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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Spoils of Poynton > CHAPTER XIV
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 When Owen and Fleda were in her father's little place and, among the brandy-flasks and pen-wipers, still more disconcerted and divided, the girl—to do something, though it would make him stay—had ordered tea, he put the letter before her quite as if he had guessed her thought. "She's still a bit nasty—fancy!" He handed her the scrap1 of a note which he had pulled out of his pocket and from its envelope. "Fleda Vetch," it ran, "is at 10 Raphael Road, West Kensington. Go to see her, and try, for God's sake, to cultivate a glimmer2 of intelligence." When in handing it back to him she took in his face she saw that its heightened color was the effect of his watching her read such an allusion3 to his want of wit. Fleda knew what it was an allusion to, and his pathetic air of having received this buffet4, tall and fine and kind as he stood there, made her conscious of not quite concealing5 her knowledge. For a minute she was kept silent by an angered sense of the trick that had been played her. It was a trick because Fleda considered there had been a covenant6; and the trick consisted of Mrs. Gereth's having broken the spirit of their agreement while conforming in a fashion to the letter. Under the girl's menace of a complete rupture7 she had been afraid to make of her secret the use she itched8 to make; but in the course of these days of separation she had gathered pluck to hazard an indirect betrayal. Fleda measured her hesitations9 and the impulse which she had finally obeyed and which the continued procrastination10 of Waterbath had encouraged, had at last made irresistible11. If in her high-handed manner of playing their game she had not named the thing hidden, she had named the hiding-place. It was over the sense of this wrong that Fleda's lips closed tight: she was afraid of aggravating12 her case by some ejaculation that would make Owen prick13 up his ears. A great, quick effort, however, helped her to avoid the danger; with her constant idea of keeping cool and repressing a visible flutter, she found herself able to choose her words. Meanwhile he had exclaimed with his uncomfortable laugh: "That's a good one for me, Miss Vetch, isn't it?"  
"Of course you know by this time that your mother's very sharp," said Fleda.
"I think I can understand well enough when I know what's to be understood," the young man asserted. "But I hope you won't mind my saying that you've kept me pretty well in the dark about that. I've been waiting, waiting, waiting; so much has depended on your news. If you've been working for me I'm afraid it has been a thankless job. Can't she say what she'll do, one way or the other? I can't tell in the least where I am, you know. I haven't really learnt from you, since I saw you there, where she is. You wrote me to be patient, and upon my soul I have been. But I'm afraid you don't quite realize what I'm to be patient with. At Waterbath, don't you know? I've simply to account and answer for the damned things. Mona looks at me and waits, and I, hang it, I look at you and do the same." Fleda had gathered fuller confidence as he continued; so plain was it that she had succeeded in not dropping into his mind the spark that might produce the glimmer invoked14 by his mother. But even this fine assurance gave a start when, after an appealing pause, he went on: "I hope, you know, that after all you're not keeping anything back from me."
In the full face of what she was keeping back such a hope could only make her wince15; but she was prompt with her explanations in proportion as she felt they failed to meet him. The smutty maid came in with tea-things, and Fleda, moving several objects, eagerly accepted the diversion of arranging a place for them on one of the tables. "I've been trying to break your mother down because it has seemed there may be some chance of it. That's why I've let you go on expecting it. She's too proud to veer16 round all at once, but I think I speak correctly in saying that I've made an impression."
In spite of ordering tea she had not invited him to sit down; she herself made a point of standing17. He hovered18 by the window that looked into Raphael Road; she kept at the other side of the room; the stunted19 slavey, gazing wide-eyed at the beautiful gentleman and either stupidly or cunningly bringing but one thing at a time, came and went between the tea-tray and the open door.
"You pegged20 at her so hard?" Owen asked.
"I explained to her fully21 your position and put before her much more strongly than she liked what seemed to me her absolute duty."
Owen waited a little. "And having done that, you departed?"
Fleda felt the full need of giving a reason for her departure; but at first she only said with cheerful frankness: "I departed."
Her companion again looked at her in silence. "I thought you had gone to her for several months."
"Well," Fleda replied, "I couldn't stay. I didn't like it. I didn't like it at all—I couldn't bear it," she went on. "In the midst of those trophies22 of Poynton, living with them, touching23 them, using them, I felt as if I were backing her up. As I was not a bit of an accomplice24, as I hate what she has done, I didn't want to be, even to the extent of the mere25 look of it—what is it you call such people?—an accessory after the fact." There was something she kept back so rigidly26 that the joy of uttering the rest was double. She felt the sharpest need of giving him all the other truth. There was a matter as to which she had deceived him, and there was a matter as to which she had deceived Mrs. Gereth, but her lack of pleasure in deception27 as such came home to her now. She busied herself with the tea and, to extend the occupation, cleared the table still more, spreading out the coarse cups and saucers and the vulgar little plates. She was aware that she produced more confusion than symmetry, but she was also aware that she was violently nervous. Owen tried to help her with something: this made rather for disorder28. "My reason for not writing to you," she pursued, "was simply that I was hoping to hear more from Ricks. I've waited from day to day for that."
"But you've heard nothing?"
"Not a word."
"Then what I understand," said Owen, "is that, practically, you and Mummy have quarreled. And you've done it—I mean you personally—for me."
"Oh no, we haven't quarreled a bit!" Then with a smile: "We've only diverged29."
"You've diverged uncommonly30 far!"—Owen laughed back. Fleda, with her hideous31 crockery and her father's collections, could conceive that these objects, to her visitor's perception even more strongly than to her own, measured the length of the swing from Poynton and Ricks; she was aware too that her high standards figured vividly32 enough even to Owen's simplicity33 to make him reflect that West Kensington was a tremendous fall. If she had fallen it was because she had acted for him. She was all the more content he should thus see she had acted, as the cost of it, in his eyes, was none of her own showing. "What seems to have happened," he exclaimed, "is that you've had a row with her and yet not moved her!"
Fleda considered a moment; she was full of the impression that, notwithstanding her scant34 help, he saw his way clearer than he had seen it at Ricks. He might mean many things; and what if the many should mean in their turn only one? "The difficulty is, you understand, that she doesn't really see into your situation." She hesitated. "She doesn't comprehend why your marriage hasn't yet taken place."
Owen stared. "Why, for the reason I told you: that Mona won't take another step till mother has given full satisfaction. Everything must be there. You see, everything was there the day of that fatal visit."
"Yes, that's what I understood from you at Ricks," said Fleda; "but I haven't repeated it to your mother." She had hated, at Ricks, to talk with him about Mona, but now that scruple35 was swept away. If he could speak of Mona's visit as fatal, she need at least not pretend not to notice it. It made all the difference that she had tried to assist him and had failed: to give him any faith in her service she must give him all her reasons but one. She must give him, in other words, with a corresponding omission36, all Mrs. Gereth's. "You can easily see that, as she dislikes your marriage, anything that may seem to make it less certain works in her favor. Without my telling her, she has suspicions and views that are simply suggested by your delay. Therefore it didn't seem to me right to make them worse. By holding off long enough, she thinks she may put an end to your engagement. If Mona's waiting, she believes she may at last tire Mona out." That, in all conscience, Fleda felt was lucid37 enough.
So the young man, following her attentively38, appeared equally to feel. "So far as that goes," he promptly39 declared, "she has at last tired Mona out." He uttered the words with a strange approach to hilarity40.
Fleda's surprise at this aberration41 left her a moment looking at him. "Do you mean your marriage is off?"
Owen answered with a kind of gay despair. "God knows, Miss Vetch, where or when or what my marriage is! If it isn't 'off,' it certainly, at the point things have reached, isn't on. I haven't seen Mona for ten days, and for a week I haven't heard from her. She used to write me every week, don't you know? She won't budge42 from Waterbath, and I haven't budged43 from town." Then he suddenly broke out: "If she does chuck me, will mother come round?"
Fleda, at this, felt that her heroism44 had come to its real test—felt that in telling him the truth she should effectively raise a hand to push his impediment out of the way. Was the knowledge that such a motion would probably dispose forever of Mona capable of yielding to the conception of still giving her every chance she was entitled to? That conception was heroic, but at the same moment it reminded Fleda of the place it had held in her plan, she was also reminded of the not less urgent claim of the truth. Ah, the truth—there was a limit to the impunity45 with which one could juggle46 with it! Wasn't what she had most to remember the fact that Owen had a right to his property and that he had also her vow47 to stand by him in the effort to recover it? How did she stand by him if she hid from him the single way to recover it of which she was quite sure? For an instant that seemed to her the fullest of her life she debated. "Yes," she said at last, "if your marriage is really abandoned, she will give up everything she has taken."
"That's just what makes Mona hesitate!" Owen honestly exclaimed. "I mean the idea that I shall get back the things only if she gives me up."
Fleda thought an instant. "You mean makes her hesitate to keep you—not hesitate to renounce48 you?"
Owen looked a trifle bewildered. "She doesn't see the use of hanging on, as I haven't even yet put the matter into legal hands. She's awfully49 keen about that, and awfully disgusted that I don't. She says it's the only real way, and she thinks I'm afraid to take it. She has given me time and then has given me again more. She says I give Mummy too much. She says I'm a m............
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