While visiting one weekend at Waterbath, the country house of the Brigstock family, Mrs. Gereth meets and is immediately drawn to a young woman named Fleda Vetch. The basis of the attraction is a mutual sensitiveness to beautiful things; each guesses that the other possesses such a feeling when they meet one morning while obviously trying to escape the house and the rest of the party. Their aversion emerges not because Waterbath is exceptionally ugly, but rather because it is so very ordinary while pretending to be lovely. The house and the garden might have been quite attractive, and should have been so, but the Brigstocks, people without even a hint of feeling or taste, had had everything done over to fit the very latest fashion. It is this air of fashionable conformity to which Fleda and Mrs. Gereth object. They recognize what the estate would have been naturally, and they can only be repulsed by what it has become.
Mrs. Gereth’s horror of Waterbath is particularly acute because of the comparison she inevitably makes between it and her own home at Poynton. Everything at Poynton is exquisite. She and her late husband had gradually furnished it after years of scraping and saving so that they might have the best. Every article in the house had been carefully chosen during their travels in various parts of the world, and she rightly considers their home the most beautiful place in England. Unfortunately, the estate had been left to her son Owen, and she knows that she will have to give it up, along with her beloved treasures, when he marries. Her secret dread is that he will marry a woman with as little a sense of the beautiful as he himself has. She therefore spends much of her time at Waterbath trying to turn his attention from Mona Brigstock, who personifies everything she dreads, to Fleda Vetch, the one person of her acquaintance who would appreciate and preserve Poynton as it is.
When Mrs. Gereth, with somewhat ulterior motives, invites Fleda to come to Poynton as a friend and permanent companion, Fleda, who has no real home of her own, readily accepts. To the chagrin of both women, Owen soon writes that he is planning to marry Mona and that he is bringing her within a week to see the estate. Mona, of course, approves of the home. Although she fails to appreciate its beauty and immediately begins planning certain changes, she does realize that every article in the house has some value, and she insists that Mrs. Gereth leave all but her personal belongings as they are. Mrs. Gereth is to be given the smaller, but still charming, estate called Ricks.
At first, Mrs. Gereth refuses to be moved, but she finally agrees to make the change when it is...
(The entire section is 1098 words.)