She left him, and Lionel leaned his elbow on the mantel-piece, his brow contracting as does that of one in unpleasant thought. Was he recalling the mode in which he had taken leave of Lucy earlier in the day?
NEWS FOR LADY VERNER: AND FOR LUCY.
If he did not recall it then, he recalled it later, when he was upon his bed, turning and tossing from side to side. His conscience was smiting him—smiting him from more points than one. Carried away by the impulse of the moment, he had spoken words that night, in his hot passion, which might not be redeemed; and now that the leisure for reflection was come, he could not conceal from himself that he had been too hasty. Lionel Verner was one who possessed excessive conscientiousness; even as a boy, had impetuosity led him into a fault—as it often did—his silent, inward repentance would be always keenly real, more so than the case deserved. It was so now. He loved Sibylla—there had been no mistake there; but it is certain that the unexpected delight of meeting her, her presence palpably before him in all its beauty, her manifested sorrow and grief, her lonely, unprotected position, had all worked their effect upon his heart and mind, had imparted to his love a false intensity. However the agitation of the moment may have caused him to fancy it, he did not love Sibylla as he had loved her of old; else why should the image of Lucy Tempest present itself to him surrounded by a halo of regret? The point is as unpleasant for us to touch upon, as it was to Lionel to think of: but the fact was all too palpable, and cannot be suppressed. He did love Sibylla: nevertheless there obtruded the unwelcome reflection that, in asking her to be his wife, he had been hasty; that it had been better had he taken time for consideration. He almost doubted whether Lucy would not have been more acceptable to him; not loved yet so much as Sibylla, but better suited to him in all other ways; worse than this, he doubted whether he had not in honour bound himself tacitly to Lucy that very day.
The fit of repentance was upon him, and he tossed and turned from side to side upon his uneasy bed. But, toss and turn as he would, he could not undo his night’s work. There remained nothing for him but to carry it out, and make the best of it; and he strove to deceive his conscience with the hope that Lucy Tempest, in her girlish innocence, had not understood his hinted allusions to her becoming his wife; that she had looked upon his snatched caresses as but trifling pastime, such as he might offer to a child. Most unjustifiable he now felt those hints, those acts to have been, and his brow grew red with shame at their recollection. One thing he did hope, hope sincerely—that Lucy did not care for him. That she liked him very much, and had been on most confidential terms with him, he knew; but he did hope her liking went no deeper. Strange sophistry! how it will deceive the human heart! how prone we are to admit it! Lionel was honest enough in his hope now: but, not many hours before, he had been hugging his heart with the delusion that Lucy did love him.