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

From our end of the great brown hall we heard his step on the stair; whereupon Mrs.
Griffin spoke. “Well, if I don’t know who she was in love with, I know who he was.”
“She was ten years older,” said her husband.

“Raison de plus-at that age! But it’s rather nice, his long reticence.” “Forty years!”
Griffin put in.

“With this outbreak at last.”

“The outbreak,” I returned, “will make a tremendous occasion of Thursday night;” and
everyone so agreed with me that, in the light of it, we lost all attention for everything
else. The last story, however incomplete and like the mere opening of a serial, had been
told; we handshook and, “candlestuck,” as somebody said, and went to bed.

I knew the next day that a letter containing the key had, by the first post, gone off to his
London apartments; but in spite of-or perhaps just on account of-the eventual
diffusion of this knowledge we quite let him alone till after dinner, till such an hour of
the evening, in fact, as might best accord with the kind of emotion on which our hopes
were fixed. Then he became as communicative as we could desire and indeed gave us
his best reason for being so. We had it from him again before the fire in the hall, as we
had had our mild wonders of the previous night. It appeared that the narrative he had
promised to read us really required for a proper intelligence a few words of prologue.
Let me say here distinctly, to have done with it, that this narrative, from an exact
transcript of my own made much later, is what I shall presently give. Poor Douglas,
before his death-when it was in sight-committed to me the manuscript that reached
him on the third of these days and that, on the same spot, with immense effect, he
began to read to our hushed little circle on the night of the fourth. The departing ladies
who had said they would stay didn’t, of course, thank heaven, stay: they departed, in
consequence of arrangements made, in a rage of curiosity, as they professed, produced
by the touches with which he had already worked us up. But that only made his little
final auditory more compact and select, kept it, round the hearth, subject to a common

The first of these touches conveyed that the written statement took up the tale at a point
after it had, in a manner, begun. The fact to be in possession of was therefore that his
old friend, the youngest of several daughters of a poor country parson, had, at the age
of twenty, on taking service for the first time in the schoolroom, come up to London, in
trepidation, to answer in person an advertisement that had already placed her in brief
correspondence with the advertiser. This person proved, on her presenting herself, for
judgment, at a house in Harley Street, that impressed her as vast and imposing-this
prospective patron proved a gentleman, a bachelor in the prime of life, such a figure as
had never risen, save in a dream or an old novel, before a fluttered, anxious girl out of
a Hampshire vicarage. One could easily fix his type; it never, happily, dies out. He was
handsome and bold and pleasant, offhand and gay and kind. He struck her, inevitably,
as gallant and splendid, but what took her most of all and gave her the courage she
afterward showed was that he put the whole thing to her as a kind of favor, an
obligation he should gratefully incur. She conceived him as rich, but as fearfully
<- Previous | Table of Contents | Next -> Digital Library-The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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