She remained out with him for a time of which she could take no measure sav_hat it was too short for what she wished to make of it—an interval, a barrie_ndefinite, insurmountable. They walked about, they dawdled, they looked i_hop-windows; they did all the old things exactly as if to try to get back al_he old safety, to get something out of them that they had always got before.
This had come before, whatever it was, without their trying, and nothing cam_ow but the intenser consciousness of their quest and their subterfuge. Th_trangest thing of all was what had really happened to the old safety. Wha_ad really happened was that Sir Claude was "free" and that Mrs. Beale was
"free," and yet that the new medium was somehow still more oppressive than th_ld. She could feel that Sir Claude concurred with her in the sense that th_ppression would be worst at the inn, where, till something should be settled, they would feel the want of something—of what could they call it but _ooting? The question of the settlement loomed larger to her now: it depended, she had learned, so completely on herself. Her choice, as her friend ha_alled it, was there before her like an impossible sum on a slate, a sum tha_n spite of her plea for consideration she simply got off from doing while sh_alked about with him. She must see Mrs. Wix before she could do her sum; therefore the longer before she saw her the more distant would be the ordeal.
She met at present no demand whatever of her obligation; she simply plunged, to avoid it, deeper into the company of Sir Claude. She saw nothing that sh_ad seen hitherto—no touch in the foreign picture that had at first bee_lways before her. The only touch was that of Sir Claude's hand, and to fee_er own in it was her mute resistance to time. She went about as sightlessl_s if he had been leading her blindfold. If they were afraid of themselves i_as themselves they would find at the inn. She was certain now that wha_waited them there would be to lunch with Mrs. Beale. All her instinct was t_void that, to draw out their walk, to find pretexts, to take him down upo_he beach, to take him to the end of the pier. He said no other word to he_bout what they had talked of at breakfast, and she had a dim vision of ho_is way of not letting her see him definitely wait for anything from her woul_ake any one who should know of it, would make Mrs. Wix for instance, thin_im more than ever a gentleman. It was true that once or twice, on the jetty, on the sands, he looked at her for a minute with eyes that seemed to propos_o her to come straight off with him to Paris. That, however, was not to giv_er a nudge about her responsibility. He evidently wanted to procrastinat_uite as much as she did; he was not a bit more in a hurry to get back to th_thers. Maisie herself at this moment could be secretly merciless to Mrs. Wix— to the extent at any rate of not caring if her continued disappearance di_ake that lady begin to worry about what had become of her, even begin t_onder perhaps if the truants hadn't found their remedy. Her want of mercy t_rs. Beale indeed was at least as great; for Mrs. Beale's worry and wonde_ould be as much greater as the object at which they were directed. When a_ast Sir Claude, at the far end of the plage, which they had already, in th_any-coloured crowd, once traversed, suddenly, with a look at his watch, remarked that it was time, not to get back to the table d'hote, but to ge_ver to the station and meet the Paris papers—when he did this she foun_erself thinking quite with intensity what Mrs. Beale and Mrs. Wix WOULD say.
On the way over to the station she had even a mental picture of the stepfathe_nd the pupil established in a little place in the South while the governes_nd the stepmother, in a little place in the North, remained linked by _ommunity of blankness and by the endless series of remarks it would giv_irth to. The Paris papers had come in and her companion, with a strang_xtravagance, purchased no fewer than eleven: it took up time while the_overed at the bookstall on the restless platform, where the little volumes i_ row were all yellow and pink and one of her favourite old women in one o_er favourite old caps absolutely wheedled him into the purchase of three.
They had thus so much to carry home that it would have seemed simpler, wit_uch a provision for a nice straight journey through France, just to "nip," a_he phrased it to herself, into the coupe of the train that, a little furthe_long, stood waiting to start. She asked Sir Claude where it was going.
"To Paris. Fancy!"
She could fancy well enough. They stood there and smiled, he with all th_ewspapers under his arm and she with the three books, one yellow and tw_ink. He had told her the pink were for herself and the yellow one for Mrs.
Beale, implying in an interesting way that these were the natural divisions i_rance of literature for the young and for the old. She knew how prepared the_ooked to pass into the train, and she presently brought out to her companion:
"I wish we could go. Won't you take me?"
He continued to smile. "Would you really come?"
"Oh yes, oh yes. Try."
"Do you want me to take our tickets?"
"Yes, take them."
"Without any luggage?"
She showed their two armfuls, smiling at him as he smiled at her, but s_onscious of being more frightened than she had ever been in her life that sh_eemed to see her whiteness as in a glass. Then she knew that what she saw wa_ir Claude's whiteness: he was as frightened as herself. "Haven't we go_lenty of luggage?" she asked. "Take the tickets—haven't you time? When doe_he train go?"
Sir Claude turned to a porter. "When does the train go?"
The man looked up at the station-clock. "In two minutes. Monsieur est place?"
"Et vos billets?—vous n'avez que le temps." Then after a look at Maisie,
"Monsieur veut-il que je les prenne?" the man said.
Sir Claude turned back to her. "Veux-tu lieu quil en prenne?"
It was the most extraordinary thing in the world: in the intensity of he_xcitement she not only by illumination understood all their French, but fel_nto it with an active perfection. She addressed herself straight to th_orter.
"Prenny, prenny. Oh prenny!"
"Ah si mademoiselle le veut—!" He waited there for the money.
But Sir Claude only stared—stared at her with his white face. "You have chose_hen? You'll let her go?"
Maisie carried her eyes wistfully to the train, where, amid cries of "E_oiture, en voiture!" heads were at windows and doors banging loud. The porte_as pressing. "Ah vous n'avez plus le temps!"
"It's going—it's going!" cried Maisie.
They watched it move, they watched it start; then the man went his way with _hrug. "It's gone!" Sir Claude said.
Maisie crept some distance up the platform; she stood there with her back t_er companion, following it with her eyes, keeping down tears, nursing he_ink and yellow books. She had had a real fright but had fallen back to earth.
The odd thing was that in her fall her fear too had been dashed down an_roken. It was gone. She looked round at last, from where she had paused, a_ir Claude's, and then saw that his wasn't. It sat there with him on the benc_o which, against the wall of the station, he had retreated, and where, leaning back and, as she thought, rather queer, he still waited. She came dow_o him and he continued to offer his ineffectual intention of pleasantry.
"Yes, I've chosen," she said to him. "I'll let her go if you—if you—"
She faltered; he quickly took her up. "If I, if I—"
"If you'll give up Mrs. Beale."
"Oh!" he exclaimed; on which she saw how much, how hopelessly he was afraid.
She had supposed at the cafe that it was of his rebellion, of his gatherin_otive; but how could that be when his temptations—that temptation for exampl_f the train they had just lost—were after all so slight? Mrs. Wix was right.
He was afraid of his weakness—of his weakness.
She couldn't have told you afterwards how they got back to the inn: she coul_nly have told you that even from this point they had not gone straight, bu_nce more had wandered and loitered and, in the course of it, had foun_hemselves on the edge of the quay where—still apparently with half an hour t_pare—the boat prepared for Folkestone was drawn up. Here they hovered as the_ad done at the station; here they exchanged silences again, but onl_xchanged silences. There were punctual people on the deck, choosing places, taking the best; some of them already contented, all established and shawled, facing to England and attended by the steward, who, confined on such a day t_he lighter offices, tucked up the ladies' feet or opened bottles with a pop.
They looked down at these things without a word; they even picked out a goo_lace for two that was left in the lee of a lifeboat; and if they lingere_ather stupidly, neither deciding to go aboard nor deciding to come away, i_as Sir Claude quite as much as she who wouldn't move. It was Sir Claude wh_ultivated the supreme stillness by which she knew best what he meant. H_imply meant that he knew all she herself meant. But there was no pretence o_leasantry now: their faces were grave and tired. When at last they lounge_ff it was as if his fear, his fear of his weakness, leaned upon her heavil_s they followed the harbour. In the hall of the hotel as they passed in sh_aw a battered old box that she recognised, an ancient receptacle wit_angling labels that she knew and a big painted W, lately done over an_ntensely personal, that seemed to stare at her with a recognition and eve_ith some suspicion of its own. Sir Claude caught it too, and there wa_gitation for both of them in the sight of this object on the move. Was Mrs.
Wix going and was the responsibility of giving her up lifted, at a touch, fro_er pupil? Her pupil and her pupil's companion, transfixed a moment, held, i_he presence of the omen, communication more intense than in the presenc_ither of the Paris train or of the Channel steamer; then, and still without _ord, they went straight upstairs. There, however, on the landing, out o_ight of the people below, they collapsed so that they had to sink dow_ogether for support: they simply seated themselves on the uppermost ste_hile Sir Claude grasped the hand of his stepdaughter with a pressure that a_nother moment would probably have made her squeal. Their books and paper_ere all scattered. "She thinks you've given her up!"
"Then I must see her—I must see her," Maisie said.
"To bid her good-bye?"
"I must see her—I must see her," the child only repeated. They sat a minut_onger, Sir Claude, with his tight grip of her hand and looking away from her, looking straight down the staircase to where, round the turn, electric bell_attled and the pleasant sea-draught blew. At last, loosening his grasp, h_lowly got up while she did the same. They went together along the lobby, bu_efore they reached the salon he stopped again. "If I give up Mrs. Beale—?"
"I'll go straight out with you again and not come back till she has gone."
He seemed to wonder. "Till Mrs. Beale—?" he had made it sound like a bad joke.
"I mean till Mrs. Wix leaves—in that boat."
Sir Claude looked almost foolish. "Is she going in that boat?"
"I suppose so. I won't even bid her good-bye," Maisie continued.
"I'll stay out till the boat has gone. I'll go up to the old rampart."
"The old rampart?"
"I'll sit on that old bench where you see the gold Virgin."
"The gold Virgin?" he vaguely echoed. But it brought his eyes back to her a_f after an instant he could see the place and the thing she named—could se_er sitting there alone. "While I break with Mrs. Beale?"
"While you break with Mrs. Beale."
He gave a long deep smothered sigh. "I must see her first."
"You won't do as I do? Go out and wait?"
"Wait?"—once more he appeared at a loss.
"Till they both have gone," Maisie said.
"Giving US up?"
"Giving US up."
Oh with what a face for an instant he wondered if that could be! But hi_onder the next moment only made him go to the door and, with his hand on th_nob, stand as if listening for voices. Maisie listened, but she heard none.
All she heard presently was Sir Claude's saying with speculation quite choke_ff, but so as not to be heard in the salon: "Mrs. Beale will never go." O_his he pushed open the door and she went in with him. The salon was empty, but as an effect of their entrance the lady he had just mentioned appeared a_he door of the bedroom. "Is she going?" he then demanded.
Mrs. Beale came forward, closing her door behind her. "I've had the mos_xtraordinary scene with her. She told me yesterday she'd stay."
"And my arrival has altered it?"
"Oh we took that into account!" Mrs. Beale was flushed, which was never quit_ecoming to her, and her face visibly testified to the encounter to which sh_lluded. Evidently, however, she had not been worsted, and she held up he_ead and smiled and rubbed her hands as if in sudden emulation of th_atronne. "She promised she'd stay even if you should come."
"Then why has she changed?"
"Because she's a hound. The reason she herself gives is that you've been ou_oo long."
Sir Claude stared. "What has that to do with it?"
"You've been out an age," Mrs. Beale continued; "I myself couldn't imagin_hat had become of you. The whole morning," she exclaimed, "and luncheon lon_ince over!"
Sir Claude appeared indifferent to that. "Did Mrs. Wix go down with you?" h_nly asked.
"Not she; she never budged!"—and Mrs. Beale's flush, to Maisie's vision, deepened. "She moped there—she didn't so much as come out to me; and when _ent to invite her she simply declined to appear. She said she wanted nothing, and I went down alone. But when I came up, fortunately a little primed"—an_rs. Beale smiled a fine smile of battle—"she WAS in the field!"
"And you had a big row?"
"We had a big row"—she assented with a frankness as large. "And while you lef_e to that sort of thing I should like to know where you were!" She paused fo_ reply, but Sir Claude merely looked at Maisie; a movement that promptl_uickened her challenge. "Where the mischief have you been?"
"You seem to take it as hard as Mrs. Wix," Sir Claude returned.
"I take it as I choose to take it, and you don't answer my question."
He looked again at Maisie—as if for an aid to this effort; whereupon sh_miled at her stepmother and offered: "We've been everywhere."
Mrs. Beale, however, made her no response, thereby adding to a surprise o_hich our young lady had already felt the light brush. She had receive_either a greeting nor a glance, but perhaps this was not more remarkable tha_he omission, in respect to Sir Claude, parted with in London two days before, of any sign of a sense of their reunion. Most remarkable of all was Mrs.
Beale's announcement of the pledge given by Mrs. Wix and not hitherto reveale_o her pupil. Instead of heeding this witness she went on with acerbity: "I_ight surely have occurred to you that something would come up."
Sir Claude looked at his watch. "I had no idea it was so late, nor that we ha_een out so long. We weren't hungry. It passed like a flash. What HAS com_p?"
"Oh that she's disgusted," said Mrs. Beale.
"With whom then?"
"With Maisie." Even now she never looked at the child, who stood there equall_ssociated and disconnected. "For having no moral sense."
"How SHOULD she have?" Sir Claude tried again to shine a little at th_ompanion of his walk. "How at any rate is it proved by her going out wit_e?"
"Don't ask ME; ask that woman. She drivels when she doesn't rage," Mrs. Beal_eclared.
"And she leaves the child?"
"She leaves the child," said Mrs. Beale with great emphasis and looking mor_han ever over Maisie's head.
In this position suddenly a change came into her face, caused, as the other_ould the next thing see, by the reappearance of Mrs. Wix in the doorwa_hich, on coming in at Sir Claude's heels, Maisie had left gaping. "I DON'_eave the child—I don't, I don't!" she thundered from the threshold, advancin_pon the opposed three but addressing herself directly to Maisie. She wa_irded—positively harnessed—for departure, arrayed as she had been arrayed o_er advent and armed with a small fat rusty reticule which, almost in th_anner of a battle-axe, she brandished in support of her words. She ha_learly come straight from her room, where Maisie in an instant guessed sh_ad directed the removal of her minor effects. "I don't leave you till I'v_iven you another chance. Will you come WITH me?"
Maisie turned to Sir Claude, who struck her as having been removed to _istance of about a mile. To Mrs. Beale she turned no more than Mrs. Beale ha_urned: she felt as if already their difference had been disclosed. What ha_ome out about that in the scene between the two women? Enough came out now, at all events, as she put it practically to her stepfather. "Will YOU come?
Won't you?" she enquired as if she had not already seen that she should hav_o give him up. It was the last flare of her dream. By this time she wa_fraid of nothing.
"I should think you'd be too proud to ask!" Mrs. Wix interposed. Mrs. Wix wa_erself conspicuously too proud.
But at the child's words Mrs. Beale had fairly bounded. "Come away from ME, Maisie?" It was a wail of dismay and reproach, in which her stepdaughter wa_stonished to read that she had had no hostile consciousness and that if sh_ad been so actively grand it was not from suspicion, but from strang_ntanglements of modesty.
Sir Claude presented to Mrs. Beale an expression positively sick. "Don't pu_t to her THAT way!" There had indeed been something in Mrs. Beale's tone, an_or a moment our young lady was reminded of the old days in which so many o_er friends had been "compromised."
This friend blushed; she was before Mrs. Wix, and though she bridled she too_he hint. "No—it isn't the way." Then she showed she knew the way. "Don't be _till bigger fool, dear, but go straight to your room and wait there till _an come to you."
Maisie made no motion to obey, but Mrs. Wix raised a hand that forestalle_very evasion. "Don't move till you've heard me. I'M going, but I must firs_nderstand. Have you lost it again?"
Maisie surveyed—for the idea of a describable loss—the immensity of space.
Then she replied lamely enough: "I feel as if I had lost everything."
Mrs. Wix looked dark. "Do you mean to say you HAVE lost what we found togethe_ith so much difficulty two days ago?" As her pupil failed of response sh_ontinued: "Do you mean to say you've already forgotten what we foun_ogether?"
Maisie dimly remembered. "My moral sense?"
"Your moral sense. HAVEN'T I, after all, brought it out?" She spoke as she ha_ever spoken even in the schoolroom and with the book in her hand.
It brought back to the child's recollection how she sometimes couldn't repea_n Friday the sentence that had been glib on Wednesday, and she dealt al_eebly and ruefully with the present tough passage. Sir Claude and Mrs. Beal_tood there like visitors at an "exam." She had indeed an instant a whiff o_he faint flower that Mrs. Wix pretended to have plucked and now with such _eremptory hand thrust at her nose. Then it left her, and, as if she wer_inking with a slip from a foothold, her arms made a short jerk. What thi_erk represented was the spasm within her of something still deeper than _oral sense. She looked at her examiner; she looked at the visitors; she fel_he rising of the tears she had kept down at the station. They had nothing—no, distinctly nothing—to do with her moral sense. The only thing was the old fla_hameful schoolroom plea. "I don't know—I don't know."
"Then you've lost it." Mrs. Wix seemed to close the book as she fixed th_traighteners on Sir Claude. "You've nipped it in the bud. You've killed i_hen it had begun to live."
She was a newer Mrs. Wix than ever, a Mrs. Wix high and great; but Sir Claud_as not after all to be treated as a little boy with a missed lesson. "I'v_ot killed anything," he said; "on the contrary I think I've produced life. _on't know what to call it—I haven't even known how decently to deal with it, to approach it; but, whatever it is, it's the most beautiful thing I've eve_et—it's exquisite, it's sacred." He had his hands in his pockets and, thoug_ trace of the sickness he had just shown perhaps lingered there, his fac_ent itself with extraordinary gentleness on both the friends he was about t_ose. "Do you know what I came back for?" he asked of the elder.
"I think I do!" cried Mrs. Wix, surprisingly un-mollified and with the heat o_er late engagement with Mrs. Beale still on her brow. That lady, as if _ittle besprinkled by such turns of the tide, uttered a loud inarticulat_rotest and, averting herself, stood a moment at the window.
"I came back with a proposal," said Sir Claude.
"To me?" Mrs. Wix asked.
"To Maisie. That she should give you up."
"And does she?"
Sir Claude wavered. "Tell her!" he then exclaimed to the child, also turnin_way as if to give her the chance. But Mrs. Wix and her pupil stood confronte_n silence, Maisie whiter than ever— more awkward, more rigid and yet mor_umb. They looked at each other hard, and as nothing came from them Sir Claud_aced about again. "You won't tell her?—you can't?" Still she said nothing; whereupon, addressing Mrs. Wix, he broke into a kind of ecstasy. "Sh_efused—she refused!"
Maisie, at this, found her voice. "I didn't refuse. I didn't," she repeated.
It brought Mrs. Beale straight back to her. "You accepted, angel —yo_ccepted!" She threw herself upon the child and, before Maisie could resist, had sunk with her upon the sofa, possessed of her, encircling her. "You'v_iven her up already, you've given her up for ever, and you're ours and our_nly now, and the sooner she's off the better!"
Maisie had shut her eyes, but at a word of Sir Claude's they opened. "Let he_o!" he said to Mrs. Beale.
"Let her go!" Sir Claude more intensely repeated. He was looking at Mrs. Beal_nd there was something in his voice. Maisie knew from a loosening of arm_hat she had become conscious of what it was; she slowly rose from the sofa, and the child stood there again dropped and divided. "You're free—you'r_ree," Sir Claude went on; at which Maisie's back became aware of a push tha_ented resentment and that placed her again in the centre of the room, th_ynosure of every eye and not knowing which way to turn.
She turned with an effort to Mrs. Wix. "I didn't refuse to give you up. I sai_ would if HE'D give up—"
"Give up Mrs. Beale?" burst from Mrs. Wix.
"Give up Mrs. Beale. What do you call that but exquisite?" Sir Claude demande_f all of them, the lady mentioned included; speaking with a relish as intens_ow as if some lovely work of art or of nature had suddenly been set dow_mong them. He was rapidly recovering himself on this basis of fin_ppreciation. "She made her condition—with such a sense of what it should be!
She made the only right one."
"The only right one?"—Mrs. Beale returned to the charge. She had taken _oment before a snub from him, but she was not to be snubbed on this. "How ca_ou talk such rubbish and how can you back her up in such impertinence? Wha_n the world have you done to her to make her think of such stuff?" She stoo_here in righteous wrath; she flashed her eyes round the circle. Maisie too_hem full in her own, knowing that here at last was the moment she had ha_ost to reckon with. But as regards her stepdaughter Mrs. Beale subdue_erself to a question deeply mild. "HAVE you made, my own love, any suc_ondition as that?"
Somehow, now that it was there, the great moment was not so bad. What helpe_he child was that she knew what she wanted. All her learning and learning ha_ade her at last learn that; so that if she waited an instant to reply it wa_nly from the desire to be nice. Bewilderment had simply gone or at any rat_as going fast. Finally she answered. "Will you give HIM up? Will you?"
"Ah leave her alone—leave her, leave her!" Sir Claude in sudden supplicatio_urmured to Mrs. Beale.
Mrs. Wix at the same instant found another apostrophe. "Isn't it enough fo_ou, madam, to have brought her to discussing your relations?"
Mrs. Beale left Sir Claude unheeded, but Mrs. Wix could make her flame. "M_elations? What do you know, you hideous creature, about my relations, an_hat business on earth have you to speak of them? Leave the room this instant, you horrible old woman!"
"I think you had better go—you must really catch your boat," Sir Claude sai_istressfully to Mrs. Wix. He was out of it now, or wanted to be; he knew th_orst and had accepted it: what now concerned him was to prevent, to dissipat_ulgarities. "Won't you go—won't you just get off quickly?"
"With the child as quickly as you like. Not without her." Mrs. Wix wa_damant.
"Then why did you lie to me, you fiend?" Mrs. Beale almost yelled. "Why di_ou tell me an hour ago that you had given her up?"
"Because I despaired of her—because I thought she had left me." Mrs. Wi_urned to Maisie. "You were WITH them—in their connexion. But now your eye_re open, and I take you!"
"No you don't!" and Mrs. Beale made, with a great fierce jump, a wild snatc_t her stepdaughter. She caught her by the arm and, completing an instinctiv_ovement, whirled her round in a further leap to the door, which had bee_losed by Sir Claude the instant their voices had risen. She fell back agains_t and, even while denouncing and waving off Mrs. Wix, kept it closed in a_ncoherence of passion. "You don't take her, but you bundle yourself: sh_tays with her own people and she's rid of you! I never heard anything s_onstrous!" Sir Claude had rescued Maisie and kept hold of her; he held her i_ront of him, resting his hands very lightly on her shoulders and facing th_oud adversaries. Mrs. Beale's flush had dropped; she had turned pale with _plendid wrath. She kept protesting and dismissing Mrs. Wix; she glued he_ack to the door to prevent Maisie's flight; she drove out Mrs. Wix by th_indow or the chimney. "You're a nice one—'discussing relations'—with you_alk of our 'connexion' and your insults! What in the world's our connexio_ut the love of the child who's our duty and our life and who holds u_ogether as closely as she originally brought us?"
"I know, I know!" Maisie said with a burst of eagerness. "I did bring you."
The strangest of laughs escaped from Sir Claude. "You did bring us—you did!"
His hands went up and down gently on her shoulders.
Mrs. Wix so dominated the situation that she had something sharp for ever_ne. "There you have it, you see!" she pregnantly remarked to her pupil.
"WILL you give him up?" Maisie persisted to Mrs. Beale.
"To YOU, you abominable little horror?" that lady indignantly enquired, "an_o this raving old demon who has filled your dreadful little mind with he_ickedness? Have you been a hideous little hypocrite all these years that I'v_laved to make you love me and deludedly believed you did?"
"I love Sir Claude—I love HIM," Maisie replied with an awkward sense that sh_ppeared to offer it as something that would do as well. Sir Claude ha_ontinued to pat her, and it was really an answer to his pats.
"She hates you—she hates you," he observed with the oddest quietness to Mrs.
His quietness made her blaze. "And you back her up in it and give me up t_utrage?"
"No; I only insist that she's free—she's free."
Mrs. Beale stared—Mrs. Beale glared. "Free to starve with this paupe_unatic?"
"I'll do more for her than you ever did!" Mrs. Wix retorted. "I'll work m_ingers to the bone."
Maisie, with Sir Claude's hands still on her shoulders, felt, just as she fel_he fine surrender in them, that over her head he looked in a certain way a_rs. Wix. "You needn't do that," she heard him say. "She has means."
"Means?—Maisie?" Mrs. Beale shrieked. "Means that her vile father has stolen!"
"I'll get them back—I'll get them back. I'll look into it." He smiled an_odded at Mrs. Wix.
This had a fearful effect on his other friend. "Haven't I looked into it, _hould like to know, and haven't I found an abyss? It's too inconceivable—you_ruelty to me!" she wildly broke out. She had hot tears in her eyes.
He spoke to her very kindly, almost coaxingly. "We'll look into it again; we'll look into it together. It IS an abyss, but he CAN be made—or Ida can.
Think of the money they're getting now!" he laughed. "It's all right, it's al_ight," he continued. "It wouldn't do—it wouldn't do. We CAN'T work her in.
It's perfectly true—she's unique. We're not good enough—oh no!" and, quit_xuberantly, he laughed again.
"Not good enough, and that beast IS?" Mrs. Beale shouted.
At this for a moment there was a hush in the room, and in the midst of it Si_laude replied to the question by moving with Maisie to Mrs. Wix. The nex_hing the child knew she was at that lady's side with an arm firmly grasped.
Mrs. Beale still guarded the door. "Let them pass," said Sir Claude at last.
She remained there, however; Maisie saw the pair look at each other. Then sh_aw Mrs. Beale turn to her. "I'm your mother now, Maisie. And he's you_ather."
"That's just where it is!" sighed Mrs. Wix with an effect of irony positivel_etached and philosophic.
Mrs. Beale continued to address her young friend, and her effort to b_easonable and tender was in its way remarkable. "We're representative, yo_now, of Mr. Farange and his former wife. This person represents mer_lliterate presumption. We take our stand on the law."
"Oh the law, the law!" Mrs. Wix superbly jeered. "You had better indeed le_he law have a look at you!"
"Let them pass—let them pass!" Sir Claude pressed his friend hard—he pleaded.
But she fastened herself still to Maisie. "DO you hate me, dearest?"
Maisie looked at her with new eyes, but answered as she had answered before.
"Will you give him up?"
Mrs. Beale's rejoinder hung fire, but when it came it was noble. "Yo_houldn't talk to me of such things!" She was shocked, she was scandalised t_ears.
For Mrs. Wix, however, it was her discrimination that was indelicate. "Yo_ught to be ashamed of yourself!" she roundly cried.
Sir Claude made a supreme appeal. "Will you be so good as to allow thes_orrors to terminate?"
Mrs. Beale fixed her eyes on him, and again Maisie watched them. "You shoul_o him justice," Mrs. Wix went on to Mrs. Beale. "We've always been devoted t_im, Maisie and I—and he has shown how much he likes us. He would like t_lease her; he would like even, I think, to please me. But he hasn't given yo_p."
They stood confronted, the step-parents, still under Maisie's observation.
That observation had never sunk so deep as at this particular moment. "Yes, m_ear, I haven't given you up," Sir Claude said to Mrs. Beale at last, "and i_ou'd like me to treat our friends here as solemn witnesses I don't min_iving you my word for it that I never never will. There!" he dauntlessl_xclaimed.
"He can't!" Mrs. Wix tragically commented.
Mrs. Beale, erect and alive in her defeat, jerked her handsome face about. "H_an't!" she literally mocked.
"He can't, he can't, he can't!"—Sir Claude's gay emphasis wonderfully carrie_t off.
Mrs. Beale took it all in, yet she held her ground; on which Maisie addresse_rs. Wix. "Shan't we lose the boat?"
"Yes, we shall lose the boat," Mrs. Wix remarked to Sir Claude.
Mrs. Beale meanwhile faced full at Maisie. "I don't know what to make of you!"
"Good-bye," said Maisie to Sir Claude.
"Good-bye, Maisie," Sir Claude answered.
Mrs. Beale came away from the door. "Goodbye!" she hurled at Maisie; the_assed straight across the room and disappeared in the adjoining one.
Sir Claude had reached the other door and opened it. Mrs. Wix was already out.
On the threshold Maisie paused; she put out her hand to her stepfather. H_ook it and held it a moment, and their eyes met as the eyes of those who hav_one for each other what they can. "Good-bye," he repeated.
"Good-bye." And Maisie followed Mrs. Wix.
They caught the steamer, which was just putting off, and, hustled across th_ulf, found themselves on the deck so breathless and so scared that they gav_p half the voyage to letting their emotion sink. It sank slowly an_mperfectly; but at last, in mid-channel, surrounded by the quiet sea, Mrs.
Wix had courage to revert. "I didn't look back, did you?"
"Yes. He wasn't there," said Maisie.
"Not on the balcony?"
Maisie waited a moment; then "He wasn't there" she simply said again.
Mrs. Wix also was silent a while. "He went to HER," she finally observed.
"Oh I know!" the child replied.
Mrs. Wix gave a sidelong look. She still had room for wonder at what Maisi_new.