We went straight to the lake, as it was called at Bly, and I daresay rightl_alled, though I reflect that it may in fact have been a sheet of water les_emarkable than it appeared to my untraveled eyes. My acquaintance with sheet_f water was small, and the pool of Bly, at all events on the few occasions o_y consenting, under the protection of my pupils, to affront its surface i_he old flat-bottomed boat moored there for our use, had impressed me bot_ith its extent and its agitation. The usual place of embarkation was half _ile from the house, but I had an intimate conviction that, wherever Flor_ight be, she was not near home. She had not given me the slip for any smal_dventure, and, since the day of the very great one that I had shared with he_y the pond, I had been aware, in our walks, of the quarter to which she mos_nclined. This was why I had now given to Mrs. Grose's steps so marked _irection—a direction that made her, when she perceived it, oppose _esistance that showed me she was freshly mystified. "You're going to th_ater, Miss?—you think she's in—?"
"She may be, though the depth is, I believe, nowhere very great. But what _udge most likely is that she's on the spot from which, the other day, we sa_ogether what I told you."
"When she pretended not to see—?"
"With that astounding self-possession? I've always been sure she wanted to g_ack alone. And now her brother has managed it for her."
Mrs. Grose still stood where she had stopped. "You suppose they really talk o_hem?"
"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 wen_traight on without her. By the time I reached the pool, however, she wa_lose behind me, and I knew that, whatever, to her apprehension, might befal_e, the exposure of my society struck her as her least danger. She exhaled _oan of relief as we at last came in sight of the greater part of the wate_ithout a sight of the child. There was no trace of Flora on that nearer sid_f the bank where my observation of her had been most startling, and none o_he opposite edge, where, save for a margin of some twenty yards, a thic_opse came down to the water. The pond, oblong in shape, had a width so scan_ompared to its length that, with its ends out of view, it might have bee_aken for a scant river. We looked at the empty expanse, and then I felt th_uggestion of my friend's eyes. I knew what she meant and I replied with _egative headshake.
"No, no; wait! She has taken the boat."
My companion stared at the vacant mooring place and then again across th_ake. "Then where is it?"
"Our not seeing it is the strongest of proofs. She has used it to go over, an_hen 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, ol_oman." I scanned all the visible shore while Mrs. Grose took again, into th_ueer element I offered her, one of her plunges of submission; then I pointe_ut that the boat might perfectly be in a small refuge formed by one of th_ecesses of the pool, an indentation masked, for the hither side, by _rojection 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 enoug_o 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 fo_er. It dragged her at my heels even now, and when we had got halfway round—_evious, tiresome process, on ground much broken and by a path choked wit_vergrowth—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, s_hat in the course of but few minutes more we reached a point from which w_ound the boat to be where I had supposed it. It had been intentionally lef_s much as possible out of sight and was tied to one of the stakes of a fenc_hat came, just there, down to the brink and that had been an assistance t_isembarking. 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 to_any livelier measures. There was a gate in the fence, through which w_assed, 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 he_erformance was now complete. The next thing she did, however, was to stoo_traight down and pluck—quite as if it were all she was there for—a big, ugl_pray of withered fern. I instantly became sure she had just come out of th_opse. She waited for us, not herself taking a step, and I was conscious o_he rare solemnity with which we presently approached her. She smiled an_miled, and we met; but it was all done in a silence by this time flagrantl_minous. Mrs. Grose was the first to break the spell: she threw herself on he_nees and, drawing the child to her breast, clasped in a long embrace th_ittle tender, yielding body. While this dumb convulsion lasted I could onl_atch it—which I did the more intently when I saw Flora's face peep at me ove_ur companion's shoulder. It was serious now—the flicker had left it; but i_trengthened the pang with which I at that moment envied Mrs. Grose th_implicity of her relation. Still, all this while, nothing more passed betwee_s save that Flora had let her foolish fern again drop to the ground. What sh_nd 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 wer_till before me; and the singular reticence of our communion was even mor_arked in the frank look she launched me. "I'll be hanged," it said, "if I'l_peak!"
It was Flora who, gazing all over me in candid wonder, was the first. She wa_truck 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 answe_uite sufficient. "And where's Miles?" she went on.
There was something in the small valor of it that quite finished me: thes_hree words from her were, in a flash like the glitter of a drawn blade, th_ostle of the cup that my hand, for weeks and weeks, had held high and full t_he brim that now, even before speaking, I felt overflow in a deluge. "I'l_ell you if you'll tell me—" I heard myself say, then heard the tremor i_hich it broke.
Mrs. Grose's suspense blazed at me, but it was too late now, and I brought th_hing out handsomely. "Where, my pet, is Miss Jessel?"