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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 3
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    In that lively sense of the immediate which is the very air of a child's
    mind the past, on each occasion, became for her as indistinct as
    the future: she surrendered herself to the actual with a good faith
    that might have been touching to either parent. Crudely as they had
    calculated they were at first justified by the event: she was the little
    feathered shuttlecock they could fiercely keep flying between them. The
    evil they had the gift of thinking or pretending to think of each other
    they poured into her little gravely-gazing soul as into a boundless
    receptacle, and each of them had doubtless the best conscience in the
    world as to the duty of teaching her the stern truth that should be her
    safeguard against the other. She was at the age for which all stories
    are true and all conceptions are stories. The actual was the absolute,
    the present alone was vivid. The objurgation for instance launched
    in the carriage by her mother after she had at her father's bidding
    punctually performed was a missive that dropped into her memory with the
    dry rattle of a letter falling into a pillar-box. Like the letter it
    was, as part of the contents of a well-stuffed post-bag, delivered in
    due course at the right address. In the presence of these overflowings,
    after they had continued for a couple of years, the associates of either
    party sometimes felt that something should be done for what they called
    "the real good, don't you know?" of the child. The only thing done,
    however, in general, took place when it was sighingly remarked that she
    fortunately wasn't all the year round where she happened to be at the
    awkward moment, and that, furthermore, either from extreme cunning or
    from extreme stupidity, she appeared not to take things in.

    The theory of her stupidity, eventually embraced by her parents,
    corresponded with a great date in her small still life: the complete
    vision, private but final, of the strange office she filled. It was
    literally a moral revolution and accomplished in the depths of her

    nature. The stiff dolls on the dusky shelves began to move their arms
    and legs; old forms and phrases began to have a sense that frightened
    her. She had a new feeling, the feeling of danger; on which a new remedy
    rose to meet it, the idea of an inner self or, in other words, of
    concealment. She puzzled out with imperfect signs, but with a prodigious
    spirit, that she had been a centre of hatred and a messenger of insult,
    and that everything was bad because she had been employed to make it so.
    Her parted lips locked themselves with the determination to be employed
    no longer. She would forget everything, she would repeat nothing, and
    when, as a tribute to the successful application of her system, she
    began to be called a little idiot, she tasted a pleasure new and keen.
    When therefore, as she grew older, her parents in turn announced before
    her that she had grown shockingly dull, it was not from any real
    contraction of her little stream of life. She spoiled their fun, but she
    practically added to her own. She saw more and more; she saw too much.
    It was Miss Overmore, her first governess, who on a momentous occasion
    had sown the seeds of secrecy; sown them not by anything she said, but
    by a mere roll of those fine eyes which Maisie already admired. Moddle
    had become at this time, after alternations of residence of which the
    child had no clear record, an image faintly embalmed in the remembrance
    of hungry disappearances from the nursery and distressful lapses in the
    alphabet, sad embarrassments, in particular, when invited to recognise
    something her nurse described as "the important letter haitch." Miss
    Overmore, however hungry, never disappeared: this marked her somehow as
    of higher rank, and the character was confirmed by a prettiness that
    Maisie supposed to be extraordinary. Mrs. Farange had described her as
    almost too pretty, and some one had asked what that mattered so long as
    Beale wasn't there. "Beale or no Beale," Maisie had heard her mother
    reply, "I take her because she's a lady and yet awfully poor. Rather
    nice people, but there are seven sisters at home. What do people mean?"

    Maisie didn't know what people meant, but she knew very soon all the
    names of all the sisters; she could say them off better than she could
    say the multiplication-table. She privately wondered moreover, though
    she never asked, about the awful poverty, of which her companion also
    never spoke. Food at any rate came up by mysterious laws; Miss Overmore
    never, like Moddle, had on an apron, and when she ate she held her fork
    with her little finger curled out. The child, who watched her at many
    moments, watched her particularly at that one. "I think you're lovely,"
    she often said to her; even mamma, who was lovely too, had not such a
    pretty way with the fork. Maisie associated this showier presence with
    her now being "big," knowing of course that nursery-governesses were
    only for little girls who were not, as she said, "really" little. She
    vaguely knew, further, somehow, that the future was still bigger than
    she, and that a part of what made it so was the number of governesses
    lurking in it and ready to dart out. Everything that had happened
    when she was really little was dormant, everything but the positive
    certitude, bequeathed from afar by Moddle, that the natural way for a
    child to have her parents was separate and successive, like her mutton
    and her pudding or her bath and her nap.

    "DOES he know he lies?"--that was what she had vivaciously asked Miss
    Overmore on the occasion which was so suddenly to lead to a change in
    her life.

    "Does he know--" Miss Overmore stared; she had a stocking pulled over
    her hand and was pricking at it with a needle which she poised in the
    act. Her task was homely, but her movement, like all her movements,
    graceful.

    "Why papa."

    "That he 'lies'?"

    "That's what mamma says I'm to tell him--'that he lies and he knows he
    lies.'" Miss Overmore turned very red, though she laughed out till her
    head fell back; then she pricked again at her muffled hand so hard
    that Maisie wondered how she could bear it. "AM I to tell him?" the
    child went on. It was then that her companion addressed her in the
    unmistakeable language of a pair of eyes of deep dark grey. "I can't say
    No," they replied as distinctly as possible; "I can't say No, because
    I'm afraid of your mamma, don't you see? Yet how can I say Yes after
    your papa has been so kind to me, talking to me so long the other day,
    smiling and flashing his beautiful teeth at me the time we met him in
    the Park, the time when, rejoicing at the sight of us, he left the
    gentlemen he was with and turned and walked with us, stayed with us for
    half an hour?" Somehow in the light of Miss Overmore's lovely eyes that
    incident came back to Maisie with a charm it hadn't had at the time, and
    this in spite of the fact that after it was over her governess had never
    but once alluded to it. On their way home, when papa had quitted them,
    she had expressed the hope that the child wouldn't mention it to mamma.
    Maisie liked her so, and had so the charmed sense of being liked by her,
    that she accepted this remark as settling the matter and wonderingly
    conformed to it. The wonder now lived again, lived in the recollection
    of what papa had said to Miss Overmore: "I've only to look at you to see
    you're a person I can appeal to for help to save my daughter." Maisie's
    ignorance of what she was to be saved from didn't diminish the pleasure
    of the thought that Miss Overmore was saving her. It seemed to make them
    cling together as in some wild game of "going round."
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