Versione ebook di Readme.it powered by Softwarehouse.it
THE TURN OF THE SCREW
By Henry James
The story had held usround the firesufficiently breathless
but except the obvious remark that it was gruesomeason Christmas
Eve in an old housea strange tale should essentially be
I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it
was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen
on a child. The caseI may mentionwas that of an apparition
in just such an old house as had gathered us for the occasion--
an appearanceof a dreadful kindto a little boy sleeping
in the room with his mother and waking her up in the terror of it;
waking her not to dissipate his dread and soothe him to sleep again
but to encounter alsoherselfbefore she had succeeded in doing so
the same sight that had shaken him. It was this observation
that drew from Douglas--not immediatelybut later in the evening--
a reply that had the interesting consequence to which I call attention.
Someone else told a story not particularly effectivewhich I saw
he was not following. This I took for a sign that he had himself
something to produce and that we should only have to wait.
We waited in fact till two nights later; but that same evening
before we scatteredhe brought out what was in his mind.
I quite agree--in regard to Griffin's ghost, or whatever it was--
that its appearing first to the little boy, at so tender an age,
adds a particular touch. But it's not the first occurrence
of its charming kind that I know to have involved a child.
If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw,
what do you say to TWO children--?
We say, of course,somebody exclaimedthat they give two turns!
Also that we want to hear about them.
I can see Douglas there before the fireto which he had got up
to present his backlooking down at his interlocutor with his
hands in his pockets. "Nobody but metill nowhas ever heard.
It's quite too horrible." Thisnaturallywas declared by several
voices to give the thing the utmost priceand our friend
with quiet artprepared his triumph by turning his eyes
over the rest of us and going on: "It's beyond everything.
Nothing at all that I know touches it."
For sheer terror?I remember asking.
He seemed to say it was not so simple as that; to be really at a loss how to
qualify it. He passed his hand over his eyesmade a little wincing grimace.
Oh, how delicious!cried one of the women.
He took no notice of her; he looked at mebut as ifinstead of mehe saw
what he spoke of. "For general uncanny ugliness and horror and pain."
Well then,I saidjust sit right down and begin.
He turned round to the firegave a kick to a logwatched it
an instant. Then as he faced us again: "I can't begin.
I shall have to send to town." There was a unanimous groan
at thisand much reproach; after whichin his preoccupied way
he explained. "The story's written. It's in a locked drawer--
it has not been out for years. I could write to my man and
enclose the key; he could send down the packet as he finds it."
It was to me in particular that he appeared to propound this--
appeared almost to appeal for aid not to hesitate.
He had broken a thickness of icethe formation of many a winter;
had had his reasons for a long silence. The others resented
postponementbut it was just his scruples that charmed me.
I adjured him to write by the first post and to agree with us
for an early hearing; then I asked him if the experience
in question had been his own. To this his answer was prompt.
Oh, thank God, no!
And is the record yours? You took the thing down?
Nothing but the impression. I took that HERE--he tapped his heart.
I've never lost it.
Then your manuscript--?
Is in old, faded ink, and in the most beautiful hand.He hung
fire again. "A woman's. She has been dead these twenty years.
She sent me the pages in question before she died."
They were all listening nowand of course there was somebody
to be archor at any rate to draw the inference. But if he put
the inference by without a smile it was also without irritation.
She was a most charming person, but she was ten years older
than I. She was my sister's governess,he quietly said.
She was the most agreeable woman I've ever known in her position;
she would have been worthy of any whatever. It was long ago,
and this episode was long before. I was at Trinity,
and I found her at home on my coming down the second summer.
I was much there that year--it was a beautiful one; and we had,
in her off-hours, some strolls and talks in the garden--
talks in which she struck me as awfully clever and nice.
Oh yes; don't grin: I liked her extremely and am glad to this day
to think she liked me, too. If she hadn't she wouldn't have told me.
She had never told anyone. It wasn't simply that she said so,
but that I knew she hadn't. I was sure; I could see.
You'll easily judge why when you hear.
Because the thing had been such a scare?
He continued to fix me. "You'll easily judge he repeated:
I fixed himtoo. "I see. She was in love."
He laughed for the first time. "You ARE acute.
Yesshe was in love. That isshe had been. That came out--
she couldn't tell her story without its coming out.
I saw itand she saw I saw it; but neither of us spoke of it.
I remember the time and the place--the corner of the lawn
the shade of the great beeches and the longhot summer afternoon.
It wasn't a scene for a shudder; but oh--!" He quitted the fire
and dropped back into his chair.
You'll receive the packet Thursday morning?I inquired.
Probably not till the second post.
Well then; after dinner--
You'll all meet me here?He looked us round again. "Isn't anybody going?"
It was almost the tone of hope.
Everybody will stay!
_I_ will--and "_I_ will!" cried the ladies whose departure
had been fixed. Mrs. Griffinhoweverexpressed the need
for a little more light. "Who was it she was in love with?"
The story will tell,I took upon myself to reply.
Oh, I can't wait for the story!
The story WON'T tell,said Douglas; "not in any literalvulgar way."
More's the pity, then. That's the only way I ever understand.
Won't YOU tell, Douglas?somebody else inquired.
He sprang to his feet again. "Yes--tomorrow. Now I must go to bed.
Good night." And quickly catching up a candlestickhe left
us slightly bewildered. From our end of the great brown hall
we heard his step on the stair; whereupon Mrs. Griffin spoke.
Well, if I don't know who she was in love with, I know
who HE was.
She was ten years older,said her husband.
Raison de plus--at that age! But it's rather nice,
his long reticence.
Forty years!Griffin put in.
With this outbreak at last.
The outbreak,I returnedwill make a tremendous occasion
of Thursday night;and everyone so agreed with me that
in the light of itwe lost all attention for everything else.
The last storyhowever incomplete and like the mere opening
of a serialhad been told; we handshook and "candlestuck
as somebody said, and went to bed.
I knew the next day that a letter containing the key had,
by the first post, gone off to his London apartments;
but in spite of--or perhaps just on account of--the eventual
diffusion of this knowledge we quite let him alone till
after dinner, till such an hour of the evening, in fact,
as might best accord with the kind of emotion on which our
hopes were fixed. Then he became as communicative as we could
desire and indeed gave us his best reason for being so.
We had it from him again before the fire in the hall,
as we had had our mild wonders of the previous night.
It appeared that the narrative he had promised to read us really
required for a proper intelligence a few words of prologue.
Let me say here distinctly, to have done with it,
that this narrative, from an exact transcript of my own made
much later, is what I shall presently give. Poor Douglas,
before his death--when it was in sight--committed to me
the manuscript that reached him on the third of these days
and that, on the same spot, with immense effect, he began
to read to our hushed little circle on the night of the fourth.
The departing ladies who had said they would stay didn't,
of course, thank heaven, stay: they departed, in consequence
of arrangements made, in a rage of curiosity, as they professed,
produced by the touches with which he had already worked us up.
But that only made his little final auditory more compact and select,
kept it, round the hearth, subject to a common thrill.
The first of these touches conveyed that the written statement
took up the tale at a point after it had, in a manner, begun.
The fact to be in possession of was therefore that his old friend,
the youngest of several daughters of a poor country parson,
had, at the age of twenty, on taking service for the first time
in the schoolroom, come up to London, in trepidation, to answer
in person an advertisement that had already placed her in brief
correspondence with the advertiser. This person proved, on her
presenting herself, for judgment, at a house in Harley Street,
that impressed her as vast and imposing--this prospective
patron proved a gentleman, a bachelor in the prime of life,
such a figure as had never risen, save in a dream or an old novel,
before a fluttered, anxious girl out of a Hampshire vicarage.
One could easily fix his type; it never, happily, dies out.
He was handsome and bold and pleasant, offhand and gay and kind.
He struck her, inevitably, as gallant and splendid,
but what took her most of all and gave her the courage she
afterward showed was that he put the whole thing to her as
a kind of favor, an obligation he should gratefully incur.
She conceived him as rich, but as fearfully extravagant--
saw him all in a glow of high fashion, of good looks,
of expensive habits, of charming ways with women.
He had for his own town residence a big house filled
with the spoils of travel and the trophies of the chase;
but it was to his country home, an old family place in Essex,
that he wished her immediately to proceed.
He had been left, by the death of their parents in India,
guardian to a small nephew and a small niece, children of a younger,
a military brother, whom he had lost two years before.
These children were, by the strangest of chances for a man
in his position--a lone man without the right sort of
experience or a grain of patience--very heavily on his hands.
It had all been a great worry and, on his own part doubtless,
a series of blunders, but he immensely pitied the poor chicks
and had done all he could; had in particular sent them
down to his other house, the proper place for them being
of course the country, and kept them there, from the first,
with the best people he could find to look after them,
parting even with his own servants to wait on them and going
down himself, whenever he might, to see how they were doing.
The awkward thing was that they had practically no other
relations and that his own affairs took up all his time.
He had put them in possession of Bly, which was healthy and secure,
and had placed at the head of their little establishment--
but below stairs only--an excellent woman, Mrs. Grose,
whom he was sure his visitor would like and who had formerly been
maid to his mother. She was now housekeeper and was also acting
for the time as superintendent to the little girl, of whom,
without children of her own, she was, by good luck, extremely fond.
There were plenty of people to help, but of course the young lady
who should go down as governess would be in supreme authority.
She would also have, in holidays, to look after the small boy,
who had been for a term at school--young as he was to be sent,
but what else could be done?--and who, as the holidays were
about to begin, would be back from one day to the other.
There had been for the two children at first a young lady
whom they had had the misfortune to lose. She had done
for them quite beautifully--she was a most respectable person--
till her death, the great awkwardness of which had, precisely,
left no alternative but the school for little Miles.
Mrs. Grose, since then, in the way of manners and things,
had done as she could for Flora; and there were, further, a cook,
a housemaid, a dairywoman, an old pony, an old groom,
and an old gardener, all likewise thoroughly respectable.
So far had Douglas presented his picture when someone put a question.
And what did the former governess die of?--of so much respectability?"
Our friend's answer was prompt. "That will come out.
I don't anticipate."
Excuse me--I thought that was just what you ARE doing.
In her successor's place,I suggestedI should have wished to learn
if the office brought with it--
Necessary danger to life?Douglas completed my thought.
She did wish to learn, and she did learn. You shall hear tomorrow
what she learned. Meanwhile, of course, the prospect struck her
as slightly grim. She was young, untried, nervous: it was a vision
of serious duties and little company, of really great loneliness.
She hesitated--took a couple of days to consult and consider.
But the salary offered much exceeded her modest measure,
and on a second interview she faced the music, she engaged.
And Douglaswith thismade a pause thatfor the benefit
of the companymoved me to throw in--
The moral of which was of course the seduction exercised by the splendid
young man. She succumbed to it.
He got up andas he had done the night beforewent to the fire
gave a stir to a log with his footthen stood a moment with his back to us.
She saw him only twice.
Yes, but that's just the beauty of her passion.
A little to my surpriseon thisDouglas turned round to me.
It WAS the beauty of it. There were others,he went on
who hadn't succumbed. He told her frankly all his difficulty--
that for several applicants the conditions had been prohibitive.
They were, somehow, simply afraid. It sounded dull--it sounded strange;
and all the more so because of his main condition.
That she should never trouble him--but never, never:
neither appeal nor complain nor write about anything;
only meet all questions herself, receive all moneys from
his solicitor, take the whole thing over and let him alone.
She promised to do this, and she mentioned to me that when,
for a moment, disburdened, delighted, he held her hand,
thanking her for the sacrifice, she already felt rewarded.
But was that all her reward?one of the ladies asked.
She never saw him again.
Oh!said the lady; whichas our friend immediately left us again
was the only other word of importance contributed to the subject till
the next nightby the corner of the hearthin the best chair
he opened the faded red cover of a thin old-fashioned gilt-edged album.
The whole thing took indeed more nights than onebut on the first occasion
the same lady put another question. "What is your title?"
I haven't one.
Oh, _I_ have!I said. But Douglaswithout heeding me
had begun to read with a fine clearness that was like a rendering
to the ear of the beauty of his author's hand.
I remember the whole beginning as a succession of flights and drops
a little seesaw of the right throbs and the wrong. After risingin town
to meet his appealI had at all events a couple of very bad days--
found myself doubtful againfelt indeed sure I had made a mistake.
In this state of mind I spent the long hours of bumping
swinging coach that carried me to the stopping place at which I
was to be met by a vehicle from the house. This convenience
I was toldhad been orderedand I foundtoward the close
of the June afternoona commodious fly in waiting for me.
Driving at that houron a lovely daythrough a country to which
the summer sweetness seemed to offer me a friendly welcome
my fortitude mounted afresh andas we turned into the avenue
encountered a reprieve that was probably but a proof of the point
to which it had sunk. I suppose I had expectedor had dreaded
something so melancholy that what greeted me was a good surprise.
I remember as a most pleasant impression the broadclear front
its open windows and fresh curtains and the pair of maids
looking out; I remember the lawn and the bright flowers and
the crunch of my wheels on the gravel and the clustered treetops
over which the rooks circled and cawed in the golden sky.
The scene had a greatness that made it a different affair from
my own scant homeand there immediately appeared at the door
with a little girl in her handa civil person who dropped me as decent
a curtsy as if I had been the mistress or a distinguished visitor.
I had received in Harley Street a narrower notion of the place
and thatas I recalled itmade me think the proprietor still
more of a gentlemansuggested that what I was to enjoy might be
something beyond his promise.
I had no drop again till the next dayfor I was carried
triumphantly through the following hours by my introduction
to the younger of my pupils. The little girl who accompanied
Mrs. Grose appeared to me on the spot a creature so charming
as to make it a great fortune to have to do with her.
She was the most beautiful child I had ever seenand I afterward
wondered that my employer had not told me more of her.
I slept little that night--I was too much excited;
and this astonished metooI recollectremained with me
adding to my sense of the liberality with which I was treated.
The largeimpressive roomone of the best in the housethe great
state bedas I almost felt itthe fullfigured draperies
the long glasses in whichfor the first timeI could see
myself from head to footall struck me--like the extraordinary
charm of my small charge--as so many things thrown in.
It was thrown in as wellfrom the first momentthat I
should get on with Mrs. Grose in a relation over which
on my wayin the coachI fear I had rather brooded.
The only thing indeed that in this early outlook might have
made me shrink again was the clear circumstance of her being
so glad to see me. I perceived within half an hour that she
was so glad--stoutsimpleplaincleanwholesome woman-as
to be positively on her guard against showing it too much.
I wondered even then a little why she should wish not to show it
and thatwith reflectionwith suspicionmight of course
have made me uneasy.
But it was a comfort that there could be no uneasiness in a
connection with anything so beatific as the radiant image of my
little girlthe vision of whose angelic beauty had probably
more than anything else to do with the restlessness that
before morningmade me several times rise and wander
about my room to take in the whole picture and prospect;
to watchfrom my open windowthe faint summer dawn
to look at such portions of the rest of the house as I
could catchand to listenwhilein the fading dusk
the first birds began to twitterfor the possible recurrence
of a sound or twoless natural and not withoutbut within
that I had fancied I heard. There had been a moment when I
believed I recognizedfaint and farthe cry of a child;
there had been another when I found myself just consciously
starting as at the passagebefore my doorof a light footstep.
But these fancies were not marked enough not to be thrown off
and it is only in the lightor the gloomI should rather say
of other and subsequent matters that they now come back to me.
To watchteachformlittle Flora would too evidently
be the making of a happy and useful life. It had been
agreed between us downstairs that after this first occasion
I should have her as a matter of course at nighther small
white bed being already arrangedto that endin my room.
What I had undertaken was the whole care of herand she
had remainedjust this last timewith Mrs. Grose only as
an effect of our consideration for my inevitable strangeness
and her natural timidity. In spite of this timidity-which
the child herselfin the oddest way in the world
had been perfectly frank and brave aboutallowing it
without a sign of uncomfortable consciousnesswith the deep
sweet serenity indeed of one of Raphael's holy infants
to be discussedto be imputed to herand to determine us-I
feel quite sure she would presently like me. It was part
of what I already liked Mrs. Grose herself forthe pleasure I
could see her feel in my admiration and wonder as I sat at supper
with four tall candles and with my pupilin a high chair and
a bibbrightly facing mebetween themover bread and milk.
There were naturally things that in Flora's presence could
pass between us only as prodigious and gratified looks
obscure and roundabout allusions.
And the little boy--does he look like her? Is he too so very remarkable?
One wouldn't flatter a child. "OhmissMOST remarkable.
If you think well of this one!"--and she stood there with a plate
in her handbeaming at our companionwho looked from one of us
to the other with placid heavenly eyes that contained nothing
to check us.
Yes; if I do--?
You WILL be carried away by the little gentleman!
Well, that, I think, is what I came for--to be carried away.
I'm afraid, however,I remember feeling the impulse to add
I'm rather easily carried away. I was carried away in London!
I can still see Mrs. Grose's broad face as she took this in.
In Harley Street?
In Harley Street.
Well, miss, you're not the first--and you won't be the last.
Oh, I've no pretension,I could laughto being the only one.
My other pupil, at any rate, as I understand, comes back tomorrow?
Not tomorrow--Friday, miss. He arrives, as you did, by the coach,
under care of the guard, and is to be met by the same carriage.
I forthwith expressed that the proper as well as the pleasant and
friendly thing would be therefore that on the arrival of the public
conveyance I should be in waiting for him with his little sister;
an idea in which Mrs. Grose concurred so heartily that I somehow
took her manner as a kind of comforting pledge--never falsified
thank heaven!--that we should on every question be quite at one.
Ohshe was glad I was there!
What I felt the next day wasI supposenothing that could
be fairly called a reaction from the cheer of my arrival;
it was probably at the most only a slight oppression produced
by a fuller measure of the scaleas I walked round them
gazed up at themtook them inof my new circumstances.
They hadas it werean extent and mass for which I had not
been prepared and in the presence of which I found myself
freshlya little scared as well as a little proud.
Lessonsin this agitationcertainly suffered some delay;
I reflected that my first duty wasby the gentlest arts I
could contriveto win the child into the sense of knowing me.
I spent the day with her out-of-doors; I arranged with her
to her great satisfactionthat it should be sheshe only
who might show me the place. She showed it step by step
and room by room and secret by secretwith drolldelightful
childish talk about it and with the resultin half an hour
of our becoming immense friends. Young as she wasI was struck
throughout our little tourwith her confidence and courage
with the wayin empty chambers and dull corridorson crooked
staircases that made me pause and even on the summit of an old
machicolated square tower that made me dizzyher morning music
her disposition to tell me so many more things than she asked
rang out and led me on. I have not seen Bly since the day
I left itand I daresay that to my older and more informed
eyes it would now appear sufficiently contracted. But as my
little conductresswith her hair of gold and her frock of blue
danced before me round corners and pattered down passages
I had the view of a castle of romance inhabited by a rosy sprite
such a place as would somehowfor diversion of the young idea
take all color out of storybooks and fairytales.
Wasn't it just a storybook over which I had fallen adoze
and adream? No; it was a biguglyantiquebut convenient house
embodying a few features of a building still olderhalf-replaced and
half-utilizedin which I had the fancy of our being almost
as lost as a handful of passengers in a great drifting ship.
WellI wasstrangelyat the helm!
This came home to me whentwo days laterI drove over
with Flora to meetas Mrs. Grose saidthe little gentleman;
and all the more for an incident thatpresenting itself
the second eveninghad deeply disconcerted me.
The first day had beenon the wholeas I have expressed
reassuring; but I was to see it wind up in keen apprehension.
The postbagthat evening--it came late--contained a letter
for mewhichhoweverin the hand of my employer
I found to be composed but of a few words enclosing another
addressed to himselfwith a seal still unbroken. "ThisI recognize
is from the headmasterand the headmaster's an awful bore.
Read himplease; deal with him; but mind you don't report.
Not a word. I'm off!" I broke the seal with a great effort--
so great a one that I was a long time coming to it;
took the unopened missive at last up to my room and only
attacked it just before going to bed. I had better have let it
wait till morningfor it gave me a second sleepless night.
With no counsel to takethe next dayI was full of distress;
and it finally got so the better of me that I determined
to open myself at least to Mrs. Grose.
What does it mean? The child's dismissed his school.
She gave me a look that I remarked at the moment; thenvisibly
with a quick blanknessseemed to try to take it back.
But aren't they all--?
Sent home--yes. But only for the holidays. Miles may never go
back at all.
Consciouslyunder my attentionshe reddened. "They won't take him?"
They absolutely decline.
At this she raised her eyeswhich she had turned from me;
I saw them fill with good tears. "What has he done?"
I hesitated; then I judged best simply to hand her my letter--
whichhoweverhad the effect of making herwithout taking it
simply put her hands behind her. She shook her head sadly.
Such things are not for me, miss.
My counselor couldn't read! I winced at my mistakewhich I
attenuated as I couldand opened my letter again to repeat it
to her; thenfaltering in the act and folding it up once more
I put it back in my pocket. "Is he really BAD?"
The tears were still in her eyes. "Do the gentlemen say so?"
They go into no particulars. They simply express their regret that it
should be impossible to keep him. That can have only one meaning.
Mrs. Grose listened with dumb emotion; she forbore to ask me what this
meaning might be; so thatpresentlyto put the thing with some coherence
and with the mere aid of her presence to my own mindI went on:
That he's an injury to the others.
At thiswith one of the quick turns of simple folkshe suddenly flamed up.
Master Miles! HIM an injury?
There was such a flood of good faith in it thatthough I had not yet
seen the childmy very fears made me jump to the absurdity of the idea.
I found myselfto meet my friend the betteroffering it
on the spotsarcastically. "To his poor little innocent mates!"
It's too dreadful,cried Mrs. Groseto say such cruel things!
Why, he's scarce ten years old.
Yes, yes; it would be incredible.
She was evidently grateful for such a profession. "See himmissfirst.
THEN believe it!" I felt forthwith a new impatience to see him;
it was the beginning of a curiosity thatfor all the next hours
was to deepen almost to pain. Mrs. Grose was awareI could judge
of what she had produced in meand she followed it up with assurance.
You might as well believe it of the little lady. Bless her,
she added the next moment--"LOOK at her!"
I turned and saw that Florawhomten minutes beforeI had established
in the schoolroom with a sheet of white papera penciland a copy
of nice "round o's now presented herself to view at the open door.
She expressed in her little way an extraordinary detachment from
disagreeable duties, looking to me, however, with a great childish light
that seemed to offer it as a mere result of the affection she had conceived
for my person, which had rendered necessary that she should follow me.
I needed nothing more than this to feel the full force of Mrs. Grose's
comparison, and, catching my pupil in my arms, covered her with kisses
in which there was a sob of atonement.
Nonetheless, the rest of the day I watched for further occasion
to approach my colleague, especially as, toward evening,
I began to fancy she rather sought to avoid me. I overtook her,
I remember, on the staircase; we went down together, and at the
bottom I detained her, holding her there with a hand on her arm.
I take what you said to me at noon as a declaration that
YOU'VE never known him to be bad."
She threw back her head; she had clearlyby this time
and very honestlyadopted an attitude. "Ohnever known him--
I don't pretend THAT!"
I was upset again. "Then you HAVE known him--?"
Yes indeed, miss, thank God!
On reflection I accepted this. "You mean that a boy who never is--?"
Is no boy for ME!
I held her tighter. "You like them with the spirit to be naughty?"
Thenkeeping pace with her answerSo do I!I eagerly brought out.
But not to the degree to contaminate--
To contaminate?--my big word left her at a loss.
I explained it. "To corrupt."
She staredtaking my meaning in; but it produced in her an odd laugh.
Are you afraid he'll corrupt YOU?She put the question with such a fine
bold humor thatwith a laugha little silly doubtlessto match her own
I gave way for the time to the apprehension of ridicule.
But the next dayas the hour for my drive approachedI cropped
up in another place. "What was the lady who was here before?"
The last governess? She was also young and pretty--
almost as young and almost as pretty, miss, even as you.
Ah, then, I hope her youth and her beauty helped her!
I recollect throwing off. "He seems to like us young and pretty!"
Oh, he DID,Mrs. Grose assented: "it was the way he liked everyone!"
She had no sooner spoken indeed than she caught herself up.
I mean that's HIS way--the master's.
I was struck. "But of whom did you speak first?"
She looked blankbut she colored. "Whyof HIM."
Of the master?
Of who else?
There was so obviously no one else that the next moment I
had lost my impression of her having accidentally said more
than she meant; and I merely asked what I wanted to know.
Did SHE see anything in the boy--?
That wasn't right? She never told me.
I had a scruplebut I overcame it. "Was she careful--particular?"
Mrs. Grose appeared to try to be conscientious.
About some things--yes.
But not about all?
Again she considered. "Wellmiss--she's gone.
I won't tell tales."
I quite understand your feeling,I hastened to reply; but I thought it
after an instantnot opposed to this concession to pursue:
Did she die here?
No--she went off.
I don't know what there was in this brevity of Mrs. Grose's that struck
me as ambiguous. "Went off to die?" Mrs. Grose looked straight
out of the windowbut I felt thathypotheticallyI had a right
to know what young persons engaged for Bly were expected to do.
She was taken ill, you mean, and went home?
She was not taken ill, so far as appeared, in this house.
She left it, at the end of the year, to go home, as she said,
for a short holiday, to which the time she had put in had
certainly given her a right. We had then a young woman--
a nursemaid who had stayed on and who was a good girl and clever;
and SHE took the children altogether for the interval.
But our young lady never came back, and at the very moment I
was expecting her I heard from the master that she was dead.
I turned this over. "But of what?"
He never told me! But please, miss,said Mrs. Grose
I must get to my work.
Her thus turning her back on me was fortunately notfor my just
preoccupationsa snub that could check the growth of our mutual esteem.
We metafter I had brought home little Milesmore intimately
than ever on the ground of my stupefactionmy general emotion:
so monstrous was I then ready to pronounce it that such a child
as had now been revealed to me should be under an interdict.
I was a little late on the sceneand I feltas he stood wistfully
looking out for me before the door of the inn at which the coach had
put him downthat I had seen himon the instantwithout and within
in the great glow of freshnessthe same positive fragrance of purity
in which I hadfrom the first momentseen his little sister.
He was incredibly beautifuland Mrs. Grose had put her finger on it:
everything but a sort of passion of tenderness for him was swept away
by his presence. What I then and there took him to my heart for was
something divine that I have never found to the same degree in any child--
his indescribable little air of knowing nothing in the world but love.
It would have been impossible to carry a bad name with a greater
sweetness of innocenceand by the time I had got back to Bly with him
I remained merely bewildered--so farthat isas I was not outraged--
by the sense of the horrible letter locked up in my roomin a drawer.
As soon as I could compass a private word with Mrs. Grose I declared
to her that it was grotesque.
She promptly understood me. "You mean the cruel charge--?"
It doesn't live an instant. My dear woman, LOOK at him!
She smiled at my pretention to have discovered his charm.
I assure you, miss, I do nothing else! What will you say, then?
she immediately added.
In answer to the letter?I had made up my mind. "Nothing."
And to his uncle?
I was incisive. "Nothing."
And to the boy himself?
I was wonderful. "Nothing."
She gave with her apron a great wipe to her mouth. "Then I'll stand by you.
We'll see it out."
We'll see it out!I ardently echoedgiving her my hand to make
it a vow.
She held me there a momentthen whisked up her apron again with her
detached hand. "Would you mindmissif I used the freedom--"
To kiss me? No!I took the good creature in my arms andafter we
had embraced like sistersfelt still more fortified and indignant.
Thisat all eventswas for the time: a time so full that
as I recall the way it wentit reminds me of all the art
I now need to make it a little distinct. What I look
back at with amazement is the situation I accepted.
I had undertakenwith my companionto see it outand I was
under a charmapparentlythat could smooth away the extent
and the far and difficult connections of such an effort.
I was lifted aloft on a great wave of infatuation and pity.
I found it simplein my ignorancemy confusionand perhaps
my conceitto assume that I could deal with a boy whose
education for the world was all on the point of beginning.
I am unable even to remember at this day what proposal I framed
for the end of his holidays and the resumption of his studies.
Lessons with meindeedthat charming summerwe all had
a theory that he was to have; but I now feel thatfor weeks
the lessons must have been rather my own. I learned something--
at firstcertainly--that had not been one of the teachings of
my smallsmothered life; learned to be amusedand even amusing
and not to think for the morrow. It was the first time
in a mannerthat I had known space and air and freedom
all the music of summer and all the mystery of nature.
And then there was consideration--and consideration was sweet.
Ohit was a trap--not designedbut deep--to my imagination
to my delicacyperhaps to my vanity; to whateverin me
was most excitable. The best way to picture it all is to say
that I was off my guard. They gave me so little trouble--
they were of a gentleness so extraordinary. I used to speculate--
but even this with a dim disconnectedness--as to how the rough future
(for all futures are rough!) would handle them and might bruise them.
They had the bloom of health and happiness; and yet
as if I had been in charge of a pair of little grandees
of princes of the bloodfor whom everythingto be right
would have to be enclosed and protectedthe only form that
in my fancythe afteryears could take for them was that of
a romantica really royal extension of the garden and the park.
It may beof courseabove allthat what suddenly broke
into this gives the previous time a charm of stillness--
that hush in which something gathers or crouches.
The change was actually like the spring of a beast.
In the first weeks the days were long; they oftenat their finest
gave me what I used to call my own hourthe hour whenfor my pupils
teatime and bedtime having come and goneI hadbefore my final retirement
a small interval alone. Much as I liked my companionsthis hour was
the thing in the day I liked most; and I liked it best of all when
as the light faded--or ratherI should saythe day lingered and the last
calls of the last birds soundedin a flushed skyfrom the old trees--
I could take a turn into the grounds and enjoyalmost with a sense
of property that amused and flattered methe beauty and dignity of
the place. It was a pleasure at these moments to feel myself tranquil
and justified; doubtlessperhapsalso to reflect that by my discretion
my quiet good sense and general high proprietyI was giving pleasure--
if he ever thought of it!--to the person to whose pressure I had responded.
What I was doing was what he had earnestly hoped and directly asked of me
and that I COULDafter alldo it proved even a greater joy than I
had expected. I daresay I fancied myselfin shorta remarkable young
woman and took comfort in the faith that this would more publicly appear.
WellI needed to be remarkable to offer a front to the remarkable things
that presently gave their first sign.
It was plumpone afternoonin the middle of my very hour:
the children were tucked awayand I had come out for my stroll.
One of the thoughts thatas I don't in the least shrink now
from notingused to be with me in these wanderings was that it
would be as charming as a charming story suddenly to meet someone.
Someone would appear there at the turn of a path and would stand
before me and smile and approve. I didn't ask more than that--
I only asked that he should KNOW; and the only way to be sure he knew
would be to see itand the kind light of itin his handsome face.
That was exactly present to me--by which I mean the face was--
whenon the first of these occasionsat the end of a long
June dayI stopped short on emerging from one of the plantations
and coming into view of the house. What arrested me on the spot--
and with a shock much greater than any vision had allowed for--
was the sense that my imagination hadin a flashturned real.
He did stand there!--but high upbeyond the lawn and at the very top of
the tower to whichon that first morninglittle Flora had conducted me.
This tower was one of a pair--squareincongruouscrenelated structures--
that were distinguishedfor some reasonthough I could see
little differenceas the new and the old. They flanked opposite
ends of the house and were probably architectural absurdities
redeemed in a measure indeed by not being wholly disengaged nor
of a height too pretentiousdatingin their gingerbread antiquity
from a romantic revival that was already a respectable past.
I admired themhad fancies about themfor we could all profit
in a degreeespecially when they loomed through the dusk
by the grandeur of their actual battlements; yet it was not at
such an elevation that the figure I had so often invoked seemed
most in place.
It produced in methis figurein the clear twilightI remember
two distinct gasps of emotionwhich weresharplythe shock
of my first and that of my second surprise. My second was a
violent perception of the mistake of my first: the man who met
my eyes was not the person I had precipitately supposed.
There came to me thus a bewilderment of vision of which
after these yearsthere is no living view that I can hope to give.
An unknown man in a lonely place is a permitted object of fear
to a young woman privately bred; and the figure that faced
me was--a few more seconds assured me--as little anyone
else I knew as it was the image that had been in my mind.
I had not seen it in Harley Street--I had not seen it anywhere.
The placemoreoverin the strangest way in the worldhad
on the instantand by the very fact of its appearance
become a solitude. To me at leastmaking my statement
here with a deliberation with which I have never made it
the whole feeling of the moment returns. It was as if
while I took in--what I did take in--all the rest of the scene
had been stricken with death. I can hear againas I write
the intense hush in which the sounds of evening dropped.
The rooks stopped cawing in the golden skyand the friendly
hour lostfor the minuteall its voice. But there was no
other change in natureunless indeed it were a change that I
saw with a stranger sharpness. The gold was still in the sky
the clearness in the airand the man who looked at me over
the battlements was as definite as a picture in a frame.
That's how I thoughtwith extraordinary quickness
of each person that he might have been and that he was not.
We were confronted across our distance quite long enough for me
to ask myself with intensity who then he was and to feel
as an effect of my inability to saya wonder that in a few
instants more became intense.
The great questionor one of theseisafterwardI know
with regard to certain mattersthe question of how long
they have lasted. Wellthis matter of minethink what you
will of itlasted while I caught at a dozen possibilities
none of which made a difference for the betterthat I could see
in there having been in the house--and for how longabove all?--
a person of whom I was in ignorance. It lasted while I
just bridled a little with the sense that my office demanded
that there should be no such ignorance and no such person.
It lasted while this visitantat all events--and there was a touch
of the strange freedomas I rememberin the sign of familiarity
of his wearing no hat--seemed to fix mefrom his position
with just the questionjust the scrutiny through the fading light
that his own presence provoked. We were too far apart
to call to each otherbut there was a moment at which
at shorter rangesome challenge between usbreaking the hush
would have been the right result of our straight mutual stare.
He was in one of the anglesthe one away from the house
very erectas it struck meand with both hands on the ledge.
So I saw him as I see the letters I form on this page;
thenexactlyafter a minuteas if to add to the spectacle
he slowly changed his place--passedlooking at me hard all
the whileto the opposite corner of the platform. YesI had
the sharpest sense that during this transit he never took his
eyes from meand I can see at this moment the way his hand
as he wentpassed from one of the crenelations to the next.
He stopped at the other cornerbut less longand even
as he turned away still markedly fixed me. He turned away;
that was all I knew.
It was not that I didn't waiton this occasion
for morefor I was rooted as deeply as I was shaken.
Was there a "secret" at Bly--a mystery of Udolpho or an insane
an unmentionable relative kept in unsuspected confinement?
I can't say how long I turned it overor how longin a confusion
of curiosity and dreadI remained where I had had my collision;
I only recall that when I re-entered the house darkness had quite
closed in. Agitationin the intervalcertainly had held me
and driven mefor I mustin circling about the placehave walked
three miles; but I was to belater onso much more overwhelmed
that this mere dawn of alarm was a comparatively human chill.
The most singular part of itin fact--singular as the rest had been--
was the part I becamein the hallaware of in meeting Mrs. Grose.
This picture comes back to me in the general train--the impression
as I received it on my returnof the wide white panelled space
bright in the lamplight and with its portraits and red carpet
and of the good surprised look of my friendwhich immediately
told me she had missed me. It came to me straightway
under her contactthatwith plain heartinessmere relieved
anxiety at my appearanceshe knew nothing whatever that
could bear upon the incident I had there ready for her.
I had not suspected in advance that her comfortable face would
pull me upand I somehow measured the importance of what I
had seen by my thus finding myself hesitate to mention it.
Scarce anything in the whole history seems to me so odd
as this fact that my real beginning of fear was one
as I may saywith the instinct of sparing my companion.
On the spotaccordinglyin the pleasant hall and with her
eyes on meIfor a reason that I couldn't then have phrased
achieved an inward resolution--offered a vague pretext
for my lateness andwith the plea of the beauty of the night
and of the heavy dew and wet feetwent as soon as possible
to my room.
Here it was another affair; herefor many days after
it was a queer affair enough. There were hoursfrom day
to day--or at least there were momentssnatched even from
clear duties--when I had to shut myself up to think.
It was not so much yet that I was more nervous than I could
bear to be as that I was remarkably afraid of becoming so;
for the truth I had now to turn over wassimply and clearly
the truth that I could arrive at no account whatever of
the visitor with whom I had been so inexplicably and yet
as it seemed to meso intimately concerned. It took little
time to see that I could sound without forms of inquiry
and without exciting remark any domestic complications.
The shock I had suffered must have sharpened all my senses;
I felt sureat the end of three days and as the result
of mere closer attentionthat I had not been practiced
upon by the servants nor made the object of any "game."
Of whatever it was that I knewnothing was known around me.
There was but one sane inference: someone had taken
a liberty rather gross. That was whatrepeatedlyI dipped
into my room and locked the door to say to myself.
We had beencollectivelysubject to an intrusion;
some unscrupulous travelercurious in old houseshad made
his way in unobservedenjoyed the prospect from the best point
of viewand then stolen out as he came. If he had given me
such a bold hard starethat was but a part of his indiscretion.
The good thingafter allwas that we should surely see
no more of him.
This was not so good a thingI admitas not to leave me to judge that what
essentiallymade nothing else much signify was simply my charming work.
My charming work was just my life with Miles and Floraand through nothing
could I so like it as through feeling that I could throw myself into it
in trouble. The attraction of my small charges was a constant joy
leading me to wonder afresh at the vanity of my original fearsthe distaste
I had begun by entertaining for the probable gray prose of my office.
There was to be no gray proseit appearedand no long grind;
so how could work not be charming that presented itself as daily beauty?
It was all the romance of the nursery and the poetry of the schoolroom.
I don't mean by thisof coursethat we studied only fiction
and verse; I mean I can express no otherwise the sort of interest
my companions inspired. How can I describe that except by saying that
instead of growing used to them--and it's a marvel for a governess:
I call the sisterhood to witness!--I made constant fresh discoveries.
There was one directionassuredlyin which these discoveries stopped:
deep obscurity continued to cover the region of the boy's conduct at school.
It had been promptly given meI have notedto face that mystery without
a pang. Perhaps even it would be nearer the truth to say that--without
a word--he himself had cleared it up. He had made the whole charge absurd.
My conclusion bloomed there with the real rose flush of his innocence:
he was only too fine and fair for the little horridunclean school world
and he had paid a price for it. I reflected acutely that the sense
of such differencessuch superiorities of qualityalwayson the part
of the majority--which could include even stupidsordid headmasters--
turn infallibly to the vindictive.
Both the children had a gentleness (it was their only fault
and it never made Miles a muff) that kept them--how shall I
express it?--almost impersonal and certainly quite unpunishable.
They were like the cherubs of the anecdotewho had--
morallyat any rate--nothing to whack! I remember feeling
with Miles in especial as if he had hadas it wereno history.
We expect of a small child a scant onebut there was in this
beautiful little boy something extraordinarily sensitive
yet extraordinarily happythatmore than in any creature
of his age I have seenstruck me as beginning anew each day.
He had never for a second suffered. I took this as a
direct disproof of his having really been chastised.
If he had been wicked he would have "caught" itand I should
have caught it by the rebound--I should have found the trace.
I found nothing at alland he was therefore an angel.
He never spoke of his schoolnever mentioned a comrade or a master;
and Ifor my partwas quite too much disgusted to allude to them.
Of course I was under the spelland the wonderful part
is thateven at the timeI perfectly knew I was.
But I gave myself up to it; it was an antidote to any pain
and I had more pains than one. I was in receipt in these days
of disturbing letters from homewhere things were not going well.
But with my childrenwhat things in the world mattered?
That was the question I used to put to my scrappy retirements.
I was dazzled by their loveliness.
There was a Sunday--to get on--when it rained with such force
and for so many hours that there could be no procession to church;
in consequence of whichas the day declinedI had arranged
with Mrs. Grose thatshould the evening show improvement
we would attend together the late service. The rain happily stopped
and I prepared for our walkwhichthrough the park and by the
good road to the villagewould be a matter of twenty minutes.
Coming downstairs to meet my colleague in the hallI remembered a pair
of gloves that had required three stitches and that had received them--
with a publicity perhaps not edifying--while I sat with the children
at their teaserved on Sundaysby exceptionin that cold
clean temple of mahogany and brassthe "grown-up" dining room.
The gloves had been dropped thereand I turned in to recover them.
The day was gray enoughbut the afternoon light still lingered
and it enabled meon crossing the thresholdnot only to recognize
on a chair near the wide windowthen closedthe articles I wanted
but to become aware of a person on the other side of the window
and looking straight in. One step into the room had sufficed;
my vision was instantaneous; it was all there. The person looking
straight in was the person who had already appeared to me.
He appeared thus again with I won't say greater distinctness
for that was impossiblebut with a nearness that represented
a forward stride in our intercourse and made meas I met him
catch my breath and turn cold. He was the same--he was the same
and seenthis timeas he had been seen beforefrom the waist up
the windowthough the dining room was on the ground floornot going
down to the terrace on which he stood. His face was close to the glass
yet the effect of this better view wasstrangelyonly to show me
how intense the former had been. He remained but a few seconds--
long enough to convince me he also saw and recognized; but it was
as if I had been looking at him for years and had known him always.
Somethinghoweverhappened this time that had not happened before;
his stare into my facethrough the glass and across the room
was as deep and hard as thenbut it quitted me for a moment
during which I could still watch itsee it fix successively
several other things. On the spot there came to me the added
shock of a certitude that it was not for me he had come there.
He had come for someone else.
The flash of this knowledge--for it was knowledge in the midst
of dread--produced in me the most extraordinary effect
started as I stood therea sudden vibration of duty and courage.
I say courage because I was beyond all doubt already far gone.
I bounded straight out of the door againreached that of the house
gotin an instantupon the driveandpassing along the terrace
as fast as I could rushturned a corner and came full in sight.
But it was in sight of nothing now--my visitor had vanished.
I stoppedI almost droppedwith the real relief of this;
but I took in the whole scene--I gave him time to reappear.
I call it timebut how long was it? I can't speak
to the purpose today of the duration of these things.
That kind of measure must have left me: they couldn't
have lasted as they actually appeared to me to last.
The terrace and the whole placethe lawn and the garden beyond it
all I could see of the parkwere empty with a great emptiness.
There were shrubberies and big treesbut I remember
the clear assurance I felt that none of them concealed him.
He was there or was not there: not there if I didn't see him.
I got hold of this; theninstinctivelyinstead of returning
as I had comewent to the window. It was confusedly present
to me that I ought to place myself where he had stood.
I did so; I applied my face to the pane and looked
as he had lookedinto the room. As ifat this moment
to show me exactly what his range had beenMrs. Grose
as I had done for himself just beforecame in from the hall.
With this I had the full image of a repetition of what had
already occurred. She saw me as I had seen my own visitant;
she pulled up short as I had done; I gave her something
of the shock that I had received. She turned white
and this made me ask myself if I had blanched as much.
She staredin shortand retreated on just MY lines
and I knew she had then passed out and come round to me
and that I should presently meet her. I remained where I was
and while I waited I thought of more things than one.
But there's only one I take space to mention. I wondered why
SHE should be scared.
Ohshe let me know as soon asround the corner of the houseshe loomed
again into view. "What in the name of goodness is the matter--?"
She was now flushed and out of breath.
I said nothing till she came quite near. "With me?"
I must have made a wonderful face. "Do I show it?"
You're as white as a sheet. You look awful.
I considered; I could meet on thiswithout scrupleany innocence.
My need to respect the bloom of Mrs. Grose's had dropped
without a rustlefrom my shouldersand if I wavered for the instant
it was not with what I kept back. I put out my hand to her and she
took it; I held her hard a littleliking to feel her close to me.
There was a kind of support in the shy heave of her surprise.
You came for me for church, of course, but I can't go.
Has anything happened?
Yes. You must know now. Did I look very queer?
Through this window? Dreadful!
Well,I saidI've been frightened.Mrs. Grose's eyes expressed
plainly that SHE had no wish to beyet also that she knew too well
her place not to be ready to share with me any marked inconvenience.
Ohit was quite settled that she MUST share! "Just what you
saw from the dining room a minute ago was the effect of that.
What _I_ saw--just before--was much worse."
Her hand tightened. "What was it?"
An extraordinary man. Looking in.
What extraordinary man?
I haven't the least idea.
Mrs. Grose gazed round us in vain. "Then where is he gone?"
I know still less.
Have you seen him before?
Yes--once. On the old tower.
She could only look at me harder. "Do you mean he's a stranger?"
Oh, very much!
Yet you didn't tell me?
No--for reasons. But now that you've guessed--
Mrs. Grose's round eyes encountered this charge. "AhI haven't guessed!"
she said very simply. "How can I if YOU don't imagine?"
I don't in the very least.
You've seen him nowhere but on the tower?
And on this spot just now.
Mrs. Grose looked round again. "What was he doing on the tower?"
Only standing there and looking down at me.
She thought a minute. "Was he a gentleman?"
I found I had no need to think. "No." She gazed in deeper wonder. "No."
Then nobody about the place? Nobody from the village?
Nobody--nobody. I didn't tell you, but I made sure.
She breathed a vague relief: this wasoddlyso much to the good.
It only went indeed a little way. "But if he isn't a gentleman--"
What IS he? He's a horror.
He's--God help me if I know WHAT he is!
Mrs. Grose looked round once more; she fixed her eyes on the duskier distance
thenpulling herself togetherturned to me with abrupt inconsequence.
It's time we should be at church.
Oh, I'm not fit for church!
Won't it do you good?
It won't do THEM--! I nodded at the house.
I can't leave them now.
I spoke boldly. "I'm afraid of HIM."
Mrs. Grose's large face showed meat thisfor the first time
the faraway faint glimmer of a consciousness more acute:
I somehow made out in it the delayed dawn of an idea I myself
had not given her and that was as yet quite obscure to me.
It comes back to me that I thought instantly of this
as something I could get from her; and I felt it to be
connected with the desire she presently showed to know more.
When was it--on the tower?
About the middle of the month. At this same hour.
Almost at dark,said Mrs. Grose.
Oh, no, not nearly. I saw him as I see you.
Then how did he get in?
And how did he get out?I laughed. "I had no opportunity to ask him!
This eveningyou see I pursued, he has not been able to get in."
He only peeps?
I hope it will be confined to that!She had now let go my hand;
she turned away a little. I waited an instant; then I brought out:
Go to church. Goodbye. I must watch.
Slowly she faced me again. "Do you fear for them?"
We met in another long look. "Don't YOU?" Instead of answering she came
nearer to the window andfor a minuteapplied her face to the glass.
You see how he could see,I meanwhile went on.
She didn't move. "How long was he here?"
Till I came out. I came to meet him.
Mrs. Grose at last turned roundand there was still more in her face.
_I_ couldn't have come out.
Neither could I!I laughed again. "But I did come.
I have my duty."
So have I mine,she replied; after which she added:
What is he like?
I've been dying to tell you. But he's like nobody.
He has no hat.Then seeing in her face that she already
in thiswith a deeper dismayfound a touch of picture
I quickly added stroke to stroke. "He has red hairvery red
close-curlingand a pale facelong in shapewith straight
good features and littlerather queer whiskers that are as red
as his hair. His eyebrows aresomehowdarker; they look
particularly arched and as if they might move a good deal.
His eyes are sharpstrange--awfully; but I only know clearly
that they're rather small and very fixed. His mouth's wide
and his lips are thinand except for his little whiskers he's
quite clean-shaven. He gives me a sort of sense of looking
like an actor."
An actor!It was impossible to resemble one lessat least
than Mrs. Grose at that moment.
I've never seen one, but so I suppose them. He's tall, active, erect,
I continuedbut never--no, never!--a gentleman.
My companion's face had blanched as I went on; her round
eyes started and her mild mouth gaped. "A gentleman?"
she gaspedconfoundedstupefied: "a gentleman HE?"
You know him then?
She visibly tried to hold herself. "But he IS handsome?"
I saw the way to help her. "Remarkably!"
In somebody's clothes. They're smartbut they're not his own."
She broke into a breathless affirmative groan: "They're the master's!"
I caught it up. "You DO know him?"
She faltered but a second. "Quint!" she cried.
Peter Quint--his own man, his valet, when he was here!
When the master was?
Gaping stillbut meeting meshe pieced it all together.
He never wore his hat, but he did wear--well, there were
waistcoats missed. They were both here--last year.
Then the master went, and Quint was alone.
I followedbut halting a little. "Alone?"
Alone with US.Thenas from a deeper depthIn charge,she added.
And what became of him?
She hung fire so long that I was still more mystified.
He went, too,she brought out at last.
Her expressionat thisbecame extraordinary. "God knows where!
Died?I almost shrieked.
She seemed fairly to square herselfplant herself more firmly to utter
the wonder of it. "Yes. Mr. Quint is dead."
It took of course more than that particular passage to place us
together in presence of what we had now to live with as we could-my
dreadful liability to impressions of the order so vividly
exemplifiedand my companion's knowledgehenceforth--a knowledge
half consternation and half compassion--of that liability.
There had beenthis eveningafter the revelation left me
for an hourso prostrate--there had beenfor either of us
no attendance on any service but a little service of tears and vows
of prayers and promisesa climax to the series of mutual challenges
and pledges that had straightway ensued on our retreating together to
the schoolroom and shutting ourselves up there to have everything out.
The result of our having everything out was simply to reduce
our situation to the last rigor of its elements. She herself had
seen nothingnot the shadow of a shadowand nobody in the house
but the governess was in the governess's plight; yet she accepted
without directly impugning my sanity the truth as I gave it to her
and ended by showing meon this groundan awestricken tenderness
an expression of the sense of my more than questionable privilege
of which the very breath has remained with me as that of the sweetest
of human charities.
What was settled between usaccordinglythat nightwas that we
thought we might bear things together; and I was not even sure that
in spite of her exemptionit was she who had the best of the burden.
I knew at this hourI thinkas well as I knew laterwhat I was
capable of meeting to shelter my pupils; but it took me some time
to be wholly sure of what my honest ally was prepared for to keep
terms with so compromising a contract. I was queer company enough--
quite as queer as the company I received; but as I trace over
what we went through I see how much common ground we must have
found in the one idea thatby good fortuneCOULD steady us.
It was the ideathe second movementthat led me straight out
as I may sayof the inner chamber of my dread. I could take
the air in the courtat leastand there Mrs. Grose could join me.
Perfectly can I recall now the particular way strength came to me
before we separated for the night. We had gone over and over every
feature of what I had seen.
He was looking for someone else, you say--someone who was not you?
He was looking for little Miles.A portentous clearness now possessed me.
THAT'S whom he was looking for.
But how do you know?
I know, I know, I know!My exaltation grew. "And YOU knowmy dear!"
She didn't deny thisbut I requiredI feltnot even so much
telling as that. She resumed in a momentat any rate:
What if HE should see him?
Little Miles? That's what he wants!
She looked immensely scared again. "The child?"
Heaven forbid! The man. He wants to appear to THEM.
That he might was an awful conceptionand yetsomehowI could
keep it at bay; whichmoreoveras we lingered there
was what I succeeded in practically proving. I had an absolute
certainty that I should see again what I had already seen
but something within me said that by offering myself bravely
as the sole subject of such experienceby acceptingby inviting
by surmounting it allI should serve as an expiatory victim
and guard the tranquility of my companions. The children
in especialI should thus fence about and absolutely save.
I recall one of the last things I said that night to Mrs. Grose.
It does strike me that my pupils have never mentioned--
She looked at me hard as I musingly pulled up. "His having been
here and the time they were with him?"
The time they were with him, and his name, his presence, his history,
in any way.
Oh, the little lady doesn't remember. She never heard or knew.
The circumstances of his death?I thought with some intensity.
Perhaps not. But Miles would remember--Miles would know.
Ah, don't try him!broke from Mrs. Grose.
I returned her the look she had given me. "Don't be afraid."
I continued to think. "It IS rather odd."
That he has never spoken of him?
Never by the least allusion. And you tell me they were `great friends'?
Oh, it wasn't HIM!Mrs. Grose with emphasis declared.
It was Quint's own fancy. To play with him, I mean--
to spoil him.She paused a moment; then she added:
Quint was much too free.
This gave mestraight from my vision of his face--SUCH a face!--
a sudden sickness of disgust. "Too free with MY boy?"
Too free with everyone!
I forborefor the momentto analyze this description further than
by the reflection that a part of it applied to several of the members
of the householdof the half-dozen maids and men who were still
of our small colony. But there was everythingfor our apprehension
in the lucky fact that no discomfortable legendno perturbation
of scullionshad everwithin anyone's memory attached to the kind
old place. It had neither bad name nor ill fameand Mrs. Grose
most apparentlyonly desired to cling to me and to quake in silence.
I even put herthe very last thing of allto the test. It was when
at midnightshe had her hand on the schoolroom door to take leave.
I have it from you then--for it's of great importance--that he was
definitely and admittedly bad?
Oh, not admittedly. _I_ knew it--but the master didn't.
And you never told him?
Well, he didn't like tale-bearing--he hated complaints.
He was terribly short with anything of that kind, and if people
were all right to HIM--
He wouldn't be bothered with more?This squared well enough
with my impressions of him: he was not a trouble-loving gentleman
nor so very particular perhaps about some of the company HE kept.
All the sameI pressed my interlocutress. "I promise you _I_
would have told!"
She felt my discrimination. "I daresay I was wrong.
ButreallyI was afraid."
Afraid of what?
Of things that man could do. Quint was so clever--he was so deep.
I took this in still more thanprobablyI showed.
You weren't afraid of anything else? Not of his effect--?
His effect?she repeated with a face of anguish and waiting
while I faltered.
On innocent little precious lives. They were in your charge.
No, they were not in mine!she roundly and distressfully returned.
The master believed in him and placed him here because he was
supposed not to be well and the country air so good for him.
So he had everything to say. Yes--she let me have it--"even
Them--that creature?I had to smother a kind of howl.
And you could bear it!
No. I couldn't--and I can't now!And the poor woman burst into tears.
A rigid controlfrom the next daywasas I have saidto follow them;
yet how often and how passionatelyfor a weekwe came back together
to the subject! Much as we had discussed it that Sunday nightI was
in the immediate later hours in especial--for it may be imagined whether
I slept--still haunted with the shadow of something she had not told me.
I myself had kept back nothingbut there was a word Mrs. Grose had
kept back. I was suremoreoverby morningthat this was not from
a failure of franknessbut because on every side there were fears.
It seems to me indeedin retrospectthat by the time the morrow's sun
was high I had restlessly read into the fact before us almost all the
meaning they were to receive from subsequent and more cruel occurrences.
What they gave me above all was just the sinister figure of the living man-the
dead one would keep awhile!--and of the months he had continuously
passed at Blywhichadded upmade a formidable stretch.
The limit of this evil time had arrived only whenon the dawn of a
winter's morningPeter Quint was foundby a laborer going to early work
stone dead on the road from the village: a catastrophe explained-superficially
at least--by a visible wound to his head; such a wound
as might have been produced--and ason the final evidenceHAD been-by
a fatal slipin the dark and after leaving the public house
on the steepish icy slopea wrong path altogetherat the bottom of
which he lay. The icy slopethe turn mistaken at night and in liquor
accounted for much--practicallyin the end and after the inquest and
boundless chatterfor everything; but there had been matters in his life-strange
passages and perilssecret disordersvices more than suspected-that
would have accounted for a good deal more.
I scarce know how to put my story into words that shall be
a credible picture of my state of mind; but I was in these days
literally able to find a joy in the extraordinary flight of
heroism the occasion demanded of me. I now saw that I had been
asked for a service admirable and difficult; and there would
be a greatness in letting it be seen--ohin the right quarter!-that
I could succeed where many another girl might have failed.
It was an immense help to me--I confess I rather applaud myself
as I look back!--that I saw my service so strongly and so simply.
I was there to protect and defend the little creatures in
the world the most bereaved and the most lovablethe appeal
of whose helplessness had suddenly become only too explicit
a deepconstant ache of one's own committed heart.
We were cut offreallytogether; we were united in our danger.
They had nothing but meand I--wellI had THEM. It
was in short a magnificent chance. This chance presented
itself to me in an image richly material. I was a screen-I
was to stand before them. The more I sawthe less they would.
I began to watch them in a stifled suspensea disguised
excitement that might wellhad it continued too long
have turned to something like madness. What saved me
as I now seewas that it turned to something else altogether.
It didn't last as suspense--it was superseded by horrible proofs.
ProofsI sayyes--from the moment I really took hold.
This moment dated from an afternoon hour that I happened
to spend in the grounds with the younger of my pupils alone.
We had left Miles indoorson the red cushion of a deep
window seat; he had wished to finish a bookand I had been
glad to encourage a purpose so laudable in a young man whose
only defect was an occasional excess of the restless.
His sisteron the contraryhad been alert to come out
and I strolled with her half an hourseeking the shade
for the sun was still high and the day exceptionally warm.
I was aware afreshwith heras we wentof how
like her brothershe contrived--it was the charming thing
in both children--to let me alone without appearing to drop
me and to accompany me without appearing to surround.
They were never importunate and yet never listless.
My attention to them all really went to seeing them amuse
themselves immensely without me: this was a spectacle they seemed
actively to prepare and that engaged me as an active admirer.
I walked in a world of their invention--they had no occasion whatever
to draw upon mine; so that my time was taken only with being
for themsome remarkable person or thing that the game of
the moment required and that was merelythanks to my superior
my exalted stampa happy and highly distinguished sinecure.
I forget what I was on the present occasion; I only remember
that I was something very important and very quiet and that Flora
was playing very hard. We were on the edge of the lakeandas we
had lately begun geographythe lake was the Sea of Azof.
Suddenlyin these circumstancesI became aware thaton the
other side of the Sea of Azofwe had an interested spectator.
The way this knowledge gathered in me was the strangest thing
in the world--the strangestthat isexcept the very much
stranger in which it quickly merged itself. I had sat down with
a piece of work--for I was something or other that could sit--
on the old stone bench which overlooked the pond; and in this
position I began to take in with certitudeand yet without
direct visionthe presenceat a distanceof a third person.
The old treesthe thick shrubberymade a great and pleasant shade
but it was all suffused with the brightness of the hotstill hour.
There was no ambiguity in anything; none whateverat least
in the conviction I from one moment to another found myself
forming as to what I should see straight before me and across
the lake as a consequence of raising my eyes. They were attached
at this juncture to the stitching in which I was engaged
and I can feel once more the spasm of my effort not to move them
till I should so have steadied myself as to be able to make up
my mind what to do. There was an alien object in view--a figure
whose right of presence I instantlypassionately questioned.
I recollect counting over perfectly the possibilities
reminding myself that nothing was more naturalfor instance
then the appearance of one of the men about the placeor even
of a messengera postmanor a tradesman's boyfrom the village.
That reminder had as little effect on my practical
certitude as I was conscious--still even without looking--
of its having upon the character and attitude of our visitor.
Nothing was more natural than that these things should be
the other things that they absolutely were not.
Of the positive identity of the apparition I would assure myself
as soon as the small clock of my courage should have ticked out the
right second; meanwhilewith an effort that was already sharp enough
I transferred my eyes straight to little Florawhoat the moment
was about ten yards away. My heart had stood still for an instant
with the wonder and terror of the question whether she too would see;
and I held my breath while I waited for what a cry from herwhat some
sudden innocent sign either of interest or of alarmwould tell me.
I waitedbut nothing came; thenin the first place--and there is
something more dire in thisI feelthan in anything I have to relate-I
was determined by a sense thatwithin a minuteall sounds from her
had previously dropped; andin the secondby the circumstance that
also within the minuteshe hadin her playturned her back to the water.
This was her attitude when I at last looked at her--looked with the confirmed
conviction that we were stilltogetherunder direct personal notice.
She had picked up a small flat piece of woodwhich happened to have in it
a little hole that had evidently suggested to her the idea of sticking
in another fragment that might figure as a mast and make the thing a boat.
This second morselas I watched hershe was very markedly and intently
attempting to tighten in its place. My apprehension of what she was doing
sustained me so that after some seconds I felt I was ready for more.
Then I again shifted my eyes--I faced what I had to face.
I got hold of Mrs. Grose as soon after this as I could; and I can
give no intelligible account of how I fought out the interval.
Yet I still hear myself cry as I fairly threw myself into her arms:
They KNOW--it's too monstrous: they know, they know!
And what on earth--?I felt her incredulity as she held me.
Why, all that WE know--and heaven knows what else besides!
Thenas she released meI made it out to hermade it out perhaps only
now with full coherency even to myself. "Two hours agoin the garden"--
I could scarce articulate--"Flora SAW!"
Mrs. Grose took it as she might have taken a blow in the stomach.
She has told you?she panted.
Not a word--that's the horror. She kept it to herself!
The child of eight, THAT child!Unutterable still
for mewas the stupefaction of it.
Mrs. Groseof coursecould only gape the wider.
Then how do you know?
I was there--I saw with my eyes: saw that she was perfectly aware.
Do you mean aware of HIM?
No--of HER.I was conscious as I spoke that I looked
prodigious thingsfor I got the slow reflection of them
in my companion's face. "Another person--this time;
but a figure of quite as unmistakable horror and evil:
a woman in blackpale and dreadful--with such an air also
and such a face!--on the other side of the lake.
I was there with the child--quiet for the hour; and in the midst
of it she came."
Came how--from where?
From where they come from! She just appeared and stood there--
but not so near.
And without coming nearer?
Oh, for the effect and the feeling, she might have been as close as you!
My friendwith an odd impulsefell back a step.
Was she someone you've never seen?
Yes. But someone the child has. Someone YOU have.
Thento show how I had thought it all out: "My predecessor--
the one who died."
Miss Jessel. You don't believe me?I pressed.
She turned right and left in her distress. "How can you be sure?"
This drew from mein the state of my nervesa flash of impatience.
Then ask Flora--SHE'S sure!But I had no sooner spoken
than I caught myself up. "Nofor God's sakeDON'T!"
She'll say she isn't--she'll lie!"
Mrs. Grose was not too bewildered instinctively to protest.
Ah, how CAN you?
Because I'm clear. Flora doesn't want me to know.
It's only then to spare you.
No, no--there are depths, depths! The more I go over it,
the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear.
I don't know what I DON'T see--what I DON'T fear!
Mrs. Grose tried to keep up with me. "You mean you're afraid
of seeing her again?"
Oh, no; that's nothing--now!Then I explained.
It's of NOT seeing her.
But my companion only looked wan. "I don't understand you."
Why, it's that the child may keep it up--and that the child assuredly
WILL--without my knowing it.
At the image of this possibility Mrs. Grose for a moment collapsed
yet presently to pull herself together againas if from the positive
force of the sense of whatshould we yield an inchthere would
really be to give way to. "Deardear--we must keep our heads!
And after allif she doesn't mind it--!" She even tried a grim joke.
Perhaps she likes it!
Likes SUCH things--a scrap of an infant!
Isn't it just a proof of her blessed innocence?my friend bravely inquired.
She brought mefor the instantalmost round.
Oh, we must clutch at THAT--we must cling to it!
If it isn't a proof of what you say, it's a proof of--God knows what!
For the woman's a horror of horrors.
Mrs. Groseat thisfixed her eyes a minute on the ground;
then at last raising themTell me how you know,she said.
Then you admit it's what she was?I cried.
Tell me how you know,my friend simply repeated.
Know? By seeing her! By the way she looked.
At you, do you mean--so wickedly?
Dear me, no--I could have borne that. She gave me never a glance.
She only fixed the child.
Mrs. Grose tried to see it. "Fixed her?"
Ah, with such awful eyes!
She stared at mine as if they might really have resembled them.
Do you mean of dislike?
God help us, no. Of something much worse.
Worse than dislike?--this left her indeed at a loss.
With a determination--indescribable. With a kind of fury of intention."
I made her turn pale. "Intention?"
To get hold of her.Mrs. Grose--her eyes just lingering
on mine--gave a shudder and walked to the window;
and while she stood there looking out I completed my statement.
THAT'S what Flora knows.
After a little she turned round. "The person was in blackyou say?"
In mourning--rather poor, almost shabby. But--yes--with
extraordinary beauty.I now recognized to what I had at last
stroke by strokebrought the victim of my confidencefor she quite
visibly weighed this. "Ohhandsome--veryvery I insisted;
wonderfully handsome. But infamous."
She slowly came back to me. "Miss Jessel--WAS infamous."
She once more took my hand in both her ownholding it
as tight as if to fortify me against the increase of alarm I
might draw from this disclosure. "They were both infamous
she finally said.
So, for a little, we faced it once more together; and I found absolutely
a degree of help in seeing it now so straight. I appreciate
I said, the great decency of your not having hitherto spoken;
but the time has certainly come to give me the whole thing."
She appeared to assent to thisbut still only in silence;
seeing which I went on: "I must have it now. Of what did she die?
Comethere was something between them."
There was everything.
In spite of the difference--?
Oh, of their rank, their condition--she brought it woefully out.
SHE was a lady.
I turned it over; I again saw. "Yes--she was a lady."
And he so dreadfully below,said Mrs. Grose.
I felt that I doubtless needn't press too hardin such company
on the place of a servant in the scale; but there was nothing to prevent
an acceptance of my companion's own measure of my predecessor's abasement.
There was a way to deal with thatand I dealt; the more readily
for my full vision--on the evidence--of our employer's late clever
good-looking "own" man; impudentassuredspoileddepraved.
The fellow was a hound.
Mrs. Grose considered as if it were perhaps a little a case
for a sense of shades. "I've never seen one like him.
He did what he wished."
With them all.
It was as if now in my friend's own eyes Miss Jessel had again appeared.
I seemed at any ratefor an instantto see their evocation of her as
distinctly as I had seen her by the pond; and I brought out with decision:
It must have been also what SHE wished!
Mrs. Grose's face signified that it had been indeedbut she said
at the same time: "Poor woman--she paid for it!"
Then you do know what she died of?I asked.
No--I know nothing. I wanted not to know; I was glad enough I didn't;
and I thanked heaven she was well out of this!
Yet you had, then, your idea--
Of her real reason for leaving? Oh, yes--as to that.
She couldn't have stayed. Fancy it here--for a governess!
And afterward I imagined--and I still imagine. And what I
imagine is dreadful.
Not so dreadful as what _I_ do,I replied; on which I must
have shown her--as I was indeed but too conscious--a front of
miserable defeat. It brought out again all her compassion for me
and at the renewed touch of her kindness my power to resist broke down.
I burstas I hadthe other timemade her burstinto tears;
she took me to her motherly breastand my lamentation overflowed.
I don't do it!I sobbed in despair; "I don't save or shield them!
It's far worse than I dreamed--they're lost!"
What I had said to Mrs. Grose was true enough: there were in the matter I
had put before her depths and possibilities that I lacked resolution to sound;
so that when we met once more in the wonder of it we were of a common mind
about the duty of resistance to extravagant fancies. We were to keep our
heads if we should keep nothing else--difficult indeed as that might be in
the face of whatin our prodigious experiencewas least to be questioned.
Late that nightwhile the house sleptwe had another talk in my room
when she went all the way with me as to its being beyond doubt that I
had seen exactly what I had seen. To hold her perfectly in the pinch
of thatI found I had only to ask her howif I had "made it up
I came to be able to give, of each of the persons appearing to me,
a picture disclosing, to the last detail, their special marks--a portrait
on the exhibition of which she had instantly recognized and named them.
She wished of course--small blame to her!--to sink the whole subject;
and I was quick to assure her that my own interest in it had now
violently taken the form of a search for the way to escape from it.
I encountered her on the ground of a probability that with recurrence--
for recurrence we took for granted--I should get used to my danger,
distinctly professing that my personal exposure had suddenly become
the least of my discomforts. It was my new suspicion that was intolerable;
and yet even to this complication the later hours of the day had brought
a little ease.
On leaving her, after my first outbreak, I had of course returned
to my pupils, associating the right remedy for my dismay with
that sense of their charm which I had already found to be a thing
I could positively cultivate and which had never failed me yet.
I had simply, in other words, plunged afresh into Flora's
special society and there become aware--it was almost a luxury!-that
she could put her little conscious hand straight upon
the spot that ached. She had looked at me in sweet speculation
and then had accused me to my face of having cried."
I had supposed I had brushed away the ugly signs: but I
could literally--for the timeat all events--rejoiceunder this
fathomless charitythat they had not entirely disappeared.
To gaze into the depths of blue of the child's eyes and pronounce
their loveliness a trick of premature cunning was to be guilty
of a cynicism in preference to which I naturally preferred
to abjure my judgment andso far as might bemy agitation.
I couldn't abjure for merely wanting tobut I could repeat
to Mrs. Grose--as I did thereover and overin the small hours-that
with their voices in the airtheir pressure on one's heart
and their fragrant faces against one's cheekeverything fell
to the ground but their incapacity and their beauty.
It was a pity thatsomehowto settle this once for all
I had equally to re-enumerate the signs of subtlety that
in the afternoonby the lake had made a miracle of my show
of self-possession. It was a pity to be obliged to reinvestigate
the certitude of the moment itself and repeat how it had come
to me as a revelation that the inconceivable communion I
then surprised was a matterfor either partyof habit.
It was a pity that I should have had to quaver out again
the reasons for my not havingin my delusionso much
as questioned that the little girl saw our visitant even
as I actually saw Mrs. Grose herselfand that she wanted
by just so much as she did thus seeto make me suppose she
didn'tand at the same timewithout showing anything
arrive at a guess as to whether I myself did! It was a pity
that I needed once more to describe the portentous little activity
by which she sought to divert my attention--the perceptible
increase of movementthe greater intensity of playthe singing
the gabbling of nonsenseand the invitation to romp.
Yet if I had not indulgedto prove there was nothing in it
in this reviewI should have missed the two or three dim elements
of comfort that still remained to me. I should not for instance have
been able to asseverate to my friend that I was certain--which was
so much to the good--that _I_ at least had not betrayed myself.
I should not have been promptedby stress of needby desperation
of mind--I scarce know what to call it--to invoke such further
aid to intelligence as might spring from pushing my colleague
fairly to the wall. She had told mebit by bitunder pressure
a great deal; but a small shifty spot on the wrong side of it
all still sometimes brushed my brow like the wing of a bat;
and I remember how on this occasion--for the sleeping house and
the concentration alike of our danger and our watch seemed to help-I
felt the importance of giving the last jerk to the curtain.
I don't believe anything so horrible,I recollect saying;
no, let us put it definitely, my dear, that I don't. But if I did,
you know, there's a thing I should require now, just without sparing
you the least bit more--oh, not a scrap, come!--to get out of you.
What was it you had in mind when, in our distress, before Miles came back,
over the letter from his school, you said, under my insistence,
that you didn't pretend for him that he had not literally EVER
been `bad'? He has NOT literally `ever,' in these weeks that I
myself have lived with him and so closely watched him; he has been
an imperturbable little prodigy of delightful, lovable goodness.
Therefore you might perfectly have made the claim for him
if you had not, as it happened, seen an exception to take.
What was your exception, and to what passage in your personal
observation of him did you refer?
It was a dreadfully austere inquirybut levity was not our noteandat any
ratebefore the gray dawn admonished us to separate I had got my answer.
What my friend had had in mind proved to be immensely to the purpose.
It was neither more nor less than the circumstance that for a period
of several months Quint and the boy had been perpetually together.
It was in fact the very appropriate truth that she had ventured to criticize
the proprietyto hint at the incongruityof so close an alliance
and even to go so far on the subject as a frank overture to Miss Jessel.
Miss Jessel hadwith a most strange mannerrequested her to mind her
businessand the good woman hadon thisdirectly approached little Miles.
What she had said to himsince I pressedwas that SHE liked to see
young gentlemen not forget their station.
I pressed againof courseat this. "You reminded him that Quint
was only a base menial?"
As you might say! And it was his answer, for one thing,
that was bad.
And for another thing?I waited. "He repeated your words to Quint?"
No, not that. It's just what he WOULDN'T!she could
still impress upon me. "I was sureat any rate she added,
that he didn't. But he denied certain occasions."
When they had been about together quite as if Quint were his tutor--
and a very grand one--and Miss Jessel only for the little lady.
When he had gone off with the fellow, I mean, and spent hours with him.
He then prevaricated about it--he said he hadn't?
Her assent was clear enough to cause me to add in a moment:
I see. He lied.
Oh!Mrs. Grose mumbled. This was a suggestion that it didn't matter;
which indeed she backed up by a further remark. "You seeafter all
Miss Jessel didn't mind. She didn't forbid him."
I considered. "Did he put that to you as a justification?"
At this she dropped again. "Nohe never spoke of it."
Never mentioned her in connection with Quint?
She sawvisibly flushingwhere I was coming out. "Wellhe didn't
show anything. He denied she repeated; he denied."
Lordhow I pressed her now! "So that you could see he knew
what was between the two wretches?"
I don't know--I don't know!the poor woman groaned.
You do know, you dear thing,I replied; "only you haven't
my dreadful boldness of mindand you keep backout of timidity
and modesty and delicacyeven the impression thatin the past
when you hadwithout my aidto flounder about in silence
most of all made you miserable. But I shall get it out of you yet!
There was something in the boy that suggested to you I continued,
that he covered and concealed their relation."
Oh, he couldn't prevent--
Your learning the truth? I daresay! But, heavens,I fell
with vehemenceathinkingwhat it shows that they must,
to that extent, have succeeded in making of him!
Ah, nothing that's not nice NOW!Mrs. Grose lugubriously pleaded.
I don't wonder you looked queer,I persistedwhen I mentioned
to you the letter from his school!
I doubt if I looked as queer as you!she retorted with homely force.
And if he was so bad then as that comes to, how is he such an angel now?
Yes, indeed--and if he was a fiend at school! How, how, how?
Well,I said in my tormentyou must put it to me again,
but I shall not be able to tell you for some days. Only, put it
to me again!I cried in a way that made my friend stare.
There are directions in which I must not for the present
let myself go.Meanwhile I returned to her first example--
the one to which she had just previously referred--
of the boy's happy capacity for an occasional slip.
If Quint--on your remonstrance at the time you speak of--
was a base menial, one of the things Miles said to you,
I find myself guessing, was that you were another.
Again her admission was so adequate that I continued:
And you forgave him that?
Oh, yes!And we exchanged therein the stillness
a sound of the oddest amusement. Then I went on:
At all events, while he was with the man--
Miss Flora was with the woman. It suited them all!
It suited metooI feltonly too well; by which I mean
that it suited exactly the particularly deadly view I
was in the very act of forbidding myself to entertain.
But I so far succeeded in checking the expression of this view
that I will throwjust hereno further light on it than may be
offered by the mention of my final observation to Mrs. Grose.
His having lied and been impudent are, I confess, less engaging
specimens than I had hoped to have from you of the outbreak in him
of the little natural man. Still,I musedThey must do,
for they make me feel more than ever that I must watch.
It made me blushthe next minuteto see in my friend's face
how much more unreservedly she had forgiven him than her anecdote
struck me as presenting to my own tenderness an occasion for doing.
This came out whenat the schoolroom doorshe quitted me.
Surely you don't accuse HIM--
Of carrying on an intercourse that he conceals from me?
Ah, remember that, until further evidence, I now accuse nobody.
Thenbefore shutting her out to goby another passage
to her own placeI must just wait,I wound up.
I waited and waitedand the daysas they elapsed
took something from my consternation. A very few of them
in factpassingin constant sight of my pupils
without a fresh incidentsufficed to give to grievous fancies
and even to odious memories a kind of brush of the sponge.
I have spoken of the surrender to their extraordinary
childish grace as a thing I could actively cultivate
and it may be imagined if I neglected now to address myself
to this source for whatever it would yield. Stranger than I
can expresscertainlywas the effort to struggle against my
new lights; it would doubtless have beenhowevera greater
tension still had it not been so frequently successful.
I used to wonder how my little charges could help guessing that I
thought strange things about them; and the circumstances that
these things only made them more interesting was not by itself
a direct aid to keeping them in the dark. I trembled lest they
should see that they WERE so immensely more interesting.
Putting things at the worstat all eventsas in meditation I
so often didany clouding of their innocence could only be-blameless
and foredoomed as they were--a reason the more for
taking risks. There were moments whenby an irresistible impulse
I found myself catching them up and pressing them to my heart.
As soon as I had done so I used to say to myself:
What will they think of that? Doesn't it betray too much?
It would have been easy to get into a sadwild tangle about how
much I might betray; but the real accountI feelof the hours
of peace that I could still enjoy was that the immediate
charm of my companions was a beguilement still effective
even under the shadow of the possibility that it was studied.
For if it occurred to me that I might occasionally excite
suspicion by the little outbreaks of my sharper passion for them
so too I remember wondering if I mightn't see a queerness
in the traceable increase of their own demonstrations.
They were at this period extravagantly and preternaturally fond
of me; whichafter allI could reflectwas no more than a
graceful response in children perpetually bowed over and hugged.
The homage of which they were so lavish succeededin truth
for my nervesquite as well as if I never appeared to myself
as I may sayliterally to catch them at a purpose in it.
They had neverI thinkwanted to do so many things for their
poor protectress; I mean--though they got their lessons better
and betterwhich was naturally what would please her most-in
the way of divertingentertainingsurprising her;
reading her passagestelling her storiesacting her charades
pouncing out at herin disguisesas animals and historical
charactersand above all astonishing her by the "pieces" they
had secretly got by heart and could interminably recite.
I should never get to the bottom--were I to let myself go even now-of
the prodigious private commentaryall under still more
private correctionwith whichin these daysI overscored
their full hours. They had shown me from the first a facility
for everythinga general faculty whichtaking a fresh start
achieved remarkable flights. They got their little tasks
as if they loved themand indulgedfrom the mere exuberance
of the giftin the most unimposed little miracles of memory.
They not only popped out at me as tigers and as Romans
but as Shakespeareansastronomersand navigators.
This was so singularly the case that it had presumably
much to do with the fact as to whichat the present day
I am at a loss for a different explanation: I allude to my
unnatural composure on the subject of another school for Miles.
What I remember is that I was content notfor the time
to open the questionand that contentment must have sprung
from the sense of his perpetually striking show of cleverness.
He was too clever for a bad governessfor a parson's daughter
to spoil; and the strangest if not the brightest thread
in the pensive embroidery I just spoke of was the impression
I might have gotif I had dared to work it outthat he was
under some influence operating in his small intellectual life
as a tremendous incitement.
If it was easy to reflecthoweverthat such a boy could postpone school
it was at least as marked that for such a boy to have been
kicked outby a schoolmaster was a mystification without end.
Let me add that in their company now--and I was careful almost
never to be out of it--I could follow no scent very far. We lived
in a cloud of music and love and success and private theatricals.
The musical sense in each of the children was of the quickest
but the elder in especial had a marvelous knack of catching and repeating.
The schoolroom piano broke into all gruesome fancies; and when that failed
there were confabulations in cornerswith a sequel of one of them going
out in the highest spirits in order to "come in" as something new.
I had had brothers myselfand it was no revelation to me that little
girls could be slavish idolaters of little boys. What surpassed
everything was that there was a little boy in the world who could have
for the inferior agesexand intelligence so fine a consideration.
They were extraordinarily at oneand to say that they never either
quarreled or complained is to make the note of praise coarse for their
quality of sweetness. Sometimesindeedwhen I dropped into coarseness
I perhaps came across traces of little understandings between them by
which one of them should keep me occupied while the other slipped away.
There is a naive sideI supposein all diplomacy; but if my pupils
practiced upon meit was surely with the minimum of grossness.
It was all in the other quarter thatafter a lullthe grossness broke out.
I find that I really hang back; but I must take my plunge.
In going on with the record of what was hideous at Bly
I not only challenge the most liberal faith--for which I
little care; but--and this is another matter--I renew what I
myself sufferedI again push my way through it to the end.
There came suddenly an hour after whichas I look back
the affair seems to me to have been all pure suffering;
but I have at least reached the heart of it
and the straightest road out is doubtless to advance.
One evening--with nothing to lead up or to prepare it--
I felt the cold touch of the impression that had breathed
on me the night of my arrival and whichmuch lighter then
as I have mentionedI should probably have made little
of in memory had my subsequent sojourn been less agitated.
I had not gone to bed; I sat reading by a couple of candles.
There was a roomful of old books at Bly--last-century fiction
some of itwhichto the extent of a distinctly deprecated renown
but never to so much as that of a stray specimenhad reached
the sequestered home and appealed to the unavowed curiosity
of my youth. I remember that the book I had in my hand
was Fielding's Amelia; also that I was wholly awake.
I recall further both a general conviction that it was horribly
late and a particular objection to looking at my watch.
I figurefinallythat the white curtain draping
in the fashion of those daysthe head of Flora's
little bedshroudedas I had assured myself long before
the perfection of childish rest. I recollect in short that
though I was deeply interested in my authorI found myself
at the turn of a page and with his spell all scattered
looking straight up from him and hard at the door of my room.
There was a moment during which I listenedreminded of
the faint sense I had hadthe first nightof there being
something undefinably astir in the houseand noted the soft
breath of the open casement just move the half-drawn blind.
Thenwith all the marks of a deliberation that must have
seemed magnificent had there been anyone to admire it
I laid down my bookrose to my feetandtaking a candle
went straight out of the room andfrom the passage
on which my light made little impressionnoiselessly closed
and locked the door.
I can say now neither what determined nor what guided mebut I went
straight along the lobbyholding my candle hightill I came within sight
of the tall window that presided over the great turn of the staircase.
At this point I precipitately found myself aware of three things.
They were practically simultaneousyet they had flashes of succession.
My candleunder a bold flourishwent outand I perceivedby the uncovered
windowthat the yielding dusk of earliest morning rendered it unnecessary.
Without itthe next instantI saw that there was someone on the stair.
I speak of sequencesbut I required no lapse of seconds to stiffen
myself for a third encounter with Quint. The apparition had reached
the landing halfway up and was therefore on the spot nearest the window
where at sight of meit stopped short and fixed me exactly as it had fixed
me from the tower and from the garden. He knew me as well as I knew him;
and soin the coldfaint twilightwith a glimmer in the high glass
and another on the polish of the oak stair belowwe faced each
other in our common intensity. He was absolutelyon this occasion
a livingdetestabledangerous presence. But that was not the wonder
of wonders; I reserve this distinction for quite another circumstance:
the circumstance that dread had unmistakably quitted me and that there
was nothing in me there that didn't meet and measure him.
I had plenty of anguish after that extraordinary moment
but I hadthank Godno terror. And he knew I had not--I found
myself at the end of an instant magnificently aware of this.
I feltin a fierce rigor of confidencethat if I stood
my ground a minute I should cease--for the timeat least--
to have him to reckon with; and during the minuteaccordingly
the thing was as human and hideous as a real interview:
hideous just because it WAS humanas human as to have
met alonein the small hoursin a sleeping housesome enemy
some adventurersome criminal. It was the dead silence of our
long gaze at such close quarters that gave the whole horror
huge as it wasits only note of the unnatural. If I had met
a murderer in such a place and at such an hourwe still at
least would have spoken. Something would have passedin life
between us; if nothing had passedone of us would have moved.
The moment was so prolonged that it would have taken but little
more to make me doubt if even _I_ were in life. I can't
express what followed it save by saying that the silence itself--
which was indeed in a manner an attestation of my strength--
became the element into which I saw the figure disappear;
in which I definitely saw it turn as I might have seen the low
wretch to which it had once belonged turn on receipt of an order
and passwith my eyes on the villainous back that no hunch
could have more disfiguredstraight down the staircase
and into the darkness in which the next bend was lost.
I remained awhile at the top of the stairbut with the effect
presently of understanding that when my visitor had gonehe had gone:
then I returned to my room. The foremost thing I saw there
by the light of the candle I had left burning was that Flora's
little bed was empty; and on this I caught my breath with all
the terror thatfive minutes beforeI had been able to resist.
I dashed at the place in which I had left her lying and over which
(for the small silk counterpane and the sheets were disarranged)
the white curtains had been deceivingly pulled forward;
then my stepto my unutterable reliefproduced an answering sound:
I perceived an agitation of the window blindand the child
ducking downemerged rosily from the other side of it.
She stood there in so much of her candor and so little of her nightgown
with her pink bare feet and the golden glow of her curls.
She looked intensely graveand I had never had such a sense of losing
an advantage acquired (the thrill of which had just been so prodigious)
as on my consciousness that she addressed me with a reproach.
You naughty: where HAVE you been?--instead of challenging
her own irregularity I found myself arraigned and explaining.
She herself explainedfor that matterwith the loveliest
eagerest simplicity. She had known suddenlyas she lay there
that I was out of the roomand had jumped up to see what had
become of me. I had droppedwith the joy of her reappearance
back into my chair--feeling thenand then onlya little faint;
and she had pattered straight over to methrown herself upon
my kneegiven herself to be held with the flame of the candle full
in the wonderful little face that was still flushed with sleep.
I remember closing my eyes an instantyieldinglyconsciously
as before the excess of something beautiful that shone out of the blue
of her own. "You were looking for me out of the window?" I said.
You thought I might be walking in the grounds?
Well, you know, I thought someone was--she never blanched as she
smiled out that at me.
Ohhow I looked at her now! "And did you see anyone?"
Ah, NO!she returnedalmost with the full privilege
of childish inconsequenceresentfullythough with a long
sweetness in her little drawl of the negative.
At that momentin the state of my nervesI absolutely believed
she lied; and if I once more closed my eyes it was before the dazzle
of the three or four possible ways in which I might take this up.
One of thesefor a momenttempted me with such singular intensity that
to withstand itI must have gripped my little girl with a spasm that
wonderfullyshe submitted to without a cry or a sign of fright.
Why not break out at her on the spot and have it all over?--
give it to her straight in her lovely little lighted face?
You see, you see, you KNOW that you do and that you already quite
suspect I believe it; therefore, why not frankly confess it to me,
so that we may at least live with it together and learn perhaps,
in the strangeness of our fate, where we are and what it means?
This solicitation droppedalasas it came: if I could immediately
have succumbed to it I might have spared myself--wellyou'll see what.
Instead of succumbing I sprang again to my feetlooked at her bed
and took a helpless middle way. "Why did you pull the curtain
over the place to make me think you were still there?"
Flora luminously considered; after whichwith her little divine smile:
Because I don't like to frighten you!
But if I had, by your idea, gone out--?
She absolutely declined to be puzzled; she turned her eyes to the flame
of the candle as if the question were as irrelevantor at any rate
as impersonalas Mrs. Marcet or nine-times-nine. "Ohbut you know
she quite adequately answered, that you might come backyou dear
and that you HAVE!" And after a littlewhen she had got into bed
I hadfor a long timeby almost sitting on her to hold her hand
to prove that I recognized the pertinence of my return.
You may imagine the general complexionfrom that momentof my nights.
I repeatedly sat up till I didn't know when; I selected moments when my
roommate unmistakably sleptandstealing outtook noiseless turns
in the passage and even pushed as far as to where I had last met Quint.
But I never met him there again; and I may as well say at once
that I on no other occasion saw him in the house. I just missed
on the staircaseon the other handa different adventure.
Looking down it from the top I once recognized the presence of a woman
seated on one of the lower steps with her back presented to me
her body half-bowed and her headin an attitude of woein her hands.
I had been there but an instanthoweverwhen she vanished without
looking round at me. I knewnonethelessexactly what dreadful face
she had to show; and I wondered whetherif instead of being above I had
been belowI should have hadfor going upthe same nerve I had lately
shown Quint. Wellthere continued to be plenty of chance for nerve.
On the eleventh night after my latest encounter with that gentleman--
they were all numbered now--I had an alarm that perilously skirted it
and that indeedfrom the particular quality of its unexpectedness
proved quite my sharpest shock. It was precisely the first night during
this series thatweary with watchingI had felt that I might again
without laxity lay myself down at my old hour. I slept immediately and
as I afterward knewtill about one o'clock; but when I woke it was
to sit straight upas completely roused as if a hand had shook me.
I had left a light burningbut it was now outand I felt an instant
certainty that Flora had extinguished it. This brought me to my feet
and straightin the darknessto her bedwhich I found she had left.
A glance at the window enlightened me furtherand the striking of a match
completed the picture.
The child had again got up--this time blowing out the taperand had again
for some purpose of observation or responsesqueezed in behind
the blind and was peering out into the night. That she now saw--
as she had notI had satisfied myselfthe previous time--was proved
to me by the fact that she was disturbed neither by my reillumination
nor by the haste I made to get into slippers and into a wrap.
Hiddenprotectedabsorbedshe evidently rested on the sill--
the casement opened forward--and gave herself up. There was a great
still moon to help herand this fact had counted in my quick decision.
She was face to face with the apparition we had met at the lake
and could now communicate with it as she had not then been able to do.
What Ion my sidehad to care for waswithout disturbing her
to reachfrom the corridorsome other window in the same quarter.
I got to the door without her hearing me; I got out of itclosed it
and listenedfrom the other sidefor some sound from her.
While I stood in the passage I had my eyes on her brother's door
which was but ten steps off and whichindescribablyproduced in me
a renewal of the strange impulse that I lately spoke of as my temptation.
What if I should go straight in and march to HIS window?--what if
by risking to his boyish bewilderment a revelation of my motive
I should throw across the rest of the mystery the long halter
of my boldness?
This thought held me sufficiently to make me cross to his
threshold and pause again. I preternaturally listened; I figured
to myself what might portentously be; I wondered if his bed were
also empty and he too were secretly at watch. It was a deep
soundless minuteat the end of which my impulse failed.
He was quiet; he might be innocent; the risk was hideous;
I turned away. There was a figure in the grounds--a figure
prowling for a sightthe visitor with whom Flora was engaged;
but it was not the visitor most concerned with my boy.
I hesitated afreshbut on other grounds and only for a few seconds;
then I had made my choice. There were empty rooms at Bly
and it was only a question of choosing the right one.
The right one suddenly presented itself to me as the lower one--
though high above the gardens--in the solid corner of the house
that I have spoken of as the old tower. This was a large
square chamberarranged with some state as a bedroomthe extravagant
size of which made it so inconvenient that it had not for years
though kept by Mrs. Grose in exemplary orderbeen occupied.
I had often admired it and I knew my way about in it; I had only
after just faltering at the first chill gloom of its disuse
to pass across it and unbolt as quietly as I could one of
the shutters. Achieving this transitI uncovered the glass
without a sound andapplying my face to the panewas able
the darkness without being much less than withinto see that I
commanded the right direction. Then I saw something more.
The moon made the night extraordinarily penetrable and
showed me on the lawn a persondiminished by distance
who stood there motionless and as if fascinatedlooking up
to where I had appeared--lookingthat isnot so much
straight at me as at something that was apparently above me.
There was clearly another person above me--there was a person
on the tower; but the presence on the lawn was not in the least
what I had conceived and had confidently hurried to meet.
The presence on the lawn--I felt sick as I made it out--
was poor little Miles himself.
It was not till late next day that I spoke to Mrs. Grose;
the rigor with which I kept my pupils in sight making it often
difficult to meet her privatelyand the more as we each felt
the importance of not provoking--on the part of the servants
quite as much as on that of the children--any suspicion
of a secret flurry or that of a discussion of mysteries.
I drew a great security in this particular from her mere
smooth aspect. There was nothing in her fresh face to pass
on to others my horrible confidences. She believed me
I was sureabsolutely: if she hadn't I don't know what would
have become of mefor I couldn't have borne the business alone.
But she was a magnificent monument to the blessing of a want
of imaginationand if she could see in our little charges nothing
but their beauty and amiabilitytheir happiness and cleverness
she had no direct communication with the sources of my trouble.
If they had been at all visibly blighted or batteredshe would
doubtless have grownon tracing it backhaggard enough
to match them; as matters stoodhoweverI could feel her
when she surveyed themwith her large white arms folded
and the habit of serenity in all her lookthank the Lord's
mercy that if they were ruined the pieces would still serve.
Flights of fancy gave placein her mindto a steady fireside glow
and I had already begun to perceive howwith the development
of the conviction that--as time went on without a public accident-
our young things couldafter alllook out for themselves
she addressed her greatest solicitude to the sad case presented
by their instructress. Thatfor myselfwas a sound simplification:
I could engage thatto the worldmy face should tell no tales
but it would have beenin the conditionsan immense added
strain to find myself anxious about hers.
At the hour I now speak of she had joined meunder pressure
on the terracewherewith the lapse of the seasonthe afternoon
sun was now agreeable; and we sat there together whilebefore us
at a distancebut within call if we wishedthe children
strolled to and fro in one of their most manageable moods.
They moved slowlyin unisonbelow usover the lawnthe boy
as they wentreading aloud from a storybook and passing
his arm round his sister to keep her quite in touch.
Mrs. Grose watched them with positive placidity; then I caught
the suppressed intellectual creak with which she conscientiously
turned to take from me a view of the back of the tapestry.
I had made her a receptacle of lurid thingsbut there was an odd
recognition of my superiority--my accomplishments and my function--
in her patience under my pain. She offered her mind to my
disclosures ashad I wished to mix a witch's broth and proposed it
with assuranceshe would have held out a large clean saucepan.
This had become thoroughly her attitude by the time that
in my recital of the events of the nightI reached the point
of what Miles had said to me whenafter seeing himat such
a monstrous houralmost on the very spot where he happened
now to beI had gone down to bring him in; choosing then
at the windowwith a concentrated need of not alarming the house
rather that method than a signal more resonant. I had left
her meanwhile in little doubt of my small hope of representing
with success even to her actual sympathy my sense of the real
splendor of the little inspiration with whichafter I had got
him into the housethe boy met my final articulate challenge.
As soon as I appeared in the moonlight on the terrace
he had come to me as straight as possible; on which I had taken
his hand without a word and led himthrough the dark spaces
up the staircase where Quint had so hungrily hovered for him
along the lobby where I had listened and trembledand so to
his forsaken room.
Not a soundon the wayhad passed between usand I had wondered--
ohHOW I had wondered!--if he were groping about in his
little mind for something plausible and not too grotesque.
It would tax his inventioncertainlyand I feltthis time
over his real embarrassmenta curious thrill of triumph.
It was a sharp trap for the inscrutable! He couldn't play any
longer at innocence; so how the deuce would he get out of it?
There beat in me indeedwith the passionate throb of this
question an equal dumb appeal as to how the deuce _I_ should.
I was confronted at lastas never yetwith all the risk
attached even now to sounding my own horrid note.
I remember in fact that as we pushed into his little chamber
where the bed had not been slept in at all and the window
uncovered to the moonlightmade the place so clear that there
was no need of striking a match--I remember how I suddenly dropped
sank upon the edge of the bed from the force of the idea
that he must know how he reallyas they sayhadme.
He could do what he likedwith all his cleverness to help him
so long as I should continue to defer to the old tradition
of the criminality of those caretakers of the young who
minister to superstitions and fears. He "had" me indeed
and in a cleft stick; for who would ever absolve mewho would
consent that I should go unhungifby the faintest tremor
of an overtureI were the first to introduce into our perfect
intercourse an element so dire? Nono: it was useless
to attempt to convey to Mrs. Grosejust as it is scarcely
less so to attempt to suggest herehowin our short
stiff brush in the darkhe fairly shook me with admiration.
I was of course thoroughly kind and merciful; nevernever yet
had I placed on his little shoulders hands of such tenderness
as those with whichwhile I rested against the bed
I held him there well under fire. I had no alternative but
in form at leastto put it to him.
You must tell me now--and all the truth. What did you go out for?
What were you doing there?
I can still see his wonderful smilethe whites of his beautiful eyes
and the uncovering of his little teeth shine to me in the dusk.
If I tell you why, will you understand?My heart
at thisleaped into my mouth. WOULD he tell me why?
I found no sound on my lips to press itand I was aware
of replying only with a vaguerepeatedgrimacing nod.
He was gentleness itselfand while I wagged my head at
him he stood there more than ever a little fairy prince.
It was his brightness indeed that gave me a respite.
Would it be so great if he were really going to tell me?
Well,he said at lastjust exactly in order that you
should do this.
Think me--for a change--BAD!I shall never forget the sweetness
and gaiety with which he brought out the wordnor howon top of it
he bent forward and kissed me. It was practically the end of everything.
I met his kiss and I had to makewhile I folded him for a minute
in my armsthe most stupendous effort not to cry. He had given exactly
the account of himself that permitted least of my going behind it
and it was only with the effect of confirming my acceptance of it that
as I presently glanced about the roomI could say--
Then you didn't undress at all?
He fairly glittered in the gloom. "Not at all.
I sat up and read."
And when did you go down?
At midnight. When I'm bad I AM bad!
I see, I see--it's charming. But how could you be sure I would know it?
Oh, I arranged that with Flora.His answers rang out with a readiness!
She was to get up and look out.
Which is what she did do.It was I who fell into the trap!
So she disturbed you, and, to see what she was looking at,
you also looked--you saw.
While you,I concurredcaught your death in the night air!
He literally bloomed so from this exploit that he could afford radiantly
to assent. "How otherwise should I have been bad enough?" he asked.
Thenafter another embracethe incident and our interview closed
on my recognition of all the reserves of goodness thatfor his joke
he had been able to draw upon.
The particular impression I had received proved in the morning light
I repeatnot quite successfully presentable to Mrs. Grose
though I reinforced it with the mention of still another remark
that he had made before we separated. "It all lies in half a
dozen words I said to her, words that really settle the matter.
'Thinkyou knowwhat I MIGHT do!' He threw that off to show
me how good he is. He knows down to the ground what he `might' do.
That's what he gave them a taste of at school."
Lord, you do change!cried my friend.
I don't change--I simply make it out. The four, depend upon it,
perpetually meet. If on either of these last nights you had
been with either child, you would clearly have understood.
The more I've watched and waited the more I've felt that if
there were nothing else to make it sure it would be made
so by the systematic silence of each. NEVER, by a slip
of the tongue, have they so much as alluded to either of their
old friends, any more than Miles has alluded to his expulsion.
Oh, yes, we may sit here and look at them, and they may show
off to us there to their fill; but even while they pretend
to be lost in their fairytale they're steeped in their vision
of the dead restored. He's not reading to her,I declared;
they're talking of THEM--they're talking horrors!
I go on, I know, as if I were crazy; and it's a wonder I'm not.
What I've seen would have made YOU so; but it has only made
me more lucid, made me get hold of still other things.
My lucidity must have seemed awfulbut the charming creatures
who were victims of itpassing and repassing in their
interlocked sweetnessgave my colleague something to hold on by;
and I felt how tight she held aswithout stirring in the breath
of my passionshe covered them still with her eyes.
Of what other things have you got hold?
Why, of the very things that have delighted, fascinated, and yet,
at bottom, as I now so strangely see, mystified and troubled me.
Their more than earthly beauty, their absolutely unnatural goodness.
It's a game,I went on; "it's a policy and a fraud!"
On the part of little darlings--?
As yet mere lovely babies? Yes, mad as that seems!
The very act of bringing it out really helped me to
trace it--follow it all up and piece it all together.
They haven't been good--they've only been absent.
It has been easy to live with them, because they're simply leading
a life of their own. They're not mine--they're not ours.
They're his and they're hers!
Quint's and that woman's?
Quint's and that woman's. They want to get to them.
Ohhowat thispoor Mrs. Grose appeared to study them!
But for what?
For the love of all the evil that, in those dreadful days,
the pair put into them. And to ply them with that evil still,
to keep up the work of demons, is what brings the others back.
Laws!said my friend under her breath. The exclamation was homelybut it
revealed a real acceptance of my further proof of whatin the bad time--
for there had been a worse even than this!--must have occurred. There could
have been no such justification for me as the plain assent of her experience
to whatever depth of depravity I found credible in our brace of scoundrels.
It was in obvious submission of memory that she brought out after a moment:
They WERE rascals! But what can they now do?she pursued.
Do?I echoed so loud that Miles and Floraas they passed at
their distancepaused an instant in their walk and looked at us.
Don't they do enough?I demanded in a lower tonewhile the children
having smiled and nodded and kissed hands to usresumed their exhibition.
We were held by it a minute; then I answered: "They can destroy them!"
At this my companion did turnbut the inquiry she launched was
a silent onethe effect of which was to make me more explicit.
They don't know, as yet, quite how--but they're trying hard.
They're seen only across, as it were, and beyond--in strange places
and on high places, the top of towers, the roof of houses, the outside
of windows, the further edge of pools; but there's a deep design,
on either side, to shorten the distance and overcome the obstacle;
and the success of the tempters is only a question of time.
They've only to keep to their suggestions of danger.
For the children to come?
And perish in the attempt!Mrs. Grose slowly got up
and I scrupulously added: "Unlessof coursewe can prevent!"
Standing there before me while I kept my seatshe visibly
turned things over. "Their uncle must do the preventing.
He must take them away."
And who's to make him?
She had been scanning the distancebut she now dropped on me
a foolish face. "Youmiss."
By writing to him that his house is poisoned and his little
nephew and niece mad?
But if they ARE, miss?
And if I am myself, you mean? That's charming news to be sent him
by a governess whose prime undertaking was to give him no worry.
Mrs. Grose consideredfollowing the children again. "Yeshe do hate worry.
That was the great reason--"
Why those fiends took him in so long? No doubt, though his
indifference must have been awful. As I'm not a fiend,
at any rate, I shouldn't take him in.
My companionafter an instant and for all answersat down again
and grasped my arm. "Make him at any rate come to you."
I stared. "To ME?" I had a sudden fear of what she might do. "'Him'?"
He ought to BE here--he ought to help.
I quickly roseand I think I must have shown her a queerer face
than ever yet. "You see me asking him for a visit?" Nowith her
eyes on my face she evidently couldn't. Instead of it even-as
a woman reads another--she could see what I myself saw:
his derisionhis amusementhis contempt for the breakdown
of my resignation at being left alone and for the fine machinery I
had set in motion to attract his attention to my slighted charms.
She didn't know--no one knew--how proud I had been to serve
him and to stick to our terms; yet she nonetheless took
the measureI thinkof the warning I now gave her.
If you should so lose your head as to appeal to him for me--
She was really frightened. "Yesmiss?"
I would leave, on the spot, both him and you.
It was all very well to join thembut speaking to them proved
quite as much as ever an effort beyond my strength--offered
in close quartersdifficulties as insurmountable as before.
This situation continued a monthand with new aggravations
and particular notesthe note above allsharper and sharper
of the small ironic consciousness on the part of my pupils.
It was notI am as sure today as I was sure thenmy mere
infernal imagination: it was absolutely traceable that they
were aware of my predicament and that this strange relation made
in a mannerfor a long timethe air in which we moved.
I don't mean that they had their tongues in their cheeks or did
anything vulgarfor that was not one of their dangers:
I do meanon the other handthat the element of the unnamed
and untouched becamebetween usgreater than any other
and that so much avoidance could not have been so successfully
effected without a great deal of tacit arrangement.
It was as ifat momentswe were perpetually coming into sight
of subjects before which we must stop shortturning suddenly
out of alleys that we perceived to be blindclosing with a little
bang that made us look at each other--forlike all bangs
it was something louder than we had intended--the doors we
had indiscreetly opened. All roads lead to Romeand there
were times when it might have struck us that almost every branch
of study or subject of conversation skirted forbidden ground.
Forbidden ground was the question of the return of the dead
in general and of whateverin especialmight survive
in memoryof the friends little children had lost.
There were days when I could have sworn that one of them had
with a small invisible nudgesaid to the other:
She thinks she'll do it this time--but she WON'T!To "do it"
would have been to indulge for instance--and for once in a way--
in some direct reference to the lady who had prepared them for
my discipline. They had a delightful endless appetite for passages
in my own historyto which I had again and again treated them;
they were in possession of everything that had ever happened to me
had hadwith every circumstance the story of my smallest adventures
and of those of my brothers and sisters and of the cat and the dog
at homeas well as many particulars of the eccentric nature
of my fatherof the furniture and arrangement of our house
and of the conversation of the old women of our village.
There were things enoughtaking one with anotherto chatter about
if one went very fast and knew by instinct when to go round.
They pulled with an art of their own the strings of my invention
and my memory; and nothing else perhapswhen I thought
of such occasions afterwardgave me so the suspicion of being
watched from under cover. It was in any case over MY life
MY pastand MY friends alone that we could take anything
like our ease--a state of affairs that led them sometimes without
the least pertinence to break out into sociable reminders.
I was invited--with no visible connection--to repeat afresh
Goody Gosling's celebrated mot or to confirm the details
already supplied as to the cleverness of the vicarage pony.
It was partly at such junctures as these and partly at quite
different ones thatwith the turn my matters had now taken
my predicamentas I have called itgrew most sensible.
The fact that the days passed for me without another encounter ought
it would have appearedto have done something toward soothing my nerves.
Since the light brushthat second night on the upper landing
of the presence of a woman at the foot of the stairI had seen nothing
whether in or out of the housethat one had better not have seen.
There was many a corner round which I expected to come upon Quint
and many a situation thatin a merely sinister waywould have favored
the appearance of Miss Jessel. The summer had turnedthe summer had gone;
the autumn had dropped upon Bly and had blown out half our lights.
The placewith its gray sky and withered garlandsits bared spaces
and scattered dead leaveswas like a theater after the performance--
all strewn with crumpled playbills. There were exactly states of the air
conditions of sound and of stillnessunspeakable impressions
of the KIND of ministering momentthat brought back to me
long enough to catch itthe feeling of the medium in which
that June evening out of doorsI had had my first sight of Quint
and in whichtooat those other instantsI hadafter seeing him
through the windowlooked for him in vain in the circle of shrubbery.
I recognized the signsthe portents--I recognized the momentthe spot.
But they remained unaccompanied and emptyand I continued unmolested;
if unmolested one could call a young woman whose sensibility had
in the most extraordinary fashionnot declined but deepened.
I had said in my talk with Mrs. Grose on that horrid scene of Flora's
by the lake--and had perplexed her by so saying--that it would from
that moment distress me much more to lose my power than to keep it.
I had then expressed what was vividly in my mind: the truth that
whether the children really saw or not--sincethat isit was
not yet definitely proved--I greatly preferredas a safeguard
the fullness of my own exposure. I was ready to know the very worst
that was to be known. What I had then had an ugly glimpse of was
that my eyes might be sealed just while theirs were most opened.
Wellmy eyes WERE sealedit appearedat present--
a consummation for which it seemed blasphemous not to thank God.
There wasalasa difficulty about that: I would have thanked
him with all my soul had I not had in a proportionate measure this
conviction of the secret of my pupils.
How can I retrace today the strange steps of my obsession?
There were times of our being together when I would have been ready
to swear thatliterallyin my presencebut with my direct sense
of it closedthey had visitors who were known and were welcome.
Then it was thathad I not been deterred by the very chance that
such an injury might prove greater than the injury to be averted
my exultation would have broken out. "They're herethey're here
you little wretches I would have cried, and you can't deny it now!"
The little wretches denied it with all the added volume of their
sociability and their tendernessin just the crystal depths of which--
like the flash of a fish in a stream--the mockery of their advantage
peeped up. The shockin truthhad sunk into me still deeper
than I knew on the night whenlooking out to see either Quint
or Miss Jessel under the starsI had beheld the boy over whose
rest I watched and who had immediately brought in with him--
had straightwaythereturned it on me--the lovely upward look with which
from the battlements above methe hideous apparition of Quint had played.
If it was a question of a scaremy discovery on this occasion
had scared me more than any otherand it was in the condition
of nerves produced by it that I made my actual inductions.
They harassed me so that sometimesat odd momentsI shut myself
up audibly to rehearse--it was at once a fantastic relief and a
renewed despair--the manner in which I might come to the point.
I approached it from one side and the other whilein my room
I flung myself aboutbut I always broke down in the monstrous
utterance of names. As they died away on my lipsI said to myself
that I should indeed help them to represent something infamous
ifby pronouncing themI should violate as rare a little case
of instinctive delicacy as any schoolroomprobablyhad ever known.
When I said to myself: "THEY have the manners to be silent
and youtrusted as you arethe baseness to speak!"
I felt myself crimson and I covered my face with my hands.
After these secret scenes I chattered more than evergoing on
volubly enough till one of our prodigiouspalpable hushes occurred-I
can call them nothing else--the strangedizzy lift or swim
(I try for terms!) into a stillnessa pause of all lifethat had
nothing to do with the more or less noise that at the moment we
might be engaged in making and that I could hear through any deepened
exhilaration or quickened recitation or louder strum of the piano.
Then it was that the othersthe outsiderswere there.
Though they were not angelsthey "passed as the French say,
causing me, while they stayed, to tremble with the fear of their
addressing to their younger victims some yet more infernal message
or more vivid image than they had thought good enough for myself.
What it was most impossible to get rid of was the cruel idea that,
whatever I had seen, Miles and Flora saw MORE--things terrible
and unguessable and that sprang from dreadful passages of intercourse
in the past. Such things naturally left on the surface,
for the time, a chill which we vociferously denied that we felt;
and we had, all three, with repetition, got into such splendid
training that we went, each time, almost automatically, to mark
the close of the incident, through the very same movements.
It was striking of the children, at all events, to kiss me inveterately
with a kind of wild irrelevance and never to fail--one or the other-of
the precious question that had helped us through many a peril.
When do you think he WILL come? Don't you think we OUGHT
to write?"--there was nothing like that inquirywe found
by experiencefor carrying off an awkwardness. "He" of course
was their uncle in Harley Street; and we lived in much profusion
of theory that he might at any moment arrive to mingle in our circle.
It was impossible to have given less encouragement than he had done
to such a doctrinebut if we had not had the doctrine to fall back upon
we should have deprived each other of some of our finest exhibitions.
He never wrote to them--that may have been selfishbut it was a part
of the flattery of his trust of me; for the way in which a man
pays his highest tribute to a woman is apt to be but by the more
festal celebration of one of the sacred laws of his comfort;
and I held that I carried out the spirit of the pledge given not
to appeal to him when I let my charges understand that their own
letters were but charming literary exercises. They were too beautiful
to be posted; I kept them myself; I have them all to this hour.
This was a rule indeed which only added to the satiric effect of my being
plied with the supposition that he might at any moment be among us.
It was exactly as if my charges knew how almost more awkward
than anything else that might be for me. There appears to me
moreoveras I look backno note in all this more extraordinary
than the mere fact thatin spite of my tension and of their triumph
I never lost patience with them. Adorable they must in truth
have beenI now reflectthat I didn't in these days hate them!
Would exasperationhoweverif relief had longer been postponed
finally have betrayed me? It little mattersfor relief arrived.
I call it reliefthough it was only the relief that a snap brings
to a strain or the burst of a thunderstorm to a day of suffocation.
It was at least changeand it came with a rush.
Walking to church a certain Sunday morningI had little Miles at my side
and his sisterin advance of us and at Mrs. Grose'swell in sight.
It was a crispclear daythe first of its order for some time;
the night had brought a touch of frostand the autumn airbright and sharp
made the church bells almost gay. It was an odd accident of thought
that I should have happened at such a moment to be particularly
and very gratefully struck with the obedience of my little charges.
Why did they never resent my inexorablemy perpetual society?
Something or other had brought nearer home to me that I had all but pinned
the boy to my shawl and thatin the way our companions were marshaled
before meI might have appeared to provide against some danger of rebellion.
I was like a gaoler with an eye to possible surprises and escapes.
But all this belonged--I mean their magnificent little surrender--
just to the special array of the facts that were most abysmal.
Turned out for Sunday by his uncle's tailorwho had had a free
hand and a notion of pretty waistcoats and of his grand little air
Miles's whole title to independencethe rights of his sex and situation
were so stamped upon him that if he had suddenly struck for freedom
I should have had nothing to say. I was by the strangest of chances
wondering how I should meet him when the revolution unmistakably occurred.
I call it a revolution because I now see howwith the word he spoke
the curtain rose on the last act of my dreadful dramaand the catastrophe
was precipitated. "Look heremy dearyou know he charmingly said,
when in the worldpleaseam I going back to school?"
Transcribed here the speech sounds harmless enough
particularly as uttered in the sweethighcasual pipe with which
at all interlocutorsbut above all at his eternal governess
he threw off intonations as if he were tossing roses.
There was something in them that always made one "catch and
I caught, at any rate, now so effectually that I stopped as short
as if one of the trees of the park had fallen across the road.
There was something new, on the spot, between us, and he was
perfectly aware that I recognized it, though, to enable me to do so,
he had no need to look a whit less candid and charming than usual.
I could feel in him how he already, from my at first finding
nothing to reply, perceived the advantage he had gained.
I was so slow to find anything that he had plenty of time,
after a minute, to continue with his suggestive but inconclusive smile:
You knowmy dearthat for a fellow to be with a lady ALWAYS--!"
His "my dear" was constantly on his lips for meand nothing
could have expressed more the exact shade of the sentiment with
which I desired to inspire my pupils than its fond familiarity.
It was so respectfully easy.
Butohhow I felt that at present I must pick my own phrases!
I remember thatto gain timeI tried to laughand I seemed to see in
the beautiful face with which he watched me how ugly and queer I looked.
And always with the same lady?I returned.
He neither blanched nor winked. The whole thing was virtually out
between us. "Ahof courseshe's a jolly`perfect' lady; butafter all
I'm a fellowdon't you see? that's--wellgetting on."
I lingered there with him an instant ever so kindly.
Yes, you're getting on.Ohbut I felt helpless!
I have kept to this day the heartbreaking little idea
of how he seemed to know that and to play with it.
And you can't say I've not been awfully good, can you?
I laid my hand on his shoulderforthough I felt how much
better it would have been to walk onI was not yet quite able.
No, I can't say that, Miles.
Except just that one night, you know--!
That one night?I couldn't look as straight as he.
Why, when I went down--went out of the house.
Oh, yes. But I forget what you did it for.
You forget?--he spoke with the sweet extravagance of childish reproach.
Why, it was to show you I could!
Oh, yes, you could.
And I can again.
I felt that I mightperhapsafter allsucceed in keeping
my wits about me. "Certainly. But you won't."
No, not THAT again. It was nothing.
It was nothing,I said. "But we must go on."
He resumed our walk with mepassing his hand into my arm.
Then when AM I going back?
I worein turning it overmy most responsible air.
Were you very happy at school?
He just considered. "OhI'm happy enough anywhere!"
Well, then,I quaveredif you're just as happy here--!
Ah, but that isn't everything! Of course YOU know a lot--
But you hint that you know almost as much?I risked as he paused.
Not half I want to!Miles honestly professed.
But it isn't so much that.
What is it, then?
Well--I want to see more life.
I see; I see.We had arrived within sight of the church and
of various personsincluding several of the household of Bly
on their way to it and clustered about the door to see us go in.
I quickened our step; I wanted to get there before the question
between us opened up much further; I reflected hungrily that
for more than an hourhe would have to be silent; and I thought
with envy of the comparative dusk of the pew and of the almost
spiritual help of the hassock on which I might bend my knees.
I seemed literally to be running a race with some confusion
to which he was about to reduce mebut I felt that he had got
in first whenbefore we had even entered the churchyard
he threw out--
I want my own sort!
It literally made me bound forward. "There are not many of your
own sortMiles!" I laughed. "Unless perhaps dear little Flora!"
You really compare me to a baby girl?
This found me singularly weak. "Don't youthenLOVE
our sweet Flora?"
If I didn't--and you, too; if I didn't--!he repeated as if
retreating for a jumpyet leaving his thought so unfinished that
after we had come into the gateanother stopwhich he imposed
on me by the pressure of his armhad become inevitable.
Mrs. Grose and Flora had passed into the churchthe other
worshippers had followedand we werefor the minute
alone among the oldthick graves. We had pausedon the path
from the gateby a lowoblongtablelike tomb.
Yes, if you didn't--?
He lookedwhile I waitedat the graves. "Wellyou know what!"
But he didn't moveand he presently produced something that made
me drop straight down on the stone slabas if suddenly to rest.
Does my uncle think what YOU think?
I markedly rested. "How do you know what I think?"
Ah, well, of course I don't; for it strikes me you never tell me.
But I mean does HE know?
Know what, Miles?
Why, the way I'm going on.
I perceived quickly enough that I could maketo this inquiry
no answer that would not involve something of a sacrifice
of my employer. Yet it appeared to me that we were all
at Blysufficiently sacrificed to make that venial.
I don't think your uncle much cares.
Mileson thisstood looking at me. "Then don't you think he can
be made to?"
In what way?
Why, by his coming down.
But who'll get him to come down?
_I_ will!the boy said with extraordinary brightness and emphasis.
He gave me another look charged with that expression and then marched
off alone into church.
The business was practically settled from the moment I
never followed him. It was a pitiful surrender to agitation
but my being aware of this had somehow no power to restore me.
I only sat there on my tomb and read into what my little
friend had said to me the fullness of its meaning;
by the time I had grasped the whole of which I had also embraced
for absencethe pretext that I was ashamed to offer my pupils
and the rest of the congregation such an example of delay.
What I said to myself above all was that Miles had got something
out of me and that the proof of itfor himwould be just this
awkward collapse. He had got out of me that there was something
I was much afraid of and that he should probably be able to make
use of my fear to gainfor his own purposemore freedom.
My fear was of having to deal with the intolerable question
of the grounds of his dismissal from schoolfor that was
really but the question of the horrors gathered behind.
That his uncle should arrive to treat with me of these things
was a solution thatstrictly speakingI ought now to have
desired to bring on; but I could so little face the ugliness
and the pain of it that I simply procrastinated and lived
from hand to mouth. The boyto my deep discomposure
was immensely in the rightwas in a position to say to me:
Either you clear up with my guardian the mystery of this
interruption of my studies, or you cease to expect me
to lead with you a life that's so unnatural for a boy.
What was so unnatural for the particular boy I was concerned
with was this sudden revelation of a consciousness and a plan.
That was what really overcame mewhat prevented my going in.
I walked round the churchhesitatinghovering; I reflected
that I had alreadywith himhurt myself beyond repair.
Therefore I could patch up nothingand it was too
extreme an effort to squeeze beside him into the pew:
he would be so much more sure than ever to pass his arm
into mine and make me sit there for an hour in close
silent contact with his commentary on our talk. For the first
minute since his arrival I wanted to get away from him.
As I paused beneath the high east window and listened to the sounds
of worshipI was taken with an impulse that might master me
I feltcompletely should I give it the least encouragement.
I might easily put an end to my predicament by getting
away altogether. Here was my chance; there was no one to stop me;
I could give the whole thing up--turn my back and retreat.
It was only a question of hurrying againfor a few preparations
to the house which the attendance at church of so many of
the servants would practically have left unoccupied. No one
in shortcould blame me if I should just drive desperately off.
What was it to get away if I got away only till dinner?
That would be in a couple of hoursat the end of which--
I had the acute prevision--my little pupils would play at
innocent wonder about my nonappearance in their train.
What DID you do, you naughty, bad thing? Why in the world,
to worry us so--and take our thoughts off, too, don't you know?--
did you desert us at the very door?I couldn't meet such
questions noras they asked themtheir false little lovely eyes;
yet it was all so exactly what I should have to meet that
as the prospect grew sharp to meI at last let myself go.
I gotso far as the immediate moment was concernedaway; I came straight
out of the churchyard andthinking hardretraced my steps through the park.
It seemed to me that by the time I reached the house I had made up my mind I
would fly. The Sunday stillness both of the approaches and of the interior
in which I met no onefairly excited me with a sense of opportunity.
Were I to get off quicklythis wayI should get off without a scene
without a word. My quickness would have to be remarkablehowever
and the question of a conveyance was the great one to settle.
Tormentedin the hallwith difficulties and obstaclesI remember
sinking down at the foot of the staircase--suddenly collapsing there
on the lowest step and thenwith a revulsionrecalling that it
was exactly where more than a month beforein the darkness of night
and just so bowed with evil thingsI had seen the specter of the most
horrible of women. At this I was able to straighten myself; I went
the rest of the way up; I madein my bewildermentfor the schoolroom
where there were objects belonging to me that I should have to take.
But I opened the door to find againin a flashmy eyes unsealed.
In the presence of what I saw I reeled straight back upon my resistance.
Seated at my own table in clear noonday light I saw a person whom
without my previous experienceI should have taken at
the first blush for some housemaid who might have stayed
at home to look after the place and whoavailing herself
of rare relief from observation and of the schoolroom
table and my pensinkand paperhad applied herself
to the considerable effort of a letter to her sweetheart.
There was an effort in the way thatwhile her arms rested on
the tableher hands with evident weariness supported her head;
but at the moment I took this in I had already become aware that
in spite of my entranceher attitude strangely persisted.
Then it was--with the very act of its announcing itself-that
her identity flared up in a change of posture.
She rosenot as if she had heard mebut with an indescribable
grand melancholy of indifference and detachmentandwithin a
dozen feet of mestood there as my vile predecessor.
Dishonored and tragicshe was all before me; but even as I
fixed andfor memorysecured itthe awful image passed away.
Dark as midnight in her black dressher haggard beauty and her
unutterable woeshe had looked at me long enough to appear to say
that her right to sit at my table was as good as mine to sit at hers.
While these instants lastedindeedI had the extraordinary
chill of feeling that it was I who was the intruder.
It was as a wild protest against it thatactually addressing
her--"You terriblemiserable woman!"--I heard myself break
into a sound thatby the open doorrang through the long
passage and the empty house. She looked at me as if she
heard mebut I had recovered myself and cleared the air.
There was nothing in the room the next minute but the sunshine
and a sense that I must stay.
I had so perfectly expected that the return of my pupils would
be marked by a demonstration that I was freshly upset at having
to take into account that they were dumb about my absence.
Instead of gaily denouncing and caressing methey made no allusion
to my having failed themand I was leftfor the timeon perceiving
that she too said nothingto study Mrs. Grose's odd face.
I did this to such purpose that I made sure they had in some
way bribed her to silence; a silence thathoweverI would
engage to break down on the first private opportunity.
This opportunity came before tea: I secured five minutes
with her in the housekeeper's roomwherein the twilight
amid a smell of lately baked breadbut with the place all
swept and garnishedI found her sitting in pained placidity
before the fire. So I see her stillso I see her best:
facing the flame from her straight chair in the dusky
shining rooma large clean image of the "put away"--
of drawers closed and locked and rest without a remedy.
Oh, yes, they asked me to say nothing; and to please them--
so long as they were there--of course I promised.
But what had happened to you?
I only went with you for the walk,I said. "I had then to come
back to meet a friend."
She showed her surprise. "A friend--YOU?"
Oh, yes, I have a couple!I laughed. "But did the children give
you a reason?"
For not alluding to your leaving us? Yes; they said you would
like it better. Do you like it better?
My face had made her rueful. "NoI like it worse!"
But after an instant I added: "Did they say why I should
like it better?"
No; Master Miles only said, We must do nothing but what she likes!"
I wish indeed he would. And what did Flora say?
Miss Flora was too sweet. She said, `Oh, of course, of course!'--
and I said the same.
I thought a moment. "You were too sweettoo--I can hear you all.
But nonethelessbetween Miles and meit's now all out."
All out?My companion stared. "But whatmiss?"
Everything. It doesn't matter. I've made up my mind.
I came home, my dear,I went onfor a talk with Miss Jessel.
I had by this time formed the habit of having Mrs. Grose
literally well in hand in advance of my sounding that note;
so that even nowas she bravely blinked under the signal
of my wordI could keep her comparatively firm. "A talk!
Do you mean she spoke?"
It came to that. I found her, on my return, in the schoolroom.
And what did she say?I can hear the good woman still
and the candor of her stupefaction.
That she suffers the torments--!
It was thisof a truththat made heras she filled out my picturegape.
Do you mean,she faltered--of the lost?
Of the lost. Of the damned. And that's why, to share them-
I faltered myself with the horror of it.
But my companionwith less imaginationkept me up.
To share them--?
She wants Flora.Mrs. Grose mightas I gave it to herfairly have fallen
away from me had I not been prepared. I still held her thereto show I was.
As I've told you, however, it doesn't matter.
Because you've made up your mind? But to what?
And what do you call `everything'?
Why, sending for their uncle.
Oh, miss, in pity do,my friend broke out.
ah, but I will, I WILL! I see it's the only way.
What's `out,' as I told you, with Miles is that if he thinks
I'm afraid to--and has ideas of what he gains by that-he
shall see he's mistaken. Yes, yes; his uncle shall have it
here from me on the spot (and before the boy himself, if necessary)
that if I'm to be reproached with having done nothing again
about more school--
Yes, miss--my companion pressed me.
Well, there's that awful reason.
There were now clearly so many of these for my poor colleague that she
was excusable for being vague. "But--a-- which?"
Why, the letter from his old place.
You'll show it to the master?
I ought to have done so on the instant.
Oh, no!said Mrs. Grose with decision.
I'll put it before him,I went on inexorablythat I can't undertake
to work the question on behalf of a child who has been expelled--
For we've never in the least known what!Mrs. Grose declared.
For wickedness. For what else--when he's so clever and beautiful
and perfect? Is he stupid? Is he untidy? Is he infirm?
Is he ill-natured? He's exquisite--so it can be only THAT;
and that would open up the whole thing. After all,I said
it's their uncle's fault. If he left here such people--!
He didn't really in the least know them. The fault's mine.
She had turned quite pale.
Well, you shan't suffer,I answered.
The children shan't!she emphatically returned.
I was silent awhile; we looked at each other. "Then what am
I to tell him?"
You needn't tell him anything. _I_'ll tell him.
I measured this. "Do you mean you'll write--?" Remembering she couldn'tI
caught myself up. "How do you communicate?"
I tell the bailiff. HE writes.
And should you like him to write our story?
My question had a sarcastic force that I had not fully intended
and it made herafter a momentinconsequently break down.
The tears were again in her eyes. "AhmissYOU write!"
Well--tonight,I at last answered; and on this we separated.
I went so farin the eveningas to make a beginning.
The weather had changed backa great wind was abroad
and beneath the lampin my roomwith Flora at peace beside me
I sat for a long time before a blank sheet of paper and
listened to the lash of the rain and the batter of the gusts.
Finally I went outtaking a candle; I crossed the passage
and listened a minute at Miles's door. Whatunder my
endless obsessionI had been impelled to listen for was some
betrayal of his not being at restand I presently caught one
but not in the form I had expected. His voice tinkled out.
I say, you there--come in.It was a gaiety in the gloom!
I went in with my light and found himin bedvery wide awake
but very much at his ease. "Wellwhat are YOU up to?"
he asked with a grace of sociability in which it occurred
to me that Mrs. Grosehad she been presentmight have looked
in vain for proof that anything was "out."
I stood over him with my candle. "How did you know I was there?"
Why, of course I heard you. Did you fancy you made no noise?
You're like a troop of cavalry!he beautifully laughed.
Then you weren't asleep?
Not much! I lie awake and think.
I had put my candledesignedlya short way offand thenas he held
out his friendly old hand to mehad sat down on the edge of his bed.
What is it,I askedthat you think of?
What in the world, my dear, but YOU?
Ah, the pride I take in your appreciation doesn't insist on that!
I had so far rather you slept.
Well, I think also, you know, of this queer business of ours.
I marked the coolness of his firm little hand.
Of what queer business, Miles?
Why, the way you bring me up. And all the rest!
I fairly held my breath a minuteand even from my glimmering taper
there was light enough to show how he smiled up at me from his pillow.
What do you mean by all the rest?
Oh, you know, you know!
I could say nothing for a minutethough I feltas I held
his hand and our eyes continued to meetthat my silence
had all the air of admitting his charge and that nothing
in the whole world of reality was perhaps at that moment
so fabulous as our actual relation. "Certainly you shall go
back to school I said, if it be that that troubles you.
But not to the old place--we must find anothera better.
How could I know it did trouble youthis question
when you never told me sonever spoke of it at all?"
His clearlistening faceframed in its smooth whiteness
made him for the minute as appealing as some wistful
patient in a children's hospital; and I would have given
as the resemblance came to meall I possessed on earth really
to be the nurse or the sister of charity who might have helped
to cure him. Welleven as it wasI perhaps might help!
Do you know you've never said a word to me about your school--
I mean the old one; never mentioned it in any way?
He seemed to wonder; he smiled with the same loveliness.
But he clearly gained time; he waitedhe called for guidance.
Haven't I?It wasn't for ME to help him--it was for
the thing I had met!
Something in his tone and the expression of his faceas I
got this from himset my heart aching with such a pang as it
had never yet known; so unutterably touching was it to see his
little brain puzzled and his little resources taxed to play
under the spell laid on hima part of innocence and consistency.
No, never--from the hour you came back. You've never
mentioned to me one of your masters, one of your comrades,
nor the least little thing that ever happened to you at school.
Never, little Miles--no, never--have you given me an inkling
of anything that MAY have happened there. Therefore you
can fancy how much I'm in the dark. Until you came out,
that way, this morning, you had, since the first hour I saw you,
scarce even made a reference to anything in your previous life.
You seemed so perfectly to accept the present.It was
extraordinary how my absolute conviction of his secret precocity
(or whatever I might call the poison of an influence that I
dared but half to phrase) made himin spite of the faint
breath of his inward troubleappear as accessible as an
older person--imposed him almost as an intellectual equal.
I thought you wanted to go on as you are.
It struck me that at this he just faintly colored. He gaveat any rate
like a convalescent slightly fatigueda languid shake of his head.
I don't--I don't. I want to get away.
You're tired of Bly?
Oh, no, I like Bly.
Oh, YOU know what a boy wants!
I felt that I didn't know so well as Milesand I took temporary refuge.
You want to go to your uncle?
Againat thiswith his sweet ironic facehe made a movement on the pillow.
Ah, you can't get off with that!
I was silent a littleand it was InowI thinkwho changed color.
My dear, I don't want to get off!
You can't, even if you do. You can't, you can't!--
he lay beautifully staring. "My uncle must come down
and you must completely settle things."
If we do,I returned with some spirityou may be sure it
will be to take you quite away.
Well, don't you understand that that's exactly what I'm working for?
You'll have to tell him--about the way you've let it all drop:
you'll have to tell him a tremendous lot!
The exultation with which he uttered this helped
me somehowfor the instantto meet him rather more.
And how much will YOU, Miles, have to tell him?
There are things he'll ask you!
He turned it over. "Very likely. But what things?"
The things you've never told me. To make up his mind what to do with you.
He can't send you back--
Oh, I don't want to go back!he broke in. "I want a new field."
He said it with admirable serenitywith positive unimpeachable gaiety;
and doubtless it was that very note that most evoked for me the poignancy
the unnatural childish tragedyof his probable reappearance at the end of
three months with all this bravado and still more dishonor. It overwhelmed me
now that I should never be able to bear thatand it made me let myself go.
I threw myself upon him and in the tenderness of my pity I embraced him.
Dear little Miles, dear little Miles--!
My face was close to hisand he let me kiss himsimply taking it
with indulgent good humor. "Wellold lady?"
Is there nothing--nothing at all that you want to tell me?
He turned off a littlefacing round toward the wall and holding
up his hand to look at as one had seen sick children look.
I've told you--I told you this morning.
OhI was sorry for him! "That you just want me not to worry you?"
He looked round at me nowas if in recognition of my understanding him;
then ever so gentlyTo let me alone,he replied.
There was even a singular little dignity in itsomething that made
me release himyetwhen I had slowly risenlinger beside him.
God knows I never wished to harass himbut I felt that merelyat this
to turn my back on him was to abandon orto put it more trulyto lose him.
I've just begun a letter to your uncle,I said.
Well, then, finish it!
I waited a minute. "What happened before?"
He gazed up at me again. "Before what?"
Before you came back. And before you went away.
For some time he was silentbut he continued to meet my eyes.
It made methe sound of the wordsin which it seemed to me
that I caught for the very first time a small faint quaver
of consenting consciousness--it made me drop on my knees beside
the bed and seize once more the chance of possessing him.
Dear little Miles, dear little Miles, if you KNEW how I
want to help you! It's only that, it's nothing but that,
and I'd rather die than give you a pain or do you a wrong-I'd
rather die than hurt a hair of you. Dear little Miles-oh
I brought it out now even if I SHOULD go too far--"I
just want you to help me to save you!" But I knew in a moment
after this that I had gone too far. The answer to my appeal
was instantaneousbut it came in the form of an extraordinary
blast and chilla gust of frozen airand a shake of the room
as great as ifin the wild windthe casement had crashed in.
The boy gave a loudhigh shriekwhichlost in the rest
of the shock of soundmight have seemedindistinctlythough I
was so close to hima note either of jubilation or of terror.
I jumped to my feet again and was conscious of darkness.
So for a moment we remainedwhile I stared about me and saw
that the drawn curtains were unstirred and the window tight.
Why, the candle's out!I then cried.
It was I who blew it, dear!said Miles.
The next dayafter lessonsMrs. Grose found a moment to say to me quietly:
Have you written, miss?
Yes--I've written.But I didn't add--for the hour--that my letter
sealed and directedwas still in my pocket. There would be time
enough to send it before the messenger should go to the village.
Meanwhile there had beenon the part of my pupilsno more brilliant
more exemplary morning. It was exactly as if they had both had at heart
to gloss over any recent little friction. They performed the dizziest feats
of arithmeticsoaring quite out of MY feeble rangeand perpetrated
in higher spirits than evergeographical and historical jokes.
It was conspicuous of course in Miles in particular that he appeared
to wish to show how easily he could let me down. This childto my memory
really lives in a setting of beauty and misery that no words can translate;
there was a distinction all his own in every impulse he revealed;
never was a small natural creatureto the uninitiated eye all frankness
and freedoma more ingeniousa more extraordinary little gentleman.
I had perpetually to guard against the wonder of contemplation into which my
initiated view betrayed me; to check the irrelevant gaze and discouraged
sigh in which I constantly both attacked and renounced the enigma of
what such a little gentleman could have done that deserved a penalty.
Say thatby the dark prodigy I knewthe imagination of all evil HAD
been opened up to him: all the justice within me ached for the proof
that it could ever have flowered into an act.
He had neverat any ratebeen such a little gentleman
as whenafter our early dinner on this dreadful day
he came round to me and asked if I shouldn't like him
for half an hourto play to me. David playing to Saul
could never have shown a finer sense of the occasion.
It was literally a charming exhibition of tactof magnanimity
and quite tantamount to his saying outright: "The true knights
we love to read about never push an advantage too far.
I know what you mean now: you mean that--to be let alone yourself
and not followed up--you'll cease to worry and spy upon me
won't keep me so close to youwill let me go and come.
WellI `come' you see--but I don't go! There'll be plenty
of time for that. I do really delight in your society
and I only want to show you that I contended for a principle."
It may be imagined whether I resisted this appeal or failed
to accompany him againhand in handto the schoolroom.
He sat down at the old piano and played as he had never played;
and if there are those who think he had better have been kicking
a football I can only say that I wholly agree with them.
For at the end of a time that under his influence I had
quite ceased to measureI started up with a strange sense
of having literally slept at my post. It was after luncheon
and by the schoolroom fireand yet I hadn't really
in the leastslept: I had only done something much worse--
I had forgotten. Whereall this timewas Flora?
When I put the question to Mileshe played on a minute
before answering and then could only say: "Whymy dear
how do _I_ know?"--breaking moreover into a happy laugh which
immediately afteras if it were a vocal accompaniment
he prolonged into incoherentextravagant song.
I went straight to my roombut his sister was not there;
thenbefore going downstairsI looked into several others.
As she was nowhere about she would surely be with Mrs. Grosewhom
in the comfort of that theoryI accordingly proceeded in quest of.
I found her where I had found her the evening before
but she met my quick challenge with blankscared ignorance.
She had only supposed thatafter the repastI had carried
off both the children; as to which she was quite in her right
for it was the very first time I had allowed the little
girl out of my sight without some special provision.
Of course now indeed she might be with the maidsso that the
immediate thing was to look for her without an air of alarm.
This we promptly arranged between us; but whenten minutes
later and in pursuance of our arrangementwe met in the hall
it was only to report on either side that after guarded inquiries
we had altogether failed to trace her. For a minute there
apart from observationwe exchanged mute alarmsand I could
feel with what high interest my friend returned me all those I
had from the first given her.
She'll be above,she presently said--"in one of the rooms
you haven't searched."
No; she's at a distance.I had made up my mind.
She has gone out.
Mrs. Grose stared. "Without a hat?"
I naturally also looked volumes. "Isn't that woman always without one?"
She's with HER?
She's with HER!I declared. "We must find them."
My hand was on my friend's armbut she failed for the moment
confronted with such an account of the matterto respond to my pressure.
She communedon the contraryon the spotwith her uneasiness.
And where's Master Miles?
Oh, HE'S with Quint. They're in the schoolroom.
Lord, miss!My viewI was myself aware--and therefore I suppose my tone--
had never yet reached so calm an assurance.
The trick's played,I went on; "they've successfully worked their plan.
He found the most divine little way to keep me quiet while she went off."
'Divine'?Mrs. Grose bewilderedly echoed.
Infernal, then!I almost cheerfully rejoined.
He has provided for himself as well. But come!
She had helplessly gloomed at the upper regions.
You leave him--?
So long with Quint? Yes--I don't mind that now.
She always endedat these momentsby getting possession of
my handand in this manner she could at present still stay me.
But after gasping an instant at my sudden resignation
Because of your letter?she eagerly brought out.
I quicklyby way of answerfelt for my letterdrew it forthheld it up
and thenfreeing myselfwent and laid it on the great hall table.
Luke will take it,I said as I came back. I reached the house door
and opened it; I was already on the steps.
My companion still demurred: the storm of the night and the early
morning had droppedbut the afternoon was damp and gray.
I came down to the drive while she stood in the doorway.
You go with nothing on?
What do I care when the child has nothing? I can't wait
to dress,I criedand if you must do so, I leave you.
Try meanwhile, yourself, upstairs.
With THEM?Ohon thisthe poor woman promptly joined me!
We went straight to the lakeas it was called at Blyand I daresay
rightly calledthough I reflect that it may in fact have been a sheet
of water less remarkable than it appeared to my untraveled eyes.
My acquaintance with sheets of water was smalland the pool
of Blyat all events on the few occasions of my consenting
under the protection of my pupilsto affront its surface
in the old flat-bottomed boat moored there for our use
had impressed me both with its extent and its agitation.
The usual place of embarkation was half a mile from the house
but I had an intimate conviction thatwherever Flora might be
she was not near home. She had not given me the slip for any
small adventureandsince the day of the very great one
that I had shared with her by the pondI had been aware
in our walksof the quarter to which she most inclined.
This was why I had now given to Mrs. Grose's steps so marked
a direction--a direction that made herwhen she perceived it
oppose a resistance that showed me she was freshly mystified.
You're going to the water, Miss?--you think she's IN--?
She may be, though the depth is, I believe, nowhere very great.
But what I judge most likely is that she's on the spot from which,
the other day, we saw together what I told you.
When she pretended not to see--?
With that astounding self-possession? I've always been sure she wanted
to go back alone. And now her brother has managed it for her.
Mrs. Grose still stood where she had stopped. "You suppose they
really TALK of them?"
I could meet this with a confidence! They say things that
if we heard themwould simply appall us."
And if she IS there--
Then Miss Jessel is?
Beyond a doubt. You shall see.
Oh, thank you!my friend criedplanted so firm that
taking it inI went straight on without her. By the time
I reached the poolhowevershe was close behind meand I
knew thatwhateverto her apprehensionmight befall me
the exposure of my society struck her as her least danger.
She exhaled a moan of relief as we at last came in sight
of the greater part of the water without a sight of the child.
There was no trace of Flora on that nearer side of the bank
where my observation of her had been most startling
and none on the opposite edgewheresave for a margin
of some twenty yardsa thick copse came down to the water.
The pondoblong in shapehad a width so scant compared
to its length thatwith its ends out of viewit might have
been taken for a scant river. We looked at the empty expanse
and then I felt the suggestion of my friend's eyes.
I knew what she meant and I replied with a negative headshake.
No, no; wait! She has taken the boat.
My companion stared at the vacant mooring place and then again across
the lake. "Then where is it?"
Our not seeing it is the strongest of proofs. She has used it to go over,
and then has managed to hide it.
All alone--that child?
She's not alone, and at such times she's not a child: she's an old,
old woman.I scanned all the visible shore while Mrs. Grose took again
into the queer element I offered herone of her plunges of submission;
then I pointed out that the boat might perfectly be in a small refuge
formed by one of the recesses of the poolan indentation masked
for the hither sideby a projection of the bank and by a clump of trees
growing close to the water.
But if the boat's there, where on earth's SHE?
my colleague anxiously asked.
That's exactly what we must learn.And I started to walk further.
By going all the way round?
Certainly, far as it is. It will take us but ten minutes,
but it's far enough to have made the child prefer not to walk.
She went straight over.
Laws!cried my friend again; the chain of my logic was ever
too much for her. It dragged her at my heels even now
and when we had got halfway round--a devioustiresome process
on ground much broken and by a path choked with overgrowth--
I paused to give her breath. I sustained her with a grateful arm
assuring her that she might hugely help me; and this started
us afreshso that in the course of but few minutes more we reached
a point from which we found the boat to be where I had supposed it.
It had been intentionally left as much as possible out of sight
and was tied to one of the stakes of a fence that camejust there
down to the brink and that had been an assistance to disembarking.
I recognizedas I looked at the pair of shortthick oars
quite safely drawn upthe prodigious character of the feat
for a little girl; but I had livedby this timetoo long
among wonders and had panted to too many livelier measures.
There was a gate in the fencethrough which we passed
and that brought usafter a trifling intervalmore into the open.
ThenThere she is!we both exclaimed at once.
Floraa short way offstood before us on the grass and smiled
as if her performance was now complete. The next thing she did
howeverwas to stoop straight down and pluck--quite as if it
were all she was there for--a bigugly spray of withered fern.
I instantly became sure she had just come out of the copse.
She waited for usnot herself taking a stepand I was
conscious of the rare solemnity with which we presently
approached her. She smiled and smiledand we met; but it
was all done in a silence by this time flagrantly ominous.
Mrs. Grose was the first to break the spell: she threw
herself on her knees anddrawing the child to her breast
clasped in a long embrace the little tenderyielding body.
While this dumb convulsion lasted I could only watch it--
which I did the more intently when I saw Flora's face peep
at me over our companion's shoulder. It was serious now--
the flicker had left it; but it strengthened the pang with which I
at that moment envied Mrs. Grose the simplicity of HER relation.
Stillall this whilenothing more passed between us save
that Flora had let her foolish fern again drop to the ground.
What she and I had virtually said to each other was that
pretexts were useless now. When Mrs. Grose finally got up she
kept the child's handso that the two were still before me;
and the singular reticence of our communion was even more
marked in the frank look she launched me. "I'll be hanged
it said, if _I_'ll speak!"
It was Flora whogazing all over me in candid wonder
was the first. She was struck with our bareheaded aspect.
Why, where are your things?
Where yours are, my dear!I promptly returned.
She had already got back her gaietyand appeared to take
this as an answer quite sufficient. "And where's Miles?"
she went on.
There was something in the small valor of it that quite finished me:
these three words from her werein a flash like the glitter of a
drawn bladethe jostle of the cup that my handfor weeks and weeks
had held high and full to the brim that noweven before speaking
I felt overflow in a deluge. "I'll tell you if you'll tell ME--"
I heard myself saythen heard the tremor in which it broke.
Mrs. Grose's suspense blazed at mebut it was too late now
and I brought the thing out handsomely. "Wheremy pet
is Miss Jessel?"
Just as in the churchyard with Milesthe whole thing was upon us.
Much as I had made of the fact that this name had never once
between usbeen soundedthe quicksmitten glare with
which the child's face now received it fairly likened
my breach of the silence to the smash of a pane of glass.
It added to the interposing cryas if to stay the blow
that Mrs. Groseat the same instantuttered over my violence--
the shriek of a creature scaredor rather woundedwhichin turn
within a few secondswas completed by a gasp of my own.
I seized my colleague's arm. "She's thereshe's there!"
Miss Jessel stood before us on the opposite bank exactly as she
had stood the other timeand I rememberstrangelyas the
first feeling now produced in memy thrill of joy at having
brought on a proof. She was thereand I was justified;
she was thereand I was neither cruel nor mad.
She was there for poor scared Mrs. Grosebut she was there
most for Flora; and no moment of my monstrous time was perhaps
so extraordinary as that in which I consciously threw out to her--
with the sense thatpale and ravenous demon as she wasshe would
catch and understand it--an inarticulate message of gratitude.
She rose erect on the spot my friend and I had lately quitted
and there was notin all the long reach of her desire
an inch of her evil that fell short. This first vividness
of vision and emotion were things of a few seconds
during which Mrs. Grose's dazed blink across to where I pointed
struck me as a sovereign sign that she too at last saw
just as it carried my own eyes precipitately to the child.
The revelation then of the manner in which Flora was affected
startled mein truthfar more than it would have done to find
her also merely agitatedfor direct dismay was of course not
what I had expected. Prepared and on her guard as our pursuit
had actually made hershe would repress every betrayal;
and I was therefore shakenon the spotby my first
glimpse of the particular one for which I had not allowed.
To see herwithout a convulsion of her small pink facenot even
feign to glance in the direction of the prodigy I announced
but onlyinstead of thatturn at ME an expression of hard
still gravityan expression absolutely new and unprecedented
and that appeared to read and accuse and judge me--
this was a stroke that somehow converted the little girl
herself into the very presence that could make me quail.
I quailed even though my certitude that she thoroughly saw
was never greater than at that instantand in the immediate
need to defend myself I called it passionately to witness.
She's there, you little unhappy thing--there, there, THERE,
and you see her as well as you see me!I had said shortly
before to Mrs. Grose that she was not at these times a child
but an oldold womanand that description of her could not
have been more strikingly confirmed than in the way in which
for all answer to thisshe simply showed mewithout a concession
an admissionof her eyesa countenance of deeper and deeper
of indeed suddenly quite fixedreprobation. I was by this time--
if I can put the whole thing at all together--more appalled
at what I may properly call her manner than at anything else
though it was simultaneously with this that I became aware
of having Mrs. Grose alsoand very formidablyto reckon with.
My elder companionthe next momentat any rateblotted out
everything but her own flushed face and her loudshocked protest
a burst of high disapproval. "What a dreadful turn
to be suremiss! Where on earth do you see anything?"
I could only grasp her more quickly yetfor even while she
spoke the hideous plain presence stood undimmed and undaunted.
It had already lasted a minuteand it lasted while I continued
seizing my colleaguequite thrusting her at it and presenting her to it
to insist with my pointing hand. "You don't see her exactly as WE see?--
you mean to say you don't now--NOW? She's as big as a blazing fire!
Only lookdearest womanLOOK--!" She lookedeven as I did
and gave mewith her deep groan of negationrepulsioncompassion--
the mixture with her pity of her relief at her exemption--a sense
touching to me even thenthat she would have backed me up if she could.
I might well have needed thatfor with this hard blow of the proof that
her eyes were hopelessly sealed I felt my own situation horribly crumble
I felt--I saw--my livid predecessor pressfrom her positionon my defeat
and I was consciousmore than allof what I should have from this
instant to deal with in the astounding little attitude of Flora.
Into this attitude Mrs. Grose immediately and violently entered
breakingeven while there pierced through my sense of ruin a prodigious
private triumphinto breathless reassurance.
She isn't there, little lady, and nobody's there--and you never see nothing,
my sweet! How can poor Miss Jessel--when poor Miss Jessel's dead and buried?
WE know, don't we, love?--and she appealed, blundering in, to the child.
It's all a mere mistake and a worry and a joke--and we'll go home as fast
as we can!"
Our companionon thishad responded with a strange
quick primness of proprietyand they were againwith Mrs. Grose
on her feetunitedas it werein pained opposition to me.
Flora continued to fix me with her small mask of reprobation
and even at that minute I prayed God to forgive me for seeming
to see thatas she stood there holding tight to our friend's dress
her incomparable childish beauty had suddenly failed
had quite vanished. I've said it already--she was literally
she was hideouslyhard; she had turned common and almost ugly.
I don't know what you mean. I see nobody. I see nothing.
I never HAVE. I think you're cruel. I don't like you!
Thenafter this deliverancewhich might have been that of a
vulgarly pert little girl in the streetshe hugged Mrs. Grose
more closely and buried in her skirts the dreadful little face.
In this position she produced an almost furious wail.
Take me away, take me away--oh, take me away from HER!
From ME?I panted.
From you--from you!she cried.
Even Mrs. Grose looked across at me dismayedwhile I had
nothing to do but communicate again with the figure that
on the opposite bankwithout a movementas rigidly still
as if catchingbeyond the intervalour voiceswas as vividly
there for my disaster as it was not there for my service.
The wretched child had spoken exactly as if she had got from
some outside source each of her stabbing little wordsand I
could thereforein the full despair of all I had to accept
but sadly shake my head at her. "If I had ever doubted
all my doubt would at present have gone. I've been living with
the miserable truthand now it has only too much closed round me.
Of course I've lost you: I've interferedand you've seen--
under HER dictation"--with which I facedover the pool again
our infernal witness--"the easy and perfect way to meet it.
I've done my bestbut I've lost you. Goodbye." For Mrs. Grose
I had an imperativean almost frantic "Gogo!" before which
in infinite distressbut mutely possessed of the little girl
and clearly convincedin spite of her blindnessthat something
awful had occurred and some collapse engulfed usshe retreated
by the way we had comeas fast as she could move.
Of what first happened when I was left alone I had no subsequent memory.
I only knew that at the end ofI supposea quarter of an hour
an odorous dampness and roughnesschilling and piercing
my troublehad made me understand that I must have thrown myself
on my faceon the ground and given way to a wildness of grief.
I must have lain there long and cried and sobbedfor when I raised
my head the day was almost done. I got up and looked a moment
through the twilightat the gray pool and its blankhaunted edge
and then I tookback to the housemy dreary and difficult course.
When I reached the gate in the fence the boatto my surprisewas gone
so that I had a fresh reflection to make on Flora's extraordinary
command of the situation. She passed that nightby the most tacit
and I should addwere not the word so grotesque a false note
the happiest of arrangementswith Mrs. Grose. I saw neither of them
on my returnbuton the other handas by an ambiguous compensation
I saw a great deal of Miles. I saw--I can use no other phrase--
so much of him that it was as if it were more than it had ever been.
No evening I had passed at Bly had the portentous quality of this one;
in spite of which--and in spite also of the deeper depths of
consternation that had opened beneath my feet--there was literally
in the ebbing actualan extraordinarily sweet sadness.
On reaching the house I had never so much as looked for the boy;
I had simply gone straight to my room to change what I was wearing
and to take inat a glancemuch material testimony to Flora's rupture.
Her little belongings had all been removed. When later
by the schoolroom fireI was served with tea by the usual maid
I indulgedon the article of my other pupilin no inquiry whatever.
He had his freedom now--he might have it to the end! Wellhe did
have it; and it consisted--in part at least--of his coming
in at about eight o'clock and sitting down with me in silence.
On the removal of the tea things I had blown out the candles
and drawn my chair closer: I was conscious of a mortal coldness
and felt as if I should never again be warm. Sowhen he appeared
I was sitting in the glow with my thoughts. He paused a moment
by the door as if to look at me; then--as if to share them--
came to the other side of the hearth and sank into a chair.
We sat there in absolute stillness; yet he wantedI felt
to be with me.
Before a new dayin my roomhad fully brokenmy eyes opened
to Mrs. Grosewho had come to my bedside with worse news.
Flora was so markedly feverish that an illness was perhaps at hand;
she had passed a night of extreme unresta night agitated above
all by fears that had for their subject not in the least her former
but wholly her presentgoverness. It was not against the possible
re-entrance of Miss Jessel on the scene that she protested-it
was conspicuously and passionately against mine. I was promptly
on my feet of courseand with an immense deal to ask; the more that my
friend had discernibly now girded her loins to meet me once more.
This I felt as soon as I had put to her the question of her sense
of the child's sincerity as against my own. "She persists in denying
to you that she sawor has ever seenanything?"
My visitor's troubletrulywas great. "Ahmissit isn't a matter on which
I can push her! Yet it isn't eitherI must sayas if I much needed to.
It has made herevery inch of herquite old."
Oh, I see her perfectly from here. She resents, for all
the world like some high little personage, the imputation
on her truthfulness and, as it were, her respectability.
`Miss Jessel indeed--SHE!' Ah, she's `respectable,' the chit!
The impression she gave me there yesterday was, I assure you,
the very strangest of all; it was quite beyond any of the others.
I DID put my foot in it! She'll never speak to me again.
Hideous and obscure as it all wasit held Mrs. Grose briefly silent;
then she granted my point with a frankness whichI made sure
had more behind it. "I think indeedmissshe never will.
She do have a grand manner about it!"
And that manner--I summed it up--"is practically what's the matter
with her now!"
Ohthat mannerI could see in my visitor's faceand not
a little else besides! "She asks me every three minutes if I
think you're coming in."
I see--I see.Itooon my sidehad so much more than worked it out.
Has she said to you since yesterday--except to repudiate her familiarity
with anything so dreadful--a single other word about Miss Jessel?
Not one, miss. And of course you know,my friend added
I took it from her, by the lake, that, just then and there
at least, there WAS nobody.
Rather! and, naturally, you take it from her still.
I don't contradict her. What else can I do?
Nothing in the world! You've the cleverest little person to deal with.
They've made them--their two friends, I mean--still cleverer
even than nature did; for it was wondrous material to play on!
Flora has now her grievance, and she'll work it to the end.
Yes, miss; but to WHAT end?
Why, that of dealing with me to her uncle. She'll make me out to him
the lowest creature--!
I winced at the fair show of the scene in Mrs. Grose's face;
she looked for a minute as if she sharply saw them together.
And him who thinks so well of you!
He has an odd way--it comes over me now,I laughed--of proving it!
But that doesn't matter. What Flora wants, of course, is to get rid of me.
My companion bravely concurred. "Never again to so much as look at you."
So that what you've come to me now for,I askedis to speed me on
my way?Before she had time to replyhoweverI had her in check.
I've a better idea--the result of my reflections. My going WOULD seem
the right thing, and on Sunday I was terribly near it. Yet that won't do.
It's YOU who must go. You must take Flora.
My visitorat thisdid speculate. "But where in the world--?"
Away from here. Away from THEM. Away, even most of all, now, from me.
Straight to her uncle.
Only to tell on you--?
No, not `only'! To leave me, in addition, with my remedy.
She was still vague. "And what IS your remedy?"
Your loyalty, to begin with. And then Miles's.
She looked at me hard. "Do you think he--?"
Won't, if he has the chance, turn on me? Yes, I venture still
to think it. At all events, I want to try. Get off with his
sister as soon as possible and leave me with him alone.
I was amazedmyselfat the spirit I had still in reserve
and therefore perhaps a trifle the more disconcerted
at the way in whichin spite of this fine example of it
she hesitated. "There's one thingof course I went on:
they mustn'tbefore she goessee each other for three seconds."
Then it came over me thatin spite of Flora's presumable
sequestration from the instant of her return from the pool
it might already be too late. "Do you mean I anxiously asked,
that they HAVE met?"
At this she quite flushed. "AhmissI'm not such a fool as that!
If I've been obliged to leave her three or four times
it has been each time with one of the maidsand at present
though she's aloneshe's locked in safe. And yet--and yet!"
There were too many things.
And yet what?
Well, are you so sure of the little gentleman?
I'm not sure of anything but YOU. But I have, since last evening,
a new hope. I think he wants to give me an opening.
I do believe that--poor little exquisite wretch!--he wants to speak.
Last evening, in the firelight and the silence, he sat with me
for two hours as if it were just coming.
Mrs. Grose looked hardthrough the windowat the graygathering day.
And did it come?
No, though I waited and waited, I confess it didn't, and it was
without a breach of the silence or so much as a faint allusion to his
sister's condition and absence that we at last kissed for good night.
All the same,I continuedI can't, if her uncle sees her,
consent to his seeing her brother without my having given the boy--
and most of all because things have got so bad--a little more time.
My friend appeared on this ground more reluctant than I could
quite understand. "What do you mean by more time?"
Well, a day or two--really to bring it out. He'll then be on
MY side--of which you see the importance. If nothing comes,
I shall only fail, and you will, at the worst, have helped me by doing,
on your arrival in town, whatever you may have found possible.
So I put it before herbut she continued for a little so inscrutably
embarrassed that I came again to her aid. "Unlessindeed
I wound up, you really want NOT to go."
I could see itin her faceat last clear itself;
she put out her hand to me as a pledge. "I'll go--I'll go.
I'll go this morning."
I wanted to be very just. "If you SHOULD wish still to wait
I would engage she shouldn't see me."
No, no: it's the place itself. She must leave it.
She held me a moment with heavy eyesthen brought out the rest.
Your idea's the right one. I myself, miss--
I can't stay.
The look she gave me with it made me jump at possibilities.
You mean that, since yesterday, you HAVE seen--?
She shook her head with dignity. "I've HEARD--!"
From that child--horrors! There!she sighed with tragic relief.
On my honor, miss, she says things--!But at this evocation she broke down;
she droppedwith a sudden sobupon my sofa andas I had seen her do before
gave way to all the grief of it.
It was quite in another manner that Ifor my partlet myself go.
Oh, thank God!
She sprang up again at thisdrying her eyes with a groan. "'Thank God'?"
It so justifies me!
It does that, miss!
I couldn't have desired more emphasisbut I just hesitated.
She's so horrible?
I saw my colleague scarce knew how to put it. "Really shocking."
And about me?
About you, miss--since you must have it. It's beyond everything,
for a young lady; and I can't think wherever she must have picked up--
The appalling language she applied to me? I can, then!
I broke in with a laugh that was doubtless significant enough.
It onlyin truthleft my friend still more grave.
Well, perhaps I ought to also--since I've heard some of it before!
Yet I can't bear it,the poor woman went on whilewith the same movement
she glancedon my dressing tableat the face of my watch.
But I must go back.
I kept herhowever. "Ahif you can't bear it--!"
How can I stop with her, you mean? Why, just FOR that:
to get her away. Far from this,she pursuedfar from THEM-
She may be different? She may be free?I seized her almost with joy.
Then, in spite of yesterday, you BELIEVE--
In such doings?Her simple description of them required
in the light of her expressionto be carried no further
and she gave me the whole thing as she had never done.
Yesit was a joyand we were still shoulder to shoulder: if I might
continue sure of that I should care but little what else happened.
My support in the presence of disaster would be the same as it had
been in my early need of confidenceand if my friend would answer
for my honestyI would answer for all the rest. On the point of
taking leave of hernonethelessI was to some extent embarrassed.
There's one thing, of course--it occurs to me--to remember.
My letter, giving the alarm, will have reached town before you.
I now perceived still more how she had been beating about the bush and
how weary at last it had made her. "Your letter won't have got there.
Your letter never went."
What then became of it?
Goodness knows! Master Miles--
Do you mean HE took it?I gasped.
She hung firebut she overcame her reluctance. "I mean that I saw yesterday
when I came back with Miss Florathat it wasn't where you had put it.
Later in the evening I had the chance to question Lukeand he declared
that he had neither noticed nor touched it." We could only exchangeon this
one of our deeper mutual soundingsand it was Mrs. Grose who first brought
up the plumb with an almost elated "You see!"
Yes, I see that if Miles took it instead he probably will have read it
and destroyed it.
And don't you see anything else?
I faced her a moment with a sad smile. "It strikes me that by this
time your eyes are open even wider than mine."
They proved to be so indeedbut she could still blushalmostto show it.
I make out now what he must have done at school.And she gave
in her simple sharpnessan almost droll disillusioned nod. "He stole!"
I turned it over--I tried to be more judicial. "Well--perhaps."
She looked as if she found me unexpectedly calm.
He stole LETTERS!
She couldn't know my reasons for a calmness after all
pretty shallow; so I showed them off as I might.
I hope then it was to more purpose than in this case!
The note, at any rate, that I put on the table yesterday,
I pursuedwill have given him so scant an advantage--
for it contained only the bare demand for an interview--
that he is already much ashamed of having gone so far
for so little, and that what he had on his mind last evening
was precisely the need of confession.I seemed to myself
for the instantto have mastered itto see it all.
Leave us, leave us--I was alreadyat the doorhurrying her off.
I'll get it out of him. He'll meet me--he'll confess.
If he confesses, he's saved. And if he's saved--
Then YOU are?The dear woman kissed me on this
and I took her farewell. "I'll save you without him!"
she cried as she went.
Yet it was when she had got off--and I missed her on the spot--
that the great pinch really came. If I had counted on
what it would give me to find myself alone with Miles
I speedily perceivedat leastthat it would give me a measure.
No hour of my stay in fact was so assailed with apprehensions
as that of my coming down to learn that the carriage containing
Mrs. Grose and my younger pupil had already rolled out of the gates.
Now I WASI said to myselfface to face with the elements
and for much of the rest of the daywhile I fought
my weaknessI could consider that I had been supremely rash.
It was a tighter place still than I had yet turned round in;
all the more thatfor the first timeI could see in
the aspect of others a confused reflection of the crisis.
What had happened naturally caused them all to stare;
there was too little of the explainedthrow out whatever we might
in the suddenness of my colleague's act. The maids and the men
looked blank; the effect of which on my nerves was an aggravation
until I saw the necessity of making it a positive aid.
It was preciselyin shortby just clutching the helm
that I avoided total wreck; and I dare say thatto bear up
at allI becamethat morningvery grand and very dry.
I welcomed the consciousness that I was charged with much to do
and I caused it to be known as well thatleft thus to myself
I was quite remarkably firm. I wandered with that manner
for the next hour or twoall over the place and looked
I have no doubtas if I were ready for any onset.
Sofor the benefit of whom it might concernI paraded
with a sick heart.
The person it appeared least to concern proved to be
till dinnerlittle Miles himself. My perambulations had
given memeanwhileno glimpse of himbut they had tended
to make more public the change taking place in our relation
as a consequence of his having at the pianothe day before
kept mein Flora's interestso beguiled and befooled.
The stamp of publicity had of course been fully given by her
confinement and departureand the change itself was now ushered
in by our nonobservance of the regular custom of the schoolroom.
He had already disappeared whenon my way downI pushed
open his doorand I learned below that he had breakfasted--
in the presence of a couple of the maids--with Mrs. Grose
and his sister. He had then gone outas he saidfor a stroll;
than which nothingI reflectedcould better have expressed
his frank view of the abrupt transformation of my office.
What he would not permit this office to consist of was yet
to be settled: there was a queer reliefat all events--I mean
for myself in especial--in the renouncement of one pretension.
If so much had sprung to the surfaceI scarce put it too
strongly in saying that what had perhaps sprung highest
was the absurdity of our prolonging the fiction that I had
anything more to teach him. It sufficiently stuck out that
by tacit little tricks in which even more than myself he carried
out the care for my dignityI had had to appeal to him to let me
off straining to meet him on the ground of his true capacity.
He had at any rate his freedom now; I was never to touch it again;
as I had amply shownmoreoverwhenon his joining me in
the schoolroom the previous nightI had utteredon the subject
of the interval just concludedneither challenge nor hint.
I had too muchfrom this momentmy other ideas.
Yet when he at last arrivedthe difficulty of applying them
the accumulations of my problemwere brought straight home to me
by the beautiful little presence on which what had occurred
had as yetfor the eyedropped neither stain nor shadow.
To markfor the housethe high state I cultivated I
decreed that my meals with the boy should be served
as we called itdownstairs; so that I had been awaiting
him in the ponderous pomp of the room outside of the window
of which I had had from Mrs. Grosethat first scared Sunday
my flash of something it would scarce have done to call light.
Here at present I felt afresh--for I had felt it again and again--
how my equilibrium depended on the success of my rigid will
the will to shut my eyes as tight as possible to the truth
that what I had to deal with wasrevoltinglyagainst nature.
I could only get on at all by taking "nature" into my
confidence and my accountby treating my monstrous
ordeal as a push in a direction unusualof course
and unpleasantbut demandingafter allfor a fair front
only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.
No attemptnonethelesscould well require more tact than
just this attempt to supplyone's selfALL the nature.
How could I put even a little of that article into a suppression
of reference to what had occurred? Howon the other handcould I
make reference without a new plunge into the hideous obscure?
Wella sort of answerafter a timehad come to meand it
was so far confirmed as that I was metincontestablyby the
quickened vision of what was rare in my little companion.
It was indeed as if he had found even now--as he had so often
found at lessons--still some other delicate way to ease me off.
Wasn't there light in the fact whichas we shared our solitude
broke out with a specious glitter it had never yet quite worn?--
the fact that (opportunity aidingprecious opportunity which had
now come) it would be preposterouswith a child so endowed
to forego the help one might wrest from absolute intelligence?
What had his intelligence been given him for but to save him?
Mightn't oneto reach his mindrisk the stretch of an angular
arm over his character? It was as ifwhen we were face
to face in the dining roomhe had literally shown me the way.
The roast mutton was on the tableand I had dispensed
with attendance. Milesbefore he sat downstood a moment
with his hands in his pockets and looked at the joint
on which he seemed on the point of passing some humorous judgment.
But what he presently produced was: "I saymy dearis she
really very awfully ill?"
Little Flora? Not so bad but that she'll presently be better.
London will set her up. Bly had ceased to agree with her.
Come here and take your mutton.
He alertly obeyed mecarried the plate carefully
to his seatandwhen he was establishedwent on.
Did Bly disagree with her so terribly suddenly?
Not so suddenly as you might think. One had seen it coming on.
Then why didn't you get her off before?
Before she became too ill to travel.
I found myself prompt. "She's NOT too ill to travel:
she only might have become so if she had stayed.
This was just the moment to seize. The journey will dissipate
the influence"--ohI was grand!--"and carry it off."
I see, I see--Milesfor that matterwas grandtoo. He settled
to his repast with the charming little "table manner" thatfrom the day
of his arrivalhad relieved me of all grossness of admonition.
Whatever he had been driven from school forit was not for ugly feeding.
He was irreproachableas alwaystoday; but he was unmistakably
more conscious. He was discernibly trying to take for granted
more things than he foundwithout assistancequite easy;
and he dropped into peaceful silence while he felt his situation.
Our meal was of the briefest--mine a vain pretenseand I had the things
immediately removed. While this was done Miles stood again with his
hands in his little pockets and his back to me--stood and looked
out of the wide window through whichthat other dayI had seen
what pulled me up. We continued silent while the maid was with us-as
silentit whimsically occurred to meas some young couple who
on their wedding journeyat the innfeel shy in the presence
of the waiter. He turned round only when the waiter had left us.
Well--so we're alone!
Oh, more or less.I fancy my smile was pale. "Not absolutely.
We shouldn't like that!" I went on.
No--I suppose we shouldn't. Of course we have the others.
We have the others--we have indeed the others,I concurred.
Yet even though we have them,he returnedstill with his
hands in his pockets and planted there in front of me
they don't much count, do they?
I made the best of itbut I felt wan.
It depends on what you call `much'!
Yes--with all accommodation--"everything depends!"
On thishoweverhe faced to the window again and presently
reached it with his vaguerestlesscogitating step.
He remained there awhilewith his forehead against the glass
in contemplation of the stupid shrubs I knew and the dull
things of November. I had always my hypocrisy of "work
behind which, now, I gained the sofa. Steadying myself
with it there as I had repeatedly done at those moments
of torment that I have described as the moments of my knowing
the children to be given to something from which I was barred,
I sufficiently obeyed my habit of being prepared for the worst.
But an extraordinary impression dropped on me as I
extracted a meaning from the boy's embarrassed back-none
other than the impression that I was not barred now.
This inference grew in a few minutes to sharp intensity
and seemed bound up with the direct perception that it was
positively HE who was. The frames and squares of the great
window were a kind of image, for him, of a kind of failure.
I felt that I saw him, at any rate, shut in or shut out.
He was admirable, but not comfortable: I took it in with a
throb of hope. Wasn't he looking, through the haunted pane,
for something he couldn't see?--and wasn't it the first time
in the whole business that he had known such a lapse?
The first, the very first: I found it a splendid portent.
It made him anxious, though he watched himself; he had been
anxious all day and, even while in his usual sweet little
manner he sat at table, had needed all his small strange
genius to give it a gloss. When he at last turned round
to meet me, it was almost as if this genius had succumbed.
WellI think I'm glad Bly agrees with ME!"
You would certainly seem to have seen, these twenty-four hours,
a good deal more of it than for some time before. I hope,
I went on bravelythat you've been enjoying yourself.
Oh, yes, I've been ever so far; all round about--miles and miles away.
I've never been so free.
He had really a manner of his ownand I could only try to keep up with him.
Well, do you like it?
He stood there smiling; then at last he put into two words--"Do YOU?"--
more discrimination than I had ever heard two words contain.
Before I had time to deal with thathoweverhe continued as if
with the sense that this was an impertinence to be softened.
Nothing could be more charming than the way you take it, for of
course if we're alone together now it's you that are alone most.
But I hope,he threw inyou don't particularly mind!
Having to do with you?I asked. "My dear childhow can I help minding?
Though I've renounced all claim to your company--you're so beyond me--
I at least greatly enjoy it. What else should I stay on for?"
He looked at me more directlyand the expression of his face
graver nowstruck me as the most beautiful I had ever found in it.
You stay on just for THAT?
Certainly. I stay on as your friend and from the tremendous
interest I take in you till something can be done for you
that may be more worth your while. That needn't surprise you.
My voice trembled so that I felt it impossible to suppress the shake.
Don't you remember how I told you, when I came and sat on your
bed the night of the storm, that there was nothing in the world I
wouldn't do for you?
Yes, yes!Heon his sidemore and more visibly nervoushad a tone
to master; but he was so much more successful than I thatlaughing out
through his gravityhe could pretend we were pleasantly jesting.
Only that, I think, was to get me to do something for YOU!
It was partly to get you to do something,I conceded.
But, you know, you didn't do it.
Oh, yes,he said with the brightest superficial eagerness
you wanted me to tell you something.
That's it. Out, straight out. What you have on your mind, you know.
Ah, then, is THAT what you've stayed over for?
He spoke with a gaiety through which I could still catch the finest
little quiver of resentful passion; but I can't begin to express
the effect upon me of an implication of surrender even so faint.
It was as if what I had yearned for had come at last only to
astonish me. "Wellyes--I may as well make a clean breast of it.
it was precisely for that."
He waited so long that I supposed it for the purpose of repudiating the
assumption on which my action had been founded; but what he finally said was:
Do you mean now--here?
There couldn't be a better place or time.He looked round him uneasily
and I had the rare--ohthe queer!--impression of the very first symptom I had
seen in him of the approach of immediate fear. It was as if he were suddenly
afraid of me--which struck me indeed as perhaps the best thing to make him.
Yet in the very pang of the effort I felt it vain to try sternness
and I heard myself the next instant so gentle as to be almost grotesque.
You want so to go out again?
Awfully!He smiled at me heroicallyand the touching little
bravery of it was enhanced by his actually flushing with pain.
He had picked up his hatwhich he had brought inand stood
twirling it in a way that gave meeven as I was just nearly
reaching porta perverse horror of what I was doing.
To do it in ANY way was an act of violencefor what did
it consist of but the obtrusion of the idea of grossness
and guilt on a small helpless creature who had been for me
a revelation of the possibilities of beautiful intercourse?
Wasn't it base to create for a being so exquisite a mere
alien awkwardness? I suppose I now read into our situation
a clearness it couldn't have had at the timefor I seem to see
our poor eyes already lighted with some spark of a prevision
of the anguish that was to come. So we circled about
with terrors and scrupleslike fighters not daring to close.
But it was for each other we feared! That kept us a little
longer suspended and unbruised. "I'll tell you everything
Miles said--I mean I'll tell you anything you like.
You'll stay on with meand we shall both be all right
and I WILL tell you--I WILL. But not now."
Why not now?
My insistence turned him from me and kept him once more at his window
in a silence during whichbetween usyou might have heard a pin drop.
Then he was before me again with the air of a person for whom
outsidesomeone who had frankly to be reckoned with was waiting.
I have to see Luke.
I had not yet reduced him to quite so vulgar a lieand I felt
proportionately ashamed. Buthorrible as it washis lies made
up my truth. I achieved thoughtfully a few loops of my knitting.
Well, then, go to Luke, and I'll wait for what you promise.
Only, in return for that, satisfy, before you leave me,
one very much smaller request.
He looked as if he felt he had succeeded enough to be able still
a little to bargain. "Very much smaller--?"
Yes, a mere fraction of the whole. Tell me--ohmy work preoccupied me
and I was offhand!--"ifyesterday afternoonfrom the table in the hall
you tookyou knowmy letter."
My sense of how he received this suffered for a minute from something
that I can describe only as a fierce split of my attention--
a stroke that at firstas I sprang straight upreduced me to
the mere blind movement of getting hold of himdrawing him close
andwhile I just fell for support against the nearest piece
of furnitureinstinctively keeping him with his back to the window.
The appearance was full upon us that I had already had to deal with here:
Peter Quint had come into view like a sentinel before a prison.
The next thing I saw was thatfrom outsidehe had reached the window
and then I knew thatclose to the glass and glaring in through it
he offered once more to the room his white face of damnation.
It represents but grossly what took place within me at the sight
to say that on the second my decision was made; yet I believe that no
woman so overwhelmed ever in so short a time recovered her grasp
of the ACT. It came to me in the very horror of the immediate
presence that the act would beseeing and facing what I saw
and facedto keep the boy himself unaware. The inspiration--
I can call it by no other name--was that I felt how voluntarily
how transcendentlyI MIGHT. It was like fighting with a demon
for a human souland when I had fairly so appraised it I saw how
the human soul--held outin the tremor of my handsat arm's length--
had a perfect dew of sweat on a lovely childish forehead.
The face that was close to mine was as white as the face against
the glassand out of it presently came a soundnot low nor weak
but as if from much further awaythat I drank like a waft of fragrance.
Yes--I took it.
At thiswith a moan of joyI enfoldedI drew him close;
and while I held him to my breastwhere I could feel in the sudden
fever of his little body the tremendous pulse of his little heart
I kept my eyes on the thing at the window and saw it move and shift
its posture. I have likened it to a sentinelbut its slow wheel
for a momentwas rather the prowl of a baffled beast.
My present quickened couragehoweverwas such thatnot too
much to let it throughI had to shadeas it weremy flame.
Meanwhile the glare of the face was again at the windowthe scoundrel
fixed as if to watch and wait. It was the very confidence
that I might now defy himas well as the positive certitude
by this timeof the child's unconsciousnessthat made me go on.
What did you take it for?
To see what you said about me.
You opened the letter?
I opened it.
My eyes were nowas I held him off a little again
on Miles's own facein which the collapse of mockery
showed me how complete was the ravage of uneasiness.
What was prodigious was that at lastby my success
his sense was sealed and his communication stopped:
he knew that he was in presencebut knew not of what
and knew still less that I also was and that I did know.
And what did this strain of trouble matter when my eyes
went back to the window only to see that the air was clear
again and--by my personal triumph--the influence quenched?
There was nothing there. I felt that the cause was mine
and that I should surely get ALL. "And you found nothing!"--
I let my elation out.
He gave the most mournfulthoughtful little headshake. "Nothing."
Nothing, nothing!I almost shouted in my joy.
Nothing, nothing,he sadly repeated.
I kissed his forehead; it was drenched. "So what have you done with it?"
I've burned it.
Burned it?It was now or never. "Is that what you did at school?"
Ohwhat this brought up! "At school?"
Did you take letters?--or other things?
Other things?He appeared now to be thinking of something far
off and that reached him only through the pressure of his anxiety.
Yet it did reach him. "Did I STEAL?"
I felt myself redden to the roots of my hair as well as wonder if it were
more strange to put to a gentleman such a question or to see him take it
with allowances that gave the very distance of his fall in the world.
Was it for that you mightn't go back?
The only thing he felt was rather a dreary little surprise.
Did you know I mightn't go back?
I know everything.
He gave me at this the longest and strangest look. "Everything?"
Everything. Therefore DID you--?But I couldn't say it again.
Miles couldvery simply. "No. I didn't steal."
My face must have shown him I believed him utterly; yet my hands-but
it was for pure tenderness--shook him as if to ask him why
if it was all for nothinghe had condemned me to months of torment.
What then did you do?
He looked in vague pain all round the top of the room and drew his breath
two or three times overas if with difficulty. He might have been standing
at the bottom of the sea and raising his eyes to some faint green twilight.
Well--I said things.
They thought it was enough!
To turn you out for?
Nevertrulyhad a person "turned out" shown so little
to explain it as this little person! He appeared to weigh
my questionbut in a manner quite detached and almost helpless.
Well, I suppose I oughtn't.
But to whom did you say them?
He evidently tried to rememberbut it dropped--he had lost it.
I don't know!
He almost smiled at me in the desolation of his surrender
which was indeed practicallyby this timeso complete that I
ought to have left it there. But I was infatuated--I was blind
with victorythough even then the very effect that was to have
brought him so much nearer was already that of added separation.
Was it to everyone?I asked.
No; it was only to--But he gave a sick little headshake.
I don't remember their names.
Were they then so many?
No--only a few. Those I liked.
Those he liked? I seemed to float not into clearnessbut into
a darker obscureand within a minute there had come to me out
of my very pity the appalling alarm of his being perhaps innocent.
It was for the instant confounding and bottomlessfor if he
WERE innocentwhat then on earth was _I_? Paralyzedwhile it lasted
by the mere brush of the questionI let him go a littleso that
with a deep-drawn sighhe turned away from me again; whichas he faced
toward the clear windowI sufferedfeeling that I had nothing
now there to keep him from. "And did they repeat what you said?"
I went on after a moment.
He was soon at some distance from mestill breathing hard and again with
the airthough now without anger for itof being confined against his will.
Once moreas he had done beforehe looked up at the dim day as ifof what
had hitherto sustained himnothing was left but an unspeakable anxiety.
Oh, yes,he nevertheless replied--"they must have repeated them.
To those THEY liked he added.
There was, somehow, less of it than I had expected; but I turned it over.
And these things came round--?"
To the masters? Oh, yes!he answered very simply.
But I didn't know they'd tell.
The masters? They didn't--they've never told.
That's why I ask you.
He turned to me again his little beautiful fevered face.
Yes, it was too bad.
What I suppose I sometimes said. To write home.
I can't name the exquisite pathos of the contradiction given to such
a speech by such a speaker; I only know that the next instant I
heard myself throw off with homely force: "Stuff and nonsense!"
But the next after that I must have sounded stern enough.
What WERE these things?
My sternness was all for his judgehis executioner; yet it made him
avert himself againand that movement made MEwith a single bound
and an irrepressible cryspring straight upon him. For there again
against the glassas if to blight his confession and stay his answer
was the hideous author of our woe--the white face of damnation.
I felt a sick swim at the drop of my victory and all the return of my battle
so that the wildness of my veritable leap only served as a great betrayal.
I saw himfrom the midst of my actmeet it with a divination
and on the perception that even now he only guessedand that the window
was still to his own eyes freeI let the impulse flame up to convert
the climax of his dismay into the very proof of his liberation.
No more, no more, no more!I shriekedas I tried to press him against me
to my visitant.
Is she HERE?Miles panted as he caught with his sealed eyes
the direction of my words. Then as his strange "she" staggered
me andwith a gaspI echoed itMiss Jessel, Miss Jessel!
he with a sudden fury gave me back.
I seizedstupefiedhis supposition--some sequel to what we
had done to Florabut this made me only want to show him
that it was better still than that. "It's not Miss Jessel!
But it's at the window--straight before us. It's THERE--
the coward horrorthere for the last time!"
At thisafter a second in which his head made the movement of a
baffled dog's on a scent and then gave a frantic little shake for air
and lighthe was at me in a white ragebewilderedglaring vainly
over the place and missing whollythough it nowto my sense
filled the room like the taste of poisonthe wideoverwhelming presence.
I was so determined to have all my proof that I flashed into ice
to challenge him. "Whom do you mean by `he'?"
Peter Quint--you devil!His face gave againround the room
its convulsed supplication. "WHERE?"
They are in my ears stillhis supreme surrender of the name
and his tribute to my devotion. "What does he matter now
my own?--what will he EVER matter? _I_ have you
I launched at the beast, but he has lost you forever!"
Thenfor the demonstration of my workThere, THERE!
I said to Miles.
But he had already jerked straight roundstaredglared again
and seen but the quiet day. With the stroke of the loss I was
so proud of he uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss
and the grasp with which I recovered him might have been that
of catching him in his fall. I caught himyesI held him--
it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end
of a minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held.
We were alone with the quiet dayand his little heart