It took of course more than that particular passage to place us together i_resence of what we had now to live with as we could—my dreadful liability t_mpressions of the order so vividly exemplified, and my companion's knowledge, henceforth—a knowledge half consternation and half compassion—of tha_iability. There had been, this evening, after the revelation left me, for a_our, so prostrate—there had been, for either of us, no attendance on an_ervice but a little service of tears and vows, of prayers and promises, _limax to the series of mutual challenges and pledges that had straightwa_nsued on our retreating together to the schoolroom and shutting ourselves u_here to have everything out. The result of our having everything out wa_imply to reduce our situation to the last rigor of its elements. She hersel_ad seen nothing, not the shadow of a shadow, and nobody in the house but th_overness was in the governess's plight; yet she accepted without directl_mpugning my sanity the truth as I gave it to her, and ended by showing me, o_his ground, an awestricken tenderness, an expression of the sense of my mor_han questionable privilege, of which the very breath has remained with me a_hat of the sweetest of human charities.
What was settled between us, accordingly, that night, was that we thought w_ight bear things together; and I was not even sure that, in spite of he_xemption, it was she who had the best of the burden. I knew at this hour, _hink, as well as I knew later, what I was capable of meeting to shelter m_upils; but it took me some time to be wholly sure of what my honest ally wa_repared for to keep terms with so compromising a contract. I was quee_ompany enough—quite as queer as the company I received; but as I trace ove_hat we went through I see how much common ground we must have found in th_ne idea that, by good fortune, could steady us. It was the idea, the secon_ovement, that led me straight out, as I may say, of the inner chamber of m_read. I could take the air in the court, at least, and there Mrs. Grose coul_oin me. Perfectly can I recall now the particular way strength came to m_efore we separated for the night. We had gone over and over every feature o_hat I had seen.
"He was looking for someone else, you say—someone who was not you?"
"He was looking for little Miles." A portentous clearness now possessed me.
"That's whom he was looking for."
"But how do you know?"
"I know, I know, I know!" My exaltation grew. "And you know, my dear!"
She didn't deny this, but I required, I felt, not even so much telling a_hat. She resumed in a moment, at any rate: "What if he should see him?"
"Little Miles? That's what he wants!"
She looked immensely scared again. "The child?"
"Heaven forbid! The man. He wants to appear to them." That he might was a_wful conception, and yet, somehow, I could keep it at bay; which, moreover, as we lingered there, was what I succeeded in practically proving. I had a_bsolute certainty that I should see again what I had already seen, bu_omething within me said that by offering myself bravely as the sole subjec_f such experience, by accepting, by inviting, by surmounting it all, I shoul_erve as an expiatory victim and guard the tranquility of my companions. Th_hildren, in especial, I should thus fence about and absolutely save. I recal_ne of the last things I said that night to Mrs. Grose.
"It does strike me that my pupils have never mentioned—"
She looked at me hard as I musingly pulled up. "His having been here and th_ime they were with him?"
"The time they were with him, and his name, his presence, his history, in an_ay."
"Oh, the little lady doesn't remember. She never heard or knew."
"The circumstances of his death?" I thought with some intensity. "Perhaps not.
But Miles would remember—Miles would know."
"Ah, don't try him!" broke from Mrs. Grose.
I returned her the look she had given me. "Don't be afraid." I continued t_hink. "It is rather odd."
"That he has never spoken of him?"
"Never by the least allusion. And you tell me they were 'great friends'?"
"Oh, it wasn't him!" Mrs. Grose with emphasis declared. "It was Quint's ow_ancy. To play with him, I mean—to spoil him." She paused a moment; then sh_dded: "Quint was much too free."
This gave me, straight from my vision of his face—such a face!—a sudde_ickness of disgust. "Too free with my boy?"
"Too free with everyone!"
I forbore, for the moment, to analyze this description further than by th_eflection that a part of it applied to several of the members of th_ousehold, of the half-dozen maids and men who were still of our small colony.
But there was everything, for our apprehension, in the lucky fact that n_iscomfortable legend, no perturbation of scullions, had ever, within anyone'_emory attached to the kind old place. It had neither bad name nor ill fame, and Mrs. Grose, most apparently, only desired to cling to me and to quake i_ilence. I even put her, the very last thing of all, to the test. It was when, at midnight, she had her hand on the schoolroom door to take leave. "I have i_rom you then—for it's of great importance—that he was definitely an_dmittedly bad?"
"Oh, not admittedly. I knew it—but the master didn't."
"And you never told him?"
"Well, he didn't like tale-bearing—he hated complaints. He was terribly shor_ith anything of that kind, and if people were all right to him—"
"He wouldn't be bothered with more?" This squared well enough with m_mpressions of him: he was not a trouble-loving gentleman, nor so ver_articular perhaps about some of the company he kept. All the same, I presse_y interlocutress. "I promise you I would have told!"
She felt my discrimination. "I daresay I was wrong. But, really, I wa_fraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"Of things that man could do. Quint was so clever—he was so deep."
I took this in still more than, probably, I showed. "You weren't afraid o_nything else? Not of his effect—?"
"His effect?" she repeated with a face of anguish and waiting while _altered.
"On innocent little precious lives. They were in your charge."
"No, they were not in mine!" she roundly and distressfully returned. "Th_aster believed in him and placed him here because he was supposed not to b_ell and the country air so good for him. So he had everything to say.
Yes"—she let me have it—"even about them."
"Them—that creature?" I had to smother a kind of howl. "And you could bea_t!"
"No. I couldn't—and I can't now!" And the poor woman burst into tears.
A rigid control, from the next day, was, as I have said, to follow them; ye_ow often and how passionately, for a week, we came back together to th_ubject! Much as we had discussed it that Sunday night, I was, in th_mmediate later hours in especial—for it may be imagined whether I slept—stil_aunted with the shadow of something she had not told me. I myself had kep_ack nothing, but there was a word Mrs. Grose had kept back. I was sure, moreover, by morning, that this was not from a failure of frankness, bu_ecause on every side there were fears. It seems to me indeed, in retrospect, that by the time the morrow's sun was high I had restlessly read into the fac_efore us almost all the meaning they were to receive from subsequent and mor_ruel occurrences. What they gave me above all was just the sinister figure o_he living man—the dead one would keep awhile!—and of the months he ha_ontinuously passed at Bly, which, added up, made a formidable stretch. Th_imit of this evil time had arrived only when, on the dawn of a winter'_orning, Peter Quint was found, by a laborer going to early work, stone dea_n the road from the village: a catastrophe explained—superficially a_east—by a visible wound to his head; such a wound as might have bee_roduced—and as, on the final evidence, had been—by a fatal slip, in the dar_nd after leaving the public house, on the steepish icy slope, a wrong pat_ltogether, at the bottom of which he lay. The icy slope, the turn mistaken a_ight and in liquor, accounted for much—practically, in the end and after th_nquest and boundless chatter, for everything; but there had been matters i_is life—strange passages and perils, secret disorders, vices more tha_uspected—that would have accounted for a good deal more.
I scarce know how to put my story into words that shall be a credible pictur_f my state of mind; but I was in these days literally able to find a joy i_he extraordinary flight of heroism the occasion demanded of me. I now sa_hat I had been asked for a service admirable and difficult; and there woul_e a greatness in letting it be seen—oh, in the right quarter!—that I coul_ucceed where many another girl might have failed. It was an immense help t_e—I confess I rather applaud myself as I look back!—that I saw my service s_trongly and so simply. I was there to protect and defend the little creature_n the world the most bereaved and the most lovable, the appeal of whos_elplessness had suddenly become only too explicit, a deep, constant ache o_ne's own committed heart. We were cut off, really, together; we were unite_n our danger. They had nothing but me, and I—well, I had them. It was i_hort a magnificent chance. This chance presented itself to me in an imag_ichly material. I was a screen—I was to stand before them. The more I saw, the less they would. I began to watch them in a stifled suspense, a disguise_xcitement that might well, had it continued too long, have turned t_omething like madness. What saved me, as I now see, was that it turned t_omething else altogether. It didn't last as suspense—it was superseded b_orrible proofs. Proofs, I say, yes—from the moment I really took hold.
This moment dated from an afternoon hour that I happened to spend in th_rounds with the younger of my pupils alone. We had left Miles indoors, on th_ed cushion of a deep window seat; he had wished to finish a book, and I ha_een glad to encourage a purpose so laudable in a young man whose only defec_as an occasional excess of the restless. His sister, on the contrary, ha_een alert to come out, and I strolled with her half an hour, seeking th_hade, for the sun was still high and the day exceptionally warm. I was awar_fresh, with her, as we went, of how, like her brother, she contrived—it wa_he charming thing in both children—to let me alone without appearing to dro_e and to accompany me without appearing to surround. They were neve_mportunate and yet never listless. My attention to them all really went t_eeing them amuse themselves immensely without me: this was a spectacle the_eemed actively to prepare and that engaged me as an active admirer. I walke_n a world of their invention—they had no occasion whatever to draw upon mine; so that my time was taken only with being, for them, some remarkable person o_hing that the game of the moment required and that was merely, thanks to m_uperior, my exalted stamp, a happy and highly distinguished sinecure. _orget what I was on the present occasion; I only remember that I wa_omething very important and very quiet and that Flora was playing very hard.
We were on the edge of the lake, and, as we had lately begun geography, th_ake was the Sea of Azof.
Suddenly, in these circumstances, I became aware that, on the other side o_he Sea of Azof, we had an interested spectator. The way this knowledg_athered in me was the strangest thing in the world—the strangest, that is, except the very much stranger in which it quickly merged itself. I had sa_own with a piece of work—for I was something or other that could sit—on th_ld stone bench which overlooked the pond; and in this position I began t_ake in with certitude, and yet without direct vision, the presence, at _istance, of a third person. The old trees, the thick shrubbery, made a grea_nd pleasant shade, but it was all suffused with the brightness of the hot, still hour. There was no ambiguity in anything; none whatever, at least, i_he conviction I from one moment to another found myself forming as to what _hould see straight before me and across the lake as a consequence of raisin_y eyes. They were attached at this juncture to the stitching in which I wa_ngaged, and I can feel once more the spasm of my effort not to move them til_ should so have steadied myself as to be able to make up my mind what to do.
There was an alien object in view—a figure whose right of presence _nstantly, passionately questioned. I recollect counting over perfectly th_ossibilities, reminding myself that nothing was more natural, for instance, then the appearance of one of the men about the place, or even of a messenger, a postman, or a tradesman's boy, from the village. That reminder had as littl_ffect on my practical certitude as I was conscious—still even withou_ooking—of its having upon the character and attitude of our visitor. Nothin_as more natural than that these things should be the other things that the_bsolutely were not.
Of the positive identity of the apparition I would assure myself as soon a_he small clock of my courage should have ticked out the right second; meanwhile, with an effort that was already sharp enough, I transferred my eye_traight to little Flora, who, at the moment, was about ten yards away. M_eart had stood still for an instant with the wonder and terror of th_uestion whether she too would see; and I held my breath while I waited fo_hat a cry from her, what some sudden innocent sign either of interest or o_larm, would tell me. I waited, but nothing came; then, in the first place—an_here is something more dire in this, I feel, than in anything I have t_elate—I was determined by a sense that, within a minute, all sounds from he_ad previously dropped; and, in the second, by the circumstance that, als_ithin the minute, she had, in her play, turned her back to the water. Thi_as her attitude when I at last looked at her—looked with the confirme_onviction that we were still, together, under direct personal notice. She ha_icked up a small flat piece of wood, which happened to have in it a littl_ole that had evidently suggested to her the idea of sticking in anothe_ragment that might figure as a mast and make the thing a boat. This secon_orsel, as I watched her, she was very markedly and intently attempting t_ighten in its place. My apprehension of what she was doing sustained me s_hat after some seconds I felt I was ready for more. Then I again shifted m_yes—I faced what I had to face.