Chapters 15-16 Summary
Helen and Margaret attend their women’s discussion group. The topic for the evening concerns how a millionaire should direct the disposal of her money when writing a will. One of the options discussed is giving the money to someone who is poor. All through the dinner that had preceded the discussion, both Helen and Margaret had talked about Leonard Bast. He had infiltrated their thoughts, so it was natural that when it came time for the discussion, Leonard Bast should reappear as the stereotype for the poor person.
There were no conclusions reached, but various opinions were considered, such as giving Leonard a small stipend each year and not giving him any money but providing him with objects like clothing or books. In the end, the so-called millionaire decided to give all her money to the state.
The discussion enlivens Helen’s and Margaret’s imaginations, so they decide not to go directly home at the end of the meeting. Instead, they find a bench near the river’s edge and sit there for a while to contemplate the night. As they are in the midst of a conversation, Mr. Wilcox appears. He had recognized their voices from a distance and walked over to confirm his assumption. The sisters are glad to see him and invite him to join them. Mr. Wilcox sits down between them, and they tell him about the topic of their discourse earlier in the evening. When they have finished, they ask him what he might have done had he been the millionaire confronted with a poor man such as Leonard.
Mr. Wilcox diverts the question slightly by first asking more questions about Leonard. He wants to know where he works. The sisters tell him Leonard is employed by the Porphyrion Fire Insurance Company. When Wilcox hears this, he tells them that they should inform Leonard to quickly find another job. When they ask him why, he tells them in strict confidence that the insurance company is in financial trouble. Leonard should leave before Christmas, he warns them.
Before Wilcox goes home, he informs the sisters that none of his family is living at Howards End. They found the country house too small and uncomfortable, so they have leased it out. He also reveals that his son Charles is now the father of two children and that Paul is back in Africa.
The next day, Helen and Margaret invite Leonard to tea. He is reluctant to go because, as he previously stated, he is concerned that the second visit would never match the first, but he gives in. His main reason for accepting the invitation is that he hopes to have a literary discussion with the sisters.
Once Leonard is settled in, the...
(The entire section is 686 words.)