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Chapter 27

  • The greatest wonder of all was the way Mrs. Beale addressed her announcement, so far as could be judged, equally to Mrs. Wix, who, as if from sudden failur_f strength, sank into a chair while Maisie surrendered to the visitor'_mbrace. As soon as the child was liberated she met with profundity Mrs. Wix'_tupefaction and actually was able to see that while in a manner sustainin_he encounter her face yet seemed with intensity to say: "Now, for God's sake, don't crow 'I told you so!'" Maisie was somehow on the spot aware of a_bsence of disposition to crow; it had taken her but an extra minute to arriv_t such a quick survey of the objects surrounding Mrs. Beale as showed tha_mong them was no appurtenance of Sir Claude's. She knew his dressing-bag now— oh with the fondest knowledge!—and there was an instant during which its no_eing there was a stroke of the worst news. She was yet to learn what it coul_e to recognise in some lapse of a sequence the proof of an extinction, an_herefore remained unaware that this momentary pang was a foretaste of th_xperience of death. It of course yielded in a flash to Mrs. Beale'_rightness, it gasped itself away in her own instant appeal. "You've com_lone?"
  • "Without Sir Claude?" Strangely, Mrs. Beale looked even brighter. "Yes; in th_agerness to get at you. You abominable little villain!"—and her stepmother, laughing clear, administered to her cheek a pat that was partly a pinch. "Wha_ere you up to and what did you take me for? But I'm glad to be abroad, an_fter all it's you who have shown me the way. I mightn't, without you, hav_een able to come—to come, that is, so soon. Well, here I am at any rate an_n a moment more I should have begun to worry about you. This will do ver_ell"—she was good-natured about the place and even presently added that i_as charming. Then with a rosier glow she made again her great point: "I'_ree, I'm free!" Maisie made on her side her own: she carried back her gaze t_rs. Wix, whom amazement continued to hold; she drew afresh her old friend'_ttention to the superior way she didn't take that up. What she did take u_he next minute was the question of Sir Claude. "Where is he? Won't he come?"
  • Mrs. Beale's consideration of this oscillated with a smile between the tw_xpectancies with which she was flanked: it was conspicuous, it wa_xtraordinary, her unblinking acceptance of Mrs. Wix, a miracle of whic_aisie had even now begun to read a reflexion in that lady's long visage.
  • "He'll come, but we must MAKE him!" she gaily brought forth.
  • "Make him?" Maisie echoed.
  • "We must give him time. We must play our cards."
  • "But he promised us awfully," Maisie replied.
  • "My dear child, he has promised ME awfully; I mean lots of things, and not i_very case kept his promise to the letter." Mrs. Beale's good humour insiste_n taking for granted Mrs. Wix's, to whom her attention had suddenly grow_rodigious. "I dare say he has done the same with you, and not always come t_ime. But he makes it up in his own way—and it isn't as if we didn't kno_xactly what he is. There's one thing he is," she went on, "which make_verything else only a question, for us, of tact." They scarce had time t_onder what this was before, as they might have said, it flew straight int_heir face. "He's as free as I am!"
  • "Yes, I know," said Maisie; as if, however, independently weighing the valu_f that. She really weighed also the oddity of her stepmother's treating it a_ews to HER, who had been the first person literally to whom Sir Claude ha_entioned it. For a few seconds, as if with the sound of it in her ears, sh_tood with him again, in memory and in the twilight, in the hotel garden a_olkestone.
  • Anything Mrs. Beale overlooked was, she indeed divined, but the effect of a_xaltation of high spirits, a tendency to soar that showed even when sh_ropped—still quite impartially—almost to the confidential. "Well, then—we'v_nly to wait. He can't do without us long. I'm sure, Mrs. Wix, he can't d_ithout YOU! He's devoted to you; he has told me so much about you. The exten_ count on you, you know, count on you to help me—" was an extent that eve_ll her radiance couldn't express. What it couldn't express quite as much a_hat it could made at any rate every instant her presence and even her famou_reedom loom larger; and IT was this mighty mass that once more led he_ompanions, bewildered and disjoined, to exchange with each other as through _hickening veil confused and ineffectual signs. They clung together at leas_n the common ground of unpreparedness, and Maisie watched without relief th_avoc of wonder in Mrs. Wix. It had reduced her to perfect impotence, and, bu_hat gloom was black upon her, she sat as if fascinated by Mrs. Beale's hig_tyle. It had plunged her into a long deep hush; for what had happened was th_hing she had least allowed for and before which the particular rigour she ha_orked up could only grow limp and sick. Sir Claude was to have reappeare_ith his accomplice or without her; never, never his accomplice without HIM.
  • Mrs. Beale had gained apparently by this time an advantage she could pursue: she looked at the droll dumb figure with jesting reproach. "You really won'_hake hands with me? Never mind; you'll come round!" She put the matter to n_est, going on immediately and, instead of offering her hand, raising it, wit_ pretty gesture that her bent head met, to a long black pin that played _art in her back hair. "Are hats worn at luncheon? If you're as hungry as I a_e must go right down."
  • Mrs. Wix stuck fast, but she met the question in a voice her pupil scarc_ecognised. "I wear mine."
  • Mrs. Beale, swallowing at one glance her brand-new bravery, which she appeare_t once to refer to its origin and to follow in its flights, accepted this a_onclusive. "Oh but I've not such a beauty!" Then she turned rejoicingly t_aisie. "I've got a beauty for YOU my dear."
  • "A beauty?"
  • "A love of a hat—in my luggage. I remembered THAT"—she nodded at the object o_er stepdaughter's head—"and I've brought you one with a peacock's breast.
  • It's the most gorgeous blue!"
  • It was too strange, this talking with her there already not about Sir Claud_ut about peacocks—too strange for the child to have the presence of mind t_hank her. But the felicity in which she had arrived was so proof agains_verything that Maisie felt more and more the depth of the purpose that mus_nderlie it. She had a vague sense of its being abysmal, the spirit with whic_rs. Beale carried off the awkwardness, in the white and gold salon, of such _ant of breath and of welcome. Mrs. Wix was more breathless than ever; th_mbarrassment of Mrs. Beale's isolation was as nothing to the embarrassment o_er grace. The perception of this dilemma was the germ on the child's part o_ new question altogether. What if WITH this indulgence—? But the idea los_tself in something too frightened for hope and too conjectured for fear; an_hile everything went by leaps and bounds one of the waiters stood at the doo_o remind them that the table d'hote was half over.
  • "Had you come up to wash hands?" Mrs. Beale hereupon asked them. "Go and do i_uickly and I'll be with you: they've put my boxes in that nice room—it wa_ir Claude's. Trust him," she laughed, "to have a nice one!" The door of _eighbouring room stood open, and now from the threshold, addressing hersel_gain to Mrs. Wix, she launched a note that gave the very key of what, as sh_ould have said, she was up to. "Dear lady, please attend to my daughter."
  • She was up to a change of deportment so complete that it represented—oh fo_ffices still honourably subordinate if not too explicitly menial—an absolut_oercion, an interested clutch of the old woman's respectability. There wa_esponse, to Maisie's view, I may say at once, in the jump of tha_espectability to its feet: it was itself capable of one of the leaps, one o_he bounds just mentioned, and it carried its charge, with this momentum an_hile Mrs. Beale popped into Sir Claude's chamber, straight away to where, a_he end of the passage, pupil and governess were quartered. The greates_tride of all, for that matter, was that within a few seconds the pupil had, in another relation, been converted into a daughter. Maisie's eyes were stil_ollowing it when, after the rush, with the door almost slammed and no though_f soap and towels, the pair stood face to face. Mrs. Wix, in this position, was the first to gasp a sound. "Can it ever be that SHE has one?"
  • Maisie felt still more bewildered. "One what?"
  • "Why moral sense."
  • They spoke as if you might have two, but Mrs. Wix looked as if it were no_ltogether a happy thought, and Maisie didn't see how even an affirmative fro_er own lips would clear up what had become most of a mystery. It was to thi_arger puzzle she sprang pretty straight. "IS she my mother now?"
  • It was a point as to which an horrific glimpse of the responsibility of a_pinion appeared to affect Mrs. Wix like a blow in the stomach. She ha_vidently never thought of it; but she could think and rebound. "If she is, he's equally your father."
  • Maisie, however, thought further. "Then my father and my mother—!"
  • But she had already faltered and Mrs. Wix had already glared back: "Ought t_ive together? Don't begin it AGAIN!" She turned away with a groan, to reac_he washing-stand, and Maisie could by this time recognise with a certain eas_hat that way verily madness did lie. Mrs. Wix gave a great untidy splash, bu_he next instant had faced round. "She has taken a new line."
  • "She was nice to you," Maisie concurred.
  • "What SHE thinks so—'go and dress the young lady!' But it's something!" sh_anted. Then she thought out the rest. "If he won't have her, why she'll hav_OU. She'll be the one."
  • "The one to keep me abroad?"
  • "The one to give you a home." Mrs. Wix saw further; she mastered all th_ortents. "Oh she's cruelly clever! It's not a moral sense." She reached he_limax: "It's a game!"
  • "A game?"
  • "Not to lose him. She has sacrificed him—to her duty."
  • "Then won't he come?" Maisie pleaded.
  • Mrs. Wix made no answer; her vision absorbed her. "He has fought. But she ha_on."
  • "Then won't he come?" the child repeated.
  • Mrs. Wix made it out. "Yes, hang him!" She had never been so profane.
  • For all Maisie minded! "Soon—to-morrow?"
  • "Too soon—whenever. Indecently soon."
  • "But then we SHALL be together!" the child went on. It made Mrs. Wix look a_er as if in exasperation; but nothing had time to come before sh_recipitated: "Together with YOU!" The air of criticism continued, but too_oice only in her companion's bidding her wash herself and come down. Th_ilence of quick ablutions fell upon them, presently broken, however, by on_f Maisie's sudden reversions. "Mercy, isn't she handsome?"
  • Mrs. Wix had finished; she waited. "She'll attract attention." They wer_apid, and it would have been noticed that the shock the beauty had given the_cted, incongruously, as a positive spur to their preparations for rejoinin_er. She had none the less, when they returned to the sitting-room, alread_escended; the open door of her room showed it empty and the chambermai_xplained. Here again they were delayed by another sharp thought of Mrs.
  • Wix's. "But what will she live on meanwhile?"
  • Maisie stopped short. "Till Sir Claude comes?"
  • It was nothing to the violence with which her friend had been arrested.
  • "Who'll pay the bills?"
  • Maisie thought. "Can't SHE?"
  • "She? She hasn't a penny."
  • The child wondered. "But didn't papa—?"
  • "Leave her a fortune?" Mrs. Wix would have appeared to speak of papa as dea_ad she not immediately added: "Why he lives on other women!"
  • Oh yes, Maisie remembered. "Then can't he send—" She faltered again; even t_erself it sounded queer.
  • "Some of their money to his wife?" Mrs. Wix pave a laugh still stranger tha_he weird suggestion. "I dare say she'd take it!"
  • They hurried on again; yet again, on the stairs, Maisie pulled up. "Well, i_he had stopped in England—!" she threw out.
  • Mrs. Wix considered. "And he had come over instead?"
  • "Yes, as we expected." Maisie launched her speculation. "What then would sh_ave lived on?"
  • Mrs. Wix hung fire but an instant. "On other men!" And she marched downstairs.