'Whatever you want most, if I could be that. At all events, I would like to try to be as near it as I can. And however far off that may be, I will never tire of trying. Will you let me?'
'My father sent you to ask me.'
'No indeed,' replied Sissy. 'He told me that I might come in now, but he sent me away from the room this morning — or at least — '
She hesitated and stopped.
'At least, what?' said Louisa, with her searching eyes upon her.
'I thought it best myself that I should be sent away, for I felt very uncertain whether you would like to find me here.'
'Have I always hated you so much?'
'I hope not, for I have always loved you, and have always wished that you should know it. But you changed to me a little, shortly before you left home. Not that I wondered at it. You knew so much, and I knew so little, and it was so natural in many ways, going as you were among other friends, that I had nothing to complain of, and was not at all hurt.'
Her colour rose as she said it modestly and hurriedly. Louisa understood the loving pretence, and her heart smote her.
'May I try?' said Sissy, emboldened to raise her hand to the neck that was insensibly drooping towards her.
Louisa, taking down the hand that would have embraced her in another moment, held it in one of hers, and answered:
'First, Sissy, do you know what I am? I am so proud and so hardened, so confused and troubled, so resentful and unjust to every one and to myself, that everything is stormy, dark, and wicked to me. Does not that repel you?'
'I am so unhappy, and all that should have made me otherwise is so laid waste, that if I had been bereft of sense to this hour, and instead of being as learned as you think me, had to begin to acquire the simplest truths, I could not want a guide to peace, contentment, honour, all the good of which I am quite devoid, more abjectly than I do. Does not that repel you?'
In the innocence of her brave affection, and the brimming up of her old devoted spirit, the once deserted girl shone like a beautiful light upon the darkness of the other.
Louisa raised the hand that it might clasp her neck and join its fellow there. She fell upon her knees, and clinging to this stroller's child looked up at her almost with veneration.
'Forgive me, pity me, help me! Have compassion on my great need, and let me lay this head of mine upon a loving heart!'
'O lay it here!' cried Sissy. 'Lay it here, my dear.'