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

and that she wanted, by just so much as she did thus see, to make me suppose she
didn’t, and at the same time, without showing anything, arrive at a guess as to whether
I myself did! It was a pity that I needed once more to describe the portentous little
activity by which she sought to divert my attention-the perceptible increase of
movement, the greater intensity of play, the singing, the gabbling of nonsense, and the
invitation to romp.

Yet if I had not indulged, to prove there was nothing in it, in this review, I should have
missed the two or three dim elements of comfort that still remained to me. I should not
for instance have been able to asseverate to my friend that I was certain-which was so
much to the good-that I at least had not betrayed myself I should not have been
prompted, by stress of need, by desperation of mind-I scarce know what to call it-to
invoke such further aid to intelligence as might spring from pushing my colleague
fairly to the wall. She had told me, bit by bit, under pressure, a great deal; but a small
shifty spot on the wrong side of it all still sometimes brushed my brow like the wing of
a bat; and I remember how on this occasion-for the sleeping house and the
concentration alike of our danger and our watch seemed to help-I felt the importance
of giving the last jerk to the curtain. “I don’t believe anything so horrible,” I recollect
saying; “no, let us put it definitely, my dear, that I don’t. But if I did, you know, there’s
a thing I should require now, just without sparing you the least bit more-oh, not a
scrap, come!- to get out of you. What was it you had in mind when, in our distress,
before Miles came back, over the letter from his school, you said, under my insistence,
that you didn’t pretend for him that he had not literally ever been ‘bad’? He has not
literally ‘ever,’ in these weeks that I myself have lived with him and so closely watched
him; he has been an imperturbable little prodigy of delightful, lovable goodness.
Therefore you might perfectly have made the claim for him if you had not, as it
happened, seen an exception to take. What was your exception, and to what passage in
your personal observation of him did you refer?” It was a dreadfully austere inquiry,
but levity was not our note, and, at any rate, before the gray dawn admonished us to
separate I had got my answer. What my friend had had in mind proved to be
immensely to the purpose. It was neither more nor less than the circumstance that for a
period of several months Quint and the boy had been perpetually together. It was in
fact the very appropriate truth that she had ventured to criticize the propriety, to hint at
the incongruity, of so close an alliance, and even to go so far on the subject as a frank
overture to Miss Jessel. Miss Jessel had, with a most strange manner, requested her to
mind her business, and the good woman had, on this, directly approached little Miles.

What she had said to him, since I pressed, was that she liked to see young gentlemen
not forget their station.

I pressed again, of course, at this. “You reminded him that Quint was only a base
menial?” “As you might say! And it was his answer, for one thing, that was bad.” “And
for another thing?” I waited. “He repeated your words to Quint?” “No, not that. It’s
just what he wouldn’t!” she could still impress upon me. “I was sure, at any rate,” she
added, “that he didn’t. But he denied certain occasions.” “What occasions?” “When
they had been about together quite as if Quint were his tutor-and a very grand one-
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