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Chapter 18

  • 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.