gemütliche sessel wohnzimmer
howards end by e. m. forsterchapter 6 we are not concerned with the very poor.they are unthinkable, and only to be approached by the statistician or the poet. this story deals with gentlefolk, or withthose who are obliged to pretend that they are gentlefolk.the boy, leonard bast, stood at the extreme verge of gentility. he was not in the abyss, but he could seeit, and at times people whom he knew had dropped in, and counted no more. he knew that he was poor, and would admitit: he would have died sooner than confess
any inferiority to the rich.this may be splendid of him. but he was inferior to most rich people,there is not the least doubt of it. he was not as courteous as the average richman, nor as intelligent, nor as healthy, nor as lovable. his mind and his body had been alikeunderfed, because he was poor, and because he was modern they were always cravingbetter food. had he lived some centuries ago, in thebrightly coloured civilizations of the past, he would have had a definite status,his rank and his income would have corresponded.
but in his day the angel of democracy hadarisen, enshadowing the classes with leathern wings, and proclaiming, "all menare equal--all men, that is to say, who possess umbrellas," and so he was obliged to assert gentility, lest he slipped intothe abyss where nothing counts, and the statements of democracy are inaudible. as he walked away from wickham place, hisfirst care was to prove that he was as good as the miss schlegels.obscurely wounded in his pride, he tried to wound them in return. they were probably not ladies.would real ladies have asked him to tea?
they were certainly ill-natured and cold.at each step his feeling of superiority increased. would a real lady have talked aboutstealing an umbrella? perhaps they were thieves after all, and ifhe had gone into the house they could have clapped a chloroformed handkerchief overhis face. he walked on complacently as far as thehouses of parliament. there an empty stomach asserted itself, andtold him he was a fool. "evening, mr. bast." "evening, mr. dealtry.""nice evening."
"evening." mr. dealtry, a fellow clerk, passed on, andleonard stood wondering whether he would take the tram as far as a penny would takehim, or whether he would walk. he decided to walk--it is no good givingin, and he had spent money enough at queen's hall--and he walked overwestminster bridge, in front of st. thomas's hospital, and through the immense tunnel that passes under the south-westernmain line at vauxhall. in the tunnel he paused and listened to theroar of the trains. a sharp pain darted through his head, andhe was conscious of the exact form of his
eye sockets. he pushed on for another mile, and did notslacken speed until he stood at the entrance of a road called camelia road,which was at present his home. here he stopped again, and glancedsuspiciously to right and left, like a rabbit that is going to bolt into its hole.a block of flats, constructed with extreme cheapness, towered on either hand. farther down the road two more blocks werebeing built, and beyond these an old house was being demolished to accommodate anotherpair. it was the kind of scene that may beobserved all over london, whatever the
locality--bricks and mortar rising andfalling with the restlessness of the water in a fountain, as the city receives moreand more men upon her soil. camelia road would soon stand out like afortress, and command, for a little, an extensive view. only for a little.plans were out for the erection of flats in magnolia road also. and again a few years, and all the flats ineither road might be pulled down, and new buildings, of a vastness at presentunimaginable, might arise where they had fallen.
"evening, mr. bast.""evening, mr. cunningham." "very serious thing this decline of thebirth-rate in manchester." "i beg your pardon?" "very serious thing this decline of thebirth-rate in manchester," repeated mr. cunningham, tapping the sunday paper, inwhich the calamity in question had just been announced to him. "ah, yes," said leonard, who was not goingto let on that he had not bought a sunday paper. "if this kind of thing goes on thepopulation of england will be stationary in
1960.""you don't say so." "i call it a very serious thing, eh?" "good-evening, mr. cunningham.""good-evening, mr. bast." then leonard entered block b of the flats,and turned, not upstairs, but down, into what is known to house agents as a semi-basement, and to other men as a cellar. he opened the door, and cried "hullo!" withthe pseudo-geniality of the cockney. there was no reply."hullo!" he repeated. the sitting-room was empty, though theelectric light had been left burning. a look of relief came over his face, and heflung himself into the armchair.
the sitting-room contained, besides thearmchair, two other chairs, a piano, a three-legged table, and a cosy corner. of the walls, one was occupied by thewindow, the other by a draped mantelshelf bristling with cupids. opposite the window was the door, andbeside the door a bookcase, while over the piano there extended one of themasterpieces of maud goodman. it was an amorous and not unpleasant littlehole when the curtains were drawn, and the lights turned on, and the gas-stove unlit. but it struck that shallow makeshift notethat is so often heard in the modem
dwelling-place.it had been too easily gained, and could be relinquished too easily. as leonard was kicking off his boots hejarred the three-legged table, and a photograph frame, honourably poised uponit, slid sideways, fell off into the fireplace, and smashed. he swore in a colourless sort of way, andpicked the photograph up. it represented a young lady called jacky,and had been taken at the time when young ladies called jacky were often photographedwith their mouths open. teeth of dazzling whiteness extended alongeither of jacky's jaws, and positively
weighted her head sideways, so large werethey and so numerous. take my word for it, that smile was simplystunning, and it is only you and i who will be fastidious, and complain that true joybegins in the eyes, and that the eyes of jacky did not accord with her smile, butwere anxious and hungry. leonard tried to pull out the fragments ofglass, and cut his fingers and swore again. a drop of blood fell on the frame, anotherfollowed, spilling over on to the exposed photograph.he swore more vigorously, and dashed to the kitchen, where he bathed his hands. the kitchen was the same size as thesitting room; through it was a bedroom.
this completed his home. he was renting the flat furnished: of allthe objects that encumbered it none were his own except the photograph frame, thecupids, and the books. "damn, damn, damnation!" he murmured,together with such other words as he had learnt from older men. then he raised his hand to his forehead andsaid, "oh, damn it all--" which meant something different.he pulled himself together. he drank a little tea, black and silent,that still survived upon an upper shelf. he swallowed some dusty crumbs of cake.
then he went back to the sitting-room,settled himself anew, and began to read a volume of ruskin."seven miles to the north of venice--" how perfectly the famous chapter opens! how supreme its command of admonition andof poetry! the rich man is speaking to us from hisgondola. "seven miles to the north of venice thebanks of sand which nearer the city rise little above low-water mark attain bydegrees a higher level, and knit themselves at last into fields of salt morass, raised here and there into shapeless mounds, andintercepted by narrow creeks of sea."
leonard was trying to form his style onruskin: he understood him to be the greatest master of english prose. he read forward steadily, occasionallymaking a few notes. "let us consider a little each of thesecharacters in succession, and first (for of the shafts enough has been said already),what is very peculiar to this church--its luminousness." was there anything to be learnt from thisfine sentence? could he adapt it to the needs of dailylife? could he introduce it, with modifications,when he next wrote a letter to his brother,
the lay-reader?for example-- the absence of ventilation enough has beensaid already), what is very peculiar to this flat--its obscurity." something told him that the modificationswould not do; and that something, had he known it, was the spirit of english prose."my flat is dark as well as stuffy." those were the words for him. and the voice in the gondola rolled on,piping melodiously of effort and self- sacrifice, full of high purpose, full ofbeauty, full even of sympathy and the love of men, yet somehow eluding all that wasactual and insistent in leonard's life.
for it was the voice of one who had neverbeen dirty or hungry, and had not guessed successfully what dirt and hunger are. leonard listened to it with reverence. he felt that he was being done good to, andthat if he kept on with ruskin, and the queen's hall concerts, and some pictures bywatts, he would one day push his head out of the grey waters and see the universe. he believed in sudden conversion, a beliefwhich may be right, but which is peculiarly attractive to a half-baked mind. it is the bias of much popular religion: inthe domain of business it dominates the
stock exchange, and becomes that "bit ofluck" by which all successes and failures are explained. "if only i had a bit of luck, the wholething would come straight.... he's got a most magnificent place down atstreatham and a 20 h.-p. fiat, but then, mind you, he's had luck.... i'm sorry the wife's so late, but she neverhas any luck over catching trains." leonard was superior to these people; hedid believe in effort and in a steady preparation for the change that he desired. but of a heritage that may expandgradually, he had no conception: he hoped
to come to culture suddenly, much as therevivalist hopes to come to jesus. those miss schlegels had come to it; theyhad done the trick; their hands were upon the ropes, once and for all.and meanwhile, his flat was dark, as well as stuffy. presently there was a noise on thestaircase. he shut up margaret's card in the pages ofruskin, and opened the door. a woman entered, of whom it is simplest tosay that she was not respectable. her appearance was awesome. she seemed all strings and bell-pulls--ribbons, chains, bead necklaces that
clinked and caught--and a boa of azurefeathers hung round her neck, with the ends uneven. her throat was bare, wound with a doublerow of pearls, her arms were bare to the elbows, and might again be detected at theshoulder, through cheap lace. her hat, which was flowery, resembled thosepunnets, covered with flannel, which we sowed with mustard and cress in ourchildhood, and which germinated here yes, and there no. she wore it on the back of her head. as for her hair, or rather hairs, they aretoo complicated to describe, but one system
went down her back, lying in a thick padthere, while another, created for a lighter destiny, rippled around her forehead. the face--the face does not signify.it was the face of the photograph, but older, and the teeth were not so numerousas the photographer had suggested, and certainly not so white. yes, jacky was past her prime, whateverthat prime may have been. she was descending quicker than most womeninto the colourless years, and the look in her eyes confessed it. "what ho!" said leonard, greeting thatapparition with much spirit, and helping it
off with its boa.jacky, in husky tones, replied, "what ho!" "been out?" he asked. the question sounds superfluous, but itcannot have been really, for the lady answered, "no," adding, "oh, i am sotired." "you tired?" "eh?""i'm tired," said he, hanging the boa up. "oh, len, i am so tired.""i've been to that classical concert i told you about," said leonard. "what's that?""i came back as soon as it was over."
"any one been round to our place?" askedjacky. "not that i've seen. i met mr. cunningham outside, and we passeda few remarks." "what, not mr. cunnginham?""yes." "oh, you mean mr. cunningham." "yes.mr. cunningham." "i've been out to tea at a lady friend's." her secret being at last given to theworld, and the name of the lady-friend being even adumbrated, jacky made nofurther experiments in the difficult and
tiring art of conversation. she never had been a great talker.even in her photographic days she had relied upon her smile and her figure toattract, and now that she was-- "on the shelf, on the shelf, boys, boys,i'm on the shelf," she was not likely to find her tongue. occasional bursts of song (of which theabove is an example) still issued from her lips, but the spoken word was rare.she sat down on leonard's knee, and began to fondle him. she was now a massive woman of thirty-three, and her weight hurt him, but he
could not very well say anything. then she said, "is that a book you'rereading?" and he said, "that's a book," and drew it from her unreluctant grasp.margaret's card fell out of it. it fell face downwards, and he murmured,"bookmarker." "len--" "what is it?" he asked, a little wearily,for she only had one topic of conversation when she sat upon his knee."you do love me?" "jacky, you know that i do. how can you ask such questions!""but you do love me, len, don't you?"
"of course i do."a pause. the other remark was still due. "len--""well? what is it?""len, you will make it all right?" "i can't have you ask me that again," saidthe boy, flaring up into a sudden passion. "i've promised to marry you when i'm ofage, and that's enough. my word's my word. i've promised to marry you as soon as everi'm twenty-one, and i can't keep on being worried.i've worries enough.
it isn't likely i'd throw you over, letalone my word, when i've spent all this money.besides, i'm an englishman, and i never go back on my word. jacky, do be reasonable.of course i'll marry you. only do stop badgering me.""when's your birthday, len?" "i've told you again and again, theeleventh of november next. now get off my knee a bit; someone must getsupper, i suppose." jacky went through to the bedroom, andbegan to see to her hat. this meant blowing at it with short sharppuffs.
leonard tidied up the sitting-room, andbegan to prepare their evening meal. he put a penny into the slot of the gas-meter, and soon the flat was reeking with metallic fumes. somehow he could not recover his temper,and all the time he was cooking he continued to complain bitterly."it really is too bad when a fellow isn't trusted. it makes one feel so wild, when i'vepretended to the people here that you're my wife--all right, you shall be my wife--andi've bought you the ring to wear, and i've taken this flat furnished, and it's far
more than i can afford, and yet you aren'tcontent, and i've also not told the truth when i've written home."he lowered his voice. "he'd stop it." in a tone of horror, that was a littleluxurious, he repeated: "my brother'd stop it.i'm going against the whole world, jacky. "that's what i am, jacky. i don't take any heed of what anyone says.i just go straight forward, i do. that's always been my way.i'm not one of your weak knock-kneed chaps. if a woman's in trouble, i don't leave herin the lurch.
that's not my street.no, thank you. "i'll tell you another thing too. i care a good deal about improving myselfby means of literature and art, and so getting a wider outlook.for instance, when you came in i was reading ruskin's stones of venice. i don't say this to boast, but just to showyou the kind of man i am. i can tell you, i enjoyed that classicalconcert this afternoon." to all his moods jacky remained equallyindifferent. when supper was ready--and not before--sheemerged from the bedroom, saying: "but you
do love me, don't you?" they began with a soup square, whichleonard had just dissolved in some hot water. it was followed by the tongue--a freckledcylinder of meat, with a little jelly at the top, and a great deal of yellow fat atthe bottom--ending with another square dissolved in water (jelly: pineapple), which leonard had prepared earlier in theday. jacky ate contentedly enough, occasionallylooking at her man with those anxious eyes, to which nothing else in her appearancecorresponded, and which yet seemed to
mirror her soul. and leonard managed to convince his stomachthat it was having a nourishing meal. after supper they smoked cigarettes andexchanged a few statements. she observed that her "likeness" had beenbroken. he found occasion to remark, for the secondtime, that he had come straight back home after the concert at queen's hall. presently she sat upon his knee. the inhabitants of camelia road tramped toand fro outside the window, just on a level with their heads, and the family in theflat on the ground-floor began to sing,
"hark, my soul, it is the lord." "that tune fairly gives me the hump," saidleonard. jacky followed this, and said that, for herpart, she thought it a lovely tune. "no; i'll play you something lovely. get up, dear, for a minute."he went to the piano and jingled out a little grieg. he played badly and vulgarly, but theperformance was not without its effect, for jacky said she thought she'd be going tobed. as she receded, a new set of interestspossessed the boy, and he began to think of
what had been said about music by that oddmiss schlegel--the one that twisted her face about so when she spoke. then the thoughts grew sad and envious. there was the girl named helen, who hadpinched his umbrella, and the german girl who had smiled at him pleasantly, and herrsomeone, and aunt someone, and the brother- -all, all with their hands on the ropes. they had all passed up that narrow, richstaircase at wickham place, to some ample room, whither he could never follow them,not if he read for ten hours a day. oh, it was not good, this continualaspiration.
some are born cultured; the rest had bettergo in for whatever comes easy. to see life steadily and to see it wholewas not for the likes of him. from the darkness beyond the kitchen avoice called, "len?" "you in bed?" he asked, his foreheadtwitching. "m'm.""all right." presently she called him again. "i must clean my boots ready for themorning," he answered. presently she called him again."i rather want to get this chapter done." "what?"
he closed his ears against her."what's that?" "all right, jacky, nothing; i'm reading abook." "what?" he answered, catching her degradeddeafness. ruskin had visited torcello by this time,and was ordering his gondoliers to take him to murano. it occurred to him, as he glided over thewhispering lagoons, that the power of nature could not be shortened by the folly,nor her beauty altogether saddened by the misery, of such as leonard.