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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Spoils of Poynton > CHAPTER XXII
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 Her relation with her wonderful friend had, however, in becoming a new one, begun to shape itself almost wholly on breaches1 and omissions2. Something had dropped out altogether, and the question between them, which time would answer, was whether the change had made them strangers or yokefellows. It was as if at last, for better or worse, they were, in a clearer, cruder air, really to know each other. Fleda wondered how Mrs. Gereth had escaped hating her: there were hours when it seemed that such a feat3 might leave after all a scant4 margin5 for future accidents. The thing indeed that now came out in its simplicity6 was that even in her shrunken state the lady of Ricks was larger than her wrongs. As for the girl herself, she had made up her mind that her feelings had no connection with the case. It was her pretension7 that they had never yet emerged from the seclusion8 into which, after her friend's visit to her at her sister's, we saw them precipitately9 retire: if she should suddenly meet them in straggling procession on the road it would be time enough to deal with them. They were all bundled there together, likes with dislikes and memories with fears; and she had for not thinking of them the excellent reason that she was too occupied with the actual. The actual was not that Owen Gereth had seen his necessity where she had pointed10 it out; it was that his mother's bare spaces demanded all the tapestry11 that the recipient12 of her bounty13 could furnish. There were moments during the month that followed when Mrs. Gereth struck her as still older and feebler, and as likely to become quite easily amused.  
At the end of it, one day, the London paper had another piece of news: "Mr. and Mrs. Owen Gereth, who arrived in town last week, proceed this morning to Paris." They exchanged no word about it till the evening, and none indeed would then have been uttered had not Mrs. Gereth irrelevantly15 broken out: "I dare say you wonder why I declared the other day with such assurance that he wouldn't live with her. He apparently16 is living with her."
"Surely it's the only proper thing for him to do."
"They're beyond me—I give it up," said Mrs. Gereth.
"I don't give it up—I never did," Fleda returned.
"Then what do you make of his aversion to her?"
"Oh, she has dispelled17 it."
Mrs. Gereth said nothing for a minute. "You're prodigious18 in your choice of terms!" she then simply ejaculated.
But Fleda went luminously19 on; she once more enjoyed her great command of her subject: "I think that when you came to see me at Maggie's you saw too many things, you had too many ideas."
"You had none," said Mrs. Gereth: "you were completely bewildered."
"Yes, I didn't quite understand—but I think I understand now. The case is simple and logical enough. She's a person who's upset by failure and who blooms and expands with success. There was something she had set her heart upon, set her teeth about—the house exactly as she had seen it."
"She never saw it at all, she never looked at it!" cried Mrs. Gereth.
"She doesn't look with her eyes; she looks with her ears. In her own way she had taken it in; she knew, she felt when it had been touched. That probably made her take an attitude that was extremely disagreeable. But the attitude lasted only while the reason for it lasted."
"Go on—I can bear it now," said Mrs. Gereth. Her companion had just perceptibly paused.
"I know you can, or I shouldn't dream of speaking. When the pressure was removed she came up again. From the moment the house was once more what it had to be, her natural charm reasserted itself."
"Her natural charm!" Mrs. Gereth could barely articulate.
"It's very great; everybody thinks so; there must be something in it. It operated as it had operated before. There's no need of imagining anything very monstrous20. Her restored good humor, her splendid beauty, and Mr. Owen's impressibility and generosity21 sufficiently22 cover the ground. His great bright sun came out!"
"And his great bright passion for another person went in. Your explanation would doubtless be perfection if he didn't love you."
Fleda was silent a little. "What do you know about his 'loving' me?"
"I know what Mrs. Brigstock herself told me."
"You never in your life took her word for any other matter."
"Then won't yours do?" Mrs. Gereth demanded. "Haven't I had it from your own mouth that he cares for you?"
Fleda turned pale, but she faced her companion and smiled. "You confound, Mrs. Gereth, you mix things up. You've only had it from my own mouth that I care for him!"
It was doubtless in contradictious allusion23 to this (which at the time had made her simply drop her head as in a strange, vain reverie) that Mrs. Gereth, a day or two later, said to Fleda: "Don't think I shall be a bit affected24 if I'm here to see it when he comes again to make up to you."
"He won't do that," the girl replied. Then she added, smiling: "But if he should be guilty of such bad taste, it wouldn't be nice of you not to be disgusted."
"I'm not talking of disgust; I'm talking of its opposite," said Mrs. Gereth.
"Of its opposite?"
"Why, of any reviving pleasure that one might feel in such an exhibition. I shall feel none at all. You may personally take it as you like; but what conceivable good will it do?"
Fleda wondered. "To me, do you mean?"
"Deuce take you, no! To what we don't, you know, by your wish, ever talk about."
"The old things?" Fleda considered again. "It will do no good of any sort to anything or any one. That's another question I would rather we shouldn't discuss, please," she gently added.
Mrs. Gereth shrugged26 her shoulders.
"It certainly isn't worth it!"
Something in her manner prompted her companion, with a certain inconsequence, to speak again. "That was partly why I came back to you, you know—that there should be the less possibility of anything painful."
"Painful?" Mrs. Gereth stared. "What pain can I ever feel again?"
"I meant painful to myself," Fleda, with a slight impatience27, explained.
"Oh, I see." Her friend was silent a minute. "You use sometimes such odd expressions. Well, I shall last a little, but I sha'n't last forever."
"You'll last quite as long—" Here Fleda suddenly hesitated.
Mrs. Gereth took her up with a cold smile that seemed the warning of experience against hyperbole. "As long as what, please?"
The girl thought an instant; then met the difficulty by adopting, as an amendment28, the same tone. "As any danger of the ridiculous."
That did for the time, and she had moreover, as the months went on, the protection of suspended allusions29. This protection was marked when, in the following November, she received a letter directed in a hand at which a quick glance sufficed to make her hesitate to open it. She said nothing, then or afterwards; but she opened it, for reasons that had come to her, on the morrow. It consisted of a page and a half from Owen Gereth, dated from Florence, but with no other preliminary. She knew that during the summer he had returned to England with his wife, and that after a couple of months they had again gone abroad. She also knew, without communication, that Mrs. Gereth, round whom Ricks had grown submissively and indescribably sweet, had her own interpretation31 of her daughter-in-law's share in this second migration32. It was a piece of calculated insolence—a stroke odiously33 directed at showing whom it might concern that now she had Poynton fast she was perfectly34 indifferent to living there. The Morning Post, at Ricks, had again been a resource: it was stated in that journal that Mr. and Mrs. Owen Gereth proposed to spend the winter in India. There was a person to whom it was clear that she led her wretched husband by the nose. Such was the light in which contemporary history was offered to Fleda until, in her own room, late at night, she broke the seal of her letter.
"I want you, inexpressibly, to have, as a remembrance, something of mine—something of real value. Something from Poynton is what I mean and what I should prefer. You know everything there, and far better than I what's best and what isn't. There are a lot of differences, but aren't some of the smaller things the most remarkable35? I mean for judges, and for what they'd bring. What I want you to take from me, and to choose for yourself, is the thing in the whole house that's most beautiful and precious. I mean the 'gem36 of the collection,' don't you know? If it happens to be of such a sort that you can take immediate37 possession of it—carry it right away with you—so much the better. You're to have it on the spot, whatever it is. I humbly38 beg of you to go down there and see. The people have complete instructions: they'll act for you in every possible way and put the whole place at your service. There's a thing mamma used to call the Maltese cross and that I think I've heard her say is very wonderful. Is that the gem of the collection? Perhaps you would take it, or anything equally convenient. Only I do want you awfully39 to let it be the very pick of the place. Let me feel that I can trust you for this. You won't refuse if you will think a little what it must be that makes me ask."
Fleda read that last sentence over more times even than the rest; she was baffled—she couldn't think at all of what it might be. This was indeed because it might be one of so many things. She made for the present no answer; she merely, little by little, fashioned for herself the form that her answer should eventually wear. There was only one form that was possible—the form of doing, at her time, what he wished. She would go down to Poynton as a pilgrim might go to a shrine40, and as to this she must look out for her chance. She lived with her letter, before any chance came, a month, and even after a month it had mysteries for her that she couldn't meet. What did it mean, what did it represent, to what did it correspond in his imagination or his soul? What was behind it, what was beyond it, what was, in the deepest depth, within it? She said to herself that with these questions she was under no obligation to deal. There was an explanation of them that............
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