The Turn of the Screw by Henry James - XXIII
"Oh, yes," he said with the brightest superficial eagerness, "you wanted me to tell you something."
"That's it. Out, straight out. What you have on your mind, you know."
"Ah, then, is THAT what you've stayed over for?"
He spoke with a gaiety through which I could still catch the finest little quiver of resentful passion; but I can't begin to express the effect upon me of an implication of surrender even so faint. It was as if what I had yearned for had come at last only to astonish me. "Well, yes--I may as well make a clean breast of it, it was precisely for that."
He waited so long that I supposed it for the purpose of repudiating the assumption on which my action had been founded; but what he finally said was: "Do you mean now--here?"
"There couldn't be a better place or time." He looked round him uneasily, and I had the rare--oh, the queer!--impression of the very first symptom I had seen in him of the approach of immediate fear. It was as if he were suddenly afraid of me--which struck me indeed as perhaps the best thing to make him. Yet in the very pang of the effort I felt it vain to try sternness, and I heard myself the next instant so gentle as to be almost grotesque. "You want so to go out again?"
"Awfully!" He smiled at me heroically, and the touching little bravery of it was enhanced by his actually flushing with pain. He had picked up his hat, which he had brought in, and stood twirling it in a way that gave me, even as I was just nearly reaching port, a perverse horror of what I was doing. To do it in ANY way was an act of violence, for what did it consist of but the obtrusion of the idea of grossness and guilt on a small helpless creature who had been for me a revelation of the possibilities of beautiful intercourse? Wasn't it base to create for a being so exquisite a mere alien awkwardness? I suppose I now read into our situation a clearness it couldn't have had at the time, for I seem to see our poor eyes already lighted with some spark of a prevision of the anguish that was to come. So we circled about, with terrors and scruples, like fighters not daring to close. But it was for each other we feared! That kept us a little longer suspended and unbruised. "I'll tell you everything," Miles said--"I mean I'll tell you anything you like. You'll stay on with me, and we shall both be all right, and I WILL tell you--I WILL. But not now."
"Why not now?"
My insistence turned him from me and kept him once more at his window in a silence during which, between us, you might have heard a pin drop. Then he was before me again with the air of a person for whom, outside, someone who had frankly to be reckoned with was waiting. "I have to see Luke."
I had not yet reduced him to quite so vulgar a lie, and I felt proportionately ashamed. But, horrible as it was, his lies made up my truth. I achieved thoughtfully a few loops of my knitting. "Well, then, go to Luke, and I'll wait for what you promise. Only, in return for that, satisfy, before you leave me, one very much smaller request."
He looked as if he felt he had succeeded enough to be able still a little to bargain. "Very much smaller--?"
"Yes, a mere fraction of the whole. Tell me"--oh, my work preoccupied me, and I was offhand!--"if, yesterday afternoon, from the table in the hall, you took, you know, my letter."