Part 5 out of 8
always did when he eliminated the personal), "and there always
will be rich and poor. You can't deny it" (and now it was a
respectful voice)--"and you can't deny that, in spite of all, the
tendency of civilisation has on the whole been upward."
"Owing to God, I suppose," flashed Helen.
He stared at her.
"You grab the dollars. God does the rest."
It was no good instructing the girl if she was going to talk
about God in that neurotic modern way. Fraternal to the last, he
left her for the quieter company of Mrs. Munt. He thought, "She
rather reminds me of Dolly."
Helen looked out at the sea.
"Don't ever discuss political economy with Henry," advised her
sister. "It'll only end in a cry."
"But he must be one of those men who have reconciled science with
religion," said Helen slowly. "I don't like those men. They are
scientific themselves, and talk of the survival of the fittest,
and cut down the salaries of their clerks, and stunt the
independence of all who may menace their comfort, but yet they
believe that somehow good--it is always that sloppy 'somehow'
will be the outcome, and that in some mystical way the Mr. Basts
of the future will benefit because the Mr. Brits of today are in
"He is such a man in theory. But oh, Helen, in theory!"
"But oh, Meg, what a theory!"
"Why should you put things so bitterly, dearie?"
"Because I'm an old maid," said Helen, biting her lip. "I can't
think why I go on like this myself." She shook off her sister's
hand and went into the house. Margaret, distressed at the day's
beginning, followed the Bournemouth steamer with her eyes. She
saw that Helen's nerves were exasperated by the unlucky Bast
business beyond the bounds of politeness. There might at any
minute be a real explosion, which even Henry would notice. Henry
must be removed.
"Margaret!" her aunt called. "Magsy! It isn't true, surely,
what Mr. Wilcox says, that you want to go away early next week?"
"Not 'want,'" was Margaret's prompt reply; "but there is so much
to be settled, and I do want to see the Charles's."
"But going away without taking the Weymouth trip, or even the
Lulworth?" said Mrs. Munt, coming nearer. "Without going once
more up Nine Barrows Down?"
"I'm afraid so."
Mr. Wilcox rejoined her with, "Good! I did the breaking of the
A wave of tenderness came over her. She put a hand on either
shoulder, and looked deeply into the black, bright eyes. What was
behind their competent stare? She knew, but was not disquieted.
Margaret had no intention of letting things slide, and the
evening before she left Swanage she gave her sister a thorough
scolding. She censured her, not for disapproving of the
engagement, but for throwing over her disapproval a veil of
mystery. Helen was equally frank. "Yes," she said, with the air
of one looking inwards, "there is a mystery. I can't help it.
It's not my fault. It's the way life has been made." Helen in
those days was over-interested in the subconscious self. She
exaggerated the Punch and Judy aspect of life, and spoke of
mankind as puppets, whom an invisible showman twitches into love
and war. Margaret pointed out that if she dwelt on this she, too,
would eliminate the personal. Helen was silent for a minute, and
then burst into a queer speech, which cleared the air. "Go on
and marry him. I think you're splendid; and if any one can pull
it off, you will." Margaret denied that there was anything to
"pull off," but she continued: "Yes, there is, and I wasn't up
to it with Paul. I can do only what's easy. I can only entice
and be enticed. I can't, and won't, attempt difficult relations.
If I marry, it will either be a man who's strong enough to boss
me or whom I'm strong enough to boss. So I shan't ever marry, for
there aren't such men. And Heaven help any one whom I do marry,
for I shall certainly run away from him before you can say 'Jack
Robinson.' There! Because I'm uneducated. But you, you're
different; you're a heroine."
"Oh, Helen! Am I? Will it be as dreadful for poor Henry as all
"You mean to keep proportion, and that's heroic, it's Greek, and
I don't see why it shouldn't succeed with you. Go on and fight
with him and help him. Don't ask me for help, or even for
sympathy. Henceforward I'm going my own way. I mean to be
thorough, because thoroughness is easy. I mean to dislike your
husband, and to tell him so. I mean to make no concessions to
Tibby. If Tibby wants to live with me, he must lump me. I mean to
love you more than ever. Yes, I do. You and I have built up
something real, because it is purely spiritual. There's no veil
of mystery over us. Unreality and mystery begin as soon as one
touches the body. The popular view is, as usual, exactly the
wrong one. Our bothers are over tangible things--money, husbands,
house-hunting. But Heaven will work of itself."
Margaret was grateful for this expression of affection, and
answered, "Perhaps." All vistas close in the unseen--no one
doubts it--but Helen closed them rather too quickly for her
taste. At every turn of speech one was confronted with reality
and the absolute. Perhaps Margaret grew too old for metaphysics,
perhaps Henry was weaning her from them, but she felt that there
was something a little unbalanced in the mind that so readily
shreds the visible. The business man who assumes that this life
is everything, and the mystic who asserts that it is nothing,
fail, on this side and on that, to hit the truth. "Yes, I see,
dear; it's about half-way between," Aunt Juicy had hazarded in
earlier years. No; truth, being alive, was not half-way between
anything. It was only to be found by continuous excursions into
either realm, and though proportion is the final secret, to
espouse it at the outset is to insure sterility.
Helen, agreeing here, disagreeing there, would have talked till
midnight, but Margaret, with her packing to do, focussed the
conversation on Henry. She might abuse Henry behind his back, but
please would she always be civil to him in company? "I definitely
dislike him, but I'll do what I can," promised Helen. "Do what
you can with my friends in return."
This conversation made Margaret easier. Their inner life was so
safe that they could bargain over externals in a way that would
have been incredible to Aunt Juley, and impossible for Tibby or
Charles. There are moments when the inner life actually "pays,"
when years of self-scrutiny, conducted for no ulterior motive,
are suddenly of practical use. Such moments are still rare in the
West; that they come at all promises a fairer future. Margaret,
though unable to understand her sister, was assured against
estrangement, and returned to London with a more peaceful mind.
The following morning, at eleven o'clock, she presented herself
at the offices of the Imperial and West African Rubber Company.
She was glad to go there, for Henry had implied his business
rather than described it, and the formlessness and vagueness that
one associates with Africa itself had hitherto brooded over the
main sources of his wealth. Not that a visit to the office cleared
things up. There was just the ordinary surface scum of ledgers
and polished counters and brass bars that began and stopped for
no possible reason, of electric-light globes blossoming in
triplets, of little rabbit-hutches faced with glass or wire, of
little rabbits. And even when she penetrated to the inner depths,
she found only the ordinary table and Turkey carpet, and though
the map over the fireplace did depict a helping of West Africa,
it was a very ordinary map. Another map hung opposite, on which
the whole continent appeared, looking like a whale marked out
for a blubber, and by its side was a door, shut, but Henry's
voice came through it, dictating a "strong" letter. She might
have been at the Porphyrion, or Dempster's Bank, or her own
wine-merchant's. Everything seems just alike in these days. But
perhaps she was seeing the Imperial side of the company rather
than its West African, and Imperialism always had been one of
"One minute!" called Mr. Wilcox on receiving her name. He touched
a bell, the effect of which was to produce Charles.
Charles had written his father an adequate letter--more adequate
than Evie's, through which a girlish indignation throbbed. And he
greeted his future stepmother with propriety.
"I hope that my wife--how do you do?--will give you a decent
lunch," was his opening. "I left instructions, but we live in a
rough-and-ready way. She expects you back to tea, too, after you
have had a look at Howards End. I wonder what you'll think of the
place. I wouldn't touch it with tongs myself. Do sit down! It's a
measly little place."
"I shall enjoy seeing it," said Margaret, feeling, for the first
"You'll see it at its worst, for Bryce decamped abroad last
Monday without even arranging for a charwoman to clear up after
him. I never saw such a disgraceful mess. It's unbelievable. He
wasn't in the house a month."
"I've more than a little bone to pick with Bryce," called Henry
from the inner chamber.
"Why did he go so suddenly?"
"Invalid type; couldn't sleep."
"Poor fiddlesticks!" said Mr. Wilcox, joining them. "He had the
impudence to put up notice-boards without as much as saying with
your leave or by your leave. Charles flung them down."
"Yes, I flung them down," said Charles modestly.
"I've sent a telegram after him, and a pretty sharp one, too.
He, and he in person, is responsible for the upkeep of that house
for the next three years."
"The keys are at the farm; we wouldn't have the keys."
"Dolly would have taken them, but I was in, fortunately."
"What's Mr. Bryce like?" asked Margaret.
But nobody cared. Mr. Bryce was the tenant, who had no right to
sublet; to have defined him further was a waste of time. On his
misdeeds they descanted profusely, until the girl who had been
typing the strong letter game out with it. Mr. Wilcox added his
signature. "Now we'll be off," said he.
A motor-drive, a form of felicity detested by Margaret,
awaited her. Charles saw them in, civil to the last, and in a
moment the offices of the Imperial and West African Rubber
Company faded away. But it was not an impressive drive. Perhaps
the weather was to blame, being grey and banked high with weary
clouds. Perhaps Hertfordshire is scarcely intended for motorists.
Did not a gentleman once motor so quickly through Westmoreland
that he missed it? and if Westmoreland can be missed, it will
fare ill with a county whose delicate structure particularly
needs the attentive eye. Hertfordshire is England at its
quietest, with little emphasis of river and hill; it is England
meditative. If Drayton were with us again to write a new edition
of his incomparable poem, he would sing the nymphs of
Hertfordshire as indeterminate of feature, with hair obfuscated
by the London smoke. Their eyes would be sad, and averted from
their fate towards the Northern flats, their leader not Isis or
Sabrina, but the slowly flowing Lea. No glory of raiment would be
theirs, no urgency of dance; but they would be real nymphs.
The chauffeur could not travel as quickly as he had hoped, for
the Great North Road was full of Easter traffic. But he went
quite quick enough for Margaret, a poor-spirited creature, who
had chickens and children on the brain.
"They're all right," said Mr. Wilcox. "They'll learn--like the
swallows and the telegraph-wires."
"Yes, but, while they're learning--"
"The motor's come to stay," he answered. "One must get about.
There's a pretty church--oh, you aren't sharp enough. Well, look
out, if the road worries you--right outward at the scenery."
She looked at the scenery. It heaved and merged like porridge.
Presently it congealed. They had arrived.
Charles's house on the left; on the right the swelling forms of
the Six Hills. Their appearance in such a neighbourhood surprised
her. They interrupted the stream of residences that was
thickening up towards Hilton. Beyond them she saw meadows and a
wood, and beneath them she settled that soldiers of the best kind
lay buried. She hated war and liked soldiers--it was one of her
But here was Dolly, dressed up to the nines, standing at the door
to greet them, and here were the first drops of the rain. They
ran in gaily, and after a long wait in the drawing-room, sat down
to the rough-and-ready lunch, every dish of which concealed or
exuded cream. Mr. Bryce was the chief topic of conversation.
Dolly described his visit with the key, while her father-in-law
gave satisfaction by chaffing her and contradicting all she said.
It was evidently the custom to laugh at Dolly. He chaffed
Margaret too, and Margaret roused from a grave meditation was
pleased and chaffed him back. Dolly seemed surprised and eyed her
curiously. After lunch the two children came down. Margaret
disliked babies, but hit it off better with the two-year-old, and
sent Dolly into fits of laughter by talking sense to him. "Kiss
them now, and come away," said Mr. Wilcox. She came, but refused
to kiss them; it was such hard luck on the little things, she
said, and though Dolly proffered Chorly-worly and Porgly-woggles
in turn, she was obdurate.
By this time it was raining steadily. The car came round with the
hood up, and again she lost all sense of space. In a few minutes
they stopped, and Crane opened the door of the car.
"What's happened?" asked Margaret.
"What do you suppose?" said Henry.
A little porch was close up against her face.
"Are we there already?"
"Well, I never! In years ago it seemed so far away."
Smiling, but somehow disillusioned, she jumped out, and her
impetus carried her to the front-door. She was about to open it,
when Henry said: "That's no good; it's locked. Who's got the
As he had himself forgotten to call for the key at the farm, no
one replied. He also wanted to know who had left the front gate
open, since a cow had strayed in from the road, and was spoiling
the croquet lawn. Then he said rather crossly: "Margaret, you
wait in the dry. I'll go down for the key. It isn't a hundred
"Mayn't I come too?"
"No; I shall be back before I'm gone."
Then the car turned away, and it was as if a curtain had risen.
For the second time that day she saw the appearance of the earth.
There were the greengage-trees that Helen had once described,
there the tennis lawn, there the hedge that would be glorious
with dog-roses in June, but the vision now was of black and
palest green. Down by the dell-hole more vivid colours were
awakening, and Lent lilies stood sentinel on its margin, or
advanced in battalions over the grass. Tulips were a tray of
jewels. She could not see the wych-elm tree, but a branch of the
celebrated vine, studded with velvet knobs had covered the perch.
She was struck by the fertility of the soil; she had seldom been
in a garden where the flowers looked so well, and even the weeds
she was idly plucking out of the porch were intensely green. Why
had poor Mr. Bryce fled from all this beauty? For she had already
decided that the place was beautiful.
"Naughty cow! Go away!" cried Margaret to the cow, but without
Harder came the rain, pouring out of a windless sky, and
spattering up from the notice-boards of the house-agents, which
lay in a row on the lawn where Charles had hurled them. She must
have interviewed Charles in another world--where one did have
interviews. How Helen would revel in such a notion! Charles dead,
all people dead, nothing alive but houses and gardens. The
obvious dead, the intangible alive, and no connection at all
between them! Margaret smiled. Would that her own fancies were as
clear-cut! Would that she could deal as high-handedly with the
world! Smiling and sighing, she laid her hand upon the door. It
opened. The house was not locked up at all.
She hesitated. Ought she to wait for Henry? He felt strongly
about property, and might prefer to show her over himself. On the
other hand, he had told her to keep in the dry, and the porch was
beginning to drip. So she went in, and the draught from inside
slammed the door behind.
Desolation greeted her. Dirty finger-prints were on the
hall-windows, flue and rubbish on its unwashed boards. The
civilisation of luggage had been here for a month, and then
decamped. Dining-room and drawing-room--right and left--were
guessed only by their wallpapers. They were just rooms where one
could shelter from the rain. Across the ceiling of each ran a
great beam. The dining-room and hall revealed theirs openly, but
the drawing-room's was match-boarded--because the facts of life
must be concealed from ladies? Drawing-room, dining-room, and
hall--how petty the names sounded! Here were simply three rooms
where children could play and friends shelter from the rain. Yes,
and they were beautiful.
Then she opened one of the doors opposite--there were two--and
exchanged wall-papers for whitewash. It was the servants' part,
though she scarcely realised that: just rooms again, where
friends might shelter. The garden at the back was full of
flowering cherries and plums. Farther on were hints of the meadow
and a black cliff of pines. Yes, the meadow was beautiful.
Penned in by the desolate weather, she recaptured the sense of
space which the motor had tried to rob from her. She remembered
again that ten square miles are not ten times as wonderful as one
square mile, that a thousand square miles are not practically the
same as heaven. The phantom of bigness, which London encourages,
was laid for ever when she paced from the hall at Howards End to
its kitchen and heard the rain run this way and that where the
watershed of the roof divided it.
Now Helen came to her mind, scrutinising half Wessex from the
ridge of the Purbeck Downs, and saying: "You will have to lose
something." She was not so sure. For instance she would double
her kingdom by opening the door that concealed the stairs.
Now she thought of the map of Africa; of empires; of her father;
of the two supreme nations, streams of whose life warmed her
blood, but, mingling, had cooled her brain. She paced back into
the hall, and as she did so the house reverberated.
"Is that you, Henry?" she called.
There was no answer, but the house reverberated again.
"Henry, have you got in?"
But it was the heart of the house beating, faintly at first, then
loudly, martially. It dominated the rain.
It is the starved imagination, not the well-nourished, that is
afraid. Margaret flung open the door to the stairs. A noise as of
drums seemed to deafen her. A woman, an old woman, was
descending, with figure erect, with face impassive, with lips
that parted and said dryly:
"Oh! Well, I took you for Ruth Wilcox."
Margaret stammered: "I--Mrs. Wilcox--I?"
"In fancy, of course--in fancy. You had her way of walking.
Good-day." And the old woman passed out into the rain.
"It gave her quite a turn," said Mr. Wilcox, when retailing the
incident to Dolly at tea-time. "None of you girls have any
nerves, really. Of course, a word from me put it all right, but
silly old Miss Avery--she frightened you, didn't she, Margaret?
There you stood clutching a bunch of weeds. She might have said
something, instead of coming down the stairs with that alarming
bonnet on. I passed her as I came in. Enough to make the car shy.
I believe Miss Avery goes in for being a character; some old
maids do." He lit a cigarette. "It is their last resource. Heaven
knows what she was doing in the place; but that's Bryce's
business, not mine."
"I wasn't as foolish as you suggest," said Margaret "She only
startled me, for the house had been silent so long."
"Did you take her for a spook?" asked Dolly, for whom "spooks"'
and "going to church" summarised the unseen.
"She really did frighten you," said Henry, who was far from
discouraging timidity in females. "Poor Margaret! And very
naturally. Uneducated classes are so stupid."
"Is Miss Avery uneducated classes?" Margaret asked, and found
herself looking at the decoration scheme of Dolly's drawing-room.
"She's just one of the crew at the farm. People like that always
assume things. She assumed you'd know who she was. She left all
the Howards End keys in the front lobby, and assumed that you'd
seen them as you came in, that you'd lock up the house when you'd
done, and would bring them on down to her. And there was her
niece hunting for them down at the farm. Lack of education makes
people very casual. Hilton was full of women like Miss Avery
"I shouldn't have disliked it, perhaps."
"Or Miss Avery giving me a wedding present," said Dolly.
Which was illogical but interesting. Through Dolly, Margaret was
destined to learn a good deal.
"But Charles said I must try not to mind, because she had known
"As usual, you've got the story wrong, my good Dorothea."
"I meant great-grandmother--the one who left Mrs. Wilcox the
house. Weren't both of them and Miss Avery friends when Howards
End, too, was a farm?"
Her father-in-law blew out a shaft of smoke. His attitude to his
dead wife was curious. He would allude to her, and hear her
discussed, but never mentioned her by name. Nor was he interested
in the dim, bucolic past. Dolly was--for the following reason.
"Then hadn't Mrs. Wilcox a brother--or was it an uncle? Anyhow,
he popped the question, and Miss Avery, she said `No.' Just
imagine, if she'd said 'Yes,' she would have been Charles's aunt.
(Oh, I say, that's rather good! 'Charlie's Aunt'! I must chaff
him about that this evening.) And the man went out and was
killed. Yes, I 'm certain I've got it right now. Tom Howard--he
was the last of them."
"I believe so," said Mr. Wilcox negligently.
"I say! Howards End--Howards Ended!" Dolly. "I'm rather on the
spot this evening, eh?"
"I wish you'd ask whether Crane's ended."
"Oh, Mr. Wilcox, how can you?"
"Because, if he has had enough tea, we ought to go--Dolly's a
good little woman," he continued, "but a little of her goes a
long way. I couldn't live near her if you paid me."
Margaret smiled. Though presenting a firm front to outsiders, no
Wilcox could live near, or near the possessions of, any other
Wilcox. They had the colonial spirit, and were always making for
some spot where the white man might carry his burden unobserved.
Of course, Howards End was impossible, so long as the younger
couple were established in Hilton. His objections to the house
were plain as daylight now.
Crane had had enough tea, and was sent to the garage, where their
car had been trickling muddy water over Charles's. The downpour
had surely penetrated the Six Hills by now, bringing news of our
restless civilisation. "Curious mounds," said Henry, "but in with
you now; another time." He had to be up in London by seven--if
possible, by six-thirty. Once more she lost the sense of space;
once more trees, houses, people, animals, hills, merged and
heaved into one dirtiness, and she was at Wickham Place.
Her evening was pleasant. The sense of flux which had haunted her
all the year disappeared for a time. She forgot the luggage and
the motor-cars, and the hurrying men who know so much and connect
so little. She recaptured the sense of space, which is the basis
of all earthly beauty, and, starting from Howards End, she
attempted to realise England. She failed--visions do not come
when we try, though they may come through trying. But an
unexpected love of the island awoke in her, connecting on this
side with the joys of the flesh, on that with the inconceivable.
Helen and her father had known this love, poor Leonard Bast was
groping after it, but it had been hidden from Margaret till this
afternoon. It had certainly come through the house and old Miss
Avery. Through them: the notion of "through" persisted; her mind
trembled towards a conclusion which only the unwise have put into
words. Then, veering back into warmth, it dwelt on ruddy bricks,
flowering plum-trees, and all the tangible joys of spring.
Henry, after allaying her agitation, had taken her over his
property, and had explained to her the use and dimensions of the
various rooms. He had sketched the history of the little estate.
"It is so unlucky," ran the monologue, "that money wasn't put
into it about fifty years ago. Then it had four--five--times the
land--thirty acres at least. One could have made something out of
it then--a small park, or at all events shrubberies, and rebuilt
the house farther away from the road. What's the good of taking
it in hand now? Nothing but the meadow left, and even that was
heavily mortgaged when I first had to do with things--yes, and
the house too. Oh, it was no joke." She saw two women as he
spoke, one old, the other young, watching their inheritance melt
away. She saw them greet him as a deliverer. "Mismanagement did
it--besides, the days for small farms are over. It doesn't pay--
except with intensive cultivation. Small holdings, back to the
land--ah! philanthropic bunkum. Take it as a rule that nothing
pays on a small scale. Most of the land you see (they were
standing at an upper window, the only one which faced west)
belongs to the people at the Park--they made their pile over
copper--good chaps. Avery's Farm, Sishe's--what they call the
Common, where you see that ruined oak--one after the other fell
in, and so did this, as near as is no matter." But Henry had
saved it; without fine feelings or deep insight, but he had saved
it, and she loved him for the deed. "When I had more control I
did what I could--sold off the two and a half animals, and the
mangy pony, and the superannuated tools; pulled down the
outhouses; drained; thinned out I don't know how many
guelder-roses and elder-trees; and inside the house I turned the
old kitchen into a hall, and made a kitchen behind where the
dairy was. Garage and so on came later. But one could still tell
it's been an old farm. And yet it isn't the place that would
fetch one of your artistic crew." No, it wasn't; and if he did
not quite understand it, the artistic crew would still less; it
was English, and the wych-elm that she saw from the window was an
English tree. No report had prepared her for its peculiar glory.
It was neither warrior, nor lover, nor god; in none of these
roles do the English excel. It was a comrade bending over the
house, strength and adventure in its roots, but in its utmost
fingers tenderness, and the girth, that a dozen men could not
have spanned, became in the end evanescent, till pale bud
clusters seemed to float in the air. It was a comrade. House and
tree transcended any similes of sex. Margaret thought of them
now, and was to think of them through many a windy night and
London day, but to compare either to man, to woman, always
dwarfed the vision. Yet they kept within limits of the human.
Their message was not of eternity, but of hope on this side of
the grave. As she stood in the one, gazing at the other, truer
relationship had gleamed.
Another touch, and the account of her day is finished. They
entered the garden for a minute, and to Mr. Wilcox's surprise she
was right. Teeth, pigs' teeth, could be seen in the bark of the
wych-elm tree--just the white tips of them showing. "Extraordinary!"
he cried. "Who told you?"
"I heard of it one winter in London," was her answer, for she,
too, avoided mentioning Mrs. Wilcox by name.
Evie heard of her father's engagement when she was in for a
tennis tournament, and her play went simply to pot. That she
should marry and leave him had seemed natural enough; that he,
left alone, should do the same was deceitful; and now Charles and
Dolly said that it was all her fault. "But I never dreamt of such
a thing," she grumbled. "Dad took me to call now and then, and
made me ask her to Simpson's. Well, I'm altogether off dad." It
was also an insult to their mother's memory; there they were
agreed, and Evie had the idea of returning Mrs. Wilcox's lace and
jewellery "as a protest." Against what it would protest she was
not clear; but being only eighteen, the idea of renunciation
appealed to her, the more as she did not care for jewellery or
lace. Dolly then suggested that she and Uncle Percy should
pretend to break off their engagement, and then perhaps Mr.
Wilcox would quarrel with Miss Schlegel, and break off his; or
Paul might be cabled for. But at this point Charles told them not
to talk nonsense. So Evie settled to marry as soon as possible;
it was no good hanging about with these Schlegels eyeing her. The
date of her wedding was consequently put forward from September
to August, and in the intoxication of presents she recovered much
of her good-humour.
Margaret found that she was expected to figure at this function,
and to figure largely; it would be such an opportunity, said
Henry, for her to get to know his set. Sir James Bidder would be
there, and all the Cahills and the Fussells, and his
sister-in-law, Mrs. Warrington Wilcox, had fortunately got back
from her tour round the world. Henry she loved, but his set
promised to be another matter. He had not the knack of
surrounding himself with nice people--indeed, for a man of
ability and virtue his choice had been singularly unfortunate; he
had no guiding principle beyond a certain preference for
mediocrity; he was content to settle one of the greatest things
in life haphazard, and so, while his investments went right, his
friends generally went wrong. She would be told, "Oh, So-and-so's
a good sort--a thundering good sort," and find, on meeting him,
that he was a brute or a bore. If Henry had shown real affection,
she would have understood, for affection explains everything. But
he seemed without sentiment. The "thundering good sort" might at
any moment become "a fellow for whom I never did have much use,
and have less now," and be shaken off cheerily into oblivion.
Margaret had done the same as a schoolgirl. Now she never forgot
any one for whom she had once cared; she connected, though the
connection might be bitter, and she hoped that some day Henry
would do the same.
Evie was not to be married from Ducie Street. She had a fancy for
something rural, and, besides, no one would be in London then, so
she left her boxes for a few weeks at Oniton Grange, and her
banns were duly published in the parish church, and for a couple
of days the little town, dreaming between the ruddy hills, was
roused by the clang of our civilisation, and drew up by the
roadside to let the motors pass. Oniton had been a discovery of
Mr. Wilcox's--a discovery of which he was not altogether proud.
It was up towards the Welsh border, and so difficult of access
that he had concluded it must be something special. A ruined
castle stood in the grounds. But having got there, what was one
to do? The shooting was bad, the fishing indifferent, and
womenfolk reported the scenery as nothing much. The place turned
out to be in the wrong part of Shropshire, and though he never
ran down his own property to others, he was only waiting to get
it off his hands, and then to let fly. Evie's marriage was its
last appearance in public. As soon as a tenant was found, it
became a house for which he never had had much use, and had less
now, and, like Howards End, faded into Limbo.
But on Margaret Oniton was destined to make a lasting impression.
She regarded it as her future home, and was anxious to start
straight with the clergy, etc., and, if possible, to see
something of the local life. It was a market-town--as tiny a one
as England possesses--and had for ages served that lonely valley,
and guarded our marches against the Celt. In spite of the
occasion, in spite of the numbing hilarity that greeted her as
soon as she got into the reserved saloon at Paddington, her
senses were awake and watching, and though Oniton was to prove
one of her innumerable false starts, she never forgot it, or the
things that happened there.
The London party only numbered eight--the Fussells, father and
son, two Anglo-Indian ladies named Mrs. Plynlimmon and Lady
Edser, Mrs. Warrington Wilcox and her daughter, and, lastly, the
little girl, very smart and quiet, who figures at so many
weddings, and who kept a watchful eye on Margaret, the
bride-elect. Dolly was absent--a domestic event detained her at
Hilton; Paul had cabled a humorous message; Charles was to meet
them with a trio of motors at Shrewsbury; Helen had refused her
invitation; Tibby had never answered his. The management was
excellent, as was to be expected with anything that Henry
undertook; one was conscious of his sensible and generous brain
in the background. They were his guests as soon as they reached
the train; a special label for their luggage; a courier; a
special lunch; they had only to look pleasant and, where
possible, pretty. Margaret thought with dismay of her own
nuptials--presumably under the management of Tibby. "Mr. Theobald
Schlegel and Miss Helen Schlegel request the pleasure of Mrs.
Plynlimmon's company on the occasion of the marriage of their
sister Margaret." The formula was incredible, but it must soon be
printed and sent, and though Wickham Place need not compete with
Oniton, it must feed its guests properly, and provide them with
sufficient chairs. Her wedding would either be ramshackly or
bourgeois--she hoped the latter. Such an affair as the present,
staged with a deftness that was almost beautiful, lay beyond her
powers and those of her friends.
The low rich purr of a Great Western express is not the worst
background for conversation, and the journey passed pleasantly
enough. Nothing could have exceeded the kindness of the two men.
They raised windows for some ladies, and lowered them for others,
they rang the bell for the servant, they identified the colleges
as the train slipped past Oxford, they caught books or bag-purses
in the act of tumbling on to the floor. Yet there was nothing
finicking about their politeness--it had the public-school touch,
and, though sedulous, was virile. More battles than Waterloo have
been won on our playing-fields, and Margaret bowed to a charm of
which she did not wholly approve, and said nothing when the
Oxford colleges were identified wrongly. "Male and female created
He them"; the journey to Shrewsbury confirmed this questionable
statement, and the long glass saloon, that moved so easily and
felt so comfortable, became a forcing-house for the idea of sex.
At Shrewsbury came fresh air. Margaret was all for sight-seeing,
and while the others were finishing their tea at the Raven, she
annexed a motor and hurried over the astonishing city. Her
chauffeur was not the faithful Crane, but an Italian, who dearly
loved making her late. Charles, watch in hand, though with a
level brow, was standing in front of the hotel when they
returned. It was perfectly all right, he told her; she was by no
means the last. And then he dived into the coffee-room, and she
heard him say, "For God's sake, hurry the women up; we shall
never be off," and Albert Fussell reply, "Not I; I've done my
share," and Colonel Fussell opine that the ladies were getting
themselves up to kill. Presently Myra (Mrs. Warrington's
daughter) appeared, and as she was his cousin, Charles blew her
up a little; she had been changing her smart travelling hat for a
smart motor hat. Then Mrs. Warrington herself, leading the quiet
child; the two Anglo-Indian ladies were always last. Maids,
courier, heavy luggage, had already gone on by a branch-line to a
station nearer Oniton, but there were five hat-boxes and four
dressing-bags to be packed, and five dust-cloaks to be put on,
and to be put off at the last moment, because Charles declared
them not necessary. The men presided over everything with
unfailing good-humour. By half-past five the party was ready, and
went out of Shrewsbury by the Welsh Bridge.
Shropshire had not the reticence of Hertfordshire. Though robbed
of half its magic by swift movement, it still conveyed the sense
of hills. They were nearing the buttresses that force the Severn
eastward and make it an English stream, and the sun, sinking over
the Sentinels of Wales, was straight in their eyes. Having picked
up another guest, they turned southward, avoiding the greater
mountains, but conscious of an occasional summit, rounded and
mild, whose colouring differed in quality from that of the lower
earth, and whose contours altered more slowly. Quiet mysteries
were in progress behind those tossing horizons: the West, as
ever, was retreating with some secret which may not be worth the
discovery, but which no practical man will ever discover.
They spoke of Tariff Reform.
Mrs. Warrington was just back from the Colonies. Like many other
critics of Empire, her mouth had been stopped with food, and she
could only exclaim at the hospitality with which she had been
received, and warn the Mother Country against trifling with young
Titans. "They threaten to cut the painter," she cried, "and where
shall we be then? Miss Schlegel, you'll undertake to keep Henry
sound about Tariff Reform? It is our last hope."
Margaret playfully confessed herself on the other side, and they
began to quote from their respective handbooks while the motor
carried them deep into the hills. Curious these were rather than
impressive, for their outlines lacked beauty, and the pink fields
on their summits suggested the handkerchiefs of a giant spread
out to dry. An occasional outcrop of rock, an occasional wood, an
occasional "forest," treeless and brown, all hinted at wildness
to follow, but the main colour was an agricultural green. The air
grew cooler; they had surmounted the last gradient, and Oniton
lay below them with its church, its radiating houses, its castle,
its river-girt peninsula. Close to the castle was a grey mansion
unintellectual but kindly, stretching with its grounds across the
peninsula's neck--the sort of mansion that was built all over
England in the beginning of the last century, while architecture
was still an expression of the national character. That was the
Grange, remarked Albert, over his shoulder, and then he jammed
the brake on, and the motor slowed down and stopped. "I'm sorry,"
said he, turning round. "Do you mind getting out--by the door on
the right. Steady on."
"What's happened?" asked Mrs. Warrington.
Then the car behind them drew up, and the voice of Charles was
heard saying: "Get the women out at once." There was a concourse
of males, and Margaret and her companions were hustled out and
received into the second car. What had happened? As it started
off again, the door of a cottage opened, and a girl screamed
wildly at them.
"What is it?" the ladies cried.
Charles drove them a hundred yards without speaking. Then he
said: "It's all right. Your car just touched a dog."
"But stop!" cried Margaret, horrified.
"It didn't hurt him."
"Didn't really hurt him?" asked Myra.
"Do PLEASE stop!" said Margaret, leaning forward. She was
standing up in the car, the other occupants holding her knees to
steady her. "I want to go back, please."
Charles took no notice.
"We've left Mr. Fussell behind," said another; "and Angelo, and
"Yes, but no woman."
"I expect a little of "--Mrs. Warrington scratched her palm--
"will be more to the point than one of us!"
"The insurance company see to that," remarked Charles, "and
Albert will do the talking."
"I want to go back, though, I say!" repeated Margaret, getting
Charles took no notice. The motor, loaded with refugees,
continued to travel very slowly down the hill. "The men are
there," chorused the others. "They will see to it."
"The men CAN'T see to it. Oh, this is ridiculous! Charles, I ask
you to stop."
"Stopping's no good," drawled Charles.
"Isn't it?" said Margaret, and jumped straight out of the car.
She fell on her knees, cut her gloves, shook her hat over her
ear. Cries of alarm followed her. "You've hurt yourself,"
exclaimed Charles, jumping after her.
"Of course I've hurt myself!" she retorted.
"May I ask what--"
"There's nothing to ask," said Margaret.
"Your hand's bleeding."
"I'm in for a frightful row from the pater."
"You should have thought of that sooner, Charles."
Charles had never been in such a position before. It was a woman
in revolt who was hobbling away from him--and the sight was too
strange to leave any room for anger. He recovered himself when
the others caught them up: their sort he understood. He commanded
them to go back.
Albert Fussell was seen walking towards them.
"It's all right!" he called. "It was a cat."
"There!" exclaimed Charles triumphantly. "It's only a rotten
"Got room in your car for a little un? I cut as soon as I saw it
wasn't a dog; the chauffeurs are tackling the girl." But Margaret
walked forward steadily. Why should the chauffeurs tackle the
girl? Ladies sheltering behind men, men sheltering behind
servants--the whole system's wrong, and she must challenge it.
"Miss Schlegel! 'Pon my word, you've hurt your hand."
"I'm just going to see," said Margaret. "Don't you wait, Mr.
The second motor came round the corner. "It is all right, madam,"
said Crane in his turn. He had taken to calling her madam.
"What's all right? The cat?"
"Yes, madam. The girl will receive compensation for it."
"She was a very ruda girla," said Angelo from the third motor
"Wouldn't you have been rude?"
The Italian spread out his hands, implying that he had not
thought of rudeness, but would produce it if it pleased her. The
situation became absurd. The gentlemen were again buzzing round
Miss Schlegel with offers of assistance, and Lady Edser began to
bind up her hand. She yielded, apologising slightly, and was led
back to the car, and soon the landscape resumed its motion, the
lonely cottage disappeared, the castle swelled on its cushion of
turf, and they had arrived. No doubt she had disgraced herself.
But she felt their whole journey from London had been unreal.
They had no part with the earth and its emotions. They were dust,
and a stink, and cosmopolitan chatter, and the girl whose cat had
been killed had lived more deeply than they.
"Oh, Henry," she exclaimed, "I have been so naughty," for she had
decided to take up this line. "We ran over a cat. Charles told me
not to jump out, but I would, and look!" She held out her
bandaged hand. "Your poor Meg went such a flop."
Mr. Wilcox looked bewildered. In evening dress, he was standing
to welcome his guests in the hall.
"Thinking it was a dog." added Mrs. Warrington.
"Ah, a dog's a companion!" said Colonel Fussell "A dog'll
"Have you hurt yourself, Margaret?"
"Not to speak about; and it's my left hand."
"Well, hurry up and change."
She obeyed, as did the others. Mr. Wilcox then turned to his son.
"Now, Charles, what's happened?'
Charles was absolutely honest. He described what he believed to
have happened. Albert had flattened out a cat, and Miss Schlegel
had lost her nerve, as any woman might. She had been got safely
into the other car, but when it was in motion had leapt out
again, in spite of all that they could say. After walking a
little on the road, she had calmed down and had said that she was
sorry. His father accepted this explanation, and neither knew
that Margaret had artfully prepared the way for it. It fitted in
too well with their view of feminine nature. In the smoking-room,
after dinner, the Colonel put forward the view that Miss Schlegel
had jumped it out of devilry. Well he remembered as a young man,
in the harbour of Gibraltar once, how a girl--a handsome girl,
too--had jumped overboard for a bet. He could see her now, and
all the lads overboard after her. But Charles and Mr. Wilcox
agreed it was much more probably nerves in Miss Schlegel's case.
Charles was depressed. That woman had a tongue. She would bring
worse disgrace on his father before she had done with them. He
strolled out on to the castle mound to think the matter over. The
evening was exquisite. On three sides of him a little river
whispered, full of messages from the West; above his head the
ruins made patterns against the sky. He carefully reviewed their
dealings with this family, until he fitted Helen, and Margaret,
and Aunt Juley into an orderly conspiracy. Paternity had made him
suspicious. He had two children to look after, and more coming,
and day by day they seemed less likely to grow up rich men. "It
is all very well," he reflected, "the pater's saying that he will
be just to all, but one can't be just indefinitely. Money isn't
elastic. What's to happen if Evie has a family? And, come to
that, so may the pater. There'll not be enough to go round, for
there's none coming in, either through Dolly or Percy. It's
damnable!" He looked enviously at the Grange, whose windows
poured light and laughter. First and last, this wedding would
cost a pretty penny. Two ladies were strolling up and down the
garden terrace, and as the syllables "Imperialism" were wafted to
his ears, he guessed that one of them was his aunt. She might
have helped him, if she too had not had a family to provide for.
"Every one for himself," he repeated--a maxim which had cheered
him in the past, but which rang grimly enough among the ruins of
Oniton. He lacked his father's ability in business, and so had an
ever higher regard for money; unless he could inherit plenty, he
feared to leave his children poor.
As he sat thinking, one of the ladies left the terrace and walked
into the meadow; he recognised her as Margaret by the white
bandage that gleamed on her arm, and put out his cigar, lest the
gleam should betray him. She climbed up the mound in zigzags, and
at times stooped down, as if she was stroking the turf. It sounds
absolutely incredible, but for a moment Charles thought that she
was in love with him, and had come out to tempt him. Charles
believed in temptresses, who are indeed the strong man's
necessary complement, and having no sense of humour, he could not
purge himself of the thought by a smile. Margaret, who was
engaged to his father, and his sister's wedding-guest, kept on
her way without noticing him, and he admitted that he had wronged
her on this point. But what was she doing? Why was she stumbling
about amongst the rubble and catching her dress in brambles and
burrs? As she edged round the keep, she must have got to windward
and smelt his cigar-smoke, for she exclaimed, "Hullo! Who's
Charles made no answer.
"Saxon or Celt?" she continued, laughing in the darkness. "But it
doesn't matter. Whichever you are, you will have to listen to me.
I love this place. I love Shropshire. I hate London. I am glad
that this will be my home. Ah, dear"--she was now moving back
towards the house--"what a comfort to have arrived!"
"That woman means mischief," thought Charles, and compressed his
lips. In a few minutes he followed her indoors, as the ground was
getting damp. Mists were rising from the river, and presently it
became invisible, though it whispered more loudly. There had been
a heavy downpour in the Welsh hills.
Next morning a fine mist covered the peninsula. The weather
promised well, and the outline of the castle mound grew clearer
each moment that Margaret watched it. Presently she saw the keep,
and the sun painted the rubble gold, and charged the white sky
with blue. The shadow of the house gathered itself together, and
fell over the garden. A cat looked up at her window and mewed.
Lastly the river appeared, still holding the mists between its
banks and its overhanging alders, and only visible as far as a
hill, which cut off its upper reaches.
Margaret was fascinated by Oniton. She had said that she loved
it, but it was rather its romantic tension that held her. The
rounded Druids of whom she had caught glimpses in her drive, the
rivers hurrying down from them to England, the carelessly
modelled masses of the lower hills, thrilled her with poetry. The
house was insignificant, but the prospect from it would be an
eternal joy, and she thought of all the friends she would have to
stop in it, and of the conversion of Henry himself to a rural
life. Society, too, promised favourably. The rector of the parish
had dined with them last night, and she found that he was a
friend of her father's, and so knew what to find in her. She
liked him. He would introduce her to the town. While, on her
other side, Sir James Bidder sat, repeating that she only had to
give the word, and he would whip up the county families for
twenty miles round. Whether Sir James, who was Garden Seeds, had
promised what he could perform, she doubted, but so long as Henry
mistook them for the county families when they did call, she was
Charles Wilcox and Albert Fussell now crossed the lawn. They were
going for a morning dip, and a servant followed them with their
bathing-suits. She had meant to take a stroll herself before
breakfast, but saw that the day was still sacred to men, and
amused herself by watching their contretemps. In the first place
the key of the bathing-shed could not be found. Charles stood by
the riverside with folded hands, tragical, while the servant
shouted, and was misunderstood by another servant in the garden.
Then came a difficulty about a springboard, and soon three people
were running backwards and forwards over the meadow, with orders
and counter orders and recriminations and apologies. If Margaret
wanted to jump from a motor-car, she jumped; if Tibby thought
paddling would benefit his ankles, he paddled; if a clerk desired
adventure, he took a walk in the dark. But these athletes seemed
paralysed. They could not bathe without their appliances, though
the morning sun was calling and the last mists were rising from
the dimpling stream. Had they found the life of the body after
all? Could not the men whom they despised as milksops beat them,
even on their own ground?
She thought of the bathing arrangements as they should be in her
day--no worrying of servants, no appliances, beyond good sense.
Her reflections were disturbed by the quiet child, who had come
out to speak to the cat, but was now watching her watch the men.
She called, "Good-morning, dear," a little sharply. Her voice
spread consternation. Charles looked round, and though completely
attired in indigo blue, vanished into the shed, and was seen no
"Miss Wilcox is up--" the child whispered, and then became
"What is that?" it sounded like, "--cut-yoke--sack-back--"
"I can't hear."
"--On the bed--tissue-paper--"
Gathering that the wedding-dress was on view, and that a visit
would be seemly, she went to Evie's room. All was hilarity here.
Evie, in a petticoat, was dancing with one of the Anglo-Indian
ladies, while the other was adoring yards of white satin. They
screamed, they laughed, they sang, and the dog barked.
Margaret screamed a little too, but without conviction. She could
not feel that a wedding was so funny. Perhaps something was
missing in her equipment.
Evie gasped: "Dolly is a rotter not to be here! Oh, we would rag
just then!" Then Margaret went down to breakfast.
Henry was already installed; he ate slowly and spoke little, and
was, in Margaret's eyes, the only member of their party who
dodged emotion successfully. She could not suppose him
indifferent either to the loss of his daughter or to the presence
of his future wife. Yet he dwelt intact, only issuing orders
occasionally--orders that promoted the comfort of his guests. He
inquired after her hand; he set her to pour out the coffee and
Mrs. Warrington to pour out the tea. When Evie came down there
was a moment's awkwardness, and both ladies rose to vacate their
places. "Burton," called Henry, "serve tea and coffee from the
sideboard!" It wasn't genuine tact, but it was tact, of a sort--
the sort that is as useful as the genuine, and saves even more
situations at Board meetings. Henry treated a marriage like a
funeral, item by item, never raising his eyes to the whole, and
"Death, where is thy sting? Love, where is thy victory?" one
would exclaim at the close.
After breakfast Margaret claimed a few words with him. It was
always best to approach him formally. She asked for the
interview, because he was going on to shoot grouse to-morrow, and
she was returning to Helen in town.
"Certainly, dear," said he. "Of course, I have the time. What do
"I was afraid something had gone wrong."
"No; I have nothing to say, but you may talk."
Glancing at his watch, he talked of the nasty curve at the
lych-gate. She heard him with interest. Her surface could always
respond to his without contempt, though all her deeper being
might be yearning to help him. She had abandoned any plan of
action. Love is the best, and the more she let herself love him,
the more chance was there that he would set his soul in order.
Such a moment as this, when they sat under fair weather by the
walks of their future home, was so sweet to her that its
sweetness would surely pierce to him. Each lift of his eyes, each
parting of the thatched lip from the clean-shaven, must prelude
the tenderness that kills the Monk and the Beast at a single
blow. Disappointed a hundred times, she still hoped. She loved
him with too clear a vision to fear his cloudiness. Whether he
droned trivialities, as to-day, or sprang kisses on her in the
twilight, she could pardon him, she could respond.
"If there is this nasty curve," she suggested, "couldn't we walk
to the church? Not, of course, you and Evie; but the rest of us
might very well go on first, and that would mean fewer
"One can't have ladies walking through the Market Square. The
Fussells wouldn't like it; they were awfully particular at
Charles's wedding. My--she--our party was anxious to walk, and
certainly the church was just round the corner, and I shouldn't
have minded; but the Colonel made a great point of it."
"You men shouldn't be so chivalrous," said Margaret thoughtfully.
She knew why not, but said that she did not know. He then
announced that, unless she had anything special to say, he must
visit the wine-cellar, and they went off together in search of
Burton. Though clumsy and a little inconvenient, Oniton was a
genuine country-house. They clattered down flagged passages,
looking into room after room, and scaring unknown maids from the
performance of obscure duties. The wedding-breakfast must be in
readiness when they come back from church, and tea would be
served in the garden. The sight of so many agitated and serious
people made Margaret smile, but she reflected that they were paid
to be serious, and enjoyed being agitated. Here were the lower
wheels of the machine that was tossing Evie up into nuptial
glory. A little boy blocked their way with pig-pails. His mind
could not grasp their greatness, and he said: "By your leave; let
me pass, please." Henry asked him where Burton was. But the
servants were so new that they did not know one another's names.
In the still-room sat the band, who had stipulated for champagne
as part of their fee, and who were already drinking beer. Scents
of Araby came from the kitchen, mingled with cries. Margaret knew
what had happened there, for it happened at Wickham Place. One of
the wedding dishes had boiled over, and the cook was throwing
cedar-shavings to hide the smell. At last they came upon the
butler. Henry gave him the keys, and handed Margaret down the
cellar-stairs. Two doors were unlocked. She, who kept all her
wine at the bottom of the linen-cupboard, was astonished at the
sight. "We shall never get through it!" she cried, and the two
men were suddenly drawn into brotherhood, and exchanged smiles.
She felt as if she had again jumped out of the car while it was
Certainly Oniton would take some digesting. It would be no small
business to remain herself, and yet to assimilate such an
establishment. She must remain herself, for his sake as well as
her own, since a shadowy wife degrades the husband whom she
accompanies; and she must assimilate for reasons of common
honesty, since she had no right to marry a man and make him
uncomfortable. Her only ally was the power of Home. The loss of
Wickham Place had taught her more than its possession. Howards
End had repeated the lesson. She was determined to create new
sanctities among these hills.
After visiting the wine-cellar, she dressed, and then came the
wedding, which seemed a small affair when compared with the
preparations for it. Everything went like one o'clock. Mr. Cahill
materialised out of space, and was waiting for his bride at the
church door. No one dropped the ring or mispronounced the
responses, or trod on Evie's train, or cried. In a few minutes
the clergymen performed their duty, the register was signed, and
they were back in their carriages, negotiating the dangerous
curve by the lych-gate. Margaret was convinced that they had not
been married at all, and that the Norman church had been intent
all the time on other business.
There were more documents to sign at the house, and the breakfast
to eat, and then a few more people dropped in for the garden
party. There had been a great many refusals, and after all it was
not a very big affair--not as big as Margaret's would be. She
noted the dishes and the strips of red carpet, that outwardly she
might give Henry what was proper. But inwardly she hoped for
something better than this blend of Sunday church and
fox-hunting. If only some one had been upset! But this wedding
had gone off so particularly well--"quite like a durbar" in the
opinion of Lady Edser, and she thoroughly agreed with her.
So the wasted day lumbered forward, the bride and bridegroom
drove off, yelling with laughter, and for the second time the sun
retreated towards the hills of Wales. Henry, who was more tired
than he owned, came up to her in the castle meadow, and, in tones
of unusual softness, said that he was pleased. Everything had
gone off so well. She felt that he was praising her, too, and
blushed; certainly she had done all she could with his
intractable friends, and had made a special point of kotowing to
the men. They were breaking camp this evening; only the
Warringtons and quiet child would stay the night, and the others
were already moving towards the house to finish their packing. "I
think it did go off well," she agreed. "Since I had to jump out
of the motor, I'm thankful I lighted on my left hand. I am so
very glad about it, Henry dear; I only hope that the guests at
ours may be half as comfortable. You must all remember that we
have no practical person among us, except my aunt, and she is not
used to entertainments on a large scale."
"I know," he said gravely. "Under the circumstances, it would be
better to put everything into the hands of Harrods or Whiteley's,
or even to go to some hotel."
"You desire a hotel?"
"Yes, because--well, I mustn't interfere with you. No doubt you
want to be married from your old home."
"My old home's falling into pieces, Henry. I only want my new.
Isn't it a perfect evening--"
"The Alexandrina isn't bad--"
"The Alexandrina," she echoed, more occupied with the threads of
smoke that were issuing from their chimneys, and ruling the
sunlit slopes with parallels of grey.
"It's off Curzon Street."
"Is it? Let's be married from off Curzon Street."
Then she turned westward, to gaze at the swirling gold. Just
where the river rounded the hill the sun caught it. Fairyland
must lie above the bend, and its precious liquid was pouring
towards them past Charles's bathing-shed. She gazed so long that
her eyes were dazzled, and when they moved back to the house, she
could not recognise the faces of people who were coming out of
it. A parlour-maid was preceding them.
"Who are those people?" she asked.
"They're callers!" exclaimed Henry. "It's too late for callers."
"Perhaps they're town people who want to see the wedding
"I'm not at home yet to townees."
"Well, hide among the ruins, and if I can stop them, I will."
He thanked her.
Margaret went forward, smiling socially. She supposed that these
were unpunctual guests, who would have to be content with
vicarious civility, since Evie and Charles were gone, Henry
tired, and the others in their rooms. She assumed the airs of a
hostess; not for long. For one of the group was Helen--Helen in
her oldest clothes, and dominated by that tense, wounding
excitement that had made her a terror in their nursery days.
"What is it?" she called. "Oh, what's wrong? Is Tibby ill?"
Helen spoke to her two companions, who fell back. Then she bore
"They're starving!" she shouted. "I found them starving!"
"Who? Why have you come?"
"Oh, Helen!" moaned Margaret. "Whatever have you done now?"
"He has lost his place. He has been turned out of his bank. Yes,
he's done for. We upper classes have ruined him, and I suppose
you'll tell me it's the battle of life. Starving. His wife is
ill. Starving. She fainted in the train."
"Helen, are you mad?"
"Perhaps. Yes. If you like, I'm mad. But I've brought them. I'll
stand injustice no longer. I'll show up the wretchedness that
lies under this luxury, this talk of impersonal forces, this cant
about God doing what we're too slack to do ourselves."
"Have you actually brought two starving people from London to
Helen was checked. She had not thought of this, and her hysteria
abated. "There was a restaurant car on the train," she said.
"Don't be absurd. They aren't starving, and you know it. Now,
begin from the beginning. I won't have such theatrical nonsense.
How dare you! Yes, how dare you!" she repeated, as anger filled
her, "bursting in to Evie's wedding in this heartless way. My
goodness! but you've a perverted notion of philanthropy. Look"--
she indicated the house--"servants, people out of the windows.
They think it's some vulgar scandal, and I must explain, 'Oh no,
it's only my sister screaming, and only two hangers-on of ours,
whom she has brought here for no conceivable reason.'"
"Kindly take back that word 'hangers-on,'" said Helen, ominously
"Very well," conceded Margaret, who for all her wrath was
determined to avoid a real quarrel. "I, too, am sorry about them,
but it beats me why you've brought them here, or why you're here
"It's our last chance of seeing Mr. Wilcox."
Margaret moved towards the house at this. She was determined not
to worry Henry.
"He's going to Scotland. I know he is. I insist on seeing him."
"I knew it was our last chance."
"How do you do, Mr. Bast?" said Margaret, trying to control her
voice. "This is an odd business. What view do you take of it?"
"There is Mrs. Bast, too," prompted Helen.
Jacky also shook hands. She, like her husband, was shy, and,
furthermore, ill, and furthermore, so bestially stupid that she
could not grasp what was happening. She only knew that the lady
had swept down like a whirlwind last night, had paid the rent,
redeemed the furniture, provided them with a dinner and a
breakfast, and ordered them to meet her at Paddington next
morning. Leonard had feebly protested, and when the morning came,
had suggested that they shouldn't go. But she, half mesmerised,
had obeyed. The lady had told them to, and they must, and their
bed-sitting-room had accordingly changed into Paddington, and
Paddington into a railway carriage, that shook, and grew hot, and
grew cold, and vanished entirely, and reappeared amid torrents of
expensive scent. "You have fainted," said the lady in an
awe-struck voice. "Perhaps the air will do you good." And perhaps
it had, for here she was, feeling rather better among a lot of
"I'm sure I don't want to intrude," began Leonard, in answer to
Margaret's question. "But you have been so kind to me in the past
in warning me about the Porphyrion that I wondered--why, I
"Whether we could get him back into the Porphyrion again,"
supplied Helen. "Meg, this has been a cheerful business. A
bright evening's work that was on Chelsea Embankment."
Margaret shook her head and returned to Mr. Bast.
"I don't understand. You left the Porphyrion because we suggested
it was a bad concern, didn't you?"
"And went into a bank instead?"
"I told you all that," said Helen; "and they reduced their staff
after he had been in a month, and now he's penniless, and I
consider that we and our informant are directly to blame."
"I hate all this," Leonard muttered.
"I hope you do, Mr. Bast. But it's no good mincing matters. You
have done yourself no good by coming here. If you intend to
confront Mr. Wilcox, and to call him to account for a chance
remark, you will make a very great mistake."
"I brought them. I did it all," cried Helen.
"I can only advise you to go at once. My sister has put you in a
false position, and it is kindest to tell you so. It's too late
to get to town, but you'll find a comfortable hotel in Oniton,
where Mrs. Bast can rest, and I hope you'll be my guests there."
"That isn't what I want, Miss Schlegel," said Leonard. "You're
very kind, and no doubt it's a false position, but you make me
miserable. I seem no good at all."
"It's work he wants," interpreted Helen. "Can't you see?"
Then he said: "Jacky, let's go. We're more bother than we're
worth. We're costing these ladies pounds and pounds already to
get work for us, and they never will. There's nothing we're good
enough to do."
"We would like to find you work," said Margaret rather
conventionally. "We want to--I, like my sister. You're only down
in your luck. Go to the hotel, have a good night's rest, and some
day you shall pay me back the bill, if you prefer it."
But Leonard was near the abyss, and at such moments men see
clearly. "You don't know what you're talking about," he said. "I
shall never get work now. If rich people fail at one profession,
they can try another. Not I. I had my groove, and I've got out of
it. I could do one particular branch of insurance in one
particular office well enough to command a salary, but that's
all. Poetry's nothing, Miss Schlegel. One's thoughts about this
and that are nothing. Your money, too, is nothing, if you'll
understand me. I mean if a man over twenty once loses his own
particular job, it's all over with him. I have seen it happen to
others. Their friends gave them money for a little, but in the
end they fall over the edge. It's no good. It's the whole world
pulling. There always will be rich and poor."
He ceased. "Won't you have something to eat?" said Margaret. "I
don't know what to do. It isn't my house, and though Mr. Wilcox
would have been glad to see you at any other time--as I say, I
don't know what to do, but I undertake to do what I can for you.
Helen, offer them something. Do try a sandwich, Mrs. Bast."
They moved to a long table behind which a servant was still
standing. Iced cakes, sandwiches innumerable, coffee, claret-cup,
champagne, remained almost intact; their overfed guests could do
no more. Leonard refused. Jacky thought she could manage a
little. Margaret left them whispering together, and had a few
more words with Helen.
She said: "Helen, I like Mr. Bast. I agree that he's worth
helping. I agree that we are directly responsible."
"No, indirectly. Via Mr. Wilcox."
"Let me tell you once for all that if you take up that attitude,
I'll do nothing. No doubt you're right logically, and are
entitled to say a great many scathing things about Henry. Only, I
won't have it. So choose."
Helen looked at the sunset.
"If you promise to take them quietly to the George I will speak
to Henry about them--in my own way, mind; there is to be none of
this absurd screaming about justice. I have no use for justice.
If it was only a question of money, we could do it ourselves. But
he wants work, and that we can't give him, but possibly Henry
"It's his duty to," grumbled Helen.
"Nor am I concerned with duty. I'm concerned with the characters
of various people whom we know, and how, things being as they
are, things may be made a little better. Mr. Wilcox hates being
asked favours; all business men do. But I am going to ask him, at
the risk of a rebuff, because I want to make things a little
"Very well. I promise. You take it very calmly."
"Take them off to the George, then, and I'll try. Poor creatures!
but they look tired." As they parted, she added: "I haven't
nearly done with you, though, Helen. You have been most
self-indulgent. I can't get over it. You have less restraint
rather than more as you grow older. Think it over and alter
yourself, or we shan't have happy lives."
She rejoined Henry. Fortunately he had been sitting down: these
physical matters were important. "Was it townees?" he asked,
greeting her with a pleasant smile.
"You'll never believe me," said Margaret, sitting down beside
him. "It's all right now, but it was my sister."
"Helen here?" he cried, preparing to rise. "But she refused the
invitation. I thought hated weddings."
"Don't get up. She has not come to the wedding. I've bundled her
off to the George."
Inherently hospitable, he protested.
"No; she has two of her proteges with her and must keep with
"Let 'em all come."
"My dear Henry, did you see them?"
"I did catch sight of a brown bunch of a woman, certainly."
"The brown bunch was Helen, but did you catch sight of a
sea-green and salmon bunch?"
"What! are they out bean-feasting?"
"No; business. They wanted to see me, and later on I want to talk
to you about them."
She was ashamed of her own diplomacy. In dealing with a Wilcox,
how tempting it was to lapse from comradeship, and to give him
the kind of woman that he desired! Henry took the hint at once,
and said: "Why later on? Tell me now. No time like the present."
"If it isn't a long story."
"Oh, not five minutes; but there's a sting at the end of it, for
I want you to find the man some work in your office."
"What are his qualifications?"
"I don't know. He's a clerk."
"What's his name?"
"Bast," said Margaret, and was about to remind him that they had
met at Wickham Place, but stopped herself. It had not been a
"Where was he before?"
"Why did he leave?" he asked, still remembering nothing.
"They reduced their staff."
"All right; I'll see him."
It was the reward of her tact and devotion through the day. Now
she understood why some women prefer influence to rights. Mrs.
Plynlimmon, when condemning suffragettes, had said: "The woman
who can't influence her husband to vote the way she wants ought
to be ashamed of herself." Margaret had winced, but she was
influencing Henry now, and though pleased at her little victory,
she knew that she had won it by the methods of the harem.
"I should be glad if you took him," she said, "but I don't know
whether he's qualified."
"I'll do what I can. But, Margaret, this mustn't be taken as a
"No, of course--of course--"
"I can't fit in your proteges every day. Business would suffer."
"I can promise you he's the last. He--he's rather a special
"Proteges always are."
She let it stand at that. He rose with a little extra touch of
complacency, and held out his hand to help her up. How wide the
gulf between Henry as he was and Henry as Helen thought he ought
to be! And she herself--hovering as usual between the two, now
accepting men as they are, now yearning with her sister for
Truth. Love and Truth--their warfare seems eternal perhaps the
whole visible world rests on it, and if they were one, life
itself, like the spirits when Prospero was reconciled to his
brother, might vanish into air, into thin air.
"Your protege has made us late," said he. "The Fussells--will
just be starting."
On the whole she sided with men as they are. Henry would save the
Basts as he had saved Howards End, while Helen and her friends
were discussing the ethics of salvation. His was a slap-dash
method, but the world has been built slap-dash, and the beauty of
mountain and river and sunset may be but the varnish with which
the unskilled artificer hides his joins. Oniton, like herself,
was imperfect. Its apple-trees were stunted, its castle ruinous.
It, too, had suffered in the border warfare between the
Anglo-Saxon and the Celt, between things as they are and as they
ought to be. Once more the west was retreating, once again the
orderly stars were dotting the eastern sky. There is certainly no
rest for us on the earth. But there is happiness, and as Margaret
descended the mound on her lover's arm, she felt that she was
having her share.
To her annoyance, Mrs. Bast was still in the garden; the husband
and Helen had left her there to finish her meal while they went
to engage rooms. Margaret found this woman repellent. She had
felt, when shaking her hand, an overpowering shame. She
remembered the motive of her call at Wickham Place, and smelt
again odours from the abyss--odours the more disturbing because
they were involuntary. For there was no malice in Jacky. There
she sat, a piece of cake in one hand, an empty champagne glass in
the other, doing no harm to anybody.
"She's overtired," Margaret whispered.
"She's something else," said Henry. "This won't do. I can't have
her in my garden in this state."
"Is she--" Margaret hesitated to add "drunk." Now that she was
going to marry him, he had grown particular. He discountenanced
risque conversations now.
Henry went up to the woman. She raised her face, which gleamed in
the twilight like a puff-ball.
"Madam, you will be more comfortable at the hotel," he said
Jacky replied: "If it isn't Hen!"
"Ne crois pas que le mari lui ressemble," apologised Margaret.
"Il est tout a fait different."
"Henry!" she repeated, quite distinctly.
Mr. Wilcox was much annoyed. "I congratulate you on your
proteges," he remarked.
"Hen, don't go. You do love me, dear, don't you?"
"Bless us, what a person!" sighed Margaret, gathering up her
Jacky pointed with her cake. "You're a nice boy, you are." She
yawned. "There now, I love you."
"Henry, I am awfully sorry."
"And pray why?" he asked, and looked at her so sternly that she
feared he was ill. He seemed more scandalised than the facts
"To have brought this down on you."
"Pray don't apologise."
The voice continued.
"Why does she call you 'Hen'?" said Margaret innocently. "Has she
ever seen you before?"
"Seen Hen before!" said Jacky. "Who hasn't seen Hen? He's serving
you like me, my boys! You wait-- Still we love 'em."
"Are you now satisfied?" Henry asked.
Margaret began to grow frightened. "I don't know what it is all
about," she said. "Let's come in."
But he thought she was acting. He thought he was trapped. He saw
his whole life crumbling. "Don't you indeed?" he said bitingly.
"I do. Allow me to congratulate you on the success of your plan."
"This is Helen's plan, not mine."
"I now understand your interest in the Basts. Very well thought
out. I am amused at your caution, Margaret. You are quite right--
it was necessary. I am a man, and have lived a man's past. I have
the honour to release you from your engagement."
Still she could not understand. She knew of life's seamy side as
a theory; she could not grasp it as a fact. More words from Jacky
were necessary--words unequivocal, undenied.
"So that--" burst from her, and she went indoors. She stopped
herself from saying more.
"So what?" asked Colonel Fussell, who was getting ready to start
in the hall.
"We were saying--Henry and I were just having the fiercest
argument, my point being--" Seizing his fur coat from a footman,
she offered to help him on. He protested, and there was a playful
"No, let me do that," said Henry, following.
"Thanks so much! You see--he has forgiven me!"
The Colonel said gallantly: "I don't expect there's much to
He got into the car. The ladies followed him after an interval.
Maids, courier, and heavier luggage had been sent on earlier by
the branch-line. Still chattering, still thanking their host and
patronising their future hostess, the guests were borne away.
Then Margaret continued: "So that woman has been your mistress?"
"You put it with your usual delicacy," he replied.
"Ten years ago."
She left him without a word. For it was not her tragedy; it was
Helen began to wonder why she had spent a matter of eight pounds
in making some people ill and others angry. Now that the wave of
excitement was ebbing, and had left her, Mr. Bast, and Mrs. Bast
stranded for the night in a Shropshire hotel, she asked herself
what forces had made the wave flow. At all events, no harm was
done. Margaret would play the game properly now, and though Helen
disapproved of her sister's methods, she knew that the Basts
would benefit by them in the long-run.
"Mr. Wilcox is so illogical," she explained to Leonard, who had
put his wife to bed, and was sitting with her in the empty
coffee-room. "If we told him it was his duty to take you on, he
might refuse to do it. The fact is, he isn't properly educated. I
don't want to set you against him, but you'll find him a trial."
"I can never thank you sufficiently, Miss Schlegel," was all that
Leonard felt equal to.
"I believe in personal responsibility. Don't you? And in personal
everything. I hate--I suppose I oughtn't to say that--but the
Wilcoxes are on the wrong tack surely. Or perhaps it isn't their
fault. Perhaps the little thing that says 'I' is missing out of
the middle of their heads, and then it's a waste of time to
blame them. There's a nightmare of a theory that says a special
race is being born which will rule the rest of us in the future
just because it lacks the little thing that says 'I.' Had you
"I get no time for reading."
"Had you thought it, then? That there are two kinds of people--our
kind, who live straight from the middle of their heads, and the
other kind who can't, because their heads have no middle? They
can't say 'I.' They AREN'T in fact, and so they're supermen.
Pierpont Morgan has never said 'I' in his life."
Leonard roused himself. If his benefactress wanted intellectual
conversation, she must have it. She was more important than his
ruined past. "I never got on to Nietzsche," he said. "But I
always understood that those supermen were rather what you may
"Oh no, that's wrong," replied Helen. "No superman ever said 'I
want,' because 'I want' must lead to the question, 'Who am I?'
and so to Pity and to Justice. He only says 'want.' 'Want
Europe,' if he's Napoleon; 'want wives,' if he's Bluebeard;
'want Botticelli,' if he's Pierpont Morgan. Never the 'I'; and
if you could pierce through the superman, you'd find panic and
emptiness in the middle."
Leonard was silent for a moment. Then he said: "May I take it,
Miss Schlegel, that you and I are both the sort that say 'I'?"
"And your sister, too?"
"Of course," repeated Helen, a little sharply. She was annoyed
with Margaret, but did not want her discussed. "All presentable
people say 'I.'"
"But Mr. Wilcox--he is not perhaps--"
"I don't know that it's any good discussing Mr. Wilcox either."
"Quite so, quite so," he agreed. Helen asked herself why she had
snubbed him. Once or twice during the day she had encouraged him
to criticise, and then had pulled him up short. Was she afraid of
him presuming? If so, it was disgusting of her.
But he was thinking the snub quite natural. Everything she did
was natural, and incapable of causing offence. While the Miss
Schlegels were together he had felt them scarcely human--a sort of
admonitory whirligig. But a Miss Schlegel alone was different.
She was in Helen's case unmarried, in Margaret's about to be
married, in neither case an echo of her sister. A light had
fallen at last into this rich upper world, and he saw that it was
full of men and women, some of whom were more friendly to him
than others. Helen had become "his" Miss Schlegel, who scolded
him and corresponded with him, and had swept down yesterday with
grateful vehemence. Margaret, though not unkind, was severe and
remote. He would not presume to help her, for instance. He had
never liked her, and began to think that his original impression
was true, and that her sister did not like her either. Helen was
certainly lonely. She, who gave away so much, was receiving too
little. Leonard was pleased to think that he could spare her
vexation by holding his tongue and concealing what he knew about
Mr. Wilcox. Jacky had announced her discovery when he fetched her
from the lawn. After the first shock, he did not mind for
himself. By now he had no illusions about his wife, and this was
only one new stain on the face of a love that had never been
pure. To keep perfection perfect, that should be his ideal, if
the future gave him time to have ideals. Helen, and Margaret for
Helen's sake, must not know.
Helen disconcerted him by turning the conversation to his wife.
"Mrs. Bast--does she ever say 'I'?" she asked, half
mischievously, and then, "Is she very tired?"
"It's better she stops in her room," said Leonard.
"Shall I sit up with her?"
"No, thank you; she does not need company."
"Mr. Bast, what kind of woman is your wife?"
Leonard blushed up to his eyes.
"You ought to know my ways by now. Does that question offend
"No, oh no, Miss Schlegel, no."
"Because I love honesty. Don't pretend your marriage has been a
happy one. You and she can have nothing in common."
He did not deny it, but said shyly: "I suppose that's pretty
obvious; but Jacky never meant to do anybody any harm. When
things went wrong, or I heard things, I used to think it was her
fault, but, looking back, it's more mine. I needn't have married
her, but as I have I must stick to her and keep her."
"How long have you been married?"
"Nearly three years."
"What did your people say?"
"They will not have anything to do with us. They had a sort of
family council when they heard I was married, and cut us off
Helen began to pace up and down the room. "My good boy, what a
mess!" she said gently. "Who are your people?"
He could answer this. His parents, who were dead, had been in
trade; his sisters had married commercial travellers; his brother
was a lay-reader.
"And your grandparents?"
Leonard told her a secret that he had held shameful up to now.
"They were just nothing at all," he said "agricultural labourers
and that sort."
"So! From which part?"
"Lincolnshire mostly, but my mother's father--he, oddly enough,
came from these parts round here."
"From this very Shropshire. Yes, that is odd. My mother's people
were Lancashire. But why do your brother and your sisters object
to Mrs. Bast?"
"Oh, I don't know."
"Excuse me, you do know. I am not a baby. I can bear anything you
tell me, and the more you tell the more I shall be able to help.
Have they heard anything against her?"
He was silent.
"I think I have guessed now," said Helen very gravely.
"I don't think so, Miss Schlegel; I hope not."
"We must be honest, even over these things. I have guessed. I am
frightfully, dreadfully sorry, but it does not make the least
difference to me. I shall feel just the same to both of you. I
blame, not your wife for these things, but men."
Leonard left it at that--so long as she did not guess the man.
She stood at the window and slowly pulled up the blinds. The
hotel looked over a dark square. The mists had begun. When she
turned back to him her eyes were shining. "Don't you worry," he
pleaded. "I can't bear that. We shall be all right if I get work.
If I could only get work--something regular to do. Then it
wouldn't be so bad again. I don't trouble after books as I used.
I can imagine that with regular work we should settle down again.
It stops one thinking."
"Settle down to what?"
"Oh, just settle down."
"And that's to be life!" said Helen, with a catch in her throat.
"How can you, with all the beautiful things to see and do--with
music--with walking at night--"
"Walking is well enough when a man's in work," he answered. "Oh,
I did talk a lot of nonsense once, but there's nothing like a
bailiff in the house to drive it out of you. When I saw him
fingering my Ruskins and Stevensons, I seemed to see life
straight and real, and it isn't a pretty sight. My books are back
again, thanks to you, but they'll never be the same to me again,
and I shan't ever again think night in the woods is wonderful."
"Why not?" asked Helen, throwing up the window. "Because I see
one must have money."
"Well, you're wrong."
"I wish I was wrong, but--the clergyman--he has money of his own,
or else he's paid; the poet or the musician--just the same; the
tramp--he's no different. The tramp goes to the workhouse in the
end, and is paid for with other people's money. Miss Schlegel the
real thing's money, and all the rest is a dream."
"You're still wrong. You've forgotten Death."
Leonard could not understand.
"If we lived forever, what you say would be true. But we have to
die, we have to leave life presently. Injustice and greed would
be the real thing if we lived for ever. As it is, we must hold to
other things, because Death is coming. I love Death--not
morbidly, but because He explains. He shows me the emptiness of
Money. Death and Money are the eternal foes. Not Death and Life.
Never mind what lies behind Death, Mr. Bast, but be sure that the
poet and the musician and the tramp will be happier in it than
the man who has never learnt to say, 'I am I.'"
"We are all in a mist--I know, but I can help you this far--men
like the Wilcoxes are deeper in the mist than any. Sane, sound
Englishmen! building up empires, levelling all the world into
what they call common sense. But mention Death to them and
they're offended, because Death's really Imperial, and He cries
out against them for ever."
"I am as afraid of Death as any one."
"But not of the idea of Death."
"But what is the difference?"
"Infinite difference," said Helen, more gravely than before.
Leonard looked at her wondering, and had the sense of great
things sweeping out of the shrouded night. But he could not
receive them, because his heart was still full of little things.
As the lost umbrella had spoilt the concert at Queen's Hall, so
the lost situation was obscuring the diviner harmonies now.
Death, Life, and Materialism were fine words, but would Mr.
Wilcox take him on as a clerk? Talk as one would, Mr. Wilcox was
king of this world, the superman, with his own morality, whose
head remained in the clouds.
"I must be stupid," he said apologetically.
While to Helen the paradox became clearer and clearer. "Death
destroys a man: the idea of Death saves him." Behind the coffins
and the skeletons that stay the vulgar mind lies something so
immense that all that is great in us responds to it. Men of the
world may recoil from the charnel-house that they will one day
enter, but Love knows better. Death is his foe, but his peer, and
in their age-long struggle the thews of Love have been
strengthened, and his vision cleared, until there is no one who
can stand against him.
"So never give in," continued the girl, and restated again and
again the vague yet convincing plea that the Invisible lodges
against the Visible. Her excitement grew as she tried to cut the
rope that fastened Leonard to the earth. Woven of bitter
experience, it resisted her. Presently the waitress entered and
gave her a letter from Margaret. Another note, addressed to
Leonard, was inside. They read them, listening to the murmurings
of the river.
For many hours Margaret did nothing; then she controlled herself,
and wrote some letters. She was too bruised to speak to Henry;
she could pity him, and even determine to marry him, but as yet
all lay too deep in her heart for speech. On the surface the
sense of his degradation was too strong. She could not command
voice or look, and the gentle words that she forced out through
her pen seemed to proceed from some other person.
"My dearest boy," she began, "this is not to part us. It is