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Chapter 13

This might moreover have been taken to be the sense of a remark made by
her stepfather as--one rainy day when the streets were all splash and
two umbrellas unsociable and the wanderers had sought shelter in the
National Gallery--Maisie sat beside him staring rather sightlessly at a
roomful of pictures which he had mystified her much by speaking of with
a bored sigh as a "silly superstition." They represented, with patches
of gold and cataracts of purple, with stiff saints and angular angels,
with ugly Madonnas and uglier babies, strange prayers and prostrations;
so that she at first took his words for a protest against devotional
idolatry--all the more that he had of late often come with her and
with Mrs. Wix to morning church, a place of worship of Mrs. Wix's own
choosing, where there was nothing of that sort; no haloes on heads,
but only, during long sermons, beguiling backs of bonnets, and where,
as her governess always afterwards observed, he gave the most earnest
attention. It presently appeared, however, that his reference was merely
to the affectation of admiring such ridiculous works--an admonition that
she received from him as submissively as she received everything. What
turn it gave to their talk needn't here be recorded: the transition to
the colourless schoolroom and lonely Mrs. Wix was doubtless an effect of
relaxed interest in what was before them. Maisie expressed in her own
way the truth that she never went home nowadays without expecting to
find the temple of her studies empty and the poor priestess cast out.
This conveyed a full appreciation of her peril, and it was in rejoinder
that Sir Claude uttered, acknowledging the source of that peril, the
reassurance at which I have glanced. "Don't be afraid, my dear: I've
squared her." It required indeed a supplement when he saw that it left
the child momentarily blank. "I mean that your mother lets me do what I
want so long as I let her do what SHE wants."

"So you ARE doing what you want?" Maisie asked.

"Rather, Miss Farange!"

Miss Farange turned it over. "And she's doing the same?"

"Up to the hilt!"

Again she considered. "Then, please, what may it be?"

"I wouldn't tell you for the whole world."

She gazed at a gaunt Madonna; after which she broke into a slow smile.
"Well, I don't care, so long as you do let her."

"Oh you monster!"--and Sir Claude's gay vehemence brought him to his
feet.

Another day, in another place--a place in Baker Street where at a hungry
hour she had sat down with him to tea and buns--he brought out a question
disconnected from previous talk. "I say, you know, what do you suppose
your father WOULD do?"

Maisie hadn't long to cast about or to question his pleasant eyes. "If
you were really to go with us? He'd make a great complaint."

He seemed amused at the term she employed. "Oh I shouldn't mind a
'complaint'!"

"He'd talk to every one about it," said Maisie.

"Well, I shouldn't mind that either."

"Of course not," the child hastened to respond. "You've told me you're
not afraid of him."

"The question is are you?" said Sir Claude.

Maisie candidly considered; then she spoke resolutely. "No, not of
papa."

"But of somebody else?"

"Certainly, of lots of people."

"Of your mother first and foremost of course."

"Dear, yes; more of mamma than of--than of--"

"Than of what?" Sir Claude asked as she hesitated for a comparison.

She thought over all objects of dread. "Than of a wild elephant!" she at
last declared. "And you are too," she reminded him as he laughed.

"Oh yes, I am too."

Again she meditated. "Why then did you marry her?"

"Just because I WAS afraid."

"Even when she loved you?"

"That made her the more alarming."

For Maisie herself, though her companion seemed to find it droll, this
opened up depths of gravity. "More alarming than she is now?"

"Well, in a different way. Fear, unfortunately, is a very big thing, and
there's a great variety of kinds."

She took this in with complete intelligence. "Then I think I've got them
all."

"You?" her friend cried. "Nonsense! You're thoroughly 'game.'"

"I'm awfully afraid of Mrs. Beale," Maisie objected.

He raised his smooth brows. "That charming woman?"

"Well," she answered, "you can't understand it because you're not in the
same state."

She had been going on with a luminous "But" when, across the table, he
laid his hand on her arm. "I CAN understand it," he confessed. "I AM in
the same state."

"Oh but she likes you so!" Maisie promptly pleaded.

Sir Claude literally coloured. "That has something to do with it."

Maisie wondered again. "Being liked with being afraid?"

"Yes, when it amounts to adoration."

"Then why aren't you afraid of ME?"

"Because with you it amounts to that?" He had kept his hand on her arm.
"Well, what prevents is simply that you're the gentlest spirit on earth.
Besides--" he pursued; but he came to a pause.

"Besides--?"

"I SHOULD be in fear if you were older--there! See--you already make me
talk nonsense," the young man added. "The question's about your father.
Is he likewise afraid of Mrs. Beale?"

"I think not. And yet he loves her," Maisie mused.

"Oh no--he doesn't; not a bit!" After which, as his companion stared,
Sir Claude apparently felt that he must make this oddity fit with her
recollections. "There's nothing of that sort NOW."

But Maisie only stared the more. "They've changed?"

"Like your mother and me."

She wondered how he knew. "Then you've seen Mrs. Beale again?"

He demurred. "Oh no. She has written to me," he presently subjoined.
"SHE'S not afraid of your father either. No one at all is--really."
Then he went on while Maisie's little mind, with its filial spring
too relaxed from of old for a pang at this want of parental majesty,
speculated on the vague relation between Mrs. Beale's courage and the
question, for Mrs. Wix and herself, of a neat lodging with their friend.
"She wouldn't care a bit if Mr. Farange should make a row."

"Do you mean about you and me and Mrs. Wix? Why should she care? It
wouldn't hurt HER."

Sir Claude, with his legs out and his hand diving into his
trousers-pocket, threw back his head with a laugh just perceptibly
tempered, as she thought, by a sigh. "My dear stepchild, you're
delightful! Look here, we must pay. You've had five buns?"

"How CAN you?" Maisie demanded, crimson under the eye of the young woman
who had stepped to their board. "I've had three."

Shortly after this Mrs. Wix looked so ill that it was to be feared her
ladyship had treated her to some unexampled passage. Maisie asked if
anything worse than usual had occurred; whereupon the poor woman brought
out with infinite gloom: "He has been seeing Mrs. Beale."

"Sir Claude?" The child remembered what he had said. "Oh no--not SEEING
her!"

"I beg your pardon. I absolutely know it." Mrs. Wix was as positive as
she was dismal.

Maisie nevertheless ventured to challenge her. "And how, please, do you
know it?"

She faltered a moment. "From herself. I've been to see her."

Then on Maisie's visible surprise: "I went yesterday while you were out
with him. He has seen her repeatedly."

It was not wholly clear to Maisie why Mrs. Wix should be prostrate at
this discovery; but her general consciousness of the way things could be
both perpetrated and resented always eased off for her the strain of the
particular mystery. "There may be some mistake. He says he hasn't."

Mrs. Wix turned paler, as if this were a still deeper ground for alarm.
"He says so?--he denies that he has seen her?"

"He told me so three days ago. Perhaps she's mistaken," Maisie
suggested.

"Do you mean perhaps she lies? She lies whenever it suits her, I'm very
sure. But I know when people lie--and that's what I've loved in you,
that YOU never do. Mrs. Beale didn't yesterday at any rate. He HAS seen
her."

Maisie was silent a little. "He says not," she then repeated.
"Perhaps--perhaps--" Once more she paused.

"Do you mean perhaps HE lies?"

"Gracious goodness, no!" Maisie shouted.

Mrs. Wix's bitterness, however, again overflowed. "He does, he does,"
she cried, "and it's that that's just the worst of it! They'll take
you, they'll take you, and what in the world will then become of me?"
She threw herself afresh upon her pupil and wept over her with the
inevitable effect of causing the child's own tears to flow. But Maisie
couldn't have told you if she had been crying at the image of their
separation or at that of Sir Claude's untruth. As regards this deviation
it was agreed between them that they were not in a position to bring it
home to him. Mrs. Wix was in dread of doing anything to make him, as
she said, "worse"; and Maisie was sufficiently initiated to be able to
reflect that in speaking to her as he had done he had only wished to be
tender of Mrs. Beale. It fell in with all her inclinations to think of
him as tender, and she forbore to let him know that the two ladies had,
as SHE would never do, betrayed him.

She had not long to keep her secret, for the next day, when she went
out with him, he suddenly said in reference to some errand he had first
proposed: "No, we won't do that--we'll do something else." On this, a
few steps from the door, he stopped a hansom and helped her in; then
following her he gave the driver over the top an address that she lost.
When he was seated beside her she asked him where they were going; to
which he replied "My dear child, you'll see." She saw while she watched
and wondered that they took the direction of the Regent's Park; but
she didn't know why he should make a mystery of that, and it was not
till they passed under a pretty arch and drew up at a white house
in a terrace from which the view, she thought, must be lovely that,
mystified, she clutched him and broke out: "I shall see papa?"

He looked down at her with a kind smile. "No, probably not. I haven't
brought you for that."

"Then whose house is it?"

"It's your father's. They've moved here."

She looked about: she had known Mr. Farange in four or five houses, and
there was nothing astonishing in this except that it was the nicest
place yet. "But I shall see Mrs. Beale?"

"It's to see her that I brought you."

She stared, very white, and, with her hand on his arm, though they had
stopped, kept him sitting in the cab. "To leave me, do you mean?"

He could scarce bring it out. "It's not for me to say if you CAN stay.
We must look into it."

"But if I do I shall see papa?"

"Oh some time or other, no doubt." Then Sir Claude went on: "Have you
really so very great a dread of that?"

Maisie glanced away over the apron of the cab--gazed a minute at the
green expanse of the Regent's Park and, at this moment colouring to the
roots of her hair, felt the full, hot rush of an emotion more mature
than any she had yet known. It consisted of an odd unexpected shame at
placing in an inferior light, to so perfect a gentleman and so charming
a person as Sir Claude, so very near a relative as Mr. Farange. She
remembered, however, her friend's telling her that no one was seriously
afraid of her father, and she turned round with a small toss of her
head. "Oh I dare say I can manage him!"

Sir Claude smiled, but she noted that the violence with which she had
just changed colour had brought into his own face a slight compunctious
and embarrassed flush. It was as if he had caught his first glimpse of
her sense of responsibility. Neither of them made a movement to get out,
and after an instant he said to her: "Look here, if you say so we won't
after all go in."

"Ah but I want to see Mrs. Beale!" the child gently wailed.

"But what if she does decide to take you? Then, you know, you'll have to
remain."

Maisie turned it over. "Straight on--and give you up?"

"Well--I don't quite know about giving me up."

"I mean as I gave up Mrs. Beale when I last went to mamma's. I couldn't
do without you here for anything like so long a time as that." It struck
her as a hundred years since she had seen Mrs. Beale, who was on the
other side of the door they were so near and whom she yet had not taken
the jump to clasp in her arms.

"Oh I dare say you'll see more of me than you've seen of Mrs. Beale.
It isn't in ME to be so beautifully discreet," Sir Claude said. "But
all the same," he continued, "I leave the thing, now that we're here,
absolutely WITH you. You must settle it. We'll only go in if you say so.
If you don't say so we'll turn right round and drive away."

"So in that case Mrs. Beale won't take me?"

"Well--not by any act of ours."

"And I shall be able to go on with mamma?" Maisie asked.

"Oh I don't say that!"

She considered. "But I thought you said you had squared her?"

Sir Claude poked his stick at the splashboard of the cab. "Not, my dear
child, to the point she now requires."

"Then if she turns me out and I don't come here--"

Sir Claude promptly took her up. "What do I offer you, you naturally
enquire? My poor chick, that's just what I ask myself. I don't see it,
I confess, quite as straight as Mrs. Wix."

His companion gazed a moment at what Mrs. Wix saw. "You mean WE can't
make a little family?"

"It's very base of me, no doubt, but I can't wholly chuck your mother."

Maisie, at this, emitted a low but lengthened sigh, a slight sound of
reluctant assent which would certainly have been amusing to an auditor.
"Then there isn't anything else?"

"I vow I don't quite see what there is."

Maisie waited; her silence seemed to signify that she too had no
alternative to suggest. But she made another appeal. "If I come here
you'll come to see me?"

"I won't lose sight of you."

"But how often will you come?" As he hung fire she pressed him. "Often
and often?"

Still he faltered. "My dear old woman--" he began. Then he paused again,
going on the next moment with a change of tone. "You're too funny! Yes
then," he said; "often and often."

"All right!" Maisie jumped out. Mrs. Beale was at home, but not in the
drawing-room, and when the butler had gone for her the child suddenly
broke out: "But when I'm here what will Mrs. Wix do?"

"Ah you should have thought of that sooner!" said her companion with the
first faint note of asperity she had ever heard him sound.

Henry James