The second parting from Miss Overmore had been bad enough, but this firs_arting from Mrs. Wix was much worse. The child had lately been to th_entist's and had a term of comparison for the screwed-up intensity of th_cene. It was dreadfully silent, as it had been when her tooth was taken out;
Mrs. Wix had on that occasion grabbed her hand and they had clung to eac_ther with the frenzy of their determination not to scream. Maisie, at th_entist's, had been heroically still, but just when she felt most anguish ha_ecome aware of an audible shriek on the part of her companion, a spasm o_tifled sympathy. This was reproduced by the only sound that broke thei_upreme embrace when, a month later, the "arrangement," as her periodica_prootings were called, played the part of the horrible forceps. Embedded i_rs. Wix's nature as her tooth had been socketed in her gum, the operation o_xtracting her would really have been a case for chloroform. It was a hug tha_ortunately left nothing to say, for the poor woman's want of words at such a_our seemed to fall in with her want of everything. Maisie's alternate parent,
in the outermost vestibule—he liked the impertinence of crossing as much a_hat of his late wife's threshold—stood over them with his open watch and hi_till more open grin, while from the only corner of an eye on which somethin_f Mrs. Wix's didn't impinge the child saw at the door a brougham in whic_iss Overmore also waited. She remembered the difference when, six month_efore, she had been torn from the breast of that more spirited protectress.
Miss Overmore, then also in the vestibule, but of course in the other one, ha_een thoroughly audible and voluble; her protest had rung out bravely and sh_ad declared that something—her pupil didn't know exactly what—was a regula_icked shame. That had at the time dimly recalled to Maisie the far-awa_oment of Moddle's great outbreak: there seemed always to be "shames"
connected in one way or another with her migrations. At present, while Mrs.
Wix's arms tightened and the smell of her hair was strong, she furthe_emembered how, in pacifying Miss Overmore, papa had made use of the words
"you dear old duck!"—an expression which, by its oddity, had stuck fast in he_oung mind, having moreover a place well prepared for it there by what sh_new of the governess whom she now always mentally characterised as the prett_ne. She wondered whether this affection would be as great as before: tha_ould at all events be the case with the prettiness Maisie could see in th_ace which showed brightly at the window of the brougham.
The brougham was a token of harmony, of the fine conditions papa would thi_ime offer: he had usually come for her in a hansom, with a four-wheele_ehind for the boxes. The four-wheeler with the boxes on it was actuall_here, but mamma was the only lady with whom she had ever been in a conveyanc_f the kind always of old spoken of by Moddle as a private carriage. Papa'_arriage was, now that he had one, still more private, somehow, than mamma's;
and when at last she found herself quite on top, as she felt, of its inmate_nd gloriously rolling away, she put to Miss Overmore, after another immens_nd talkative squeeze, a question of which the motive was a desire fo_nformation as to the continuity of a certain sentiment. "Did papa like yo_ust the same while I was gone?" she enquired—full of the sense of ho_arkedly his favour had been established in her presence. She had bethough_erself that this favour might, like her presence and as if depending on it,
be only intermittent and for the season. Papa, on whose knee she sat, burs_nto one of those loud laughs of his that, however prepared she was, seeme_lways, like some trick in a frightening game, to leap forth and make he_ump. Before Miss Overmore could speak he replied: "Why, you little donkey,
when you're away what have I left to do but just to love her?" Miss Overmor_ereupon immediately took her from him, and they had a merry little scrimmag_ver her of which Maisie caught the surprised perception in the white stare o_n old lady who passed in a victoria. Then her beautiful friend remarked t_er very gravely: "I shall make him understand that if he ever again say_nything as horrid as that to you I shall carry you straight off and we'll g_nd live somewhere together and be good quiet little girls." The chil_ouldn't quite make out why her father's speech had been horrid, since it onl_xpressed that appreciation which their companion herself had of old describe_s "immense." To enter more into the truth of the matter she appealed to hi_gain directly, asked if in all those months Miss Overmore hadn't been wit_im just as she had been before and just as she would be now. "Of course sh_as, old girl—where else could the poor dear be?" cried Beale Farange, to th_till greater scandal of their companion, who protested that unless h_traightway "took back" his nasty wicked fib it would be, this time, not onl_im she would leave, but his child too and his house and his tiresom_rouble—all the impossible things he had succeeded in putting on her. Beale,
under this frolic menace, took nothing back at all; he was indeed apparentl_n the point of repeating his extravagance, but Miss Overmore instructed he_ittle charge that she was not to listen to his bad jokes: she was t_nderstand that a lady couldn't stay with a gentleman that way without som_wfully proper reason.
Maisie looked from one of her companions to the other; this was the freshes_ayest start she had yet enjoyed, but she had a shy fear of not exactl_elieving them. "Well, what reason IS proper?" she thoughtfully demanded.
"Oh a long-legged stick of a tomboy: there's none so good as that." Her fathe_njoyed both her drollery and his own and tried again to get possession o_er—an effort deprecated by their comrade and leading again to something of _ublic scuffle. Miss Overmore declared to the child that she had been all th_hile with good friends; on which Beale Farange went on: "She means goo_riends of mine, you know—tremendous friends of mine. There has been no end o_HEM about—that I WILL say for her!" Maisie felt bewildered and was afterward_or some time conscious of a vagueness, just slightly embarrassing, as to th_ubject of so much amusement and as to where her governess had really been.
She didn't feel at all as if she had been seriously told, and no such feelin_as supplied by anything that occurred later. Her embarrassment, of _recocious instinctive order, attached itself to the idea that this wa_nother of the matters it was not for her, as her mother used to say, to g_nto. Therefore, under her father's roof during the time that followed, sh_ade no attempt to clear up her ambiguity by an ingratiating way wit_ousemaids; and it was an odd truth that the ambiguity itself took nothin_rom the fresh pleasure promised her by renewed contact with Miss Overmore.
The confidence looked for by that young lady was of the fine sort tha_xplanation can't improve, and she herself at any rate was a person superio_o any confusion. For Maisie moreover concealment had never necessarily seeme_eception; she had grown up among things as to which her foremost knowledg_as that she was never to ask about them. It was far from new to her that th_uestions of the small are the peculiar diversion of the great: except th_ffairs of her doll Lisette there had scarcely ever been anything at he_other's that was explicable with a grave face. Nothing was so easy to her a_o send the ladies who gathered there off into shrieks, and she might hav_ractised upon them largely if she had been of a more calculating turn.
Everything had something behind it: life was like a long, long corridor wit_ows of closed doors. She had learned that at these doors it was wise not t_nock—this seemed to produce from within such sounds of derision. Little b_ittle, however, she understood more, for it befell that she was enlightene_y Lisette's questions, which reproduced the effect of her own upon those fo_hom she sat in the very darkness of Lisette. Was she not herself convulsed b_uch innocence? In the presence of it she often imitated the shrieking ladies.
There were at any rate things she really couldn't tell even a French doll. Sh_ould only pass on her lessons and study to produce on Lisette the impressio_f having mysteries in her life, wondering the while whether she succeeded i_he air of shading off, like her mother, into the unknowable. When the reig_f Miss Overmore followed that of Mrs. Wix she took a fresh cue, emulating he_overness and bridging over the interval with the simple expectation of trust.
Yes, there were matters one couldn't "go into" with a pupil. There were fo_nstance days when, after prolonged absence, Lisette, watching her take of_er things, tried hard to discover where she had been. Well, she discovered _ittle, but never discovered all. There was an occasion when, on her bein_articularly indiscreet, Maisie replied to her—and precisely about the motiv_f a disappearance—as she, Maisie, had once been replied to by Mrs. Farange:
"Find out for yourself!" She mimicked her mother's sharpness, but she wa_ather ashamed afterwards, though as to whether of the sharpness or of th_imicry was not quite clear.