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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 18
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    If for reasons of her own she could bear the sense of Sir Claude's
    displeasure her young endurance might have been put to a serious test.
    The days went by without his knocking at her father's door, and the
    time would have turned sadly to waste if something hadn't conspicuously
    happened to give it a new difference. What took place was a marked
    change in the attitude of Mrs. Beale--a change that somehow, even
    in his absence, seemed to bring Sir Claude again into the house. It
    began practically with a conversation that occurred between them the
    day Maisie, came home alone in the cab. Mrs. Beale had by that time
    returned, and she was more successful than their friend in extracting
    from our young lady an account of the extraordinary passage with the
    Captain. She came back to it repeatedly, and on the very next day it
    grew distinct to the child that she was already in full possession of
    what at the same moment had been enacted between her ladyship and Sir
    Claude. This was the real origin of her final perception that though he
    didn't come to the house her stepmother had some rare secret for not
    being quite without him. This led to some rare passages with Mrs. Beale,
    the promptest of which had been--not on Maisie's part--a wonderful
    outbreak of tears. Mrs. Beale was not, as she herself said, a crying
    creature: she hadn't cried, to Maisie's knowledge, since the lowly
    governess days, the grey dawn of their connexion. But she wept now with
    passion, professing loudly that it did her good and saying remarkable
    things to her charge, for whom the occasion was an equal benefit, an
    addition to all the fine precautionary wisdom stored away. It somehow
    hadn't violated that wisdom, Maisie felt, for her to have told Mrs.
    Beale what she had not told Sir Claude, inasmuch as the greatest strain,
    to her sense, was between Sir Claude and Sir Claude's wife, and his wife
    was just what Mrs. Beale was unfortunately not. He sent his stepdaughter
    three days after the incident in Kensington Gardens a message as frank
    as it was tender, and that was how Mrs. Beale had had to bring out in
    a manner that seemed half an appeal, half a defiance: "Well yes, hang
    it--I DO see him!"

    How and when and where, however, were just what Maisie was not to
    know--an exclusion moreover that she never questioned in the light of
    a participation large enough to make him, while she shared the ample
    void of Mrs. Beale's rather blank independence, shine in her yearning
    eye like the single, the sovereign window-square of a great dim
    disproportioned room. As far as her father was concerned such hours
    had no interruption; and then it was clear between them that each
    was thinking of the absent and thinking the other thought, so that he
    was an object of conscious reference in everything they said or did.
    The wretched truth, Mrs. Beale had to confess, was that she had hoped
    against hope and that in the Regent's Park it was impossible Sir Claude
    should really be in and out. Hadn't they at last to look the fact in the
    face?--it was too disgustingly evident that no one after all had been
    squared. Well, if no one had been squared it was because every one had
    been vile. No one and every one were of course Beale and Ida, the extent
    of whose power to be nasty was a thing that, to a little girl, Mrs.
    Beale simply couldn't give chapter and verse for. Therefore it was that
    to keep going at all, as she said, that lady had to make, as she also
    said, another arrangement--the arrangement in which Maisie was included
    only to the point of knowing it existed and wondering wistfully what it
    was. Conspicuously at any rate it had a side that was responsible for
    Mrs. Beale's sudden emotion and sudden confidence--a demonstration
    this, however, of which the tearfulness was far from deterrent to our
    heroine's thought of how happy she should be if she could only make an
    arrangement for herself. Mrs. Beale's own operated, it appeared, with
    regularity and frequency; for it was almost every day or two that she
    was able to bring Maisie a message and to take one back. It had been
    over the vision of what, as she called it, he did for her that she
    broke down; and this vision was kept in a manner before Maisie by a
    subsequent increase not only of the gaiety, but literally--it seemed not
    presumptuous to perceive--of the actual virtue of her friend. The friend
    was herself the first to proclaim it: he had pulled her up immensely--he
    had quite pulled her round. She had charming tormenting words about him:
    he was her good fairy, her hidden spring--above all he was just her
    "higher" conscience. That was what had particularly come out with her
    startling tears: he had made her, dear man, think ever so much better of
    herself. It had been thus rather surprisingly revealed that she had been
    in a way to think ill, and Maisie was glad to hear of the corrective at
    the same time that she heard of the ailment.

    She presently found herself supposing, and in spite of her envy even
    hoping, that whenever Mrs. Beale was out of the house Sir Claude had
    in some manner the satisfaction of it. This was now of more frequent
    occurrence than ever before--so much so that she would have thought of
    her stepmother as almost extravagantly absent had it not been that, in
    the first place, her father was a superior specimen of that habit: it
    was the frequent remark of his present wife, as it had been, before the
    tribunals of their country, a prominent plea of her predecessor, that
    he scarce came home even to sleep. In the second place Mrs. Beale, when
    she WAS on the spot, had now a beautiful air of longing to make up for
    everything. The only shadow in such bright intervals was that, as Maisie
    put it to herself, she could get nothing by questions. It was in the
    nature of things to be none of a small child's business, even when a
    small child had from the first been deluded into a fear that she might
    be only too much initiated. Things then were in Maisie's experience so
    true to their nature that questions were almost always improper; but
    she learned on the other hand soon to recognise how at last, sometimes,
    patient little silences and intelligent little looks could be rewarded
    by delightful little glimpses. There had been years at Beale Farange's
    when the monosyllable "he" meant always, meant almost violently, the
    master; but all that was changed at a period at which Sir Claude's
    merits were of themselves so much in the air that it scarce took even
    two letters to name him. "He keeps me up splendidly--he does, my own
    precious," Mrs. Beale would observe to her comrade; or else she would
    say that the situation at the other establishment had reached a point
    that could scarcely be believed--the point, monstrous as it sounded,
    of his not having laid eyes upon her for twelve days. "She" of course
    at Beale Farange's had never meant any one but Ida, and there was the
    difference in this case that it now meant Ida with renewed intensity.
    Mrs. Beale--it was striking--was in a position to animadvert more and
    more upon her dreadfulness, the moral of all which appeared to be how
    abominably yet blessedly little she had to do with her husband. This
    flow of information came home to our two friends because, truly, Mrs.
    Beale had not much more to do with her own; but that was one of the
    reflexions that Maisie could make without allowing it to break the
    spell of her present sympathy. How could such a spell be anything but
    deep when Sir Claude's influence, operating from afar, at last really
    determined the resumption of his stepdaughter's studies? Mrs. Beale
    again took fire about them and was quite vivid for Maisie as to their
    being the great matter to which the dear absent one kept her up.

    This was the second source--I have just alluded to the first--of the
    child's consciousness of something that, very hopefully, she described
    to herself as a new phase; and it also presented in the brightest light
    the fresh enthusiasm with which Mrs. Beale always reappeared and which
    really gave Maisie a happier sense than she had yet had of being very
    dear at least to two persons. That she had small remembrance at present
    of a third illustrates, I am afraid, a temporary oblivion of Mrs. Wix,
    an accident to be explained only by a state of unnatural excitement. For
    what was the form taken by Mrs. Beale's enthusiasm and acquiring relief
    in the domestic conditions still left to her but the delightful form of
    "reading" with her little charge on lines directly prescribed and in
    works profusely supplied by Sir Claude? He had got hold of an awfully
    good list--"mostly essays, don't you know?" Mrs. Beale had said; a word
    always august to Maisie, but henceforth to be softened by hazy, in fact
    by quite languorous edges. There was at any rate a week in which no less
    than nine volumes arrived, and the impression was to be gathered from
    Mrs. Beale that the obscure intercourse she enjoyed with Sir Claude not
    only involved an account and a criticism of studies, but was organised
    almost for the very purpose of report and consultation. It was for
    Maisie's education in short that, as she often repeated, she closed her
    door--closed it to the gentlemen who used to flock there in such numbers
    and whom her husband's practical desertion of her would have made it a
    course of the highest indelicacy to receive. Maisie was familiar from of
    old with the principle at least of the care that a woman, as Mrs. Beale
    phrased it, attractive and exposed must take of her "character," and was
    duly impressed with the rigour of her stepmother's scruples. There was
    literally no one of the other sex whom she seemed to feel at liberty to
    see at home, and when the child risked an enquiry about the ladies who,
    one by one, during her own previous period, had been made quite loudly
    welcome, Mrs. Beale hastened to inform her that, one by one, they had,
    the fiends, been found out, after all, to be awful. If she wished to
    know more about them she was recommended to approach her father.

    Maisie had, however, at the very moment of this injunction much livelier
    curiosities, for the dream of lectures at an institution had at last
    become a reality, thanks to Sir Claude's now unbounded energy in
    discovering what could be done. It stood out in this connexion that when
    you came to look into things in a spirit of earnestness an immense deal
    could be done for very little more than your fare in the Underground.
    The institution--there was a splendid one in a part of the town but
    little known to the child--became, in the glow of such a spirit, a
    thrilling place, and the walk to it from the station through Glower
    Street (a pronunciation for which Mrs. Beale once laughed at her little
    friend) a pathway literally strewn with "subjects." Maisie imagined
    herself to pluck them as she went, though they thickened in the great
    grey rooms where the fountain of knowledge, in the form usually of a
    high voice that she took at first to be angry, plashed in the stillness
    of rows of faces thrust out like empty jugs. "It MUST do us good--it's
    all so hideous," Mrs. Beale had immediately declared; manifesting a
    purity of resolution that made these occasions quite the most harmonious
    of all the many on which the pair had pulled together. Maisie certainly
    had never, in such an association, felt so uplifted, and never above
    all been so carried off her feet, as at the moments of Mrs. Beale's
    breathlessly re-entering the house and fairly shrieking upstairs to
    know if they should still be in time for a lecture. Her stepdaughter,
    all ready from the earliest hours, almost leaped over the banister to
    respond, and they dashed out together in quest of learning as hard as
    they often dashed back to release Mrs. Beale for other preoccupations.
    There had been in short no bustle like these particular spasms, once
    they had broken out, since that last brief flurry when Mrs. Wix, blowing
    as if she were grooming her, "made up" for everything previously lost at
    her father's.

    These weeks as well were too few, but they were flooded with a new
    emotion, part of which indeed came from the possibility that, through
    the long telescope of Glower Street, or perhaps between the pillars of
    the institution--which impressive objects were what Maisie thought most
    made it one--they should some day spy Sir Claude. That was what Mrs.
    Beale, under pressure, had said--doubtless a little impatiently: "Oh
    yes, oh yes, some day!" His joining them was clearly far less of a
    matter of course than was to have been gathered from his original
    profession of desire to improve in their company his own mind; and
    this sharpened our young lady's guess that since that occasion either
    something destructive had happened or something desirable hadn't. Mrs.
    Beale had thrown but a partial light in telling her how it had turned
    out that nobody had been squared. Maisie wished at any rate that
    somebody WOULD be squared. However, though in every approach to the
    temple of knowledge she watched in vain for Sir Claude, there was
    no doubt about the action of his loved image as an incentive and a
    recompense. When the institution was most on pillars--or, as Mrs. Beale
    put it, on stilts--when the subject was deepest and the lecture longest
    and the listeners ugliest, then it was they both felt their patron in
    the background would be most pleased with them. One day, abruptly, with
    a glance at this background, Mrs. Beale said to her companion: "We'll
    go to-night to the thingumbob at Earl's Court"; an announcement putting
    forth its full lustre when she had made known that she referred to
    the great Exhibition just opened in that quarter, a collection of
    extraordinary foreign things in tremendous gardens, with illuminations,
    bands, elephants, switchbacks and side-shows, as well as crowds of
    people among whom they might possibly see some one they knew. Maisie
    flew in the same bound at the neck of her friend and at the name of Sir
    Claude, on which Mrs. Beale confessed that--well, yes, there was just a
    chance that he would be able to meet them. He never of course, in his
    terrible position, knew what might happen from hour to hour; but he
    hoped to be free and he had given Mrs. Beale the tip. "Bring her there
    on the quiet and I'll try to turn up"--this was clear enough on what
    so many weeks of privation had made of his desire to see the child: it
    even appeared to represent on his part a yearning as constant as her
    own. That in turn was just puzzling enough to make Maisie express a
    bewilderment. She couldn't see, if they were so intensely of the same
    mind, why the theory on which she had come back to Mrs. Beale, the
    general reunion, the delightful trio, should have broken down so in
    fact. Mrs. Beale furthermore only gave her more to think about in saying
    that their disappointment was the result of his having got into his head
    a kind of idea.

    "What kind of idea?"

    "Oh goodness knows!" She spoke with an approach to asperity. "He's so
    awfully delicate."

    "Delicate?"--that was ambiguous.

    "About what he does, don't you know?" said Mrs. Beale. She fumbled.
    "Well, about what WE do."

    Maisie wondered. "You and me?"

    "Me and HIM, silly!" cried Mrs. Beale with, this time, a real giggle.

    "But you don't do any harm--YOU don't," said Maisie, wondering afresh
    and intending her emphasis as a decorous allusion to her parents.

    "Of course we don't, you angel--that's just the ground _I_ take!" her
    companion exultantly responded. "He says he doesn't want you mixed up."

    "Mixed up with what?"

    "That's exactly what _I_ want to know: mixed up with what, and how you
    are any more mixed--?" Mrs. Beale paused without ending her question.
    She ended after an instant in a different way. "All you can say is that
    it's his fancy."

    The tone of this, in spite of its expressing a resignation, the fruit of
    weariness, that dismissed the subject, conveyed so vividly how much such
    a fancy was not Mrs. Beale's own that our young lady was led by the mere
    fact of contact to arrive at a dim apprehension of the unuttered and the
    unknown. The relation between her step-parents had then a mysterious
    residuum; this was the first time she really had reflected that except
    as regards herself it was not a relationship. To each other it was only
    what they might have happened to make it, and she gathered that this,
    in the event, had been something that led Sir Claude to keep away from
    her. Didn't he fear she would be compromised? The perception of such a
    scruple endeared him the more, and it flashed over her that she might
    simplify everything by showing him how little she made of such a danger.
    Hadn't she lived with her eyes on it from her third year? It was the
    condition most frequently discussed at the Faranges', where the word was
    always in the air and where at the age of five, amid rounds of applause,
    she could gabble it off. She knew as well in short that a person could
    be compromised as that a person could be slapped with a hair-brush or
    left alone in the dark, and it was equally familiar to her that each of
    these ordeals was in general held to have too little effect. But the
    first thing was to make absolutely sure of Mrs. Beale. This was done by
    saying to her thoughtfully: "Well, if you don't mind--and you really
    don't, do you?"

    Mrs. Beale, with a dawn of amusement, considered. "Mixing you up? Not a
    bit. For what does it mean?"

    "Whatever it means I don't in the least mind BEING mixed. Therefore if
    you don't and I don't," Maisie concluded, "don't you think that when I
    see him this evening I had better just tell him we don't and ask him why
    in the world HE should?"
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    Chapter 18
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