'Are you confirmed in your impression?' I inquired.
'I think I am, Trot.'
She looked so steadfastly at me: with a kind of doubt, or pity, or suspense in her affection: that I summoned the stronger determination to show her a perfectly cheerful face.
'And what is more, Trot — ' said my aunt.
'I think Agnes is going to be married.'
'God bless her!' said I, cheerfully.
'God bless her!' said my aunt, 'and her husband too!'
I echoed it, parted from my aunt, and went lightly downstairs, mounted, and rode away. There was greater reason than before to do what I had resolved to do.
How well I recollect the wintry ride! The frozen particles of ice, brushed from the blades of grass by the wind, and borne across my face; the hard clatter of the horse's hoofs, beating a tune upon the ground; the stiff-tilled soil; the snowdrift, lightly eddying in the chalk-pit as the breeze ruffled it; the smoking team with the waggon of old hay, stopping to breathe on the hill-top, and shaking their bells musically; the whitened slopes and sweeps of Down-land lying against the dark sky, as if they were drawn on a huge slate!
I found Agnes alone. The little girls had gone to their own homes now, and she was alone by the fire, reading. She put down her book on seeing me come in; and having welcomed me as usual, took her work-basket and sat in one of the old-fashioned windows.
I sat beside her on the window-seat, and we talked of what I was doing, and when it would be done, and of the progress I had made since my last visit. Agnes was very cheerful; and laughingly predicted that I should soon become too famous to be talked to, on such subjects.
'So I make the most of the present time, you see,' said Agnes, 'and talk to you while I may.'
As I looked at her beautiful face, observant of her work, she raised her mild clear eyes, and saw that I was looking at her.
'You are thoughtful today, Trotwood!'
'Agnes, shall I tell you what about? I came to tell you.'
She put aside her work, as she was used to do when we were seriously discussing anything; and gave me her whole attention.
'My dear Agnes, do you doubt my being true to you?'
'No!' she answered, with a look of astonishment.
'Do you doubt my being what I always have been to you?'
'No!' she answered, as before.
'Do you remember that I tried to tell you, when I came home, what a debt of gratitude I owed you, dearest Agnes, and how fervently I felt towards you?'
'I remember it,' she said, gently, 'very well.'
'You have a secret,' said I. 'Let me share it, Agnes.'
She cast down her eyes, and trembled.
'I could hardly fail to know, even if I had not heard — but from other lips than yours, Agnes, which seems strange — that there is someone upon whom you have bestowed the treasure of your love. Do not shut me out of what concerns your happiness so nearly! If you can trust me, as you say you can, and as I know you may, let me be your friend, your brother, in this matter, of all others!'
With an appealing, almost a reproachful, glance, she rose from the window; and hurrying across the room as if without knowing where, put her hands before her face, and burst into such tears as smote me to the heart.
And yet they awakened something in me, bringing promise to my heart. Without my knowing why, these tears allied themselves with the quietly sad smile which was so fixed in my remembrance, and shook me more with hope than fear or sorrow.
'Agnes! Sister! Dearest! What have I done?'
'Let me go away, Trotwood. I am not well. I am not myself. I will speak to you by and by — another time. I will write to you. Don't speak to me now. Don't! don't!'
I sought to recollect what she had said, when I had spoken to her on that former night, of her affection needing no return. It seemed a very world that I must search through in a moment. 'Agnes, I cannot bear to see you so, and think that I have been the cause. My dearest girl, dearer to me than anything in life, if you are unhappy, let me share your unhappiness. If you are in need of help or counsel, let me try to give it to you. If you have indeed a burden on your heart, let me try to lighten it. For whom do I live now, Agnes, if it is not for you!'
'Oh, spare me! I am not myself! Another time!' was all I could distinguish.