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

scared me more than any other, and it was in the condition of nerves produced by it
that I made my actual inductions. They harassed me so that sometimes, at odd
moments, I shut myself up audibly to rehearse-it was at once a fantastic relief and a
renewed despair-the manner in which I might come to the point. I approached it from
one side and the other while, in my room, I flung myself about, but I always broke
down in the monstrous utterance of names. As they died away on my lips, I said to
myself that I should indeed help them to represent something infamous if, by
pronouncing them, I should violate as rare a little case of instinctive delicacy as any
schoolroom, probably, had ever known. When I said to myself. “They have the
manners to be silent, and you, trusted as you are, the baseness to speak!” I felt myself
crimson and I covered my face with my hands. After these secret scenes I chattered
more than ever, going on volubly enough till one of our prodigious, palpable hushes
occurred-I can call them nothing else-the strange, dizzy lift or swim (I try for terms!)
into a stillness, a pause of all life, that had nothing to do with the more or less noise that
at the moment we might be engaged in making and that I could hear through any
deepened exhilaration or quickened recitation or louder strum of the piano. Then it was
that the others, the outsiders, were there. Though they were not angels, they “passed,”
as the French say, causing me, while they stayed, to tremble with the fear of their
addressing to their younger victims some yet more infernal message or more vivid
image than they had thought good enough for myself.

What it was most impossible to get rid of was the cruel idea that, whatever I had seen,
Miles and Flora saw more-things terrible and unguessable and that sprang from
dreadful passages of intercourse in the past. Such things naturally left on the surface,
for the time, a chill which we vociferously denied that we felt; and we had, all three,
with repetition, got into such splendid training that we went, each time, almost
automatically, to mark the close of the incident, through the very same movements. It
was striking of the children, at all events, to kiss me inveterately with a kind of wild
irrelevance and never to fail-one or the other-of the precious question that had helped
us through many a peril. “When do you think he will come? Don’t you think we ought
to write?”- there was nothing like that inquiry, we found by experience, for carrying off
an awkwardness. “He” of course was their uncle in Harley Street; and we lived in
much profusion of theory that he might at any moment arrive to mingle in our circle. It
was impossible to have given less encouragement than he had done to such a doctrine,
but if we had not had the doctrine to fall back upon we should have deprived each
other of some of our finest exhibitions. He never wrote to them-that may have been
selfish, but it was a part of the flattery of his trust of me; for the way in which a man
pays his highest tribute to a woman is apt to be but by the more festal celebration of
one of the sacred laws of his comfort; and I held that I carried out the spirit of the
pledge given not to appeal to him when I let my charges understand that their own
letters were but charming literary exercises. They were too beautiful to be posted; I
kept them myself, I have them all to this hour. This was a rule indeed which only
added to the satiric effect of my being plied with the supposition that he might at any
moment be among us. It was exactly as if my charges knew how almost more awkward
<- Previous | Table of Contents | Next -> Digital Library-The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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