Three-minute Howard.

Margaret read Helen’s letter with dismay. Hadn’t her sister  gone and gotten engaged on a whim! Margaret trembled and hoped that Helen’s submission to passion didn’t indicate a characteristic flaw that would come to ruin her in five years’ time. Making much a to-do about nothing, Margaret told Aunt Juley, who made even more of a to-do! “I’m going down to that house — was it called Howards End? — to break off this engagement between Paul Wilcox and Helen Schlegel!” Aunt Juley showed up and yelled a bit at Charles. They took a motor ride together and shouted invectives at each other and Paul. Soon they arrived at Howards End where they discovered that Paul and Helen had decided they didn’t love each other after all. “Phew,” said Aunt Juley. “I really pulled you out of danger today, Helen, didn’t I?!”

Now that that ordeal was over, the Schlegals decided to see some Beethoven. There was a nice young man there. Now he was indignant. “Your sister stole my umbrella!” he exclaimed passionately at Margaret. “Here’s my card,” returned Margaret “come pick it up later. But don’t show this card to your poor unattractive wife or it’ll cause a rift in your marriage!” It turned out she liked Leonard Bast. But he thought the Schlegals were pretentious and rude, and furthermore, he was envious of them. He also liked them. Relations were strange in modern British lit. He left and refused to come again. This was fine with Helen and Margaret because there was new excitement in their lives.

“The Wilcoxes have moved in across the street” exclaimed Aunt Juley in alarm. “We must hide Helen from them!” Helen laughed gaily and said that she barely remembered Paul, but Margaret looked at her in suspicion and wondered if Helen was not more haunted by her humiliating experience at Howards End. Realising that they represented different allegories of British values, Aunt Juley and Helen and brother Tibby avoided the Wilcoxes, and Charles and Mr Wilcox avoided the Schlegals. But Margaret and Mrs Wilcox became fast friends, though sometimes Margaret wondered if Mrs Wilcox liked her. It turned out that she did because she died and left Howards End to Margaret.

“She left Howards End to Miss Schlegal?” cried Charles. “Isn’t that just like those Schlegals — always looking for money!” “But we should have Howards End!” cried Charles’s wife Dolly, “for I keep having children and we have nowhere to put them!” “This will wasn’t properly drawn up, and anyways I don’t think anyone would mind us keeping this legacy from those Schlegals: after all, they are slightly poorer than us and have strange beliefs like ‘the poor aren’t always useless’ and ‘women should be allowed to go walking by themselves.'” In a move that was legal though probably of dubious morality he threw his dead wife’s bequest in the bin.

Years passed. Paul sent cables from abroad. Tibby visited from Oxford. Charles and Dolly had more children. Evie got engaged to a sort-of-respectable fellow who no one seemed to like very much but to whom no one objected to strongly. Leonard Bast went away for a couple days and his wife, thinking  from Margaret’s card that he was having an affair, came to visit. Feeling bored, and having renewed acquaintance with the Basts, Margaret and Helen took it upon themselves to save them from poverty. Mr Wilcox advised Leonard to leave his stable job for a lower paying one. Leonard was ruined. But only Helen noticed because everyone else was too busy preparing for Margaret’s marriage to Mr Henry Wilcox!

“I don’t like your husband,” said Margaret. “He does not care about the poor and causes you to betray your strong sense of justice. I will not come to any family functions in future!” But she did come to Evie’s wedding, trailed by Leonard and his wife who were now homeless. “Hen? Hen?” said Leonard’s wife, upon seeing Henry Wilcox. “Are you making her a prostitute too?” she thumbed at Margaret. “Yes, I had a mistress” said Henry, after the Basts had gone. “Poor dead Mrs Wilcox” said the new Mrs Wilcox. “But oh well, I guess.”

She went to see Helen in the morning, but Helen was gone and did not return for eight months. Making much a to-do about nothing, Margaret told her husband. “I think my sister’s crazy,” she said. Henry made even more of a to-do. “Let’s trap her at Howards End!” Margaret hesitated but then said “okay, but I get to do all the talking.” But Henry thought his new wife was too delicate to go, and tried to drive off without her. He almost ran over his grandson. “Oh no you don’t!” shouted Margaret, and leaped into the moving motorcar. Once there, she saw Helen, who was terribly pregnant. “Poor Helen!” she cried, and sent her husband and the psychiatrist he had chosen for Helen away.

“Do you see how the crazy neighbour who loved Mrs Wilcox decorated the house with all of our furniture and books as if to say Howards End belongs to us?” asked Helen, “let’s stay here for the night before I go back to Germany with my live-in Italian feminist midwife!” But Charles and Henry were upset at this plan. “She means to take over Howards End, just like mummy wanted!” Charles cried. “I’ll stop her!” And off he went to Howards End.

“I will also go to Howards End” said Leonard, not knowing that his unborn child was spending the night there. He arrived moments after Charles and knocked at the door. “It’s the delinquent father who’s trying to ruin us by reminding us of poverty!” cried Charles, and picking up the Schlegal family sword he killed Leonard. Even though they all said it was heart disease, Charles was charged with trivial manslaughter and went to prison for three years. Helen and her child moved into Howards End and were best friends with six-year-old Tommy who lived nearby. Margaret visited them. “I guess you got Howards End after all, just like my dead wife wanted!” said Mr Henry Wilcox. “What?!” said Margaret. “Oops,” said Henry, abashed. “Forget about that last bit.”

21 May 2011 ~ Hamilton


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