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    Chapter 18

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    Chapter 19
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    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
    spot Mrs. Beale, with hilarity, had urged her to the course proposed;
    but later, at the Exhibition, she withdrew this allowance, mentioning as
    a result of second thoughts that when a man was so sensitive anything at
    all frisky usually made him worse. It would have been hard indeed for
    Sir Claude to be "worse," Maisie felt, as, in the gardens and the crowd,
    when the first dazzle had dropped, she looked for him in vain up and
    down. They had all their time, the couple, for frugal wistful wandering:
    they had partaken together at home of the light vague meal--Maisie's
    name for it was a "jam-supper"--to which they were reduced when Mr.
    Farange sought his pleasure abroad. It was abroad now entirely that Mr.
    Farange pursued this ideal, and it was the actual impression of his
    daughter, derived from his wife, that he had three days before joined a
    friend's yacht at Cowes.

    The place was full of side-shows, to which Mrs. Beale could introduce
    the little girl only, alas, by revealing to her so attractive, so
    enthralling a name: the side-shows, each time, were sixpence apiece,
    and the fond allegiance enjoyed by the elder of our pair had been
    established from the earliest time in spite of a paucity of sixpences.
    Small coin dropped from her as half-heartedly as answers from bad
    children to lessons that had not been looked at. Maisie passed more
    slowly the great painted posters, pressing with a linked arm closer
    to her friend's pocket, where she hoped for the audible chink of a
    shilling. But the upshot of this was but to deepen her yearning: if Sir
    Claude would only at last come the shillings would begin to ring. The
    companions paused, for want of one, before the Flowers of the Forest, a
    large presentment of bright brown ladies--they were brown all over--in
    a medium suggestive of tropical luxuriance, and there Maisie dolorously
    expressed her belief that he would never come at all. Mrs. Beale
    hereupon, though discernibly disappointed, reminded her that he had not
    been promised as a certainty--a remark that caused the child to gaze at
    the Flowers through a blur in which they became more magnificent, yet
    oddly more confused, and by which moreover confusion was imparted to the
    aspect of a gentleman who at that moment, in the company of a lady, came
    out of the brilliant booth. The lady was so brown that Maisie at first
    took her for one of the Flowers; but during the few seconds that this
    required--a few seconds in which she had also desolately 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,
    turned another 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 of which 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,
    a month ago in Kensington Gardens, where her mother had not been.
    "Perhaps he has 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, and Maisie could only have a sense of something that in a maturer
    mind would be called the way history repeats itself.

    "Who IS she?" she asked again.

    Mrs. Beale, fixed to the spot, seemed lost in the vision of an
    opportunity missed. "If he had only seen me!"--it came from between her
    teeth. "She's a brand-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 have set her friend "off," but Mrs. Beale was now, in her
    instant vigilance, too immensely "on." "Did you ever in your life see
    such a feather?" Maisie presently continued.

    This decoration appeared to have paused at some distance, and in spite
    of intervening groups they could both look at it. "Oh that's the way
    they dress--the vulgarest of the vulgar!"

    "They're coming back--they'll see us!" Maisie the next moment cried;
    and while her companion answered that this was exactly what she wanted
    and the child returned "Here they are--here they are!" the unconscious
    subjects of so much attention, with a change of mind about their
    direction, quickly retraced their steps and precipitated themselves upon
    their critics. Their unconsciousness gave Mrs. Beale time to leap, under
    her breath, to a recognition which Maisie caught.

    "It must be Mrs. Cuddon!"

    Maisie looked at Mrs. Cuddon hard--her lips even echoed the name. What
    followed was extraordinarily rapid--a minute of livelier battle than had
    ever yet, in so short a span at least, been waged round our heroine. The
    muffled shock--lest people should notice--was violent, and it was only
    for her later thought that the steps fell into their order, the steps
    through which, in a bewilderment not so much of sound as of silence, she
    had come to find herself, too soon for comprehension and too strangely
    for fear, at the door of the Exhibition with her father. He thrust her
    into a hansom and got in after her, and then it was--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 a moment
    of checked concussion during which, in a glare of black eyes and a
    toss of red plumage, Mrs. Cuddon had recognised them, ejaculated and
    vanished. There had been another moment at which she became aware of Sir
    Claude, also poised there in surprise, but out of her father's view, as
    if he had been warned off at the very moment of reaching them. It fell
    into its place with all the rest that she had heard Mrs. Beale say to
    her father, but whether low or 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 of the sort that the child,
    from her earliest years, had associated with hearing somebody retort
    to somebody that somebody was "another." "Oh I stick to the old!" Mrs.
    Beale had then quite loudly pronounced; and her accent, even as the cab
    got away, was still in the air, Maisie's effective companion having
    spoken no other word from the moment of whisking her off--none at least
    save the indistinguishable address which, over the top of the hansom and
    poised on the step, he had given the driver. Reconstructing these things
    later Maisie theorised that she at this point would have put a question
    to him had not the silence into which he charmed her or scared her--she
    could scarcely tell which--come from his suddenly making her feel his
    arm about her, feel, as he drew her close, that he was agitated in a way
    he had never yet shown her. It struck her he trembled, trembled too much
    to speak, and this had the effect of making 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 of possession that his pressure
    in a manner advertised came back to her after the longest of the long
    intermissions that had ever let anything come back. They drove and
    drove, and he kept her close; she stared straight before her, holding
    her breath, watching one dark street succeed another and strangely
    conscious that what it all meant was somehow that papa was less to be
    left out of everything than she had supposed. It took her but a minute
    to surrender to this discovery, which, in the form of his present
    embrace, suggested a purpose in him prodigiously reaffirmed and with
    that a confused confidence. She neither 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 had jumped up to do something and
    that she had as quickly become a part of it. It was a part of it too
    that here they were at a house that seemed not large, but in the fresh
    white front of which the street-lamp showed a smartness of flower-boxes.
    The child had been in thousands of stories--all Mrs. Wix's and her own,
    to say nothing of the richest romances of French Elise--but she had
    never been in such a story as this. By the time he had helped her out
    of the cab, which drove away, and she heard in the door of the house
    the prompt little click of his key, the Arabian Nights had quite closed
    round her.

    From this minute that pitch of the wondrous was in everything,
    particularly in such an instant "Open Sesame" and in the departure of
    the cab, a rattling void filled with relinquished step-parents; it was,
    with the vividness, the almost blinding whiteness of the light that
    sprang responsive to papa's quick touch of a little brass knob on the
    wall, in a place that, at the top of a short soft staircase, struck her
    as the most beautiful she had ever seen in her life. The next thing she
    perceived it to be was the drawing-room of a lady--of a lady, she could
    see in a moment, and not of a gentleman, not even of one like papa
    himself or even like Sir Claude--whose things were as much prettier than
    mamma's as it had always had to be confessed that mamma's were prettier
    than Mrs. Beale's. In the middle of the small bright room and the
    presence of more curtains and cushions, more pictures and mirrors, more
    palm-trees drooping over brocaded and gilded nooks, more little silver
    boxes scattered over little crooked tables and little oval miniatures
    hooked upon velvet screens than Mrs. Beale and her ladyship together
    could, in an unnatural alliance, have dreamed of mustering, the child
    became aware, with a sharp foretaste of compassion, of something that
    was strangely like a relegation to obscurity of each of those women of
    taste. It was a stranger operation still that her father should on the
    spot be presented to her as quite advantageously and even grandly at
    home in the dazzling scene and himself by so much the more separated
    from scenes inferior to it. She spent with him in it, while explanations
    continued to hang back, twenty minutes that, in their sudden drop of
    danger, affected her, though there were neither buns nor ginger-beer,
    like an extemporised expensive treat.

    "Is she very rich?" He had begun to strike her as almost embarrassed, so
    shy that he might have found himself with a young lady with whom he had
    little in common. She was literally moved by this apprehension to offer
    him some tactful relief.

    Beale Farange stood and smiled at his young lady, his back to
    the fanciful fireplace, his light overcoat--the very lightest in
    London--wide open, and his wonderful lustrous beard completely
    concealing the expanse of his shirt-front. It pleased her more than ever
    to think that papa was handsome and, though as high aloft as mamma and
    almost, in his specially florid evening-dress, as splendid, 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 it isn'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
    in such 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
    something about Mrs. Beale and Sir Claude, yet the way he spared them
    made her rather uneasy too. All he risked was, the next minute, "She has
    a horror of vulgar scenes."

    This was something she needn't take up; she could still continue bland.
    "But where do you suppose she went?"

    "Oh I thought she'd have taken a cab and have been here by this time.
    But she'll turn up all right."

    "I'm sure I HOPE she will," Maisie said; she spoke with an earnestness
    begotten of the impression of all the beauty about them, to which, in
    person, the Countess might make further contribution. "We came awfully
    fast," she added.

    Her father again laughed loud. "Yes, my dear, I made you step out!" He
    waited an 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 her appearance. 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 so much or from that of a sudden glimpse of the impossibility of
    saying more, she felt an embarrassment and sought refuge in a minor
    branch of the subject. "I thought she was Mrs. Cuddon."

    Beale's gaiety rather increased than diminished. "You mean my wife
    did? My dear child, my wife's a damned fool!" He had the oddest air of
    speaking of his wife as of a person whom she might scarcely have known,
    so that the refuge of her scruple didn't prove particularly happy. Beale
    on the other hand appeared after an instant himself to feel a scruple.
    "What I mean is, to speak seriously, that she doesn't really know
    anything about anything." He paused, following the child's charmed eyes
    and tentative step or two as they brought her nearer to the pretty
    things on one of the tables. "She thinks she has good things, 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 the side-shows was made up to her by the Countess's luxuries. "Yes,"
    she considered; "she does think that."

    There was again a dryness in the way Beale replied that it didn't matter
    what she thought; but there was an increasing sweetness for his daughter
    in being with him so long without his doing anything worse. The whole
    hour of course was to remain with her, for days and weeks, ineffaceably
    illumined and confirmed; by the end of which she was able to read
    into it a hundred things that had been at the moment mere miraculous
    pleasantness. What they at the moment came to was simply that her
    companion was still in a good deal of a flutter, yet wished not to show
    it, and that just in proportion as he succeeded 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 a person of taste,
    told her the name, which she remembered, of the famous French lady
    represented in one of the miniatures, and remarked, as if he had caught
    her wistful over a trinket or a trailing stuff, that he made no doubt
    the Countess, on coming in, would give her something jolly. He spied a
    pink satin box with a looking-glass let into the cover, which he raised,
    with a quick facetious flourish, to offer her the privilege of six rows
    of chocolate bonbons, 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 I gave 'em to her myself." The Countess had
    evidently appreciated the gift; there were numerous gaps, a ravage now
    quite unchecked, in the array. Even while they waited together Maisie
    had her sense, which was the mark of what their separation had become,
    of her having grown for him, since the last time he had, as it were,
    noticed her, and by increase of years and of inches if by nothing else,
    much more of a little person to reckon with. Yes, this was a part of
    the positive awkwardness that he carried off by being almost foolishly
    tender. There was a passage during which, on a yellow silk sofa under
    one of the palms, he had her on his knee, stroking her hair, playfully
    holding her off while he showed his shining fangs and let her, with
    a vague affectionate helpless pointless "Dear old girl, dear little
    daughter," inhale the fragrance of 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 her about anything. She had
    such possibilities of vibration, of response, that it needed nothing
    more than this to make up to her in fact for omissions. The tears came
    into her eyes again as they had done when in the Park that day the
    Captain told her so "splendidly" that her mother was good. What was
    this but splendid too--this still directer goodness of her father and
    this unexampled shining solitude with him, out of which everything had
    dropped but that he was papa and that he was magnificent? It didn't
    spoil it that she finally felt he must have, as he became restless, some
    purpose he didn't quite see his way to bring out, for in the freshness
    of their recovered fellowship she would have lent herself gleefully to
    his suggesting, or even to his pretending, that their relations were
    easy and graceful. There was something in him that seemed, and quite
    touchingly, to ask her to help him to pretend--pretend he knew enough
    about her life and her education, her means of subsistence and her view
    of himself, to give the questions he couldn't put her a natural domestic
    tone. She would have pretended with ecstasy if he could only have given
    her the cue. She waited for it while, between his big teeth, he breathed
    the sighs she 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 for anything, he floundered about, wondering what
    the devil he could lay hold of.
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    Chapter 19
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