'From many things — trifles in themselves, but they do not seem to me to be so, when they are put together. I judge him, partly from your account of him, Trotwood, and your character, and the influence he has over you.'
There was always something in her modest voice that seemed to touch a chord within me, answering to that sound alone. It was always earnest; but when it was very earnest, as it was now, there was a thrill in it that quite subdued me. I sat looking at her as she cast her eyes down on her work; I sat seeming still to listen to her; and Steerforth, in spite of all my attachment to him, darkened in that tone.
'It is very bold in me,' said Agnes, looking up again, 'who have lived in such seclusion, and can know so little of the world, to give you my advice so confidently, or even to have this strong opinion. But I know in what it is engendered, Trotwood, — in how true a remembrance of our having grown up together, and in how true an interest in all relating to you. It is that which makes me bold. I am certain that what I say is right. I am quite sure it is. I feel as if it were someone else speaking to you, and not I, when I caution you that you have made a dangerous friend.'
Again I looked at her, again I listened to her after she was silent, and again his image, though it was still fixed in my heart, darkened.
'I am not so unreasonable as to expect,' said Agnes, resuming her usual tone, after a little while, 'that you will, or that you can, at once, change any sentiment that has become a conviction to you; least of all a sentiment that is rooted in your trusting disposition. You ought not hastily to do that. I only ask you, Trotwood, if you ever think of me — I mean,' with a quiet smile, for I was going to interrupt her, and she knew why, 'as often as you think of me — to think of what I have said. Do you forgive me for all this?'
'I will forgive you, Agnes,' I replied, 'when you come to do Steerforth justice, and to like him as well as I do.'
'Not until then?' said Agnes.
I saw a passing shadow on her face when I made this mention of him, but she returned my smile, and we were again as unreserved in our mutual confidence as of old.
'And when, Agnes,' said I, 'will you forgive me the other night?'
'When I recall it,' said Agnes.
She would have dismissed the subject so, but I was too full of it to allow that, and insisted on telling her how it happened that I had disgraced myself, and what chain of accidental circumstances had had the theatre for its final link. It was a great relief to me to do this, and to enlarge on the obligation that I owed to Steerforth for his care of me when I was unable to take care of myself.
'You must not forget,' said Agnes, calmly changing the conversation as soon as I had concluded, 'that you are always to tell me, not only when you fall into trouble, but when you fall in love. Who has succeeded to Miss Larkins, Trotwood?'
'No one, Agnes.'
'Someone, Trotwood,' said Agnes, laughing, and holding up her finger.
'No, Agnes, upon my word! There is a lady, certainly, at Mrs. Steerforth's house, who is very clever, and whom I like to talk to — Miss Dartle — but I don't adore her.'
Agnes laughed again at her own penetration, and told me that if I were faithful to her in my confidence she thought she should keep a little register of my violent attachments, with the date, duration, and termination of each, like the table of the reigns of the kings and queens, in the History of England. Then she asked me if I had seen Uriah.
'Uriah Heep?' said I. 'No. Is he in London?'
'He comes to the office downstairs, every day,' returned Agnes. 'He was in London a week before me. I am afraid on disagreeable business, Trotwood.'
'On some business that makes you uneasy, Agnes, I see,' said I. 'What can that be?'
Agnes laid aside her work, and replied, folding her hands upon one another, and looking pensively at me out of those beautiful soft eyes of hers:
'I believe he is going to enter into partnership with papa.'
'What? Uriah? That mean, fawning fellow, worm himself into such promotion!' I cried, indignantly. 'Have you made no remonstrance about it, Agnes? Consider what a connexion it is likely to be. You must speak out. You must not allow your father to take such a mad step. You must prevent it, Agnes, while there's time.'
Still looking at me, Agnes shook her head while I was speaking, with a faint smile at my warmth: and then replied:
'You remember our last conversation about papa? It was not long after that — not more than two or three days — when he gave me the first intimation of what I tell you. It was sad to see him struggling between his desire to represent it to me as a matter of choice on his part, and his inability to conceal that it was forced upon him. I felt very sorry.'
'Forced upon him, Agnes! Who forces it upon him?'