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    Chapter 10

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    Chapter 11
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    He was smoking a cigarette and he stood before the fire and looked
    at the meagre appointments of the room in a way that made her rather
    ashamed of them. Then before (on the subject of Mrs. Beale) he let her
    "draw" him--that was another of his words; it was astonishing how many
    she gathered in--he remarked that really mamma kept them rather low on
    the question of decorations. Mrs. Wix had put up a Japanese fan and two
    rather grim texts; she had wished they were gayer, but they were all she
    happened to have. Without Sir Claude's photograph, however, the place
    would have been, as he said, as dull as a cold dinner. He had said
    as well that there were all sorts of things they ought to have; yet
    governess and pupil, it had to be admitted, were still divided between
    discussing the places where any sort of thing would look best if any
    sort of thing should ever come and acknowledging that mutability in the
    child's career which was naturally unfavourable to accumulation. She
    stayed long enough only to miss things, not half long enough to deserve
    them. The way Sir Claude looked about the schoolroom had made her feel
    with humility as if it were not very different from the shabby attic in
    which she had visited Susan Ash. Then he had said in abrupt reference to
    Mrs. Beale: "Do you think she really cares for you?"

    "Oh awfully!" Maisie had replied.

    "But, I mean, does she love you for yourself, as they call it, don't you
    know? Is she as fond of you, now, as Mrs. Wix?"

    The child turned it over. "Oh I'm not every bit Mrs. Beale has!"

    Sir Claude seemed much amused at this. "No; you're not every bit she
    has!"

    He laughed for some moments, but that was an old story to Maisie, who
    was not too much disconcerted to go on: "But she'll never give me up."

    "Well, I won't either, old boy: so that's not so wonderful, and she's
    not the only one. But if she's so fond of you, why doesn't she write to
    you?"

    "Oh on account of mamma." This was rudimentary, and she was almost
    surprised at the simplicity of Sir Claude's question.

    "I see--that's quite right," he answered. "She might get at you--there
    are all sorts of ways. But of course there's Mrs. Wix."

    "There's Mrs. Wix," Maisie lucidly concurred. "Mrs. Wix can't abide
    her."

    Sir Claude seemed interested. "Oh she can't abide her? Then what does
    she say about her?"

    "Nothing at all--because she knows I shouldn't like it. Isn't it sweet
    of her?" the child asked.

    "Certainly; rather nice. Mrs. Beale wouldn't hold her tongue for any
    such thing as that, would she?"

    Maisie remembered how little she had done so; but she desired to protect
    Mrs. Beale too. The only protection she could think of, however, was the
    plea: "Oh at papa's, you know, they don't mind!"

    At this Sir Claude only smiled. "No, I dare say not. But here we mind,
    don't we?--we take care what we say. I don't suppose it's a matter on
    which I ought to prejudice you," he went on; "but I think we must on the
    whole be rather nicer here than at your father's. However, I don't press
    that; for it's the sort of question on which it's awfully awkward for
    you to speak. Don't worry, at any rate: I assure you I'll back you up."
    Then after a moment and while he smoked he reverted to Mrs. Beale and
    the child's first enquiry. "I'm afraid we can't do much for her just
    now. I haven't seen her since that day--upon my word I haven't seen
    her." The next instant, with a laugh the least bit foolish, the young
    man slightly coloured: he must have felt this profession of innocence to
    be excessive as addressed to Maisie. It was inevitable to say to her,
    however, that of course her mother loathed the lady of the other house.
    He couldn't go there again with his wife's consent, and he wasn't the
    man--he begged her to believe, falling once more, in spite of himself,
    into the scruple of showing the child he didn't trip--to go there
    without it. He was liable in talking with her to take the tone of her
    being also a man of the world. He had gone to Mrs. Beale's to fetch
    away Maisie, but that was altogether different. Now that she was in
    her mother's house what pretext had he to give her mother for paying
    calls on her father's wife? And of course Mrs. Beale couldn't come to
    Ida's--Ida would tear her limb from limb. Maisie, with this talk of
    pretexts, remembered how much Mrs. Beale had made of her being a good
    one, and how, for such a function, it was her fate to be either much
    depended on or much missed. Sir Claude moreover recognised on this
    occasion that perhaps things would take a turn later on; and he wound
    up by saying: "I'm sure she does sincerely care for you--how can she
    possibly help it? She's very young and very pretty and very clever: I
    think she's charming. But we must walk very straight. If you'll help me,
    you know, I'll help YOU," he concluded in the pleasant fraternising,
    equalising, not a bit patronising way which made the child ready to go
    through anything for him and the beauty of which, as she dimly felt, was
    that it was so much less a deceitful descent to her years than a real
    indifference to them.

    It gave her moments of secret rapture--moments of believing she might
    help him indeed. The only mystification in this was the imposing time of
    life that her elders spoke of as youth. For Sir Claude then Mrs. Beale
    was "young," just as for Mrs. Wix Sir Claude was: that was one of the
    merits for which Mrs. Wix most commended him. What therefore was Maisie
    herself, and, in another relation to the matter, what therefore was
    mamma? It took her some time to puzzle out with the aid of an experiment
    or two that it wouldn't do to talk about mamma's youth. She even went
    so far one day, in the presence of that lady's thick colour and marked
    lines, as to wonder if it would occur to any one but herself to do so.
    Yet if she wasn't young then she was old; and this threw an odd light on
    her having a husband of a different generation. Mr. Farange was still
    older--that Maisie perfectly knew; and it brought her in due course
    to the perception of how much more, since Mrs. Beale was younger than
    Sir Claude, papa must be older than Mrs. Beale. Such discoveries were
    disconcerting and even a trifle confounding: these persons, it appeared,
    were not of the age they ought to be. This was somehow particularly
    the case with mamma, and the fact made her reflect with some relief on
    her not having gone with Mrs. Wix into the question of Sir Claude's
    attachment to his wife. She was conscious that in confining their
    attention to the state of her ladyship's own affections they had been
    controlled--Mrs. Wix perhaps in especial--by delicacy and even by
    embarrassment. The end of her colloquy with her stepfather in the
    schoolroom was her saying: "Then if we're not to see Mrs. Beale at all
    it isn't what she seemed to think when you came for me."

    He looked rather blank. "What did she seem to think?"

    "Why that I've brought you together."

    "She thought that?" Sir Claude asked.

    Maisie was surprised at his already forgetting it. "Just as I had
    brought papa and her. Don't you remember she said so?"

    It came back to Sir Claude in a peal of laughter. "Oh yes--she said so!"

    "And YOU said so," Maisie lucidly pursued.

    He recovered, with increasing mirth, the whole occasion. "And YOU said
    so!" he retorted as if they were playing a game.

    "Then were we all mistaken?"

    He considered a little. "No, on the whole not. I dare say it's just what
    you HAVE done. We ARE together--it's really most odd. She's thinking of
    us--of you and me--though we don't meet. And I've no doubt you'll find
    it will be all right when you go back to her."

    "Am I going back to her?" Maisie brought out with a little gasp which
    was like a sudden clutch of the happy present.

    It appeared to make Sir Claude grave a moment; it might have made him
    feel the weight of the pledge his action had given. "Oh some day, I
    suppose! We've plenty of time."

    "I've such a tremendous lot to make up," Maisie said with a sense of
    great boldness.

    "Certainly, and you must make up every hour of it. Oh I'll SEE that you
    do!"

    This was encouraging; and to show cheerfully that she was reassured she
    replied: "That's what Mrs. Wix sees too."

    "Oh yes," said Sir Claude; "Mrs. Wix and I are shoulder to shoulder."

    Maisie took in a little this strong image; after which she exclaimed:
    "Then I've done it also to you and her--I've brought YOU together!"

    "Blest if you haven't!" Sir Claude laughed. "And more, upon my word,
    than any of the lot. Oh you've done for US! Now if you could--as I
    suggested, you know, that day--only manage me and your mother!"

    The child wondered. "Bring you and HER together?"

    "You see we're not together--not a bit. But I oughtn't to tell you such
    things; all the more that you won't really do it--not you. No, old
    chap," the young man continued; "there you'll break down. But it won't
    matter--we'll rub along. The great thing is that you and I are all
    right."

    "WE'RE all right!" Maisie echoed devoutly. But the next moment, in the
    light of what he had just said, she asked: "How shall I ever leave you?"
    It was as if she must somehow take care of him.

    His smile did justice to her anxiety. "Oh well, you needn't! It won't
    come to that."

    "Do you mean that when I do go you'll go with me?"

    Sir Claude cast about. "Not exactly 'with' you perhaps; but I shall
    never be far off."

    "But how do you know where mamma may take you?"

    He laughed again. "I don't, I confess!" Then he had an idea, though
    something too jocose. "That will be for you to see--that she shan't take
    me too far."

    "How can I help it?" Maisie enquired in surprise. "Mamma doesn't care
    for me," she said very simply. "Not really." Child as she was, her
    little long history was in the words; and it was as impossible to
    contradict her as if she had been venerable.

    Sir Claude's silence was an admission of this, and still more the tone
    in which he presently replied: "That won't prevent her from--some time
    or other--leaving me with you."

    "Then we'll live together?" she eagerly demanded.

    "I'm afraid," said Sir Claude, smiling, "that that will be Mrs. Beale's
    real chance."

    Her eagerness just slightly dropped at this; she remembered Mrs. Wix's
    pronouncement that it was all an extraordinary muddle. "To take me
    again? Well, can't you come to see me there?"

    "Oh I dare say!"

    Though there were parts of childhood Maisie had lost she had all
    childhood's preference for the particular promise. "Then you WILL
    come--you'll come often, won't you?" she insisted; while at the moment
    she spoke the door opened for the return of Mrs. Wix. Sir Claude
    hereupon, instead of replying, gave her a look which left her silent
    and embarrassed.

    When he again found privacy convenient, however--which happened to be
    long in coming--he took up their conversation very much where it had
    dropped. "You see, my dear, if I shall be able to go to you at your
    father's it yet isn't at all the same thing for Mrs. Beale to come to
    you here." Maisie gave a thoughtful assent to this proposition, though
    conscious she could scarcely herself say just where the difference would
    lie. She felt how much her stepfather saved her, as he said with his
    habitual amusement, the trouble of that. "I shall probably be able to go
    to Mrs. Beale's without your mother's knowing it."

    Maisie stared with a certain thrill at the dramatic element in this.
    "And she couldn't come here without mamma's--" She was unable to
    articulate the word for what mamma would do.

    "My dear child, Mrs. Wix would tell of it."

    "But I thought," Maisie objected, "that Mrs. Wix and you--"

    "Are such brothers-in-arms?"--Sir Claude caught her up. "Oh yes, about
    everything but Mrs. Beale. And if you should suggest," he went on, "that
    we might somehow or other hide her peeping in from Mrs. Wix--"

    "Oh, I don't suggest THAT!" Maisie in turn cut him short.

    Sir Claude looked as if he could indeed quite see why. "No; it would
    really be impossible." There came to her from this glance at what they
    might hide the first small glimpse of something in him that she wouldn't
    have expected. There had been times when she had had to make the best
    of the impression that she was herself deceitful; yet she had never
    concealed anything bigger than a thought. Of course she now concealed
    this thought of how strange it would be to see HIM hide; and while she
    was so actively engaged he continued: "Besides, you know, I'm not afraid
    of your father."

    "And you are of my mother?"

    "Rather, old man!" Sir Claude returned.
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