Part 3 out of 8
gradually assuming the manner of the committee-room. They were
both at their best when serving on committees. They did not make
the mistake of handling human affairs in the bulk, but disposed
of them item by item, sharply. Caligraphy was the item before
them now, and on it they turned their well-trained brains.
Charles, after a little demur, accepted the writing as genuine,
and they passed on to the next point. It is the best--perhaps the
only--way of dodging emotion. They were the average human
article, and had they considered the note as a whole it would
have driven them miserable or mad. Considered item by item, the
emotional content was minimised, and all went forward smoothly.
The clock ticked, the coals blazed higher, and contended with the
white radiance that poured in through the windows. Unnoticed, the
sun occupied his sky, and the shadows of the tree stems,
extraordinarily solid, fell like trenches of purple across the
frosted lawn. It was a glorious winter morning. Evie's fox
terrier, who had passed for white, was only a dirty grey dog now,
so intense was the purity that surrounded him. He was
discredited, but the blackbirds that he was chasing glowed with
Arabian darkness, for all the conventional colouring of life had
been altered. Inside, the clock struck ten with a rich and
confident note. Other clocks confirmed it, and the discussion
moved towards its close.
To follow it is unnecessary. It is rather a moment when the
commentator should step forward. Ought the Wilcoxes to have
offered their home to Margaret? I think not. The appeal was too
flimsy. It was not legal; it had been written in illness, and
under the spell of a sudden friendship; it was contrary to the
dead woman's intentions in the past, contrary to her very nature,
so far as that nature was understood by them. To them Howards End
was a house: they could not know that to her it had been a
spirit, for which she sought a spiritual heir. And--pushing one
step farther in these mists--may they not have decided even
better than they supposed? Is it credible that the possessions of
the spirit can be bequeathed at all? Has the soul offspring? A
wych-elm tree, a vine, a wisp of hay with dew on it--can passion
for such things be transmitted where there is no bond of blood?
No; the Wilcoxes are not to be blamed. The problem is too
terrific, and they could not even perceive a problem. No; it is
natural and fitting that after due debate they should tear the
note up and throw it on to their dining-room fire. The practical
moralist may acquit them absolutely. He who strives to look
deeper may acquit them--almost. For one hard fact remains. They
did neglect a personal appeal. The woman who had died did say to
them, "Do this," and they answered, "We will not."
The incident made a most painful impression on them. Grief
mounted into the brain and worked there disquietingly. Yesterday
they had lamented: "She was a dear mother, a true wife; in our
absence she neglected her health and died." To-day they
thought: "She was not as true, as dear, as we supposed." The
desire for a more inward light had found expression at last, the
unseen had impacted on the seen, and all that they could say was
"Treachery." Mrs. Wilcox had been treacherous to the family, to
the laws of property, to her own written word. How did she expect
Howards End to be conveyed to Miss Schlegel? Was her husband,
to whom it legally belonged, to make it over to her as a free
gift? Was the said Miss Schlegel to have a life interest in it,
or to own it absolutely? Was there to be no compensation for the
garage and other improvements that they had made under the
assumption that all would be theirs some day? Treacherous!
treacherous and absurd! When we think the dead both treacherous
and absurd, we have gone far towards reconciling ourselves to
their departure. That note, scribbled in pencil, sent through the
matron, was unbusinesslike as well as cruel, and decreased at
once the value of the woman who had written it.
"Ah, well!" said Mr. Wilcox, rising from the table. "I shouldn't
have thought it possible."
"Mother couldn't have meant it," said Evie, still frowning.
"No, my girl, of course not."
"Mother believed so in ancestors too--it isn't like her to leave
anything to an outsider, who'd never appreciate."
"The whole thing is unlike her," he announced. "If Miss Schlegel
had been poor, if she had wanted a house, I could understand it a
little. But she has a house of her own. Why should she want
another? She wouldn't have any use for Howards End."
"That time may prove," murmured Charles.
"How?" asked his sister.
"Presumably she knows--mother will have told her. She got twice
or three times into the nursing home. Presumably she is awaiting
"What a horrid woman!" And Dolly, who had recovered, cried,
"Why, she may be coming down to turn us out now!"
Charles put her right. "I wish she would," he said ominously. "I
could then deal with her."
"So could I," echoed his father, who was feeling rather in the
cold. Charles had been kind in undertaking the funeral
arrangements and in telling him to eat his breakfast, but the boy
as he grew up was a little dictatorial, and assumed the post of
chairman too readily. "I could deal with her, if she comes, but
she won't come. You're all a bit hard on Miss Schlegel."
"That Paul business was pretty scandalous, though."
"I want no more of the Paul business, Charles, as I said at the
time, and besides, it is quite apart from this business. Margaret
Schlegel has been officious and tiresome during this terrible
week, and we have all suffered under her, but upon my soul she's
honest. She's NOT in collusion with the matron. I'm absolutely
certain of it. Nor was she with the doctor, I'm equally certain
of that. She did not hide anything from us, for up to that very
afternoon she was as ignorant as we are. She, like ourselves, was
a dupe--" He stopped for a moment. "You see, Charles, in her
terrible pain your mother put us all in false positions. Paul
would not have left England, you would not have gone to Italy,
nor Evie and I into Yorkshire, if only we had known. Well, Miss
Schlegel's position has been equally false. Take all in all, she
has not come out of it badly."
Evie said: "But those chrysanthemums--"
"Or coming down to the funeral at all--" echoed Dolly.
"Why shouldn't she come down? She had the right to, and she stood
far back among the Hilton women. The flowers--certainly we should
not have sent such flowers, but they may have seemed the right
thing to her, Evie, and for all you know they may be the custom
"Oh, I forget she isn't really English," cried Evie. "That would
explain a lot."
"She's a cosmopolitan," said Charles, looking at his watch. "I
admit I'm rather down on cosmopolitans. My fault, doubtless. I
cannot stand them, and a German cosmopolitan is the limit. I
think that's about all, isn't it? I want to run down and see
Chalkeley. A bicycle will do. And, by the way, I wish you'd speak
to Crane some time. I'm certain he's had my new car out."
"Has he done it any harm?"
"In that case I shall let it pass. It's not worth while having a
Charles and his father sometimes disagreed. But they always
parted with an increased regard for one another, and each desired
no doughtier comrade when it was necessary to voyage for a little
past the emotions. So the sailors of Ulysses voyaged past the
Sirens, having first stopped one another's ears with wool.
Charles need not have been anxious. Miss Schlegel had never
heard of his mother's strange request. She was to hear of it in
after years, when she had built up her life differently, and it
was to fit into position as the headstone of the corner. Her mind
was bent on other questions now, and by her also it would have
been rejected as the fantasy of an invalid.
She was parting from these Wilcoxes for the second time. Paul and
his mother, ripple and great wave, had flowed into her life and
ebbed out of it for ever. The ripple had left no traces behind;
the wave had strewn at her feet fragments torn from the unknown.
A curious seeker, she stood for a while at the verge of the sea
that tells so little, but tells a little, and watched the
outgoing of this last tremendous tide. Her friend had vanished in
agony, but not, she believed, in degradation. Her withdrawal had
hinted at other things besides disease and pain. Some leave our
life with tears, others with an insane frigidity; Mrs. Wilcox had
taken the middle course, which only rarer natures can pursue. She
had kept proportion. She had told a little of her grim secret to
her friends, but not too much; she had shut up her heart--almost,
but not entirely. It is thus, if there is any rule, that we ought
to die--neither as victim nor as fanatic, but as the seafarer who
can greet with an equal eye the deep that he is entering, and the
shore that he must leave.
The last word--whatever it would be--had certainly not been said
in Hilton churchyard. She had not died there. A funeral is not
death, any more than baptism is birth or marriage union. All
three are the clumsy devices, coming now too late, now too early,
by which Society would register the quick motions of man. In
Margaret's eyes Mrs. Wilcox had escaped registration. She had
gone out of life vividly, her own way, and no dust was so truly
dust as the contents of that heavy coffin, lowered with
ceremonial until it rested on the dust of the earth, no flowers
so utterly wasted as the chrysanthemums that the frost must have
withered before morning. Margaret had once said she "loved
superstition." It was not true. Few women had tried more
earnestly to pierce the accretions in which body and soul are
enwrapped. The death of Mrs. Wilcox had helped her in her work.
She saw a little more clearly than hitherto what a human being
is, and to what he may aspire. Truer relationships gleamed.
Perhaps the last word would be hope--hope even on this side of
Meanwhile, she could take an interest in the survivors. In spite
of her Christmas duties, in spite of her brother, the Wilcoxes
continued to play a considerable part in her thoughts. She had
seen so much of them in the final week. They were not "her sort,"
they were often suspicious and stupid, and deficient where she
excelled; but collision with them stimulated her, and she felt an
interest that verged into liking, even for Charles. She desired
to protect them, and often felt that they could protect her,
excelling where she was deficient. Once past the rocks of
emotion, they knew so well what to do, whom to send for; their
hands were on all the ropes, they had grit as well as grittiness
and she valued grit enormously. They led a life that she could
not attain to--the outer life of "telegrams and anger," which had
detonated when Helen and Paul had touched in June, and had
detonated again the other week. To Margaret this life was to
remain a real force. She could not despise it, as Helen and Tibby
affected to do. It fostered such virtues as neatness, decision,
and obedience, virtues of the second rank, no doubt, but they
have formed our civilisation. They form character, too; Margaret
could not doubt it; they keep the soul from becoming sloppy. How
dare Schlegels despise Wilcoxes, when it takes all sorts to make
"Don't brood too much," she wrote to Helen, "on the superiority
of the unseen to the seen. It's true, but to brood on it is
medieval. Our business is not to contrast the two, but to
Helen replied that she had no intention of brooding on such a
dull subject. What did her sister take her for? The weather was
magnificent. She and the Mosebachs had gone tobogganing on the
only hill that Pomerania boasted. It was fun, but over-crowded,
for the rest of Pomerania had gone there too. Helen loved the
country, and her letter glowed with physical exercise and poetry.
She spoke of the scenery, quiet, yet august; of the snow-clad
fields, with their scampering herds of deer; of the river and its
quaint entrance into the Baltic Sea; of the Oderberge, only three
hundred feet high, from which one slid all too quickly back into
the Pomeranian plains, and yet these Oderberge were real
mountains, with pine-forests, streams, and views complete. "It
isn't size that counts so much as the way things are arranged."
In another paragraph she referred to Mrs. Wilcox sympathetically,
but the news had not bitten into her. She had not realised the
accessories of death, which are in a sense more memorable than
death itself. The atmosphere of precautions and recriminations,
and in the midst a human body growing more vivid because it was
in pain; the end of that body in Hilton churchyard; the survival
of something that suggested hope, vivid in its turn against
life's workaday cheerfulness;-- all these were lost to Helen, who
only felt that a pleasant lady could now be pleasant no longer.
She returned to Wickham Place full of her own affairs--she had
had another proposal--and Margaret, after a moment's hesitation,
was content that this should be so.
The proposal had not been a serious matter. It was the work of
Fraulein Mosebach, who had conceived the large and patriotic
notion of winning back her cousins to the Fatherland by
matrimony. England had played Paul Wilcox, and lost; Germany
played Herr Forstmeister some one--Helen could not remember his
name. Herr Forstmeister lived in a wood, and, standing on the
summit of the Oderberge, he had pointed out his house to Helen,
or rather, had pointed out the wedge of pines in which it lay.
She had exclaimed, "Oh, how lovely! That's the place for me!" and
in the evening Frieda appeared in her bedroom. "I have a message,
dear Helen," etc., and so she had, but had been very nice when
Helen laughed; quite understood--a forest too solitary and damp--
quite agreed, but Herr Forstmeister believed he had assurance to
the contrary. Germany had lost, but with good-humour; holding the
manhood of the world, she felt bound to win. "And there will even
be some one for Tibby," concluded Helen. "There now, Tibby, think
of that; Frieda is saving up a little girl for you, in pig-tails
and white worsted stockings but the feet of the stockings are
pink as if the little girl had trodden in strawberries. I've
talked too much. My head aches. Now you talk."
Tibby consented to talk. He too was full of his own affairs, for
he had just been up to try for a scholarship at Oxford. The men
were down, and the candidates had been housed in various
colleges, and had dined in hall. Tibby was sensitive to beauty,
the experience was new, and he gave a description of his visit
that was almost glowing. The august and mellow University,
soaked with the richness of the western counties that it has
served for a thousand years, appealed at once to the boy's taste;
it was the kind of thing he could understand, and he understood
it all the better because it was empty. Oxford is--Oxford; not a
mere receptacle for youth, like Cambridge. Perhaps it wants its
inmates to love it rather than to love one another; such at all
events was to be its effect on Tibby. His sisters sent him there
that he might make friends, for they knew that his education had
been cranky, and had severed him from other boys and men. He made
no friends. His Oxford remained Oxford empty, and he took into
life with him, not the memory of a radiance, but the memory of a
It pleased Margaret to hear her brother and sister talking. They
did not get on overwell as a rule. For a few moments she listened
to them, feeling elderly and benign.
Then something occurred to her, and she interrupted.
"Helen, I told you about poor Mrs. Wilcox; that sad business?"
"I have had a correspondence with her son. He was winding up the
estate, and wrote to ask me whether his mother had wanted me to
have anything. I thought it good of him, considering I knew her
so little. I said that she had once spoken of giving me a
Christmas present, but we both forgot about it afterwards."
"I hope Charles took the hint."
"Yes--that is to say, her husband wrote later on, and thanked me
for being a little kind to her, and actually gave me her silver
vinaigrette. Don't you think that is extraordinarily generous? It
has made me like him very much. He hopes that this will not be
the end of our acquaintance, but that you and I will go and stop
with Evie some time in the future. I like Mr. Wilcox. He is
taking up his work--rubber--it is a big business. I gather he is
launching out rather. Charles is in it, too. Charles is married--
a pretty little creature, but she doesn't seem wise. They took on
the flat, but now they have gone off to a house of their own."
Helen, after a decent pause, continued her account of Stettin.
How quickly a situation changes! In June she had been in a
crisis; even in November she could blush and be unnatural; now it
was January and the whole affair lay forgotten. Looking back on
the past six months, Margaret realised the chaotic nature of our
daily life, and its difference from the orderly sequence that has
been fabricated by historians. Actual life is full of false clues
and sign-posts that lead nowhere. With infinite effort we nerve
ourselves for a crisis that never comes. The most successful
career must show a waste of strength that might have removed
mountains, and the most unsuccessful is not that of the man who
is taken unprepared, but of him who has prepared and is never
taken. On a tragedy of that kind our national morality is duly
silent. It assumes that preparation against danger is in itself
a good, and that men, like nations, are the better for staggering
through life fully armed. The tragedy of preparedness has
scarcely been handled, save by the Greeks. Life is indeed
dangerous, but not in the way morality would have us believe. It
is indeed unmanageable, but the essence of it is not a battle. It
is unmanageable because it is a romance, and its essence is
romantic beauty. Margaret hoped that for the future she would be
less cautious, not more cautious, than she had been in the past.
Over two years passed, and the Schlegel household continued to
lead its life of cultured, but not ignoble, ease, still swimming
gracefully on the grey tides of London. Concerts and plays swept
past them, money had been spent and renewed, reputations won and
lost, and the city herself, emblematic of their lives, rose and
fell in a continual flux, while her shallows washed more widely
against the hills of Surrey and over the fields of Hertfordshire.
This famous building had arisen, that was doomed. To-day
Whitehall had been transformed; it would be the turn of Regent
Street to-morrow. And month by month the roads smelt more
strongly of petrol, and were more difficult to cross, and human
beings heard each other speak with greater difficulty, breathed
less of the air, and saw less of the sky. Nature withdrew; the
leaves were falling by midsummer; the sun shone through dirt with
an admired obscurity.
To speak against London is no longer fashionable. The Earth as an
artistic cult has had its day, and the literature of the near
future will probably ignore the country and seek inspiration from
the town. One can understand the reaction. Of Pan and the
elemental forces, the public has heard a 'little too much--they
seem Victorian, while London is Georgian--and those who care for
the earth with sincerity may wait long ere the pendulum swings
back to her again. Certainly London fascinates. One visualises it
as a tract of quivering grey, intelligent without purpose, and
excitable without love; as a spirit that has altered before it
can be chronicled; as a heart that certainly beats, but with no
pulsation of humanity. It lies beyond everything; Nature, with
all her cruelty, comes nearer to us than do these crowds of men.
A friend explains himself; the earth is explicable--from her we
came, and we must return to her. But who can explain Westminster
Bridge Road or Liverpool Street in the morning--the city
inhaling--or the same thoroughfares in the evening--the city
exhaling her exhausted air? We reach in desperation beyond the
fog, beyond the very stars, the voids of the universe are
ransacked to justify the monster, and stamped with a human face.
London is religion's opportunity--not the decorous religion of
theologians, but anthropomorphic, crude. Yes, the continuous flow
would be tolerable if a man of our own sort--not any one pompous
or tearful--were caring for us up in the sky.
The Londoner seldom understands his city until it sweeps him,
too, away from his moorings, and Margaret's eyes were not opened
until the lease of Wickham Place expired. She had always known
that it must expire, but the knowledge only became vivid about
nine months before the event. Then the house was suddenly ringed
with pathos. It had seen so much happiness. Why had it to be
swept away? In the streets of the city she noted for the first
time the architecture of hurry and heard the language of hurry on
the mouths of its inhabitants--clipped words, formless sentences,
potted expressions of approval or disgust. Month by month things
were stepping livelier, but to what goal? The population still
rose, but what was the quality of the men born? The particular
millionaire who owned the freehold of Wickham Place, and desired
to erect Babylonian flats upon it--what right had he to stir so
large a portion of the quivering jelly? He was not a fool--she
had heard him expose Socialism--but true insight began just where
his intelligence ended, and one gathered that this was the case
with most millionaires. What right had such men-- But Margaret
checked herself. That way lies madness. Thank goodness, she, too,
had some money, and could purchase a new home.
Tibby, now in his second year at Oxford, was down for the Easter
vacation, and Margaret took the opportunity of having a serious
talk with him. Did he at all know where he wanted to live? Tibby
didn't know that he did know. Did he at all know what he wanted
to do? He was equally uncertain, but when pressed remarked that
he should prefer to be quite free of any profession. Margaret was
not shocked, but went on sewing for a few minutes before she
"I was thinking of Mr. Vyse. He never strikes me as particularly
"Ye--es." said Tibby, and then held his mouth open in a curious
quiver, as if he, too, had thought of Mr. Vyse, had seen round,
through, over, and beyond Mr. Vyse, had weighed Mr. Vyse, grouped
him, and finally dismissed him as having no possible bearing on
the Subject under discussion. That bleat of Tibby's infuriated
Helen. But Helen was now down in the dining room preparing a
speech about political economy. At times her voice could be heard
declaiming through the floor.
"But Mr. Vyse is rather a wretched, weedy man, don't you think?
Then there's Guy. That was a pitiful business. Besides"--shifting
to the general--"every one is the better for some regular work."
"I shall stick to it," she continued, smiling. "I am not saying
it to educate you; it is what I really think. I believe that in
the last century men have developed the desire for work, and they
must not starve it. It's a new desire. It goes with a great deal
that's bad, but in itself it's good, and I hope that for women,
too, 'not to work' will soon become as shocking as 'not to be
married' was a hundred years ago."
"I have no experience of this profound desire to which you
allude," enunciated Tibby.
"Then we'll leave the subject till you do. I'm not going to
rattle you round. Take your time. Only do think over the lives of
the men you like most, and see how they've arranged them."
"I like Guy and Mr. Vyse most," said Tibby faintly, and leant so
far back in his chair that he extended in a horizontal line from
knees to throat.
"And don't think I'm not serious because I don't use the
traditional arguments--making money, a sphere awaiting you, and
so on--all of which are, for various reasons, cant." She sewed
on. "I'm only your sister. I haven't any authority over you, and
I don't want to have any. Just to put before you what I think the
Truth. You see"--she shook off the pince-nez to which she had
recently taken--" in a few years we shall be the same age
practically, and I shall want you to help me. Men are so much
nicer than women."
"Labouring under such a delusion, why do you not marry?"
"I sometimes jolly well think I would if I got the chance."
"Has nobody arst you?"
"Do people ask Helen?"
"Tell me about them."
"Tell me about your ninnies, then."
"They were men who had nothing better to do," said his sister,
feeling that she was entitled to score this point. "So take
warning; you must work, or else you must pretend to work, which
is what I do. Work, work, work if you'd save your soul and your
body. It is honestly a necessity, dear boy. Look at the Wilcoxes,
look at Mr. Pembroke. With all their defects of temper and
understanding, such men give me more pleasure than many who are
better equipped, and I think it is because they have worked
regularly and honestly."
"Spare me the Wilcoxes," he moaned.
"I shall not. They are the right sort."
"Oh, goodness me, Meg--!" he protested, suddenly sitting up,
alert and angry. Tibby, for all his defects, had a genuine
"Well, they're as near the right sort as you can imagine."
"No, no--oh, no!"
"I was thinking of the younger son, whom I once classed as a
ninny, but who came back so ill from Nigeria. He's gone out
there again, Evie Wilcox tells me--out to his duty."
"Duty" always elicited a groan.
"He doesn't want the money, it is work he wants, though it is
beastly work--dull country, dishonest natives, an eternal fidget
over fresh water and food... A nation that can produce men of
that sort may well be proud. No wonder England has become an
"I can't bother over results," said Margaret, a little sadly.
"They are too difficult for me. I can only look at the men. An
Empire bores me, so far, but I can appreciate the heroism that
builds it up. London bores me, but what thousands of splendid
people are labouring to make London--"
"What it is," he sneered.
"What it is, worse luck. I want activity without civilisation.
How paradoxical! Yet I expect that is what we shall find in
"And I" said Tibby, "want civilisation without activity, which, I
expect, is what we shall find in the other place."
"You needn't go as far as the other place, Tibbikins, if you
want that. You can find it at Oxford."
"If I'm stupid, get me back to the house-hunting. I'll even
live in Oxford if you like--North Oxford. I'll live anywhere
except Bournemouth, Torquay, and Cheltenham. Oh yes, or
Ilfracombe and Swanage and Tunbridge Wells and Surbiton and
Bedford. There on no account."
"I agree, but Helen rather wants to get away from London.
However, there's no reason we shouldn't have a house in the
country and also a flat in town, provided we all stick together
and contribute. Though of course-- Oh, how one does maunder on
and tothink, to think of the people who are really poor. How do
they live? Not to move about the world would kill me."
As she spoke, the door was flung open, and Helen burst in in a
state of extreme excitement.
"Oh, my dears, what do you think? You'll never guess. A woman's
been here asking me for her husband. Her WHAT?" (Helen was fond
of supplying her own surprise.) "Yes, for her husband, and it
really is so."
"Not anything to do with Bracknell?" cried Margaret, who had
lately taken on an unemployed of that name to clean the knives
"I offered Bracknell, and he was rejected. So was Tibby. (Cheer
up, Tibby!) It's no one we know. I said, 'Hunt, my good woman;
have a good look round, hunt under the tables, poke up the
chimney, shake out the antimacassars. Husband? husband?' Oh, and
she so magnificently dressed and tinkling like a chandelier."
"Now, Helen, what did really happen?"
"What I say. I was, as it were, orating my speech. Annie opens
the door like a fool, and shows a female straight in on me, with
my mouth open. Then we began--very civilly. 'I want my husband,
what I have reason to believe is here.' No--how unjust one is.
She said 'whom,' not 'what.' She got it perfectly. So I said,
'Name, please?' and she said, 'Lan, Miss,' and there we were.
"Lan or Len. We were not nice about our vowels. Lanoline. "
"But what an extraordinary--"
"I said, 'My good Mrs. Lanoline, we have some grave
misunderstanding here. Beautiful as I am, my modesty is even more
remarkable than my beauty, and never, never has Mr. Lanoline
rested his eyes on mine.'"
"I hope you were pleased," said Tibby.
"Of course," Helen squeaked. "A perfectly delightful experience.
Oh, Mrs. Lanoline's a dear--she asked for a husband as if he were
an umbrella. She mislaid him Saturday afternoon--and for a long
time suffered no inconvenience. But all night, and all this
morning her apprehensions grew. Breakfast didn't seem the
same--no, no more did lunch, and so she strolled up to 2 Wickham
Place as being the most likely place for the missing article."
"But how on earth--"
"Don't begin how on earthing. 'I know what I know,' she kept
repeating, not uncivilly, but with extreme gloom. In vain I asked
her what she did know. Some knew what others knew, and others
didn't, and then others again had better be careful. Oh dear, she
was incompetent! She had a face like a silkworm, and the
dining-room reeks of orris-root. We chatted pleasantly a little
about husbands, and I wondered where hers was too, and advised
her to go to the police. She thanked me. We agreed that Mr.
Lanoline's a notty, notty man, and hasn't no business
to go on the lardy-da. But I think she suspected me up to the
last. Bags I writing to Aunt Juley about this. Now, Meg,
"Bag it by all means," murmured Margaret, putting down her work.
I'm not sure that this is so funny, Helen. It means some horrible
volcano smoking somewhere, doesn't it?"
"I don't think so--she doesn't really mind. The admirable
creature isn't capable of tragedy."
"Her husband may be, though," said Margaret, moving to the
"Oh no, not likely. No one capable of tragedy could have married
"Was she pretty?"
"Her figure may have been good once."
The flats, their only outlook, hung like an ornate curtain
between Margaret and the welter of London. Her thoughts turned
sadly to house-hunting. Wickham Place had been so safe. She
feared, fantastically, that her own little flock might be moving
into turmoil and squalor, into nearer contact with such episodes
"Tibby and I have again been wondering where we'll live next
September," she said at last.
"Tibby had better first wonder what he'll do," retorted Helen;
and that topic was resumed, but with acrimony. Then tea came, and
after tea Helen went on preparing her speech, and Margaret
prepared one, too, for they were going out to a discussion
society on the morrow. But her thoughts were poisoned. Mrs.
Lanoline had risen out of the abyss, like a faint smell, a
goblin football, telling of a life where love and hatred had both
The mystery, like so many mysteries, was explained. Next day,
just as they were dressed to go out to dinner, a Mr. Bast called.
He was a clerk in the employment of the Porphyrion Fire Insurance
Company. Thus much from his card. He had come "about the lady
yesterday." Thus much from Annie, who had shown him into the
"Cheers, children!" cried Helen. "It's Mrs. Lanoline."
Tibby was interested. The three hurried downstairs, to find, not
the gay dog they expected, but a young man, colourless, toneless,
who had already the mournful eyes above a drooping moustache that
are so common in London, and that haunt some streets of the city
like accusing presences. One guessed him as the third generation,
grandson to the shepherd or ploughboy whom civilisation had
sucked into the town; as one of the thousands who have lost the
life of the body and failed to reach the life of the spirit.
Hints of robustness survived in him, more than a hint of
primitive good looks, and Margaret, noting the spine that might
have been straight, and the chest that might have broadened,
wondered whether it paid to give up the glory of the animal for a
tail coat and a couple of ideas. Culture had worked in her own
case, but during the last few weeks she had doubted whether it
humanised the majority, so wide and so widening is the gulf that
stretches between the natural and the philosophic man, so many
the good chaps who are wrecked in trying to cross it. She knew
this type very well--the vague aspirations, the mental
dishonesty, the familiarity with the outsides of books. She knew
the very tones in which he would address her. She was only
unprepared for an example of her own visiting-card.
"You wouldn't remember giving me this, Miss Schlegel?" said he,
"No; I can't say I do."
"Well, that was how it happened, you see."
"Where did we meet, Mr. Bast? For the minute I don't remember."
"It was a concert at the Queen's Hall. I think you will
recollect," he added pretentiously, "when I tell you that it
included a performance of the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven."
"We hear the Fifth practically every time it's done, so I'm not
sure--do you remember, Helen?"
"Was it the time the sandy cat walked round the balustrade?"
He thought not.
"Then I don't remember. That's the only Beethoven I ever remember
"And you, if I may say so, took away my umbrella, inadvertently
"Likely enough," Helen laughed, "for I steal umbrellas even
oftener than I hear Beethoven. Did you get it back?"
"Yes, thank you, Miss Schlegel."
"The mistake arose out of my card, did it?" interposed Margaret.
"Yes, the mistake arose--it was a mistake."
"The lady who called here yesterday thought that you were calling
too, and that she could find you?" she continued, pushing him
forward, for, though he had promised an explanation, he seemed
unable to give one.
"That's so, calling too--a mistake."
"Then why--?" began Helen, but Margaret laid a hand on her arm.
"I said to my wife," he continued more rapidly "I said to Mrs.
Bast, "I have to pay a call on some friends,' and Mrs. Bast said
to me, 'Do go.' While I was gone, however, she wanted me on
important business, and thought I had come here, owing to the
card, and so came after me, and I beg to tender my apologies, and
hers as well, for any inconvenience we may have inadvertently
"No inconvenience," said Helen; "but I still don't understand."
An air of evasion characterised Mr. Bast. He explained again, but
was obviously lying, and Helen didn't see why he should get off.
She had the cruelty of youth. Neglecting her sister's pressure,
she said, "I still don't understand. When did you say you paid
"Call? What call?" said he, staring as if her question had been a
foolish one, a favourite device of those in mid-stream.
"This afternoon call."
"In the afternoon, of course!" he replied, and looked at Tibby to
see how the repartee went. But Tibby was unsympathetic, and said,
"Saturday afternoon or Sunday afternoon?"
"Really!" said Helen; "and you were still calling on Sunday, when
your wife came here. A long visit."
"I don't call that fair," said Mr. Bast, going scarlet and
handsome. There was fight in his eyes. "I know what you mean,
and it isn't so."
"Oh, don't let us mind," said Margaret, distressed again by
odours from the abyss.
"It was something else," he asserted, his elaborate manner
breaking down. "I was somewhere else to what you think, so
"It was good of you to come and explain," she said. "The rest is
naturally no concern of ours."
"Yes, but I want--I wanted--have you ever read The Ordeal of
"It's a beautiful book. I wanted to get back to the earth, don't
you see, like Richard does in the end. Or have you ever read
Stevenson's Prince Otto?"
Helen and Tibby groaned gently.
"That's another beautiful book. You get back to the earth in
that. I wanted--" He mouthed affectedly. Then through the mists
of his culture came a hard fact, hard as a pebble. "I walked all
the Saturday night," said Leonard. "I walked." A thrill of
approval ran through the sisters. But culture closed in again. He
asked whether they had ever read E. V. Lucas's Open Road."
Said Helen, "No doubt it's another beautiful book, but I'd rather
hear about your road."
"Oh, I walked."
"I don't know, nor for how long. It got too dark to see my
"Were you walking alone, may I ask?"
"Yes," he said, straightening himself; "but we'd been talking it
over at the office. There's been a lot of talk at the office
lately about these things. The fellows there said one steers by
the Pole Star, and I looked it up in the celestial atlas, but
once out of doors everything gets so mixed."
"Don't talk to me about the Pole Star," interrupted Helen, who
was becoming interested. "I know its little ways. It goes round
and round, and you go round after it."
"Well, I lost it entirely. First of all the street lamps, then
the trees, and towards morning it got cloudy."
Tibby, who preferred his comedy undiluted, slipped from the room.
He knew that this fellow would never attain to poetry, and did
not want to hear him trying.
Margaret and Helen remained. Their brother influenced them more
than they knew; in his absence they were stirred to enthusiasm
"Where did you start from?" cried Margaret. "Do tell us more."
"I took the Underground to Wimbledon. As I came out of the
office I said to myself, 'I must have a walk once in a way. If I
don't take this walk now, I shall never take it.' I had a bit of
dinner at Wimbledon, and then--"
"But not good country there, is it?"
"It was gas-lamps for hours. Still, I had all the night, and
being out was the great thing. I did get into woods, too,
"Yes, go on," said Helen.
"You've no idea how difficult uneven ground is when it's
"Did you actually go off the roads?"
"Oh yes. I always meant to go off the roads, but the worst of it
is that it's more difficult to find one's way.
"Mr. Bast, you're a born adventurer," laughed Margaret. "No
professional athlete would have attempted what you've done. It's
a wonder your walk didn't end in a broken neck. Whatever did your
"Professional athletes never move without lanterns and
compasses," said Helen. "Besides, they can't walk. It tires them.
"I felt like R. L. S. You probably remember how in Virginibus."
"Yes, but the wood. This 'ere wood. How did you get out of it?"
"I managed one wood, and found a road the other side which went a
good bit uphill. I rather fancy it was those North Downs, for the
road went off into grass, and I got into another wood. That was
awful, with gorse bushes. I did wish I'd never come, but suddenly
it got light--just while I seemed going under one tree. Then I
found a road down to a station, and took the first train I
could back to London."
"But was the dawn wonderful?" asked Helen.
With unforgettable sincerity he replied, "No." The word flew
again like a pebble from the sling. Down toppled all that had
seemed ignoble or literary in his talk, down toppled tiresome R.
L. S. and the "love of the earth" and his silk top-hat. In the
presence of these women Leonard had arrived, and he spoke with a
flow, an exultation, that he had seldom known.
"The dawn was only grey, it was nothing to mention."
"Just a grey evening turned upside down. I know."
"--and I was too tired to lift up my head to look at it, and so
cold too. I'm glad I did it, and yet at the time it bored me more
than I can say. And besides--you can believe me or not as you
choose--I was very hungry. That dinner at Wimbledon--I meant it
to last me all night like other dinners. I never thought
that walking would make such a difference. Why, when you're
walking you want, as it were, a breakfast and luncheon and tea
during the night as well, and I'd nothing but a packet of
Woodbines. Lord, I did feel bad! Looking back, it wasn't what you
may call enjoyment. It was more a case of sticking to it. I did
stick. I--I was determined. Oh, hang it all! what's the good--I
mean, the good of living in a room for ever? There one goes on
day after day, same old game, same up and down to town, until you
forget there is any other game. You ought to see once in a way
what's going on outside, if it's only nothing particular after
"I should just think you ought," said Helen, sitting--on the
edge of the table.
The sound of a lady's voice recalled him from sincerity, and he
said: "Curious it should all come about from reading something of
"Excuse me, Mr. Bast, but you're wrong there. It didn't. It came
from something far greater."
But she could not stop him. Borrow was imminent after Jefferies--
Borrow, Thoreau, and sorrow. R. L. S. brought up the rear, and
the outburst ended in a swamp of books. No disrespect to these
great names. The fault is ours, not theirs. They mean us to use
them for sign-posts we mistake the sign-post for the destination.
And Leonard had reached the destination. He had visited the
county of Surrey when darkness covered its amenities, and its
cosy villas had re-entered ancient night. Every twelve hours this
miracle happens, but he had troubled to go and see for himself.
Within his cramped little mind dwelt something that was greater
than Jefferies' books--the spirit that led Jefferies to write
them; and his dawn, though revealing nothing but monotones, was
part of the eternal sunrise that shows George Borrow Stonehenge.
"Then you don't think I was foolish?" he asked becoming again the
naive and sweet-tempered boy for whom Nature intended him.
"Heavens, no!" replied Margaret.
"Heaven help us if we do!" replied Helen.
"I'm very glad you say that. Now, my wife would never understand
--not if I explained for days."
"No, it wasn't foolish!" cried Helen, her eyes aflame. "You've
pushed back the boundaries; I think it splendid of you."
"You've not been content to dream as we have--"
"Though we have walked, too--"
"I must show you a picture upstairs--"
Here the door-bell rang. The hansom had come to take them to
their evening party.
"Oh, bother, not to say dash--I had forgotten we were dining out;
but do, do, come round again and have a talk." "Yes, you must--
do," echoed Margaret.
Leonard, with extreme sentiment, replied: "No, I shall not. It's
better like this."
"Why better?" asked Margaret.
"No, it is better not to risk a second interview. I shall always
look back on this talk with you as one of the finest things in my
life. Really. I mean this. We can never repeat. It has done me
real good, and there we had better leave it."
"That's rather a sad view of life, surely."
"Things so often get spoiled."
"I know," flashed Helen, "but people don't."
He could not understand this. He continued in a vein which
mingled true imagination and false. What he said wasn't wrong,
but it wasn't right, and a false note jarred. One little twist,
they felt, and the instrument might be in tune. One little
strain, and it might be silent for ever. He thanked the ladies
very much, but he would not call again. There was a moment's
awkwardness, and then Helen said: "Go, then; perhaps you know
best; but never forget you're better than Jefferies." And he
went. Their hansom caught him up at the corner, passed with a
waving of hands, and vanished with its accomplished load into the
London was beginning to illuminate herself against the night.
Electric lights sizzled and jagged in the main thoroughfares,
gas-lamps in the side streets glimmered a canary gold or green.
The sky was a crimson battlefield of spring, but London was not
afraid. Her smoke mitigated the splendour, and the clouds down
Oxford Street were a delicately painted ceiling, which adorned
while it did not distract. She had never known the clear-cut
armies of the purer air. Leonard hurried through her tinted
wonders, very much part of the picture. His was a grey life, and
to brighten it he had ruled off few corners for romance. The
Miss Schlegels--or, to speak more accurately, his interview
with them--were to fill such a corner, nor was it by any means
the first time that he had talked intimately to strangers. The
habit was analogous to a debauch, an outlet, though the worst of
outlets, for instincts that would not be denied. Terrifying him,
it would beat down his suspicions and prudence until he was
confiding secrets to people whom he had scarcely seen. It brought
him many fears and some pleasant memories. Perhaps the keenest
happiness he had ever known was during a railway journey to
Cambridge, where a decent-mannered undergraduate had spoken
to him. They had got into conversation, and gradually Leonard
flung reticence aside, told some of his domestic troubles and
hinted at the rest. The undergraduate, supposing they could start
a friendship, asked him to "coffee after hall," which he
accepted, but afterwards grew shy, and took care not to
stir from the commercial hotel where he lodged. He did not want
Romance to collide with the Porphyrion, still less with Jacky,
and people with fuller, happier lives are slow to understand
this. To the Schlegels, as to the undergraduate, he was an
interesting creature, of whom they wanted to see more. But they
to him were denizens of Romance, who must keep to the corner he
had assigned them, pictures that must not walk out of
His behaviour over Margaret's visiting-card had been typical. His
had scarcely been a tragic marriage. Where there is no money
and no inclination to violence tragedy cannot be generated. He
could not leave his wife, and he did not want to hit her.
Petulance and squalor were enough. Here "that card" had come in.
Leonard, though furtive, was untidy, and left it lying about.
Jacky found it, and then began, "What's that card, eh?" "Yes,
don't you wish you knew what that card was?" "Len, who's Miss
Schlegel?" etc. Months passed, and the card, now as a joke, now
as a grievance, was handed about, getting dirtier and dirtier. It
followed them when they moved from Camelia Road to Tulse Hill. It
was submitted to third parties. A few inches of pasteboard, it
became the battlefield on which the souls of Leonard and his
wife contended. Why did he not say, "A lady took my umbrella,
another gave me this that I might call for my umbrella"? Because
Jacky would have disbelieved him? Partly, but chiefly because he
was sentimental. No affection gathered round the card, but it
symbolised the life of culture, that Jacky should never spoil.
At night he would say to himself, "Well, at all events, she
doesn't know about that card. Yah! done her there!"
Poor Jacky! she was not a bad sort, and had a great deal to bear.
She drew her own conclusion--she was only capable of drawing one
conclusion--and in the fulness of time she acted upon it. All the
Friday Leonard had refused to speak to her, and had spent the
evening observing the stars. On the Saturday he went up, as
usual, to town, but he came not back Saturday night, nor Sunday
morning, nor Sunday afternoon. The inconvenience grew
intolerable, and though she was now of a retiring habit, and shy
of women, she went up to Wickham Place. Leonard returned in her
absence. The card, the fatal card, was gone from the pages of
Ruskin, and he guessed what had happened.
"Well?" he had exclaimed, greeting her with peals of laughter.
"I know where you've been, but you don't know where I've been."
Jacky sighed, said, "Len, I do think you might explain," and
Explanations were difficult at this stage, and Leonard was too
silly--or it is tempting to write, too sound a chap to attempt
them. His reticence was not entirely the shoddy article that a
business life promotes, the reticence that pretends that nothing
is something, and hides behind the Daily Telegraph. The
adventurer, also, is reticent, and it is an adventure for a clerk
to walk for a few hours in darkness. You may laugh at him, you
who have slept nights out on the veldt, with your rifle beside
you and all the atmosphere of adventure pat. And you also may
laugh who think adventures silly. But do not be surprised if
Leonard is shy whenever he meets you, and if the Schlegels rather
than Jacky hear about the dawn.
That the Schlegels had not thought him foolish became a permanent
joy. He was at his best when he thought of them. It buoyed him as
he journeyed home beneath fading heavens. Somehow the barriers of
wealth had fallen, and there had been--he could not phrase it--a
general assertion of the wonder of the world. "My conviction,"
says the mystic, "gains infinitely the moment another soul will
believe in it," and they had agreed that there was something
beyond life's daily grey. He took off his top-hat and smoothed it
thoughtfully. He had hitherto supposed the unknown to be books,
literature, clever conversation, culture. One raised oneself by
study, and got upsides with the world. But in that quick
interchange a new light dawned. Was that "something" walking in
the dark among the suburban hills?
He discovered that he was going bareheaded down Regent Street.
London came back with a rush. Few were about at this hour, but
all whom he passed looked at him with a hostility that was the
more impressive because it was unconscious. He put his hat on. It
was too big; his head disappeared like a pudding into a basin,
the ears bending outwards at the touch of the curly brim. He wore
it a little backwards, and its effect was greatly to elongate the
face and to bring out the distance between the eyes and the
moustache. Thus equipped, he escaped criticism. No one felt
uneasy as he titupped along the pavements, the heart of a man
ticking fast in his chest.
The sisters went out to dinner full of their adventure, and when
they were both full of the same subject, there were few
dinner-parties that could stand up against them. This particular
one, which was all ladies, had more kick in it than most, but
succumbed after a struggle. Helen at one part of the table,
Margaret at the other, would talk of Mr. Bast and of no one else,
and somewhere about the entree their monologues collided, fell
ruining, and became common property. Nor was this all. The
dinner-party was really an informal discussion club; there was a
paper after it, read amid coffee-cups and laughter in the
drawing-room, but dealing more or less thoughtfully with some
topic of general interest. After the paper came a debate, and in
this debate Mr. Bast also figured, appearing now as a bright spot
in civilisation, now as a dark spot, according to the temperament
of the speaker. The subject of the paper had been, "How ought I
to dispose of my money?" the reader professing to be a
millionaire on the point of death, inclined to bequeath her
fortune for the foundation of local art galleries, but open to
conviction from other sources. The various parts had been
assigned beforehand, and some of the speeches were amusing. The
hostess assumed the ungrateful role of "the millionaire's eldest
son," and implored her expiring parent not to dislocate Society
by allowing such vast sums to pass out of the family. Money was
the fruit of self-denial, and the second generation had a right
to profit by the self-denial of the first. What right had "Mr.
Bast" to profit? The National Gallery was good enough for the
likes of him. After property had had its say--a saying that is
necessarily ungracious--the various philanthropists stepped
forward. Something must be done for "Mr. Bast"; his conditions
must be improved without impairing his independence; he must have
a free library, or free tennis-courts; his rent must be paid in
such a way that he did not know it was being paid; it must be
made worth his while to join the Territorials; he must be
forcibly parted from his uninspiring wife, the money going to her
as compensation; he must be assigned a Twin Star, some member of
the leisured classes who would watch over him ceaselessly (groans
from Helen); he must be given food but no clothes, clothes but no
food, a third-return ticket to Venice, without either food or
clothes when he arrived there. In short, he might be given
anything and everything so long as it was not the money itself.
And here Margaret interrupted.
"Order, order, Miss Schlegel!" said the reader of the paper. "You
are here, I understand, to advise me in the interests of the
Society for the Preservation of Places of Historic Interest or
Natural Beauty. I cannot have you speaking out of your role. It
makes my poor head go round, and I think you forget that I am
"Your head won't go round if only you'll listen to my argument,"
said Margaret. "Why not give him the money itself? You're
supposed to have about thirty thousand a year."
"Have I? I thought I had a million."
"Wasn't a million your capital? Dear me! we ought to have settled
that. Still, it doesn't matter. Whatever you've got, I order you
to give as many poor men as you can three hundred a year each."
"But that would be pauperising them," said an earnest girl, who
liked the Schlegels, but thought them a little unspiritual at
"Not if you gave them so much. A big windfall would not pauperise
a man. It is these little driblets, distributed among too many,
that do the harm. Money's educational. It's far more educational
than the things it buys." There was a protest. "In a sense,"
added Margaret, but the protest continued. "Well, isn't the most
civilized thing going, the man who has learnt to wear his income
"Exactly what your Mr. Basts won't do."
"Give them a chance. Give them money. Don't dole them out
poetry-books and railway-tickets like babies. Give them the
wherewithal to buy these things. When your Socialism comes it may
be different, and we may think in terms of commodities instead of
cash. Till it comes give people cash, for it is the warp of
civilisation, whatever the woof may be. The imagination ought to
play upon money and realise it vividly, for it's the--the second
most important thing in the world. It is so slurred over and
hushed up, there is so little clear thinking--oh, political
economy, of course, but so few of us think clearly about our own
private incomes, and admit that independent thoughts are in nine
cases out of ten the result of independent means. Money: give Mr.
Bast money, and don't bother about his ideals. He'll pick up
those for himself.
She leant back while the more earnest members of the club began
to misconstrue her. The female mind, though cruelly practical in
daily life, cannot bear to hear ideals belittled in conversation,
and Miss Schlegel was asked however she could say such dreadful
things, and what it would profit Mr. Bast if he gained the whole
world and lost his own soul. She answered, "Nothing, but he would
not gain his soul until he had gained a little of the world."
Then they said, "No, we do not believe it," and she admitted that
an overworked clerk may save his soul in the superterrestrial
sense, where the effort will be taken for the deed, but she
denied that he will ever explore the spiritual resources of this
world, will ever know the rarer joys of the body, or attain to
clear and passionate intercourse with his fellows. Others had
attacked the fabric of Society--Property, Interest, etc.; she
only fixed her eyes on a few human beings, to see how, under
present conditions, they could be made happier. Doing good to
humanity was useless: the many-coloured efforts thereto spreading
over the vast area like films and resulting in an universal grey.
To do good to one, or, as in this case, to a few, was the utmost
she dare hope for.
Between the idealists, and the political economists, Margaret had
a bad time. Disagreeing elsewhere, they agreed in disowning her,
and in keeping the administration of the millionaire's money in
their own hands. The earnest girl brought forward a scheme of
"personal supervision and mutual help," the effect of which was
to alter poor people until they became exactly like people who
were not so poor. The hostess pertinently remarked that she, as
eldest son, might surely rank among the millionaire's legatees.
Margaret weakly admitted the claim, and another claim was at once
set up by Helen, who declared that she had been the millionaire's
housemaid for over forty years, overfed and underpaid; was
nothing to be done for her, so corpulent and poor? The
millionaire then read out her last will and testament, in which
she left the whole of her fortune to the Chancellor of the
Exchequer. Then she died. The serious parts of the discussion had
been of higher merit than the playful--in a men's debate is the
reverse more general?--but the meeting broke up hilariously
enough, and a dozen happy ladies dispersed to their homes.
Helen and Margaret walked with the earnest girl as far as
Battersea Bridge Station, arguing copiously all the way. When she
had gone they were conscious of an alleviation, and of the great
beauty of the evening. They turned back towards Oakley Street.
The lamps and the plane-trees, following the line of the
embankment, struck a note of dignity that is rare in English
cities. The seats, almost deserted, were here and there occupied
by gentlefolk in evening dress, who had strolled out from the
houses behind to enjoy fresh air and the whisper of the rising
tide. There is something continental about Chelsea Embankment. It
is an open space used rightly, a blessing more frequent in
Germany than here. As Margaret and Helen sat down, the city
behind them seemed to be a vast theatre, an opera-house in which
some endless trilogy was performing, and they themselves a pair
of satisfied subscribers, who did not mind losing a little of the
The earnest girl's train rumbled away over the bridge, "I say,
"Are we really going to follow up Mr. Bast?"
"I don't know."
"I think we won't."
"As you like."
"It's no good, I think, unless you really mean to know people.
The discussion brought that home to me. We got on well enough
with him in a spirit of excitement, but think of rational
intercourse. We mustn't play at friendship. No, it's no good."
"There's Mrs. Lanoline, too," Helen yawned. "So dull."
"Just so, and possibly worse than dull."
"I should like to know how he got hold of your card."
"But he said--something about a concert and an umbrella."
"Then did the card see the wife--"
"Helen, come to bed."
"No, just a little longer, it is so beautiful. Tell me; oh yes;
did you say money is the warp of the world?"
"Then what's the woof?"
"Very much what one chooses," said Margaret. "It's something that
isn't money--one can't say more."
"Walking at night?"
"For Tibby, Oxford?"
"It seems so."
"Now that we have to leave Wickham Place, I begin to think it's
that. For Mrs. Wilcox it was certainly Howards End."
One's own name will carry immense distances. Mr. Wilcox, who was
sitting with friends many seats away, heard this, rose to his
feet, and strolled along towards the speakers.
"It is sad to suppose that places may ever be more important than
people," continued Margaret.
"Why, Meg? They're so much nicer generally. I'd rather think of
that forester's house in Pomerania than of the fat Herr
Forstmeister who lived in it."
"I believe we shall come to care about people less and less,
Helen. The more people one knows the easier it becomes to replace
them. It's one of the curses of London. I quite expect to end my
life caring most for a place."
Here Mr. Wilcox reached them. It was several weeks since they had
"How do you do?" he cried. "I thought I recognised your voices.
Whatever are you both doing down here?"
His tones were protective. He implied that one ought not to sit
out on Chelsea Embankment without a male escort. Helen resented
this, but Margaret accepted it as part of the good man's
"What an age it is since I've seen you, Mr. Wilcox. I met Evie in
the Tube, though, lately. I hope you have good news of your son."
"Paul?" said Mr. Wilcox, extinguishing his cigarette, and sitting
down between them. "Oh, Paul's all right. We had a line from Madeira.
He'll be at work again by now."
"Ugh--" said Helen, shuddering from complex causes.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Isn't the climate of Nigeria too horrible?"
"Some one's got to go," he said simply. England will never keep
her trade overseas unless she is prepared to make sacrifices.
Unless we get firm in West Africa, Ger--untold complications may
follow. Now tell me all your news."
"Oh, we've had a splendid evening," cried Helen, who always woke
up at the advent of a visitor. "We belong to a kind of club that
reads papers, Margaret and I--all women, but there is a
discussion after. This evening it was on how one ought to leave
one's money--whether to one's family, or to the poor, and if so
how--oh, most interesting."
The man of business smiled. Since his wife's death he had almost
doubled his income. He was an important figure at last, a
reassuring name on company prospectuses, and life had treated him
very well. The world seemed in his grasp as he listened to the
River Thames, which still flowed inland from the sea. So
wonderful to the girls, it held no mysteries for him. He had
helped to shorten its long tidal trough by taking shares in the
lock at Teddington, and if he and other capitalists thought good,
some day it could be shortened again. With a good dinner inside
him and an amiable but academic woman on either flank, he felt
that his hands were on all the ropes of life, and that what he
did not know could not be worth knowing.
"Sounds a most original entertainment!" he exclaimed, and laughed
in his pleasant way. "I wish Evie would go to that sort of thing.
But she hasn't the time. She's taken to breeding Aberdeen
terriers--jolly little dogs."
"I expect we'd better be doing the same, really."
"We pretend we're improving ourselves, you see," said Helen a
little sharply, for the Wilcox glamour is not of the kind that
returns, and she had bitter memories of the days when a speech
such as he had just made would have impressed her favourably. "We
suppose it a good thing to waste an evening once a fortnight over
a debate, but, as my sister says, it may be better to breed
"Not at all. I don't agree with your sister. There's nothing like
a debate to teach one quickness. I often wish I had gone in for
them when I was a youngster. It would have helped me no end."
"Yes. Quickness in argument. Time after time I've missed scoring
a point because the other man has had the gift of the gab and I
haven't. Oh, I believe in these discussions."
The patronising tone, thought Margaret, came well enough from a
man who was old enough to be their father. She had always
maintained that Mr. Wilcox had a charm. In times of sorrow or
emotion his inadequacy had pained her, but it was pleasant to
listen to him now, and to watch his thick brown moustache and
high forehead confronting the stars. But Helen was nettled. The
aim of their debates she implied was Truth.
"Oh yes, it doesn't much matter what subject you take," said he.
Margaret laughed and said, "But this is going to be far better
than the debate itself." Helen recovered herself and laughed too.
"No, I won't go on," she declared. "I'll just put our special
case to Mr. Wilcox."
"About Mr. Bast? Yes, do. He'll be more lenient to a special
"But, Mr. Wilcox, do first light another cigarette. It's this.
We've just come across a young fellow, who's evidently very poor,
and who seems interest--"
"What's his profession?"
"Do you remember, Margaret?"
"Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company."
"Oh yes; the nice people who gave Aunt Juley a new hearth rug. He
seems interesting, in some ways very, and one wishes one could
help him. He is married to a wife whom he doesn't seem to care
for much. He likes books, and what one may roughly call
adventure, and if he had a chance-- But he is so poor. He lives a
life where all the money is apt to go on nonsense and clothes.
One is so afraid that circumstances will be too strong for him
and that he will sink. Well, he got mixed up in our debate. He
wasn't the subject of it, but it seemed to bear on his point.
Suppose a millionaire died, and desired to leave money to help
such a man. How should he be helped? Should he be given three
hundred pounds a year direct, which was Margaret's plan? Most of
them thought this would pauperise him. Should he and those like
him be given free libraries? I said 'No!' He doesn't want more
books to read, but to read books rightly. My suggestion was he
should be given something every year towards a summer holiday,
but then there is his wife, and they said she would have to go
too. Nothing seemed quite right! Now what do you think? Imagine
that you were a millionaire, and wanted to help the poor. What
would you do?"
Mr. Wilcox, whose fortune was not so very far below the standard
indicated, laughed exuberantly. "My dear Miss Schlegel, I will
not rush in where your sex has been unable to tread. I will not
add another plan to the numerous excellent ones that have been
already suggested. My only contribution is this: let your young
friend clear out of the Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company with
all possible speed."
"Why?" said Margaret.
He lowered his voice. "This is between friends. It'll be in the
Receiver's hands before Christmas. It'll smash," he added,
thinking that she had not understood.
"Dear me, Helen, listen to that. And he'll have to get another
"WILL have? Let him leave the ship before it sinks. Let him get
"Rather than wait, to make sure?"
Again the Olympian laugh, and the lowered voice. "Naturally the
man who's in a situation when he applies stands a better chance,
is in a stronger position, that the man who isn't. It looks as if
he's worth something. I know by myself--(this is letting you into
the State secrets)--it affects an employer greatly. Human nature,
"I hadn't thought of that," murmured Margaret, while Helen said,
"Our human nature appears to be the other way round. We employ
people because they're unemployed. The boot man, for instance."
"And how does he clean the boots?"
"Not well," confessed Margaret.
"There you are!"
"Then do you really advise us to tell this youth--?"
"I advise nothing," he interrupted, glancing up and down the
Embankment, in case his indiscretion had been overheard. "I
oughtn't to have spoken--but I happen to know, being more or less
behind the scenes. The Porphyrion's a bad, bad concern-- Now,
don't say I said so. It's outside the Tariff Ring."
"Certainly I won't say. In fact, I don't know what that means."
"I thought an insurance company never smashed," was Helen's
contribution. "Don't the others always run in and save them?"
"You're thinking of reinsurance," said Mr. Wilcox mildly. "It is
exactly there that the Porphyrion is weak. It has tried to
undercut, has been badly hit by a long series of small fires, and
it hasn't been able to reinsure. I'm afraid that public
companies don't save one another for love."
"'Human nature,' I suppose," quoted Helen, and he laughed and
agreed that it was. When Margaret said that she supposed that
clerks, like every one else, found it extremely difficult to get
situations in these days, he replied, "Yes, extremely," and rose
to rejoin his friends. He knew by his own office--seldom a vacant
post, and hundreds of applicants for it; at present no vacant
"And how's Howards End looking?" said Margaret, wishing to change
the subject before they parted. Mr. Wilcox was a little apt to
think one wanted to get something out of him.
"Really. And you wandering homeless in longhaired Chelsea? How
strange are the ways of Fate!"
"No; it's let unfurnished. We've moved."
"Why, I thought of you both as anchored there for ever. Evie
never told me."
"I dare say when you met Evie the thing wasn't settled. We only
moved a week ago. Paul has rather a feeling for the old place,
and we held on for him to have his holiday there; but, really, it
is impossibly small. Endless drawbacks. I forget whether you've
been up to it?"
"As far as the house, never."
"Well, Howards End is one of those converted farms. They don't
really do, spend what you will on them. We messed away with a
garage all among the wych-elm roots, and last year we enclosed a
bit of the meadow and attempted a rockery. Evie got rather keen
on Alpine plants. But it didn't do--no, it didn't do. You
remember, your sister will remember, the farm with those
abominable guinea-fowls, and the hedge that the old woman never
would cut properly, so that it all went thin at the bottom. And,
inside the house, the beams--and the staircase through a door--
picturesque enough, but not a place to live in." He glanced over
the parapet cheerfully. "Full tide. And the position wasn't
right either. The neighbourhood's getting suburban. Either be in
London or out of it, I say; so we've taken a house in Ducie
Street, close to Sloane Street, and a place right down in
Shropshire--Oniton Grange. Ever heard of Oniton? Do come and see
us--right away from everywhere, up towards Wales."
"What a change!" said Margaret. But the change was in her own
voice, which had become most sad. "I can't imagine Howards End or
Hilton without you."
"Hilton isn't without us," he replied. "Charles is there still."
"Still?" said Margaret, who had not kept up with the Charles's.
"But I thought he was still at Epsom. They were furnishing that
Christmas--one Christmas. How everything alters! I used to admire
Mrs. Charles from our windows very often. Wasn't it Epsom?"
"Yes, but they moved eighteen months ago. Charles, the good chap"
--his voice dropped--"thought I should be lonely. I didn't want
him to move, but he would, and took a house at the other end of
Hilton, down by the Six Hills. He had a motor, too. There they
all are, a very jolly party--he and she and the two
"I manage other people's affairs so much better than they manage
them themselves," said Margaret as they shook hands. "When you
moved out of Howards End, I should have moved Mr. Charles Wilcox
into it. I should have kept so remarkable a place in the family."
"So it is," he replied. "I haven't sold it, and don't mean to."
"No; but none of you are there,"
"Oh, we've got a splendid tenant--Hamar Bryce, an invalid. If
Charles ever wanted it--but he won't. Dolly is so dependent on
modern conveniences. No, we have all decided against Howards End.
We like it in a way, but now we feel that it is neither one thing
nor the other. One must have one thing or the other."
"And some people are lucky enough to have both. You're doing
yourself proud, Mr. Wilcox. My congratulations."
"And mine," said Helen.
"Do remind Evie to come and see us--2 Wickham Place. We shan't be
there very long, either."
"You, too, on the move?"
"Next September," Margaret sighed.
"Every one moving! Good-bye."
The tide had begun to ebb. Margaret leant over the parapet and
watched it sadly. Mr. Wilcox had forgotten his wife, Helen her
lover; she herself was probably forgetting. Every one moving. Is
it worth while attempting the past when there is this continual
flux even in the hearts of men?
Helen roused her by saying: "What a prosperous vulgarian Mr.
Wilcox has grown! I have very little use for him in these days.
However, he did tell us about the Porphyrion. Let us write to Mr.
Bast as soon as ever we get home, and tell him to clear out of it
"Do; yes, that's worth doing. Let us."
Leonard accepted the invitation to tea next Saturday. But he was
right; the visit proved a conspicuous failure.
"Sugar?" said Margaret.
"Cake?" said Helen. "The big cake or the little deadlies? I'm
afraid you thought my letter rather odd, but we'll explain--we
aren't odd, really--nor affected, really. We're over-expressive--
As a lady's lap-dog Leonard did not excel. He was not an Italian,
still less a Frenchman, in whose blood there runs the very spirit
of persiflage and of gracious repartee. His wit was the
Cockney's; it opened no doors into imagination, and Helen was
drawn up short by "The more a lady has to say, the better,"
"Oh yes," she said.
"Yes, I know. The darlings are regular sunbeams. Let me give you
"How do you like your work?" interposed Margaret.
He, too, was drawn up short. He would not have these women prying
into his work. They were Romance, and so was the room to which he
had at last penetrated, with the queer sketches of people bathing
upon its walls, and so were the very tea-cups, with their
delicate borders of wild strawberries. But he would not let
romance interfere with his life. There is the devil to pay then.
"Oh, well enough," he answered.
"Your company is the Porphyrion, isn't it?"
"Yes, that's so."--becoming rather offended. "It's funny how
things get round."
"Why funny?" asked Helen, who did not follow the workings of his
mind. "It was written as large as life on your card, and
considering we wrote to you there, and that you replied on the
"Would you call the Porphyrion one of the big Insurance
Companies?" pursued Margaret.
"It depends on what you call big."
"I mean by big, a solid, well-established concern, that offers a
reasonably good career to its employes."
"I couldn't say--some would tell you one thing and others
another," said the employe uneasily. "For my own part"--he shook
his head--" I only believe half I hear. Not that even; it's
safer. Those clever ones come to the worse grief, I've often
noticed. Ah, you can't be too careful."
He drank, and wiped his moustache, which was going to be one of
those moustaches that always droop into tea-cups--more bother
than they're worth, surely, and not fashionable either.
"I quite agree, and that's why I was curious to know; is it a
solid, well-established concern?"
Leonard had no idea. He understood his own corner of the machine,
but nothing beyond it. He desired to confess neither knowledge
nor ignorance, and under these circumstances, another motion of
the head seemed safest. To him, as to the British public, the
Porphyrion was the Porphyrion of the advertisement--a giant, in
the classical style, but draped sufficiently, who held in one
hand a burning torch, and pointed with the other to St. Paul's
and Windsor Castle. A large sum of money was inscribed below, and
you drew your own conclusions. This giant caused Leonard to do
arithmetic and write letters, to explain the regulations to new
clients, and re-explain them to old ones. A giant was of an
impulsive morality--one knew that much. He would pay for Mrs.
Munt's hearthrug with ostentatious haste, a large claim he would
repudiate quietly, and fight court by court. But his true
fighting weight, his antecedents, his amours with other members
of the commercial Pantheon--all these were as uncertain to
ordinary mortals as were the escapades of Zeus. While the gods
are powerful, we learn little about them. It is only in the days
of their decadence that a strong light beats into heaven.
"We were told the Porphyrion's no go," blurted Helen. "We wanted
to tell you; that's why we wrote."
"A friend of ours did think that it is insufficiently reinsured,"
Now Leonard had his clue.
He must praise the Porphyrion. "You can tell your friend," he
said, "that he's quite wrong."
The young man coloured a little. In his circle to be wrong was
fatal. The Miss Schlegels did not mind being wrong. They were
genuinely glad that they had been misinformed. To them nothing
was fatal but evil.
"Wrong, so to speak," he added.
"How 'so to speak'?"
"I mean I wouldn't say he's right altogether."
But this was a blunder. "Then he is right partly," said the elder
woman, quick as lightning.
Leonard replied that every one was right partly, if it came to
"Mr. Bast, I don't understand business, and I dare say my
questions are stupid, but can you tell me what makes a concern
'right' or 'wrong'?"
Leonard sat back with a sigh.
"Our friend, who is also a business man, was so positive. He said
"And advised you to clear out of it," concluded Helen. "But I
don't see why he should know better than you do. "
Leonard rubbed his hands. He was tempted to say that he knew
nothing about the thing at all. But a commercial training was too
strong for him. Nor could he say it was a bad thing, for this
would be giving it away; nor yet that it was good, for this would
be giving it away equally. He attempted to suggest that it was
something between the two, with vast possibilities in either
direction, but broke down under the gaze of four sincere eyes.
And yet he scarcely distinguished between the two sisters. One
was more beautiful and more lively, but "the Miss Schlegels"
still remained a composite Indian god, whose waving arms and
contradictory speeches were the product of a single mind.
"One can but see," he remarked, adding, "as Ibsen says, 'things
happen.'" He was itching to talk about books and make the most of
his romantic hour. Minute after minute slipped away, while the
ladies, with imperfect skill, discussed the subject of
reinsurance or praised their anonymous friend. Leonard grew
annoyed--perhaps rightly. He made vague remarks about not being
one of those who minded their affairs being talked over by
others, but they did not take the hint. Men might have shown more
tact. Women, however tactful elsewhere, are heavy-handed here.
They cannot see why we should shroud our incomes and our
prospects in a veil. "How much exactly have you, and how much do
you expect to have next June?" And these were women with a
theory, who held that reticence about money matters is absurd,
and that life would be truer if each would state the exact size
of the golden island upon which he stands, the exact stretch of
warp over which he throws the woof that is not money. How can we
do justice to the pattern otherwise?
And the precious minutes slipped away, and Jacky and squalor came
nearer. At last he could bear it no longer, and broke in,
reciting the names of books feverishly. There was a moment of
piercing joy when Margaret said, "So YOU like Carlyle" and then
the door opened, and "Mr. Wilcox, Miss Wilcox" entered, preceded
by two prancing puppies.
"Oh, the dears! Oh, Evie, how too impossibly sweet!" screamed
Helen, falling on her hands and knees.
"We brought the little fellows round," said Mr. Wilcox.
"I bred 'em myself."
"Oh, really! Mr. Bast, come and play with puppies."
"I've got to be going now," said Leonard sourly.
"But play with puppies a little first."
"This is Ahab, that's Jezebel," said Evie, who was one of those
who name animals after the less successful characters of Old
"I've got to be going."
Helen was too much occupied with puppies to notice him.
"Mr. Wilcox, Mr. Ba-- Must you be really?
"Come again," said Helen from the floor.
Then Leonard's gorge arose. Why should he come again? What was
the good of it? He said roundly: "No, I shan't; I knew it would
be a failure."
Most people would have let him go. "A little mistake. We tried
knowing another class--impossible."
But the Schlegels had never played with life. They had attempted
friendship, and they would take the consequences. Helen retorted,
"I call that a very rude remark. What do you want to turn on me
like that for?" and suddenly the drawing-room re-echoed to a
"You ask me why I turn on you?"
"What do you want to have me here for?'
"To help you, you silly boy!" cried Helen. "And don't shout."
"I don't want your patronage. I don't want your tea. I was quite
happy. What do you want to unsettle me for?" He turned to Mr.
Wilcox. "I put it to this gentleman. I ask you, sir, am I to have
my brain picked?"
Mr. Wilcox turned to Margaret with the air of humorous strength
that he could so well command. "Are we intruding, Miss Schlegel?
Can we be of any use, or shall we go?"
But Margaret ignored him.
"I'm connected with a leading insurance company, sir. I receive
what I take to be an invitation from these--ladies" (he drawled
the word). "I come, and it's to have my brain picked. I ask you,
is it fair?"
"Highly unfair," said Mr. Wilcox, drawing a gasp from Evie, who
knew that her father was becoming dangerous.
"There, you hear that? Most unfair, the gentleman says. There!
Not content with"--pointing at Margaret--"you can't deny it." His
voice rose; he was falling into the rhythm of a scene with Jacky.
"But as soon as I'm useful it's a very different thing. 'Oh yes,
send for him. Cross-question him. Pick his brains.' Oh yes. Now,
take me on the whole, I'm a quiet fellow: I'm law-abiding, I
don't wish any unpleasantness; but I--I--"
"You," said Margaret--"you--you--"
Laughter from Evie as at a repartee.
"You are the man who tried to walk by the Pole Star."
"You saw the sunrise."
"You tried to get away from the fogs that are stifling us all--
away past books and houses to the truth. You were looking for a
"I fail to see the connection," said Leonard, hot with stupid
"So do I." There was a pause. "You were that last Sunday--you are
this to-day. Mr. Bast! I and my sister have talked you over. We
wanted to help you; we also supposed you might help us. We did
not have you here out of charity--which bores us--but because we
hoped there would be a connection between last Sunday and other
days. What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and
the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives? They have
never entered into mine, but into yours, we thought-- Haven't we
all to struggle against life's daily greyness, against pettiness,
against mechanical cheerfulness, against suspicion? I struggle by
remembering my friends; others I have known by remembering some
place--some beloved place or tree--we thought you one of these."
"Of course, if there's been any misunderstanding," mumbled
Leonard, "all I can do is to go. But I beg to state--" He paused.
Ahab and Jezebel danced at his boots and made him look
ridiculous. "You were picking my brain for official information--
I can prove it--I--" He blew his nose and left them.
"Can I help you now?" said Mr. Wilcox, turning to Margaret. "May
I have one quiet word with him in the hall?"
"Helen, go after him--do anything--anything--to make the noodle
"But really--"said their visitor. "Ought she to?"
At once she went.
He resumed. "I would have chimed in, but I felt that you could
polish him off for yourselves--I didn't interfere. You were
splendid, Miss Schlegel--absolutely splendid. You can take my
word for it, but there are very few women who could have managed
"Oh yes," said Margaret distractedly.
"Bowling him over with those long sentences was what fetched me,"
"Yes, indeed," chuckled her father; "all that part about
'mechanical cheerfulness'--oh, fine!"
"I'm very sorry," said Margaret, collecting herself. "He's a nice
creature really. I cannot think what set him off. It has been
most unpleasant for you."
"Oh, I didn't mind." Then he changed his mood. He asked if he
might speak as an old friend, and, permission given, said:
"Oughtn't you really to be more careful?"
Margaret laughed, though her thoughts still strayed after Helen.
"Do you realise that it's all your fault?" she said. "You're
"This is the young man whom we were to warn against the
Porphyrion. We warn him, and--look!"
Mr. Wilcox was annoyed. "I hardly consider that a fair
deduction," he said.
"Obviously unfair," said Margaret. "I was only thinking how
tangled things are. It's our fault mostly--neither yours nor
"Miss Schlegel, you are too kind."
"Yes, indeed," nodded Evie, a little contemptuously.
"You behave much too well to people, and then they impose on you.
I know the world and that type of man, and as soon as I entered
the room I saw you had not been treating him properly. You must
keep that type at a distance. Otherwise they forget themselves.
Sad, but true. They aren't our sort, and one must face the fact."
"Do admit that we should never have had the outburst if he was a
"I admit it willingly," said Margaret, who was pacing up and down
the room. "A gentleman would have kept his suspicions to
Mr. Wilcox watched her with a vague uneasiness.
"What did he suspect you of?"
"Of wanting to make money out of him."
"Intolerable brute! But how were you to benefit?"
"Exactly. How indeed! Just horrible, corroding suspicion. One
touch of thought or of goodwill would have brushed it away. Just
the senseless fear that does make men intolerable brutes."
"I come back to my original point. You ought to be more careful,
Miss Schlegel. Your servants ought to have orders not to let such
She turned to him frankly. "Let me explain exactly why we like
this man, and want to see him again."
"That's your clever way of talking. I shall never believe you
"I do. Firstly, because he cares for physical adventure, just as
you do. Yes, you go motoring and shooting; he would like to go
camping out. Secondly, he cares for something special IN