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The Turn of the Screw by Henry James - VII

Turn of the Screw - home

I got hold of Mrs. Grose as soon after this as I could; and I can give no intelligible account of how I fought out the interval. Yet I still hear myself cry as I fairly threw myself into her arms: "They KNOW--it's too monstrous: they know, they know!"

"And what on earth--?" I felt her incredulity as she held me.

"Why, all that WE know--and heaven knows what else besides!" Then, as she released me, I made it out to her, made it out perhaps only now with full coherency even to myself. "Two hours ago, in the garden"--I could scarce articulate--"Flora SAW!"

Mrs. Grose took it as she might have taken a blow in the stomach. "She has told you?" she panted.

"Not a word--that's the horror. She kept it to herself! The child of eight, THAT child!" Unutterable still, for me, was the stupefaction of it.

Mrs. Grose, of course, could only gape the wider. "Then how do you know?"

"I was there--I saw with my eyes: saw that she was perfectly aware."

"Do you mean aware of HIM?"

"No--of HER." I was conscious as I spoke that I looked prodigious things, for I got the slow reflection of them in my companion's face. "Another person--this time; but a figure of quite as unmistakable horror and evil: a woman in black, pale and dreadful--with such an air also, and such a face!--on the other side of the lake. I was there with the child--quiet for the hour; and in the midst of it she came."

"Came how--from where?"

"From where they come from! She just appeared and stood there--but not so near."

"And without coming nearer?"

"Oh, for the effect and the feeling, she might have been as close as you!"

My friend, with an odd impulse, fell back a step. "Was she someone you've never seen?"

"Yes. But someone the child has. Someone YOU have." Then, to show how I had thought it all out: "My predecessor--the one who died."

"Miss Jessel?"

"Miss Jessel. You don't believe me?" I pressed.

She turned right and left in her distress. "How can you be sure?"

This drew from me, in the state of my nerves, a flash of impatience. "Then ask Flora--SHE'S sure!" But I had no sooner spoken than I caught myself up. "No, for God's sake, DON'T! She'll say she isn't--she'll lie!"

Mrs. Grose was not too bewildered instinctively to protest. "Ah, how CAN you?"

"Because I'm clear. Flora doesn't want me to know."

"It's only then to spare you."

"No, no--there are depths, depths! The more I go over it, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear. I don't know what I DON'T see--what I DON'T fear!"

Mrs. Grose tried to keep up with me. "You mean you're afraid of seeing her again?"

"Oh, no; that's nothing--now!" Then I explained. "It's of NOT seeing her."

But my companion only looked wan. "I don't understand you."

"Why, it's that the child may keep it up--and that the child assuredly WILL--without my knowing it."

At the image of this possibility Mrs. Grose for a moment collapsed, yet presently to pull herself together again, as if from the positive force of the sense of what, should we yield an inch, there would really be to give way to. "Dear, dear--we must keep our heads! And after all, if she doesn't mind it--!" She even tried a grim joke. "Perhaps she likes it!"

"Likes SUCH things--a scrap of an infant!"

"Isn't it just a proof of her blessed innocence?" my friend bravely inquired.

She brought me, for the instant, almost round. "Oh, we must clutch at THAT--we must cling to it! If it isn't a proof of what you say, it's a proof of--God knows what! For the woman's a horror of horrors."

Mrs. Grose, at this, fixed her eyes a minute on the ground; then at last raising them, "Tell me how you know," she said.

"Then you admit it's what she was?" I cried.

"Tell me how you know," my friend simply repeated.

"Know? By seeing her! By the way she looked."

"At you, do you mean--so wickedly?"

"Dear me, no--I could have borne that. She gave me never a glance. She only fixed the child."

Mrs. Grose tried to see it. "Fixed her?"

"Ah, with such awful eyes!"

She stared at mine as if they might really have resembled them. "Do you mean of dislike?"

"God help us, no. Of something much worse."

"Worse than dislike?--this left her indeed at a loss.

"With a determination--indescribable. With a kind of fury of intention."

I made her turn pale. "Intention?"

"To get hold of her." Mrs. Grose--her eyes just lingering on mine--gave a shudder and walked to the window; and while she stood there looking out I completed my statement. "THAT'S what Flora knows."