Part 2 out of 8
"I've been to that classical concert I told you about," said
"I came back as soon as it was over."
"Any one been round to our place?" asked Jacky.
"Not that I've seen. I met Mr. Cunningham outside, and we passed
a few remarks."
"What, not Mr. Cunningham?"
"Oh, you mean Mr. Cunningham."
"Yes. Mr. Cunningham."
"I've been out to tea at a lady friend's."
Her secret being at last given--to the world, and the name of the
lady friend being even adumbrated, Jacky made no further
experiments in the difficult and tiring art of conversation. She
never had been a great talker. Even in her photographic days she
had relied upon her smile and her figure to attract, and now
that she was
"On the shelf,
On the shelf,
Boys, boys, I'm on the shelf,"
she was not likely to find her tongue. Occasional bursts of song
(of which the above is an example) still issued from her lips,
but the spoken word was rare.
She sat down on Leonard's knee, and began to fondle him. She was
now a massive woman of thirty-three, and her weight hurt him, but
he could not very well say anything. Then she said, "Is that a
book you're reading?" and he said, "That's a book," and drew it
from her unreluctant grasp. Margaret's card fell out of it. It
fell face downwards, and he murmured, "Bookmarker."
"What is it?" he asked, a little wearily, for she only had one
topic of conversation when she sat upon his knee.
"You do love me?"
"Jacky, you know that I do. How can you ask such questions!"
"But you do love me, Len, don't you?"
"Of course I do."
A pause. The other remark was still due.
"Well? What is it?"
"Len, you will make it all right?"
"I can't have you ask me that again," said the boy, flaring up
into a sudden passion. "I've promised to marry you when I'm of
age, and that's enough. My word's my word. I've promised to marry
you as soon as ever I'm twenty-one, and I can't keep on being
worried. I've worries enough. It isn't likely I'd throw you over,
let alone my word, when I've spent all this money. Besides, I'm
an Englishman, and I never go back on my word. Jacky, do be
reasonable. Of course I'll marry you. Only do stop badgering me."
"When's your birthday, Len?"
"I've told you again and again, the eleventh of November next.
Now get off my knee a bit; some one must get supper, I suppose."
Jacky went through to the bedroom, and began to see to her hat.
This meant blowing at it with short sharp puffs. Leonard tidied
up the sitting-room, and began to prepare their evening meal. He
put a penny into the slot of the gas-meter, and soon the flat was
reeking with metallic fumes. Somehow he could not recover his
temper, and all the time he was cooking he continued to complain
"It really is too bad when a fellow isn't trusted. It makes one
feel so wild, when I've pretended to the people here that you're
my wife--all right, all right, you SHALL be my wife--and I've
bought you the ring to wear, and I've taken this flat furnished,
and it's far more than I can afford, and yet you aren't content,
and I've also not told the truth when I've written home. He
lowered his voice. "He'd stop it." In a tone of horror, that was
a little luxurious, he repeated: "My brother'd stop it. I'm going
against the whole world, Jacky.
"That's what I am, Jacky. I don't take any heed of what any one
says. I just go straight forward, I do. That's always been my
way. I'm not one of your weak knock-kneed chaps. If a woman's in
trouble, I don't leave her in the lurch. That's not my street.
No, thank you.
"I'll tell you another thing too. I care a good deal about
improving myself by means of Literature and Art, and so getting a
wider outlook. For instance, when you came in I was reading
Ruskin's Stones of Venice. I don't say this to boast, but just to
show you the kind of man I am. I can tell you, I enjoyed that
classical concert this afternoon."
To all his moods Jacky remained equally indifferent. When supper
was ready--and not before--she emerged from the bedroom, saying:
"But you do love me, don't you?"
They began with a soup square, which Leonard had just dissolved
in some hot water. It was followed by the tongue--a freckled
cylinder of meat, with a little jelly at the top, and a great
deal of yellow fat at the bottom--ending with another square
dissolved in water (jelly: pineapple), which Leonard had prepared
earlier in the day. Jacky ate contentedly enough, occasionally
looking at her man with those anxious eyes, to which nothing else
in her appearance corresponded, and which yet seemed to mirror
her soul. And Leonard managed to convince his stomach that it was
having a nourishing meal.
After supper they smoked cigarettes and exchanged a few
statements. She observed that her "likeness" had been broken. He
found occasion to remark, for the second time, that he had come
straight back home after the concert at Queen's Hall. Presently
she sat upon his knee. The inhabitants of Camelia Road tramped to
and fro outside the window, just on a level with their heads, and
the family in the flat on the ground-floor began to sing, "Hark,
my soul, it is the Lord."
"That tune fairly gives me the hump," said Leonard.
Jacky followed this, and said that, for her part, she thought it
a lovely tune.
"No; I'll play you something lovely. Get up, dear, for a minute."
He went to the piano and jingled out a little Grieg. He played
badly and vulgarly, but the performance was not without its
effect, for Jacky said she thought she'd be going to bed. As she
receded, a new set of interests possessed the boy, and he began
to think of what had been said about music by that odd Miss
Schlegel--the one that twisted her face about so when she spoke.
Then the thoughts grew sad and envious. There was the girl named
Helen, who had pinched his umbrella, and the German girl who had
smiled at him pleasantly, and Herr some one, and Aunt some one,
and the brother--all, all with their hands on the ropes. They had
all passed up that narrow, rich staircase at Wickham Place to
some ample room, whither he could never follow them, not if he
read for ten hours a day. Oh, it was no good, this continual
aspiration. Some are born cultured; the rest had better go in for
whatever comes easy. To see life steadily and to see it whole was
not for the likes of him.
From the darkness beyond the kitchen a voice called, Len?"
"You in bed?" he asked, his forehead twitching.
Presently she called him again.
"I must clean my boots ready for the morning," he answered.
Presently she called him again.
"I rather want to get this chapter done."
He closed his ears against her.
"All right, Jacky, nothing; I'm reading a book."
"What?" he answered, catching her degraded deafness.
Presently she called him again.
Ruskin had visited Torcello by this time, and was ordering his
gondoliers to take him to Murano. It occurred to him, as he
glided over the whispering lagoons, that the power of Nature
could not be shortened by the folly, nor her beauty altogether
saddened by the misery of such as Leonard.
"Oh, Margaret," cried her aunt next morning, "such a most
unfortunate thing has happened. I could not get you alone."
The most unfortunate thing was not very serious. One of the flats
in the ornate block opposite had been taken furnished by the
Wilcox family, "coming up, no doubt, in the hope of getting into
London society." That Mrs. Munt should be the first to discover
the misfortune was not remarkable, for she was so interested in
the flats, that she watched their every mutation with unwearying
care. In theory she despised them--they took away that old-world
look--they cut off the sun--flats house a flashy type of person.
But if the truth had been known, she found her visits to Wickham
Place twice as amusing since Wickham Mansions had arisen, and
would in a couple of days learn more about them than her nieces
in a couple of months, or her nephew in a couple of years. She
would stroll across and make friends with the porters, and
inquire what the rents were, exclaiming for example: "What! a
hundred and twenty for a basement? You'll never get it!" And they
would answer: "One can but try, madam." The passenger lifts, the
arrangement for coals (a great temptation for a dishonest
porter), were all familiar matters to her, and perhaps a relief
from the politico-economical-esthetic atmosphere that reigned at
Margaret received the information calmly, and did not agree that
it would throw a cloud over poor Helen's life.
"Oh, but Helen isn't a girl with no interests," she explained.
"She has plenty of other things and other people to think about.
She made a false start with the Wilcoxes, and she'll be as
willing as we are to have nothing more to do with them."
"For a clever girl, dear, how very oddly you do talk. Helen'll
HAVE to have something more to do with them, now that they 're
all opposite. She may meet that Paul in the street. She cannot
very well not bow."
"Of course she must bow. But look here; let's do the flowers. I
was going to say, the will to be interested in him has died, and
what else matters? I look on that disastrous episode (over which
you were so kind) as the killing of a nerve in Helen. It's dead,
and she'll never be troubled with it again. The only things that
matter are the things that interest one. Bowing, even calling and
leaving cards, even a dinner-party--we can do all those things to
the Wilcoxes, if they find it agreeable; but the other thing, the
one important thing--never again. Don't you see?"
Mrs. Munt did not see, and indeed Margaret was making a most
questionable statement--that any emotion, any interest once
vividly aroused, can wholly die.
"I also have the honour to inform you that the Wilcoxes are bored
with us. I didn't tell you at the time--it might have made you
angry, and you had enough to worry you--but I wrote a letter to
Mrs. W, and apologised for the trouble that Helen had given them.
She didn't answer it."
"How very rude!"
"I wonder. Or was it sensible?"
"No, Margaret, most rude."
"In either case one can class it as reassuring."
Mrs. Munt sighed. She was going back to Swanage on the morrow,
just as her nieces were wanting her most. Other regrets crowded
upon her: for instance, how magnificently she would have cut
Charles if she had met him face to face. She had already seen
him, giving an order to the porter--and very common he looked in
a tall hat. But unfortunately his back was turned to her, and
though she had cut his back, she could not regard this as a
"But you will be careful, won't you?" she exhorted.
"Oh, certainly. Fiendishly careful."
"And Helen must be careful, too."
"Careful over what?" cried Helen, at that moment coming into the
room with her cousin.
"Nothing" said Margaret, seized with a momentary awkwardness.
"Careful over what, Aunt Juley?"
Mrs. Munt assumed a cryptic air. "It is only that a certain
family, whom we know by name but do not mention, as you said
yourself last night after the concert, have taken the flat
opposite from the Mathesons--where the plants are in the
Helen began some laughing reply, and then disconcerted them all
by blushing. Mrs. Munt was so disconcerted that she exclaimed,
"What, Helen, you don't mind them coming, do you?" and deepened
the blush to crimson.
"Of course I don't mind," said Helen a little crossly. "It is
that you and Meg are both so absurdly grave about it, when
there's nothing to be grave about at all."
"I'm not grave," protested Margaret, a little cross in her turn.
"Well, you look grave; doesn't she, Frieda?"
"I don't feel grave, that's all I can say; you're going quite on
the wrong tack."
"No, she does not feel grave," echoed Mrs. Munt. "I can bear
witness to that. She disagrees--"
"Hark!" interrupted Fraulein Mosebach. "I hear Bruno entering the
For Herr Liesecke was due at Wickham Place to call for the two
younger girls. He was not entering the hall--in fact, he did not
enter it for quite five minutes. But Frieda detected a delicate
situation, and said that she and Helen had much better wait for
Bruno down below, and leave Margaret and Mrs. Munt to finish
arranging the flowers. Helen acquiesced. But, as if to prove that
the situation was not delicate really, she stopped in the doorway
"Did you say the Mathesons' flat, Aunt Juley? How wonderful you
are! I never knew that the name of the woman who laced too
tightly was Matheson."
"Come, Helen," said her cousin.
"Go, Helen," said her aunt; and continued to Margaret almost in
the same breath: "Helen cannot deceive me. She does mind."
"Oh, hush!" breathed Margaret. "Frieda'll hear you, and she can
be so tiresome."
"She minds," persisted Mrs. Munt, moving thoughtfully about the
room, and pulling the dead chrysanthemums out of the vases. "I
knew she'd mind--and I'm sure a girl ought to! Such an
experience! Such awful coarse-grained people! I know more about
them than you do, which you forget, and if Charles had taken you
that motor drive--well, you'd have reached the house a perfect
wreck. Oh, Margaret, you don't know what you are in for! They're
all bottled up against the drawing-room window. There's Mrs.
Wilcox--I've seen her. There's Paul. There's Evie, who is a minx.
There's Charles--I saw him to start with. And who would an
elderly man with a moustache and a copper-coloured face be?"
"Mr. Wilcox, possibly."
"I knew it. And there's Mr. Wilcox."
"It's a shame to call his face copper colour," complained
Margaret. "He has a remarkably good complexion for a man of his
Mrs. Munt, triumphant elsewhere, could afford to concede Mr.
Wilcox his complexion. She passed on from it to the plan of
campaign that her nieces should pursue in the future. Margaret
tried to stop her.
"Helen did not take the news quite as I expected, but the Wilcox
nerve is dead in her really, so there's no need for plans."
"It's as well to be prepared."
"No--it's as well not to be prepared."
Her thought drew being from the obscure borderland. She could not
explain in so many words, but she felt that those who prepare for
all the emergencies of life beforehand may equip themselves at
the expense of joy. It is necessary to prepare for an
examination, or a dinner-party, or a possible fall in the price
of stock: those who attempt human relations must adopt another
method, or fail. "Because I'd sooner risk it," was her lame
"But imagine the evenings," exclaimed her aunt, pointing to the
Mansions with the spout of the watering can. "Turn the electric
light on here or there, and it's almost the same room. One
evening they may forget to draw their blinds down, and you'll see
them; and the next, you yours, and they'll see you. Impossible to
sit out on the balconies. Impossible to water the plants, or even
speak. Imagine going out of the front-door, and they come out
opposite at the same moment. And yet you tell me that plans are
unnecessary, and you'd rather risk it."
"I hope to risk things all my life."
"Oh, Margaret, most dangerous."
"But after all," she continued with a smile, "there's never any
great risk as long as you have money."
"Oh, shame! What a shocking speech!"
"Money pads the edges of things," said Miss Schlegel. "God help
those who have none."
"But this is something quite new!" said Mrs. Munt, who collected
new ideas as a squirrel collects nuts, and was especially
attracted by those that are portable.
"New for me; sensible people have acknowledged it for years. You
and I and the Wilcoxes stand upon money as upon islands. It is so
firm beneath our feet that we forget its very existence. It's
only when we see some one near us tottering that we realise all
that an independent income means. Last night, when we were
talking up here round the fire, I began to think that the very
soul of the world is economic, and that the lowest abyss is not
the absence of love, but the absence of coin."
"I call that rather cynical."
"So do I. But Helen and I, we ought to remember, when we are
tempted to criticise others, that we are standing on these
islands, and that most of the others are down below the surface
of the sea. The poor cannot always reach those whom they want to
love, and they can hardly ever escape from those whom they love
no longer. We rich can. Imagine the tragedy last June, if Helen
and Paul Wilcox had been poor people, and couldn't invoke
railways and motor-cars to part them."
"That's more like Socialism," said Mrs. Munt suspiciously.
"Call it what you like. I call it going through life with one's
hand spread open on the table. I'm tired of these rich people who
pretend to be poor, and think it shows a nice mind to ignore the
piles of money that keep their feet above the waves. I stand each
year upon six hundred pounds, and Helen upon the same, and Tibby
will stand upon eight, and as fast as our pounds crumble away
into the sea they are renewed--from the sea, yes, from the sea.
And all our thoughts are the thoughts of six-hundred-pounders,
and all our speeches; and because we don't want to steal
umbrellas ourselves, we forget that below the sea people do want
to steal them and do steal them sometimes, and that what's a joke
up here is down there reality."
"There they go--there goes Fraulein Mosebach. Really, for a
German she does dress charmingly. Oh!--"
"What is it?"
"Helen was looking up at the Wilcoxes' flat."
"Why shouldn't she?"
"I beg your pardon, I interrupted you. What was it you were
saying about reality?"
"I had worked round to myself, as usual," answered Margaret in
tones that were suddenly preoccupied.
"Do tell me this, at all events. Are you for the rich or for the
"Too difficult. Ask me another. Am I for poverty or for riches?
For riches. Hurrah for riches!"
"For riches!" echoed Mrs. Munt, having, as it were, at last
secured her nut.
"Yes. For riches. Money for ever!"
"So am I, and so, I am afraid, are most of my acquaintances at
Swanage, but I am surprised that you agree with us."
"Thank you so much, Aunt Juley. While I have talked theories, you
have done the flowers."
"Not at all, dear. I wish you would let me help you in more
"Well, would you be very kind? Would you come round with me to
the registry office? There's a housemaid who won't say yes but
doesn't say no."
On their way thither they too looked up at the Wilcoxes' flat.
Evie was in the balcony, "staring most rudely," according to Mrs.
Munt. Oh yes, it was a nuisance, there was no doubt of it. Helen
was proof against a passing encounter, but--Margaret began to
lose confidence. Might it reawake the dying nerve if the family
were living close against her eyes? And Frieda Mosebach was
stopping with them for another fortnight, and Frieda was sharp,
abominably sharp, and quite capable of remarking, "You love one
of the young gentlemen opposite, yes?" The remark would be
untrue, but of the kind which, if stated often enough, may become
true; just as the remark, "England and Germany are bound to
fight," renders war a little more likely each time that it is
made, and is therefore made the more readily by the gutter press
of either nation. Have the private emotions also their gutter
press? Margaret thought so, and feared that good Aunt Juley and
Frieda were typical specimens of it. They might, by continual
chatter, lead Helen into a repetition of the desires of June.
Into a repetition--they could not do more; they could not lead
her into lasting love. They were--she saw it clearly--Journalism;
her father, with all his defects and wrong-headedness, had been
Literature, and had he lived, he would have persuaded his
The registry office was holding its morning reception. A string
of carriages filled the street. Miss Schlegel waited her turn,
and finally had to be content with an insidious "temporary,"
being rejected by genuine housemaids on the ground of her
numerous stairs. Her failure depressed her, and though she forgot
the failure, the depression remained. On her way home she again
glanced up at the Wilcoxes' flat, and took the rather matronly
step of speaking about the matter to Helen.
"Helen, you must tell me whether this thing worries you."
"If what?" said Helen, who was washing her hands for lunch.
"The Ws' coming."
"No, of course not."
"Really." Then she admitted that she was a little worried on Mrs.
Wilcox's account; she implied that Mrs. Wilcox might reach
backward into deep feelings, and be pained by things that never
touched the other members of that clan. "I shan't mind if Paul
points at our house and says, 'There lives the girl who tried to
catch me.' But she might."
"If even that worries you, we could arrange something. There's no
reason we should be near people who displease us or whom we
displease, thanks to our money. We might even go away for a
"Well, I am going away. Frieda's just asked me to Stettin, and I
shan't be back till after the New Year. Will that do? Or must I
fly the country altogether? Really, Meg, what has come over you
to make such a fuss?"
"Oh, I'm getting an old maid, I suppose. I thought I minded
nothing, but really I--I should be bored if you fell in love with
the same man twice and"--she cleared her throat--"you did go
red, you know, when Aunt Juley attacked you this morning. I
shouldn't have referred to it otherwise."
But Helen's laugh rang true, as she raised a soapy hand to heaven
and swore that never, nowhere and nohow, would she again fall in
love with any of the Wilcox family, down to its remotest
The friendship between Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox, which was to
develop so quickly and with such strange results, may perhaps
have had its beginnings at Speyer, in the spring. Perhaps the
elder lady, as she gazed at the vulgar, ruddy cathedral, and
listened to the talk of her husband and Helen, may have detected
in the other and less charming of the sisters a deeper sympathy,
a sounder judgment. She was capable of detecting such things.
Perhaps it was she who had desired the Miss Schlegels to be
invited to Howards End, and Margaret whose presence she had
particularly desired. All this is speculation; Mrs. Wilcox has
left few clear indications behind her. It is certain that she
came to call at Wickham Place a fortnight later, the very day
that Helen was going with her cousin to Stettin.
"Helen!" cried Fraulein Mosebach in awestruck tones (she was now
in her cousin's confidence)--"his mother has forgiven you!" And
then, remembering that in England the new-comer ought not to call
before she is called upon, she changed her tone from awe to
disapproval, and opined that Mrs. Wilcox was keine Dame.
"Bother the whole family!" snapped Margaret. "Helen, stop
giggling and pirouetting, and go and finish your packing. Why
can't the woman leave us alone?"
"I don't know what I shall do with Meg," Helen retorted,
collapsing upon the stairs. She's got Wilcox and Box upon the
brain. Meg, Meg, I don't love the young gentleman; I don't love
the young gentleman, Meg, Meg. Can a body speak plainer?"
"Most certainly her love has died," asserted Fraulein Mosebach.
"Most certainly it has, Frieda, but that will not prevent me from
being bored with the Wilcoxes if I return the call."
Then Helen simulated tears, and Fraulein Mosebach, who thought
her extremely amusing, did the same. "Oh, boo hoo! boo hoo hoo!
Meg's going to return the call, and I can't. 'Cos why? 'Cos I'm
going to German-eye."
"If you are going to Germany, go and pack; if you aren't, go and
call on the Wilcoxes instead of me."
"But, Meg, Meg, I don't love the young gentleman; I don't love
the young--O lud, who's that coming down the stairs? I vow 'tis
my brother. O crimini!"
A male--even such a male as Tibby--was enough to stop the
foolery. The barrier of sex, though decreasing among the
civilised, is still high, and higher on the side of women. Helen
could tell her sister all, and her cousin much about Paul; she
told her brother nothing. It was not prudishness, for she now
spoke of "the Wilcox ideal" with laughter, and even with a
growing brutality. Nor was it precaution, for Tibby seldom
repeated any news that did not concern himself. It was rather the
feeling that she betrayed a secret into the camp of men, and
that, however trivial it was on this side of the barrier, it
would become important on that. So she stopped, or rather began
to fool on other subjects, until her long-suffering relatives
drove her upstairs. Fraulein Mosebach followed her, but lingered
to say heavily over the banisters to Margaret, "It is all right--
she does not love the young man--he has not been worthy of her."
"Yes, I know; thanks very much."
"I thought I did right to tell you."
"Ever so many thanks."
"What's that?" asked Tibby. No one told him, and he proceeded
into the dining-room, to eat plums.
That evening Margaret took decisive action. The house was very
quiet, and the fog--we are in November now--pressed against the
windows like an excluded ghost. Frieda and Helen and all their
luggages had gone. Tibby, who was not feeling well, lay stretched
on a sofa by the fire. Margaret sat by him, thinking. Her mind
darted from impulse to impulse, and finally marshalled them all
in review. The practical person, who knows what he wants at once,
and generally knows nothing else, will accuse her of indecision.
But this was the way her mind worked. And when she did act, no
one could accuse her of indecision then. She hit out as lustily
as if she had not considered the matter at all. The letter that
she wrote Mrs. Wilcox glowed with the native hue of resolution.
The pale cast of thought was with her a breath rather than a
tarnish, a breath that leaves the colours all the more vivid when
it has been wiped away.
"DEAR MRS. WILCOX,
"I have to write something discourteous. It would be better if we
did not meet. Both my sister and my aunt have given displeasure
to your family, and, in my sister's case, the grounds for
displeasure might recur. So far as I know she no longer occupies
her thoughts with your son. But it would not be fair, either to
her or to you, if they met, and it is therefore right that our
acquaintance, which began so pleasantly, should end.
"I fear that you will not agree with this; indeed, I know that
you will not, since you have been good enough to call on us. It
is only an instinct on my part, and no doubt the instinct is
wrong. My sister would, undoubtedly, say that it is wrong. I
write without her knowledge, and I hope that you will not
associate her with my discourtesy.
"M. J. SCHLEGEL."
Margaret sent this letter round by the post. Next morning she
received the following reply by hand:
"DEAR MISS SCHLEGEL,
"You should not have written me such a letter. I called to tell
you that Paul has gone abroad.
Margaret's cheeks burnt. She could not finish her breakfast. She
was on fire with shame. Helen had told her that the youth was
leaving England, but other things had seemed more important, and
she had forgotten. All her absurd anxieties fell to the ground,
and in their place arose the certainty that she had been rude to
Mrs. Wilcox. Rudeness affected Margaret like a bitter taste in
the mouth. It poisoned life. At times it is necessary, but woe to
those who employ it without due need. She flung on a hat and
shawl, just like a poor woman, and plunged into the fog, which
still continued. Her lips were compressed, the letter remained in
her hand, and in this state she crossed the street, entered the
marble vestibule of the flats, eluded the concierges, and ran up
the stairs till she reached the second floor. She sent in her
and to her surprise was shown straight into Mrs. Wilcox's
"Oh, Mrs. Wilcox, I have made the baddest blunder. I am more,
more ashamed and sorry than I can say."
Mrs. Wilcox bowed gravely. She was offended, and did not pretend
to the contrary. She was sitting up in bed, writing letters on an
invalid table that spanned her knees. A breakfast tray was on
another table beside her. The light of the fire, the light from
the window, and the light of a candle-lamp, which threw a
quivering halo round her hands combined to create a strange
atmosphere of dissolution.
"I knew he was going to India in November, but I forgot."
"He sailed on the 17th for Nigeria, in Africa."
"I knew--I know. I have been too absurd all through. I am very
Mrs. Wilcox did not answer.
"I am more sorry than I can say, and I hope that you will forgive
"It doesn't matter, Miss Schlegel. It is good of you to have come
round so promptly."
"It does matter," cried Margaret. "I have been rude to you; and
my sister is not even at home, so there was not even that
"She has just gone to Germany."
"She gone as well," murmured the other. "Yes, certainly, it is
quite safe--safe, absolutely, now."
"You've been worrying too!" exclaimed Margaret, getting more and
more excited, and taking a chair without invitation. "How
perfectly extraordinary! I can see that you have. You felt as I
do; Helen mustn't meet him again."
"I did think it best."
"That's a most difficult question," said Mrs. Wilcox, smiling,
and a little losing her expression of annoyance. "I think you put
it best in your letter--it was an instinct, which may be wrong."
"It wasn't that your son still--"
"Oh no; he often--my Paul is very young, you see."
"Then what was it?"
She repeated: "An instinct which may be wrong."
"In other words, they belong to types that can fall in love, but
couldn't live together. That's dreadfully probable. I'm afraid
that in nine cases out of ten Nature pulls one way and human
"These are indeed 'other words,'" said Mrs. Wilcox. "I had
nothing so coherent in my head. I was merely alarmed when I knew
that my boy cared for your sister."
"Ah, I have always been wanting to ask you. How DID you know?
Helen was so surprised when our aunt drove up, and you stepped
forward and arranged things. Did Paul tell you?"
"There is nothing to be gained by discussing that," said Mrs.
Wilcox after a moment's pause.
"Mrs. Wilcox, were you very angry with us last June? I wrote you
a letter and you didn't answer it."
"I was certainly against taking Mrs. Matheson's flat. I knew it
was opposite your house."
"But it's all right now?"
"I think so."
"You only think? You aren't sure? I do love these little muddles
"Oh yes, I'm sure," said Mrs. Wilcox, moving with uneasiness
beneath the clothes. "I always sound uncertain over things. It is
my way of speaking."
"That's all right, and I'm sure, too."
Here the maid came in to remove the breakfast-tray. They were
interrupted, and when they resumed conversation it was on more
"I must say good-bye now--you will be getting up."
"No--please stop a little longer--I am taking a day in bed. Now
and then I do."
"I thought of you as one of the early risers."
"At Howards End--yes; there is nothing to get up for in London."
"Nothing to get up for?" cried the scandalised Margaret. "When
there are all the autumn exhibitions, and Ysaye playing in the
afternoon! Not to mention people."
"The truth is, I am a little tired. First came the wedding, and
then Paul went off, and, instead of resting yesterday, I paid a
round of calls."
"Yes; Charles, my elder son, is married."
"We took the flat chiefly on that account, and also that Paul
could get his African outfit. The flat belongs to a cousin of my
husband's, and she most kindly offered it to us. So before the
day came we were able to make the acquaintance of Dolly's people,
which we had not yet done."
Margaret asked who Dolly's people were.
"Fussell. The father is in the Indian army--retired; the brother
is in the army. The mother is dead."
So perhaps these were the "chinless sunburnt men" whom Helen had
espied one afternoon through the window. Margaret felt mildly
interested in the fortunes of the Wilcox family. She had acquired
the habit on Helen's account, and it still clung to her. She
asked for more information about Miss Dolly Fussell that was, and
was given it in even, unemotional tones. Mrs. Wilcox's voice,
though sweet and compelling, had little range of expression. It
suggested that pictures, concerts, and people are all of small
and equal value. Only once had it quickened--when speaking of
"Charles and Albert Fussell have known one another some time.
They belong to the same club, and are both devoted to golf. Dolly
plays golf too, though I believe not so well; and they first met
in a mixed foursome. We all like her, and are very much pleased.
They were married on the 11th, a few days before Paul sailed.
Charles was very anxious to have his brother as best man, so he
made a great point of having it on the 11th. The Fussells would
have preferred it after Christmas, but they were very nice about
it. There is Dolly's photograph--in that double frame."
"Are you quite certain that I'm not interrupting, Mrs. Wilcox?"
"Then I will stay. I'm enjoying this."
Dolly's photograph was now examined. It was signed "For dear
Mims," which Mrs. Wilcox interpreted as "the name she and Charles
had settled that she should call me." Dolly looked silly, and had
one of those triangular faces that so often prove attractive to a
robust man. She was very pretty. From her Margaret passed to
Charles, whose features prevailed opposite. She speculated on the
forces that had drawn the two together till God parted them. She
found time to hope that they would be happy.
"They have gone to Naples for their honeymoon."
"I can hardly imagine Charles in Italy."
"Doesn't he care for travelling?"
"He likes travel, but he does see through foreigners so. What he
enjoys most is a motor tour in England, and I think that would
have carried the day if the weather had not been so abominable.
His father gave him a car for a wedding present, which for the
present is being stored at Howards End."
"I suppose you have a garage there?"
"Yes. My husband built a little one only last month, to the west
of the house, not far from the wych-elm, in what used to be the
paddock for the pony."
The last words had an indescribable ring about them.
"Where's the pony gone?" asked Margaret after a pause.
"The pony? Oh, dead, ever so long ago."
"The wych-elm I remember. Helen spoke of it as a very splendid
"It is the finest wych-elm in Hertfordshire. Did your sister tell
you about the teeth?"
"Oh, it might interest you. There are pigs' teeth stuck into the
trunk, about four feet from the ground. The country people put
them in long ago, and they think that if they chew a piece of the
bark, it will cure the toothache. The teeth are almost grown over
now, and no one comes to the tree."
"I should. I love folklore and all festering superstitions."
"Do you think that the tree really did cure toothache, if one
believed in it?"
"Of course it did. It would cure anything--once."
"Certainly I remember cases--you see I lived at Howards End long,
long before Mr. Wilcox knew it. I was born there."
The conversation again shifted. At the time it seemed little more
than aimless chatter. She was interested when her hostess
explained that Howards End was her own property. She was bored
when too minute an account was given of the Fussell family, of
the anxieties of Charles concerning Naples, of the movements of
Mr. Wilcox and Evie, who were motoring in Yorkshire. Margaret
could not bear being bored. She grew inattentive, played with the
photograph frame, dropped it, smashed Dolly's glass, apologised,
was pardoned, cut her finger thereon, was pitied, and finally
said she must be going--there was all the housekeeping to do, and
she had to interview Tibby's riding-master.
Then the curious note was struck again.
"Good-bye, Miss Schlegel, good-bye. Thank you for coming. You
have cheered me up."
"I'm so glad!"
"I--I wonder whether you ever think about yourself?"
"I think of nothing else," said Margaret, blushing, but letting
her hand remain in that of the invalid.
"I wonder. I wondered at Heidelberg."
"I almost think--"
"Yes?" asked Margaret, for there was a long pause--a pause that
was somehow akin to the flicker of the fire, the quiver of the
reading-lamp upon their hands, the white blur from the window; a
pause of shifting and eternal shadows.
"I almost think you forget you're a girl."
Margaret was startled and a little annoyed. "I'm twenty-nine,"
she remarked. "That's not so wildly girlish."
Mrs. Wilcox smiled.
"What makes you say that? Do you mean that I have been gauche and
A shake of the head. "I only meant that I am fifty-one, and that
to me both of you-- Read it all in some book or other; I cannot
put things clearly."
"Oh, I've got it--inexperience. I'm no better than Helen, you
mean, and yet I presume to advise her."
"Yes. You have got it. Inexperience is the word."
"Inexperience," repeated Margaret, in serious yet buoyant tones.
"Of course, I have everything to learn--absolutely everything
--just as much as Helen. Life's very difficult and full of
surprises. At all events, I've got as far as that. To be humble
and kind, to go straight ahead, to love people rather than pity
them, to remember the submerged--well, one can't do all these
things at once, worse luck, because they're so contradictory.
It's then that proportion comes in--to live by proportion. Don't
BEGIN with proportion. Only prigs do that. Let proportion come in
as a last resource, when the better things have failed, and a
deadlock-- Gracious me, I've started preaching!"
"Indeed, you put the difficulties of life splendidly," said Mrs.
Wilcox, withdrawing her hand into the deeper shadows. "It is just
what I should have liked to say about them myself."
Mrs. Wilcox cannot be accused of giving Margaret much information
about life. And Margaret, on the other hand, has made a fair show
of modesty, and has pretended to an inexperience that she
certainly did not feel. She had kept house for over ten years;
she had entertained, almost with distinction; she had brought up
a charming sister, and was bringing up a brother. Surely, if
experience is attainable, she had attained it. Yet the little
luncheon-party that she gave in Mrs. Wilcox's honour was not a
success. The new friend did not blend with the "one or two
delightful people" who had been asked to meet her, and the
atmosphere was one of polite bewilderment. Her tastes were
simple, her knowledge of culture slight, and she was not
interested in the New English Art Club, nor in the dividing-line
between Journalism and Literature, which was started as a
conversational hare. The delightful people darted after it with
cries of joy, Margaret leading them, and not till the meal was
half over did they realise that the principal guest had taken no
part in the chase. There was no common topic. Mrs. Wilcox, whose
life had been spent in the service of husband and sons, had
little to say to strangers who had never shared it, and whose age
was half her own. Clever talk alarmed her, and withered her
delicate imaginings; it was the social counterpart of a motor-
car, all jerks, and she was a wisp of hay, a flower. Twice she
deplored the weather, twice criticised the train service on the
Great Northern Railway. They vigorously assented, and rushed on,
and when she inquired whether there was any news of Helen, her
hostess was toomuch occupied in placing Rothenstein to answer.
The question was repeated: "I hope that your sister is safe in
Germany by now." Margaret checked herself and said, "Yes, thank
you; I heard on Tuesday." But the demon of vociferation was in
her, and the nextmoment she was off again.
"Only on Tuesday, for they live right away at Stettin. Did you
ever know any one living at Stettin?"
"Never," said Mrs. Wilcox gravely, while her neighbour, a young
man low down in the Education Office, began to discuss what
people who lived at Stettin ought to look like. Was there such a
thing as Stettininity? Margaret swept on.
"People at Stettin drop things into boats out of overhanging
warehouses. At least, our cousins do, but aren't particularly
rich. The town isn't interesting, except for a clock that rolls
its eyes, and the view of the Oder, which truly is something
special. Oh, Mrs. Wilcox, you would love the Oder! The river, or
rather rivers--there seem to be dozens of them--are intense blue,
and the plain they run through an intensest green."
"Indeed! That sounds like a most beautiful view, Miss Schlegel."
"So I say, but Helen, who will muddle things, says no, it's like
music. The course of the Oder is to be like music. It's obliged
to remind her of a symphonic poem. The part by the landing-stage
is in B minor, if I remember rightly, but lower down things get
extremely mixed. There is a slodgy theme in several keys at once,
meaning mud-banks, and another for the navigable canal, and the
exit into the Baltic is in C sharp major, pianissimo."
"What do the overhanging warehouses make of that?" asked the man,
"They make a great deal of it," replied Margaret, unexpectedly
rushing off on a new track. "I think it's affectation to compare
the Oder to music, and so do you, but the overhanging warehouses
of Stettin take beauty seriously, which we don't, and the average
Englishman doesn't, and despises all who do. Now don't say
'Germans have no taste,' or I shall scream. They haven't. But--
but--such a tremendous but!--they take poetry seriously. They do
take poetry seriously."
"Is anything gained by that?"
"Yes, yes. The German is always on the lookout for beauty. He may
miss it through stupidity, or misinterpret it, but he is always
asking beauty to enter his life, and I believe that in the end it
will come. At Heidelberg I met a fat veterinary surgeon whose
voice broke with sobs as he repeated some mawkish poetry. So easy
for me to laugh--I, who never repeat poetry, good or bad, and
cannot remember one fragment of verse to thrill myself with. My
blood boils--well, I 'm half German, so put it down to
patriotism--when I listen to the tasteful contempt of the average
islander for things Teutonic, whether they're Bocklin or my
veterinary surgeon. 'Oh, Bocklin,' they say; 'he strains after
beauty, he peoples Nature with gods too consciously.' Of course
Bocklin strains, because he wants something--beauty and all the
other intangible gifts that are floating about the world. So his
landscapes don't come off, and Leader's do."
"I am not sure that I agree. Do you?" said he, turning to Mrs.
She replied: "I think Miss Schlegel puts everything splendidly;"
and a chill fell on the conversation.
"Oh, Mrs. Wilcox, say something nicer than that. It's such a snub
to be told you put things splendidly."
"I do not mean it as a snub. Your last speech interested me so
much. Generally people do not seem quite to like Germany. I have
long wanted to hear what is said on the other side."
"The other side? Then you do disagree. Oh, good! Give us your
"I have no side. But my husband"--her voice softened, the chill
increased--"has very little faith in the Continent, and our
children have all taken after him."
"On what grounds? Do they feel that the Continent is in bad
Mrs. Wilcox had no idea; she paid little attention to grounds.
She was not intellectual, nor even alert, and it was odd that,
all the same, she should give the idea of greatness. Margaret,
zigzagging with her friends over Thought and Art, was conscious
of a personality that transcended their own and dwarfed their
activities. There was no bitterness in Mrs. Wilcox; there was not
even criticism; she was lovable, and no ungracious or
uncharitable word had passed her lips. Yet she and daily life
were out of focus; one or the other must show blurred. And at
lunch she seemed more out of focus than usual, and nearer the
line that divides daily life from a life that may be of greater
"You will admit, though, that the Continent--it seems silly to
speak of 'the Continent,' but really it is all more like itself
than any part of it is like England. England is unique. Do have
another jelly first. I was going to say that the Continent, for
good or for evil, is interested in ideas. Its Literature and Art
have what one might call the kink of the unseen about them, and
this persists even through decadence and affectation. There is
more liberty of action in England, but for liberty of thought go
to bureaucratic Prussia. People will there discuss with humilit y
vital questions that we here think ourselves too good to touch
"I do not want to go to Prussia," said Mrs. Wilcox "not even to
see that interesting view that you were describing. And for
discussing with humility I am too old. We never discuss anything
at Howards End."
"Then you ought to!" said Margaret. "Discussion keeps a house
alive. It cannot stand by bricks and mortar alone."
"It cannot stand without them," said Mrs. Wilcox, unexpectedly
catching on to the thought, and rousing, for the first and last
time, a faint hope in the breasts of the delightful people. "It
cannot stand without them, and I sometimes think--But I cannot
expect your generation to agree, for even my daughter disagrees
with me here."
"Never mind us or her. Do say!"
"I sometimes think that it is wiser to leave action and
discussion to men."
There was a little silence.
"One admits that the arguments against the suffrage ARE
extraordinarily strong," said a girl opposite, leaning forward
and crumbling her bread.
"Are they? I never follow any arguments. I am only too thankful
not to have a vote myself."
"We didn't mean the vote, though, did we?" supplied Margaret.
Aren't we differing on something much wider, Mrs. Wilcox?
Whether women are to remain what they have been since the dawn of
history; or whether, since men have moved forward so far, they
too may move forward a little now. I say they may. I would even
admit a biological change."
"I don't know, I don't know."
"I must be getting back to my overhanging warehouse," said the
man. "They've turned disgracefully strict."
Mrs. Wilcox also rose.
"Oh, but come upstairs for a little. Miss Quested plays. Do you
like MacDowell? Do you mind his only having two noises? If you
must really go, I'll see you out. Won't you even have coffee?"
They left the dining-room closing the door behind them, and as
Mrs. Wilcox buttoned up her jacket, she said: "What an
interesting life you all lead in London!"
"No, we don't," said Margaret, with a sudden revulsion. "We lead
the lives of gibbering monkeys. Mrs. Wilcox--really-- We have
something quiet and stable at the bottom. We really have. All my
friends have. Don't pretend you enjoyed lunch, for you loathed
it, but forgive me by coming again, alone, or by asking me to
"I am used to young people," said Mrs. Wilcox, and with each word
she spoke the outlines of known things grew dim. "I hear a great
deal of chatter at home, for we, like you, entertain a great
deal. With us it is more sport and politics, but-- I enjoyed my
lunch very much, Miss Schlegel, dear, and am not pretending, and
only wish I could have joined in more. For one thing, I'm not
particularly well just to-day. For another, you younger people
move so quickly that it dazes me. Charles is the same, Dolly the
same. But we are all in the same boat, old and young. I never
They were silent for a moment. Then, with a newborn emotion, they
shook hands. The conversation ceased suddenly when Margaret
re-entered the dining-room; her friends had been talking over her
new friend, and had dismissed her as uninteresting.
Several days passed.
Was Mrs. Wilcox one of the unsatisfactory people--there are many
of them--who dangle intimacy and then withdraw it? They evoke our
interests and affections, and keep the life of the spirit
dawdling round them. Then they withdraw. When physical passion is
involved, there is a definite name for such behaviour--flirting--
and if carried far enough it is punishable by law. But no law--
not public opinion even--punishes those who coquette with
friendship, though the dull ache that they inflict, the sense of
misdirected effort and exhaustion, may be as intolerable. Was she
one of these?
Margaret feared so at first, for, with a Londoner's impatience,
she wanted everything to be settled up immediately. She
mistrusted the periods of quiet that are essential to true
growth. Desiring to book Mrs. Wilcox as a friend, she pressed on
the ceremony, pencil, as it were, in hand, pressing the more
because the rest of the family were away, and the opportunity
seemed favourable. But the elder woman would not be hurried. She
refused to fit in with the Wickham Place set, or to reopen
discussion of Helen and Paul, whom Margaret would have utilised
as a short-cut. She took her time, or perhaps let time take her,
and when the crisis did come all was ready.
The crisis opened with a message: Would Miss Schlegel come
shopping? Christmas was nearing, and Mrs. Wilcox felt behindhand
with the presents. She had taken some more days in bed, and must
make up for lost time. Margaret accepted, and at eleven o'clock
one cheerless morning they started out in a brougham.
"First of all," began Margaret, "we must make a list and tick off
the people's names. My aunt always does, and this fog may thicken
up any moment. Have you any ideas?"
"I thought we would go to Harrods or the Haymarket Stores," said
Mrs. Wilcox rather hopelessly. "Everything is sure to be there. I
am not a good shopper. The din is so confusing, and your aunt is
quite right--one ought to make a list. Take my notebook, then,
and write your own name at the top of the page.
"Oh, hooray!" said Margaret, writing it. "How very kind of you to
start with me!" But she did not want to receive anything
expensive. Their acquaintance was singular rather than intimate,
and she divined that the Wilcox clan would resent any expenditure
on outsiders; the more compact families do. She did not want to
be thought a second Helen, who would snatch presents since she
could not snatch young men, nor to be exposed like a second Aunt
Juley, to the insults of Charles. A certain austerity of
demeanour was best, and she added: "I don't really want a
Yuletide gift, though. In fact, I'd rather not."
"Because I've odd ideas about Christmas. Because I have all that
money can buy. I want more people, but no more things."
"I should like to give you something worth your acquaintance,
Miss Schlegel, in memory of your kindness to me during my lonely
fortnight. It has so happened that I have been left alone, and
you have stopped me from brooding. I am too apt to brood."
"If that is so," said Margaret, "if I have happened to be of use
to you, which I didn't know, you cannot pay me back with anything
"I suppose not, but one would like to. Perhaps I shall think of
something as we go about."
Her name remained at the head of the list, but nothing was
written opposite it. They drove from shop to shop. The air was
white, and when they alighted it tasted like cold pennies. At
times they passed through a clot of grey. Mrs. Wilcox's vitality
was low that morning, and it was Margaret who decided on a horse
for this little girl, a golliwog for that, for the rector's wife
a copper warming-tray. "We always give the servants money." "Yes,
do you, yes, much easier," replied Margaret but felt the
grotesque impact of the unseen upon the seen, and saw issuing
from a forgotten manger at Bethlehem this torrent of coins and
toys. Vulgarity reigned. Public-houses, besides their usual
exhortation against temperance reform, invited men to "Join our
Christmas goose club"--one bottle of gin, etc., or two, according
to subscription. A poster of a woman in tights heralded the
Christmas pantomime, and little red devils, who had come in again
that year, were prevalent upon the Christmas-cards. Margaret was
no morbid idealist. She did not wish this spate of business and
self-advertisement checked. It was only the occasion of it that
struck her with amazement annually. How many of these vacillating
shoppers and tired shop-assistants realised that it was a divine
event that drew them together? She realised it, though standing
outside in the matter. She was not a Christian in the accepted
sense; she did not believe that God had ever worked among us as a
young artisan. These people, or most of them, believed it, and if
pressed, would affirm it in words. But the visible signs of their
belief were Regent Street or Drury Lane, a little mud displaced,
a little money spent, a little food cooked, eaten, and forgotten.
Inadequate. But in public who shall express the unseen
adequately? It is private life that holds out the mirror to
infinity; personal intercourse, and that alone, that ever hints
at a personality beyond our daily vision.
"No, I do like Christmas on the whole," she announced. "In its
clumsy way, it does approach Peace and Goodwill. But oh, it is
clumsier every year."
"Is it? I am only used to country Christmases."
"We are usually in London, and play the game with vigour--carols
at the Abbey, clumsy midday meal, clumsy dinner for the maids,
followed by Christmas-tree and dancing of poor children, with
songs from Helen. The drawing-room does very well for that. We
put the tree in the powder-closet, and draw a curtain when the
candles are lighted, and with the looking-glass behind it looks
quite pretty. I wish we might have a powder-closet in our next
house. Of course, the tree has to be very small, and the presents
don't hang on it. No; the presents reside in a sort of rocky
landscape made of crumpled brown paper."
"You spoke of your 'next house,' Miss Schlegel. Then are you
leaving Wickham Place?"
"Yes, in two or three years, when the lease expires. We must."
"Have you been there long?"
"All our lives."
"You will be very sorry to leave it."
"I suppose so. We scarcely realise it yet. My father--" She broke
off, for they had reached the stationery department of the
Haymarket Stores, and Mrs. Wilcox wanted to order some private
"If possible, something distinctive," she sighed. At the counter
she found a friend, bent on the same errand, and conversed with
her insipidly, wasting much time. "My husband and our daughter
are motoring." "Bertha, too? Oh, fancy, what a coincidence!"
Margaret, though not practical, could shine in such company as
this. While they talked, she went through a volume of specimen
cards, and submitted one for Mrs. Wilcox's inspection. Mrs.
Wilcox was delighted--so original, words so sweet; she would
order a hundred like that, and could never be sufficiently
grateful. Then, just as the assistant was booking the order, she
said: "Do you know, I'll wait. On second thoughts, I'll wait.
There's plenty of time still, isn't there, and I shall be able to
get Evie's opinion."
They returned to the carriage by devious paths; when they were
in, she said, "But couldn't you get it renewed?"
"I beg your pardon?" asked Margaret.
"The lease, I mean."
"Oh, the lease! Have you been thinking of that all the time? How
very kind of you!"
"Surely something could be done."
"No; values have risen too enormously. They mean to pull down
Wickham Place, and build flats like yours."
"But how horrible!"
"Landlords are horrible."
Then she said vehemently: "It is monstrous, Miss Schlegel; it
isn't right. I had no idea that this was hanging over you. I do
pity you from the bottom of my heart. To be parted from your
house, your father's house--it oughtn't to be allowed. It is
worse than dying. I would rather die than-- Oh, poor girls! Can
what they call civilisation be right, if people mayn't die in the
room where they were born? My dear, I am so sorry."
Margaret did not know what to say. Mrs. Wilcox had been overtired
by the shopping, and was inclined to hysteria.
"Howards End was nearly pulled down once. It would have killed
"I--Howards End must be a very different house to ours. We are
fond of ours, but there is nothing distinctive about it. As you
saw, it is an ordinary London house. We shall easily find
"So you think."
"Again my lack of experience, I suppose!" said Margaret, easing
away from the subject. "I can't say anything when you take up
that line, Mrs. Wilcox. I wish I could see myself as you see me--
foreshortened into a backfisch. Quite the ingenue. Very charming
--wonderfully well read for my age, but incapable--"
Mrs. Wilcox would not be deterred. "Come down with me to Howards
End now," she said, more vehemently than ever. "I want you to see
it. You have never seen it. I want to hear what you say about it,
for you do put things so wonderfully."
Margaret glanced at the pitiless air and then at the tired face
of her companion. "Later on I should love it," she continued,
"but it's hardly the weather for such an expedition, and we ought
to start when we're fresh. Isn't the house shut up, too?"
She received no answer. Mrs. Wilcox appeared to be annoyed.
"Might I come some other day?"
Mrs. Wilcox bent forward and tapped the glass. "Back to Wickham
Place, please!" was her order to the coachman. Margaret had been
"A thousand thanks, Miss Schlegel, for all your help."
"Not at all."
"It is such a comfort to get the presents off my mind--the
Christmas-cards especially. I do admire your choice."
It was her turn to receive no answer. In her turn Margaret became
"My husband and Evie will be back the day after to-morrow. That
is why I dragged you out shopping to-day. I stayed in town
chiefly to shop, but got through nothing, and now he writes that
they must cut their tour short, the weather is so bad, and the
police-traps have been so bad--nearly as bad as in Surrey. Ours
is such a careful chauffeur, and my husband feels it particularly
hard that they should be treated like road-hogs."
"Well, naturally he--he isn't a road-hog."
"He was exceeding the speed-limit, I conclude. He must expect to
suffer with the lower animals."
Mrs. Wilcox was silenced. In growing discomfort they drove
homewards. The city seemed Satanic, the narrower streets
oppressing like the galleries of a mine.
No harm was done by the fog to trade, for it lay high, and the
lighted windows of the shops were thronged with customers. It was
rather a darkening of the spirit which fell back upon itself, to
find a more grievous darkness within. Margaret nearly spoke a
dozen times, but something throttled her. She felt petty and
awkward, and her meditations on Christmas grew more cynical.
Peace? It may bring other gifts, but is there a single Londoner
to whom Christmas is peaceful? The craving for excitement and for
elaboration has ruined that blessing. Goodwill? Had she seen any
example of it in the hordes of purchasers? Or in herself? She had
failed to respond to this invitation merely because it was a
little queer and imaginative--she, whose birthright it was to
nourish imagination! Better to have accepted, to have tired
themselves a little by the journey, than coldly to reply, "Might
I come some other day?" Her cynicism left her. There would be no
other day. This shadowy woman would never ask her again.
They parted at the Mansions. Mrs. Wilcox went in after due
civilities, and Margaret watched the tall, lonely figure sweep up
the hall to the lift. As the glass doors closed on it she had the
sense of an imprisonment The beautiful head disappeared first,
still buried in the muff; the long trailing skirt followed. A
woman of undefinable rarity was going up heavenward, like a
specimen in a bottle. And into what a heaven--a vault as of hell,
sooty black, from which soot descended!
At lunch her brother, seeing her inclined for silence insisted on
talking. Tibby was not ill-natured, but from babyhood something
drove him to do the unwelcome and the unexpected. Now he gave her
a long account of the day-school that he sometimes patronised.
The account was interesting, and she had often pressed him for it
before, but she could not attend now, for her mind was focussed
on the invisible. She discerned that Mrs. Wilcox, though a loving
wife and mother, had only one passion in life--her house--and
that the moment was solemn when she invited a friend to share
this passion with her. To answer "another day" was to answer as a
fool. "Another day" will do for brick and mortar, but not for the
Holy of Holies into which Howards End had been transfigured. Her
own curiosity was slight. She had heard more than enough about it
in the summer. The nine windows, the vine, and the wych-elm had
no pleasant connections for her, and she would have preferred to
spend the afternoon at a concert. But imagination triumphed.
While her brother held forth she determined to go, at whatever
cost, and to compel Mrs. Wilcox to go, too. When lunch was over
she stepped over to the flats.
Mrs. Wilcox had just gone away for the night.
Margaret said that it was of no consequence, hurried downstairs,
and took a hansom to King's Cross. She was convinced that the
escapade was important, though it would have puzzled her to say
why. There was question of imprisonment and escape, and though
she did not know the time of the train, she strained her eyes for
St. Pancras's clock.
Then the clock of King's Cross swung into sight, a second moon in
that infernal sky, and her cab drew up at the station. There was
a train for Hilton in five minutes. She took a ticket, asking in
her agitation for a single. As she did so, a grave and happy
voice saluted her and thanked her.
"I will come if I still may," said Margaret, laughing nervously.
"You are coming to sleep, dear, too. It is in the morning that my
house is most beautiful. You are coming to stop. I cannot show
you my meadow properly except at sunrise. These fogs"--she
pointed at the station roof--"never spread far. I dare say they
are sitting in the sun in Hertfordshire, and you will never
repent joining them."
"I shall never repent joining you."
"It is the same."
They began the walk up the long platform. Far at its end stood
the train, breasting the darkness without. They never reached it.
Before imagination could triumph, there were cries of "Mother!
mother!" and a heavy-browed girl darted out of the cloak-room and
seized Mrs. Wilcox by the arm.
"Evie!" she gasped--"Evie, my pet--"
The girl called, "Father! I say! look who's here."
"Evie, dearest girl, why aren't you in Yorkshire?"
"No--motor smash--changed plans--father's coming."
"Why, Ruth!" cried Mr. Wilcox, joining them. "that in the name of
all that's wonderful are you doing here, Ruth?"
Mrs. Wilcox had recovered herself.
"Oh, Henry dear!--here's a lovely surprise--but let me introduce
--but I think you know Miss Schlegel."
"Oh yes," he replied, not greatly interested. "But how's
"Fit as a fiddle," she answered gaily.
"So are we, and so was our car, which ran A1 as far as Ripon, but
there a wretched horse and cart which a fool of a driver--"
"Miss Schlegel, our little outing must be for another day."
"I was saying that this fool of a driver, as the policeman
"Another day, Mrs. Wilcox. Of course."
"--But as we've insured against third party risks, it won't so
"--Cart and car being practically at right angles--"
The voices of the happy family rose high. Margaret was left
alone. No one wanted her. Mrs. Wilcox walked out of King's Cross
between her husband and her daughter, listening to both of them.
The funeral was over. The carriages had rolled away through the
soft mud, and only the poor remained. They approached to the
newly-dug shaft and looked their last at the coffin, now almost
hidden beneath the spadefuls of clay. It was their moment. Most
of them were women from the dead woman's district, to whom black
garments had been served out by Mr. Wilcox's orders. Pure
curiosity had brought others. They thrilled with the excitement
of a death, and of a rapid death, and stood in groups or moved
between the graves, like drops of ink. The son of one of them, a
wood-cutter, was perched high above their heads, pollarding one
of the churchyard elms. From where he sat he could see the
village of Hilton, strung upon the North Road, with its accreting
suburbs; the sunset beyond, scarlet and orange, winking at him
beneath brows of grey; the church; the plantations; and behind
him an unspoilt country of fields and farms. But he, too, was
rolling the event luxuriously in his mouth. He tried to tell his
mother down below all that he had felt when he saw the coffin
approaching: how he could not leave his work, and yet did not
like to go on with it; how he had almost slipped out of the tree,
he was so upset; the rooks had cawed, and no wonder--it was as if
rooks knew too. His mother claimed the prophetic power herself--
she had seen a strange look about Mrs. Wilcox for some time.
London had done the mischief, said others. She had been a kind
lady; her grandmother had been kind, too--a plainer person, but
very kind. Ah, the old sort was dying out! Mr. Wilcox, he was a
kind gentleman. They advanced to the topic again and again,
dully, but with exaltation. The funeral of a rich person was to
them what the funeral of Alcestis or Ophelia is to the educated.
It was Art; though remote from life, it enhanced life's values,
and they witnessed it avidly.
The grave-diggers, who had kept up an undercurrent of disapproval
--they disliked Charles; it was not a moment to speak of such
things, but they did not like Charles Wilcox--the grave-diggers
finished their work and piled up the wreaths and crosses above
it. The sun set over Hilton; the grey brows of the evening
flushed a little, and were cleft with one scarlet frown.
Chattering sadly to each other, the mourners passed through the
lych-gate and traversed the chestnut avenues that led down to the
village. The young wood-cutter stayed a little longer, poised
above the silence and swaying rhythmically. At last the bough
fell beneath his saw. With a grunt, he descended, his thoughts
dwelling no longer on death, but on love, for he was mating. He
stopped as he passed the new grave; a sheaf of tawny
chrysanthemums had caught his eye. "They didn't ought to have
coloured flowers at buryings," he reflected. Trudging on a few
steps, he stopped again, looked furtively at the dusk, turned
back, wrenched a chrysanthemum from the sheaf, and hid it in his
After him came silence absolute. The cottage that abutted on the
churchyard was empty, and no other house stood near. Hour after
hour the scene of the interment remained without an eye to
witness it. Clouds drifted over it from the west; or the church
may have been a ship, high-prowed, steering with all its
company towards infinity. Towards morning the air grew colder,
the sky clearer, the surface of the earth hard and sparkling
above the prostrate dead. The wood-cutter, returning after a
night of joy, reflected: "They lilies, they chrysants; it's a
pity I didn't take them all."
Up at Howards End they were attempting breakfast. Charles and
Evie sat in the dining-room, with Mrs. Charles. Their father, who
could not bear to see a face, breakfasted upstairs. He suffered
acutely. Pain came over him in spasms, as if it was physical, and
even while he was about to eat, his eyes would fill with tears,
and he would lay down the morsel untasted.
He remembered his wife's even goodness during thirty years. Not
anything in detail--not courtship or early raptures--but just the
unvarying virtue, that seemed to him a woman's noblest quality.
So many women are capricious, breaking into odd flaws of passion
or frivolity. Not so his wife. Year after year, summer and
winter, as bride and mother, she had been the same, he had always
trusted her. Her tenderness! Her innocence! The wonderful
innocence that was hers by the gift of God. Ruth knew no more of
worldly wickedness and wisdom than did the flowers in her garden,
or the grass in her field. Her idea of business--" Henry, why do
people who have enough money try to get more money?" Her idea of
politics--" I am sure that if the mothers of various nations
could meet, there would be no more wars," Her idea of religion--
ah, this had been a cloud, but a cloud that passed. She came of
Quaker stock, and he and his family, formerly Dissenters, were
now members of the Church of England. The rector's sermons had at
first repelled her, and she had expressed a desire for "a more
inward light," adding, "not so much for myself as for baby"
(Charles). Inward light must have been granted, for he heard no
complaints in later years. They brought up their three children
without dispute. They had never disputed.
She lay under the earth now. She had gone, and as if to make her
going the more bitter, had gone with a touch of mystery that was
all unlike her. "Why didn't you tell me you knew of it?" he had
moaned, and her faint voice had answered: "I didn't want to,
Henry--I might have been wrong--and every one hates illnesses."
He had been told of the horror by a strange doctor, whom she had
consulted during his absence from town. Was this altogether just?
Without fully explaining, she had died. It was a fault on her
part, and--tears rushed into his eyes--what a little fault! It
was the only time she had deceived him in those thirty years.
He rose to his feet and looked out of the window, for Evie had
come in with the letters, and he could meet no one's eye. Ah
yes--she had been a good woman--she had been steady. He chose the
word deliberately. To him steadiness included all praise. He
himself, gazing at the wintry garden, is in appearance a steady
man. His face was not as square as his son's, and, indeed, the
chin, though firm enough in outline, retreated a little, and the
lips, ambiguous, were curtained by a moustache. But there was no
external hint of weakness. The eyes, if capable of kindness and
good-fellowship, if ruddy for the moment with tears, were the
eyes of one who could not be driven. The forehead, too, was like
Charles's. High and straight, brown and polished, merging
abruptly into temples and skull, it had the effect of a bastion
that protected his head from the world. At times it had the
effect of a blank wall. He had dwelt behind it, intact and happy,
for fifty years. "The post's come, father," said Evie awkwardly.
"Thanks. Put it down."
"Has the breakfast been all right?"
The girl glanced at him and at it with constraint. She did not
know what to do.
"Charles says do you want the Times?"
"No, I'll read it later."
"Ring if you want anything, father, won't you?"
"I've all I want."
Having sorted the letters from the circulars, she went back to
"Father's eaten nothing," she announced, sitting down with
wrinkled brows behind the tea-urn.
Charles did not answer, but after a moment he ran quickly
upstairs, opened the door, and said "Look here father, you must
eat, you know; and having paused for a reply that did not come,
stole down again. "He's going to read his letters first, I
think," he said evasively; "I dare say he will go on with his
breakfast afterwards." Then he took up the Times, and for some
time there was no sound except the clink of cup against saucer
and of knife on plate.
Poor Mrs. Charles sat between her silent companions terrified at
the course of events, and a little bored. She was a rubbishy
little creature, and she knew it. A telegram had dragged her from
Naples to the death-bed of a woman whom she had scarcely known. A
word from her husband had plunged her into mourning. She desired
to mourn inwardly as well, but she wished that Mrs. Wilcox, since
fated to die, could have died before the marriage, for then less
would have been expected of her. Crumbling her toast, and too
nervous to ask for the butter, she remained almost motionless,
thankful only for this, that her father-in-law was having his
At last Charles spoke. "They had no business to be pollarding
those elms yesterday," he said to his sister.
"I must make a note of that," he continued. "I am surprised that
the rector allowed it."
"Perhaps it may not be the rector's affair."
"Whose else could it be?"
"The lord of the manor."
"Thank you, Evie dear. Charles--"
"I didn't know one could pollard elms. I thought one only
"Oh no, one can pollard elms."
"Then why oughtn't the elms in the churchyard to be pollarded?"
Charles frowned a little, and turned again to his sister.
"Another point. I must speak to Chalkeley."
"Yes, rather; you must complain to Chalkeley."
"It's no good his saying he is not responsible for those men. He
Brother and sister were not callous. They spoke thus, partly
because they desired to keep Chalkeley up to the mark--a healthy
desire in its way--partly because they avoided the personal note
in life. All Wilcoxes did. It did not seem to them of supreme
importance. Or it may be as Helen supposed: they realised its
importance, but were afraid of it. Panic and emptiness, could one
glance behind. They were not callous, and they left the
breakfast-table with aching hearts. Their mother never had come
in to breakfast. It was in the other rooms, and especially in the
garden, that they felt her loss most. As Charles went out to the
garage, he was reminded at every step of the woman who had loved
him and whom he could never replace. What battles he had fought
against her gentle conservatism! How she had disliked
improvements, yet how loyally she had accepted them when made! He
and his father--what trouble they had had to get this very
garage! With what difficulty had they persuaded her to yield them
the paddock for it--the paddock that she loved more dearly than
the garden itself! The vine--she had got her way about the vine.
It still encumbered the south wall with its unproductive
branches. And so with Evie, as she stood talking to the cook.
Though she could take up her mother's work inside the house, just
as the man could take it up without, she felt that something
unique had fallen out of her life. Their grief, though less
poignant than their father's, grew from deeper roots, for a wife
may be replaced; a mother never. Charles would go back to the
office. There was little at Howards End. The contents of his
mother's will had long been known to them. There were no
legacies, no annuities, none of the posthumous bustle with which
some of the dead prolong their activities. Trusting her husband,
she had left him everything without reserve. She was quite a poor
woman--the house had been all her dowry, and the house would come
to Charles in time. Her watercolours Mr. Wilcox intended to
reserve for Paul, while Evie would take the jewellery and lace.
How easily she slipped out of life! Charles thought the habit
laudable, though he did not intend to adopt it himself, whereas
Margaret would have seenin it an almost culpable indifference to
earthly fame. Cynicism--not the superficial cynicism that snarls
and sneers, but the cynicism that can go with courtesy and
tenderness--that was the note of Mrs. Wilcox's will. She wanted
not to vex people. That accomplished, the earth might freeze over
her for ever.
No, there was nothing for Charles to wait for. He could not go on
with his honeymoon, so he would go up to London and work--he felt
too miserable hanging about. He and Dolly would have the
furnished flat while his father rested quietly in the country
with Evie. He could also keep an eye on his own little house,
which was being painted and decorated for him in one of the
Surrey suburbs, and in which he hoped to install himself soon
after Christmas. Yes, he would go up after lunch in his new
motor, and the town servants, who had come down for the funeral,
would go up by train.
He found his father's chauffeur in the garage, said "Morning"
without looking at the man's face, and bending over the car,
continued: "Hullo! my new car's been driven!"
"Has it, sir?"
"Yes," said Charles, getting rather red; "and whoever's driven it
hasn't cleaned it properly, for there's mud on the axle. Take it
The man went for the cloths without a word. He was a chauffeur as
ugly as sin--not that this did him disservice with Charles, who
thought charm in a man rather rot, and had soon got rid of the
little Italian beast with whom they had started.
"Charles--" His bride was tripping after him over the hoar-frost,
a dainty black column, her little face and elaborate mourning hat
forming the capital thereof.
"One minute, I'm busy. Well, Crane, who's been driving it, do you
"Don't know, I'm sure, sir. No one's driven it since I've been
back, but, of course, there's the fortnight I've been away with
the other car in Yorkshire."
The mud came off easily.
"Charles, your father's down. Something's happened. He wants you
in the house at once. Oh, Charles!"
"Wait, dear, wait a minute. Who had the key of the garage while
you were away, Crane?"
"The gardener, sir."
"Do you mean to tell me that old Penny can drive a motor?"
"No, sir; no one's had the motor out, sir."
"Then how do you account for the mud on the axle?"
"I can't, of course, say for the time I've been in Yorkshire. No
more mud now, sir."
Charles was vexed. The man was treating him as a fool, and if his
heart had not been so heavy he would have reported him to his
father. But it was not a morning for complaints. Ordering the
motor to be round after lunch, he joined his wife, who had all
the while been pouring out some incoherent story about a letter
and a Miss Schlegel.
"Now, Dolly, I can attend to you. Miss Schlegel? What does she
When people wrote a letter Charles always asked what they wanted.
Want was to him the only cause of action. And the question in
this case was correct, for his wife replied, "She wants Howards
"Howards End? Now, Crane, just don't forget to put on the Stepney
"Now, mind you don't forget, for I-- Come, little woman." When
they were out of the chauffeur's sight he put his arm round her
waist and pressed her against him. All his affection and half his
attention--it was what he granted her throughout their happy
"But you haven't listened, Charles."
"I keep on telling you--Howards End. Miss Schlegel's got it."
"Got what?" said Charles, unclasping her. "What the dickens are
you talking about?"
"Now, Charles, you promised not so say those naughty--"
"Look here, I'm in no mood for foolery. It's no morning for it
"I tell you--I keep on telling you--Miss Schlegel--she's got
it--your mother's left it to her--and you've all got to move
"HOWARDS END!" she screamed, mimicking him, and as she did so
Evie came dashing out of the shubbery.
"Dolly, go back at once! My father's much annoyed with you.
Charles"--she hit herself wildly--"come in at once to father.
He's had a letter that's too awful."
Charles began to run, but checked himself, and stepped heavily
across the gravel path. There the house was with the nine
windows, the unprolific vine. He exclaimed, "Schlegels again!"
and as if to complete chaos, Dolly said, "Oh no, the matron of
the nursing home has written instead of her."
"Come in, all three of you!" cried his father, no longer inert.
"Dolly, why have you disobeyed me?"
"Oh, Mr. Wilcox--"
"I told you not to go out to the garage. I've heard you all
shouting in the garden. I won't have it. Come in."
He stood in the porch, transformed, letters in his hand.
"Into the dining-room, every one of you. We can't discuss private
matters in the middle of all the servants. Here, Charles, here;
read these. See what you make."
Charles took two letters, and read them as he followed the
procession. The first was a covering note from the matron. Mrs.
Wilcox had desired her, when the funeral should be over, to
forward the enclosed. The enclosed--it was from his mother
herself. She had written: "To my husband: I should like Miss
Schlegel (Margaret) to have Howards End."
"I suppose we're going to have a talk about this?" he remarked,
"Certainly. I was coming out to you when Dolly--"
"Well, let's sit down."
"Come, Evie, don't waste time, sit--down."
In silence they drew up to the breakfast-table. The events of
yesterday--indeed, of this morning suddenly receded into a past
so remote that they seemed scarcely to have lived in it. Heavy
breathings were heard. They were calming themselves. Charles, to
steady them further, read the enclosure out loud: "A note in my
mother's handwriting, in an envelope addressed to my father,
sealed. Inside: 'I should like Miss Schlegel (Margaret) to have
Howards End.' No date, no signature. Forwarded through the matron
of that nursing home. Now, the question is--"
Dolly interrupted him. "But I say that note isn't legal. Houses
ought to be done by a lawyer, Charles, surely."
Her husband worked his jaw severely. Little lumps appeared in
front of either ear--a symptom that she had not yet learnt to
respect, and she asked whether she might see the note. Charles
looked at his father for permission, who said abstractedly, "Give
it her." She seized it, and at once exclaimed: "Why, it's only in
pencil! I said so. Pencil never counts."
"We know that it is not legally binding, Dolly," said Mr. Wilcox,
speaking from out of his fortress. "We are aware of that.
Legally, I should be justified in tearing it up and throwing it
into the fire. Of course, my dear, we consider you as one of the
family, but it will be better if you do not interfere with what
you do not understand."
Charles, vexed both with his father and his wife, then repeated:
"The question is--" He had cleared a space of the breakfast-table
from plates and knives, so that he could draw patterns on the
tablecloth. "The question is whether Miss Schlegel, during the
fortnight we were all away, whether she unduly--" He stopped.
"I don't think that," said his father, whose nature was nobler
than his son's.
"Don't think what?"
"That she would have--that it is a case of undue influence. No,
to my mind the question is the--the invalid's condition at the
time she wrote."
"My dear father, consult an expert if you like, but I don't admit
it is my mother's writing."
"Why, you just said it was!" cried Dolly.
"Never mind if I did," he blazed out; "and hold your tongue."
The poor little wife coloured at this, and, drawing her
handkerchief from her pocket, shed a few tears. No one noticed
her. Evie was scowling like an angry boy. The two men were