Part 2 out of 3
to you the letter from his school!"
"I doubt if I looked as queer as you!" she retorted with homely force.
"And if he was so bad then as that comes to, how is he such an angel now?"
"Yes, indeed--and if he was a fiend at school! How, how, how?
Well," I said in my torment, "you must put it to me again,
but I shall not be able to tell you for some days. Only, put it
to me again!" I cried in a way that made my friend stare.
"There are directions in which I must not for the present
let myself go." Meanwhile I returned to her first example--
the one to which she had just previously referred--
of the boy's happy capacity for an occasional slip.
"If Quint--on your remonstrance at the time you speak of--
was a base menial, one of the things Miles said to you,
I find myself guessing, was that you were another."
Again her admission was so adequate that I continued:
"And you forgave him that?"
"Oh, yes!" And we exchanged there, in the stillness,
a sound of the oddest amusement. Then I went on:
"At all events, while he was with the man--"
"Miss Flora was with the woman. It suited them all!"
It suited me, too, I felt, only too well; by which I mean
that it suited exactly the particularly deadly view I
was in the very act of forbidding myself to entertain.
But I so far succeeded in checking the expression of this view
that I will throw, just here, no further light on it than may be
offered by the mention of my final observation to Mrs. Grose.
"His having lied and been impudent are, I confess, less engaging
specimens than I had hoped to have from you of the outbreak in him
of the little natural man. Still," I mused, "They must do,
for they make me feel more than ever that I must watch."
It made me blush, the next minute, to see in my friend's face
how much more unreservedly she had forgiven him than her anecdote
struck me as presenting to my own tenderness an occasion for doing.
This came out when, at the schoolroom door, she quitted me.
"Surely you don't accuse HIM--"
"Of carrying on an intercourse that he conceals from me?
Ah, remember that, until further evidence, I now accuse nobody."
Then, before shutting her out to go, by another passage,
to her own place, "I must just wait," I wound up.
I waited and waited, and the days, as they elapsed,
took something from my consternation. A very few of them,
in fact, passing, in constant sight of my pupils,
without a fresh incident, sufficed to give to grievous fancies
and even to odious memories a kind of brush of the sponge.
I have spoken of the surrender to their extraordinary
childish grace as a thing I could actively cultivate,
and it may be imagined if I neglected now to address myself
to this source for whatever it would yield. Stranger than I
can express, certainly, was the effort to struggle against my
new lights; it would doubtless have been, however, a greater
tension still had it not been so frequently successful.
I used to wonder how my little charges could help guessing that I
thought strange things about them; and the circumstances that
these things only made them more interesting was not by itself
a direct aid to keeping them in the dark. I trembled lest they
should see that they WERE so immensely more interesting.
Putting things at the worst, at all events, as in meditation I
so often did, any clouding of their innocence could only be--
blameless and foredoomed as they were--a reason the more for
taking risks. There were moments when, by an irresistible impulse,
I found myself catching them up and pressing them to my heart.
As soon as I had done so I used to say to myself:
"What will they think of that? Doesn't it betray too much?"
It would have been easy to get into a sad, wild tangle about how
much I might betray; but the real account, I feel, of the hours
of peace that I could still enjoy was that the immediate
charm of my companions was a beguilement still effective
even under the shadow of the possibility that it was studied.
For if it occurred to me that I might occasionally excite
suspicion by the little outbreaks of my sharper passion for them,
so too I remember wondering if I mightn't see a queerness
in the traceable increase of their own demonstrations.
They were at this period extravagantly and preternaturally fond
of me; which, after all, I could reflect, was no more than a
graceful response in children perpetually bowed over and hugged.
The homage of which they were so lavish succeeded, in truth,
for my nerves, quite as well as if I never appeared to myself,
as I may say, literally to catch them at a purpose in it.
They had never, I think, wanted to do so many things for their
poor protectress; I mean--though they got their lessons better
and better, which was naturally what would please her most--
in the way of diverting, entertaining, surprising her;
reading her passages, telling her stories, acting her charades,
pouncing out at her, in disguises, as animals and historical
characters, and above all astonishing her by the "pieces" they
had secretly got by heart and could interminably recite.
I should never get to the bottom--were I to let myself go even now--
of the prodigious private commentary, all under still more
private correction, with which, in these days, I overscored
their full hours. They had shown me from the first a facility
for everything, a general faculty which, taking a fresh start,
achieved remarkable flights. They got their little tasks
as if they loved them, and indulged, from the mere exuberance
of the gift, in the most unimposed little miracles of memory.
They not only popped out at me as tigers and as Romans,
but as Shakespeareans, astronomers, and navigators.
This was so singularly the case that it had presumably
much to do with the fact as to which, at the present day,
I am at a loss for a different explanation: I allude to my
unnatural composure on the subject of another school for Miles.
What I remember is that I was content not, for the time,
to open the question, and that contentment must have sprung
from the sense of his perpetually striking show of cleverness.
He was too clever for a bad governess, for a parson's daughter,
to spoil; and the strangest if not the brightest thread
in the pensive embroidery I just spoke of was the impression
I might have got, if I had dared to work it out, that he was
under some influence operating in his small intellectual life
as a tremendous incitement.
If it was easy to reflect, however, that such a boy could postpone school,
it was at least as marked that for such a boy to have been
"kicked out" by a schoolmaster was a mystification without end.
Let me add that in their company now--and I was careful almost
never to be out of it--I could follow no scent very far. We lived
in a cloud of music and love and success and private theatricals.
The musical sense in each of the children was of the quickest,
but the elder in especial had a marvelous knack of catching and repeating.
The schoolroom piano broke into all gruesome fancies; and when that failed
there were confabulations in corners, with a sequel of one of them going
out in the highest spirits in order to "come in" as something new.
I had had brothers myself, and it was no revelation to me that little
girls could be slavish idolaters of little boys. What surpassed
everything was that there was a little boy in the world who could have
for the inferior age, sex, and intelligence so fine a consideration.
They were extraordinarily at one, and to say that they never either
quarreled or complained is to make the note of praise coarse for their
quality of sweetness. Sometimes, indeed, when I dropped into coarseness,
I perhaps came across traces of little understandings between them by
which one of them should keep me occupied while the other slipped away.
There is a naive side, I suppose, in all diplomacy; but if my pupils
practiced upon me, it was surely with the minimum of grossness.
It was all in the other quarter that, after a lull, the grossness broke out.
I find that I really hang back; but I must take my plunge.
In going on with the record of what was hideous at Bly,
I not only challenge the most liberal faith--for which I
little care; but--and this is another matter--I renew what I
myself suffered, I again push my way through it to the end.
There came suddenly an hour after which, as I look back,
the affair seems to me to have been all pure suffering;
but I have at least reached the heart of it,
and the straightest road out is doubtless to advance.
One evening--with nothing to lead up or to prepare it--
I felt the cold touch of the impression that had breathed
on me the night of my arrival and which, much lighter then,
as I have mentioned, I should probably have made little
of in memory had my subsequent sojourn been less agitated.
I had not gone to bed; I sat reading by a couple of candles.
There was a roomful of old books at Bly--last-century fiction,
some of it, which, to the extent of a distinctly deprecated renown,
but never to so much as that of a stray specimen, had reached
the sequestered home and appealed to the unavowed curiosity
of my youth. I remember that the book I had in my hand
was Fielding's Amelia; also that I was wholly awake.
I recall further both a general conviction that it was horribly
late and a particular objection to looking at my watch.
I figure, finally, that the white curtain draping,
in the fashion of those days, the head of Flora's
little bed, shrouded, as I had assured myself long before,
the perfection of childish rest. I recollect in short that,
though I was deeply interested in my author, I found myself,
at the turn of a page and with his spell all scattered,
looking straight up from him and hard at the door of my room.
There was a moment during which I listened, reminded of
the faint sense I had had, the first night, of there being
something undefinably astir in the house, and noted the soft
breath of the open casement just move the half-drawn blind.
Then, with all the marks of a deliberation that must have
seemed magnificent had there been anyone to admire it,
I laid down my book, rose to my feet, and, taking a candle,
went straight out of the room and, from the passage,
on which my light made little impression, noiselessly closed
and locked the door.
I can say now neither what determined nor what guided me, but I went
straight along the lobby, holding my candle high, till I came within sight
of the tall window that presided over the great turn of the staircase.
At this point I precipitately found myself aware of three things.
They were practically simultaneous, yet they had flashes of succession.
My candle, under a bold flourish, went out, and I perceived, by the uncovered
window, that the yielding dusk of earliest morning rendered it unnecessary.
Without it, the next instant, I saw that there was someone on the stair.
I speak of sequences, but I required no lapse of seconds to stiffen
myself for a third encounter with Quint. The apparition had reached
the landing halfway up and was therefore on the spot nearest the window,
where at sight of me, it stopped short and fixed me exactly as it had fixed
me from the tower and from the garden. He knew me as well as I knew him;
and so, in the cold, faint twilight, with a glimmer in the high glass
and another on the polish of the oak stair below, we faced each
other in our common intensity. He was absolutely, on this occasion,
a living, detestable, dangerous presence. But that was not the wonder
of wonders; I reserve this distinction for quite another circumstance:
the circumstance that dread had unmistakably quitted me and that there
was nothing in me there that didn't meet and measure him.
I had plenty of anguish after that extraordinary moment,
but I had, thank God, no terror. And he knew I had not--I found
myself at the end of an instant magnificently aware of this.
I felt, in a fierce rigor of confidence, that if I stood
my ground a minute I should cease--for the time, at least--
to have him to reckon with; and during the minute, accordingly,
the thing was as human and hideous as a real interview:
hideous just because it WAS human, as human as to have
met alone, in the small hours, in a sleeping house, some enemy,
some adventurer, some criminal. It was the dead silence of our
long gaze at such close quarters that gave the whole horror,
huge as it was, its only note of the unnatural. If I had met
a murderer in such a place and at such an hour, we still at
least would have spoken. Something would have passed, in life,
between us; if nothing had passed, one of us would have moved.
The moment was so prolonged that it would have taken but little
more to make me doubt if even _I_ were in life. I can't
express what followed it save by saying that the silence itself--
which was indeed in a manner an attestation of my strength--
became the element into which I saw the figure disappear;
in which I definitely saw it turn as I might have seen the low
wretch to which it had once belonged turn on receipt of an order,
and pass, with my eyes on the villainous back that no hunch
could have more disfigured, straight down the staircase
and into the darkness in which the next bend was lost.
I remained awhile at the top of the stair, but with the effect
presently of understanding that when my visitor had gone, he had gone:
then I returned to my room. The foremost thing I saw there
by the light of the candle I had left burning was that Flora's
little bed was empty; and on this I caught my breath with all
the terror that, five minutes before, I had been able to resist.
I dashed at the place in which I had left her lying and over which
(for the small silk counterpane and the sheets were disarranged)
the white curtains had been deceivingly pulled forward;
then my step, to my unutterable relief, produced an answering sound:
I perceived an agitation of the window blind, and the child,
ducking down, emerged rosily from the other side of it.
She stood there in so much of her candor and so little of her nightgown,
with her pink bare feet and the golden glow of her curls.
She looked intensely grave, and I had never had such a sense of losing
an advantage acquired (the thrill of which had just been so prodigious)
as on my consciousness that she addressed me with a reproach.
"You naughty: where HAVE you been?"--instead of challenging
her own irregularity I found myself arraigned and explaining.
She herself explained, for that matter, with the loveliest,
eagerest simplicity. She had known suddenly, as she lay there,
that I was out of the room, and had jumped up to see what had
become of me. I had dropped, with the joy of her reappearance,
back into my chair--feeling then, and then only, a little faint;
and she had pattered straight over to me, thrown herself upon
my knee, given herself to be held with the flame of the candle full
in the wonderful little face that was still flushed with sleep.
I remember closing my eyes an instant, yieldingly, consciously,
as before the excess of something beautiful that shone out of the blue
of her own. "You were looking for me out of the window?" I said.
"You thought I might be walking in the grounds?"
"Well, you know, I thought someone was"--she never blanched as she
smiled out that at me.
Oh, how I looked at her now! "And did you see anyone?"
"Ah, NO!" she returned, almost with the full privilege
of childish inconsequence, resentfully, though with a long
sweetness in her little drawl of the negative.
At that moment, in the state of my nerves, I absolutely believed
she lied; and if I once more closed my eyes it was before the dazzle
of the three or four possible ways in which I might take this up.
One of these, for a moment, tempted me with such singular intensity that,
to withstand it, I must have gripped my little girl with a spasm that,
wonderfully, she submitted to without a cry or a sign of fright.
Why not break out at her on the spot and have it all over?--
give it to her straight in her lovely little lighted face?
"You see, you see, you KNOW that you do and that you already quite
suspect I believe it; therefore, why not frankly confess it to me,
so that we may at least live with it together and learn perhaps,
in the strangeness of our fate, where we are and what it means?"
This solicitation dropped, alas, as it came: if I could immediately
have succumbed to it I might have spared myself--well, you'll see what.
Instead of succumbing I sprang again to my feet, looked at her bed,
and took a helpless middle way. "Why did you pull the curtain
over the place to make me think you were still there?"
Flora luminously considered; after which, with her little divine smile:
"Because I don't like to frighten you!"
"But if I had, by your idea, gone out--?"
She absolutely declined to be puzzled; she turned her eyes to the flame
of the candle as if the question were as irrelevant, or at any rate
as impersonal, as Mrs. Marcet or nine-times-nine. "Oh, but you know,"
she quite adequately answered, "that you might come back, you dear,
and that you HAVE!" And after a little, when she had got into bed,
I had, for a long time, by almost sitting on her to hold her hand,
to prove that I recognized the pertinence of my return.
You may imagine the general complexion, from that moment, of my nights.
I repeatedly sat up till I didn't know when; I selected moments when my
roommate unmistakably slept, and, stealing out, took noiseless turns
in the passage and even pushed as far as to where I had last met Quint.
But I never met him there again; and I may as well say at once
that I on no other occasion saw him in the house. I just missed,
on the staircase, on the other hand, a different adventure.
Looking down it from the top I once recognized the presence of a woman
seated on one of the lower steps with her back presented to me,
her body half-bowed and her head, in an attitude of woe, in her hands.
I had been there but an instant, however, when she vanished without
looking round at me. I knew, nonetheless, exactly what dreadful face
she had to show; and I wondered whether, if instead of being above I had
been below, I should have had, for going up, the same nerve I had lately
shown Quint. Well, there continued to be plenty of chance for nerve.
On the eleventh night after my latest encounter with that gentleman--
they were all numbered now--I had an alarm that perilously skirted it
and that indeed, from the particular quality of its unexpectedness,
proved quite my sharpest shock. It was precisely the first night during
this series that, weary with watching, I had felt that I might again
without laxity lay myself down at my old hour. I slept immediately and,
as I afterward knew, till about one o'clock; but when I woke it was
to sit straight up, as completely roused as if a hand had shook me.
I had left a light burning, but it was now out, and I felt an instant
certainty that Flora had extinguished it. This brought me to my feet
and straight, in the darkness, to her bed, which I found she had left.
A glance at the window enlightened me further, and the striking of a match
completed the picture.
The child had again got up--this time blowing out the taper, and had again,
for some purpose of observation or response, squeezed in behind
the blind and was peering out into the night. That she now saw--
as she had not, I had satisfied myself, the previous time--was proved
to me by the fact that she was disturbed neither by my reillumination
nor by the haste I made to get into slippers and into a wrap.
Hidden, protected, absorbed, she evidently rested on the sill--
the casement opened forward--and gave herself up. There was a great
still moon to help her, and this fact had counted in my quick decision.
She was face to face with the apparition we had met at the lake,
and could now communicate with it as she had not then been able to do.
What I, on my side, had to care for was, without disturbing her,
to reach, from the corridor, some other window in the same quarter.
I got to the door without her hearing me; I got out of it, closed it,
and listened, from the other side, for some sound from her.
While I stood in the passage I had my eyes on her brother's door,
which was but ten steps off and which, indescribably, produced in me
a renewal of the strange impulse that I lately spoke of as my temptation.
What if I should go straight in and march to HIS window?--what if,
by risking to his boyish bewilderment a revelation of my motive,
I should throw across the rest of the mystery the long halter
of my boldness?
This thought held me sufficiently to make me cross to his
threshold and pause again. I preternaturally listened; I figured
to myself what might portentously be; I wondered if his bed were
also empty and he too were secretly at watch. It was a deep,
soundless minute, at the end of which my impulse failed.
He was quiet; he might be innocent; the risk was hideous;
I turned away. There was a figure in the grounds--a figure
prowling for a sight, the visitor with whom Flora was engaged;
but it was not the visitor most concerned with my boy.
I hesitated afresh, but on other grounds and only for a few seconds;
then I had made my choice. There were empty rooms at Bly,
and it was only a question of choosing the right one.
The right one suddenly presented itself to me as the lower one--
though high above the gardens--in the solid corner of the house
that I have spoken of as the old tower. This was a large,
square chamber, arranged with some state as a bedroom, the extravagant
size of which made it so inconvenient that it had not for years,
though kept by Mrs. Grose in exemplary order, been occupied.
I had often admired it and I knew my way about in it; I had only,
after just faltering at the first chill gloom of its disuse,
to pass across it and unbolt as quietly as I could one of
the shutters. Achieving this transit, I uncovered the glass
without a sound and, applying my face to the pane, was able,
the darkness without being much less than within, to see that I
commanded the right direction. Then I saw something more.
The moon made the night extraordinarily penetrable and
showed me on the lawn a person, diminished by distance,
who stood there motionless and as if fascinated, looking up
to where I had appeared--looking, that is, not so much
straight at me as at something that was apparently above me.
There was clearly another person above me--there was a person
on the tower; but the presence on the lawn was not in the least
what I had conceived and had confidently hurried to meet.
The presence on the lawn--I felt sick as I made it out--
was poor little Miles himself.
It was not till late next day that I spoke to Mrs. Grose;
the rigor with which I kept my pupils in sight making it often
difficult to meet her privately, and the more as we each felt
the importance of not provoking--on the part of the servants
quite as much as on that of the children--any suspicion
of a secret flurry or that of a discussion of mysteries.
I drew a great security in this particular from her mere
smooth aspect. There was nothing in her fresh face to pass
on to others my horrible confidences. She believed me,
I was sure, absolutely: if she hadn't I don't know what would
have become of me, for I couldn't have borne the business alone.
But she was a magnificent monument to the blessing of a want
of imagination, and if she could see in our little charges nothing
but their beauty and amiability, their happiness and cleverness,
she had no direct communication with the sources of my trouble.
If they had been at all visibly blighted or battered, she would
doubtless have grown, on tracing it back, haggard enough
to match them; as matters stood, however, I could feel her,
when she surveyed them, with her large white arms folded
and the habit of serenity in all her look, thank the Lord's
mercy that if they were ruined the pieces would still serve.
Flights of fancy gave place, in her mind, to a steady fireside glow,
and I had already begun to perceive how, with the development
of the conviction that--as time went on without a public accident--
our young things could, after all, look out for themselves,
she addressed her greatest solicitude to the sad case presented
by their instructress. That, for myself, was a sound simplification:
I could engage that, to the world, my face should tell no tales,
but it would have been, in the conditions, an immense added
strain to find myself anxious about hers.
At the hour I now speak of she had joined me, under pressure,
on the terrace, where, with the lapse of the season, the afternoon
sun was now agreeable; and we sat there together while, before us,
at a distance, but within call if we wished, the children
strolled to and fro in one of their most manageable moods.
They moved slowly, in unison, below us, over the lawn, the boy,
as they went, reading aloud from a storybook and passing
his arm round his sister to keep her quite in touch.
Mrs. Grose watched them with positive placidity; then I caught
the suppressed intellectual creak with which she conscientiously
turned to take from me a view of the back of the tapestry.
I had made her a receptacle of lurid things, but there was an odd
recognition of my superiority--my accomplishments and my function--
in her patience under my pain. She offered her mind to my
disclosures as, had I wished to mix a witch's broth and proposed it
with assurance, she would have held out a large clean saucepan.
This had become thoroughly her attitude by the time that,
in my recital of the events of the night, I reached the point
of what Miles had said to me when, after seeing him, at such
a monstrous hour, almost on the very spot where he happened
now to be, I had gone down to bring him in; choosing then,
at the window, with a concentrated need of not alarming the house,
rather that method than a signal more resonant. I had left
her meanwhile in little doubt of my small hope of representing
with success even to her actual sympathy my sense of the real
splendor of the little inspiration with which, after I had got
him into the house, the boy met my final articulate challenge.
As soon as I appeared in the moonlight on the terrace,
he had come to me as straight as possible; on which I had taken
his hand without a word and led him, through the dark spaces,
up the staircase where Quint had so hungrily hovered for him,
along the lobby where I had listened and trembled, and so to
his forsaken room.
Not a sound, on the way, had passed between us, and I had wondered--
oh, HOW I had wondered!--if he were groping about in his
little mind for something plausible and not too grotesque.
It would tax his invention, certainly, and I felt, this time,
over his real embarrassment, a curious thrill of triumph.
It was a sharp trap for the inscrutable! He couldn't play any
longer at innocence; so how the deuce would he get out of it?
There beat in me indeed, with the passionate throb of this
question an equal dumb appeal as to how the deuce _I_ should.
I was confronted at last, as never yet, with all the risk
attached even now to sounding my own horrid note.
I remember in fact that as we pushed into his little chamber,
where the bed had not been slept in at all and the window,
uncovered to the moonlight, made the place so clear that there
was no need of striking a match--I remember how I suddenly dropped,
sank upon the edge of the bed from the force of the idea
that he must know how he really, as they say, "had" me.
He could do what he liked, with all his cleverness to help him,
so long as I should continue to defer to the old tradition
of the criminality of those caretakers of the young who
minister to superstitions and fears. He "had" me indeed,
and in a cleft stick; for who would ever absolve me, who would
consent that I should go unhung, if, by the faintest tremor
of an overture, I were the first to introduce into our perfect
intercourse an element so dire? No, no: it was useless
to attempt to convey to Mrs. Grose, just as it is scarcely
less so to attempt to suggest here, how, in our short,
stiff brush in the dark, he fairly shook me with admiration.
I was of course thoroughly kind and merciful; never, never yet
had I placed on his little shoulders hands of such tenderness
as those with which, while I rested against the bed,
I held him there well under fire. I had no alternative but,
in form at least, to put it to him.
"You must tell me now--and all the truth. What did you go out for?
What were you doing there?"
I can still see his wonderful smile, the whites of his beautiful eyes,
and the uncovering of his little teeth shine to me in the dusk.
"If I tell you why, will you understand?" My heart,
at this, leaped into my mouth. WOULD he tell me why?
I found no sound on my lips to press it, and I was aware
of replying only with a vague, repeated, grimacing nod.
He was gentleness itself, and while I wagged my head at
him he stood there more than ever a little fairy prince.
It was his brightness indeed that gave me a respite.
Would it be so great if he were really going to tell me?
"Well," he said at last, "just exactly in order that you
should do this."
"Think me--for a change--BAD!" I shall never forget the sweetness
and gaiety with which he brought out the word, nor how, on top of it,
he bent forward and kissed me. It was practically the end of everything.
I met his kiss and I had to make, while I folded him for a minute
in my arms, the most stupendous effort not to cry. He had given exactly
the account of himself that permitted least of my going behind it,
and it was only with the effect of confirming my acceptance of it that,
as I presently glanced about the room, I could say--
"Then you didn't undress at all?"
He fairly glittered in the gloom. "Not at all.
I sat up and read."
"And when did you go down?"
"At midnight. When I'm bad I AM bad!"
"I see, I see--it's charming. But how could you be sure I would know it?"
"Oh, I arranged that with Flora." His answers rang out with a readiness!
"She was to get up and look out."
"Which is what she did do." It was I who fell into the trap!
"So she disturbed you, and, to see what she was looking at,
you also looked--you saw."
"While you," I concurred, "caught your death in the night air!"
He literally bloomed so from this exploit that he could afford radiantly
to assent. "How otherwise should I have been bad enough?" he asked.
Then, after another embrace, the incident and our interview closed
on my recognition of all the reserves of goodness that, for his joke,
he had been able to draw upon.
The particular impression I had received proved in the morning light,
I repeat, not quite successfully presentable to Mrs. Grose,
though I reinforced it with the mention of still another remark
that he had made before we separated. "It all lies in half a
dozen words," I said to her, "words that really settle the matter.
'Think, you know, what I MIGHT do!' He threw that off to show
me how good he is. He knows down to the ground what he `might' do.
That's what he gave them a taste of at school."
"Lord, you do change!" cried my friend.
"I don't change--I simply make it out. The four, depend upon it,
perpetually meet. If on either of these last nights you had
been with either child, you would clearly have understood.
The more I've watched and waited the more I've felt that if
there were nothing else to make it sure it would be made
so by the systematic silence of each. NEVER, by a slip
of the tongue, have they so much as alluded to either of their
old friends, any more than Miles has alluded to his expulsion.
Oh, yes, we may sit here and look at them, and they may show
off to us there to their fill; but even while they pretend
to be lost in their fairytale they're steeped in their vision
of the dead restored. He's not reading to her," I declared;
"they're talking of THEM--they're talking horrors!
I go on, I know, as if I were crazy; and it's a wonder I'm not.
What I've seen would have made YOU so; but it has only made
me more lucid, made me get hold of still other things."
My lucidity must have seemed awful, but the charming creatures
who were victims of it, passing and repassing in their
interlocked sweetness, gave my colleague something to hold on by;
and I felt how tight she held as, without stirring in the breath
of my passion, she covered them still with her eyes.
"Of what other things have you got hold?"
"Why, of the very things that have delighted, fascinated, and yet,
at bottom, as I now so strangely see, mystified and troubled me.
Their more than earthly beauty, their absolutely unnatural goodness.
It's a game," I went on; "it's a policy and a fraud!"
"On the part of little darlings--?"
"As yet mere lovely babies? Yes, mad as that seems!"
The very act of bringing it out really helped me to
trace it--follow it all up and piece it all together.
"They haven't been good--they've only been absent.
It has been easy to live with them, because they're simply leading
a life of their own. They're not mine--they're not ours.
They're his and they're hers!"
"Quint's and that woman's?"
"Quint's and that woman's. They want to get to them."
Oh, how, at this, poor Mrs. Grose appeared to study them!
"But for what?"
"For the love of all the evil that, in those dreadful days,
the pair put into them. And to ply them with that evil still,
to keep up the work of demons, is what brings the others back."
"Laws!" said my friend under her breath. The exclamation was homely, but it
revealed a real acceptance of my further proof of what, in the bad time--
for there had been a worse even than this!--must have occurred. There could
have been no such justification for me as the plain assent of her experience
to whatever depth of depravity I found credible in our brace of scoundrels.
It was in obvious submission of memory that she brought out after a moment:
"They WERE rascals! But what can they now do?" she pursued.
"Do?" I echoed so loud that Miles and Flora, as they passed at
their distance, paused an instant in their walk and looked at us.
"Don't they do enough?" I demanded in a lower tone, while the children,
having smiled and nodded and kissed hands to us, resumed their exhibition.
We were held by it a minute; then I answered: "They can destroy them!"
At this my companion did turn, but the inquiry she launched was
a silent one, the effect of which was to make me more explicit.
"They don't know, as yet, quite how--but they're trying hard.
They're seen only across, as it were, and beyond--in strange places
and on high places, the top of towers, the roof of houses, the outside
of windows, the further edge of pools; but there's a deep design,
on either side, to shorten the distance and overcome the obstacle;
and the success of the tempters is only a question of time.
They've only to keep to their suggestions of danger."
"For the children to come?"
"And perish in the attempt!" Mrs. Grose slowly got up,
and I scrupulously added: "Unless, of course, we can prevent!"
Standing there before me while I kept my seat, she visibly
turned things over. "Their uncle must do the preventing.
He must take them away."
"And who's to make him?"
She had been scanning the distance, but she now dropped on me
a foolish face. "You, miss."
"By writing to him that his house is poisoned and his little
nephew and niece mad?"
"But if they ARE, miss?"
"And if I am myself, you mean? That's charming news to be sent him
by a governess whose prime undertaking was to give him no worry."
Mrs. Grose considered, following the children again. "Yes, he do hate worry.
That was the great reason--"
"Why those fiends took him in so long? No doubt, though his
indifference must have been awful. As I'm not a fiend,
at any rate, I shouldn't take him in."
My companion, after an instant and for all answer, sat down again
and grasped my arm. "Make him at any rate come to you."
I stared. "To ME?" I had a sudden fear of what she might do. "'Him'?"
"He ought to BE here--he ought to help."
I quickly rose, and I think I must have shown her a queerer face
than ever yet. "You see me asking him for a visit?" No, with her
eyes on my face she evidently couldn't. Instead of it even--
as a woman reads another--she could see what I myself saw:
his derision, his amusement, his contempt for the breakdown
of my resignation at being left alone and for the fine machinery I
had set in motion to attract his attention to my slighted charms.
She didn't know--no one knew--how proud I had been to serve
him and to stick to our terms; yet she nonetheless took
the measure, I think, of the warning I now gave her.
"If you should so lose your head as to appeal to him for me--"
She was really frightened. "Yes, miss?"
"I would leave, on the spot, both him and you."
It was all very well to join them, but speaking to them proved
quite as much as ever an effort beyond my strength--offered,
in close quarters, difficulties as insurmountable as before.
This situation continued a month, and with new aggravations
and particular notes, the note above all, sharper and sharper,
of the small ironic consciousness on the part of my pupils.
It was not, I am as sure today as I was sure then, my mere
infernal imagination: it was absolutely traceable that they
were aware of my predicament and that this strange relation made,
in a manner, for a long time, the air in which we moved.
I don't mean that they had their tongues in their cheeks or did
anything vulgar, for that was not one of their dangers:
I do mean, on the other hand, that the element of the unnamed
and untouched became, between us, greater than any other,
and that so much avoidance could not have been so successfully
effected without a great deal of tacit arrangement.
It was as if, at moments, we were perpetually coming into sight
of subjects before which we must stop short, turning suddenly
out of alleys that we perceived to be blind, closing with a little
bang that made us look at each other--for, like all bangs,
it was something louder than we had intended--the doors we
had indiscreetly opened. All roads lead to Rome, and there
were times when it might have struck us that almost every branch
of study or subject of conversation skirted forbidden ground.
Forbidden ground was the question of the return of the dead
in general and of whatever, in especial, might survive,
in memory, of the friends little children had lost.
There were days when I could have sworn that one of them had,
with a small invisible nudge, said to the other:
"She thinks she'll do it this time--but she WON'T!" To "do it"
would have been to indulge for instance--and for once in a way--
in some direct reference to the lady who had prepared them for
my discipline. They had a delightful endless appetite for passages
in my own history, to which I had again and again treated them;
they were in possession of everything that had ever happened to me,
had had, with every circumstance the story of my smallest adventures
and of those of my brothers and sisters and of the cat and the dog
at home, as well as many particulars of the eccentric nature
of my father, of the furniture and arrangement of our house,
and of the conversation of the old women of our village.
There were things enough, taking one with another, to chatter about,
if one went very fast and knew by instinct when to go round.
They pulled with an art of their own the strings of my invention
and my memory; and nothing else perhaps, when I thought
of such occasions afterward, gave me so the suspicion of being
watched from under cover. It was in any case over MY life,
MY past, and MY friends alone that we could take anything
like our ease--a state of affairs that led them sometimes without
the least pertinence to break out into sociable reminders.
I was invited--with no visible connection--to repeat afresh
Goody Gosling's celebrated mot or to confirm the details
already supplied as to the cleverness of the vicarage pony.
It was partly at such junctures as these and partly at quite
different ones that, with the turn my matters had now taken,
my predicament, as I have called it, grew most sensible.
The fact that the days passed for me without another encounter ought,
it would have appeared, to have done something toward soothing my nerves.
Since the light brush, that second night on the upper landing,
of the presence of a woman at the foot of the stair, I had seen nothing,
whether in or out of the house, that one had better not have seen.
There was many a corner round which I expected to come upon Quint,
and many a situation that, in a merely sinister way, would have favored
the appearance of Miss Jessel. The summer had turned, the summer had gone;
the autumn had dropped upon Bly and had blown out half our lights.
The place, with its gray sky and withered garlands, its bared spaces
and scattered dead leaves, was like a theater after the performance--
all strewn with crumpled playbills. There were exactly states of the air,
conditions of sound and of stillness, unspeakable impressions
of the KIND of ministering moment, that brought back to me,
long enough to catch it, the feeling of the medium in which,
that June evening out of doors, I had had my first sight of Quint,
and in which, too, at those other instants, I had, after seeing him
through the window, looked for him in vain in the circle of shrubbery.
I recognized the signs, the portents--I recognized the moment, the spot.
But they remained unaccompanied and empty, and I continued unmolested;
if unmolested one could call a young woman whose sensibility had,
in the most extraordinary fashion, not declined but deepened.
I had said in my talk with Mrs. Grose on that horrid scene of Flora's
by the lake--and had perplexed her by so saying--that it would from
that moment distress me much more to lose my power than to keep it.
I had then expressed what was vividly in my mind: the truth that,
whether the children really saw or not--since, that is, it was
not yet definitely proved--I greatly preferred, as a safeguard,
the fullness of my own exposure. I was ready to know the very worst
that was to be known. What I had then had an ugly glimpse of was
that my eyes might be sealed just while theirs were most opened.
Well, my eyes WERE sealed, it appeared, at present--
a consummation for which it seemed blasphemous not to thank God.
There was, alas, a difficulty about that: I would have thanked
him with all my soul had I not had in a proportionate measure this
conviction of the secret of my pupils.
How can I retrace today the strange steps of my obsession?
There were times of our being together when I would have been ready
to swear that, literally, in my presence, but with my direct sense
of it closed, they had visitors who were known and were welcome.
Then it was that, had I not been deterred by the very chance that
such an injury might prove greater than the injury to be averted,
my exultation would have broken out. "They're here, they're here,
you little wretches," I would have cried, "and you can't deny it now!"
The little wretches denied it with all the added volume of their
sociability and their tenderness, in just the crystal depths of which--
like the flash of a fish in a stream--the mockery of their advantage
peeped up. The shock, in truth, had sunk into me still deeper
than I knew on the night when, looking out to see either Quint
or Miss Jessel under the stars, I had beheld the boy over whose
rest I watched and who had immediately brought in with him--
had straightway, there, turned it on me--the lovely upward look with which,
from the battlements above me, the hideous apparition of Quint had played.
If it was a question of a scare, my discovery on this occasion
had scared me more than any other, and it was in the condition
of nerves produced by it that I made my actual inductions.
They harassed me so that sometimes, at odd moments, I shut myself
up audibly to rehearse--it was at once a fantastic relief and a
renewed despair--the manner in which I might come to the point.
I approached it from one side and the other while, in my room,
I flung myself about, but I always broke down in the monstrous
utterance of names. As they died away on my lips, I said to myself
that I should indeed help them to represent something infamous,
if, by pronouncing them, I should violate as rare a little case
of instinctive delicacy as any schoolroom, probably, had ever known.
When I said to myself: "THEY have the manners to be silent,
and you, trusted as you are, the baseness to speak!"
I felt myself crimson and I covered my face with my hands.
After these secret scenes I chattered more than ever, going on
volubly enough till one of our prodigious, palpable hushes occurred--
I can call them nothing else--the strange, dizzy lift or swim
(I try for terms!) into a stillness, a pause of all life, that had
nothing to do with the more or less noise that at the moment we
might be engaged in making and that I could hear through any deepened
exhilaration or quickened recitation or louder strum of the piano.
Then it was that the others, the outsiders, were there.
Though they were not angels, they "passed," as the French say,
causing me, while they stayed, to tremble with the fear of their
addressing to their younger victims some yet more infernal message
or more vivid image than they had thought good enough for myself.
What it was most impossible to get rid of was the cruel idea that,
whatever I had seen, Miles and Flora saw MORE--things terrible
and unguessable and that sprang from dreadful passages of intercourse
in the past. Such things naturally left on the surface,
for the time, a chill which we vociferously denied that we felt;
and we had, all three, with repetition, got into such splendid
training that we went, each time, almost automatically, to mark
the close of the incident, through the very same movements.
It was striking of the children, at all events, to kiss me inveterately
with a kind of wild irrelevance and never to fail--one or the other--
of the precious question that had helped us through many a peril.
"When do you think he WILL come? Don't you think we OUGHT
to write?"--there was nothing like that inquiry, we found
by experience, for carrying off an awkwardness. "He" of course
was their uncle in Harley Street; and we lived in much profusion
of theory that he might at any moment arrive to mingle in our circle.
It was impossible to have given less encouragement than he had done
to such a doctrine, but if we had not had the doctrine to fall back upon
we should have deprived each other of some of our finest exhibitions.
He never wrote to them--that may have been selfish, but it was a part
of the flattery of his trust of me; for the way in which a man
pays his highest tribute to a woman is apt to be but by the more
festal celebration of one of the sacred laws of his comfort;
and I held that I carried out the spirit of the pledge given not
to appeal to him when I let my charges understand that their own
letters were but charming literary exercises. They were too beautiful
to be posted; I kept them myself; I have them all to this hour.
This was a rule indeed which only added to the satiric effect of my being
plied with the supposition that he might at any moment be among us.
It was exactly as if my charges knew how almost more awkward
than anything else that might be for me. There appears to me,
moreover, as I look back, no note in all this more extraordinary
than the mere fact that, in spite of my tension and of their triumph,
I never lost patience with them. Adorable they must in truth
have been, I now reflect, that I didn't in these days hate them!
Would exasperation, however, if relief had longer been postponed,
finally have betrayed me? It little matters, for relief arrived.
I call it relief, though it was only the relief that a snap brings
to a strain or the burst of a thunderstorm to a day of suffocation.
It was at least change, and it came with a rush.
Walking to church a certain Sunday morning, I had little Miles at my side
and his sister, in advance of us and at Mrs. Grose's, well in sight.
It was a crisp, clear day, the first of its order for some time;
the night had brought a touch of frost, and the autumn air, bright and sharp,
made the church bells almost gay. It was an odd accident of thought
that I should have happened at such a moment to be particularly
and very gratefully struck with the obedience of my little charges.
Why did they never resent my inexorable, my perpetual society?
Something or other had brought nearer home to me that I had all but pinned
the boy to my shawl and that, in the way our companions were marshaled
before me, I might have appeared to provide against some danger of rebellion.
I was like a gaoler with an eye to possible surprises and escapes.
But all this belonged--I mean their magnificent little surrender--
just to the special array of the facts that were most abysmal.
Turned out for Sunday by his uncle's tailor, who had had a free
hand and a notion of pretty waistcoats and of his grand little air,
Miles's whole title to independence, the rights of his sex and situation,
were so stamped upon him that if he had suddenly struck for freedom
I should have had nothing to say. I was by the strangest of chances
wondering how I should meet him when the revolution unmistakably occurred.
I call it a revolution because I now see how, with the word he spoke,
the curtain rose on the last act of my dreadful drama, and the catastrophe
was precipitated. "Look here, my dear, you know," he charmingly said,
"when in the world, please, am I going back to school?"
Transcribed here the speech sounds harmless enough,
particularly as uttered in the sweet, high, casual pipe with which,
at all interlocutors, but above all at his eternal governess,
he threw off intonations as if he were tossing roses.
There was something in them that always made one "catch," and
I caught, at any rate, now so effectually that I stopped as short
as if one of the trees of the park had fallen across the road.
There was something new, on the spot, between us, and he was
perfectly aware that I recognized it, though, to enable me to do so,
he had no need to look a whit less candid and charming than usual.
I could feel in him how he already, from my at first finding
nothing to reply, perceived the advantage he had gained.
I was so slow to find anything that he had plenty of time,
after a minute, to continue with his suggestive but inconclusive smile:
"You know, my dear, that for a fellow to be with a lady ALWAYS--!"
His "my dear" was constantly on his lips for me, and nothing
could have expressed more the exact shade of the sentiment with
which I desired to inspire my pupils than its fond familiarity.
It was so respectfully easy.
But, oh, how I felt that at present I must pick my own phrases!
I remember that, to gain time, I tried to laugh, and I seemed to see in
the beautiful face with which he watched me how ugly and queer I looked.
"And always with the same lady?" I returned.
He neither blanched nor winked. The whole thing was virtually out
between us. "Ah, of course, she's a jolly, `perfect' lady; but, after all,
I'm a fellow, don't you see? that's--well, getting on."
I lingered there with him an instant ever so kindly.
"Yes, you're getting on." Oh, but I felt helpless!
I have kept to this day the heartbreaking little idea
of how he seemed to know that and to play with it.
"And you can't say I've not been awfully good, can you?"
I laid my hand on his shoulder, for, though I felt how much
better it would have been to walk on, I was not yet quite able.
"No, I can't say that, Miles."
"Except just that one night, you know--!"
"That one night?" I couldn't look as straight as he.
"Why, when I went down--went out of the house."
"Oh, yes. But I forget what you did it for."
"You forget?"--he spoke with the sweet extravagance of childish reproach.
"Why, it was to show you I could!"
"Oh, yes, you could."
"And I can again."
I felt that I might, perhaps, after all, succeed in keeping
my wits about me. "Certainly. But you won't."
"No, not THAT again. It was nothing."
"It was nothing," I said. "But we must go on."
He resumed our walk with me, passing his hand into my arm.
"Then when AM I going back?"
I wore, in turning it over, my most responsible air.
"Were you very happy at school?"
He just considered. "Oh, I'm happy enough anywhere!"
"Well, then," I quavered, "if you're just as happy here--!"
"Ah, but that isn't everything! Of course YOU know a lot--"
"But you hint that you know almost as much?" I risked as he paused.
"Not half I want to!" Miles honestly professed.
"But it isn't so much that."
"What is it, then?"
"Well--I want to see more life."
"I see; I see." We had arrived within sight of the church and
of various persons, including several of the household of Bly,
on their way to it and clustered about the door to see us go in.
I quickened our step; I wanted to get there before the question
between us opened up much further; I reflected hungrily that,
for more than an hour, he would have to be silent; and I thought
with envy of the comparative dusk of the pew and of the almost
spiritual help of the hassock on which I might bend my knees.
I seemed literally to be running a race with some confusion
to which he was about to reduce me, but I felt that he had got
in first when, before we had even entered the churchyard,
he threw out--
"I want my own sort!"
It literally made me bound forward. "There are not many of your
own sort, Miles!" I laughed. "Unless perhaps dear little Flora!"
"You really compare me to a baby girl?"
This found me singularly weak. "Don't you, then, LOVE
our sweet Flora?"
"If I didn't--and you, too; if I didn't--!" he repeated as if
retreating for a jump, yet leaving his thought so unfinished that,
after we had come into the gate, another stop, which he imposed
on me by the pressure of his arm, had become inevitable.
Mrs. Grose and Flora had passed into the church, the other
worshippers had followed, and we were, for the minute,
alone among the old, thick graves. We had paused, on the path
from the gate, by a low, oblong, tablelike tomb.
"Yes, if you didn't--?"
He looked, while I waited, at the graves. "Well, you know what!"
But he didn't move, and he presently produced something that made
me drop straight down on the stone slab, as if suddenly to rest.
"Does my uncle think what YOU think?"
I markedly rested. "How do you know what I think?"
"Ah, well, of course I don't; for it strikes me you never tell me.
But I mean does HE know?"
"Know what, Miles?"
"Why, the way I'm going on."
I perceived quickly enough that I could make, to this inquiry,
no answer that would not involve something of a sacrifice
of my employer. Yet it appeared to me that we were all,
at Bly, sufficiently sacrificed to make that venial.
"I don't think your uncle much cares."
Miles, on this, stood looking at me. "Then don't you think he can
be made to?"
"In what way?"
"Why, by his coming down."
"But who'll get him to come down?"
"_I_ will!" the boy said with extraordinary brightness and emphasis.
He gave me another look charged with that expression and then marched
off alone into church.
The business was practically settled from the moment I
never followed him. It was a pitiful surrender to agitation,
but my being aware of this had somehow no power to restore me.
I only sat there on my tomb and read into what my little
friend had said to me the fullness of its meaning;
by the time I had grasped the whole of which I had also embraced,
for absence, the pretext that I was ashamed to offer my pupils
and the rest of the congregation such an example of delay.
What I said to myself above all was that Miles had got something
out of me and that the proof of it, for him, would be just this
awkward collapse. He had got out of me that there was something
I was much afraid of and that he should probably be able to make
use of my fear to gain, for his own purpose, more freedom.
My fear was of having to deal with the intolerable question
of the grounds of his dismissal from school, for that was
really but the question of the horrors gathered behind.
That his uncle should arrive to treat with me of these things
was a solution that, strictly speaking, I ought now to have
desired to bring on; but I could so little face the ugliness
and the pain of it that I simply procrastinated and lived
from hand to mouth. The boy, to my deep discomposure,
was immensely in the right, was in a position to say to me:
"Either you clear up with my guardian the mystery of this
interruption of my studies, or you cease to expect me
to lead with you a life that's so unnatural for a boy."
What was so unnatural for the particular boy I was concerned
with was this sudden revelation of a consciousness and a plan.
That was what really overcame me, what prevented my going in.
I walked round the church, hesitating, hovering; I reflected
that I had already, with him, hurt myself beyond repair.
Therefore I could patch up nothing, and it was too
extreme an effort to squeeze beside him into the pew:
he would be so much more sure than ever to pass his arm
into mine and make me sit there for an hour in close,
silent contact with his commentary on our talk. For the first
minute since his arrival I wanted to get away from him.
As I paused beneath the high east window and listened to the sounds
of worship, I was taken with an impulse that might master me,
I felt, completely should I give it the least encouragement.
I might easily put an end to my predicament by getting
away altogether. Here was my chance; there was no one to stop me;
I could give the whole thing up--turn my back and retreat.
It was only a question of hurrying again, for a few preparations,
to the house which the attendance at church of so many of
the servants would practically have left unoccupied. No one,
in short, could blame me if I should just drive desperately off.
What was it to get away if I got away only till dinner?
That would be in a couple of hours, at the end of which--
I had the acute prevision--my little pupils would play at
innocent wonder about my nonappearance in their train.
"What DID you do, you naughty, bad thing? Why in the world,
to worry us so--and take our thoughts off, too, don't you know?--
did you desert us at the very door?" I couldn't meet such
questions nor, as they asked them, their false little lovely eyes;
yet it was all so exactly what I should have to meet that,
as the prospect grew sharp to me, I at last let myself go.
I got, so far as the immediate moment was concerned, away; I came straight
out of the churchyard and, thinking hard, retraced my steps through the park.
It seemed to me that by the time I reached the house I had made up my mind I
would fly. The Sunday stillness both of the approaches and of the interior,
in which I met no one, fairly excited me with a sense of opportunity.
Were I to get off quickly, this way, I should get off without a scene,
without a word. My quickness would have to be remarkable, however,
and the question of a conveyance was the great one to settle.
Tormented, in the hall, with difficulties and obstacles, I remember
sinking down at the foot of the staircase--suddenly collapsing there
on the lowest step and then, with a revulsion, recalling that it
was exactly where more than a month before, in the darkness of night
and just so bowed with evil things, I had seen the specter of the most
horrible of women. At this I was able to straighten myself; I went
the rest of the way up; I made, in my bewilderment, for the schoolroom,
where there were objects belonging to me that I should have to take.
But I opened the door to find again, in a flash, my eyes unsealed.
In the presence of what I saw I reeled straight back upon my resistance.
Seated at my own table in clear noonday light I saw a person whom,
without my previous experience, I should have taken at
the first blush for some housemaid who might have stayed
at home to look after the place and who, availing herself
of rare relief from observation and of the schoolroom
table and my pens, ink, and paper, had applied herself
to the considerable effort of a letter to her sweetheart.
There was an effort in the way that, while her arms rested on
the table, her hands with evident weariness supported her head;
but at the moment I took this in I had already become aware that,
in spite of my entrance, her attitude strangely persisted.
Then it was--with the very act of its announcing itself--
that her identity flared up in a change of posture.
She rose, not as if she had heard me, but with an indescribable
grand melancholy of indifference and detachment, and, within a
dozen feet of me, stood there as my vile predecessor.
Dishonored and tragic, she was all before me; but even as I
fixed and, for memory, secured it, the awful image passed away.
Dark as midnight in her black dress, her haggard beauty and her
unutterable woe, she had looked at me long enough to appear to say
that her right to sit at my table was as good as mine to sit at hers.
While these instants lasted, indeed, I had the extraordinary
chill of feeling that it was I who was the intruder.
It was as a wild protest against it that, actually addressing
her--"You terrible, miserable woman!"--I heard myself break
into a sound that, by the open door, rang through the long
passage and the empty house. She looked at me as if she
heard me, but I had recovered myself and cleared the air.
There was nothing in the room the next minute but the sunshine
and a sense that I must stay.
I had so perfectly expected that the return of my pupils would
be marked by a demonstration that I was freshly upset at having
to take into account that they were dumb about my absence.
Instead of gaily denouncing and caressing me, they made no allusion
to my having failed them, and I was left, for the time, on perceiving
that she too said nothing, to study Mrs. Grose's odd face.
I did this to such purpose that I made sure they had in some
way bribed her to silence; a silence that, however, I would
engage to break down on the first private opportunity.
This opportunity came before tea: I secured five minutes
with her in the housekeeper's room, where, in the twilight,
amid a smell of lately baked bread, but with the place all
swept and garnished, I found her sitting in pained placidity
before the fire. So I see her still, so I see her best:
facing the flame from her straight chair in the dusky,
shining room, a large clean image of the "put away"--
of drawers closed and locked and rest without a remedy.
"Oh, yes, they asked me to say nothing; and to please them--
so long as they were there--of course I promised.
But what had happened to you?"
"I only went with you for the walk," I said. "I had then to come
back to meet a friend."
She showed her surprise. "A friend--YOU?"
"Oh, yes, I have a couple!" I laughed. "But did the children give
you a reason?"
"For not alluding to your leaving us? Yes; they said you would
like it better. Do you like it better?"
My face had made her rueful. "No, I like it worse!"
But after an instant I added: "Did they say why I should
like it better?"
"No; Master Miles only said, "We must do nothing but what she likes!"
"I wish indeed he would. And what did Flora say?"
"Miss Flora was too sweet. She said, `Oh, of course, of course!'--
and I said the same."
I thought a moment. "You were too sweet, too--I can hear you all.
But nonetheless, between Miles and me, it's now all out."
"All out?" My companion stared. "But what, miss?"
"Everything. It doesn't matter. I've made up my mind.
I came home, my dear," I went on, "for a talk with Miss Jessel."
I had by this time formed the habit of having Mrs. Grose
literally well in hand in advance of my sounding that note;
so that even now, as she bravely blinked under the signal
of my word, I could keep her comparatively firm. "A talk!
Do you mean she spoke?"
"It came to that. I found her, on my return, in the schoolroom."
"And what did she say?" I can hear the good woman still,
and the candor of her stupefaction.
"That she suffers the torments--!"
It was this, of a truth, that made her, as she filled out my picture, gape.
"Do you mean," she faltered, "--of the lost?"
"Of the lost. Of the damned. And that's why, to share them-"
I faltered myself with the horror of it.
But my companion, with less imagination, kept me up.
"To share them--?"
"She wants Flora." Mrs. Grose might, as I gave it to her, fairly have fallen
away from me had I not been prepared. I still held her there, to show I was.
"As I've told you, however, it doesn't matter."
"Because you've made up your mind? But to what?"
"And what do you call `everything'?"
"Why, sending for their uncle."
"Oh, miss, in pity do," my friend broke out.
"ah, but I will, I WILL! I see it's the only way.
What's `out,' as I told you, with Miles is that if he thinks
I'm afraid to--and has ideas of what he gains by that--
he shall see he's mistaken. Yes, yes; his uncle shall have it
here from me on the spot (and before the boy himself, if necessary)
that if I'm to be reproached with having done nothing again
about more school--"
"Yes, miss--" my companion pressed me.
"Well, there's that awful reason."
There were now clearly so many of these for my poor colleague that she
was excusable for being vague. "But--a-- which?"
"Why, the letter from his old place."
"You'll show it to the master?"
"I ought to have done so on the instant."
"Oh, no!" said Mrs. Grose with decision.
"I'll put it before him," I went on inexorably, "that I can't undertake
to work the question on behalf of a child who has been expelled--"
"For we've never in the least known what!" Mrs. Grose declared.
"For wickedness. For what else--when he's so clever and beautiful
and perfect? Is he stupid? Is he untidy? Is he infirm?
Is he ill-natured? He's exquisite--so it can be only THAT;
and that would open up the whole thing. After all," I said,
"it's their uncle's fault. If he left here such people--!"
"He didn't really in the least know them. The fault's mine."
She had turned quite pale.
"Well, you shan't suffer," I answered.
"The children shan't!" she emphatically returned.
I was silent awhile; we looked at each other. "Then what am
I to tell him?"
"You needn't tell him anything. _I_'ll tell him."
I measured this. "Do you mean you'll write--?" Remembering she couldn't, I
caught myself up. "How do you communicate?"
"I tell the bailiff. HE writes."
"And should you like him to write our story?"
My question had a sarcastic force that I had not fully intended,
and it made her, after a moment, inconsequently break down.
The tears were again in her eyes. "Ah, miss, YOU write!"
"Well--tonight," I at last answered; and on this we separated.
I went so far, in the evening, as to make a beginning.
The weather had changed back, a great wind was abroad,
and beneath the lamp, in my room, with Flora at peace beside me,
I sat for a long time before a blank sheet of paper and
listened to the lash of the rain and the batter of the gusts.
Finally I went out, taking a candle; I crossed the passage
and listened a minute at Miles's door. What, under my
endless obsession, I had been impelled to listen for was some
betrayal of his not being at rest, and I presently caught one,
but not in the form I had expected. His voice tinkled out.
"I say, you there--come in." It was a gaiety in the gloom!
I went in with my light and found him, in bed, very wide awake,
but very much at his ease. "Well, what are YOU up to?"
he asked with a grace of sociability in which it occurred
to me that Mrs. Grose, had she been present, might have looked
in vain for proof that anything was "out."
I stood over him with my candle. "How did you know I was there?"
"Why, of course I heard you. Did you fancy you made no noise?
You're like a troop of cavalry!" he beautifully laughed.
"Then you weren't asleep?"
"Not much! I lie awake and think."
I had put my candle, designedly, a short way off, and then, as he held
out his friendly old hand to me, had sat down on the edge of his bed.
"What is it," I asked, "that you think of?"
"What in the world, my dear, but YOU?"
"Ah, the pride I take in your appreciation doesn't insist on that!
I had so far rather you slept."
"Well, I think also, you know, of this queer business of ours."
I marked the coolness of his firm little hand.
"Of what queer business, Miles?"
"Why, the way you bring me up. And all the rest!"
I fairly held my breath a minute, and even from my glimmering taper
there was light enough to show how he smiled up at me from his pillow.
"What do you mean by all the rest?"
"Oh, you know, you know!"
I could say nothing for a minute, though I felt, as I held
his hand and our eyes continued to meet, that my silence
had all the air of admitting his charge and that nothing
in the whole world of reality was perhaps at that moment
so fabulous as our actual relation. "Certainly you shall go
back to school," I said, "if it be that that troubles you.
But not to the old place--we must find another, a better.
How could I know it did trouble you, this question,
when you never told me so, never spoke of it at all?"
His clear, listening face, framed in its smooth whiteness,
made him for the minute as appealing as some wistful
patient in a children's hospital; and I would have given,
as the resemblance came to me, all I possessed on earth really
to be the nurse or the sister of charity who might have helped
to cure him. Well, even as it was, I perhaps might help!
"Do you know you've never said a word to me about your school--
I mean the old one; never mentioned it in any way?"
He seemed to wonder; he smiled with the same loveliness.
But he clearly gained time; he waited, he called for guidance.
"Haven't I?" It wasn't for ME to help him--it was for
the thing I had met!
Something in his tone and the expression of his face, as I
got this from him, set my heart aching with such a pang as it
had never yet known; so unutterably touching was it to see his
little brain puzzled and his little resources taxed to play,
under the spell laid on him, a part of innocence and consistency.
"No, never--from the hour you came back. You've never
mentioned to me one of your masters, one of your comrades,
nor the least little thing that ever happened to you at school.
Never, little Miles--no, never--have you given me an inkling
of anything that MAY have happened there. Therefore you
can fancy how much I'm in the dark. Until you came out,
that way, this morning, you had, since the first hour I saw you,
scarce even made a reference to anything in your previous life.
You seemed so perfectly to accept the present." It was
extraordinary how my absolute conviction of his secret precocity
(or whatever I might call the poison of an influence that I
dared but half to phrase) made him, in spite of the faint
breath of his inward trouble, appear as accessible as an
older person--imposed him almost as an intellectual equal.
"I thought you wanted to go on as you are."
It struck me that at this he just faintly colored. He gave, at any rate,
like a convalescent slightly fatigued, a languid shake of his head.
"I don't--I don't. I want to get away."
"You're tired of Bly?"
"Oh, no, I like Bly."
"Oh, YOU know what a boy wants!"
I felt that I didn't know so well as Miles, and I took temporary refuge.
"You want to go to your uncle?"
Again, at this, with his sweet ironic face, he made a movement on the pillow.
"Ah, you can't get off with that!"
I was silent a little, and it was I, now, I think, who changed color.
"My dear, I don't want to get off!"
"You can't, even if you do. You can't, you can't!"--
he lay beautifully staring. "My uncle must come down,
and you must completely settle things."
"If we do," I returned with some spirit, "you may be sure it
will be to take you quite away."
"Well, don't you understand that that's exactly what I'm working for?
You'll have to tell him--about the way you've let it all drop:
you'll have to tell him a tremendous lot!"
The exultation with which he uttered this helped
me somehow, for the instant, to meet him rather more.
"And how much will YOU, Miles, have to tell him?
There are things he'll ask you!"
He turned it over. "Very likely. But what things?"
"The things you've never told me. To make up his mind what to do with you.
He can't send you back--"
"Oh, I don't want to go back!" he broke in. "I want a new field."
He said it with admirable serenity, with positive unimpeachable gaiety;
and doubtless it was that very note that most evoked for me the poignancy,
the unnatural childish tragedy, of his probable reappearance at the end of
three months with all this bravado and still more dishonor. It overwhelmed me
now that I should never be able to bear that, and it made me let myself go.
I threw myself upon him and in the tenderness of my pity I embraced him.
"Dear little Miles, dear little Miles--!"
My face was close to his, and he let me kiss him, simply taking it
with indulgent good humor. "Well, old lady?"
"Is there nothing--nothing at all that you want to tell me?"
He turned off a little, facing round toward the wall and holding
up his hand to look at as one had seen sick children look.
"I've told you--I told you this morning."
Oh, I was sorry for him! "That you just want me not to worry you?"
He looked round at me now, as if in recognition of my understanding him;
then ever so gently, "To let me alone," he replied.
There was even a singular little dignity in it, something that made
me release him, yet, when I had slowly risen, linger beside him.
God knows I never wished to harass him, but I felt that merely, at this,
to turn my back on him was to abandon or, to put it more truly, to lose him.
"I've just begun a letter to your uncle," I said.
"Well, then, finish it!"
I waited a minute. "What happened before?"
He gazed up at me again. "Before what?"
"Before you came back. And before you went away."
For some time he was silent, but he continued to meet my eyes.
It made me, the sound of the words, in which it seemed to me
that I caught for the very first time a small faint quaver
of consenting consciousness--it made me drop on my knees beside
the bed and seize once more the chance of possessing him.
"Dear little Miles, dear little Miles, if you KNEW how I
want to help you! It's only that, it's nothing but that,
and I'd rather die than give you a pain or do you a wrong--
I'd rather die than hurt a hair of you. Dear little Miles"--
oh, I brought it out now even if I SHOULD go too far--"I
just want you to help me to save you!" But I knew in a moment
after this that I had gone too far. The answer to my appeal
was instantaneous, but it came in the form of an extraordinary
blast and chill, a gust of frozen air, and a shake of the room
as great as if, in the wild wind, the casement had crashed in.
The boy gave a loud, high shriek, which, lost in the rest
of the shock of sound, might have seemed, indistinctly, though I
was so close to him, a note either of jubilation or of terror.
I jumped to my feet again and was conscious of darkness.
So for a moment we remained, while I stared about me and saw
that the drawn curtains were unstirred and the window tight.
"Why, the candle's out!" I then cried.
"It was I who blew it, dear!" said Miles.
The next day, after lessons, Mrs. Grose found a moment to say to me quietly:
"Have you written, miss?"
"Yes--I've written." But I didn't add--for the hour--that my letter,
sealed and directed, was still in my pocket. There would be time
enough to send it before the messenger should go to the village.
Meanwhile there had been, on the part of my pupils, no more brilliant,
more exemplary morning. It was exactly as if they had both had at heart
to gloss over any recent little friction. They performed the dizziest feats
of arithmetic, soaring quite out of MY feeble range, and perpetrated,
in higher spirits than ever, geographical and historical jokes.
It was conspicuous of course in Miles in particular that he appeared
to wish to show how easily he could let me down. This child, to my memory,
really lives in a setting of beauty and misery that no words can translate;
there was a distinction all his own in every impulse he revealed;
never was a small natural creature, to the uninitiated eye all frankness
and freedom, a more ingenious, a more extraordinary little gentleman.
I had perpetually to guard against the wonder of contemplation into which my
initiated view betrayed me; to check the irrelevant gaze and discouraged
sigh in which I constantly both attacked and renounced the enigma of
what such a little gentleman could have done that deserved a penalty.
Say that, by the dark prodigy I knew, the imagination of all evil HAD
been opened up to him: all the justice within me ached for the proof
that it could ever have flowered into an act.
He had never, at any rate, been such a little gentleman
as when, after our early dinner on this dreadful day,
he came round to me and asked if I shouldn't like him,
for half an hour, to play to me. David playing to Saul
could never have shown a finer sense of the occasion.
It was literally a charming exhibition of tact, of magnanimity,
and quite tantamount to his saying outright: "The true knights
we love to read about never push an advantage too far.
I know what you mean now: you mean that--to be let alone yourself
and not followed up--you'll cease to worry and spy upon me,
won't keep me so close to you, will let me go and come.
Well, I `come,' you see--but I don't go! There'll be plenty
of time for that. I do really delight in your society,
and I only want to show you that I contended for a principle."
It may be imagined whether I resisted this appeal or failed
to accompany him again, hand in hand, to the schoolroom.
He sat down at the old piano and played as he had never played;
and if there are those who think he had better have been kicking
a football I can only say that I wholly agree with them.
For at the end of a time that under his influence I had
quite ceased to measure, I started up with a strange sense
of having literally slept at my post. It was after luncheon,
and by the schoolroom fire, and yet I hadn't really,
in the least, slept: I had only done something much worse--
I had forgotten. Where, all this time, was Flora?
When I put the question to Miles, he played on a minute
before answering and then could only say: "Why, my dear,
how do _I_ know?"--breaking moreover into a happy laugh which,
immediately after, as if it were a vocal accompaniment,
he prolonged into incoherent, extravagant song.
I went straight to my room, but his sister was not there;
then, before going downstairs, I looked into several others.
As she was nowhere about she would surely be with Mrs. Grose, whom,
in the comfort of that theory, I accordingly proceeded in quest of.
I found her where I had found her the evening before,
but she met my quick challenge with blank, scared ignorance.
She had only supposed that, after the repast, I had carried
off both the children; as to which she was quite in her right,
for it was the very first time I had allowed the little
girl out of my sight without some special provision.
Of course now indeed she might be with the maids, so that the
immediate thing was to look for her without an air of alarm.
This we promptly arranged between us; but when, ten minutes
later and in pursuance of our arrangement, we met in the hall,
it was only to report on either side that after guarded inquiries
we had altogether failed to trace her. For a minute there,
apart from observation, we exchanged mute alarms, and I could
feel with what high interest my friend returned me all those I
had from the first given her.
"She'll be above," she presently said--"in one of the rooms
you haven't searched."
"No; she's at a distance." I had made up my mind.
"She has gone out."
Mrs. Grose stared. "Without a hat?"
I naturally also looked volumes. "Isn't that woman always without one?"
"She's with HER?"
"She's with HER!" I declared. "We must find them."
My hand was on my friend's arm, but she failed for the moment,
confronted with such an account of the matter, to respond to my pressure.
She communed, on the contrary, on the spot, with her uneasiness.
"And where's Master Miles?"
"Oh, HE'S with Quint. They're in the schoolroom."
"Lord, miss!" My view, I was myself aware--and therefore I suppose my tone--
had never yet reached so calm an assurance.
"The trick's played," I went on; "they've successfully worked their plan.
He found the most divine little way to keep me quiet while she went off."
"'Divine'?" Mrs. Grose bewilderedly echoed.
"Infernal, then!" I almost cheerfully rejoined.
"He has provided for himself as well. But come!"
She had helplessly gloomed at the upper regions.
"You leave him--?"
"So long with Quint? Yes--I don't mind that now."
She always ended, at these moments, by getting possession of
my hand, and in this manner she could at present still stay me.
But after gasping an instant at my sudden resignation,
"Because of your letter?" she eagerly brought out.
I quickly, by way of answer, felt for my letter, drew it forth, held it up,
and then, freeing myself, went and laid it on the great hall table.
"Luke will take it," I said as I came back. I reached the house door
and opened it; I was already on the steps.
My companion still demurred: the storm of the night and the early
morning had dropped, but the afternoon was damp and gray.
I came down to the drive while she stood in the doorway.
"You go with nothing on?"
"What do I care when the child has nothing? I can't wait
to dress," I cried, "and if you must do so, I leave you.
Try meanwhile, yourself, upstairs."
"With THEM?" Oh, on this, the poor woman promptly joined me!
We went straight to the lake, as it was called at Bly, and I daresay
rightly called, though I reflect that it may in fact have been a sheet
of water less remarkable than it appeared to my untraveled eyes.
My acquaintance with sheets of water was small, and the pool
of Bly, at all events on the few occasions of my consenting,
under the protection of my pupils, to affront its surface
in the old flat-bottomed boat moored there for our use,
had impressed me both with its extent and its agitation.
The usual place of embarkation was half a mile from the house,
but I had an intimate conviction that, wherever Flora might be,
she was not near home. She had not given me the slip for any
small adventure, and, since the day of the very great one
that I had shared with her by the pond, I had been aware,
in our walks, of the quarter to which she most inclined.
This was why I had now given to Mrs. Grose's steps so marked
a direction--a direction that made her, when she perceived it,
oppose a resistance that showed me she was freshly mystified.
"You're going to the water, Miss?--you think she's IN--?"
"She may be, though the depth is, I believe, nowhere very great.
But what I judge most likely is that she's on the spot from which,
the other day, we saw together what I told you."
"When she pretended not to see--?"
"With that astounding self-possession? I've always been sure she wanted
to go back alone. And now her brother has managed it for her."
Mrs. Grose still stood where she had stopped. "You suppose they
really TALK of them?"
"I could meet this with a confidence! "They say things that,
if we heard them, would simply appall us."
"And if she IS there--"
"Then Miss Jessel is?"
"Beyond a doubt. You shall see."
"Oh, thank you!" my friend cried, planted so firm that,
taking it in, I went straight on without her. By the time
I reached the pool, however, she was close behind me, and I
knew that, whatever, to her apprehension, might befall me,
the exposure of my society struck her as her least danger.
She exhaled a moan of relief as we at last came in sight
of the greater part of the water without a sight of the child.
There was no trace of Flora on that nearer side of the bank
where my observation of her had been most startling,
and none on the opposite edge, where, save for a margin
of some twenty yards, a thick copse came down to the water.
The pond, oblong in shape, had a width so scant compared
to its length that, with its ends out of view, it might have
been taken for a scant river. We looked at the empty expanse,
and then I felt the suggestion of my friend's eyes.
I knew what she meant and I replied with a negative headshake.
"No, no; wait! She has taken the boat."
My companion stared at the vacant mooring place and then again across
the lake. "Then where is it?"
"Our not seeing it is the strongest of proofs. She has used it to go over,
and then has managed to hide it."
"All alone--that child?"
"She's not alone, and at such times she's not a child: she's an old,
old woman." I scanned all the visible shore while Mrs. Grose took again,
into the queer element I offered her, one of her plunges of submission;
then I pointed out that the boat might perfectly be in a small refuge
formed by one of the recesses of the pool, an indentation masked,
for the hither side, by a projection of the bank and by a clump of trees
growing close to the water.
"But if the boat's there, where on earth's SHE?"
my colleague anxiously asked.
"That's exactly what we must learn." And I started to walk further.
"By going all the way round?"
"Certainly, far as it is. It will take us but ten minutes,
but it's far enough to have made the child prefer not to walk.
She went straight over."
"Laws!" cried my friend again; the chain of my logic was ever
too much for her. It dragged her at my heels even now,
and when we had got halfway round--a devious, tiresome process,
on ground much broken and by a path choked with overgrowth--
I paused to give her breath. I sustained her with a grateful arm,
assuring her that she might hugely help me; and this started
us afresh, so that in the course of but few minutes more we reached
a point from which we found the boat to be where I had supposed it.
It had been intentionally left as much as possible out of sight
and was tied to one of the stakes of a fence that came, just there,
down to the brink and that had been an assistance to disembarking.
I recognized, as I looked at the pair of short, thick oars,
quite safely drawn up, the prodigious character of the feat
for a little girl; but I had lived, by this time, too long
among wonders and had panted to too many livelier measures.
There was a gate in the fence, through which we passed,
and that brought us, after a trifling interval, more into the open.
Then, "There she is!" we both exclaimed at once.
Flora, a short way off, stood before us on the grass and smiled
as if her performance was now complete. The next thing she did,
however, was to stoop straight down and pluck--quite as if it
were all she was there for--a big, ugly spray of withered fern.
I instantly became sure she had just come out of the copse.
She waited for us, not herself taking a step, and I was
conscious of the rare solemnity with which we presently
approached her. She smiled and smiled, and we met; but it
was all done in a silence by this time flagrantly ominous.
Mrs. Grose was the first to break the spell: she threw
herself on her knees and, drawing the child to her breast,
clasped in a long embrace the little tender, yielding body.
While this dumb convulsion lasted I could only watch it--
which I did the more intently when I saw Flora's face peep
at me over our companion's shoulder. It was serious now--
the flicker had left it; but it strengthened the pang with which I
at that moment envied Mrs. Grose the simplicity of HER relation.
Still, all this while, nothing more passed between us save
that Flora had let her foolish fern again drop to the ground.
What she and I had virtually said to each other was that
pretexts were useless now. When Mrs. Grose finally got up she
kept the child's hand, so that the two were still before me;
and the singular reticence of our communion was even more
marked in the frank look she launched me. "I'll be hanged,"
it said, "if _I_'ll speak!"
It was Flora who, gazing all over me in candid wonder,
was the first. She was struck with our bareheaded aspect.
"Why, where are your things?"
"Where yours are, my dear!" I promptly returned.
She had already got back her gaiety, and appeared to take
this as an answer quite sufficient. "And where's Miles?"
she went on.
There was something in the small valor of it that quite finished me:
these three words from her were, in a flash like the glitter of a
drawn blade, the jostle of the cup that my hand, for weeks and weeks,
had held high and full to the brim that now, even before speaking,
I felt overflow in a deluge. "I'll tell you if you'll tell ME--"
I heard myself say, then heard the tremor in which it broke.
Mrs. Grose's suspense blazed at me, but it was too late now,
and I brought the thing out handsomely. "Where, my pet,
is Miss Jessel?"
Just as in the churchyard with Miles, the whole thing was upon us.
Much as I had made of the fact that this name had never once,
between us, been sounded, the quick, smitten glare with
which the child's face now received it fairly likened
my breach of the silence to the smash of a pane of glass.
It added to the interposing cry, as if to stay the blow,
that Mrs. Grose, at the same instant, uttered over my violence--
the shriek of a creature scared, or rather wounded, which, in turn,
within a few seconds, was completed by a gasp of my own.
I seized my colleague's arm. "She's there, she's there!"
Miss Jessel stood before us on the opposite bank exactly as she
had stood the other time, and I remember, strangely, as the
first feeling now produced in me, my thrill of joy at having
brought on a proof. She was there, and I was justified;
she was there, and I was neither cruel nor mad.
She was there for poor scared Mrs. Grose, but she was there
most for Flora; and no moment of my monstrous time was perhaps
so extraordinary as that in which I consciously threw out to her--
with the sense that, pale and ravenous demon as she was, she would
catch and understand it--an inarticulate message of gratitude.
She rose erect on the spot my friend and I had lately quitted,
and there was not, in all the long reach of her desire,
an inch of her evil that fell short. This first vividness
of vision and emotion were things of a few seconds,
during which Mrs. Grose's dazed blink across to where I pointed
struck me as a sovereign sign that she too at last saw,
just as it carried my own eyes precipitately to the child.
The revelation then of the manner in which Flora was affected
startled me, in truth, far more than it would have done to find
her also merely agitated, for direct dismay was of course not
what I had expected. Prepared and on her guard as our pursuit
had actually made her, she would repress every betrayal;
and I was therefore shaken, on the spot, by my first
glimpse of the particular one for which I had not allowed.
To see her, without a convulsion of her small pink face, not even
feign to glance in the direction of the prodigy I announced,
but only, instead of that, turn at ME an expression of hard,
still gravity, an expression absolutely new and unprecedented
and that appeared to read and accuse and judge me--
this was a stroke that somehow converted the little girl
herself into the very presence that could make me quail.
I quailed even though my certitude that she thoroughly saw
was never greater than at that instant, and in the immediate
need to defend myself I called it passionately to witness.
"She's there, you little unhappy thing--there, there, THERE,
and you see her as well as you see me!" I had said shortly
before to Mrs. Grose that she was not at these times a child,
but an old, old woman, and that description of her could not
have been more strikingly confirmed than in the way in which,
for all answer to this, she simply showed me, without a concession,
an admission, of her eyes, a countenance of deeper and deeper,
of indeed suddenly quite fixed, reprobation. I was by this time--
if I can put the whole thing at all together--more appalled
at what I may properly call her manner than at anything else,
though it was simultaneously with this that I became aware
of having Mrs. Grose also, and very formidably, to reckon with.
My elder companion, the next moment, at any rate, blotted out
everything but her own flushed face and her loud, shocked protest,
a burst of high disapproval. "What a dreadful turn,
to be sure, miss! Where on earth do you see anything?"
I could only grasp her more quickly yet, for even while she
spoke the hideous plain presence stood undimmed and undaunted.
It had already lasted a minute, and it lasted while I continued,
seizing my colleague, quite thrusting her at it and presenting her to it,
to insist with my pointing hand. "You don't see her exactly as WE see?--
you mean to say you don't now--NOW? She's as big as a blazing fire!
Only look, dearest woman, LOOK--!" She looked, even as I did,
and gave me, with her deep groan of negation, repulsion, compassion--
the mixture with her pity of her relief at her exemption--a sense,
touching to me even then, that she would have backed me up if she could.
I might well have needed that, for with this hard blow of the proof that
her eyes were hopelessly sealed I felt my own situation horribly crumble,
I felt--I saw--my livid predecessor press, from her position, on my defeat,
and I was conscious, more than all, of what I should have from this
instant to deal with in the astounding little attitude of Flora.
Into this attitude Mrs. Grose immediately and violently entered,
breaking, even while there pierced through my sense of ruin a prodigious
private triumph, into breathless reassurance.
"She isn't there, little lady, and nobody's there--and you never see nothing,
my sweet! How can poor Miss Jessel--when poor Miss Jessel's dead and buried?
WE know, don't we, love?--and she appealed, blundering in, to the child.
"It's all a mere mistake and a worry and a joke--and we'll go home as fast
as we can!"
Our companion, on this, had responded with a strange,
quick primness of propriety, and they were again, with Mrs. Grose
on her feet, united, as it were, in pained opposition to me.
Flora continued to fix me with her small mask of reprobation,
and even at that minute I prayed God to forgive me for seeming
to see that, as she stood there holding tight to our friend's dress,
her incomparable childish beauty had suddenly failed,
had quite vanished. I've said it already--she was literally,
she was hideously, hard; she had turned common and almost ugly.
"I don't know what you mean. I see nobody. I see nothing.
I never HAVE. I think you're cruel. I don't like you!"
Then, after this deliverance, which might have been that of a
vulgarly pert little girl in the street, she hugged Mrs. Grose
more closely and buried in her skirts the dreadful little face.
In this position she produced an almost furious wail.
"Take me away, take me away--oh, take me away from HER!"
"From ME?" I panted.
"From you--from you!" she cried.
Even Mrs. Grose looked across at me dismayed, while I had
nothing to do but communicate again with the figure that,
on the opposite bank, without a movement, as rigidly still
as if catching, beyond the interval, our voices, was as vividly
there for my disaster as it was not there for my service.
The wretched child had spoken exactly as if she had got from
some outside source each of her stabbing little words, and I
could therefore, in the full despair of all I had to accept,
but sadly shake my head at her. "If I had ever doubted,
all my doubt would at present have gone. I've been living with
the miserable truth, and now it has only too much closed round me.
Of course I've lost you: I've interfered, and you've seen--
under HER dictation"--with which I faced, over the pool again,
our infernal witness--"the easy and perfect way to meet it.
I've done my best, but I've lost you. Goodbye." For Mrs. Grose
I had an imperative, an almost frantic "Go, go!" before which,
in infinite distress, but mutely possessed of the little girl
and clearly convinced, in spite of her blindness, that something
awful had occurred and some collapse engulfed us, she retreated,
by the way we had come, as fast as she could move.
Of what first happened when I was left alone I had no subsequent memory.
I only knew that at the end of, I suppose, a quarter of an hour,
an odorous dampness and roughness, chilling and piercing
my trouble, had made me understand that I must have thrown myself,
on my face, on the ground and given way to a wildness of grief.
I must have lain there long and cried and sobbed, for when I raised
my head the day was almost done. I got up and looked a moment,
through the twilight, at the gray pool and its blank, haunted edge,
and then I took, back to the house, my dreary and difficult course.
When I reached the gate in the fence the boat, to my surprise, was gone,
so that I had a fresh reflection to make on Flora's extraordinary
command of the situation. She passed that night, by the most tacit,
and I should add, were not the word so grotesque a false note,
the happiest of arrangements, with Mrs. Grose. I saw neither of them
on my return, but, on the other hand, as by an ambiguous compensation,
I saw a great deal of Miles. I saw--I can use no other phrase--
so much of him that it was as if it were more than it had ever been.
No evening I had passed at Bly had the portentous quality of this one;
in spite of which--and in spite also of the deeper depths of
consternation that had opened beneath my feet--there was literally,
in the ebbing actual, an extraordinarily sweet sadness.
On reaching the house I had never so much as looked for the boy;
I had simply gone straight to my room to change what I was wearing
and to take in, at a glance, much material testimony to Flora's rupture.
Her little belongings had all been removed. When later,
by the schoolroom fire, I was served with tea by the usual maid,
I indulged, on the article of my other pupil, in no inquiry whatever.
He had his freedom now--he might have it to the end! Well, he did