The Turn of the Screw
"Well then," I said, "just sit right down and begin."
He turned round to the fire, gave a kick to a log, watched it an instant. Then as he faced
us again: "I can't begin. I shall have to send to town." There was a unanimous groan at
this, and much reproach; after which, in his preoccupied way, he explained. "The story's
written. It's in a locked drawer-- it has not been out for years. I could write to my man
and enclose the key; he could send down the packet as he finds it." It was to me in
particular that he appeared to propound this-- appeared almost to appeal for aid not to
hesitate. He had broken a thickness of ice, the formation of many a winter; had had his
reasons for a long silence. The others resented postponement, but it was just his scruples
that charmed me. I adjured him to write by the first post and to agree with us for an early
hearing; then I asked him if the experience in question had been his own. To this his
answer was prompt. "Oh, thank God, no!"
"And is the record yours? You took the thing down?"
"Nothing but the impression. I took that HERE"--he tapped his heart. "I've never lost it."
"Then your manuscript--?"
"Is in old, faded ink, and in the most beautiful hand." He hung fire again. "A woman's.
She has been dead these twenty years. She sent me the pages in question before she
died." They were all listening now, and of course there was somebody to be arch, or at
any rate to draw the inference. But if he put the inference by without a smile it was also
without irritation. "She was a most charming person, but she was ten years older than I.
She was my sister's governess," he quietly said. "She was the most agreeable woman I've
ever known in her position; she would have been worthy of any whatever. It was long
ago, and this episode was long before. I was at Trinity, and I found her at home on my
coming down the second summer. I was much there that year--it was a beautiful one; and
we had, in her off-hours, some strolls and talks in the garden-- talks in which she struck
me as awfully clever and nice. Oh yes; don't grin: I liked her extremely and am glad to
this day to think she liked me, too. If she hadn't she wouldn't have told me. She had never
told anyone. It wasn't simply that she said so, but that I knew she hadn't. I was sure; I
could see. You'll easily judge why when you hear."
"Because the thing had been such a scare?"
He continued to fix me. "You'll easily judge," he repeated: "YOU will."
I fixed him, too. "I see. She was in love."
He laughed for the first time. "You ARE acute. Yes, she was in love. That is, she had
been. That came out-- she couldn't tell her story without its coming out. I saw it, and she
saw I saw it; but neither of us spoke of it. I remember the time and the place--the corner
of the lawn, the shade of the great beeches and the long, hot summer afternoon. It wasn't
a scene for a shudder; but oh--!" He quitted the fire and dropped back into his chair.