Most complacently did Mrs. Munt rehearse her mission. Her nieces
were independent young women, and it was not often that she was
able to help them. Emily's daughters had never been quite like
other girls. They had been left motherless when Tibby was born,
when Helen was five and Margaret herself but thirteen. It was
before the passing of the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, so Mrs. Munt
could without impropriety offer to go and keep house at Wickham
Place. But her brother-in-law, who was peculiar and a German, had
referred the question to Margaret, who with the crudity of youth
had answered, "No, they could manage much better alone." Five years
later Mr. Schlegel had died too, and Mrs. Munt had repeated her
offer. Margaret, crude no longer, had been grateful and extremely
nice, but the substance of her answer had been the same. "I must
not interfere a third time," thought Mrs. Munt. However, of course
she did. She learnt, to her horror, that Margaret, now of age, was
taking her money out of the old safe investments and putting it
into Foreign Things, which always smash. Silence would have been
criminal. Her own fortune was invested in Home Rails, and most
ardently did she beg her niece to imitate her. "Then we should be
together, dear." Margaret, out of politeness, invested a few
hundreds in the Nottingham and Derby Railway, and though the
Foreign Things did admirably and the Nottingham and Derby declined
with the steady dignity of which only Home Rails are capable, Mrs.
Munt never ceased to rejoice, and to say, "I did manage that, at
all events. When the smash comes poor Margaret will have a nest-egg
to fall back upon." This year Helen came of age, and exactly the
same thing happened in Helen's case; she also would shift her money
out of Consols, but she, too, almost without being pressed,
consecrated a fraction of it to the Nottingham and Derby Railway.
So far so good, but in social matters their aunt had accomplished
nothing. Sooner or later the girls would enter on the process known
as throwing themselves away, and if they had delayed hitherto, it
was only that they might throw themselves more vehemently in the
future. They saw too many people at Wickham Place—unshaven
musicians, an actress even, German cousins (one knows what
foreigners are), acquaintances picked up at Continental hotels (one
knows what they are too). It was interesting, and down at Swanage
no one appreciated culture more than Mrs. Munt; but it was
dangerous, and disaster was bound to come. How right she was, and
how lucky to be on the spot when the disaster came!
The train sped northward, under innumerable tunnels. It was only
an hour's journey, but Mrs. Munt had to raise and lower the window
again and again. She passed through the South Welwyn Tunnel, saw
light for a moment, and entered the North Welwyn Tunnel, of tragic
fame. She traversed the immense viaduct, whose arches span
untroubled meadows and the dreamy flow of Tewin Water. She skirted
the parks of politicians. At times the Great North Road accompanied
her, more suggestive of infinity than any railway, awakening, after
a nap of a hundred years, to such life as is conferred by the
stench of motor-cars, and to such culture as is implied by the
advertisements of antibilious pills. To history, to tragedy, to the
past, to the future, Mrs. Munt remained equally indifferent; hers
but to concentrate on the end of her journey, and to rescue poor
Helen from this dreadful mess.
The station for Howards End was at Hilton, one of the large
villages that are strung so frequently along the North Road, and
that owe their size to the traffic of coaching and pre-coaching
days. Being near London, it had not shared in the rural decay, and
its long High Street had budded out right and left into residential
estates. For about a mile a series of tiled and slated houses
passed before Mrs. Munt's inattentive eyes, a series broken at one
point by six Danish tumuli that stood shoulder to shoulder along
the highroad, tombs of soldiers. Beyond these tumuli, habitations
thickened, and the train came to a standstill in a tangle that was
almost a town.
The station, like the scenery, like Helen's letters, struck an
indeterminate note. Into which country will it lead, England or
Suburbia? It was new, it had island platforms and a subway, and the
superficial comfort exacted by business men. But it held hints of
local life, personal intercourse, as even Mrs. Munt was to
"I want a house," she confided to the ticket boy. "Its name is
Howards Lodge. Do you know where it is?"
"Mr. Wilcox!" the boy called.
A young man in front of them turned around.
"She's wanting Howards End."
There was nothing for it but to go forward, though Mrs. Munt was
too much agitated even to stare at the stranger. But remembering
that there were two brothers, she had the sense to say to him,
"Excuse me asking, but are you the younger Mr. Wilcox or the
"The younger. Can I do anything for you?"
"Oh, well"—she controlled herself with difficulty. "Really. Are
you? I—" She moved; away from the ticket boy and lowered her voice.
"I am Miss Schlegel's aunt. I ought to introduce myself, oughtn't
I? My name is Mrs. Munt."
She was conscious that he raised his cap and said quite coolly,
"Oh, rather; Miss Schlegel is stopping with us. Did you want to see
"I'll call you a cab. No; wait a mo—" He thought. "Our motor's
here. I'll run you up in it."
"That is very kind."
"Not at all, if you'll just wait till they bring out a parcel
from the office. This way."
"My niece is not with you by any chance?"
"No; I came over with my father. He has gone on north in your
train. You'll see Miss Schlegel at lunch. You're coming up to
lunch, I hope?"
"I should like to come UP," said Mrs. Munt, not committing
herself to nourishment until she had studied Helen's lover a little
more. He seemed a gentleman, but had so rattled her round that her
powers of observation were numbed. She glanced at him
To a feminine eye there was nothing amiss in the sharp
depressions at the corners of his mouth, or in the rather box-like
construction of his forehead. He was dark, clean-shaven, and seemed
accustomed to command.
"In front or behind? Which do you prefer? It may be windy in
"In front if I may; then we can talk."
"But excuse me one moment—I can't think what they're doing with
that parcel." He strode into the booking-office, and called with a
new voice: "Hi! hi, you there! Are you going to keep me waiting all
day? Parcel for Wilcox, Howards End. Just look sharp!"
Emerging, he said in quieter tones: "This station's abominably
organised; if I had my way, the whole lot of 'em should get the
sack. May I help you in?"
"This is very good of you," said Mrs. Munt, as she settled
herself into a luxurious cavern of red leather, and suffered her
person to be padded with rugs and shawls. She was more civil than
she had intended, but really this young man was very kind.
Moreover, she was a little afraid of him; his self-possession was
extraordinary. "Very good indeed," she repeated, adding: "It is
just what I should have wished."
"Very good of you to say so," he replied, with a slight look of
surprise, which, like most slight looks, escaped Mrs. Munt's
attention. "I was just tooling my father over to catch the down
"You see, we heard from Helen this morning."
Young Wilcox was pouring in petrol, starting his engine, and
performing other actions with which this story has no concern. The
great car began to rock, and the form of Mrs. Munt, trying to
explain things, sprang agreeably up and down among the red
cushions. "The mater will be very glad to see you," he mumbled.
"Hi! I say. Parcel. Parcel for Howards End. Bring it out. Hi!"
A bearded porter emerged with the parcel in one hand and an
entry book in the other. With the gathering whir of the motor these
ejaculations mingled: "Sign, must I? Why the—should I sign after
all this bother? Not even got a pencil on you? Remember next time I
report you to the station-master. My time's of value, though yours
mayn't be. Here"—here being a tip.
"Extremely sorry, Mrs. Munt."
"Not at all, Mr. Wilcox."
"And do you object to going through the village? It is rather a
longer spin, but I have one or two commissions."
"I should love going through the village. Naturally I am very
anxious to talk things over with you."
As she said this she felt ashamed, for she was disobeying
Margaret's instructions. Only disobeying them in the letter,
surely. Margaret had only warned her against discussing the
incident with outsiders. Surely it was not "uncivilised or wrong"
to discuss it with the young man himself, since chance had thrown
A reticent fellow, he made no reply. Mounting by her side, he
put on gloves and spectacles, and off they drove, the bearded
porter —life is a mysterious business—looking after them with
The wind was in their faces down the station road, blowing the
dust into Mrs. Munt's eyes. But as soon as they turned into the
Great North Road she opened fire. "You can well imagine," she said,
"that the news was a great shock to us."
"Mr. Wilcox," she said frankly, "Margaret has told me everything
—everything. I have seen Helen's letter."
He could not look her in the face, as his eyes were fixed on his
work; he was travelling as quickly as he dared down the High
Street. But he inclined his head in her direction, and said: "I beg
your pardon; I didn't catch."
"About Helen. Helen, of course. Helen is a very exceptional
person—I am sure you will let me say this, feeling towards her as
you do—indeed, all the Schlegels are exceptional. I come in no
spirit of interference, but it was a great shock."
They drew up opposite a draper's. Without replying, he turned
round in his seat, and contemplated the cloud of dust that they had
raised in their passage through the village. It was settling again,
but not all into the road from which he had taken it. Some of it
had percolated through the open windows, some had whitened the
roses and gooseberries of the wayside gardens, while a certain
proportion had entered the lungs of the villagers. "I wonder when
they'll learn wisdom and tar the roads," was his comment. Then a
man ran out of the draper's with a roll of oilcloth, and off they
"Margaret could not come herself, on account of poor Tibby, so I
am here to represent her and to have a good talk."
"I'm sorry to be so dense," said the young man, again drawing up
outside a shop. "But I still haven't quite understood."
"Helen, Mr. Wilcox—my niece and you."
He pushed up his goggles and gazed at her, absolutely
bewildered. Horror smote her to the heart, for even she began to
suspect that they were at cross-purposes, and that she had
commenced her mission by some hideous blunder.
"Miss Schlegel and myself?" he asked, compressing his lips.
"I trust there has been no misunderstanding," quavered Mrs.
Munt. "Her letter certainly read that way."
"That you and she—" She paused, then drooped her eyelids.
"I think I catch your meaning," he said stickily. "What an
"Then you didn't the least—" she stammered, getting blood-red in
the face, and wishing she had never been born.
"Scarcely, as I am already engaged to another lady." There was a
moment's silence, and then he caught his breath and exploded with,
"Oh, good God! Don't tell me it 's some silliness of Paul's."
"But you are Paul."
"Then why did you say so at the station?"
"I said nothing of the sort."
"I beg your pardon, you did."
"I beg your pardon, I did not. My name is Charles."
"Younger" may mean son as opposed to father, or second brother
as opposed to first. There is much to be said for either view, and
later on they said it. But they had other questions before them
"Do you mean to tell me that Paul—"
But she did not like his voice. He sounded as if he was talking
to a porter, and, certain that he had deceived her at the station,
she too grew angry.
"Do you mean to tell me that Paul and your niece—"
Mrs. Munt—such is human nature—determined that she would
champion the lovers. She was not going to be bullied by a severe
young man. "Yes, they care for one another very much indeed," she
said. "I dare say they will tell you about it by-and-by. We heard
And Charles clenched his fist and cried, "The idiot, the idiot,
the little fool!"
Mrs. Munt tried to divest herself of her rugs. "If that is your
attitude, Mr. Wilcox, I prefer to walk."
"I beg you will do no such thing. I take you up this moment to
the house. Let me tell you the thing's impossible, and must be
Mrs. Munt did not often lose her temper, and when she did it was
only to protect those whom she loved. On this occasion she blazed
out. "I quite agree, sir. The thing is impossible, and I will come
up and stop it. My niece is a very exceptional person, and I am not
inclined to sit still while she throws herself away on those who
will not appreciate her."
Charles worked his jaws.
"Considering she has only known your brother since Wednesday,
and only met your father and mother at a stray hotel—"
"Could you possibly lower your voice? The shopman will
Esprit de classe—if one may coin the phrase—was strong in Mrs.
Munt. She sat quivering while a member of the lower orders
deposited a metal funnel, a saucepan, and a garden squirt beside
the roll of oilcloth.
"Yes, sir." And the lower orders vanished in a cloud of
"I warn you: Paul hasn't a penny; it's useless."
"No need to warn us, Mr. Wilcox, I assure you. The warning is
all the other way. My niece has been very foolish, and I shall give
her a good scolding and take her back to London with me."
"He has to make his way out in Nigeria. He couldn't think of
marrying for years, and when he does it must be a woman who can
stand the climate, and is in other ways— Why hasn't he told us? Of
course he's ashamed. He knows he's been a fool. And so he has —a
She grew furious.
"Whereas Miss Schlegel has lost no time in publishing the
"If I were a man, Mr. Wilcox, for that last remark I'd box your
ears. You're not fit to clean my niece's boots, to sit in the same
room with her, and you dare—you actually dare— I decline to argue
with such a person."
"All I know is, she's spread the thing and he hasn't, and my
father's away and I—"
"And all that I know is—"
"Might I finish my sentence, please?"
Charles clenched his teeth and sent the motor swerving all over
So they played the game of Capping Families, a round of which is
always played when love would unite two members of our race. But
they played it with unusual vigour, stating in so many words that
Schlegels were better than Wilcoxes, Wilcoxes better than
Schlegels. They flung decency aside. The man was young, the woman
deeply stirred; in both a vein of coarseness was latent. Their
quarrel was no more surprising than are most quarrels—inevitable at
the time, incredible afterwards. But it was more than usually
futile. A few minutes, and they were enlightened. The motor drew up
at Howards End, and Helen, looking very pale, ran out to meet her
"Aunt Juley, I have just had a telegram from Margaret; I—I meant
to stop your coming. It isn't—it's over."
The climax was too much for Mrs. Munt. She burst into tears.
"Aunt Juley dear, don't. Don't let them know I've been so silly.
It wasn't anything. Do bear up for my sake."
"Paul," cried Charles Wilcox, pulling his gloves off.
"Don't let them know. They are never to know."
"Oh, my darling Helen—"
A very young man came out of the house.
"Paul, is there any truth in this?"
"I didn't—I don't—"
"Yes or no, man; plain question, plain answer. Did or didn't
"Charles, dear," said a voice from the garden. "Charles, dear
Charles, one doesn't ask plain questions. There aren't such
They were all silent. It was Mrs. Wilcox.
She approached just as Helen's letter had described her,
trailing noiselessly over the lawn, and there was actually a wisp
of hay in her hands. She seemed to belong not to the young people
and their motor, but to the house, and to the tree that
overshadowed it. One knew that she worshipped the past, and that
the instinctive wisdom the past can alone bestow had descended upon
her—that wisdom to which we give the clumsy name of aristocracy.
High born she might not be. But assuredly she cared about her
ancestors, and let them help her. When she saw Charles angry, Paul
frightened, and Mrs. Munt in tears, she heard her ancestors say,
"Separate those human beings who will hurt each other most. The
rest can wait." So she did not ask questions. Still less did she
pretend that nothing had happened, as a competent society hostess
would have done. She said: "Miss Schlegel, would you take your aunt
up to your room or to my room, whichever you think best. Paul, do
find Evie, and tell her lunch for six, but I'm not sure whether we
shall all be downstairs for it." And when they had obeyed her, she
turned to her elder son, who still stood in the throbbing, stinking
car, and smiled at him with tenderness, and without saying a word,
turned away from him towards her flowers.
"Mother," he called, "are you aware that Paul has been playing
the fool again?"
"It is all right, dear. They have broken off the
"They do not love any longer, if you prefer it put that way,"
said Mrs. Wilcox, stooping down to smell a rose.