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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 5
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    All this led her on, but it brought on her fate as well, the day when
    her mother would be at the door in the carriage in which Maisie now rode
    on no occasions but these. There was no question at present of Miss
    Overmore's going back with her: it was universally recognised that her
    quarrel with Mrs. Farange was much too acute. The child felt it from
    the first; there was no hugging nor exclaiming as that lady drove her
    away--there was only a frightening silence, unenlivened even by the
    invidious enquiries of former years, which culminated, according to its
    stern nature, in a still more frightening old woman, a figure awaiting
    her on the very doorstep. "You're to be under this lady's care," said
    her mother. "Take her, Mrs. Wix," she added, addressing the figure
    impatiently and giving the child a push from which Maisie gathered that
    she wished to set Mrs. Wix an example of energy. Mrs. Wix took her and,
    Maisie felt the next day, would never let her go. She had struck her at
    first, just after Miss Overmore, as terrible; but something in her voice
    at the end of an hour touched the little girl in a spot that had never
    even yet been reached. Maisie knew later what it was, though doubtless
    she couldn't have made a statement of it: these were things that a few
    days' talk with Mrs. Wix quite lighted up. The principal one was a
    matter Mrs. Wix herself always immediately mentioned: she had had a
    little girl quite of her own, and the little girl had been killed on
    the spot. She had had absolutely nothing else in all the world, and her
    affliction had broken her heart. It was comfortably established between
    them that Mrs. Wix's heart was broken. What Maisie felt was that she had
    been, with passion and anguish, a mother, and that this was something
    Miss Overmore was not, something (strangely, confusingly) that mamma was
    even less.

    So it was that in the course of an extraordinarily short time she
    found herself as deeply absorbed in the image of the little dead
    Clara Matilda, who, on a crossing in the Harrow Road, had been knocked
    down and crushed by the cruellest of hansoms, as she had ever found
    herself in the family group made vivid by one of seven. "She's your
    little dead sister," Mrs. Wix ended by saying, and Maisie, all in
    a tremor of curiosity and compassion, addressed from that moment a
    particular piety to the small accepted acquisition. Somehow she wasn't
    a real sister, but that only made her the more romantic. It contributed
    to this view of her that she was never to be spoken of in that character
    to any one else--least of all to Mrs. Farange, who wouldn't care for
    her nor recognise the relationship: it was to be just an unutterable and
    inexhaustible little secret with Mrs. Wix. Maisie knew everything about
    her that could be known, everything she had said or done in her little
    mutilated life, exactly how lovely she was, exactly how her hair was
    curled and her frocks were trimmed. Her hair came down far below her
    waist--it was of the most wonderful golden brightness, just as Mrs.
    Wix's own had been a long time before. Mrs. Wix's own was indeed very
    remarkable still, and Maisie had felt at first that she should never get
    on with it. It played a large part in the sad and strange appearance,
    the appearance as of a kind of greasy greyness, which Mrs. Wix had
    presented on the child's arrival. It had originally been yellow, but
    time had turned that elegance to ashes, to a turbid sallow unvenerable
    white. Still excessively abundant, it was dressed in a manner of which
    the poor lady appeared not yet to have recognised the supersession, with
    a glossy braid, like a large diadem, on the top of the head, and behind,
    at the nape of the neck, a dingy rosette like a large button. She wore
    glasses which, in humble reference to a divergent obliquity of vision,
    she called her straighteners, and a little ugly snuff-coloured dress
    trimmed with satin bands in the form of scallops and glazed with
    antiquity. The straighteners, she explained to Maisie, were put on for
    the sake of others, whom, as she believed, they helped to recognise the
    bearing, otherwise doubtful, of her regard; the rest of the melancholy
    garb could only have been put on for herself. With the added suggestion
    of her goggles it reminded her pupil of the polished shell or corslet
    of a horrid beetle. At first she had looked cross and almost cruel; but
    this impression passed away with the child's increased perception of
    her being in the eyes of the world a figure mainly to laugh at. She
    was as droll as a charade or an animal toward the end of the "natural
    history"--a person whom people, to make talk lively, described to each
    other and imitated. Every one knew the straighteners; every one knew the
    diadem and the button, the scallops and satin bands; every one, though
    Maisie had never betrayed her, knew even Clara Matilda.

    It was on account of these things that mamma got her for such low pay,
    really for nothing: so much, one day when Mrs. Wix had accompanied her
    into the drawing-room and left her, the child heard one of the ladies
    she found there--a lady with eyebrows arched like skipping-ropes and
    thick black stitching, like ruled lines for musical notes on beautiful
    white gloves--announce to another. She knew governesses were poor; Miss
    Overmore was unmentionably and Mrs. Wix ever so publicly so. Neither
    this, however, nor the old brown frock nor the diadem nor the button,
    made a difference for Maisie in the charm put forth through everything,
    the charm of Mrs. Wix's conveying that somehow, in her ugliness and her
    poverty, she was peculiarly and soothingly safe; safer than any one
    in the world, than papa, than mamma, than the lady with the arched
    eyebrows; safer even, though so much less beautiful, than Miss Overmore,
    on whose loveliness, as she supposed it, the little girl was faintly
    conscious that one couldn't rest with quite the same tucked-in and
    kissed-for-good-night feeling. Mrs. Wix was as safe as Clara Matilda,
    who was in heaven and yet, embarrassingly, also in Kensal Green, where
    they had been together to see her little huddled grave. It was from
    something in Mrs. Wix's tone, which in spite of caricature remained
    indescribable and inimitable, that Maisie, before her term with her
    mother was over, drew this sense of a support, like a breast-high
    banister in a place of "drops," that would never give way. If she knew
    her instructress was poor and queer she also knew she was not nearly so
    "qualified" as Miss Overmore, who could say lots of dates straight off
    (letting you hold the book yourself), state the position of Malabar, play
    six pieces without notes and, in a sketch, put in beautifully the trees
    and houses and difficult parts. Maisie herself could play more pieces
    than Mrs. Wix, who was moreover visibly ashamed of her houses and trees
    and could only, with the help of a smutty forefinger, of doubtful
    legitimacy in the field of art, do the smoke coming out of the chimneys.
    They dealt, the governess and her pupil, in "subjects," but there were
    many the governess put off from week to week and that they never got to
    at all: she only used to say "We'll take that in its proper order." Her
    order was a circle as vast as the untravelled globe. She had not the
    spirit of adventure--the child could perfectly see how many subjects she
    was afraid of. She took refuge on the firm ground of fiction, through
    which indeed there curled the blue river of truth. She knew swarms of
    stories, mostly those of the novels she had read; relating them with
    a memory that never faltered and a wealth of detail that was Maisie's
    delight. They were all about love and beauty and countesses and
    wickedness. Her conversation was practically an endless narrative,
    a great garden of romance, with sudden vistas into her own life and
    gushing fountains of homeliness. These were the parts where they most
    lingered; she made the child take with her again every step of her long,
    lame course and think it beyond magic or monsters. Her pupil acquired a
    vivid vision of every one who had ever, in her phrase, knocked against
    her--some of them oh so hard!--every one literally but Mr. Wix, her
    husband, as to whom nothing was mentioned save that he had been dead for
    ages. He had been rather remarkably absent from his wife's career, and
    Maisie was never taken to see his grave.
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