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never to be realized, of which I had been sensible. But the
thought came into my mind as a new reproach and new regret, when I
was left so sad and lonely in the world.
If, at that time, I had been much with her, I should, in the
weakness of my desolation, have betrayed this. It was what I
remotely dreaded when I was first impelled to stay away from
England. I could not have borne to lose the smallest portion of
her sisterly affection; yet, in that betrayal, I should have set a
constraint between us hitherto unknown.
I could not forget that the feeling with which she now regarded me
had grown up in my own free choice and course. That if she had
ever loved me with another love - and I sometimes thought the time
was when she might have done so - I had cast it away. It was
nothing, now, that I had accustomed myself to think of her, when we
were both mere children, as one who was far removed from my wild
fancies. I had bestowed my passionate tenderness upon another
object; and what I might have done, I had not done; and what Agnes
was to me, I and her own noble heart had made her.
In the beginning of the change that gradually worked in me, when I
tried to get a better understanding of myself and be a better man,
I did glance, through some indefinite probation, to a period when
I might possibly hope to cancel the mistaken past, and to be so
blessed as to marry her. But, as time wore on, this shadowy
prospect faded, and departed from me. If she had ever loved me,
then, I should hold her the more sacred; remembering the
confidences I had reposed in her, her knowledge of my errant heart,
the sacrifice she must have made to be my friend and sister, and
the victory she had won. If she had never loved me, could I
believe that she would love me now?
I had always felt my weakness, in comparison with her constancy and
fortitude; and now I felt it more and more. Whatever I might have
been to her, or she to me, if I had been more worthy of her long
ago, I was not now, and she was not. The time was past. I had let
it go by, and had deservedly lost her.
That I suffered much in these contentions, that they filled me with
unhappiness and remorse, and yet that I had a sustaining sense that
it was required of me, in right and honour, to keep away from
myself, with shame, the thought of turning to the dear girl in the
withering of my hopes, from whom I had frivolously turned when they
were bright and fresh - which consideration was at the root of