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Chapter 6

  • 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.