He remembered how inescapable the torment of his regret had been. There would be periods of forgetfulness, when he was plunged into work, and life, because it was service, seemed good and sweet; then, at some word, or the look of the sky, or the smell of a flower the evil spirit of recollection would leap upon him and tear him. Yet the periods of forgetfulness had lengthened and lengthened. The pain and shame had faded and faded. The thing that gave him this sick feeling, as he sat here in his study at midnight, was not the fact that he had sinned; it was the memory of how he had suffered for his sin. The sin itself, now, was too remote, too separate from himself for any more repentance; it had ceased to be real. But the suffering! he could not bear to think of that.
How mad this is! he said to himself, with a curious terror lest the old anguish should come back: the horror a man might feel who sees the surgeon s knife under which he has once agonized. For very fear of memory, William West drove his thoughts back to the question of his duty to Amy; that was plain reasoning, and had nothing to do with this nightmare.
He lighted another match, but held it absently, until it scorched his fingers, then flung it down with an angry exclamation. It seemed as though the pain burned through all this fog of the past, and showed him the facts which he must judge, and the folly of his uncertainty. For, after all, what was this matter he was trying to decide? Was it not merely the question of what was best for Amy, not what was most comfortable for himself? It was that abstraction called Honor, as applied to Amy s happiness.