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Chapter 26

  • 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."
  • "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,
  • I'm free!"