Shortly before young Miles is to arrive home from school, the governess receives a letter from her employer. It contains an unopened letter from the headmaster of Miles' school and a cursory note from her employer requesting her to open the letter and attend to all details. Above all, she is not to trouble him.
After reading the letter, the governess searches out Mrs. Grose and reports that Miles has been dismissed from his school. She inquires if young Miles is "really bad," and is assured by Mrs. Grose that young Miles is incapable of injuring anyone, even though he is a lively young boy.
At her next meeting with Mrs. Grose, the governess inquires about her predecessor. She hears that the earlier governess was not careful in all things, and after leaving the last time on her vacation, was suddenly taken ill and died. Mrs. Grose knows no more particulars, and the governess must be content with this incomplete report.
The first strange element is now introduced into the story. Miles, we find out, has been suspended from his school and will not be allowed to return. This dismissal immediately brings to the forefront the possibility of his being a bad boy. "Is he really bad?" the governess asks, and the idea is given further significance by the later use of words "contaminate" and "corrupt."
The idea of death is also introduced here as the governess discovers that her predecessor left with the intentions of returning and then was taken ill and died. The cause of her death is left unexplained, thereby adding a note of mystery to it.