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that has come and gone with them! I must speak plainly. If you
have any lingering thought that I could envy the happiness you will
confer; that I could not resign you to a dearer protector, of your
own choosing; that I could not, from my removed place, be a
contented witness of your joy; dismiss it, for I don't deserve it!

I have not suffered quite in vain. You have not taught me quite in
vain. There is no alloy of self in what I feel for you.'

She was quiet now. In a little time, she turned her pale face
towards me, and said in a low voice, broken here and there, but
very clear:

'I owe it to your pure friendship for me, Trotwood - which, indeed,
I do not doubt - to tell you, you are mistaken. I can do no more.

If I have sometimes, in the course of years, wanted help and
counsel, they have come to me. If I have sometimes been unhappy,
the feeling has passed away. If I have ever had a burden on my
heart, it has been lightened for me. If I have any secret, it is
- no new one; and is - not what you suppose. I cannot reveal it,
or divide it. It has long been mine, and must remain mine.'

'Agnes! Stay! A moment!'

She was going away, but I detained her. I clasped my arm about her
waist. 'In the course of years!' 'It is not a new one!' New
thoughts and hopes were whirling through my mind, and all the
colours of my life were changing.

'Dearest Agnes! Whom I so respect and honour - whom I so devotedly
love! When I came here today, I thought that nothing could have
wrested this confession from me. I thought I could have kept it in
my bosom all our lives, till we were old. But, Agnes, if I have
indeed any new-born hope that I may ever call you something more
than Sister, widely different from Sister! -'

Her tears fell fast; but they were not like those she had lately
shed, and I saw my hope brighten in them.

'Agnes! Ever my guide, and best support! If you had been more
mindful of yourself, and less of me, when we grew up here together,
I think my heedless fancy never would have wandered from you. But
you were so much better than I, so necessary to me in every boyish
hope and disappointment, that to have you to confide in, and rely
upon in everything, became a second nature, supplanting for the
time the first and greater one of loving you as I do!'
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