'I am happy to hear you say so,' answered Agnes, steadily, 'for it gives me hope, almost assurance, that we think alike. Dear Mr. Traddles and dear Trotwood, papa once free with honour, what could I wish for! I have always aspired, if I could have released him from the toils in which he was held, to render back some little portion of the love and care I owe him, and to devote my life to him. It has been, for years, the utmost height of my hopes. To take our future on myself, will be the next great happiness — the next to his release from all trust and responsibility — that I can know.'
'Have you thought how, Agnes?'
'Often! I am not afraid, dear Trotwood. I am certain of success. So many people know me here, and think kindly of me, that I am certain. Don't mistrust me. Our wants are not many. If I rent the dear old house, and keep a school, I shall be useful and happy.'
The calm fervour of her cheerful voice brought back so vividly, first the dear old house itself, and then my solitary home, that my heart was too full for speech. Traddles pretended for a little while to be busily looking among the papers.
'Next, Miss Trotwood,' said Traddles, 'that property of yours.'
'Well, sir,' sighed my aunt. 'All I have got to say about it is, that if it's gone, I can bear it; and if it's not gone, I shall be glad to get it back.'
'It was originally, I think, eight thousand pounds, Consols?' said Traddles.
'Right!' replied my aunt.
'I can't account for more than five,' said Traddles, with an air of perplexity.
' — thousand, do you mean?' inquired my aunt, with uncommon composure, 'or pounds?'
'Five thousand pounds,' said Traddles.
'It was all there was,' returned my aunt. 'I sold three, myself. One, I paid for your articles, Trot, my dear; and the other two I have by me. When I lost the rest, I thought it wise to say nothing about that sum, but to keep it secretly for a rainy day. I wanted to see how you would come out of the trial, Trot; and you came out nobly — persevering, self-reliant, self-denying! So did Dick. Don't speak to me, for I find my nerves a little shaken!'
Nobody would have thought so, to see her sitting upright, with her arms folded; but she had wonderful self-command.
'Then I am delighted to say,' cried Traddles, beaming with joy, 'that we have recovered the whole money!'
'Don't congratulate me, anybody!' exclaimed my aunt. 'How so, sir?'
'You believed it had been misappropriated by Mr. Wickfield?' said Traddles.
'Of course I did,' said my aunt, 'and was therefore easily silenced. Agnes, not a word!'
'And indeed,' said Traddles, 'it was sold, by virtue of the power of management he held from you; but I needn't say by whom sold, or on whose actual signature. It was afterwards pretended to Mr. Wickfield, by that rascal, — and proved, too, by figures, — that he had possessed himself of the money (on general instructions, he said) to keep other deficiencies and difficulties from the light. Mr. Wickfield, being so weak and helpless in his hands as to pay you, afterwards, several sums of interest on a pretended principal which he knew did not exist, made himself, unhappily, a party to the fraud.'
'And at last took the blame upon himself,' added my aunt; 'and wrote me a mad letter, charging himself with robbery, and wrong unheard of. Upon which I paid him a visit early one morning, called for a candle, burnt the letter, and told him if he ever could right me and himself, to do it; and if he couldn't, to keep his own counsel for his daughter's sake. — -If anybody speaks to me, I'll leave the house!'
We all remained quiet; Agnes covering her face.
'Well, my dear friend,' said my aunt, after a pause, 'and you have really extorted the money back from him?'
'Why, the fact is,' returned Traddles, 'Mr. Micawber had so completely hemmed him in, and was always ready with so many new points if an old one failed, that he could not escape from us. A most remarkable circumstance is, that I really don't think he grasped this sum even so much for the gratification of his avarice, which was inordinate, as in the hatred he felt for Copperfield. He said so to me, plainly. He said he would even have spent as much, to baulk or injure Copperfield.'
'Ha!' said my aunt, knitting her brows thoughtfully, and glancing at Agnes. 'And what's become of him?'
'I don't know. He left here,' said Traddles, 'with his mother, who had been clamouring, and beseeching, and disclosing, the whole time. They went away by one of the London night coaches, and I know no more about him; except that his malevolence to me at parting was audacious. He seemed to consider himself hardly less indebted to me, than to Mr. Micawber; which I consider (as I told him) quite a compliment.'