Saturday, July 12, 2014

Howards End by E.M. Forster – July 11, 2014

Howard's End First Edition 1910 with flyleaf autograph by the author

E.M. Forster's novel has an antique ring and modern readers may find it difficult to enter into sympathy with the characters and the societal context of Edwardian England.

KumKum, Sujatha, Zakia, & Abbas at the Yacht Club before the reading

Forster creates one of the most improbable characters in literature, Leonard Bast, and surrounds him with improbabilities: the morbid interest of two cultured women in his upliftment, the championing of his cause as their moral duty, and the readiness of one of the them to copulate with him as a recompense for poor advice given earlier.

Sujatha, Zakia, & KumKum

There are many themes Forster takes up: class hierarchy and the hypocrisy that lies at the bottom of it, a lament for the passing of pastoral England, socialism and whether being your brother's keeper is necessary in the modern world.

Vijay

Two worthy women enliven the novel: the wise Mrs Wilcox, long-suffering in her marriage to a man who shared none of her sympathies; and the mature Margaret who knew she had to put her husband in his place once, in order for the marriage to survive on a equal basis.

Kavita, Sujatha, KumKum, Vijay, & Joe (Zakia left early for the Iftar)


Read more by clicking below ...

Howards End by E.M. Forster
Full account and Record of session on July 11, 2014

E.M Forster in a pensive mood

Present: Zakia, Sujatha, Kavita, Joe, Vijay, KumKum
Absent: Preeti (guest taken ill), Sreelatha (?), Thomo (out of town), CJ & Sunil (attending friend's son's wedding in B'lore), Pamela (daughter's wedding), Priya (son's admission in Mumbai), Gopa (taken ill), Talitha (mother indisposed)

A number of readers failed to attend and reduced us to just six on the day.

The next readings are
Aug 8, 2014: Poetry
Sep 26, 2014: Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham

Zakia
As one of the selectors of the novel, Zakia gave an introduction to E.M. Forster. You may read the wiki site
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._M._Forster

to gather the outline of his life. Here are some excerpts from it:
'his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy'
'humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: Only connect ... '
'novel, A Room with a View, is his most optimistic work, while A Passage to India (1924) brought him his greatest success.'
'born into an Anglo-Irish and Welsh middle-class family '
'inherited £8,000 from his paternal great-aunt Marianne Thornton ... enough to live on and enabled him to become a writer.'
'At King's College, Cambridge, between 1897 and 1901, he became a member of a discussion society known as the Apostles - members of what came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group'
'Forster was homosexual (open to his close friends, but not to the public) and a lifelong bachelor'
'Howards End (1910) is an ambitious "condition-of-England" novel concerned with different groups within the Edwardian middle classes, represented by the Schlegels (bohemian intellectuals), the Wilcoxes (thoughtless plutocrats) and the Basts (struggling lower-middle-class aspirants).'
'Forster achieved his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924). The novel takes as its subject the relationship between East and West, seen through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj.'
'Forster's two best-known works, A Passage to India and Howards End, explore the irreconcilability of class differences.'
'Sexuality is another key theme in Forster's works. Some critics have argued that a general shift from heterosexual to homosexual love can be observed through the course of his writing career.'
'Forster is noted for his use of symbolism as a technique in his novels, and he has been criticised (as by his friend Roger Fry) for his attachment to mysticism. One example of his symbolism is the wych elm tree in Howards End.'

Forster was brought up in 'Rooksnest,' later the inspiration for the house, Howards End. Showing the wych-elm undated Inscribed on the back by E.M. Forster, 'Only record of wych-elm in Howards End'

A minor detail is that E.M. Forster attended Tonbridge School,

which has another famous novelist as alumnus, Vikram Seth.

Zakia read from the passage where the Wilcoxes discuss whether the handwritten will of Mrs Ruth Wilcox, bequeathing Howards End to Margaret should be complied with. Had Margaret influenced Ruth consciously toward that end?

Vanessa Redgrave was offered the role of Ruth Wilcox in the 1992 Merchant-Ivory film, and named her own price

There's a line “I almost think you forget you’re a girl,” which Ruth addresses to Margaret who is twenty-nine. A sort of mother-daughter relationship ensues because Ruth senses a compatibility of interests in house and countryside. Joe thought Ruth found a kinship with the younger woman that she did not experience with her husband. 

Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson) & Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave) go shopping at Harrods

KumKum opined that Ruth knew she was dying and anticipated her husband's need for a wife-companion after her death and plotted to slot Margaret into that role. But since Ruth knew of the Jacky affair, would it be right of her to thrust a young woman she admired into the arms of an older man whose constancy was not assured, asked Joe? Sujatha thought all women then (and probably now) hanker to find 'a suitable boy' and so Margaret who would otherwise have been consigned to spinsterhood, might be glad of a husband, any husband. But she had independent means and did not need a man in her life for economic security.

KumKum concurred that Ruth had a design to make Margaret the future widower's wife.

Sujatha held up the ignorance of Henry Wilcox about the pig's teeth embedded in the wych-elm as a token of his lack of sympathy for the country-life in general, and for his own house in particular.

Wych Elm (Ulmus Glabra)

Govind wondered why Ruth didn't find the time to make a proper will, instead of hand-writing an unsigned note from the hospital donating Howards End to Margaret. Was it that a formal will would have attracted her husband's attention and he would have denied her that last wish?


Sujatha
Sujatha's reading from Ch 12 contains a statement worthy of note: 'Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere.' But without following a sign-post for some distance, how do we find out it leads nowhere? It seems we are condemned to wasting a lot of time searching before we find what we are looking for. Or maybe all of life is a Search (Google would certainly latch on to that slogan!). A corollary is that we keep preparing for crises that never arrive. Which would be fine if the crises we did not prepare for also didn't arrive!


Kavita 
Kavita read the passage from Ch 26 in which Margaret comes to know about Henry Wilcox's past mistress, Jacky. But when she reached the end with the line, 'it was not her tragedy; it was Mrs. Wilcox’s', there was a round of laughter.


Joe
Joe's Appreciation
Aspects of this novel make it an embarrassment for the author. From the beginning it is filled with improbable incidents, such as when Helen spends a couple of nights at the Wilcox house (they are strangers who met in Germany) in Howards End, and soon gets up to kissing and falling in love with a vague character who vanishes into Africa in the same chapter. Then there is the affair with Leonard Bast, an utterly unbelievable character who is introduced only because Forster needed a member of the lowest rung of the class hierarchy. 

Margaret (Emma Thompson) & Helen (Helena Bonham Carter) with Leonard Bast (Samuel West)

A more forgettable, self-pitying fellow, hardly capable of attracting a young woman of any class, is made the object of the cultured Schlegel sisters’ attempt to uplift and to improve. And toward the end of the novel after the man has been described in many places as a loser, Helen takes him and his family on a mad mission to the house of the Wilcoxes and there offers up her body to him as a consolation prize for his being reduced to poverty by the bad advice she relayed about his employer; the impregnation of this one-night stand results in a child who becomes the herald of happy times as the novel ends.

Margaret and Mrs Ruth Wilcox are the only characters who are credible and undergo some development. There is no great love story in this novel (tragic or happy), no ultimate villain. Indeed the author’s intent in this novel, I judge, is to lament the passing of a pastoral England he loved, which was vanishing under the threat of urbanisation and industrialisation at the turn of the century.

Emma Thompson received fourth billing as Margaret Schlegel; but she received the best actress Oscar in the Merchant-Ivory film

In the first passage Margaret, without ruth, holds up a mirror to Henry Wilcox, so that for once he might recognise the priggish ass he has been his whole life. But he fails the test, and Margaret ignores his command that Helen should leave Howards End. Women always have this ultimate revenge – to do as they wish, and ignore the strutting patriarchy of males.

Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson as Henry Wilcox & Margaret Schlegel


Vijay
The passage chosen by Govind raises one of the philosophical questions E.M. Forster was keen about. In the words of Henry Wilcox:
'… don’t get carried away by absurd schemes of Social Reform ... there is no Social Question ... There are just rich and poor, as there always have been and always will be.'

The question in debate is whether this is a dog-eat-dog world and every man is for himself, or whether there is a need for ordering society according to a more just scheme. Margaret and Helen stand for the opposing side of the argument from Henry. They believe in improvement and upliftment of those less well-endowed by their birth with the advantages that wealth brings – education, going to the right schools, access to friends in higher places, influence, positions, and so on.

It is plain to see that most of the inequality in the world is an accident of birth, and not caused by higher merit or deserving on the part of those who are well-off. Therefore, a just society would attempt to negate the accidental advantages of birth, and provide the means of advancement to all: education, nutrition when the young brain is developing, health-care to prolong life and avoid morbidity, availability of higher education to the meritorious, and so on. Joe said the immense progress in Kerala in two generations from a caste-ridden serf-ridden society, to a more egalitarian society of opportunities for all, is testament to a certain revolution that has taken place in which the Communist victory in 1959 has played a major role. Kavita agreed. Everyone had stories of maids educating their children who now work in white-collar jobs and are entering the middle-class. At least inequality is not built-in now.


KumKum
Toward the end in Ch 44 the children meet with Henry Wilcox to discuss property matters and it ends with him declaring, 'Then I leave Howards End to my wife absolutely.' Thus, what Ruth willed comes to fruition in a roundabout way. It suits everybody. The novel ends with this optimistic sentence:
Helen rushed into the gloom, holding Tom by one hand and carrying her baby on the other. There were shouts of infectious joy.

The field’s cut!” Helen cried excitedly—”the big meadow! We’ve seen to the very end, and it’ll be such a crop of hay as never!”

Balance is restored to pastoral England and the urbanscape will be kept at bay. Sujatha said it is a pointing to the future. Helen wanted the place and Paul was the only available guy then, but now Howards End is hers to enjoy, destined to be inherited by her son, and they can at leisure examine the pig's teeth in the wych-elm!


Readings


Zakia The Wilcoxes discuss the bequest of the late Ruth Wilcox – Ch 11
To them Howards End was a house: they could not know that to her it had been a spirit, for which she sought a spiritual heir. And—pushing one step farther in these mists—may they not have decided even better than they supposed? Is it credible that the possessions of the spirit can be bequeathed at all? Has the soul offspring? A wych-elm tree, a vine, a wisp of hay with dew on it—can passion for such things be transmitted where there is no bond of blood? No; the Wilcoxes are not to be blamed. The problem is too terrific, and they could not even perceive a problem. No; it is natural and fitting that after due debate they should tear the note up and throw it on to their dining-room fire. The practical moralist may acquit them absolutely. He who strives to look deeper may acquit them—almost. For one hard fact remains. They did neglect a personal appeal. The woman who had died did say to them, “Do this,” and they answered, “We will not.”

The incident made a most painful impression on them. Grief mounted into the brain and worked there disquietingly. Yesterday they had lamented: “She was a dear mother, a true wife; in our absence she neglected her health and died.” To-day they thought: “She was not as true, as dear, as we supposed.” The desire for a more inward light had found expression at last, the unseen had impacted on the seen, and all that they could say was “Treachery.” Mrs. Wilcox had been treacherous to the family, to the laws of property, to her own written word. How did she expect Howards End to be conveyed to Miss Schlegel? Was her husband, to whom it legally belonged, to make it over to her as a free gift? Was the said Miss Schlegel to have a life interest in it, or to own it absolutely? Was there to be no compensation for the garage and other improvements that they had made under the assumption that all would be theirs some day? Treacherous! treacherous and absurd! When we think the dead both treacherous and absurd, we have gone far towards reconciling ourselves to their departure. That note, scribbled in pencil, sent through the matron, was unbusinesslike as well as cruel, and decreased at once the value of the woman who had written it.

Ah, well!” said Mr. Wilcox, rising from the table. “I shouldn’t have thought it possible.”

Mother couldn’t have meant it,” said Evie, still frowning.

No, my girl, of course not.”

Mother believed so in ancestors too—it isn’t like her to leave anything to an outsider, who’d never appreciate.”

The whole thing is unlike her,” he announced. “If Miss Schlegel had been poor, if she had wanted a house, I could understand it a little. But she has a house of her own. Why should she want another? She wouldn’t have any use for Howards End.”


Sujatha We err when we mistake the signposts for the destination – Ch 12
Helen, after a decent pause, continued her account of Stettin. How quickly a situation changes! In June she had been in a crisis; even in November she could blush and be unnatural; now it was January and the whole affair lay forgotten. Looking back on the past six months, Margaret realised the chaotic nature of our daily life, and its difference from the orderly sequence that has been fabricated by historians. Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere. With infinite effort we nerve ourselves for a crisis that never comes. The most successful career must show a waste of strength that might have removed mountains, and the most unsuccessful is not that of the man who is taken unprepared, but of him who has prepared and is never taken. On a tragedy of that kind our national morality is duly silent. It assumes that preparation against danger is in itself a good, and that men, like nations, are the better for staggering through life fully armed. The tragedy of preparedness has scarcely been handled, save by the Greeks. Life is indeed dangerous, but not in the way morality would have us believe. It is indeed unmanageable, but the essence of it is not a battle. It is unmanageable because it is a romance, and its essence is romantic beauty. Margaret hoped that for the future she would be less cautious, not more cautious, than she had been in the past.


Kavita Margaret discovers Henry Wilcox's past unfaithfulness to his wife, Ruth – Ch 26
“Bless us, what a person!” sighed Margaret, gathering up her skirts.

Jacky pointed with her cake. “You’re a nice boy, you are.” She yawned. “There now, I love you.”

Henry, I am awfully sorry.”

And pray why?” he asked, and looked at her so sternly that she feared he was ill. He seemed more scandalised than the facts demanded.

To have brought this down on you.”

Pray don’t apologise.”

The voice continued.

Why does she call you ‘Hen’?” said Margaret innocently. “Has she ever seen you before?”

Seen Hen before!” said Jacky. “Who hasn’t seen Hen? He’s serving you like me, my boys! You wait— Still we love ‘em.”

Are you now satisfied?” Henry asked.

Margaret began to grow frightened. “I don’t know what it is all about,” she said. “Let’s come in.”

But he thought she was acting. He thought he was trapped. He saw his whole life crumbling. “Don’t you indeed?” he said bitingly.

I do. Allow me to congratulate you on the success of your plan.”

This is Helen’s plan, not mine.”

I now understand your interest in the Basts. Very well thought out. I am amused at your caution, Margaret. You are quite right—it was necessary. I am a man, and have lived a man’s past. I have the honour to release you from your engagement.”

Still she could not understand. She knew of life’s seamy side as a theory; she could not grasp it as a fact. More words from Jacky were necessary—words unequivocal, undenied.

So that—” burst from her, and she went indoors. She stopped herself from saying more.

So what?” asked Colonel Fussell, who was getting ready to start in the hall.

We were saying—Henry and I were just having the fiercest argument, my point being—” Seizing his fur coat from a footman, she offered to help him on. He protested, and there was a playful little scene.

No, let me do that,” said Henry, following.

Thanks so much! You see—he has forgiven me!”

The Colonel said gallantly: “I don’t expect there’s much to forgive.”

He got into the car. The ladies followed him after an interval. Maids, courier, and heavier luggage had been sent on earlier by the branch-line. Still chattering, still thanking their host and patronising their future hostess, the guests were borne away.

Then Margaret continued: “So that woman has been your mistress?”

You put it with your usual delicacy,” he replied.

When, please?”

Why?”

When, please?”

Ten years ago.”

She left him without a word. For it was not her tragedy; it was Mrs. Wilcox’s.


Joe
(1) Margaret comes out swinging and confronts Henry who is unwilling to let Helen stay a night at Howards End (582 words) – Ch 38
She controlled herself for the last time. “No, let us go back to Helen’s request,” she said. “It is unreasonable, but the request of an unhappy girl. Tomorrow she will go to Germany, and trouble society no longer. To-night she asks to sleep in your empty house—a house which you do not care about, and which you have not occupied for over a year. May she? Will you give my sister leave? Will you forgive her as you hope to be forgiven, and as you have actually been forgiven? Forgive her for one night only. That will be enough.”

As I have actually been forgiven—?”

Never mind for the moment what I mean by that,” said Margaret.

Answer my question.”

Perhaps some hint of her meaning did dawn on him. If so, he blotted it out.

Straight from his fortress he answered: “I seem rather unaccommodating, but I have some experience of life, and know how one thing leads to another. I am afraid that your sister had better sleep at the hotel. I have my children and the memory of my dear wife to consider. I am sorry, but see that she leaves my house at once.”

You have mentioned Mrs. Wilcox.”

I beg your pardon?”

A rare occurrence. In reply, may I mention Mrs. Bast?”

You have not been yourself all day,” said Henry, and rose from his seat with face unmoved. Margaret rushed at him and seized both his hands. She was transfigured.

Not any more of this!” she cried. “You shall see the connection if it kills you, Henry! You have had a mistress—I forgave you. My sister has a lover—you drive her from the house. Do you see the connection? Stupid, hypocritical, cruel—oh, contemptible!—a man who insults his wife when she’s alive and cants with her memory when she’s dead. A man who ruins a woman for his pleasure, and casts her off to ruin other men. And gives bad financial advice, and then says he is not responsible. These men are you. You can’t recognise them, because you cannot connect. I’ve had enough of your unneeded kindness. I’ve spoilt you long enough. All your life you have been spoiled. Mrs. Wilcox spoiled you. No one has ever told what you are—muddled, criminally muddled. Men like you use repentance as a blind, so don’t repent. Only say to yourself, ‘What Helen has done, I’ve done.’”

The two cases are different,” Henry stammered. His real retort was not quite ready. His brain was still in a whirl, and he wanted a little longer.

In what way different? You have betrayed Mrs. Wilcox, Helen only herself. You remain in society, Helen can’t. You have had only pleasure, she may die. You have the insolence to talk to me of differences, Henry?”

Oh, the uselessness of it! Henry’s retort came.

I perceive you are attempting blackmail. It is scarcely a pretty weapon for a wife to use against her husband. My rule through life has been never to pay the least attention to threats, and I can only repeat what I said before: I do not give you and your sister leave to sleep at Howards End.”

Margaret loosed his hands. He went into the house, wiping first one and then the other on his handkerchief. For a little she stood looking at the Six Hills, tombs of warriors, breasts of the spring. Then she passed out into what was now the evening.

(2) The Kiss (163 words) – Ch 20
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.


Vijay Margaret & Henry discuss who's responsible for the bad advice given to Leonard Bast – Ch 22But he left her to intercept Mrs. Munt, whose voice could be heard in the distance; to be intercepted himself by Helen.

Oh. Mr. Wilcox, about the Porphyrion—”she began and went scarlet all over her face.

It’s all right,” called Margaret, catching them up. “Dempster’s Bank’s better.”

But I think you told us the Porphyrion was bad, and would smash before Christmas.”

Did I? It was still outside the Tariff Ring, and had to take rotten policies. Lately it came in—safe as houses now.”

In other words, Mr. Bast need never have left it.”

No, the fellow needn’t.”

“—and needn’t have started life elsewhere at a greatly reduced salary.”

He only says ‘reduced,’” corrected Margaret, seeing trouble ahead.

With a man so poor, every reduction must be great. I consider it a deplorable misfortune.”

Mr. Wilcox, intent on his business with Mrs. Munt, was going steadily on, but the last remark made him say: “What? What’s that? Do you mean that I’m responsible?”

You’re ridiculous, Helen.”

You seem to think—” He looked at his watch. “Let me explain the point to you. It is like this. You seem to assume, when a business concern is conducting a delicate negotiation, it ought to keep the public informed stage by stage. The Porphyrion, according to you, was bound to say, ‘I am trying all I can to get into the Tariff Ring. I am not sure that I shall succeed, but it is the only thing that will save me from insolvency, and I am trying.’ My dear Helen—” “Is that your point? A man who had little money has less—that’s mine.”

I am grieved for your clerk. But it is all in the days work. It’s part of the battle of life.”

A man who had little money—, “she repeated, “has less, owing to us. Under these circumstances I consider ‘the battle of life’ a happy expression.

Oh come, come!” he protested pleasantly. ‘you’re not to blame. No one’s to blame.”

Is no one to blame for anything?”

I wouldn’t say that, but you’re taking it far too seriously. Who is this fellow?”

We have told you about the fellow twice already,” said Helen.

You have even met the fellow. He is very poor and his wife is an extravagant imbecile. He is capable of better things. We—we, the upper classes—thought we would help him from the height of our superior knowledge—and here’s the result!”

He raised his finger. “Now, a word of advice.”

I require no more advice.”

A word of advice. Don’t take up that sentimental attitude over the poor. See that she doesn’t, Margaret. The poor are poor, and one’s sorry for them, but there it is. As civilisation moves forward, the shoe is bound to pinch in places, and it’s absurd to pretend that any one is responsible personally. Neither you, nor I, nor my informant, nor the man who informed him, nor the directors of the Porphyrion, are to blame for this clerk’s loss of salary. It’s just the shoe pinching—no one can help it; and it might easily have been worse.”

Helen quivered with indignation.

By all means subscribe to charities—subscribe to them largely— but don’t get carried away by absurd schemes of Social Reform. I see a good deal behind the scenes, and you can take it from me that there is no Social Question—except for a few journalists who try to get a living out of the phrase. There are just rich and poor, as there always have been and always will be. Point me out a time when men have been equal—”

I didn’t say—”

Point me out a time when desire for equality has made them

happier. No, no. You can’t. There always have been rich and poor. I’m no fatalist. Heaven forbid! But our civilisation is moulded by great impersonal forces” (his voice grew complacent; it always did when he eliminated the personal), “and there always will be rich and poor. You can’t deny it” (and now it was a respectful voice)— ”and you can’t deny that, in spite of all, the tendency of civilisation has on the whole been upward.”

Owing to God, I suppose,” flashed Helen.

He stared at her.

You grab the dollars. God does the rest.”

It was no good instructing the girl if she was going to talk about God in that neurotic modern way. Fraternal to the last, he left her for the quieter company of Mrs. Munt. He thought, “She rather reminds me of Dolly.”


KumKum The happy ending – Howards End becomes Margaret's and the farm will be home to her sister, Helen, and her son – Ch 44
Her husband was lying in a great leather chair in the dining-room, and by his side, holding his hand rather ostentatiously, was Evie. Dolly, dressed in purple, sat near the window. The room was a little dark and airless; they were obliged to keep it like this until the carting of the hay. Margaret joined the family without speaking; the five of them had met already at tea, and she knew quite well what was going to be said. Averse to wasting her time, she went on sewing. The clock struck six.

Is this going to suit everyone?” said Henry in a weary voice. He used the old phrases, but their effect was unexpected and shadowy.

Because I don’t want you all coming here later on and complaining that I have been unfair.”

It’s apparently got to suit us,” said Paul.

I beg your pardon, my boy. You have only to speak, and I will leave the house to you instead.”

Paul frowned ill-temperedly, and began scratching at his arm. “As I’ve given up the outdoor life that suited me, and I have come home to look after the business, it’s no good my settling down here,” he said at last. “It’s not really the country, and it’s not the town.”

Very well. Does my arrangement suit you, Evie?”

Of course, father.”

And you, Dolly?”

Dolly raised her faded little face, which sorrow could wither but not steady. “Perfectly splendidly,” she said. “I thought Charles wanted it for the boys, but last time I saw him he said no, because we cannot possibly live in this part of England again. Charles says we ought to change our name, but I cannot think what to, for Wilcox just suits Charles and me, and I can’t think of any other name.” There was a general silence. Dolly looked nervously round, fearing that she had been inappropriate. Paul continued to scratch his arm.

Then I leave Howards End to my wife absolutely,” said Henry.“And let everyone understand that; and after I am dead let there be no jealousy and no surprise.”

Margaret did not answer. There was something uncanny in her triumph. She, who had never expected to conquer anyone, had charged straight through these Wilcoxes and broken up their lives.

In consequence, I leave my wife no money,” said Henry. “That is her own wish. All that she would have had will be divided among you. I am also giving you a great deal in my lifetime, so that you may be independent of me. That is her wish, too. She also is giving away a great deal of money. She intends to diminish her income by half during the next ten years; she intends when she dies to leave the house to her nephew, down in the field. Is all that clear? Does everyone understand?”

Paul rose to his feet. He was accustomed to natives, and a very little shook him out of the Englishman. Feeling manly and cynical, he said: “Down in the field? Oh, come! I think we might have had the whole establishment, piccaninnies included.”

Mrs. Cahill whispered: “Don’t, Paul. You promised you’d take care.” Feeling a woman of the world, she rose and prepared to take her leave.

Her father kissed her. “Good-bye, old girl, “he said; “don’t you worry about me.”

Good-bye, dad.”

Then it was Dolly’s turn. Anxious to contribute, she laughed nervously, and said: “Good-bye, Mr. Wilcox. It does seem curious that Mrs. Wilcox should have left Margaret Howards End, and yet she get it, after all.”

From Evie came a sharply-drawn breath. “Goodbye,” she said to Margaret, and kissed her. And again and again fell the word, like the ebb of a dying sea.

Good-bye.”

Good-bye, Dolly.”

So long, father.”

Good-bye, my boy; always take care of yourself.”

Good-bye, Mrs. Wilcox.”

Good-bye.”

Margaret saw their visitors to the gate. Then she returned to her husband and laid her head in his hands. He was pitiably tired. But Dolly’s remark had interested her. At last she said: “Could you tell me, Henry, what was that about Mrs. Wilcox having left me Howards End?” Tranquilly he replied: “Yes, she did. But that is a very old story. When she was ill and you were so kind to her she wanted to make you some return, and, not being herself at the time, scribbled ‘Howards End’ on a piece of paper. I went into it thoroughly, and, as it was clearly fanciful, I set it aside, little knowing what my Margaret would be to me in the future.”

Margaret was silent. Something shook her life in its inmost recesses, and she shivered.

I didn’t do wrong, did I?” he asked, bending down.

You didn’t, darling. Nothing has been done wrong.”

From the garden came laughter. “Here they are at last!” exclaimed Henry, disengaging himself with a smile. Helen rushed into the gloom, holding Tom by one hand and carrying her baby on the other. There were shouts of infectious joy.

The field’s cut!” Helen cried excitedly—”the big meadow! We’ve seen to the very end, and it’ll be such a crop of hay as never!”

1 comment:

SW said...

Your account of the reading session is as good as, if not better than, the session itself, Joe.-

Sujatha