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

creature?” I had to smother a kind of howl. “And you could bear it!” “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; yet how often
and how passionately, for a week, we came back together to the subject! Much as we
had discussed it that Sunday night, I was, in the immediate later hours in especial-for
it may be imagined whether I slept-still haunted with the shadow of something she
had not told me. I myself had kept back 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, but because 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
facts before us almost all the meaning they were to receive from subsequent and more
cruel occurrences. What they gave me above all was just the sinister figure of the living
man-the dead one would keep awhile!- and of the months he had continuously passed
at Bly, which, added up, made a formidable stretch. The limit of this evil time had
arrived only when, on the dawn of a winter’s morning, Peter Quint was found, by a
laborer going to early work, stone dead on the road from the village: a catastrophe
explained-superficially at least-by a visible wound to his head; such a wound as might
have been produced-and as, on the final evidence, had been-by a fatal slip, in the dark
and after leaving the public house, on the steepish icy slope, a wrong path altogether, at
the bottom of which he lay. The icy slope, the turn mistaken at night and in liquor,
accounted for much-practically, in the end and after the inquest and boundless chatter,
for everything; but there had been matters in his lifestrange passages and perils, secret
disorders, vices more than suspected-that would have accounted for a good deal more.

I scarce know how to put my story into words that shall be a credible picture of my
state of mind; but I was in these days literally able to find a joy in the extraordinary
flight of heroism the occasion demanded of me. I now saw that I had been asked for a
service admirable and difficult; and there would be a greatness in letting it be seen-oh,
in the right quarter!- that I could succeed where many another girl might have failed. It
was an immense help to me-I confess I rather applaud myself as I look back!- that I
saw my service so strongly and so simply. I was there to protect and defend the little
creatures in the world the most bereaved and the most lovable, the appeal of whose
helplessness had suddenly become only too explicit, a deep, constant ache of one’s own
committed heart. We were cut Off, really, together; we were united in our danger. They
had nothing but me, and I-well, I had them. It was in short a magnificent chance. This
chance presented itself to me in an image richly 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 disguised excitement that might well, had it continued too long, have
turned to something like madness. What saved me, as I now see, was that it turned to
something else altogether. It didn’t last as suspense-it was superseded by horrible
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 the grounds
with the younger of my pupils alone. We had left Miles indoors, on the red cushion of a
deep window seat; he had wished to finish a book, and I had been glad to encourage a
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