The ReTurn of the Screw
Henry James & Emily Sinclair
I vividly recall the beginning of my journey—a rollercoaster of emotions, with moments of doubt and certainty intermingled. I had responded to the gentleman's appeal and embarked on a long and bumpy coach ride, heading to the house where I was to meet a vehicle that awaited my arrival. As the summer sun beamed down on the beautiful countryside, my fortitude began to rise, preparing me for whatever lay ahead.
Arriving at the modern estate, I was pleasantly surprised by the clear, open front with its large windows and fresh curtains. The maids warmly welcomed me, and their courteous demeanor set me at ease. Little did I know that this initial encounter was just the beginning of a series of enchanting experiences.
My introduction to the younger of my two pupils turned out to be an exhilarating experience. The little girl accompanying the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, was the most beautiful child I had ever laid eyes on. I couldn't help but wonder why my employer had kept this delightful secret from me. This newfound excitement kept me up that night, contemplating the generosity with which I had been received.
My room was a grand and elegant space, with a magnificent bed and luxurious draperies. The view from my window offered a breathtaking prospect of the surrounding landscape. At times, I thought I heard peculiar sounds—a faint cry of a child or a soft footstep. Yet, my infatuation with my young charge, Flora, and the splendor of the house overshadowed any lingering uncertainties.
The next day, I felt a renewed sense of excitement as I assumed full responsibility for Flora's care. Mrs. Grose, a pleasant and sensible woman, welcomed my presence with evident joy. Flora's charm and serenity amazed me, and I was eager to build a strong connection with her.
Our interactions were filled with joyful glances and cryptic allusions, exchanged in the presence of the innocent child. Flora had no fear or discomfort around me and appeared comfortable with my presence. She exuded an angelic beauty, and her mere presence brought joy to my heart.
I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the other child, my other pupil, who was scheduled to return on Friday. Mrs. Grose confirmed the plans, and I resolved to be at the coach stop to welcome him. Flora would accompany me, and I couldn't wait to see them together.
The next day, I took some time to absorb the immensity of the house and its surroundings. It was more grandiose than I had expected, but my excitement outweighed any uneasiness. Flora's infectious joy and my warm relationship with Mrs. Grose reassured me of my place in this new home.
Flora and I spent the day exploring the estate together, and she proved to be an excellent guide. Her bravery and candor were endearing, and I was captivated by her serene nature. As we strolled through the house and its gardens, I couldn't help but imagine us as characters in a modern fairytale.
Our bonding time was essential to establish trust, and I was determined to make a positive impact on Flora's life. The enchanting surroundings seemed like the perfect setting for a magical adventure.
As the days passed, my connection with Flora grew stronger, and we became the best of friends. The house felt like an enormous castle, where we were the protagonists of an extraordinary story. I reveled in the role, knowing that I had found my place at the helm of this grand, modern tale.
Two days later, I drove over with Flora to meet what Mrs. Grose referred to as "the little gentleman." The first day had been reassuring, but a late postbag brought a troubling letter for me. My employer had enclosed a message from the headmaster of the school Miles attended, stating that the boy had been dismissed. My heart sank as I read the news, and I spent a sleepless night, filled with distress.
Feeling overwhelmed, I decided to confide in Mrs. Grose. I shared the news about Miles' dismissal, and she was visibly upset, asking what he had done to deserve such action. I had no specifics to share, but it was clear that the school had deemed Miles an "injury" to the others.
Mrs. Grose couldn't fathom this idea and passionately defended Miles, asserting that he was just a young boy. I agreed with her, realizing that it was indeed an absurd notion to think he could be harmful to anyone.
Despite my apprehensions, I was eager to meet Miles. The next day, Flora's presence and affectionate nature brought comfort, and I knew I had to see him for myself. Throughout the day, I kept an eye on Mrs. Grose, sensing that she was trying to avoid me.
As we descended the staircase together, I confronted her about my concerns, asking if she had known Miles to misbehave. She admitted that he had, but defended him, saying that it was his way, and he treated everyone the same.
I inquired about the previous governess, hoping to glean some insights. Mrs. Grose shared that she was young and pretty, much like myself, but didn't elaborate on any specific issues. When I asked if she had taken good care of Miles, Mrs. Grose was evasive, stating that she wouldn't tell tales.
Curiosity got the better of me, and I probed further, asking if the previous governess had passed away at Bly. Mrs. Grose clarified that she hadn't died at the house but had left at the end of her contract for a short holiday. However, she never returned, and they later received news of her death.
When I asked the cause of her death, Mrs. Grose seemed unsure, leaving me with more questions than answers. Despite my efforts to understand the situation, she excused herself, indicating that she needed to get back to her work. The mysteries surrounding Bly and its young residents continued to perplex me, and I was determined to uncover the truth behind these enigmatic occurrences.
As she turned her back on me, it wasn't a snub that dampened our growing mutual esteem. After bringing little Miles home, I found myself even more drawn to him, despite my astonishment and unease. He stood at the inn's door, waiting for me, emanating an aura of purity and innocence that captured my heart. Mrs. Grose had been right - everything but a profound tenderness for him vanished in his presence. There was something divine about him, a unique air of innocence and love that was unlike any child I had ever encountered.
Back at Bly with Miles, I confided in Mrs. Grose about the bizarre letter, which I found grotesque. She understood and acknowledged that it was a cruel charge, but I was resolute in not responding to it. I decided not to inform the uncle or even confront Miles about it.
In the following weeks, I found myself infatuated and deeply connected with the children. The days were filled with amusement, and I no longer dwelled on the uncertainties of the future. I enjoyed the freedom, the beauty of nature, and the consideration the children offered.
One late June day during my solitary stroll, something extraordinary happened. As I approached the house, I saw a figure standing at the top of the tower, the same tower where Flora had taken me on the first day. I was surprised to see someone there, and in that moment, my imagination seemed to come to life. I hoped that it would be someone charming, who would smile and approve of me.
However, my hopes were shattered as I realized that the man standing there was a stranger - someone I had never seen before. He had a familiar air, but he was not the person I had imagined. A peculiar stillness settled over the scene, as if the rest of the world had disappeared. The man looked at me, but we were too far apart to communicate. I wondered who he was and how long he had been in the house without my knowledge.
In that tense moment, I felt a sense of duty to uncover this mystery, but I was also unsure if my position allowed for such curiosity. The stranger's presence puzzled me, and I couldn't shake the feeling that something had changed in the house. He seemed to scrutinize me, and I, in turn, felt a challenge in his gaze.
He shifted to the opposite corner of the platform, never taking his eyes off me, and then finally turned away. The encounter left me unsettled, and I couldn't shake the feeling that things were about to change drastically at Bly.
I didn't just move on after the strange encounter, for I was deeply affected and perplexed by it. Was there a hidden secret at Bly, like a mysterious relative locked away in seclusion? I couldn't shake off the unsettling feeling as I circled the place, covering about three miles in my restlessness. When I finally returned to the house, darkness had enveloped everything.
Meeting Mrs. Grose in the bright, white-paneled hall, I could see by her expression that she had been worried about me. Yet, I decided not to mention the strange visitor just yet, as I couldn't find the words to explain it. Instead, I made up an excuse for my lateness, mentioning the beauty of the night and the dew on my feet.
The next few days were filled with puzzlement and reflection in my room. I knew that someone had intruded upon us, but the nature of that visitor remained elusive. I realized that the children were the only ones who could help me uncover the truth, and my affection for them deepened as I continued my daily interactions with them.
However, there was one part of their lives that remained shrouded in mystery—the boy's time at school. He never spoke of it, and I decided not to pry. I believed in his innocence and that he had suffered no punishment because of it.
Miles and Flora had a gentleness about them that made them almost impersonal and immune to punishment. I marveled at them and fell under their spell, which provided solace amid the disturbing letters I received from home.
One rainy Sunday, Mrs. Grose and I planned to attend the late service after the rain stopped. As I went downstairs to meet her, I remembered some gloves I had left in the dining room. When I entered the room to retrieve them, I saw him again—the same visitor from before, looking directly at me through the closed window.
The sight of him sent shivers down my spine, and I quickly left the room to find him on the terrace. However, when I reached there, he had vanished. The entire place appeared empty, and I couldn't see him anywhere. I decided to stand where he had stood and looked into the room, hoping to understand his perspective. Just then, Mrs. Grose came in from the hall, and I saw her react the same way I had earlier. She appeared scared, which made me wonder why she should be afraid.
As Mrs. Grose reappeared around the corner of the house, she immediately noticed my distressed state. Out of breath and flushed, she asked me what was wrong. I hesitated for a moment before replying, but I knew I could trust her innocence. I took her hand, seeking comfort in her presence, and explained that I had been frightened.
Mrs. Grose was concerned, but when I told her about the extraordinary man I had seen looking into the house, she became even more worried. I assured her that I had never seen this man before, and I didn't have any idea who he was. I had spotted him once before on the old tower, but this encounter was much more unsettling.
She asked if he was a gentleman, and I quickly replied, "No." Mrs. Grose wondered if he was someone from the village, but I assured her that he was a complete stranger. I couldn't provide any explanation for his presence, and she seemed relieved that he wasn't known to anyone in the area.
As I revealed my fear of this man, Mrs. Grose's expression showed a glimmer of understanding. She seemed to have an idea in mind but didn't immediately share it with me. I explained that the man had disappeared, and she asked if he had gone to the tower. I clarified that he had been standing on the terrace, looking down at me.
When she asked how long he had been there, I replied that he was there until I came out to meet him. I told her that I had fulfilled my duty by facing him, and she admitted that she couldn't have done the same.
Curious about his appearance, Mrs. Grose asked what he looked like. I described him as having red hair, a pale face with straight features, and small, fixed, sharp eyes. He had no hat and had a habit of stroking his unusual whiskers. He gave me the impression of an actor, though I had never seen one before.
When I mentioned that he wore someone else's clothes, Mrs. Grose was alarmed. She identified him as Peter Quint, the master's former valet. Apparently, Quint and the master had both been at Bly last year, but then the master left, leaving Quint alone with them in charge. However, Quint eventually died, and Mrs. Grose had no idea where he went.
I was shocked to learn that the man I had seen was actually dead.
It took more than just that particular incident to bring us face to face with the reality we had to deal with in the 2020s—the haunting impressions that were so vividly exemplified, and my companion's knowledge, now half consternation and half compassion, of my vulnerability to these experiences. After the shocking revelation left me prostrate for an hour, there was no attending any service for either of us. Instead, we found solace in tears, vows, prayers, and promises, as we discussed everything in the schoolroom, laying bare our fears and commitments.
We agreed that we would face these challenges together, bearing the weight of this disturbing knowledge. But I couldn't help but wonder if she, in her exemption from the visions, might actually have the tougher burden. It took some time for me to be sure of how much she was willing to endure to keep our pact intact. Our common ground was the conviction that we needed to stay strong and resolute in the face of these apparitions.
During this trying time, I found comfort in the idea that I could protect and defend the vulnerable children in our care. My sole purpose was to shield them from any harm that might come their way. Together, we were united in our danger, with no one else to rely on but each other.
One afternoon, I spent time with the younger child, Flora, near the lake. We were playing a game of make-believe, and I could see the delight in her eyes. However, I couldn't shake off the feeling that someone else was watching us from across the lake. Despite not directly seeing the figure, I was certain of its presence. I resisted the urge to look immediately and instead continued my stitching. I knew that this intruder was not someone natural or expected, like a villager or a staff member. Something sinister was afoot.
Still avoiding direct eye contact with the stranger, I observed Flora closely, waiting for her reaction. She seemed completely oblivious to the lurking presence, and it was in that moment that I realized she couldn't see it. As if she had lost her ability to speak, there were no sounds coming from her. And strangely enough, she turned her back to the water, completely unaware of the figure watching us.
With my heart pounding, I finally turned my eyes to face the intruder.
I immediately rushed to find Mrs. Grose after the shocking incident, but I can't really describe how I managed to get through that time. I remember crying as I hugged her tightly, exclaiming, "They know—it's too unbelievable: they know, they know!"
Confused and incredulous, she held me and asked, "What on earth are you talking about?"
I struggled to find the right words, and finally managed to explain in a coherent manner, "Two hours ago, in the garden—Flora saw!"
Mrs. Grose gasped, "She told you?"
"No, that's the horrifying part. She kept it to herself! An eight-year-old child kept such a dreadful secret!"
The shock was evident on Mrs. Grose's face as she asked, "How do you know then?"
"I was there—I saw it with my own eyes. Flora was fully aware of the presence."
"Are you saying she was aware of someone?"
"No—of something. A woman in black, pale and dreadful, stood on the other side of the lake. She had an eerie air and a terrifying face. I was there with Flora, and she just appeared, but not too close."
"You mean she didn't come any nearer?"
"No, but it felt like she was right beside us."
Mrs. Grose seemed uncertain, "Are you sure you haven't seen her before?"
"Yes, I'm certain. But Flora knows her, and you do too. It's my predecessor—the one who died."
"Miss Jessel. You don't believe me?" I asked, hoping for support.
She hesitated, "How can you be so sure?"
I became impatient, "Ask Flora—she's sure! But please, don't! She'll deny it, she'll lie!"
Mrs. Grose tried to reason with me, "You can't be certain."
"I am. Flora doesn't want me to know."
"She's trying to protect you."
"No, there's more to it. The more I think about it, the more I fear. I don't know what I don't see, what I don't fear!"
"Are you afraid of seeing her again?"
"No, that's not the worst part. I'm afraid of not seeing her."
Mrs. Grose appeared puzzled, "I don't understand."
"It's because Flora might keep it up and I wouldn't know. She might secretly continue to see Miss Jessel without my knowledge."
The image of this possibility caused Mrs. Grose to lose her composure for a moment. But then she pulled herself together, realizing the consequences if we let this go unchecked. "We must stay level-headed. If Flora doesn't mind it—"
"Perhaps she likes it!" I interjected, with a hint of dark humor.
"Isn't it a sign of her innocence?" Mrs. Grose asked optimistically.
I agreed, "Yes, we should hold onto that belief. If it's not a sign of innocence, then it's a sign of something much worse. Miss Jessel was a horror of horrors."
Mrs. Grose seemed to agree, "Yes, Miss Jessel was infamous."
We faced the situation together, and I found some comfort in seeing it clearly. "Tell me everything," I said, "of what did she die? There must have been something between them."
"There was everything."
"Despite their differences—?"
"Yes, of their social standing and position," she sadly admitted. "Miss Jessel was a lady."
I considered her words, "Yes, she was a lady."
"And he was far below her," Mrs. Grose continued.
I sensed that it might not be wise to press too much on this subject with her. "Yes, I understand. But there's no need to measure a servant's place in society here. Let's focus on Miss Jessel's actions."
"She did as she pleased," Mrs. Grose added.
"With her and everyone else," I said, trying to emphasize the magnitude of his misdeeds.
"The fellow was a rogue."
Mrs. Grose considered the situation, "I've never seen anyone like him. He had no boundaries."
"He had no boundaries with her?"
"He had no boundaries with anyone."
At this point, Mrs. Grose seemed to remember Miss Jessel vividly in her mind. "Miss Jessel was a victim."
I realized that my companion had revealed more about Miss Jessel's relationship with our employer than I had anticipated. "So, you know what she died of?"
"No, I don't know anything about it. I didn't want to know. I'm just glad she's no longer here!"
"But you had an idea about her reasons for leaving, right?"
"Yes, about that. She couldn't have stayed. Imagine her staying here as a governess! After she left, I imagined—and I still do. And what I imagine is dreadful."
"Not as dreadful as what I fear," I replied, feeling defeated.
She held my hand tightly, trying to comfort me. "We must stay strong! If Flora doesn't mind it—"
"But it's far worse than that!" I sobbed.
Mrs. Grose embraced me as I continued to cry, "I don't protect them, I don't shield them! It's much worse than I ever imagined—they're lost!"
What I had shared with Mrs. Grose was undoubtedly true: the matter I had presented to her held depths and possibilities that I couldn't yet bring myself to fully explore. Nevertheless, we agreed that resisting extravagant fancies was essential. We knew we had to keep our composure despite the incredible experiences we had encountered. Late at night, while the rest of the household slept, we had another discussion in my room. Mrs. Grose acknowledged that she had no doubt about what I had seen. I pointed out to her that I could provide detailed descriptions of each person I encountered, and she immediately recognized and identified them. She wanted to dismiss the whole subject, but I assured her that my primary concern now was finding a way to escape this haunting.
I found some comfort in Flora's presence. I immersed myself in her delightful company, where I discovered that she could sense the pain I was going through. Her innocent little hand touched the exact spot where I felt anguish, and though I tried to hide my distress, I was glad that she could perceive it. To gaze into her beautiful blue eyes and dismiss their charm as mere cunning would have been cynical, and I was not prepared to let my judgment or agitation interfere with our connection. Flora's presence brought some relief, even amidst the unexplainable events.
After another encounter with Mrs. Grose, I realized that there were a few reassuring aspects in the midst of all this confusion. I felt confident that I hadn't given away my fear to the others, and that was a relief. I was still troubled by my new suspicions, but I managed to find a little ease as the day went on.
I immersed myself in Flora's world once again, and she seemed to know exactly where my discomfort lay. She looked at me curiously and accused me of crying. Though I believed I had concealed the evidence of my distress, I was grateful that she had sensed it. Flora's delightful and lovable demeanor made everything else fade away. However, I knew I had to address the issue at hand.
I confronted Mrs. Grose, seeking to understand the situation better. I asked her about the time she had mentioned that she didn't pretend that Miles had never been "bad." She revealed that for several months, Quint and Miles had spent a lot of time together, which she found inappropriate. She had even spoken to Miss Jessel about it but was met with hostility. She had also approached Miles and advised him to remember his station.
When I asked if Miles had shared this with Quint, she said he hadn't. He had denied certain occasions when they had been together, acting as if Quint were his tutor and Miss Jessel was just there for Flora. Mrs. Grose felt uncertain about Miles's knowledge of the connection between Quint and Miss Jessel.
I realized that Miles was hiding something, and Mrs. Grose admitted that he hadn't spoken about Miss Jessel in connection with Quint. I pressed her further, suggesting that Miles had concealed their relationship, but she hesitated, not wanting to acknowledge the possibility.
I pushed on, pointing out that Miles had lied and acted impudently, indicating that he knew about the relationship between Quint and Miss Jessel. Mrs. Grose defended him, but I didn't blame her for being forgiving. However, I remained convinced that I needed to watch Miles closely.
As Mrs. Grose left the room, she seemed less reserved than I had expected. She didn't accuse Miles of anything, and I didn't either—at least not yet. I felt I needed to wait for more evidence before making any judgments.
I waited and waited, and as the days passed, my fear subsided to some extent. The constant presence of my pupils without any fresh incidents seemed to erase the terrible thoughts and unpleasant memories to some degree. I had previously mentioned that I could actively cultivate an appreciation for their extraordinary childish grace, and now, more than ever, I relied on this to keep my mind at ease. Strangely, I struggled against my newfound insights, but I managed to suppress them successfully on many occasions. I often wondered if the children could somehow sense my strange thoughts about them, but their charming nature still fascinated me, making it challenging to hide my feelings completely. I feared they might become aware of just how captivating they were, but I couldn't help but be drawn to their innocent charm.
At times, I couldn't resist the impulse to embrace them tightly. However, once I did, I worried about what they might think or if my actions betrayed too much. The mystery surrounding their innocence became an even stronger reason for me to take risks. They were so fond of me, and I was amazed by the ways they tried to please me. Their academic progress pleased me, but more so, I appreciated the efforts they put into surprising and entertaining me. They read passages, shared stories, acted out charades, and constantly amazed me with the pieces they had memorized.
The children's intelligence was remarkable, and Miles, in particular, displayed an exceptional talent for learning and repeating information. He seemed too clever to be spoiled by a mere governess like me, the daughter of a parson. I was astounded by how much they cared for me despite my status. Their devotion was heartwarming, and they never quarreled or complained. There were instances when I suspected they coordinated their actions to keep me engaged while one of them slipped away. Their diplomacy, however, was subtle and not grossly manipulative.
But, amid all the happiness, something dark and sinister loomed in the background. I felt a foreboding presence that reminded me of the night I arrived at Bly. One evening, as I sat reading by candlelight, I had a sudden cold sensation, as if something was stirring in the house. I heard soft breezes through the open window, but there was more to it. I couldn't shake off the feeling, and without any clear direction, I got up, took a candle, and walked through the passage, closing and locking the door behind me.
I followed the corridor, holding the candle high, until I reached the tall window overseeing the staircase's bend. In an instant, I noticed three things almost simultaneously. The candle suddenly went out, but the early morning light made it unnecessary. At the same moment, I saw a figure on the stairs—Quint had returned. His presence was terrifying, but strangely, I wasn't filled with terror. Instead, I felt a fierce confidence that if I stood my ground, he wouldn't have power over me. In that moment, we faced each other, his eyes locked onto mine. He was a vile, dangerous figure, but the wonder of it all was that I wasn't terrified anymore. I knew he could sense it, too.
The silence between us was deafening, and it was this unnatural silence that intensified the horror of the situation. In any other circumstance, even if I encountered a murderer at such a place and hour, there would have been words spoken, or at least one of us would have moved. But in this eerie moment, everything stood still. The figure disappeared into the silence, as though it was merely following orders. I watched it descend the staircase and disappear into the darkness.
I lingered for a while at the top of the stairs, realizing that my visitor had left. With trepidation, I returned to my room, only to find Flora's bed empty. Panic seized me, and my heart raced as I hurriedly checked the room. The curtains had been pulled forward, creating the illusion that Flora was still there. But to my immense relief, she emerged from the other side of the window, appearing in her innocence and vulnerability, dressed in only her nightgown with her pink feet and golden curls shining in the candlelight. However, her expression held a hint of reproach as she said, "You naughty, where have you been?"
Instead of challenging her own actions, I found myself explaining where I had been. Flora, in her candid and eager manner, explained why she had gotten out of bed. She sensed that I had left the room and wanted to see where I had gone. Her honesty and trust in me warmed my heart, and I returned to my chair, feeling faint but comforted by her presence. I couldn't help but be captivated by her beautiful face and the innocence that radiated from her.
My nights became filled with anxiety after that incident. I often stayed awake, taking silent walks in the corridor when I was sure my roommate was asleep. I even ventured to the spot where I had previously encountered Quint, hoping to find some answers. But he never appeared there again, and I never saw him inside the house.
On one occasion, I saw a woman sitting on the staircase, her back turned to me, her body slouched, and her head buried in her hands. As I approached, she vanished without looking back at me. I knew precisely what dreadful face she must have had, and I wondered if I would have the courage to face her if I were walking up instead of down the stairs.
On the eleventh night after my last encounter with Quint, I experienced the most startling shock. Feeling exhausted, I had decided to sleep at my usual hour. But around one o'clock, I woke abruptly, as if someone had shaken me. I realized that Flora had extinguished the light in my room. When I found her, she was standing at the window, peering out into the night.
In the moonlit darkness, she seemed to communicate with something or someone outside. I had to act discreetly to reach another window without disturbing her. From there, I could see her and the figure she was engaged with—the same figure we had encountered by the lake. But there was another person on the tower, someone looking down at them. My heart sank when I recognized the figure on the lawn—it was Miles.
My thoughts raced, and I considered going to him, confronting him about what he was doing there. But I hesitated, fearful of the risk and the implications. In the end, I chose a different approach. I decided to use one of the empty rooms at Bly—the large, square chamber in the old tower. It had not been occupied for years, but I knew my way around it. I quietly unbolted a shutter and looked out, hoping to see the person on the tower, but I was met with a shocking revelation—the person on the lawn was Miles himself.
It wasn't until the following day that I managed to speak with Mrs. Grose privately. Keeping a close eye on the children made finding the right moment difficult, as we didn't want to arouse any suspicion from the servants or the kids themselves. Mrs. Grose had a calm and composed demeanor, which gave me a sense of security. Her innocent appearance meant she wouldn't inadvertently reveal the dark secrets I had shared with her. I was certain that she believed me completely, and I relied on her support, as I couldn't bear to face this alone. Her lack of imagination worked in my favor, as she focused only on the children's charm, happiness, and intelligence, without probing into the sources of my distress.
As we sat on the terrace, the children wandered below, engrossed in a book, Miles' arm protectively around his sister. Mrs. Grose watched them contentedly, and then discreetly asked me to share what had been troubling me. She was like an empty vessel, ready to receive and understand my darkest confessions without judgment. Her receptiveness made it easier for me to unload the burden of my concerns. I recounted the events of the previous night, including the strange encounter with Miles when I had found him outside late at night. I had used a subtle gesture to signal him to come inside, avoiding making any loud noises that might alarm the household.
As I described the encounter, I realized how cunning Miles had been in his response. He seemed embarrassed but had cleverly avoided saying anything incriminating. It was a masterful display of deception, and I couldn't help but feel a thrill of admiration mixed with my concern. He had caught me in a delicate position, and I was afraid of jeopardizing our rapport if I confronted him about his behavior. I couldn't imagine how the world would judge me if I disclosed the truth about the children and their connection to the supernatural.
In the moonlit room, I had questioned him, asking what he had been doing outside. Miles had given me a radiant smile, his beautiful eyes shining with mischief. "If I tell you, will you finally think I'm bad for a change?" he playfully asked. My heart skipped a beat at his words. Would he confess to something that could finally shed light on the mysteries surrounding us?
My lips trembled as I nodded in response, and he continued with gentleness, like a little fairy prince. He said he had gone outside so that I would see him and consider him to be mischievous. His words were like a revelation to me, and before I knew it, he had leaned forward and kissed me. The sweetness of the moment made me want to cry. He had skillfully presented a story that left little room for doubt, and it was challenging to challenge it further.
I fought back my tears and hugged him tightly for a moment. As I glanced around the room, I asked him if he hadn't undressed at all that night. He shimmered with mischief in the darkness, revealing that he had stayed up reading and had only gone downstairs at midnight to play his part in the ruse. He had orchestrated the whole event with Flora, who had looked out the window as planned. Caught in his clever trap, I fell into the deception and confirmed that Flora had indeed disturbed me, leading to my discovering him outside.
Miles beamed with pride at his achievement, and I had to admire the depth of his goodness, which he had skillfully utilized to create this elaborate joke. The interview concluded with another embrace, and I couldn't help but recognize the reservoirs of innocence and playfulness he had tapped into to carry out his scheme.
The particular impression I had received proved challenging to present convincingly to Mrs. Grose in the morning light. However, I reinforced it by mentioning another remark that Miles had made before we parted ways. "It all comes down to a few words," I told her. "'Think, you know, what I might do!' He said that to show me how good he is. He knows exactly what he 'might' do. He gave them a taste of it at school."
"You're changing your perspective so quickly!" exclaimed my friend.
"I'm not changing, I'm just figuring things out. The four of them always meet, I'm certain of it. If you had been with either of the children on these recent nights, you would have understood. The more I observe and wait, the more I realize that they are systematically silent about their old friends. They don't even mention them, just as Miles doesn't mention his expulsion. We can watch them here and they may put on a show for us, but in reality, they are engrossed in their visions of the dead. They're not just reading a fairy tale; they're discussing horrors! I know I sound crazy, but what I've seen would have driven anyone mad, except it has made me more aware, helping me put pieces together."
My lucidity must have seemed terrifying, but the charming children gave Mrs. Grose something to hold onto. She watched them intently as I continued my explanation. "Their ethereal beauty, their unnatural goodness—it's all a façade. They're playing a game, a deceitful act!"
"By innocent little darlings?" she questioned.
"They might look innocent, but they've only been absent. It was easy to live with them because they're leading their own lives. They're not mine, they're not ours—they belong to Quint and that woman."
"Quint and that woman?" she repeated, studying them with curiosity.
"Yes, Quint and that woman. The children carry the evil that was infused into them during those dreadful days, and they continue to be manipulated by that evil, which summons the spirits back."
"Good Lord!" whispered Mrs. Grose in acceptance, her past experiences affirming the depravity I spoke of. "But what can they do now?"
"Do?" I echoed loudly, causing Miles and Flora to briefly pause and glance at us from afar. "Don't they do enough?" I whispered, my voice lower as they resumed their play. "They can destroy them!" I disclosed, and Mrs. Grose's unspoken question encouraged me to elaborate. "They may not know exactly how, but they are trying hard. They are seen across strange and high places, on towers, roofs, outside windows, at the edge of pools. They have a deep plan to shorten the distance and overcome any obstacles. Their success as tempters is just a matter of time. They only need to keep suggesting danger."
"You mean for the children to come to them?" Mrs. Grose asked.
"Yes, and perish in the attempt!" She got up slowly, and I added, "Unless we can prevent it!"
While I remained seated, she thought about it for a moment, then asked, "Their uncle must prevent it. He must take them away."
"And who will make him do that?"
Her face turned blank. "You will, miss."
"By telling him that his house is haunted and his nephew and niece are going mad?"
"What if they really are, miss?"
"And if I am too? Are you suggesting that a governess like me should inform him of such distressing news?"
Mrs. Grose looked into the distance, and then her expression became foolish. "Yes, he does hate worry. That's why they took advantage of him for so long. His indifference must have been unbearable. But I wouldn't deceive him like that, I'm not that wicked."
After a moment, she sat back down and grasped my arm. "Make him come here, at least."
"Me?" I was suddenly afraid of what she might suggest. "Him?"
"Yes, he should be here to help."
I stood up abruptly, fearing what she might do. "'Him'? Do you expect me to ask him to visit? No, he would only ridicule me for seeking his attention and trying to attract him with my charms. He's indifferent, and I would never deceive him."
My companion looked puzzled. "But he should be here, he should help."
I looked at her with disbelief. "Ask him to come to me? Are you serious?" I was suddenly afraid of her plan.
"You should appeal to him. He needs to know what's happening."
I got up quickly, probably showing a stranger expression than before. "If you ever ask him on my behalf…"
She looked frightened. "Yes, miss?"
"I will leave immediately, and both him and you with me."
Joining them was easy enough, but speaking to them remained as difficult as ever, presenting insurmountable challenges in close quarters. This situation continued for a month, with new aggravations and a particular note of small ironic consciousness on the part of my pupils. I was certain that they were aware of my predicament, and this strange dynamic persisted in the air around us. They didn't make vulgar jokes, but there was an unspoken understanding, and our conversations often veered away from certain topics. It felt like we were perpetually skirting forbidden ground, especially when it came to discussing the return of the dead and the memories of their deceased loved ones. I sometimes felt like they were silently daring me to mention the lady who had prepared them for my arrival. They had a curious fascination with my personal history, and I had shared many details of my life with them. It seemed like they knew everything about me, including my family and upbringing. They would often lead me into discussions about these topics, expertly tugging at the strings of my memory and emotions.
Despite the passing days without any further encounters, my nerves remained on edge. I had seen nothing, but I couldn't shake off the feeling that Quint or Miss Jessel could appear at any moment. The atmosphere at Bly had changed with the arrival of autumn, the weather turning gray and the place taking on a deserted appearance. There were certain moments when the air felt heavy and still, as if something supernatural was lingering around us. I couldn't help but remember the night I had seen Quint's apparition on the tower and how I had looked for him fruitlessly in the garden. My nerves were on edge, and the strange silence of the children didn't help. I had admitted to Mrs. Grose that I feared losing my power more than keeping it. I wanted to know the truth, even if it was unsettling.
There were times when I was convinced that the children had visitors, unseen and welcome to them. They would deny it, and their sociability and tenderness only deepened the mockery of their advantage over me. I was unable to confront them directly about what I suspected. Instead, I rehearsed my confrontations in private, but I always faltered when it came to uttering their names. I felt a strange sense of delicacy, an instinct not to violate the trust they had placed in me. The children were aware of this, and they used it to their advantage. They would chatter and distract me until a sudden silence would fall upon us, and I would sense the presence of the others—Quint and Miss Jessel.
I couldn't shake off the cruel idea that Miles and Flora knew more than I did, that they had experienced terrible things and kept them hidden. I felt like they had a secret knowledge of dreadful encounters in their past. They would kiss me and ask about their uncle, Mr. Harley, in an attempt to avoid uncomfortable subjects. The children's letters to their uncle were kept as literary exercises, too precious to be mailed. I felt the pressure of their expectation that their uncle might show up at any moment, and it was becoming increasingly awkward for me. However, I never lost patience with them; somehow, I found them too adorable to hate, despite the tension between us.
Finally, relief arrived with a rush—a change that came suddenly and powerfully.
On a certain Sunday morning, I was walking to church with little Miles by my side, and his sister Flora was ahead of us, accompanied by Mrs. Grose. The weather was crisp and clear, a refreshing change after a long period of gloomy days. The autumn air felt invigorating, and the church bells rang joyfully. It struck me at that moment how obedient my charges were, always accepting my constant company without any resistance. I couldn't help but wonder why they never questioned or rebelled against it. It was as if they had come to terms with my perpetual presence. I had pinned my hopes on them, ensuring they stayed close to me in case any rebellion was afoot. It felt like I was a watchful guard, anticipating any surprise attempts to escape my supervision. Their appearance on that Sunday was immaculate, thanks to their uncle's tailor, who had a flair for dressing them smartly. Miles's upbringing and status were evident in his demeanor and the way he carried himself. If he had decided to assert his independence, I wouldn't have had any authority to oppose him. He had a natural air of maturity beyond his years.
But on that day, something unexpected happened. In the midst of our conversation, Miles dropped a bombshell, and the final act of my dreadful drama began. With his sweet, high voice, he casually asked when he would be going back to school. The words seemed harmless, but they held a profound significance for me. It was as if he knew the effect his question would have on me, and he looked at me with an innocent smile. I felt my mind go blank as I tried to think of a response. He had gained an advantage over me, and he knew it.
He continued to toy with me, implying that he was growing older and needed to see more of the world. I struggled to find the right words to counter his arguments. We walked towards the church, surrounded by other people from Bly, and I quickened my pace, hoping to avoid further confrontation until we were seated inside. I longed for the comfort of the dimly lit pew, where I could find solace in prayer. But Miles had other plans; he insisted on discussing his desire for independence.
"There are not many of your own sort, Miles!" I tried to lighten the mood with a laugh. "Except perhaps dear little Flora!"
He was offended by my comparison and made it clear that he wanted more freedom, feeling that he was capable of handling it. I found myself running out of words to argue with him. He mentioned the night he had left the house, wanting to show me that he could do it. I agreed that he could, but I hoped he wouldn't do it again.
At the churchyard gate, he caught me off guard again with his declaration, "I want my own sort!" I laughed and tried to divert the conversation, but he persisted. We stood near an old tomb, and he continued to question me about his uncle's thoughts. I realized that I couldn't avoid mentioning his uncle's lack of concern, which could lead to potential consequences. Miles seemed determined to convince his uncle to come down and address his desires.
In the end, he left me on the stone slab, resting, as he marched off alone into the church. I watched him with a mixture of admiration and concern, hoping that he would find what he was looking for without losing himself in the process.
The course of events had been set the moment I decided not to follow him. It was a frustrating admission of my own agitation, but being aware of it didn't help me regain my composure. I found myself sitting on a bench, contemplating the meaning behind Miles' words. I had allowed him to extract something from me, and now he had the upper hand. He had discovered my fear, and I had a sinking feeling that he would use it to gain more freedom. The crux of the matter was the dark secret behind his expulsion from school, and I dreaded the thought of having to face it. Avoiding his uncle's inquiries had become a temporary solution, but I knew it was only delaying the inevitable. Miles had become keenly aware of my predicament and, armed with this newfound knowledge, he asserted himself with a conscious plan.
As I circled the church, hesitant and uncertain, I realized I had already damaged the situation beyond repair. I couldn't mend it, and the idea of sitting next to him in the pew for an hour, listening to his commentary on our conversation, was unbearable. For the first time since he arrived, I felt a strong urge to distance myself from him. As I paused near the church's east window, I considered the opportunity that presented itself. I could escape entirely, and no one would be able to stop me. I could leave everything behind and retreat. The church was nearly empty, and most of the servants were attending the service. It would be easy to slip away unnoticed. I could return in a couple of hours for dinner, and my absence would provoke innocent wonder from my young charges.
I toyed with the idea of fleeing until dinner, but I knew it would only be a temporary fix. They would ask questions, and I wouldn't be able to face their innocent eyes. But the impulse was too strong, and I couldn't resist it any longer. I decided to make a quick escape. As I hurried back to the house, I faced various difficulties and obstacles. I sat down at the foot of the staircase, overwhelmed by the choices I had to make. Suddenly, I remembered the night I had seen the ghostly woman on the lowest step. This memory jolted me back to reality. I gathered my strength and made my way to the schoolroom, where I had to collect some of my belongings. However, the moment I opened the door, I was met with a sight that shocked me to the core.
There, seated at my table, was a person who, without my previous experience, I would have mistaken for a housemaid who had stayed back to write a letter to her sweetheart. She seemed weary, resting her head on her hands while sitting at my table. But as I stood there, she suddenly changed her posture, and her identity revealed itself. It was the tragic, dishonored figure of my predecessor. Her ghostly presence filled the room, and she seemed indifferent to my intrusion. The image of her suffering and sorrow lingered for a moment before vanishing into thin air. I couldn't help but cry out in protest, “You terrible, miserable woman!” The sound echoed through the empty house, and as quickly as she had appeared, she was gone.
The room was once again bathed in sunlight, and I felt compelled to stay, no matter how unsettling the experience had been. The memory of her presence and the weight of the secrets this house held were inescapable. I knew I had to confront my fears and face whatever was hidden in the darkness of Bly Manor.
As I anticipated, the return of my pupils was met with a lack of acknowledgment of my absence. Instead of the usual joyful welcome, they made no mention of my failure to join them. I couldn't help but suspect that they had somehow convinced Mrs. Grose to keep silent about it. However, I resolved to break down that silence at the first opportunity. That chance came before tea, and I managed to have a private conversation with her in the housekeeper's room, lit dimly by the twilight.
As we sat there, I divulged to her the unsettling truth. Miles and I had discussed everything that had transpired during my absence. I shared with her the shocking revelation from Miss Jessel, the former governess, who claimed to suffer torments as one of the damned. Mrs. Grose was flabbergasted and struggled to comprehend the gravity of the situation.
Miss Jessel wanted Flora to join her in her suffering, and it was a horrifying prospect. I had resolved to bring the matter to an end by sending for their uncle. I decided that he must be informed of the truth, even if it meant exposing the reason behind Miles' expulsion from school. Mrs. Grose was hesitant, but I was determined not to let fear dictate my actions. I wanted to confront the issue head-on and put an end to the sinister secrets that plagued the house.
When Mrs. Grose expressed her concern, I assured her that I would not let her or the children suffer. I had to take matters into my own hands and communicate directly with their uncle. I contemplated the best way to do this, and Mrs. Grose suggested writing a letter through the bailiff, who would then relay the message. However, I recognized the sarcasm in her tone and decided that I would handle the matter myself.
I would write tonight, laying bare the truth and exposing the dark secrets that had been haunting Bly Manor. Mrs. Grose was visibly moved by my determination, and I assured her that she wouldn't have to bear the burden alone. As we parted ways, I could feel the weight of responsibility settling on my shoulders. Tonight, I would face the darkness head-on, and nothing would remain hidden any longer.
In the evening, I decided to take action. The weather had turned, with a strong wind blowing outside, and rain lashing against the windows. In my room, I sat before a blank sheet of paper with a candle by my side, contemplating how to address the situation. Flora was peacefully sleeping beside me, unaware of the turmoil within me.
However, I couldn't focus on writing for long, as I heard a voice from Miles's room. He called me in, his tone surprisingly cheerful. I entered with the candle, finding him wide awake but at ease in his bed. He greeted me with sociability, and for a moment, I wondered if my fears were unfounded.
Miles asked what I was up to, and when I inquired how he knew I was outside his room, he playfully remarked that he heard me like a troop of cavalry. He had lied awake, contemplating things, which caught me off guard, but he didn't seem agitated or distressed.
I sat down on the edge of his bed, and he confessed that he had been thinking about the way I brought him up and the strange happenings at Bly Manor. It seemed as though he wanted to get away, but when I suggested going back to school, he denied it. I asked if he wanted to go to his uncle, but he evaded the question, claiming that I couldn't get off that easily.
I confronted him about not sharing anything about his school or previous life with me. He appeared calm and even smiled, but his response revealed nothing. I sensed that there was more to it, but he didn't want to open up. My heart ached for him as I witnessed the conflict in his young mind.
He confessed that he wanted to be free and away from Bly Manor, which only heightened my concern about his potential return with even more secrets and deception. I couldn't bear the thought of that happening, so I embraced him tenderly, hoping my love and understanding would coax the truth out of him.
Yet, Miles remained elusive, saying he had already shared everything with me. He just wanted to be left alone. I realized I couldn't force him to speak, but I couldn't abandon him either. I informed him that I was writing a letter to his uncle, and he urged me to finish it.
At that moment, I decided to take a leap and ask about his life before returning to Bly. There was a brief pause, and then he met my gaze, seeming to recognize my intentions. He finally asked, "What happened?" It was as if he were granting me permission to delve deeper into his past.
Overwhelmed by the opportunity, I pleaded with him to confide in me, expressing my desire to save him from whatever burden he carried. But my intensity frightened him, and a sudden gust of cold air filled the room, blowing out the candle. The room shook, and Miles let out a loud, high-pitched scream.
Startled, I jumped to my feet, but the darkness enveloped us. The curtains remained drawn, and the window was closed. Miles then spoke, claiming he had blown out the candle. It was as if the supernatural forces that lurked in Bly Manor had intervened, shutting down our conversation and sealing his secrets away once more.
The next day, after our lessons, Mrs. Grose found a moment to quietly ask me, "Have you sent the letter, miss?"
"Yes, I have written it," I replied. But I didn't mention that the sealed letter was still in my pocket, waiting for the right time to send it. I knew there would be enough time before the messenger left for the village. However, my pupils seemed to have made an effort to hide any recent friction. They performed their studies with brilliance and exemplary behavior. Miles, in particular, appeared eager to demonstrate how easily he could make amends.
Miles had a unique charm and a mysterious aura. He was no ordinary child, and every little action of his revealed a subtle sense of sophistication. Yet, I couldn't shake off the nagging suspicion that he was hiding something significant. I longed for proof of his innocence, but my heart ached with the possibility that he might be guilty of something terrible.
Later that day, after our lunch, Miles came to me and offered to play the piano for me. He approached the situation with tact and magnanimity, as if he wanted to show me that he understood my concerns. It felt like he was saying, "I know you want to let me be free and not watch over me constantly. I'll play the part of an obedient child, but I won't really leave your side yet."
He played the piano with extraordinary skill, and time seemed to lose its meaning as I listened to him. But suddenly, I snapped out of it, feeling as if I had been in a trance. It was strange because I hadn't actually slept, but I had forgotten something important. Flora was nowhere to be found. I asked Miles about her, but he seemed unaware of her whereabouts.
Alarmed, I rushed to find Mrs. Grose and informed her of Flora's disappearance. Mrs. Grose, initially unaware of the situation, assured me that Flora must be in one of the rooms we hadn't searched. However, after searching, we couldn't find her. Panic began to creep in as we realized Flora had gone out without her hat.
Mrs. Grose questioned whether Flora was with Miss Jessel, the governess who had no hat. But I was convinced that she had gone out with her, and we needed to find them. Mrs. Grose looked worried, asking about Miles, and I assured her that he was with Quint, the valet. We rushed to the schoolroom, and I didn't mind leaving him there with Quint anymore.
Mrs. Grose was perplexed by my sudden resignation, wondering if it had to do with the letter I had mentioned earlier. I confirmed that Luke, the messenger, would take it, and I left it on the hall table. As I prepared to leave the house, Mrs. Grose hesitated, concerned about the damp and gray afternoon. But I couldn't wait to dress properly, and I retorted, "What do I care when the child has nothing? I can't wait to dress, and if you must do so, I leave you." I urged her to go upstairs, but she quickly joined me on the steps, realizing the urgency of the situation.
We headed straight to the lake, which they called Bly Lake, and rightly so, though it might not have been as remarkable as it appeared to my inexperienced eyes. I wasn't familiar with bodies of water, and the pool at Bly, especially when my pupils and I ventured out on the old flat-bottomed boat, always impressed me with its vastness and ripples. But on this particular day, I had a strong feeling that Flora was not close to home. Her disappearance was not for some innocent adventure; I suspected she had a particular spot in mind. That's why I led Mrs. Grose in a specific direction, though she seemed puzzled and mystified.
Mrs. Grose asked if Flora might be near the water, and I replied, "She may be, though the depth is not significant. But what I suspect is that she's at the place where we saw something strange the other day."
"When she pretended not to see...?"
"Yes, with her remarkable self-possession. I believe she wanted to go back there alone, and now her brother has helped her do just that."
Mrs. Grose was still uncertain, asking if they really spoke to each other.
"They say things that would appall us if we heard them," I responded confidently.
As we approached the lake, we couldn't see Flora on the near bank where I had seen her before. Nor could we find her on the opposite edge, where a thick copse grew close to the water, except for a small space of about twenty yards. The oblong shape of the pond made it look like a small river with its ends out of sight. Mrs. Grose and I stared at the empty expanse, and she sought my confirmation with her eyes. But I shook my head, indicating that Flora had taken the boat.
My companion looked at the vacant mooring place and then across the lake, wondering where Flora could be. I explained that she had used the boat to cross over and then probably hidden it. Mrs. Grose was incredulous, asking if Flora could do that alone.
"She's not alone, and in moments like these, she's not a child; she's an old, old woman," I said. I glanced around the shore while Mrs. Grose observed the logic of my reasoning. I pointed out that the boat might be hidden in a small refuge formed by the pool's recess and obscured from view.
"But if the boat is there, where is she?" Mrs. Grose anxiously questioned.
"That's what we need to find out," I replied. We continued to walk around the lake, which was a devious and tiring path with rough terrain. When we reached the halfway point, I paused to allow Mrs. Grose to catch her breath. I offered my arm to support her, and she gratefully accepted. We resumed our journey and soon arrived at the place where the boat was as I had surmised. It had been intentionally hidden and tied to a fence post that extended to the water's edge. Mrs. Grose looked amazed at the short, thick oars, considering the feat Flora had accomplished. But I had experienced too many marvels by now to be astonished. We passed through a gate in the fence and soon entered a more open area. Then, we saw her—Flora stood before us on the grass, smiling as if her mission had been accomplished.
The next thing Flora did was to bend down and pick a big, withered fern. I was convinced that she had just come from the copse. She stood there, waiting for us, not taking a step forward. It was a solemn moment as we approached her. Mrs. Grose couldn't contain herself any longer and embraced Flora tenderly. The child's face peered at me over her shoulder, and it was no longer playful but serious.
Without exchanging words, Flora and I understood that pretenses were no longer necessary. When Mrs. Grose finally released her, the child was the first to break the silence. Observing our bareheaded appearances, she asked, "Where are your things?"
"Where yours are, my dear!" I replied promptly.
Flora seemed to have regained her cheerfulness and seemed content with my answer. Then she asked, "And where's Miles?"
At that moment, I felt overwhelmed, and the truth came pouring out. "I'll tell you if you'll tell me..." I hesitated, my voice trembling.
"Well, what?" Flora asked.
Mrs. Grose stared at me expectantly, but it was too late now, and I gathered the courage to reveal the truth. "Where is Miss Jessel?"
Just as with Miles in the churchyard, the truth was upon us. Despite the fact that we had never mentioned this name before, the shock on the child's face when she heard it was akin to the shattering of glass. Mrs. Grose let out a terrified cry in response to my revelation, and within seconds, her cry was followed by my own gasp. I grabbed my colleague's arm and exclaimed, "She's there, she's there!"
Miss Jessel stood before us on the opposite bank, just as she had before, and I felt a thrill of joy at finally having tangible proof. She was there, and I was vindicated. I was neither cruel nor insane. Miss Jessel was there for Mrs. Grose, but her presence affected Flora the most. No other moment in this horrifying ordeal was as extraordinary as the one where I silently sent a message of gratitude to Miss Jessel, knowing that she, with her sinister aura, would comprehend it. She stood there, tall and menacing, and I could see that Flora fully perceived her presence too. This revelation of Flora's reaction shocked me more than if she had been merely agitated. I had expected her to hide her emotions, but instead, her face displayed a new, disapproving gravity. Her gaze seemed to read, accuse, and judge me, turning the innocent child into a terrifying authority. My certainty that she saw Miss Jessel was absolute at that moment, and in a desperate attempt to defend myself, I fervently appealed to her, "She's there, you poor little thing—right there, and you see her just as well as I do!"
I had previously described Flora as an old, old woman during these moments, and now, that description seemed even more accurate as she stared at me with a mask of reprobation. She didn't even pretend to glance in the direction of the apparition; instead, she wore an expression of hardness and stillness that I had never seen before. It was as if she had received each of her sharp words from an external source, and that realization was devastating. I shook my head sadly at her, my heart breaking. "If I had any doubts, they have vanished now. I have faced the dreadful truth, and it has closed in on me entirely. I have lost you, Flora. I interfered, and you have seen, under her influence," I pointed at the figure across the pond, "how to respond to it perfectly. I've done my best, but I have lost you. Goodbye."
I urged Mrs. Grose to leave as well, and in her confusion and concern for the child, she hurriedly retreated. I was left alone, and I have no recollection of what happened next. I must have collapsed on the ground, crying and sobbing in my grief. After some time, I felt the damp and cold seeping through my body, indicating that I must have lain there for quite a while. When I finally raised my head, the day was almost over. I returned to the house, my spirit heavy with sorrow. I was surprised to find that the boat was gone from the lake, a testament to Flora's remarkable control of the situation. She spent that night with Mrs. Grose, and I saw neither of them when I returned. However, I saw a great deal of Miles, more than ever before. That evening at Bly was extraordinary, and despite the depths of consternation I experienced, there was a bittersweet sadness that lingered in the air. I didn't look for the boy when I returned to the house. Instead, I changed my clothes and noticed the absence of Flora's belongings, evidence of her rupture. When the maid served me tea in the schoolroom later, I didn't inquire about Miles. He had his freedom now, and he was free to do as he pleased. When he entered the room at around eight o'clock, we sat in silence by the fire. The candles were extinguished, but I felt an unyielding coldness that seemed to pierce my very soul. We sat there in absolute stillness, and I sensed that he wanted to be with me.
Before the break of a new day in my room, I woke up to Mrs. Grose, who had come to my bedside with troubling news. Flora was showing signs of a fever, and it seemed like she might be falling ill. She had spent a restless night, her fears revolving not around her former governess, Miss Jessel, but entirely around me, her present governess. She vehemently protested against my presence. I quickly got up and had many questions to ask, as Mrs. Grose seemed to have mustered her courage to confront me again. I inquired if Flora persistently denied seeing anything or anyone.
My visitor's distress was evident. "Ah, miss, it's not something I can force out of her! But honestly, I don't need to. She's acting so much older now."
I understood her meaning without much explanation. "I can see it clearly from here. She's like a little high person, passionately defending her honesty and respectability. 'Miss Jessel, indeed!' She considers herself 'respectable,' this young lady! Yesterday's encounter was the strangest of all; it was beyond anything I had expected. I made a grave error, and she'll never speak to me again."
The situation was hideous and confusing, and Mrs. Grose found herself momentarily speechless. Then she acknowledged my point with unusual honesty, hinting at something deeper. "I think, miss, she never will. She's taken on a grand demeanor."
"That demeanor," I concluded, "is precisely what's wrong with her now."
Mrs. Grose could see it in my expression and much more. "She keeps asking me every few minutes if I think you're coming back."
"I understand, I understand." I had already figured out much more than I had spoken. "Has she said anything else about Miss Jessel since yesterday? Except to deny her connection with such dreadful matters?"
"Not a word, miss. And you know," my friend added, "I got the feeling, by the lake, that there was nobody there at that moment."
"Exactly! And naturally, you still believe her."
"I don't contradict her. What else can I do?"
"Nothing at all! You're dealing with a very clever young lady. Their two friends have made them even cleverer than nature intended. Flora has found her grievance, and she will exploit it to the fullest."
"Yes, miss, but what's her endgame?"
"To get rid of me, of course."
My companion agreed with a nod. "To never even look at you again."
"Which is why you've come to me now," I asked, "to send me away?" Before she could respond, I had an idea. "I have a better plan—based on my reflections. Leaving would appear to be the right thing to do, and I was very close to doing so on Sunday. However, that won't work. It's you who should leave. Take Flora with you."
My visitor looked puzzled. "But where would we go?"
"Far away from here. Far from them. And most importantly, far from me. Straight to her uncle."
"Just to tell on you?"
"No, not just that! To leave me with a solution."
She seemed uncertain. "And what's your solution?"
"Your loyalty, to start with. And then Miles's."
She gave me a hard look. "Do you think he'll—?"
"Turn against me if given the opportunity? Yes, I believe so. At the very least, I want to try. Get away with your sister as soon as possible and leave me alone with him." Surprisingly, I found a reserve of spirit within myself, though I was also disconcerted by it. "For a day or two, let me have more time to reach out to him. He might end up on my side, which is of utmost importance. If nothing happens, I'll only fail, but you will have helped me by doing whatever you can when you reach town." I presented my plan, but she hesitated for a while, leaving me slightly uneasy. "Unless," I said finally, "you really don't want to leave."
I could see her decision becoming clearer; she extended her hand as a pledge. "I'll go, I'll go. I'll leave this morning."
I wanted to be fair. "If you still wish to wait, I promise she won't see me."
"No, no. It's the place itself. She must leave it." She held me for a moment with sad eyes before revealing the rest. "I can't stay."
I had a hint of possibilities at her words. "Do you mean that since yesterday, you've seen—?"
She blushed almost, unable to express it all. "I've heard—"
"From that child—terrible things! There!" She sighed with a mix of tragedy and relief. "Horrifying things she said to me! On my honor, miss, the things she said—!" She broke down and sobbed, just as she had done before.
But I reacted differently this time. "Oh, thank goodness!"
This made her sit up and dry her tears. "Thank goodness?"
"It confirms everything I suspected!"
"It does, miss!"
I couldn't have asked for a more emphatic response, but I hesitated. "Is she really that horrible?"
I could see my colleague was struggling to put it into words. "Truly shocking."
"And what did she say about me?"
"About you, miss—since you must know. It was beyond anything a young lady should say. I can't imagine where she picked up—"
"The terrible language she used against me? I can imagine!" I laughed, knowing it would be understood.
But it only made Mrs. Grose more serious. "Well, I should think so—since I've heard similar language before! But I can't bear it," she said with a sudden sob, sitting down on my sofa again and releasing all her grief.
My colleague appeared more reluctant, unable to fully grasp my calmness. "What do you mean by 'more time'?"
"Well, a day or two, really let him come clean. I believe he wants to speak to me, poor, delicate creature! He wants to confess. Last night, we sat together in the firelight and silence for two hours as if he was about to reveal everything."
Mrs. Grose looked through the window at the dawn breaking outside. "And did he?"
"No, even though I waited and waited, he didn't. We said goodnight without a word about his sister's condition or absence. Still, I can't help but feel that he wants to talk to me. If he confesses, he can be saved. And if he's saved—"
"Then you are saved?" The dear woman kissed me and bid her farewell.
As she got off, and I noticed her absence, that's when the real challenge hit me. I hadn't anticipated how difficult it would be to be alone with Miles. The hour after her departure was filled with anxiety and doubt. I questioned my own judgment in agreeing to stay behind, fearing that I had made a reckless decision. It was a moment of tight spots, even more so because everyone else seemed to be aware of the situation without any clear explanation for my colleague's sudden departure. The maids and men looked bewildered, and their reactions only added to my unease.
I knew I had to maintain composure and take charge of the situation. I wandered around the house for the next couple of hours, projecting an air of confidence and readiness for any challenge. For the sake of appearances, I decided to have my meals with Miles in the grand dining room, which was a departure from our usual routine in the schoolroom. I was determined to keep up a façade of authority, even though deep down, I knew that the reality was far from natural.
The change in our dynamic was apparent when Miles finally showed up for dinner. My previous attempts to educate and guide him felt futile now. It was evident that I could no longer pretend to have anything more to teach him. The abrupt end to our lessons the day before had caused a shift in our relationship, which was now made even more obvious by the departure of his sister. I realized that I couldn't force myself to be his mentor any longer.
But when he arrived, I couldn't help but admire the unusual grace and intelligence he possessed. He seemed to understand my predicament and offered a different way of approaching our situation. I could see the spark of intelligence in him, and I couldn't ignore the potential help I could receive from such an astute young mind. I believed that his intelligence could be used to save him from the darkness that surrounded us.
As we sat together for dinner, Miles inquired about Flora's health. I assured him that she would be fine once we got her to London. Bly had not been suitable for her, and the change of scenery would do her good. Miles seemed more aware than before, and he questioned why we didn't leave earlier if the situation was so dire. I explained that we had to wait for the right moment to take her away, so as not to worsen her condition.
Miles accepted my explanation and carried on with his meal, displaying impeccable table manners. There was a newfound awareness in him, as if he was trying to take on more responsibilities. We finished our meal quickly, and I had the dishes removed promptly. As Miles stood by the window, I observed him in silence. He seemed contemplative, perhaps trying to grasp the reality of our situation. Once the maid left, he turned to me and remarked, "Well, now we're alone!"
"Oh, more or less," I managed a faint smile. "Not exactly. That wouldn't be ideal," I added.
"I suppose you're right. We do have the others," he said.
"Yes, we do have the others indeed," I agreed.
"But even though we have them," he continued, still standing in front of me with his hands in his pockets, "they don't really matter much, do they?"
I tried to maintain composure, but I felt weak. "It depends on what you mean by 'much'."
"Yes, everything depends," he replied with a touch of understanding. He turned back to the window and gazed outside, lost in thought. I used my usual pretense of knitting to steady myself on the sofa. As I observed him, an extraordinary feeling came over me – the impression that I was no longer shut out. It was as if he was the one now feeling excluded. This realization filled me with hope. Was he searching through the window for something he couldn't see? It felt like the first time he had experienced such uncertainty throughout this ordeal. I found it to be a promising sign.
Miles seemed anxious, although he tried to hide it behind his usual charming demeanor. He had spent the whole day putting up a façade, and now it seemed to be slipping. When he turned to face me, I saw a depth of emotion in his expression that I had never seen before. "Well, I think I'm glad Bly agrees with me!"
"You certainly seem to have explored Bly more in the last twenty-four hours than you have in a while. I hope you enjoyed yourself," I mustered the courage to say.
"Oh, yes, I've been all over the place, miles away from here. I've never felt so free," he replied.
He had a unique way of expressing himself, and I did my best to keep up with him. "Do you like it?"
He smiled, and his two-word response held more meaning than I could have imagined. "Do you?" he asked, showing a depth of perception I hadn't anticipated. Before I could respond, he continued, trying to soften the possible impertinence of his question. "You're taking this situation so gracefully. But I imagine you must mind being alone with me."
"How could I not mind? Although I've given up any claim to your company, I still enjoy being with you. What else would keep me here?"
He looked at me with a seriousness that struck me as the most beautiful expression I had ever seen on his face. "You stay just for that?"
"Yes, I stay as your friend because I care deeply about you. I'll remain until I can do something more meaningful to help you. You shouldn't be surprised by that," I said, my voice trembling with emotion. "Remember when I sat on your bed during the storm and promised to do anything for you?"
"Yes, I remember," he replied, visibly nervous but trying to maintain a light tone. "But I think you wanted something in return."
"Yes, I wanted you to tell me something," I admitted. "I wanted you to share what was troubling you."
"Ah, so that's why you stayed behind," he said with a cheerful tone, but underneath it, I sensed a hint of resentful passion. Still, I couldn't help but be astonished by the implication of his surrender, even if it was only a faint one. It seemed that what I had longed for had finally come to pass, surprising both of us. "Well, yes, I might as well admit it. That's precisely why I stayed."
He hesitated, as if considering denying the assumption on which my actions were based, but instead, he finally said, "Do you mean here and now?"
"Yes, here and now. There couldn't be a better time or place," I replied gently, sensing his fear. I thought it might be best to make him a little afraid. Yet, in the effort, I realized that trying to be stern with him would be in vain. The next moment, I found myself speaking with unexpected gentleness. "You want to go out again, don't you?"
"Yes, desperately!" he said, smiling heroically, but I could see the pain in his eyes. He picked up his hat and twirled it nervously, making me feel a perverse horror of what I was about to do. It was a violent act to impose such guilt and impurity on a delicate soul that had revealed to me the potential for a beautiful connection. Wasn't it cruel to create such awkwardness for someone so exquisite? Perhaps now, with the clarity of hindsight, I saw the beginnings of the pain that would come. We danced around each other, hesitant to take that final step. But what we really feared was losing each other. That fear kept us suspended and unharmed a little longer. "I'll tell you everything," Miles said, "I mean I'll tell you anything you want to know. You'll stay with me, and we'll be okay, and I'll tell you everything. But not now."
"Why not now?" I pressed, my heart aching.
He turned away again, and for a moment, we were enveloped in silence. It was as if we were in a stand-off, with each of us waiting for the other to make a move. Then he faced me again, the air of a person who knows that someone important is waiting for them outside. "I have to see Luke."
Despite my own shame, I couldn't bring myself to force him into an even more vulgar lie. I felt a surge of shame myself. "Very well, go see Luke, and I'll wait for what you promise. But before you leave, please grant me one small request."
He seemed to feel that he had gained enough leverage to bargain a little more. "A small request?"
"Yes, just a fraction of what I want to know. Tell me," I said with feigned nonchalance, pretending to be engrossed in my knitting, "did you take my letter from the table in the hall yesterday afternoon?"
My sense of how he received this suffered for a minute from a fierce split of my attention—a jolt that made me spring straight up, rushing to hold him close while leaning against the nearest furniture for support. In that instant, I instinctively positioned him with his back to the window. The appearance before us was all too familiar: Peter Quint seemed to manifest like a sentinel guarding a prison. As I turned my gaze outside, I saw him approaching the window with his white face of damnation, peering into the room. In that moment, my decision was made, and I knew I had to keep the boy unaware of the sinister presence.
I felt an overwhelming inspiration that I could protect him, as if battling with a demon for his innocent soul. I held him close, feeling the feverish pounding of his heart, and kept my eyes on the apparition at the window, determined not to let its influence take hold. But as I held Miles in my arms, I could see the figure outside gradually shift and move. I had won the battle, and the malevolent presence seemed to vanish. There was nothing there. I felt victorious and filled with elation. I asked Miles what he had taken the letter for.
"To see what you wrote about me," he replied with a sigh.
"You opened the letter?"
I was overjoyed that he had found nothing incriminating in the letter. "Nothing?" I almost shouted with delight.
"Nothing," he sadly repeated.
I kissed his forehead, which was drenched with sweat. "So what did you do with it?"
"I burned it."
"Burned it? Is that why you couldn't go back to school?"
Miles appeared distant and thoughtful, struggling to remember. "Well, I suppose I shouldn't have."
"But to whom did you say those things?"
Miles seemed to recall something in the distance but couldn't quite grasp it. "I don't know."
"Was it to everyone?"
"No, only a few. Those I liked."
This admission struck me with a pang of sadness. "Those you liked? Did they repeat what you said?"
"Oh, yes, they must have. To those they liked."
I was taken aback. "And these things came to the attention of the teachers?"
"Oh, yes! But I didn't know they'd tell."
"The teachers? They didn't—they've never told. That's why I ask you."
Miles looked at me with a mixture of surprise and curiosity. "You knew I couldn't go back?"
"I know everything."
He gave me a long, searching look. "Everything?"
"Everything. So, did you—?" I couldn't bring myself to ask the question again.
Miles confirmed simply, "No, I didn't steal."
I believed him with all my heart, but my hands shook with tenderness as I wondered why he had caused me so much torment for seemingly nothing. "What did you do then?"
He looked around the room anxiously, struggling to find the right words. He appeared to be searching in a distant memory, like someone peering into a faint green twilight at the bottom of the sea. "Well... I said things."
"They thought it was enough."
"To expel you?"
Never before had someone who had been expelled been so enigmatic. He seemed to consider my question, but with an air of detachment and helplessness. "I suppose I shouldn't have."
"But to whom did you say those things?"
He seemed to try to remember, but the memory eluded him. "I don't know!"
He almost smiled at me, his despair evident. "Did I steal?"
My face flushed with embarrassment, wondering if it was more unusual to ask such a question or to see a young boy respond with such a worldly understanding of the consequences of his actions. "Was that why you couldn't go back?"
Miles seemed distant again, breathing heavily, as if trying to recall something from far away. However, his memory seemed lost, and he could only say, "Well, I suppose I shouldn't have."
"But whom did you say those things to?"
He seemed to be struggling with the memory but couldn't quite grasp it. "I don't remember their names."
"Were there many of them?"
"No, only a few. Those I liked."
Those he liked? I felt a sudden, ominous fear that he might actually be innocent. If he were innocent, what did that make me? My thoughts were paralyzed by the question, and I released him a little. He turned away from me, and with a gasp, he faced the clear window, as if seeking air and light, but his expression showed an unspeakable anxiety. "Oh, yes," he replied with a hint of pain, "they must have repeated them. To those they liked."
There was less certainty in his answer than I expected, but I pressed on. "And did these things get back to the teachers?"
He was at some distance from me now, breathing hard, as if he were confined against his will. He looked around the room, his face reflecting a deep anxiety as he struggled to answer. He appeared to be lost, standing in the midst of the sea, looking up into a faint green twilight. "Oh, yes," he replied simply, "they must have repeated them. To those they liked, they added."
There was something oddly innocent in his reply, and I couldn't help but feel that he didn't fully understand the gravity of his words. "So many?" I inquired.
"No, only a few. Those I liked."
Those he liked? The pieces began to fall into place in my mind, but I couldn't believe it. "And did they reach the masters?"
"Oh, yes!" he said with a note of resignation. "But I didn't know they would tell."
"The masters? They didn't—they've never told. That's why I'm asking you."
His face showed confusion and pain as he searched for answers. "Well, I suppose it was bad."
"What I said, I guess. To write home."
I couldn't help but find the situation poignant, hearing such words from a young boy like Miles. "Stuff and nonsense!" I declared forcefully. But then I had to regain my composure. "What were these things you said?"
My sternness was directed at those who had judged and punished him. He turned away from me again, and this movement only intensified my desire to protect him from the malevolent presence. He almost smiled in the face of his vulnerability. "Is she here?" he asked, catching the direction of my words with his sealed eyes. And in a gasp, I echoed, "Miss Jessel, Miss Jessel!" he replied with sudden fury.
I was taken aback by his assumption, as if it was a continuation of what had happened to Flora. But I had to show him that the reality was even more reassuring. "It's not Miss Jessel! But it was there—right before us, at the window. The cowardly horror, there for the last time!"
At this, Miles turned to me with a white rage, bewildered, glaring around the room, searching in vain for the overwhelming presence. "Is he?"
I was determined to prove to him that I had protected him. "Whom do you mean by 'he'?"
"Peter Quint—you devil!" he screamed with sudden fury.
I was stunned by his confession and the dedication he showed to me. I seized him with overwhelming passion, but within a minute, I began to realize what I truly held. We were alone with the quiet day, and his heart, dispossessed, had stopped.