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- HOWARDS END - 40/76 -
"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."
"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?"
"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."
"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?"
"How much have you a year? I've six hundred."
"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?"
"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.
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