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I waited and waited, and the days, as they elapsed, took something from my
consternation. A very few of them, in fact, passing, in constant sight of my pupils,
without a fresh incident, sufficed to give to grievous fancies and even to odious
memories a kind of brush of the sponge. I have spoken of the surrender to their
extraordinary childish grace as a thing I could actively cultivate, and it may be
imagined if I neglected now to address myself to this source for whatever it would
yield. Stranger than I can express, certainly, was the effort to struggle against my new
lights; it would doubtless have been, however, a greater tension still had it not been so
frequently successful. I used to wonder how my little charges could help guessing that I
thought strange things about them; and the circumstance that these things only made
them more interesting was not by itself a direct aid to keeping them in the dark. I
trembled lest they should see that they were so immensely more interesting. Putting
things at the worst, at all events, as in meditation I so often did, any clouding of their
innocence could only beblameless and foredoomed as they were-a reason the more for
taking risks.

There were moments when, by an irresistible impulse, I found myself catching them up
and pressing them to my heart. As soon as I had done so I used to say to myself: “What
will they think of that? Doesn’t it betray too much?” It would have been easy to get into
a sad, wild tangle about how much I might betray; but the real account, I feel, of the
hours of peace that I could still enjoy was that the immediate charm of my companions
was a beguilement still effective even under the shadow of the possibility that it was
studied. For if it occurred to me that I might occasionally excite suspicion by the little
outbreaks of my sharper passion for them, so too I remember wondering if I mightn’t
see a queerness in the traceable increase of their own demonstrations.

They were at this period extravagantly and preternaturally fond of me; which, after all,
I could reflect, was no more than a graceful response in children perpetually bowed
over and hugged. The homage of which they were so lavish succeeded, in truth, for my
nerves, quite as well as if I never appeared to myself, as I may say, literally to catch
them at a purpose in it. They had never, I think, wanted to do so many things for their
poor protectress; I mean-though they got their lessons better and better, which was
naturally what would please her most-in the way of diverting, entertaining, surprising
her; reading her passages, telling her stories, acting her charades, pouncing out at her,
in disguises, as animals and historical characters, and above all astonishing her by the
“pieces” they had secretly got by heart and could interminably recite. I should never
get to the bottom-were I to let myself go even now-of the prodigious private
commentary, all under still more private correction, with which, in these days, I
overscored their full hours.

They had shown me from the first a facility for everything, a general faculty which,
taking a fresh start, achieved remarkable flights. They got their little tasks as if they
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