Nothing so dreadful of course could be final or even for many minute_rolonged: they rushed together again too soon for either to feel that eithe_ad kept it up, and though they went home in silence it was with a vivi_erception for Maisie that her companion's hand had closed upon her. That han_ad shown altogether, these twenty-four hours, a new capacity for closing, an_ne of the truths the child could least resist was that a certain greatnes_ad now come to Mrs. Wix. The case was indeed that the quality of her motiv_urpassed the sharpness of her angles; both the combination and th_ingularity of which things, when in the afternoon they used the carriage,
Maisie could borrow from the contemplative hush of their grandeur the freedo_o feel to the utmost. She still bore the mark of the tone in which her frien_ad thrown out that threat of never losing sight of her. This friend had bee_onverted in short from feebleness to force; and it was the light of her ne_uthority that showed from how far she had come. The threat in question,
sharply exultant, might have produced defiance; but before anything so ugl_ould happen another process had insidiously forestalled it. The moment a_hich this process had begun to mature was that of Mrs. Wix's breaking ou_ith a dignity attuned to their own apartments and with an advantage no_easurably gained. They had ordered coffee after luncheon, in the spirit o_ir Claude's provision, and it was served to them while they awaited thei_quipage in the white and gold saloon. It was flanked moreover with a coupl_f liqueurs, and Maisie felt that Sir Claude could scarce have been taken mor_t his word had it been followed by anecdotes and cigarettes. The influence o_hese luxuries was at any rate in the air. It seemed to her while she tiptoe_t the chimney-glass, pulling on her gloves and with a motion of her hea_haking a feather into place, to have had something to do with Mrs. Wix'_uddenly saying: "Haven't you really and truly ANY moral sense?"
Maisie was aware that her answer, though it brought her down to her heels, wa_ague even to imbecility, and that this was the first time she had appeared t_ractise with Mrs. Wix an intellectual inaptitude to meet her—the infirmity t_hich she had owed so much success with papa and mamma. The appearance did he_njustice, for it was not less through her candour than through he_layfellow's pressure that after this the idea of a moral sense mainl_oloured their intercourse. She began, the poor child, with scarcely knowin_hat it was; but it proved something that, with scarce an outward sign sav_er surrender to the swing of the carriage, she could, before they came bac_rom their drive, strike up a sort of acquaintance with. The beauty of the da_nly deepened, and the splendour of the afternoon sea, and the haze of the fa_eadlands, and the taste of the sweet air. It was the coachman indeed who,
smiling and cracking his whip, turning in his place, pointing to invisibl_bjects and uttering unintelligible sounds—all, our tourists recognised,
strict features of a social order principally devoted to language: it was thi_olite person, I say, who made their excursion fall so much short that thei_eturn left them still a stretch of the long daylight and an hour that, at hi_bliging suggestion, they spent on foot by the shining sands. Maisie had see_he plage the day before with Sir Claude, but that was a reason the more fo_howing on the spot to Mrs. Wix that it was, as she said, another of th_laces on her list and of the things of which she knew the French name. Th_athers, so late, were absent and the tide was low; the sea-pools twinkled i_he sunset and there were dry places as well, where they could sit again an_dmire and expatiate: a circumstance that, while they listened to the lap o_he waves, gave Mrs. Wix a fresh support for her challenge. "Have yo_bsolutely none at all?"
She had no need now, as to the question itself at least, to be specific; tha_n the other hand was the eventual result of their quiet conjoine_pprehension of the thing that—well, yes, since they must face it—Maisi_bsolutely and appallingly had so little of. This marked more particularly th_oment of the child's perceiving that her friend had risen to a level whic_ight—till superseded at all events—pass almost for sublime. Nothing mor_emarkable had taken place in the first heat of her own departure, no act o_erception less to be overtraced by our rough method, than her vision, th_est of that Boulogne day, of the manner in which she figured. I so despair o_ourting her noiseless mental footsteps here that I must crudely give you m_ord for its being from this time forward a picture literally present to her.
Mrs. Wix saw her as a little person knowing so extraordinarily much that, fo_he account to be taken of it, what she still didn't know would be ridiculou_f it hadn't been embarrassing. Mrs. Wix was in truth more than ever qualifie_o meet embarrassment; I am not sure that Maisie had not even a di_iscernment of the queer law of her own life that made her educate to tha_ort of proficiency those elders with whom she was concerned. She promoted, a_t were, their development; nothing could have been more marked for instanc_han her success in promoting Mrs. Beale's. She judged that if her whol_istory, for Mrs. Wix, had been the successive stages of her knowledge, so th_ery climax of the concatenation would, in the same view, be the stage a_hich the knowledge should overflow. As she was condemned to know more an_ore, how could it logically stop before she should know Most? It came to he_n fact as they sat there on the sands that she was distinctly on the road t_now Everything. She had not had governesses for nothing: what in the worl_ad she ever done but learn and learn and learn? She looked at the pink sk_ith a placid foreboding that she soon should have learnt All. They lingere_n the flushed air till at last it turned to grey and she seemed fairly t_eceive new information from every brush of the breeze. By the time they move_omeward it was as if this inevitability had become for Mrs. Wix a long, tens_ord, twitched by a nervous hand, on which the valued pearls of intelligenc_ere to be neatly strung.
In the evening upstairs they had another strange sensation, as to which Maisi_ouldn't afterwards have told you whether it was bang in the middle or quit_t the beginning that her companion sounded with fresh emphasis the note o_he moral sense. What mattered was merely that she did exclaim, and again, a_t first appeared, most disconnectedly: "God help me, it does seem to pee_ut!" Oh the queer confusions that had wooed it at last to such peeping! Non_o queer, however, as the words of woe, and it might verily be said of rage,
in which the poor lady bewailed the tragic end of her own rich ignorance.
There was a point at which she seized the child and hugged her as close as i_he old days of partings and returns; at which she was visibly at a loss ho_o make up to such a victim for such contaminations: appealing, as to what sh_ad done and was doing, in bewilderment, in explanation, in supplication, fo_eassurance, for pardon and even outright for pity.
"I don't know what I've said to you, my own: I don't know what I'm saying o_hat the turn you've given my life has rendered me, heaven forgive me, capabl_f saying. Have I lost all delicacy, all decency, all measure of how far an_ow bad? It seems to me mostly that I have, though I'm the last of whom yo_ould ever have thought it. I've just done it for YOU, precious—not to los_ou, which would have been worst of all: so that I've had to pay with my ow_nnocence, if you do laugh! for clinging to you and keeping you. Don't let m_ay for nothing; don't let me have been thrust for nothing into such horror_nd such shames. I never knew anything about them and I never wanted to know!
Now I know too much, too much!" the poor woman lamented and groaned. "I kno_o much that with hearing such talk I ask myself where I am; and with utterin_t too, which is worse, say to myself that I'm far, too far, from where _tarted! I ask myself what I should have thought with my lost one if I ha_eard myself cross the line. There are lines I've crossed with you where _hould have fancied I had come to a pretty pass—" She gasped at the mer_upposition. "I've gone from one thing to another, and all for the real lov_f you; and now what would any one say—I mean any one of THEM— if they were t_ear the way I go on? I've had to keep up with you, haven't I?—and therefor_hat could I do less than look to you to keep up with ME? but it's not THE_hat are the worst—by which I mean to say it's not HIM: it's your dreadfull_ase papa and the one person in the world whom he could have found, I d_elieve— and she's not the Countess, duck—wickeder than himself. While the_ere about it at any rate, since they WERE ruining you, they might have don_t so as to spare an honest woman. Then I shouldn't have had to do whatever i_s that's the worst: throw up at you the badness you haven't taken in, or fin_y advantage in the vileness you HAVE! What I did lose patience at thi_orning was at how it was that without your seeming to condemn—for you didn't,
you remember!—you yet did seem to KNOW. Thank God, in his mercy, at last, I_ou do!"
The night, this time, was warm, and one of the windows stood open to the smal_alcony over the rail of which, on coming back from dinner, Maisie had hung _ong time in the enjoyment of the chatter, the lights, the life of the qua_ade brilliant by the season and the hour. Mrs. Wix's requirements had draw_er in from this pasture and Mrs. Wix's embrace had detained her even thoug_idway in the outpouring her confusion and sympathy had permitted, or rathe_ad positively helped, her to disengage herself. But the casement was stil_ide, the spectacle, the pleasure were still there, and from her place in th_oom, which, with its polished floor and its panels of elegance, was lighte_rom without more than from within, the child could still take account o_hem. She appeared to watch and listen; after which she answered Mrs. Wix wit_ question. "If I do know—?"
"If you do condemn." The correction was made with some austerity.
It had the effect of causing Maisie to heave a vague sigh of oppression an_hen after an instant and as if under cover of this ambiguity pass out agai_pon the balcony. She hung again over the rail; she felt the summer night; sh_ropped down into the manners of France. There was a cafe below the hotel,
before which, with little chairs and tables, people sat on a space enclosed b_lants in tubs; and the impression was enriched by the flash of the whit_prons of waiters and the music of a man and a woman who, from beyond th_recinct, sent up the strum of a guitar and the drawl of a song about "amour."
Maisie knew what "amour" meant too, and wondered if Mrs. Wix did: Mrs. Wi_emained within, as still as a mouse and perhaps not reached by th_erformance. After awhile, but not till the musicians had ceased and begun t_irculate with a little plate, her pupil came back to her. "IS it a crime?"
Maisie then asked.
Mrs. Wix was as prompt as if she had been crouching in a lair. "Branded by th_ible."
"Well, he won't commit a crime."
Mrs. Wix looked at her gloomily. "He's committing one now."
"In being with her."
Maisie had it on her tongue's end to return once more: "But now he's free."
She remembered, however, in time that one of the things she had known for th_ast entire hour was that this made no difference. After that, and as if t_urn the right way, she was on the point of a blind dash, a weak reversion t_he reminder that it might make a difference, might diminish the crime fo_rs. Beale; till such a reflexion was in its order also quashed by th_isibility in Mrs. Wix's face of the collapse produced by her inference fro_er pupil's manner that after all her pains her pupil didn't even ye_dequately understand. Never so much as when confronted had Maisie wanted t_nderstand, and all her thought for a minute centred in the effort to come ou_ith something which should be a disproof of her simplicity. "Just TRUST me,
dear; that's all!"—she came out finally with that; and it was perhaps a goo_ign of her action that with a long, impartial moan Mrs. Wix floated her t_ed.
There was no letter the next morning from Sir Claude—which Mrs. Wix let ou_hat she deemed the worst of omens; yet it was just for the quieter communio_hey so got with him that, when after the coffee and rolls which made the_ore foreign than ever, it came to going forth for fresh drafts upon hi_redit they wandered again up the hill to the rampart instead of plunging int_istraction with the crowd on the sands or into the sea with the semi-nud_athers. They gazed once more at their gilded Virgin; they sank once more upo_heir battered bench; they felt once more their distance from the Regent'_ark. At last Mrs. Wix became definite about their friend's silence. "He I_fraid of her! She has forbidden him to write." The fact of his fear Maisi_lready knew; but her companion's mention of it had at this moment tw_nexpected results. The first was her wondering in dumb remonstrance how Mrs.
Wix, with a devotion not after all inferior to her own, could put into such a_llusion such a grimness of derision; the second was that she found hersel_uddenly drop into a deeper view of it. She too had been afraid, as we hav_een, of the people of whom Sir Claude was afraid, and by that law she had ha_er due measure of latest apprehension of Mrs. Beale. What occurred a_resent, however, was that, whereas this sympathy appeared vain as for him,
the ground of it loomed dimly as a reason for selfish alarm. That uneasines_ad not carried her far before Mrs. Wix spoke again and with an abruptness s_reat as almost to seem irrelevant. "Has it never occurred to you to b_ealous of her?"
It never had in the least; yet the words were scarce in the air before Maisi_ad jumped at them. She held them well, she looked at them hard; at last sh_rought out with an assurance which there was no one, alas, but herself t_dmire: "Well, yes—since you ask me." She debated, then continued: "Lots o_imes!"
Mrs. Wix glared askance an instant; such approval as her look expressed wa_ot wholly unqualified. It expressed at any rate something that presumably ha_o do with her saying once more: "Yes. He's afraid of her."
Maisie heard, and it had afresh its effect on her even through the blur of th_ttention now required by the possibility of that idea of jealousy—_ossibility created only by her feeling she had thus found the way to show sh_as not simple. It struck out of Mrs. Wix that this lady still believed he_oral sense to be interested and feigned; so what could be such a gage of he_incerity as a peep of the most restless of the passions? Such a revelatio_ould baffle discouragement, and discouragement was in fact so baffled that,
helped in some degree by the mere intensity of their need to hope, which also,
according to its nature, sprang from the dark portent of the absent letter,
the real pitch of their morning was reached by the note, not of mutua_crutiny, but of unprecedented frankness. There were breedings indeed an_ilences, and Maisie sank deeper into the vision that for her friend she was,
at the most, superficial, and that also, positively, she was the more so th_ore she tried to appear complete. Was the sum of all knowledge only to kno_ow little in this presence one would ever reach it? The answer to tha_uestion luckily lost itself in the brightness suffusing the scene as soon a_aisie had thrown out in regard to Mrs. Beale such a remark as she had neve_reamed she should live to make. "If I thought she was unkind to him—I don'_now WHAT I should do!"
Mrs. Wix dropped one of her squints; she even confirmed it by a wild grunt. "_now what I should!"
Maisie at this felt that she lagged. "Well, I can think of one thing."
Mrs. Wix more directly challenged her. "What is it then?"
Maisie met her expression as if it were a game with forfeits for winking. "I'_ILL her!" That at least, she hoped as she looked away, would guarantee he_oral sense. She looked away, but her companion said nothing for so long tha_he at last turned her head again. Then she saw the straighteners all blurre_ith tears which after a little seemed to have sprung from her own eyes. Ther_ere tears in fact on both sides of the spectacles, and they were even s_hick that it was presently all Maisie could do to make out through them tha_lowly, finally Mrs. Wix put forth a hand. It was the material pressure tha_ettled this and even at the end of some minutes more things besides. I_ettled in its own way one thing in particular, which, though often, betwee_hem, heaven knew, hovered round and hung over, was yet to be establishe_ithout the shadow of an attenuating smile. Oh there was no gleam of levity,
as little of humour as of deprecation, in the long time they now sat togethe_r in the way in which at some unmeasured point of it Mrs. Wix became distinc_nough for her own dignity and yet not loud enough for the snoozing old women.
"I adore him. I adore him."
Maisie took it well in; so well that in a moment more she would have answere_rofoundly: "So do I." But before that moment passed something took place tha_rought other words to her lips; nothing more, very possibly, than the close_onsciousness in her hand of the significance of Mrs. Wix's. Their hand_emained linked in unutterable sign of their union, and what Maisie at las_aid was simply and serenely: "Oh I know!"
Their hands were so linked and their union was so confirmed that it took th_ar deep note of a bell, borne to them on the summer air, to call them back t_ sense of hours and proprieties. They had touched bottom and melted together,
but they gave a start at last: the bell was the voice of the inn and the in_as the image of luncheon. They should be late for it; they got up, and thei_uickened step on the return had something of the swing of confidence. Whe_hey reached the hotel the table d'hote had begun; this was clear from th_hreshold, clear from the absence in the hall and on the stairs of the
"personnel," as Mrs. Wix said—she had picked THAT up—all collected in th_ining-room. They mounted to their apartments for a brush before the glass,
and it was Maisie who, in passing and from a vain impulse, threw open th_hite and gold door. She was thus first to utter the sound that brought Mrs.
Wix almost on top of her, as by the other accident it would have brought he_n top of Mrs. Wix. It had at any rate the effect of leaving them bunche_ogether in a strained stare at their new situation. This situation had put o_n a flash the bright form of Mrs. Beale: she stood there in her hat and he_acket, amid bags and shawls, smiling and holding out her arms. If she ha_ust arrived it was a different figure from either of the two that for THEI_enefit, wan and tottering and none too soon to save life, the Channel ha_ecently disgorged. She was as lovely as the day that had brought her over, a_resh as the luck and the health that attended her: it came to Maisie on th_pot that she was more beautiful than she had ever been. All this was to_uick to count, but there was still time in it to give the child the sense o_hat had kindled the light. That leaped out of the open arms, the open eyes,
the open mouth; it leaped out with Mrs. Beale's loud cry at her: "I'm free,