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


Walking to church a certain Sunday morning, I had little Miles at my side and his
sister, in advance of us and at Mrs. Grose’s, well in sight. It was a crisp, clear day, the
first of its order for some time; the night had brought a touch of frost, and the autumn
air, bright and sharp, made the church bells almost gay. It was an odd accident of
thought that I should have happened at such a moment to be particularly and very
gratefully struck with the obedience of my little charges. Why did they never resent my
inexorable, my perpetual society? Something or other had brought nearer home to me
that I had all but pinned the boy to my shawl and that, in the way our companions
were marshaled before me, I might have appeared to provide against some danger of
rebellion. I was like a gaoler with an eye to possible surprises and escapes. But all this
belonged-I mean their magnificent little surrender-just to the special array of the facts
that were most abysmal.

Turned out for Sunday by his uncle’s tailor, who had had a free hand and a notion of
pretty waistcoats and of his grand little air, Miles’s whole title to independence, the
rights of his sex and situation, were so stamped upon him that if he had suddenly
struck for freedom I should have had nothing to say. I was by the strangest of chances
wondering how I should meet him when the revolution unmistakably occurred. I call it
a revolution because I now see how, with the word he spoke, the curtain rose on the
last act of my dreadful drama, and the catastrophe was precipitated. “Look here, my
dear, you know,” he charmingly said, “when in the world, please, am I going back to

Transcribed here the speech sounds harmless enough, particularly as uttered in the
sweet, high, casual pipe with which, at all interlocutors, but above all at his eternal
governess, he threw off intonations as if he were tossing roses. There was something in
them that always made one “catch,” and I caught, at any rate, now so effectually that I
stopped as short as if one of the trees of the park had fallen across the road. There was
something new, on the spot, between us, and he was perfectly aware that I recognized
it, though, to enable me to do so, he had no need to look a whit less candid and
charming than usual. I could feel in him how he already, from my at first finding
nothing to reply, perceived the advantage he had gained. I was so slow to find
anything that he had plenty of time, after a minute, to continue with his suggestive but
inconclusive smile: “You know, my dear, that for a fellow to be with a lady always-!”
His “my dear” was constantly on his lips for me, and nothing could have expressed
more the exact shade of the sentiment with which I desired to inspire my pupils than its
fond familiarity. It was so respectfully easy.

But, oh, how I felt that at present I must pick my own phrases! I remember that, to gain
time, I tried to laugh, and I seemed to see in the beautiful face with which he watched
me how ugly and queer I looked. “And always with the same lady?” I returned.
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