Lionel Verner was just in that frame of mind which struggles to be carried out of itself. No matter whether by pleasure or pain, so that it be not that particular pain from which it would fain escape, the mind seeks yearningly to forget itself, to be lifted out anywhere, or by any means, from its trouble. Conscience was doing heavy work with Lionel. He had destroyed his own happiness—that was nothing; he could battle it out, and nobody be the wiser or the worse, save himself; but he had blighted Lucy’s. There was the sting that tortured him. A man of sensitively refined organisation, keenly alive to the feelings of others—full of repentant consciousness when wrong was worked through him, he would have given his whole future life and all its benefits, to undo the work of the last few months. Either that he had never met Lucy, or that he had not married Sibylla. Which of those two events he would have preferred to recall, he did not trust himself to think; whatever may have been his faults, he had, until now, believed himself to be a man of honour. It was too late. Give what he would, strive as he would, repent as he would, the ill could neither be undone nor mitigated; it was one of those unhappy things for which there is no redress; they must be borne, as they best can, in patience and silence.
With these thoughts and feelings full upon him, little wonder was there that Lionel Verner, some two hours after quitting Lucy, should turn into Peckaby’s shop. Mrs. Peckaby was seated back from the open door, crying, and moaning, and swaying herself about, apparently in terrible pain, physical or mental. Lionel remembered the story of the white donkey, and he stepped in to question her; anything for a minute’s divertisement; anything to drown the care that was racking him. There was a subject on which he wished to speak to Roy, and that took him down Clay Lane.
“What’s the matter, Mrs. Peckaby?”
Mrs. Peckaby rose from her chair, curtseyed, and sat down again. But for the state of tribulation she was in, she would have remained standing.
“Oh, sir, I have had a upset,” she sobbed. “I see the white tail of a pony a-going by, and I thought it might be some’at else. It did give me a turn!”
“What did you think it might be?”
“I thought it might be the tail of a different sort of animal. I be a-going a far journey, sir, and I thought it was, may be, the quadruple come to fetch me. I’m a-going to New Jerusalem on a white donkey.”
“So I hear,” said Lionel, suppressing a smile, in spite of his heavy heart. “Do you go all the way on the white donkey, Mrs. Peckaby?”