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
"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
"For sheer terror?" I remember
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
He continued to fix me. "You'll
easily judge," he repeated: "you will."
I fixed him, too. "I see. She
was in love."
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
"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
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
"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
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 proceed.
He had been left, by the death
of their parents in India, guardian to a small nephew and a small niece,
children of a younger, a military brother, whom he had lost two years before.
These children were, by the strangest of chances for a man in his position—
a lone man without the right sort of experience or a 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."
"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
"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
"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 Street?"
"In Harley Street."
"Well, miss, you're not the first—
and you won't be the last."
"Oh, I've no pretension," I could
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.
"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 all."
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
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, miss."
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 really bad?"
The tears were still in her eyes.
"Do the gentlemen say so?"
"They go into no particulars.
They simply express their regret that it should be impossible to keep him.
That can have only one meaning." Mrs. Grose listened with
dumb emotion; she forbore to
ask me what this meaning might be; so 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
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 atonement.
Nonetheless, the rest of the
day I watched for further occasion to approach my colleague, especially
as, toward evening, I began to fancy she rather sought to avoid
me. I overtook her, I remember,
on the staircase; we went down together, and at the bottom I detained her,
holding her there with a hand on her arm. "I take what
you said to me at noon as a
declaration that you've never known him to be bad."
She threw back her head; she
had 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
"To contaminate?"— my big word
left her at a loss. I explained it. "To corrupt."
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
"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
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
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 here?"
"No— she went off."
I don't know what there was in
this brevity of Mrs. Grose's that struck me as ambiguous. "Went off to
die?" Mrs. Grose looked straight out of the 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 work."
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 grotesque.
She promptly understood me. "You
mean the cruel charge——?"
"It doesn't live an instant.
My dear woman, look at him!"
She smiled at my pretention to
have discovered his charm. "I assure you, miss, I do nothing else! What
will you say, then?" she immediately added.
"In answer to the letter?" I
had made up my mind. "Nothing."
"And to his uncle?"
I was incisive. "Nothing."
"And to the boy himself?"
I was wonderful. "Nothing."
She gave with her apron a great
wipe to her mouth. "Then I'll stand by you. We'll see it out."
"We'll see it out!" I ardently
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
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 I knew.
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.
End of Part One - Go to Part