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I had sought to lead her to what my aunt had hinted at; for, sharply painful to me as it must be to receive that confidence, I was to discipline my heart, and do my duty to her. I saw, however, that she was uneasy, and I let it pass.
'You have much to do, dear Agnes?'
'With my school?' said she, looking up again, in all her bright composure.
'Yes. It is laborious, is it not?'
'The labour is so pleasant,' she returned, 'that it is scarcely grateful in me to call it by that name.'
'Nothing good is difficult to you,' said I.
Her colour came and went once more; and once more, as she bent her head, I saw the same sad smile.
'You will wait and see papa,' said Agnes, cheerfully, 'and pass the day with us? Perhaps you will sleep in your own room? We always call it yours.'
I could not do that, having promised to ride back to my aunt's at night; but I would pass the day there, joyfully.
'I must be a prisoner for a little while,' said Agnes, 'but here are the old books, Trotwood, and the old music.'
'Even the old flowers are here,' said I, looking round; 'or the old kinds.'
'I have found a pleasure,' returned Agnes, smiling, 'while you have been absent, in keeping everything as it used to be when we were children. For we were very happy then, I think.'
'Heaven knows we were!' said I.
'And every little thing that has reminded me of my brother,' said Agnes, with her cordial eyes turned cheerfully upon me, 'has been a welcome companion. Even this,' showing me the basket-trifle, full of keys, still hanging at her side, 'seems to jingle a kind of old tune!'
She smiled again, and went out at the door by which she had come.
It was for me to guard this sisterly affection with religious care. It was all that I had left myself, and it was a treasure. If I once shook the foundations of the sacred confidence and usage, in virtue of which it was given to me, it was lost, and could never be recovered. I set this steadily before myself. The better I loved her, the more it behoved me never to forget it.
I walked through the streets; and, once more seeing my old adversary the butcher - now a constable, with his staff hanging up in the shop - went down to look at the place where I had fought him; and there meditated on Miss Shepherd and the eldest Miss Larkins, and all the idle loves and likings, and dislikings, of that time. Nothing seemed to have survived that time but Agnes; and she, ever a star above me, was brighter and higher.
When I returned, Mr. Wickfield had come home, from a garden he had, a couple of miles or so out of town, where he now employed himself almost every day. I found him as my aunt had described him. We sat down to dinner, with some half-dozen little girls; and he seemed but the shadow of his handsome picture on the wall.
The tranquillity and peace belonging, of old, to that quiet ground in my memory, pervaded it again. When dinner was done, Mr. Wickfield taking no wine, and I desiring none, we went up-stairs; where Agnes and her little charges sang and played, and worked. After tea the children left us; and we three sat together, talking of the bygone days.