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Chapter 8

After Mrs. Wix's retreat Miss Overmore appeared to recognise that she
was not exactly in a position to denounce Ida Farange's second union;
but she drew from a table-drawer the photograph of Sir Claude and,
standing there before Maisie, studied it at some length.

"Isn't he beautiful?" the child ingenuously asked.

Her companion hesitated. "No--he's horrid," she, to Maisie's surprise,
sharply returned. But she debated another minute, after which she handed
back the picture. It appeared to Maisie herself to exhibit a fresh
attraction, and she was troubled, having never before had occasion to
differ from her lovely friend. So she only could ask what, such being
the case, she should do with it: should she put it quite away--where
it wouldn't be there to offend? On this Miss Overmore again cast
about; after which she said unexpectedly: "Put it on the schoolroom
mantelpiece."

Maisie felt a fear. "Won't papa dislike to see it there?"

"Very much indeed; but that won't matter NOW." Miss Overmore spoke with
peculiar significance and to her pupil's mystification.

"On account of the marriage?" Maisie risked.

Miss Overmore laughed, and Maisie could see that in spite of the
irritation produced by Mrs. Wix she was in high spirits. "Which marriage
do you mean?"

With the question put to her it suddenly struck the child she didn't
know, so that she felt she looked foolish. So she took refuge in saying:
"Shall YOU be different--" This was a full implication that the bride of
Sir Claude would be.

"As your father's wedded wife? Utterly!" Miss Overmore replied. And the
difference began of course in her being addressed, even by Maisie, from
that day and by her particular request, as Mrs. Beale. It was there
indeed principally that it ended, for except that the child could
reflect that she should presently have four parents in all, and also
that at the end of three months the staircase, for a little girl hanging
over banisters, sent up the deepening rustle of more elaborate advances,
everything made the same impression as before. Mrs. Beale had very
pretty frocks, but Miss Overmore's had been quite as good, and if papa
was much fonder of his second wife than he had been of his first Maisie
had foreseen that fondness, had followed its development almost as
closely as the person more directly involved. There was little indeed in
the commerce of her companions that her precocious experience couldn't
explain, for if they struck her as after all rather deficient in that
air of the honeymoon of which she had so often heard--in much detail,
for instance, from Mrs. Wix--it was natural to judge the circumstance
in the light of papa's proved disposition to contest the empire of the
matrimonial tie. His honeymoon, when he came back from Brighton--not
on the morrow of Mrs. Wix's visit, and not, oddly, till several days
later--his honeymoon was perhaps perceptibly tinged with the dawn of a
later stage of wedlock. There were things dislike of which, as the child
knew it, wouldn't matter to Mrs. Beale now, and their number increased
so that such a trifle as his hostility to the photograph of Sir Claude
quite dropped out of view. This pleasing object found a conspicuous
place in the schoolroom, which in truth Mr. Farange seldom entered and
in which silent admiration formed, during the time I speak of, almost
the sole scholastic exercise of Mrs. Beale's pupil.

Maisie was not long in seeing just what her stepmother had meant by the
difference she should show in her new character. If she was her father's
wife she was not her own governess, and if her presence had had formerly
to be made regular by the theory of a humble function she was now on a
footing that dispensed with all theories and was inconsistent with all
servitude. That was what she had meant by the drop of the objection to
a school; her small companion was no longer required at home as--it was
Mrs. Beale's own amusing word--a little duenna. The argument against
a successor to Miss Overmore remained: it was composed frankly of the
fact, of which Mrs. Beale granted the full absurdity, that she was too
awfully fond of her stepdaughter to bring herself to see her in vulgar
and mercenary hands. The note of this particular danger emboldened
Maisie to put in a word for Mrs. Wix, the modest measure of whose
avidity she had taken from the first; but Mrs. Beale disposed afresh and
effectually of a candidate who would be sure to act in some horrible
and insidious way for Ida's interest and who moreover was personally
loathsome and as ignorant as a fish. She made also no more of a secret
of the awkward fact that a good school would be hideously expensive, and
of the further circumstance, which seemed to put an end to everything,
that when it came to the point papa, in spite of his previous clamour,
was really most nasty about paying. "Would you believe," Mrs. Beale
confidentially asked of her little charge, "that he says I'm a worse
expense than ever, and that a daughter and a wife together are really
more than he can afford?" It was thus that the splendid school at
Brighton lost itself in the haze of larger questions, though the fear
that it would provoke Ida to leap into the breach subsided with her
prolonged, her quite shameless non-appearance. Her daughter and her
successor were therefore left to gaze in united but helpless blankness
at all Maisie was not learning.

This quantity was so great as to fill the child's days with a sense of
intermission to which even French Lisette gave no accent--with finished
games and unanswered questions and dreaded tests; with the habit, above
all, in her watch for a change, of hanging over banisters when the
door-bell sounded. This was the great refuge of her impatience, but
what she heard at such times was a clatter of gaiety downstairs; the
impression of which, from her earliest childhood, had built up in her
the belief that the grown-up time was the time of real amusement and
above all of real intimacy. Even Lisette, even Mrs. Wix had never, she
felt, in spite of hugs and tears, been so intimate with her as so many
persons at present were with Mrs. Beale and as so many others of old had
been with Mrs. Farange. The note of hilarity brought people together
still more than the note of melancholy, which was the one exclusively
sounded, for instance, by poor Mrs. Wix. Maisie in these days preferred
none the less that domestic revels should be wafted to her from a
distance: she felt sadly unsupported for facing the inquisition of the
drawing-room. That was a reason the more for making the most of Susan
Ash, who in her quality of under-housemaid moved at a very different
level and who, none the less, was much depended upon out of doors. She
was a guide to peregrinations that had little in common with those
intensely definite airings that had left with the child a vivid memory
of the regulated mind of Moddle. There had been under Moddle's system
no dawdles at shop-windows and no nudges, in Oxford Street, of "I SAY,
look at 'ER!" There had been an inexorable treatment of crossings and a
serene exemption from the fear that--especially at corners, of which she
was yet weakly fond--haunted the housemaid, the fear of being, as she
ominously said, "spoken to." The dangers of the town equally with its
diversions added to Maisie's sense of being untutored and unclaimed.

The situation however, had taken a twist when, on another of her
returns, at Susan's side, extremely tired, from the pursuit of exercise
qualified by much hovering, she encountered another emotion. She on this
occasion learnt at the door that her instant attendance was requested
in the drawing-room. Crossing the threshold in a cloud of shame she
discerned through the blur Mrs. Beale seated there with a gentleman who
immediately drew the pain from her predicament by rising before her as
the original of the photograph of Sir Claude. She felt the moment she
looked at him that he was by far the most shining presence that had ever
made her gape, and her pleasure in seeing him, in knowing that he took
hold of her and kissed her, as quickly throbbed into a strange shy pride
in him, a perception of his making up for her fallen state, for Susan's
public nudges, which quite bruised her, and for all the lessons that, in
the dead schoolroom, where at times she was almost afraid to stay alone,
she was bored with not having. It was as if he had told her on the spot
that he belonged to her, so that she could already show him off and see
the effect he produced. No, nothing else that was most beautiful ever
belonging to her could kindle that particular joy--not Mrs. Beale at
that very moment, not papa when he was gay, nor mamma when she was
dressed, nor Lisette when she was new. The joy almost overflowed
in tears when he laid his hand on her and drew her to him, telling
her, with a smile of which the promise was as bright as that of a
Christmas-tree, that he knew her ever so well by her mother, but had
come to see her now so that he might know her for himself. She could
see that his view of this kind of knowledge was to make her come away
with him, and, further, that it was just what he was there for and had
already been some time: arranging it with Mrs. Beale and getting on with
that lady in a manner evidently not at all affected by her having on the
arrival of his portrait thought of him so ill. They had grown almost
intimate--or had the air of it--over their discussion; and it was still
further conveyed to Maisie that Mrs. Beale had made no secret, and would
make yet less of one, of all that it cost to let her go. "You seem so
tremendously eager," she said to the child, "that I hope you're at least
clear about Sir Claude's relation to you. It doesn't appear to occur to
him to give you the necessary reassurance."

Maisie, a trifle mystified, turned quickly to her new friend. "Why it's
of course that you're MARRIED to her, isn't it?"

Her anxious emphasis started them off, as she had learned to call it;
this was the echo she infallibly and now quite resignedly produced;
moreover Sir Claude's laughter was an indistinguishable part of the
sweetness of his being there. "We've been married, my dear child, three
months, and my interest in you is a consequence, don't you know? of my
great affection for your mother. In coming here it's of course for your
mother I'm acting."

"Oh I know," Maisie said with all the candour of her competence. "She
can't come herself--except just to the door." Then as she thought
afresh: "Can't she come even to the door now?"

"There you are!" Mrs. Beale exclaimed to Sir Claude. She spoke as if his
dilemma were ludicrous.

His kind face, in a hesitation, seemed to recognise it; but he answered
the child with a frank smile. "No--not very well."

"Because she has married you?"

He promptly accepted this reason. "Well, that has a good deal to do with
it."

He was so delightful to talk to that Maisie pursued the subject. "But
papa--HE has married Miss Overmore."

"Ah you'll see that he won't come for you at your mother's," that lady
interposed.

"Yes, but that won't be for a long time," Maisie hastened to respond.

"We won't talk about it now--you've months and months to put in first."
And Sir Claude drew her closer.

"Oh that's what makes it so hard to give her up!" Mrs. Beale made this
point with her arms out to her stepdaughter. Maisie, quitting Sir
Claude, went over to them and, clasped in a still tenderer embrace, felt
entrancingly the extension of the field of happiness. "I'LL come for
you," said her stepmother, "if Sir Claude keeps you too long: we must
make him quite understand that! Don't talk to me about her ladyship!"
she went on to their visitor so familiarly that it was almost as if they
must have met before. "I know her ladyship as if I had made her. They're
a pretty pair of parents!" cried Mrs. Beale.

Maisie had so often heard them called so that the remark diverted her
but an instant from the agreeable wonder of this grand new form of
allusion to her mother; and that, in its turn, presently left her free
to catch at the pleasant possibility, in connexion with herself, of
a relation much happier as between Mrs. Beale and Sir Claude than as
between mamma and papa. Still the next thing that happened was that her
interest in such a relation brought to her lips a fresh question.

"Have you seen papa?" she asked of Sir Claude.

It was the signal for their going off again, as her small stoicism had
perfectly taken for granted that it would be. All that Mrs. Beale had
nevertheless to add was the vague apparent sarcasm: "Oh papa!"

"I'm assured he's not at home," Sir Claude replied to the child; "but if
he had been I should have hoped for the pleasure of seeing him."

"Won't he mind your coming?" Maisie asked as with need of the knowledge.

"Oh you bad little girl!" Mrs. Beale humorously protested.

The child could see that at this Sir Claude, though still moved to
mirth, coloured a little; but he spoke to her very kindly. "That's just
what I came to see, you know--whether your father WOULD mind. But Mrs.
Beale appears strongly of the opinion that he won't."

This lady promptly justified that view to her stepdaughter. "It will be
very interesting, my dear, you know, to find out what it is to-day that
your father does mind. I'm sure _I_ don't know!"--and she seemed to
repeat, though with perceptible resignation, her plaint of a moment
before. "Your father, darling, is a very odd person indeed." She turned
with this, smiling, to Sir Claude. "But perhaps it's hardly civil for me
to say that of his not objecting to have YOU in the house. If you knew
some of the people he does have!"

Maisie knew them all, and none indeed were to be compared to Sir Claude.
He laughed back at Mrs. Beale; he looked at such moments quite as Mrs.
Wix, in the long stories she told her pupil, always described the lovers
of her distressed beauties--"the perfect gentleman and strikingly
handsome." He got up, to the child's regret, as if he were going. "Oh I
dare say we should be all right!"

Mrs. Beale once more gathered in her little charge, holding her close
and looking thoughtfully over her head at their visitor. "It's so
charming--for a man of your type--to have wanted her so much!"

"What do you know about my type?" Sir Claude laughed. "Whatever it may
be I dare say it deceives you. The truth about me is simply that I'm the
most unappreciated of--what do you call the fellows?--'family-men.' Yes,
I'm a family-man; upon my honour I am!"

"Then why on earth," cried Mrs. Beale, "didn't you marry a
family-woman?"

Sir Claude looked at her hard. "YOU know who one marries, I think.
Besides, there ARE no family-women--hanged if there are! None of them
want any children--hanged if they do!"

His account of the matter was most interesting, and Maisie, as if it
were of bad omen for her, stared at the picture in some dismay. At the
same time she felt, through encircling arms, her protectress hesitate.
"You do come out with things! But you mean her ladyship doesn't want
any--really?"

"Won't hear of them--simply. But she can't help the one she HAS got."
And with this Sir Claude's eyes rested on the little girl in a way that
seemed to her to mask her mother's attitude with the consciousness of
his own. "She must make the best of her, don't you see? If only for the
look of the thing, don't you know? one wants one's wife to take the
proper line about her child."

"Oh I know what one wants!" Mrs. Beale cried with a competence that
evidently impressed her interlocutor.

"Well, if you keep HIM up--and I dare say you've had worry enough--why
shouldn't I keep Ida? What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the
gander--or the other way round, don't you know? I mean to see the thing
through."

Mrs. Beale, for a minute, still with her eyes on him as he leaned upon
the chimneypiece, appeared to turn this over. "You're just a wonder of
kindness--that's what you are!" she said at last. "A lady's expected
to have natural feelings. But YOUR horrible sex--! Isn't it a horrible
sex, little love?" she demanded with her cheek upon her stepdaughter's.

"Oh I like gentlemen best," Maisie lucidly replied.

The words were taken up merrily. "That's a good one for YOU!" Sir Claude
exclaimed to Mrs. Beale.

"No," said that lady: "I've only to remember the women she sees at her
mother's."

"Ah they're very nice now," Sir Claude returned.

"What do you call 'nice'?"

"Well, they're all right."

"That doesn't answer me," said Mrs. Beale; "but I dare say you do take
care of them. That makes you more of an angel to want this job too." And
she playfully whacked her smaller companion.

"I'm not an angel--I'm an old grandmother," Sir Claude declared. "I like
babies--I always did. If we go to smash I shall look for a place as
responsible nurse."

Maisie, in her charmed mood, drank in an imputation on her years which
at another moment might have been bitter; but the charm was sensibly
interrupted by Mrs. Beale's screwing her round and gazing fondly into
her eyes, "You're willing to leave me, you wretch?"

The little girl deliberated; even this consecrated tie had become as a
cord she must suddenly snap. But she snapped it very gently. "Isn't it
my turn for mamma?"

"You're a horrible little hypocrite! The less, I think, now said about
'turns' the better," Mrs. Beale made answer. "_I_ know whose turn it is.
You've not such a passion for your mother!"

"I say, I say: DO look out!" Sir Claude quite amiably protested.

"There's nothing she hasn't heard. But it doesn't matter--it hasn't
spoiled her. If you knew what it costs me to part with you!" she pursued
to Maisie.

Sir Claude watched her as she charmingly clung to the child. "I'm so
glad you really care for her. That's so much to the good."

Mrs. Beale slowly got up, still with her hands on Maisie, but emitting a
soft exhalation. "Well, if you're glad, that may help us; for I assure
you that I shall never give up any rights in her that I may consider
I've acquired by my own sacrifices. I shall hold very fast to my
interest in her. What seems to have happened is that she has brought you
and me together."

"She has brought you and me together," said Sir Claude.

His cheerful echo prolonged the happy truth, and Maisie broke out almost
with enthusiasm: "I've brought you and her together!"

Her companions of course laughed anew and Mrs. Beale gave her an
affectionate shake. "You little monster--take care what you do! But
that's what she does do," she continued to Sir Claude. "She did it to me
and Beale."

"Well then," he said to Maisie, "you must try the trick at OUR place."
He held out his hand to her again. "Will you come now?"

"Now--just as I am?" She turned with an immense appeal to her
stepmother, taking a leap over the mountain of "mending," the abyss of
packing that had loomed and yawned before her. "Oh MAY I?"

Mrs. Beale addressed her assent to Sir Claude. "As well so as any other
way. I'll send on her things to-morrow." Then she gave a tug to the
child's coat, glancing at her up and down with some ruefulness.

"She's not turned out as I should like--her mother will pull her to
pieces. But what's one to do--with nothing to do it on? And she's better
than when she came--you can tell her mother that. I'm sorry to have to
say it to you--but the poor child was a sight."

"Oh I'll turn her out myself!" the visitor cordially said.

"I shall like to see how!"--Mrs. Beale appeared much amused. "You must
bring her to show me--we can manage that. Good-bye, little fright!" And
her last word to Sir Claude was that she would keep him up to the mark.

Henry James