CHAPTER 62. A LIGHT SHINES ON MY WAY
The year came round to Christmas-time, and I had been at home above two months. I had seen Agnes frequently. However loud the general voice might be in giving me encouragement, and however fervent the emotions and endeavours to which it roused me, I heard her lightest word of praise as I heard nothing else.
At least once a week, and sometimes oftener, I rode over there, and passed the evening. I usually rode back at night; for the old unhappy sense was always hovering about me now — most sorrowfully when I left her — and I was glad to be up and out, rather than wandering over the past in weary wakefulness or miserable dreams. I wore away the longest part of many wild sad nights, in those rides; reviving, as I went, the thoughts that had occupied me in my long absence.
Or, if I were to say rather that I listened to the echoes of those thoughts, I should better express the truth. They spoke to me from afar off. I had put them at a distance, and accepted my inevitable place. When I read to Agnes what I wrote; when I saw her listening face; moved her to smiles or tears; and heard her cordial voice so earnest on the shadowy events of that imaginative world in which I lived; I thought what a fate mine might have been — but only thought so, as I had thought after I was married to Dora, what I could have wished my wife to be.
My duty to Agnes, who loved me with a love, which, if I disquieted, I wronged most selfishly and poorly, and could never restore; my matured assurance that I, who had worked out my own destiny, and won what I had impetuously set my heart on, had no right to murmur, and must bear; comprised what I felt and what I had learned. But I loved her: and now it even became some consolation to me, vaguely to conceive a distant day when I might blamelessly avow it; when all this should be over; when I could say 'Agnes, so it was when I came home; and now I am old, and I never have loved since!'
She did not once show me any change in herself. What she always had been to me, she still was; wholly unaltered.
Between my aunt and me there had been something, in this connexion, since the night of my return, which I cannot call a restraint, or an avoidance of the subject, so much as an implied understanding that we thought of it together, but did not shape our thoughts into words. When, according to our old custom, we sat before the fire at night, we often fell into this train; as naturally, and as consciously to each other, as if we had unreservedly said so. But we preserved an unbroken silence. I believed that she had read, or partly read, my thoughts that night; and that she fully comprehended why I gave mine no more distinct expression.
This Christmas-time being come, and Agnes having reposed no new confidence in me, a doubt that had several times arisen in my mind — whether she could have that perception of the true state of my breast, which restrained her with the apprehension of giving me pain — began to oppress me heavily. If that were so, my sacrifice was nothing; my plainest obligation to her unfulfilled; and every poor action I had shrunk from, I was hourly doing. I resolved to set this right beyond all doubt; — if such a barrier were between us, to break it down at once with a determined hand.
It was — what lasting reason have I to remember it! — a cold, harsh, winter day. There had been snow, some hours before; and it lay, not deep, but hard-frozen on the ground. Out at sea, beyond my window, the wind blew ruggedly from the north. I had been thinking of it, sweeping over those mountain wastes of snow in Switzerland, then inaccessible to any human foot; and had been speculating which was the lonelier, those solitary regions, or a deserted ocean.
'Riding today, Trot?' said my aunt, putting her head in at the door.
'Yes,' said I, 'I am going over to Canterbury. It's a good day for a ride.'
'I hope your horse may think so too,' said my aunt; 'but at present he is holding down his head and his ears, standing before the door there, as if he thought his stable preferable.'
My aunt, I may observe, allowed my horse on the forbidden ground, but had not at all relented towards the donkeys.
'He will be fresh enough, presently!' said I.
'The ride will do his master good, at all events,' observed my aunt, glancing at the papers on my table. 'Ah, child, you pass a good many hours here! I never thought, when I used to read books, what work it was to write them.'
'It's work enough to read them, sometimes,' I returned. 'As to the writing, it has its own charms, aunt.'
'Ah! I see!' said my aunt. 'Ambition, love of approbation, sympathy, and much more, I suppose? Well: go along with you!'
'Do you know anything more,' said I, standing composedly before her — she had patted me on the shoulder, and sat down in my chair — 'of that attachment of Agnes?'
She looked up in my face a little while, before replying:
'I think I do, Trot.'