The child, however, was not destined to enjoy much of Sir Claude at the
"thingumbob," which took for them a very different turn indeed. On the spo_rs. Beale, with hilarity, had urged her to the course proposed; but later, a_he Exhibition, she withdrew this allowance, mentioning as a result of secon_houghts that when a man was so sensitive anything at all frisky usually mad_im worse. It would have been hard indeed for Sir Claude to be "worse," Maisi_elt, as, in the gardens and the crowd, when the first dazzle had dropped, sh_ooked for him in vain up and down. They had all their time, the couple, fo_rugal wistful wandering: they had partaken together at home of the ligh_ague meal—Maisie's name for it was a "jam-supper"—to which they were reduce_hen Mr. Farange sought his pleasure abroad. It was abroad now entirely tha_r. Farange pursued this ideal, and it was the actual impression of hi_aughter, derived from his wife, that he had three days before joined _riend's yacht at Cowes. The place was full of side-shows, to which Mrs. Beal_ould introduce the little girl only, alas, by revealing to her so attractive,
so enthralling a name: the side-shows, each time, were sixpence apiece, an_he fond allegiance enjoyed by the elder of our pair had been established fro_he earliest time in spite of a paucity of sixpences. Small coin dropped fro_er as half-heartedly as answers from bad children to lessons that had no_een looked at. Maisie passed more slowly the great painted posters, pressin_ith a linked arm closer to her friend's pocket, where she hoped for th_udible chink of a shilling. But the upshot of this was but to deepen he_earning: if Sir Claude would only at last come the shillings would begin t_ing. The companions paused, for want of one, before the Flowers of th_orest, a large presentment of bright brown ladies—they were brown all over—i_ medium suggestive of tropical luxuriance, and there Maisie dolorousl_xpressed her belief that he would never come at all. Mrs. Beale hereupon,
though discernibly disappointed, reminded her that he had not been promised a_ certainty—a remark that caused the child to gaze at the Flowers through _lur in which they became more magnificent, yet oddly more confused, and b_hich moreover confusion was imparted to the aspect of a gentleman who at tha_oment, in the company of a lady, came out of the brilliant booth. The lad_as so brown that Maisie at first took her for one of the Flowers; but durin_he few seconds that this required—a few seconds in which she had als_esolately given up Sir Claude—she heard Mrs. Beale's voice, behind her,
gather both wonder and pain into a single sharp little cry.
"Of all the wickedness—BEALE!"
He had already, without distinguishing them in the mass of strollers, turne_nother way—it seemed at the brown lady's suggestion. Her course was marked,
over heads and shoulders, by an upright scarlet plume, as to the ownership o_hich Maisie was instantly eager. "Who is she—who is she?"
But Mrs. Beale for a moment only looked after them. "The liar— the liar!"
Maisie considered. "Because he's not—where one thought?" That was also, _onth ago in Kensington Gardens, where her mother had not been. "Perhaps h_as come back," she was quick to contribute.
"He never went—the hound!"
That, according to Sir Claude, had been also what her mother had not done, an_aisie could only have a sense of something that in a maturer mind would b_alled the way history repeats itself.
"Who IS she?" she asked again.
Mrs. Beale, fixed to the spot, seemed lost in the vision of an opportunit_issed. "If he had only seen me!"—it came from between her teeth. "She's _rand-new one. But he must have been with her since Tuesday."
Maisie took it in. "She's almost black," she then reported.
"They're always hideous," said Mrs. Beale.
This was a remark on which the child had again to reflect. "Oh not his WIVES!"
she remonstrantly exclaimed. The words at another moment would probably hav_et her friend "off," but Mrs. Beale was now, in her instant vigilance, to_mmensely "on." "Did you ever in your life see such a feather?" Maisi_resently continued.
This decoration appeared to have paused at some distance, and in spite o_ntervening groups they could both look at it. "Oh that's the way the_ress—the vulgarest of the vulgar!"
"They're coming back—they'll see us!" Maisie the next moment cried; and whil_er companion answered that this was exactly what she wanted and the chil_eturned "Here they are—here they are!" the unconscious subjects of so muc_ttention, with a change of mind about their direction, quickly retraced thei_teps and precipitated themselves upon their critics. Their unconsciousnes_ave Mrs. Beale time to leap, under her breath, to a recognition which Maisi_aught.
"It must be Mrs. Cuddon!"
Maisie looked at Mrs. Cuddon hard—her lips even echoed the name. What followe_as extraordinarily rapid—a minute of livelier battle than had ever yet, in s_hort a span at least, been waged round our heroine. The muffled shock—les_eople should notice— was violent, and it was only for her later thought tha_he steps fell into their order, the steps through which, in a bewildermen_ot so much of sound as of silence, she had come to find herself, too soon fo_omprehension and too strangely for fear, at the door of the Exhibition wit_er father. He thrust her into a hansom and got in after her, and then i_as—as she drove along with him—that she recovered a little what had happened.
Face to face with them in the gardens he had seen them, and there had been _oment of checked concussion during which, in a glare of black eyes and a tos_f red plumage, Mrs. Cuddon had recognised them, ejaculated and vanished.
There had been another moment at which she became aware of Sir Claude, als_oised there in surprise, but out of her father's view, as if he had bee_arned off at the very moment of reaching them. It fell into its place wit_ll the rest that she had heard Mrs. Beale say to her father, but whether lo_r loud was now lost to her, something about his having this time a new one;
on which he had growled something indistinct but apparently in the tone and o_he sort that the child, from her earliest years, had associated with hearin_omebody retort to somebody that somebody was "another." "Oh I stick to th_ld!" Mrs. Beale had then quite loudly pronounced; and her accent, even as th_ab got away, was still in the air, Maisie's effective companion having spoke_o other word from the moment of whisking her off—none at least save th_ndistinguishable address which, over the top of the hansom and poised on th_tep, he had given the driver. Reconstructing these things later Maisi_heorised that she at this point would have put a question to him had not th_ilence into which he charmed her or scared her—she could scarcely tel_hich—come from his suddenly making her feel his arm about her, feel, as h_rew her close, that he was agitated in a way he had never yet shown her. I_truck her he trembled, trembled too much to speak, and this had the effect o_aking her, with an emotion which, though it had begun to throb in an instant,
was by no means all dread, conform to his portentous hush. The act o_ossession that his pressure in a manner advertised came back to her after th_ongest of the long intermissions that had ever let anything come back. The_rove and drove, and he kept her close; she stared straight before her,
holding her breath, watching one dark street succeed another and strangel_onscious that what it all meant was somehow that papa was less to be left ou_f everything than she had supposed. It took her but a minute to surrender t_his discovery, which, in the form of his present embrace, suggested a purpos_n him prodigiously reaffirmed and with that a confused confidence. Sh_either knew exactly what he had done nor what he was doing; she could only,
altogether impressed and rather proud, vibrate with the sense that he ha_umped up to do something and that she had as quickly become a part of it. I_as a part of it too that here they were at a house that seemed not large, bu_n the fresh white front of which the street-lamp showed a smartness o_lower-boxes. The child had been in thousands of stories—all Mrs. Wix's an_er own, to say nothing of the richest romances of French Elise—but she ha_ever been in such a story as this. By the time he had helped her out of th_ab, which drove away, and she heard in the door of the house the promp_ittle click of his key, the Arabian Nights had quite closed round her.
From this minute that pitch of the wondrous was in everything, particularly i_uch an instant "Open Sesame" and in the departure of the cab, a rattling voi_illed with relinquished step-parents; it was, with the vividness, the almos_linding whiteness of the light that sprang responsive to papa's quick touc_f a little brass knob on the wall, in a place that, at the top of a shor_oft staircase, struck her as the most beautiful she had ever seen in he_ife. The next thing she perceived it to be was the drawing-room of a lady—o_ lady, she could see in a moment, and not of a gentleman, not even of on_ike papa himself or even like Sir Claude—whose things were as much prettie_han mamma's as it had always had to be confessed that mamma's were prettie_han Mrs. Beale's. In the middle of the small bright room and the presence o_ore curtains and cushions, more pictures and mirrors, more palm-tree_rooping over brocaded and gilded nooks, more little silver boxes scattere_ver little crooked tables and little oval miniatures hooked upon velve_creens than Mrs. Beale and her ladyship together could, in an unnatura_lliance, have dreamed of mustering, the child became aware, with a shar_oretaste of compassion, of something that was strangely like a relegation t_bscurity of each of those women of taste. It was a stranger operation stil_hat her father should on the spot be presented to her as quite advantageousl_nd even grandly at home in the dazzling scene and himself by so much the mor_eparated from scenes inferior to it. She spent with him in it, whil_xplanations continued to hang back, twenty minutes that, in their sudden dro_f danger, affected her, though there were neither buns nor ginger-beer, lik_n extemporised expensive treat.
"Is she very rich?" He had begun to strike her as almost embarrassed, so sh_hat he might have found himself with a young lady with whom he had little i_ommon. She was literally moved by this apprehension to offer him some tactfu_elief.
Beale Farange stood and smiled at his young lady, his back to the fancifu_ireplace, his light overcoat—the very lightest in London—wide open, and hi_onderful lustrous beard completely concealing the expanse of his shirt-front.
It pleased her more than ever to think that papa was handsome and, though a_igh aloft as mamma and almost, in his specially florid evening-dress, a_plendid, of a beauty somehow less belligerent, less terrible.
"The Countess? Why do you ask me that?"
Maisie's eyes opened wider. "Is she a Countess?"
He seemed to treat her wonder as a positive tribute. "Oh yes, my dear, but i_sn't an English title."
Her manner appreciated this. "Is it a French one?"
"No, nor French either. It's American."
She conversed agreeably. "Ah then of course she must be rich." She took i_uch a combination of nationality and rank. "I never saw anything so lovely."
"Did you have a sight of her?" Beale asked.
"At the Exhibition?" Maisie smiled. "She was gone too quick."
Her father laughed. "She did slope!" She had feared he would say somethin_bout Mrs. Beale and Sir Claude, yet the way he spared them made her rathe_neasy too. All he risked was, the next minute, "She has a horror of vulga_cenes."
This was something she needn't take up; she could still continue bland. "Bu_here do you suppose she went?"
"Oh I thought she'd have taken a cab and have been here by this time. Bu_he'll turn up all right."
"I'm sure I HOPE she will," Maisie said; she spoke with an earnestnes_egotten of the impression of all the beauty about them, to which, in person,
the Countess might make further contribution. "We came awfully fast," sh_dded.
Her father again laughed loud. "Yes, my dear, I made you step out!" He waite_n instant, then pursued: "I want her to see you."
Maisie, at this, rejoiced in the attention that, for their evening out, Mrs.
Beale, even to the extent of personally "doing up" her old hat, had given he_ppearance. Meanwhile her father went on: "You'll like her awfully."
"Oh I'm sure I shall!" After which, either from the effect of having said s_uch or from that of a sudden glimpse of the impossibility of saying more, sh_elt an embarrassment and sought refuge in a minor branch of the subject. "_hought she was Mrs. Cuddon."
Beale's gaiety rather increased than diminished. "You mean my wife did? M_ear child, my wife's a damned fool!" He had the oddest air of speaking of hi_ife as of a person whom she might scarcely have known, so that the refuge o_er scruple didn't prove particularly happy. Beale on the other hand appeare_fter an instant himself to feel a scruple. "What I mean is, to spea_eriously, that she doesn't really know anything about anything." He paused,
following the child's charmed eyes and tentative step or two as they brough_er nearer to the pretty things on one of the tables. "She thinks she has goo_hings, don't you know!" He quite jeered at Mrs. Beale's delusion.
Maisie felt she must confess that it WAS one; everything she had missed at th_ide-shows was made up to her by the Countess's luxuries. "Yes," sh_onsidered; "she does think that."
There was again a dryness in the way Beale replied that it didn't matter wha_he thought; but there was an increasing sweetness for his daughter in bein_ith him so long without his doing anything worse. The whole hour of cours_as to remain with her, for days and weeks, ineffaceably illumined an_onfirmed; by the end of which she was able to read into it a hundred thing_hat had been at the moment mere miraculous pleasantness. What they at th_oment came to was simply that her companion was still in a good deal of _lutter, yet wished not to show it, and that just in proportion as h_ucceeded in this attempt he was able to encourage her to regard him as kind.
He moved about the room after a little, showed her things, spoke to her as _erson of taste, told her the name, which she remembered, of the famous Frenc_ady represented in one of the miniatures, and remarked, as if he had caugh_er wistful over a trinket or a trailing stuff, that he made no doubt th_ountess, on coming in, would give her something jolly. He spied a pink sati_ox with a looking-glass let into the cover, which he raised, with a quic_acetious flourish, to offer her the privilege of six rows of chocolat_onbons, cutting out thereby Sir Claude, who had never gone beyond four rows.
"I can do what I like with these," he said, "for I don't mind telling you _ave 'em to her myself." The Countess had evidently appreciated the gift;
there were numerous gaps, a ravage now quite unchecked, in the array. Eve_hile they waited together Maisie had her sense, which was the mark of wha_heir separation had become, of her having grown for him, since the last tim_e had, as it were, noticed her, and by increase of years and of inches if b_othing else, much more of a little person to reckon with. Yes, this was _art of the positive awkwardness that he carried off by being almost foolishl_ender. There was a passage during which, on a yellow silk sofa under one o_he palms, he had her on his knee, stroking her hair, playfully holding he_ff while he showed his shining fangs and let her, with a vague affectionat_elpless pointless "Dear old girl, dear little daughter," inhale the fragranc_f his cherished beard. She must have been sorry for him, she afterwards knew,
so well could she privately follow his difficulty in being specific to he_bout anything. She had such possibilities of vibration, of response, that i_eeded nothing more than this to make up to her in fact for omissions. Th_ears came into her eyes again as they had done when in the Park that day th_aptain told her so "splendidly" that her mother was good. What was this bu_plendid too—this still directer goodness of her father and this unexample_hining solitude with him, out of which everything had dropped but that he wa_apa and that he was magnificent? It didn't spoil it that she finally felt h_ust have, as he became restless, some purpose he didn't quite see his way t_ring out, for in the freshness of their recovered fellowship she would hav_ent herself gleefully to his suggesting, or even to his pretending, tha_heir relations were easy and graceful. There was something in him tha_eemed, and quite touchingly, to ask her to help him to pretend—pretend h_new enough about her life and her education, her means of subsistence and he_iew of himself, to give the questions he couldn't put her a natural domesti_one. She would have pretended with ecstasy if he could only have given he_he cue. She waited for it while, between his big teeth, he breathed the sigh_he didn't know to be stupid. And as if, though he was so stupid all through,
he had let the friendly suffusion of her eyes yet tell him she was ready fo_nything, he floundered about, wondering what the devil he could lay hold of.