'My love for my dear child was a diseased love, but my mind was all unhealthy then. I say no more of that. I am not speaking of myself, Trotwood, but of her mother, and of her. If I give you any clue to what I am, or to what I have been, you will unravel it, I know. What Agnes is, I need not say. I have always read something of her poor mother's story, in her character; and so I tell it you tonight, when we three are again together, after such great changes. I have told it all.'
His bowed head, and her angel-face and filial duty, derived a more pathetic meaning from it than they had had before. If I had wanted anything by which to mark this night of our re-union, I should have found it in this.
Agnes rose up from her father's side, before long; and going softly to her piano, played some of the old airs to which we had often listened in that place.
'Have you any intention of going away again?' Agnes asked me, as I was standing by.
'What does my sister say to that?'
'I hope not.'
'Then I have no such intention, Agnes.'
'I think you ought not, Trotwood, since you ask me,' she said, mildly. 'Your growing reputation and success enlarge your power of doing good; and if I could spare my brother,' with her eyes upon me, 'perhaps the time could not.'
'What I am, you have made me, Agnes. You should know best.'
'I made you, Trotwood?'
'Yes! Agnes, my dear girl!' I said, bending over her. 'I tried to tell you, when we met today, something that has been in my thoughts since Dora died. You remember, when you came down to me in our little room — pointing upward, Agnes?'
'Oh, Trotwood!' she returned, her eyes filled with tears. 'So loving, so confiding, and so young! Can I ever forget?'
'As you were then, my sister, I have often thought since, you have ever been to me. Ever pointing upward, Agnes; ever leading me to something better; ever directing me to higher things!'
She only shook her head; through her tears I saw the same sad quiet smile.
'And I am so grateful to you for it, Agnes, so bound to you, that there is no name for the affection of my heart. I want you to know, yet don't know how to tell you, that all my life long I shall look up to you, and be guided by you, as I have been through the darkness that is past. Whatever betides, whatever new ties you may form, whatever changes may come between us, I shall always look to you, and love you, as I do now, and have always done. You will always be my solace and resource, as you have always been. Until I die, my dearest sister, I shall see you always before me, pointing upward!'
She put her hand in mine, and told me she was proud of me, and of what I said; although I praised her very far beyond her worth. Then she went on softly playing, but without removing her eyes from me. 'Do you know, what I have heard tonight, Agnes,' said I, strangely seems to be a part of the feeling with which I regarded you when I saw you first — with which I sat beside you in my rough school-days?'
'You knew I had no mother,' she replied with a smile, 'and felt kindly towards me.'
'More than that, Agnes, I knew, almost as if I had known this story, that there was something inexplicably gentle and softened, surrounding you; something that might have been sorrowful in someone else (as I can now understand it was), but was not so in you.'
She softly played on, looking at me still.
'Will you laugh at my cherishing such fancies, Agnes?'
'Or at my saying that I really believe I felt, even then, that you could be faithfully affectionate against all discouragement, and never cease to be so, until you ceased to live? — -Will you laugh at such a dream?'
'Oh, no! Oh, no!'
For an instant, a distressful shadow crossed her face; but, even in the start it gave me, it was gone; and she was playing on, and looking at me with her own calm smile.
As I rode back in the lonely night, the wind going by me like a restless memory, I thought of this, and feared she was not happy. I was not happy; but, thus far, I had faithfully set the seal upon the Past, and, thinking of her, pointing upward, thought of her as pointing to that sky above me, where, in the mystery to come, I might yet love her with a love unknown on earth, and tell her what the strife had been within me when I loved her here.