It was one more proof how tenderly, how purely I loved her, that, before this time, I had feared to take the first love-privilege which I had longed to assert, and might well have asserted, before. Men may not understand this; women, I believe, will.
The hour of departure arrived; the inexorable hour which was to separate me from my wife on my wedding evening. Shall I confess what I felt, on the first performance of my ill-considered promise to Mr. Sherwin? No: I kept this a secret from Margaret; I will keep it a secret here.
I took leave of her as hurriedly and abruptly as possible—I could not trust myself to quit her in any other way. She had contrived to slip aside into the darkest part of the room, so that I only saw her face dimly at parting.
I went home at once. When I lay down to sleep—then the ordeal which I had been unconsciously preparing for myself throughout the day, began to try me. Every nerve in my body, strung up to the extremest point of tension since the morning, now at last gave way. I felt my limbs quivering, till the bed shook under me. I was possessed by a gloom and horror, caused by no thought, and producing no thought: the thinking faculty seemed paralysed within me, altogether. The physical and mental reaction, after the fever and agitation of the day, was so sudden and severe, that the faintest noise from the street now terrified—yes, literally terrified me. The whistling of the wind—which had risen since sunset—made me start up in bed, with my heart throbbing, and my blood all chill. When no sounds were audible, then I listened for them to come—listened breathlessly, without daring to move. At last, the agony of nervous prostration grew more than I could bear—grew worse even than the child’s horror of walking in the darkness, and sleeping alone on the bed-room floor, which had overcome me, almost from the first moment when I laid down. I groped my way to the table and lit the candle again; then wrapped my dressing-gown round me, and sat shuddering near the light, to watch the weary hours out till morning.
And this was my wedding-night! This was how the day ended which had begun by my marriage with Margaret Sherwin!
AN epoch in my narrative has now arrived. Up to the time of my marriage, I have appeared as an active agent in the different events I have described. After that period, and—with one or two exceptional cases—throughout the whole year of my probation, my position changed with the change in my life, and became a passive one.
During this interval year, certain events happened, some of which, at the time, excited my curiosity, but none my apprehension—some affected me with a temporary disappointment, but none with even a momentary suspicion. I can now look back on them, as so many timely warnings which I treated with fatal neglect. It is in these events that the history of the long year through which I waited to claim my wife as my own, is really comprised. They marked the lapse of time broadly and significantly; and to them I must now confine myself, as exclusively as may be, in the present portion of my narrative.