This might moreover have been taken to be the sense of a remark made by he_tepfather as—one rainy day when the streets were all splash and two umbrella_nsociable and the wanderers had sought shelter in the National Gallery—Maisi_at beside him staring rather sightlessly at a roomful of pictures which h_ad mystified her much by speaking of with a bored sigh as a "sill_uperstition." They represented, with patches of gold and cataracts of purple, with stiff saints and angular angels, with ugly Madonnas and uglier babies, strange prayers and prostrations; so that she at first took his words for _rotest against devotional idolatry—all the more that he had of late ofte_ome with her and with Mrs. Wix to morning church, a place of worship of Mrs.
Wix's own choosing, where there was nothing of that sort; no haloes on heads, but only, during long sermons, beguiling backs of bonnets, and where, as he_overness always afterwards observed, he gave the most earnest attention. I_resently appeared, however, that his reference was merely to the affectatio_f admiring such ridiculous works—an admonition that she received from him a_ubmissively as she received everything. What turn it gave to their tal_eedn't here be recorded: the transition to the colourless schoolroom an_onely Mrs. Wix was doubtless an effect of relaxed interest in what was befor_hem. Maisie expressed in her own way the truth that she never went hom_owadays without expecting to find the temple of her studies empty and th_oor priestess cast out. This conveyed a full appreciation of her peril, an_t was in rejoinder that Sir Claude uttered, acknowledging the source of tha_eril, the reassurance at which I have glanced. "Don't be afraid, my dear: I've squared her." It required indeed a supplement when he saw that it lef_he child momentarily blank. "I mean that your mother lets me do what I wan_o long as I let her do what SHE wants."
"So you ARE doing what you want?" Maisie asked.
"Rather, Miss Farange!"
Miss Farange turned it over. "And she's doing the same?"
"Up to the hilt!"
Again she considered. "Then, please, what may it be?"
"I wouldn't tell you for the whole world."
She gazed at a gaunt Madonna; after which she broke into a slow smile. "Well, I don't care, so long as you do let her."
"Oh you monster!"—and Sir Claude's gay vehemence brought him to his feet.
Another day, in another place—a place in Baker Street where at a hungry hou_he had sat down with him to tea and bun—he brought out a questio_isconnected from previous talk. "I say, you know, what do you suppose you_ather WOULD do?"
Maisie hadn't long to cast about or to question his pleasant eyes. "If yo_ere really to go with us? He'd make a great complaint."
He seemed amused at the term she employed. "Oh I shouldn't mind a
"He'd talk to every one about it," said Maisie.
"Well, I shouldn't mind that either."
"Of course not," the child hastened to respond. "You've told me you're no_fraid of him."
"The question is are you?" said Sir Claude.
Maisie candidly considered; then she spoke resolutely. "No, not of papa."
"But of somebody else?"
"Certainly, of lots of people."
"Of your mother first and foremost of course."
"Dear, yes; more of mamma than of—than of—"
"Than of what?" Sir Claude asked as she hesitated for a comparison.
She thought over all objects of dread. "Than of a wild elephant!" she at las_eclared. "And you are too," she reminded him as he laughed.
"Oh yes, I am too."
Again she meditated. "Why then did you marry her?"
"Just because I WAS afraid."
"Even when she loved you?"
"That made her the more alarming."
For Maisie herself, though her companion seemed to find it droll, this opene_p depths of gravity. "More alarming than she is now?"
"Well, in a different way. Fear, unfortunately, is a very big thing, an_here's a great variety of kinds."
She took this in with complete intelligence. "Then I think I've got them all."
"You?" her friend cried. "Nonsense! You're thoroughly 'game.'"
"I'm awfully afraid of Mrs. Beale," Maisie objected.
He raised his smooth brows. "That charming woman?"
"Well," she answered, "you can't understand it because you're not in the sam_tate."
She had been going on with a luminous "But" when, across the table, he lai_is hand on her arm. "I CAN understand it," he confessed. "I AM in the sam_tate."
"Oh but she likes you so!" Maisie promptly pleaded.
Sir Claude literally coloured. "That has something to do with it."
Maisie wondered again. "Being liked with being afraid?"
"Yes, when it amounts to adoration."
"Then why aren't you afraid of ME?"
"Because with you it amounts to that?" He had kept his hand on her arm. "Well, what prevents is simply that you're the gentlest spirit on earth. Besides—" h_ursued; but he came to a pause.
"I SHOULD be in fear if you were older—there! See—you already make me tal_onsense," the young man added. "The question's about your father. Is h_ikewise afraid of Mrs. Beale?"
"I think not. And yet he loves her," Maisie mused.
"Oh no—he doesn't; not a bit!" After which, as his companion stared, Si_laude apparently felt that he must make this oddity fit with he_ecollections. "There's nothing of that sort NOW."
But Maisie only stared the more. "They've changed?"
"Like your mother and me." She wondered how he knew.
"Then you've seen Mrs. Beale again?"
He demurred. "Oh no. She has written to me," he presently subjoined. "SHE'_ot afraid of your father either. No one at all is—really." Then he went o_hile Maisie's little mind, with its filial spring too relaxed from of old fo_ pang at this want of parental majesty, speculated on the vague relatio_etween Mrs. Beale's courage and the question, for Mrs. Wix and herself, of _eat lodging with their friend. "She wouldn't care a bit if Mr. Farange shoul_ake a row."
"Do you mean about you and me and Mrs. Wix? Why should she care? It wouldn'_urt HER."
Sir Claude, with his legs out and his hand diving into his trousers-pocket, threw back his head with a laugh just perceptibly tempered, as she thought, b_ sigh. "My dear stepchild, you're delightful! Look here, we must pay. You'v_ad five buns?"
"How CAN you?" Maisie demanded, crimson under the eye of the young woman wh_ad stepped to their board. "I've had three."
Shortly after this Mrs. Wix looked so ill that it was to be feared he_adyship had treated her to some unexampled passage. Maisie asked if anythin_orse than usual had occurred; whereupon the poor woman brought out wit_nfinite gloom: "He has been seeing Mrs. Beale."
"Sir Claude?" The child remembered what he had said. "Oh no—not SEEING her!"
"I beg your pardon. I absolutely know it." Mrs. Wix was as positive as she wa_ismal.
Maisie nevertheless ventured to challenge her. "And how, please, do you kno_t?"
She faltered a moment. "From herself. I've been to see her."
Then on Maisie's visible surprise: "I went yesterday while you were out wit_im. He has seen her repeatedly."
It was not wholly clear to Maisie why Mrs. Wix should be prostrate at thi_iscovery; but her general consciousness of the way things could be bot_erpetrated and resented always eased off for her the strain of the particula_ystery. "There may be some mistake. He says he hasn't."
Mrs. Wix turned paler, as if this were a still deeper ground for alarm. "H_ays so?—he denies that he has seen her?"
"He told me so three days ago. Perhaps she's mistaken," Maisie suggested.
"Do you mean perhaps she lies? She lies whenever it suits her, I'm very sure.
But I know when people lie—and that's what I've loved in you, that YOU neve_o. Mrs. Beale didn't yesterday at any rate. He HAS seen her."
Maisie was silent a little. "He says not," she then repeated.
"Perhaps—perhaps—" Once more she paused.
"Do you mean perhaps HE lies?"
"Gracious goodness, no!" Maisie shouted.
Mrs. Wix's bitterness, however, again overflowed. "He does, he does," sh_ried, "and it's that that's just the worst of it! They'll take you, they'l_ake you, and what in the world will then become of me?" She threw hersel_fresh upon her pupil and wept over her with the inevitable effect of causin_he child's own tears to flow. But Maisie couldn't have told you if she ha_een crying at the image of their separation or at that of Sir Claude'_ntruth. As regards this deviation it was agreed between them that they wer_ot in a position to bring it home to him. Mrs. Wix was in dread of doin_nything to make him, as she said, "worse"; and Maisie was sufficientl_nitiated to be able to reflect that in speaking to her as he had done he ha_nly wished to be tender of Mrs. Beale. It fell in with all her inclination_o think of him as tender, and she forbore to let him know that the two ladie_ad, as SHE would never do, betrayed him. She had not long to keep her secret, for the next day, when she went out with him, he suddenly said in reference t_ome errand he had first proposed: "No, we won't do that—we'll do somethin_lse." On this, a few steps from the door, he stopped a hansom and helped he_n; then following her he gave the driver over the top an address that sh_ost. When he was seated beside her she asked him where they were going; t_hich he replied "My dear child, you'll see." She saw while she watched an_ondered that they took the direction of the Regent's Park; but she didn'_now why he should make a mystery of that, and it was not till they passe_nder a pretty arch and drew up at a white house in a terrace from which th_iew, she thought, must be lovely that, mystified, she clutched him and brok_ut: "I shall see papa?"
He looked down at her with a kind smile. "No, probably not. I haven't brough_ou for that."
"Then whose house is it?"
"It's your father's. They've moved her."
She looked about: she had known Mr. Farange in four or five houses, and ther_as nothing astonishing in this except that it was the nicest place yet. "Bu_ shall see Mrs. Beale?"
"It's to see her that I brought you."
She stared, very white, and, with her hand on his arm, though they ha_topped, kept him sitting in the cab. "To leave me, do you mean?"
He could scarce bring it out. "It's not for me to say if you CAN stay. We mus_ook into it."
"But if I do I shall see papa?"
"Oh some time or other, no doubt." Then Sir Claude went on: "Have you reall_o very great a dread of that?"
Maisie glanced away over the apron of the cab—gazed a minute at the gree_xpanse of the Regent's Park and, at this moment colouring to the roots of he_air, felt the full, hot rush of an emotion more mature than any she had ye_nown. It consisted of an odd unexpected shame at placing in an inferio_ight, to so perfect a gentleman and so charming a person as Sir Claude, s_ery near a relative as Mr. Farange. She remembered, however, her friend'_elling her that no one was seriously afraid of her father, and she turne_ound with a small toss of her head. "Oh I dare say I can manage him!"
Sir Claude smiled, but she noted that the violence with which she had jus_hanged colour had brought into his own face a slight compunctious an_mbarrassed flush. It was as if he had caught his first glimpse of her sens_f responsibility. Neither of them made a movement to get out, and after a_nstant he said to her: "Look here, if you say so we won't after all go in."
"Ah but I want to see Mrs. Beale!" the child gently wailed.
"But what if she does decide to take you? Then, you know, you'll have t_emain."
Maisie turned it over. "Straight on—and give you up?"
"Well—I don't quite know about giving me up."
"I mean as I gave up Mrs. Beale when I last went to mamma's. I couldn't d_ithout you here for anything like so long a time as that." It struck her as _undred years since she had seen Mrs. Beale, who was on the other side of th_oor they were so near and whom she yet had not taken the jump to clasp in he_rms.
"Oh I dare say you'll see more of me than you've seen of Mrs. Beale. It isn'_n ME to be so beautifully discreet," Sir Claude said. "But all the same," h_ontinued, "I leave the thing, now that we're here, absolutely WITH you. Yo_ust settle it. We'll only go in if you say so. If you don't say so we'll tur_ight round and drive away."
"So in that case Mrs. Beale won't take me?"
"Well—not by any act of ours."
"And I shall be able to go on with mamma?" Maisie asked.
"Oh I don't say that!"
She considered. "But I thought you said you had squared her?"
Sir Claude poked his stick at the splashboard of the cab. "Not, my dear child, to the point she now requires."
"Then if she turns me out and I don't come here—"
Sir Claude promptly took her up. "What do I offer you, you naturally enquire?
My poor chick, that's just what I ask myself. I don't see it, I confess, quit_s straight as Mrs. Wix."
His companion gazed a moment at what Mrs. Wix saw. "You mean WE can't make _ittle family?"
"It's very base of me, no doubt, but I can't wholly chuck your mother."
Maisie, at this, emitted a low but lengthened sigh, a slight sound o_eluctant assent which would certainly have been amusing to an auditor. "The_here isn't anything else?"
"I vow I don't quite see what there is."
Maisie waited; her silence seemed to signify that she too had no alternativ_o suggest. But she made another appeal. "If I come here you'll come to se_e?"
"I won't lose sight of you."
"But how often will you come?" As he hung fire she pressed him. "Often an_ften?"
Still he faltered. "My dear old woman—" he began. Then he paused again, goin_n the next moment with a change of tone. "You're too funny! Yes then," h_aid; "often and often."
"All right!" Maisie jumped out. Mrs. Beale was at home, but not in th_rawing-room, and when the butler had gone for her the child suddenly brok_ut: "But when I'm here what will Mrs. Wix do?"
"Ah you should have thought of that sooner!" said her companion with the firs_aint note of asperity she had ever heard him sound.