Chapter 33 Summary
Mr. Spragg helps to ease some of Ralph’s frustration by telling Ralph that he will try to get Undine to agree not to take Paul until after the inevitable trial to contest custody. Mr. Spragg believes Undine can afford to wait until her marriage is settled. Ralph hopes Mr. Spragg’s request goes over well with Undine because he would be grateful for this extra time to think how he will fight Undine. However, Ralph is disappointed with Mrs. Spragg, whom he has learned encouraged her daughter to reclaim her son. Ralph had thought that in abandoning Paul, Undine had given up her rights. He believed he and Mrs. Spragg had an unspoken agreement on this matter.
Ever since the letter from Undine’s lawyers arrived, Ralph’s world has again fallen apart. He feels as if he has been watching his son playing in a field that has suddenly opened up and swallowed him. The Spraggs are turning more hostile toward him. Ralph’s mother appears to be suffering from even more stress than he is experiencing. Then Mr. Spragg informs Ralph that he has pleaded his case to Undine, but she refuses to allow Ralph the extra time. He is to ship the boy to Paris immediately.
Ralph feels he must talk to someone. He must ask someone to help him sort out his thoughts, and the only person to whom he can speak freely about this is Clare. When he arrives at her home, Clare listens intently to what has happened. Ralph tells her that he wants to fight Undine’s decision. It will take all the money he has to do it, but it will be worth it. Clare stops him. She asks him why he is bothering to take the case to the court—might he not use the money better by giving it directly to Undine?
These questions surprise Ralph. He does not fully understand what Clare is suggesting, so Clare clarifies her idea. She wants Ralph to consider why Undine suddenly wants to have Paul. Ralph thinks Undine is doing this because it will give her the appearance of respectability. If she has her son, everyone will think “all the rights” are on her side, which insinuates that everything that went wrong in her marriage was Ralph’s fault.
Clare thinks this over. She agrees that this is an obvious potential reason. However, she thinks there is more to it. Clare does not think this issue has anything to do with respectability. She has concluded that Undine is playing a game, and she is betting on Ralph fighting for his son. However, this does not involve the courts. The whole point of the bet is for Undine to get her hands on enough money to buy her annulment. What Undine really wants is to force Ralph to buy Paul back from her, Clare says.