Part 3 - Howards End Audiobook by E. M. Forster (Chs 15-21)


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Howards End by E. M. Forster CHAPTER 15
The sisters went out to dinner full of their adventure, and when they were both
full of the same subject, there were few dinner-parties that could stand up against
them.
This particular one, which was all ladies, had more kick in it than most, but
succumbed after a struggle.
Helen at one part of the table, Margaret at the other, would talk of Mr. Bast and of no
one else, and somewhere about the entree their monologues collided, fell ruining,
and became common property.
Nor was this all.
The dinner-party was really an informal discussion club; there was a paper after
it, read amid coffee-cups and laughter in the drawing-room, but dealing more or less
thoughtfully with some topic of general interest.
After the paper came a debate, and in this debate Mr. Bast also figured, appearing now
as a bright spot in civilization, now as a dark spot, according to the temperament of
the speaker.
The subject of the paper had been, "How ought I to dispose of my money?" the reader
professing to be a millionaire on the point of death, inclined to bequeath her fortune
for the foundation of local art galleries, but open to conviction from other sources.
The various parts had been assigned beforehand, and some of the speeches were
amusing.
The hostess assumed the ungrateful role of "the millionaire's eldest son," and
implored her expiring parent not to dislocate Society by allowing such vast
sums to pass out of the family.
Money was the fruit of self-denial, and the second generation had a right to profit by
the self-denial of the first. What right had "Mr. Bast" to profit?
The National Gallery was good enough for the likes of him.
After property had had its say--a saying that is necessarily ungracious--the various
philanthropists stepped forward.
Something must be done for "Mr. Bast": his conditions must be improved without
impairing his independence; he must have a free library, or free tennis-courts; his
rent must be paid in such a way that he did
not know it was being paid; it must be made worth his while to join the Territorials;
he must be forcibly parted from his uninspiring wife, the money going to her as
compensation; he must be assigned a Twin
Star, some member of the leisured classes who would watch over him ceaselessly
(groans from Helen); he must be given food but no clothes, clothes but no food, a
third-return ticket to Venice, without
either food or clothes when he arrived there.
In short, he might be given anything and everything so long as it was not the money
itself.
And here Margaret interrupted. "Order, order, Miss Schlegel!" said the
reader of the paper.
"You are here, I understand, to advise me in the interests of the Society for the
Preservation of Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty.
I cannot have you speaking out of your role.
It makes my poor head go round, and I think you forget that I am very ill."
"Your head won't go round if only you'll listen to my argument," said Margaret.
"Why not give him the money itself. You're supposed to have about thirty
thousand a year."
"Have I? I thought I had a million."
"Wasn't a million your capital? Dear me! we ought to have settled that.
Still, it doesn't matter.
Whatever you've got, I order you to give as many poor men as you can three hundred a
year each."
"But that would be pauperizing them," said an earnest girl, who liked the Schlegels,
but thought them a little unspiritual at times.
"Not if you gave them so much.
A big windfall would not pauperize a man. It is these little driblets, distributed
among too many, that do the harm. Money's educational.
It's far more educational than the things it buys."
There was a protest. "In a sense," added Margaret, but the
protest continued.
"Well, isn't the most civilized thing going, the man who has learnt to wear his
income properly?" "Exactly what your Mr. Basts won't do."
"Give them a chance.
Give them money. Don't dole them out poetry-books and
railway-tickets like babies. Give them the wherewithal to buy these
things.
When your Socialism comes it may be different, and we may think in terms of
commodities instead of cash.
Till it comes give people cash, for it is the warp of civilization, whatever the woof
may be.
The imagination ought to play upon money and realize it vividly, for it's the--the
second most important thing in the world.
It is so sluffed over and hushed up, there is so little clear thinking--oh, political
economy, of course, but so few of us think clearly about our own private incomes, and
admit that independent thoughts are in nine
cases out of ten the result of independent means.
Money: give Mr. Bast money, and don't bother about his ideals.
He'll pick up those for himself."
She leant back while the more earnest members of the club began to misconstrue
her.
The female mind, though cruelly practical in daily life, cannot bear to hear ideals
belittled in conversation, and Miss Schlegel was asked however she could say
such dreadful things, and what it would
profit Mr. Bast if he gained the whole world and lost his own soul.
She answered, "Nothing, but he would not gain his soul until he had gained a little
of the world."
Then they said, "No they did not believe it," and she admitted that an overworked
clerk may save his soul in the superterrestrial sense, where the effort
will be taken for the deed, but she denied
that he will ever explore the spiritual resources of this world, will ever know the
rarer joys of the body, or attain to clear and passionate intercourse with his
fellows.
Others had attacked the fabric of Society- Property, Interest, etc.; she only fixed
her eyes on a few human beings, to see how, under present conditions, they could be
made happier.
Doing good to humanity was useless: the many-coloured efforts thereto spreading
over the vast area like films and resulting in an universal grey.
To do good to one, or, as in this case, to a few, was the utmost she dare hope for.
Between the idealists, and the political economists, Margaret had a bad time.
Disagreeing elsewhere, they agreed in disowning her, and in keeping the
administration of the millionaire's money in their own hands.
The earnest girl brought forward a scheme of "personal supervision and mutual help,"
the effect of which was to alter poor people until they became exactly like
people who were not so poor.
The hostess pertinently remarked that she, as eldest son, might surely rank among the
millionaire's legatees.
Margaret weakly admitted the claim, and another claim was at once set up by Helen,
who declared that she had been the millionaire's housemaid for over forty
years, overfed and underpaid; was nothing to be done for her, so corpulent and poor?
The millionaire then read out her last will and testament, in which she left the whole
of her fortune to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Then she died.
The serious parts of the discussion had been of higher merit than the playful--in a
men's debate is the reverse more general?
--but the meeting broke up hilariously enough, and a dozen happy ladies dispersed
to their homes.
Helen and Margaret walked the earnest girl as far as Battersea Bridge Station, arguing
copiously all the way.
When she had gone they were conscious of an alleviation, and of the great beauty of the
evening. They turned back towards Oakley Street.
The lamps and the plane-trees, following the line of the embankment, struck a note
of dignity that is rare in English cities.
The seats, almost deserted, were here and there occupied by gentlefolk in evening
dress, who had strolled out from the houses behind to enjoy fresh air and the whisper
of the rising tide.
There is something continental about Chelsea Embankment.
It is an open space used rightly, a blessing more frequent in Germany than
here.
As Margaret and Helen sat down, the city behind them seemed to be a vast theatre, an
opera-house in which some endless trilogy was performing, and they themselves a pair
of satisfied subscribers, who did not mind losing a little of the second act.
"Cold?" "No."
"Tired?"
"Doesn't matter." The earnest girl's train rumbled away over
the bridge. "I say, Helen--"
"Well?"
"Are we really going to follow up Mr. Bast?"
"I don't know." "I think we won't."
"As you like."
"It's no good, I think, unless you really mean to know people.
The discussion brought that home to me.
We got on well enough with him in a spirit of excitement, but think of rational
intercourse. We mustn't play at friendship.
No, it's no good."
"There's Mrs. Lanoline, too," Helen yawned. "So dull."
"Just so, and possibly worse than dull." "I should like to know how he got hold of
your card."
"But he said--something about a concert and an umbrella--"
"Then did the card see the wife--" "Helen, come to bed."
"No, just a little longer, it is so beautiful.
Tell me; oh yes; did you say money is the warp of the world?"
"Yes."
"Then what's the woof?" "Very much what one chooses," said
Margaret. "It's something that isn't money--one can't
say more."
"Walking at night?" "Probably."
"For Tibby, Oxford?" "It seems so."
"For you?"
"Now that we have to leave Wickham Place, I begin to think it's that.
For Mrs. Wilcox it was certainly Howards End."
One's own name will carry immense distances.
Mr. Wilcox, who was sitting with friends many seats away, heard his, rose to his
feet, and strolled along towards the speakers.
"It is sad to suppose that places may ever be more important than people," continued
Margaret. "Why, Meg?
They're so much nicer generally.
I'd rather think of that forester's house in Pomerania than of the fat Herr
Forstmeister who lived in it." "I believe we shall come to care about
people less and less, Helen.
The more people one knows the easier it becomes to replace them.
It's one of the curses of London. I quite expect to end my life caring most
for a place."
Here Mr. Wilcox reached them. It was several weeks since they had met.
"How do you do?" he cried. "I thought I recognized your voices.
Whatever are you both doing down here?"
His tones were protective. He implied that one ought not to sit out on
Chelsea Embankment without a male escort. Helen resented this, but Margaret accepted
it as part of the good man's equipment.
"What an age it is since I've seen you, Mr. Wilcox.
I met Evie in the Tube, though, lately. I hope you have good news of your son."
"Paul?" said Mr. Wilcox, extinguishing his cigarette, and sitting down between them.
"Oh, Paul's all right. We had a line from Madeira.
He'll be at work again by now."
"Ugh--" said Helen, shuddering from complex causes.
"I beg your pardon?" "Isn't the climate of Nigeria too
horrible?"
"Someone's got to go," he said simply. "England will never keep her trade overseas
unless she is prepared to make sacrifices. Unless we get firm in West Africa, Ger--
untold complications may follow.
Now tell me all your news." "Oh, we've had a splendid evening," cried
Helen, who always woke up at the advent of a visitor.
"We belong to a kind of club that reads papers, Margaret and I--all women, but
there is a discussion after.
This evening it was on how one ought to leave one's money--whether to one's family,
or to the poor, and if so how--oh, most interesting."
The man of business smiled.
Since his wife's death he had almost doubled his income.
He was an important figure at last, a reassuring name on company prospectuses,
and life had treated him very well.
The world seemed in his grasp as he listened to the River Thames, which still
flowed inland from the sea. So wonderful to the girls, it held no
mysteries for him.
He had helped to shorten its long tidal trough by taking shares in the lock at
Teddington, and if he and other capitalists thought good, some day it could be
shortened again.
With a good dinner inside him and an amiable but academic woman on either flank,
he felt that his hands were on all the ropes of life, and that what he did not
know could not be worth knowing.
"Sounds a most original entertainment!" he exclaimed, and laughed in his pleasant way.
"I wish Evie would go to that sort of thing.
But she hasn't the time.
She's taken to breed Aberdeen terriers-- jolly little dogs.
"I expect we'd better be doing the same, really."
"We pretend we're improving ourselves, you see," said Helen a little sharply, for the
Wilcox glamour is not of the kind that returns, and she had bitter memories of the
days when a speech such as he had just made would have impressed her favourably.
"We suppose it is a good thing to waste an evening once a fortnight over a debate,
but, as my sister says, it may be better to breed dogs."
"Not at all.
I don't agree with your sister. There's nothing like a debate to teach one
quickness. I often wish I had gone in for them when I
was a youngster.
It would have helped me no end." "Quickness--?"
"Yes. Quickness in argument.
Time after time I've missed scoring a point because the other man has had the gift of
the gab and I haven't. Oh, I believe in these discussions."
The patronizing tone thought Margaret, came well enough from a man who was old enough
to be their father. She had always maintained that Mr. Wilcox
had a charm.
In times of sorrow or emotion his inadequacy had pained her, but it was
pleasant to listen to him now, and to watch his thick brown moustache and high forehead
confronting the stars.
But Helen was nettled. The aim of THEIR debates she implied was
Truth. "Oh yes, it doesn't much matter what
subject you take," said he.
Margaret laughed and said, "But this is going to be far better than the debate
itself." Helen recovered herself and laughed too.
"No, I won't go on," she declared.
"I'll just put our special case to Mr. Wilcox."
"About Mr. Bast? Yes, do.
He'll be more lenient to a special case.
"But, Mr. Wilcox, do first light another cigarette.
It's this.
We've just come across a young fellow, who's evidently very poor, and who seems
interest--" "What's his profession?"
"Clerk."
"What in?" "Do you remember, Margaret?"
"Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company." "Oh yes; the nice people who gave Aunt
Juley a new hearth-rug.
He seems interesting, in some ways very, and one wishes one could help him.
He is married to a wife whom he doesn't seem to care for much.
He likes books, and what one may roughly call adventure, and if he had a chance--But
he is so poor. He lives a life where all the money is apt
to go on nonsense and clothes.
One is so afraid that circumstances will be too strong for him and that he will sink.
Well, he got mixed up in our debate. He wasn't the subject of it, but it seemed
to bear on his point.
Suppose a millionaire died, and desired to leave money to help such a man.
How should he be helped? Should he be given three hundred pounds a
year direct, which was Margaret's plan?
Most of them thought this would pauperize him.
Should he and those like him be given free libraries?
I said 'No!'
He doesn't want more books to read, but to read books rightly.
My suggestion was he should be given something every year towards a summer
holiday, but then there is his wife, and they said she would have to go too.
Nothing seemed quite right!
Now what do you think? Imagine that you were a millionaire, and
wanted to help the poor. What would you do?"
Mr. Wilcox, whose fortune was not so very far below the standard indicated, laughed
exuberantly. "My dear Miss Schlegel, I will not rush in
where your sex has been unable to tread.
I will not add another plan to the numerous excellent ones that have been already
suggested.
My only contribution is this: let your young friend clear out of the Porphyrion
Fire Insurance Company with all possible speed."
"Why?" said Margaret.
He lowered his voice. "This is between friends.
It'll be in the Receiver's hands before Christmas.
It'll smash," he added, thinking that she had not understood.
"Dear me, Helen, listen to that. And he'll have to get another place!"
"Will have?
Let him leave the ship before it sinks. Let him get one now."
"Rather than wait, to make sure?" "Decidedly."
"Why's that?"
Again the Olympian laugh, and the lowered voice.
"Naturally the man who's in a situation when he applies stands a better chance, is
in a stronger position, than the man who isn't.
It looks as if he's worth something.
I know by myself--(this is letting you into the State secrets)--it affects an employer
greatly. Human nature, I'm afraid."
"I hadn't thought of that," murmured Margaret, while Helen said, "Our human
nature appears to be the other way round. We employ people because they're
unemployed.
The boot man, for instance." "And how does he clean the boots?"
"Not well," confessed Margaret. "There you are!"
"Then do you really advise us to tell this youth--"
"I advise nothing," he interrupted, glancing up and down the Embankment, in
case his indiscretion had been overheard.
"I oughtn't to have spoken--but I happen to know, being more or less behind the scenes.
The Porphyrion's a bad, bad concern--Now, don't say I said so.
It's outside the Tariff Ring."
"Certainly I won't say. In fact, I don't know what that means."
"I thought an insurance company never smashed," was Helen's contribution.
"Don't the others always run in and save them?"
"You're thinking of reinsurance," said Mr. Wilcox mildly.
"It is exactly there that the Porphyrion is weak.
It has tried to undercut, has been badly hit by a long series of small fires, and it
hasn't been able to reinsure.
I'm afraid that public companies don't save one another for love."
"'Human nature,' I suppose," quoted Helen, and he laughed and agreed that it was.
When Margaret said that she supposed that clerks, like every one else, found it
extremely difficult to get situations in these days, he replied, "Yes, extremely,"
and rose to rejoin his friends.
He knew by his own office--seldom a vacant post, and hundreds of applicants for it; at
present no vacant post.
"And how's Howards End looking?" said Margaret, wishing to change the subject
before they parted. Mr. Wilcox was a little apt to think one
wanted to get something out of him.
"It's let." "Really.
And you wandering homeless in long-haired Chelsea?
How strange are the ways of Fate!"
"No; it's let unfurnished. We've moved."
"Why, I thought of you both as anchored there for ever.
Evie never told me."
"I dare say when you met Evie the thing wasn't settled.
We only moved a week ago.
Paul has rather a feeling for the old place, and we held on for him to have his
holiday there; but, really, it is impossibly small.
Endless drawbacks.
I forget whether you've been up to it?" "As far as the house, never."
"Well, Howards End is one of those converted farms.
They don't really do, spend what you will on them.
We messed away with a garage all among the wych-elm roots, and last year we enclosed a
bit of the meadow and attempted a mockery.
Evie got rather keen on Alpine plants. But it didn't do--no, it didn't do.
You remember, or your sister will remember, the farm with those abominable guinea-
fowls, and the hedge that the old woman never would cut properly, so that it all
went thin at the bottom.
And, inside the house, the beams--and the staircase through a door--picturesque
enough, but not a place to live in." He glanced over the parapet cheerfully.
"Full tide.
And the position wasn't right either. The neighbourhood's getting suburban.
Either be in London or out of it, I say; so we've taken a house in Ducie Street, close
to Sloane Street, and a place right down in Shropshire--Oniton Grange.
Ever heard of Oniton?
Do come and see us--right away from everywhere, up towards Wales."
"What a change!" said Margaret. But the change was in her own voice, which
had become most sad.
"I can't imagine Howards End or Hilton without you."
"Hilton isn't without us," he replied. "Charles is there still."
"Still?" said Margaret, who had not kept up with the Charles'.
"But I thought he was still at Epsom. They were furnishing that Christmas--one
Christmas.
How everything alters! I used to admire Mrs. Charles from our
windows very often. Wasn't it Epsom?"
"Yes, but they moved eighteen months ago.
Charles, the good chap"--his voice dropped- -"thought I should be lonely.
I didn't want him to move, but he would, and took a house at the other end of
Hilton, down by the Six Hills.
He had a motor, too. There they all are, a very jolly party--he
and she and the two grandchildren."
"I manage other people's affairs so much better than they manage them themselves,"
said Margaret as they shook hands.
"When you moved out of Howards End, I should have moved Mr. Charles Wilcox into
it. I should have kept so remarkable a place in
the family."
"So it is," he replied. "I haven't sold it, and don't mean to."
"No; but none of you are there." "Oh, we've got a splendid tenant--Hamar
Bryce, an invalid.
If Charles ever wanted it--but he won't. Dolly is so dependent on modern
conveniences. No, we have all decided against Howards
End.
We like it in a way, but now we feel that it is neither one thing nor the other.
One must have one thing or the other." "And some people are lucky enough to have
both.
You're doing yourself proud, Mr. Wilcox. My congratulations."
"And mine," said Helen. "Do remind Evie to come and see us--two,
Wickham Place.
We shan't be there very long, either." "You, too, on the move?"
"Next September," Margaret sighed. "Every one moving!
Good-bye."
The tide had begun to ebb. Margaret leant over the parapet and watched
it sadly.
Mr. Wilcox had forgotten his wife, Helen her lover; she herself was probably
forgetting. Every one moving.
Is it worth while attempting the past when there is this continual flux even in the
hearts of men? Helen roused her by saying: "What a
prosperous vulgarian Mr. Wilcox has grown!
I have very little use for him in these days.
However, he did tell us about the Porphyrion.
Let us write to Mr. Bast as soon as ever we get home, and tell him to clear out of it
at once." "Do; yes, that's worth doing.
Let us."
"Let's ask him to tea."
>
Howards End by E. M. Forster CHAPTER 16
Leonard accepted the invitation to tea next Saturday.
But he was right; the visit proved a conspicuous failure.
"Sugar?" said Margaret.
"Cake?" said Helen. "The big cake or the little deadlies?
I'm afraid you thought my letter rather odd, but we'll explain--we aren't odd,
really--not affected, really.
We're over-expressive: that's all." As a lady's lap-dog Leonard did not excel.
He was not an Italian, still less a Frenchman, in whose blood there runs the
very spirit of persiflage and of gracious repartee.
His wit was the Cockney's; it opened no doors into imagination, and Helen was drawn
up short by "The more a lady has to say, the better," administered waggishly.
"Oh, yes," she said.
"Ladies brighten--" "Yes, I know.
The darlings are regular sunbeams. Let me give you a plate."
"How do you like your work?" interposed Margaret.
He, too, was drawn up short. He would not have these women prying into
his work.
They were Romance, and so was the room to which he had at last penetrated, with the
queer sketches of people bathing upon its walls, and so were the very tea-cups, with
their delicate borders of wild strawberries.
But he would not let Romance interfere with his life.
There is the devil to pay then.
"Oh, well enough," he answered. "Your company is the Porphyrion, isn't it?"
"Yes, that's so"--becoming rather offended. "It's funny how things get round."
"Why funny?" asked Helen, who did not follow the workings of his mind.
"It was written as large as life on your card, and considering we wrote to you
there, and that you replied on the stamped paper--"
"Would you call the Porphyrion one of the big Insurance Companies?" pursued Margaret.
"It depends what you call big."
"I mean by big, a solid, well-established concern, that offers a reasonably good
career to its employes."
"I couldn't say--some would tell you one thing and others another," said the employe
uneasily. "For my own part"--he shook his head--"I
only believe half I hear.
Not that even; it's safer. Those clever ones come to the worse grief,
I've often noticed. Ah, you can't be too careful."
He drank, and wiped his moustache, which was going to be one of those moustaches
that always droop into tea-cups--more bother than they're worth, surely, and not
fashionable either.
"I quite agree, and that's why I was curious to know: is it a solid, well-
established concern?" Leonard had no idea.
He understood his own corner of the machine, but nothing beyond it.
He desired to confess neither knowledge nor ignorance, and under these circumstances,
another motion of the head seemed safest.
To him, as to the British public, the Porphyrion was the Porphyrion of the
advertisement--a giant, in the classical style, but draped sufficiently, who held in
one hand a burning torch, and pointed with the other to St. Paul's and Windsor Castle.
A large sum of money was inscribed below, and you drew your own conclusions.
This giant caused Leonard to do arithmetic and write letters, to explain the
regulations to new clients, and re-explain them to old ones.
A giant was of an impulsive morality--one knew that much.
He would pay for Mrs. Munt's hearth-rug with ostentatious haste, a large claim he
would repudiate quietly, and fight court by court.
But his true fighting weight, his antecedents, his amours with other members
of the commercial Pantheon--all these were as uncertain to ordinary mortals as were
the escapades of Zeus.
While the gods are powerful, we learn little about them.
It is only in the days of their decadence that a strong light beats into heaven.
"We were told the Porphyrion's no go," blurted Helen.
"We wanted to tell you; that's why we wrote."
"A friend of ours did think that it is unsufficiently reinsured," said Margaret.
Now Leonard had his clue. He must praise the Porphyrion.
"You can tell your friend," he said, "that he's quite wrong."
"Oh, good!" The young man coloured a little.
In his circle to be wrong was fatal.
The Miss Schlegels did not mind being wrong.
They were genuinely glad that they had been misinformed.
To them nothing was fatal but evil.
"Wrong, so to speak," he added. "How 'so to speak'?"
"I mean I wouldn't say he's right altogether."
But this was a blunder.
"Then he is right partly," said the elder woman, quick as lightning.
Leonard replied that every one was right partly, if it came to that.
"Mr. Bast, I don't understand business, and I dare say my questions are stupid, but can
you tell me what makes a concern 'right' or 'wrong'?"
Leonard sat back with a sigh.
"Our friend, who is also a business man, was so positive.
He said before Christmas--" "And advised you to clear out of it,"
concluded Helen.
"But I don't see why he should know better than you do."
Leonard rubbed his hands. He was tempted to say that he knew nothing
about the thing at all.
But a commercial training was too strong for him.
Nor could he say it was a bad thing, for this would be giving it away; nor yet that
it was good, for this would be giving it away equally.
He attempted to suggest that it was something between the two, with vast
possibilities in either direction, but broke down under the gaze of four sincere
eyes.
As yet he scarcely distinguished between the two sisters.
One was more beautiful and more lively, but "the Miss Schlegels" still remained a
composite Indian god, whose waving arms and contradictory speeches were the product of
a single mind.
"One can but see," he remarked, adding, "as Ibsen says, 'things happen.'"
He was itching to talk about books and make the most of his romantic hour.
Minute after minute slipped away, while the ladies, with imperfect skill, discussed the
subject of reinsurance or praised their anonymous friend.
Leonard grew annoyed--perhaps rightly.
He made vague remarks about not being one of those who minded their affairs being
talked over by others, but they did not take the hint.
Men might have shown more tact.
Women, however tactful elsewhere, are heavy-handed here.
They cannot see why we should shroud our incomes and our prospects in a veil.
"How much exactly have you, and how much do you expect to have next June?"
And these were women with a theory, who held that reticence about money matters is
absurd, and that life would be truer if each would state the exact size of the
golden island upon which he stands, the
exact stretch of warp over which he throws the woof that is not money.
How can we do justice to the pattern otherwise?
And the precious minutes slipped away, and Jacky and squalor came nearer.
At last he could bear it no longer, and broke in, reciting the names of books
feverishly.
There was a moment of piercing joy when Margaret said, "So YOU like Carlyle," and
then the door opened, and "Mr. Wilcox, Miss Wilcox" entered, preceded by two prancing
puppies.
"Oh, the dears! Oh, Evie, how too impossibly sweet!"
screamed Helen, falling on her hands and knees.
"We brought the little fellows round," said Mr. Wilcox.
"I bred 'em myself." "Oh, really!
Mr. Bast, come and play with puppies."
"I've got to be going now," said Leonard sourly.
"But play with puppies a little first."
"This is Ahab, that's Jezebel," said Evie, who was one of those who name animals after
the less successful characters of Old Testament history.
"I've got to be going."
Helen was too much occupied with puppies to notice him.
"Mr. Wilcox, Mr. Ba--Must you be really? Good-bye!"
"Come again," said Helen from the floor.
Then Leonard's gorge arose. Why should he come again?
What was the good of it? He said roundly: "No, I shan't; I knew it
would be a failure."
Most people would have let him go. "A little mistake.
We tried knowing another class-- impossible."
But the Schlegels had never played with life.
They had attempted friendship, and they would take the consequences.
Helen retorted, "I call that a very rude remark.
What do you want to turn on me like that for?" and suddenly the drawing-room re-
echoed to a vulgar row.
"You ask me why I turn on you?" "Yes."
"What do you want to have me here for?" "To help you, you silly boy!" cried Helen.
"And don't shout."
"I don't want your patronage. I don't want your tea.
I was quite happy. What do you want to unsettle me for?"
He turned to Mr. Wilcox.
"I put it to this gentleman. I ask you, sir, am to have my brain
picked?"
Mr. Wilcox turned to Margaret with the air of humorous strength that he could so well
command. "Are we intruding, Miss Schlegel?
Can we be of any use or shall we go?"
But Margaret ignored him. "I'm connected with a leading insurance
company, sir. I receive what I take to be an invitation
from these--ladies" (he drawled the word).
"I come, and it's to have my brain picked. I ask you, is it fair?"
"Highly unfair," said Mr. Wilcox, drawing a gasp from Evie, who knew that her father
was becoming dangerous.
"There, you hear that? Most unfair, the gentleman says.
There! Not content with"--pointing at Margaret--
"you can't deny it."
His voice rose: he was falling into the rhythm of a scene with Jacky.
"But as soon as I'm useful it's a very different thing.
'Oh yes, send for him.
Cross-question him. Pick his brains.'
Oh yes.
Now, take me on the whole, I'm a quiet fellow: I'm law-abiding, I don't wish any
unpleasantness; but I--I--" "You," said Margaret--"you--you--"
Laughter from Evie, as at a repartee.
"You are the man who tried to walk by the Pole Star."
More laughter. "You saw the sunrise."
Laughter.
"You tried to get away from the fogs that are stifling us all--away past books and
houses to the truth. You were looking for a real home."
"I fail to see the connection," said Leonard, hot with stupid anger.
"So do I." There was a pause.
"You were that last Sunday--you are this today.
Mr. Bast! I and my sister have talked you over.
We wanted to help you; we also supposed you might help us.
We did not have you here out of charity-- which bores us--but because we hoped there
would be a connection between last Sunday and other days.
What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not
enter into our daily lives?
They have never entered into mine, but into yours, we thought--Haven't we all to
struggle against life's daily greyness, against pettiness, against mechanical
cheerfulness, against suspicion?
I struggle by remembering my friends; others I have known by remembering some
place--some beloved place or tree--we thought you one of these."
"Of course, if there's been any misunderstanding," mumbled Leonard, "all I
can do is to go. But I beg to state--" He paused.
Ahab and Jezebel danced at his boots and made him look ridiculous.
"You were picking my brain for official information--I can prove it--I--He blew his
nose and left them.
"Can I help you now?" said Mr. Wilcox, turning to Margaret.
"May I have one quiet word with him in the hall?"
"Helen, go after him--do anything-- ANYTHING--to make the noodle understand."
Helen hesitated. "But really--" said their visitor.
"Ought she to?"
At once she went. He resumed.
"I would have chimed in, but I felt that you could polish him off for yourselves--I
didn't interfere.
You were splendid, Miss Schlegel-- absolutely splendid.
You can take my word for it, but there are very few women who could have managed him."
"Oh yes," said Margaret distractedly.
"Bowling him over with those long sentences was what fetched me," cried Evie.
"Yes, indeed," chuckled her father; "all that part about 'mechanical cheerfulness'--
oh, fine!"
"I'm very sorry," said Margaret, collecting herself.
"He's a nice creature really. I cannot think what set him off.
It has been most unpleasant for you."
"Oh, I didn't mind." Then he changed his mood.
He asked if he might speak as an old friend, and, permission given, said:
"Oughtn't you really to be more careful?"
Margaret laughed, though her thoughts still strayed after Helen.
"Do you realize that it's all your fault?" she said.
"You're responsible."
"I?" "This is the young man whom we were to warn
against the Porphyrion. We warn him, and--look!"
Mr. Wilcox was annoyed.
"I hardly consider that a fair deduction," he said.
"Obviously unfair," said Margaret. "I was only thinking how tangled things
are.
It's our fault mostly--neither yours nor his."
"Not his?" "No."
"Miss Schlegel, you are too kind."
"Yes, indeed," nodded Evie, a little contemptuously.
"You behave much too well to people, and then they impose on you.
I know the world and that type of man, and as soon as I entered the room I saw you had
not been treating him properly. You must keep that type at a distance.
Otherwise they forget themselves.
Sad, but true. They aren't our sort, and one must face the
fact." "Ye-es."
"Do admit that we should never have had the outburst if he was a gentleman."
"I admit it willingly," said Margaret, who was pacing up and down the room.
"A gentleman would have kept his suspicions to himself."
Mr. Wilcox watched her with a vague uneasiness.
"What did he suspect you of?"
"Of wanting to make money out of him." "Intolerable brute!
But how were you to benefit?" "Exactly.
How indeed!
Just horrible, corroding suspicion. One touch of thought or of goodwill would
have brushed it away. Just the senseless fear that does make men
intolerable brutes."
"I come back to my original point. You ought to be more careful, Miss
Schlegel. Your servants ought to have orders not to
let such people in."
She turned to him frankly. "Let me explain exactly why we like this
man, and want to see him again." "That's your clever way of thinking.
I shall never believe you like him."
"I do. Firstly, because he cares for physical
adventure, just as you do. Yes, you go motoring and shooting; he would
like to go camping out.
Secondly, he cares for something special IN adventure.
It is quickest to call that special something poetry--"
"Oh, he's one of that writer sort."
"No--oh no! I mean he may be, but it would be loathsome
stiff.
His brain is filled with the husks of books, culture--horrible; we want him to
wash out his brain and go to the real thing.
We want to show him how he may get upsides with life.
As I said, either friends or the country, some"--she hesitated--"either some very
dear person or some very dear place seems necessary to relieve life's daily grey, and
to show that it is grey.
If possible, one should have both." Some of her words ran past Mr. Wilcox.
He let them run past. Others he caught and criticized with
admirable lucidity.
"Your mistake is this, and it is a very common mistake.
This young bounder has a life of his own.
What right have you to conclude it is an unsuccessful life, or, as you call it,
'grey'?" "Because--"
"One minute.
You know nothing about him. He probably has his own joys and interests-
-wife, children, snug little home.
That's where we practical fellows"--he smiled--"are more tolerant than you
intellectuals.
We live and let live, and assume that things are jogging on fairly well
elsewhere, and that the ordinary plain man may be trusted to look after his own
affairs.
I quite grant--I look at the faces of the clerks in my own office, and observe them
to be dull, but I don't know what's going on beneath.
So, by the way, with London.
I have heard you rail against London, Miss Schlegel, and it seems a funny thing to say
but I was very angry with you. What do you know about London?
You only see civilization from the outside.
I don't say in your case, but in too many cases that attitude leads to morbidity,
discontent, and Socialism." She admitted the strength of his position,
though it undermined imagination.
As he spoke, some outposts of poetry and perhaps of sympathy fell ruining, and she
retreated to what she called her "second line"--to the special facts of the case.
"His wife is an old bore," she said simply.
"He never came home last Saturday night because he wanted to be alone, and she
thought he was with us." "With YOU?"
"Yes."
Evie tittered. "He hasn't got the cosy home that you
assumed. He needs outside interests."
"Naughty young man!" cried the girl.
"Naughty?" said Margaret, who hated naughtiness more than sin.
"When you're married, Miss Wilcox, won't you want outside interests?"
"He has apparently got them," put in Mr. Wilcox slyly.
"Yes, indeed, Father."
"He was tramping in Surrey, if you mean that," said Margaret, pacing away rather
crossly. "Oh, I dare say!"
"Miss Wilcox, he was!"
"M-m-m-m!" from Mr. Wilcox, who thought the episode amusing, if risque.
With most ladies he would not have discussed it, but he was trading on
Margaret's reputation as an emanicipated woman.
"He said so, and about such a thing he wouldn't lie."
They both began to laugh. "That's where I differ from you.
Men lie about their positions and prospects, but not about a thing of that
sort." He shook his head.
"Miss Schlegel, excuse me, but I know the type."
"I said before--he isn't a type. He cares about adventures rightly.
He's certain that our smug existence isn't all.
He's vulgar and hysterical and bookish, but I don't think that sums him up.
There's manhood in him as well.
Yes, that's what I'm trying to say. He's a real man."
As she spoke their eyes met, and it was as if Mr. Wilcox's defences fell.
She saw back to the real man in him.
Unwittingly she had touched his emotions. A woman and two men--they had formed the
magic triangle of sex, and the male was thrilled to jealousy, in case the female
was attracted by another male.
Love, say the ascetics, reveals our shameful kinship with the beasts.
Be it so: one can bear that; jealousy is the real shame.
It is jealousy, not love, that connects us with the farmyard intolerably, and calls up
visions of two angry cocks and a complacent hen.
Margaret crushed complacency down because she was civilized.
Mr. Wilcox, uncivilized, continued to feel anger long after he had rebuilt his
defences, and was again presenting a bastion to the world.
"Miss Schlegel, you're a pair of dear creatures, but you really MUST be careful
in this uncharitable world. What does your brother say?"
"I forget."
"Surely he has some opinion?" "He laughs, if I remember correctly."
"He's very clever, isn't he?" said Evie, who had met and detested Tibby at Oxford.
"Yes, pretty well--but I wonder what Helen's doing."
"She is very young to undertake this sort of thing," said Mr. Wilcox.
Margaret went out into the landing.
She heard no sound, and Mr. Bast's topper was missing from the hall.
"Helen!" she called. "Yes!" replied a voice from the library.
"You in there?"
"Yes--he's gone some time." Margaret went to her.
"Why, you're all alone," she said. "Yes--it's all right, Meg--Poor, poor
creature--"
"Come back to the Wilcoxes and tell me later--Mr. W. much concerned, and slightly
titillated." "Oh, I've no patience with him.
I hate him.
Poor dear Mr. Bast! he wanted to talk literature, and we would talk business.
Such a muddle of a man, and yet so worth pulling through.
I like him extraordinarily."
"Well done," said Margaret, kissing her, "but come into the drawing-room now, and
don't talk about him to the Wilcoxes. Make light of the whole thing."
Helen came and behaved with a cheerfulness that reassured their visitor--this hen at
all events was fancy-free. "He's gone with my blessing," she cried,
"and now for puppies."
As they drove away, Mr. Wilcox said to his daughter:
"I am really concerned at the way those girls go on.
They are as clever as you make 'em, but unpractical--God bless me!
One of these days they'll go too far. Girls like that oughtn't to live alone in
London.
Until they marry, they ought to have someone to look after them.
We must look in more often--we're better than no one.
You like them, don't you, Evie?"
Evie replied: "Helen's right enough, but I can't stand the toothy one.
And I shouldn't have called either of them girls."
Evie had grown up handsome.
Dark-eyed, with the glow of youth under sunburn, built firmly and firm-lipped, she
was the best the Wilcoxes could do in the way of feminine beauty.
For the present, puppies and her father were the only things she loved, but the net
of matrimony was being prepared for her, and a few days later she was attracted to a
Mr. Percy Cahill, an uncle of Mrs. Charles, and he was attracted to her.
>
Howards End by E. M. Forster CHAPTER 17
The Age of Property holds bitter moments even for a proprietor.
When a move is imminent, furniture becomes ridiculous, and Margaret now lay awake at
nights wondering where, where on earth they and all their belongings would be deposited
in September next.
Chairs, tables, pictures, books, that had rumbled down to them through the
generations, must rumble forward again like a slide of rubbish to which she longed to
give the final push, and send toppling into the sea.
But there were all their father's books-- they never read them, but they were their
father's, and must be kept.
There was the marble-topped chiffonier-- their mother had set store by it, they
could not remember why.
Round every knob and cushion in the house sentiment gathered, a sentiment that was at
times personal, but more often a faint piety to the dead, a prolongation of rites
that might have ended at the grave.
It was absurd, if you came to think of it; Helen and Tibby came to think of it:
Margaret was too busy with the house- agents.
The feudal ownership of land did bring dignity, whereas the modern ownership of
movables is reducing us again to a nomadic horde.
We are reverting to the civilization of luggage, and historians of the future will
note how the middle classes accreted possessions without taking root in the
earth, and may find in this the secret of their imaginative poverty.
The Schlegels were certainly the poorer for the loss of Wickham Place.
It had helped to balance their lives, and almost to counsel them.
Nor is their ground-landlord spiritually the richer.
He has built flats on its site, his motor- cars grow swifter, his exposures of
Socialism more trenchant.
But he has spilt the precious distillation of the years, and no chemistry of his can
give it back to society again.
Margaret grew depressed; she was anxious to settle on a house before they left town to
pay their annual visit to Mrs. Munt. She enjoyed this visit, and wanted to have
her mind at ease for it.
Swanage, though dull, was stable, and this year she longed more than usual for its
fresh air and for the magnificent downs that guard it on the north.
But London thwarted her; in its atmosphere she could not concentrate.
London only stimulates, it cannot sustain; and Margaret, hurrying over its surface for
a house without knowing what sort of a house she wanted, was paying for many a
thrilling sensation in the past.
She could not even break loose from culture, and her time was wasted by
concerts which it would be a sin to miss, and invitations which it would never do to
refuse.
At last she grew desperate; she resolved that she would go nowhere and be at home to
no one until she found a house, and broke the resolution in half an hour.
Once she had humorously lamented that she had never been to Simpson's restaurant in
the Strand. Now a note arrived from Miss Wilcox, asking
her to lunch there.
Mr. Cahill was coming, and the three would have such a jolly chat, and perhaps end up
at the Hippodrome.
Margaret had no strong regard for Evie, and no desire to meet her fiance, and she was
surprised that Helen, who had been far funnier about Simpson's, had not been asked
instead.
But the invitation touched her by its intimate tone.
She must know Evie Wilcox better than she supposed, and declaring that she "simply
must," she accepted.
But when she saw Evie at the entrance of the restaurant, staring fiercely at nothing
after the fashion of athletic women, her heart failed her anew.
Miss Wilcox had changed perceptibly since her engagement.
Her voice was gruffer, her manner more downright, and she was inclined to
patronize the more foolish virgin.
Margaret was silly enough to be pained at this.
Depressed at her isolation, she saw not only houses and furniture, but the vessel
of life itself slipping past her, with people like Evie and Mr. Cahill on board.
There are moments when virtue and wisdom fail us, and one of them came to her at
Simpson's in the Strand.
As she trod the staircase, narrow, but carpeted thickly, as she entered the
eating-room, where saddles of mutton were being trundled up to expectant clergymen,
she had a strong, if erroneous, conviction
of her own futility, and wished she had never come out of her backwater, where
nothing happened except art and literature, and where no one ever got married or
succeeded in remaining engaged.
Then came a little surprise. "Father might be of the party--yes, Father
was."
With a smile of pleasure she moved forward to greet him, and her feeling of loneliness
vanished. "I thought I'd get round if I could," said
he.
"Evie told me of her little plan, so I just slipped in and secured a table.
Always secure a table first. Evie, don't pretend you want to sit by your
old father, because you don't.
Miss Schlegel, come in my side, out of pity.
My goodness, but you look tired! Been worrying round after your young
clerks?"
"No, after houses," said Margaret, edging past him into the box.
"I'm hungry, not tired; I want to eat heaps."
"That's good.
What'll you have?" "Fish pie," said she, with a glance at the
menu. "Fish pie!
Fancy coming for fish pie to Simpson's.
It's not a bit the thing to go for here." "Go for something for me, then," said
Margaret, pulling off her gloves. Her spirits were rising, and his reference
to Leonard Bast had warmed her curiously.
"Saddle of mutton," said he after profound reflection: "and cider to drink.
That's the type of thing. I like this place, for a joke, once in a
way.
It is so thoroughly Old English. Don't you agree?"
"Yes," said Margaret, who didn't.
The order was given, the joint rolled up, and the carver, under Mr. Wilcox's
direction, cut the meat where it was succulent, and piled their plates high.
Mr. Cahill insisted on sirloin, but admitted that he had made a mistake later
on.
He and Evie soon fell into a conversation of the "No, I didn't; yes, you did" type--
conversation which, though fascinating to those who are engaged in it, neither
desires nor deserves the attention of others.
"It's a golden rule to tip the carver. Tip everywhere's my motto."
"Perhaps it does make life more human."
"Then the fellows know one again. Especially in the East, if you tip, they
remember you from year's end to year's end. "Have you been in the East?"
"Oh, Greece and the Levant.
I used to go out for sport and business to Cyprus; some military society of a sort
there. A few piastres, properly distributed, help
to keep one's memory green.
But you, of course, think this shockingly cynical.
How's your discussion society getting on? Any new Utopias lately?"
"No, I'm house-hunting, Mr. Wilcox, as I've already told you once.
Do you know of any houses?" "Afraid I don't."
"Well, what's the point of being practical if you can't find two distressed females a
house? We merely want a small house with large
rooms, and plenty of them."
"Evie, I like that! Miss Schlegel expects me to turn house
agent for her!" "What's that, Father?
"I want a new home in September, and someone must find it.
I can't." "Percy, do you know of anything?"
"I can't say I do," said Mr. Cahill.
"How like you! You're never any good."
"Never any good. Just listen to her!
Never any good.
Oh, come!" "Well, you aren't.
Miss Schlegel, is he?"
The torrent of their love, having splashed these drops at Margaret, swept away on its
habitual course. She sympathized with it now, for a little
comfort had restored her geniality.
Speech and silence pleased her equally, and while Mr. Wilcox made some preliminary
inquiries about cheese, her eyes surveyed the restaurant, and admired its well-
calculated tributes to the solidity of our past.
Though no more Old English than the works of Kipling, it had selected its
reminiscences so adroitly that her criticism was lulled, and the guests whom
it was nourishing for imperial purposes
bore the outer semblance of Parson Adams or Tom Jones.
Scraps of their talk jarred oddly on the ear.
"Right you are!
I'll cable out to Uganda this evening," came from the table behind.
"Their Emperor wants war; well, let him have it," was the opinion of a clergyman.
She smiled at such incongruities.
"Next time," she said to Mr. Wilcox, "you shall come to lunch with me at Mr. Eustace
Miles's." "With pleasure."
"No, you'd hate it," she said, pushing her glass towards him for some more cider.
"It's all proteids and body-buildings, and people come up to you and beg your pardon,
but you have such a beautiful aura."
"A what?" "Never heard of an aura?
Oh, happy, happy man! I scrub at mine for hours.
Nor of an astral plane?"
He had heard of astral planes, and censured them.
"Just so.
Luckily it was Helen's aura, not mine, and she had to chaperone it and do the
politenesses. I just sat with my handkerchief in my mouth
till the man went."
"Funny experiences seem to come to you two girls.
No one's ever asked me about my--what d'ye call it?
Perhaps I've not got one."
"You're bound to have one, but it may be such a terrible colour that no one dares
mention it."
"Tell me, though, Miss Schlegel, do you really believe in the supernatural and all
that?" "Too difficult a question."
"Why's that?
Gruyere or Stilton?" "Gruyere, please."
"Better have Stilton." "Stilton.
Because, though I don't believe in auras, and think Theosophy's only a halfway-house-
-" "--Yet there may be something in it all the
same," he concluded, with a frown.
"Not even that. It may be halfway in the wrong direction.
I can't explain.
I don't believe in all these fads, and yet I don't like saying that I don't believe in
them."
He seemed unsatisfied, and said: "So you wouldn't give me your word that you DON'T
hold with astral bodies and all the rest of it?"
"I could," said Margaret, surprised that the point was of any importance to him.
"Indeed, I will. When I talked about scrubbing my aura, I
was only trying to be funny.
But why do you want this settled?" "I don't know."
"Now, Mr. Wilcox, you do know." "Yes, I am," "No, you're not," burst from
the lovers opposite.
Margaret was silent for a moment, and then changed the subject.
"How's your house?" "Much the same as when you honoured it last
week."
"I don't mean Ducie Street. Howards End, of course."
"Why 'of course'?" "Can't you turn out your tenant and let it
to us?
We're nearly demented." "Let me think.
I wish I could help you. But I thought you wanted to be in town.
One bit of advice: fix your district, then fix your price, and then don't budge.
That's how I got both Ducie Street and Oniton.
I said to myself, 'I mean to be exactly here,' and I was, and Oniton's a place in a
thousand." "But I do budge.
Gentlemen seem to mesmerize houses--cow them with an eye, and up they come,
trembling. Ladies can't.
It's the houses that are mesmerizing me.
I've no control over the saucy things. Houses are alive.
No?"
"I'm out of my depth," he said, and added: "Didn't you talk rather like that to your
office boy?" "Did I?
--I mean I did, more or less.
I talk the same way to every one--or try to."
"Yes, I know. And how much do you suppose that he
understood of it?"
"That's his lookout. I don't believe in suiting my conversation
to my company.
One can doubtless hit upon some medium of exchange that seems to do well enough, but
it's no more like the real thing than money is like food.
There's no nourishment in it.
You pass it to the lower classes, and they pass it back to you, and this you call
'social intercourse' or 'mutual endeavour,' when it's mutual priggishness if it's
anything.
Our friends at Chelsea don't see this. They say one ought to be at all costs
intelligible, and sacrifice--" "Lower classes," interrupted Mr. Wilcox, as
it were thrusting his hand into her speech.
"Well, you do admit that there are rich and poor.
That's something." Margaret could not reply.
Was he incredibly stupid, or did he understand her better than she understood
herself?
"You do admit that, if wealth was divided up equally, in a few years there would be
rich and poor again just the same. The hard-working man would come to the top,
the wastrel sink to the bottom."
"Every one admits that." "Your Socialists don't."
"My Socialists do.
Yours mayn't; but I strongly suspect yours of being not Socialists, but ninepins,
which you have constructed for your own amusement.
I can't imagine any living creature who would bowl over quite so easily."
He would have resented this had she not been a woman.
But women may say anything--it was one of his holiest beliefs--and he only retorted,
with a gay smile: "I don't care. You've made two damaging admissions, and
I'm heartily with you in both."
In time they finished lunch, and Margaret, who had excused herself from the
Hippodrome, took her leave.
Evie had scarcely addressed her, and she suspected that the entertainment had been
planned by the father.
He and she were advancing out of their respective families towards a more intimate
acquaintance. It had begun long ago.
She had been his wife's friend, and, as such, he had given her that silver
vinaigrette as a memento.
It was pretty of him to have given that vinaigrette, and he had always preferred
her to Helen--unlike most men. But the advance had been astonishing
lately.
They had done more in a week than in two years, and were really beginning to know
each other.
She did not forget his promise to sample Eustace Miles, and asked him as soon as she
could secure Tibby as his chaperon. He came, and partook of body-building
dishes with humility.
Next morning the Schlegels left for Swanage.
They had not succeeded in finding a new home.
>
Howards End by E. M. Forster CHAPTER 18
As they were seated at Aunt Juley's breakfast-table at The Bays, parrying her
excessive hospitality and enjoying the view of the bay, a letter came for Margaret and
threw her into perturbation.
It was from Mr. Wilcox. It announced an "important change" in his
plans.
Owing to Evie's marriage, he had decided to give up his house in Ducie Street, and was
willing to let it on a yearly tenancy.
It was a businesslike letter, and stated frankly what he would do for them and what
he would not do. Also the rent.
If they approved, Margaret was to come up AT ONCE--the words were underlined, as is
necessary when dealing with women--and to go over the house with him.
If they disapproved, a wire would oblige, as he should put it into the hands of an
agent. The letter perturbed, because she was not
sure what it meant.
If he liked her, if he had manoeuvred to get her to Simpson's, might this be a
manoeuvre to get her to London, and result in an offer of marriage?
She put it to herself as indelicately as possible, in the hope that her brain would
cry, "Rubbish, you're a self-conscious fool!"
But her brain only tingled a little and was silent, and for a time she sat gazing at
the mincing waves, and wondering whether the news would seem strange to the others.
As soon as she began speaking, the sound of her own voice reassured her.
There could be nothing in it. The replies also were typical, and in the
buff of conversation her fears vanished.
"You needn't go though--" began her hostess.
"I needn't, but hadn't I better? It's really getting rather serious.
We let chance after chance slip, and the end of it is we shall be bundled out bag
and baggage into the street. We don't know what we WANT, that's the
mischief with us--"
"No, we have no real ties," said Helen, helping herself to toast.
"Shan't I go up to town today, take the house if it's the least possible, and then
come down by the afternoon train tomorrow, and start enjoying myself.
I shall be no fun to myself or to others until this business is off my mind."
"But you won't do anything rash, Margaret?" "There's nothing rash to do."
"Who ARE the Wilcoxes?" said Tibby, a question that sounds silly, but was really
extremely subtle, as his aunt found to her cost when she tried to answer it.
"I don't MANAGE the Wilcoxes; I don't see where they come IN."
"No more do I," agreed Helen. "It's funny that we just don't lose sight
of them.
Out of all our hotel acquaintances, Mr. Wilcox is the only one who has stuck.
It is now over three years, and we have drifted away from far more interesting
people in that time.
"Interesting people don't get one houses." "Meg, if you start in your honest-English
vein, I shall throw the treacle at you." "It's a better vein than the cosmopolitan,"
said Margaret, getting up.
"Now, children, which is it to be? You know the Ducie Street house.
Shall I say yes or shall I say no? Tibby love--which?
I'm specially anxious to pin you both."
"It all depends what meaning you attach to the word 'possi--'"
"It depends on nothing of the sort. Say 'yes.'"
"Say 'no.'"
Then Margaret spoke rather seriously. "I think," she said, "that our race is
degenerating.
We cannot settle even this little thing; what will it be like when we have to settle
a big one?" "It will be as easy as eating," returned
Helen.
"I was thinking of Father. How could he settle to leave Germany as he
did, when he had fought for it as a young man, and all his feelings and friends were
Prussian?
How could he break loose with Patriotism and begin aiming at something else?
It would have killed me.
When he was nearly forty he could change countries and ideals--and we, at our age,
can't change houses. It's humiliating."
"Your father may have been able to change countries," said Mrs. Munt with asperity,
"and that may or may not be a good thing. But he could change houses no better than
you can, in fact, much worse.
Never shall I forget what poor Emily suffered in the move from Manchester."
"I knew it," cried Helen. "I told you so.
It is the little things one bungles at.
The big, real ones are nothing when they come."
"Bungle, my dear! You are too little to recollect--in fact,
you weren't there.
But the furniture was actually in the vans and on the move before the lease for
Wickham Place was signed, and Emily took train with baby--who was Margaret then--and
the smaller luggage for London, without so
much as knowing where her new home would be.
Getting away from that house may be hard, but it is nothing to the misery that we all
went through getting you into it."
Helen, with her mouth full, cried: "And that's the man who beat the Austrians, and
the Danes, and the French, and who beat the Germans that were inside himself.
And we're like him."
"Speak for yourself," said Tibby. "Remember that I am cosmopolitan, please."
"Helen may be right." "Of course she's right," said Helen.
Helen might be right, but she did not go up to London.
Margaret did that.
An interrupted holiday is the worst of the minor worries, and one may be pardoned for
feeling morbid when a business letter snatches one away from the sea and friends.
She could not believe that her father had ever felt the same.
Her eyes had been troubling her lately, so that she could not read in the train, and
it bored her to look at the landscape, which she had seen but yesterday.
At Southampton she "waved" to Frieda: Frieda was on her way down to join them at
Swanage, and Mrs. Munt had calculated that their trains would cross.
But Frieda was looking the other way, and Margaret travelled on to town feeling
solitary and old-maidish. How like an old maid to fancy that Mr.
Wilcox was courting her!
She had once visited a spinster--poor, silly, and unattractive--whose mania it was
that every man who approached her fell in love.
How Margaret's heart had bled for the deluded thing!
How she had lectured, reasoned, and in despair acquiesced!
"I may have been deceived by the curate, my dear, but the young fellow who brings the
midday post really is fond of me, and has, as a matter fact--" It had always seemed to
her the most hideous corner of old age, yet
she might be driven into it herself by the mere pressure of virginity.
Mr. Wilcox met her at Waterloo himself.
She felt certain that he was not the same as usual; for one thing, he took offence at
everything she said. "This is awfully kind of you," she began,
"but I'm afraid it's not going to do.
The house has not been built that suits the Schlegel family."
"What! Have you come up determined not to deal?"
"Not exactly."
"Not exactly? In that case let's be starting."
She lingered to admire the motor, which was new and a fairer creature than the
vermilion giant that had borne Aunt Juley to her doom three years before.
"Presumably it's very beautiful," she said.
"How do you like it, Crane?" "Come, let's be starting," repeated her
host. "How on earth did you know that my
chauffeur was called Crane?"
"Why, I know Crane: I've been for a drive with Evie once.
I know that you've got a parlourmaid called Milton.
I know all sorts of things."
"Evie!" he echoed in injured tones. "You won't see her.
She's gone out with Cahill. It's no fun, I can tell you, being left so
much alone.
I've got my work all day--indeed, a great deal too much of it--but when I come home
in the evening, I tell you, I can't stand the house."
"In my absurd way, I'm lonely too," Margaret replied.
"It's heart-breaking to leave one's old home.
I scarcely remember anything before Wickham Place, and Helen and Tibby were born there.
Helen says--" "You, too, feel lonely?"
"Horribly.
Hullo, Parliament's back!" Mr. Wilcox glanced at Parliament
contemptuously. The more important ropes of life lay
elsewhere.
"Yes, they are talking again." said he. "But you were going to say--"
"Only some rubbish about furniture.
Helen says it alone endures while men and houses perish, and that in the end the
world will be a desert of chairs and sofas- -just imagine it!
--rolling through infinity with no one to sit upon them."
"Your sister always likes her little joke. "She says 'Yes,' my brother says 'No,' to
Ducie Street.
It's no fun helping us, Mr. Wilcox, I assure you."
"You are not as unpractical as you pretend. I shall never believe it."
Margaret laughed.
But she was--quite as unpractical. She could not concentrate on details.
Parliament, the Thames, the irresponsive chauffeur, would flash into the field of
house-hunting, and all demand some comment or response.
It is impossible to see modern life steadily and see it whole, and she had
chosen to see it whole. Mr. Wilcox saw steadily.
He never bothered over the mysterious or the private.
The Thames might run inland from the sea, the chauffeur might conceal all passion and
philosophy beneath his unhealthy skin.
They knew their own business, and he knew his.
Yet she liked being with him. He was not a rebuke, but a stimulus, and
banished morbidity.
Some twenty years her senior, he preserved a gift that she supposed herself to have
already lost--not youth's creative power, but its self-confidence and optimism.
He was so sure that it was a very pleasant world.
His complexion was robust, his hair had receded but not thinned, the thick
moustache and the eyes that Helen had compared to brandy-balls had an agreeable
menace in them, whether they were turned towards the slums or towards the stars.
Some day--in the millennium--there may be no need for his type.
At present, homage is due to it from those who think themselves superior, and who
possibly are." "At all events you responded to my telegram
promptly," he remarked.
"Oh, even I know a good thing when I see it."
"I'm glad you don't despise the goods of this world."
"Heavens, no!
Only idiots and prigs do that." "I am glad, very glad," he repeated,
suddenly softening and turning to her, as if the remark had pleased him.
"There is so much cant talked in would-be intellectual circles.
I am glad you don't share it. Self-denial is all very well as a means of
strengthening the character.
But I can't stand those people who run down comforts.
They have usually some axe to grind. Can you?"
"Comforts are of two kinds," said Margaret, who was keeping herself in hand--"those we
can share with others, like fire, weather, or music; and those we can't--food, for
instance.
It depends." "I mean reasonable comforts, of course.
I shouldn't like to think that you--" He bent nearer; the sentence died unfinished.
Margaret's head turned very stupid, and the inside of it seemed to revolve like the
beacon in a lighthouse.
He did not kiss her, for the hour was half- past twelve, and the car was passing by the
stables of Buckingham Palace.
But the atmosphere was so charged with emotion that people only seemed to exist on
her account, and she was surprised that Crane did not realize this, and turn round.
Idiot though she might be, surely Mr. Wilcox was more--how should one put it?
--more psychological than usual.
Always a good judge of character for business purposes, he seemed this afternoon
to enlarge his field, and to note qualities outside neatness, obedience, and decision.
"I want to go over the whole house," she announced when they arrived.
"As soon as I get back to Swanage, which will be tomorrow afternoon, I'll talk it
over once more with Helen and Tibby, and wire you 'yes' or 'no.'"
"Right.
The dining-room." And they began their survey.
The dining-room was big, but over- furnished.
Chelsea would have moaned aloud.
Mr. Wilcox had eschewed those decorative schemes that wince, and relent, and
refrain, and achieve beauty by sacrificing comfort and pluck.
After so much self-colour and self-denial, Margaret viewed with relief the sumptuous
dado, the frieze, the gilded wall-paper, amid whose foliage parrots sang.
It would never do with her own furniture, but those heavy chairs, that immense side-
board loaded with presentation plate, stood up against its pressure like men.
The room suggested men, and Margaret, keen to derive the modern capitalist from the
warriors and hunters of the past, saw it as an ancient guest-hall, where the lord sat
at meat among his thanes.
Even the Bible--the Dutch Bible that Charles had brought back from the Boer War-
-fell into position. Such a room admitted loot.
"Now the entrance-hall."
The entrance-hall was paved. "Here we fellows smoke."
We fellows smoked in chairs of maroon leather.
It was as if a motor-car had spawned.
"Oh, jolly!" said Margaret, sinking into one of them.
"You do like it?" he said, fixing his eyes on her upturned face, and surely betraying
an almost intimate note.
"It's all rubbish not making oneself comfortable.
Isn't it?" "Ye-es.
Semi-rubbish.
Are those Cruikshanks?" "Gillrays.
Shall we go on upstairs?" "Does all this furniture come from Howards
End?"
"The Howards End furniture has all gone to Oniton."
"Does--However, I'm concerned with the house, not the furniture.
How big is this smoking-room?"
"Thirty by fifteen. No, wait a minute.
Fifteen and a half?." "Ah, well.
Mr. Wilcox, aren't you ever amused at the solemnity with which we middle classes
approach the subject of houses?" They proceeded to the drawing-room.
Chelsea managed better here.
It was sallow and ineffective. One could visualize the ladies withdrawing
to it, while their lords discussed life's realities below, to the accompaniment of
cigars.
Had Mrs. Wilcox's drawing-room looked thus at Howards End?
Just as this thought entered Margaret's brain, Mr. Wilcox did ask her to be his
wife, and the knowledge that she had been right so overcame her that she nearly
fainted.
But the proposal was not to rank among the world's great love scenes.
"Miss Schlegel"--his voice was firm--"I have had you up on false pretences.
I want to speak about a much more serious matter than a house."
Margaret almost answered: "I know--" "Could you be induced to share my--is it
probable--"
"Oh, Mr. Wilcox!" she interrupted, holding the piano and averting her eyes.
"I see, I see. I will write to you afterwards if I may."
He began to stammer.
"Miss Schlegel--Margaret--you don't understand."
"Oh yes! Indeed, yes!" said Margaret.
"I am asking you to be my wife."
So deep already was her sympathy, that when he said, "I am asking you to be my wife,"
she made herself give a little start. She must show surprise if he expected it.
An immense joy came over her.
It was indescribable. It had nothing to do with humanity, and
most resembled the all-pervading happiness of fine weather.
Fine weather is due to the sun, but Margaret could think of no central radiance
here. She stood in his drawing-room happy, and
longing to give happiness.
On leaving him she realized that the central radiance had been love.
"You aren't offended, Miss Schlegel?" "How could I be offended?"
There was a moment's pause.
He was anxious to get rid of her, and she knew it.
She had too much intuition to look at him as he struggled for possessions that money
cannot buy.
He desired comradeship and affection, but he feared them, and she, who had taught
herself only to desire, and could have clothed the struggle with beauty, held
back, and hesitated with him.
"Good-bye," she continued. "You will have a letter from me--I am going
back to Swanage tomorrow. "Thank you."
"Good-bye, and it's you I thank."
"I may order the motor round, mayn't I?" "That would be most kind."
"I wish I had written instead. Ought I to have written?"
"Not at all."
"There's just one question--" She shook her head.
He looked a little bewildered, and they parted.
They parted without shaking hands: she had kept the interview, for his sake, in tints
of the quietest grey. Yet she thrilled with happiness ere she
reached her own house.
Others had loved her in the past, if one may apply to their brief desires so grave a
word, but those others had been "ninnies"-- young men who had nothing to do, old men
who could find nobody better.
And she had often "loved," too, but only so far as the facts of sex demanded: mere
yearnings for the masculine, to be dismissed for what they were worth, with a
smile.
Never before had her personality been touched.
She was not young or very rich, and it amazed her that a man of any standing
should take her seriously.
As she sat trying to do accounts in her empty house, amidst beautiful pictures and
noble books, waves of emotion broke, as if a tide of passion was flowing through the
night air.
She shook her head, tried to concentrate her attention, and failed.
In vain did she repeat: "But I've been through this sort of thing before."
She had never been through it; the big machinery, as opposed to the little, had
been set in motion, and the idea that Mr. Wilcox loved, obsessed her before she came
to love him in return.
She would come to no decision yet. "Oh, sir, this is so sudden"--that prudish
phrase exactly expressed her when her time came.
Premonitions are not preparation.
She must examine more closely her own nature and his; she must talk it over
judicially with Helen.
It had been a strange love-scene--the central radiance unacknowledged from first
to last.
She, in his place, would have said "Ich liebe dich," but perhaps it was not his
habit to open the heart.
He might have done it if she had pressed him--as a matter of duty, perhaps; England
expects every man to open his heart once; but the effort would have jarred him, and
never, if she could avoid it, should he
lose those defences that he had chosen to raise against the world.
He must never be bothered with emotional talk, or with a display of sympathy.
He was an elderly man now, and it would be futile and impudent to correct him.
Mrs. Wilcox strayed in and out, ever a welcome ghost; surveying the scene, thought
Margaret, without one hint of bitterness.
>
Howards End by E. M. Forster CHAPTER 19
If one wanted to show a foreigner England, perhaps the wisest course would be to take
him to the final section of the Purbeck Hills, and stand him on their summit, a few
miles to the east of Corfe.
Then system after system of our island would roll together under his feet.
Beneath him is the valley of the Frome, and all the wild lands that come tossing down
from Dorchester, black and gold, to mirror their gorse in the expanses of Poole.
The valley of the Stour is beyond, unaccountable stream, dirty at Blandford,
pure at Wimborne--the Stour, sliding out of fat fields, to marry the Avon beneath the
tower of Christchurch.
The valley of the Avon--invisible, but far to the north the trained eye may see
Clearbury Ring that guards it, and the imagination may leap beyond that on to
Salisbury Plain itself, and beyond the
Plain to all the glorious downs of Central England.
Nor is Suburbia absent.
Bournemouth's ignoble coast cowers to the right, heralding the pine-trees that mean,
for all their beauty, red houses, and the Stock Exchange, and extend to the gates of
London itself.
So tremendous is the City's trail! But the cliffs of Freshwater it shall never
touch, and the island will guard the Island's purity till the end of time.
Seen from the west, the Wight is beautiful beyond all laws of beauty.
It is as if a fragment of England floated forward to greet the foreigner--chalk of
our chalk, turf of our turf, epitome of what will follow.
And behind the fragment lies Southampton, hostess to the nations, and Portsmouth, a
latent fire, and all around it, with double and treble collision of tides, swirls the
sea.
How many villages appear in this view! How many castles!
How many churches, vanished or triumphant! How many ships, railways, and roads!
What incredible variety of men working beneath that lucent sky to what final end!
The reason fails, like a wave on the Swanage beach; the imagination swells,
spreads, and deepens, until it becomes geographic and encircles England.
So Frieda Mosebach, now Frau Architect Liesecke, and mother to her husband's baby,
was brought up to these heights to be impressed, and, after a prolonged gaze, she
said that the hills were more swelling here
than in Pomerania, which was true, but did not seem to Mrs. Munt apposite.
Poole Harbour was dry, which led her to praise the absence of muddy foreshore at
Friedrich Wilhelms Bad, Rugen, where beech- trees hang over the tideless Baltic, and
cows may contemplate the brine.
Rather unhealthy Mrs. Munt thought this would be, water being safer when it moved
about. "And your English lakes--Vindermere,
Grasmere--are they, then, unhealthy?"
"No, Frau Liesecke; but that is because they are fresh water, and different.
Salt water ought to have tides, and go up and down a great deal, or else it smells.
Look, for instance, at an aquarium."
"An aquarium! Oh, MEESIS Munt, you mean to tell me that
fresh aquariums stink less than salt? Why, when Victor, my brother-in-law,
collected many tadpoles--"
"You are not to say 'stink,'" interrupted Helen; "at least, you may say it, but you
must pretend you are being funny while you say it."
"Then 'smell.'
And the mud of your Pool down there--does it not smell, or may I say 'stink, ha,
ha'?"
"There always has been mud in Poole Harbour," said Mrs. Munt, with a slight
frown. "The rivers bring it down, and a most
valuable oyster-fishery depends upon it."
"Yes, that is so," conceded Frieda; and another international incident was closed.
"'Bournemouth is,'" resumed their hostess, quoting a local rhyme to which she was much
attached--" 'Bournemouth is, Poole was, and Swanage is to be the most important town of
all and biggest of the three.'
Now, Frau Liesecke, I have shown you Bournemouth, and I have shown you Poole, so
let us walk backward a little, and look down again at Swanage."
"Aunt Juley, wouldn't that be Meg's train?"
A tiny puff of smoke had been circling the harbour, and now was bearing southwards
towards them over the black and the gold. "Oh, dearest Margaret, I do hope she won't
be overtired."
"Oh, I do wonder--I do wonder whether she's taken the house."
"I hope she hasn't been hasty." "So do I--oh, so do I."
"Will it be as beautiful as Wickham Place?"
Frieda asked. "I should think it would.
Trust Mr. Wilcox for doing himself proud.
All those Ducie Street houses are beautiful in their modern way, and I can't think why
he doesn't keep on with it.
But it's really for Evie that he went there, and now that Evie's going to be
married--" "Ah!"
"You've never seen Miss Wilcox, Frieda.
How absurdly matrimonial you are!" "But sister to that Paul?"
"Yes." "And to that Charles," said Mrs. Munt with
feeling.
"Oh, Helen, Helen, what a time that was!" Helen laughed.
"Meg and I haven't got such tender hearts. If there's a chance of a cheap house, we go
for it."
"Now look, Frau Liesecke, at my niece's train.
You see, it is coming towards us--coming, coming; and, when it gets to Corfe, it will
actually go THROUGH the downs, on which we are standing, so that, if we walk over, as
I suggested, and look down on Swanage, we shall see it coming on the other side.
Shall we?"
Frieda assented, and in a few minutes they had crossed the ridge and exchanged the
greater view for the lesser. Rather a dull valley lay below, backed by
the slope of the coastward downs.
They were looking across the Isle of Purbeck and on to Swanage, soon to be the
most important town of all, and ugliest of the three.
Margaret's train reappeared as promised, and was greeted with approval by her aunt.
It came to a standstill in the middle distance, and there it had been planned
that Tibby should meet her, and drive her, and a tea-basket, up to join them.
"You see," continued Helen to her cousin, "the Wilcoxes collect houses as your Victor
collects tadpoles.
They have, one, Ducie Street; two, Howards End, where my great rumpus was; three, a
country seat in Shropshire; four, Charles has a house in Hilton; and five, another
near Epsom; and six, Evie will have a house
when she marries, and probably a pied-a- terre in the country--which makes seven.
Oh yes, and Paul a hut in Africa makes eight.
I wish we could get Howards End.
That was something like a dear little house!
Didn't you think so, Aunt Juley?"
" I had too much to do, dear, to look at it," said Mrs. Munt, with a gracious
dignity.
"I had everything to settle and explain, and Charles Wilcox to keep in his place
besides. It isn't likely I should remember much.
I just remember having lunch in your bedroom."
"Yes so do I. But, oh dear, dear, how dead it all seems!
And in the autumn there began this anti- Pauline movement--you, and Frieda, and Meg,
and Mrs. Wilcox, all obsessed with the idea that I might yet marry Paul."
"You yet may," said Frieda despondently.
Helen shook her head. "The Great Wilcox Peril will never return.
If I'm certain of anything it's of that." "One is certain of nothing but the truth of
one's own emotions."
The remark fell damply on the conversation. But Helen slipped her arm round her cousin,
somehow liking her the better for making it.
It was not an original remark, nor had Frieda appropriated it passionately, for
she had a patriotic rather than a philosophic mind.
Yet it betrayed that interest in the universal which the average Teuton
possesses and the average Englishman does not.
It was, however illogically, the good, the beautiful, the true, as opposed to the
respectable, the pretty, the adequate.
It was a landscape of Bocklin's beside a landscape of Leader's, strident and ill-
considered, but quivering into supernatural life.
It sharpened idealism, stirred the soul.
It may have been a bad preparation for what followed.
"Look!" cried Aunt Juley, hurrying away from generalities over the narrow summit of
the down.
"Stand where I stand, and you will see the pony-cart coming.
I see the pony-cart coming." They stood and saw the pony-cart coming.
Margaret and Tibby were presently seen coming in it.
Leaving the outskirts of Swanage, it drove for a little through the budding lanes, and
then began the ascent.
"Have you got the house?" they shouted, long before she could possibly hear.
Helen ran down to meet her.
The highroad passed over a saddle, and a track went thence at right angles along the
ridge of the down. "Have you got the house?"
Margaret shook her head.
"Oh, what a nuisance! So we're as we were?"
"Not exactly." She got out, looking tired.
"Some mystery," said Tibby.
"We are to be enlightened presently." Margaret came close up to her and whispered
that she had had a proposal of marriage from Mr. Wilcox.
Helen was amused.
She opened the gate on to the downs so that her brother might lead the pony through.
"It's just like a widower," she remarked.
"They've cheek enough for anything, and invariably select one of their first wife's
friends." Margaret's face flashed despair.
"That type--" She broke off with a cry.
"Meg, not anything wrong with you?" "Wait one minute," said Margaret,
whispering always. "But you've never conceivably--you've
never--" She pulled herself together.
"Tibby, hurry up through; I can't hold this gate indefinitely.
Aunt Juley!
I say, Aunt Juley, make the tea, will you, and Frieda; we've got to talk houses, and
I'll come on afterwards." And then, turning her face to her sister's,
she burst into tears.
Margaret was stupefied. She heard herself saying, "Oh, really--"
She felt herself touched with a hand that trembled.
"Don't," sobbed Helen, "don't, don't, Meg, don't!"
She seemed incapable of saying any other word.
Margaret, trembling herself, led her forward up the road, till they strayed
through another gate on to the down. "Don't, don't do such a thing!
I tell you not to--don't!
I know--don't!" "What do you know?"
"Panic and emptiness," sobbed Helen. "Don't!"
Then Margaret thought, "Helen is a little selfish.
I have never behaved like this when there has seemed a chance of her marrying.
She said: "But we would still see each other very often, and--"
"It's not a thing like that," sobbed Helen.
And she broke right away and wandered distractedly upwards, stretching her hands
towards the view and crying.
"What's happened to you?" called Margaret, following through the wind that gathers at
sundown on the northern slopes of hills. "But it's stupid!"
And suddenly stupidity seized her, and the immense landscape was blurred.
But Helen turned back. " Meg--"
"I don't know what's happened to either of us," said Margaret, wiping her eyes.
"We must both have gone mad." Then Helen wiped hers, and they even
laughed a little.
"Look here, sit down." "All right; I'll sit down if you'll sit
down." "There.
(One kiss.)
Now, whatever, whatever is the matter?" "I do mean what I said.
Don't; it wouldn't do." "Oh, Helen, stop saying 'don't'!
It's ignorant.
It's as if your head wasn't out of the slime.
'Don't' is probably what Mrs. Bast says all the day to Mr. Bast."
Helen was silent.
"Well?" "Tell me about it first, and meanwhile
perhaps I'll have got my head out of the slime."
"That's better.
Well, where shall I begin? When I arrived at Waterloo--no, I'll go
back before that, because I'm anxious you should know everything from the first.
The 'first' was about ten days ago.
It was the day Mr. Bast came to tea and lost his temper.
I was defending him, and Mr. Wilcox became jealous about me, however slightly.
I thought it was the involuntary thing, which men can't help any more than we can.
You know--at least, I know in my own case-- when a man has said to me, 'So-and-so's a
pretty girl,' I am seized with a momentary sourness against So-and-so, and long to
tweak her ear.
It's a tiresome feeling, but not an important one, and one easily manages it.
But it wasn't only this in Mr. Wilcox's case, I gather now."
"Then you love him?"
Margaret considered. "It is wonderful knowing that a real man
cares for you," she said. "The mere fact of that grows more
tremendous.
Remember, I've known and liked him steadily for nearly three years.
"But loved him?" Margaret peered into her past.
It is pleasant to analyze feelings while they are still only feelings, and
unembodied in the social fabric.
With her arm round Helen, and her eyes shifting over the view, as if this county
or that could reveal the secret of her own heart, she meditated honestly, and said,
"No."
"But you will?" "Yes," said Margaret, "of that I'm pretty
sure. Indeed, I began the moment he spoke to me."
"And have settled to marry him?"
"I had, but am wanting a long talk about it now.
What is it against him, Helen? You must try and say."
Helen, in her turn, looked outwards.
"It is ever since Paul," she said finally. "But what has Mr. Wilcox to do with Paul?"
"But he was there, they were all there that morning when I came down to breakfast, and
saw that Paul was frightened--the man who loved me frightened and all his
paraphernalia fallen, so that I knew it was
impossible, because personal relations are the important thing for ever and ever, and
not this outer life of telegrams and anger."
She poured the sentence forth in one breath, but her sister understood it,
because it touched on thoughts that were familiar between them.
"That's foolish.
In the first place, I disagree about the outer life.
Well, we've often argued that. The real point is that there is the widest
gulf between my love-making and yours.
Yours--was romance; mine will be prose. I'm not running it down--a very good kind
of prose, but well considered, well thought out.
For instance, I know all Mr. Wilcox's faults.
He's afraid of emotion. He cares too much about success, too little
about the past.
His sympathy lacks poetry, and so isn't sympathy really.
I'd even say"--she looked at the shining lagoons--"that, spiritually, he's not as
honest as I am.
Doesn't that satisfy you?" "No, it doesn't," said Helen.
"It makes me feel worse and worse. You must be mad."
Margaret made a movement of irritation.
"I don't intend him, or any man or any woman, to be all my life--good heavens, no!
There are heaps of things in me that he doesn't, and shall never, understand."
Thus she spoke before the wedding ceremony and the physical union, before the
astonishing glass shade had fallen that interposes between married couples and the
world.
She was to keep her independence more than do most women as yet.
Marriage was to alter her fortunes rather than her character, and she was not far
wrong in boasting that she understood her future husband.
Yet he did alter her character--a little.
There was an unforeseen surprise, a cessation of the winds and odours of life,
a social pressure that would have her think conjugally.
"So with him," she continued.
"There are heaps of things in him--more especially things that he does--that will
always be hidden from me.
He has all those public qualities which you so despise and enable all this--" She waved
her hand at the landscape, which confirmed anything.
"If Wilcoxes hadn't worked and died in England for thousands of years, you and I
couldn't sit here without having our throats cut.
There would be no trains, no ships to carry us literary people about in, no fields
even. Just savagery.
No--perhaps not even that.
Without their spirit life might never have moved out of protoplasm.
More and more do I refuse to draw my income and sneer at those who guarantee it.
There are times when it seems to me--"
"And to me, and to all women. So one kissed Paul."
"That's brutal," said Margaret. "Mine is an absolutely different case.
I've thought things out."
"It makes no difference thinking things out.
They come to the same." " Rubbish!"
There was a long silence, during which the tide returned into Poole Harbour.
"One would lose something," murmured Helen, apparently to herself.
The water crept over the mud-flats towards the gorse and the blackened heather.
Branksea Island lost its immense foreshores, and became a sombre episode of
trees.
Frome was forced inward towards Dorchester, Stour against Wimborne, Avon towards
Salisbury, and over the immense displacement the sun presided, leading it
to triumph ere he sank to rest.
England was alive, throbbing through all her estuaries, crying for joy through the
mouths of all her gulls, and the north wind, with contrary motion, blew stronger
against her rising seas.
What did it mean? For what end are her fair complexities, her
changes of soil, her sinuous coast?
Does she belong to those who have moulded her and made her feared by other lands, or
to those who have added nothing to her power, but have somehow seen her, seen the
whole island at once, lying as a jewel in a
silver sea, sailing as a ship of souls, with all the brave world's fleet
accompanying her towards eternity?
>
Howards End by E. M. Forster CHAPTER 20
Margaret had often wondered at the disturbance that takes place in the world's
waters, when Love, who seems so tiny a pebble, slips in.
Whom does Love concern beyond the beloved and the lover?
Yet his impact deluges a hundred shores.
No doubt the disturbance is really the spirit of the generations, welcoming the
new generation, and chafing against the ultimate Fate, who holds all the seas in
the palm of her hand.
But Love cannot understand this.
He cannot comprehend another's infinity; he is conscious only of his own--flying
sunbeam, falling rose, pebble that asks for one quiet plunge below the fretting
interplay of space and time.
He knows that he will survive at the end of things, and be gathered by Fate as a jewel
from the slime, and be handed with admiration round the assembly of the gods.
"Men did produce this," they will say, and, saying, they will give men immortality.
But meanwhile--what agitations meanwhile!
The foundations of Property and Propriety are laid bare, twin rocks; Family Pride
flounders to the surface, puffing and blowing, and refusing to be comforted;
Theology, vaguely ascetic, gets up a nasty ground swell.
Then the lawyers are aroused--cold brood-- and creep out of their holes.
They do what they can; they tidy up Property and Propriety, reassure Theology
and Family Pride.
Half-guineas are poured on the troubled waters, the lawyers creep back, and, if all
has gone well, Love joins one man and woman together in Matrimony.
Margaret had expected the disturbance, and was not irritated by it.
For a sensitive woman she had steady nerves, and could bear with the incongruous
and the grotesque; and, besides, there was nothing excessive about her love-affair.
Good-humour was the dominant note of her relations with Mr. Wilcox, or, as I must
now call him, Henry. Henry did not encourage romance, and she
was no girl to fidget for it.
An acquaintance had become a lover, might become a husband, but would retain all that
she had noted in the acquaintance; and love must confirm an old relation rather than
reveal a new one.
In this spirit she promised to marry him. He was in Swanage on the morrow, bearing
the engagement-ring. They greeted one another with a hearty
cordiality that impressed Aunt Juley.
Henry dined at The Bays, but he had engaged a bedroom in the principal hotel: he was
one of those men who knew the principal hotel by instinct.
After dinner he asked Margaret if she wouldn't care for a turn on the Parade.
She accepted, and could not repress a little tremor; it would be her first real
love scene.
But as she put on her hat she burst out laughing.
Love was so unlike the article served up in books: the joy, though genuine, was
different; the mystery an unexpected mystery.
For one thing, Mr. Wilcox still seemed a stranger.
For a time they talked about the ring; then she said:
"Do you remember the Embankment at Chelsea?
It can't be ten days ago." "Yes," he said, laughing.
"And you and your sister were head and ears deep in some Quixotic scheme.
Ah well!"
"I little thought then, certainly. Did you?"
"I don't know about that; I shouldn't like to say."
"Why, was it earlier?" she cried.
"Did you think of me this way earlier! How extraordinarily interesting, Henry!
Tell me." But Henry had no intention of telling.
Perhaps he could not have told, for his mental states became obscure as soon as he
had passed through them.
He misliked the very word "interesting," connoting it with wasted energy and even
with morbidity. Hard facts were enough for him.
"I didn't think of it," she pursued.
"No; when you spoke to me in the drawing- room, that was practically the first.
It was all so different from what it's supposed to be.
On the stage, or in books, a proposal is-- how shall I put it?
--a full-blown affair, a kind of bouquet; it loses its literal meaning.
But in life a proposal really is a proposal--"
"By the way--" "--a suggestion, a seed," she concluded;
and the thought flew away into darkness.
"I was thinking, if you didn't mind, that we ought to spend this evening in a
business talk; there will be so much to settle."
"I think so too.
Tell me, in the first place, how did you get on with Tibby?"
"With your brother?" "Yes, during cigarettes."
"Oh, very well."
"I am so glad," she answered, a little surprised.
"What did you talk about? Me, presumably."
"About Greece too."
"Greece was a very good card, Henry. Tibby's only a boy still, and one has to
pick and choose subjects a little. Well done."
"I was telling him I have shares in a currant-farm near Calamata.
"What a delightful thing to have shares in! Can't we go there for our honeymoon?"
"What to do?"
"To eat the currants. And isn't there marvellous scenery?"
"Moderately, but it's not the kind of place one could possibly go to with a lady."
"Why not?"
"No hotels." "Some ladies do without hotels.
Are you aware that Helen and I have walked alone over the Apennines, with our luggage
on our backs?"
"I wasn't aware, and, if I can manage it, you will never do such a thing again."
She said more gravely: "You haven't found time for a talk with Helen yet, I suppose?"
"No."
"Do, before you go. I am so anxious you two should be friends."
"Your sister and I have always hit it off," he said negligently.
"But we're drifting away from our business.
Let me begin at the beginning. You know that Evie is going to marry Percy
Cahill." "Dolly's uncle."
"Exactly.
The girl's madly in love with him. A very good sort of fellow, but he demands-
-and rightly--a suitable provision with her.
And in the second place, you will naturally understand, there is Charles.
Before leaving town, I wrote Charles a very careful letter.
You see, he has an increasing family and increasing expenses, and the I. and W.
A. is nothing particular just now, though capable of development.
"Poor fellow!" murmured Margaret, looking out to sea, and not understanding.
"Charles being the elder son, some day Charles will have Howards End; but I am
anxious, in my own happiness, not to be unjust to others."
"Of course not," she began, and then gave a little cry.
"You mean money. How stupid I am!
Of course not!"
Oddly enough, he winced a little at the word.
"Yes. Money, since you put it so frankly. I am determined to be just to all--just to
you, just to them.
I am determined that my children shall have no case against me."
"Be generous to them," she said sharply. "Bother justice!"
"I am determined--and have already written to Charles to that effect--"
"But how much have you got?" "What?"
"How much have you a year?
I've six hundred." "My income?"
"Yes. We must begin with how much you have, before we can settle how much you can give
Charles.
Justice, and even generosity, depend on that."
"I must say you're a downright young woman," he observed, patting her arm and
laughing a little.
"What a question to spring on a fellow!" "Don't you know your income?
Or don't you want to tell it me?" "I--"
"That's all right"--now she patted him-- "don't tell me.
I don't want to know. I can do the sum just as well by
proportion.
Divide your income into ten parts. How many parts would you give to Evie, how
many to Charles, how many to Paul?" "The fact is, my dear, I hadn't any
intention of bothering you with details.
I only wanted to let you know that--well, that something must be done for the others,
and you've understood me perfectly, so let's pass on to the next point."
"Yes, we've settled that," said Margaret, undisturbed by his strategic blunderings.
"Go ahead; give away all you can, bearing in mind I've a clear six hundred.
What a mercy it is to have all this money about one!"
"We've none too much, I assure you; you're marrying a poor man.
"Helen wouldn't agree with me here," she continued.
"Helen daren't slang the rich, being rich herself, but she would like to.
There's an odd notion, that I haven't yet got hold of, running about at the back of
her brain, that poverty is somehow 'real.'
She dislikes all organization, and probably confuses wealth with the technique of
wealth. Sovereigns in a stocking wouldn't bother
her; cheques do.
Helen is too relentless. One can't deal in her high-handed manner
with the world." "There's this other point, and then I must
go back to my hotel and write some letters.
What's to be done now about the house in Ducie Street?"
"Keep it on--at least, it depends. When do you want to marry me?"
She raised her voice, as too often, and some youths, who were also taking the
evening air, overheard her. "Getting a bit hot, eh?" said one.
Mr. Wilcox turned on them, and said sharply, "I say!"
There was silence. "Take care I don't report you to the
police."
They moved away quietly enough, but were only biding their time, and the rest of the
conversation was punctuated by peals of ungovernable laughter.
Lowering his voice and infusing a hint of reproof into it, he said: "Evie will
probably be married in September. We could scarcely think of anything before
then."
"The earlier the nicer, Henry. Females are not supposed to say such
things, but the earlier the nicer." "How about September for us too?" he asked,
rather dryly.
"Right. Shall we go into Ducie Street ourselves in
September? Or shall we try to bounce Helen and Tibby
into it?
That's rather an idea. They are so unbusinesslike, we could make
them do anything by judicious management. Look here--yes.
We'll do that.
And we ourselves could live at Howards End or Shropshire."
He blew out his cheeks. "Heavens! how you women do fly round!
My head's in a whirl.
Point by point, Margaret. Howards End's impossible.
I let it to Hamar Bryce on a three years' agreement last March.
Don't you remember?
Oniton. Well, that is much, much too far away to
rely on entirely.
You will be able to be down there entertaining a certain amount, but we must
have a house within easy reach of Town. Only Ducie Street has huge drawbacks.
There's a mews behind."
Margaret could not help laughing. It was the first she had heard of the mews
behind Ducie Street.
When she was a possible tenant it had suppressed itself, not consciously, but
automatically.
The breezy Wilcox manner, though genuine, lacked the clearness of vision that is
imperative for truth.
When Henry lived in Ducie Street he remembered the mews; when he tried to let
he forgot it; and if anyone had remarked that the mews must be either there or not,
he would have felt annoyed, and afterwards
have found some opportunity of stigmatizing the speaker as academic.
So does my grocer stigmatize me when I complain of the quality of his sultanas,
and he answers in one breath that they are the best sultanas, and how can I expect the
best sultanas at that price?
It is a flaw inherent in the business mind, and Margaret may do well to be tender to
it, considering all that the business mind has done for England.
"Yes, in summer especially, the mews is a serious nuisance.
The smoking room, too, is an abominable little den.
The house opposite has been taken by operatic people.
Ducie Street's going down, it's my private opinion."
"How sad!
It's only a few years since they built those pretty houses."
"Shows things are moving. Good for trade."
"I hate this continual flux of London.
It is an epitome of us at our worst-- eternal formlessness; all the qualities,
good, bad, and indifferent, streaming away- -streaming, streaming for ever.
That's why I dread it so.
I mistrust rivers, even in scenery. Now, the sea--"
"High tide, yes." "Hoy toid"--from the promenading youths.
"And these are the men to whom we give the vote," observed Mr. Wilcox, omitting to add
that they were also the men to whom he gave work as clerks--work that scarcely
encouraged them to grow into other men.
"However, they have their own lives and interests.
Let's get on." He turned as he spoke, and prepared to see
her back to The Bays.
The business was over. His hotel was in the opposite direction,
and if he accompanied her his letters would be late for the post.
She implored him not to come, but he was obdurate.
"A nice beginning, if your aunt saw you slip in alone!"
"But I always do go about alone.
Considering I've walked over the Apennines, it's common sense.
You will make me so angry. I don't the least take it as a compliment."
He laughed, and lit a cigar.
"It isn't meant as a compliment, my dear. I just won't have you going about in the
dark. Such people about too!
It's dangerous."
"Can't I look after myself? I do wish--"
"Come along, Margaret; no wheedling."
A younger woman might have resented his masterly ways, but Margaret had too firm a
grip of life to make a fuss. She was, in her own way, as masterly.
If he was a fortress she was a mountain peak, whom all might tread, but whom the
snows made nightly virginal.
Disdaining the heroic outfit, excitable in her methods, garrulous, episodical, shrill,
she misled her lover much as she had misled her aunt.
He mistook her fertility for weakness.
He supposed her "as clever as they make 'em," but no more, not realizing that she
was penetrating to the depths of his soul, and approving of what she found there.
And if insight were sufficient, if the inner life were the whole of life, their
happiness has been assured. They walked ahead briskly.
The parade and the road after it were well lighted, but it was darker in Aunt Juley's
garden.
As they were going up by the side-paths, through some rhododendrons, Mr. Wilcox, who
was in front, said "Margaret" rather huskily, turned, dropped his cigar, and
took her in his arms.
She was startled, and nearly screamed, but recovered herself at once, and kissed with
genuine love the lips that were pressed against her own.
It was their first kiss, and when it was over he saw her safely to the door and rang
the bell for her, but disappeared into the night before the maid answered it.
On looking back, the incident displeased her.
It was so isolated.
Nothing in their previous conversation had heralded it, and, worse still, no
tenderness had ensued.
If a man cannot lead up to passion he can at all events lead down from it, and she
had hoped, after her complaisance, for some interchange of gentle words.
But he had hurried away as if ashamed, and for an instant she was reminded of Helen
and Paul.
>
Howards End by E. M. Forster CHAPTER 21
Charles had just been scolding his Dolly. She deserved the scolding, and had bent
before it, but her head, though bloody, was unsubdued, and her chirrupings began to
mingle with his retreating thunder.
"You've woken the baby. I knew you would.
(Rum-ti-foo, Rackety-tackety Tompkin!)
I'm not responsible for what Uncle Percy does, nor for anybody else or anything, so
there!" "Who asked him while I was away?
Who asked my sister down to meet him?
Who sent them out in the motor day after day?"
"Charles, that reminds me of some poem." "Does it indeed?
We shall all be dancing to a very different music presently.
Miss Schlegel has fairly got us on toast."
"I could simply scratch that woman's eyes out, and to say it's my fault is most
unfair." "It's your fault, and five months ago you
admitted it."
"I didn't." "You did."
"Tootle, tootle, playing on the pootle!" exclaimed Dolly, suddenly devoting herself
to the child.
"It's all very well to turn the conversation, but Father would never have
dreamt of marrying as long as Evie was there to make him comfortable.
But you must needs start match-making.
Besides, Cahill's too old." "Of course, if you're going to be rude to
Uncle Percy--"
"Miss Schlegel always meant to get hold of Howards End, and, thanks to you, she's got
it." "I call the way you twist things round and
make them hang together most unfair.
You couldn't have been nastier if you'd caught me flirting.
Could he, diddums?" "We're in a bad hole, and must make the
best of it.
I shall answer the pater's letter civilly. He's evidently anxious to do the decent
thing. But I do not intend to forget these
Schlegels in a hurry.
As long as they're on their best behaviour- -Dolly, are you listening?
--we'll behave, too.
But if I find them giving themselves airs, or monopolizing my father, or at all ill-
treating him, or worrying him with their artistic beastliness, I intend to put my
foot down, yes, firmly.
Taking my mother's place! Heaven knows what poor old Paul will say
when the news reaches him." The interlude closes.
It has taken place in Charles's garden at Hilton.
He and Dolly are sitting in deck-chairs, and their motor is regarding them placidly
from its garage across the lawn.
A short-frocked edition of Charles also regards them placidly; a perambulator
edition is squeaking; a third edition is expected shortly.
Nature is turning out Wilcoxes in this peaceful abode, so that they may inherit
the earth.
>