The Turn of the Screw by Henry James - XVII
It struck me that at this he just faintly colored. He gave, at any rate, like a convalescent slightly fatigued, a languid shake of his head. "I don't--I don't. I want to get away."
"You're tired of Bly?"
"Oh, no, I like Bly."
"Oh, YOU know what a boy wants!"
I felt that I didn't know so well as Miles, and I took temporary refuge. "You want to go to your uncle?"
Again, at this, with his sweet ironic face, he made a movement on the pillow. "Ah, you can't get off with that!"
I was silent a little, and it was I, now, I think, who changed color. "My dear, I don't want to get off!"
"You can't, even if you do. You can't, you can't!"--he lay beautifully staring. "My uncle must come down, and you must completely settle things."
"If we do," I returned with some spirit, "you may be sure it will be to take you quite away."
"Well, don't you understand that that's exactly what I'm working for? You'll have to tell him--about the way you've let it all drop: you'll have to tell him a tremendous lot!"
The exultation with which he uttered this helped me somehow, for the instant, to meet him rather more. "And how much will YOU, Miles, have to tell him? There are things he'll ask you!"
He turned it over. "Very likely. But what things?"
"The things you've never told me. To make up his mind what to do with you. He can't send you back--"
"Oh, I don't want to go back!" he broke in. "I want a new field."
He said it with admirable serenity, with positive unimpeachable gaiety; and doubtless it was that very note that most evoked for me the poignancy, the unnatural childish tragedy, of his probable reappearance at the end of three months with all this bravado and still more dishonor. It overwhelmed me now that I should never be able to bear that, and it made me let myself go. I threw myself upon him and in the tenderness of my pity I embraced him. "Dear little Miles, dear little Miles--!"
My face was close to his, and he let me kiss him, simply taking it with indulgent good humor. "Well, old lady?"
"Is there nothing--nothing at all that you want to tell me?"
He turned off a little, facing round toward the wall and holding up his hand to look at as one had seen sick children look. "I've told you--I told you this morning."
Oh, I was sorry for him! "That you just want me not to worry you?"
He looked round at me now, as if in recognition of my understanding him; then ever so gently, "To let me alone," he replied.
There was even a singular little dignity in it, something that made me release him, yet, when I had slowly risen, linger beside him. God knows I never wished to harass him, but I felt that merely, at this, to turn my back on him was to abandon or, to put it more truly, to lose him. "I've just begun a letter to your uncle," I said.
"Well, then, finish it!"
I waited a minute. "What happened before?"
He gazed up at me again. "Before what?"
"Before you came back. And before you went away."
For some time he was silent, but he continued to meet my eyes. "What happened?"
It made me, the sound of the words, in which it seemed to me that I caught for the very first time a small faint quaver of consenting consciousness--it made me drop on my knees beside the bed and seize once more the chance of possessing him. "Dear little Miles, dear little Miles, if you KNEW how I want to help you! It's only that, it's nothing but that, and I'd rather die than give you a pain or do you a wrong--I'd rather die than hurt a hair of you. Dear little Miles"--oh, I brought it out now even if I SHOULD go too far--"I just want you to help me to save you!" But I knew in a moment after this that I had gone too far. The answer to my appeal was instantaneous, but it came in the form of an extraordinary blast and chill, a gust of frozen air, and a shake of the room as great as if, in the wild wind, the casement had crashed in. The boy gave a loud, high shriek, which, lost in the rest of the shock of sound, might have seemed, indistinctly, though I was so close to him, a note either of jubilation or of terror. I jumped to my feet again and was conscious of darkness. So for a moment we remained, while I stared about me and saw that the drawn curtains were unstirred and the window tight. "Why, the candle's out!" I then cried.
"It was I who blew it, dear!" said Miles.