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Chapter 13

  • 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
  • 'complaint'!"
  • "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.
  • "Besides—?"
  • "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.