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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Spoils of Poynton > CHAPTER XII
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 "I must in common decency1 let him know that I've talked of the matter with you," she said to her hostess that evening. "What answer do you wish me to write to him?"  
"Write to him that you must see him again," said Mrs. Gereth.
Fleda looked very blank. "What on earth am I to see him for?"
"For anything you like."
The girl would have been struck with the levity2 of this had she not already, in an hour, felt the extent of the change suddenly wrought3 in her commerce with her friend—wrought above all, to that friend's view, in her relation to the great issue. The effect of what had followed Owen's visit was to make that relation the very key of the crisis. Pressed upon her, goodness knew, the crisis had been, but it now seemed to put forth5 big, encircling arms—arms that squeezed till they hurt and she must cry out. It was as if everything at Ricks had been poured into a common receptacle, a public ferment6 of emotion and zeal7, out of which it was ladled up to be tasted and talked about; everything at least but the one little treasure of knowledge that she kept back. She ought to have liked this, she reflected, because it meant sympathy, meant a closer union with the source of so much in her life that had been beautiful and renovating8; but there were fine instincts in her that stood off. She had had—and it was not merely at this time—to recognize that there were things for which Mrs. Gereth's flair9 was not so happy as for bargains and "marks." It wouldn't be happy now as to the best action on the knowledge she had just gained; yet as from this moment they were still more intimately together, so a person deeply in her debt would simply have to stand and meet what was to come. There were ways in which she could sharply incommode such a person, and not only with the best conscience in the world, but with a sort of brutality10 of good intentions. One of the straightest of these strokes, Fleda saw, would be the dance of delight over the mystery Mrs. Gereth had laid bare—the loud, lawful11, tactless joy of the explorer leaping upon the strand12. Like any other lucky discoverer, she would take possession of the fortunate island. She was nothing if not practical: almost the only thing she took account of in her young friend's soft secret was the excellent use she could make of it—a use so much to her taste that she refused to feel a hindrance13 in the quality of the material. Fleda put into Mrs. Gereth's answer to her question a good deal more meaning than it would have occurred to her a few hours before that she was prepared to put, but she had on the spot a foreboding that even so broad a hint would live to be bettered.
"Do you suggest that I shall propose to him to come down here again?" she presently inquired.
"Dear, no; say that you'll go up to town and meet him." It was bettered, the broad hint; and Fleda felt this to be still more the case when, returning to the subject before they went to bed, her companion said: "I make him over to you wholly, you know—to do what you please with. Deal with him in your own clever way—I ask no questions. All I ask is that you succeed."
"That's charming," Fleda replied, "but it doesn't tell me a bit, you'll be so good as to consider, in what terms to write to him. It's not an answer from you to the message I was to give you."
"The answer to his message is perfectly14 distinct: he shall have everything in the place the minute he'll say he'll marry you."
"You really pretend," Fleda asked, "to think me capable of transmitting him that news?"
"What else can I really pretend when you threaten so to cast me off if I speak the word myself?"
"Oh, if you speak the word!" the girl murmured very gravely, but happy at least to know that in this direction Mrs. Gereth confessed herself warned and helpless. Then she added: "How can I go on living with you on a footing of which I so deeply disapprove15? Thinking as I do that you've despoiled16 him far more than is just or merciful—for if I expected you to take something, I didn't in the least expect you to take everything—how can I stay here without a sense that I'm backing you up in your cruelty and participating in your ill-gotten gains?" Fleda was determined17 that if she had the chill of her exposed and investigated state she would also have the convenience of it, and that if Mrs. Gereth popped in and out of the chamber18 of her soul she would at least return the freedom. "I shall quite hate, you know, in a day or two, every object that surrounds you—become blind to all the beauty and rarity that I formerly19 delighted in. Don't think me harsh; there's no use in my not being frank now. If I leave you, everything's at an end."
Mrs. Gereth, however, was imperturbable20: Fleda had to recognize that her advantage had become too real. "It's too beautiful, the way you care for him; it's music in my ears. Nothing else but such a passion could make you say such things; that's the way I should have been too, my dear. Why didn't you tell me sooner? I'd have gone right in for you; I never would have moved a candlestick. Don't stay with me if it torments21 you; don't, if you suffer, be where you see the old rubbish. Go up to town—go back for a little to your father's. It need be only for a little; two or three weeks will see us through. Your father will take you and be glad, if you only will make him understand what it's a question of—of your getting yourself off his hands forever. I'll make him understand, you know, if you feel shy. I'd take you up myself, I'd go with you, to spare your being bored; we'd put up at an hotel and we might amuse ourselves a bit. We haven't had much pleasure since we met, have we? But of course that wouldn't suit our book. I should be a bugaboo to Owen—I should be fatally in the way. Your chance is there—your chance is to be alone; for God's sake, use it to the right end. If you're in want of money I've a little I can give you. But I ask no questions—not a question as small as your shoe!"
She asked no questions, but she took the most extraordinary things for granted. Fleda felt this still more at the end of a couple of days. On the second of these our young lady wrote to Owen; her emotion had to a certain degree cleared itself—there was something she could say briefly22. If she had given everything to Mrs. Gereth and as yet got nothing, so she had on the other hand quickly reacted—it took but a night—against the discouragement of her first check. Her desire to serve him was too passionate23, the sense that he counted upon her too sweet: these things caught her up again and gave her a new patience and a new subtlety24. It shouldn't really be for nothing that she had given so much; deep within her burned again the resolve to get something back. So what she wrote to Owen was simply that she had had a great scene with his mother, but that he must be patient and give her time. It was difficult, as they both had expected, but she was working her hardest for him. She had made an impression—she would do everything to follow it up. Meanwhile he must keep intensely quiet and take no other steps; he must only trust her and pray for her and believe in her perfect loyalty25. She made no allusion26 whatever to Mona's attitude, nor to his not being, as regarded that young lady, master of the situation; but she said in a postscript27, in reference to his mother, "Of course she wonders a good deal why your marriage doesn't take place." After the letter had gone she regretted having used the word "loyalty;" there were two or three milder terms which she might as well have employed. The answer she immediately received from Owen was a little note of which she met all the deficiencies by describing it to herself as pathetically simple, but which, to prove that Mrs. Gereth might ask as many questions as she liked, she at once made his mother read. He had no art with his pen, he had not even a good hand, and his letter, a short profession of friendly confidence, consisted of but a few familiar and colorless words of acknowledgment and assent28. The gist29 of it was that he would certainly, since Miss Vetch recommended it, not hurry mamma too much. He would not for the present cause her to be approached by any one else, but he would nevertheless continue to hope that she would see she must come round. "Of course, you know," he added, "she can't keep me waiting indefinitely. Please give her my love and tell her that. If it can be done peaceably I know you're just the one to do it."
Fleda had awaited his rejoinder in deep suspense30; such was her imagination of the possibility of his having, as she tacitly phrased it, let himself go on paper that when it arrived she was at first almost afraid to open it. There was indeed a distinct danger, for if he should take it into his head to write her love-letters the whole chance of aiding him would drop: she would have to return them, she would have to decline all further communication with him: it would be quite the end of the business. This imagination of Fleda's was a faculty31 that easily embraced all the heights and depths and extremities32 of things; that made a single mouthful, in particular, of any tragic33 or desperate necessity. She was perhaps at first just a trifle disappointed not to find in the note in question a syllable34 that strayed from the text; but the next moment she had risen to a point of view from which it presented itself as a production almost inspired in its simplicity35. It was simple even for Owen, and she wondered what had given him the cue to be more so than usual. Then she saw how natures that are right just do the things that are right. He wasn't clever—his manner of writing showed it; but the cleverest man in England couldn't have had more the instinct that, under the circumstances, was the supremely36 happy one, the instinct of giving her something that would do beautifully to be shown to Mrs. Gereth. This was a kind of divination38, for naturally he couldn't know the line Mrs. Gereth was taking. It was furthermore explained—and that was the most touching39 part of all—by his wish that she herself should notice how awfully40 well he was behaving. His very bareness called her attention to his virtue41; and these were the exact fruits of her beautiful and terrible admonition. He was cleaving42 to Mona; he was doing his duty; he was making tremendo............
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