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


It was all very well to join them, but speaking to them proved quite as much as ever an
effort beyond my strength-offered, in close quarters, difficulties as insurmountable as
before. This situation continued a month, and with new aggravations and particular
notes, the note above all, sharper and sharper, of the small ironic consciousness on the
part of my pupils. It was not, I am as sure today as I was sure then, my mere infernal
imagination: it was absolutely traceable that they were aware of my predicament and
that this strange relation made, in a manner, for a long time, the air in which we
moved. I don’t mean that they had their tongues in their cheeks or did anything vulgar,
for that was not one of their dangers: I do mean, on the other hand, that the element of
the unnamed and untouched became, between us, greater than any other, and that so
much avoidance could not have been so successfully effected without a great deal of
tacit arrangement. It was as if, at moments, we were perpetually coming into sight of
subjects before which we must stop short, turning suddenly out of alleys that we
perceived to be blind, closing with a little bang that made us look at each other-for,
like all bangs, it was something louder than we had intended-the doors we had
indiscreetly opened. All roads lead to Rome, and there were times when it might have
struck us that almost every branch of study or subject of conversation skirted forbidden
ground. Forbidden ground was the question of the return of the dead in general and of
whatever, in especial, might survive, in memory, of the friends little children had lost.
There were days when I could have sworn that one of them had, with a small invisible
nudge, said to the other: “She thinks she’ll do it this time-but she won’t!” To “do it”
would have been to indulge for instanceand for once in a way-in some direct reference
to the lady who had prepared them for my discipline. They had a delightful endless
appetite for passages in my own history, to which I had again and again treated them;
they were in possession of everything that had ever happened to me, had had, with
every circumstance the story of my smallest adventures and of those of my brothers
and sisters and of the cat and the dog at home, as well as many particulars of the
eccentric nature of my father, of the furniture and arrangement of our house, and of the
conversation of the old women of our village. There were things enough, taking one
with another, to chatter about, if one went very fast and knew by instinct when to go
round. They pulled with an art of their own the strings of my invention and my
memory; and nothing else perhaps, when I thought of such occasions afterward, gave
me so the suspicion of being watched from under cover. It was in any case over my life,
my past, and my friends alone that we could take anything like our ease-a state of
affairs that led them sometimes without the least pertinence to break out into sociable
reminders. I was invited-with no visible connection-to repeat afresh Goody Gosling’s
celebrated mot or to confirm the details already supplied as to the cleverness of the
vicarage pony.

It was partly at such junctures as these and partly at quite different ones that, with the
turn my matters had now taken, my predicament, as I have called it, grew most
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