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It was all very well to join them, but speaking to them proved
quite as much as ever an effort beyond my strength--offered,
in close quarters, difficulties as insurmountable as before.
This situation continued a month, and with new aggravations
and particular notes, the note above all, sharper and sharper,
of the small ironic consciousness on the part of my pupils.
It was not, I am as sure today as I was sure then, my mere
infernal imagination: it was absolutely traceable that they
were aware of my predicament and that this strange relation made,
in a manner, for a long time, the air in which we moved.
I don't mean that they had their tongues in their cheeks or did
anything vulgar, for that was not one of their dangers:
I do mean, on the other hand, that the element of the unnamed
and untouched became, between us, greater than any other,
and that so much avoidance could not have been so successfully
effected without a great deal of tacit arrangement.
It was as if, at moments, we were perpetually coming into sight
of subjects before which we must stop short, turning suddenly
out of alleys that we perceived to be blind, closing with a little
bang that made us look at each other--for, like all bangs,
it was something louder than we had intended--the doors we
had indiscreetly opened. All roads lead to Rome, and there
were times when it might have struck us that almost every branch
of study or subject of conversation skirted forbidden ground.
Forbidden ground was the question of the return of the dead
in general and of whatever, in especial, might survive,
in memory, of the friends little children had lost.
There were days when I could have sworn that one of them had,
with a small invisible nudge, said to the other:
"She thinks she'll do it this time--but she WON'T!" To "do it"
would have been to indulge for instance--and for once in a way--
in some direct reference to the lady who had prepared them for
my discipline. They had a delightful endless appetite for passages
in my own history, to which I had again and again treated them;
they were in possession of everything that had ever happened to me,
had had, with every circumstance the story of my smallest adventures
and of those of my brothers and sisters and of the cat and the dog
at home, as well as many particulars of the eccentric nature
of my father, of the furniture and arrangement of our house,
and of the conversation of the old women of our village.
There were things enough, taking one with another, to chatter about,
if one went very fast and knew by instinct when to go round.
They pulled with an art of their own the strings of my invention
and my memory; and nothing else perhaps, when I thought
of such occasions afterward, gave me so the suspicion of being
watched from under cover. It was in any case over MY life,
MY past, and MY friends alone that we could take anything
like our ease--a state of affairs that led them sometimes without
the least pertinence to break out into sociable reminders.
I was invited--with no visible connection--to repeat afresh
Goody Gosling's celebrated mot or to confirm the details
already supplied as to the cleverness of the vicarage pony.