The chapter begins with Fowler walking to the rue Catinat, a street of Saigon. It has been a few days since he and Pyle escaped the fort. In advance of his return, Fowler has sent Phuong a telegram explaining that he is going to be back in to Saigon soon.
Greene doesn’t describe Fowler’s time in the hospital since the explosion at the fort. This is a short novel, and Greene doesn’t linger on his character’s suffering—the plot must always move forward.
When he arrives at his home, Fowler finds Phuong waiting for him. She tells him to lie down and rest, and adds that he’s received a telegram from his editor, requesting 400 words on the military and political situation in Vietnam. Fowler is surprised that Phuong opened his mail, and asks her if she would have left him had the telegram been from Fowler’s wife, Helen. Phuong doesn’t answer the question, but tells Fowler that there is a letter from his wife.
Here, we’re given another suggestion that Phuong is less passive—less of a “piece of furniture,” to borrow Fowler’s image— than she seemed at first. Phuong is perfectly willing to disobey Fowler and break his trust, opening his mail without his permission. She also seems to genuinely love him, hence her interest in Fowler’s divorce.
Fowler opens the letter from his wife. In it, she tells him that she’ll never divorce him—both because of her religious convictions and because she sympathizes with “the poor girl” (Phuong) whom Fowler has claimed to love. She suggests that Fowler must already be planning to leave Phuong, since he can’t have imagined that Helen would agree to a divorce.
Helen seems remarkably insightful about her husband’s romantic inclinations. We’d already known that Fowler was willing to leave Vietnam without Phuong—this is why he asked for a transfer before he asked for a divorce—but we sense that Fowler hadn’t admitted this fact to himself.
Fowler finishes reading his wife’s letter, without displaying any outward signs of his distress or anger. When Phuong asks what Helen has said, Fowler says that he doesn’t know—Helen hasn’t made up her mind yet. Phuong and Fowler smoke opium together, and Fowler lies and tells Phuong that Helen is consulting a lawyer about divorce proceedings.
Fowler respects Phuong (and the concept of honesty) so little that he’s willing to lie to her about his divorce. He wants Phuong to stay with him for as long as possible, even if she eventually has to remain in Vietnam while he returns to England.
Later in the evening, Phuong and Fowler go to buy scarves and clothes. As Fowler waits outside a store for Phuong, he writes Pyle a letter. In it, he thanks Pyle for saving his life—though he refers to the heroic deed as “saving me from an uncomfortable end.” He says that Helen has agreed to divorce him, meaning that Pyle “need not worry” about Phuong any longer. As Phuong calls to Fowler, he thinks that he might be able to find a way to stay in Vietnam after all.
Fowler is uncomfortable showing affection or loyalty to other people, even when it’s a case of his life being saved. In part, this is because Fowler is uncomfortable with affection of any kind, but it certainly doesn’t help that Fowler and Pyle are rivals. Even when he thanks Pyle, Fowler slips in a cutting reminder that he, not Pyle, is going to end up with Phuong.