Part 6 out of 8
everything or nothing, and I mean it to be nothing. It happened
long before we ever met, and even if it had happened since, I
should be writing the same, I hope. I do understand."
But she crossed out "I do understand"; it struck a false note.
Henry could not bear to be understood. She also crossed out, "It
is everything or nothing." Henry would resent so strong a grasp
of the situation. She must not comment; comment is unfeminine.
"I think that'll about do," she thought.
Then the sense of his degradation choked her. Was he worth all
this bother? To have yielded to a woman of that sort was
everything, yes, it was, and she could not be his wife. She tried
to translate his temptation into her own language, and her brain
reeled. Men must be different even to want to yield to such a
temptation. Her belief in comradeship was stifled, and she saw
life as from that glass saloon on the Great Western which
sheltered male and female alike from the fresh air. Are the sexes
really races, each with its own code of morality, and their
mutual love a mere device of Nature to keep things going? Strip
human intercourse of the proprieties, and is it reduced to this?
Her judgment told her no. She knew that out of Nature's device we
have built a magic that will win us immortality. Far more
mysterious than the call of sex to sex is the tenderness that we
throw into that call; far wider is the gulf between us and the
farmyard than between the farmyard and the garbage that nourishes
it. We are evolving, in ways that Science cannot measure, to ends
that Theology dares not contemplate. "Men did produce one jewel,"
the gods will say, and, saying, will give us immortality.
Margaret knew all this, but for the moment she could not feel it,
and transformed the marriage of Evie and Mr. Cahill into a
carnival of fools, and her own marriage--too miserable to think
of that, she tore up the letter, and then wrote another:
DEAR MR. BAST,
"I have spoken to Mr. Wilcox about you, as I promised, and
am sorry to say that he has no vacancy for you.
"M. J. SCHLEGEL."
She enclosed this in a note to Helen, over which she took less
trouble than she might have done; but her head was aching, and
she could not stop to pick her words:
"Give him this. The Basts are no good. Henry found the
woman drunk on the lawn. I am having a room got ready for
you here, and will you please come round at once on getting
this? The Basts are not at all the type we should trouble
about. I may go round to them myself in the morning, and do
anything that is fair.
In writing this, Margaret felt that she was being practical.
Something might be arranged for the Basts later on, but they must
be silenced for the moment. She hoped to avoid a conversation
between the woman and Helen. She rang the bell for a servant, but
no one answered it; Mr. Wilcox and the Warringtons were gone to
bed, and the kitchen was abandoned to Saturnalia. Consequently
she went over to the George herself. She did not enter the hotel,
for discussion would have been perilous, and, saying that the
letter was important, she gave it to the waitress. As she
recrossed the square she saw Helen and Mr. Bast looking out of
the window of the coffee-room, and feared she was already too
late. Her task was not yet over; she ought to tell Henry what she
This came easily, for she saw him in the hall. The night wind had
been rattling the pictures against the wall, and the noise had
"Who's there?" he called, quite the householder.
Margaret walked in and past him.
"I have asked Helen to sleep," she said. "She is best here; so
don't lock the front-door."
"I thought some one had got in," said Henry.
"At the same time I told the man that we could do nothing for
him. I don't know about later, but now the Basts must clearly
"Did you say that your sister is sleeping here, after all?"
"Is she to be shown up to your room?"
"I have naturally nothing to say to her; I am going to bed. Will
you tell the servants about Helen? Could some one go to carry her
He tapped a little gong, which had been bought to summon the
"You must make more noise than that if you want them to hear."
Henry opened a door, and down the corridor came shouts of
laughter. "Far too much screaming there," he said, and strode
towards it. Margaret went upstairs, uncertain whether to be glad
that they had met, or sorry. They had behaved as if nothing had
happened, and her deepest instincts told her that this was wrong.
For his own sake, some explanation was due.
And yet--what could an explanation tell her? A date, a place, a
few details, which she could imagine all too clearly. Now that
the first shock was over, she saw that there was every reason to
premise a Mrs. Bast. Henry's inner life had long laid open to
her--his intellectual confusion, his obtuseness to personal
influence, his strong but furtive passions. Should she refuse him
because his outer life corresponded? Perhaps. Perhaps, if the
dishonour had been done to her, but it was done long before her
day. She struggled against the feeling. She told herself that
Mrs. Wilcox's wrong was her own. But she was not a barren
theorist. As she undressed, her anger, her regard for the dead,
her desire for a scene, all grew weak. Henry must have it as he
liked, for she loved him, and some day she would use her love to
make him a better man.
Pity was at the bottom of her actions all through this crisis.
Pity, if one may generalise, is at the bottom of woman. When men
like us, it is for our better qualities, and however tender their
liking, we dare not be unworthy of it, or they will quietly let
us go. But unworthiness stimulates woman. It brings out her
deeper nature, for good or for evil.
Here was the core of the question. Henry must be forgiven, and
made better by love; nothing else mattered. Mrs. Wilcox, that
unquiet yet kindly ghost, must be left to her own wrong. To her
everything was in proportion now, and she, too, would pity the
man who was blundering up and down their lives. Had Mrs. Wilcox
known of his trespass? An interesting question, but Margaret
fell asleep, tethered by affection, and lulled by the murmurs of
the river that descended all the night from Wales. She felt
herself at one with her future home, colouring it and coloured by
it, and awoke to see, for the second time, Oniton Castle
conquering the morning mists.
"Henry dear--" was her greeting.
He had finished his breakfast, and was beginning the Times. His
sister-in-law was packing. Margaret knelt by him and took the
paper from him, feeling that it was unusually heavy and thick.
Then, putting her face where it had been, she looked up in his
"Henry dear, look at me. No, I won't have you shirking. Look at
me. There. That's all."
"You're referring to last evening," he said huskily. "I have
released you from your engagement. I could find excuses, but I
won't. No, I won't. A thousand times no. I'm a bad lot, and must
be left at that."
Expelled from his old fortress, Mr. Wilcox was building a new
one. He could no longer appear respectable to her, so he defended
himself instead in a lurid past. It was not true repentance.
"Leave it where you will, boy. It's not going to trouble us; I
know what I'm talking about, and it will make no difference."
"No difference?" he inquired. "No difference, when you find that
I am not the fellow you thought?" He was annoyed with Miss
Schlegel here. He would have preferred her to be prostrated by
the blow, or even to rage. Against the tide of his sin flowed the
feeling that she was not altogether womanly. Her eyes gazed too
straight; they had read books that are suitable for men only. And
though he had dreaded a scene, and though she had determined
against one, there was a scene, all the same. It was somehow
"I am unworthy of you," he began. "Had I been worthy, I should
not have released you from your engagement. I know what I am
talking about. I can't bear to talk of such things. We had better
She kissed his hand. He jerked it from her, and, rising to his
feet, went on: "You, with your sheltered life, and refined
pursuits, and friends, and books, you and your sister, and women
like you--I say, how can you guess the temptations that lie round
"It is difficult for us," said Margaret; "but if we are worth
marrying, we do guess."
"Cut off from decent society and family ties, what do you suppose
happens to thousands of young fellows overseas? Isolated. No one
near. I know by bitter experience, and yet you say it makes 'no
"Not to me."
He laughed bitterly. Margaret went to the sideboard and helped
herself to one of the breakfast dishes. Being the last down, she
turned out the spirit-lamp that kept them warm. She was tender,
but grave. She knew that Henry was not so much confessing his
soul as pointing out the gulf between the male soul and the
female, and she did not desire to hear him on this point.
"Did Helen come?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"But that won't do at all, at all! We don't want her gossiping
with Mrs. Bast."
"Good God! no!" he exclaimed, suddenly natural. Then he caught
himself up. "Let them gossip, my game's up, though I thank you
for your unselfishness--little as my thanks are worth."
"Didn't she send me a message or anything?"
"I heard of none."
"Would you ring the bell, please?"
"What to do?"
"Why, to inquire."
He swaggered up to it tragically, and sounded a peal. Margaret
poured herself out some coffee. The butler came, and said that
Miss Schlegel had slept at the George, so far as he had heard.
Should he go round to the George?
"I'll go, thank you," said Margaret, and dismissed him.
"It is no good," said Henry. "Those things leak out; you cannot
stop a story once it has started. I have known cases of other
men--I despised them once, I thought that I'm different, I shall
never be tempted. Oh, Margaret--" He came and sat down near her,
improvising emotion. She could not bear to listen to him. "We
fellows all come to grief once in our time. Will you believe
that? There are moments when the strongest man-- 'Let him who
standeth, take heed lest he fall.' That's true, isn't it? If you
knew all, you would excuse me. I was far from good influences--
far even from England. I was very, very lonely, and longed for a
woman's voice. That's enough. I have told you too much already
for you to forgive me now."
"Yes, that's enough, dear."
"I have"--he lowered his voice--"I have been through hell."
Gravely she considered this claim. Had he? Had he suffered
tortures of remorse, or had it been, "There! that's over. Now for
respectable life again"? The latter, if she read him rightly. A
man who has been through hell does not boast of his virility. He
is humble and hides it, if, indeed, it still exists. Only in
legend does the sinner come forth penitent, but terrible, to
conquer pure woman by his resistless power. Henry was anxious to
be terrible, but had not got it in him. He was a good average
Englishman, who had slipped. The really culpable point--his
faithlessness to Mrs. Wilcox--never seemed to strike him. She
longed to mention Mrs. Wilcox.
And bit by bit the story was told her. It was a very simple
story. Ten years ago was the time, a garrison town in Cyprus the
place. Now and then he asked her whether she could possibly
forgive him, and she answered, "I have already forgiven you,
Henry." She chose her words carefully, and so saved him from
panic. She played the girl, until he could rebuild his fortress
and hide his soul from the world. When the butler came to clear
away, Henry was in a very different mood--asked the fellow what
he was in such a hurry for, complained of the noise last night in
the servants' hall. Margaret looked intently at the butler. He,
as a handsome young man, was faintly attractive to her as a
woman--an attraction so faint as scarcely to be perceptible, yet
the skies would have fallen if she had mentioned it to Henry.
On her return from the George the building operations were
complete, and the old Henry fronted her, competent, cynical, and
kind. He had made a clean breast, had been forgiven, and the
great thing now was to forget his failure, and to send it the way
of other unsuccessful investments. Jacky rejoined Howards End and
Dude Street, and the vermilion motor-car, and the Argentine Hard
Dollars, and all the things and people for whom he had never had
much use and had less now. Their memory hampered him. He could
scarcely attend to Margaret, who brought back disquieting news
from the George. Helen and her clients had gone.
"Well, let them go--the man and his wife, I mean, for the more we
see of your sister the better."
"But they have gone separately--Helen very early, the Basts just
before I arrived. They have left no message. They have answered
neither of my notes. I don't like to think what it all means."
"What did you say in the notes?"
"I told you last night."
"Oh--ah--yes! Dear, would you like one turn in the garden?"
Margaret took his arm. The beautiful weather soothed her. But the
wheels of Evie's wedding were still at work, tossing the guests
outwards as deftly as they had drawn them in, and she could not
be with him long. It had been arranged that they should motor to
Shrewsbury, whence he would go north, and she back to London with
the Warringtons. For a fraction of time she was happy. Then her
"I am afraid there has been gossiping of some kind at the George.
Helen would not have left unless she had heard something. I
mismanaged that. It is wretched. I ought to have parted her from
that woman at once."
"Margaret!" he exclaimed, loosing her arm impressively.
"I am far from a saint--in fact, the reverse--but you have taken
me, for better or worse. Bygones must be bygones. You have
promised to forgive me. Margaret, a promise is a promise. Never
mention that woman again."
"Except for some practical reason--never."
"Practical! You practical!"
"Yes, I'm practical," she murmured, stooping over the
mowing-machine and playing with the grass which trickled through
her fingers like sand.
He had silenced her, but her fears made him uneasy. Not for the
first time, he was threatened with blackmail. He was rich and
supposed to be moral; the Basts knew that he was not, and might
find it profitable to hint as much.
"At all events, you mustn't worry," he said. "This is a man's
business." He thought intently. "On no account mention it to
Margaret flushed at advice so elementary, but he was really
paving the way for a lie. If necessary he would deny that he had
ever known Mrs. Bast, and prosecute her for libel. Perhaps he
never had known her. Here was Margaret, who behaved as if he had
not. There the house. Round them were half a dozen gardeners,
clearing up after his daughter's wedding. All was so solid and
spruce, that the past flew up out of sight like a spring-blind,
leaving only the last five minutes unrolled.
Glancing at these, he saw that the car would be round during the
next five, and plunged into action. Gongs were tapped, orders
issued, Margaret was sent to dress, and the housemaid to sweep up
the long trickle of grass that she had left across the hall. As
is Man to the Universe, so was the mind of Mr. Wilcox to the
minds of some men--a concentrated light upon a tiny spot, a
little Ten Minutes moving self-contained through its appointed
years. No Pagan he, who lives for the Now, and may be wiser than
all philosophers. He lived for the five minutes that have past,
and the five to come; he had the business mind.
How did he stand now, as his motor slipped out of Oniton and
breasted the great round hills? Margaret had heard a certain
rumour, but was all right. She had forgiven him, God bless her,
and he felt the manlier for it. Charles and Evie had not heard
it, and never must hear. No more must Paul. Over his children he
felt great tenderness, which he did not try to track to a cause;
Mrs. Wilcox was too far back in his life. He did not connect her
with the sudden aching love that he felt for Evie. Poor little
Evie! he trusted that Cahill would make her a decent husband.
And Margaret? How did she stand?
She had several minor worries. Clearly her sister had heard
something. She dreaded meeting her in town. And she was anxious
about Leonard, for whom they certainly were responsible. Nor
ought Mrs. Bast to starve. But the main situation had not
altered. She still loved Henry. His actions, not his disposition,
had disappointed her, and she could bear that. And she loved her
future home. Standing up in the car, just where she had leapt
from it two days before, she gazed back with deep emotion upon
Oniton. Besides the Grange and the Castle keep, she could now
pick out the church and the black-and-white gables of the George.
There was the bridge, and the river nibbling its green peninsula.
She could even see the bathing-shed, but while she was looking
for Charles's new spring-board, the forehead of the hill rose and
hid the whole scene.
She never saw it again. Day and night the river flows down into
England, day after day the sun retreats into the Welsh mountains,
and the tower chimes, See the Conquering Hero. But the Wilcoxes
have no part in the place, nor in any place. It is not their
names that recur in the parish register. It is not their ghosts
that sigh among the alders at evening. They have swept into the
valley and swept out of it, leaving a little dust and a little
Tibby was now approaching his last year at Oxford. He had moved
out of college, and was contemplating the Universe, or such
portions of it as concerned him, from his comfortable lodgings in
Long Wall. He was not concerned with much. When a young man is
untroubled by passions and sincerely indifferent to public
opinion his outlook is necessarily limited. Tibby wished neither
to strengthen the position of the rich nor to improve that of the
poor, and so was well content to watch the elms nodding behind
the mildly embattled parapets of Magdalen. There are worse lives.
Though selfish, he was never cruel; though affected in manner, he
never posed. Like Margaret, he disdained the heroic equipment,
and it was only after many visits that men discovered Schlegel to
possess a character and a brain. He had done well in Mods, much
to the surprise of those who attended lectures and took proper
exercise, and was now glancing disdainfully at Chinese in case he
should some day consent to qualify as a Student Interpreter. To
him thus employed Helen entered. A telegram had preceded her.
He noticed, in a distant way, that his sister had altered.
As a rule he found her too pronounced, and had never come across
this look of appeal, pathetic yet dignified--the look of a
sailor who has lost everything at sea.
"I have come from Oniton," she began. "There has been a great
deal of trouble there."
"Who's for lunch?" said Tibby, picking up the claret, which was
warming in the hearth. Helen sat down submissively at the table.
"Why such an early start?" he asked.
"Sunrise or something--when I could get away."
"So I surmise. Why?"
"I don't know what's to be done, Tibby. I am very much upset at a
piece of news that concerns Meg, and do not want to face her, and
I am not going back to Wickham Place. I stopped here to tell you
The landlady came in with the cutlets. Tibby put a marker in the
leaves of his Chinese Grammar and helped them. Oxford--the Oxford
of the vacation--dreamed and rustled outside, and indoors the
little fire was coated with grey where the sunshine touched it.
Helen continued her odd story.
"Give Meg my love and say that I want to be alone. I mean to go
to Munich or else Bonn."
"Such a message is easily given," said her brother.
"As regards Wickham Place and my share of the furniture, you and
she are to do exactly as you like. My own feeling is that
everything may just as well be sold. What does one want with
dusty economic books, which have made the world no better, or
with mother's hideous chiffoniers? I have also another commission
for you. I want you to deliver a letter." She got up. "I haven't
written it yet. Why shouldn't I post it, though?" She sat down
again. "My head is rather wretched. I hope that none of your
friends are likely to come in."
Tibby locked the door. His friends often found it in this
condition. Then he asked whether anything had gone wrong at
"Not there," said Helen, and burst into tears.
He had known her hysterical--it was one of her aspects with which
he had no concern--and yet these tears touched him as something
unusual. They were nearer the things that did concern him, such
as music. He laid down his knife and looked at her curiously.
Then, as she continued to sob, he went on with his lunch.
The time came for the second course, and she was still crying.
Apple Charlotte was to follow, which spoils by waiting. "Do you
mind Mrs. Martlett coming in?" he asked, "or shall I take it from
her at the door?"
"Could I bathe my eyes, Tibby?"
He took her to his bedroom, and introduced the pudding in her
absence. Having helped himself, he put it down to warm in the
hearth. His hand stretched towards the Grammar, and soon he was
turning over the pages, raising his eyebrows scornfully, perhaps
at human nature, perhaps at Chinese. To him thus employed Helen
returned. She had pulled herself together, but the grave appeal
had not vanished from her eyes.
"Now for the explanation," she said. "Why didn't I begin with it?
I have found out something about Mr. Wilcox. He has behaved very
wrongly indeed, and ruined two people's lives. It all came on me
very suddenly last night; I am very much upset, and I do not know
what to do. Mrs. Bast--"
"Oh, those people!"
Helen seemed silenced.
"Shall I lock the door again?"
"No thanks, Tibbikins. You're being very good to me. I want to
tell you the story before I go abroad. you must do exactly what
you like--treat it as part of the furniture. Meg cannot have
heard it yet, I think. But I cannot face her and tell her that
the man she is going to marry has misconducted himself. I don't
even know whether she ought to be told. Knowing as she does that
I dislike him, she will suspect me, and think that I want to ruin
her match. I simply don't know what to make of such a thing. I
trust your judgment. What would you do?"
"I gather he has had a mistress," said Tibby.
Helen flushed with shame and anger. "And ruined two people's
lives. And goes about saying that personal actions count for
nothing, and there always will be rich and poor. He met her when
he was trying to get rich out in Cyprus--I don't wish to make him
worse than he is, and no doubt she was ready enough to meet him.
But there it is. They met. He goes his way and she goes hers.
What do you suppose is the end of such women?"
He conceded that it was a bad business.
"They end in two ways: Either they sink till the lunatic asylums
and the workhouses are full of them, and cause Mr. Wilcox to
write letters to the papers complaining of our national
degeneracy, or else they entrap a boy into marriage before it is
too late. She--I can't blame her."
"But this isn't all," she continued after a long pause, during
which the landlady served them with coffee. "I come now to the
business that took us to Oniton. We went all three. Acting on Mr.
Wilcox's advice, the man throws up a secure situation and takes
an insecure one, from which he is dismissed. There are certain
excuses, but in the main Mr. Wilcox is to blame, as Meg herself
admitted. It is only common justice that he should employ the man
himself. But he meets the woman, and, like the cur that he is, he
refuses, and tries to get rid of them. He makes Meg write. Two
notes came from her late that evening--one for me, one for
Leonard, dismissing him with barely a reason. I couldn't
understand. Then it comes out that Mrs. Bast had spoken to Mr.
Wilcox on the lawn while we left her to get rooms, and was still
speaking about him when Leonard came back to her. This Leonard
knew all along. He thought it natural he should be ruined twice.
Natural! Could you have contained yourself?"
"It is certainly a very bad business," said Tibby.
His reply seemed to calm his sister. "I was afraid that I saw it
out of proportion. But you are right outside it, and you must
know. In a day or two--or perhaps a week--take whatever steps you
think fit. I leave it in your hands."
She concluded her charge.
"The facts as they touch Meg are all before you," she added; and
Tibby sighed and felt it rather hard that, because of his open
mind, he should be empanelled to serve as a juror. He had never
been interested in human beings, for which one must blame him,
but he had had rather too much of them at Wickham Place. Just as
some people cease to attend when books are mentioned, so Tibby's
attention wandered when "personal relations" came under
discussion. Ought Margaret to know what Helen knew the Basts to
know? Similar questions had vexed him from infancy, and at Oxford
he had learned to say that the importance of human beings has
been vastly overrated by specialists. The epigram, with its faint
whiff of the eighties, meant nothing. But he might have let it
off now if his sister had not been ceaselessly beautiful.
"You see, Helen--have a cigarette--I don't see what I'm to do."
"Then there's nothing to be done. I dare say you are right. Let
them marry. There remains the question of compensation."
"Do you want me to adjudicate that too? Had you not better
consult an expert?"
"This part is in confidence," said Helen. "It has nothing to do
with Meg, and do not mention it to her. The compensation--I do
not see who is to pay it if I don't, and I have already decided
on the minimum sum. As soon as possible I am placing it to your
account, and when I am in Germany you will pay it over for me. I
shall never forget your kindness, Tibbikins, if you do this."
"What is the sum?"
"Good God alive!" said Tibby, and went crimson.
"Now, what is the good of driblets? To go through life having
done one thing--to have raised one person from the abyss; not
these puny gifts of shillings and blankets--making the grey more
grey. No doubt people will think me extraordinary."
"I don't care an iota what people think!" cried he, heated to
unusual manliness of diction. "But it's half what you have."
"Not nearly half." She spread out her hands over her soiled
skirt. "I have far too much, and we settled at Chelsea last
spring that three hundred a year is necessary to set a man on
his feet. What I give will bring in a hundred and fifty between
two. It isn't enough."
He could not recover. He was not angry or even shocked, and he
saw that Helen would still have plenty to live on. But it amazed
him to think what haycocks people can make of their lives. His
delicate intonations would not work, and he could only blurt out
that the five thousand pounds would mean a great deal of bother
for him personally.
"I didn't expect you to understand me."
"I? I understand nobody."
"But you'll do it?"
"I leave you two commissions, then. The first concerns Mr.
Wilcox, and you are to use your discretion. The second concerns
the money, and is to be mentioned to no one, and carried out
literally. You will send a hundred pounds on account to-morrow."
He walked with her to the station, passing through those streets
whose serried beauty never bewildered him and never fatigued. The
lovely creature raised domes and spires into the cloudless blue,
and only the ganglion of vulgarity round Carfax showed how
evanescent was the phantom, how faint its claim to represent
England. Helen, rehearsing her commission, noticed nothing; the
Basts were in her brain, and she retold the crisis in a
meditative way, which might have made other men curious. She was
seeing whether it would hold. He asked her once why she had taken
the Basts right into the heart of Evie's wedding. She stopped
like a frightened animal and said, "Does that seem to you so
odd?" Her eyes, the hand laid on the mouth, quite haunted him,
until they were absorbed into the figure of St. Mary the Virgin,
before whom he paused for a moment on the walk home.
It is convenient to follow him in the discharge of his duties.
Margaret summoned him the next day. She was terrified at Helen's
flight, and he had to say that she had called in at Oxford. Then
she said: "Did she seem worried at any rumour about Henry?" He
answered, "Yes." "I knew it was that!" she exclaimed. "I'll
write to her." Tibbv was relieved.
He then sent the cheque to the address that Helen gave him, and
stated that he was instructed to forward later on five thousand
pounds. An answer came back very civil and quiet in tone--such an
answer as Tibby himself would have given. The cheque was
returned, the legacy refused, the writer being in no need of
money. Tibby forwarded this to Helen, adding in the fulness of
his heart that Leonard Bast seemed somewhat a monumental person
after all. Helen's reply was frantic. He was to take no notice.
He was to go down at once and say that she commanded acceptance.
He went. A scurf of books and china ornaments awaited him. The
Basts had just been evicted for not paying their rent, and had
wandered no one knew whither. Helen had begun bungling with her
money by this time, and had even sold out her shares in the
Nottingham and Derby Railway. For some weeks she did nothing.
Then she reinvested, and, owing to the good advice of her
stockbrokers, became rather richer than she had been before.
Houses have their own ways of dying, falling as variously as the
generations of men, some with a tragic roar, some quietly, but to
an after-life in the city of ghosts, while from others--and thus
was the death of Wickham Place--the spirit slips before the body
perishes. It had decayed in the spring, disintegrating the girls
more than they knew, and causing either to accost unfamiliar
regions. By September it was a corpse, void of emotion, and
scarcely hallowed by the memories of thirty years of happiness.
Through its round-topped doorway passed furniture, and pictures,
and books, until the last room was gutted and the last van had
rumbled away. It stood for a week or two longer, open-eyed, as if
astonished at its own emptiness. Then it fell. Navvies came, and
spilt it back into the grey. With their muscles and their beery
good temper, they were not the worst of undertakers for a house
which had always been human, and had not mistaken culture for an
The furniture, with a few exceptions, went down into
Hertfordshire, Mr. Wilcox having most kindly offered Howards End
as a warehouse. Mr. Bryce had died abroad--an unsatisfactory
affair--and as there seemed little guarantee that the rent would
be paid regularly, he cancelled the agreement, and resumed
possession himself. Until he relet the house, the Schlegels were
welcome to stack their furniture in the garage and lower rooms.
Margaret demurred, but Tibby accepted the offer gladly; it saved
him from coming to any decision about the future. The plate and
the more valuable pictures found a safer home in London, but the
bulk of the things went country-ways, and were entrusted to the
guardianship of Miss Avery.
Shortly before the move, our hero and heroine were married. They
have weathered the storm, and may reasonably expect peace. To
have no illusions and yet to love--what stronger surety can a
woman find? She had seen her husband's past as well as his heart.
She knew her own heart with a thoroughness that commonplace
people believe impossible. The heart of Mrs. Wilcox was alone
hidden, and perhaps it is superstitious to speculate on the
feelings of the dead. They were warned quietly--really quietly,
for as the day approached she refused to go through another
Oniton. Her brother gave her away, her aunt, who was out of
health, presided over a few colourless refreshments. The Wilcoxes
were represented by Charles, who witnessed the marriage
settlement, and by Mr. Cahill. Paul did send a cablegram. In a few
minutes, and without the aid of music, the clergyman made them
man and wife, and soon the glass shade had fallen that cuts off
married couples from the world. She, a monogamist, regretted the
cessation of some of life's innocent odours; he, whose instincts
were polygamous, felt morally braced by the change and less
liable to the temptations that had assailed him in the past.
They spent their honeymoon near Innsbruck. Henry knew of a
reliable hotel there, and Margaret hoped for a meeting with her
sister. In this she was disappointed. As they came south, Helen
retreated over the Brenner, and wrote an unsatisfactory post-card
from the shores of the Lake of Garda, saying that her plans were
uncertain and had better be ignored. Evidently she disliked
meeting Henry. Two months are surely enough to accustom an
outsider to a situation which a wife has accepted in two days,
and Margaret had again to regret her sister's lack of
self-control. In a long letter she pointed out the need of
charity in sexual matters; so little is known about them; it is
hard enough for those who are personally touched to judge; then
how futile must be the verdict of Society. "I don't say there is
no standard, for that would destroy morality; only that there can
be no standard until our impulses are classified and better
understood." Helen thanked her for her kind letter--rather a
curious reply. She moved south again, and spoke of wintering in
Mr. Wilcox was not sorry that the meeting failed. Helen left him
time to grow skin over his wound. There were still moments when
it pained him. Had he only known that Margaret was awaiting him--
Margaret, so lively and intelligent, and yet so submissive--he
would have kept himself worthier of her. Incapable of grouping
the past, he confused the episode of Jacky with another episode
that had taken place in the days of his bachelorhood. The two
made one crop of wild oats, for which he was heartily sorry, and
he could not see that those oats are of a darker stock which are
rooted in another's dishonour. Unchastity and infidelity were
as confused to him as to the Middle Ages, his only moral teacher.
Ruth (poor old Ruth!) did not enter into his calculations at all,
for poor old Ruth had never found him out.
His affection for his present wife grew steadily. Her cleverness
gave him no trouble, and, indeed, he liked to see her reading
poetry or something about social questions; it distinguished her
from the wives of other men. He had only to call, and she clapped
the book up and was ready to do what he wished. Then they would
argue so jollily, and once or twice she had him in quite a tight
corner, but as soon as he grew really serious, she gave in. Man
is for war, woman for the recreation of the warrior, but he does
not dislike it if she makes a show of fight. She cannot win in a
real battle, having no muscles, only nerves. Nerves make her jump
out of a moving motor-car, or refuse to be married fashionably.
The warrior may well allow her to triumph on such occasions; they
move not the imperishable plinth of things that touch his peace.
Margaret had a bad attack of these nerves during the honeymoon.
He told her--casually, as was his habit--that Oniton Grange was
let. She showed her annoyance, and asked rather crossly why she
had not been consulted.
"I didn't want to bother you," he replied. "Besides, I have only
heard for certain this morning."
"Where are we to live?" said Margaret, trying to laugh. "I loved
the place extraordinarily. Don't you believe in having a
permanent home, Henry?"
He assured her that she misunderstood him. It is home life that
distinguishes us from the foreigner. But he did not believe in a
"This is news. I never heard till this minute that Oniton was
"My dear girl!"--he flung out his hand--"have you eyes? have you
a skin? How could it be anything but damp in such a situation? In
the first place, the Grange is on clay, and built where the
castle moat must have been; then there's that detestable little
river, steaming all night like a kettle. Feel the cellar walls;
look up under the eaves. Ask Sir James or any one. Those
Shropshire valleys are notorious. The only possible place for a
house in Shropshire is on a hill; but, for my part, I think the
country is too far from London, and the scenery nothing special."
Margaret could not resist saying, "Why did you go there, then?"
"I--because--" He drew his head back and grew rather angry. "Why
have we come to the Tyrol, if it comes to that? One might go on
asking such questions indefinitely."
One might; but he was only gaining time for a plausible answer.
Out it came, and he believed it as soon as it was spoken.
"The truth is, I took Oniton on account of Evie. Don't let this
go any further."
"I shouldn't like her to know that she nearly let me in for a
very bad bargain. No sooner did I sign the agreement than she got
engaged. Poor little girl! She was so keen on it all, and
wouldn't even wait to make proper inquiries about the shooting.
Afraid it would get snapped up--just like all of your sex. Well,
no harm's done. She has had her country wedding, and I've got rid
of my goose to some fellows who are starting a preparatory
"Where shall we live, then, Henry? I should enjoy living
"I have not yet decided. What about Norfolk?"
Margaret was silent. Marriage had not saved her from the sense of
flux. London was but a foretaste of this nomadic civilisation
which is altering human nature so profoundly, and throws upon
personal relations a stress greater than they have ever borne
before. Under cosmopolitanism, if it comes, we shall receive no
help from the earth. Trees and meadows and mountains will only be
a spectacle, and the binding force that they once exercised on
character must be entrusted to Love alone. May Love be equal to
"It is now what?" continued Henry. "Nearly October. Let us camp
for the winter at Ducie Street, and look out for something in the
"If possible, something permanent. I can't be as young as I was,
for these alterations don't suit me."
"But, my dear, which would you rather have--alterations or
"I see your point," said Margaret, getting up. "If Oniton is
really damp, it is impossible, and must be inhabited by little
boys. Only, in the spring, let us look before we leap. I will
take warning by Evie, and not hurry you. Remember that you have a
free hand this time. These endless moves must be bad for the
furniture, and are certainly expensive."
"What a practical little woman it is! What's it been reading?
So Ducie Street was her first fate--a pleasant enough fate. The
house, being only a little larger than Wickham Place, trained her
for the immense establishment that was promised in the spring.
They were frequently away, but at home life ran fairly regularly.
In the morning Henry went to business, and his sandwich--a relic
this of some prehistoric craving--was always cut by her own hand.
He did not rely upon the sandwich for lunch, but liked to have it
by him in case he grew hungry at eleven. When he had gone, there
was the house to look after, and the servants to humanise, and
several kettles of Helen's to keep on the boil. Her conscience
pricked her a little about the Basts; she was not sorry to have
lost sight of them. No doubt Leonard was worth helping, but being
Henry's wife, she preferred to help some one else. As for
theatres and discussion societies, they attracted her less and
less. She began to "miss" new movements, and to spend her spare
time re-reading or thinking, rather to the concern of her Chelsea
friends. They attributed the change to her marriage, and perhaps
some deep instinct did warn her not to travel further from her
husband than was inevitable. Yet the main cause lay deeper still;
she had outgrown stimulants, and was passing from words to
things. It was doubtless a pity not to keep up with Wedekind or
John, but some closing of the gates is inevitable after thirty,
if the mind itself is to become a creative power.
She was looking at plans one day in the following spring--they
had finally decided to go down into Sussex and build--when Mrs.
Charles Wilcox was announced.
"Have you heard the news?" Dolly cried, as soon as she entered
the room. Charles is so ang--I mean he is sure you know about it,
or, rather, that you don't know."
"Why, Dolly!" said Margaret, placidly kissing her. "Here's a
surprise! How are the boys and the baby?"
Boys and the baby were well, and in describing a great row that
there had been at the Hilton Tennis Club, Dolly forgot her news.
The wrong people had tried to get in. The rector, as representing
the older inhabitants, had said--Charles had said--the
tax-collector had said--Charles had regretted not saying--and she
closed the description with, "But lucky you, with four courts of
your own at Midhurst."
"It will be very jolly," replied Margaret.
"Are those the plans? Does it matter my seeing them?"
"Of course not."
"Charles has never seen the plans."
"They have only just arrived. Here is the ground floor--no,
that's rather difficult. Try the elevation, We are to have a good
many gables and a picturesque sky-line."
"What makes it smell so funny?" said Dolly, after a moment's
inspection. She was incapable of understanding plans or maps.
"I suppose the paper."
"And WHICH way up is it?"
"Just the ordinary way up. That's the sky-line and the part that
smells strongest is the sky."
"Well, ask me another. Margaret--oh--what was I going to say?
"Is she never coming back to England? Every one thinks it's
awfully odd she doesn't."
"So it is," said Margaret, trying to conceal her vexation. She
was getting rather sore on this point. "Helen is odd, awfully.
She has now been away eight months."
"But hasn't she any address?"
"A poste restante somewhere in Bavaria is her address. Do write
her a line. I will look it up for you."
"No, don't bother. That's eight months she has been away,
"Exactly. She left just after Evie's wedding. It would be eight
"Just when baby was born, then?"
Dolly sighed, and stared enviously round the drawing-room. She
was beginning to lose her brightness and good looks. The
Charles's were not well off, for Mr. Wilcox, having brought up
his children with expensive tastes, believed in letting them
shift for themselves. After all, he had not treated them
generously. Yet another baby was expected, she told Margaret, and
they would have to give up the motor. Margaret sympathised, but
in a formal fashion, and Dolly little imagined that the
stepmother was urging Mr. Wilcox to make them a more liberal
allowance. She sighed again, and at last the particular grievance
was remembered. "Oh, yes," she cried, "that is it: Miss Avery has
been unpacking your packing-cases."
"Why has she done that? How unnecessary!"
"Ask another. I suppose you ordered her to."
"I gave no such orders. Perhaps she was airing the things. She
did undertake to light an occasional fire."
"It was far more than an air," said Dolly solemnly. "The floor
sounds covered with books. Charles sent me to know what is to be
done, for he feels certain you don't know."
"Books!" cried Margaret, moved by the holy word. "Dolly, are you
serious? Has she been touching our books?"
"Hasn't she, though! What used to be the hall's full of them.
Charles thought for certain you knew of it."
"I am very much obliged to you, Dolly. What can have come over
Miss Avery? I must go down about it at once. Some of the books
are my brother's, and are quite valuable. She had no right to
open any of the cases."
"I say she's dotty. She was the one that never got married, you
know. Oh, I say, perhaps, she thinks your books are
wedding-presents to herself. Old maids are taken that way
sometimes. Miss Avery hates us all like poison ever since her
frightful dust-up with Evie."
"I hadn't heard of that," said Margaret. A visit from Dolly had
"Didn't you know she gave Evie a present last August, and Evie
returned it, and then--oh, goloshes! You never read such a letter
as Miss Avery wrote."
"But it was wrong of Evie to return it. It wasn't like her to do
such a heartless thing."
"But the present was so expensive."
"Why does that make any difference, Dolly?"
"Still, when it costs over five pounds--I didn't see it, but it
was a lovely enamel pendant from a Bond Street shop. You can't
very well accept that kind of thing from a farm woman. Now, can
"You accepted a present from Miss Avery when you were married."
"Oh, mine was old earthenware stuff--not worth a halfpenny.
Evie's was quite different. You'd have to ask any one to the
wedding who gave you a pendant like that. Uncle Percy and Albert
and father and Charles all said it was quite impossible, and when
four men agree, what is a girl to do? Evie didn't want to upset
the old thing, so thought a sort of joking letter best, and
returned the pendant straight to the shop to save Miss Avery
"But Miss Avery said--"
Dolly's eyes grew round. "It was a perfectly awful letter.
Charles said it was the letter of a madman. In the end she had
the pendant back again from the shop and threw it into the
"Did she give any reasons?"
"We think she meant to be invited to Oniton, and so climb into
"She's rather old for that," said Margaret pensively.
"May she not have given the present to Evie in remembrance of her
"That's a notion. Give every one their due, eh? Well, I suppose I
ought to be toddling. Come along, Mr. Muff--you want a new coat,
but I don't know who'll give it you, I'm sure;" and addressing
her apparel with mournful humour, Dolly moved from the room.
Margaret followed her to ask whether Henry knew about Miss
"I wonder, then, why he let me ask her to look after the house."
"But she's only a farm woman," said Dolly, and her explanation
proved correct. Henry only censured the lower classes when it
suited him. He bore with Miss Avery as with Crane--because he
could get good value out of them. "I have patience with a man who
knows his job," he would say, really having patience with the
job, and not the man. Paradoxical as it may sound, he had
something of the artist about him; he would pass over an insult
to his daughter sooner than lose a good charwoman for his wife.
Margaret judged it better to settle the little trouble herself.
Parties were evidently ruffled. With Henry's permission, she
wrote a pleasant note to Miss Avery, asking her to leave the
cases untouched. Then, at the first convenient opportunity, she
went down herself, intending to repack her belongings and store
them properly in the local warehouse; the plan had been
amateurish and a failure. Tibby promised to accompany her, but at
the last moment begged to be excused. So, for the second time in
her life, she entered the house alone.
The day of her visit was exquisite, and the last of unclouded
happiness that she was to have for many months. Her anxiety about
Helen's extraordinary absence was still dormant, and as for a
possible brush with Miss Avery-that only gave zest to the
expedition. She had also eluded Dolly's invitation to luncheon.
Walking straight up from the station, she crossed the village
green and entered the long chestnut avenue that connects it with
the church. The church itself stood in the village once. But it
there attracted so many worshippers that the devil, in a pet,
snatched it from its foundations, and poised it on an
inconvenient knoll, three quarters of a mile away. If this story
is true, the chestnut avenue must have been planted by the
angels. No more tempting approach could be imagined for the
lukewarm Christian, and if he still finds the walk too long, the
devil is defeated all the same, Science having built Holy
Trinity, a Chapel of Ease, near the Charles's and roofed it with
Up the avenue Margaret strolled slowly, stopping to watch the sky
that gleamed through the upper branches of the chestnuts, or to
finger the little horseshoes on the lower branches. Why has not
England a great mythology? our folklore has never advanced beyond
daintiness, and the greater melodies about our country-side have
all issued through the pipes of Greece. Deep and true as the
native imagination can be, it seems to have failed here. It has
stopped with the witches and the fairies. It cannot vivify one
fraction of a summer field, or give names to half a dozen stars.
England still waits for the supreme moment of her literature--for
the great poet who shall voice her, or, better still for the
thousand little poets whose voices shall pass into our common
At the church the scenery changed. The chestnut avenue opened
into a road, smooth but narrow, which led into the untouched
country. She followed it for over a mile. Its little hesitations
pleased her. Having no urgent destiny, it strolled downhill or up
as it wished, taking no trouble about the gradients, or about the
view, which nevertheless expanded. The great estates that
throttle the south of Hertfordshire were less obtrusive here, and
the appearance of the land was neither aristocratic nor suburban.
To define it was difficult, but Margaret knew what it was not: it
was not snobbish. Though its contours were slight, there was a
touch of freedom in their sweep to which Surrey will never
attain, and the distant brow of the Chilterns towered like a
mountain. "Left to itself," was Margaret's opinion, "this county
would vote Liberal." The comradeship, not passionate, that is our
highest gift as a nation, was promised by it, as by the low brick
farm where she called for the key.
But the inside of the farm was disappointing. A most finished
young person received her. "Yes, Mrs. Wilcox; no, Mrs. Wilcox; oh
yes, Mrs. Wilcox, auntie received your letter quite duly. Auntie
has gone up to your little place at the present moment. Shall I
send the servant to direct you?" Followed by: "Of course, auntie
does not generally look after your place; she only does it to
oblige a neighbour as something exceptional. It gives her
something to do. She spends quite a lot of her time there. My
husband says to me sometimes, "Where's auntie?' I say, 'Need you
ask? She's at Howards End.' Yes, Mrs. Wilcox. Mrs. Wilcox, could
I prevail upon you to accept a piece of cake? Not if I cut it for
Margaret refused the cake, but unfortunately this gave her
gentility in the eyes of Miss Avery's niece.
"I cannot let you go on alone. Now don't. You really mustn't. I
will direct you myself if it comes to that. I must get my hat.
Now"--roguishly--"Mrs. Wilcox, don't you move while I'm gone."
Stunned, Margaret did not move from the best parlour, over which
the touch of art nouveau had fallen. But the other rooms looked
in keeping, though they conveyed the peculiar sadness of a rural
interior. Here had lived an elder race, to which we look back
with disquietude. The country which we visit at week-ends was
really a home to it, and the graver sides of life, the deaths,
the partings, the yearnings for love, have their deepest
expression in the heart of the fields. All was not sadness. The
sun was shining without. The thrush sang his two syllables on the
budding guelder-rose. Some children were playing uproariously in
heaps of golden straw. It was the presence of sadness at all that
surprised Margaret, and ended by giving her a feeling of
completeness. In these English farms, if anywhere, one might see
life steadily and see it whole, group in one vision its
transitoriness and its eternal youth, connect--connect without
bitterness until all men are brothers. But her thoughts were
interrupted by the return of Miss Avery's niece, and were so
tranquillising that she suffered the interruption gladly.
It was quicker to go out by the back door, and, after due
explanations, they went out by it. The niece was now mortified by
innumerable chickens, who rushed up to her feet for food, and by
a shameless and maternal sow. She did not know what animals were
coming to. But her gentility withered at the touch of the sweet
air. The wind was rising, scattering the straw and ruffling the
tails of the ducks as they floated in families over Evie's
pendant. One of those delicious gales of spring, in which leaves
still in bud seem to rustle, swept over the land and then fell
silent. "Georgie," sang the thrush. "Cuckoo," came furtively from
the cliff of pine-trees. "Georgie, pretty Georgie," and the other
birds joined in with nonsense. The hedge was a half-painted
picture which would be finished in a few days. Celandines grew on
its banks, lords and ladies and primroses in the defended
hollows; the wild rose-bushes, still bearing their withered hips,
showed also the promise of blossom. Spring had come, clad in no
classical garb, yet fairer than all springs; fairer even than she
who walks through the myrtles of Tuscany with the graces before
her and the zephyr behind.
The two women walked up the lane full of outward civility. But
Margaret was thinking how difficult it was to be earnest about
furniture on such a day, and the niece was thinking about hats.
Thus engaged, they reached Howards End. Petulant cries of
"Auntie!" severed the air. There was no reply, and the front door
"Are you sure that Miss Avery is up here?" asked Margaret.
"Oh, yes, Mrs. Wilcox, quite sure. She is here daily."
Margaret tried to look in through the dining-room window, but the
curtain inside was drawn tightly. So with the drawing-room and
the hall. The appearance of these curtains was familiar, yet she
did not remember their being there on her other visit; her
impression was that Mr. Bryce had taken everything away. They
tried the back. Here again they received no answer, and could see
nothing; the kitchen-window was fitted with a blind, while the
pantry and scullery had pieces of wood propped up against them,
which looked ominously like the lids of packing-cases. Margaret
thought of her books, and she lifted up her voice also. At the
first cry she succeeded.
"Well, well!" replied some one inside the house. "If it isn't
Mrs. Wilcox come at last!"
"Have you got the key, auntie?"
"Madge, go away," said Miss Avery, still invisible.
"Auntie, it's Mrs. Wilcox--"
Margaret supported her. "Your niece and I have come together."
"Madge, go away. This is no moment for your hat."
The poor woman went red. "Auntie gets more eccentric lately," she
"Miss Avery!" called Margaret. "I have come about the furniture.
Could you kindly let me in?"
"Yes, Mrs. Wilcox," said the voice, "of course." But after that
came silence. They called again without response. They walked
round the house disconsolately.
"I hope Miss Avery is not ill," hazarded Margaret.
"Well, if you'll excuse me," said Madge, "perhaps I ought to be
leaving you now. The servants need seeing to at the farm. Auntie
is so odd at times." Gathering up her elegancies, she retired
defeated, and, as if her departure had loosed a spring, the front
door opened at once.
Miss Avery said, "Well, come right in, Mrs. Wilcox!" quite
pleasantly and calmly.
"Thank you so much," began Margaret, but broke off at the sight
of an umbrella-stand. It was her own.
"Come right into the hall first," said Miss Avery. She drew the
curtain, and Margaret uttered a cry of despair. For an appalling
thing had happened. The hall was fitted up with the contents of
the library from Wickham Place. The carpet had been laid, the big
work-table drawn up near the window; the bookcases filled the
wall opposite the fireplace, and her father's sword--this is what
bewildered her particularly--had been drawn from its scabbard and
hung naked amongst the sober volumes. Miss Avery must have worked
"I'm afraid this isn't what we meant," she began. "Mr. Wilcox and
I never intended the cases to be touched. For instance, these
books are my brother's. We are storing them for him and for my
sister, who is abroad. When you kindly undertook to look after
things, we never expected you to do so much."
"The house has been empty long enough," said the old woman.
Margaret refused to argue. "I dare say we didn't explain," she
said civilly. "It has been a mistake, and very likely our
"Mrs. Wilcox, it has been mistake upon mistake for fifty years.
The house is Mrs. Wilcox's, and she would not desire it to stand
empty any longer."
To help the poor decaying brain, Margaret said:
"Yes, Mrs. Wilcox's house, the mother of Mr. Charles."
"Mistake upon mistake," said Miss Avery. "Mistake upon mistake."
"Well, I don't know," said Margaret, sitting down in one of her
own chairs. "I really don't know what's to be done." She could
not help laughing.
The other said: "Yes, it should be a merry house enough."
"I don't know--I dare say. Well, thank you very much, Miss Avery.
Yes, that's all right. Delightful."
"There is still the parlour." She went through the door opposite
and drew a curtain. Light flooded the drawing-room furniture from
Wickham Place. "And the dining-room." More curtains were drawn,
more windows were flung open to the spring. "Then through here--"
Miss Avery continued passing and reprising through the hall. Her
voice was lost, but Margaret heard her pulling up the kitchen
blind. "I've not finished here yet," she announced, returning.
"There's still a deal to do. The farm lads will carry your great
wardrobes upstairs, for there is no need to go into expense at
"It is all a mistake," repeated Margaret, feeling that she must
put her foot down. "A misunderstanding. Mr. Wilcox and I are not
going to live at Howards End."
"Oh, indeed! On account of his hay fever?"
"We have settled to build a new home for ourselves in Sussex, and
part of this furniture--my part--will go down there presently."
She looked at Miss Avery intently, trying to understand the kink
in her brain.
Here was no maundering old woman. Her wrinkles were shrewd and
humorous. She looked capable of scathing wit and also of high but
unostentatious nobility. "You think that you won't come back to
live here, Mrs. Wilcox, but you will."
"That remains to be seen," said Margaret, smiling. "We have no
intention of doing so for the present. We happen to need a much
larger house. Circumstances oblige us to give big parties. Of
course, some day--one never knows, does one?"
Miss Avery retorted: "Some day! Tcha! tcha! Don't talk about some
day. You are living here now."
"You are living here, and have been for the last ten minutes, if
you ask me."
It was a senseless remark, but with a queer feeling of disloyalty
Margaret rose from her chair. She felt that Henry had been
obscurely censured. They went into the dining-room, where the
sunlight poured in upon her mother's chiffonier, and upstairs,
where many an old god peeped from a new niche. The furniture
fitted extraordinarily well. In the central room--over the hall,
the room that Helen had slept in four years ago--Miss Avery had
placed Tibby's old bassinette.
"The nursery," she said.
Margaret turned away without speaking.
At last everything was seen. The kitchen and lobby were still
stacked with furniture and straw, but, as far as she could make
out, nothing had been broken or scratched. A pathetic display of
ingenuity! Then they took a friendly stroll in the garden. It had
gone wild since her last visit. The gravel sweep was weedy, and
grass had sprung up at the very jaws of the garage. And Evie's
rockery was only bumps. Perhaps Evie was responsible for Miss
Avery's oddness. But Margaret suspected that the cause lay
deeper, and that the girl's silly letter had but loosed the
irritation of years.
"It's a beautiful meadow," she remarked. It was one of those
open-air drawing-rooms that have been formed, hundreds of years
ago, out of the smaller fields. So the boundary hedge zigzagged
down the hill at right angles, and at the bottom there was a
little green annex--a sort of powder-closet for the cows.
"Yes, the maidy's well enough," said Miss Avery, "for those, that
is, who don't suffer from sneezing." And she cackled maliciously.
"I've seen Charlie Wilcox go out to my lads in hay time--oh, they
ought to do this--they mustn't do that--he'd learn them to be
lads. And just then the tickling took him. He has it from his
father, with other things. There's not one Wilcox that can stand
up against a field in June--I laughed fit to burst while he was
"My brother gets hay fever too," said Margaret.
"This house lies too much on the land for them. Naturally, they
were glad enough to slip in at first. But Wilcoxes are better
than nothing, as I see you've found."
"They keep a place going, don't they? Yes, it is just that."
"They keep England going, it is my opinion."
But Miss Avery upset her by replying: "Ay, they breed like
rabbits. Well, well, it's a funny world. But He who made it knows
what He wants in it, I suppose. If Mrs. Charlie is expecting her
fourth, it isn't for us to repine."
"They breed and they also work," said Margaret, conscious of some
invitation to disloyalty, which was echoed by the very breeze and
by the songs of the birds. "It certainly is a funny world, but so
long as men like my husband and his sons govern it, I think it'll
never be a bad one--never really bad."
"No, better'n nothing," said Miss Avery, and turned to the
On their way back to the farm she spoke of her old friend much
more clearly than before. In the house Margaret had wondered
whether she quite distinguished the first wife from the second.
Now she said: "I never saw much of Ruth after her grandmother
died, but we stayed civil. It was a very civil family. Old Mrs.
Howard never spoke against anybody, nor let any one be turned
away without food. Then it was never 'Trespassers will be
prosecuted' in their land, but would people please not come in?
Mrs. Howard was never created to run a farm."
"Had they no men to help them?" Margaret asked.
Miss Avery replied: "Things went on until there were no men."
"Until Mr. Wilcox came along," corrected Margaret, anxious that
her husband should receive his dues.
"I suppose so; but Ruth should have married a--no disrespect to
you to say this, for I take it you were intended to get Wilcox
any way, whether she got him first or no."
"Whom should she have married?"
"A soldier!" exclaimed the old woman. "Some real soldier."
Margaret was silent. It was a criticism of Henry's character far
more trenchant than any of her own. She felt dissatisfied.
"But that's all over," she went on. "A better time is coming now,
though you've kept me long enough waiting. In a couple of weeks
I'll see your light shining through the hedge of an evening. Have
you ordered in coals?"
"We are not coming," said Margaret firmly. She respected Miss
Avery too much to humour her. "No. Not coming. Never coming. It
has all been a mistake. The furniture must be repacked at once,
and I am very sorry, but I am making other arrangements, and must
ask you to give me the keys."
"Certainly, Mrs. Wilcox," said Miss Avery, and resigned her
duties with a smile.
Relieved at this conclusion, and having sent her compliments to
Madge, Margaret walked back to the station. She had intended to
go to the furniture warehouse and give directions for removal,
but the muddle had turned out more extensive than she expected,
so she decided to consult Henry. It was as well that she did
this. He was strongly against employing the local man whom he had
previously recommended, and advised her to store in London after
But before this could be done an unexpected trouble fell upon
It was not unexpected entirely. Aunt Juley's health had been bad
all winter. She had had a long series of colds and coughs, and
had been too busy to get rid of them. She had scarcely promised
her niece "to really take my tiresome chest in hand," when she
caught a chill and developed acute pneumonia. Margaret and Tibby
went down to Swanage. Helen was telegraphed for, and that spring
party that after all gathered in that hospitable house had all
the pathos of fair memories. On a perfect day, when the sky
seemed blue porcelain, and the waves of the discreet little bay
beat gentlest of tattoos upon the sand, Margaret hurried up
through the rhododendrons, confronted again by the senselessness
of Death. One death may explain itself, but it throws no light
upon another; the groping inquiry must begin anew. Preachers or
scientists may generalise, but we know that no generality is
possible about those whom we love; not one heaven awaits them,
not even one oblivion. Aunt Juley, incapable of tragedy, slipped
out of life with odd little laughs and apologies for having
stopped in it so long. She was very weak; she could not rise to
the occasion, or realise the great mystery which all agree must
await her; it only seemed to her that she was quite done up--more
done up than ever before; that she saw and heard and felt less
every moment; and that, unless something changed, she would soon
feel nothing. Her spare strength she devoted to plans: could not
Margaret take some steamer expeditions? were mackerel cooked as
Tibby liked them? She worried herself about Helen's absence, and
also that she should be the cause of Helen's return. The nurses
seemed to think such interests quite natural, and perhaps hers
was an average approach to the Great Gate. But Margaret saw Death
stripped of any false romance; whatever the idea of Death may
contain, the process can be trivial and hideous.
"Important--Margaret dear, take the Lulworth when Helen comes."
"Helen won't be able to stop, Aunt Juley. She has telegraphed
that she can only get away just to see you. She must go back to
Germany as soon as you are well."
"How very odd of Helen! Mr. Wilcox--"
"Can he spare you?"
Henry wished her to come, and had been very kind. Yet again
Margaret said so.
Mrs. Munt did not die. Quite outside her will, a more dignified
power took hold of her and checked her on the downward slope. She
returned, without emotion, as fidgety as ever. On the fourth day
she was out of danger.
"Margaret--important," it went on: "I should like you to have
some companion to take walks with. Do try Miss Conder."
"I have been for a little walk with Miss Conder."
"But she is not really interesting. If only you had Helen."
"I have Tibby, Aunt Juley."
"No, but he has to do his Chinese. Some real companion is what
you need. Really, Helen is odd."
"Helen is odd, very," agreed Margaret.
"Not content with going abroad, why does she want to go back
there at once?"
"No doubt she will change her mind when she sees us. She has not
the least balance."
That was the stock criticism about Helen, but Margaret's voice
trembled as she made it. By now she was deeply pained at her
sister's behaviour. It may be unbalanced to fly out of England,
but to stay away eight months argues that the heart is awry as
well as the head. A sick-bed could recall Helen, but she was deaf
to more human calls; after a glimpse at her aunt, she would
retire into her nebulous life behind some poste restante. She
scarcely existed; her letters had become dull and infrequent; she
had no wants and no curiosity. And it was all put down to poor
Henry's account! Henry, long pardoned by his wife, was still too
infamous to be greeted by his sister-in-law. It was morbid, and,
to her alarm, Margaret fancied that she could trace the growth of
morbidity back in Helen's life for nearly four years. The flight
from Oniton; the unbalanced patronage of the Basts; the explosion
of grief up on the Downs--all connected with Paul, an
insignificant boy whose lips had kissed hers for a fraction of
time. Margaret and Mrs. Wilcox had feared that they might kiss
again. Foolishly--the real danger was reaction. Reaction against
the Wilcoxes had eaten into her life until she was scarcely sane.
At twenty-five she had an idee fixe. What hope was there for her
as an old woman?
The more Margaret thought about it the more alarmed she became.
For many months she had put the subject away, but it was too big
to be slighted now. There was almost a taint of madness. Were all
Helen's actions to be governed by a tiny mishap, such as may
happen to any young man or woman? Can human nature be constructed
on lines so insignificant? The blundering little encounter at
Howards End was vital. It propagated itself where graver
intercourse lay barren; it was stronger than sisterly intimacy,
stronger than reason or books. In one of her moods Helen had
confessed that she still "enjoyed" it in a certain sense. Paul
had faded, but the magic of his caress endured. And where there
is enjoyment of the past there may also be reaction--propagation
at both ends.
Well, it is odd and sad that our minds should be such seed-beds,
and we without power to choose the seed. But man is an odd, sad
creature as yet, intent on pilfering the earth, and heedless of
the growths within himself. He cannot be bored about psychology.
He leaves it to the specialist, which is as if he should leave
his dinner to be eaten by a steam-engine. He cannot be bothered
to digest his own soul. Margaret and Helen have been more
patient, and it is suggested that Margaret has succeeded--so far
as success is yet possible. She does understand herself, she has
some rudimentary control over her own growth. Whether Helen has
succeeded one cannot say.
The day that Mrs. Munt rallied Helen's letter arrived. She had
posted it at Munich, and would be in London herself on the
morrow. It was a disquieting letter, though the opening was
affectionate and sane.
"Give Helen's love to Aunt Juley. Tell her that I love, and have
loved her ever since I can remember. I shall be in London
"My address will be care of the bankers. I have not yet settled
on a hotel, so write or wire to me there and give me detailed
news. If Aunt Juley is much better, or if, for a terrible reason,
it would be no good my coming down to Swanage, you must not think
it odd if I do not come. I have all sorts of plans in my head. I
am living abroad at present, and want to get back as quickly as
possible. Will you please tell me where our furniture is? I
should like to take out one or two books; the rest are for you.
"Forgive me, dearest Meg. This must read like rather a tiresome
letter, but all letters are from your loving
It was a tiresome letter, for it tempted Margaret to tell a lie.
If she wrote that Aunt Juley was still in danger her sister would
come. Unhealthiness is contagious. We cannot be in contact with
those who are in a morbid state without ourselves deteriorating.
To "act for the best" might do Helen good, but would do herself
harm, and, at the risk of disaster, she kept her colours flying a
little longer. She replied that their aunt was much better, and
Tibby approved of her reply. Mellowing rapidly, he was a
pleasanter companion than before. Oxford had done much for him.
He had lost his peevishness, and could hide his indifference to
people and his interest in food. But he had not grown more human.
The years between eighteen and twenty-two, so magical for most,
were leading him gently from boyhood to middle age. He had never
known young-manliness, that quality which warms the heart till
death, and gives Mr. Wilcox an imperishable charm. He was frigid,
through no fault of his own, and without cruelty. He thought
Helen wrong and Margaret right, but the family trouble was for
him what a scene behind footlights is for most people. He had
only one suggestion to make, and that was characteristic.
"Why don't you tell Mr. Wilcox?"
"Perhaps he has come across that sort of thing."
"He would do all he could, but--"
"Oh, you know best. But he is practical."
It was the student's belief in experts. Margaret demurred for one
or two reasons. Presently Helen's answer came. She sent a
telegram requesting the address of the furniture, as she would
now return at once. Margaret replied, "Certainly not; meet me at
the bankers' at four." She and Tibby went up to London. Helen was
not at the bankers', and they were refused her address. Helen had
passed into chaos.
Margaret put her arm round her brother. He was all that she had
left, and never had he seemed more unsubstantial.
"Tibby love, what next?"
He replied: "It is extraordinary."
"Dear, your judgment's often clearer than mine. Have you any
notion what's at the back?"
"None, unless it's something mental."
"Oh--that!" said Margaret. "Quite impossible." But the suggestion
had been uttered, and in a few minutes she took it up herself.
Nothing else explained. And London agreed with Tibby. The mask
fell off the city, and she saw it for what it really is--a
caricature of infinity. The familiar barriers, the streets along
which she moved, the houses between which she had made her little
journeys for so many years, became negligible suddenly. Helen
seemed one with grimy trees and the traffic and the
slowly-flowing slabs of mud. She had accomplished a hideous act
of renunciation and returned to the One. Margaret's own faith
held firm. She knew the human soul will be merged, if it be
merged at all, with the stars and the sea. Yet she felt that her
sister had been going amiss for many years. It was symbolic the
catastrophe should come now, on a London afternoon, while rain
Henry was the only hope. Henry was definite. He might know of
some paths in the chaos that were hidden from them, and she
determined to take Tibby's advice and lay the whole matter in his
hands. They must call at his office. He could not well make it
worse. She went for a few moments into St. Paul's, whose dome
stands out of the welter so bravely, as if preaching the gospel
of form. But within, St. Paul's is as its surroundings--echoes
and whispers, inaudible songs, invisible mosaics, wet footmarks,
crossing and recrossing the floor. Si monumentum requiris,
circumspice; it points us back to London. There was no hope of
Henry was unsatisfactory at first. That she had expected. He was
overjoyed to see her back from Swanage, and slow to admit the
growth of a new trouble. When they told him of their search, he
only chaffed Tibby and the Schlegels generally, and declared that
it was "just like Helen" to lead her relatives a dance.
"That is what we all say," replied Margaret. "But why should it
be just like Helen? Why should she be allowed to be so queer, and
to grow queerer?"
"Don't ask me. I'm a plain man of business. I live and let live.
My advice to you both is, don't worry. Margaret, you've got black
marks again under your eyes. You know that's strictly forbidden.
First your aunt--then your sister. No, we aren't going to have
it. Are we, Theobald?" He rang the bell. "I'll give you some tea,
and then you go straight to Ducie Street. I can't have my girl
looking as old as her husband."
"All the same, you have not quite seen our point," said Tibby.
Mr. Wilcox, who was in good spirits, retorted, "I don't suppose I
ever shall." He leant back, laughing at the gifted but ridiculous
family, while the fire flickered over the map of Africa. Margaret
motioned to her brother to go on. Rather diffident, he obeyed
"Margaret's point is this," he said. "Our sister may be mad."
Charles, who was working in the inner room, looked round.
"Come in, Charles," said Margaret kindly. "Could you help us at
all? We are again in trouble."
"I'm afraid I cannot. What are the facts? We are all mad more or
less, you know, in these days."
"The facts are as follows," replied Tibby, who had at times a
pedantic lucidity. "The facts are that she has been in England
for three days and will not see us. She has forbidden the bankers
to give us her address. She refuses to answer questions. Margaret
finds her letters colourless. There are other facts, but these
are the most striking."
"She has never behaved like this before, then?" asked Henry.
"Of course not!" said his wife, with a frown.
"Well, my dear, how am I to know?"
A senseless spasm of annoyance came over her. "You know quite
well that Helen never sins against affection," she said. "You
must have noticed that much in her, surely."
"Oh yes; she and I have always hit it off together."
"No, Henry--can't you see?--I don't mean that."
She recovered herself, but not before Charles had observed her.
Stupid and attentive, he was watching the scene.
"I was meaning that when she was eccentric in the past, one could
trace it back to the heart in the long-run. She behaved oddly
because she cared for some one, or wanted to help them. There's
no possible excuse for her now. She is grieving us deeply, and
that is why I am sure that she is not well. 'Mad' is too terrible
a word, but she is not well. I shall never believe it. I
shouldn't discuss my sister with you if I thought she was well--
trouble you about her, I mean."
Henry began to grow serious. Ill-health was to him something
perfectly definite. Generally well himself, he could not realise
that we sink to it by slow gradations. The sick had no rights;
they were outside the pale; one could lie to them remorselessly.
When his first wife was seized, he had promised to take her down
into Hertfordshire, but meanwhile arranged with a nursing-home
instead. Helen, too, was ill. And the plan that he sketched out
for her capture, clever and well-meaning as it was, drew its
ethics from the wolf-pack.
"You want to get hold of her?" he said. "That's the problem,
isn't it? She has got to see a doctor."
"For all I know she has seen one already."
"Yes, yes; don't interrupt." He rose to his feet and thought
intently. The genial, tentative host disappeared, and they saw
instead the man who had carved money out of Greece and Africa,
and bought forests from the natives for a few bottles of gin.
"I've got it," he said at last. "It's perfectly easy. Leave it
to me. We'll send her down to Howards End."
"How will you do that?"
"After her books. Tell her that she must unpack them herself.
Then you can meet her there."
"But, Henry, that's just what she won't let me do. It's part of
her--whatever it is--never to see me."
"Of course you won't tell her you're going. When she is there,
looking at the cases, you'll just stroll in. If nothing is wrong
with her, so much the better. But there'll be the motor round the
corner, and we can run her to a specialist in no time."
Margaret shook her head. "It's quite impossible."
"It doesn't seem impossible to me," said Tibby; "it is surely a
very tippy plan."
"It is impossible, because--" She looked at her husband sadly.
"It's not the particular language that Helen and I talk, if you
see my meaning. It would do splendidly for other people, whom I
"But Helen doesn't talk," said Tibby. "That's our whole
difficulty. She won't talk your particular language, and on that
account you think she's ill."
"No, Henry; it's sweet of you, but I couldn't."
"I see," he said; "you have scruples."
"I suppose so."
"And sooner than go against them you would have your sister
suffer. You could have got her down to Swanage by a word, but you
had scruples. And scruples are all very well. I am as scrupulous
as any man alive, I hope; but when it is a case like this, when
there is a question of madness--"
"I deny it's madness."
"You said just now--"
"It's madness when I say it, but not when you say it."
Henry shrugged his shoulders. "Margaret! Margaret!" he groaned.
"No education can teach a woman logic. Now, my dear, my time is
valuable. Do you want me to help you or not?"
"Not in that way."
"Answer my question. Plain question, plain answer. Do--"
Charles surprised them by interrupting. "Pater, we may as well
keep Howards End out of it," he said.
Charles could give no reason; but Margaret felt as if, over
tremendous distance, a salutation had passed between them.
"The whole house is at sixes and sevens," he said crossly. "We
don't want any more mess."
"Who's 'we'?" asked his father. "My boy, pray who's 'we'?"
"I am sure I beg your pardon," said Charles. "I appear always to
By now Margaret wished she had never mentioned her trouble to her
husband. Retreat was impossible. He was determined to push the
matter to a satisfactory conclusion, and Helen faded as he
talked. Her fair, flying hair and eager eyes counted for nothing,
for she was ill, without rights, and any of her friends might
hunt her. Sick at heart, Margaret joined in the chase. She wrote
her sister a lying letter, at her husband's dictation; she said
the furniture was all at Howards End, but could be seen on Monday
next at 3 P.M., when a charwoman would be in attendance. It was a
cold letter, and the more plausible for that. Helen would think
she was offended. And on Monday next she and Henry were to lunch
with Dolly, and then ambush themselves in the garden.
After they had gone, Mr. Wilcox said to his son: "I can't have
this sort of behaviour, my boy. Margaret's too sweet-natured to
mind, but I mind for her."
Charles made no answer.
"Is anything wrong with you, Charles, this afternoon?"
"No, pater; but you may be taking on a bigger business than you
"Don't ask me."
One speaks of the moods of spring, but the days that are her true
children have only one mood; they are all full of the rising and
dropping of winds, and the whistling of birds. New flowers may
come out, the green embroidery of the hedges increase, but the
same heaven broods overhead, soft, thick, and blue, the same
figures, seen and unseen, are wandering by coppice and meadow.
The morning that Margaret had spent with Miss Avery, and the
afternoon she set out to entrap Helen, were the scales of a
single balance. Time might never have moved, rain never have
fallen, and man alone, with his schemes and ailments, was
troubling Nature until he saw her through a veil of tears.
She protested no more. Whether Henry was right or wrong, he was
most kind, and she knew of no other standard by which to judge
him. She must trust him absolutely. As soon as he had taken up a
business, his obtuseness vanished. He profited by the slightest
indications, and the capture of Helen promised to be staged as
deftly as the marriage of Evie.
They went down in the morning as arranged, and he discovered that
their victim was actually in Hilton. On his arrival he called at
all the livery-stables in the village, and had a few minutes'
serious conversation with the proprietors. What he said, Margaret
did not know--perhaps not the truth; but news arrived after lunch
that a lady had come by the London train, and had taken a fly to
"She was bound to drive," said Henry. "There will be her books."
"I cannot make it out," said Margaret for the hundredth time.
"Finish your coffee, dear. We must be off."
"Yes, Margaret, you know you must take plenty," said Dolly.
Margaret tried, but suddenly lifted her hand to her eyes. Dolly
stole glances at her father-in-law which he did not answer. In
the silence the motor came round to the door.
"You're not fit for it," he said anxiously. "Let me go alone. I
know exactly what to do."
"Oh yes, I am fit," said Margaret, uncovering her face. "Only
most frightfully worried. I cannot feel that Helen is really
alive. Her letters and telegrams seem to have come from some one
else. Her voice isn't in them. I don't believe your driver really
saw her at the station. I wish I'd never mentioned it. I know
that Charles is vexed. Yes, he is--" She seized Dolly's hand and
kissed it. "There, Dolly will forgive me. There. Now we'll be
Henry had been looking at her closely. He did not like this
"Don't you want to tidy yourself?" he asked.
"Have I time?"
She went to the lavatory by the front door, and as soon as the
bolt slipped, Mr. Wilcox said quietly:
"Dolly, I'm going without her."
Dolly's eyes lit up with vulgar excitement. She followed him on
tiptoe out to the car.
"Tell her I thought it best."
"Yes, Mr. Wilcox, I see."
"Say anything you like. All right."
The car started well, and with ordinary luck would have got away.
But Porgly-woggles, who was playing in the garden, chose this
moment to sit down in the middle of the path. Crane, in trying to
pass him, ran one wheel over a bed of wallflowers. Dolly
screamed. Margaret, hearing the noise, rushed out hatless, and
was in time to jump on the footboard. She said not a single word;
he was only treating her as she had treated Helen, and her rage
at his dishonesty only helped to indicate what Helen would feel
against them. She thought, "I deserve it; I am punished for
lowering my colours." And she accepted his apologies with a
calmness that astonished him.
"I still consider you are not fit for it," he kept saying.
"Perhaps I was not at lunch. But the whole thing is spread
clearly before me now."
"I was meaning to act for the best."
"Just lend me your scarf, will you. This wind takes one's hair
"Certainly, dear girl. Are you all right now?"
"Look! My hands have stopped trembling."
"And have quite forgiven me? Then listen. Her cab should already
have arrived at Howards End. (We're a little late, but no
matter.) Our first move will be to send it down to wait at the
farm, as, if possible, one doesn't want a scene before servants.
A certain gentleman"--he pointed at Crane's back--"won't drive
in, but will wait a little short of the front gate, behind the
laurels. Have you still the keys of the house?"
"Well, they aren't wanted. Do you remember how the house stands?"
"If we don't find her in the porch, we can stroll round into the
garden. Our object--"
Here they stopped to pick up the doctor.
"I was just saying to my wife, Mansbridge, that our main object
is not to frighten Miss Schlegel. The house, as you know, is my
property, so it should seem quite natural for us to be there. The
trouble is evidently nervous--wouldn't you say so, Margaret?"
The doctor, a very young man, began to ask questions about Helen.
Was she normal? Was there anything congenital or hereditary? Had
anything occurred that was likely to alienate her from her
"Nothing," answered Margaret, wondering what would have happened
if she had added: "Though she did resent my husband's
"She always was highly strung," pursued Henry, leaning back in
the car as it shot past the church. "A tendency to spiritualism