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<- Previous | Table of Contents | Next -> Digital Library-The Turn of the Screw by Henry James


THE STORY HAD held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the
obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange
tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to
say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.
The case, I may mention, was that of an apparition in just such an old house as had
gathered us for the occasion-an appearance, of a dreadful kind, to a little boy sleeping
in the room with his mother and waking her up in the terror of it; waking her not to
dissipate his dread and soothe him to sleep again, but to encounter also, herself, before
she had succeeded in doing so, the same sight that had shaken him. It was this
observation that drew from Douglasnot immediately, but later in the evening-a reply
that had the interesting consequence to which I call attention. Someone else told a story
not particularly effective, which I saw he was not following. This I took for a sign that
he had himself something to produce and that we should only have to wait. We waited
in fact till two nights later; but that same evening, before we scattered, he brought out
what was in his mind.

“I quite agree-in regard to Griffin’s ghost, or whatever it was-that its appearing first to
the little boy, at so tender an age, adds a particular touch. But it’s not the first
occurrence of its charming kind that I know to have involved a child. If the child gives
the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children-?” “We say, of
course,” somebody exclaimed, “that they give two turns! Also that we want to hear
about them.” I can see Douglas there before the fire, to which he had got up to present
his back, looking down at his interlocutor with his hands in his pockets. “Nobody but
me, till now, has ever heard. It’s quite too horrible.” This, naturally, was declared by
several voices to give the thing the utmost price, and our friend, with quiet art,
prepared his triumph by turning his eyes over the rest of us and going on: “It’s beyond
everything. Nothing at all that I know touches it.” “For sheer terror?” I remember

He seemed to say it was not so simple as that; to be really at a loss how to qualify it. He
passed his hand over his eyes, made a little wincing grimace. “For dreadful-
dreadfulness!” “Oh, how delicious!” cried one of the women.

He took no notice of her; he looked at me, but as if, instead of me, he saw what he
spoke of. “For general uncanny ugliness and horror and pain.” “Well then,” I said, “just
sit right down and begin.” He turned round to the fire, gave a kick to a log, watched it
an instant. Then as he faced us again: “I can’t begin. I shall have to send to town.”
There was a unanimous groan at this, and much reproach; after which, in his
preoccupied way, he explained. “The story’s written. It’s in a locked drawer-it has not
been out for years. I could write to my man and enclose the key; he could send down
the packet as he finds it.” It was to me in particular that he appeared to propound
thisappeared almost to appeal for aid not to hesitate. He had broken a thickness of ice,
<- Previous | Table of Contents | Next -> Digital Library-The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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