Part 5 out of 8
the best sultanas, and how can I expect the best sultanas at
that price? It is a flaw inherent in the business mind, and
Margaret may do well to be tender to it, considering all
that the business mind has done for England.
"Yes, in summer especially, the mews is a serious
nuisance. The smoking room, too, is an abominable little
den. The house opposite has been taken by operatic people.
Ducie Street's going down, it's my private opinion."
"How sad! It's only a few years since they built those
"Shows things are moving. Good for trade."
"I hate this continual flux of London. It is an epitome
of us at our worst--eternal formlessness; all the qualities,
good, bad, and indifferent, streaming away--streaming,
streaming for ever. That's why I dread it so. I mistrust
rivers, even in scenery. Now, the sea--"
"High tide, yes."
"Hoy toid"--from the promenading youths.
"And these are the men to whom we give the vote,"
observed Mr. Wilcox, omitting to add that they were also the
men to whom he gave work as clerks--work that scarcely
encouraged them to grow into other men. "However, they have
their own lives and interests. Let's get on."
He turned as he spoke, and prepared to see her back to
The Bays. The business was over. His hotel was in the
opposite direction, and if he accompanied her his letters
would be late for the post. She implored him not to come,
but he was obdurate.
"A nice beginning, if your aunt saw you slip in alone!"
"But I always do go about alone. Considering I've
walked over the Apennines, it's common sense. You will make
me so angry. I don't the least take it as a compliment."
He laughed, and lit a cigar. "It isn't meant as a
compliment, my dear. I just won't have you going about in
the dark. Such people about too! It's dangerous. "
"Can't I look after myself? I do wish--"
"Come along, Margaret; no wheedling."
A younger woman might have resented his masterly ways,
but Margaret had too firm a grip of life to make a fuss.
She was, in her own way, as masterly. If he was a fortress
she was a mountain peak, whom all might tread, but whom the
snows made nightly virginal. Disdaining the heroic outfit,
excitable in her methods, garrulous, episodical, shrill, she
misled her lover much as she had misled her aunt. He
mistook her fertility for weakness. He supposed her "as
clever as they make 'em," but no more, not realizing that
she was penetrating to the depths of his soul, and approving
of what she found there.
And if insight were sufficient, if the inner life were
the whole of life, their happiness has been assured.
They walked ahead briskly. The parade and the road
after it were well lighted, but it was darker in Aunt
Juley's garden. As they were going up by the side-paths,
through some rhododendrons, Mr. Wilcox, who was in front,
said "Margaret" rather huskily, turned, dropped his cigar,
and took her in his arms.
She was startled, and nearly screamed, but recovered
herself at once, and kissed with genuine love the lips that
were pressed against her own. It was their first kiss, and
when it was over he saw her safely to the door and rang the
bell for her, but disappeared into the night before the maid
answered it. On looking back, the incident displeased her.
It was so isolated. Nothing in their previous conversation
had heralded it, and, worse still, no tenderness had
ensued. If a man cannot lead up to passion he can at all
events lead down from it, and she had hoped, after her
complaisance, for some interchange of gentle words. But he
had hurried away as if ashamed, and for an instant she was
reminded of Helen and Paul.
Charles had just been scolding his Dolly. She deserved the
scolding, and had bent before it, but her head, though
bloody, was unsubdued, and her chirrupings began to mingle
with his retreating thunder.
"You've woken the baby. I knew you would. (Rum-ti-foo,
Rackety-tackety Tompkin!) I'm not responsible for what Uncle
Percy does, nor for anybody else or anything, so there!"
"Who asked him while I was away? Who asked my sister
down to meet him? Who sent them out in the motor day after day?"
"Charles, that reminds me of some poem."
"Does it indeed? We shall all be dancing to a very
different music presently. Miss Schlegel has fairly got us
"I could simply scratch that woman's eyes out, and to
say it's my fault is most unfair."
"It's your fault, and five months ago you admitted it."
"Tootle, tootle, playing on the pootle!" exclaimed
Dolly, suddenly devoting herself to the child.
"It's all very well to turn the conversation, but Father
would never have dreamt of marrying as long as Evie was
there to make him comfortable. But you must needs start
match-making. Besides, Cahill's too old."
"Of course, if you're going to be rude to Uncle Percy--"
"Miss Schlegel always meant to get hold of Howards End,
and, thanks to you, she's got it."
"I call the way you twist things round and make them
hang together most unfair. You couldn't have been nastier
if you'd caught me flirting. Could he, diddums?"
"We're in a bad hole, and must make the best of it. I
shall answer the pater's letter civilly. He's evidently
anxious to do the decent thing. But I do not intend to
forget these Schlegels in a hurry. As long as they're on
their best behaviour--Dolly, are you listening? --we'll
behave, too. But if I find them giving themselves airs, or
monopolizing my father, or at all ill-treating him, or
worrying him with their artistic beastliness, I intend to
put my foot down, yes, firmly. Taking my mother's place!
Heaven knows what poor old Paul will say when the news
The interlude closes. It has taken place in Charles's
garden at Hilton. He and Dolly are sitting in deck-chairs,
and their motor is regarding them placidly from its garage
across the lawn. A short-frocked edition of Charles also
regards them placidly; a perambulator edition is squeaking;
a third edition is expected shortly. Nature is turning out
Wilcoxes in this peaceful abode, so that they may inherit
Margaret greeted her lord with peculiar tenderness on the
morrow. Mature as he was, she might yet be able to help him
to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect
the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are
meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected
arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is
born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the
grey, sober against the fire. Happy the man who sees from
either aspect the glory of these outspread wings. The roads
of his soul lie clear, and he and his friends shall find easy-going.
It was hard-going in the roads of Mr. Wilcox's soul.
From boyhood he had neglected them. "I am not a fellow who
bothers about my own inside." Outwardly he was cheerful,
reliable, and brave; but within, all had reverted to chaos,
ruled, so far as it was ruled at all, by an incomplete
asceticism. Whether as boy, husband, or widower, he had
always the sneaking belief that bodily passion is bad, a
belief that is desirable only when held passionately.
Religion had confirmed him. The words that were read aloud
on Sunday to him and to other respectable men were the words
that had once kindled the souls of St. Catharine and St.
Francis into a white-hot hatred of the carnal. He could-not
be as the saints and love the Infinite with a seraphic
ardour, but he could be a little ashamed of loving a wife.
"Amabat, amare timebat." And it was here that Margaret
hoped to help him.
It did not seem so difficult. She need trouble him with
no gift of her own. She would only point out the salvation
that was latent in his own soul, and in the soul of every
man. Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only
connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
and human love will be seen at its height. Live in
fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the
monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.
Nor was the message difficult to give. It need not take
the form of a good "talking." By quiet indications the
bridge would be built and span their lives with beauty.
But she failed. For there was one quality in Henry for
which she was never prepared, however much she reminded
herself of it: his obtuseness. He simply did not notice
things, and there was no more to be said. He never noticed
that Helen and Frieda were hostile, or that Tibby was not
interested in currant plantations; he never noticed the
lights and shades that exist in the grayest conversation,
the finger-posts, the milestones, the collisions, the
illimitable views. Once--on another occasion--she scolded
him about it. He was puzzled, but replied with a laugh: "My
motto is Concentrate. I've no intention of frittering away
my strength on that sort of thing." "It isn't frittering
away the strength," she protested. "It's enlarging the
space in which you may be strong." He answered: "You're a
clever little woman, but my motto's Concentrate." And this
morning he concentrated with a vengeance.
They met in the rhododendrons of yesterday. In the
daylight the bushes were inconsiderable and the path was
bright in the morning sun. She was with Helen, who had been
ominously quiet since the affair was settled. "Here we all
are!" she cried, and took him by one hand, retaining her
sister's in the other.
"Here we are. Good-morning, Helen."
Helen replied, "Good-morning, Mr. Wilcox."
"Henry, she has had such a nice letter from the queer,
cross boy--Do you remember him? He had a sad moustache, but
the back of his head was young."
"I have had a letter too. Not a nice one--I want to
talk it over with you:" for Leonard Bast was nothing to him
now that she had given him her word; the triangle of sex was
broken for ever.
"Thanks to your hint, he's clearing out of the Porphyrion."
"Not a bad business that Porphyrion," he said absently,
as he took his own letter out of his pocket.
"Not a BAD--" she exclaimed, dropping his hand.
"Surely, on Chelsea Embankment--"
"Here's our hostess. Good-morning, Mrs. Munt. Fine
rhododendrons. Good morning, Frau Liesecke; we manage to
grow flowers in England, don't we?"
"Not a BAD business?"
"No. My letter's about Howards End. Bryce has been
ordered abroad, and wants to sublet it. I am far from sure
that I shall give him permission. There was no clause in
the agreement. In my opinion, subletting is a mistake. If
he can find me another tenant, whom I consider suitable, I
may cancel the agreement. Morning, Schlegel. Don't you
think that's better than subletting?"
Helen had dropped her hand now, and he had steered her
past the whole party to the seaward side of the house.
Beneath them was the bourgeois little bay, which must have
yearned all through the centuries for just such a
watering-place as Swanage to be built on its margin. The
waves were colourless, and the Bournemouth steamer gave a
further touch of insipidity, drawn up against the pier and
hooting wildly for excursionists.
"When there is a sublet I find that damage--"
"Do excuse me, but about the Porphyrion. I don't feel
easy--might I just bother you, Henry?"
Her manner was so serious that he stopped, and asked her
a little sharply what she wanted.
"You said on Chelsea Embankment, surely, that it was a
bad concern, so we advised this clerk to clear out. He
writes this morning that he's taken our advice, and now you
say it's not a bad concern. "
"A clerk who clears out of any concern, good or bad,
without securing a berth somewhere else first, is a fool,
and I've no pity for him."
"He has not done that. He's going into a bank in Camden
Town, he says. The salary's much lower, but he hopes to
manage--a branch of Dempster's Bank. Is that all right?"
"Dempster! My goodness me, yes."
"More right than the Porphyrion?"
"Yes, yes, yes; safe as houses--safer."
"Very many thanks. I'm sorry--if you sublet--?"
"If he sublets, I shan't have the same control. In
theory there should be no more damage done at Howards End;
in practice there will be. Things may be done for which no
money can compensate. For instance, I shouldn't want that
fine wych-elm spoilt. It hangs--Margaret, we must go and
see the old place some time. It's pretty in its way. We'll
motor down and have lunch with Charles."
"I should enjoy that," said Margaret bravely.
"What about next Wednesday?"
"Wednesday? No, I couldn't well do that. Aunt Juley
expects us to stop here another week at least."
"But you can give that up now."
"Er--no," said Margaret, after a moment's thought.
"Oh, that'll be all right. I'll speak to her."
"This visit is a high solemnity. My aunt counts on it
year after year. She turns the house upside down for us;
she invites our special friends--she scarcely knows Frieda,
and we can't leave her on her hands. I missed one day, and
she would be so hurt if I didn't stay the full ten."
"But I'll say a word to her. Don't you bother."
"Henry, I won't go. Don't bully me."
"You want to see the house, though?"
"Very much--I've heard so much about it, one way or the
other. Aren't there pigs' teeth in the wych-elm?"
"And you chew the bark for toothache."
"What a rum notion! Of course not!"
"Perhaps I have confused it with some other tree. There
are still a great number of sacred trees in England, it seems."
But he left her to intercept Mrs. Munt, whose voice
could be heard in the distance: to be intercepted himself by
"Oh, Mr. Wilcox, about the Porphyrion--" she began, and
went scarlet all over her face.
"It's all right," called Margaret, catching them up.
"Dempster's Bank's better."
"But I think you told us the Porphyrion was bad, and
would smash before Christmas."
"Did I? It was still outside the Tariff Ring, and had
to take rotten policies. Lately it came in--safe as houses now."
"In other words, Mr. Bast need never have left it."
"No, the fellow needn't."
"--and needn't have started life elsewhere at a greatly
"He only says 'reduced,'" corrected Margaret, seeing
"With a man so poor, every reduction must be great. I
consider it a deplorable misfortune."
Mr. Wilcox, intent on his business with Mrs. Munt, was
going steadily on, but the last remark made him say: "What?
What's that? Do you mean that I'm responsible?"
"You're ridiculous, Helen."
"You seem to think--" He looked at his watch. "Let me
explain the point to you. It is like this. You seem to
assume, when a business concern is conducting a delicate
negotiation, it ought to keep the public informed stage by
stage. The Porphyrion, according to you, was bound to say,
'I am trying all I can to get into the Tariff Ring. I am
not sure that I shall succeed, but it is the only thing that
will save me from insolvency, and I am trying.' My dear Helen--"
"Is that your point? A man who had little money has
"I am grieved for your clerk. But it is all in the
day's work. It's part of the battle of life."
"A man who had little money," she repeated, "has less,
owing to us. Under these circumstances I do not consider
'the battle of life' a happy expression."
"Oh come, come!" he protested pleasantly. "You're not
to blame. No one's to blame."
"Is no one to blame for anything?"
"I wouldn't say that, but you're taking it far too
seriously. Who is this fellow?"
"We have told you about the fellow twice already," said
Helen. "You have even met the fellow. He is very poor and
his wife is an extravagant imbecile. He is capable of
better things. We--we, the upper classes--thought we would
help him from the height of our superior knowledge--and
here's the result!"
He raised his finger. "Now, a word of advice."
"I require no more advice."
"A word of advice. Don't take up that sentimental
attitude over the poor. See that she doesn't, Margaret.
The poor are poor, and one's sorry for them, but there it
is. As civilization moves forward, the shoe is bound to
pinch in places, and it's absurd to pretend that anyone is
responsible personally. Neither you, nor I, nor my
informant, nor the man who informed him, nor the directors
of the Porphyrion, are to blame for this clerk's loss of
salary. It's just the shoe pinching--no one can help it;
and it might easily have been worse."
Helen quivered with indignation.
"By all means subscribe to charities--subscribe to them
largely--but don't get carried away by absurd schemes of
Social Reform. I see a good deal behind the scenes, and you
can take it from me that there is no Social Question--except
for a few journalists who try to get a living out of the
phrase. There are just rich and poor, as there always have
been and always will be. Point me out a time when men have
"I didn't say--"
"Point me out a time when desire for equality has made
them happier. No, no. You can't. There always have been
rich and poor. I'm no fatalist. Heaven forbid! But our
civilization is moulded by great impersonal forces" (his
voice grew complacent; it always did when he eliminated the
personal), "and there always will be rich and poor. You
can't deny it" (and now it was a respectful voice)--"and you
can't deny that, in spite of all, the tendency of
civilization has on the whole been upward."
"Owing to God, I suppose," flashed Helen.
He stared at her.
"You grab the dollars. God does the rest."
It was no good instructing the girl if she was going to
talk about God in that neurotic modern way. Fraternal to
the last, he left her for the quieter company of Mrs. Munt.
He thought, "She rather reminds me of Dolly."
Helen looked out at the sea.
"Don't even discuss political economy with Henry,"
advised her sister. "It'll only end in a cry."
"But he must be one of those men who have reconciled
science with religion," said Helen slowly. "I don't like
those men. They are scientific themselves, and talk of the
survival of the fittest, and cut down the salaries of their
clerks, and stunt the independence of all who may menace
their comfort, but yet they believe that somehow good--and
it is always that sloppy 'somehow'--will be the outcome, and
that in some mystical way the Mr. Basts of the future will
benefit because the Mr. Basts of today are in pain."
"He is such a man in theory. But oh, Helen, in theory!"
"But oh, Meg, what a theory!"
"Why should you put things so bitterly, dearie?"
"Because I'm an old maid," said Helen, biting her lip.
"I can't think why I go on like this myself." She shook off
her sister's hand and went into the house. Margaret,
distressed at the day's beginning, followed the Bournemouth
steamer with her eyes. She saw that Helen's nerves were
exasperated by the unlucky Bast business beyond the bounds
of politeness. There might at any minute be a real
explosion, which even Henry would notice. Henry must be removed.
"Margaret!" her aunt called. "Magsy! It isn't true,
surely, what Mr. Wilcox says, that you want to go away early
"Not 'want,'" was Margaret's prompt reply; "but there is
so much to be settled, and I do want to see the Charles'."
"But going away without taking the Weymouth trip, or
even the Lulworth?" said Mrs. Munt, coming nearer. "Without
going once more up Nine Barrows Down?"
"I'm afraid so."
Mr. Wilcox rejoined her with, "Good! I did the breaking
of the ice."
A wave of tenderness came over her. She put a hand on
either shoulder, and looked deeply into the black, bright
eyes. What was behind their competent stare? She knew, but
was not disquieted.
Margaret had no intention of letting things slide, and the
evening before she left Swanage she gave her sister a
thorough scolding. She censured her, not for disapproving
of the engagement, but for throwing over her disapproval a
veil of mystery. Helen was equally frank. "Yes," she said,
with the air of one looking inwards, "there is a mystery. I
can't help it. It's not my fault. It's the way life has
been made." Helen in those days was over-interested in the
subconscious self. She exaggerated the Punch and Judy
aspect of life, and spoke of mankind as puppets, whom an
invisible showman twitches into love and war. Margaret
pointed out that if she dwelt on this she, too, would
eliminate the personal. Helen was silent for a minute, and
then burst into a queer speech, which cleared the air. "Go
on and marry him. I think you're splendid; and if anyone
can pull it off, you will." Margaret denied that there was
anything to "pull off," but she continued: "Yes, there is,
and I wasn't up to it with Paul. I can only do what's
easy. I can only entice and be enticed. I can't, and won't
attempt difficult relations. If I marry, it will either be
a man who's strong enough to boss me or whom I'm strong
enough to boss. So I shan't ever marry, for there aren't
such men. And Heaven help any one whom I do marry, for I
shall certainly run away from him before you can say 'Jack
Robinson.' There! Because I'm uneducated. But you, you're
different; you're a heroine."
"Oh, Helen! Am I? Will it be as dreadful for poor
Henry as all that?"
"You mean to keep proportion, and that's heroic, it's
Greek, and I don't see why it shouldn't succeed with you.
Go on and fight with him and help him. Don't ask ME for
help, or even for sympathy. Henceforward I'm going my own
way. I mean to be thorough, because thoroughness is easy.
I mean to dislike your husband, and to tell him so. I mean
to make no concessions to Tibby. If Tibby wants to live
with me, he must lump me. I mean to love YOU more than
ever. Yes, I do. You and I have built up something real,
because it is purely spiritual. There's no veil of mystery
over us. Unreality and mystery begin as soon as one touches
the body. The popular view is, as usual, exactly the wrong
one. Our bothers are over tangible things--money, husbands,
house-hunting. But Heaven will work of itself."
Margaret was grateful for this expression of affection,
and answered, "Perhaps." All vistas close in the unseen--no
one doubts it--but Helen closed them rather too quickly for
her taste. At every turn of speech one was confronted with
reality and the absolute. Perhaps Margaret grew too old for
metaphysics, perhaps Henry was weaning her from them, but
she felt that there was something a little unbalanced in the
mind that so readily shreds the visible. The business man
who assumes that this life is everything, and the mystic who
asserts that it is nothing, fail, on this side and on that,
to hit the truth. "Yes, I see, dear; it's about halfway
between," Aunt Juley had hazarded in earlier years. No;
truth, being alive, was not halfway between anything. It
was only to be found by continuous excursions into either
realm, and though proportion is the final secret, to espouse
it at the outset is to insure sterility.
Helen, agreeing here, disagreeing there, would have
talked till midnight, but Margaret, with her packing to do,
focussed the conversation on Henry. She might abuse Henry
behind his back, but please would she always, be civil to
him in company? "I definitely dislike him, but I'll do what
I can," promised Helen. "Do what you can with my friends in
This conversation made Margaret easier. Their inner
life was so safe that they could bargain over externals in a
way that would have been incredible to Aunt Juley, and
impossible for Tibby or Charles. There are moments when the
inner life actually "pays," when years of self-scrutiny,
conducted for no ulterior motive, are suddenly of practical
use. Such moments are still rare in the West; that they
come at all promises a fairer future. Margaret, though
unable to understand her sister, was assured against
estrangement, and returned to London with a more peaceful mind.
The following morning, at eleven o'clock, she presented
herself at the offices of the Imperial and West African
Rubber Company. She was glad to go there, for Henry had
implied his business rather than described it, and the
formlessness and vagueness that one associates with Africa
had hitherto brooded over the main sources of his wealth.
Not that a visit to the office cleared things up. There was
just the ordinary surface scum of ledgers and polished
counters and brass bars that began and stopped for no
possible reason, of electric-light globes blossoming in
triplets, of little rabbit hutches faced with glass or wire,
of little rabbits. And even when she penetrated to the
inner depths, she found only the ordinary table and Turkey
carpet, and though the map over the fireplace did depict a
helping of West Africa, it was a very ordinary map. Another
map hung opposite, on which the whole continent appeared,
looking like a whale marked out for blubber, and by its side
was a door, shut, but Henry's voice came through it,
dictating a "strong" letter. She might have been at the
Porphyrion, or Dempster's Bank, or her own wine-merchant's.
Everything seems just alike in these days. But perhaps she
was seeing the Imperial side of the company rather than its
West African, and Imperialism always had been one of her
"One minute!" called Mr. Wilcox on receiving her name.
He touched a bell, the effect of which was to produce Charles.
Charles had written his father an adequate letter--more
adequate than Evie's, through which a girlish indignation
throbbed. And he greeted his future stepmother with propriety.
"I hope that my wife--how do you do? --will give you a
decent lunch," was his opening. "I left instructions, but
we live in a rough-and-ready way. She expects you back to
tea, too, after you have had a look at Howards End. I
wonder what you'll think of the place. I wouldn't touch it
with tongs myself. Do sit down! It's a measly little place."
"I shall enjoy seeing it," said Margaret, feeling, for
the first time, shy.
"You'll see it at its worst, for Bryce decamped abroad
last Monday without even arranging for a charwoman to clear
up after him. I never saw such a disgraceful mess. It's
unbelievable. He wasn't in the house a month."
"I've more than a little bone to pick with Bryce,"
called Henry from the inner chamber.
"Why did he go so suddenly?"
"Invalid type; couldn't sleep."
"Poor fiddlesticks!" said Mr. Wilcox, joining them. "He
had the impudence to put up notice-boards without as much as
saying with your leave or by your leave. Charles flung them
"Yes, I flung them down," said Charles modestly.
"I've sent a telegram after him, and a pretty sharp one,
too. He, and he in person is responsible for the upkeep of
that house for the next three years."
"The keys are at the farm; we wouldn't have the keys."
"Dolly would have taken them, but I was in, fortunately."
"What's Mr. Bryce like?" asked Margaret.
But nobody cared. Mr. Bryce was the tenant, who had no
right to sublet; to have defined him further was a waste of
time. On his misdeeds they descanted profusely, until the
girl who had been typing the strong letter came out with
it. Mr. Wilcox added his signature. "Now we'll be off,"
A motor-drive, a form of felicity detested by Margaret,
awaited her. Charles saw them in, civil to the last, and in
a moment the offices of the Imperial and West African Rubber
Company faded away. But it was not an impressive drive.
Perhaps the weather was to blame, being grey and banked high
with weary clouds. Perhaps Hertfordshire is scarcely
intended for motorists. Did not a gentleman once motor so
quickly through Westmoreland that he missed it? and if
Westmoreland can be missed, it will fare ill with a county
whose delicate structure particularly needs the attentive
eye. Hertfordshire is England at its quietest, with little
emphasis of river and hill; it is England meditative. If
Drayton were with us again to write a new edition of his
incomparable poem, he would sing the nymphs of Hertfordshire
as indeterminate of feature, with hair obfuscated by the
London smoke. Their eyes would be sad, and averted from
their fate towards the Northern flats, their leader not Isis
or Sabrina, but the slowly flowing Lea. No glory of raiment
would be theirs, no urgency of dance; but they would be real
The chauffeur could not travel as quickly as he had
hoped, for the Great North Road was full of Easter traffic.
But he went quite quick enough for Margaret, a poor-spirited
creature, who had chickens and children on the brain.
"They're all right," said Mr. Wilcox. "They'll
learn--like the swallows and the telegraph-wires."
"Yes, but, while they're learning--"
"The motor's come to stay," he answered. "One must get
about. There's a pretty church--oh, you aren't sharp
enough. Well, look out, if the road worries you--right
outward at the scenery. "
She looked at the scenery. It heaved and merged like
porridge. Presently it congealed. They had arrived.
Charles's house on the left; on the right the swelling
forms of the Six Hills. Their appearance in such a
neighbourhood surprised her. They interrupted the stream of
residences that was thickening up towards Hilton. Beyond
them she saw meadows and a wood, and beneath them she
settled that soldiers of the best kind lay buried. She
hated war and liked soldiers--it was one of her amiable
But here was Dolly, dressed up to the nines, standing at
the door to greet them, and here were the first drops of the
rain. They ran in gaily, and after a long wait in the
drawing-room sat down to the rough-and-ready lunch, every
dish in which concealed or exuded cream. Mr. Bryce was the
chief topic of conversation. Dolly described his visit with
the key, while her father-in-law gave satisfaction by
chaffing her and contradicting all she said. It was
evidently the custom to laugh at Dolly. He chaffed
Margaret, too, and Margaret, roused from a grave meditation,
was pleased, and chaffed him back. Dolly seemed surprised,
and eyed her curiously. After lunch the two children came
down. Margaret disliked babies, but hit it off better with
the two-year-old, and sent Dolly into fits of laughter by
talking sense to him. "Kiss them now, and come away," said
Mr. Wilcox. She came, but refused to kiss them: it was such
hard luck on the little things, she said, and though Dolly
proffered Chorly-worly and Porgly-woggles in turn, she was obdurate.
By this time it was raining steadily. The car came
round with the hood up, and again she lost all sense of
space. In a few minutes they stopped, and Crane opened the
door of the car.
"What's happened?" asked Margaret.
"What do you suppose?" said Henry.
A little porch was close up against her face.
"Are we there already?"
"Well, I never! In years ago it seemed so far away."
Smiling, but somehow disillusioned, she jumped out, and
her impetus carried her to the front-door. She was about to
open it, when Henry said: "That's no good; it's locked.
Who's got the key?"
As he had himself forgotten to call for the key at the
farm, no one replied. He also wanted to know who had left
the front gate open, since a cow had strayed in from the
road, and was spoiling the croquet lawn. Then he said
rather crossly: "Margaret, you wait in the dry. I'll go
down for the key. It isn't a hundred yards.
"Mayn't I come too?"
"No; I shall be back before I'm gone."
Then the car turned away, and it was as if a curtain had
risen. For the second time that day she saw the appearance
of the earth.
There were the greengage-trees that Helen had once
described, there the tennis lawn, there the hedge that would
be glorious with dog-roses in June, but the vision now was
of black and palest green. Down by the dell-hole more vivid
colours were awakening, and Lent Lilies stood sentinel on
its margin, or advanced in battalions over the grass.
Tulips were a tray of jewels. She could not see the
wych-elm tree, but a branch of the celebrated vine, studded
with velvet knobs, had covered the porch. She was struck by
the fertility of the soil; she had seldom been in a garden
where the flowers looked so well, and even the weeds she was
idly plucking out of the porch were intensely green. Why
had poor Mr. Bryce fled from all this beauty? For she had
already decided that the place was beautiful.
"Naughty cow! Go away!" cried Margaret to the cow, but
Harder came the rain, pouring out of a windless sky, and
spattering up from the notice-boards of the house-agents,
which lay in a row on the lawn where Charles had hurled
them. She must have interviewed Charles in another
world--where one did have interviews. How Helen would revel
in such a notion! Charles dead, all people dead, nothing
alive but houses and gardens. The obvious dead, the
intangible alive, and--no connection at all between them!
Margaret smiled. Would that her own fancies were as
clear-cut! Would that she could deal as high-handedly with
the world! Smiling and sighing, she laid her hand upon the
door. It opened. The house was not locked up at all.
She hesitated. Ought she to wait for Henry? He felt
strongly about property, and might prefer to show her over
himself. On the other hand, he had told her to keep in the
dry, and the porch was beginning to drip. So she went in,
and the drought from inside slammed the door behind.
Desolation greeted her. Dirty finger-prints were on the
hall-windows, flue and rubbish on its unwashed boards. The
civilization of luggage had been here for a month, and then
decamped. Dining-room and drawing room--right and
left--were guessed only by their wall-papers. They were
just rooms where one could shelter from the rain. Across
the ceiling of each ran a great beam. The dining-room and
hall revealed theirs openly, but the drawing-room's was
match-boarded--because the facts of life must be concealed
from ladies? Drawing-room, dining-room, and hall--how petty
the names sounded! Here were simply three rooms where
children could play and friends shelter from the rain. Yes,
and they were beautiful.
Then she opened one of the doors opposite--there were
two--and exchanged wall-papers for whitewash. It was the
servants' part, though she scarcely realized that: just
rooms again, where friends might shelter. The garden at the
back was full of flowering cherries and plums. Farther on
were hints of the meadow and a black cliff of pines. Yes,
the meadow was beautiful.
Penned in by the desolate weather, she recaptured the
sense of space which the motor had tried to rob from her.
She remembered again that ten square miles are not ten times
as wonderful as one square mile, that a thousand square
miles are not practically the same as heaven. The phantom
of bigness, which London encourages, was laid for ever when
she paced from the hall at Howards End to its kitchen and
heard the rains run this way and that where the watershed of
the roof divided them.
Now Helen came to her mind, scrutinizing half Wessex
from the ridge of the Purbeck Downs, and saying: "You will
have to lose something." She was not so sure. For instance,
she would double her kingdom by opening the door that
concealed the stairs.
Now she thought of the map of Africa; of empires; of her
father; of the two supreme nations, streams of whose life
warmed her blood, but, mingling, had cooled her brain. She
paced back into the hall, and as she did so the house reverberated.
"Is that you, Henry?" she called.
There was no answer, but the house reverberated again.
"Henry, have you got in?"
But it was the heart of the house beating, faintly at
first, then loudly, martially. It dominated the rain.
It is the starved imagination, not the well-nourished,
that is afraid. Margaret flung open the door to the
stairs. A noise as of drums seemed to deafen her. A woman,
an old woman, was descending, with figure erect, with face
impassive, with lips that parted and said dryly:
"Oh! Well, I took you for Ruth Wilcox."
Margaret stammered: "I--Mrs. Wilcox--I?"
"In fancy, of course--in fancy. You had her way of
walking. Good-day." And the old woman passed out into the
"It gave her quite a turn," said Mr. Wilcox, when retailing
the incident to Dolly at tea-time. "None of you girls have
any nerves, really. Of course, a word from me put it all
right, but silly old Miss Avery--she frightened you, didn't
she, Margaret? There you stood clutching a bunch of weeds.
She might have said something, instead of coming down the
stairs with that alarming bonnet on. I passed her as I came
in. Enough to make the car shy. I believe Miss Avery goes
in for being a character; some old maids do." He lit a
cigarette. "It is their last resource. Heaven knows what
she was doing in the place; but that's Bryce's business, not
"I wasn't as foolish as you suggest," said Margaret.
"She only startled me, for the house had been silent so long."
"Did you take her for a spook?" asked Dolly, for whom
"spooks" and "going to church" summarized the unseen.
"She really did frighten you," said Henry, who was far
from discouraging timidity in females. "Poor Margaret! And
very naturally. Uneducated classes are so stupid."
"Is Miss Avery uneducated classes?" Margaret asked, and
found herself looking at the decoration scheme of Dolly's
"She's just one of the crew at the farm. People like
that always assume things. She assumed you'd know who she
was. She left all the Howards End keys in the front lobby,
and assumed that you'd seen them as you came in, that you'd
lock up the house when you'd done, and would bring them on
down to her. And there was her niece hunting for them down
at the farm. Lack of education makes people very casual.
Hilton was full of women like Miss Avery once."
"I shouldn't have disliked it, perhaps."
"Or Miss Avery giving me a wedding present," said Dolly.
Which was illogical but interesting. Through Dolly,
Margaret was destined to learn a good deal.
"But Charles said I must try not to mind, because she
had known his grandmother."
"As usual, you've got the story wrong, my good Dorothea."
"I mean great-grandmother--the one who left Mrs. Wilcox
the house. Weren't both of them and Miss Avery friends when
Howards End, too, was a farm?"
Her father-in-law blew out a shaft of smoke. His
attitude to his dead wife was curious. He would allude to
her, and hear her discussed, but never mentioned her by
name. Nor was he interested in the dim, bucolic past.
Dolly was--for the following reason.
"Then hadn't Mrs. Wilcox a brother--or was it an uncle?
Anyhow, he popped the question, and Miss Avery, she said
'No.' Just imagine, if she'd said 'Yes,' she would have been
Charles's aunt. (Oh, I say,--that's rather good! 'Charlie's
Aunt'! I must chaff him about that this evening.) And the
man went out and was killed. Yes, I'm certain I've got it
right now. Tom Howard--he was the last of them."
"I believe so," said Mr. Wilcox negligently.
"I say! Howards End--Howard's Ended!" cried Dolly.
"I'm rather on the spot this evening, eh?"
"I wish you'd ask whether Crane's ended."
"Oh, Mr. Wilcox, how CAN you?"
"Because, if he has had enough tea, we ought to
go.--Dolly's a good little woman," he continued, "but a
little of her goes a long way. I couldn't live near her if
you paid me."
Margaret smiled. Though presenting a firm front to
outsiders, no Wilcox could live near, or near the
possessions of, any other Wilcox. They had the colonial
spirit, and were always making for some spot where the white
man might carry his burden unobserved. Of course, Howards
End was impossible, so long as the younger couple were
established in Hilton. His objections to the house were
plain as daylight now.
Crane had had enough tea, and was sent to the garage,
where their car had been trickling muddy water over
Charles's. The downpour had surely penetrated the Six Hills
by now, bringing news of our restless civilization.
"Curious mounds," said, Henry, "but in with you now; another
time." He had to be up in London by seven--if possible, by
six-thirty. Once more she lost the sense of space; once
more trees, houses, people, animals, hills, merged and
heaved into one dirtiness, and she was at Wickham Place.
Her evening was pleasant. The sense of flux which had
haunted her all the year disappeared for a time. She forgot
the luggage and the motor-cars, and the hurrying men who
know so much and connect so little. She recaptured the
sense of space, which is the basis of all earthly beauty,
and, starting from Howards End, she attempted to realize
England. She failed--visions do not come when we try,
though they may come through trying. But an unexpected love
of the island awoke in her, connecting on this side with the
joys of the flesh, on that with the inconceivable. Helen
and her father had known this love, poor Leonard Bast was
groping after it, but it had been hidden from Margaret till
this afternoon. It had certainly come through the house and
old Miss Avery. Through them: the notion of "through"
persisted; her mind trembled towards a conclusion which only
the unwise have put into words. Then, veering back into
warmth, it dwelt on ruddy bricks, flowering plum-trees, and
all the tangible joys of, spring.
Henry, after allaying her agitation, had taken her over
his property, and had explained to her the use and
dimensions of the various rooms. He had sketched the
history of the little estate. "It is so unlucky," ran the
monologue, "that money wasn't put into it about fifty years
ago. Then it had four--five-times the land--thirty acres at
least. One could have made something out of it then--a
small park, or at all events shrubberies, and rebuilt the
house farther away from the road. What's the good of taking
it in hand now? Nothing but the meadow left, and even that
was heavily mortgaged when I first had to do with
things--yes, and the house too. Oh, it was no joke." She
saw two women as he spoke, one old, the other young,
watching their inheritance melt away. She saw them greet
him as a deliverer. "Mismanagement did it--besides, the
days for small farms are over. It doesn't pay--except with
intensive cultivation. Small holdings, back to the
land--ah! philanthropic bunkum. Take it as a rule that
nothing pays on a small scale. Most of the land you see
(they were standing at an upper window, the only one which
faced west) belongs to the people at the Park--they made
their pile over copper--good chaps. Avery's Farm,
Sishe's--what they call the Common, where you see that
ruined oak--one after the other fell in, and so did this, as
near as is no matter. "But Henry had saved it; without fine
feelings or deep insight, but he had saved it, and she loved
him for the deed. "When I had more control I did what I
could: sold off the two and a half animals, and the mangy
pony, and the superannuated tools; pulled down the
outhouses; drained; thinned out I don't know how many
guelder-roses and elder-trees; and inside the house I turned
the old kitchen into a hall, and made a kitchen behind where
the dairy was. Garage and so on came later. But one could
still tell it's been an old farm. And yet it isn't the
place that would fetch one of your artistic crew." No, it
wasn't; and if he did not quite understand it, the artistic
crew would still less: it was English, and the wych-elm that
she saw from the window was an English tree. No report had
prepared her for its peculiar glory. It was neither
warrior, nor lover, nor god; in none of these roles do the
English excel. It was a comrade, bending over the house,
strength and adventure in its roots, but in its utmost
fingers tenderness, and the girth, that a dozen men could
not have spanned, became in the end evanescent, till pale
bud clusters seemed to float in the air. It was a comrade.
House and tree transcended any similes of sex. Margaret
thought of them now, and was to think of them through many a
windy night and London day, but to compare either to man, to
woman, always dwarfed the vision. Yet they kept within
limits of the human. Their message was not of eternity, but
of hope on this side of the grave. As she stood in the one,
gazing at the other, truer relationship had gleamed.
Another touch, and the account of her day is finished.
They entered the garden for a minute, and to Mr. Wilcox's
surprise she was right. Teeth, pigs' teeth, could be seen
in the bark of the wych-elm tree--just the white tips of
them showing. "Extraordinary!" he cried. "Who told you?"
"I heard of it one winter in London," was her answer,
for she, too, avoided mentioning Mrs. Wilcox by name.
Evie heard of her father's engagement when she was in for a
tennis tournament, and her play went simply to pot. That
she should marry and leave him had seemed natural enough;
that he, left alone, should do the same was deceitful; and
now Charles and Dolly said that it was all her fault. "But
I never dreamt of such a thing," she grumbled. "Dad took me
to call now and then, and made me ask her to Simpson's.
Well, I'm altogether off Dad." It was also an insult to
their mother's memory; there they were agreed, and Evie had
the idea of returning Mrs. Wilcox's lace and jewellery "as a
protest." Against what it would protest she was not clear;
but being only eighteen, the idea of renunciation appealed
to her, the more as she did not care for jewellery or lace.
Dolly then suggested that she and Uncle Percy should pretend
to break off their engagement, and then perhaps Mr. Wilcox
would quarrel with Miss Schlegel, and break off his; or Paul
might be cabled for. But at this point Charles told them
not to talk nonsense. So Evie settled to marry as soon as
possible; it was no good hanging about with these Schlegels
eyeing her. The date of her wedding was consequently put
forward from September to August, and in the intoxication of
presents she recovered much of her good-humour.
Margaret found that she was expected to figure at this
function, and to figure largely; it would be such an
opportunity, said Henry, for her to get to know his set.
Sir James Bidder would be there, and all the Cahills and the
Fussells, and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Warrington Wilcox, had
fortunately got back from her tour round the world. Henry
she loved, but his set promised to be another matter. He
had not the knack of surrounding himself with nice
people--indeed, for a man of ability and virtue his choice
had been singularly unfortunate; he had no guiding principle
beyond a certain preference for mediocrity; he was content
to settle one of the greatest things in life haphazard, and
so, while his investments went right, his friends generally
went wrong. She would be told, "Oh, So-and-so's a good
sort--a thundering good sort," and find, on meeting him,
that he was a brute or a bore. If Henry had shown real
affection, she would have understood, for affection explains
everything. But he seemed without sentiment. The
"thundering good sort" might at any moment become "a fellow
for whom I never did have much use, and have less now," and
be shaken off cheerily into oblivion. Margaret had done the
same as a schoolgirl. Now she never forgot anyone for whom
she had once cared; she connected, though the connection
might be bitter, and she hoped that some day Henry would do
Evie was not to be married from Ducie Street. She had a
fancy for something rural, and, besides, no one would be in
London then, so she left her boxes for a few weeks at Oniton
Grange, and her banns were duly published in the parish
church, and for a couple of days the little town, dreaming
between the ruddy hills, was roused by the clang of our
civilization, and drew up by the roadside to let the motors
pass. Oniton had been a discovery of Mr. Wilcox's--a
discovery of which he was not altogether proud. It was up
towards the Welsh border, and so difficult of access that he
had concluded it must be something special. A ruined castle
stood in the grounds. But having got there, what was one to
do? The shooting was bad, the fishing indifferent, and
women-folk reported the scenery as nothing much. The place
turned out to be in the wrong part of Shropshire, damn it,
and though he never damned his own property aloud, he was
only waiting to get it off his hands, and then to let fly.
Evie's marriage was its last appearance in public. As soon
as a tenant was found, it became a house for which he never
had had much use, and had less now, and, like Howards End,
faded into Limbo.
But on Margaret Oniton was destined to make a lasting
impression. She regarded it as her future home, and was
anxious to start straight with the clergy, etc., and, if
possible, to see something of the local life. It was a
market-town--as tiny a one as England possesses--and had for
ages served that lonely valley, and guarded our marches
against the Kelt. In spite of the occasion, in spite of the
numbing hilarity that greeted her as soon as she got into
the reserved saloon at Paddington, her senses were awake and
watching, and though Oniton was to prove one of her
innumerable false starts, she never forgot it, nor the
things that happened there.
The London party only numbered eight--the Fussells,
father and son, two Anglo-Indian ladies named Mrs.
Plynlimmon and Lady Edser, Mrs. Warrington Wilcox and her
daughter, and lastly, the little girl, very smart and quiet,
who figures at so many weddings, and who kept a watchful eye
on Margaret, the bride-elect, Dolly was absent--a domestic
event detained her at Hilton; Paul had cabled a humorous
message; Charles was to meet them with a trio of motors at
Shrewsbury. Helen had refused her invitation; Tibby had
never answered his. The management was excellent, as was to
be expected with anything that Henry undertook; one was
conscious of his sensible and generous brain in the
background. They were his guests as soon as they reached
the train; a special label for their luggage; a courier; a
special lunch; they had only to look pleasant and, where
possible, pretty. Margaret thought with dismay of her own
nuptials--presumably under the management of Tibby. "Mr.
Theobald Schlegel and Miss Helen Schlegel request the
pleasure of Mrs. Plynlimmon's company on the occasion of the
marriage of their sister Margaret." The formula was
incredible, but it must soon be printed and sent, and though
Wickham Place need not compete with Oniton, it must feed its
guests properly, and provide them with sufficient chairs.
Her wedding would either be ramshackly or bourgeois--she
hoped the latter. Such an affair as the present, staged
with a deftness that was almost beautiful, lay beyond her
powers and those of her friends.
The low rich purr of a Great Western express is not the
worst background for conversation, and the journey passed
pleasantly enough. Nothing could have exceeded the kindness
of the two men. They raised windows for some ladies, and
lowered them for others, they rang the bell for the servant,
they identified the colleges as the train slipped past
Oxford, they caught books or bag-purses in the act of
tumbling on to the floor. Yet there was nothing finicky
about their politeness: it had the Public School touch, and,
though sedulous, was virile. More battles than Waterloo
have been won on our playing-fields, and Margaret bowed to a
charm of which she did not wholly approve, and said nothing
when the Oxford colleges were identified wrongly. "Male and
female created He them"; the journey to Shrewsbury confirmed
this questionable statement, and the long glass saloon, that
moved so easily and felt so comfortable, became a
forcing-house for the idea of sex.
At Shrewsbury came fresh air. Margaret was all for
sight-seeing, and while the others were finishing their tea
at the Raven, she annexed a motor and hurried over the
astonishing city. Her chauffeur was not the faithful Crane,
but an Italian, who dearly loved making her late. Charles,
watch in hand, though with a level brow, was standing in
front of the hotel when they returned. It was perfectly all
right, he told her; she was by no means the last. And then
he dived into the coffee-room, and she heard him say, "For
God's sake, hurry the women up; we shall never be off," and
Albert Fussell reply, "Not I; I've done my share," and
Colonel Fussell opine that the ladies were getting
themselves up to kill. Presently Myra (Mrs. Warrington's
daughter) appeared, and as she was his cousin, Charles blew
her up a little: she had been changing her smart traveling
hat for a smart motor hat. Then Mrs. Warrington herself,
leading the quiet child; the two Anglo-Indian ladies were
always last. Maids, courier, heavy luggage, had already
gone on by a branch-line to a station nearer Oniton, but
there were five hat-boxes and four dressing-bags to be
packed, and five dust-cloaks to be put on, and to be put off
at the last moment, because Charles declared them not
necessary. The men presided over everything with unfailing
good-humour. By half-past five the party was ready, and
went out of Shrewsbury by the Welsh Bridge.
Shropshire had not the reticence of Hertfordshire.
Though robbed of half its magic by swift movement, it still
conveyed the sense of hills. They were nearing the
buttresses that force the Severn eastern and make it an
English stream, and the sun, sinking over the Sentinels of
Wales, was straight in their eyes. Having picked up another
guest, they turned southward, avoiding the greater
mountains, but conscious of an occasional summit, rounded
and mild, whose colouring differed in quality from that of
the lower earth, and whose contours altered more slowly.
Quiet mysteries were in progress behind those tossing
horizons: the West, as ever, was retreating with some secret
which may not be worth the discovery, but which no practical
man will ever discover.
They spoke of Tariff Reform.
Mrs. Warrington was just back from the Colonies. Like
many other critics of Empire, her mouth had been stopped
with food, and she could only exclaim at the hospitality
with which she had been received, and warn the Mother
Country against trifling with young Titans. "They threaten
to cut the painter," she cried, "and where shall we be
then? Miss Schlegel, you'll undertake to keep Henry sound
about Tariff Reform? It is our last hope."
Margaret playfully confessed herself on the other side,
and they began to quote from their respective hand-books
while the motor carried them deep into the hills. Curious
these were, rather than impressive, for their outlines
lacked beauty, and the pink fields--on their summits
suggested the handkerchiefs of a giant spread out to dry.
An occasional outcrop of rock, an occasional wood, an
occasional "forest," treeless and brown, all hinted at
wildness to follow, but the main colour was an agricultural
green. The air grew cooler; they had surmounted the last
gradient, and Oniton lay below them with its church, its
radiating houses, its castle, its river-girt peninsula.
Close to the castle was a grey mansion, unintellectual but
kindly, stretching with its grounds across the peninsula's
neck--the sort of mansion that was built all over England in
the beginning of the last century, while architecture was
still an expression of the national character. That was the
Grange, remarked Albert, over his shoulder, and then he
jammed the brake on, and the motor slowed down and stopped.
"I'm sorry," said he, turning round. "Do you mind getting
out--by the door on the right? Steady on!"
"What's happened?" asked Mrs. Warrington.
Then the car behind them drew up, and the voice of
Charles was heard saying: "Get out the women at once." There
was a concourse of males, and Margaret and her companions
were hustled out and received into the second car. What had
happened? As it started off again, the door of a cottage
opened, and a girl screamed wildly at them.
"What is it?" the ladies cried.
Charles drove them a hundred yards without speaking.
Then he said: "It's all right. Your car just touched a dog."
"But stop!" cried Margaret, horrified.
"It didn't hurt him."
"Didn't really hurt him?" asked Myra.
"Do PLEASE stop!" said Margaret, leaning forward. She
was standing up in the car, the other occupants holding her
knees to steady her. "I want to go back, please."
Charles took no notice.
"We've left Mr. Fussell behind," said another; "and
Angelo, and Crane."
"Yes, but no woman."
"I expect a little of"--Mrs. Warrington scratched her
palm--" will be more to the point than one of us!"
"The insurance company sees to that," remarked Charles,
"and Albert will do the talking."
"I want to go back, though, I say!" repeated Margaret,
Charles took no notice. The motor, loaded with
refugees, continued to travel very slowly down the hill.
"The men are there," chorused the others. "Men will see to it."
"The men CAN'T see to it. Oh, this is ridiculous!
Charles, I ask you to stop."
"Stopping's no good," drawled Charles.
"Isn't it?" said Margaret, and jumped straight out of
She fell on her knees, cut her gloves, shook her hat
over her ear. Cries of alarm followed her. "You've hurt
yourself," exclaimed Charles, jumping after her.
"Of course I've hurt myself!" she retorted.
"May I ask what--"
"There's nothing to ask," said Margaret.
"Your hand's bleeding."
"I'm in for a frightful row from the pater."
"You should have thought of that sooner, Charles."
Charles had never been in such a position before. It
was a woman in revolt who was hobbling away from him, and
the sight was too strange to leave any room for anger. He
recovered himself when the others caught them up: their sort
he understood. He commanded them to go back.
Albert Fussell was seen walking towards them.
"It's all right!" he called. "It wasn't a dog, it was a
"There!" exclaimed Charles triumphantly. "It's only a
"Got room in your car for a little un? I cut as soon as
I saw it wasn't a dog; the chauffeurs are tackling the
girl." But Margaret walked forward steadily. Why should
the chauffeurs tackle the girl? Ladies sheltering behind
men, men sheltering behind servants--the whole system's
wrong, and she must challenge it.
"Miss Schlegel! 'Pon my word, you've hurt your hand."
"I'm just going to see," said Margaret. "Don't you
wait, Mr. Fussell."
The second motor came round the corner. "lt is all
right, madam," said Crane in his turn. He had taken to
calling her madam.
"What's all right? The cat?"
"Yes, madam. The girl will receive compensation for it."
"She was a very ruda girla," said Angelo from the third
"Wouldn't you have been rude?"
The Italian spread out his hands, implying that he had
not thought of rudeness, but would produce it if it pleased
her. The situation became absurd. The gentlemen were again
buzzing round Miss Schlegel with offers of assistance, and
Lady Edser began to bind up her hand. She yielded,
apologizing slightly, and was led back to the car, and soon
the landscape resumed its motion, the lonely cottage
disappeared, the castle swelled on its cushion of turf, and
they had arrived. No doubt she had disgraced herself. But
she felt their whole journey from London had been unreal.
They had no part with the earth and its emotions. They were
dust, and a stink, and cosmopolitan chatter, and the girl
whose cat had been killed had lived more deeply than they.
"Oh, Henry," she exclaimed, "I have been so naughty,"
for she had decided to take up this line. "We ran over a
cat. Charles told me not to jump out, but I would, and
look!" She held out her bandaged hand. "Your poor Meg went
such a flop."
Mr. Wilcox looked bewildered. In evening dress, he was
standing to welcome his guests in the hall.
"Thinking it was a dog," added Mrs. Warrington.
"Ah, a dog's a companion!" said Colonel Fussell. "A
dog'll remember you."
"Have you hurt yourself, Margaret?"
"Not to speak about; and it's my left hand."
"Well, hurry up and change."
She obeyed, as did the others. Mr. Wilcox then turned
to his son.
"Now, Charles, what's happened?"
Charles was absolutely honest. He described what he
believed to have happened. Albert had flattened out a cat,
and Miss Schlegel had lost her nerve, as any woman might.
She had been got safely into the other car, but when it was
in motion had leapt out--again, in spite of all that they
could say. After walking a little on the road, she had
calmed down and had said that she was sorry. His father
accepted this explanation, and neither knew that Margaret
had artfully prepared the way for it. It fitted in too well
with their view of feminine nature. In the smoking-room,
after dinner, the Colonel put forward the view that Miss
Schlegel had jumped it out of devilry. Well he remembered
as a young man, in the harbour of Gibraltar once, how a
girl--a handsome girl, too--had jumped overboard for a bet.
He could see her now, and all the lads overboard after her.
But Charles and Mr. Wilcox agreed it was much more probably
nerves in Miss Schlegel's case. Charles was depressed.
That woman had a tongue. She would bring worse disgrace on
his father before she had done with them. He strolled out
on to the castle mound to think the matter over. The
evening was exquisite. On three sides of him a little river
whispered, full of messages from the west; above his head
the ruins made patterns against the sky. He carefully
reviewed their dealings with this family, until he fitted
Helen, and Margaret, and Aunt Juley into an orderly
conspiracy. Paternity had made him suspicious. He had two
children to look after, and more coming, and day by day they
seemed less likely to grow up rich men. "It is all very
well," he reflected, "the pater saying that he will be just
to all, but one can't be just indefinitely. Money isn't
elastic. What's to happen if Evie has a family? And, come
to that, so may the pater. There'll not be enough to go
round, for there's none coming in, either through Dolly or
Percy. It's damnable!" He looked enviously at the Grange,
whose windows poured light and laughter. First and last,
this wedding would cost a pretty penny. Two ladies were
strolling up and down the garden terrace, and as the
syllables "Imperialism" were wafted to his ears, he guessed
that one of them was his aunt. She might have helped him,
if she too had not had a family to provide for. "Every one
for himself," he repeated--a maxim which had cheered him in
the past, but which rang grimly enough among the ruins of
Oniton. He lacked his father's ability in business, and so
had an ever higher regard for money; unless he could inherit
plenty, he feared to leave his children poor.
As he sat thinking, one of the ladies left the terrace
and walked into the meadow; he recognized her as Margaret by
the white bandage that gleamed on her arm, and put out his
cigar, lest the gleam should betray him. She climbed up the
mound in zigzags, and at times stooped down, as if she was
stroking the turf. It sounds absolutely incredible, but for
a moment Charles thought that she was in love with him, and
had come out to tempt him. Charles believed in temptresses,
who are indeed the strong man's necessary complement, and
having no sense of humour, he could not purge himself of the
thought by a smile. Margaret, who was engaged to his
father, and his sister's wedding-guest, kept on her way
without noticing him, and he admitted that he had wronged
her on this point. But what was she doing? Why was she
stumbling about amongst the rubble and catching her dress in
brambles and burrs? As she edged round the keep, she must
have got to leeward and smelt his cigar-smoke, for she
exclaimed, "Hullo! Who's that?"
Charles made no answer.
"Saxon or Kelt?" she continued, laughing in the
darkness. "But it doesn't matter. Whichever you are, you
will have to listen to me. I love this place. I love
Shropshire. I hate London. I am glad that this will be my
home. Ah, dear"--she was now moving back towards the
house--"what a comfort to have arrived!"
"That woman means mischief," thought Charles, and
compressed his lips. In a few minutes he followed her
indoors, as the ground was getting damp. Mists were rising
from the river, and presently it became invisible, though it
whispered more loudly. There had been a heavy downpour in
the Welsh hills.
Next morning a fine mist covered the peninsula. The weather
promised well, and the outline of the castle mound grew
clearer each moment that Margaret watched it. Presently she
saw the keep, and the sun painted the rubble gold, and
charged the white sky with blue. The shadow of the house
gathered itself together and fell over the garden. A cat
looked up at her window and mewed. Lastly the river
appeared, still holding the mists between its banks and its
overhanging alders, and only visible as far as a hill, which
cut off its upper reaches.
Margaret was fascinated by Oniton. She had said that
she loved it, but it was rather its romantic tension that
held her. The rounded Druids of whom she had caught
glimpses in her drive, the rivers hurrying down from them to
England, the carelessly modelled masses of the lower hills,
thrilled her with poetry. The house was insignificant, but
the prospect from it would be an eternal joy, and she
thought of all the friends she would have to stop in it, and
of the conversion of Henry himself to a rural life.
Society, too, promised favourably. The rector of the parish
had dined with them last night, and she found that he was a
friend of her father's, and so knew what to find in her.
She liked him. He would introduce her to the town. While,
on her other side, Sir James Bidder sat, repeating that she
only had to give the word, and he would whip up the county
families for twenty miles round. Whether Sir James, who was
Garden Seeds, had promised what he could perform, she
doubted, but so long as Henry mistook them for the county
families when they did call, she was content.
Charles and Albert Fussell now crossed the lawn. They
were going for a morning dip, and a servant followed them
with their bathing-dresses. She had meant to take a stroll
herself before breakfast, but saw that the day was still
sacred to men, and amused herself by watching their
contretemps. In the first place the key of the bathing-shed
could not be found. Charles stood by the riverside with
folded hands, tragical, while the servant shouted, and was
misunderstood by another servant in the garden. Then came a
difficulty about a spring-board, and soon three people were
running backwards and forwards over the meadow, with orders
and counter orders and recriminations and apologies. If
Margaret wanted to jump from a motor-car, she jumped; if
Tibby thought paddling would benefit his ankles, he paddled;
if a clerk desired adventure, he took a walk in the dark.
But these athletes seemed paralysed. They could not bathe
without their appliances, though the morning sun was calling
and the last mists were rising from the dimpling stream.
Had they found the life of the body after all? Could not
the men whom they despised as milksops beat them, even on
their own ground?
She thought of the bathing arrangements as they should
be in her day--no worrying of servants, no appliances,
beyond good sense. Her reflections were disturbed by the
quiet child, who had come out to speak to the cat, but was
now watching her watch the men. She called, "Good-morning,
dear," a little sharply. Her voice spread consternation.
Charles looked round, and though completely attired in
indigo blue, vanished into the shed, and was seen no more.
"Miss Wilcox is up--" the child whispered, and then
It sounded like, "--cut-yoke--sack back--"
"I can't hear."
"--On the bed--tissue-paper--"
Gathering that the wedding-dress was on view, and that a
visit would be seemly, she went to Evie's room. All was
hilarity here. Evie, in a petticoat, was dancing with one
of the Anglo-Indian ladies, while the other was adoring
yards of white satin. They screamed, they laughed, they
sang, and the dog barked.
Margaret screamed a little too, but without conviction.
She could not feel that a wedding was so funny. Perhaps
something was missing in her equipment.
Evie gasped: "Dolly is a rotter not to be here! Oh, we
would rag just then!" Then Margaret went down to breakfast.
Henry was already installed; he ate slowly and spoke
little, and was, in Margaret's eyes, the only member of
their party who dodged emotion successfully. She could not
suppose him indifferent either to the loss of his daughter
or to the presence of his future wife. Yet he dwelt intact,
only issuing orders occasionally--orders that promoted the
comfort of his guests. He inquired after her hand; he set
her to pour out the coffee and Mrs. Warrington to pour out
the tea. When Evie came down there was a moment's
awkwardness, and both ladies rose to vacate their places.
"Burton," called Henry, "serve tea and coffee from the
side-board!" It wasn't genuine tact, but it was tact, of a
sort--the sort that is as useful as the genuine, and saves
even more situations at Board meetings. Henry treated a
marriage like a funeral, item by item, never raising his
eyes to the whole, and "Death, where is thy sting? Love,
where is thy victory?" one would exclaim at the close.
After breakfast she claimed a few words with him. It
was always best to approach him formally. She asked for the
interview, because he was going on to shoot grouse tomorrow,
and she was returning to Helen in town.
"Certainly, dear," said he. "Of course, I have the
time. What do you want?"
"I was afraid something had gone wrong."
"No; I have nothing to say, but you may talk."
Glancing at his watch, he talked of the nasty curve at
the lych-gate. She heard him with interest. Her surface
could always respond to his without contempt, though all her
deeper being might be yearning to help him. She had
abandoned any plan of action. Love is the best, and the
more she let herself love him, the more chance was there
that he would set his soul in order. Such a moment as this,
when they sat under fair weather by the walks of their
future home, was so sweet to her that its sweetness would
surely pierce to him. Each lift of his eyes, each parting
of the thatched lip from the clean-shaven, must prelude the
tenderness that kills the Monk and the Beast at a single
blow. Disappointed a hundred times, she still hoped. She
loved him with too clear a vision to fear his cloudiness.
Whether he droned trivialities, as today, or sprang kisses
on her in the twilight, she could pardon him, she could respond.
"If there is this nasty curve," she suggested, "couldn't
we walk to the church? Not, of course, you and Evie; but
the rest of us might very well go on first, and that would
mean fewer carriages."
"One can't have ladies walking through the Market
Square. The Fussells wouldn't like it; they were awfully
particular at Charles's wedding. My--she--one of our party
was anxious to walk, and certainly the church was just round
the corner, and I shouldn't have minded; but the Colonel
made a great point of it."
"You men shouldn't be so chivalrous," said Margaret thoughtfully.
She knew why not, but said that she did not know.
He then announced that, unless she had anything special
to say, he must visit the wine-cellar, and they went off
together in search of Burton. Though clumsy and a little
inconvenient, Oniton was a genuine country house. They
clattered down flagged passages, looking into room after
room, and scaring unknown maids from the performance of
obscure duties. The wedding-breakfast must be in readiness
when they came back from church, and tea would be served in
the garden. The sight of so many agitated and serious
people made Margaret smile, but she reflected that they were
paid to be serious, and enjoyed being agitated. Here were
the lower wheels of the machine that was tossing Evie up
into nuptial glory. A little boy blocked their way with
pig-tails. His mind could not grasp their greatness, and he
said: "By your leave; let me pass, please." Henry asked him
where Burton was. But the servants were so new that they
did not know one another's names. In the still-room sat the
band, who had stipulated for champagne as part of their fee,
and who were already drinking beer. Scents of Araby came
from the kitchen, mingled with cries. Margaret knew what
had happened there, for it happened at Wickham Place. One
of the wedding dishes had boiled over, and the cook was
throwing cedar-shavings to hide the smell. At last they
came upon the butler. Henry gave him the keys, and handed
Margaret down the cellar-stairs. Two doors were unlocked.
She, who kept all her wine at the bottom of the
linen-cupboard, was astonished at the sight. "We shall
never get through it!" she cried, and the two men were
suddenly drawn into brotherhood, and exchanged smiles. She
felt as if she had again jumped out of the car while it was moving.
Certainly Oniton would take some digesting. It would be
no small business to remain herself, and yet to assimilate
such an establishment. She must remain herself, for his
sake as well as her own, since a shadowy wife degrades the
husband whom she accompanies; and she must assimilate for
reasons of common honesty, since she had no right to marry a
man and make him uncomfortable. Her only ally was the power
of Home. The loss of Wickham Place had taught her more than
its possession. Howards End had repeated the lesson. She
was determined to create new sanctities among these hills.
After visiting the wine-cellar, she dressed, and then
came the wedding, which seemed a small affair when compared
with the preparations for it. Everything went like one
o'clock. Mr. Cahill materialized out of space, and was
waiting for his bride at the church door. No one dropped
the ring or mispronounced the responses, or trod on Evie's
train, or cried. In a few minutes--the clergymen performed
their duty, the register was signed, and they were back in
their carriages, negotiating the dangerous curve by the
lych-gate. Margaret was convinced that they had not been
married at all, and that the Norman church had been intent
all the time on other business.
There were more documents to sign at the house, and the
breakfast to eat, and then a few more people dropped in for
the garden party. There had been a great many refusals, and
after all it was not a very big affair--not as big as
Margaret's would be. She noted the dishes and the strips of
red carpet, that outwardly she might give Henry what was
proper. But inwardly she hoped for something better than
this blend of Sunday church and fox-hunting. If only
someone had been upset! But this wedding had gone off so
particularly well--"quite like a Durbar" in the opinion of
Lady Edser, and she thoroughly agreed with her.
So the wasted day lumbered forward, the bride and
bridegroom drove off, yelling with laughter, and for the
second time the sun retreated towards the hills of Wales.
Henry, who was more tired than he owned, came up to her in
the castle meadow, and, in tones of unusual softness, said
that he was pleased. Everything had gone off so well. She
felt that he was praising her, too, and blushed; certainly
she had done all she could with his intractable friends, and
had made a special point of kowtowing to the men. They were
breaking camp this evening: only the Warringtons and quiet
child would stay the night, and the others were already
moving towards the house to finish their packing. "I think
it did go off well," she agreed. "Since I had to jump out
of the motor, I'm thankful I lighted on my left hand. I am
so very glad about it, Henry dear; I only hope that the
guests at ours may be half as comfortable. You must all
remember that we have no practical person among us, except
my aunt, and she is not used to entertainments on a large scale."
"I know," he said gravely. "Under the circumstances, it
would be better to put everything into the hands of Harrod's
or Whiteley's, or even to go to some hotel."
"You desire a hotel?"
"Yes, because--well, I mustn't interfere with you. No
doubt you want to be married from your old home."
"My old home's falling into pieces, Henry. I only want
my new. Isn't it a perfect evening--"
"The Alexandrina isn't bad--"
"The Alexandrina," she echoed, more occupied with the
threads of smoke that were issuing from their chimneys, and
ruling the sunlit slopes with parallels of grey.
"It's off Curzon Street."
"Is it? Let's be married from off Curzon Street."
Then she turned westward, to gaze at the swirling gold.
Just where the river rounded the hill the sun caught it.
Fairyland must lie above the bend, and its precious liquid
was pouring towards them past Charles's bathing-shed. She
gazed so long that her eyes were dazzled, and when they
moved back to the house, she could not recognize the faces
of people who were coming out of it. A parlour-maid was
"Who are those people?" she asked.
"They're callers!" exclaimed Henry. "It's too late for callers."
"Perhaps they're town people who want to see the wedding
"I'm not at home yet to townees."
"Well, hide among the ruins, and if I can stop them, I will."
He thanked her.
Margaret went forward, smiling socially. She supposed
that these were unpunctual guests, who would have to be
content with vicarious civility, since Evie and Charles were
gone, Henry tired, and the others in their rooms. She
assumed the airs of a hostess; not for long. For one of the
group was Helen--Helen in her oldest clothes, and dominated
by that tense, wounding excitement that had made her a
terror in their nursery days.
"What is it?" she called. "Oh, what's wrong? Is Tibby ill?"
Helen spoke to her two companions, who fell back. Then
she bore forward furiously.
"They're starving!" she shouted. "I found them starving!"
"Who? Why have you come?"
"Oh, Helen!" moaned Margaret. "Whatever have you done now?"
"He has lost his place. He has been turned out of his
bank. Yes, he's done for. We upper classes have ruined
him, and I suppose you'll tell me it's the battle of life.
Starving. His wife is ill. Starving. She fainted in the train."
"Helen, are you mad?"
"Perhaps. Yes. If you like, I'm mad. But I've brought
them. I'll stand injustice no longer. I'll show up the
wretchedness that lies under this luxury, this talk of
impersonal forces, this cant about God doing what we're too
slack to do ourselves."
"Have you actually brought two starving people from
London to Shropshire, Helen?"
Helen was checked. She had not thought of this, and her
hysteria abated. "There was a restaurant car on the train,"
"Don't be absurd. They aren't starving, and you know
it. Now, begin from the beginning. I won't have such
theatrical nonsense. How dare you! Yes, how dare you!" she
repeated, as anger filled her, "bursting in to Evie's
wedding in this heartless way. My goodness! but you've a
perverted notion of philanthropy. Look"--she indicated the
house--"servants, people out of the windows. They think
it's some vulgar scandal, and I must explain, 'Oh no, it's
only my sister screaming, and only two hangers-on of ours,
whom she has brought here for no conceivable reason.'"
"Kindly take back that word 'hangers-on,'" said Helen,
"Very well," conceded Margaret, who for all her wrath
was determined to avoid a real quarrel. "I, too, am sorry
about them, but it beats me why you've brought them here, or
why you're here yourself.
"It's our last chance of seeing Mr. Wilcox."
Margaret moved towards the house at this. She was
determined not to worry Henry.
"He's going to Scotland. I know he is. I insist on
"I knew it was our last chance."
"How do you do, Mr. Bast?" said Margaret, trying to
control her voice. "This is an odd business. What view do
you take of it?"
"There is Mrs. Bast, too," prompted Helen.
Jacky also shook hands. She, like her husband, was shy,
and, furthermore, ill, and furthermore, so bestially stupid
that she could not grasp what was happening. She only knew
that the lady had swept down like a whirlwind last night,
had paid the rent, redeemed the furniture, provided them
with a dinner and breakfast, and ordered them to meet her at
Paddington next morning. Leonard had feebly protested, and
when the morning came, had suggested that they shouldn't
go. But she, half mesmerized, had obeyed. The lady had
told them to, and they must, and their bed-sitting-room had
accordingly changed into Paddington, and Paddington into a
railway carriage, that shook, and grew hot, and grew cold,
and vanished entirely, and reappeared amid torrents of
expensive scent. "You have fainted," said the lady in an
awe-struck voice. "Perhaps the air will do you good." And
perhaps it had, for here she was, feeling rather better
among a lot of flowers.
"I'm sure I don't want to intrude," began Leonard, in
answer to Margaret's question. "But you have been so kind
to me in the past in warning me about the Porphyrion that I
wondered--why, I wondered whether--"
"Whether we could get him back into the Porphyrion
again," supplied Helen. "Meg, this has been a cheerful
business. A bright evening's work that was on Chelsea Embankment."
Margaret shook her head and returned to Mr. Bast.
"I don't understand. You left the Porphyrion because we
suggested it was a bad concern, didn't you?"
"And went into a bank instead?"
"I told you all that," said Helen; "and they reduced
their staff after he had been in a month, and now he's
penniless, and I consider that we and our informant are
directly to blame."
"I hate all this," Leonard muttered.
"I hope you do, Mr. Bast. But it's no good mincing
matters. You have done yourself no good by coming here. If
you intend to confront Mr. Wilcox, and to call him to
account for a chance remark, you will make a very great mistake."
"I brought them. I did it all," cried Helen.
"I can only advise you to go at once. My sister has put
you in a false position, and it is kindest to tell you so.
It's too late to get to town, but you'll find a comfortable
hotel in Oniton, where Mrs. Bast can rest, and I hope you'll
be my guests there."
"That isn't what I want, Miss Schlegel," said Leonard.
"You're very kind, and no doubt it's a false position, but
you make me miserable. I seem no good at all."
"It's work he wants," interpreted Helen. "Can't you see?"
Then he said: "Jacky, let's go. We're more bother than
we're worth. We're costing these ladies pounds and pounds
already to get work for us, and they never will. There's
nothing we're good enough to do."
"We would like to find you work," said Margaret rather
conventionally. "We want to--I, like my sister. You're
only down in your luck. Go to the hotel, have a good
night's rest, and some day you shall pay me back the bill,
if you prefer it."
But Leonard was near the abyss, and at such moments men
see clearly. "You don't know what you're talking about," he
said. "I shall never get work now. If rich people fail at
one profession, they can try another. Not I. I had my
groove, and I've got out of it. I could do one particular
branch of insurance in one particular office well enough to
command a salary, but that's all. Poetry's nothing, Miss
Schlegel. One's thoughts about this and that are nothing.
Your money, too, is nothing, if you'll understand me. I
mean if a man over twenty once loses his own particular job,
it's all over with him. I have seen it happen to others.
Their friends gave them money for a little, but in the end
they fall over the edge. It's no good. It's the whole
world pulling. There always will be rich and poor."
"Won't you have something to eat?" said Margaret. "I
don't know what to do. It isn't my house, and though Mr.
Wilcox would have been glad to see you at any other time--as
I say, I don't know what to do, but I undertake to do what I
can for you. Helen, offer them something. Do try a
sandwich, Mrs. Bast."
They moved to a long table behind which a servant was
still standing. Iced cakes, sandwiches innumerable, coffee,
claret-cup, champagne, remained almost intact: their overfed
guests could do no more. Leonard refused. Jacky thought
she could manage a little. Margaret left them whispering
together and had a few more words with Helen.
She said: "Helen, I like Mr. Bast. I agree that he's
worth helping. I agree that we are directly responsible."
"No, indirectly. Via Mr. Wilcox."
"Let me tell you once for all that if you take up that
attitude, I'll do nothing. No doubt you're right logically,
and are entitled to say a great many scathing things about
Henry. Only, I won't have it. So choose.
Helen looked at the sunset.
"If you promise to take them quietly to the George, I
will speak to Henry about them--in my own way, mind; there
is to be none of this absurd screaming about justice. I
have no use for justice. If it was only a question of
money, we could do it ourselves. But he wants work, and
that we can't give him, but possibly Henry can."
"It's his duty to," grumbled Helen.
"Nor am I concerned with duty. I'm concerned with the
characters of various people whom we know, and how, things
being as they are, things may be made a little better. Mr.