“Oh, the little lady doesn’t remember. She never heard or knew.”

“The circumstances of his death?” I thought with some intensity. “Perhaps not. But Miles would remember—Miles would know.”

“Ah, don’t try him!” broke from Mrs. Grose.

I returned her the look she had given me. “Don’t be afraid.” I continued to think. “It is rather odd.”

“That he has never spoken of him?”

“Never by the least allusion. And you tell me they were ‘great friends’?”

“Oh, it wasn’t him!” Mrs. Grose with emphasis declared. “It was Quint’s own fancy. To play with him, I mean—to spoil him.” She paused a moment; then she added: “Quint was much too free.”

This gave me, straight from my vision of his face—such a face!—a sudden sickness of disgust. “Too free with my boy?”

“Too free with everyone!”

I forbore, for the moment, to analyze this description further than by the reflection that a part of it applied to several of the members of the household, of the half-dozen maids and men who were still of our small colony. But there was everything, for our apprehension, in the lucky fact that no discomfortable legend, no perturbation of scullions, had ever, within anyone’s memory attached to the kind old place. It had neither bad name nor ill fame, and Mrs. Grose, most apparently, only desired to cling to me and to quake in silence. I even put her, the very last thing of all, to the test. It was when, at midnight, she had her hand on the schoolroom door to take leave. “I have it from you then—for it’s of great importance—that he was definitely and admittedly bad?”

“Oh, not admittedly. I knew it—but the master didn’t.”

“And you never told him?”

“Well, he didn’t like tale-bearing—he hated complaints. He was terribly short with anything of that kind, and if people were all right to him—”

“He wouldn’t be bothered with more?” This squared well enough with my impressions of him: he was not a trouble-loving gentleman, nor so very particular perhaps about some of the company he kept. All the same, I pressed my interlocutress. “I promise you I would have told!”

She felt my discrimination. “I daresay I was wrong. But, really, I was afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Of things that man could do. Quint was so clever—he was so deep.”

I took this in still more than, probably, I showed. “You weren’t afraid of anything else? Not of his effect—?”

“His effect?” she repeated with a face of anguish and waiting while I faltered.

“On innocent little precious lives. They were in your charge.”

“No, they were not in mine!” she roundly and distressfully returned. “The master believed in him and placed him here because he was supposed not to be well and the country air so good for him. So he had everything to say. Yes”—she let me have it—“even about them.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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