Howards End (6 of 7)

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Howards End
by E. M. Forster
Chapter 32
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 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 me 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? How's Helen?"
"Quite well."
"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, surely?"
"Exactly. She left just after Evie's wedding. It would
be eight months."
"Just when baby was born, then?"
"Just so."
Dolly sighed, and stared enviously round the drawing-room. She was beginning to lose her
brightness and good looks. The Charles' 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 sympathized, but in a
formal fashion, and Dolly little imagined that the step-mother
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 its compensations.
"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?"
"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
anyone 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 trouble."
"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 duckpond.
"Did she give any reasons?"
"We think she meant to be invited to Oniton, and so
climb into society."
"She's rather old for that," said Margaret pensively.
"May not she have given the present to Evie in remembrance
of her mother?"
"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 Avery's rudeness.
"Oh yes."
"I wonder, then, why he let me ask her to look after the
"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.
Chapter 33
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 luke-warm 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', and
roofed it with tin.
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 talk.
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, nor 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 you?"
Margaret refused the cake, but unfortunately this
acquired 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
tranquillizing 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 unnumerable 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 stiff in
bud seem to rustle, swept over the land and then fell
silent. "Georgia," sang the thrush. "Cuckoo," came
furtively from the cliff of pine-trees. "Georgia, pretty
Georgia," 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 was locked.
"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
them 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 someone 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 said nervously.
"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 for days.
"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 mistake."
"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
and 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 repassing 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 Hilton."
"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."
"Am I?"
"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
"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 courting Ruth."
"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."
Margaret laughed.
"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 wych-elm.
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 anyone 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
"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
"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
"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 lights 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 all.
But before this could be done an unexpected trouble fell
upon her.
Chapter 34
It was not unexpected entirely. Aunt Juley's health had
been bad all the 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 generalize, 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 realize 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
could 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—"
"Yes, dear?"
"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 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 stop 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.
Dearest Meg,
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 Thursday.
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
awaited developments.
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?"
"About Helen?"
"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 fell slowly.
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 Helen here.
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 her.
"Margaret's point is this," he said. "Our sister may be
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 someone, 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 realize 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 up 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 don't blame."
"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.
"Why, Charles?"
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 be intruding."
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 reckon."
"Don't ask me."
Chapter 35
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 Howards End.
"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 someone 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 off."
Henry had been looking at her closely. He did not like
this breakdown.
"Don't you want to tidy yourself?" he asked.
"Have I time?"
"Yes, plenty."
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 tip-toe 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 so."
"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 family?
"Nothing," answered Margaret, wondering what would have
happened if she had added: "Though she did resent my
husband's immorality."
"She always was highly strung," pursued Henry, leaning
back in the car as it shot past the church. "A tendency to
spiritualism and those things, though nothing serious.
Musical, literary, artistic, but I should say normal—a very
charming girl."
Margaret's anger and terror increased every moment. How
dare these men label her sister! What horrors lay ahead!
What impertinences that shelter under the name of science!
The pack was turning on Helen, to deny her human rights, and
it seemed to Margaret that all Schlegels were threatened
with her. "Were they normal?" What a question to ask! And
it is always those who know nothing about human nature, who
are bored by psychology and shocked by physiology, who ask
it. However piteous her sister's state, she knew that she
must be on her side. They would be mad together if the
world chose to consider them so.
It was now five minutes past three. The car slowed down
by the farm, in the yard of which Miss Avery was standing.
Henry asked her whether a cab had gone past. She nodded,
and the next moment they caught sight of it, at the end of
the lane. The car ran silently like a beast of prey. So
unsuspicious was Helen that she was sitting on the porch,
with her back to the road. She had come. Only her head and
shoulders were visible. She sat framed in the vine, and one
of her hands played with the buds. The wind ruffled her
hair, the sun glorified it; she was as she had always been.
Margaret was seated next to the door. Before her
husband could prevent her, she slipped out. She ran to the
garden gate, which was shut, passed through it, and
deliberately pushed it in his face. The noise alarmed
Helen. Margaret saw her rise with an unfamiliar movement,
and, rushing into the porch, learnt the simple explanation
of all their fears—her sister was with child.
"Is the truant all right?" called Henry.
She had time to whisper: "Oh, my darling—" The keys of
the house were in her hand. She unlocked Howards End and
thrust Helen into it. "Yes, all right," she said, and stood
with her back to the door.
Chapter 36
"Margaret, you look upset!" said Henry. Mansbridge had
followed. Crane was at the gate, and the flyman had stood
up on the box. Margaret shook her head at them; she could
not speak any more. She remained clutching the keys, as if
all their future depended on them. Henry was asking more
questions. She shook her head again. His words had no
sense. She heard him wonder why she had let Helen in. "You
might have given me a knock with the gate," was another of
his remarks. Presently she heard herself speaking. She, or
someone for her, said "Go away." Henry came nearer. He
repeated, "Margaret, you look upset again. My dear, give me
the keys. What are you doing with Helen?"
"Oh, dearest, do go away, and I will manage it all."
"Manage what?"
He stretched out his hand for the keys. She might have
obeyed if it had not been for the doctor.
"Stop that at least," she said piteously; the doctor had
turned back, and was questioning the driver of Helen's cab.
A new feeling came over her; she was fighting for women
against men. She did not care about rights, but if men came
into Howards End, it should be over her body.
"Come, this is an odd beginning," said her husband.
The doctor came forward now, and whispered two words to
Mr. Wilcox—the scandal was out. Sincerely horrified, Henry
stood gazing at the earth.
"I cannot help it," said Margaret. "Do wait. It's not
my fault. Please all four of you to go away now."
Now the flyman was whispering to Crane.
"We are relying on you to help us, Mrs. Wilcox," said
the young doctor. "Could you go in and persuade your sister
to come out?"
"On what grounds?" said Margaret, suddenly looking him
straight in the eyes.
Thinking it professional to prevaricate, he murmured
something about a nervous breakdown.
"I beg your pardon, but it is nothing of the sort. You
are not qualified to attend my sister, Mr. Mansbridge. If
we require your services, we will let you know."
"I can diagnose the case more bluntly if you wish," he retorted.
"You could, but you have not. You are, therefore, not
qualified to attend my sister."
"Come, come, Margaret!" said Henry, never raising his
eyes. "This is a terrible business, an appalling business.
It's doctor's orders. Open the door."
"Forgive me, but I will not."
"I don't agree."
Margaret was silent.
"This business is as broad as it's long," contributed
the doctor. "We had better all work together. You need us,
Mrs. Wilcox, and we need you."
"Quite so," said Henry.
"I do not need you in the least," said Margaret.
The two men looked at each other anxiously.
"No more does my sister, who is still many weeks from
her confinement."
"Margaret, Margaret!"
"Well, Henry, send your doctor away. What possible use
is he now?"
Mr. Wilcox ran his eye over the house. He had a vague
feeling that he must stand firm and support the doctor. He
himself might need support, for there was trouble ahead.
"It all turns on affection now," said Margaret. "Affection. Don't you see?" Resuming her usual
methods, she wrote the word on the house with her finger.
"Surely you see. I like Helen very much, you not so
much. Mr. Mansbridge doesn't know her. That's all. And
affection, when reciprocated, gives rights. Put that
down in your notebook, Mr. Mansbridge. It's a useful formula."
Henry told her to be calm.
"You don't know what you want yourselves," said
Margaret, folding her arms. "For one sensible remark I will
let you in. But you cannot make it. You would trouble my
sister for no reason. I will not permit it. I'll stand
here all the day sooner."
"Mansbridge," said Henry in a low voice, "perhaps not now."
The pack was breaking up. At a sign from his master,
Crane also went back into the car.
"Now, Henry, you," she said gently. None of her
bitterness had been directed at him. "Go away now, dear. I
shall want your advice later, no doubt. Forgive me if I
have been cross. But, seriously, you must go."
He was too stupid to leave her. Now it was Mr.
Mansbridge who called in a low voice to him.
"I shall soon find you down at Dolly's," she called, as
the gate at last clanged between them. The fly moved out of
the way, the motor backed, turned a little, backed again,
and turned in the narrow road. A string of farm carts came
up in the middle; but she waited through all, for there was
no hurry. When all was over and the car had started, she
opened the door. "Oh, my darling!" she said. "My darling,
forgive me." Helen was standing in the hall.
Chapter 37
Margaret bolted the door on the inside. Then she would have
kissed her sister, but Helen, in a dignified voice, that
came strangely from her, said:
"Convenient! You did not tell me that the books were
unpacked. I have found nearly everything that I want.
"I told you nothing that was true."
"It has been a great surprise, certainly. Has Aunt
Juley been ill?"
"Helen, you wouldn't think I'd invent that?"
"I suppose not," said Helen, turning away, and crying a
very little. "But one loses faith in everything after this."
"We thought it was illness, but even then—I haven't
behaved worthily."
Helen selected another book.
"I ought not to have consulted anyone. What would our
father have thought of me?"
She did not think of questioning her sister, nor of
rebuking her. Both might be necessary in the future, but
she had first to purge a greater crime than any that Helen
could have committed—that want of confidence that is the
work of the devil.
"Yes, I am annoyed," replied Helen. "My wishes should
have been respected. I would have gone through this meeting
if it was necessary, but after Aunt Juley recovered, it was
not necessary. Planning my life, as I now have to do—"
"Come away from those books," called Margaret. "Helen,
do talk to me."
"I was just saying that I have stopped living haphazard. One can't go through a great deal
of"—she missed out the noun—"without planning one's
actions in advance. I am going to have a child in June,
and in the first place conversations, discussions, excitement,
are not good for me. I will go through them if necessary,
but only then. In the second place I have no right
to trouble people. I cannot fit in with England as I
know it. I have done something that the English never pardon.
It would not be right for them to pardon it. So I must
live where I am not known."
"But why didn't you tell me, dearest?"
"Yes," replied Helen judicially. "I might have, but
decided to wait."
" I believe you would never have told me."
"Oh yes, I should. We have taken a flat in Munich."
Margaret glanced out of window.
"By 'we' I mean myself and Monica. But for her, I am
and have been and always wish to be alone."
"I have not heard of Monica."
"You wouldn't have. She's an Italian—by birth at
least. She makes her living by journalism. I met her
originally on Garda. Monica is much the best person to see
me through."
"You are very fond of her, then."
"She has been extraordinarily sensible with me."
Margaret guessed at Monica's type—"Italiano Inglesiato"
they had named it: the crude feminist of the South, whom one
respects but avoids. And Helen had turned to it in her
"You must not think that we shall never meet," said
Helen, with a measured kindness. "I shall always have a
room for you when you can be spared, and the longer you can
be with me the better. But you haven't understood yet, Meg,
and of course it is very difficult for you. This is a shock
to you. It isn't to me, who have been thinking over our
futures for many months, and they won't be changed by a
slight contretemps, such as this. I cannot live in England."
"Helen, you've not forgiven me for my treachery. You
COULDN'T talk like this to me if you had."
"Oh, Meg dear, why do we talk at all?" She dropped a
book and sighed wearily. Then, recovering herself, she
said: "Tell me, how is it that all the books are down here?"
"Series of mistakes."
"And a great deal of the furniture has been unpacked."
"Who lives here, then?"
"No one."
"I suppose you are letting it though—"
"The house is dead," said Margaret with a frown. "Why
worry on about it?"
"But I am interested. You talk as if I had lost all my
interest in life. I am still Helen, I hope. Now this
hasn't the feel of a dead house. The hall seems more alive
even than in the old days, when it held the Wilcoxes' own things."
"Interested, are you? Very well, I must tell you, I
suppose. My husband lent it on condition we—but by a
mistake all our things were unpacked, and Miss Avery,
instead of—" She stopped. "Look here, I can't go on like
this. I warn you I won't. Helen, why should you be so
miserably unkind to me, simply because you hate Henry?"
"I don't hate him now," said Helen. "I have stopped
being a schoolgirl, and, Meg, once again, I'm not being
unkind. But as for fitting in with your English life—no,
put it out of your head at once. Imagine a visit from me at
Ducie Street! It's unthinkable."
Margaret could not contradict her. It was appalling to
see her quietly moving forward with her plans, not bitter or
excitable, neither asserting innocence nor confessing guilt,
merely desiring freedom and the company of those who would
not blame her. She had been through—how much? Margaret
did not know. But it was enough to part her from old habits
as well as old friends.
"Tell me about yourself," said Helen, who had chosen her
books, and was lingering over the furniture.
"There's nothing to tell."
"But your marriage has been happy, Meg?"
"Yes, but I don't feel inclined to talk."
"You feel as I do."
"Not that, but I can't."
"No more can I. It is a nuisance, but no good trying."
Something had come between them. Perhaps it was
Society, which henceforward would exclude Helen. Perhaps it
was a third life, already potent as a spirit. They could
find no meeting-place. Both suffered acutely, and were not
comforted by the knowledge that affection survived.
"Look here, Meg, is the coast clear?"
"You mean that you want to go away from me?"
"I suppose so—dear old lady! it isn't any use. I knew
we should have nothing to say. Give my love to Aunt Juley
and Tibby, and take more yourself than I can say. Promise
to come and see me in Munich later."
"Certainly, dearest."
"For that is all we can do."
It seemed so. Most ghastly of all was Helen's common
sense: Monica had been extraordinarily good for her.
"I am glad to have seen you and the things." She looked
at the bookcase lovingly, as if she was saying farewell to
the past.
Margaret unbolted the door. She remarked: "The car has
gone, and here's your cab."
She led the way to it, glancing at the leaves and the
sky. The spring had never seemed more beautiful. The
driver, who was leaning on the gate, called out, "Please,
lady, a message," and handed her Henry's visiting-card through the bars.
"How did this come?" she asked.
Crane had returned with it almost at once.
She read the card with annoyance. It was covered with
instructions in domestic French. When she and her sister
had talked she was to come back for the night to Dolly's.
"Il faut dormir sur ce sujet." While Helen was to be found
"une comfortable chambre a l'hotel." The final sentence
displeased her greatly until she remembered that the
Charles' had only one spare room, and so could not invite a
third guest.
"Henry would have done what he could," she interpreted.
Helen had not followed her into the garden. The door
once open, she lost her inclination to fly. She remained in
the hall, going from bookcase to table. She grew more like
the old Helen, irresponsible and charming.
"This is Mr. Wilcox's house?" she inquired.
"Surely you remember Howards End?"
"Remember? I who remember everything! But it looks to
be ours now."
"Miss Avery was extraordinary," said Margaret, her own
spirits lightening a little. Again she was invaded by a
slight feeling of disloyalty. But it brought her relief,
and she yielded to it. "She loved Mrs. Wilcox, and would
rather furnish her house with our things than think of it
empty. In consequence here are all the library books. "
"Not all the books. She hasn't unpacked the Art Books,
in which she may show her sense. And we never used to have
the sword here."
"The sword looks well, though."
"Yes, doesn't it?"
"Where's the piano, Meg?"
"I warehoused that in London. Why?"
"Curious, too, that the carpet fits."
"The carpet's a mistake," announced Helen. "I know that
we had it in London, but this floor ought to be bare. It is
far too beautiful."
"You still have a mania for under-furnishing. Would you
care to come into the dining-room before you start? There's
no carpet there.
They went in, and each minute their talk became more natural.
"Oh, WHAT a place for mother's chiffonier!" cried Helen.
"Look at the chairs, though."
"Oh, look at them! Wickham Place faced north, didn't it?"
"Anyhow, it is thirty years since any of those chairs
have felt the sun. Feel. Their little backs are quite warm."
"But why has Miss Avery made them set to partners? I
shall just—"
"Over here, Meg. Put it so that any one sitting will
see the lawn."
Margaret moved a chair. Helen sat down in it.
"Ye-es. The window's too high."
"Try a drawing-room chair."
"No, I don't like the drawing-room so much. The beam
has been match-boarded. It would have been so beautiful
otherwise. "
"Helen, what a memory you have for some things! You're
perfectly right. It's a room that men have spoilt through
trying to make it nice for women. Men don't know what we
"And never will."
"I don't agree. In two thousand years they'll know."
"But the chairs show up wonderfully. Look where Tibby
spilt the soup."
"Coffee. It was coffee surely."
Helen shook her head. "Impossible. Tibby was far too
young to be given coffee at that time."
"Was Father alive?"
"Then you're right and it must have been soup. I was
thinking of much later—that unsuccessful visit of Aunt
Juley's, when she didn't realize that Tibby had grown up.
It was coffee then, for he threw it down on purpose. There
was some rhyme, 'Tea, coffee—coffee, tea,' that she said to
him every morning at breakfast. Wait a minute—how did it go?"
"I know—no, I don't. What a detestable boy Tibby was!"
"But the rhyme was simply awful. No decent person could
have put up with it."
"Ah, that greengage tree," cried Helen, as if the garden
was also part of their childhood. "Why do I connect it with
dumbbells? And there come the chickens. The grass wants
cutting. I love yellow-hammers—"
Margaret interrupted her. "I have got it," she
'Tea, tea, coffee, tea,
Or chocolaritee.'
"That every morning for three weeks. No wonder Tibby
was wild."
"Tibby is moderately a dear now," said Helen.
"There! I knew you'd say that in the end. Of course
he's a dear."
A bell rang.
"Listen! what's that?"
Helen said, "Perhaps the Wilcoxes are beginning the siege."
"What nonsense—listen!"
And the triviality faded from their faces, though it
left something behind—the knowledge that they never could
be parted because their love was rooted in common things.
Explanations and appeals had failed; they had tried for a
common meeting-ground, and had only made each other
unhappy. And all the time their salvation was lying round
them—the past sanctifying the present; the present, with
wild heart-throb, declaring that there would after all be a
future, with laughter and the voices of children. Helen,
still smiling, came up to her sister. She said, "It is
always Meg." They looked into each other's eyes. The inner
life had paid.
Solemnly the clapper tolled. No one was in the front.
Margaret went to the kitchen, and struggled between
packing-cases to the window. Their visitor was only a
little boy with a tin can. And triviality returned.
"Little boy, what do you want?"
"Please, I am the milk."
"Did Miss Avery send you?" said Margaret, rather sharply.
"Yes, please."
"Then take it back and say we require no milk." While
she called to Helen, "No, it's not the siege, but possibly
an attempt to provision us against one."
"But I like milk," cried Helen. "Why send it away?"
"Do you? Oh, very well. But we've nothing to put it
in, and he wants the can."
"Please, I'm to call in the morning for the can," said
the boy.
"The house will be locked up then."
"In the morning would I bring eggs, too?"
"Are you the boy whom I saw playing in the stacks last week?"
The child hung his head.
"Well, run away and do it again."
"Nice little boy," whispered Helen. "I say, what's your
name? Mine's Helen."
That was Helen all over. The Wilcoxes, too, would ask a
child its name, but they never told their names in return.
"Tom, this one here is Margaret. And at home we've
another called Tibby."
"Mine are lop-eared," replied Tom, supposing Tibby to be
a rabbit.
"You're a very good and rather a clever little boy.
Mind you come again.—Isn't he charming?"
"Undoubtedly," said Margaret. "He is probably the son of
Madge, and Madge is dreadful. But this place has wonderful powers."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know."
"Because I probably agree with you."
"It kills what is dreadful and makes what is beautiful live."
"I do agree," said Helen, as she sipped the milk. "But
you said that the house was dead not half an hour ago."
"Meaning that I was dead. I felt it."
"Yes, the house has a surer life than we, even if it was
empty, and, as it is, I can't get over that for thirty years
the sun has never shone full on our furniture. After all,
Wickham Place was a grave. Meg, I've a startling idea."
"What is it?"
"Drink some milk to steady you."
Margaret obeyed.
"No, I won't tell you yet," said Helen, "because you may
laugh or be angry. Let's go upstairs first and give the
rooms an airing."
They opened window after window, till the inside, too,
was rustling to the spring. Curtains blew, picture-frames
tapped cheerfully. Helen uttered cries of excitement as she
found this bed obviously in its right place, that in its
wrong one. She was angry with Miss Avery for not having
moved the wardrobes up. "Then one would see really." She
admired the view. She was the Helen who had written the
memorable letters four years ago. As they leant out,
looking westward, she said: "About my idea. Couldn't you
and I camp out in this house for the night?"
"I don't think we could well do that," said Margaret.
"Here are beds, tables, towels—"
"I know; but the house isn't supposed to be slept in,
and Henry's suggestion was—"
"I require no suggestions. I shall not alter anything
in my plans. But it would give me so much pleasure to have
one night here with you. It will be something to look back
on. Oh, Meg lovey, do let's!"
"But, Helen, my pet," said Margaret, "we can't without
getting Henry's leave. Of course, he would give it, but you
said yourself that you couldn't visit at Ducie Street now,
and this is equally intimate."
"Ducie Street is his house. This is ours. Our
furniture, our sort of people coming to the door. Do let us
camp out, just one night, and Tom shall feed us on eggs and
milk. Why not? It's a moon."
Margaret hesitated. "I feel Charles wouldn't like it,"
she said at last. "Even our furniture annoyed him, and I
was going to clear it out when Aunt Juley's illness
prevented me. I sympathize with Charles. He feels it's his
mother's house. He loves it in rather an untaking way.
Henry I could answer for—not Charles."
"I know he won't like it," said Helen. "But I am going
to pass out of their lives. What difference will it make in
the long run if they say, 'And she even spent the night at
Howards End'?"
"How do you know you'll pass out of their lives? We
have thought that twice before."
"Because my plans—"
"—which you change in a moment."
"Then because my life is great and theirs are little,"
said Helen, taking fire. "I know of things they can't know
of, and so do you. We know that there's poetry. We know
that there's death. They can only take them on hearsay. We
know this is our house, because it feels ours. Oh, they may
take the title-deeds and the doorkeys, but for this one
night we are at home."
"It would be lovely to have you once more alone," said
Margaret. "It may be a chance in a thousand."
"Yes, and we could talk." She dropped her voice. "It
won't be a very glorious story. But under that
wych-elm—honestly, I see little happiness ahead. Cannot I
have this one night with you?"
"I needn't say how much it would mean to me."
"Then let us."
"It is no good hesitating. Shall I drive down to Hilton
now and get leave?"
"Oh, we don't want leave."
But Margaret was a loyal wife. In spite of imagination
and poetry—perhaps on account of them—she could sympathize
with the technical attitude that Henry would adopt. If
possible, she would be technical, too. A night's lodging—and they demanded no more—need
not involve the discussion of general principles.
"Charles may say no," grumbled Helen.
"We shan't consult him."
"Go if you like; I should have stopped without leave."
It was the touch of selfishness, which was not enough to
mar Helen's character, and even added to its beauty. She
would have stopped without leave, and escaped to Germany the
next morning. Margaret kissed her.
"Expect me back before dark. I am looking forward to it
so much. It is like you to have thought of such a beautiful
"Not a thing, only an ending," said Helen rather sadly;
and the sense of tragedy closed in on Margaret again as soon
as she left the house.
She was afraid of Miss Avery. It is disquieting to
fulfil a prophecy, however superficially. She was glad to
see no watching figure as she drove past the farm, but only
little Tom, turning somersaults in the straw.
Chapter 38
The tragedy began quietly enough, and like many another
talk, by the man's deft assertion of his superiority. Henry
heard her arguing with the driver, stepped out and settled
the fellow, who was inclined to be rude, and then led the
way to some chairs on the lawn. Dolly, who had not been
"told," ran out with offers of tea. He refused them, and
ordered her to wheel baby's perambulator away, as they
desired to be alone.
"But the diddums can't listen; he isn't nine months
old," she pleaded.
"That's not what I was saying," retorted her father-in-law.
Baby was wheeled out of earshot, and did not hear about
the crisis till later years. It was now the turn of Margaret.
"Is it what we feared?" he asked.
"It is."
"Dear girl," he began, "there is a troublesome business
ahead of us, and nothing but the most absolute honesty and
plain speech will see us through." Margaret bent her head.
"I am obliged to question you on subjects we'd both prefer
to leave untouched. As you know, I am not one of your
Bernard Shaws who consider nothing sacred. To speak as I
must will pain me, but there are occasions—We are husband
and wife, not children. I am a man of the world, and you
are a most exceptional woman."
All Margaret's senses forsook her. She blushed, and
looked past him at the Six Hills, covered with spring
herbage. Noting her colour, he grew still more kind.
"I see that you feel as I felt when—My poor little
wife! Oh, be brave! Just one or two questions, and I have
done with you. Was your sister wearing a wedding-ring?"
Margaret stammered a "No."
There was an appalling silence.
"Henry, I really came to ask a favour about Howards End."
"One point at a time. I am now obliged to ask for the
name of her seducer."
She rose to her feet and held the chair between them.
Her colour had ebbed, and she was grey. It did not
displease him that she should receive his question thus.
"Take your time," he counselled her. "Remember that
this is far worse for me than for you."
She swayed; he feared she was going to faint. Then
speech came, and she said slowly: "Seducer? No; I do not
know her seducer's name."
"Would she not tell you?"
"I never even asked her who seduced her," said Margaret,
dwelling on the hateful word thoughtfully.
"That is singular." Then he changed his mind. "Natural
perhaps, dear girl, that you shouldn't ask. But until his
name is known, nothing can be done. Sit down. How terrible
it is to see you so upset! I knew you weren't fit for it.
I wish I hadn't taken you."
Margaret answered, "I like to stand, if you don't mind,
for it gives me a pleasant view of the Six Hills."
"As you like."
"Have you anything else to ask me, Henry?"
"Next you must tell me whether you have gathered anything. I have often noticed your insight,
dear. I only wish my own was as good. You may have guessed
something, even though your sister said nothing. The
slightest hint would help us."
"Who is 'we'?"
"I thought it best to ring up Charles."
"That was unnecessary," said Margaret, growing warmer.
"This news will give Charles disproportionate pain."
"He has at once gone to call on your brother."
"That too was unnecessary."
"Let me explain, dear, how the matter stands. You don't
think that I and my son are other than gentlemen? It is in
Helen's interests that we are acting. It is still not too
late to save her name."
Then Margaret hit out for the first time. "Are we to
make her seducer marry her?" she asked.
"If possible. Yes."
"But, Henry, suppose he turned out to be married already? One has heard of such cases."
"In that case he must pay heavily for his misconduct,
and be thrashed within an inch of his life."
So her first blow missed. She was thankful of it. What
had tempted her to imperil both of their lives? Henry's
obtuseness had saved her as well as himself. Exhausted with
anger, she sat down again, blinking at him as he told her as
much as he thought fit. At last she said: "May I ask you my
question now?"
"Certainly, my dear."
"Tomorrow Helen goes to Munich—"
"Well, possibly she is right."
"Henry, let a lady finish. Tomorrow she goes; tonight,
with your permission, she would like to sleep at Howards End."
It was the crisis of his life. Again she would have
recalled the words as soon as they were uttered. She had
not led up to them with sufficient care. She longed to warn
him that they were far more important than he supposed. She
saw him weighing them, as if they were a business proposition.
"Why Howards End?" he said at last. "Would she not be
more comfortable, as I suggested, at the hotel?"
Margaret hastened to give him reasons. "It is an odd
request, but you know what Helen is and what women in her
state are." He frowned, and moved irritably. "She has the
idea that one night in your house would give her pleasure
and do her good. I think she's right. Being one of those
imaginative girls, the presence of all our books and
furniture soothes her. This is a fact. It is the end of
her girlhood. Her last words to me were, 'A beautiful ending.'"
"She values the old furniture for sentimental reasons,
in fact."
"Exactly. You have quite understood. It is her last
hope of being with it."
"I don't agree there, my dear! Helen will have her
share of the goods wherever she goes—possibly more than her
share, for you are so fond of her that you'd give her
anything of yours that she fancies, wouldn't you? and I'd
raise no objection. I could understand it if it was her old
home, because a home, or a house"—he changed the word,
designedly; he had thought of a telling point—"because a
house in which one has once lived becomes in a sort of way
sacred, I don't know why. Associations and so on. Now
Helen has no associations with Howards End, though I and
Charles and Evie have. I do not see why she wants to stay
the night there. She will only catch cold."
"Leave it that you don't see," cried Margaret. "Call it
fancy. But realize that fancy is a scientific fact. Helen
is fanciful, and wants to."
Then he surprised her—a rare occurrence. He shot an
unexpected bolt. "If she wants to sleep one night, she may
want to sleep two. We shall never get her out of the house,
"Well?" said Margaret, with the precipice in sight.
"And suppose we don't get her out of the house? Would it
matter? She would do no one any harm."
Again the irritated gesture.
"No, Henry," she panted, receding. "I didn't mean
that. We will only trouble Howards End for this one night.
I take her to London tomorrow—"
"Do you intend to sleep in a damp house, too?"
"She cannot be left alone."
"That's quite impossible! Madness. You must be here to
meet Charles."
"I have already told you that your message to Charles
was unnecessary, and I have no desire to meet him."
"Margaret—my Margaret—"
"What has this business to do with Charles? If it
concerns me little, it concerns you less, and Charles not at
"As the future owner of Howards End," said Mr. Wilcox,
arching his fingers, "I should say that it did concern Charles."
"In what way? Will Helen's condition depreciate the property?"
"My dear, you are forgetting yourself."
"I think you yourself recommended plain speaking."
They looked at each other in amazement. The precipice
was at their feet now.
"Helen commands my sympathy," said Henry. "As your
husband, I shall do all for her that I can, and I have no
doubt that she will prove more sinned against than sinning.
But I cannot treat her as if nothing has happened. I should
be false to my position in society if I did."
She controlled herself for the last time. "No, let us
go back to Helen's request," she said. "It is unreasonable,
but the request of an unhappy girl. Tomorrow she will go to
Germany, and trouble society no longer. Tonight she asks to
sleep in your empty house—a house which you do not care
about, and which you have not occupied for over a year. May
she? Will you give my sister leave? Will you forgive
her—as you hope to be forgiven, and as you have actually
been forgiven? Forgive her for one night only. That will
be enough."
"As I have actually been forgiven—?"
"Never mind for the moment what I mean by that," said
Margaret. "Answer my question."
Perhaps some hint of her meaning did dawn on him. If
so, he blotted it out. Straight from his fortress he
answered: "I seem rather unaccommodating, but I have some
experience of life, and know how one thing leads to
another. I am afraid that your sister had better sleep at
the hotel. I have my children and the memory of my dear
wife to consider. I am sorry, but see that she leaves my
house at once."
"You mentioned Mrs. Wilcox."
"I beg your pardon?"
"A rare occurrence. In reply, may I mention Mrs. Bast?"
"You have not been yourself all day," said Henry, and
rose from his seat with face unmoved. Margaret rushed at
him and seized both his hands. She was transfigured.
"Not any more of this!" she cried. "You shall see the
connection if it kills you, Henry! You have had a
mistress—I forgave you. My sister has a lover—you drive
her from the house. Do you see the connection? Stupid,
hypocritical, cruel—oh, contemptible! —a man who insults
his wife when she's alive and cants with her memory when
she's dead. A man who ruins a woman for his pleasure, and
casts her off to ruin other men. And gives bad financial
advice, and then says he is not responsible. These, man,
are you. You can't recognize them, because you cannot
connect. I've had enough of your unweeded kindness. I've
spoilt you long enough. All your life you have been
spoiled. Mrs. Wilcox spoiled you. No one has ever told
what you are—muddled, criminally muddled. Men like you use
repentance as a blind, so don't repent. Only say to
yourself, 'What Helen has done, I've done.'"
"The two cases are different," Henry stammered. His
real retort was not quite ready. His brain was still in a
whirl, and he wanted a little longer.
"In what way different? You have betrayed Mrs. Wilcox,
Helen only herself. You remain in society, Helen can't.
You have had only pleasure, she may die. You have the
insolence to talk to me of differences, Henry?"
Oh, the uselessness of it! Henry's retort came.
"I perceive you are attempting blackmail. It is
scarcely a pretty weapon for a wife to use against her
husband. My rule through life has been never to pay the
least attention to threats, and I can only repeat what I
said before: I do not give you and your sister leave to
sleep at Howards End."
Margaret loosed his hands. He went into the house,
wiping first one and then the other on his handkerchief.
For a little she stood looking at the Six Hills, tombs of
warriors, breasts of the spring. Then she passed out into
what was now the evening.
Chapter 39
Charles and Tibby met at Ducie Street, where the latter was
staying. Their interview was short and absurd. They had
nothing in common but the English language, and tried by its
help to express what neither of them understood. Charles
saw in Helen the family foe. He had singled her out as the
most dangerous of the Schlegels, and, angry as he was,
looked forward to telling his wife how right he had been.
His mind was made up at once: the girl must be got out of
the way before she disgraced them farther. If occasion
offered she might be married to a villain or, possibly, to a
fool. But this was a concession to morality, it formed no
part of his main scheme. Honest and hearty was Charles's
dislike, and the past spread itself out very clearly before
him; hatred is a skilful compositor. As if they were heads
in a note-book, he ran through all the incidents of the
Schlegels' campaign: the attempt to compromise his brother,
his mother's legacy, his father's marriage, the introduction
of the furniture, the unpacking of the same. He had not yet
heard of the request to sleep at Howards End; that was to be
their master-stroke and the opportunity for his. But he
already felt that Howards End was the objective, and, though
he disliked the house, was determined to defend it.
Tibby, on the other hand, had no opinions. He stood
above the conventions: his sister had a right to do what she
thought right. It is not difficult to stand above the
conventions when we leave no hostages among them; men can
always be more unconventional than women, and a bachelor of
independent means need encounter no difficulties at all.
Unlike Charles, Tibby had money enough; his ancestors had
earned it for him, and if he shocked the people in one set
of lodgings he had only to move into another. His was the
leisure without sympathy—an attitude as fatal as the
strenuous: a little cold culture may be raised on it, but no
art. His sisters had seen the family danger, and had never
forgotten to discount the gold islets that raised them from
the sea. Tibby gave all the praise to himself, and so
despised the struggling and the submerged.
Hence the absurdity of the interview; the gulf between
them was economic as well as spiritual. But several facts
passed: Charles pressed for them with an impertinence that
the undergraduate could not withstand. On what date had
Helen gone abroad? To whom? (Charles was anxious to fasten
the scandal on Germany.) Then, changing his tactics, he said
roughly: "I suppose you realize that you are your sister's
"In what sense?"
"If a man played about with my sister, I'd send a bullet
through him, but perhaps you don't mind."
"I mind very much," protested Tibby.
"Who d'ye suspect, then? Speak out, man. One always
suspects someone."
"No one. I don't think so." Involuntarily he blushed.
He had remembered the scene in his Oxford rooms.
"You are hiding something," said Charles. As interviews
go, he got the best of this one. "When you saw her last,
did she mention anyone's name? Yes, or no!" he thundered,
so that Tibby started.
"In my rooms she mentioned some friends, called the Basts—"
"Who are the Basts?"
"People—friends of hers at Evie's wedding."
"I don't remember. But, by great Scott! I do. My aunt
told me about some tag-rag. Was she full of them when you
saw her? Is there a man? Did she speak of the man?
Or—look here—have you had any dealings with him?"
Tibby was silent. Without intending it, he had betrayed
his sister's confidence; he was not enough interested in
human life to see where things will lead to. He had a
strong regard for honesty, and his word, once given, had
always been kept up to now. He was deeply vexed, not only
for the harm he had done Helen, but for the flaw he had
discovered in his own equipment.
"I see—you are in his confidence. They met at your
rooms. Oh, what a family, what a family! God help the poor
And Tibby found himself alone.
Chapter 40
Leonard—he would figure at length in a newspaper report,
but that evening he did not count for much. The foot of the
tree was in shadow, since the moon was still hidden behind
the house. But above, to right, to left, down the long
meadow the moonlight was streaming. Leonard seemed not a
man, but a cause.
Perhaps it was Helen's way of falling in love—a curious
way to Margaret, whose agony and whose contempt of Henry
were yet imprinted with his image. Helen forgot people.
They were husks that had enclosed her emotion. She could
pity, or sacrifice herself, or have instincts, but had she
ever loved in the noblest way, where man and woman, having
lost themselves in sex, desire to lose sex itself in
Margaret wondered, but said no word of blame. This was
Helen's evening. Troubles enough lay ahead of her—the loss
of friends and of social advantages, the agony, the supreme
agony, of motherhood, which is even yet not a matter of
common knowledge. For the present let the moon shine
brightly and the breezes of the spring blow gently, dying
away from the gale of the day, and let the earth, who brings
increase, bring peace. Not even to herself dare she blame
Helen. She could not assess her trespass by any moral code;
it was everything or nothing. Morality can tell us that
murder is worse than stealing, and group most sins in an
order all must approve, but it cannot group Helen. The
surer its pronouncements on this point, the surer may we be
that morality is not speaking. Christ was evasive when they
questioned Him. It is those that cannot connect who hasten
to cast the first stone.
This was Helen's evening—won at what cost, and not to
be marred by the sorrows of others. Of her own tragedy
Margaret never uttered a word.
"One isolates," said Helen slowly. "I isolated Mr.
Wilcox from the other forces that were pulling Leonard
downhill. Consequently, I was full of pity, and almost of
revenge. For weeks I had blamed Mr. Wilcox only, and so,
when your letters came—"
"I need never have written them," sighed Margaret. "They never shielded Henry. How hopeless it
is to tidy away the past, even for others!"
"I did not know that it was your own idea to dismiss the
"Looking back, that was wrong of me."
"Looking back, darling, I know that it was right. It is
right to save the man whom one loves. I am less
enthusiastic about justice now. But we both thought you
wrote at his dictation. It seemed the last touch of his
callousness. Being very much wrought up by this time—and
Mrs. Bast was upstairs. I had not seen her, and had talked
for a long time to Leonard—I had snubbed him for no reason,
and that should have warned me I was in danger. So when the
notes came I wanted us to go to you for an explanation. He
said that he guessed the explanation—he knew of it, and you
mustn't know. I pressed him to tell me. He said no one
must know; it was something to do with his wife. Right up
to the end we were Mr. Bast and Miss Schlegel. I was going
to tell him that he must be frank with me when I saw his
eyes, and guessed that Mr. Wilcox had ruined him in two
ways, not one. I drew him to me. I made him tell me. I
felt very lonely myself. He is not to blame. He would have
gone on worshipping me. I want never to see him again,
though it sounds appalling. I wanted to give him money and
feel finished. Oh, Meg, the little that is known about
these things!"
She laid her face against the tree.
"The little, too, that is known about growth! Both
times it was loneliness, and the night, and panic
afterwards. Did Leonard grow out of Paul?"
Margaret did not speak for a moment. So tired was she
that her attention had actually wandered to the teeth—the
teeth that had been thrust into the tree's bark to medicate
it. From where she sat she could see them gleam. She had
been trying to count them. "Leonard is a better growth than
madness," she said. "I was afraid that you would react
against Paul until you went over the verge."
"I did react until I found poor Leonard. I am steady
now. I shan't ever like your Henry, dearest Meg, or even
speak kindly about him, but all that blinding hate is over.
I shall never rave against Wilcoxes any more. I understand
how you married him, and you will now be very happy."
Margaret did not reply.
"Yes," repeated Helen, her voice growing more tender, "I
do at last understand."
"Except Mrs. Wilcox, dearest, no one understands our
little movements."
"Because in death—I agree."
"Not quite. I feel that you and I and Henry are only
fragments of that woman's mind. She knows everything. She
is everything. She is the house, and the tree that leans
over it. People have their own deaths as well as their own
lives, and even if there is nothing beyond death, we shall
differ in our nothingness. I cannot believe that knowledge
such as hers will perish with knowledge such as mine. She
knew about realities. She knew when people were in love,
though she was not in the room. I don't doubt that she knew
when Henry deceived her."
"Good-night, Mrs. Wilcox," called a voice.
"Oh, good-night, Miss Avery."
"Why should Miss Avery work for us?" Helen murmured.
"Why, indeed?"
Miss Avery crossed the lawn and merged into the hedge
that divided it from the farm. An old gap, which Mr. Wilcox
had filled up, had reappeared, and her track through the dew
followed the path that he had turfed over, when he improved
the garden and made it possible for games.
"This is not quite our house yet," said Helen. "When
Miss Avery called, I felt we are only a couple of tourists."
"We shall be that everywhere, and for ever."
"But affectionate tourists—"
"But tourists who pretend each hotel is their home."
"I can't pretend very long," said Helen. "Sitting under
this tree one forgets, but I know that tomorrow I shall see
the moon rise out of Germany. Not all your goodness can
alter the facts of the case. Unless you will come with me."
Margaret thought for a moment. In the past year she had
grown so fond of England that to leave it was a real grief.
Yet what detained her? No doubt Henry would pardon her
outburst, and go on blustering and muddling into a ripe old
age. But what was the good? She had just as soon vanish
from his mind.
"Are you serious in asking me, Helen? Should I get on
with your Monica?"
"You would not, but I am serious in asking you."
"Still, no more plans now. And no more reminiscences."
They were silent for a little. It was Helen's evening.
The present flowed by them like a stream. The tree
rustled. It had made music before they were born, and would
continue after their deaths, but its song was of the
moment. The moment had passed. The tree rustled again.
Their senses were sharpened, and they seemed to apprehend
life. Life passed. The tree nestled again.
"Sleep now," said Margaret.
The peace of the country was entering into her. It has
no commerce with memory, and little with hope. Least of all
is it concerned with the hopes of the next five minutes. It
is the peace of the present, which passes understanding.
Its murmur came "now," and "now" once more as they trod the
gravel, and "now," as the moonlight fell upon their father's
sword. They passed upstairs, kissed, and amidst the endless
iterations fell asleep. The house had enshadowed the tree
at first, but as the moon rose higher the two disentangled,
and were clear for a few moments at midnight. Margaret
awoke and looked into the garden. How incomprehensible that
Leonard Bast should have won her this night of peace! Was
he also part of Mrs. Wilcox's mind? End of Chapter 40