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Preface

The litigation seemed interminable and had in fact been complicated; but
by the decision on the appeal the judgement of the divorce-court was
confirmed as to the assignment of the child. The father, who, though
bespattered from head to foot, had made good his case, was, in pursuance
of this triumph, appointed to keep her: it was not so much that the
mother's character had been more absolutely damaged as that the
brilliancy of a lady's complexion (and this lady's, in court, was
immensely remarked) might be more regarded as showing the spots.
Attached, however, to the second pronouncement was a condition that
detracted, for Beale Farange, from its sweetness--an order that he
should refund to his late wife the twenty-six hundred pounds put down
by her, as it was called, some three years before, in the interest of
the child's maintenance and precisely on a proved understanding that he
would take no proceedings: a sum of which he had had the administration
and of which he could render not the least account. The obligation thus
attributed to her adversary was no small balm to Ida's resentment; it
drew a part of the sting from her defeat and compelled Mr. Farange
perceptibly to lower his crest. He was unable to produce the money or to
raise it in any way; so that after a squabble scarcely less public and
scarcely more decent than the original shock of battle his only issue
from his predicament was a compromise proposed by his legal advisers and
finally accepted by hers.

His debt was by this arrangement remitted to him and the little girl
disposed of in a manner worthy of the judgement-seat of Solomon. She was
divided in two and the portions tossed impartially to the disputants.
They would take her, in rotation, for six months at a time; she would
spend half the year with each. This was odd justice in the eyes of those
who still blinked in the fierce light projected from the tribunal--a
light in which neither parent figured in the least as a happy example to
youth and innocence. What was to have been expected on the evidence was
the nomination, _in loco parentis_, of some proper third person, some
respectable or at least some presentable friend. Apparently, however,
the circle of the Faranges had been scanned in vain for any such
ornament; so that the only solution finally meeting all the difficulties
was, save that of sending Maisie to a Home, the partition of the
tutelary office in the manner I have mentioned. There were more reasons
for her parents to agree to it than there had ever been for them to
agree to anything; and they now prepared with her help to enjoy the
distinction that waits upon vulgarity sufficiently attested. Their
rupture had resounded, and after being perfectly insignificant
together they would be decidedly striking apart. Had they not produced
an impression that warranted people in looking for appeals in the
newspapers for the rescue of the little one--reverberation, amid a
vociferous public, of the idea that some movement should be started or
some benevolent person should come forward? A good lady came indeed a
step or two: she was distantly related to Mrs. Farange, to whom she
proposed that, having children and nurseries wound up and going, she
should be allowed to take home the bone of contention and, by working it
into her system, relieve at least one of the parents. This would make
every time, for Maisie, after her inevitable six months with Beale, much
more of a change.

"More of a change?" Ida cried. "Won't it be enough of a change for her
to come from that low brute to the person in the world who detests him
most?"

"No, because you detest him so much that you'll always talk to her about
him. You'll keep him before her by perpetually abusing him."

Mrs. Farange stared. "Pray, then, am I to do nothing to counteract his
villainous abuse of ME?"

The good lady, for a moment, made no reply: her silence was a grim
judgement of the whole point of view. "Poor little monkey!" she at
last exclaimed; and the words were an epitaph for the tomb of Maisie's
childhood. She was abandoned to her fate. What was clear to any
spectator was that the only link binding her to either parent was this
lamentable fact of her being a ready vessel for bitterness, a deep
little porcelain cup in which biting acids could be mixed. They had
wanted her not for any good they could do her, but for the harm they
could, with her unconscious aid, do each other. She should serve
their anger and seal their revenge, for husband and wife had been
alike crippled by the heavy hand of justice, which in the last resort
met on neither side their indignant claim to get, as they called it,
everything. If each was only to get half this seemed to concede that
neither was so base as the other pretended, or, to put it differently,
offered them both as bad indeed, since they were only as good as each
other. The mother had wished to prevent the father from, as she said,
"so much as looking" at the child; the father's plea was that the
mother's lightest touch was "simply contamination." These were the
opposed principles in which Maisie was to be educated--she was to fit
them together as she might. Nothing could have been more touching at
first than her failure to suspect the ordeal that awaited her little
unspotted soul. There were persons horrified to think what those in
charge of it would combine to try to make of it: no one could conceive
in advance that they would be able to make nothing ill.

This was a society in which for the most part people were occupied
only with chatter, but the disunited couple had at last grounds for
expecting a time of high activity. They girded their loins, they felt
as if the quarrel had only begun. They felt indeed more married than
ever, inasmuch as what marriage had mainly suggested to them was the
unbroken opportunity to quarrel. There had been "sides" before, and
there were sides as much as ever; for the sider too the prospect
opened out, taking the pleasant form of a superabundance of matter for
desultory conversation. The many friends of the Faranges drew together
to differ about them; contradiction grew young again over teacups
and cigars. Everybody was always assuring everybody of something
very shocking, and nobody would have been jolly if nobody had been
outrageous. The pair appeared to have a social attraction which failed
merely as regards each other: it was indeed a great deal to be able
to say for Ida that no one but Beale desired her blood, and for Beale
that if he should ever have his eyes scratched out it would be only by
his wife. It was generally felt, to begin with, that they were awfully
good-looking--they had really not been analysed to a deeper residuum.
They made up together for instance some twelve feet three of stature,
and nothing was more discussed than the apportionment of this
quantity. The sole flaw in Ida's beauty was a length and reach of
arm conducive perhaps to her having so often beaten her ex-husband
at billiards, a game in which she showed a superiority largely
accountable, as she maintained, for the resentment finding expression
in his physical violence. Billiards was her great accomplishment
and the distinction her name always first produced the mention of.
Notwithstanding some very long lines everything about her that might
have been large and that in many women profited by the licence was,
with a single exception, admired and cited for its smallness. The
exception was her eyes, which might have been of mere regulation size,
but which overstepped the modesty of nature; her mouth, on the other
hand, was barely perceptible, and odds were freely taken as to the
measurement of her waist. She was a person who, when she was out--and
she was always out--produced everywhere a sense of having been seen
often, the sense indeed of a kind of abuse of visibility, so that it
would have been, in the usual places rather vulgar to wonder at her.
Strangers only did that; but they, to the amusement of the familiar,
did it very much: it was an inevitable way of betraying an alien
habit. Like her husband she carried clothes, carried them as a train
carries passengers: people had been known to compare their taste and
dispute about the accommodation they gave these articles, though
inclining on the whole to the commendation of Ida as less overcrowded,
especially with jewellery and flowers. Beale Farange had natural
decorations, a kind of costume in his vast fair beard, burnished like
a gold breastplate, and in the eternal glitter of the teeth that his
long moustache had been trained not to hide and that gave him, in
every possible situation, the look of the joy of life. He had been
destined in his youth for diplomacy and momentarily attached, without
a salary, to a legation which enabled him often to say "In MY time in
the East": but contemporary history had somehow had no use for him,
had hurried past him and left him in perpetual Piccadilly. Every one
knew what he had--only twenty-five hundred. Poor Ida, who had run
through everything, had now nothing but her carriage and her paralysed
uncle. This old brute, as he was called, was supposed to have a lot
put away. The child was provided for, thanks to a crafty godmother, a
defunct aunt of Beale's, who had left her something in such a manner
that the parents could appropriate only the income.

Henry James