What Maisie Knew, by Henry James

XXIX

Her sleep was drawn out, she instantly recognised lateness in the way her eyes opened to Mrs. Wix, erect, completely dressed, more dressed than ever, and gazing at her from the centre of the room. The next thing she was sitting straight up, wide awake with the fear of the hours of “abroad” that she might have lost. Mrs. Wix looked as if the day had already made itself felt, and the process of catching up with it began for Maisie in hearing her distinctly say: “My poor dear, he has come!”

“Sir Claude?” Maisie, clearing the little bed-rug with the width of her spring, felt the polished floor under her bare feet.

“He crossed in the night; he got in early.” Mrs. Wix’s head jerked stiffly backward. “He’s there.”

“And you’ve seen him?”

“No. He’s there — he’s there,” Mrs. Wix repeated. Her voice came out with a queer extinction that was not a voluntary drop, and she trembled so that it added to their common emotion. Visibly pale, they gazed at each other.

“Isn’t it too BEAUTIFUL?” Maisie panted back at her; a challenge with an answer to which, however, she was not ready at once. The term Maisie had used was a flash of diplomacy — to prevent at any rate Mrs. Wix’s using another. To that degree it was successful; there was only an appeal, strange and mute, in the white old face, which produced the effect of a want of decision greater than could by any stretch of optimism have been associated with her attitude toward what had happened. For Maisie herself indeed what had happened was oddly, as she could feel, less of a simple rapture than any arrival or return of the same supreme friend had ever been before. What had become overnight, what had become while she slept, of the comfortable faculty of gladness? She tried to wake it up a little wider by talking, by rejoicing, by plunging into water and into clothes, and she made out that it was ten o’clock, but also that Mrs. Wix had not yet breakfasted. The day before, at nine, they had had together a café complet in their sitting-room. Mrs. Wix on her side had evidently also a refuge to seek. She sought it in checking the precipitation of some of her pupil’s present steps, in recalling to her with an approach to sternness that of such preliminaries those embodied in a thorough use of soap should be the most thorough, and in throwing even a certain reprobation on the idea of hurrying into clothes for the sake of a mere stepfather. She took her in hand with a silent insistence; she reduced the process to sequences more definite than any it had known since the days of Moddle. Whatever it might be that had now, with a difference, begun to belong to Sir Claude’s presence was still after all compatible, for our young lady, with the instinct of dressing to see him with almost untidy haste. Mrs. Wix meanwhile luckily was not wholly directed to repression. “He’s there — he’s there!” she had said over several times. It was her answer to every invitation to mention how long she had been up and her motive for respecting so rigidly the slumber of her companion. It formed for some minutes her only account of the whereabouts of the others and her reason for not having yet seen them, as well as of the possibility of their presently being found in the salon.

“He’s there — he’s there!” she declared once more as she made, on the child, with an almost invidious tug, a strained undergarment “meet.”

“Do you mean he’s in the salon?” Maisie asked again.

“He’s WITH her,” Mrs. Wix desolately said. “He’s with her,” she reiterated.

“Do you mean in her own room?” Maisie continued.

She waited an instant. “God knows!”

Maisie wondered a little why, or how, God should know; this, however, delayed but an instant her bringing out: “Well, won’t she go back?”

“Go back? Never!”

“She’ll stay all the same?”

“All the more.”

“Then won’t Sir Claude go?” Maisie asked.

“Go back — if SHE doesn’t?” Mrs. Wix appeared to give this question the benefit of a minute’s thought. “Why should he have come — only to go back?”

Maisie produced an ingenious solution. “To MAKE her go. To take her.”

Mrs. Wix met it without a concession. “If he can make her go so easily, why should he have let her come?”

Maisie considered. “Oh just to see ME. She has a right.”

“Yes — she has a right.”

“She’s my mother!” Maisie tentatively tittered.

“Yes — she’s your mother.”

“Besides,” Maisie went on, “he didn’t let her come. He doesn’t like her coming, and if he doesn’t like it —”

Mrs. Wix took her up. “He must lump it — that’s what he must do! Your mother was right about him — I mean your real one. He has no strength. No — none at all.” She seemed more profoundly to muse. “He might have had some even with HER— I mean with her ladyship. He’s just a poor sunk slave,” she asserted with sudden energy.

Maisie wondered again. “A slave?”

“To his passions.”

She continued to wonder and even to be impressed; after which she went on: “But how do you know he’ll stay?”

“Because he likes us!”— and Mrs. Wix, with her emphasis of the word, whirled her charge round again to deal with posterior hooks. She had positively never shaken her so.

It was as if she quite shook something out of her. “But how will that help him if we — in spite of his liking! — don’t stay?”

“Do you mean if we go off and leave him with her? —” Mrs. Wix put the question to the back of her pupil’s head. “It WON’T help him. It will be his ruin. He’ll have got nothing. He’ll have lost everything. It will be his utter destruction, for he’s certain after a while to loathe her.”

“Then when he loathes her”— it was astonishing how she caught the idea —“he’ll just come right after us!” Maisie announced.

“Never.”

“Never?”

“She’ll keep him. She’ll hold him for ever.”

Maisie doubted. “When he ‘loathes’ her?”

“That won’t matter. She won’t loathe HIM. People don’t!” Mrs. Wix brought up.

“Some do. Mamma does,” Maisie contended.

“Mamma does NOT!” It was startling — her friend contradicted her flat. “She loves him — she adores him. A woman knows.” Mrs. Wix spoke not only as if Maisie were not a woman, but as if she would never be one. “I know!” she cried.

“Then why on earth has she left him?”

Mrs. Wix hesitated. “He hates HER. Don’t stoop so — lift up your hair. You know how I’m affected toward him,” she added with dignity; “but you must also know that I see clear.”

Maisie all this time was trying hard to do likewise. “Then if she has left him for that why shouldn’t Mrs. Beale leave him?”

“Because she’s not such a fool!”

“Not such a fool as mamma?”

“Precisely — if you WILL have it. Does it look like her leaving him?” Mrs. Wix enquired. She brooded again; then she went on with more intensity: “Do you want to know really and truly why? So that she may be his wretchedness and his punishment.”

“His punishment?”— this was more than as yet Maisie could quite accept. “For what?”

“For everything. That’s what will happen: he’ll be tied to her for ever. She won’t mind in the least his hating her, and she won’t hate him back. She’ll only hate US.”

“Us?” the child faintly echoed.

“She’ll hate YOU.”

“Me? Why, I brought them together!” Maisie resentfully cried.

“You brought them together.” There was a completeness in Mrs. Wix’s assent. “Yes; it was a pretty job. Sit down.” She began to brush her pupil’s hair and, as she took up the mass of it with some force of hand, went on with a sharp recall: “Your mother adored him at first — it might have lasted. But he began too soon with Mrs. Beale. As you say,” she pursued with a brisk application of the brush, “you brought them together.”

“I brought them together”— Maisie was ready to reaffirm it. She felt none the less for a moment at the bottom of a hole; then she seemed to see a way out. “But I didn’t bring mamma together —” She just faltered.

“With all those gentlemen?”— Mrs. Wix pulled her up. “No; it isn’t quite so bad as that.”

“I only said to the Captain”— Maisie had the quick memory of it —“that I hoped he at least (he was awfully nice!) would love her and keep her.”

“And even that wasn’t much harm,” threw in Mrs. Wix.

“It wasn’t much good,” Maisie was obliged to recognise. “She can’t bear him — not even a mite. She told me at Folkestone.”

Mrs. Wix suppressed a gasp; then after a bridling instant during which she might have appeared to deflect with difficulty from her odd consideration of Ida’s wrongs: “He was a nice sort of person for her to talk to you about!”

“Oh I LIKE him!” Maisie promptly rejoined; and at this, with an inarticulate sound and an inconsequence still more marked, her companion bent over and dealt her on the cheek a rapid peck which had the apparent intention of a kiss.

“Well, if her ladyship doesn’t agree with you, what does it only prove?” Mrs. Wix demanded in conclusion. “It proves that she’s fond of Sir Claude!”

Maisie, in the light of some of the evidence, reflected on that till her hair was finished, but when she at last started up she gave a sign of no very close embrace of it. She grasped at this moment Mrs. Wix’s arm. “He must have got his divorce!”

“Since day before yesterday? Don’t talk trash.”

This was spoken with an impatience which left the child nothing to reply; whereupon she sought her defence in a completely different relation to the fact. “Well, I knew he would come!”

“So did I; but not in twenty-four hours. I gave him a few days!” Mrs. Wix wailed.

Maisie, whom she had now released, looked at her with interest. “How many did SHE give him?”

Mrs. Wix faced her a moment; then as if with a bewildered sniff: “You had better ask her!” But she had no sooner uttered the words than she caught herself up. “Lord o’ mercy, how we talk!”

Maisie felt that however they talked she must see him, but she said nothing more for a time, a time during which she conscientiously finished dressing and Mrs. Wix also kept silence. It was as if they each had almost too much to think of, and even as if the child had the sense that her friend was watching her and seeing if she herself were watched. At last Mrs. Wix turned to the window and stood — sightlessly, as Maisie could guess — looking away. Then our young lady, before the glass, gave the supreme shake. “Well, I’m ready. And now to SEE him!”

Mrs. Wix turned round, but as if without having heard her. “It’s tremendously grave.” There were slow still tears behind the straighteners.

“It is — it is.” Maisie spoke as if she were now dressed quite up to the occasion; as if indeed with the last touch she had put on the judgement-cap. “I must see him immediately.”

“How can you see him if he doesn’t send for you?”

“Why can’t I go and find him?”

“Because you don’t know where he is.”

“Can’t I just look in the salon?” That still seemed simple to Maisie.

Mrs. Wix, however, instantly cut it off. “I wouldn’t have you look in the salon for all the world!” Then she explained a little: “The salon isn’t ours now.”

“Ours?”

“Yours and mine. It’s theirs.”

“Theirs?” Maisie, with her stare, continued to echo. “You mean they want to keep us out?”

Mrs. Wix faltered; she sank into a chair and, as Maisie had often enough seen her do before, covered her face with her hands. “They ought to, at least. The situation’s too monstrous!”

Maisie stood there a moment — she looked about the room. “I’ll go to him — I’ll find him.”

I won’t! I won’t go NEAR them!” cried Mrs. Wix.

“Then I’ll see him alone.” The child spied what she had been looking for — she possessed herself of her hat. “Perhaps I’ll take him out!” And with decision she quitted the room.

When she entered the salon it was empty, but at the sound of the opened door some one stirred on the balcony, and Sir Claude, stepping straight in, stood before her. He was in light fresh clothes and wore a straw hat with a bright ribbon; these things, besides striking her in themselves as the very promise of the grandest of grand tours, gave him a certain radiance and, as it were, a tropical ease; but such an effect only marked rather more his having stopped short and, for a longer minute than had ever at such a juncture elapsed, not opened his arms to her. His pause made her pause and enabled her to reflect that he must have been up some time, for there were no traces of breakfast; and that though it was so late he had rather markedly not caused her to be called to him. Had Mrs. Wix been right about their forfeiture of the salon? Was it all his now, all his and Mrs. Beale’s? Such an idea, at the rate her small thoughts throbbed, could only remind her of the way in which what had been hers hitherto was what was exactly most Mrs. Beale’s and his. It was strange to be standing there and greeting him across a gulf, for he had by this time spoken, smiled and said: “My dear child, my dear child!” but without coming any nearer. In a flash she saw he was different — more so than he knew or designed. The next minute indeed it was as if he caught an impression from her face: this made him hold out his hand. Then they met, he kissed her, he laughed, she thought he even blushed: something of his affection rang out as usual. “Here I am, you see, again — as I promised you.”

It was not as he had promised them — he had not promised them Mrs. Beale; but Maisie said nothing about that. What she said was simply: “I knew you had come. Mrs. Wix told me.”

“Oh yes. And where is she?”

“In her room. She got me up — she dressed me.”

Sir Claude looked at her up and down; a sweetness of mockery that she particularly loved came out in his face whenever he did that, and it was not wanting now. He raised his eyebrows and his arms to play at admiration; he was evidently after all disposed to be gay. “Got you up? — I should think so! She has dressed you most beautifully. Isn’t she coming?”

Maisie wondered if she had better tell. “She said not.”

“Doesn’t she want to see a poor devil?”

She looked about under the vibration of the way he described himself, and her eyes rested on the door of the room he had previously occupied. “Is Mrs. Beale in there?”

Sir Claude looked blankly at the same object. “I haven’t the least idea!”

“You haven’t seen her?”

“Not the tip of her nose.”

Maisie thought: there settled on her, in the light of his beautiful smiling eyes, the faintest purest coldest conviction that he wasn’t telling the truth. “She hasn’t welcomed you?”

“Not by a single sign.”

“Then where is she?”

Sir Claude laughed; he seemed both amused and surprised at the point she made of it. “I give it up!”

“Doesn’t she know you’ve come?”

He laughed again. “Perhaps she doesn’t care!”

Maisie, with an inspiration, pounced on his arm. “Has she GONE?”

He met her eyes and then she could see that his own were really much graver than his manner. “Gone?” She had flown to the door, but before she could raise her hand to knock he was beside her and had caught it. “Let her be. I don’t care about her. I want to see YOU.”

“Then she HASN’T gone?”

Maisie fell back with him. He still looked as if it were a joke, but the more she saw of him the more she could make out that he was troubled. “It wouldn’t be like her!”

She stood wondering at him. “Did you want her to come?”

“How can you suppose —?” He put it to her candidly. “We had an immense row over it.”

“Do you mean you’ve quarrelled?”

Sir Claude was at a loss. “What has she told you?”

“That I’m hers as much as yours. That she represents papa.”

His gaze struck away through the open window and up to the sky; she could hear him rattle in his trousers-pockets his money or his keys. “Yes — that’s what she keeps saying.” It gave him for a moment an air that was almost helpless.

“You say you don’t care about her,” Maisie went on. “DO you mean you’ve quarrelled?”

“We do nothing in life but quarrel.”

He rose before her, as he said this, so soft and fair, so rich, in spite of what might worry him, in restored familiarities, that it gave a bright blur to the meaning — to what would otherwise perhaps have been the palpable promise — of the words.

“Oh YOUR quarrels!” she exclaimed with discouragement.

“I assure you hers are quite fearful!”

“I don’t speak of hers. I speak of yours.”

“Ah don’t do it till I’ve had my coffee! You’re growing up clever,” he added. Then he said: “I suppose you’ve breakfasted?”

“Oh no — I’ve had nothing.”

“Nothing in your room?”— he was all compunction. “My dear old man! — we’ll breakfast then together.” He had one of his happy thoughts. “I say — we’ll go out.”

“That was just what I hoped. I’ve brought my hat.”

“You ARE clever! We’ll go to a café.” Maisie was already at the door; he glanced round the room. “A moment — my stick.” But there appeared to be no stick. “No matter; I left it — oh!” He remembered with an odd drop and came out.

“You left it in London?” she asked as they went downstairs.

“Yes — in London: fancy!”

“You were in such a hurry to come,” Maisie explained.

He had his arm round her. “That must have been the reason.”

Halfway down he stopped short again, slapping his leg. “And poor Mrs. Wix?”

Maisie’s face just showed a shadow. “Do you want her to come?”

“Dear no — I want to see you alone.”

“That’s the way I want to see YOU!” she replied. “Like before.”

“Like before!” he gaily echoed. “But I mean has she had her coffee?”

“No, nothing.”

“Then I’ll send it up to her. Madame!” He had already, at the foot of the stair, called out to the stout patronne, a lady who turned to him from the bustling, breezy hall a countenance covered with fresh matutinal powder and a bosom as capacious as the velvet shelf of a chimneypiece, over which her round white face, framed in its golden frizzle, might have figured as a showy clock. He ordered, with particular recommendations, Mrs. Wix’s repast, and it was a charm to hear his easy brilliant French: even his companion’s ignorance could measure the perfection of it. The patronne, rubbing her hands and breaking in with high swift notes as into a florid duet, went with him to the street, and while they talked a moment longer Maisie remembered what Mrs. Wix had said about every one’s liking him. It came out enough through the morning powder, it came out enough in the heaving bosom, how the landlady liked him. He had evidently ordered something lovely for Mrs. Wix. “Et bien soigné, n’est-ce-pas?“

“Soyez tranquille“— the patronne beamed upon him. “Et pour Madame?“

“Madame?“ he echoed — it just pulled him up a little.

“Rien encore?“

Rien encore. Come, Maisie.” She hurried along with him, but on the way to the café he said nothing.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38