
drive her, and a tea-basket, up to join them.
"You see," continued Helen to her cousin, "the Wilcoxes
collect houses as your Victor collects tadpoles. They have,
one, Ducie Street; two, Howards End, where my great rumpus
was; three, a country seat in Shropshire; four, Charles has
a house in Hilton; and five, another near Epsom; and six,
Evie will have a house when she marries, and probably a
pied-a-terre in the country--which makes seven. Oh yes, and
Paul a hut in Africa makes eight. I wish we could get
Howards End. That was something like a dear little house!
Didn't you think so, Aunt Juley?"
" I had too much to do, dear, to look at it," said Mrs.
Munt, with a gracious dignity. "I had everything to settle
and explain, and Charles Wilcox to keep in his place
besides. It isn't likely I should remember much. I just
remember having lunch in your bedroom."
"Yes so do I. But, oh dear, dear, how dead it all
seems! And in the autumn there began this anti-Pauline
movement--you, and Frieda, and Meg, and Mrs. Wilcox, all
obsessed with the idea that I might yet marry Paul."
"You yet may," said Frieda despondently.
Helen shook her head. "The Great Wilcox Peril will
never return. If I'm certain of anything it's of that."
"One is certain of nothing but the truth of one's own emotions."
The remark fell damply on the conversation. But Helen
slipped her arm round her cousin, somehow liking her the
better for making it. It was not an original remark, nor
had Frieda appropriated it passionately, for she had a
patriotic rather than a philosophic mind. Yet it betrayed
that interest in the universal which the average Teuton
possesses and the average Englishman does not. It was,
however illogically, the good, the beautiful, the true, as
opposed to the respectable, the pretty, the adequate. It
was a landscape of Bocklin's beside a landscape of Leader's,
strident and ill-considered, but quivering into supernatural
life. It sharpened idealism, stirred the soul. It may have
been a bad preparation for what followed.
"Look!" cried Aunt Juley, hurrying away from
generalities over the narrow summit of the down. "Stand
where I stand, and you will see the pony-cart coming. I see
the pony-cart coming."
They stood and saw the pony-cart coming. Margaret and
Tibby were presently seen coming in it. Leaving the
outskirts of Swanage, it drove for a little through the
budding lanes, and then began the ascent.
"Have you got the house?" they shouted, long before she
could possibly hear.
Helen ran down to meet her. The highroad passed over a
saddle, and a track went thence at right angles along the
ridge of the down.
"Have you got the house?"
Margaret shook her head.
"Oh, what a nuisance! So we're as we were?"
She got out, looking tired.
"Some mystery," said Tibby. "We are to be enlightened presently."
Margaret came close up to her and whispered that she had
had a proposal of marriage from Mr. Wilcox.
Helen was amused. She opened the gate on to the downs
so that her brother might lead the pony through. "It's just
like a widower," she remarked. "They've cheek enough for
anything, and invariably select one of their first wife's friends."
Margaret's face flashed despair.
"That type--" She broke off with a cry. "Meg, not
anything wrong with you?"
"Wait one minute," said Margaret, whispering always.
"But you've never conceivably--you've never--" She
pulled herself together. "Tibby, hurry up through; I can't
hold this gate indefinitely. Aunt Juley! I say, Aunt
Juley, make the tea, will you, and Frieda; we've got to talk
houses, and I'll come on afterwards." And then, turning her
face to her sister's, she burst into tears.
Margaret was stupefied. She heard herself saying, "Oh,
really--" She felt herself touched with a hand that trembled.
"Don't," sobbed Helen, "don't, don't, Meg, don't!" She
seemed incapable of saying any other word. Margaret,
trembling herself, led her forward up the road, till they
strayed through another gate on to the down.
"Don't, don't do such a thing! I tell you not
to--don't! I know--don't!"
"What do you know?"
"Panic and emptiness," sobbed Helen. "Don't!"
Then Margaret thought, "Helen is a little selfish. I
have never behaved like this when there has seemed a chance
of her marrying. She said: "But we would still see each
other very often, and--"
"It's not a thing like that," sobbed Helen. And she
broke right away and wandered distractedly upwards,
stretching her hands towards the view and crying.
"What's happened to you?" called Margaret, following
through the wind that gathers at sundown on the northern
slopes of hills. "But it's stupid!" And suddenly stupidity
seized her, and the immense landscape was blurred. But
Helen turned back.
"I don't know what's happened to either of us," said
Margaret, wiping her eyes. "We must both have gone mad."
Then Helen wiped hers, and they even laughed a little.
"Look here, sit down."
"All right; I'll sit down if you'll sit down."
"There. (One kiss.) Now, whatever, whatever is the matter?"
"I do mean what I said. Don't; it wouldn't do."
"Oh, Helen, stop saying 'don't'! It's ignorant. It's
as if your head wasn't out of the slime. 'Don't' is
probably what Mrs. Bast says all the day to Mr. Bast."
Helen was silent.
"Tell me about it first, and meanwhile perhaps I'll have
got my head out of the slime."
"That's better. Well, where shall I begin? When I
arrived at Waterloo--no, I'll go back before that, because
I'm anxious you should know everything from the first. The
'first' was about ten days ago. It was the day Mr. Bast
came to tea and lost his temper. I was defending him, and
Mr. Wilcox became jealous about me, however slightly. I
thought it was the involuntary thing, which men can't help
any more than we can. You know--at least, I know in my own
case--when a man has said to me, 'So-and-so's a pretty
girl,' I am seized with a momentary sourness against
So-and-so, and long to tweak her ear. It's a tiresome
feeling, but not an important one, and one easily manages
it. But it wasn't only this in Mr. Wilcox's case, I gather now."
"Then you love him?"
Margaret considered. "It is wonderful knowing that a
real man cares for you," she said. "The mere fact of that
grows more tremendous. Remember, I've known and liked him
steadily for nearly three years.
"But loved him?"
Margaret peered into her past. It is pleasant to
analyze feelings while they are still only feelings, and
unembodied in the social fabric. With her arm round Helen,
and her eyes shifting over the view, as if this county or
that could reveal the secret of her own heart, she meditated
honestly, and said, "No."
"But you will?"
"Yes," said Margaret, "of that I'm pretty sure. Indeed,
I began the moment he spoke to me."
"And have settled to marry him?"
"I had, but am wanting a long talk about it now. What
is it against him, Helen? You must try and say."
Helen, in her turn, looked outwards. "It is ever since
Paul," she said finally.
"But what has Mr. Wilcox to do with Paul?"
"But he was there, they were all there that morning when
I came down to breakfast, and saw that Paul was
frightened--the man who loved me frightened and all his
paraphernalia fallen, so that I knew it was impossible,
because personal relations are the important thing for ever
and ever, and not this outer life of telegrams and anger."
She poured the sentence forth in one breath, but her
sister understood it, because it touched on thoughts that
were familiar between them.
"That's foolish. In the first place, I disagree about
the outer life. Well, we've often argued that. The real
point is that there is the widest gulf between my
love-making and yours. Yours--was romance; mine will be
prose. I'm not running it down--a very good kind of prose,
but well considered, well thought out. For instance, I know
all Mr. Wilcox's faults. He's afraid of emotion. He cares
too much about success, too little about the past. His
sympathy lacks poetry, and so isn't sympathy really. I'd
even say"--she looked at the shining lagoons--"that,
spiritually, he's not as honest as I am. Doesn't that
"No, it doesn't," said Helen. "It makes me feel worse
and worse. You must be mad."
Margaret made a movement of irritation.
"I don't intend him, or any man or any woman, to be all
my life--good heavens, no! There are heaps of things in me
that he doesn't, and shall never, understand."
Thus she spoke before the wedding ceremony and the
physical union, before the astonishing glass shade had
fallen that interposes between married couples and the
world. She was to keep her independence more than do most
women as yet. Marriage was to alter her fortunes rather
than her character, and she was not far wrong in boasting
that she understood her future husband. Yet he did alter
her character--a little. There was an unforeseen surprise,
a cessation of the winds and odours of life, a social
pressure that would have her think conjugally.
"So with him," she continued. "There are heaps of
things in him--more especially things that he does--that
will always be hidden from me. He has all those public
qualities which you so despise and enable all this--" She
waved her hand at the landscape, which confirmed anything.
"If Wilcoxes hadn't worked and died in England for thousands
of years, you and I couldn't sit here without having our
throats cut. There would be no trains, no ships to carry us
literary people about in, no fields even. Just savagery.
No--perhaps not even that. Without their spirit life might
never have moved out of protoplasm. More and more do I
refuse to draw my income and sneer at those who guarantee
it. There are times when it seems to me--"
"And to me, and to all women. So one kissed Paul."
"That's brutal," said Margaret. "Mine is an absolutely
different case. I've thought things out."
"It makes no difference thinking things out. They come
to the same."
There was a long silence, during which the tide returned
into Poole Harbour. "One would lose something," murmured
Helen, apparently to herself. The water crept over the
mud-flats towards the gorse and the blackened heather.
Branksea Island lost its immense foreshores, and became a
sombre episode of trees. Frome was forced inward towards
Dorchester, Stour against Wimborne, Avon towards Salisbury,
and over the immense displacement the sun presided, leading
it to triumph ere he sank to rest. England was alive,
throbbing through all her estuaries, crying for joy through
the mouths of all her gulls, and the north wind, with
contrary motion, blew stronger against her rising seas.
What did it mean? For what end are her fair complexities,
her changes of soil, her sinuous coast? Does she belong to
those who have moulded her and made her feared by other
lands, or to those who have added nothing to her power, but
have somehow seen her, seen the whole island at once, lying
as a jewel in a silver sea, sailing as a ship of souls, with
all the brave world's fleet accompanying her towards
Margaret had often wondered at the disturbance that takes
place in the world's waters, when Love, who seems so tiny a
pebble, slips in. Whom does Love concern beyond the beloved
and the lover? Yet his impact deluges a hundred shores. No
doubt the disturbance is really the spirit of the
generations, welcoming the new generation, and chafing
against the ultimate Fate, who holds all the seas in the
palm of her hand. But Love cannot understand this. He
cannot comprehend another's infinity; he is conscious only
of his own--flying sunbeam, falling rose, pebble that asks
for one quiet plunge below the fretting interplay of space
and time. He knows that he will survive at the end of
things, and be gathered by Fate as a jewel from the slime,
and be handed with admiration round the assembly of the
gods. "Men did produce this," they will say, and, saying,
they will give men immortality. But meanwhile--what
agitations meanwhile! The foundations of Property and
Propriety are laid bare, twin rocks; Family Pride flounders
to the surface, puffing and blowing, and refusing to be
comforted; Theology, vaguely ascetic, gets up a nasty ground
swell. Then the lawyers are aroused--cold brood--and creep
out of their holes. They do what they can; they tidy up
Property and Propriety, reassure Theology and Family Pride.
Half-guineas are poured on the troubled waters, the lawyers
creep back, and, if all has gone well, Love joins one man
and woman together in Matrimony.
Margaret had expected the disturbance, and was not
irritated by it. For a sensitive woman she had steady
nerves, and could bear with the incongruous and the
grotesque; and, besides, there was nothing excessive about
her love-affair. Good-humour was the dominant note of her
relations with Mr. Wilcox, or, as I must now call him,
Henry. Henry did not encourage romance, and she was no girl
to fidget for it. An acquaintance had become a lover, might
become a husband, but would retain all that she had noted in
the acquaintance; and love must confirm an old relation
rather than reveal a new one.
In this spirit she promised to marry him.
He was in Swanage on the morrow, bearing the
engagement-ring. They greeted one another with a hearty
cordiality that impressed Aunt Juley. Henry dined at The
Bays, but he had engaged a bedroom in the principal hotel:
he was one of those men who knew the principal hotel by
instinct. After dinner he asked Margaret if she wouldn't
care for a turn on the Parade. She accepted, and could not
repress a little tremor; it would be her first real love
scene. But as she put on her hat she burst out laughing.
Love was so unlike the article served up in books: the joy,
though genuine, was different; the mystery an unexpected
mystery. For one thing, Mr. Wilcox still seemed a stranger.
For a time they talked about the ring; then she said:
"Do you remember the Embankment at Chelsea? It can't be
ten days ago."
"Yes," he said, laughing. "And you and your sister were
head and ears deep in some Quixotic scheme. Ah well!"
"I little thought then, certainly. Did you?"
"I don't know about that; I shouldn't like to say."
"Why, was it earlier?" she cried. "Did you think of me
this way earlier! How extraordinarily interesting, Henry!
But Henry had no intention of telling. Perhaps he could
not have told, for his mental states became obscure as soon
as he had passed through them. He misliked the very word
"interesting," connoting it with wasted energy and even with
morbidity. Hard facts were enough for him.
"I didn't think of it," she pursued. "No; when you
spoke to me in the drawing-room, that was practically the
first. It was all so different from what it's supposed to
be. On the stage, or in books, a proposal is--how shall I
put it? --a full-blown affair, a kind of bouquet; it loses
its literal meaning. But in life a proposal really is a proposal--"
"By the way--"
"--a suggestion, a seed," she concluded; and the thought
flew away into darkness.
"I was thinking, if you didn't mind, that we ought to
spend this evening in a business talk; there will be so much
"I think so too. Tell me, in the first place, how did
you get on with Tibby?"
"With your brother?"
"Yes, during cigarettes."
"Oh, very well."
"I am so glad," she answered, a little surprised. "What
did you talk about? Me, presumably."
"About Greece too."
"Greece was a very good card, Henry. Tibby's only a boy
still, and one has to pick and choose subjects a little.
"I was telling him I have shares in a currant-farm near Calamata.
"What a delightful thing to have shares in! Can't we go
there for our honeymoon?"
"What to do?"
"To eat the currants. And isn't there marvellous scenery?"
"Moderately, but it's not the kind of place one could
possibly go to with a lady."
"Some ladies do without hotels. Are you aware that
Helen and I have walked alone over the Apennines, with our
luggage on our backs?"
"I wasn't aware, and, if I can manage it, you will never
do such a thing again."
She said more gravely: "You haven't found time for a
talk with Helen yet, I suppose?"
"Do, before you go. I am so anxious you two should be friends."
"Your sister and I have always hit it off," he said
negligently. "But we're drifting away from our business.
Let me begin at the beginning. You know that Evie is going
to marry Percy Cahill."
"Exactly. The girl's madly in love with him. A very
good sort of fellow, but he demands--and rightly--a suitable
provision with her. And in the second place, you will
naturally understand, there is Charles. Before leaving
town, I wrote Charles a very careful letter. You see, he
has an increasing family and increasing expenses, and the I.
and W. A. is nothing particular just now, though capable of
"Poor fellow!" murmured Margaret, looking out to sea,
and not understanding.
"Charles being the elder son, some day Charles will have
Howards End; but I am anxious, in my own happiness, not to
be unjust to others."
"Of course not," she began, and then gave a little cry.
"You mean money. How stupid I am! Of course not!"
Oddly enough, he winced a little at the word. "Yes.
Money, since you put it so frankly. I am determined to be
just to all--just to you, just to them. I am determined
that my children shall have no case against me."
"Be generous to them," she said sharply. "Bother justice!"
"I am determined--and have already written to Charles to
"But how much have you got?"
"How much have you a year? I've six hundred."
"Yes. We must begin with how much you have, before we
can settle how much you can give Charles. Justice, and even
generosity, depend on that."
"I must say you're a downright young woman," he
observed, patting her arm and laughing a little. "What a
question to spring on a fellow!"
"Don't you know your income? Or don't you want to tell
"That's all right"--now she patted him--"don't tell me.
I don't want to know. I can do the sum just as well by
proportion. Divide your income into ten parts. How many
parts would you give to Evie, how many to Charles, how many
"The fact is, my dear, I hadn't any intention of
bothering you with details. I only wanted to let you know
that--well, that something must be done for the others, and
you've understood me perfectly, so let's pass on to the next
"Yes, we've settled that," said Margaret, undisturbed by
his strategic blunderings. "Go ahead; give away all you
can, bearing in mind I've a clear six hundred. What a mercy
it is to have all this money about one!"
"We've none too much, I assure you; you're marrying a
"Helen wouldn't agree with me here," she continued.
"Helen daren't slang the rich, being rich herself, but she
would like to. There's an odd notion, that I haven't yet
got hold of, running about at the back of her brain, that
poverty is somehow 'real.' She dislikes all organization,
and probably confuses wealth with the technique of wealth.
Sovereigns in a stocking wouldn't bother her; cheques do.
Helen is too relentless. One can't deal in her high-handed
manner with the world."
"There's this other point, and then I must go back to my
hotel and write some letters. What's to be done now about
the house in Ducie Street?"
"Keep it on--at least, it depends. When do you want to
She raised her voice, as too often, and some youths, who
were also taking the evening air, overheard her. "Getting a
bit hot, eh?" said one. Mr. Wilcox turned on them, and said
sharply, "I say!" There was silence. "Take care I don't
report you to the police." They moved away quietly enough,
but were only biding their time, and the rest of the
conversation was punctuated by peals of ungovernable laughter.
Lowering his voice and infusing a hint of reproof into
it, he said: "Evie will probably be married in September.
We could scarcely think of anything before then."
"The earlier the nicer, Henry. Females are not supposed
to say such things, but the earlier the nicer."
"How about September for us too?" he asked, rather dryly.
"Right. Shall we go into Ducie Street ourselves in
September? Or shall we try to bounce Helen and Tibby into
it? That's rather an idea. They are so unbusinesslike, we
could make them do anything by judicious management. Look
here--yes. We'll do that. And we ourselves could live at
Howards End or Shropshire."
He blew out his cheeks. "Heavens! how you women do fly
round! My head's in a whirl. Point by point, Margaret.
Howards End's impossible. I let it to Hamar Bryce on a
three years' agreement last March. Don't you remember?
Oniton. Well, that is much, much too far away to rely on
entirely. You will be able to be down there entertaining a
certain amount, but we must have a house within easy reach
of Town. Only Ducie Street has huge drawbacks. There's a
Margaret could not help laughing. It was the first she
had heard of the mews behind Ducie Street. When she was a
possible tenant it had suppressed itself, not consciously,
but automatically. The breezy Wilcox manner, though
genuine, lacked the clearness of vision that is imperative
for truth. When Henry lived in Ducie Street he remembered
the mews; when he tried to let he forgot it; and if anyone
had remarked that the mews must be either there or not, he
would have felt annoyed, and afterwards have found some
opportunity of stigmatizing the speaker as academic. So
does my grocer stigmatize me when I complain of the quality
of his sultanas, and he answers in one breath that they are