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    Chapter 8

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    Chapter 9
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    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.
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    Chapter 9
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