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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Spoils of Poynton > CHAPTER XVI
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 He had uttered the hope that he should see her the next day, but Fleda could easily reflect that he wouldn't see her if she were not there to be seen. If there was a thing in the world she desired at that moment, it was that the next day should have no point of resemblance with the day that had just elapsed. She accordingly aspired2 to an absence: she would go immediately down to Maggie. She ran out that evening and telegraphed to her sister, and in the morning she quitted London by an early train. She required for this step no reason but the sense of necessity. It was a strong personal need; she wished to interpose something, and there was nothing she could interpose but distance, but time. If Mrs. Brigstock had to deal with Owen she would allow Mrs. Brigstock the chance. To be there, to be in the midst of it, was the reverse of what she craved3: she had already been more in the midst of it than had ever entered into her plan. At any rate she had renounced4 her plan; she had no plan now but the plan of separation. This was to abandon Owen, to give up the fine office of helping5 him back to his own; but when she had undertaken that office she had not foreseen that Mrs. Gereth would defeat it by a manœuvre so simple. The scene at her father's rooms had extinguished all offices, and the scene at her father's rooms was of Mrs. Gereth's producing. Owen, at all events, must now act for himself: he had obligations to meet, he had satisfactions to give, and Fleda fairly ached with the wish that he might be equal to them. She never knew the extent of her tenderness for him till she became conscious of the present force of her desire that he should be superior, be perhaps even sublime6. She obscurely made out that superiority, that sublimity7, mightn't after all be fatal. She closed her eyes and lived for a day or two in the mere8 beauty of confidence. It was with her on the short journey; it was with her at Maggie's; it glorified9 the mean little house in the stupid little town. Owen had grown larger to her: he would do, like a man, whatever he should have to do. He wouldn't be weak—not as she was: she herself was weak exceedingly.  
Arranging her few possessions in Maggie's fewer receptacles, she caught a glimpse of the bright side of the fact that her old things were not such a problem as Mrs. Gereth's. Picking her way with Maggie through the local puddles10, diving with her into smelly cottages and supporting her, at smellier shops, in firmness over the weight of joints11 and the taste of cheese, it was still her own secret that was universally inter-woven In the puddles, the cottages, the shops she was comfortably alone with it; that comfort prevailed even while, at the evening meal, her brother-in-law invited her attention to a diagram, drawn12 with a fork on too soiled a tablecloth13, of the scandalous drains of the Convalescent Home. To be alone with it she had come away from Ricks; and now she knew that to be alone with it she had come away from London. This advantage was of course menaced, but not immediately destroyed, by the arrival, on the second day, of the note she had been sure she should receive from Owen. He had gone to West Kensington and found her flown, but he had got her address from the little maid and then hurried to a club and written to her. "Why have you left me just when I want you most?" he demanded. The next words, it was true, were more reassuring14 on the question of his steadiness. "I don't know what your reason may be," they went on, "nor why you've not left a line for me; but I don't think you can feel that I did anything yesterday that it wasn't right for me to do. As regards Mrs. Brigstock, certainly, I just felt what was right and I did it. She had no business whatever to attack you that way, and I should have been ashamed if I had left her there to worry you. I won't have you worried by any one; no one shall be disagreeable to you but me. I didn't mean to be so yesterday, and I don't to-day; but I'm perfectly15 free now to want you, and I want you much more than you've allowed me to explain. You'll see if I'm not all right, if you'll let me come to you. Don't be afraid—I'll not hurt you nor trouble you. I give you my honor I'll not hurt any one. Only I must see you, on what I had to say to Mrs. B. She was nastier than I thought she could be, but I'm behaving like an angel. I assure you I'm all right—that's exactly what I want you to see. You owe me something, you know, for what you said you would do and haven't done; what your departure without a word gives me to understand—doesn't it?—that you definitely can't do. Don't simply forsake16 me. See me, if you only see me once. I shan't wait for any leave—I shall come down to-morrow. I've been looking into trains and find there's something that will bring me down just after lunch and something very good for getting me back. I won't stop long. For God's sake, be there."
This communication arrived in the morning, but Fleda would still have had time to wire a protest. She debated on that alternative; then she read the note over and found in one phrase an exact statement of her duty. Owen's simplicity17 had expressed it, and her subtlety18 had nothing to answer. She owed him something for her obvious failure, and what she owed him was to receive him. If indeed she had known he would make this attempt she might have been held to have gained nothing by her flight. Well, she had gained what she had gained—she had gained the interval19. She had no compunction for the greater trouble she should give the young man; it was now doubtless right that he should have as much trouble as possible. Maggie, who thought she was in her confidence, but was immensely not, had reproached her for having left Mrs. Gereth, and Maggie was just in this proportion gratified to hear of the visitor with whom, early in the afternoon, she would have to ask to be left alone. Maggie liked to see far, and now she could sit upstairs and rake the whole future. She had known that, as she familiarly said, there was something the matter with Fleda, and the value of that knowledge was augmented20 by the fact that there was apparently21 also something the matter with Mr. Gereth.
Fleda, downstairs, learned soon enough what this was. It was simply that, as he announced the moment he stood before her, he was now all right. When she asked him what he meant by that state he replied that he meant he could practically regard himself henceforth as a free man: he had had at West Kensington, as soon as they got into the street, such a horrid22 scene with Mrs. Brigstock.
"I knew what she wanted to say to me: that's why I was determined23 to get her off. I knew I shouldn't like it, but I was perfectly prepared," said Owen. "She brought it out as soon as we got round the corner; she asked me point-blank if I was in love with you."
"And what did you say to that?"
"That it was none of her business."
"Ah," said Fleda, "I'm not so sure!"
"Well, I am, and I'm the person most concerned. Of course I didn't use just those words: I was perfectly civil, quite as civil as she. But I told her I didn't consider she had a right to put me any such question. I said I wasn't sure that even Mona had, with the extraordinary line, you know, that Mona has taken. At any rate the whole thing, the way I put it, was between Mona and me; and between Mona and me, if she didn't mind, it would just have to remain."
Fleda was silent a little. "All that didn't answer her question."
"Then you think I ought to have told her?"
Again our young lady reflected. "I think I'm rather glad you didn't."
"I knew what I was about," said Owen. "It didn't strike me that she had the least right to come down on us that way and ask for explanations."
Fleda looked very grave, weighing the whole matter. "I dare say that when she started, when she arrived, she didn't mean to 'come down.'"
"What then did she mean to do?"
"What she said to me just before she went: she meant to plead with me."
"Oh, I heard her!" said Owen. "But plead with you for what?"
"For you, of course—to entreat24 me to give you up. She thinks me awfully25 designing—that I've taken some sort of possession of you."
Owen stared. "You haven't lifted a finger! It's I who have taken possession."
"Very true, you've done it all yourself." Fleda spoke26 gravely and gently, without a breath of coquetry. "But those are shades between which she's probably not obliged to distinguish. It's enough for her that we're singularly intimate."
"I am, but you're not!" Owen exclaimed.
Fleda gave a dim smile. "You make me at least feel that I'm learning to know you very well when I hear you say such a thing as that. Mrs. Brigstock came to get round me, to supplicate27 me," she went on; "but to find you there, looking so much at home, paying me a friendly call and shoving the tea-things about—that was too much for her patience. She doesn't know, you see, that I'm after all a decent girl. She simply made up her mind on the spot that I'm a very bad case."
"I couldn't stand the way she treated you, and that was what I had to say to her," Owen returned.
"She's simple and slow, but she's not a fool: I think she treated me, on the whole, very well." Fleda remembered how Mrs. Gereth had treated Mona when the Brigstocks came down to Poynton.
Owen evidently thought her painfully perverse28. "It was you who carried it off; you behaved like a brick. And so did I, I consider. If you only knew the difficulty I had! I told her you were the noblest and straightest of women."
"That can hardly have removed her impression that there are things I put you up to."
"It didn't," Owen replied with candor29. "She said our relation, yours and mine, isn't innocent."
"What did she mean by that?"
"As you may suppose, I particularly inquired. Do you know what she had the cheek to tell me?" Owen asked. "She didn't better it much: she said she meant that it's excessively unnatural30."
Fleda considered afresh. "Well, it is!" she brought out at last.
"Then, upon my honor, it's only you who make it so!" Her perversity31 was distinctly too much for him. "I mean you make it so by the way you keep me off."
"Have I kept you off to-day?" Fleda sadly shook her head, raising her arms a little and dropping them.
Her gesture of resignation gave him a pretext32 for catching33 at her hand, but before he could take it she had put it behind her. They had been seated together on Maggie's single sofa, and her movement brought her to her feet, while Owen, looking at her reproachfully, leaned back in discouragement. "What good does it do me to be here when I find you only a stone?"
She met his eyes with all the tenderness she had not yet uttered, and she had not known till this moment how great was the accumulation. "Perhaps, after all," she risked, "there may be even in a stone still some little help for you."
Owen sat there a minute staring at her. "Ah, you're beautiful, more beautiful than any one," he broke out, "but I'll be hanged if I can ever understand you! On Tuesday, at your father's, you were beautiful—as beautiful, just before I left, as you are at this instant. But the next day, when I went back, I found it had apparently meant nothing; and now, again, that you let me come here and you shine at me like an angel, it doesn't bring you an inch nearer to saying what I want you to say." He remained a moment longer in the same position; then he jerked himself up. "What I want you to say is that you like me—what I want you to say is that you pity me." He sprang up and came to her. "What I want you to say is that you'll save me!"
Fleda hesitated. "Why do you need saving, when you announced to me just now that you're a free man?"
He too hesitated, but he was not checked. "It's just for the reason that I'm free. Don't you know what I mean, Miss Vetch? I want you to marry me."
Fleda, at this, put out her hand in charity; she held his own, which quickly grasped it a moment, and if he had described her as shining at him it may be assumed that she shone all the more in her deep, still smile. "Let me hear a little more about your freedom first," she said. "I gather that Mrs. Brigstock was not wholly satisfied with the way you disposed of her question."
"I dare say she wasn't. But the less she's satisfied the more I'm free."
"What bearing have her feelings, pray?" Fleda asked.
"Why, Mona's much worse than her mother. She wants much more to give me up."
"Then why doesn't she do it?"
"She will, as soon as her mother gets home and tells her."
"Tells her what?" Fleda inquired.
"Why, that I'm in love with you!"
Fleda debated. "Are you so very sure she will?"
"Certainly I'm sure, with all the evidence I already have. That will finish her!" Owen declared.
This made his companion thoughtful again. "Can you take such pleasure in her being 'finished'—a poor girl you've once loved?"
Owen waited long enough to take in the question; then with a serenity34 startling even to her knowledge of his nature, "I don't think I can have really loved her, you know," he replied.
Fleda broke into a laugh which gave him a surprise as visible as the emotion it testified to. "Then how am I to know that you 'really' love—anybody else?"
"Oh, I'll show you that!" said Owen.
"I must take it on trust," the girl pursued. "And what if Mona doesn't give you up?" she added.
Owen was baffled but a few seconds; he had thought of everything. "Why, that's just where you come in."
"To save you? I see. You mean I must get rid of her for you." His blankness showed for a little that he felt the chill of her cold logic35; but as she waited for his rejoinder she knew to which of them it cost most. He gasped36 a minute, and that gave her time to say: "You see, Mr. Owen, how impossible it is to talk of such things yet!"
Like lightning he had grasped her arm. "You mean you will talk of them?" Then as he began to take the flood of assent37 from her eyes: "You will listen to me? Oh, you dear, you dear—when, when?"
"Ah, when it isn't mere misery38!" The words had broken from her in a sudden loud cry, and what next happened was that the very sound of her pain upset her. She heard her own true note; she turned short away from him; in a moment she had burst into sobs39; in another his arms were round her; the next she had let herself go so far that even Mrs. Gereth might have seen it. He clasped her, and she gave herself—she poured out her tears on his breast; something prisoned and pent
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