Days pass without incident. The governess keeps the children under her constant supervision. She finds herself embracing her pupils more frequently and with sharper passion, and she wonders if they are aware of her suspicions. Likewise, the two children become increasingly fond of their governess and seek to please her as much and as often as possible. The governess questions whether an ulterior motive exists in their newly amplified affection.
The lull is broken one night when the governess is startled from her nighttime reading. After quietly rising from her bed, she leaves the room and moves to the top of the staircase. Suddenly her candle goes out, and she witnesses an apparition of Quint halfway up the stairway. They stare each other down intensely, the governess refusing to back down. She is convinced by the dead silence that the vision is “unnatural.” She watches as the figure disappears.
A moment later, the governess returns to her room to find that Flora is not in her bed, but the bed’s curtains have been pulled forward. The governess is distraught but soon notices a movement behind the window blind. From under it Flora emerges with a grave expression. Flora reproaches the governess, asking where she has been. The governess explains her absence, then questions Flora, who says she could sense the governess had left and thought someone was walking out in the grounds. According to Flora, no one was outside. The governess is certain Flora is lying and questions her further about the drawn bed curtains. Flora claims she hadn’t wanted to frighten the governess, who could have returned at any moment.
Henceforth, the governess stays up most nights. One evening she finds the apparition of Miss Jessel with her head in her hands at the bottom of the stairs. The vision vanishes immediately. A number of evenings pass without event. The night that she finally decides it is safe to sleep at her normal hour, she awakens after midnight to find her light out. Certain Flora has extinguished it, she gets out of bed and finds her student at the window. The governess decides Flora must be communicating with the ghost of Miss Jessel and, careful not to disturb her, ventures out to find a room with a window that looks on the same scene. There, from her window, the governess sees Miles out on the lawn.
The next day, as the children stroll together on the lawn under supervision, the governess informs Mrs. Grose of Miles’s misconduct. The governess tells Mrs. Grose what passed between her and Miles after she had found him outside in the moonlight. When she had appeared on the lawn, he had promptly come to her, and she had led him inside without a word. The governess had then questioned Miles as to what he had been doing. Smiling, Miles had explained that he had wanted her to think him capable of being “bad.” Then he had kissed her and gone into further detail about his plan. According to Miles, he had arranged things with Flora to disturb the governess, so she would then get up to find out what was going on. He had been delighted that she had fallen for it and expressed pride in being “bad enough.” The two had ended their conversation with an embrace.
Mrs. Grose is nonplussed by the governess’s account, and so the governess explains her conclusion that the children have been meeting consistently with Quint and Miss Jessel. She goes so far as to claim that as the children stroll, they are “talking horrors” and plotting their next meeting with their two ghostly friends. The governess, piecing things together, says that the children have not been good but empty, and their lives belong to Quint and Miss Jessel. Furthermore, the governess surmises, Quint and Miss Jessel “want to get” the children to destroy them and keep up their diabolical work. Mrs. Grose suggests that the governess write to her employer, asking him to take the children away. The governess rejects that idea, saying he will think her mad. Mrs. Grose throws out an alternative plan for the governess to make her employer come to her. At this, the governess foresees his amusement and derision at what he will perceive to be her loneliness. She threatens to leave if Mrs. Grose appeals to the children’s uncle on her behalf.
The governess believes that the children are aware that she knows about their relationships with Quint and Miss Jessel. When together, she and the children avoid any subject that nears forbidden territory, and she finds herself repeatedly recalling events in her personal history to fill conversational space. The season changes to autumn. As day after day passes without incident, the governess thinks perhaps her eyes have been sealed and that the children are communicating with unseen visitors in her very presence. Even so, her charges are more likeable each day.
Unable to broach the topic of Quint and Miss Jessel with the children, the governess shuts herself up in a room to rehearse. Still, in their company, she cannot find the nerve and instead finds herself chattering more than ever, always until she notices a sudden, strange silence. These perceived stillnesses have become common when she is with her pupils, but all three refuse to acknowledge that they occur. The children begin to ask the governess about their uncle and why he hasn’t visited or written. The governess has the children write letters to him with the understanding that such writings are merely educational exercises.
These chapters detail the governess’s struggle to protect and save the children, together with her growing impression that the children are deceiving her and that things are worse than she thought. Although she does see Quint and Jessel again, most of the suspense is now generated by what she suspects and imagines about the children’s dealings with the ghosts. She no longer fears confronting the ghosts but instead fears that she has lost the power to see them and that the ghosts are appearing to the children in her very presence, telling them something infernal or referring to “dreadful passages of intercourse in the past.” Now the terror is purely psychological, and we are drawn in to share her fears because, just like her, there seems to be something terrible going on that we also can’t define.
We see things from the governess’s point of view, and the children appear to be a mixture of things—charming, affectionate, angelic, and wonderfully tactful but also duplicitous and subtle. We are given much less information about how the children may perceive the governess, but that which we are given is rather unsettling. The governess describes her own behavior as both extremely vigilant and watchful and extremely affectionate—she perpetually bows down and hugs the children. Yet her expressions of affection and her constant surveillance have oppressive and suffocating overtones, and there are hints that the children tolerate rather than welcome it. In moments of crisis, the governess seems downright frightening. Thinking Flora has lied, the governess grips her in a “spasm” and reports being surprised that Flora does not cry out in surprise or fright. When she questions Miles, she is aware of answering him “only with a vague repeated grimacing nod.” She always suppresses her urge to ask about the ghosts but instead cross-examines the children about what they say and do. If the children are innocent and do not see the ghosts, the governess’s behavior must seem strange and terrifying.