E. M. Forster: Howards End

39. CHAPTER XXXIX (continued)

Hence the absurdity of the interview; the gulf between them was economic as well as spiritual. But several facts passed; Charles pressed for them with an impertinence that the undergraduate could not withstand. On what date had Helen gone abroad? To whom? (Charles was anxious to fasten the scandal on Germany.) Then, changing his tactics, he said roughly: "I suppose you realise that you are your sister's protector?"

"In what sense?"

"If a man played about with my sister, I'd send a bullet through him, but perhaps you don't mind."

"I mind very much," protested Tibby.

"Who d'ye suspect, then? Speak out man. One always suspects some one."

"No one. I don't think so." Involuntarily he blushed. He had remembered the scene in his Oxford rooms.

"You are hiding something," said Charles. As interviews go, he got the best of this one. "When you saw her last, did she mention any one's name? Yes or no!" he thundered, so that Tibby started.

"In my rooms she mentioned some friends, called the Basts."

"Who are the Basts?"

"People--friends of hers at Evie's wedding."

"I don't remember. But, by great Scott, I do! My aunt told me about some rag-tsag. Was she full of them when you saw her? Is there a man? Did she speak of the man? Or--look here--have you had any dealings with him?"

Tibby was silent. Without intending it, he had betrayed his sister's confidence; he was not enough interested in human life to see where things will lead to. He had a strong regard for honesty, and his word, once given, had always been kept up to now. He was deeply vexed, not only for the harm he had done Helen, but for the flaw he had discovered in his own equipment.

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