It was not till late next day that I spoke to Mrs. Grose; the rigor with whic_ kept my pupils in sight making it often difficult to meet her privately, an_he more as we each felt the importance of not provoking—on the part of th_ervants quite as much as on that of the children—any suspicion of a secre_lurry or that of a discussion of mysteries. I drew a great security in thi_articular from her mere smooth aspect. There was nothing in her fresh face t_ass 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 _ouldn't have borne the business alone. But she was a magnificent monument t_he blessing of a want of imagination, and if she could see in our littl_harges nothing but their beauty and amiability, their happiness an_leverness, she had no direct communication with the sources of my trouble. I_hey had been at all visibly blighted or battered, she would doubtless hav_rown, 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 arm_olded and the habit of serenity in all her look, thank the Lord's mercy tha_f 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 perceiv_ow, with the development of the conviction that—as time went on without _ublic accident—our young things could, after all, look out for themselves,
she addressed her greatest solicitude to the sad case presented by thei_nstructress. That, for myself, was a sound simplification: I could engag_hat, to the world, my face should tell no tales, but it would have been, i_he 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; an_e sat there together while, before us, at a distance, but within call if w_ished, the children strolled to and fro in one of their most manageabl_oods. They moved slowly, in unison, below us, over the lawn, the boy, as the_ent, reading aloud from a storybook and passing his arm round his sister t_eep her quite in touch. Mrs. Grose watched them with positive placidity; the_ caught the suppressed intellectual creak with which she conscientiousl_urned to take from me a view of the back of the tapestry. I had made her _eceptacle of lurid things, but there was an odd recognition of m_uperiority—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 brot_nd proposed it with assurance, she would have held out a large clea_aucepan. This had become thoroughly her attitude by the time that, in m_ecital of the events of the night, I reached the point of what Miles had sai_o me when, after seeing him, at such a monstrous hour, almost on the ver_pot where he happened now to be, I had gone down to bring him in; choosin_hen, 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 i_ittle doubt of my small hope of representing with success even to her actua_ympathy 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 a_traight as possible; on which I had taken his hand without a word and le_im, through the dark spaces, up the staircase where Quint had so hungril_overed for him, along the lobby where I had listened and trembled, and so t_is forsaken room.
Not a sound, on the way, had passed between us, and I had wondered—oh, how _ad wondered!—if he were groping about in his little mind for somethin_lausible and not too grotesque. It would tax his invention, certainly, and _elt, this time, over his real embarrassment, a curious thrill of triumph. I_as a sharp trap for the inscrutable! He couldn't play any longer a_nnocence; 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 th_euce I should. I was confronted at last, as never yet, with all the ris_ttached even now to sounding my own horrid note. I remember in fact that a_e pushed into his little chamber, where the bed had not been slept in at al_nd the window, uncovered to the moonlight, made the place so clear that ther_as no need of striking a match—I remember how I suddenly dropped, sank upo_he edge of the bed from the force of the idea that he must know how h_eally, as they say, "had" me. He could do what he liked, with all hi_leverness to help him, so long as I should continue to defer to the ol_radition of the criminality of those caretakers of the young who minister t_uperstitions and fears. He "had" me indeed, and in a cleft stick; for wh_ould ever absolve me, who would consent that I should go unhung, if, by th_aintest tremor of an overture, I were the first to introduce into our perfec_ntercourse an element so dire? No, no: it was useless to attempt to convey t_rs. Grose, just as it is scarcely less so to attempt to suggest here, how, i_ur short, stiff brush in the dark, he fairly shook me with admiration. I wa_f course thoroughly kind and merciful; never, never yet had I placed on hi_ittle shoulders hands of such tenderness as those with which, while I reste_gainst 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 wer_ou doing there?"
I can still see his wonderful smile, the whites of his beautiful eyes, and th_ncovering 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 tel_e why? I found no sound on my lips to press it, and I was aware of replyin_nly with a vague, repeated, grimacing nod. He was gentleness itself, an_hile I wagged my head at him he stood there more than ever a little fair_rince. It was his brightness indeed that gave me a respite. Would it be s_reat if he were really going to tell me? "Well," he said at last, "jus_xactly in order that you should do this."
"Think me—for a change—bad!" I shall never forget the sweetness and gaiet_ith which he brought out the word, nor how, on top of it, he bent forward an_issed me. It was practically the end of everything. I met his kiss and I ha_o make, while I folded him for a minute in my arms, the most stupendou_ffort not to cry. He had given exactly the account of himself that permitte_east of my going behind it, and it was only with the effect of confirming m_cceptance 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! "Sh_as 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 als_ooked—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 t_ssent. "How otherwise should I have been bad enough?" he asked. Then, afte_nother embrace, the incident and our interview closed on my recognition o_ll the reserves of goodness that, for his joke, he had been able to dra_pon.