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Chapter 16

  • I had so perfectly expected that the return of my pupils would be marked by _emonstration that I was freshly upset at having to take into account tha_hey 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 di_his to such purpose that I made sure they had in some way bribed her t_ilence; a silence that, however, I would engage to break down on the firs_rivate opportunity. This opportunity came before tea: I secured five minute_ith her in the housekeeper's room, where, in the twilight, amid a smell o_ately baked bread, but with the place all swept and garnished, I found he_itting in pained placidity before the fire. So I see her still, so I see he_est: facing the flame from her straight chair in the dusky, shining room, _arge clean image of the "put away"—of drawers closed and locked and res_ithout a remedy.
  • "Oh, yes, they asked me to say nothing; and to please them—so long as the_ere 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 mee_ friend."
  • She showed her surprise. "A friend—you?"
  • "Oh, yes, I have a couple!" I laughed. "But did the children give you _eason?"
  • "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 _dded: "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 sai_he same."
  • I thought a moment. "You were too sweet, too—I can hear you all. Bu_onetheless, 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," _ent on, "for a talk with Miss Jessel."
  • I had by this time formed the habit of having Mrs. Grose literally well i_and in advance of my sounding that note; so that even now, as she bravel_linked under the signal of my word, I could keep her comparatively firm. "_alk! 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 he_tupefaction.
  • "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 mysel_ith 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 falle_way 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?"
  • "To everything."
  • "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 gain_y that—he shall see he's mistaken. Yes, yes; his uncle shall have it her_rom me on the spot (and before the boy himself, if necessary) that if I'm t_e 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 wa_xcusable 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 t_ork 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—s_t can be only that; and that would open up the whole thing. After all," _aid, "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 turne_uite 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, _aught 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 mad_er, after a moment, inconsequently break down. The tears were again in he_yes. "Ah, miss, you write!"
  • "Well—tonight," I at last answered; and on this we separated.