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
Her hand tightened. "What was
"An extraordinary man. Looking
"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
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
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."
I spoke boldly. "I'm afraid of
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
"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
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
She didn't move. "How long was
"Till I came out. I came to meet
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 actor."
"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 gentleman
"You know him then?"
She visibly tried to hold herself.
"But he is handsome?"
I saw the way to help her. "Remarkably!"
"In somebody's clothes. They're
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
She faltered but a second. "Quint!"
"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 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
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
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
"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
She looked immensely scared again.
"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. Grose.
"It does strike me that my pupils
have never mentioned——"
She looked at me hard as I musingly
pulled up. "His having been here and the time they were with him?"
"The time they were with him,
and his name, his presence, his history, in any way."
"Oh, the little lady doesn't
remember. She never heard or knew."
"The circumstances of his death?"
I thought with some intensity. "Perhaps not. But Miles would remember—
Miles would know."
"Ah, don't try him!" broke from
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
"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
She felt my discrimination. "I
daresay I was wrong. But, really, I was afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"Of things that man could do.
Quint was so clever— he was so deep."
I took this in still more 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 faltered.
"On innocent little precious
lives. They were in your charge."
"No, they were not in mine!"
she roundly and distressfully returned. "The master believed in him and
placed him here because he was supposed not to be well and
the country air so good for
him. So he had everything to say. Yes"— she let me have it— "even about
"Them— that creature?" I had
to smother a kind of howl. "And you could bear it!"
"No. I couldn't— and I can't
now!" And the poor woman burst into tears.
A rigid 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
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
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 near."
"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 never seen?"
"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 you?"
"Because I'm clear. Flora doesn't
want me to know."
"It's only then to spare you."
"No, no— there are depths, depths!
The more I go over it, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it,
the more I fear. I don't know what I don't see— what I
Mrs. Grose tried to keep up with
me. "You mean you're afraid of seeing her again?"
"Oh, no; that's nothing— now!"
Then I explained. "It's of not seeing her."
But my companion only looked
wan. "I don't understand you."
"Why, it's that the child may
keep it up— and that the child assuredly will— without my knowing it."
At the image of this possibility
Mrs. Grose for a moment collapsed, yet presently to pull herself together
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
"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
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
"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
"Ah, with such awful eyes!"
She stared at mine as if they
might really have resembled them. "Do you mean of dislike?"
"God help us, no. Of something
"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
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
"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—
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 to romp.
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 station.
I pressed again, of course, at
this. "You reminded him that Quint was only a base menial?"
"As you might say! And it was
his answer, for one thing, that was bad."
"And for another thing?" I waited.
"He repeated your words to Quint?"
"No, not that. It's just what
he wouldn't!" she could still impress upon me. "I was sure, at any rate,"
she added, "that he didn't. But he denied certain occasions."
"When they had been about together
quite as if Quint were his tutor— and a very grand one— and Miss Jessel
only for the little lady. When he had gone off with the fellow, I mean,
and spent hours with him."
"He then prevaricated about it—
he said he hadn't?" Her assent was clear enough to cause me to add in a
moment: "I see. He lied."
"Oh!" Mrs. Grose mumbled. This
was a suggestion that it didn't matter; which indeed she backed up by a
further remark. "You 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
She saw, visibly flushing, where
I was coming out. "Well, he didn't show anything. He denied," she repeated—
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.
End of Part Two - Go to Part