(Please note that this is document is in its origninal form with outdated formatting. I didn't attempt to repair these errors, due to the great length of the story. Just remember that these formatting conventions apply: _underscore_ /italic/ *bold*.)
The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except
the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old
house, a 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 case, I may mention, was that
of an apparition in just such an old house as had gathered us for the
occasion -- an appearance, of a dreadful kind, to 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
also, herself, before she had succeeded in doing so, the same sight that had
shaken him. It was this observation that drew from Douglas -- not
immediately, but later in the evening -- a reply that had the interesting
consequence to which I call attention. Someone else told a story not
particularly effective, which 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 scattered, he 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 exclaimed, "that they give two turns! Also
that we want to hear about them." .
I can see Douglas there before the fire, to which he had got up to present
his back, looking down at his interlocutor with his hands in his pockets.
"Nobody but me, till now, has ever heard. It's quite too horrible." This,
naturally, was declared by several voices to give the thing the utmost price,
and our friend, with quiet art, prepared 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." .
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 eyes, made a little wincing grimace.
"For dreadful -- dreadfulness!" .
"Oh, how delicious!" cried one of the women. .
He took no notice of her; he looked at me, but as if, instead of me, he saw
what he spoke of. "For general uncanny ugliness and horror and pain." .
"Well then," I said, "just sit right down and begin." .
He turned round to the fire, gave a kick to a log, watched 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 this, and much reproach; after which, in 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 ice, the formation of
many a winter; had had his reasons for a long silence. The others resented
postponement, but 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 now, and of course there
was somebody to be arch, or 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 laughed for the first time. "You /are/ acute. Yes, she was in love. That
is, she had been. That came out -- she couldn't tell her story without its
coming out. I saw it, and 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 long, hot 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. Griffin, however, expressed 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 literal, vulgar 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 candlestick, he 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 returned, "will make a tremendous occasion of Thursday
night;" and everyone so agreed with me that, in the light of it, we lost all
attention for everything else. The last story, however incomplete and like
the mere opening of a serial, had 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 am 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 this 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
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 gram 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 doings, 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 suggested, "I 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
Douglas, with this, made a pause that, for the benefit of the company, moved
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 and, as he had done the night before, went to the fire, gave a
stir to a log with his foot, then 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 surprise, on this, Douglas 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."
"Which was ----?"
"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; which, as our friend immediately left us again, was the
only other word of importance contributed to the subject till, the next
night, by the corner of the hearth, in 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 one, but on the first occasion the same lady put
another question. "What is your title?"
"I haven't one."
"Oh, /I/ have!" I said. But Douglas, without 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 rising, in town, to
meet his appeal, I had at all events a couple of very bad days -- found
myself doubtful again, felt 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 told, had been ordered, and I found, toward the
close of the June afternoon, a commodious fly in waiting for me. Driving at
that hour, on a lovely day, through a country to which the summer sweetness
seemed to offer me a friendly welcome, my fortitude mounted afresh and, as
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 expected, or had
dreaded, something so melancholy that what greeted me was a good surprise. I
remember as a most pleasant impression the broad, clear 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 home, and there immediately appeared at the door, with a little girl
in her hand, a 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 that, as I recalled it, made me
think the proprietor still more of a gentleman, suggested that what I was to
enjoy might be something beyond his promise.
I had no drop again till the next day, for 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 seen, and 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 me, too, I recollect, remained
with me, adding to my sense of the liberality with which I was treated. The
large, impressive room, one of the best in the house, the great state bed,
as I almost felt it, the full, figured draperies, the long glasses in which,
for the first time, I could see myself from head to foot, all struck me --
like the extraordinary charm of my small charge -- as so many things thrown
in. It was thrown in as well, from the first moment, that I should get on
with Mrs. Grose in a relation over which, on my way, in the coach, I 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 -- stout,
simple, plain, clean, wholesome 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 that, with reflection, with suspicion, might 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 girl, the vision of
whose angelic beauty had probably more than anything else to do with me
restlessness that, before morning, made me several times rise and wander
about my room to take in the whole picture and prospect; to watch, from my
open window, the faint summer dawn, to look at such portions of the rest of
the house as I could catch, and to listen, while, in the fading dusk, the
first birds began to twitter, for the possible recurrence of a sound or two,
less natural and not without, but within, that I had fancied I heard. There
had been a moment when I believed I recognized, faint and far, the cry of a
child; there had been another when I found myself just consciously starting
as at the passage, before my door, of a light footstep. But these fancies
were not marked enough not to be thrown off, and it is only in the light, or
the gloom, I should rather say, of other and subsequent matters that they
now come back to me. To watch, teach, "form" little 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 night, her small white bed being already arranged, to
that end, in my room. What I had undertaken was the whole care of her, and
she had remained, just this last time, with 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 herself, in the oddest way in the
world, had been perfectly frank and brave about, allowing it, without a sign
of uncomfortable consciousness, with the deep, sweet serenity indeed of one
of Raphael's holy infants, to be discussed, to be imputed to her, and to
determine us -- I felt quite sure she would presently like me. It was part
of what I already liked Mrs. Grose herself for, the pleasure I could see her
feel in my admiration and wonder as I sat at supper with four tall candles
and with my pupil, in a high chair and a bib, brightly facing me, between
them, over 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. "Oh, miss, /most/ remarkable. If you think
well of this one!" -- and she stood there with a plate in her hand, beaming
at our companion, who 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
"In Harley Street."
"Well, miss, you're not the first -- and you won't be the last."
"Oh, I've no pretension," I could laugh, "to 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. Oh, she was glad I was there!
What I felt the next day was, I suppose, nothing 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 scale, as I walked
round them, gazed up at them, took them in, of my new circumstances. They
had, as it were, an extent and mass for which I had not been prepared and in
the presence of which I found myself, freshly, a little scared as well as a
little proud. Lessons, in this agitation, certainly suffered some delay; I
reflected that my first duty was, by the gentlest arts I could contrive, to
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 satisfaction, that it should be she,
she only, who might show me the place. She showed it step by step and room
by room and secret by secret, with droll, delightful, childish talk about it
and with the result, in half an hour, of our becoming immense friends. Young
as she was, I was struck, throughout our little tour, with her confidence
and courage with the way, in empty chambers and dull corridors, on crooked
staircases that made me pause and even on the summit of an old machicolated
square tower that made me dizzy, her 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 it, and I daresay that to my older and more
informed eyes it would now appear sufficiently contracted. But as my little
conductress, with 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 somehow, for
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 big, ugly, antique, but convenient house, embodying a few features of
a building still older, half-replaced and half-utilized, in which I had the
fancy of our being almost as lost as a handful of passengers in a great
drifting ship. Well, I was, strangely, at the helm!
This came home to me when, two days later, I drove over with Flora to meet,
as Mrs. Grose said, the little gentleman; and all the more for an incident
that, presenting itself the second evening, had deeply disconcerted me. The
first day had been, on the whole, as I have expressed, reassuring; but I was
to see it wind up in keen apprehension. The postbag, that evening -- it came
late -- contained a letter for me, which, however, in the hand of my
employer, I found to be composed but of a few words enclosing another,
addressed to himself, with a seal still unbroken. "This, I recognize, is
from the headmaster, and the headmaster's an awful bore. Read him, please;
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 morning, for it
gave me a second sleepless night. With no counsel to take, the next day, I
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; then, visibly, with a
quick blankness, seemed 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
Consciously, under my attention, she reddened. "They won't take him?"
"They absolutely decline."
At this she raised her eyes, which 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 -- which,
however, had the effect of making her, without taking it, simply put her
hands behind her. She shook her head sadly. "Such things are not for me,
My counselor couldn't read! I winced at my mistake, which I attenuated as I
could, and opened my letter again to repeat it to her; then, faltering in
the act and folding it up once more, I put it back in my pocket. "Is he
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 that, presently, to put the thing with some coherence and with
the mere aid of her presence to my own mind, I went on: "That he's an injury
to the others."
At this, with one of the quick turns of simple folk, she suddenly flamed up.
"Master Miles! /him/ an injury?"
There was such a flood of good faith in it that, though I had not yet seen
the child, my very fears made me jump to the absurdity of the idea. I found
myself, to meet my friend the better, offering it, on the spot,
sarcastically. "To his poor little innocent mates!"
"It's too dreadful," cried Mrs. Grose, "to 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 him, miss, first.
/Then/ believe it!" I felt forthwith a new impatience to see him; it was the
beginning of a curiosity that, for all the next hours, was to deepen almost
to pain. Mrs. Grose was aware, I could judge, of what she had produced in me,
and 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 Flora, whom, ten minutes before, I had established in
the schoolroom with a sheet of white paper, a pencil, and 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
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 clearly, by this time, and very honestly,
adopted an attitude. "Oh, never 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?" Then,
keeping pace with her answer, "So 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
She stared, taking 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 that, with a laugh, a little silly doubtless, to match her own, I gave
way for the time to the apprehension of ridicule.
But the next day, as the hour for my drive approached, I 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 blank, but she colored. "Why, of /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 scruple, but 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. "Well, miss -- she's gone. I won't tell tales."
"I quite understand your feeling," I hastened to reply; but I thought it,
after an instant, not opposed to this concession to pursue: "Did she die
"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
window, but I felt that, hypothetically, I 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
Her thus turning her back on me was fortunately not, for my just
preoccupations, a snub that could check the growth of our mutual esteem. We
met, after I had brought home little Miles, more intimately than ever on the
ground of my stupefaction, my 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 scene, and I felt, as he
stood wistfully looking out for me before the door of the inn at which the
coach had put him down, that I had seen him, on the instant, without and
within, in the great glow of freshness, the same positive fragrance of
purity, in which I had, from the first moment, seen his little sister. He
was incredibly beautiful, and 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
innocence, and by the time I had got back to Bly with him I remained merely
bewildered -- so far, that is, as I was not outraged -- by the sense of the
horrible letter locked up in my room, in a drawer. As soon as I could
compass a private word with Mrs. Grose I declared to her that it was
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 echoed, giving her my hand to make It a vow.
She held me there a moment, then whisked up her apron again with her
detached hand. "Would you mind, miss, if I used the freedom ----"
"To kiss me? No!" I took the good creature in my arms and, after we had
embraced like sisters, felt still more fortified and indignant.
This, at all events, was for the time: a time so full that, as I recall the
way it went, it 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 undertaken, with my companion, to see it out, and I was under a charm,
apparently, that 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 simple, in my ignorance, my confusion, and
perhaps my conceit, to 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 me, indeed, that charming summer,
we all had a theory that he was to have; but I now feel that, for weeks, the
lessons must have been rather my own. I learned something -- at first,
certainly -- that had not been one of the teachings of my small, smothered
life; learned to be amused, and even amusing, and not to think for the
morrow. It was the first time, in a manner, that 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. Oh, it was a trap --
not designed, but deep -- to my imagination, to my delicacy, perhaps to my
vanity; to whatever, in 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 blood, for whom everything, to be
right, would have to be enclosed and protected, the only form that, in my
fancy, the afteryears could take for them was that of a romantic, a really
royal extension of the garden and the park. It may be, of course, above all,
that 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 often, at their finest, gave me
what I used to call my own hour, the hour when, for my pupils, teatime and
bedtime having come and gone, I had, before my final retirement, a small
interval alone. Much as I liked my companions, this hour was the thing in
the day I liked most; and I liked it best of all when, as the light faded --
or rather, I should say, the day lingered and the last calls of the last
birds sounded, in a flushed sky, from the old trees -- I could take a turn
into the grounds and enjoy, almost with a sense of property that amused and
flattered me, the beauty and dignity of the place. It was a pleasure at
these moments to feel myself tranquil and justified; doubtless, perhaps,
also to reflect that by my discretion, my quiet good sense and general high
propriety, I 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 /could,/ after all, do
it proved even a greater joy than I had expected. I daresay I fancied myself,
in short, a remarkable young woman and took comfort in the faith that this
would more publicly appear. Well, I needed to be remarkable to offer a front
to the remarkable things that presently gave their first sign.
It was plump, one afternoon, in the middle of my very hour: the children
were tucked away, and I had come out for my stroll. One of the thoughts that,
as I don't in the least shrink now from noting, used 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 it, and the kind light of it, in his handsome face. That was exactly
present to me -- by which I mean the face was -- when, on the first of these
occasions, at the end of a long June day, I 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 had, in a flash, turned real. He did
stand there! -- but high up, beyond the lawn and at the very top of the
tower to which, on that first morning, little Flora had conducted me. This
tower was one of a pair -- square, incongruous, crenelated structures --
that were distinguished, for some reason, though I could see little
difference, as 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 pretentious, dating, in
their gingerbread antiquity, from a romantic revival that was already a
respectable past. I admired them, had fancies about them, for we could all
profit in a degree, especially 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 me, this figure, in the clear twilight, I remember, two
distinct gasps of emotion, which were, sharply, the 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 years, there 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 place, moreover, in the strangest way in the world, had, on the instant,
and by the very fact of its appearance, become a solitude. To me at least,
making 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 again, as I write, the intense hush in which the sounds of
evening dropped. The rooks stopped cawing in the golden sky, and the
friendly hour lost, for the minute, all its voice. But there was no other
change in nature, unless indeed it were a change that I saw with a stranger
sharpness. The gold was still in the sky, the clearness in the air, and the
man who looked at me over the battlements was as definite as a picture in a
frame. That's how I thought, with 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 say, a wonder that in a few
instants more became intense.
The great question, or one of these, is, afterward, I know, with regard to
certain matters, the question of how long they have lasted. Well, this
matter of mine, think what you will of it, lasted while I caught at a dozen
possibilities, none of which made a difference for the better, that I could
see, in there having been in the house -- and for how long, above 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 visitant, at all events -
- and there was a touch of the strange freedom, as I remember, in the sign
of familiarity of his wearing no hat -- seemed to fix me, from his position,
with just the question, just the scrutiny through the fading light, that his
own presence provoked. We were too far apart to call to each other, but
there was a moment at which, at shorter range, some challenge between us,
breaking the hush, would have been the right result of our straight mutual
stare. He was in one of the angles, the one away from the house, very erect,
as it struck me, and with both hands on the ledge. So I saw him as I see the
letters I form on this page; then, exactly, after a minute, as if to add to
the spectacle, he slowly changed his place -- passed, looking at me hard all
the while, to the opposite corner of the platform. Yes, I had the sharpest
sense that during this transit he never took his eyes from me, and I can see
at this moment the way his hand, as he went, passed from one of the
crenelations to the next. He stopped at the other corner, but less long, and
even as he turned away still markedly fixed me. He turned away; that was all
It was not that I didn't wait, on this occasion, for more, for 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 over, or how long, in a
confusion of curiosity and dread, I remained where I had had my collision; I
only recall that when I re-entered the house darkness had quite closed in.
Agitation, in the interval, certainly had held me and driven me, for I must,
in circling about the place, have walked three miles; but I was to be, later
on, so much more overwhelmed that this mere dawn of alarm was a
comparatively human chill. The most singular part of it, in fact -- singular
as the rest had been -- was the part I became, in the hall, aware of in
meeting Mrs. Grose. This picture comes back to me in the general train --
the impression, as I received it on my return, of the wide white panelled
space, bright in the lamplight and with its portraits and red carpet, and of
the good surprised look of my friend, which immediately told me she had
missed me. It came to me straightway, under her contact, that, with plain
heartiness, mere relieved anxiety at my appearance, she 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 up, and 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 say, with
the instinct of sparing my companion. On the spot, accordingly, in the
pleasant hall and with her eyes on me, I, for a reason that I couldn't then
have phrased, achieved an inward resolution -- offered a vague pretext for
my lateness and, with the plea of the beauty of the night and of the heavy
dew and wet feet, went as soon as possible to my room.
Here it was another affair; here, for many days after, it was a queer affair
enough. There were hours, from day to day -- or at least there were moments,
snatched 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
was, simply 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 me, so intimately concerned. It took little time to see that I
could sound without forms of inquiry and without exciting remark any
domestic complication. The shock I had suffered must have sharpened all my
senses; I felt sure, at the end of three days and as the result of mere
closer attention, that I had not been practiced upon by the servants nor
made the object of any "game." Of whatever it was that I knew, nothing was
known around me. There was but one sane inference: someone had taken a
liberty rather gross. That was what, repeatedly, I dipped into my room and
locked the door to say to myself. We had been, collectively, subject to an
intrusion; some unscrupulous traveler, curious in old houses, had made his
way in unobserved, enjoyed the prospect from the best point of view, and
then stolen out as he came. If he had given me such a bold hard stare, that
was but a part of his indiscretion. The good thing, after all, was that we
should surely see no more of him.
This was not so good a thing, I admit, as not to leave me to judge that what,
essentially, made nothing else much signify was simply my charming work. My
charming work was just my life with Miles and Flora, and 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 fears, the distaste I had
begun by entertaining for the probable gray prose of my office. There was to
be no gray prose, it appeared, and 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 school room. I don't mean by this, of
course, that 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 direction, assuredly, in which these
discoveries stopped: deep obscurity continued to cover the region of the
boy's conduct at school. It had been promptly given me, I have noted, to
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 horrid,
unclean school world, and he had paid a price for it. I reflected acutely
that the sense of such differences, such superiorities of quality, always,
on the part of the majority -- which could include even stupid, sordid
headmasters -- turns 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 anecdote, who had -- morally, at any rate -- nothing to whack! I
remember feeling with Miles in especial as if he had had, as it were, no
history. We expect of a small child a scant one, but there was in this
beautiful little boy something extraordinarily sensitive, yet
extraordinarily happy, that, more than in any creature of his age I have
seen, struck 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" it, and I should
have caught it by the rebound -- I should have found the trace. I found
nothing at all, and he was therefore an angel. He never spoke of his school,
never mentioned a comrade or a master; and I, for my part, was quite too
much disgusted to allude to them. Of course I was under the spell, and the
wonderful part is that, even at the time, I 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 home, where
things were not going well. But with my children, what 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
which, as the day declined, I had arranged with Mrs. Grose that, should the
evening show improvement, we would attend together the late service. The
rain happily stopped, and I prepared for our walk, which, through the park
and by the good road to the village, would be a matter of twenty minutes.
Coming downstairs to meet my colleague in the hall, I 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 tea,
served on Sundays, by exception, in that cold, clean temple of mahogany and
brass, the "grown-up" dining room. The gloves had been dropped there, and I
turned in to recover them. The day was gray enough, but the afternoon light
still lingered, and it enabled me, on crossing the threshold, not only to
recognize, on a chair near the wide window, then closed, the 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 impossible, but with a nearness that
represented a forward stride in our intercourse and made me, as I met him,
catch my breath and turn cold. He was the same -- he was the same, and seen,
this time, as he had been seen before, from the waist up, the window, though
the dining room was on the ground floor, not going down to the terrace on
which he stood. His face was close to the glass, yet the effect of this
better view was, strangely, only 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. Something, however, happened this tune that had not
happened before; his stare into my face, through the glass and across the
room, was as deep and hard as then, but it quitted me for a moment during
which I could still watch it, see 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 there, a
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 again, reached
that of the house, got, in an instant, upon the drive, and, passing along
the terrace as fast as I could rush, turned a corner and came full in sight.
But it was in sight of nothing now -- my visitor had vanished. I stopped, I
almost dropped, with the real relief of this; but I took in the whole scene
-- I gave him time to reappear. I call it time, but 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 place, the lawn and the
garden beyond it, all I could see of the park, were empty with a great
emptiness. There were shrubberies and big trees, but 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; then,
instinctively, instead of returning as I had come, went 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 looked, into
the room. As if, at this moment, to show me exactly what his range had been,
Mrs. Grose, as I had done for himself just before, came 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 stared, in short, and
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.
Oh, she let me know as soon as, round the corner of the house, she 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 this, without scruple, any innocence. My need
to respect the bloom of Mrs. Grose's had dropped, without a rustle, from my
shoulders, and 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 little, liking
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 said, "I've been frightened." Mrs. Grose's eyes expressed plainly
that /she/ had no wish to be, yet also that she knew too well her place not
to be ready to share with me any marked inconvenience. Oh, it 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
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. "Ah, I 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 was, oddly, so 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, then, pulling herself together, turned 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."
"You're afraid ----?"
I spoke boldly. "I'm afraid of /him./"
Mrs. Grose's large face showed me, at this, for 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
evening, you 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 and, for a minute, applied 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 round, and there was still more in her face. "/I/
couldn't have come out."
"Neither could l!" 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."
"Nobody?" she echoed.
"He has no hat." Then seeing in her face that she already, in this, with a
deeper dismay, found a touch of picture, I quickly added stroke to stroke.
"He has red hair, very red, close-curling, and a pale face, long in shape,
with straight, good features and little, rather queer whiskers that are as
red as his hair. His eyebrows are, somehow, darker; they look particularly
arched and as if they might move a good deal. His eyes are sharp, strange --
awfully; but I only know clearly that they're rather small and very fixed.
His mouth's wide, and his lips are thin, and except for his little whiskers
he's quite clean-shaven. He gives me a sort of sense of looking like an
"An actor!" It was impossible to resemble one less, at least, than Mrs.
Grose at that moment.
"I've never seen one, but so I suppose them. He's tall, active, erect," I
continued, "but 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 gasped, confounded, stupefied: "a
"You know him then?"
She visibly tried to hold herself. "But he /is/ handsome?"
I saw the way to help her. "Remarkably!"
"And dressed ----?"
"In somebody's clothes. They're smart, but 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 still, but meeting me, she 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 followed, but halting a little. "Alone?"
"Alone with /us./" Then, as from a deeper depth, "In 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 expression, at this, became extraordinary. "God knows where! He died."
"Died?" I almost shrieked.
She seemed fairly to square herself, plant 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 exemplified, and my
companion's knowledge, henceforth -- a knowledge half consternation and half
compassion -- of that liability. There had been, this evening, after the
revelation that left me, for an hour, so prostrate -- there had been, for
either of us, no attendance on any service but a little service of tears and
vows, of prayers and promises, a climax to the series of mutual challenges
and pledges that had straightway ensued on our retreating together to me
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 nothing, not the shadow
of a shadow, and 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 me, on this ground, an
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 us, accordingly, that night, was that we thought we
might bear things together; and I was not even sure that, in spite of her
exemption, it was she who had the best of the burden. I knew at this hour, I
think, as well as I knew later, what 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 that, by good fortune, /could/ steady us. It was the idea, the
second movement, that led me straight out, as I may say, of the inner
chamber of my dread. I could take the air in the court, at least, and 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/ know, my dear!"
She didn't deny this, but I required, I felt, not even so much telling as
that. She resumed in a moment, at 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 conception, and yet, somehow, I could keep it at bay; which, moreover,
as 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 experience, by accepting, by inviting, by surmounting it all, I
should serve as an expiatory victim and guard the tranquility of my
companions. The children, in especial I should thus fence about and
absolutely save. I recall one of the last things I said that night to Mrs.
"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
"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 me, straight from my vision of his face -- /such/ a face! -- a
sudden sickness of disgust. "Too free with /my/ boy?"
"Too free with everyone!"
I forbore, for the moment, to analyze this description further than by the
reflection that a part of it applied to several of the members of the
household, of the half-dozen maids and men who were still of our small
colony. But there was everything, for our apprehension, in the lucky fact
that no discomfortable legend, no perturbation of scullions, had ever,
within anyone's memory attached to the kind old place. It had neither bad
name nor ill fame, and Mrs. Grose, most apparently, only desired to cling to
me and to quake in silence. I even put her, the very last thing of all, to
the test. It was when, at midnight, she 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
impression of him: he was not a trouble-loving gentleman, nor so very
particular perhaps about some of the company /he/ kept. All the same, I
pressed my interlocutress, "I promise you I would have told!"
She felt my discrimination. "I daresay I was wrong. But, really, I was
"Afraid of what?"
"Of things that man could do. Quint was so clever -- he was so deep."
I took this in still more than, probably, I 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
"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 about /them./"
"Them -- that creature?" I had to smother a kind of howl. "And you could
"No. I couldn't -- and I can't now!" And the poor woman burst into tears.
A rigid control, from the next day, was, as I have said, to follow them; yet
how often and how passionately, for a week, we came back together to the
subject! Much as we had discussed it that Sunday night, I 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 nothing, but there was a word Mrs. Grose had kept back. I was
sure, moreover, by morning, that this was not from a failure of frankness,
but because on every side there were fears. It seems to me indeed, in
retrospect, that 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 Bly, which, added up, made a
formidable stretch. The limit of this evil time had arrived only when, on
the dawn of a winter's morning, Peter Quint was found, by 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 as, on the final evidence, /had/ been -- by
a fatal slip, in the dark and after leaving the public house, on the
steepish icy slope, a wrong path altogether, at the bottom of which he lay.
The icy slope, the turn mistaken at night and in liquor, accounted for much
-- practically, in the end and after the inquest and boundless chatter, for
everything; but there had been matters in his life -- strange passages and
perils, secret disorders, vices 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 -- oh, in 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 lovable, the appeal of whose helplessness had suddenly become only
too explicit, a deep, constant ache of one's own committed heart. We were
cut off, really, together; we were united in our danger. They had nothing
but me, and I -- well, I 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 saw, the less they would. I
began to watch them in a stifled suspense, a disguised excitement that might
well, had it continued too long, have turned to something like madness. What
saved me, as I now see, was that it turned to something else altogether. It
didn't last as suspense -- it was superseded by horrible proofs. Proofs, I
say, yes -- 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 indoors, on
the red cushion of a deep window seat; he had wished to finish a book, and 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 sister, on the contrary,
had been alert to come out, and I strolled with her half an hour, seeking
the shade, for the sun was still high and the day exceptionally warm. I was
aware afresh, with her, as we went, of how, like her brother, she 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
them, some remarkable person or thing that the game of the moment required
and that was merely, thanks to my superior, my exalted stamp, a 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 lake, and, as we had
lately begun geography, the lake was the Sea of Azof.
Suddenly, in these circumstances, I became aware that, on the other side of
the Sea of Azof, we had an interested spectator. The way this knowledge
gathered in me was the strangest thing in the world -- the strangest, that
is, except 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 certitude, and yet without direct vision, the presence,
at a distance, of a third person. The old trees, the thick shrubbery, made a
great and pleasant shade, but it was all suffused with the brightness of the
hot, still hour. There was no ambiguity in anything; none whatever, at 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 instantly, passionately questioned. I recollect counting over
perfectly the possibilities, reminding myself that nothing was more natural,
for instance, than the appearance of one of the men about the place, or even
of a messenger, a postman, or a tradesman's boy, from 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;
meanwhile, with an effort that was already sharp enough, I transferred my
eyes straight to little Flora, who, at 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 her, what some sudden innocent sign either of interest or of
alarm, would tell me. I waited, but nothing came; then, in the first place -
- and there is something more dire in this, I feel, than in anything I have
to relate -- I was determined by a sense that, within a minute, all sounds
from her had previously dropped; and, in the second, by the circumstance
that, also within the minute, she had, in her play, turned her back to the
water. This was her attitude when I at last looked at her -- looked with the
confirmed conviction that we were still, together, under direct personal
notice. She had picked up a small flat piece of wood, which 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 morsel, as I watched her, she 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!" Then, as
she released me, I made it out to her, made it out perhaps only now with
full coherency even to myself. "Two hours ago, in 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 me, was the stupefaction of it.
Mrs. Grose, of course, could 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 things,
for 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 black, pale 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
"And without coming nearer?"
"Oh, for the effect and the feeling, she might have been as close as you!"
My friend, with an odd impulse, fell back a step. "Was she someone you've
"Yes. But someone the child has. Someone /you/ have. Then, to 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 me, in the state of my nerves, a flash of impatience. "Then
ask Flora -- /she's/ sure!" But I had no sooner spoken than I caught myself
up. "No, for God's sake, /don't!/ She'll say she isn't -- she'll lie!"
Mrs. Grose was not too bewildered instinctively to protest "Ah, how /can/
"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
"Oh, no; that's nothing -- now!" Then I explained. "It's of /not/ seeing
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 again, as if from the positive force of
the sense of what, should we yield an inch, there would really be to give
way to. "Dear, dear -- we must keep our heads! And after all, if 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 me, for the instant, almost 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. Grose, at this, fixed her eyes a minute on the ground; then at last
raising them, "Tell 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
"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 black, you say?"
"In mourning -- rather poor, almost shabby. But -- yes -- with extraordinary
beauty." I now recognized to what I had at last, stroke by stroke, brought
the the victim of my confidence, for she quite visibly weighed this. "Oh,
handsome -- very, very," 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 own, holding 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 this, but still
only in silence; seeing which I went on: "I must have it now. Of what did
she die? Come, there 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 hard, in 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 that, and I dealt; the more readily for my full
vision -- on the evidence -- of our employer's late clever, good-looking
"own" man; impudent, assured, spoiled, depraved. "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 rate, for an instant, to 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 indeed, but 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 burst, as I had, the other time,
made her burst, into tears; she took me to her motherly breast, and 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 what, in our prodigious experience, was least to be
questioned. Late that night, while the house slept, we 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
that, I found I had only to ask her how, if 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 time, at all events --
rejoice, under this fathomless charity, that 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 and, so far as might be, my agitation. I couldn't abjure for merely
wanting to, but I could repeat to Mrs. Grose as I did there, over and over,
in the small hours -- that with their voices in the air, their pressure on
one's heart, and their fragrant faces against one's cheek, everything fell
to the ground but their incapacity and their beauty. It was a pity that,
somehow, to settle this once for all, I had equally to re-enumerate the
signs of subtlety that, in the afternoon, by 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 matter,
for either party, of habit. It was a pity that I should have had to quaver
out again the reasons for my not having, in my delusion, so much as
questioned that the little girl saw our visitant even as I actually saw Mrs.
Grose herself, and that she wanted, by just so much as she did thus see, to
make me suppose she didn't, and at the same time, without 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 movement, the greater
intensity of play, the singing, the gabbling of nonsense, and the invitation
Yet if I had not indulged, to prove there was nothing in it, in this review,
I 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 prompted, by stress of
need, by 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 me, bit by bit, under 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 -- 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 --, 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 inquiry, but levity was not our note, and, at
any rate, before 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 propriety, to
hint at the incongruity, of so close an alliance, and even to go so far on
the subject as a frank overture to Miss Jessel. Miss Jessel had, with a most
strange manner, requested her to mind her business, and the good woman had,
on this, directly approached little Miles. What she had said to him, since I
pressed, was that /she/ liked to see young gentlemen not forget their
I pressed again, of course, at this. "You reminded him that Quint was only a
"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 sure, at any rate," she added, "that he didn't. But he denied
"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 see, after 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. "No, he never spoke of it."
"Never mentioned her in connection with Quint?"
She saw, visibly flushing, where I was coming out. "Well, he didn't show
anything. He denied," she repeated -- "he denied."
Lord, how 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 mind, and you keep back, out of timidity and modesty and
delicacy, even the impression that, in the past, when you had, without my
aid, to 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 vehemence,
athinking, "what 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 persisted, "when 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 torment, "you 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 there, in 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 me, too, I
felt, only 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 throw,
just here, no 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 mused, "They must do,
for they make me feel more than ever that I must watch."
It made me blush, the next minute, to 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 when, at the
schoolroom door, she 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." Then, before shutting her out
to go, by another passage, to her own place, "I must just wait," I wound up.
I waited and waited, and the days, as they elapsed, took something from my
consternation. A very few of them, in fact, passing, in constant sight of my
pupils, without a fresh incident sufficed 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 express,
certainly, was the effort to struggle against my new lights; it would
doubtless have been, however, a 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 circumstance 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 worst, at all
events, as in meditation I so often did, any clouding of their innocence
could only be -- blameless and foredoomed as they were -- a reason the more
for taking risks. There were moments when, by 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 sad, wild tangle
about how much I might betray; but the real account, I feel, of 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; which,
after all, I could reflect, was no more than a graceful response in children
perpetually bowed over and hugged. The homage of which they were so lavish
succeeded, in truth, for my nerves, quite as well as if I never appeared to
myself, as I may say, literally to catch them at a purpose in it. They had
never, I think, wanted to do so many things for their poor protectress; I
mean -- though they got their lessons better and better, which was naturally
what would please her most -- in the way of diverting, entertaining,
surprising her; reading her passages, telling her stories, acting her
charades, pouncing out at her, in disguises, as animals and historical
characters, and 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 commentary,
all under still more private correction, with which, in these days, I
overscored their full hours. They had shown me from the first a facility for
everything, a general faculty which, taking a fresh start, achieved
remarkable flights. They got their little tasks as if they loved them, and
indulged, from the mere exuberance of the gift, in the most unimposed little
miracles of memory. They not only popped out at me as tigers and as Romans,
but as Shakespeareans, astronomers, and navigators. This was so singularly
the case that it had presumably much to do with the fact as to which, at 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 not, for the time, to open the question, and
that contentment must have sprung from the sense of his perpetually striking
show of cleverness. He was too clever for a bad governess, for 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 got, if I
had dared to work it out, that he was under some influence operating in his
small intellectual life as a tremendous incitement.
If it was easy to reflect, however, that such a boy could postpone school,
it was at least as marked that for such a boy to have been "kicked out" by a
school master 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 corners, with a sequel of one
of them going out in the highest spirits in order to "come in" as something
new. I had had brothers myself, and 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
age, sex, and intelligence so fine a consideration. They were
extraordinarily at one, and to say that they never either quarreled or
complained is to make the note of praise coarse for their quality of
sweetness. Sometimes, indeed, when 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/
side, I suppose, in all diplomacy; but if my pupils practiced upon me, it
was surely with the minimum of grossness. It was all in the other quarter
that, after a lull, the 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 suffered, I again push my way through it to the end.
There came suddenly an hour after which, as 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 which, much
lighter then, as I have mentioned, I 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 it, which, to the extent of a
distinctly deprecated renown, but never to so much as that of a stray
specimen, had 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 figure, finally, that the white curtain draping, in
the fashion of those days, the head of Flora's little bed, shrouded, as I
had assured myself long before, the perfection of childish rest. I recollect
in short that, though I was deeply interested in my author, I 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
listened, reminded of the faint sense I had had, the first night, of there
being something undefinably astir in the house, and noted the soft breath of
the open casement just move the half-drawn blind. Then, with all the marks
of a deliberation that must have seemed magnificent had there been anyone to
admire it, I laid down my book, rose to my feet, and, taking a candle, went
straight out of the room and, from the passage, on which my light made
little impression, noiselessly closed and locked the door.
I can say now neither what determined nor what guided me, but I went
straight along the lobby, holding my candle high, till 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 simultaneous, yet they had flashes of succession. My candle,
under a bold flourish, went out, and I perceived, by the uncovered window,
that the yielding dusk of earliest morning rendered it unnecessary. Without
it, the next instant, I saw that there was someone on the stair. I speak of
sequences, but 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 me, it
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 so, in the cold,
faint twilight, with a glimmer in the high glass and another on the polish
of the oak stair below, we faced each other in our common intensity. He was
absolutely, on this occasion, a living, detestable, dangerous 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 had, thank
God, no terror. And he knew I had not -- I found myself at the end of an
instant magnificently aware of this. I felt, in a fierce rigor of confidence,
that if I stood my ground a minute I should cease -- for the time, at least
-- to have him to reckon with; and during the minute, accordingly, the thing
was as human and hideous as a real interview: hideous just because it /was/
human, as human as to have met alone, in the small hours, in a sleeping
house, some enemy, some adventurer, some criminal. It was the dead silence
of our long gaze at such close quarters that gave the whole horror, huge as
it was, its only note of the unnatural. If I had met a murderer in such a
place and at such an hour, we still at least would have spoken. Something
would have passed, in life, between us; if nothing had passed, one 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 pass, with my eyes on the villainous back that no hunch could have more
disfigured, straight down the staircase and into the darkness in which the
next bend was lost.
I remained awhile at the top of the stair, but with the effect presently of
understanding that when my visitor had gone, he 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 that, five minutes before, I 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 step, to my
unutterable relief, produced an answering sound: I perceived an agitation of
the window blind, and the child, ducking down, emerged 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 grave, and 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 explained, for that matter,
with the loveliest, eagerest simplicity. She had known suddenly, as she lay
there, that I was out of the room, and had jumped up to see what had become
of me. I had dropped, with the joy of her reappearance, back into my chair -
- feeling then, and then only, a little faint; and she had pattered straight
over to me, thrown herself upon my knee, given 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 instant, yieldingly, consciously,
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.
Oh, how I looked at her now! "And did you see anyone?"
"Ah, /no!/" she returned, almost with the full privilege of childish
inconsequence, resentfully, though with a long sweetness in her little drawl
of the negative.
At that moment, in the state of my nerves, I 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 these, for a moment,
tempted me with such singular intensity that, to withstand it, I must have
gripped my little girl with a spasm that, wonderfully, she 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 dropped,
alas, as it came: if I could immediately have succumbed to it I might have
spared myself -- well, you'll see what. Instead of succumbing I sprang again
to my feet, looked 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 which, with 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 name of
the candle as if the question were as irrelevant, or at any rate as
impersonal, as Mrs. Marcet or nine-times-nine. "Oh, but you know," she quite
adequately answered, "that you might come back, you dear, and that you
/have!/" And after a little, when she had got into bed, I had, for a long
time, by almost sitting on her to hold her hand, to prove that I recognized
the pertinence of my return.
You may imagine the general complexion, from that moment, of my nights. I
repeatedly sat up till I didn't know when; I selected moments when my
roommate unmistakably slept, and, stealing out, took 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 staircase, on the other
hand, a 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 head, in an attitude of woe, in
her hands. I had been there but an instant, however, when she vanished
without looking round at me. I knew, nonetheless, exactly what dreadful face
she had to show; and I wondered whether, if instead of being above I had
been below, I should have had, for going up, the same nerve I had lately
shown Quint. Well, there 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
indeed, from the particular quality of its unexpectedness, proved quite my
sharpest shock. It was precisely the first night during this series that,
weary with watching, I had felt that I might again without laxity lay myself
down at my old hour. I slept immediately and, as I afterward knew, till
about one o'clock; but when I woke it was to sit straight up, as completely
roused as if a hand had shook me. I had left a light burning, but it was now
out, and I felt an instant certainty that Flora had extinguished it. This
brought me to my feet and straight, in the darkness, to her bed, which I
found she had left. A glance at the window enlightened me further, and the
striking of a match completed the picture.
The child had again got up -- this time blowing out the taper, and had again,
for some purpose of observation or response, squeezed in behind the blind
and was peering out into the night. That she now saw -- as she had not, I
had satisfied myself, the 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. Hidden, protected, absorbed, she
evidently rested on the sill -- the casement opened forward -- and gave
herself up. There was a great still moon to help her, and 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 I, on my side, had to care for was, without disturbing
her, to reach, from the corridor, some other window in the same quarter. I
got to the door without her hearing me; I got out of it, closed it, and
listened, from the other side, for 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
which, indescribably, produced 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 minute, at 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
sight, the visitor with whom Flora was engaged; but it was not the visitor
most concerned with my boy. I hesitated afresh, but on other grounds and
only 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 chamber, arranged with some state as a bedroom, the
extravagant size of which made it so inconvenient that it had not for years,
though kept by Mrs. Grose in exemplary order, been 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 transit, I uncovered
the glass without a sound and, applying my face to the pane, was able, the
darkness without being much less than within, to 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 person, diminished by
distance, who stood there motionless and as if fascinated, looking up to
where I had appeared -- looking, that is, not 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
privately, and 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 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 sure, absolutely: if she hadn't I don't know what would have
become of me, for I couldn't have borne the business alone. But she was a
magnificent monument to the blessing of a want of imagination, and if she
could see in our little charges nothing but their beauty and amiability,
their happiness and cleverness, she had no direct communication with the
sources of my trouble. If they had been at all visibly blighted or battered,
she would doubtless have grown, on tracing it back, haggard enough to match
them; as matters stood, however, I could feel her, when she surveyed them,
with her large white arms folded and the habit of serenity in all her look,
thank the Lord's mercy that if they were ruined the pieces would still serve.
Flights of fancy gave place, in her mind, to a steady fireside glow, and I
had already begun to perceive how, with the development of the conviction
that -- as time went on without a public accident -- our young things could,
after all, look out for themselves, she addressed her greatest solicitude to
the sad case presented by their instructress. That, for myself, was a sound
simplification: I could engage that, to the world, my face should tell no
tales, but it would have been, in the conditions, an immense added strain to
find myself anxious about hers.
At the hour I now speak of she had joined me, under pressure, on the terrace,
where, with the lapse of the season, the afternoon sun was now agreeable;
and we sat there together while, before us, at a distance, but within call
if we wished, -- the children strolled to and fro in one of their most
manageable moods. They moved slowly, in unison, below us, over the lawn, the
boy, as they went, reading 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 things, but 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 as, had I wished to
mix a witch's broth and proposed it with assurance, she 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 night, I reached the point of what
Miles had said to me when, after seeing him, at such a monstrous hour almost
on the very spot where he happened now to be, I had gone down to bring him
in; choosing then, at the window, with 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 which, after I had got him into the house, the 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 him, through the dark spaces, up the staircase
where Quint had so hungrily hovered for him, along the lobby where I had
listened and trembled, and so to his forsaken room.
Not a sound, on the way, had passed between us, and I had wondered -- oh,
/how/ I had wondered! -- if he were groping about in his little mind for
something plausible and not too grotesque. It would tax his invention,
certainly, and I felt, this time, over his real embarrassment, a 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 indeed, with the passionate throb of this question, an equal dumb
appeal as to how the deuce /I/ should. I was confronted at last, as never
yet, with 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 moonlight,
made 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 really, as they say, "had" me. He
could do what he liked, with 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 me, who would
consent that I should go unhung, if, by the faintest tremor of an overture,
I were the first to introduce into our perfect intercourse an element so
dire? No, no: it was useless to attempt to convey to Mrs. Grose, just as it
is scarcely less so to attempt to suggest here, how, in our short, stiff
brush in the dark, he fairly shook me with admiration. I was of course
thoroughly kind and merciful; never, never yet had I placed on his little
shoulders hands of such tenderness as those with which, while I rested
against the bed, I held him there well under fire. I had no alternative but,
in form at least, to 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 smile, the 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 this, leaped into my mouth. /Would/
he tell me why? I found no sound on my lips to press it, and I was aware of
replying only with a vague, repeated, grimacing nod. He was gentleness
itself, and 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
last, "just 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 word, nor how, on top of it, he bent
forward and kissed me. It was practically the end of everything. I met his
kiss and I had to make, while I folded him for a minute in my arms, the 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
room, I 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 concurred, "caught 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. Then, after
another embrace, the incident and our interview dosed on my recognition of
all the reserves of goodness that, for his joke, he had been able to draw
The particular impression I had received proved in the morning light, I
repeat, not 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. 'Think, you know, what 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 awful, but the charming creatures who were
victims of it, passing and repassing in their interlocked sweetness, gave my
colleague something to hold on by; and I felt how tight she held as, without
stirring in the breath of my passion, she 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."
Oh, how, at this, poor 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 homely, but it
revealed a real acceptance of my further proof of what, in 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 Flora, as they passed at their
distance, paused an instant in their walk and looked at us. "Don't they do
enough?" I demanded in a lower tone, while the children, having smiled and
nodded and kissed hands to us, resumed their exhibition. We were held by it
a minute; then I answered: "They can destroy them!" At this my companion did
turn, but the inquiry she launched was a silent one, the 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: "Unless, of course, we can prevent!"
Standing there before me while I kept my seat, she 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 distance, but she now dropped on me a foolish face.
"By writing to him that his house is poisoned and his little nephew and
"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 considered, following the children again. "Yes, he 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
My companion, after an instant and for all answer, sat 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 rose, and I think I must have shown her a queerer face than ever
yet. "You see me asking him for a visit?" No, with 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 derision, his amusement, his 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 measure, I think, of the
warning I now gave her. "If you should so lose your head as to appeal to him
for me ----"
She was really frightened. "Yes, miss?"
"I would leave, on the spot, both him and you."
It was all very well to join them, but speaking to them proved quite as much
as ever an effort beyond my strength -- offered, in close quarters,
difficulties as insurmountable as before. This situation continued a month,
and with new aggravations and particular notes, the note above all, sharper
and sharper, of the small ironic consciousness on the part of my pupils. It
was not, I am as sure today as I was sure then, my mere infernal
imagination: it was absolutely traceable that they were aware of my
predicament and that this strange relation made, in a manner, for a long
time, the air in which we moved. I don't mean that they had their tongues in
their cheeks or did anything vulgar, for that was not one of their dangers:
I do mean, on the other hand, that the element of the unnamed and untouched
became, between us, greater 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 if, at moments, we were perpetually coming into sight
of subjects before which we must stop short, turning suddenly out of alleys
that we perceived to be blind, closing with a little bang that made us look
at each other -- for, like all bangs, it was something louder than we had
intended -- the doors we had indiscreetly opened. All roads lead to Rome,
and 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 whatever,
in especial, might survive, in memory, of the friends little children had
lost. There were days when I could have sworn that one of them had, with a
small invisible nudge, said 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 history, to which I had again and again treated them;
they were in possession of everything that had ever happened to me, had had,
with every circumstance the story of my smallest adventures and of those of
my brothers and sisters and of the cat and the dog at home, as well as many
particulars of the eccentric nature of my father, of the furniture and
arrangement of our house, and of the conversation of the old women of our
village. There were things enough, taking one with another, to 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 perhaps, when I thought of such occasions afterward, gave me so
the suspicion of being watched from under cover. It was in any case over
/my/ life, /my/ past, and /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
It was partly at such junctures as these and partly at quite different ones
that, with the turn my matters had now taken, my predicament, as I have
called it, grew most sensible. The fact that the days passed for me without
another encounter ought, it would have appeared, to have done something
toward soothing my nerves. Since the light brush, that second night on the
upper landing, of the presence of a woman at the foot of the stair, I had
seen nothing, whether in or out of the house, that one had better not have
seen. There was many a corner round which I expected to come upon Quint, and
many a situation that, in a merely sinister way, would have favored the
appearance of Miss Jessel. The summer had turned, the summer had gone, the
autumn had dropped upon Bly and had blown out half our lights. The place,
with its gray sky and withered garlands, its bared spaces and scattered dead
leaves, was like a theater after the performance -- all strewn with crumpled
playbills. There were exactly states of the air, conditions of sound and of
stillness, unspeakable impressions of the /kind/ of ministering moment, that
brought back to me, long enough to catch it, the feeling of the medium in
which, that June evening out of doors, I had had my first sight of Quint,
and in which, too, at those other instants, I had, after seeing him through
the window, looked for him in vain in the circle of shrubbery. I recognized
the signs, the portents -- I recognized the moment, the spot. But they
remained unaccompanied and empty, and I continued unmolested; if unmolested
one could call a young woman whose sensibility had, in the most
extraordinary fashion, not 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 -- since, that is, it
was not yet definitely proved -- I greatly preferred, as 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. Well, my eyes /were/ sealed, it
appeared, at present -- a consummation for which it seemed blasphemous not
to thank God. There was, alas, a 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 that, literally,
in my presence, but with my direct sense of it closed, they had visitors who
were known and were welcome. Then it was that, had 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 here, they'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 tenderness, in just the crystal depths of which -- like the flash of a
fish in a stream -- the mockery of their advantage peeped up. The shock, in
truth, had sunk into me still deeper than I knew on the night when, looking
out to see either Quint or Miss Jessel under the stars, I had beheld the boy
over whose rest I watched and who had immediately brought in with him -- had
straightway, there, turned it on me the lovely upward look with which, from
the battlements above me, the hideous apparition of Quint had played. If it
was a question of a scare, my discovery on this occasion had scared me more
than any other, and it was in the condition of nerves produced by it that I
made my actual inductions. They harassed me so that sometimes, at odd
moments, I 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 while, in my room, I
flung myself about, but I always broke down in the monstrous utterance of
names. As they died away on my lips, I said to myself that I should indeed
help them to represent something infamous if, by pronouncing them, I should
violate as rare a little case of instinctive delicacy as any school-room,
probably, had ever known. When I said to myself: "/They/ have the manners to
be silent, and you, trusted as you are, the baseness to speak!" I felt
myself crimson and I covered my face with my hands. After these secret
scenes I chattered more than ever, going on volubly enough till one of our
prodigious, palpable hushes occurred -- I can call them nothing else -- the
strange, dizzy lift or swim (I try for terms!) into a stillness, a pause of
all life, that 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 others, the outsiders, were there. Though they were not
angels, they "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
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 child 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 inquiry, we found by experience, for 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 doctrine, but 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 selfish, but 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,
moreover, as I look back, no note in all this more extraordinary than the
mere fact that, in spite of my tension and of their triumph, I never lost
patience with them. Adorable they must in truth have been, I now reflect,
that I didn't in these days hate them! Would exasperation, however, if
relief had longer been postponed, finally have betrayed me? It little
matters, for relief arrived. I call it relief, though 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 change, and it came with a rush.
Walking to church a certain Sunday morning, I had little Miles at my side
and his sister, in advance of us and at Mrs. Grose's, well in sight. It was
a crisp, clear day, the first of its order for some time; the night had
brought a touch of frost, and the autumn air, bright 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
inexorable, my perpetual society? Something or other had brought nearer home
to me that I had all but pinned the boy to my shawl and that, in the way our
companions were marshaled before me, I 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 tailor, who had had
a free hand and a notion of pretty waistcoats and of his grand little air,
Miles's whole title to independence, the 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 how, with the word he spoke, the curtain rose
on the last act of my dreadful drama, and the catastrophe was precipitated.
"Look here, my dear, you know," he charmingly said, "when in the world,
please, am I going back to school?"
Transcribed here the speech sounds harmless enough, particularly as uttered
in the sweet, high, casual pipe with which, at all interlocutors, but 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 know, my dear,
that for a fellow to be with a lady /always/ ----!" His "my dear" was
constantly on his lips for me, and 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.
But, oh, how I felt that at present I must pick my own phrases! I remember
that, to gain time, I tried to laugh, and 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.
"Ah, of course, she's a jolly, 'perfect' lady; but, after all, I'm a fellow,
don't you see? that's -- well, getting on."
I lingered there with him an instant ever so kindly. "Yes, you're getting
on." Oh, but 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,
I laid my hand on his shoulder, for, though I felt how much better it would
have been to walk on, I was not yet quite able. "No, I can't say that,
"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 might, perhaps, after all, succeed 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 me, passing his hand into my arm. "Then when /am/ I
I wore, in turning it over, my most responsible air. "Were you very happy at
He just considered. "Oh, I'm happy enough anywhere!"
"Well, then," I quavered, "if 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
persons, including 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 hour, he 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 me, but I felt that he had got in first when, before 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 sort,
Miles!" I laughed. "Unless perhaps dear little Flora!"
"You really compare me to a baby girl?"
This found me singularly weak. "Don't you, then, /love/ our sweet Flora?"
"If I didn't -- and you, too; if I didn't ----!" he repeated as if
retreating for a jump, yet leaving his thought so unfinished that, after we
had come into the gate, another stop, which he imposed on me by the pressure
of his arm, had become inevitable. Mrs. Grose and Flora had passed into the
church, the other worshippers had followed, and we were, for the minute,
alone among the old, thick graves. We had paused, on the path from the gate,
by a low, oblong, tablelike tomb.
"Yes, if you didn't ----?"
He looked, while I waited, about at the graves. "Well, you know what!" But
he didn't move, and he presently produced something that made me drop
straight down on the stone slab, as 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 make, to 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 Bly, sufficiently sacrificed to make
that venial. "I don't think your uncle much cares."
Miles, on this, stood looking at me. "Then don't you think he can be made
"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
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 absence, the
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 it, for him,
would 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 gain, for his own purpose, more freedom. My fear was of
having to deal with the intolerable question of the grounds of his dismissal
from school, for 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 that, strictly speaking, I 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 boy, to my deep
discomposure, was immensely in the right, was 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 me, what prevented my going in. I walked round
the church, hesitating, hovering; I reflected that I had already, with him,
hurt myself beyond repair. Therefore I could patch up nothing, and 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 worship, I was
taken with an impulse that might master me, I felt, completely 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 again, for 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 short, could 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 hours, at 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 nor, as they asked them,
their false little lovely eyes; yet it was all so exactly what I should have
to meet that, as the prospect grew sharp to me, I at last let myself go.
I got, so far as the immediate moment was concerned, away; I came straight
out of the churchyard and, thinking hard, retraced 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 one, fairly excited me with a sense of opportunity. Were I
to get off quickly, this way, I should get off without a scene, without a
word. My quickness would have to be remarkable, however, and the question of
a conveyance was the great one to settle. Tormented, in the hall, with
difficulties and obstacles, I remember sinking down at the foot of the
staircase -- suddenly collapsing there on the lowest step and then, with a
revulsion, recalling that it was exactly where more than a month before, in
the darkness of night and just so bowed with evil things I had seen the
specter of the most horrible of women. At this I was able to straighten my
self; I went the rest of the way up; I made, in my bewilderment, for the
schoolroom, where there were objects belonging to me that I should have to
take. But I opened the door to find again, in a flash, my 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 experience I should have taken at the first blush for some
housemaid who might have stayed at home to look after the place and who,
availing herself of rare relief from observation and of the schoolroom table
and my pens, ink, and paper, had applied herself to the considerable effort
of a letter to her sweetheart. There was an effort in the way that, while
her arms rested on the table, her 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 entrance, her 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 rose, not as if she had heard me, but with an
indescribable grand melancholy of indifference and detachment, and, within a
dozen feet of me, stood there as my vile predecessor. Dishonored and tragic,
she was all before me; but even as I fixed and, for memory, secured it, the
awful image passed away. Dark as midnight in her black dress her haggard
beauty and her unutterable woe, she 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 lasted, indeed, I had the extraordinary chill of
feeling that it was I who was the intruder. It was as a wild protest against
it that, I actually addressing her -- "You terrible, miserable woman!" -- I
heard myself break into a sound that, by the open door, rang through the
long passage and the empty house. She looked at me as if she heard me, but 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
me, they made no allusion to my having failed them, and I was left, for the
time, on perceiving that she too said nothing, to 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 that, however, I 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 room, where, in the
twilight, amid a smell of lately baked bread, but with the place all swept
and garnished, I found her sitting in pained placidity before the fire. So I
see her still, so I see her best: facing the flame from her straight chair
in the dusky, shining room, a 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
"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. "No, I 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 sweet, too. I can hear you all. But
nonetheless, between Miles and me, it's now all out."
"All out?" My companion stared. "But what, miss?"
"Everything. It doesn't matter. I've made up my mind. I came home, my dear,"
I went on, "for 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 now, as she bravely
blinked under the signal of my word, I 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
"That she suffers the torments ----!"
It was this, of a truth, that made her, as she filled out my picture, gape.
"Do you mean," she faltered, "-- of the lost?"
"Of the lost. Of the dammed. And that's why, to share them ----" I faltered
myself with the horror of it.
But my companion, with less imagination, kept me up. "To share them ----?"
"She wants Flora." Mrs. Grose might, as I gave it to her, fairly have fallen
away from me had I not been prepared. I still held her there, to 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 inexorably, "that 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
"He didn't really in the least know them. The fault's mine" She had turned
"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't,
I 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
her, after a moment, inconsequently break down. The tears were again in her
eyes. "Ah, miss, /you/ write!"
"Well -- tonight," I at last answered; and on this we separated.
I went so far, in the evening, as to make a beginning. The weather had
changed back, a great wind was abroad, and beneath the lamp, in my room,
with 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 out, taking a candle; I crossed the passage and listened a
minute at Miles's door. What, under my endless obsession, I had been
impelled to listen for was some betrayal of his not being at rest, and 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 him, in bed, very wide awake, but very
much at his ease. "Well, what are /you/ up to?" he asked with a grace of
sociability in which it occurred to me that Mrs. Grose, had she been present,
might 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 candle, designedly, a short way off, and then, as he held out
his friendly old hand to me, had sat down on the edge of his bed. "What is
it," I asked, "that 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,
"Why, the way you bring me up. And all the rest!"
I fairly held my breath a minute, and 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 me rest?"
"Oh, you know, you know!"
I could say nothing for a minute, though I felt, as I held his hand and our
eyes continued to meet, that 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 another, a better. How could I know it did trouble you, this
question, when you never told me so, never spoke of it at all?" His dear,
listening face, framed 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 me, all I possessed on earth really to be
the nurse or the sister of charity who might have helped to cure him. Well,
even as it was, I 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
He seemed to wonder; he smiled with the same loveliness. But he clearly
gained time; he waited, he 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 face, as I got this from him,
set 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 him, a 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 him, in spite of the faint breath of
his inward trouble, appear 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 gave, at any rate,
like a convalescent slightly fatigued, a 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."
"Well, then ----?"
"Oh, /you/ know what a boy wants!"
I felt that I didn't know so well as Miles, and I took temporary refuge.
"You want to go to your uncle?"
Again, at this, with his sweet ironic face, he made a movement on the pillow.
"Ah, you can't get off with that!"
I was silent a little, and it was I, now, I think, who 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 spirit, "you 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 somehow, for the instant,
to 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 serenity, with positive unimpeachable gaiety; and
doubtless it was that very note that most evoked for me the poignancy, the
unnatural childish tragedy, of 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 that, and 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 his, and he let me kiss him, simply taking it with
indulgent good humor. "Well, old lady?"
"Is there nothing -- nothing at all that you want to tell me?"
He turned off a little, facing 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
Oh, I was sorry for him! "That you just want me not to worry you?"
He looked round at me now, as if in recognition of my understanding him;
then ever so gently, "To let me alone," he replied.
There was even a singular little dignity in it, something that made me
release him, yet, when I had slowly risen, linger beside him. God knows I
never wished to harass him, but I felt that merely, at this, to turn my back
on him was to abandon or, to put it more truly, to 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 silent, but he continued to meet my eyes. "What
It made me, the sound of the words, in 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
instantaneous, but it came in the form of an extraordinary blast and chill,
a gust of frozen air, and a shake of the room as great as if, in the wild
wind, the casement had crashed in. The boy gave a loud, high shriek, which,
lost in the rest of the shock of sound, might have seemed, indistinctly,
though I was so close to him, a note either of jubilation or of terror. I
jumped to my feet again and was conscious of darkness. So for a moment we
remained, while I stared about me and saw mat 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 day, after lessons, Mrs. 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 directed, was still in my pocket. There would be time enough to
send it before the messenger should go to the village. Meanwhile there had
been, on the part of my pupils, no 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 arithmetic, soaring
quite out of /my/ feeble range, and perpetrated, in higher spirits than ever,
geographical 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 child, to 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 creature, to the uninitiated
eye all frankness and freedom, a more ingenious, a 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 that, by the dark prodigy I knew, the 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 never, at any rate, been such a little gentleman as when, after our
early dinner on this dreadful day, he came round to me and asked if I
shouldn't like him, for half an hour, to play to me. David playing to Saul
could never have shown a finer sense of the occasion. It was literally a
charming exhibition of tact, of 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 you, will let me go and come. Well, I '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 again, hand in hand, to 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 measure, I started up with a strange sense of having literally
slept at my post. It was after luncheon, and by the schoolroom fire, and yet
I hadn't really, in the least, slept: I had only done something much worse -
- I had forgotten. Where, all this time, was Flora? When I put the question
to Miles, he played on a minute before answering and then could only say:
"Why, my dear, how do /I/ know?" -- breaking moreover into a happy laugh
which, immediately after, as if it were a vocal accompaniment, he prolonged
into incoherent, extravagant song.
I went straight to my room, but his sister was not there; then, before going
downstairs, I looked into several others. As she was nowhere about she would
surely be with Mrs. Grose, whom, in the comfort of that theory, I
accordingly proceeded in quest of. I found her where I had found her the
evening before, but she met my quick challenge with blank, scared ignorance.
She had only supposed that, after the repast, I 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 maids, so that the
immediate thing was to look for her without an air of alarm. This we
promptly arranged between us; but when, ten minutes later and in pursuance
of our arrangement, we 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 observation, we exchanged mute alarms, and 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
"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 arm, but she failed for the moment, confronted
with such an account of the matter, to respond to my pressure. She communed,
on the contrary, on the spot, with her uneasiness. "And where's Master
"Oh, /he's/ with Quint. They're in the schoolroom."
"Lord, miss!" My view, I 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 ended, at these moments, by getting possession of my hand, and 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 quickly, by way of answer, felt for my letter, drew it forth, held it up,
and then, freeing myself, went and laid it on the great hall table. "Luke
will take it," I said as I carne 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 dropped, but 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 cried,
"and if you must do so, I leave you. Try meanwhile, yourself, upstairs."
"With /them?/" Oh, on this, the poor woman promptly joined me!
We went straight to the lake, as it was called at Bly, and I daresay rightly
called, though 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 small, and the pool of Bly, at all events on the few
occasions of my consenting, under the protection of my pupils, to 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
that, wherever Flora might be, she was not near home. She had not given me
the slip for any small adventure, and, since the day of the very great one
that I had shared with her by the pond, I had been aware, in our walks, of
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 her, when 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 them,
would simply appal us."
"And if she /is/ there ----?"
"Then Miss Jessel is?"
"Beyond a doubt. You shall see."
"Oh, thank you!" my friend cried, planted so firm that, taking it in, I went
straight on without her. By the time I reached the pool, however, -- she was
close behind me, and I knew that, whatever, to her apprehension, might
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 edge, where, save for a margin of some twenty yards,
a thick copse came down to the water. The pond, oblong in shape, had a width
so scant compared to its length that, with its ends out of view, it 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 her, one 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 pool, an indentation masked, for the hither side, by
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
"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 devious, tiresome 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 afresh, so 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 came, just there, down to the brink and that had
been an assistance to disembarking. I recognized, as I looked at the pair of
short, thick oars, quite safely drawn up, the prodigious character of the
feat for a little girl; but I had lived, by this time, too long among
wonders and had panted to too many livelier measures. There was a gate in
the fence, through which we passed, and that brought us, after a trifling
interval, more into the open. Then, "There she is!" we both exclaimed at
Flora, a short way off, stood before us on the grass and smiled as if her
performance was now complete. The next thing she did, however, was to stoop
straight down and pluck -- quite as if it were all she was there for -- a
big, ugly spray of withered fern. I instantly became sure she had just come
out of the copse. She waited for us, not herself taking a step, and I was
conscious of the rare solemnity with which we presently approached her. She
smiled and smiled, and 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 and, drawing the child to her breast, clasped in a long
embrace the little tender, yielding 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. Still, all this
while, nothing 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 hand, so 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 who, gazing 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 gaiety, and 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 were, in a flash like the glitter of a drawn blade, the
jostle of the cup that my hand, for weeks and weeks, had held high and full
to the brim and that now, even before speaking, I felt overflow in a deluge.
"I'll tell you if you'll tell /me/ ----" I heard myself say, then heard the
tremor in which it broke.
Mrs. Grose's suspense blazed at me, but it was too late now, and I brought
the thing out handsomely. "Where, my pet, is Miss Jessel?"
Just as in the churchyard with Miles, the whole thing was upon us. Much as I
had made of the fact that this name had never once, between us, been sounded,
the quick, smitten 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 cry, as if to stay the blow, that Mrs. Grose, at the same
instant, uttered over my violence -- the shriek of a creature scared, or
rather wounded, which, in turn, within a few seconds, was completed by a
gasp of my own. I seized my colleague's arm. "She's there, she's there!"
Miss Jessel stood before us on the opposite bank exactly as she had stood
the other time, and I remember, strangely, as the first feeling now produced
in me, my thrill of joy at having brought on a proof. She was there, and I
was justified; she was there, and I was neither cruel nor mad. She was there
for poor scared Mrs. Grose, but she was mere 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 that, pale and ravenous demon
as she was, she would catch and understand it -- an inarticulate message of
gratitude. She rose erect on the spot my friend and I had lately quitted,
and mere was not, in 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 me, in truth, far more than it would have
done to find her also merely agitated, for direct dismay was of course not
what I had expected. Prepared and on her guard as our pursuit had actually
made her, she would repress every betrayal; and I was therefore shaken, on
the spot, by my first glimpse of the particular one for which I had not
allowed. To see her, without a convulsion of her small pink face, not even
feign to glance in the direction of the prodigy I announced, but only,
instead of that, turn at /me/ an expression of hard, still gravity, am
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
instant, and 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 old, old woman, and
that description of her could not have been more strikingly confirmed than
in the way in which, for all answer to this, she simply showed me, without a
concession, an admission, of her eyes, a countenance of deeper and deeper,
of indeed suddenly quite fixed, reprobation. 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 also, and very formidably, to
reckon with. My elder companion, the next moment, at any rate, blotted out
everything but her own flushed face and her loud, shocked protest, a burst
of high disapproval. "What a dreadful turn, to be sure, miss! Where on earth
do you see anything?"
I could only grasp her more quickly yet, for even while she spoke the
hideous plain presence stood undimmed and undaunted. It had already lasted a
minute, and it lasted while I continued, seizing my colleague, quite
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 look, dearest woman,
/look/ ----!" She looked, even as I did, and gave me, with her deep groan of
negation, repulsion, compassion -- the mixture with her pity of her relief
at her exemption -- a sense, touching to me even then, that she would have
backed me up if she could. I might well have needed that, for 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 press,
from her position, on my defeat, and I was conscious, more than all, of 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, breaking, even while there pierced through my sense of ruin a
prodigious private triumph, into 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 companion, on this, had responded with a strange, quick primness of
propriety, and they were again, with Mrs. Grose on her feet, united, as it
were, in 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 that, as 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 hideously, hard; 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!" Then,
after this deliverance, which might have been that of a vulgarly pert little
girl in the street, she 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 dismayed, while I had nothing to do but
communicate again with the figure that, on the opposite bank, without a
movement, as rigidly still as if catching, beyond the interval, our voices,
was 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 words, and I could therefore, in 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 truth, and now it has only too much closed round me. Of course
I've lost you: I've interfered, and you've seen -- under /her/ dictation" --
with which I faced, over the pool again, our infernal witness -- "the easy
and perfect way to meet it. I've done my best, but I've lost you. Goodbye."
For Mrs. Grose I had am imperative, am almost frantic "Go, go!" before which,
in infinite distress, but mutely possessed of the little girl and clearly
convinced, in spite of her blindness, that something awful had occurred and
some collapse engulfed us, she retreated, by the way we had come, as 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 of, I suppose, a quarter of an hour, an odorous
dampness and roughness, chilling and piercing my trouble, had made me
understand that I must have thrown myself, on my face, on the ground and
given way to a wildness of grief. I must have lain there long and cried and
sobbed, for when I raised my head the day was almost done. I got up and
looked a moment, through the twilight, at the gray pool and its blank,
haunted edge, and then I took, back to the house, my dreary and difficult
course. When I reached the gate in the fence the boat, to my surprise, was
gone, so that I had a fresh reflection to make on Flora's extraordinary
command of the situation. She passed that night, by the most tacit, and I
should add, were not the word so grotesque a false note, the happiest of
arrangements, with Mrs. Grose. I saw neither of them on my return, but, on
the other hand, as 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 actual, an 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 in, at a
glance, much material testimony to Flora's rupture. Her little belongings
had all been removed. When later, by the schoolroom fire, I was served with
tea by the usual maid, I indulged, on the article of my other pupil, in no
inquiry whatever. He had his freedom now -- he might have it to the end!
Well, he 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. So, when 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 wanted, I felt, to be with me.
Before a new day, in my room, had fully broken, my eyes opened to Mrs. Grose,
who had come to my bedside with worse news. Flora was so markedly feverish
that an illess was perhaps at hand; she had passed a night of extreme unrest,
a night agitated above all by fears that had for their subject not in the
least her former, but wholly her present, governess. 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 course, and 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 saw, or has ever
My visitor's trouble, truly, was great. "Ah, miss, it isn't a matter on
which I can push her! Yet it isn't either, I must say, as if I much needed
to. It has made her, every inch of her, quite 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 was, it held Mrs. Grose briefly silent; then
she granted my point with a frankness which, I made sure, had more behind it.
"I think indeed, miss, she 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!"
Oh, that manner, I could see in my visitor's face, and not a little else
besides! "She asks me every three minutes if I think you're coming in."
"I see -- I see." I, too, on my side, had 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
"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 asked, "is to speed me on my
way?" Before she had time to reply, however, I 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 visitor, at this, did 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 amazed, myself, at the spirit I had
still in reserve, and therefore perhaps a trifle the more disconcerted at
the way in which, in spite of this fine example of it, she hesitated.
"There's one thing, of course," I went on: "they mustn't, before she goes,
see each other for three seconds." Then it came over me that, in 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. "Ah, miss, I'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 maids, and at present, though she's alone, she'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
Mrs. Grose looked hard, through the window, at the gray, gathering 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 continued, "I 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 yon may have found possible." So I put it before her, but she
continued for a little so inscrutably embarrassed that I came again to her
aid. "Unless, indeed," I wound up, "you really want /not/ to go."
I could see it, in her face, at 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 eyes, then 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 dropped, with a sudden sob, upon my sofa and, as I had seen her do
before, gave way to all the grief of it.
It was quite in another manner that I, for my part, let myself go. "Oh,
She sprang up again at this, drying her eyes with a groan. "'Thank God'?"
"It so justifies me!"
"It does that, miss!"
I couldn't have desired more emphasis, but I just hesitated. "She's so
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 only, in truth, left 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 while, with the same movement, she glanced, on my
dressing table, at the face of my watch. "But I must go back."
I kept her, however. "Ah, if 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 pursued, "far 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 expression, to be carried no further, and she gave me the whole thing as
she had never done. "I believe."
Yes, it was a joy, and 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 confidence, and if my friend would answer for my honesty, I
would answer for all the rest. On the point of taking leave of her,
nonetheless, I 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 fire, but she overcame her reluctance. "I mean that I saw yesterday,
when I came back with Miss Flora, that it wasn't where you had put it. Later
in the evening I had the chance to question Luke, and he declared that he
had neither noticed nor touched it." We could only exchange, on this, one of
our deeper mutual soundings, and 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
"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 indeed, but she could still blush, almost, to show it.
"I make out now what he must have done at school." And she gave, in her
simple sharpness, an 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 me table yesterday," I pursued,
"will 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 me instant, to
have mastered it, to see it all. "Leave us, leave us" -- I was already, at
the door, hurrying 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 perceived, at least, that 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 /was,/ I
said to myself, face to face with the elements, and for much of the rest of
the day, while I fought my weakness, I could consider that I had been
supremely rash. It was a tighter place still than I had yet turned round in;
all the more that, for the first time, I 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 explained, throw 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 precisely, in short, by just
clutching the helm that I avoided total wreck; and I dare say that, to bear
up at all, I became, that morning, very 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 that, left thus to myself, I was quite remarkably firm. I
wandered with that manner, for the next hour or two, all over the place and
looked, I have no doubt, as if I were ready for any onset. So, for the
benefit of whom it might concern, I paraded with a sick heart.
The person it appeared least to concern proved to be, till dinner, little
Miles himself. My perambulations had given me, meanwhile, no glimpse of him,
but they had tended to make more public the change taking place in our
relation as a consequence of his having at the piano the day before, kept me,
in Flora's interest, so beguiled and befooled. The stamp of publicity had of
course been fully given by her confinement and departure, and the change
itself was now ushered in by our nonobservance of the regular custom of the
schoolroom. He had already disappeared when, on my way down, I pushed open
his door, and 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
out, as he said, for a stroll than which nothing, I reflected, could better
have expressed his frank view of the abrupt transformation of my office.
What he would now permit this office to consist of was yet to be settled:
there was a queer relief, at all events -- I mean for myself in especial --
in the renouncement of one pretension. If so much had sprung to the surface,
I 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 dignity, I had had to
appeal to him to let me off straining to meet him on the ground of his true
He had at any rate his freedom now; I was never to touch it again; as I had
amply shown, moreover, when, on his joining me in the schoolroom the
previous night, I had uttered, on the subject of the interval just concluded,
neither challenge nor hint. I had too much, from this moment, my other ideas.
Yet when he at last arrived, the difficulty of applying them, the
accumulations of my problem, were brought straight home to me by the
beautiful little presence on which what had occurred had as yet, for the eye,
dropped neither stain nor shadow.
To mark, for the house, the high state I cultivated I decreed that my meals
with the boy should be served, as we called it, downstairs; 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. Grose, that 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 was, revoltingly, against
nature. I could only get on at all by taking "nature" into my confidence and
my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual,
of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only
another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue. No attempt, nonetheless,
could well require more tact than just this attempt to supply, one's self,
/all/ the nature. How could I put even a little of that article into a
suppression of reference to what had occurred? How, on the other hand, could
I make reference without a new plunge into the hideous obscure? Well, a sort
of answer, after a time, had come to me, and it was so far confirmed as that
I was met, incontestably, by 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 which, as we shared our solitude, broke out
with a specious glitter it had never yet quite worn? -- the fact that
(opportunity aiding, precious opportunity which had now come) it would be
preposterous, with 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 one, to reach his mind, risk the stretch of an angular
arm over his character? It was as if, when we were face to face in the
dining room, he had literally shown me the way, The roast mutton was on the
table, and I had dispensed with attendance. Miles, before he sat down, stood
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 say, my dear, is 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 me, carried the plate carefully to ms seat, and, when he
was established, went 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" -- oh, I was grand! -- "and carry it off."
"I see, I see" -- Miles, for that matter, was grand, too. He settled to his
repast with the charming little "table manner" that, from the day of his
arrival, had relieved me of all grossness of admonition. Whatever he had
been driven from school for, it was not for ugly feeding. He was
irreproachable, as always, today; but he was unmistakably more conscious. He
was discernibly trying to take for granted more things than he found,
without assistance, quite easy; and he dropped into peaceful silence while
he felt his situation. Our meal was of the briefest -- mine a vain pretense,
and 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 which, that other day, I had seen what
pulled me up. We continued silent while the maid was with us -- as silent,
it whimsically occurred to me, as some young couple who, on their wedding
journey, at the inn, feel 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 returned, still 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 it, but I felt wan. "It depends on what you call
"Yes" -- with all accommodation -- "everything depends!" On this, however,
he faced to the window again and presently reached it with his vague,
restless, cogitating step. He remained there awhile, with 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 me 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 influence 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. "Well, I 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 bravely, "that
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 own, and 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 that, however, he 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 in, "yon don't particularly mind!"
"Having to do with you?" I asked. "My dear child, how 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 directly, and the expression of his face, graver now,
struck me as the most beautiful I had ever found in it. "You stay on just
"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!" He, on his side, more and more visibly nervous, had a tone to
master; but he was so much more successful than I that, laughing out through
his gravity, he 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. "Well, yes -- 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 -- oh, the 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 heroically, and the touching little bravery of it
was enhanced by his actually flushing with pain. He had picked up his hat,
which he had brought in, and stood twirling it in a way that gave me, even
as I was just nearly reaching port, a perverse horror of what I was doing.
To do it in /any/ way was an act of violence, for 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 time, for 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 scruples, like 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 me, and 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 which, between us, you might have heard a pin drop. Then he
was before me again with the air of a person for whom, outside, someone 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 lie, and I felt
proportionately ashamed. But, horrible as it was, his 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" -- oh, my work preoccupied me,
and I was offhand! -- "if, yesterday afternoon, from the table in the hall,
you took, you know, my 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
first, as I sprang straight up, reduced me to the mere blind movement of
getting hold of him, drawing him close, and, while I just fell for support
against the nearest piece of furniture, instinctively 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 that, from outside, he had reached the
window, and then I knew that, close 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 be, seeing and facing
what I saw and faced, to keep the boy himself unaware. The inspiration -- I
can call it by no other name -- was that I felt how voluntarily, how
transcentently, I /might./ It was like fighting with a demon for a human
soul, and when I had fairly so appraised it I saw how the human soul -- held
out, in the tremor of my hands, at 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 glass, and out of it presently came a sound,
not low nor weak, but as if from much further away, that I drank like a waft
"Yes I took it."
At this, with a moan of joy, I enfolded, I drew him close; and while I held
him to my breast, where 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
sentinel, but its slow wheel, for a moment, was rather the prowl of a
baffled beast. My present quickened courage, however, was such that, not too
much to let it through, I had to shade, as it were, my flame. Meanwhile the
glare of the face was again at the window, the scoundrel fixed as if to
watch and wait. It was the very confidence that I might now defy him, as
well as the positive certitude, by this time, of the child's unconsciousness,
that 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 now, as I held him off a little again, on Miles's own face, in
which the collapse of mockery showed me how complete was the ravage of
uneasiness. What was prodigious was that at last, by my success, his sense
was sealed and his communication stopped: he knew that he was in presence,
but 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 mournful, thoughtful 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?"
Oh, what 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 could, very 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
nothing, he 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 over, as 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?"
Never, truly, had a person "turned out" shown so little to explain it as
this little person! He appeared to weigh my question, but 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 remember, but it dropped -- he had lost it. "I don't
He almost smiled at me in the desolation of his surrender, which was indeed
practically, by this time, so complete that I ought to have left it there.
But I was infatuated -- I was blind with victory, though 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 clearness, but into a darker
obscure, and 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 bottomless, for if he /were/ innocent, what then on earth
was /I?/ Paralyzed, while it lasted, by the mere brush of the question, I
let him go a little, so that, with a deep-drawn sigh, he turned away from me
again; which, as he faced toward the clear window, I suffered, feeling 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 me, still breathing hard and again with
the air, though now without anger for it, of being confined against his will.
Once more, as he had done before, he looked up at the dim day as if, of what
had hitherto sustained him, nothing 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
"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
"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 judge, his executioner; yet it made him avert
himself again, and that movement made /me,/ with a single bound and an
irrepressible cry, spring straight upon him. For there again, against the
glass, as 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 him, from the midst
of my act, meet it with a divination, and on the perception that even now he
only guessed, and that the window was still to his own eyes free, I 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 shrieked, as 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 and, with a
gasp, I echoed it, "Miss Jessel, Miss Jessel!" he with a sudden fury gave me
I seized, stupefied, his supposition some sequel to what we had done to
Flora, but 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 horror, there for the last time!"
At this, after 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 light, he
was at me in a white rage, bewildered, glaring vainly over the place and
missing wholly, though it now, to my sense, filled the room like the taste
of poison, the wide, overwhelming presence. "It's /he?/"
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 again, round the room, its
convulsed supplication. "/Where?/"
They are in my ears still, his 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!"
Then, for the demonstration of my work, "There, /there!/" I said to Miles.
But he had already jerked straight round, stared, glared 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 him, yes, I
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 day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.
Horror Stories | Dark Poetry | Articles | Ghost Stories
Classic Horror | New | About | Home