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


My sense of how he received this suffered for a minute from something that I can
describe only as a fierce split of my attention-a stroke that at first, as I sprang straight
up, reduced me to the mere blind movement of getting hold of him, drawing him close,
and, while I just fell for support against the nearest piece of furniture, instinctively
keeping him with his back to the window. The appearance was full upon us that I had
already had to deal with here: Peter Quint had come into view like a sentinel before a
prison. The next thing I saw was that, from outside, he had reached the window, and
then I knew that, close to the glass and glaring in through it, he offered once more to
the room his white face of damnation. It represents but grossly what took place within
me at the sight to say that on the second my decision was made; yet I believe that no
woman so overwhelmed ever in so short a time recovered her grasp of the act. It came
to me in the very horror of the immediate presence that the act would be, seeing and
facing what I saw and faced, to keep the boy himself unaware. The inspiration-I can
call it by no other name-was that I felt how voluntarily, how transcendently, I might. It
was like fighting with a demon for a human soul, and when I had fairly so appraised it
I saw how the human soul-held out, in the tremor of my hands, at arm’s length-had a
perfect dew of sweat on a lovely childish forehead. The face that was close to mine was
as white as the face against the glass, and out of it presently came a sound, not low nor
weak, but as if from much further away, that I drank like a waft of fragrance.

“Yes-I took it.” At this, with a moan of joy, I enfolded, I drew him close; and while I
held him to my breast, where I could feel in the sudden fever of his little body the
tremendous pulse of his little heart, I kept my eyes on the thing at the window and saw
it move and shift its posture. I have likened it to a sentinel, but its slow wheel, for a
moment, was rather the prowl of a baffled beast. My present quickened courage,
however, was such that, not too much to let it through, I had to shade, as it were, my
flame. Meanwhile the glare of the face was again at the window, the scoundrel fixed as
if to watch and wait. It was the very confidence that I might now defy him, as well as
the positive certitude, by this time, of the child’s unconsciousness, that made me go on.
“What did you take it for?” “To see what you said about me.” “You opened the letter?”
“I opened it.” My eyes were now, as I held him off a little again, on Miles’s own face, in
which the collapse of mockery showed me how complete was the ravage of uneasiness.
What was prodigious was that at last, by my success, his sense was sealed and his
communication stopped: he knew that he was in presence, but knew not of what, and
knew still less that I also was and that I did know. And what did this strain of trouble
matter when my eyes went back to the window only to see that the air was clear again
and-by my personal triumph-the influence quenched? There was nothing there. I felt
that the cause was mine and that I should surely get all. “And you found nothing!”- I
let my elation out.

He gave the most mournful, thoughtful little headshake. “Nothing.” “Nothing,
nothing!” I almost shouted in my joy.
<- Previous | Table of Contents | Next -> Digital Library-The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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