Part 4 out of 8
adventure. It is quickest to call that special something
"Oh, he's one of that writer sort."
"No--oh no! I mean he may be, but it would be loathsome stuff.
His brain is filled with the husks of books, culture--horrible;
we want him to wash out his brain and go to the real thing. We
want to show him how he may get upsides with life. As I said,
either friends or the country, some"--she hesitated--"either some
very dear person or some very dear place seems necessary to
relieve life's daily grey, and to show that it is grey. If
possible, one should have both."
Some of her words ran past Mr. Wilcox. He let them run past.
Others he caught and criticised with admirable lucidity.
"Your mistake is this, and it is a very common mistake. This
young bounder has a life of his own. What right have you to
conclude it is an unsuccessful life, or, as you call it, 'grey'?"
"One minute. You know nothing about him. He probably has his own
joys and interests--wife, children, snug little home. That's
where we practical fellows" he smiled--"are more tolerant than
you intellectuals. We live and let live, and assume that things
are jogging on fairly well elsewhere, and that the ordinary plain
man may be trusted to look after his own affairs. I quite grant--
I look at the faces of the clerks in my own office, and observe
them to be dull, but I don't know what's going on beneath. So, by
the way, with London. I have heard you rail against London, Miss
Schlegel, and it seems a funny thing to say but I was very angry
with you. What do you know about London? You only see
civilisation from the outside. I don't say in your case, but in
too many cases that attitude leads to morbidity, discontent, and
She admitted the strength of his position, though it undermined
imagination. As he spoke, some outposts of poetry and perhaps of
sympathy fell ruining, and she retreated to what she called her
"second line"--to the special facts of the case.
"His wife is an old bore," she said simply. "He never came home
last Saturday night because he wanted to be alone, and she
thought he was with us."
"Yes." Evie tittered. "He hasn't got the cosy home that you
assumed. He needs outside interests."
"Naughty young man!" cried the girl.
"Naughty?" said Margaret, who hated naughtiness more than sin.
"When you're married Miss Wilcox, won't you want outside
"He has apparently got them," put in Mr. Wilcox slyly.
"Yes, indeed, father. "
"He was tramping in Surrey, if you mean that," said Margaret,
pacing away rather crossly.
"Oh, I dare say!"
"Miss Wilcox, he was!"
"M--m--m--m!" from Mr. Wilcox, who thought the episode amusing,
if risque. With most ladies he would not have discussed it, but
he was trading on Margaret's reputation as an emancipated woman.
"He said so, and about such a thing he wouldn't lie."
They both began to laugh.
"That's where I differ from you. Men lie about their positions
and prospects, but not about a thing of that sort."
He shook his head. "Miss Schlegel, excuse me, but I know the
"I said before--he isn't a type. He cares about adventures
rightly. He 's certain that our smug existence isn't all. He's
vulgar and hysterical and bookish, but don't think that sums him
up. There's manhood in him as well. Yes, that's what I'm trying
to say. He's a real man."
As she spoke their eyes met, and it was as if Mr. Wilcox's
defences fell. She saw back to the real man in him. Unwittingly
she had touched his emotions.
A woman and two men--they had formed the magic triangle of sex,
and the male was thrilled to jealousy, in case the female was
attracted by another male. Love, say the ascetics, reveals our
shameful kinship with the beasts. Be it so: one can bear that;
jealousy is the real shame. It is jealousy, not love, that
connects us with the farmyard intolerably, and calls up visions
of two angry cocks and a complacent hen. Margaret crushed
complacency down because she was civilised. Mr. Wilcox,
uncivilised, continued to feel anger long after he had rebuilt
his defences, and was again presenting a bastion to the world.
"Miss Schlegel, you're a pair of dear creatures, but you really
MUST be careful in this uncharitable world. What does your
"Surely he has some opinion?"
"He laughs, if I remember correctly."
"He's very clever, isn't he?" said Evie, who had met and
detested Tibby at Oxford.
"Yes, pretty well--but I wonder what Helen's doing."
"She is very young to undertake this sort of thing," said Mr.
Margaret went out to the landing. She heard no sound, and Mr.
Bast's topper was missing from the hall.
"Helen!" she called.
"Yes!" replied a voice from the library.
"You in there?"
"Yes--he's gone some time."
Margaret went to her. "Why, you're all alone," she said.
"Yes--it's all right, Meg. Poor, poor creature--"
"Come back to the Wilcoxes and tell me later--Mr. W much
concerned, and slightly titillated."
"0h, I've no patience with him. I hate him. Poor dear Mr. Bast!
he wanted to talk literature, and we would talk business. Such a
muddle of a man, and yet so worth pulling through. I like him
"Well done," said Margaret, kissing her, "but come into the
drawing-room now, and don't talk about him to the Wilcoxes. Make
light of the whole thing."
Helen came and behaved with a cheerfulness that reassured their
visitor--this hen at all events was fancy-free.
"He's gone with my blessing," she cried, "and now for puppies."
As they drove away, Mr. Wilcox said to his daughter:
"I am really concerned at the way those girls go on. They are as
clever as you make 'em, but unpractical--God bless me! One of
these days they'll go too far. Girls like that oughtn't to live
alone in London. Until they marry, they ought to have some one
to look after them. We must look in more often--we're better than
no one. You like them, don't you, Evie?"
Evie replied: "Helen's right enough, but I can't stand the toothy
one. And I shouldn't have called either of them girls."
Evie had grown up handsome. Dark-eyed, with the glow of youth
under sunburn, built firmly and firm-lipped, she was the best the
Wilcoxes could do in the way of feminine beauty. For the present,
puppies and her father were the only things she loved, but the
net of matrimony was being prepared for her, and a few days later
she was attracted to a Mr. Percy Cahill, an uncle of Mrs.
Charles's, and he was attracted to her.
The Age of Property holds bitter moments even for a proprietor.
When a move is imminent, furniture becomes ridiculous, and
Margaret now lay awake at nights wondering where, where on earth
they and all their belongings would be deposited in September
next. Chairs, tables, pictures, books, that had rumbled down to
them through the generations, must rumble forward again like a
slide of rubbish to which she longed to give the final push, and
send toppling into the sea. But there were all their father's
books--they never read them, but they were their father's, and
must be kept. There was the marble-topped chiffonier--their
mother had set store by it, they could not remember why. Round
every knob and cushion in the house gathered a sentiment that was
at times personal, but more often a faint piety to the dead, a
prolongation of rites that might have ended at the grave.
It was absurd, if you came to think of it; Helen and Tibby came
to think of it; Margaret was too busy with the house-agents. The
feudal ownership of land did bring dignity, whereas the modern
ownership of movables is reducing us again to a nomadic horde.
We are reverting to the civilisation of luggage, and historians
of the future will note how the middle classes accreted
possessions without taking root in the earth, and may find in this
the secret of their imaginative poverty. The Schlegels were
certainly the poorer for the loss of Wickham Place. It had helped
to balance their lives, and almost to counsel them. Nor is their
ground-landlord spiritually the richer. He has built flats on its
site, his motor-cars grow swifter, his exposures of Socialism
more trenchant. But he has spilt the precious distillation of the
years, and no chemistry of his can give it back to society again.
Margaret grew depressed; she was anxious to settle on a house
before they left town to pay their annual visit to Mrs. Munt. She
enjoyed this visit, and wanted to have her mind at ease for it.
Swanage, though dull, was stable, and this year she longed more
than usual for its fresh air and for the magnificent downs that
guard it on the north. But London thwarted her; in its atmosphere
she could not concentrate. London only stimulates, it cannot
sustain; and Margaret, hurrying over its surface for a house
without knowing what sort of a house she wanted, was paying for
many a thrilling sensation in the past. She could not even break
loose from culture, and her time was wasted by concerts which it
would be a sin to miss, and invitations which it would never do
to refuse. At last she grew desperate; she resolved that she
would go nowhere and be at home to no one until she found a
house, and broke the resolution in half an hour.
Once she had humorously lamented that she had never been to
Simpson's restaurant in the Strand. Now a note arrived from Miss
Wilcox, asking her to lunch there. Mr Cahill was coming
and the three would have such a jolly chat, and perhaps end up at
the Hippodrome. Margaret had no strong regard for Evie, and no
desire to meet her fiance, and she was surprised that Helen, who
had been far funnier about Simpson's, had not been asked instead.
But the invitation touched her by its intimate tone. She must
know Evie Wilcox better than she supposed, and declaring that she
"simply must," she accepted.
But when she saw Evie at the entrance of the restaurant, staring
fiercely at nothing after the fashion of athletic women, her
heart failed her anew. Miss Wilcox had changed perceptibly since
her engagement. Her voice was gruffer, her manner more downright,
and she was inclined to patronise the more foolish virgin.
Margaret was silly enough to be pained at this. Depressed at her
isolation, she saw not only houses and furniture, but the vessel
of life itself slipping past her, with people like Evie and Mr.
Cahill on board.
There are moments when virtue and wisdom fail us, and one of them
came to her at Simpson's in the Strand. As she trod the
staircase, narrow, but carpeted thickly, as she entered the
eating-room, where saddles of mutton were being trundled up to
expectant clergymen, she had a strong, if erroneous, coviction of
her own futility, and wished she had never come out of her
backwater, where nothing happened except art and literature, and
where no one ever got married or succeeded in remaining engaged.
Then came a little surprise. "Father might be of the party--yes,
father was." With a smile of pleasure she moved forward to greet
him, and her feeling of loneliness vanished.
"I thought I'd get round if I could," said he. "Evie told me of
her little plan, so I just slipped in and secured a table. Always
secure a table first. Evie, don't pretend you want to sit by your
old father, because you don't. Miss Schlegel, come in my side,
out of pity. My goodness, but you look tired! Been worrying round
after your young clerks?"
"No, after houses," said Margaret, edging past him into the box.
"I'm hungry, not tired; I want to eat heaps."
"That's good. What'll you have?"
"Fish pie," said she, with a glance at the menu.
"Fish pie! Fancy coming for fish pie to Simpson's. It's not a bit
the thing to go for here."
"Go for something for me, then," said Margaret, pulling off her
gloves. Her spirits were rising, and his reference to Leonard
Bast had warmed her curiously.
"Saddle of mutton," said he after profound reflection; "and
cider to drink. That's the type of thing. I like this place, for
a joke, once in a way. It is so thoroughly Old English. Don't you
"Yes," said Margaret, who didn't. The order was given, the joint
rolled up, and the carver, under Mr. Wilcox's direction, cut the
meat where it was succulent, and piled their plates high. Mr.
Cahill insisted on sirloin, but admitted that he had made a
mistake later on. He and Evie soon fell into a conversation of
the "No, I didn't; yes, you did" type--conversation which, though
fascinating to those who are engaged in it, neither desires nor
deserves the attention of others.
"It's a golden rule to tip the carver. Tip everywhere's my
"Perhaps it does make life more human."
"Then the fellows know one again. Especially in the East, if you
tip, they remember you from year's end to year's end."
"Have you been in the East?"
"Oh, Greece and the Levant. I used to go out for sport and
business to Cyprus; some military society of a sort there. A few
piastres, properly distributed, help to keep one's memory green.
But you, of course, think this shockingly cynical. How's your
discussion society getting on? Any new Utopias lately?"
"No, I'm house-hunting, Mr. Wilcox, as I've already told you
once. Do you know of any houses?"
"Afraid I don't."
"Well, what's the point of being practical if you can't find two
distressed females a house? We merely want a small house with
large rooms, and plenty of them."
"Evie, I like that! Miss Schlegel expects me to turn house-agent
"What's that, father?"
"I want a new home in September, and some one must find it. I
"Percy, do you know of anything?"
"I can't say I do," said Mr. Cahill.
"How like you! You're never any good."
"Never any good. Just listen to her! Never any good. Oh, come!"
"Well, you aren't. Miss Schlegel, is he?"
The torrent of their love, having splashed these drops at
Margaret, swept away on its habitual course. She sympathised with
it now, for a little comfort had restored her geniality. Speech
and silence pleased her equally, and while Mr. Wilcox made some
preliminary inquiries about cheese, her eyes surveyed the
restaurant, and aired its well-calculated tributes to the
solidity of our past. Though no more Old English than the works
of Kipling, it had selected its reminiscences so adroitly that
her criticism was lulled, and the guests whom it was nourishing
for imperial purposes bore the outer semblance of Parson Adams or
Tom Jones. Scraps of their talk jarred oddly on the ear. "Right
you are! I'll cable out to Uganda this evening," came from the
table behind. "Their Emperor wants war; well, let him have it,"
was the opinion of a clergyman. She smiled at such incongruities.
"Next time," she said to Mr. Wilcox, "you shall come to lunch
with me at Mr. Eustace Miles's."
"No, you'd hate it," she said, pushing her glass towards him for
some more cider. "It's all proteids and body buildings, and
people come up to you and beg your pardon, but you have such a
"Never heard of an aura? Oh, happy, happy man! I scrub at mine
for hours. Nor of an astral plane?"
He had heard of astral planes, and censured them.
"Just so. Luckily it was Helen's aura, not mine, and she had to
chaperone it and do the politenesses. I just sat with my
handkerchief in my mouth till the man went."
"Funny experiences seem to come to you two girls. No one's ever
asked me about my--what d'ye call it? Perhaps I've not got one."
"You're bound to have one, but it may be such a terrible colour
that no one dares mention it."
"Tell me, though, Miss Schlegel, do you really believe in the
supernatural and all that?"
"Too difficult a question."
"Why's that? Gruyere or Stilton?"
"Better have Stilton.
"Stilton. Because, though I don't believe in auras, and think
Theosophy's only a halfway-house--"
"--Yet there may be something in it all the same," he concluded,
with a frown.
"Not even that. It may be halfway in the wrong direction. I can't
explain. I don't believe in all these fads, and yet I don't like
saying that I don't believe in them."
He seemed unsatisfied, and said: "So you wouldn't give me your
word that you DON'T hold with astral bodies and all the rest of
"I could," said Margaret, surprised that the point was of any
importance to him. "Indeed, I will. When I talked about scrubbing
my aura, I was only trying to be funny. But why do you want this
"I don't know."
"Now, Mr. Wilcox, you do know."
"Yes, I am," "No, you're not," burst from the lovers opposite.
Margaret was silent for a moment, and then changed the subject.
"How's your house?"
"Much the same as when you honoured it last week."
"I don't mean Ducie Street. Howards End, of course."
"Why 'of course'?"
"Can't you turn out your tenant and let it to us? We're nearly
"Let me think. I wish I could help you. But I thought you wanted
to be in town. One bit of advice: fix your district, then fix
your price, and then don't budge. That's how I got both Ducie
Street and Oniton. I said to myself, 'I mean to be exactly here,'
and I was, and Oniton's a place in a thousand."
"But I do budge. Gentlemen seem to mesmerise houses--cow them
with an eye, and up they come, trembling. Ladies can't. It's the
houses that are mesmerising me. I've no control over the saucy
things. Houses are alive. No?"
"I'm out of my depth," he said, and added: "Didn't you talk
rather like that to your office boy?"
"Did I?--I mean I did, more or less. I talk the same way to every
one--or try to."
"Yes, I know. And how much of it do you suppose he understood?"
"That's his lookout. I don't believe in suiting my conversation
to my company. One can doubtless hit upon some medium of exchange
that seems to do well enough, but it's no more like the real
thing than money is like food. There's no nourishment in it. You
pass it to the lower classes, and they pass it back to you, and
this you call 'social intercourse' or 'mutual endeavour,' when
it's mutual priggishness if it's anything. Our friends at Chelsea
don't see this. They say one ought to be at all costs
intelligible, and sacrifice--"
"Lower classes," interrupted Mr. Wilcox, as it were thrusting his
hand into her speech. "Well, you do admit that there are rich
and poor. That's something."
Margaret could not reply. Was he incredibly stupid, or did he
understand her better than she understood herself?
"You do admit that, if wealth was divided up equally, in a few
years there would be rich and poor again just the same. The
hard-working man would come to the top, the wastrel sink to the
"Every one admits that."
"Your Socialists don't."
"My Socialists do. Yours mayn't; but I strongly suspect yours of
being not Socialists, but ninepins, which you have constructed
for your own amusement. I can't imagine any living creature who
would bowl over quite so easily."
He would have resented this had she not been a woman. But women
may say anything--it was one of his holiest beliefs--and he only
retorted, with a gay smile: "I don't care. You've made two
damaging admissions, and I'm heartily with you in both."
In time they finished lunch, and Margaret, who had excused
herself from the Hippodrome, took her leave. Evie had scarcely
addressed her, and she suspected that the entertainment had been
planned by the father. He and she were advancing out of their
respective families towards a more intimate acquaintance. It had
begun long ago. She had been his wife's friend and, as such, he
had given her that silver vinaigrette as a memento. It was pretty
of him to have given that vinaigrette, and he had always
preferred her to Helen--unlike most men. But the advance had been
astonishing lately. They had done more in a week than in two
years, and were really beginning to know each other.
She did not forget his promise to sample Eustace Miles, and asked
him as soon as she could secure Tibby as his chaperon. He came,
and partook of body-building dishes with humility.
Next morning the Schlegels left for Swanage. They had not
succeeded in finding a new home.
As they were seated at Aunt Juley's breakfast-table at The Bays,
parrying her excessive hospitality and enjoying the view of the
bay, a letter came for Margaret and threw her into perturbation.
It was from Mr. Wilcox. It announced an "important change" in his
plans. Owing to Evie's marriage, he had decided to give up his
house in Ducie Street, and was willing to let it on a yearly
tenancy. It was a businesslike letter, and stated frankly what he
would do for them and what he would not do. Also the rent. If
they approved, Margaret was to come up AT ONCE--the words were
underlined, as is necessary when dealing with women--and to go
over the house with him. If they disapproved, a wire would
oblige, as he should put it into the hands of an agent.
The letter perturbed, because she was not sure what it meant. If
he liked her, if he had manoeuvred to get her to Simpson's, might
this be a manoeuvre to get her to London, and result in an offer
of marriage? She put it to herself as indelicately as possible,
in the hope that her brain would cry, "Rubbish, you're a
self-conscious fool!" But her brain only tingled a little and was
silent, and for a time she sat gazing at the mincing waves, and
wondering whether the news would seem strange to the others.
As soon as she began speaking, the sound of her own voice
reassured her. There could be nothing in it. The replies also
were typical, and in the burr of conversation her fears vanished.
"You needn't go though--"began her hostess.
"I needn't, but hadn't I better? It's really getting rather
serious. We let chance after chance slip, and the end of it is we
shall be bundled out bag and baggage into the street. We don't
know what we WANT, that's the mischief with us--"
"No, we have no real ties," said Helen, helping herself to toast.
"Shan't I go up to town to-day, take the house if it's the least
possible, and then come down by the afternoon train to-morrow,
and start enjoying myself. I shall be no fun to myself or to
others until this business is off my mind.
"But you won't do anything rash, Margaret?"
"There's nothing rash to do."
"Who ARE the Wilcoxes?" said Tibby, a question that sounds silly,
but was really extremely subtle as his aunt found to her cost
when she tried to answer it. "I don't MANAGE the Wilcoxes; I
don't see where they come IN."
"No more do I," agreed Helen. "It's funny that we just don't lose
sight of them. Out of all our hotel acquaintances, Mr. Wilcox is
the only one who has stuck. It is now over three years, and we
have drifted away from far more interesting people in that time."
"Interesting people don't get one houses."
"Meg, if you start in your honest-English vein, I shall throw the
treacle at you."
"It's a better vein than the cosmopolitan," said Margaret,
getting up. "Now, children, which is it to be? You know the Ducie
Street house. Shall I say yes or shall I say no? Tibby love--
which? I'm specially anxious to pin you both."
"It all depends on what meaning you attach to the word
"It depends on nothing of the sort. Say 'yes.'"
Then Margaret spoke rather seriously. "I think," she said, "that
our race is degenerating. We cannot settle even this little
thing; what will it be like when we have to settle a big one?"
"It will be as easy as eating," returned Helen.
"I was thinking of father. How could he settle to leave Germany
as he did, when he had fought for it as a young man, and all his
feelings and friends were Prussian? How could he break loose with
Patriotism and begin aiming at something else? It would have
killed me. When he was nearly forty he could change countries and
ideals--and we, at our age, can't change houses. It's
"Your father may have been able to change countries," said Mrs.
Munt with asperity, "and that may or may not be a good thing. But
he could change houses no better than you can, in fact, much
worse. Never shall I forget what poor Emily suffered in the move
"I knew it," cried Helen. "I told you so. It is the little things
one bungles at. The big, real ones are nothing when they come."
"Bungle, my dear! You are too little to recollect--in fact, you
weren't there. But the furniture was actually in the vans and on
the move before the lease for Wickham Place was signed, and Emily
took train with baby--who was Margaret then--and the smaller
luggage for London, without so much as knowing where her new home
would be. Getting away from that house may be hard, but it is
nothing to the misery that we all went through getting you into
Helen, with her mouth full, cried:
"And that's the man who beat the Austrians, and the Danes, and
the French, and who beat the Germans that were inside himself.
And we're like him."
"Speak for yourself," said Tibby. "Remember that I am
"Helen may be right."
"Of course she's right," said Helen.
Helen might be right, but she did not go up to London. Margaret
did that. An interrupted holiday is the worst of the minor
worries, and one may be pardoned for feeling morbid when a
business letter snatches one away from the sea and friends. She
could not believe that her father had ever felt the same. Her
eyes had been troubling her lately, so that she could not read in
the train and it bored her to look at the landscape, which she
had seen but yesterday. At Southampton she "waved" to Frieda;
Frieda was on her way down to join them at Swanage, and Mrs. Munt
had calculated that their trains would cross. But Frieda was
looking the other way, and Margaret travelled on to town feeling
solitary and old-maidish. How like an old maid to fancy that Mr.
Wilcox was courting her! She had once visited a spinster--poor,
silly, and unattractive--whose mania it was that every man who
approached her fell in love. How Margaret's heart had bled for
the deluded thing! How she had lectured, reasoned, and in despair
acquiesced! "I may have been deceived by the curate, my dear, but
the young fellow who brings the midday post really is fond of me,
and has, as a matter of fact--" It had always seemed to her the
most hideous corner of old age, yet she might be driven into it
herself by the mere pressure of virginity.
Mr. Wilcox met her at Waterloo himself. She felt certain that he
was not the same as usual; for one thing, he took offence at
everything she said.
"This is awfully kind of you," she began, "but I'm afraid it's
not going to do. The house has not been built that suits the
"What! Have you come up determined not to deal?"
"Not exactly? In that case let's be starting."
She lingered to admire the motor, which was new, and a fairer
creature than the vermilion giant that had borne Aunt Juley to
her doom three years before.
"Presumably it's very beautiful," she said. "How do you like it,
"Come, let's be starting," repeated her host. "How on earth did
you know that my chauffeur was called Crane?"
"Why, I know Crane; I've been for a drive with Evie once. I know
that you've got a parlourmaid called Milton. I know all sorts of
"Evie!" he echoed in injured tones. "You won't see her. She's
gone out with Cahill. It's no fun, I can tell you, being left so
much alone. I've got my work all day--indeed, a great deal too
much of it--but when I come home in the evening, I tell you, I
can't stand the house."
"In my absurd way, I'm lonely too," Margaret replied. "It's
heart-breaking to leave one's old home. I scarcely remember
anything before Wickham Place, and Helen and Tibby were born
there. Helen says--"
"You, too, feel lonely?"
"Horribly. Hullo, Parliament's back!"
Mr. Wilcox glanced at Parliament contemptuously. The more
important ropes of life lay elsewhere. "Yes, they are talking
again," said he. "But you were going to say--"
"Only some rubbish about furniture. Helen says it alone endures
while men and houses perish, and that in the end the world will
be a desert of chairs and sofas--just imagine it!--rolling through
infinity with no one to sit upon them."
"Your sister always likes her little joke."
"She says 'Yes,' my brother says `No,' to Ducie Street. It's no
fun helping us, Mr. Wilcox, I assure you."
"You are not as unpractical as you pretend. I shall never believe
Margaret laughed. But she was--quite as unpractical. She could
not concentrate on details. Parliament, the Thames, the
irresponsive chauffeur, would flash into the field of
house-hunting, and all demand some comment or response. It is
impossible to see modern life steadily and see it whole, and she
had chosen to see it whole. Mr. Wilcox saw steadily. He never
bothered over the mysterious or the private. The Thames might run
inland from the sea, the chauffeur might conceal all passion and
philosophy beneath his unhealthy skin. They knew their own
business, and he knew his.
Yet she liked being with him. He was not a rebuke, but a
stimulus, and banished morbidity. Some twenty years her senior,
he preserved a gift that she supposed herself to have already
lost--not youth's creative power, but its self-confidence and
optimism. He was so sure that it was a very pleasant world. His
complexion was robust, his hair had receded but not thinned, the
thick moustache and the eyes that Helen had compared to
brandy-balls had an agreeable menace in them, whether they were
turned towards the slums or towards the stars. Some day--in the
millennium--there may be no need for his type. At present, homage
is due to it from those who think themselves superior, and who
"At all events you responded to my telegram promptly," he
"Oh, even I know a good thing when I see it."
"I'm glad you don't despise the goods of this world."
"Heavens, no! Only idiots and prigs do that."
"I am glad, very glad," he repeated, suddenly softening and
turning to her, as if the remark had pleased him. "There is so
much cant talked in would-be intellectual circles. I am glad you
don't share it. Self-denial is all very well as a means of
strengthening the character. But I can't stand those people who
run down comforts. They have usually some axe to grind. Can you?"
"Comforts are of two kinds," said Margaret, who was keeping
herself in hand--"those we can share with others, like fire,
weather, or music; and those we can't--food, food, for instance.
"I mean reasonable comforts, of course. I shouldn't like to think
that you--" He bent nearer; the sentence died unfinished.
Margaret's head turned very stupid, and the inside of it seemed
to revolve like the beacon in a lighthouse. He did not kiss her,
for the hour was half-past twelve, and the car was passing by the
stables of Buckingham Palace. But the atmosphere was so charged
with emotion that people only seemed to exist on her account, and
she was surprised that Crane did not realise this, and turn
round. Idiot though she might be, surely Mr. Wilcox was more--how
should one put it?--more psychological than usual. Always a good
judge of character for business purposes, he seemed this
afternoon to enlarge his field, and to note qualities outside
neatness, obedience, and decision.
"I want to go over the whole house," she announced when they
arrived. "As soon as I get back to Swanage, which will be
to-morrow afternoon, I'll talk it over once more with Helen and
Tibby, and wire you 'yes' or 'no.'"
"Right. The dining-room." And they began their survey.
The dining-room was big, but over-furnished. Chelsea would have
moaned aloud. Mr. Wilcox had eschewed those decorative schemes
that wince, and relent, and refrain, and achieve beauty by
sacrificing comfort and pluck. After so much self-colour and
self-denial, Margaret viewed with relief the sumptuous dado, the
frieze, the gilded wall-paper, amid whose foliage parrots sang.
It would never do with her own furniture, but those heavy chairs,
that immense sideboard loaded with presentation plate, stood up
against its pressure like men. The room suggested men, and
Margaret, keen to derive the modern capitalist from the warriors
and hunters of the past, saw it as an ancient guest-hall, where
the lord sat at meat among his thanes. Even the Bible--the Dutch
Bible that Charles had brought back from the Boer War--fell into
position. Such a room admitted loot.
"Now the entrance-hall."
The entrance-hall was paved.
"Here we fellows smoke."
We fellows smoked in chairs of maroon leather. It was as if a
motor-car had spawned. "Oh, jolly!" said Margaret, sinking into
one of them.
"You do like it?" he said, fixing his eyes on her upturned face,
and surely betraying an almost intimate note. "It's all rubbish
not making oneself comfortable. Isn't it?"
"Ye--es. Semi-rubbish. Are those Cruikshanks?"
"Gillrays. Shall we go on upstairs?"
"Does all this furniture come from Howards End?"
"The Howards End furniture has all gone to Oniton."
"Does-- However, I'm concerned with the house, not the furniture.
How big is this smoking-room?"
"Thirty by fifteen. No, wait a minute. Fifteen and a half."
"Ah, well. Mr. Wilcox, aren't you ever amused at the solemnity
with which we middle classes approach the subject of houses?"
They proceeded to the drawing-room. Chelsea managed better here.
It was sallow and ineffective. One could visualise the ladies
withdrawing to it, while their lords discussed life's realities
below, to the accompaniment of cigars. Had Mrs. Wilcox's
drawing-room at Howards End looked thus? Just as this thought
entered Margaret's brain, Mr. Wilcox did ask her to be his wife,
and the knowledge that she had been right so overcame her that
she nearly fainted.
But the proposal was not to rank among the world's great love
"Miss Schlegel"--his voice was firm--"I have had you up on false
pretences. I want to speak about a much more serious matter than
Margaret almost answered: "I know--"
"Could you be induced to share my--is it probable--"
"Oh, Mr. Wilcox!" she interrupted, taking hold of the piano and
averting her eyes. "I see, I see. I will write to you afterwards
if I may."
He began to stammer. "Miss Schlegel--Margaret you don't
"Oh yes! Indeed, yes!" said Margaret.
"I am asking you to be my wife."
So deep already was her sympathy, that when he said, "I am asking
you to be my wife," she made herself give a little start. She
must show surprise if he expected it. An immense joy came over
her. It was indescribable. It had nothing to do with humanity,
and most resembled the all-pervading happiness of fine weather.
Fine weather is due to the sun, but Margaret could think of no
central radiance here. She stood in his drawing-room happy, and
longing to give happiness. On leaving him she realised that the
central radiance had been love.
"You aren't offended, Miss Schlegel?"
"How could I be offended?"
There was a moment's pause. He was anxious to get rid of her, and
she knew it. She had too much intuition to look at him as he
struggled for possessions that money cannot buy. He desired
comradeship and affection, but he feared them, and she, who had
taught herself only to desire, and could have clothed the
struggle with beauty, held back, and hesitated with him.
"Good-bye," she continued. "You will have a letter from me--I am
going back to Swanage to-morrow."
"Good-bye, and it's you I thank."
"I may order the motor round, mayn't I?"
"That would be most kind."
"I wish I had written. Ought I to have written?"
"Not at all."
"There's just one question--"
She shook her head. He looked a little bewildered as they parted.
They parted without shaking hands; she had kept the interview,
for his sake, in tints of the quietest grey. she thrilled with
happiness ere she reached her house. Others had loved her in the
past, if one apply to their brief desires so grave a word, but
the others had been "ninnies"--young men who had nothing to do,
old men who could find nobody better. And she had often 'loved,'
too, but only so far as the facts of sex demanded: mere yearnings
for the masculine sex to be dismissed for what they were worth,
with a sigh. Never before had her personality been touched. She
was not young or very rich, and it amazed her that a man of any
standing should take her seriously as she sat, trying to do
accounts in her empty house, amidst beautiful pictures and noble
books, waves of emotion broke, as if a tide of passion was
flowing through the night air. She shook her head, tried to
concentrate her attention, and failed. In vain did she repeat:
"But I've been through this sort of thing before." She had
never been through it; the big machinery, as opposed to the
little, had been set in motion, and the idea that Mr. Wilcox
loved, obsessed her before she came to love him in return.
She would come to no decision yet. "oh, sir, this is so sudden"--
that prudish phrase exactly expressed her when her time came.
Premonitions are not preparation. She must examine more closely
her own nature and his; she must talk it over judicially with
Helen. It had been a strange love-scene--the central radiance
unacknowledged from first to last. She, in his place, would have
said Ich liebe dich, but perhaps it was not his habit to open the
heart. He might have done it if she had pressed him--as a matter
of duty, perhaps; England expects every man to open his heart
once; but the effort would have jarred him, and never, if she
could avoid it, should he lose those defences that he had chosen
to raise against the world. He must never be bothered with
emotional talk, or with a display of sympathy. He was an elderly
man now, and it would be futile and impudent to correct him.
Mrs. Wilcox strayed in and out, ever a welcome ghost; surveying
the scene, thought Margaret, without one hint of bitterness.
If one wanted to show a foreigner England, perhaps the wisest
course would be to take him to the final section of the Purbeck
Hills, and stand him on their summit, a few miles to the east of
Corfe. Then system after system of our island would roll together
under his feet. Beneath him is the valley of the Frome, and all
the wild lands that come tossing down from Dorchester, black and
gold, to mirror their gorse in the expanses of Poole. The valley
of the Stour is beyond, unaccountable stream, dirty at Blandford,
pure at Wimborne--the Stour, sliding out of fat fields, to marry
the Avon beneath the tower of Christ church. The valley of the
Avon--invisible, but far to the north the trained eye may see
Clearbury Ring that guards it, and the imagination may leap
beyond that on to Salisbury Plain itself, and beyond the Plain to
all the glorious downs of Central England. Nor is Suburbia
absent. Bournemouth's ignoble coast cowers to the right,
heralding the pine-trees that mean, for all their beauty, red
houses, and the Stock Exchange, and extend to the gates of London
itself. So tremendous is the City's trail! But the cliffs of
Freshwater it shall never touch, and the island will guard the
Island's purity till the end of time. Seen from the west the
Wight is beautiful beyond all laws of beauty. It is as if a
fragment of England floated forward to greet the foreigner--chalk
of our chalk, turf of our turf, epitome of what will follow. And
behind the fragment lies Southampton, hostess to the nations, and
Portsmouth, a latent fire, and all around it, with double and
treble collision of tides, swirls the sea. How many villages
appear in this view! How many castles! How many churches,
vanished or triumphant! How many ships, railways, and roads! What
incredible variety of men working beneath that lucent sky to what
final end! The reason fails, like a wave on the Swanage beach;
the imagination swells, spreads, and deepens, until it becomes
geographic and encircles England.
So Frieda Mosebach, now Frau Architect Liesecke, and mother to
her husband's baby, was brought up to these heights to be
impressed, and, after a prolonged gaze, she said that the hills
were more swelling here than in Pomerania, which was true, but
did not seem to Mrs. Munt apposite. Poole Harbour was dry, which
led her to praise the absence of muddy foreshore at Friedrich
Wilhelms Bad, Rugen, where beech-trees hang over the tideless
Baltic, and cows may contemplate the brine. Rather unhealthy Mrs.
Munt thought this would be, water being safer when it moved
"And your English lakes--Vindermere, Grasmere they, then,
"No, Frau Liesecke; but that is because they are fresh water, and
different. Salt water ought to have tides, and go up and down a
great deal, or else it smells. Look, for instance, at an
"An aquarium! Oh, MEESIS Munt, you mean to tell me that fresh
aquariums stink less than salt? Why, then Victor, my
brother-in-law, collected many tadpoles--" "You are not to say
'stink,'" interrupted Helen; "at least, you may say it, but you
must pretend you are being funny while you say it."
"Then 'smell.' And the mud of your Pool down there--does it not
smell, or may I say 'stink,' ha, ha?"
"There always has been mud in Poole Harbour," said Mrs. Munt,
with a slight frown. "The rivers bring it down, and a most
valuable oyster-fishery depends upon it."
"Yes, that is so," conceded Frieda; and another international
incident was closed.
"'Bournemouth is,'" resumed their hostess, quoting a local rhyme
to which she was much attached--"'Bournemouth is, Poole was, and
Swanage is to be the hmst important town of all and biggest of
the three.' Now, Frau Liesecke, I have shown you Bournemouth, and
I have shown you Poole, so let us walk backward a little, and
look down again at Swanage."
"Aunt Juley, wouldn't that be Meg's train?"
A tiny puff of smoke had been circling the harbour, and now was
bearing southwards towards them over the black and the gold.
"Oh, dearest Margaret, I do hope she won't be overtired."
"Oh, I do wonder--I do wonder whether she's taken the house."
"I hope she hasn't been hasty."
"So do I--oh, SO do I."
"Will it be as beautiful as Wickham Place?" Frieda asked.
"I should think it would. Trust Mr. Wilcox for doing himself
proud. All those Ducie Street houses are beautiful in their
modern way, and I can't think why he doesn't keep on with it. But
it's really for Evie that he went there, and now that Evie's
going to be married--"
"You've never seen Miss Wilcox, Frieda. How absurdly matrimonial
"But sister to that Paul?"
"And to that Charles," said Mrs. Munt with feeling. "Oh, Helen,
Helen, what a time that was!"
Helen laughed. "Meg and I haven't got such tender hearts. If
there's a chance of a cheap house, we go for it."
"Now look, Frau Liesecke, at my niece's train. You see, it is
coming towards us--coming, coming; and, when it gets to Corfe, it
will actually go THROUGH the downs, on which we are standing, so
that, if we walk over, as I suggested, and look down on Swanage,
we shall see it coming on the other side. Shall we?"
Frieda assented, and in a few minutes they had crossed the ridge
and exchanged the greater view for the lesser. Rather a dull
valley lay below, backed by the slope of the coastward downs.
They were looking across the Isle of Purbeck and on to Swanage,
soon to be the most important town of all, and ugliest of the
three. Margaret's train reappeared as promised, and was greeted
with approval by her aunt. It came to a standstill in the middle
distance, and there it had been planned that Tibby should meet
her, and drive her, and a tea-basket, up to join them.
"You see," continued Helen to her cousin, "the Wilcoxes collect
houses as your Victor collects tadpoles. They have, one, Ducie
Street; two, Howards End, where my great rumpus was; three, a
country seat in Shropshire; four, Charles has a house in Hilton;
and five, another near Epsom; and six, Evie will have a house
when she marries, and probably a pied-a-terre in the country--
which makes seven. Oh yes, and Paul a hut in Africa makes eight.
I wish we could get Howards End. That was something like a dear
little house! Didn't you think so, Aunt Juley?"
"I had too much to do, dear, to look at it," said Mrs. Munt, with
a gracious dignity. "I had everything to settle and explain, and
Charles Wilcox to keep in his place besides. It isn't likely I
should remember much. I just remember having lunch in your
"Yes, so do I. But, oh dear, dear, how dreadful it all seems! And
in the autumn there began that anti-Pauline movement--you, and
Frieda, and Meg, and Mrs. Wilcox, all obsessed with the idea that
I might yet marry Paul."
"You yet may," said Frieda despondently.
Helen shook her head. "The Great Wilcox Peril will never return.
If I'm certain of anything it's of that."
"One is certain of nothing but the truth of one's own emotions."
The remark fell damply on the conversation. But Helen slipped her
arm round her cousin, somehow liking her the better for making
it. It was not an original remark, nor had Frieda appropriated it
passionately, for she had a patriotic rather than a philosophic
mind. Yet it betrayed that interest in the universal which the
average Teuton possesses and the average Englishman does not. It
was, however illogically, the good, the beautiful, the true, as
opposed to the respectable, the pretty, the adequate. It was a
landscape of Bocklin's beside a landscape of Leader's, strident
and ill-considered, but quivering into supernatural life. It
sharpened idealism, stirred the soul. It may have been a bad
preparation for what followed.
"Look!" cried Aunt Juley, hurrying away from generalities over
the narrow summit of the down. "Stand where I stand, and you will
see the pony-cart coming. I see the pony-cart coming."
They stood and saw the pony-cart coming. Margaret and Tibby were
presently seen coming in it. Leaving the outskirts of Swanage, it
drove for a little through the budding lanes, and then began the
"Have you got the house?" they shouted, long before she could
Helen ran down to meet her. The highroad passed over a saddle,
and a track went thence at right angles alone the ridge of the
"Have you got the house?"
Margaret shook her head.
"Oh, what a nuisance! So we're as we were?"
She got out, looking tired.
"Some mystery," said Tibby. "We are to be enlightened presently."
Margaret came close up to her and whispered that she had had a
proposal of marriage from Mr. Wilcox.
Helen was amused. She opened the gate on to the downs so that her
brother might lead the pony through. "It's just like a widower,"
she remarked. "They've cheek enough for anything, and invariably
select one of their first wife's friends."
Margaret's face flashed despair.
"That type--" She broke off with a cry. "Meg, not anything wrong
"Wait one minute," said Margaret, whispering always.
"But you've never conceivably--you've never--" She pulled herself
together. "Tibby, hurry up through; I can't hold this gate
indefinitely. Aunt Juley! I say, Aunt Juley, make the tea, will
you, and Frieda; we've got to talk houses, and will come on
afterwards." And then, turning her face to her sister's, she
burst into tears.
Margaret was stupefied. She heard herself saying, "Oh, really--"
She felt herself touched with a hand that trembled.
"Don't," sobbed Helen, "don't, don't, Meg, don't!" She seemed
incapable of saying any other word. Margaret, trembling herself,
led her forward up the road, till they strayed through another
gate on to the down.
"Don't, don't do such a thing! I tell you not to--don't! I know--
"What do you know?"
"Panic and emptiness," sobbed Helen. "Don't!"
Then Margaret thought, "Helen is a little selfish. I have never
behaved like this when there has seemed a chance of her
marrying." She said: "But we would still see each other very--
often, and you--"
"It's not a thing like that," sobbed Helen. And she broke right
away and wandered distractedly upwards, stretching her hands
towards the view and crying.
"What's happened to you?" called Margaret, following through the
wind that gathers at sundown on the northern slopes of hills.
"But it's stupid!" And suddenly stupidity seized her, and the
immense landscape was blurred. But Helen turned back.
"I don't know what's happened to either of us," said Margaret,
wiping her eyes. "We must both have done mad." Then Helen wiped
hers, and they even laughed a little.
"Look here, sit down."
"All right; I'll sit down if you'll sit down."
"There. (One kiss.) Now, whatever, whatever is the matter?"
"I do mean what I said. Don't; it wouldn't do."
"Oh, Helen, stop saying 'don't'! It's ignorant. It's as if your
head wasn't out of the slime. 'Don't' is probably what Mrs. Bast
says all the day to Mr. Bast."
Helen was silent.
"Tell me about it first, and meanwhile perhaps I'll have got my
head out of the slime."
"That's better. Well, where shall I begin? When I arrived at
Waterloo--no, I'll go back before that, because I'm anxious you
should know everything from the first. The 'first' was about ten
days ago. It was the day Mr. Bast came to tea and lost his
temper. I was defending him, and Mr. Wilcox became jealous about
me, however slightly. I thought it was the involuntary thing,
which men can't help any more than we can. You know--at least, I
know in my own case--when a man has said to me, 'So-and-so's a
pretty girl,' I am seized with a momentary sourness against So-
and-so, and long to tweak her ear. It's a tiresome feeling, but
not an important one, and one easily manages it. But it wasn't
only this in Mr. Wilcox's case, I gather now."
"Then you love him?'
Margaret considered. "It is wonderful knowing that a real man
cares for you," she said. "The mere fact of that grows more
tremendous. Remember, I've known and liked him steadily for
nearly three years."
"But loved him?"
Margaret peered into her past. It is pleasant to analyse feelings
while they are still only feelings, and unembodied in the social
fabric. With her arm round Helen, and her eyes shifting over the
view, as if this country or that could reveal the secret of her
own heart, she meditated honestly, and said, "No."
"But you will?"
"Yes," said Margaret, "of that I'm pretty sure. Indeed, I began
the moment he spoke to me."
"And have settled to marry him?"
"I had, but am wanting a long talk about it now. What is it
against him, Helen? You must try and say."
Helen, in her turn, looked outwards. "It is ever since Paul," she
"But what has Mr. Wilcox to do with Paul?"
"But he was there, they were all there that morning when I came
down to breakfast, and saw that Paul was frightened--the man who
loved me frightened and all his paraphernalia fallen, so that I
knew it was impossible, because personal relations are the
important thing for ever and ever, and not this outer life of
telegrams and anger."
She poured the sentence forth in one breath, but her sister
understood it, because it touched on thoughts that were familiar
"That's foolish. In the first place, I disagree about the outer
life. Well, we've often argued that. The real point is that there
is the widest gulf between my love-making and yours. Yours was
romance; mine will be prose. I'm not running it down--a very good
kind of prose, but well considered, well thought out. For
instance, I know all Mr. Wilcox's faults. He's afraid of emotion.
He cares too much about success, too little about the past. His
sympathy lacks poetry, and so isn't sympathy really. I'd even say
"--she looked at the shining lagoons--"that, spiritually, he's
not as honest as I am. Doesn't that satisfy you?"
"No, it doesn't," said Helen. "It makes me feel worse and worse.
You must be mad."
Margaret made a movement of irritation.
"I don't intend him, or any man or any woman, to be all my life--
good heavens, no! There are heaps of things in me that he
doesn't, and shall never, understand."
Thus she spoke before the wedding ceremony and the physical
union, before the astonishing glass shade had fallen that
interposes between married couples and the world. She was to keep
her independence more than do most women as yet. Marriage was to
alter her fortunes rather than her character, and she was not far
wrong in boasting that she understood her future husband. Yet he
did alter her character--a little. There was an unforeseen
surprise, a cessation of the winds and odours of life, a social
pressure that would have her think conjugally.
"So with him," she continued. "There are heaps of things in him--
more especially things that he does that will always be hidden
from me. He has all those public qualities which you so despise
and which enable all this--" She waved her hand at the landscape,
which confirmed anything. "If Wilcoxes hadn't worked and died in
England for thousands of years, you and I couldn't sit here
without having our throats cut. There would be no trains, no
ships to carry us literary people about in, no fields even. Just
savagery. No--perhaps not even that. Without their spirit life
might never have moved out of protoplasm. More and more do I
refuse to draw my income and sneer at those who guarantee it.
There are times when it seems to me--"
"And to me, and to all women. So one kissed Paul."
"That's brutal." said 'Margaret. "Mine is an absolutely different
case. I've thought things out."
"It makes no difference thinking things out. They come to the
There was a long silence, during which the tide returned into
Poole Harbour. "One would lose something," murmured Helen,
apparently to herself. The water crept over the mud-flats towards
the gorse and the blackened heather. Branksea Island lost its
immense foreshores, and became a sombre episode of trees. Frome
was forced inward towards Dorchester, Stour against Wimborne,
Avon towards Salisbury, and over the immense displacement the sun
presided, leading it to triumph ere he sank to rest. England was
alive, throbbing through all her estuaries, crying for joy
through the mouths of all her gulls, and the north wind, with
contrary motion, blew stronger against her rising seas. What did
it mean? For what end are her fair complexities, her changes of
soil, her sinuous coast? Does she belong to those who have
moulded her and made her feared by other lands, or to those who
have added nothing to her power, but have somehow seen her, seen
the whole island at once, lying as a jewel in a silver sea,
sailing as a ship of souls, with all the brave world's fleet
accompanying her towards eternity?
Margaret had often wondered at the disturbance that takes place
in the world's waters, when Love, who seems so tiny a pebble,
slips in. Whom does Love concern beyond the beloved and the
lover? Yet his impact deluges a hundred shores. No doubt the
disturbance is really the spirit of the generations, welcoming
the new generation, and chafing against the ultimate Fate, who
holds all the seas in the palm of her hand. But Love cannot
understand this. He cannot comprehend another's infinity; he is
conscious only of his own--flying sunbeam, falling rose, pebble
that asks for one quiet plunge below the fretting interplay of
space and time. He knows that he will survive at the end of
things, and be gathered by Fate as a jewel from the slime, and be
handed with admiration round the assembly of the gods. "Men did
produce this" they will say, and, saying, they will give men
immortality. But meanwhile--what agitations meanwhile! The
foundations of Property and Propriety are laid bare, twin rocks;
Family Pride flounders to the surface, puffing and blowing and
refusing to be comforted; Theology, vaguely ascetic, gets up a
nasty ground swell. Then the lawyers are aroused--cold brood--and
creep out of their holes. They do what they can; they tidy up
Property and Propriety, reassure Theology and Family Pride.
Half-guineas are poured on the troubled waters, the lawyers creep
back, and, if all has gone well, Love joins one man and woman
together in Matrimony.
Margaret had expected the disturbance, and was not irritated by
it. For a sensitive woman she had steady nerves, and could bear
with the incongruous and the grotesque; and, besides, there was
nothing excessive about her love-affair. Good-humour was the
dominant note of her relations with Mr. Wilcox, or, as I must now
call him, Henry. Henry did not encourage romance, and she was no
girl to fidget for it. An acquaintance had become a lover, might
become a husband, but would retain all that she had noted in the
acquaintance; and love must confirm an old relation rather than
reveal a new one.
In this spirit she promised to marry him.
He was in Swanage on the morrow bearing the engagement ring.
They greeted one another with a hearty cordiality that impressed
Aunt Juley. Henry dined at The Bays, but had engaged a bedroom in
the principal hotel; he was one of those men who know the
principal hotel by instinct. After dinner he asked Margaret if
she wouldn't care for a turn on the Parade. She accepted, and
could not repress a little tremor; it would be her first real
love scene. But as she put on her hat she burst out laughing.
Love was so unlike the article served up in books; the joy,
though genuine was different; the mystery an unexpected mystery.
For one thing, Mr. Wilcox still seemed a stranger.
For a time they talked about the ring; then she said: "Do you
remember the Embankment at Chelsea? It can't be ten days ago."
"Yes," he said, laughing. "And you and your sister were head and
ears deep in some Quixotic scheme. Ah well!"
"I little thought then, certainly. Did you?"
"I don't know about that; I shouldn't like to say."
"Why, was it earlier?" she cried. "Did you think of me this way
earlier! How extraordinarily interesting, Henry! Tell me."
But Henry had no intention of telling. Perhaps he could not have
told, for his mental states became obscure as soon as he had
passed through them. He misliked the very word "interesting,"
connoting it with wasted energy and even with morbidity. Hard
facts were enough for him.
"I didn't think of it," she pursued. "No; when you spoke to me in
the drawing-room, that was practically the first. It was all so
different from what it's supposed to be. On the stage, or in
books, a proposal is--how shall I put it?--a full-blown affair, a
hind of bouquet; it loses its literal meaning. But in life a
proposal really is a proposal--"
"By the way--"
"Oh, very well."
"I am so glad," she answered, a little surprised. "What did you
talk about? Me, presumably."
"About Greece too."
"Greece was a very good card, Henry. Tibby's only a boy still,
and one has to pick and choose subjects a little. Well done."
"I was telling him I have shares in a currant-farm near
"What a delightful thing to have shares in! Can't we go there for
"What to do?"
"To eat the currants. And isn't there marvellous scenery?"
"Moderately, but it's not the kind of place one could possibly go
to with a lady."
"Some ladies do without hotels. Are you aware that Helen and I
have walked alone over the Apennines, with our luggage on our
"I wasn't aware, and, if I can manage it, you will never do such
a thing again."
She said more gravely: "You haven't found time for a talk with
Helen yet, I suppose?"
"Do, before you go. I am so anxious you two should be friends."
"Your sister and I have always hit it off," he said negligently.
"But we're drifting away from our business. Let me begin at the
beginning. You know that Evie is going to marry Percy Cahill."
"Exactly. The girl's madly in love with him. A very good sort of
fellow, but he demands--and rightly--a suitable provision with
her. And in the second place you will naturally understand, there
is Charles. Before leaving town, I wrote Charles a very careful
letter. You see, he has an increasing family and increasing
expenses, and the I. and W. A. is nothing particular just now,
though capable of development."
"Poor fellow!" murmured Margaret, looking out to sea, and not
"Charles being the elder son, some day Charles will have Howards
End; but I am anxious, in my own happiness, not to be unjust to
"Of course not," she began, and then gave a little cry. "you mean
money. How stupid I am! Of course not!"
Oddly enough, he winced a little at the word. "Yes, Money, since
you put it so frankly. I am determined to be just to all--just to
you, just to them. I am determined that my children shall have
"Be generous to them," she said sharply. "Bother justice!"
"I am determined--and have already written to Charles to that
"But how much have you got?"
"How much have you a year? I've six hundred."
"Yes. We must begin with how much you have, before we can settle
how much you can give Charles. Justice, and even generosity,
depend on that."
"I must say you're a downright young woman," he observed, patting
her arm and laughing a little. "What a question to spring on a
"Don't you know your income? Or don't you want to tell it me?"
"That's all right"--now she patted him--"don't tell me. I don't
want to know. I can do the sum just as well by proportion. Divide
your income into ten parts. How many parts would you give to
Evie, how many to Charles, how many to Paul?"
"The fact is, my dear, I hadn't any intention of bothering you
with details. I only wanted to let you know that--well, that
something must be done for the others, and you've understood me
perfectly, so let's pass on to the next point."
"Yes, we've settled that," said Margaret, undisturbed by his
strategic blunderings. "Go ahead; give away all you can, bearing
in mind that I've a clear six hundred. What a mercy it is to have
all this money about one."
"We've none too much, I assure you; you're marrying a poor man."
"Helen wouldn't agree with me here," she continued. "Helen
daren't slang the rich, being rich herself, but she would like
to. There's an odd notion, that I haven't yet got hold of,
running about at the back of her brain, that poverty is somehow
'real.' She dislikes all organisation, and probably confuses
wealth with the technique of wealth. Sovereigns in a stocking
wouldn't bother her; cheques do. Helen is too relentless. One
can't deal in her high-handed manner with the world."
"There's this other point, and then I must go back to
my hotel and write some letters. What's to be done now about the
house in Ducie Street?"
"Keep it on--at least, it depends. When do you want to marry me?"
She raised her voice, as too often, and some youths, who were
also taking the evening air, overheard her. "Getting a bit hot,
eh?" said one. Mr. Wilcox turned on them, and said sharply, "I
say!" There was silence. "Take care I don't report you to the
police." They moved away quietly enough, but were only biding
their time, and the rest of the conversation was punctuated by
peals of ungovernable laughter.
Lowering his voice and infusing a hint of reproof into it, he
said: "Evie will probably be married in September. We could
scarcely think of anything before then."
"The earlier the nicer, Henry. Females are not supposed to say
such things, but the earlier the nicer."
"How about September for us too?" he asked, rather dryly.
"Right. Shall we go into Ducie Street ourselves in September? Or
shall we try to bounce Helen and Tibby into it? That's rather an
idea. They are so unbusinesslike, we could make them do anything
by judicious management. Look here--yes. We'll do that. And we
ourselves could live at Howards End or Shropshire."
He blew out his cheeks. "Heavens! how you women do fly round! My
head's in a whirl. Point by point, Margaret. Howards End's
impossible. I let it to Hamar Bryce on a three years' agreement
last March. Don't you remember? Oniton. Well, that is much, much
too far away to rely on entirely. You will be able to be down
there entertaining a certain amount, but we must have a house
within easy reach of Town. Only Ducie Street has huge drawbacks.
There's a mews behind."
Margaret could not help laughing. It was the first she had heard
of the mews behind Ducie Street. When she was a possible tenant
it had suppressed itself, not consciously, but automatically. The
breezy Wilcox manner, though genuine, lacked the clearness of
vision that is imperative for truth. When Henry lived in Ducie
Street he remembered the mews; when he tried to let he forgot it;
and if any one had remarked that the mews must be either there or
not, he would have felt annoyed, and afterwards have found some
opportunity of stigmatising the speaker as academic. So does my
grocer stigmatise me when I complain of the quality of his
sultanas, and he answers in one breath that they are the best
sultanas, and how can I expect the best sultanas at that price?
It is a flaw inherent in the business mind, and Margaret may do
well to be tender to it, considering all that the business mind
has done for England.
"Yes, in summer especially, the mews is a serious nuisance. The
smoking-room, too, is an abominable little den. The house
opposite has been taken by operatic people. Ducie Street's going
down, it's my private opinion."
"How sad! It's only a few years since they built those pretty
"Shows things are moving. Good for trade."
"I hate this continual flux of London. It is an epitome of us at
our worst--eternal formlessness; all the qualities, good, bad,
and indifferent, streaming away--streaming, streaming for ever.
That's why I dread it so. I mistrust rivers, even in scenery.
Now, the sea--"
"High tide, yes."
"Hoy toid"--from the promenading youths.
"And these are the men to whom we give the vote," observed Mr.
Wilcox, omitting to add that they were also the men to whom he
gave work as clerks--work that scarcely encouraged them to grow
into other men. "However, they have their own lives and
interests. Let's get on."
He turned as he spoke, and prepared to see her back to The Bays.
The business was over. His hotel was in the opposite direction,
and if he accompanied her his letters would be late for the post.
She implored him not to come, but he was obdurate.
"A nice beginning, if your aunt saw you slip in alone!"
"But I always do go about alone. Considering I've walked over the
Apennines, it's common sense. You will make me so angry. I don't
the least take it as a compliment."
He laughed, and lit a cigar. "It isn't meant as a compliment, my
dear. I just won't have you going about in the dark. Such people
about too! It's dangerous."
"Can't I look after myself? I do wish--"
"Come along, Margaret; no wheedling."
A younger woman might have resented his masterly ways, but
Margaret had too firm a grip of life to make a fuss. She was, in
her own way, as masterly. If he was a fortress she was a mountain
peak, whom all might tread, but whom the snows made nightly
virginal. Disdaining the heroic outfit, excitable in her methods,
garrulous, episodical, shrill, she misled her lover much as she
had misled her aunt. He mistook her fertility for Weakness. He
supposed her "as clever as they make them," but no more, not
realising that she was penetrating to the depths of his soul, and
approving of what she found there.
And if insight were sufficient, if the inner life were the whole
of life, their happiness had been assured.
They walked ahead briskly. The parade and the road after it were
well lighted, but it was darker in Aunt Juley's garden. As they
were going up by the side-paths, through some rhododendrons, Mr.
Wilcox, who was in front, said "Margaret" rather huskily, turned,
dropped his cigar, and took her in his arms.
She was startled, and nearly screamed, but recovered herself at
once, and kissed with genuine love the lips that were pressed
against her own. It was their first kiss, and when it was over he
saw her safely to the door and rang the bell for her but
disappeared into the night before the maid answered it. On
looking back, the incident displeased her. It was so isolated.
Nothing in their previous conversation had heralded it, and,
worse still, no tenderness had ensued. If a man cannot lead up to
passion he can at all events lead down from it, and she had
hoped, after her complaisance, for some interchange of gentle
words. But he had hurried away as if ashamed, and for an instant
she was reminded of Helen and Paul.
Charles had just been scolding his Dolly. She deserved the
scolding, and had bent before it, but her head, though bloody was
unsubdued and her began to mingle with his retreating thunder.
"You've waked the baby. I knew you would. (Rum-ti-foo, Rackety-
tackety-Tompkin!) I'm not responsible for what Uncle Percy does,
nor for anybody else or anything, so there!"
"Who asked him while I was away? Who asked my sister down to meet
him? Who sent them out in the motor day after day?"
"Charles, that reminds me of some poem."
"Does it indeed? We shall all be dancing to a very different
music presently. Miss Schlegel has fairly got us on toast."
"I could simply scratch that woman's eyes out, and to say it's my
fault is most unfair. "
"It's your fault, and five months ago you admitted it."
"Tootle, tootle, playing on the pootle!" exclaimed Dolly,
suddenly devoting herself to the child.
"It's all very well to turn the conversation, but father would
never have dreamt of marrying as long as Evie was there to make
him comfortable. But you must needs start match-making. Besides,
Cahill's too old."
"Of course, if you're going to be rude to Uncle Percy."
"Miss Schlegel always meant to get hold of Howards End, and,
thanks to you, she's got it."
"I call the way you twist things round and make them hang
together most unfair. You couldn't have been nastier if you'd
caught me flirting. Could he, diddums?"
"We're in a bad hole, and must make the best of it. I shall
answer the pater's letter civilly. He's evidently anxious to do
the decent thing. But I do not intend to forget these Schlegcls
in a hurry. As long as they're on their best behaviour--Do11y,
are you listening?--we'll behave, too. But if I find them giving
themselves airs or monopolising my father, or at all ill-treating
him, or worrying him with their artistic beastliness, I intend to
put my foot down, yes, firmly. Taking my mother's place! Heaven
knows what poor old Paul will say when the news reaches him."
The interlude closes. It has taken place in Charles's garden at
Hilton. He and Dolly are sitting in deckchairs, and their motor
is regarding them placidly from its garage across the lawn. A
short-frocked edition of Charles also regards them placidly; a
perambulator edition is squeaking; a third edition is expected
shortly. Nature is turning out Wilcoxes in this peaceful abode,
so that they may inherit the earth.
Margaret greeted her lord with peculiar tenderness on the morrow.
Mature as he was, she might yet be able to help him to the
building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in
us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments,
half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never
joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the
highest curve, glowing against the grey, sober against the fire.
Happy the man who sees from either aspect the glory of these
outspread wings. The roads of his soul lie clear, and he and his
friends shall find easy-going.
It was hard-going in the roads of Mr. Wilcox's soul. From boyhood
he had neglected them. "I am not a fellow who bothers about my
own inside." Outwardly he was cheerful, reliable, and brave; but
within, all had reverted to chaos, ruled, so far as it was ruled
at all, by an incomplete asceticism. Whether as boy, husband, or
widower, he had always the sneaking belief that bodily passion is
bad, a belief that is desirable only when held passionately.
Religion had confirmed him. The words that were read aloud on
Sunday to him and to other respectable men were the words that
had once kindled the souls of St. Catherine and St. Francis into
a white-hot hatred of the carnal. He could not be as the saints
and love the Infinite with a seraphic ardour, but he could be a
little ashamed of loving a wife. Amabat, amare timebat. And it
was here that Margaret hoped to help him.
It did not seem so difficult. She need trouble him with no gift of
her own. She would only point out the salvation that was latent
in his own soul, and in the soul of every man. Only connect! That
was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the
passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at
its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect and the
beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to
either, will die.
Nor was the message difficult to give. It need not take the form
of a good "talking." By quiet indications the bridge would be
built and span their lives with beauty.
But she failed. For there was one quality in Henry for which she
was never prepared, however much she reminded herself of it: his
obtuseness. He simply did not notice things, and there was no
more to be said. He never noticed that Helen and Frieda were
hostile, or that Tibby was not interested in currant plantations;
he never noticed the lights and shades that exist in the greyest
conversation, the finger-posts, the milestones, the collisions,
the illimitable views. Once--on another occasion--she scolded him
about it. He was puzzled, but replied with a laugh: "My motto is
Concentrate. I've no intention of frittering away my strength on
that sort of thing." "It isn't frittering away the strength," she
protested. "It's enlarging the space in which you may be
strong." He answered: "You're a clever little woman, but my
motto's Concentrate." And this morning he concentrated with a
They met in the rhododendrons of yesterday. In the daylight the
bushes were inconsiderable and the path was bright in the morning
sun. She was with Helen, who had been ominously quiet since the
affair was settled. "Here we all are!" she cried, and took him by
one hand, retaining her sister's in the other.
"Here we are. Good-morning, Helen."
Helen replied, "Good-morning, Mr. Wilcox."
"Henry, she has had such a nice letter from the queer, cross boy.
Do you remember him? He had a sad moustache, but the back of his
head was young."
"I have had a letter too. Not a nice one--I want to talk it over
with you"; for Leonard Bast was nothing to him now that she had
given him her word; the triangle of sex was broken for ever.
"Thanks to your hint, he's clearing out of the Porphyrion."
"Not a bad business that Porphyrion," he said absently, as he
took his own letter out of his pocket.
"Not a BAD--"she exclaimed, dropping his hand. "Surely, on
"Here's our hostess. Good-morning, Mrs. Munt. Fine rhododendrons.
Good-morning, Frau Liesecke; we manage to grow flowers in
England, don't we?"
"Not a BAD business?"
"No. My letter's about Howards End. Bryce has been ordered
abroad, and wants to sublet it--I am far from sure that I shall
give him permission. There was no clause in the agreement. In my
opinion, subletting is a mistake. If he can find me another
tenant, whom I consider suitable, I may cancel the agreement.
Morning, Schlegel. Don't you think that's better than
Helen had dropped her hand now, and he had steered her past the
whole party to the seaward side of the house. Beneath them was
the bourgeois little bay, which must have yearned all through the
centuries for just such a watering-place as Swanage to be built
on its margin.
The waves were colourless, and the Bournemouth steamer gave a
further touch of insipidity, drawn up against the pier and
hooting wildly for excursionists.
"When there is a sublet I find that damage--"
"Do excuse me, but about the Porphyrion. I don't feel easy--might
I just bother you, Henry?"
Her manner was so serious that he stopped, and asked her a little
sharply what she wanted.
"You said on Chelsea Embankment, surely, that it was a bad
concern, so we advised this clerk to clear out. He writes this
morning that he's taken our advice, and now you say it's not a
"A clerk who clears out of any concern, good or bad, without
securing a berth somewhere else first, is a fool, and I've no
pity for him."
"He has not done that. He's going into a bank in Camden Town, he
says. The salary's much lower, but he hopes to manage--a branch
of Dempster's Bank. Is that all right?"
"Dempster! Why goodness me, yes."
"More right than the Porphyrion?"
"Yes, yes, yes; safe as houses--safer."
"Very many thanks. I'm sorry--if you sublet--?"
"If he sublets, I shan't have the same control. In theory there
should be no more damage done at Howards End; in practice there
will be. Things may be done for which no money can compensate.
For instance, I shouldn't want that fine wych-elm spoilt. It
hangs--Margaret, we must go and see the old place some time.
It's pretty in its way. We'll motor down and have lunch with
"I should enjoy that," said Margaret bravely.
"What about next Wednesday?"
"Wednesday? No, I couldn't well do that. Aunt Juley expects us to
stop here another week at least."
"But you can give that up now."
"Er--no," said Margaret, after a moment's thought.
"Oh, that'll be all right. I'll speak to her."
"This visit is a high solemnity. My aunt counts on it year after
year. She turns the house upside down for us; she invites our
special friends--she scarcely knows Frieda, and we can't leave
her on her hands. I missed one day, and she would be so hurt if I
didn't stay the full ten. "
"But I'll say a word to her. Don't you bother."
"Henry, I won't go. Don't bully me."
"You want to see the house, though?"
"Very much--I've heard so much about it, one way or the other.
Aren't there pigs' teeth in the wych-elm?"
"And you chew the bark for toothache."
"What a rum notion! Of course not!"
"Perhaps I have confused it with some other tree. There are still
a great number of sacred trees in England, it seems."
But he left her to intercept Mrs. Munt, whose voice could be
heard in the distance; to be intercepted himself by Helen.
"Oh. Mr. Wilcox, about the Porphyrion--"she began and went
scarlet all over her face.
"It's all right," called Margaret, catching them up. "Dempster's
"But I think you told us the Porphyrion was bad, and would smash
"Did I? It was still outside the Tariff Ring, and had to take
rotten policies. Lately it came in--safe as houses now."
"In other words, Mr. Bast need never have left it."
"No, the fellow needn't."
"--and needn't have started life elsewhere at a greatly reduced
"He only says 'reduced,'" corrected Margaret, seeing trouble
"With a man so poor, every reduction must be great. I consider it
a deplorable misfortune."
Mr. Wilcox, intent on his business with Mrs. Munt, was going
steadily on, but the last remark made him say: "What? What's
that? Do you mean that I'm responsible?"
"You're ridiculous, Helen."
"You seem to think--" He looked at his watch. "Let me explain the
point to you. It is like this. You seem to assume, when a
business concern is conducting a delicate negotiation, it ought
to keep the public informed stage by stage. The Porphyrion,
according to you, was bound to say, 'I am trying all I can to get
into the Tariff Ring. I am not sure that I shall succeed, but it
is the only thing that will save me from insolvency, and I am
trying.' My dear Helen--"
"Is that your point? A man who had little money has less--that's
"I am grieved for your clerk. But it is all in the days work.
It's part of the battle of life."
"A man who had little money--, "she repeated, "has less, owing to
us. Under these circumstances I consider 'the battle of life' a
"Oh come, come!" he protested pleasantly. 'you're not to blame.
No one's to blame."
"Is no one to blame for anything?"
"I wouldn't say that, but you're taking it far too seriously.
Who is this fellow?"
"We have told you about the fellow twice already," said Helen.
"You have even met the fellow. He is very poor and his wife is an
extravagant imbecile. He is capable of better things. We--we, the
upper classes--thought we would help him from the height of our
superior knowledge--and here's the result!"
He raised his finger. "Now, a word of advice."
"I require no more advice."
"A word of advice. Don't take up that sentimental attitude over
the poor. See that she doesn't, Margaret. The poor are poor, and
one's sorry for them, but there it is. As civilisation moves
forward, the shoe is bound to pinch in places, and it's absurd
to pretend that any one is responsible personally. Neither you,
nor I, nor my informant, nor the man who informed him, nor the
directors of the Porphyrion, are to blame for this clerk's loss
of salary. It's just the shoe pinching--no one can help it; and
it might easily have been worse."
Helen quivered with indignation.
"By all means subscribe to charities--subscribe to them largely--
but don't get carried away by absurd schemes of Social Reform. I
see a good deal behind the scenes, and you can take it from me
that there is no Social Question--except for a few journalists
who try to get a living out of the phrase. There are just rich
and poor, as there always have been and always will be. Point me
out a time when men have been equal--"
"I didn't say--"
"Point me out a time when desire for equality has made them
happier. No, no. You can't. There always have been rich and poor.
I'm no fatalist. Heaven forbid! But our civilisation is moulded
by great impersonal forces" (his voice grew complacent; it