Margaret, Helen, Tibby, and Mrs. Munt attend a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, joined by the Schlegels’ cousin Frieda Mosebach and her fiancé Bruno Liesecke. The Schlegels believe that the price of listening to such sublime music is quite cheap at two shillings, even if they must go to a dingier concert hall and listen from subpar seating.
Helen vividly interprets the dramatic music, conjuring an image of goblins “walking quietly over the universe, from end to end.” She is so distraught by these specters of “Panic and emptiness!” that she leaves the concert early. The unfamiliar young man sitting next to Margaret notices that Helen accidentally grabbed his umbrella in her hasty exit. Margaret asks Tibby to please run after her, but he selfishly protests that he will miss the next piece of music if he leaves. Margaret asks the owner of the umbrella for his home address so they can return his umbrella to him after the show, but he declines to tell her.
Helen is very sensitive and fanciful. As she listens to Beethoven’s music, she imagines that it tells the story of goblins menacing the world, and recalls the horror that she felt when faced with the hollow beliefs of the Wilcoxes. She flees the concert, but she is so self-absorbed that she mistakenly takes an umbrella belonging to someone else. Her brother is so self-absorbed in turn that he refuses to retrieve the umbrella from her in case he misses any music. Margaret tries to right things with the owner of the umbrella, but he doesn’t believe she actually wants to help him.
Margaret is offended that the boy seems to think that they intentionally stole his umbrella and may steal from his house if given his address. However, she recognizes that to “trust people is a luxury in which only the wealthy can indulge; the poor cannot afford it.” She gives him her address, instead, so that he can call for his umbrella. After Helen exits, Frieda and her fiancé decide to leave the concert early, as well. Unlike Tibby, the boy is happy to jump up and help by catching the couple at the door and giving them the purse that Frieda forgot behind her seat. Margaret offers to bring him to their house after the concert, and they head back to Wickham Place with her brother and aunt.
Unlike her siblings, Margaret shows enough self-awareness and thoughtfulness to temper her own emotions in response to how the poor young man might be feeling. She is conscious of her wealth and privilege relative to the boy’s disadvantaged station and can imagine how their different situations result in different outlooks. The boy proves himself more considerate and generous than Tibby when he helps Frieda and her fiancé. Wealth does not determine character, and Margaret recognizes this when she invites him to her house, as few others in her position would do.
Margaret talks about art at length as they walk, and the boy wishes he could keep up with her. He has always tried to pursue beauty, but he has very little free time to read books and contemplate the arts, and his many financial anxieties distract him from his self-education. Anxiety about the cost of replacing his missing umbrella also distracts him from fully engaging with Margaret. When they arrive at Wickham Place, Margaret invites him to tea, but the boy is intimidated by Helen’s high-spirited, overly familiar manner—“I do nothing but steal umbrellas. I am so very sorry!”—and embarrassed at the shabby state of his possessions—“It’s an appalling umbrella. It must be mine,” Helen remarks thoughtlessly. He declines tea, hurrying away without giving his name.
Margaret casually demonstrates her deep command of art and culture, which her companion envies. He wants to know as much about the beautiful things in life as she does, but he has had less education than her and must work all day instead of reading or attending museums and performances. His financial insecurity consumes him even when he has the opportunity to experience high culture. He is ashamed of his inferior knowledge, manners, and means, and he leaves before the Schlegels can make him feel worse.
Margaret chastises Helen for rudely frightening the boy away: “You oughtn’t to talk about stealing or holes in an umbrella.” Helen feels bad and tries to call after the boy, but Aunt Juley says that his departure was probably for the best, since they didn’t know anything about him and he could have taken something valuable from their drawing room if he had stayed for tea. Margaret and Helen protest, saying that the risk of losing a few spoons is not worth more than the cost of losing one’s faith in the world. Their father always trusted strangers, believing “It’s better to be fooled than to be suspicious.” Aunt Juley thinks to herself that it was fortunate that such a naïve man married into so much money.
Helen didn’t mean to be rude to the poor young man, and she regrets making him feel unwelcome. While self-absorbed, she is not unkind. But Aunt Juley, the type of simple-minded English bourgeois who believes in associating only with one’s own class, casts doubts on the boy’s character. Helen and Margaret declare that they would rather lose material objects than lose their good faith in people, as their father believed. Aunt Juley privately observes that this principle of generosity could ruin one if one isn’t very rich.
Helen scolds Tibby for disappearing when they returned home instead of cordially helping to make their new friend feel welcome: “You ought to have taken his hat and coaxed him into stopping, instead of letting him be swamped by screaming women.” She and Margaret are shaken by this fleeting encounter, a brush with poverty resounding like “a goblin footfall” to remind them of the harsh world outside their life of privilege.
Tibby and Helen are both sheltered by their money and self-absorbed, but Tibby cares much less than Helen does about other people. He isn’t interested in taking on the role of the man of the house, not wishing to be responsible for others. His sisters are more troubled by the suffering that befalls those outside their wealthy circle. The women in the novel, like Margaret, Helen, and Ruth, tend to show more concern for others.