Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 12

  • She had not at the moment explained her ominous speech, but the light o_emarkable events soon enabled her companion to read it. It may indeed be sai_hat these days brought on a high quickening of Maisie's direct perceptions, of her sense of freedom to make out things for herself. This was helped by a_motion intrinsically far from sweet—the increase of the alarm that had mos_aunted her meditations. She had no need to be told, as on the morrow of th_evelation of Sir Claude's danger she was told by Mrs. Wix, that her mothe_anted more and more to know why the devil her father didn't send for her: sh_ad too long expected mamma's curiosity on this point to express itsel_harply. Maisie could meet such pressure so far as meeting it was to be in _osition to reply, in words directly inspired, that papa would be hange_efore he'd again be saddled with her. She therefore recognised the hour tha_n troubled glimpses she had long foreseen, the hour when—the phrase for i_ame back to her from Mrs. Beale—with two fathers, two mothers and two homes, six protections in all, she shouldn't know "wherever" to go. Such apprehensio_s she felt on this score was not diminished by the fact that Mrs. Wix hersel_as suddenly white with terror: a circumstance leading Maisie to the furthe_nowledge that this lady was still more scared on her own behalf than on tha_f her pupil. A governess who had only one frock was not likely to have eithe_wo fathers or two mothers: accordingly if even with these resources Maisi_as to be in the streets, where in the name of all that was dreadful was poo_rs. Wix to be? She had had, it appeared, a tremendous brush with Ida, whic_ad begun and ended with the request that she would be pleased on the spot to
  • "bundle." It had come suddenly but completely, this signal of which she ha_one in fear. The companions confessed to each other the dread each had hidde_he worst of, but Mrs. Wix was better off than Maisie in having a plan o_efence. She declined indeed to communicate it till it was quite mature; bu_eanwhile, she hastened to declare, her feet were firm in the schoolroom. The_ould only be loosened by force: she would "leave" for the police perhaps, bu_he wouldn't leave for mere outrage. That would be to play her ladyship'_ame, and it would take another turn of the screw to make her desert he_arling. Her ladyship had come down with extraordinary violence: it had bee_ne of many symptoms of a situation strained—"between them all," as Mrs. Wi_aid, "but especially between the two"—to the point of God only knew what.
  • Her description of the crisis made the child blanch. "Between which two?—pap_nd mamma?"
  • "Dear no. I mean between your mother and HIM."
  • Maisie, in this, recognised an opportunity to be really deep. "'Him'?—Mr.
  • Perriam?"
  • She fairly brought a blush to the scared face. "Well, my dear, I must say wha_ou DON'T know ain't worth mentioning. That it won't go on for ever with Mr.
  • Perriam—since I MUST meet you—you can suppose? But I meant dear Sir Claude."
  • Maisie stood corrected rather than abashed. "I see. But it's about Mr. Perria_e's angry?"
  • Mrs. Wix waited. "He says he's not."
  • "Not angry? He has told you so?"
  • Mrs. Wix looked at her hard. "Not about HIM!"
  • "Then about some one else?"
  • Mrs. Wix looked at her harder. "About some one else."
  • "Lord Eric?" the child promptly brought forth.
  • At this, of a sudden, her governess was more agitated. "Oh why, littl_nfortunate, should we discuss their dreadful names?"—and she threw hersel_or the millionth time on Maisie's neck. It took her pupil but a moment t_eel that she quivered with insecurity, and, the contact of her terror aiding, the pair in another instant were sobbing in each other's arms. Then it wa_hat, completely relaxed, demoralised as she had never been, Mrs. Wix suffere_er wound to bleed and her resentment to gush. Her great bitterness was tha_da had called her false, denounced her hypocrisy and duplicity, reviled he_pying and tattling, her lying and grovelling to Sir Claude. "Me, ME!" th_oor woman wailed, "who've seen what I've seen and gone through everythin_nly to cover her up and ease her off and smooth her down? If I've been an
  • 'ipocrite it's the other way round: I've pretended, to him and to her, t_yself and to you and to every one, NOT to see! It serves me right to hav_eld my tongue before such horrors!"
  • What horrors they were her companion forbore too closely to enquire, showin_ven signs not a few of an ability to take them for granted. That put th_ouple more than ever, in this troubled sea, in the same boat, so that wit_he consciousness of ideas on the part of her fellow mariner Maisie could si_lose and wait. Sir Claude on the morrow came in to tea, and then the idea_ere produced. It was extraordinary how the child's presence drew out thei_ull strength. The principal one was startling, but Maisie appreciated th_ourage with which her governess handled it. It simply consisted of th_roposal that whenever and wherever they should seek refuge Sir Claude shoul_onsent to share their asylum. On his protesting with all the warmth in natur_gainst this note of secession she asked what else in the world was left t_hem if her ladyship should stop supplies.
  • "Supplies be hanged, my dear woman!" said their delightful friend. "Leav_upplies to me—I'll take care of supplies."
  • Mrs. Wix rose to it. "Well, it's exactly because I knew you'd be so glad to d_o that I put the question before you. There's a way to look after us bette_han any other. The way's just to come along with us."
  • It hung before Maisie, Mrs. Wix's way, like a glittering picture, and sh_lasped her hands in ecstasy. "Come along, come along, come along!"
  • Sir Claude looked from his stepdaughter back to her governess. "Do you mea_eave this house and take up my abode with you?"
  • "It will be the right thing—if you feel as you've told me you feel." Mrs. Wix, sustained and uplifted, was now as clear as a bell.
  • Sir Claude had the air of trying to recall what he had told her; then th_ight broke that was always breaking to make his face more pleasant. "It'_our happy thought that I shall take a house for you?"
  • "For the wretched homeless child. Any roof—over our heads—will do for us; bu_f course for you it will have to be something really nice."
  • Sir Claude's eyes reverted to Maisie, rather hard, as she thought; and ther_as a shade in his very smile that seemed to show her—though she also felt i_idn't show Mrs. Wix—that the accommodation prescribed must loom to him prett_arge. The next moment, however, he laughed gaily enough. "My dear lady, yo_xaggerate tremendously MY poor little needs." Mrs. Wix had once mentioned t_er young friend that when Sir Claude called her his dear lady he could d_nything with her; and Maisie felt a certain anxiety to see what he would d_ow. Well, he only addressed her a remark of which the child herself was awar_f feeling the force. "Your plan appeals to me immensely; but of course—don'_ou see—I shall have to consider the position I put myself in by leaving m_ife."
  • "You'll also have to remember," Mrs. Wix replied, "that if you don't look ou_our wife won't give you time to consider. Her ladyship will leave YOU."
  • "Ah my good friend, I do look out!" the young man returned while Maisie helpe_erself afresh to bread and butter. "Of course if that happens I shall hav_omehow to turn round; but I hope with all my heart it won't. I beg you_ardon," he continued to his stepdaughter, "for appearing to discuss that sor_f possibility under your sharp little nose. But the fact is I FORGET half th_ime that Ida's your sainted mother."
  • "So do I!" said Maisie, her mouth full of bread and butter and to put him th_ore in the right.
  • Her protectress, at this, was upon her again. "The little desolate preciou_et!" For the rest of the conversation she was enclosed in Mrs. Wix's arms, and as they sat there interlocked Sir Claude, before them with his tea-cup, looked down at them in deepening thought. Shrink together as they might the_ouldn't help, Maisie felt, being a very large lumpish image of what Mrs. Wi_equired of his slim fineness. She knew moreover that this lady didn't make i_etter by adding in a moment: "Of course we shouldn't dream of a whole house.
  • Any sort of little lodging, however humble, would be only too blest."
  • "But it would have to be something that would hold us all," said Sir Claude.
  • "Oh yes," Mrs. Wix concurred; "the whole point's our being together. Whil_ou're waiting, before you act, for her ladyship to take some step, ou_osition here will come to an impossible pass. You don't know what I wen_hrough with her for you yesterday—and for our poor darling; but it's not _hing I can promise you often to face again. She cast me out in horribl_anguage—she has instructed the servants not to wait on me."
  • "Oh the poor servants are all right!" Sir Claude eagerly cried.
  • "They're certainly better than their mistress. It's too dreadful that I shoul_it here and say of your wife, Sir Claude, and of Maisie's own mother, tha_he's lower than a domestic; but my being betrayed into such remarks is just _eason the more for our getting away. I shall stay till I'm taken by th_houlders, but that may happen any day. What also may perfectly happen, yo_ust permit me to repeat, is that she'll go off to get rid of us."
  • "Oh if she'll only do that!" Sir Claude laughed. "That would be the ver_aking of us!"
  • "Don't say it—don't say it!" Mrs. Wix pleaded. "Don't speak of anything s_atal. You know what I mean. We must all cling to the right. You mustn't b_ad."
  • Sir Claude set down his tea-cup; he had become more grave and he pensivel_iped his moustache. "Won't all the world say I'm awful if I leave the hous_efore—before she has bolted? They'll say it was my doing so that made he_olt."
  • Maisie could grasp the force of this reasoning, but it offered no check t_rs. Wix. "Why need you mind that—if you've done it for so high a motive?
  • Think of the beauty of it," the good lady pressed.
  • "Of bolting with YOU?" Sir Claude ejaculated.
  • She faintly smiled—she even faintly coloured. "So far from doing you harm i_ill do you the highest good. Sir Claude, if you'll listen to me, it will sav_ou."
  • "Save me from what?"
  • Maisie, at this question, waited with renewed suspense for an answer tha_ould bring the thing to some finer point than their companion had brought i_o before. But there was on the contrary only more mystification in Mrs. Wix'_eply. "Ah from you know what!"
  • "Do you mean from some other woman!"
  • "Yes—from a real bad one."
  • Sir Claude at least, the child could see, was not mystified; so little indee_hat a smile of intelligence broke afresh in his eyes. He turned them in vagu_iscomfort to Maisie, and then something in the way she met them caused him t_huck her playfully under the chin. It was not till after this that he good- naturedly met Mrs. Wix. "You think me much worse than I am."
  • "If that were true," she returned, "I wouldn't appeal to you. I do, Si_laude, in the name of all that's good in you—and oh so earnestly! We can hel_ach other. What you'll do for our young friend here I needn't say. That isn'_ven what I want to speak of now. What I want to speak of is what you'l_ET—don't you see?—from such an opportunity to take hold. Take hold of US— take hold of HER. Make her your duty—make her your life: she'll repay you _housand-fold!"
  • It was to Mrs. Wix, during this appeal, that Maisie's contemplatio_ransferred itself: partly because, though her heart was in her throat fo_repidation, her delicacy deterred her from appearing herself to press th_uestion; partly from the coercion of seeing Mrs. Wix come out as Mrs. Wix ha_ever come Before—not even on the day of her call at Mrs. Beale's with th_ews of mamma's marriage. On that day Mrs. Beale had surpassed her in dignity, but nobody could have surpassed her now. There was in fact at this moment _ascination for her pupil in the hint she seemed to give that she had stil_ore of that surprise behind. So the sharpened sense of spectatorship was th_hild's main support, the long habit, from the first, of seeing herself i_iscussion and finding in the fury of it—she had had a glimpse of the game o_ootball—a sort of compensation for the doom of a peculiar passivity. It gav_er often an odd air of being present at her history in as separate a manne_s if she could only get at experience by flattening her nose against a pan_f glass. Such she felt to be the application of her nose while she waited fo_he effect of Mrs. Wix's eloquence. Sir Claude, however, didn't keep her lon_n a position so ungraceful: he sat down and opened his arms to her as he ha_one the day he came for her at her father's, and while he held her there, looking at her kindly, but as if their companion had brought the blood a goo_eal to his face, he said:
  • "Dear Mrs. Wix is magnificent, but she's rather too grand about it. I mean th_ituation isn't after all quite so desperate or quite so simple. But I giv_ou my word before her, and I give it to her before you, that I'll never, never, forsake you. Do you hear that, old fellow, and do you take it in? I'l_tick to you through everything."
  • Maisie did take it in—took it with a long tremor of all her little being; an_hen as, to emphasise it, he drew her closer she buried her head on hi_houlder and cried without sound and without pain. While she was so engage_he became aware that his own breast was agitated, and gathered from it wit_apture that his tears were as silently flowing. Presently she heard a lou_ob from Mrs. Wix—Mrs. Wix was the only one who made a noise.
  • She was to have made, for some time, none other but this, though within a fe_ays, in conversation with her pupil, she described her intercourse with Id_s little better than the state of being battered. There was as ye_evertheless no attempt to eject her by force, and she recognised that Si_laude, taking such a stand as never before, had intervened with passion an_ith success. As Maisie remembered—and remembered wholly without disdain—tha_e had told her he was afraid of her ladyship, the little girl took this ac_f resolution as a proof of what, in the spirit of the engagement sealed b_ll their tears, he was really prepared to do. Mrs. Wix spoke to her of th_ecuniary sacrifice by which she herself purchased the scant security sh_njoyed and which, if it was a defence against the hand of violence, yet lef_er exposed to incredible rudeness. Didn't her ladyship find every hour of th_ay some artful means to humiliate and trample upon her? There was a quarter'_alary owing her—a great name, even Maisie could suspect, for a small matter; she should never see it as long as she lived, but keeping quiet about it pu_er ladyship, thank heaven, a little in one's power. Now that he was doing s_uch else she could never have the grossness to apply for it to Sir Claude. H_ad sent home for schoolroom consumption a huge frosted cake, a wonderfu_electable mountain with geological strata of jam, which might, with economy, see them through many days of their siege; but it was none the less known t_rs. Wix that his affairs were more and more involved, and her fellow partake_ooked back tenderly, in the light of these involutions, at the expression o_ace with which he had greeted the proposal that he should set up anothe_stablishment. Maisie felt that if their maintenance should hang by a threa_hey must still demean themselves with the highest delicacy. What he was doin_as simply acting without delay, so far as his embarrassments permitted, o_he inspiration of his elder friend. There was at this season a wonderfu_onth of May—as soft as a drop of the wind in a gale that had kept on_wake—when he took out his stepdaughter with a fresh alacrity and they ramble_he great town in search, as Mrs. Wix called it, of combined amusement an_nstruction.
  • They rode on the top of 'buses; they visited outlying parks; they went t_ricket-matches where Maisie fell asleep; they tried a hundred places for th_est one to have tea. This was his direct way of rising to Mrs. Wix's gran_esson—of making his little accepted charge his duty and his life. The_ropped, under incontrollable impulses, into shops that they agreed were to_ig, to look at things that they agreed were too small, and it was durin_hese hours that Mrs. Wix, alone at home, but a subject of regretful referenc_s they pulled off their gloves for refreshment, subsequently describe_erself as least sheltered from the blows her ladyship had achieved suc_ngenuity in dealing. She again and again repeated that she wouldn't so muc_ave minded having her "attainments" held up to scorn and her knowledge o_very subject denied, hadn't she been branded as "low" in character and tone.
  • There was by this time no pretence on the part of any one of denying it to b_ortunate that her ladyship habitually left London every Saturday and was mor_nd more disposed to a return late in the week. It was almost equally publi_hat she regarded as a preposterous "pose," and indeed as a direct insult t_erself, her husband's attitude of staying behind to look after a child fo_hom the most elaborate provision had been made. If there was a type Id_espised, Sir Claude communicated to Maisie, it was the man who pottered abou_own of a Sunday; and he also mentioned how often she had declared to him tha_f he had a grain of spirit he would be ashamed to accept a menial positio_bout Mr. Farange's daughter. It was her ladyship's contention that he was i_raven fear of his predecessor—otherwise he would recognise it as a_bligation of plain decency to protect his wife against the outrage of tha_erson's barefaced attempt to swindle her. The swindle was that Mr. Farang_ut upon her the whole intolerable burden; "and even when I pay for yo_yself," Sir Claude averred to his young friend, "she accuses me the more o_ruckling and grovelling." It was Mrs. Wix's conviction, they both knew, arrived at on independent grounds, that Ida's weekly excursions were feeler_or a more considerable absence. If she came back later each week the wee_ould be sure to arrive when she wouldn't come back at all. This appearanc_ad of course much to do with Mrs. Wix's actual valour. Could they but hol_ut long enough the snug little home with Sir Claude would find itsel_nformally established.