He went on quickly, “And the child’s name?”
“Simone. That’s after my best friend at school.”
“I’m very pleased that you’re doing so well at school.”
“I’m third this month,” she boasted.”Elsie”–that was her cousin–”is only about eighteenth, and Richard is about at the bottom.”
“You like Richard and Elsie, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes. I like Richard quite well and I like her all right.”
Cautiously and casually he asked: “And Aunt Marion and Uncle Lincoln–which do you like best?”
“Oh, Uncle Lincoln, I guess.”
He was increasingly aware of her presence. As they came in, a murmur of “… adorable” followed them, and now the people at the next table bent all their silences upon her, staring as if she were something no more conscious than a flower.
“Why don’t I live with you?” she asked suddenly.”Because mamma’s dead?”
“You must stay here and learn more French. It would have been hard for daddy to take care of you so well.”
“I don’t really need much taking care of any more. I do everything for myself.”
Going out of the restaurant, a man and a woman unexpectedly hailed him.
“Well, the old Wales!”
“Hello there, Lorraine…. Dunc.”
Sudden ghosts out of the past: Duncan Schaeffer, a friend from college. Lorraine Quarrles, a lovely, pale blonde of thirty; one of a crowd who had helped them make months into days in the lavish times of three years ago.
“My husband couldn’t come this year,” she said, in answer to his question.”We’re poor as hell. So he gave me two hundred a month and told me I could do my worst on that…. This your little girl?”
“What about coming back and sitting down?” Duncan asked.
“Can’t do it.” He was glad for an excuse. As always, he felt Lorraine’s passionate, provocative attraction, but his own rhythm was different now.
“Well, how about dinner?” she asked.
“I’m not free. Give me your address and let me call you.”
“Charlie, I believe you’re sober,” she said judicially.”I honestly believe he’s sober, Dunc. Pinch him and see if he’s sober.”
Charlie indicated Honoria with his head. They both laughed.
“What’s your address?” said Duncan sceptically.
He hesitated, unwilling to give the name of his hotel.
“I’m not settled yet. I’d better call you. We’re going to see the vaudeville at the Empire.”
“There! That’s what I want to do,” Lorraine said.”I want to see some clowns and acrobats and jugglers. That’s just what we’ll do, Dunc.”
“We’ve got to do an errand first,” said Charlie.”Perhaps we’ll see you there.”
“All right, you snob…. Good-by, beautiful little girl.”
Somehow, an unwelcome encounter. They liked him because he was functioning, because he was serious; they wanted to see him, because he was stronger than they were now, because they wanted to draw a certain sustenance from his strength.
At the Empire, Honoria proudly refused to sit upon her father’s folded coat. She was already an individual with a code of her own, and Charlie was more and more absorbed by the desire of putting a little of himself into her before she crystallized utterly. It was hopeless to try to know her in so short a time.
Between the acts they came upon Duncan and Lorraine in the lobby where the band was playing.
“Have a drink?”
“All right, but not up at the bar. We’ll take a table.”
“The perfect father.”
Listening abstractedly to Lorraine, Charlie watched Honoria’s eyes leave their table, and he followed them wistfully about the room, wondering what they saw. He met her glance and she smiled.
“I liked that lemonade,” she said.
What had she said? What had he expected? Going home in a taxi afterward, he pulled her over until her head rested against his chest.
“Darling, do you ever think about your mother?”
“Yes, sometimes,” she answered vaguely.
“I don’t want you to forget her. Have you got a picture of her?”
“Yes, I think so. Anyhow, Aunt Marion has. Why don’t you want me to forget her?”
“She loved you very much.”
“I loved her too.”
They were silent for a moment.
“Daddy, I want to come and live with you,” she said suddenly.
His heart leaped; he had wanted it to come like this.
“Aren’t you perfectly happy?”
“Yes, but I love you better than anybody. And you love me better than anybody, don’t you, now that mummy’s dead?”
“Of course I do. But you won’t always like me best, honey. You’ll grow up and meet somebody your own age and go marry him and forget you ever had a daddy.”