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E. M. Forster: Howards End
10. CHAPTER X
Several days passed.
Was Mrs. Wilcox one of the unsatisfactory people--there are many of them--who dangle intimacy and then withdraw it? They evoke our interests and affections, and keep the life of the spirit dawdling round them. Then they withdraw. When physical passion is involved, there is a definite name for such behaviour--flirting-- and if carried far enough it is punishable by law. But no law-- not public opinion even--punishes those who coquette with friendship, though the dull ache that they inflict, the sense of misdirected effort and exhaustion, may be as intolerable. Was she one of these?
Margaret feared so at first, for, with a Londoner's impatience, she wanted everything to be settled up immediately. She mistrusted the periods of quiet that are essential to true growth. Desiring to book Mrs. Wilcox as a friend, she pressed on the ceremony, pencil, as it were, in hand, pressing the more because the rest of the family were away, and the opportunity seemed favourable. But the elder woman would not be hurried. She refused to fit in with the Wickham Place set, or to reopen discussion of Helen and Paul, whom Margaret would have utilised as a short-cut. She took her time, or perhaps let time take her, and when the crisis did come all was ready.
The crisis opened with a message: Would Miss Schlegel come shopping? Christmas was nearing, and Mrs. Wilcox felt behindhand with the presents. She had taken some more days in bed, and must make up for lost time. Margaret accepted, and at eleven o'clock one cheerless morning they started out in a brougham.
"First of all," began Margaret, "we must make a list and tick off the people's names. My aunt always does, and this fog may thicken up any moment. Have you any ideas?"
"I thought we would go to Harrods or the Haymarket Stores," said Mrs. Wilcox rather hopelessly. "Everything is sure to be there. I am not a good shopper. The din is so confusing, and your aunt is quite right--one ought to make a list. Take my notebook, then, and write your own name at the top of the page.
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