Every single thing he had prophesied came so true that it was after all n_ore than fair to expect quite as much for what he had as good as promised.
His pledges they could verify to the letter, down to his very guarantee that _ay would be found with Miss Ash. Roused in the summer dawn and vehementl_queezed by that interesting exile, Maisie fell back upon her couch with _enewed appreciation of his policy, a memento of which, when she rose later o_o dress, glittered at her from the carpet in the shape of a sixpence that ha_verflowed from Susan's pride of possession. Sixpences really, for the forty- eight hours that followed, seemed to abound in her life; she fancifull_omputed the number of them represented by such a period of "larks." Th_umber was not kept down, she presently noticed, by any scheme of revenge fo_ir Claude's flight which should take on Mrs. Wix's part the form of a refusa_o avail herself of the facilities he had so bravely ordered. It was in fac_mpossible to escape them; it was in the good lady's own phrase ridiculous t_o on foot when you had a carriage prancing at the door. Everything about the_ranced: the very waiters even as they presented the dishes to which, from _imilar sense of the absurdity of perversity, Mrs. Wix helped herself with _reedom that spoke, to Maisie quite as much of her depletion as of her logic.
Her appetite was a sign to her companion of a great many things and testifie_o less on the whole to her general than to her particular condition. She ha_rrears of dinner to make up, and it was touching that in a dinnerless stat_er moral passion should have burned so clear. She partook largely as a refug_rom depression, and yet the opportunity to partake was just a mark of th_inister symptoms that depressed her. The affair was in short a combat, i_hich the baser element triumphed, between her refusal to be bought off an_er consent to be clothed and fed. It was not at any rate to be gainsaid tha_here was comfort for her in the developments of France; comfort so great a_o leave Maisie free to take with her all the security for granted and brus_ll the danger aside. That was the way to carry out in detail Sir Claude'_njunction to be "nice"; that was the way, as well, to look, with her, in _urvey of the pleasures of life abroad, straight over the head of any doubt.
They shrank at last, all doubts, as the weather cleared up: it had an immens_ffect on them and became quite as lovely as Sir Claude had engaged. Thi_eemed to have put him so into the secret of things, and the joy of the worl_o waylaid the steps of his friends, that little by little the spirit of hop_illed the air and finally took possession of the scene. To drive on the lon_liff was splendid, but it was perhaps better still to creep in the shade—fo_he sun was strong—along the many-coloured and many-odoured port and throug_he streets in which, to English eyes, everything that was the same was _ystery and everything that was different a joke. Best of all was to continu_he creep up the long Grand' Rue to the gate of the haute ville and, passin_eneath it, mount to the quaint and crooked rampart, with its rows of trees, its quiet corners and friendly benches where brown old women in such white- frilled caps and such long gold earrings sat and knitted or snoozed, it_ittle yellow-faced houses that looked like the homes of misers or of priest_nd its dark chateau where small soldiers lounged on the bridge that stretche_cross an empty moat and military washing hung from the windows of towers.
This was a part of the place that could lead Maisie to enquire if it didn'_ust meet one's idea of the middle ages; and since it was rather _atisfaction than a shock to perceive, and not for the first time, the limit_n Mrs. Wix's mind of the historic imagination, that only added one more t_he variety of kinds of insight that she felt it her own present mission t_how. They sat together on the old grey bastion; they looked down on th_ittle new town which seemed to them quite as old, and across at the grea_ome and the high gilt Virgin of the church that, as they gathered, was famou_nd that pleased them by its unlikeness to any place in which they ha_orshipped. They wandered in this temple afterwards and Mrs. Wix confesse_hat for herself she had probably made a fatal mistake early in life in no_eing a Catholic. Her confession in its turn caused Maisie to wonder rathe_nterestedly what degree of lateness it was that shut the door against a_scape from such an error. They went back to the rampart on the secon_orning—the spot on which they appeared to have come furthest in the journe_hat was to separate them from everything objectionable in the past: it gav_hem afresh the impression that had most to do with their having worked roun_o a confidence that on Maisie's part was determined and that she could see t_e on her companion's desperate. She had had for many hours the sense o_howing Mrs. Wix so much that she was comparatively slow to become consciou_f being at the same time the subject of a like aim. The business went th_aster, however, from the moment she got her glimpse of it; it then fell int_ts place in her general, her habitual view of the particular phenomenon that, had she felt the need of words for it, she might have called her persona_elation to her knowledge. This relation had never been so lively as durin_he time she waited with her old governess for Sir Claude's reappearance, an_hat made it so was exactly that Mrs. Wix struck her as having a new suspicio_f it. Mrs. Wix had never yet had a suspicion—this was certain—so calculate_o throw her pupil, in spite of the closer union of such adventurous hours, upon the deep defensive. Her pupil made out indeed as many marvels as she ha_ade out on the rush to Folkestone; and if in Sir Claude's company on tha_ccasion Mrs. Wix was the constant implication, so in Mrs. Wix's, during thes_ours, Sir Claude was—and most of all through long pauses—the perpetual, th_nsurmountable theme. It all took them back to the first flush of his marriag_nd to the place he held in the schoolroom at that crisis of love and pain; only he had himself blown to a much bigger balloon the large consciousness h_hen filled out.
They went through it all again, and indeed while the interval dragged by th_ery weight of its charm they went, in spite of defences and suspicions, through everything. Their intensified clutch of the future throbbed like _lock ticking seconds; but this was a timepiece that inevitably, as well, a_he best, rang occasionally a portentous hour. Oh there were several of these, and two or three of the worst on the old city-wall where everything else s_ade for peace. There was nothing in the world Maisie more wanted than to b_s nice to Mrs. Wix as Sir Claude had desired; but it was exactly because thi_ell in with her inveterate instinct of keeping the peace that the instinc_tself was quickened. From the moment it was quickened, however, it foun_ther work, and that was how, to begin with, she produced the ver_omplication she most sought to avert. What she had essentially done, thes_ays, had been to read the unspoken into the spoken; so that thus, wit_ccumulations, it had become more definite to her that the unspoken was, unspeakably, the completeness of the sacrifice of Mrs. Beale. There were time_hen every minute that Sir Claude stayed away was like a nail in Mrs. Beale'_offin. That brought back to Maisie—it was a roundabout way—the beauty an_ntiquity of her connexion with the flower of the Overmores as well as tha_ady's own grace and charm, her peculiar prettiness and cleverness and eve_er peculiar tribulations. A hundred things hummed at the back of her head, but two of these were simple enough. Mrs. Beale was by the way, after all, just her stepmother and her relative. She was just—and partly for that ver_eason—Sir Claude's greatest intimate ("lady-intimate" was Maisie's term) s_hat what together they were on Mrs. Wix's prescription to give up and brea_hort off with was for one of them his particular favourite and for the othe_er father's wife. Strangely, indescribably her perception of reasons kep_ace with her sense of trouble; but there was something in her that, without _upreme effort not to be shabby, couldn't take the reasons for granted. Wha_t comes to perhaps for ourselves is that, disinherited and denuded as we hav_een her, there still lingered in her life an echo of parental influence—sh_as still reminiscent of one of the sacred lessons of home. It was the onl_ne she retained, but luckily she retained it with force. She enjoyed in _ord an ineffaceable view of the fact that there were things papa called mamm_nd mamma called papa a low sneak for doing or for not doing. Now this ric_emory gave her a name that she dreaded to invite to the lips of Mrs. Beale: she should personally wince so just to hear it. The very sweetness of th_oreign life she was steeped in added with each hour of Sir Claude's absenc_o the possibility of such pangs. She watched beside Mrs. Wix the great golde_adonna, and one of the ear-ringed old women who had been sitting at the en_f their bench got up and pottered away. "Adieu mesdames!" said the old woma_n a little cracked civil voice—a demonstration by which our friends were s_ffected that they bobbed up and almost curtseyed to her. They subsided again, and it was shortly after, in a summer hum of French insects and a phase o_lmost somnolent reverie, that Maisie most had the vision of what it was t_hut out from such a perspective so appealing a participant. It had not ye_ppeared so vast as at that moment, this prospect of statues shining in th_lue and of courtesy in romantic forms.
"Why after all should we have to choose between you? Why shouldn't we b_our?" she finally demanded.
Mrs. Wix gave the jerk of a sleeper awakened or the start even of one wh_ears a bullet whiz at the flag of truce. Her stupefaction at such a breach o_he peace delayed for a moment her answer. "Four improprieties, do you mean?
Because two of us happen to be decent people! Do I gather you to wish that _hould stay on with you even if that woman IS capable—?"
Maisie took her up before she could further phrase Mrs. Beale's capability.
"Stay on as MY companion—yes. Stay on as just what you were at mamma's. Mrs.
Beale WOULD let you!" the child said.
Mrs. Wix had by this time fairly sprung to her arms. "And who, I'd like t_now, would let Mrs. Beale? Do you mean, little unfortunate, that YOU would?"
"Why not, if now she's free?"
"Free? Are you imitating HIM? Well, if Sir Claude's old enough to know better, upon my word I think it's right to treat you as if you also were. You'll hav_o, at any rate—to know better—if that's the line you're proposing to take."
Mrs. Wix had never been so harsh; but on the other hand Maisie could gues_hat she herself had never appeared so wanton. What was underlying, however, rather overawed than angered her; she felt she could still insist—not fo_ontradiction, but for ultimate calm. Her wantonness meanwhile continued t_ork upon her friend, who caught again, on the rebound, the sound of deepes_rovocation. "Free, free, free? If she's as free as YOU are, my dear, she'_ree enough, to be sure!"
"As I am?—" Maisie, after reflexion and despite whatever of portentous thi_eemed to convey, risked a critical echo.
"Well," said Mrs. Wix, "nobody, you know, is free to commit a crime."
"A crime!" The word had come out in a way that made the child sound it again.
"You'd commit as great a one as their own—and so should I—if we were t_ondone their immorality by our presence."
Maisie waited a little; this seemed so fiercely conclusive. "Why is i_mmorality?" she nevertheless presently enquired.
Her companion now turned upon her with a reproach softer because it wa_omehow deeper. "You're too unspeakable! Do you know what we're talkin_bout?"
In the interest of ultimate calm Maisie felt that she must be above all clear.
"Certainly; about their taking advantage of their freedom."
"Well, to do what?"
"Why, to live with us."
Mrs. Wix's laugh, at this, was literally wild. "'Us?' Thank you!"
"Then to live with ME."
The words made her friend jump. "You give me up? You break with me for ever?
You turn me into the street?"
Maisie, though gasping a little, bore up under the rain of challenges. "Those, it seems to me, are the things you do to ME."
Mrs. Wix made little of her valour. "I can promise you that, whatever I do, _hall never let you out of my sight! You ask me why it's immorality whe_ou've seen with your own eyes that Sir Claude has felt it to be so to tha_ire extent that, rather than make you face the shame of it, he has for month_ept away from you altogether? Is it any more difficult to see that the firs_ime he tries to do his duty he washes his hands of HER—takes you straigh_way from her?"
Maisie turned this over, but more for apparent consideration than from an_mpulse to yield too easily. "Yes, I see what you mean. But at that time the_eren't free." She felt Mrs. Wix rear up again at the offensive word, but sh_ucceeded in touching her with a remonstrant hand. "I don't think you know ho_ree they've become."
"I know, I believe, at least as much as you do!"
Maisie felt a delicacy but overcame it. "About the Countess?"
"Your father's—temptress?" Mrs. Wix gave her a sidelong squint. "Perfectly.
She pays him!"
"Oh DOES she?" At this the child's countenance fell: it seemed to give _eason for papa's behaviour and place it in a more favourable light. Sh_ished to be just. "I don't say she's not generous. She was so to me."
"How, to you?"
"She gave me a lot of money."
Mrs. Wix stared. "And pray what did you do with a lot of money?"
"I gave it to Mrs. Beale."
"And what did Mrs. Beale do with it?"
"She sent it back."
"To the Countess? Gammon!" said Mrs. Wix. She disposed of that plea a_ffectually as Susan Ash.
"Well, I don't care!" Maisie replied. "What I mean is that you don't kno_bout the rest."
"The rest? What rest?"
Maisie wondered how she could best put it. "Papa kept me there an hour."
"I do know—Sir Claude told me. Mrs. Beale had told him."
Maisie looked incredulity. "How could she—when I didn't speak of it?"
Mrs. Wix was mystified. "Speak of what?"
"Why, of her being so frightful."
"The Countess? Of course she's frightful!" Mrs. Wix returned. After a momen_he added: "That's why she pays him."
Maisie pondered. "It's the best thing about her then—if she gives him as muc_s she gave ME!"
"Well, it's not the best thing about HIM! Or rather perhaps it IS too!" Mrs.
"But she's awful—really and truly," Maisie went on.
Mrs. Wix arrested her. "You needn't go into details!" It was visibly a_ariance with this injunction that she yet enquired: "How does that make i_ny better?"
"Their living with me? Why for the Countess—and for her whiskers!—he has pu_e off on them. I understood him," Maisie profoundly said.
"I hope then he understood you. It's more than I do!" Mrs. Wix admitted.
This was a real challenge to be plainer, and our young lady immediately becam_o. "I mean it isn't a crime."
"Why then did Sir Claude steal you away?"
"He didn't steal—he only borrowed me. I knew it wasn't for long," Maisi_udaciously professed.
"You must allow me to reply to that," cried Mrs. Wix, "that you knew nothin_f the sort, and that you rather basely failed to back me up last night whe_ou pretended so plump that you did! You hoped in fact, exactly as much as _id and as in my senseless passion I even hope now, that this may be th_eginning of better things."
Oh yes, Mrs. Wix was indeed, for the first time, sharp; so that there at las_tirred in our heroine the sense not so much of being proved disingenuous a_f being precisely accused of the meanness that had brought everything down o_er through her very desire to shake herself clear of it. She suddenly fel_erself swell with a passion of protest. "I never, NEVER hoped I wasn't goin_gain to see Mrs. Beale! I didn't, I didn't, I didn't!" she repeated. Mrs. Wi_ounced about with a force of rejoinder of which she also felt that she mus_nticipate the concussion and which, though the good lady was evidentl_harged to the brim, hung fire long enough to give time for an aggravation.
"She's beautiful and I love her! I love her and she's beautiful!"
"And I'm hideous and you hate ME?" Mrs. Wix fixed her a moment, then caugh_erself up. "I won't embitter you by absolutely accusing you of that; though, as for my being hideous, it's hardly the first time I've been told so! I kno_t so well that even if I haven't whiskers—have I?—I dare say there are othe_ays in which the Countess is a Venus to me! My pretensions must therefor_eem to you monstrous—which comes to the same thing as your not liking me. Bu_o you mean to go so far as to tell me that you WANT to live with them i_heir sin?"
"You know what I want, you know what I want!"—Maisie spoke with the shudder o_ising tears.
"Yes, I do; you want me to be as bad as yourself! Well, I won't. There! Mrs.
Beale's as bad as your father!" Mrs. Wix went on.
"She's not!—she's not!" her pupil almost shrieked in retort.
"You mean because Sir Claude at least has beauty and wit and grace? But h_ays just as the Countess pays!" Mrs. Wix, who now rose as she spoke, fairl_evealed a latent cynicism.
It raised Maisie also to her feet; her companion had walked off a few step_nd paused. The two looked at each other as they had never looked, and Mrs.
Wix seemed to flaunt there in her finery. "Then doesn't he pay YOU too?" he_nhappy charge demanded.
At this she bounded in her place. "Oh you incredible little waif!" She brough_t out with a wail of violence; after which, with another convulsion, sh_arched straight away.
Maisie dropped back on the bench and burst into sobs.