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- What Maisie Knew - 53/53 -

originally brought us?"

"I know, I know!" Maisie said with a burst of eagerness. "I did bring you."

The strangest of laughs escaped from Sir Claude. "You did bring us--you did!" His hands went up and down gently on her shoulders.

Mrs. Wix so dominated the situation that she had something sharp for every one. "There you have it, you see!" she pregnantly remarked to her pupil.

"WILL you give him up?" Maisie persisted to Mrs. Beale.

"To YOU, you abominable little horror?" that lady indignantly enquired, "and to this raving old demon who has filled your dreadful little mind with her wickedness? Have you been a hideous little hypocrite all these years that I've slaved to make you love me and deludedly believed you did?"

"I love Sir Claude--I love HIM," Maisie replied with an awkward sense that she appeared to offer it as something that would do as well. Sir Claude had continued to pat her, and it was really an answer to his pats.

"She hates you--she hates you," he observed with the oddest quietness to Mrs. Beale.

His quietness made her blaze. "And you back her up in it and give me up to outrage?"

"No; I only insist that she's free--she's free."

Mrs. Beale stared--Mrs. Beale glared. "Free to starve with this pauper lunatic?"

"I'll do more for her than you ever did!" Mrs. Wix retorted. "I'll work my fingers to the bone."

Maisie, with Sir Claude's hands still on her shoulders, felt, just as she felt the fine surrender in them, that over her head he looked in a certain way at Mrs. Wix. "You needn't do that," she heard him say. "She has means."

"Means?--Maisie?" Mrs. Beale shrieked. "Means that her vile father has stolen!"

"I'll get them back--I'll get them back. I'll look into it." He smiled and nodded at Mrs. Wix.

This had a fearful effect on his other friend. "Haven't I looked into it, I should like to know, and haven't I found an abyss? It's too inconceivable--your cruelty to me!" she wildly broke out. She had hot tears in her eyes.

He spoke to her very kindly, almost coaxingly. "We'll look into it again; we'll look into it together. It IS an abyss, but he CAN be made--or Ida can. Think of the money they're getting now!" he laughed. "It's all right, it's all right," he continued. "It wouldn't do--it wouldn't do. We CAN'T work her in. It's perfectly true--she's unique. We're not good enough--oh no!" and, quite exuberantly, he laughed again.

"Not good enough, and that beast IS?" Mrs. Beale shouted.

At this for a moment there was a hush in the room, and in the midst of it Sir Claude replied to the question by moving with Maisie to Mrs. Wix. The next thing the child knew she was at that lady's side with an arm firmly grasped. Mrs. Beale still guarded the door. "Let them pass," said Sir Claude at last.

She remained there, however; Maisie saw the pair look at each other. Then she saw Mrs. Beale turn to her. "I'm your mother now, Maisie. And he's your father."

"That's just where it is!" sighed Mrs. Wix with an effect of irony positively detached and philosophic.

Mrs. Beale continued to address her young friend, and her effort to be reasonable and tender was in its way remarkable. "We're representative, you know, of Mr. Farange and his former wife. This person represents mere illiterate presumption. We take our stand on the law."

"Oh the law, the law!" Mrs. Wix superbly jeered. "You had better indeed let the law have a look at you!"

"Let them pass--let them pass!" Sir Claude pressed his friend hard--he pleaded.

But she fastened herself still to Maisie. "DO you hate me, dearest?"

Maisie looked at her with new eyes, but answered as she had answered before. "Will you give him up?"

Mrs. Beale's rejoinder hung fire, but when it came it was noble. "You shouldn't talk to me of such things!" She was shocked, she was scandalised to tears.

For Mrs. Wix, however, it was her discrimination that was indelicate. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" she roundly cried.

Sir Claude made a supreme appeal. "Will you be so good as to allow these horrors to terminate?"

Mrs. Beale fixed her eyes on him, and again Maisie watched them. "You should do him justice," Mrs. Wix went on to Mrs. Beale. "We've always been devoted to him, Maisie and I--and he has shown how much he likes us. He would like to please her; he would like even, I think, to please me. But he hasn't given you up."

They stood confronted, the step-parents, still under Maisie's observation. That observation had never sunk so deep as at this particular moment. "Yes, my dear, I haven't given you up," Sir Claude said to Mrs. Beale at last, "and if you'd like me to treat our friends here as solemn witnesses I don't mind giving you my word for it that I never never will. There!" he dauntlessly exclaimed.

"He can't!" Mrs. Wix tragically commented.

Mrs. Beale, erect and alive in her defeat, jerked her handsome face about. "He can't!" she literally mocked.

"He can't, he can't, he can't!"--Sir Claude's gay emphasis wonderfully carried it off.

Mrs. Beale took it all in, yet she held her ground; on which Maisie addressed Mrs. Wix. "Shan't we lose the boat?"

"Yes, we shall lose the boat," Mrs. Wix remarked to Sir Claude.

Mrs. Beale meanwhile faced full at Maisie. "I don't know what to make of you!" she launched.

"Good-bye," said Maisie to Sir Claude.

"Good-bye, Maisie," Sir Claude answered.

Mrs. Beale came away from the door. "Goodbye!" she hurled at Maisie; then passed straight across the room and disappeared in the adjoining one.

Sir Claude had reached the other door and opened it. Mrs. Wix was already out. On the threshold Maisie paused; she put out her hand to her stepfather. He took it and held it a moment, and their eyes met as the eyes of those who have done for each other what they can. "Good-bye," he repeated.

"Good-bye." And Maisie followed Mrs. Wix.

They caught the steamer, which was just putting off, and, hustled across the gulf, found themselves on the deck so breathless and so scared that they gave up half the voyage to letting their emotion sink. It sank slowly and imperfectly; but at last, in mid-channel, surrounded by the quiet sea, Mrs. Wix had courage to revert. "I didn't look back, did you?"

"Yes. He wasn't there," said Maisie.

"Not on the balcony?"

Maisie waited a moment; then "He wasn't there" she simply said again.

Mrs. Wix also was silent a while. "He went to HER," she finally observed.

"Oh I know!" the child replied.

Mrs. Wix gave a sidelong look. She still had room for wonder at what Maisie knew.

What Maisie Knew - 53/53

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