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other that in her own apartment she had given way to tears. There was in one of them a set of comic water-colors, a family joke by a family genius, and in the other a souvenir from some recent exhibition, that they shudderingly alluded to. The house was perversely full of souvenirs of places even more ugly than itself, and of things it would have been a bounden duty to forget. The worst horror was the acres of varnish, something advertised and smelly, with which everything was smeared; it was Fleda Vetch's conviction that the application of it, by their own hands and hilariously shoving each other, was the amusement of the Brigstocks on rainy days.
When, as criticism deepened, Fleda dropped the suggestion that some people would perhaps see something in Mona, Mrs. Gereth caught her up with a groan of protest, a smothered cry of "Oh, my dear!" Mona was the eldest of the three, the one Mrs. Gereth most suspected. She confided to her young friend that it was her suspicion that had brought her to Waterbath; and this was going very far, for on the spot, as a refuge, a remedy, she had clutched at the idea that something might be done with the girl before her. It was her fancied exposure, at any rate, that had sharpened the shock of the place; made her ask herself, with a terrible chill, if fate could really be plotting to saddle her with a daughter-in-law out of such a house. She had seen Mona in her appropriate setting, and she had seen Owen, handsome and stupid, dangle beside her; but the effect of these first hours had happily not been to darken the prospect. It was clearer to her that she could never accept Mona, but it was after all by no means certain that Owen would ask her to. He had sat by somebody else at dinner, and afterwards he had talked to Mrs. Firmin, who was common enough, but, fortunately, married. His stupidity (which in her need of expansion she almost named to Fleda) had two aspects: one of them his monstrous
lack of taste, the other his exaggerated prudence. If it should come to a question of carrying Mona with a high hand, there would be no need to worry, for that was rarely his manner of proceeding.
Mrs. Gereth had begun to say a word to her companion about Poynton (Fleda had asked if it was n't wonderful), when she heard a sound of voices that made her stop short. The next moment she rose to her feet, and Fleda could see that her alarm was by no means quenched. Behind the place where they had been sitting the ground dropped with a certain steepness, forming a long grassy bank, up which Owen Gereth and Mona Brigstock, dressed for church, but making a familiar joke of it, were in the act of scrambling and helping each other. When they had reached the even ground, Eleda was able to read the meaning of the exclamation in which Mrs. Gereth had expressed her reserves on the subject of Miss Brigstock's personality. Miss Brigstock had been laughing and even romping, but the circumstances had n't contributed the ghost of an expression to her countenance. Tall and straight and fair, long-limbed and strangely festooned, she stood there without a look in her eye or any perceptible intention of any sort in any other feature. She belonged to the type in which speech is an unaided emission of sound, and the secret of being is impenetrably and incorruptibly kept. Her expression would probably have been beautiful if she had had one, but whatever she communicated she communicated, in a manner best known to herself, without signs. This was not the case with Owen Gereth, who had plenty of them, and all very simple and natural. Robust and artless, a bouncing boy but a gentleman, he looked pointlessly active and pleasantly dull. Like his mother and like Fleda Vetch, but not for the same reason, this young pair had come out to take a turn before church.
The meeting of the two couples was sensibly awkward, and Fleda, who was
sagacious, took the measure of the shock inflicted on Mrs. Gereth. There had been intimacy oh yes, intimacy as well as puerility—in the horse-play of which they had just had a glimpse. The party began to stroll together to the house, and Fleda had again a sense of Mrs. Gereth's quick management in the way the lovers, or whatever they were, found themselves separated. She strolled behind with Mona, the mother possessing herself of her son, her exchange of remarks with whom, however, remained, as they went, suggestively inaudible. That member of the party in whose intenser consciousness we shall most profitably seek a reflection of the little drama with which we are concerned received an even livelier impression of Mrs. Gereth's intervention from the fact that, ten minutes later, on the way to church, still another pairing had been effected. Owen walked with Fleda, and it was an amusement to the girl to feel sure that this was by his mother's direction. Fleda had other amusements as well: such as noting that Mrs. Gereth was now with Mona Brigstock; such as observing that she was all affability to that young woman; such as reflecting that, masterful and clever, with a great bright spirit, she was one of those who impose themselves as an influence; such as feeling, finally, that Owen Gereth was singularly handsome and admirably stupid. This young person had, even from herself, wonderful secrets of delicacy and pride; but she came as near distinctness as in the consideration of such matters she had ever yet come at all in now surrendering herself to the idea that it was of a pleasant effect and rather remarkable to be stupid without offense, — of a pleasanter effect and more remarkable, indeed, than to be clever and horrid. Owen Gereth, at any rate, with his inches and his absence of effort, was neither of these latter things. She herself was prepared, if she should ever marry, to contribute all the cleverness,
and she liked to think that her husband would be a force grateful for direction. She was in her small way a spirit of the same family as Mrs. Gereth. On that flushed, overflowing Sunday a great matter occurred; her little life became aware of a singular quickening. Her meagre past fell away from her like a garment of the wrong fashion, and as she came up to town on the Monday, what she stared at, from the train, in the suburban fields, was a future full of the things she particularly loved.
These were neither more nor less than the things with which she had had time to learn from Mrs. Gereth that Poynton was full. Poynton, in the south of England, was this lady's established, or rather her disestablished home, having now duly passed into the possession of her son. The father of the boy, an only child, had died two years before, and Owen was occupying, in London, with his mother, for May and June, a house good-naturedly lent them by Colonel Gereth, their uncle and brother-inlaw. His mother had laid her hand so engagingly on Fleda Vetch that in a very few days the girl knew it was possible to suffer in Cadogan Place almost as much as they had suffered at Waterbath. The kind colonel's house was also an ordeal, but the two women, for the ensuing month, had at least the compensation of suffering together. The great drawback of Mrs. Gereth's situation was that, thanks to the rare perfection of Poynton, she was condemned to suffer almost wherever she turned. She had lived for a quarter of a century in such warm closeness with the beautiful that, as she frankly admitted, life had become for her a kind of fool's paradise. She did n't say it in so many words, but Fleda could see she held that there was nothing in England to compare to Poyn
ton. There were places much grander and richer, but there was no such complete work of art, nothing that would appeal so to those who were really informed. Fortune, in putting such elements into her hand, had given her an inestimable chance: oh, she knew how rarely well things had gone with her, and that she had tasted a happiness vouchsafed indeed to few.
There had been, in the first place, the exquisite old house itself, early Jacobean, supreme in every part: it was a provocation, an inspiration, a matchless canvas for the picture. Then there had been her husband's sympathy and generosity, his knowledge and love, their perfect accord and beautiful life together, twentyfour years of planning and seeking, a long, sunny harvest of taste and curiosity. Lastly, she never denied, there had been her personal gift, the genius, the passion, the patience of the collector, a patience, an almost infernal cunning, that had enabled her to do it all with a limited command of money. There would n't have been money enough for any one else, she said with pride, but there had been money enough for her. They had saved on lots of things in life, and there were lots of things they had n't had; but they had had in every corner of Europe their swing among the Jews. It was fascinating to poor Fleda, who had n't a penny in the world nor anything nice at home, and whose only treasure was her subtle mind, to hear this genuine English lady, fresh and fair, young at fifty, declare with gayety and conviction that she was herself the greatest Jew who had ever tracked a victim. Fleda, with her parents dead, had n't so much even as a home, and her nearest chance of one was that there was some appearance her sister would become engaged to a curate. Her grandfather paid some of her bills, but he did n't like her to live with him; and she had lately, in Paris, with several hundred other young women, spent a year in a studio, arming
herself for the battle of life by a course with an impressionist painter. She was determined to work, but her impressions, or somebody's else, were as yet her only material. Mrs. Gereth had told her she liked her because she had an extraordinary flair; but under the circumstances a flair was a questionable boon: with the particular springs she had hitherto known there would have been more comfort in a chronic catarrh. She was constantly summoned to Cadogan Place, and before the month was out was kept to stay, to pay a visit of which the end, it was agreed, should have nothing to do with the beginning. She had a sense, partly exultant and partly alarmed, of having quickly become necessary to her imperious friend, who indeed gave a reason quite sufficient for it in telling her there was nobody else who understood. From Mrs. Gereth, in these days, there was an immense deal to understand, though it might be freely summed up in the circumstance that she was wretched. She told Fleda that she could n't completely know why till she should have seen the things at Poynton. Fleda could perfectly grasp this connection, which was exactly one of the matters that, in their inner mystery, were a blank to everybody else.
the dread of
The girl had a promise that the wonderful house should be shown her early in July, when Mrs. Gereth would return to it as to her home; but even before this initiation she put her finger on the spot that, in the poor lady's troubled soul, ached the hardest. This was the misery that haunted her, the inevitable surrender. had to sit up to was the confirmed appearance that Owen Gereth would marry Mona Brigstock, marry her in his mother's teeth, and that such an act would have incalculable bearings. They were present to Mrs. Gereth, her companion could see, with a vividness that at moments almost ceased to be that of sanity. She would have to give up Poynton, and
give it up to a product of Waterbath, that was the wrong that rankled, the humiliation at which Fleda would be able adequately to shudder only when she should know the place. She did know Waterbath, and she despised it, she had that qualification for sympathy. Her sympathy was very real, for she read deep into the matter; she stared, aghast, as it came home to her for the first time, at the cruel English custom of the expropriation of the lonely mother. Mr. Gereth had apparently been a very amiable man, but Mr. Gereth had left things in a way that made the girl marvel. The house and its contents had been treated as a single splendid object; everything was to go straight to his son, and his widow was to have a maintenance and a cottage in another county. No account whatever had been taken of her relation to her treasures, of the passion with which she had waited for them, worked for them, picked them over, made them worthy of each other and the house, watched them, loved them, lived with them. He appeared to have assumed that she would settle questions with her son, that he could depend upon Owen's affection. And in truth, as poor Mrs. Gereth inquired, how could he possibly have had a prevision - he who turned his eyes instinctively from everything displeasing of anything so abnormal as a Brigstock? He had been in ugly houses enough, but had escaped that particular nightmare. Nothing so perverse could have been expected to happen as that the heir to the loveliest thing in England should be inspired to hand it over to a girl so exceptionally tainted. Mrs. Gereth spoke of poor Mona's taint as if to mention it were almost a violation of decency, and a person who had listened without enlightenment would have wondered of what lapse the girl had been, or had indeed not been guilty. But Owen from a boy had never cared, had never had the least pride or pleasure in his home.
"To you, of course, keep for yourself."
to enjoy, to
"And leave his house as bare as your hand? There's nothing in it that is n't precious."
Fleda considered; her friend had taken her up with a smothered ferocity by which she was slightly disconcerted. "I don't mean, of course, that he should surrender everything; but he might let you pick out the things to which you're most attached."
"I think he would, if he were free," said Mrs. Gereth.
"And do you mean, as it is, that she 'll prevent him?" Mona Brigstock, between these ladies, was now nothing but "she." "By every means in her power." "But surely not because she understands and appreciates them?"
"No," Mrs. Gereth replied, "but because they belong to the house, and the house belongs to Owen. If I should wish to take anything, she would simply say, with that motionless mask, 'It goes with the house.' And day after day, in the face of every argument, of every consideration of generosity, she would repeat, without winking, in that dry, dead voice, 'It goes with the house, it goes with the house.' In that attitude they'll shut themselves up."
Fleda was struck, was even a little startled, with the way Mrs. Gereth had turned this over, - had faced, if indeed only to recognize its futility, the notion of a battle with her only son. These
words led her to make an inquiry which she had not thought it discreet to make before; she brought out the idea of the possibility, after all, of her friend's continuing to live at Poynton. Would they really wish to proceed to extremities? Was no good-humored, graceful compromise to be imagined or brought about? Could n't the same roof cover them? Was it so very inconceivable that a married son should, for the rest of her days, share with so charming a mother the home she had devoted more than a score of years to making beautiful for him? Mrs. Gereth hailed this question with a wan, compassionate smile; she replied that a common household, in such a case, was exactly so inconceivable that Fleda had only to glance over the fair face of the English land to see how few people had ever conceived it. It was always thought a wonder, a "mistake," a piece of overstrained sentiment; and she confessed that she was as little capable of a flight of that sort as Owen himself. Even if they both had been capable, they would still have Mona's hatred to reckon with. Fleda's breath was sometimes taken away by the great bounds and elisions which, on Mrs. Gereth's lips, the course of discussion could take. This was the first she had heard of Mona's hatred, though she certainly had not needed Mrs. Gereth to tell her that in close quarters that young lady would prove secretly mulish. Subsequently, Fleda recognized, indeed, that perhaps almost any girl would hate a person who should be so markedly averse to becoming her mother-in-law. Before this, however, in conversation with her young friend, Mrs. Gereth furnished a more vivid motive for her despair by asking how she could possibly be expect ed to sit there with the new proprietors and acceptor call it, for a day, endure the horrors they would perpetrate in the house. Fleda reasoned that they would n't, after all, smash things nor burn them up; and Mrs. Gereth admitted, when pushed, that she did n't
quite mean they would. What she did mean was that they would neglect them, slight them, leave them to clumsy servants (there was n't an object of them all but should be handled with perfect love), and in many cases probably wish to replace them by pieces that would answer some vulgar modern notion of the convenient. Above all, she saw in advance, with dilated eyes, the abominations they would inevitably mix up with them, the maddening relics of Waterbath, the little brackets and pink vases, the sweepings of bazaars, the family photographs and favorite texts, the "household art" and household piety of Mona's early home. Was n't it enough simply to contend that Mona would approach Poynton in the spirit of a Brigstock, and that in the spirit of a Brigstock she would deal with her acquisition? Did Fleda really see her, Mrs. Gereth demanded, spending the remainder of her days with such a creature's elbow in her eye?
Fleda had to declare that she certainly did n't, and that Waterbath had been a warning it would be madness to overlook. At the same time she privately reflected that they were taking a great deal for granted, and that, inasmuch as, to her knowledge, Owen Gereth had positively denied that he was engaged, the ground of their speculations was by no means firm. It seemed to our young lady that, in a difficult position, Owen conducted himself with some natural art; treating this domesticated confidant of his mother's wrongs with a simple civility that almost troubled her conscience, so freely she reflected that she might have had for him the air of siding with that lady against him. She wondered if he would ever know how little, really, she did this, and that she was there, since Mrs. Gereth had insisted, not to betray, but essentially to protect him. The fact that his mother disliked Mona Brigstock might have made him dislike the object of her preference, and it was