A woodcutter at work in a churchyard observes a funeral, where the town passionately mourns the sudden death of a kind woman: Mrs. Wilcox. Leaving the graveyard afterwards, he observes that an unconventional bouquet of colorful flowers has been left on the grave and he takes one. The next morning, the grieving Wilcoxes—Henry, Charles, Dolly, and Evie—are having breakfast at Howards End. Henry reflects on Ruth’s unfailing goodness and innocence. He recalls that she didn’t disclose her illness to her family until she was near death, not wanting to trouble them.
Life goes on despite the death of Mrs. Wilcox—trees are still being trimmed, her family is still eating breakfast at Howards End. Margaret’s brightly-colored, non-funereal flowers represent Mrs. Wilcox’s wish that her death not grieve her loved ones too much, but that they should honor her memory by moving on with their lives without her. She didn’t even want them to worry while she was still alive, waiting alone to die.
The mail arrives, and Henry finds a letter from his wife’s nursing home, enclosing a message left by Mrs. Wilcox. The note states that she wishes Howards End to be left to Margaret Schlegel. The Wilcoxes declare that such a note, handwritten in pencil by an invalid, could not possibly be legal. They tear it up and toss it into the fire, feeling betrayed by this “cruel” final dispatch from the deceased Mrs. Wilcox.
After her husband moved the family to London and later moved her into a nursing home instead of bringing her back to Howards End, Mrs. Wilcox won’t leave him her beloved house. She doesn’t explain this, but simply writes that the house should be left to Margaret, with whom she had formed a strong spiritual connection when she was falling ill. The Wilcoxes cannot begin to understand this shocking statement from the loving woman they thought they knew, and so they dismiss it.
Charles frets that Margaret could have colluded with his mother to acquire Howards End and may come down at any moment to collect it, but Henry defends her and says that she was as ignorant as any of them to Mrs. Wilcox’s failing health and final wishes. Evie objects to Margaret having sent the distastefully bright-colored chrysanthemums from earlier, but Henry again gives her the benefit of the doubt. Thus the impersonal Wilcox family manages to safely “voyage for a little past the emotions.”
Charles suspects Margaret of scheming with Ruth Wilcox to get the house—he has been suspicious of the Schlegels ever since Helen’s disastrous stay. The house is supposed to go to him after his father dies, but he doesn’t truly want it—he’s just blindly possessive. Evie is also suspicious of Margaret after this revelation, but Henry believes that she is innocent of any ill-will. Having decided to ignore Mrs. Wilcox’s bewildering wishes, they resume their typical avoidance of emotion.