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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Spoils of Poynton > CHAPTER VIII
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 "I asked for you," he said when she stood there, "because I heard from the flyman who drove me from the station to the inn that he had brought you here yesterday. We had some talk, and he mentioned it."  
"You didn't know I was here?"
"No. I knew only that you had had, in London, all that you told me, that day, to do; and it was Mona's idea that after your sister's marriage you were staying on with your father. So I thought you were with him still."
"I am," Fleda replied, idealizing a little the fact. "I'm here only for a moment. But do you mean," she went on, "that if you had known I was with your mother you wouldn't have come down?"
The way Owen hung fire at this question made it sound more playful than she had intended. She had, in fact, no consciousness of any intention but that of confining herself rigidly1 to her function. She could already see that, in whatever he had now braced2 himself for, she was an element he had not reckoned with. His preparation had been of a different sort—the sort congruous with his having been careful to go first and lunch solidly at the inn. He had not been forced to ask for her, but she became aware, in his presence, of a particular desire to make him feel that no harm could really come to him. She might upset him, as people called it, but she would take no advantage of having done so. She had never seen a person with whom she wished more to be light and easy, to be exceptionally human. The account he presently gave of the matter was that he indeed wouldn't have come if he had known she was on the spot; because then, didn't she see? he could have written to her. He would have had her there to let fly at his mother.
"That would have saved me—well, it would have saved me a lot. Of course I would rather see you than her," he somewhat awkwardly added. "When the fellow spoke3 of you, I assure you I quite jumped at you. In fact I've no real desire to see Mummy at all. If she thinks I like it—!" He sighed disgustedly. "I only came down because it seemed better than any other way. I didn't want her to be able to say I hadn't been all right. I dare say you know she has taken everything; or if not quite everything, why, a lot more than one ever dreamed. You can see for yourself—she has got half the place down. She has got them crammed—you can see for yourself!" He had his old trick of artless repetition, his helpless iteration of the obvious; but he was sensibly different, for Fleda, if only by the difference of his clear face, mottled over and almost disfigured by little points of pain. He might have been a fine young man with a bad toothache; with the first even of his life. What ailed4 him above all, she felt, was that trouble was new to him: he had never known a difficulty; he had taken all his fences, his world wholly the world of the personally possible, rounded indeed by a gray suburb into which he had never had occasion to stray. In this vulgar and ill-lighted region he had evidently now lost himself. "We left it quite to her honor, you know," he said ruefully.
"Perhaps you've a right to say that you left it a little to mine." Mixed up with the spoils there, rising before him as if she were in a manner their keeper, she felt that she must absolutely dissociate herself. Mrs. Gereth had made it impossible to do anything but give her away. "I can only tell you that, on my side, I left it to her. I never dreamed either that she would pick out so many things."
"And you don't really think it's fair, do you? You don't!" He spoke very quickly; he really seemed to plead.
Fleda faltered5 a moment. "I think she has gone too far." Then she added: "I shall immediately tell her that I've said that to you."
He appeared puzzled by this statement, but he presently rejoined: "You haven't then said to mamma what you think?"
"Not yet; remember that I only got here last night." She appeared to herself ignobly7 weak. "I had had no idea what she was doing; I was taken completely by surprise. She managed it wonderfully."
"It's the sharpest thing I ever saw in my life!" They looked at each other with intelligence, in appreciation8 of the sharpness, and Owen quickly broke into a loud laugh. The laugh was in itself natural, but the occasion of it strange; and stranger still, to Fleda, so that she too almost laughed, the inconsequent charity with which he added: "Poor dear old Mummy! That's one of the reasons I asked for you," he went on—"to see if you'd back her up."
Whatever he said or did, she somehow liked him the better for it. "How can I back her up, Mr. Gereth, when I think, as I tell you, that she has made a great mistake?"
"A great mistake! That's all right." He spoke—it wasn't clear to her why—as if this declaration were a great point gained.
"Of course there are many things she hasn't taken," Fleda continued.
"Oh yes, a lot of things. But you wouldn't know the place, all the same." He looked about the room with his discolored, swindled face, which deepened Fleda's compassion9 for him, conjuring10 away any smile at so candid11 an image of the dupe. "You'd know this one soon enough, wouldn't you? These are just the things she ought to have left. Is the whole house full of them?"
"The whole house," said Fleda uncompromisingly. She thought of her lovely room.
"I never knew how much I cared for them. They're awfully12 valuable, aren't they?" Owen's manner mystified her; she was conscious of a return of the agitation13 he had produced in her on that last bewildering day, and she reminded herself that, now she was warned, it would be inexcusable of her to allow him to justify14 the fear that had dropped on her. "Mother thinks I never took any notice, but I assure you I was awfully proud of everything. Upon my honor, I was proud, Miss Vetch."
There was an oddity in his helplessness; he appeared to wish to persuade her and to satisfy himself that she sincerely felt how worthy15 he really was to treat what had happened as an injury. She could only exclaim, almost as helplessly as himself: "Of course you did justice! It's all most painful. I shall instantly let your mother know," she again declared, "the way I've spoken of her to you." She clung to that idea as to the sign of her straightness.
"You'll tell her what you think she ought to do?" he asked with some eagerness.
"What she ought to do?"
"Don't you think it—I mean that she ought to give them up?"
"To give them up?" Fleda hesitated again.
"To send them back—to keep it quiet." The girl had not felt the impulse to ask him to sit down among the monuments of his wrong, so that, nervously16, awkwardly, he fidgeted about the room with his hands in his pockets and an effect of returning a little into possession through the formulation of his view. "To have them packed and dispatched again, since she knows so well how. She does it beautifully"—he looked close at two or three precious pieces. "What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!"
He had laughed at his way of putting it, but Fleda remained grave. "Is that what you came to say to her?"
"Not exactly those words. But I did come to say"—he stammered17, then brought it out—"I did come to say we must have them right back."
"And did you think your mother would see you?"
"I wasn't sure, but I thought it right to try—to put it to her kindly18, don't you see? If she won't see me, then she has herself to thank. The only other way would have been to set the lawyers at her."
"I'm glad you didn't do that."
"I'm dashed if I want to!" Owen honestly declared. "But what's a fellow to do if she won't meet a fellow?"
"What do you call meeting a fellow?" Fleda asked, with a smile.
"Why, letting me tell her a dozen things she can have."
This was a transaction that Fleda, after a moment, had to give up trying to represent to herself. "If she won't do that—?" she went on.
"I'll leave it all to my solicitor19. He won't let her off: by Jove, I know the fellow!"
"That's horrible!" said Fleda, looking at him in woe20.
"It's utterly21 beastly!"
His want of logic22 as well as his vehemence23 startled her; and with her eyes still on his she considered before asking him the question these things suggested. At last she asked it. "Is Mona very angry?"
"Oh dear, yes!" said Owen.
She had perceived that he wouldn't speak of Mona without her beginning. After waiting fruitlessly now for him to say more, she continued: "She has been there again? She has seen the state of the house?"
"Oh dear, yes!" Owen repeated.
Fleda disliked to appear not to take account of his brevity, but it was just because she was struck by it that she felt the pressure of the desire to know more. What it suggested was simply what her intelligence supplied, for he was incapable24 of any art of insinuation. Wasn't it at all events the rule of communication with him to say for him what he couldn't say? This truth was present to the girl as she inquired if Mona greatly resented what Mrs. Gereth had done. He satisfied her promptly25; he was standing26 before the fire, his back to it, his long legs apart, his hands, behind him, rather violently jiggling his gloves. "She hates it awfully. In fact, she refuses to put up with it at all. Don't you see?—she saw the place with all the things."
"So that of course she misses them."
"Misses them—rather! She was awfully sweet on them." Fleda remembered how sweet Mona had been, and reflected that if that was the sort of plea he had prepared it was indeed as well he shouldn't see his mother. This was not all she wanted to know, but it came over her that it was all she needed. "You see it puts me in the position of not carrying out what I promised," Owen said. "As she says herself"—he hesitated an instant—"it's just as if I had obtained her under false pretenses27." Just before, when he spoke with more drollery28 than he knew, it had left Fleda serious; but now his own clear gravity had the effect of exciting her mirth. She laughed out, and he looked surprised, but went on: "She regards it as a regular sell."
Fleda was silent; but finally, as he added nothing, she exclaimed: "Of course it makes a great difference!" She knew all she needed, but none the less she risked, after another pause, an interrogative remark. "I forget when it is that your marriage takes place?"
Owen came away from the fire and, apparently29 at a loss where to turn, ended by directing himself to one of the windows. "It's a little uncertain; the date isn't quite fixed30."
"Oh, I thought I remembered that at Poynton you had told me a day, and that it was near at hand."
"I dare say I did; it was for the 19th. But we've altered that—she wants to shift it." He looked out of the window; then he said: "In fact, it won't come off till Mummy has come round."
"Come round?"
"Put the place as it was." In his offhand31 way he added: "You know what I mean!"
He spoke not impatiently, but with a kind of intimate familiarity, the sweetness of which made her feel a pang32 for having forced him to tell her what was embarrassing to him, what was even humiliating. Yes indeed, she knew all she needed: all she needed was that Mona had proved apt at putting down that wonderful patent-leather foot. Her type was misleading only to the superficial, and no one in the world was less superficial than Fleda. She had guessed the truth at Waterbath and she had suffered from it at Poynton; at Ricks the only thing she could do was to accept it with the dumb exaltation that she felt rising. Mona had been prompt with her exercise of the member in question, for it might be called prompt to do that sort of thing before marriage. That she had indeed been premature33 who should say save those who should have read the matter in the full light of results? Neither at Waterbath nor at Poynton had even Fleda's thoroughness discovered all that there was—or rather, all that there was not—in Owen Gereth. "Of course it makes all the difference!" she said in answer to his last words. She pursued, after considering: "What you wish me to say from you then to your mother is that you demand immediate6 and practically complete restitution34?"
"Yes, please. It's tremendously good of you."
"Very well, then. Will you wait?"
"For Mummy's answer?" Owen stared and looked perplexed35; he was more and more fevered with so much vivid expression of his case. "Don't you think that if I'm here she may hate it worse—think I may want to make her reply bang off?"
Fleda thought. "You don't, then?"
"I want to take her in the right way, don't you know?—treat her as if I gave her more than just an hour or two."
"I see," said Fleda. "Then, if you don't wait—good-bye."
This again seemed not what he wanted. "Must you do it bang off?"
"I'm only thinking she'll be impatient—I mean, you know, to learn what will have passed between us."
"I see," said Owen, looking at his gloves. "I can give her a day or two, you know. Of course I didn't come down to sleep," he went on. "The inn seems a horrid36 hole. I know all about the trains—having no idea you were here." Almost as soon as his interlocutress he was struck with the absence of the visible, in this, as between effect and cause. "I mean because in that case I should have felt I could stop over. I should have felt I could talk with you a blessed sight longer than with Mummy."
"We've already talked a long time," smiled Fleda.
"Awfully, haven't we?" He spoke with the stupidity she didn't object to. Inarticulate as he was, he had more to say; he lingered perhaps because he was vaguely37 aware of the want of sincerity38 in her encouragement to him to go. "There's one thing, please," he mentioned, as if there might be a great many others too. "Please don't say anything about Mona."
She didn't understand. "About Mona?............
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