“It’s as well to be prepared.”
“No—it’s as well not to be prepared.”
Her thought drew being from the obscure borderland. She could not explain in so many words, but she felt that those who prepare for all the emergencies of life beforehand may equip themselves at the expense of joy. It is necessary to prepare for an examination, or a dinner-party, or a possible fall in the price of stock: those who attempt human relations must adopt another method, or fail. “Because I’d sooner risk it,” was her lame conclusion.
“But imagine the evenings,” exclaimed her aunt, pointing to the Mansions with the spout of the watering can. “Turn the electric light on here or there, and it’s almost the same room. One evening they may forget to draw their blinds down, and you’ll see them; and the next, you yours, and they’ll see you. Impossible to sit out on the balconies. Impossible to water the plants, or even speak. Imagine going out of the front-door, and they come out opposite at the same moment. And yet you tell me that plans are unnecessary, and you’d rather risk it.”
“I hope to risk things all my life.”
“Oh, Margaret, most dangerous.”
“But after all,” she continued with a smile, “there’s never any great risk as long as you have money.”
“Oh, shame! What a shocking speech!”
“Money pads the edges of things,” said Miss Schlegel. “God help those who have none.”
“But this is something quite new!” said Mrs. Munt, who collected new ideas as a squirrel collects nuts, and was especially attracted by those that are portable.
“New for me; sensible people have acknowledged it for years. You and I and the Wilcoxes stand upon money as upon islands. It is so firm beneath our feet that we forget its very existence. It’s only when we see some one near us tottering that we realise all that an independent income means. Last night, when we were talking up here round the fire, I began to think that the very soul of the world is economic, and that the lowest abyss is not the absence of love, but the absence of coin.”
“I call that rather cynical.”
“So do I. But Helen and I, we ought to remember, when we are tempted to criticise others, that we are standing on these islands, and that most of the others are down below the surface of the sea. The poor cannot always reach those whom they want to love, and they can hardly ever escape from those whom they love no longer. We rich can. Imagine the tragedy last June, if Helen and Paul Wilcox had been poor people, and couldn’t invoke railways and motor-cars to part them.”
“That’s more like Socialism,” said Mrs. Munt suspiciously.
“Call it what you like. I call it going through life with one’s hand spread open on the table. I’m tired of these rich people who pretend to be poor, and think it shows a nice mind to ignore the piles of money that keep their feet above the waves. I stand each year upon six hundred pounds, and Helen upon the same, and Tibby will stand upon eight, and as fast as our pounds crumble away into the sea they are renewed—from the sea, yes, from the sea. And all our thoughts are the thoughts of six-hundred-pounders, and all our speeches; and because we don’t want to steal umbrellas ourselves, we forget that below the sea people do want to steal them and do steal them sometimes, and that what’s a joke up here is down there reality.”
“There they go—there goes Fraulein Mosebach. Really, for a German she does dress charmingly. Oh!—”
“What is it?”
“It’s as well to be prepared.”