After staying in the room about five minutes, Mr. Sherwin whispered to his wife, and left us. Mrs. Sherwin still kept her place; but she said nothing, and hardly turned to look round at us more than once or twice. Perhaps she was occupied by her own thoughts; perhaps, from a motive of delicacy, she abstained even from an appearance of watching her daughter or watching me. Whatever feelings influenced her, I cared not to speculate on them. It was enough that I had the privilege of speaking to Margaret uninterruptedly; of declaring my love at last, without hesitation and without reserve.
How much I had to say to her, and how short a time seemed to be left me that evening to say it in! How short a time to tell her all the thoughts of the past which she had created in me; all the self-sacrifice to which I had cheerfully consented for her sake; all the anticipations of future happiness which were concentrated in her, which drew their very breath of life, only from the prospect of her rewarding love! She spoke but little; yet even that little it was a new delight to hear. She smiled now; she let me take her hand, and made no attempt to withdraw it. The evening had closed in; the darkness was stealing fast upon us; the still, dead-still figure of Mrs. Sherwin, always in the same place and the same attitude, grew fainter and fainter to the eye, across the distance of the room—but no thought of time, no thought of home ever once crossed my mind. I could have sat at the window with Margaret the long night through; without an idea of numbering the hours as they passed.
Ere long, however, Mr. Sherwin entered the room again, and effectually roused me by approaching and speaking to us. I saw that I had stayed long enough, and that we were not to be left together again, that night. So I rose and took my leave, having first fixed a time for seeing Margaret on the morrow. Mr. Sherwin accompanied me with great ceremony to the outer door. Just as I was leaving him, he touched me on the arm, and said in his most confidential tones:
“Come an hour earlier, to-morrow; and we’ll go and get the licence together. No objection to that—eh? And the marriage, shall we say this day week? Just as you like, you know—don’t let me seem to dictate. Ah! no objection to that, either, I see, and no objection on Margaret’s side, I’ll warrant! With respect to consents, in the marrying part of the business, there’s complete mutuality—isn’t there? Good night: God bless you!”
That night I went home with none of the reluctance or the apprehension which I had felt on the last occasion, when I approached our own door. The assurance of success contained in the events of the afternoon, gave me a trust in my own self-possession—a confidence in my own capacity to parry all dangerous questions—which I had not experienced before. I cared not how soon, or for how long a time, I might find myself in company with Clara or my father. It was well for the preservation of my secret that I was in this frame of mind; for, on opening my study door, I was astonished to see both of them in my room.