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¡¡¡¡Irene was really absorbed in an intricate calculation which she had to make with regard to a very advanced sum, and sat down at a distant table, and forgot for the time being even little Agnes. Agnes, therefore, went up to bed alone. There was no Miss Frost to help her to undress, there was no one to take any notice of her, and there were the fearful stories that Lucy kept hinting at ringing in her ears. Yes, Irene had done dreadful things. Yes, she had. But Irene to her was perfect. She had no fear with her; she was happy with her. But then, Lucy Merriman had said that that was because little Agnes was so well protected. She had Rosamund sleeping practically in the same room, and Miss Frost, her own sister, not far away. Irene did not dare to do anything dreadful. But she had done dreadful things. She had nearly killed poor Miss Carter. She had made her own beloved sister swallow insects instead of pills. In short, she was just what Lucy had described her to be. And Lucy had said another dreadful thing to-night. She had hinted that Irene was not exactly to blame, for she was not like an ordinary girl; she was a sort of fairy girl. Now, Agnes had read several fairy-tales, and knew, supposing such a wonderful thing as a fairy really lived in the world, that she might be influenced by some other fairies, who would guide her, and help her, and force her to do things whether she liked them or not. But still she never would be unkind to little Agnes.
Little Agnes, never having heard anything about Irene except that she was her sister Emily's pupil, believed these words, and continued to look with a fascinated gaze at the white-throated swans, at the beautiful water-lilies, and at the calm reflection of the boat and their two selves in the water. She saw nothing whatever of the rapid stream in the centre of the lake, where poor Miss Carter had almost met her death, nor did she see any fierce or turbulent side to Irene's erratic nature.
"My dear," said Miss Frost when Rosamund had done speaking, "may I ask how old you are?"
"I know," said Rosamund in a low tone. She had never expressed herself so before. There was a lump in her throat.
"Nothing will be lost," replied Rosamund. "It is the very best plan possible. You must make Irene the guardian of Agnes from the very first. You must make her take that position with her; it is the only thing to do. The mistake has been that people were terrified of her. Her character, which is really very fine, has been spoiled by such a course. Give her a little tender thing to love, and make her guard that creature, and she will fight for her to the very death. I do believe it. Trust me, I have studied her character so carefully."
Lucy heard the voice, and looked up.