“Margaret, you look upset!” said Henry.
Mansbridge had followed. Crane was at the gate, and the flyman had stood up on the box. Margaret shook her head at them; she could not speak any more. She remained clutching the keys, as if all their future depended on them. Henry was asking more questions. She shook her head again. His words had no sense. She heard him wonder why she had let Helen in. “You might have given me a knock with the gate,” was another of his remarks. Presently she heard herself speaking. She, or someone for her, said, “Go away.” Henry came nearer. He repeated, “Margaret, you look upset again. My dear, give me the keys. What are you doing with Helen?”
“Oh, dearest, do go away, and I will manage it all.”
He stretched out his hand for the keys. She might have obeyed if it had not been for the doctor.
“Stop that at least,” she said piteously; the doctor had turned back, and was questioning the driver of Helen’s cab. A new feeling came over her; she was fighting for women against men. She did not care about rights, but if men came into Howards End, it should be over her body.
“Come, this is an odd beginning,” said her husband.
The doctor came forward now, and whispered two words to Mr. Wilcox–the scandal was out. Sincerely horrified, Henry stood gazing at the earth.
“I cannot help it,” said Margaret. “Do wait. It’s not my fault. Please all four of you go away now.”
Now the flyman was whispering to Crane.
“We are relying on you to help us, Mrs. Wilcox,” said the young doctor. “Could you go in and persuade your sister to come out?”
“On what grounds?” said Margaret, suddenly looking him straight in the eyes.
Thinking it professional to prevaricate, he murmured something about a nervous breakdown.
“I beg your pardon, but it is nothing of the sort. You are not qualified to attend my sister, Mr. Mansbridge. If we require your services, we will let you know.”
“I can diagnose the case more bluntly if you wish,” he retorted.
“You could, but you have not. You are, therefore, not qualified to attend my sister.”
“Come, come, Margaret!” said Henry, never raising his eyes. “This is a terrible business, an appalling business. It’s doctor’s orders. Open the door.”
“Forgive me, but I will not.”
“I don’t agree.”
Margaret was silent.
“This business is as broad as it’s long,” contributed the doctor. “We had better all work together. You need us, Mrs. Wilcox, and we need you.”
“Quite so,” said Henry.
“I do not need you in the least,” said Margaret.
The two men looked at each other anxiously.
“No more does my sister, who is still many weeks from her confinement.”
“Well, Henry, send your doctor away. What possible use is he now?”
Mr. Wilcox ran his eye over the house. He had a vague feeling that he must stand firm and support the doctor. He himself might need support, for there was trouble ahead.
“It all turns on affection now,” said Margaret. “Affection. Don’t you see?” Resuming her usual methods, she wrote the word on the house with her finger. “Surely you see. I like Helen very much, you not so much. Mr. Mansbridge doesn’t know her. That’s all. And affection, when reciprocated, gives rights. Put that down in your note-book, Mr. Mansbridge. It’s a useful formula.”
Henry told her to be calm.
“You don’t know what you want yourselves,” said Margaret, folding her arms. “For one sensible remark I will let you in. But you cannot make it. You would trouble my sister for no reason. I will not permit it. I’ll stand here all the day sooner.”
“Mansbridge,” said Henry in a low voice, “perhaps not now.”
The pack was breaking up. At a sign from his master, Crane also went back into the car.
“Now, Henry, you,” she said gently. None of her bitterness had been directed at him. “Go away now, dear. I shall want your advice later, no doubt. Forgive me if I have been cross. But, seriously, you must go.”
He was too stupid to leave her. Now it was Mr. Mansbridge who called in a low voice to him.
“I shall soon find you down at Dolly’s,” she called, as the gate at last clanged between them. The fly moved out of the way, the motor backed, turned a little, backed again, and turned in the narrow road. A string of farm carts came up in the middle; but she waited through all, for there was no hurry. When all was over and the car had started, she opened the door. “Oh, my darling!” she said. “My darling, forgive me.” Helen was standing in the hall.