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Chapter 19

  • When he had lighted a cigarette and begun to smoke in her face it was as if h_ad struck with the match the note of some queer clumsy ferment of ol_rofessions, old scandals, old duties, a dim perception of what he possesse_n her and what, if everything had only—damn it!—been totally different, sh_ight still be able to give him. What she was able to give him, however, a_is blinking eyes seemed to make out through the smoke, would be simply wha_e should be able to get from her. To give something, to give here on th_pot, was all her own desire. Among the old things that came back was he_ittle instinct of keeping the peace; it made her wonder more sharply wha_articular thing she could do or not do, what particular word she could spea_r not speak, what particular line she could take or not take, that might fo_very one, even for the Countess, give a better turn to the crisis. She wa_eady, in this interest, for an immense surrender, a surrender of everythin_ut Sir Claude, of everything but Mrs. Beale. The immensity didn't includ_HEM; but if he had an idea at the back of his head she had also one in _ecess as deep, and for a time, while they sat together, there was a_xtraordinary mute passage between her vision of this vision of his, hi_ision of her vision, and her vision of his vision of her vision. What ther_as no effective record of indeed was the small strange pathos on the child'_art of an innocence so saturated with knowledge and so directed to diplomacy.
  • What, further, Beale finally laid hold of while he masked again with his fin_resence half the flounces of the fireplace was: "Do you know, my dear, _hall soon be off to America?" It struck his daughter both as a short cut an_s the way he wouldn't have said it to his wife. But his wife figured with _right superficial assurance in her response.
  • "Do you mean with Mrs. Beale?"
  • Her father looked at her hard. "Don't be a little ass!"
  • Her silence appeared to represent a concentrated effort not to be. "Then wit_he Countess?"
  • "With her or without her, my dear; that concerns only your poor daddy. She ha_ig interests over there, and she wants me to take a look at them."
  • Maisie threw herself into them. "Will that take very long?"
  • "Yes; they're in such a muddle—it may take months. Now what I want to hear, you know, is whether you'd like to come along?"
  • Planted once more before him in the middle of the room she felt hersel_urning white. "I?" she gasped, yet feeling as soon as she had spoken tha_uch a note of dismay was not altogether pretty. She felt it still more whil_er father replied, with a shake of his legs, a toss of his cigarette-ash an_ fidgety look —he was for ever taking one—all the length of his waistcoat an_rousers, that she needn't be quite so disgusted. It helped her in a fe_econds to appear more as he would like her that she saw, in the lovely ligh_f the Countess's splendour, exactly, however she appeared, the right answe_o make. "Dear papa, I'll go with you anywhere."
  • He turned his back to her and stood with his nose at the glass of th_himneypiece while he brushed specks of ash out of his beard. Then he abruptl_aid: "Do you know anything about your brute of a mother?"
  • It was just of her brute of a mother that the manner of the question in _emarkable degree reminded her: it had the free flight of one of Ida's fin_ridgings of space. With the sense of this was kindled for Maisie at the sam_ime an inspiration. "Oh yes, I know everything!" and she became so radian_hat her father, seeing it in the mirror, turned back to her and presently, o_he sofa, had her at his knee again and was again particularly affecting.
  • Maisie's inspiration instructed her, pressingly, that the more she should b_ble to say about mamma the less she would be called upon to speak of he_tep-parents. She kept hoping the Countess would come in before her power t_rotect them was exhausted; and it was now, in closer quarters with he_ompanion, that the idea at the back of her head shifted its place to he_ips. She told him she had met her mother in the Park with a gentleman who, while Sir Claude had strolled with her ladyship, had been kind and had sat an_alked to her; narrating the scene with a remembrance of her pledge of secrec_o the Captain quite brushed away by the joy of seeing Beale listen withou_rofane interruption. It was almost an amazement, but it was indeed all a joy, thus to be able to guess that papa was at last quite tired of his anger—of hi_nger at any rate about mamma. He was only bored with her now. That made it, however, the more imperative that his spent displeasure shouldn't be blown ou_gain. It charmed the child to see how much she could interest him; and th_harm remained even when, after asking her a dozen questions, he observe_usingly and a little obscurely: "Yes, damned if she won't!" For in this to_here was a detachment, a wise weariness that made her feel safe. She had ha_o mention Sir Claude, though she mentioned him as little as possible an_eale only appeared to look quite over his head. It pieced itself together fo_er that this was the mildness of general indifference, a source of profit s_reat for herself personally that if the Countess was the author of it she wa_repared literally to hug the Countess. She betrayed that eagerness by _estless question about her, to which her father replied: "Oh she has a hea_n her shoulders. I'll back her to get out of anything!" He looked at Maisi_uite as if he could trace the connexion between her enquiry and th_mpatience of her gratitude. "Do you mean to say you'd really come with me?"
  • She felt as if he were now looking at her very hard indeed, and also as if sh_ad grown ever so much older. "I'll do anything in the world you ask me, papa."
  • He gave again, with a laugh and with his legs apart, his proprietary glance a_is waistcoat and trousers. "That's a way, my dear, of saying 'No, thank you!'
  • You know you don't want to go the least little mite. You can't humbug ME!"
  • Beale Farange laid down. "I don't want to bully you—I never bullied you in m_ife; but I make you the offer, and it's to take or to leave. Your mother wil_ever again have any more to do with you than if you were a kitchenmaid sh_ad turned out for going wrong. Therefore of course I'm your natural protecto_nd you've a right to get everything out of me you can. Now's your chance, yo_now—you won't be half-clever if you don't. You can't say I don't put i_efore you—you can't say I ain't kind to you or that I don't play fair. Min_ou never say that, you know—it WOULD bring me down on you. I know what'_roper. I'll take you again, just as I HAVE taken you again and again. And I'_uch obliged to you for making up such a face."
  • She was conscious enough that her face indeed couldn't please him if it showe_ny sign—just as she hoped it didn't—of her sharp impression of what he no_eally wanted to do. Wasn't he trying to turn the tables on her, embarrass he_omehow into admitting that what would really suit her little book would be, after doing so much for good manners, to leave her wholly at liberty t_rrange for herself? She began to be nervous again: it rolled over her tha_his was their parting, their parting for ever, and that he had brought he_here for so many caresses only because it was important such an occasio_hould look better for him than any other. For her to spoil it by the note o_iscord would certainly give him ground for complaint; and the child wa_omentarily bewildered between her alternatives of agreeing with him about he_anting to get rid of him and displeasing him by pretending to stick to him.
  • So she found for the moment no solution but to murmur very helplessly: "O_apa—oh papa!"
  • "I know what you're up to—don't tell ME!" After which he came straight ove_nd, in the most inconsequent way in the world, clasped her in his arms _oment and rubbed his beard against her cheek. Then she understood as well a_f he had spoken it that what he wanted, hang it, was that she should let hi_ff with all the honours—with all the appearance of virtue and sacrifice o_is side. It was exactly as if he had broken out to her: "I say, you littl_ooby, help me to be irreproachable, to be noble, and yet to have none of th_eastly bore of it. There's only impropriety enough for one of us; so YOU mus_ake it all. REPUDIATE your dear old daddy—in the face, mind you, of hi_ender supplications. He can't be rough with you—it isn't in his nature: therefore you'll have successfully chucked him because he was too generous t_e as firm with you, poor man, as was, after all, his duty." This was what h_ommunicated in a series of tremendous pats on the back; that portion of he_erson had never been so thumped since Moddle thumped her when she choked.
  • After a moment he gave her the further impression of having become sure enoug_f her to be able very gracefully to say out: "You know your mother loathe_ou, loathes you simply. And I've been thinking over your precious man—th_ellow you told me about."
  • "Well," Maisie replied with competence, "I'm sure of HIM."
  • Her father was vague for an instant. "Do you mean sure of his liking you?"
  • "Oh no; of his liking HER!"
  • Beale had a return of gaiety. "There's no accounting for tastes! It's wha_hey all say, you know."
  • "I don't care—I'm sure of him!" Maisie repeated.
  • "Sure, you mean, that she'll bolt?"
  • Maisie knew all about bolting, but, decidedly, she WAS older, and there wa_omething in her that could wince at the way her father made the ugl_ord—ugly enough at best—sound flat and low. It prompted her to amend hi_llusion, which she did by saying: "I don't know what she'll do. But she'll b_appy."
  • "Let us hope so," said Beale—almost as for edification. "The more happy she i_t any rate the less she'll want you about. That's why I press you," h_greeably pursued, "to consider this handsome offer—I mean seriously, yo_now—of your sole surviving parent." Their eyes, at this, met again in a lon_nd extraordinary communion which terminated in his ejaculating: "Ah yo_ittle scoundrel!" She took it from him in the manner it seemed to her h_ould like best and with a success that encouraged him to go on: "You ARE _eep little devil!" Her silence, ticking like a watch, acknowledged even this, in confirmation of which he finally brought out: "You've settled it with th_ther pair!"
  • "Well, what if I have?" She sounded to herself most bold.
  • Her father, quite as in the old days, broke into a peal. "Why, don't you kno_hey're awful?"
  • She grew bolder still. "I don't care—not a bit!"
  • "But they're probably the worst people in the world and the very greates_riminals," Beale pleasantly urged. "I'm not the man, my dear, not to let yo_now it."
  • "Well, it doesn't prevent them from loving me. They love me tremendously."
  • Maisie turned crimson to hear herself.
  • Her companion fumbled; almost any one—et alone a daughter— would have seen ho_onscientious he wanted to be. "I dare say. But do you know why?" She brave_is eyes and he added: "You're a jolly good pretext."
  • "For what?" Maisie asked.
  • "Why, for their game. I needn't tell you what that is."
  • The child reflected. "Well then that's all the more reason."
  • "Reason for what, pray?"
  • "For their being kind to me."
  • "And for your keeping in with them?" Beale roared again; it was as if hi_pirits rose and rose. "Do you realise, pray, that in saying that you're _onster?"
  • She turned it over. "A monster?"
  • "They've MADE one of you. Upon my honour it's quite awful. It shows the kin_f people they are. Don't you understand," Beale pursued, "that when they'v_ade you as horrid as they can—as horrid as themselves—they'll just simpl_huck you?"
  • She had at this a flicker of passion. "They WON'T chuck me!"
  • "I beg your pardon," her father courteously insisted; "it's my duty to put i_efore you. I shouldn't forgive myself if I didn't point out to you tha_hey'll cease to require you." He spoke as if with an appeal to he_ntelligence that she must be ashamed not adequately to meet, and this gave _eal distinction to his superior delicacy.
  • It cleared the case as he had wished. "Cease to require me because they won'_are?" She paused with that sketch of her idea.
  • "OF COURSE Sir Claude won't care if his wife bolts. That's his game. It wil_uit him down to the ground."
  • This was a proposition Maisie could perfectly embrace, but it still left _oophole for triumph. She turned it well over. "You mean if mamma doesn't com_ack ever at all?" The composure with which her face was presented to tha_rospect would have shown a spectator the long road she had travelled. "Well, but that won't put Mrs. Beale—"
  • "In the same comfortable position—?" Beale took her up with relish; he ha_prung to his feet again, shaking his legs and looking at his shoes. "Righ_ou are, darling! Something more will be wanted for Mrs. Beale." He jus_aused, then he added: "But she may not have long to wait for it."
  • Maisie also for a minute looked at his shoes, though they were not the pai_he most admired, the laced yellow "uppers" and patent-leather complement. A_ast, with a question, she raised her eyes. "Aren't you coming back?"
  • Once more he hung fire; after which he gave a small laugh that in the oddes_ay in the world reminded her of the unique sounds she had heard emitted b_rs. Wix. "It may strike you as extraordinary that I should make you such a_dmission; and in point of fact you're not to understand that I do. But we'l_ut it that way to help your decision. The point is that that's the way m_ife will presently be sure to put it. You'll hear her shrieking that she'_eserted, so that she may just pile up her wrongs. She'll be as free as sh_ikes then—as free, you see, as your mother's muff of a husband. They won'_ave anything more to consider and they'll just put you into the street. Do _nderstand," Beale enquired, "that, in the face of what I press on you, yo_till prefer to take the risk of that?" It was the most wonderful appeal an_entleman had ever addressed to his daughter, and it had placed Maisie in th_iddle of the room again while her father moved slowly about her with hi_ands in his pockets and something in his step that seemed, more than anythin_lse he had done, to show the habit of the place. She turned her fevere_ittle eyes over his friend's brightnesses, as if, on her own side, to pres_or some help in a quandary unexampled. As if also the pressure reached him h_fter an instant stopped short, completing the prodigy of his attitude and th_ride of his loyalty by a supreme formulation of the general inducement.
  • "You've an eye, love! Yes, there's money. No end of money."
  • This affected her at first in the manner of some great flashing dazzle in on_f the pantomimes to which Sir Claude had taken her: she saw nothing in it bu_hat it directly conveyed. "And shall I never, never see you again—?"
  • "If I do go to America?" Beale brought it out like a man. "Never, never, never!"
  • Hereupon, with the utmost absurdity, she broke down; everything gave way, everything but the horror of hearing herself definitely utter such an uglines_s the acceptance of that. So she only stiffened herself and said: "Then _an't give you up."
  • She held him some seconds looking at her, showing her a strained grimace, _erfect parade of all his teeth, in which it seemed to her she could read th_isgust he didn't quite like to express at this departure from the pliabilit_he had practically promised. But before she could attenuate in any way th_rudity of her collapse he gave an impatient jerk which took him to th_indow. She heard a vehicle stop; Beale looked out; then he freshly faced her.
  • He still said nothing, but she knew the Countess had come back. There was _ilence again between them, but with a different shade of embarrassment fro_hat of their united arrival; and it was still without speaking that, abruptl_epeating one of the embraces of which he had already been so prodigal, h_hisked her back to the lemon sofa just before the door of the room was throw_pen. It was thus in renewed and intimate union with him that she wa_resented to a person whom she instantly recognised as the brown lady.
  • The brown lady looked almost as astonished, though not quite as alarmed, a_hen, at the Exhibition, she had gasped in the face of Mrs. Beale. Maisie i_ruth almost gasped in her own; this was with the fuller perception that sh_as brown indeed. She literally struck the child more as an animal than as a
  • "real" lady; she might have been a clever frizzled poodle in a frill or _readful human monkey in a spangled petticoat. She had a nose that was far to_ig and eyes that were far too small and a moustache that was, well, not s_appy a feature as Sir Claude's. Beale jumped up to her; while, to the child'_stonishment, though as if in a quick intensity of thought, the Countes_dvanced as gaily as if, for many a day, nothing awkward had happened for an_ne. Maisie, in spite of a large acquaintance with the phenomenon, had neve_een it so promptly established that nothing awkward was to be mentioned. Th_ext minute the Countess had kissed her and exclaimed to Beale with brigh_ender reproach: "Why, you never told me HALF! My dear child," she cried, "i_as awfully nice of you to come!"
  • "But she hasn't come—she won't come!" Beale answered. "I've put it to her ho_uch you'd like it, but she declines to have anything to do with us."
  • The Countess stood smiling, and after an instant that was mainly taken up wit_he shock of her weird aspect Maisie felt herself reminded of another smile, which was not ugly, though also interested—the kind light thrown, that day i_he Park, from the clean fair face of the Captain. Papa's Captain—yes—was th_ountess; but she wasn't nearly so nice as the other: it all came back, doubtless, to Maisie's minor appreciation of ladies. "Shouldn't you like me,"
  • said this one endearingly, "to take you to Spa?"
  • "To Spa?" The child repeated the name to gain time, not to show how th_ountess brought back to her a dim remembrance of a strange woman with _orrid face who once, years before, in an omnibus, bending to her from a_pposite seat, had suddenly produced an orange and murmured "Little dearie, won't you have it?" She had felt then, for some reason, a small silly terror, though afterwards conscious that her interlocutress, unfortunately hideous, had particularly meant to be kind. This was also what the Countess meant; ye_he few words she had uttered and the smile with which she had uttered the_mmediately cleared everything up. Oh no, she wanted to go nowhere with HER, for her presence had already, in a few seconds, dissipated the happ_mpression of the room and put an end to the pleasure briefly taken in Beale'_ommand of such elegance. There was no command of elegance in his havin_xposed her to the approach of the short fat wheedling whiskered person i_hom she had now to recognise the only figure wholly without attractio_nvolved in any of the intimate connexions her immediate circle had witnesse_he growth of. She was abashed meanwhile, however, at having appeared to weig_n the balance the place to which she had been invited; and she added a_uickly as possible: "It isn't to America then?" The Countess, at this, looke_harply at Beale, and Beale, airily enough, asked what the deuce it mattere_hen she had already given him to understand she wanted to have nothing to d_ith them. There followed between her companions a passage of which the sens_as drowned for her in the deepening inward hum of her mere desire to get off; though she was able to guess later on that her father must have put it to hi_riend that it was no use talking, that she was an obstinate little pig an_hat, besides, she was really old enough to choose for herself. It glimmere_ack to her indeed that she must have failed quite dreadfully to seem ideall_ther than rude, inasmuch as before she knew it she had visibly given th_mpression that if they didn't allow her to go home she should cry. Oh i_here had ever been a thing to cry about it was being so consciously an_awkily below the handsomest offers any one could ever have received. Th_reat pain of the thing was that she could see the Countess liked her enoug_o wish to be liked in return, and it was from the idea of a return she sough_tterly to flee. It was the idea of a return that after a confusion of lou_ords had broken out between the others brought to her lips with the tremo_receding disaster: "Can't I, please, be sent home in a cab?" Yes, th_ountess wanted her and the Countess was wounded and chilled, and she couldn'_elp it, and it was all the more dreadful because it only made the Countes_ore coaxing and more impossible. The only thing that sustained either of the_erhaps till the cab came—Maisie presently saw it would come—was its being i_he air somehow that Beale had done what he wanted. He went out to look for _onveyance; the servants, he said, had gone to bed, but she shouldn't be kep_eyond her time. The Countess left the room with him, and, alone in th_ossession of it, Maisie hoped she wouldn't come back. It was all the effec_f her face—the child simply couldn't look at it and meet its expressio_alfway. All in a moment too that queer expression had leaped into the lovel_hings—all in a moment she had had to accept her father as liking some on_hom she was sure neither her mother, nor Mrs. Beale, nor Mrs. Wix, nor Si_laude, nor the Captain, nor even Mr. Perriam and Lord Eric could possibl_ave liked. Three minutes later, downstairs, with the cab at the door, it wa_erhaps as a final confession of not having much to boast of that, on takin_eave of her, he managed to press her to his bosom without her seeing hi_ace. For herself she was so eager to go that their parting reminded her o_othing, not even of a single one of all the "nevers" that above, as th_enalty of not cleaving to him, he had attached to the question of thei_eeting again. There was something in the Countess that falsified everything, even the great interests in America and yet more the first flush of tha_uperiority to Mrs. Beale and to mamma which had been expressed in Sevres set_nd silver boxes. These were still there, but perhaps there were no grea_nterests in America. Mamma had known an American who was not a bit like thi_ne. She was not, however, of noble rank; her name was only Mrs. Tucker.
  • Maisie's detachment would none the less have been more complete if she had no_uddenly had to exclaim: "Oh dear, I haven't any money!"
  • Her father's teeth, at this, were such a picture of appetite without action a_o be a match for any plea of poverty. "Make your stepmother pay."
  • "Stepmothers DON'T pay!" cried the Countess. "No stepmother ever paid in he_ife!" The next moment they were in the street together, and the next th_hild was in the cab, with the Countess, on the pavement, but close to her, quickly taking money from a purse whisked out of a pocket. Her father ha_anished and there was even yet nothing in that to reawaken the pang of loss.
  • "Here's money," said the brown lady: "go!" The sound was commanding: the ca_attled off. Maisie sat there with her hand full of coin. All that for a cab?
  • As they passed a street-lamp she bent to see how much. What she saw was _luster of sovereigns. There MUST then have been great interests in America.
  • It was still at any rate the Arabian Nights.