“Are you going down to the house, Egerton?” enquired Mr Berners at Brookes, of a brother M.P., about four o’clock in the early part of the spring of 1839.
“The moment I have sealed this letter; we will walk down together, if you like!” and in a few minutes they left the club.
“Our fellows are in a sort of fright about this Jamaica bill,” said Mr Egerton in an undertone, as if he were afraid a passer-by might overhear him. “Don’t say anything about it, but there’s a screw loose.”
“The deuce! But how do you mean?”
“They say the Rads are going to throw us over.”
“Talk, talk. They have threatened this half-a-dozen times. Smoke, sir; it will end in smoke.”
“I hope it may; but I know, in great confidence mind you, that Lord John was saying something about it yesterday.”
“That may be; I believe our fellows are heartily sick of the business, and perhaps would be glad of an excuse to break up the government: but we must not have Peel in; nothing could prevent a dissolution.”
“Their fellows go about and say that Peel would not dissolve if he came in.”
“He has had enough of dissolutions they say.”
“Why, after all they have not done him much harm. Even — 34 was a hit.”
“Whoever dissolves,” said Mr Egerton, “I don’t think there will be much of a majority either way in our time.”
“We have seen strange things,” said Mr Berners.
“They never would think of breaking up the government without making their peers,” said Mr Egerton.
“The Queen is not over partial to making more peers; and when parties are in the present state of equality, the Sovereign is no longer a mere pageant.”
“They say her Majesty is more touched about these affairs of the Chartists than anything else,” said Mr Egerton.
“They are rather queer; but for my part I have no serious fears of a Jacquerie.”
“Not if it comes to an outbreak; but a passive resistance Jacquerie is altogether a different thing. When we see a regular Convention assembled in London and holding its daily meetings in Palace Yard; and a general inclination evinced throughout the country to refrain from the consumption of exciseable articles, I cannot help thinking that affairs are more serious than you imagine. I know the government are all on the ‘qui vive.’”
“Just the fellows we wanted!” exclaimed Lord Fitz–Heron, who was leaning on the arm of Lord Milford, and who met Mr Egerton and his friend in Pall Mall.
“We want a brace of pairs,” said Lord Milford. “Will you two fellows pair?”
“I must go down,” said Mr Egerton; “but I will pair from halfpast seven to eleven.”
“I just paired with Ormsby at White’s,” said Berners; “not half an hour ago. We are both going to dine at Eskdale’s, and so it was arranged. Have you any news today?”
“Nothing; except that they say that Alfred Mountchesney is going to marry Lady Joan Fitz–Warene,” said Lord Milford.
“She has been given to so many,” said Mr Egerton.
“It is always so with these great heiresses,” said his companion. “They never marry. They cannot bear the thought of sharing their money. I bet Lady Joan will turn out another specimen of the TABITHA CROESUS.”
“Well, put down our pair, Egerton,” said Lord Fitz–Heron. “You do not dine at Sidonia’s by any chance?”
“Would that I did! You will have the best dishes and the best guests. I feed at old Malton’s; perhaps a tete a tete: Scotch broth, and to tell him the news!”
“There is nothing like being a dutiful nephew, particularly when one’s uncle is a bachelor and has twenty thousand a-year,” said Lord Milford. “Au revoir! I suppose there will be no division to-night.”
Egerton and Berners walked on a little further. As they came to the Golden Ball, a lady quitting the shop was just about to get into her carriage; she stopped as she recognized them. It was Lady Firebrace.
“Ah! Mr Berners, how d’ye do? You were just the person I wanted to see! How is Lady Augusta, Mr Egerton? You have no idea, Mr Berners, how I have been fighting your battles!”
“Really, Lady Firebrace,” said Mr Berners rather uneasy, for he had perhaps like most of us a peculiar dislike to being attacked or cheapened. “You are too good.”
“Oh! I don’t care what a person’s politics are!” exclaimed Lady Firebrace with an air of affectionate devotion. “I should be very glad indeed to see you one of us. You know your father was! But if any one is my friend I never will hear him attacked behind his back without fighting his battles; and I certainly did fight yours last night.”
“Pray tell me where it was?”
“Lady Crumbleford —”
“Confound Lady Crumbleford!” said Mr Berners indignant but a little relieved.
“No, no; Lady Crumbleford told Lady Alicia Severn.”
“Yes, yes,” said Berners, a little pale, for he was touched.
“But I cannot stop,” said Lady Firebrace. “I must be with Lady St Julians exactly at a quarter past four;” and she sprang into her carriage.
“I would sooner meet any woman in London than Lady Firebrace,” said Mr Berners; “she makes me uneasy for the day: she contrives to convince me that the whole world are employed behind my back in abusing or ridiculing me.”
“It is her way,” said Egerton; “she proves her zeal by showing you that you are odious. It is very successful with people of weak nerves. Scared at their general unpopularity, they seek refuge with the very person who at the same time assures them of their odium and alone believes it unjust. She rules that poor old goose, Lady Gramshawe, who feels that Lady Firebrace makes her life miserable, but is convinced that if she break with the torturer, she loses her only friend.”
“There goes a man who is as much altered as any fellow of our time.”
“Not in his looks; I was thinking the other night that he was better-looking than ever.”
“Oh! no; not in his looks; but in his life. I was at Christchurch with him, and we entered the world about the same time. I was rather before him. He did everything; and did it well. And now one never sees him, except at the House. He goes nowhere; and they tell me he is a regular reading man.”
“Do you think he looks to office?”
“He does not put himself forward.”
“He attends; and his brother will always be able to get anything for him,” said Egerton.
“Oh! he and Marney never speak; they hate each other.”
“By Jove! However there is his mother; with this marriage of hers and Deloraine House, she will be their grandest dame.”
“She is the only good woman the tories have: I think their others do them harm, from Lady St Julians down to your friend Lady Firebrace. I wish Lady Deloraine were with us. She keeps their men together wonderfully; makes her house agreeable; and then her manner — it certainly is perfect; natural, and yet refined.”
“Lady Mina Blake has an idea that far from looking to office, Egremont’s heart is faintly with his party; and that if it were not for the Marchioness —”
“We might gain him, eh?”
“Hem; I hardly know that: he has got crotchets about the people I am told.”
“What, the ballot and household suffrage?”
“Gad, I believe it is quite a different sort of a thing. I do not know what it is exactly; but I understand he is crotchetty.”
“Well, that will not do for Peel. He does not like crotchetty men. Do you see that, Egerton?”
At this moment, Mr Egerton and his friend were about to step over from Trafalgar square to Charing Cross. They observed the carriages of Lady St Julians and the Marchioness of Deloraine drawn up side by side in the middle of the street, and those two eminent stateswomen in earnest conversation. Egerton and Berners bowed and smiled, but could not hear the brief but not uninteresting words that have nevertheless reached us.
“I give them eleven,” said Lady St Julians.
“Well, Charles tells me,” said Lady Deloraine, “that Sir Thomas says so, and he certainly is generally right; but it is not Charles’ own opinion.”
“Sir Thomas, I know, gives them eleven,” said Lady St Julians; “and that would satisfy me; and we will say eleven. But I have a list here,” and she slightly elevated her brow, and then glanced at Lady Deloraine with a piquant air, “which proves that they cannot have more than nine; but this is in the greatest confidence: of course between us there can be no secrets. It is Mr Tadpole’s list; nobody has seen it but me; not even Sir Robert. Lord Grubminster has had a stroke: they are concealing it, but Mr Tadpole has found it out. They wanted to pair him off with Colonel Fantomme, who they think is dying: but Mr Tadpole has got a Mesmerist who has done wonders for him, and who has guaranteed that he shall vote. Well, that makes a difference of one.”
“And then Sir Henry Churton —”
“Oh! you know it,” said Lady St Julians, looking slightly mortified. “Yes: he votes with us.”
Lady Deloraine shook her head. “I think,” she said, “I know the origin of that report. Quite a mistake. He is in a bad humour, has been so the whole session, and he was at Lady Alice Fermyne’s, and did say all sorts of things. All that is true. But he told Charles this morning on a committee, that he should vote with the Government.”
“Stupid man!” exclaimed Lady St Julians; “I never could bear him. And I have sent his vulgar wife and great staring daughter a card for next Wednesday! Well, I hope affairs will soon be brought to a crisis, for I do not think I can bear much longer this life of perpetual sacrifice,” added Lady St Julians a little out of temper, both because she had lost a vote and found her friend and rival better informed than herself.
“There is no chance of a division to-night,” said Lady Deloraine.
“That is settled,” said Lady St Julians. “Adieu, my dear friend. We meet, I believe, at dinner?”
“Plotting,” said Mr Egerton to Mr Berners, as they passed the great ladies.
“The only consolation one has,” said Berners, “is, that if they do turn us out, Lady Deloraine and Lady St Julians must quarrel, for they both want the same thing.”
“Lady Deloraine will have it,” said Egerton.
Here they picked up Mr Jermyn, a young tory M.P., who perhaps the reader may remember at Mowbray Castle; and they walked on together, Egerton and Berners trying to pump him as to the expectations of his friends.
“How will Trodgits go?” said Egerton.
“I think Trodgits will stay away,” said Jermyn.
“Who do you give that new man to — that north-country borough fellow; — what’s his name?” said Berners.
“Blugsby! Oh, Blugsby dined with Peel,” said Jermyn.
“Our fellows say dinners are no good,” said Egerton; “and they certainly are a cursed bore: but you may depend upon it they do for the burgesses. We don’t dine our men half enough. Now Blugsby was just the sort of fellow to be caught by dining with Peel: and I dare say they made Peel remember to take wine with him. We got Melbourne to give a grand feed the other day to some of our men who want attention they say, and he did not take wine with a single guest. He forgot. I wonder what they are doing at the House! Here’s Spencer May, he will tell us. Well, what is going on?”
“WISHY is up, and WASHY follows.”
“No division, of course?”
“Not a chance; a regular covey ready on both sides.”
On the morning of the same day that Mr Egerton and his friend Mr Berners walked down together to the House of Commons, as appears in our last chapter, Egremont had made a visit to his mother, who had married since the commencement of this history the Marquis of Deloraine, a great noble who had always been her admirer. The family had been established by a lawyer, and recently in our history. The present Lord Deloraine, though he was gartered and had been a viceroy, was only the grandson of an attorney, but one who, conscious of his powers, had been called to the bar and died an exchancellor. A certain talent was hereditary in the family. The attorney’s son had been a successful courtier, and had planted himself in the cabinet for a quarter of a century. It was a maxim in this family to make great alliances; so the blood progressively refined, and the connections were always distinguished by power and fashion. It was a great hit, in the second generation of an earldom, to convert the coronet into that of a marquis; but the son of the old chancellor lived in stirring times, and cruised for his object with the same devoted patience with which Lord Anson watched for the galleon. It came at last, as everything does if men are firm and calm. The present marquis, through his ancestry and his first wife, was allied with the highest houses of the realm and looked their peer. He might have been selected as the personification of aristocracy: so noble was his appearance, so distinguished his manner; his bow gained every eye, his smile every heart. He was also very accomplished, and not ill-informed; had read a little, and thought a little, and was in every respect a most superior man; alike famed for his favour by the fair, and the constancy of his homage to the charming Lady Marney.
Lord Deloraine was not very rich; but he was not embarrassed, and had the appearance of princely wealth; a splendid family mansion with a courtyard; a noble country-seat with a magnificent park, including a quite celebrated lake, but with very few farms attached to it. He however held a good patent place which had been conferred on his descendants by the old chancellor, and this brought in annually some thousands. His marriage with Lady Marney was quite an affair of the heart; her considerable jointure however did not diminish the lustre of his position.
It was this impending marriage, and the anxiety of Lady Marney to see Egremont’s affairs settled before it took place, which about a year and a half ago had induced her to summon him so urgently from Mowedale, which the reader perhaps may have not forgotten. And now Egremont is paying one of his almost daily visits to his mother at Deloraine House.
“A truce to politics, my dear Charles,” said Lady Marney; “you must be wearied with my inquiries. Besides, I do not take the sanguine view of affairs in which some of our friends indulge. I am one of those who think the pear is not ripe. These men will totter on, and longer perhaps than even themselves imagine. I want to speak of something very different. To-morrow, my dear son, is your birth-day. Now I should grieve were it to pass without your receiving something which showed that its recollection was cherished by your mother. But of all silly things in the world, the silliest is a present that is not wanted. It destroys the sentiment a little perhaps but it enhances the gift, if I ask you in the most literal manner to assist me in giving you something that really would please you?”
“But how can I, my dear mother?” said Egremont. “You have ever been so kind and so generous that I literally want nothing.”
“Oh! you cannot be such a fortunate man as to want nothing, Charles,” said Lady Marney with a smile. “A dressing-case you have: your rooms are furnished enough: all this is in my way; but there are such things as horses and guns of which I know nothing, but which men always require. You must want a horse or a gun, Charles. Well, I should like you to get either; the finest, the most valuable that money can purchase. Or a brougham, Charles; what do you think of a new brougham? Would you like that Barker should build you a brougham?”
“You are too good, my dear mother. I have horses and guns enough; and my present carriage is all I can desire.”
“You will not assist me, then? You are resolved that I shall do something very stupid. For to give you something I am determined.”
“Well my dear mother,” said Egremont smiling and looking round, “give me something that is here.”
“Choose then,” said Lady Marney, and she looked round the blue satin walls of her apartment, covered with cabinet pictures of exquisite art, and then at her tables crowded with precious and fantastic toys.
“It would be plunder, my dear mother,” said Egremont.
“No, no; you have said it; you shall choose something. Will you have those vases?” and she pointed to an almost matchless specimen of old Sevres porcelain.
“They are in too becoming a position to be disturbed,” said Egremont, “and would ill suit my quiet chambers, where a bronze or a marble is my greatest ornament. If you would permit me, I would rather choose a picture?”
“Then select one at once,” said Lady Marney; “I make no reservation, except that Watteau, for it was given me by your father before we were married. Shall it be this Cuyp?”
“I would rather choose this,” said Egremont, and he pointed to the portrait of a saint by Allori: the face of a beautiful young girl, radiant and yet solemn, with rich tresses of golden brown hair, and large eyes dark as night, fringed with ebon lashes that hung upon the glowing cheek.
“Ah! you choose that! Well, that was a great favourite of poor Sir Thomas Lawrence. But for my part I have never seen any one in the least like it, and I think I am sure that you have not.”
“It reminds me —” said Egremont musingly.
“Of what you have dreamed,” said Lady Marney.
“Perhaps so,” said Egremont; “indeed I think it must have been a dream.”
“Well, the vision shall still hover before you,” said his mother; “and you shall find this portrait tomorrow over your chimney in the Albany.”
“Strangers must withdraw.”
“Division: clear the gallery. Withdraw.”
“Nonsense; no; it’s quite ridiculous; quite absurd. Some fellow must get up. Send to the Carlton; send to the Reform; send to Brookes’s. Are your men ready? No; are your’s? I am sure I can’t say. What does it mean? Most absurd! Are there many fellows in the library? The smoking-room is quite full. All our men are paired till half-past eleven. It wants five minutes to the halfhour. What do you think of Trenchard’s speech? I don’t care for ourselves; I am sorry for him. Well that is very charitable. Withdraw, withdraw; you must withdraw.”
“Where are you going, Fitztheron?” said a Conservative whipling.
“I must go; I am paired till half-past eleven, and it wants some minutes, and my man is not here.”
“How will it go?”
“Gad, I don’t know.”
“Deuced!” said the under-whip in an under-tone, pale and speaking behind his teeth.
The division bell was still ringing; peers and diplomatists and strangers were turned out; members came rushing in from library and smoking-room; some desperate cabs just arrived in time to land their passengers in the waiting-room. The doors were locked.
The mysteries of the Lobby are only for the initiated. Three quarters of an hour after the division was called, the result was known to the exoteric world. Majority for Ministers thirty-seven! Never had the opposition made such a bad division, and this too on their trial of strength for the session. Everything went wrong. Lord Milford was away without a pair. Mr Ormsby, who had paired with Mr Berners, never came, and let his man poll; for which he was infinitely accursed, particularly by the expectant twelve hundred a-yearers, but not wanting anything himself, and having an income of forty thousand pounds paid quarterly, Mr Ormsby bore their reported indignation like a lamb.
There were several other similar or analogous mischances; the whigs contrived to poll Lord Grubminster in a wheeled chair; he was unconscious but had heard as much of the debate as a good many. Colonel Fantomme on the other hand could not come to time; the mesmerist had thrown him into a trance from which it was fated he should never awake: but the crash of the night was a speech made against the opposition by one of their own men, Mr Trenchard, who voted with the government.
“The rest may be accounted for,” said Lady St Julians to Lady Deloraine the morning after; “it is simply vexatious; it was a surprise and will be a lesson: but this affair of this Mr Trenchard — and they tell me that William Loraine was absolutely cheering him the whole time — what does it mean? Do you know the man?”
“I have heard Charles speak of him, and I think much in his favour,” said Lady Deloraine; “if he were here, he would tell us more about it. I wonder he does not come: he never misses looking in after a great division and giving me all the news.”
“Do you know, my dear friend,” said Lady St Julians with an air of some solemnity, “I am half meditating a great stroke? This is not a time for trifling. It is all very well for these people to boast of their division of last night, but it was a surprise, and as great to them as to us. I know there is dissension in the camp; ever since that Finality speech of Lord John, there has been a smouldering sedition. Mr Tadpole knows all about it; he has liaisons with the frondeurs. This affair of Trenchard may do us the greatest possible injury. When it comes to a fair fight, the government have not more than twelve or so. If this Mr Trenchard and three or four others choose to make themselves of importance — you see? The danger is imminent, it must be met with decision.”
“And what do you propose doing?”
“Has he a wife?”
“I really do not know. I wish Charles would come, perhaps he could tell us.”
“I have no doubt he has,” said Lady St Julians. “One would have met him, somehow or other in the course of two years, if he had not been married. Well, married or unmarried, with his wife, or without his wife — I shall send him a card for Wednesday.” And Lady St Julians paused, overwhelmed as it were by the commensurate vastness of her idea and her sacrifice.
“Do not you think it would be rather sudden?” said Lady Deloraine.
“What does that signify? He will understand it; he will have gained his object; and all will be right.”
“But are you sure it is his object? We do not know the man.”
“What else can be his object?” said Lady St Julians. “People get into Parliament to get on; their aims are indefinite. If they have indulged in hallucinations about place before they enter the House, they are soon freed from such distempered fancies; they find they have no more talent than other people, and if they had, they learn that power, patronage and pay are reserved for us and our friends. Well then like practical men, they look to some result, and they get it. They are asked out to dinner more than they would be; they move rigmarole resolutions at nonsensical public meetings; and they get invited with their women to assemblies at their leader’s where they see stars and blue ribbons, and above all, us, whom they little think in appearing on such occasions, make the greatest conceivable sacrifice. Well then, of course such people are entirely in one’s power, if one only had time and inclination to notice them. You can do anything with them. Ask them to a ball, and they will give you their votes; invite them to dinner and if necessary they will rescind them; but cultivate them, remember their wives at assemblies and call their daughters, if possible, by their right names; and they will not only change their principles or desert their party for you; but subscribe their fortunes if necessary and lay down their lives in your service.”
“You paint them to the life, my dear Lady St Julians,” said Lady Deloraine laughing; “but with such knowledge and such powers, why did you not save our boroughs?”
“We had lost our heads, then, I must confess,” said Lady St Julians. “What with the dear King and the dear Duke, we really had brought ourselves to believe that we lived in the days of Versailles or nearly; and I must admit I think we had become a little too exclusive. Out of the cottage circle, there was really no world, and after all we were lost not by insulting the people but by snubbing the aristocracy.”
The servant announced Lady Firebrace. “Oh! my dear Lady Deloraine. Oh! my dear Lady St Julians!” and she shook her head.
“You have no news, I suppose,” said Lady St Julians.
“Only about that dreadful Mr Trenchard; you know the reason why he ratted?”
“No, indeed,” said Lady St Julians with a sigh.
“An invitation to Lansdowne House, for himself and his wife!”
“Oh! he is married then?”
“Yes; she is at the bottom of it all. Terms regularly settled beforehand. I have a note here — all the facts.” And Lady Firebrace twirled in her hand a bulletin from Mr Tadpole.
“Lansdowne House is destined to cross me,” said Lady St Julians with bitterness.
“Well it is very provoking,” said Lady Deloraine, “when you had made up your mind to ask them for Wednesday.”
“Yes, that alone is a sacrifice,” said Lady St Julians.
“Talking over the division I suppose,” said Egremont as he entered.
“Ah! Mr Egremont,” said Lady St Julians. “What a hachis you made of it.”
Lady Firebrace shook her head, as it were reproachfully.
“Charles,” said Lady Deloraine, “we were talking of this Mr Trenchard. Did I not once hear you say you knew something of him?”
“Why, he is one of my intimate acquaintance.”
“Heavens! what a man for a friend!” said Lady St Julians.
“Heavens!” echoed Lady Firebrace raising her hands.
“And why did you not present him to me, Charles,” said Lady Deloraine.
“I did; at Lady Peel’s.”
“And why did you not ask him here?”
“I did several times; but he would not come.”
“He is going to Lansdowne House, though,” said Lady Firebrace.
“I suppose you wrote the leading article in the Standard which I have just read,” said Egremont smiling. “It announces in large type the secret reasons of Mr Trenchard’s vote.”
“It is a fact,” said Lady Firebrace.
“That Trenchard is going to Lansdowne House to-night; very likely. I have met him at Lansdowne House half-a-dozen times. He is very intimate with the family and lives in the same county.”
“But his wife,” said Lady Firebrace; “that’s the point: he never could get his wife there before.”
“He has none,” said Egremont very quietly.
“Then we may regain him,” said Lady St Julians with energy. “You shall make a little dinner to Greenwich, Mr Egremont, and I will sit next to him.”
“Fortunate Trenchard!” said Egremont. “But do you know I fear he is hardly worthy of his lot. He has a horror of fine ladies; and there is nothing in the world he more avoids than what you call society. At home, as this morning when I breakfasted with him, or in a circle of his intimates, he is the best company in the world; no one so well informed, fuller of rich humour, and more sincerely amiable. He is popular with all who know him — except Taper, Lady St Julians, and Tadpole, Lady Firebrace.”
“Well, I think I will ask him still for Wednesday,” said Lady St Julians; “and I will write him a little note. If society is not his object, what is?”
“Ay!” said Egremont, “there is a great question for you and Lady Firebrace to ponder over. This is a lesson for you fine ladies, who think you can govern the world by what you call your social influences: asking people once or twice a-year to an inconvenient crowd in your house; now haughtily smirking, and now impertinently staring, at them; and flattering yourselves all this time, that to have the occasional privilege of entering your saloons and the periodical experience of your insolent recognition, is to be a reward for great exertions, or if necessary an inducement to infamous tergiversation.”
It was night: clear and serene, though the moon had not risen; and a vast concourse of persons were assembling on Mowbray Moor. The chief gathering collected in the vicinity of some huge rocks, one of which, preeminent above its fellows, and having a broad flat head, on which some twenty persons might easily stand at the same time, was called the Druid’s Altar. The ground about was strewn with stony fragments, covered tonight with human beings, who found a convenient resting-place amid these ruins of some ancient temple or relics of some ancient world. The shadowy concourse increased, the dim circle of the nocturnal assemblage each moment spread and widened; there was the hum and stir of many thousands. Suddenly in the distance the sound of martial music: and instantly, quick as the lightning and far more wild, each person present brandished a flaming torch, amid a chorus of cheers, that, renewed and resounding, floated far away over the broad bosom of the dusk wilderness.
The music and the banners denoted the arrival of the leaders of the people. They mounted the craggy ascent that led to the summit of the Druid’s Altar, and there, surrounded by his companions, amid the enthusiastic shouts of the multitude, Walter Gerard came forth to address a TORCH-LIGHT MEETING.
His tall form seemed colossal in the uncertain and flickering light, his rich and powerful voice reached almost to the utmost limit of his vast audience, now still with expectation and silent with excitement. Their fixed and eager glance, the mouth compressed with fierce resolution or distended by novel sympathy, as they listened to the exposition of their wrongs, and the vindication of the sacred rights of labour — the shouts and waving of the torches as some bright or bold phrase touched them to the quick — the cause, the hour, the scene — all combined to render the assemblage in a high degree exciting.
“I wonder if Warner will speak to-night,” said Dandy Mick to Devilsdust.
“He can’t pitch it in like Gerard,” replied his companion.
“But he is a trump in the tender,” said the Dandy. “The Handlooms looks to him as their man, and that’s a powerful section.”
“If you come to the depth of a question, there’s nothing like Stephen Morley,” said Devilsdust. “‘Twould take six clergymen any day to settle him. He knows the principles of society by heart. But Gerard gets hold of the passions.”
“And that’s the way to do the trick,” said Dandy Mick. “I wish he would say march, and no mistake.”
“There is a great deal to do before saying that,” said Devilsdust. “We must have discussion, because when it comes to reasoning, the oligarchs have not got a leg to stand on; and we must stop the consumption of exciseable articles, and when they have no tin to pay the bayonets and their b — y police, they are dished.”
“You have a long head, Dusty,” said Mick.
“Why I have been thinking of it ever since I knew two and two made four,” said his friend. “I was not ten years old when I said to myself — It’s a pretty go this, that I should be toiling in a shoddy-hole to pay the taxes for a gentleman what drinks his port wine and stretches his legs on a Turkey carpet. Hear, hear,” he suddenly exclaimed, as Gerard threw off a stinging sentence. “Ah! that’s the man for the people. You will see, Mick, whatever happens, Gerard is the man who will always lead.”
Gerard had ceased amid enthusiastic plaudits, and Warner — that hand-loom weaver whom the reader may recollect, and who had since become a popular leader and one of the principal followers of Gerard — had also addressed the multitude. They had cheered and shouted, and voted resolutions, and the business of the night was over. Now they were enjoined to disperse in order and depart in peace. The band sounded a triumphant retreat; the leaders had descended from the Druid’s Altar; the multitude were melting away, bearing back to the town their high resolves and panting thoughts, and echoing in many quarters the suggestive appeals of those who had addressed them. Dandy Mick and Devilsdust departed together; the business of their night had not yet commenced, and it was an important one.
They took their way to that suburb whither Gerard and Morley repaired the evening of their return from Marney Abbey; but it was not on this occasion to pay a visit to Chaffing Jack and his brilliant saloon. Winding through many obscure lanes, Mick and his friend at length turned into a passage which ended in a square court of a not inconsiderable size, and which was surrounded by high buildings that had the appearance of warehouses. Entering one of these, and taking up a dim lamp that was placed on the stone of an empty hearth, Devilsdust led his friend through several unoccupied and unfurnished rooms, until he came to one in which there were some signs of occupation.
“Now, Mick,” said he, in a very earnest, almost solemn tone, “are you firm?”
“All right, my hearty,” replied his friend, though not without some affectation of ease.
“There is a good deal to go through,” said Devilsdust. “It tries a man.”
“You don’t mean that?”
“But if you are firm, all’s right. Now I must leave you.”
“No, no, Dusty,” said Mick.
“I must go,” said Devilsdust; “and you must rest here till you are sent for. Now mind — whatever is bid you, obey; and whatever you see, be quiet. There,” and Devilsdust taking a flask out of his pocket, held it forth to his friend, “give a good pull, man, I can’t leave it you, for though your heart must be warm, your head must be cool,” and so saying he vanished.
Notwithstanding the animating draught, the heart of Mick Radley trembled. There are some moments when the nervous system defies even brandy. Mick was on the eve of a great and solemn incident, round which for years his imagination had gathered and brooded. Often in that imagination he had conceived the scene, and successfully confronted its perils or its trials. Often had the occasion been the drama of many a triumphant reverie, but the stern presence of reality had dispelled all his fancy and all his courage. He recalled the warning of Julia, who had often dissuaded him from the impending step; that warning received with so much scorn and treated with so much levity. He began to think that women were always right; that Devilsdust was after all a dangerous counsellor; he even meditated over the possibility of a retreat. He looked around him: the glimmering lamp scarcely indicated the outline of the obscure chamber. It was lofty, nor in the obscurity was it possible for the eye to reach the ceiling, which several huge beams seemed to cross transversally, looming in the darkness. There was apparently no windows, and the door by which they had entered was not easily to be recognised. Mick had just taken up the lamp and was surveying his position, when a slight noise startled him, and looking round he beheld at some little distance two forms which he hoped were human.
Enveloped in dark cloaks and wearing black masks, a conical cap of the same colour adding to their considerable height, each held a torch. They stood in silence — two awful sentries.
Their appearance appalled, their stillness terrified, Mick: he remained with his mouth open and the lamp in his extended arm. At length, unable any longer to sustain the solemn mystery, and plucking up his natural audacity, he exclaimed, “I say, what do you want?”
All was silent.
“Come, come,” said Mick much alarmed; “none of this sort of thing. I say, you must speak though.”
The figures advanced: they stuck their torches in a niche that was by; and then they placed each of them a hand on the shoulder of Mick.
“No, no; none of that,” said Mick, trying to disembarrass himself.
But, notwithstanding this fresh appeal, one of the silent masks pinioned his arms; and in a moment the eyes of the helpless friend of Devilsdust were bandaged.
Conducted by these guides, it seemed to Mick that he was traversing interminable rooms, or rather galleries, for once stretching out his arm, while one of his supporters had momentarily quitted him to open some gate or door, Mick touched a wall. At length one of the masks spoke, and said, “In five minutes you will be in the presence of the SEVEN— prepare.”
At this moment rose the sound of distant voices singing in concert, and gradually increasing in volume as Mick and the masks advanced. One of these attendants now notifying to their charge that he must kneel down, Mick found he rested on a cushion, while at the same time his arms still pinioned, he seemed to be left alone.
The voices became louder and louder; Mick could distinguish the words and burthen of the hymn; he was sensible that many persons were entering the apartment; he could distinguish the measured tread of some solemn procession. Round the chamber, more than once, they moved with slow and awful step. Suddenly that movement ceased; there was a pause of a few minutes; at length a voice spoke. “I denounce John Briars.”
“Why?” said another.
“He offers to take nothing but piece-work; the man who does piece-work is guilty of less defensible conduct than a drunkard. The worst passions of our nature are enlisted in support of piece-work. Avarice, meanness, cunning, hypocrisy, all excite and feed upon the miserable votary who works by the task and not by the hour. A man who earns by piece-work forty shillings per week, the usual wages for day-work being twenty, robs his fellows of a week’s employment; therefore I denounce John Briars.”
“Let it go forth,” said the other voice; “John Briars is denounced. If he receive another week’s wages by the piece, he shall not have the option of working the week after for time. No.87, see to John Briars.”
“I denounce Claughton and Hicks,” said another voice.
“They have removed Gregory Ray from being a superintendent, because he belonged to this lodge.”
“Brethren, is it your pleasure that there shall be a turn out for ten days at Claughton and Hicks?”
“It is our pleasure,” cried several voices.
“No.34, give orders tomorrow that the works at Claughton and Hicks stop till further orders.”
“Brethren,” said another voice, “I propose the expulsion from this Union, of any member who shall be known to boast of his superior ability, as to either the quantity or quality of work he can do, either in public or private company. Is it your pleasure?”
“It is our pleasure.”
“Brethren,” said a voice that seemed a presiding one, “before we proceed to the receipt of the revenue from the different districts of this lodge, there is I am informed a stranger present, who prays to be admitted into our fraternity. Are all robed in the mystic robe? Are all masked in the secret mask?”
“Then let us pray!” And thereupon after a movement which intimated that all present were kneeling, the presiding voice offered up an extemporary prayer of great power and even eloquence. This was succeeded by the Hymn of Labour, and at its conclusion the arms of the neophyte were unpinioned, and then his eyes were unbandaged.
Mick found himself in a lofty and spacious room lighted with many tapers. Its walls were hung with black cloth; at a table covered with the same material, were seated seven persons in surplices and masked, the president on a loftier seat; above which on a pedestal was a skeleton complete. On each side of the skeleton was a man robed and masked, holding a drawn sword; and on each of Mick was a man in the same garb holding a battle-axe. On the table was the sacred volume open, and at a distance, ranged in order on each side of the room, was a row of persons in white robes and white masks, and holding torches.
“Michael Radley,” said the President. “Do you voluntarily swear in the presence of Almighty God and before these witnesses, that you will execute with zeal and alacrity, as far as in you lies, every task and injunction that the majority of your brethren testified by the mandate of this grand committee, shall impose upon you, in futherance of our common welfare, of which they are the sole judges; such as the chastisement of Nobs, the assassination of oppressive and tyrannical masters, or the demolition of all mills, works and shops that shall be deemed by us incorrigible. Do you swear this in the presence of Almighty God and before these witnesses?”
“I do swear it,” replied a tremulous voice.
“Then rise and kiss that book.”
Mick slowly rose from his kneeling position, advanced with a trembling step, and bending, embraced with reverence the open volume.
Immediately every one unmasked; Devilsdust came forward, and taking Mick by the hand led him to the President, who received him pronouncing some mystic rhymes. He was covered with a robe and presented with a torch, and then ranged in order with his companions. Thus terminated the initiation of Dandy Mick into a TRADES UNION.
“His lordship has not yet rung his bell, gentlemen.”
It was the valet of Lord Milford that spoke, addressing from the door of a house in Belgrave Square, about noon, a deputation from the National Convention, consisting of two of its delegates, who waited on the young viscount in common with other members of the legislature, in order to call his particular attention to the National Petition which the Convention had prepared, and which in the course of the session was to be presented by one of the members for Birmingham.
“I fear we are too early for these fine birds,” said one delegate to the other. “Who is next on our list?”
“No. 27, — Street, close by; Mr THOROUGH BASE: he ought to be with the people, for his father was only a fiddler; but I understand he is quite an aristocrat and has married a widow of quality.”
Mr Thorough Base was not at home; had received the card of the delegates apprising him of the honour of their intended visit, but had made up his mind on the subject.
No.18 in the same street received them more courteously. Here resided Mr KREMLIN, who after listening with patience if not with interest, to their statement, apprised them that forms of government were of no consequence, and domestic policy of no interest; that there was only one subject which should engage the attention of public men, because everything depended on it — that was our external system; and that the only specific for a revival of trade and the contentment of the people, was a general settlement of the boundary questions. Finally, Mr Kremlin urged upon the National Convention to recast their petition with this view, assuring them that on foreign policy they would have the public with them.
The deputation in reply might have referred as an evidence of the general interest excited by questions of foreign policy, to the impossibility even of a leader making a house on one; and to the fact that there are not three men in the House of Commons who even pretend to have any acquaintance with the external circumstances of the country; they might have added, that even in such an assembly Mr Kremlin himself was distinguished for ignorance, for he had only one idea — and that was wrong.
Their next visit was to WRIGGLE, a member for a metropolitan district, a disciple of Progress, who went with the times, but who took particular good care to ascertain their complexion; and whose movements if expedient could partake of a regressive character. As the Charter might some day turn up trumps as well as so many other unexpected cards and colours, Wriggle gave his adhesion to it, but of course only provisionally; provided that is to say, he might vote against it at present. But he saw no harm in it — not he, and should be prepared to support it when circumstances, that is to say the temper of the times, would permit him. More could hardly be expected from a gentleman in the delicate position in which Wriggle found himself at this moment, for he had solicited a baronetcy of the whigs, and had secretly pledged himself to Taper to vote against them on the impending Jamaica division.
BOMBASTES RIP snubbed them, which was hard, for he had been one of themselves, had written confidential letters in 1831 to the secretary of the Treasury, and “provided his expenses were paid,” offered to come up from the manufacturing town he now represented, at the head of a hundred thousand men, and burn down Apsley House. But now Bombastes Rip talked of the great middle class; of public order and public credit. He would have said more to them, but had an appointment in the city, being a most active member of the committee for raising a statue to the Duke of Wellington.
FLOATWELL received them in the politest manner, though he did not agree with them. What he did agree with was difficult to say. Clever, brisk, and bustling, with an university reputation and without patrimony, Floatwell shrunk from the toils of a profession, and in the hurry skurry of reform found himself to his astonishment a parliament man. There he had remained, but why, the Fates alone knew. The fun of such a thing must have evaporated with the novelty. Floatwell had entered public life in complete ignorance of every subject which could possibly engage the attention of a public man. He knew nothing of history, national or constitutional law, had indeed none but puerile acquirements, and had seen nothing of life. Assiduous at committees he gained those superficial habits of business which are competent to the conduct of ordinary affairs, and picked up in time some of the slang of economical questions. Floatwell began at once with a little success, and he kept his little success; nobody envied him it; he hoarded his sixpences without exciting any evil emulation. He was one of those characters who above all things shrink from isolation, and who imagine they are getting on if they are keeping company with some who stick like themselves. He was always an idolater of some great personage who was on the shelf, and who he was convinced, because the great personage assured him of it after dinner, would sooner or later turn out the man. At present, Floatwell swore by Lord Dunderhead; and the game of this little coterie, who dined together and thought they were a party, was to be courteous to the Convention.
After the endurance of an almost interminable lecture on the currency from Mr KITE, who would pledge himself to the charter if the charter would pledge itself to one-pound notes, the two delegates had arrived in Piccadilly, and the next member upon their list was Lord Valentine.
“It is two o’clock,” said one of the delegates, “I think we may venture;” so they knocked at the portal of the court yard, and found they were awaited.
A private staircase led to the suite of rooms of Lord Valentine, who lived in the family mansion. The delegates were ushered through an ante-chamber into a saloon which opened into a very fanciful conservatory, where amid tall tropical plants played a fountain. The saloon was hung with blue satin, and adorned with brilliant mirrors: its coved ceiling was richly painted, and its furniture became the rest of its decorations. On one sofa were a number of portfolios, some open, full of drawings of costumes; a table of pietra dura was covered with richly bound volumes that appeared to have been recently referred to; several ancient swords of extreme beauty were lying on a couch; in a corner of the room was a figure in complete armour, black and gold richly inlaid, and grasping in its gauntlet the ancient standard of England.
The two delegates of the National Convention stared at each other, as if to express their surprise that a dweller in such an abode should ever have permitted them to enter it; but ere either of them could venture to speak, Lord Valentine made his appearance.
He was a young man, above the middle height, slender, broad-shouldered, small-waisted, of a graceful presence; he was very fair, with dark blue eyes, bright and intelligent, and features of classic precision; a small Greek cap crowned his long light-brown hair, and he was enveloped in a morning robe of Indian shawls.
“Well, gentlemen,” said his lordship, as he invited them to be seated, in a clear and cheerful voice, and with an unaffected tone of frankness which put his guests at their ease; “I promised to see you; well, what have you got to say?”
The delegates made their accustomed statement; they wished to pledge no one; all that the people desired was a respectful discussion of their claims; the national petition, signed by nearly a million and a half of the flower of the working classes, was shortly to be presented to the House of Commons, praying the House to take into consideration the five points in which the working classes deemed their best interests involved; to wit, universal suffrage, vote by ballot, annual parliaments, salaried members, and the abolition of the property qualification.
“And supposing these five points conceded,” said Lord Valentine, “what do you mean to do?”
“The people then being at length really represented,” replied one of the delegates, “they would decide upon the measures which the interests of the great majority require.”
“I am not so clear about that,” said Lord Valentine; “that is the very point at issue. I do not think the great majority are the best judges of their own interests. At all events, gentlemen, the respective advantages of aristocracy and democracy are a moot point. Well then, finding the question practically settled in this country, you will excuse me for not wishing to agitate it. I give you complete credit for the sincerity of your convictions; extend the same confidence to me. You are democrats; I am an aristocrat. My family has been ennobled for nearly three centuries; they bore a knightly name before their elevation. They have mainly and materially assisted in making England what it is. They have shed their blood in many battles; I have had two ancestors killed in the command of our fleets. You will not underrate such services, even if you do not appreciate their conduct as statesmen, though that has often been laborious, and sometimes distinguished. The finest trees in England were planted by my family; they raised several of your most beautiful churches; they have built bridges, made roads, dug mines, and constructed canals, and drained a marsh of a million of acres which bears our name to this day, and is now one of the most flourishing portions of the country. You talk of our taxation and our wars; and of your inventions and your industry. Our wars converted an island into an empire, and at any rate developed that industry and stimulated those inventions of which you boast. You tell me that you are the delegates of the unrepresented working classes of Mowbray. Why, what would Mowbray have been if it had not been for your aristocracy and their wars? Your town would not have existed; there would have been no working classes there to send up delegates. In fact you owe your every existence to us. I have told you what my ancestors have done; I am prepared, if the occasion requires it, not to disgrace them; I have inherited their great position, and I tell you fairly, gentlemen, I will not relinquish it without a struggle.”
“Will you combat the people in that suit of armour, my lord?” said one of the delegates smiling, but in a tone of kindness and respect.
“That suit of armour has combated for the people before this,” said Lord Valentine, “for it stood by Simon de Montfort on the field of Evesham.”
“My lord,” said the other delegate, “it is well known that you come from a great and honoured race; and we have seen enough today to show that in intelligence and spirit you are not unworthy of your ancestry. But the great question, which your lordship has introduced, not us, is not to be decided by a happy instance. Your ancestors may have done great things. What wonder! They were members of a very limited class which had the monopoly of action. And the people, have not they shed their blood in battle, though they may have commanded fleets less often than your lordship’s relatives? And these mines and canals that you have excavated and constructed, these woods you have planted, these waters you have drained — had the people no hand in these creations? What share in these great works had that faculty of Labour whose sacred claims we now urge, but which for centuries have been passed over in contemptuous silence? No, my lord, we call upon you to decide this question by the result. The Aristocracy of England have had for three centuries the exercise of power; for the last century and a half that exercise has been uncontrolled; they form at this moment the most prosperous class that the history of the world can furnish: as rich as the Roman senators, with sources of convenience and enjoyment which modern science could alone supply. All this is not denied. Your order stands before Europe the most gorgeous of existing spectacles; though you have of late years dexterously thrown some of the odium of your polity upon that middle class which you despise, and who are despicable only because they imitate you, your tenure of power is not in reality impaired. You govern us still with absolute authority — and you govern the most miserable people on the face of the globe.”
“And is this a fair description of the people of England?” said Lord Valentine. “A flash of rhetoric, I presume, that would place them lower than the Portuguese or the Poles, the serfs of Russia or the Lazzaroni of Naples.”
“Infinitely lower,” said the delegate, “for they are not only degraded, but conscious of their degradation. They no longer believe in any innate difference between the governing and the governed classes of this country. They are sufficiently enlightened to feel they are victims. Compared with the privileged classes of their own land, they are in a lower state than any other population compared with its privileged classes. All is relative, my lord, and believe me, the relations of the working classes of England to its privileged orders are relations of enmity, and therefore of peril.”
“The people must have leaders,” said Lord Valentine.
“And they have found them,” said the delegate.
“When it comes to a push they will follow their nobility,” said Lord Valentine.
“Will their nobility lead them?” said the other delegate. “For my part I do not pretend to be a philosopher, and if I saw a Simon de Montfort again I should be content to fight under his banner.”
“We have an aristocracy of wealth,” said the delegate who had chiefly spoken. “In a progressive civilization wealth is the only means of class distinction: but a new disposition of wealth may remove even this.”
“Ah! you want to get at our estates,” said Lord Valentine smiling; “but the effort on your part may resolve society into its original elements, and the old sources of distinction may again develope themselves.”
“Tall barons will not stand against Paixhans rockets,” said the delegate. “Modern science has vindicated the natural equality of man.”
“And I must say I am very sorry for it,” said the other delegate; “for human strength always seems to me the natural process of settling affairs.”
“I am not surprised at your opinion,” said Lord Valentine, turning to the delegate and smiling. “I should not be over-glad to meet you in a fray. You stand some inches above six feet, or I am mistaken.”
“I was six feet two inches when I stopped growing,” said the delegate; “and age has not stolen any of my height yet.”
“That suit of armour would fit you,” said Lord Valentine, as they all rose.
“And might I ask your lordship,” said the tall delegate, “why it is here?”
“I am to represent Richard Coeur de Lion at the Queen’s ball,” said Lord Valentine; “and before my sovereign I will not don a Drury–Lane cuirass, so I got this up from my father’s castle.”
“Ah! I almost wish the good old times of Coeur de Lion were here again,” said the tall delegate.
“And we should be serfs,” said his companion.
“I am not sure of that,” said the tall delegate. “At any rate there was the free forest.”
“I like that young fellow,” said the tall delegate to his companion, as they descended the staircase.
“He has awful prejudices,” said his friend.
“Well, well; he has his opinions and we have ours. But he is a man; with clear, straightforward ideas, a frank, noble, presence; and as good-looking a fellow as I ever set eyes on. Where are we now?”
“We have only one more name on our list today, and it is at hand. Letter K, No.1, Albany. Another member of the aristocracy, the Honourable Charles Egremont.”
“Well, I prefer them, as far as I can judge, to Wriggle, and Rip, and Thorough Base,” said the tall delegate laughing. “I dare say we should have found Lord Milford a very jolly fellow, if he had only been up.”
“Here we are,” said his companion, as he knocked. “Mr Egremont, is he at home?”
“The gentlemen of the deputation? Yes, my master gave particular orders that he was at home to you. Will you walk in, gentlemen?”
“There you see,” said the tall delegate. “This would be a lesson to Thorough Base.”
They sat down in an antechamber: the servant opened a mahogany folding-door which he shut after him and announced to his master the arrival of the delegates. Egremont was seated in his library, at a round table covered with writing materials, books, and letters. On another table were arranged his parliamentary papers, and piles of blue books. The room was classically furnished. On the mantelpiece were some ancient vases, which he had brought with him from Italy, standing on each side of that picture of Allori of which we have spoken.
The servant returned to the ante-room, and announcing to the delegates that his master was ready to receive them, ushered into the presence of Egremont — WALTER GERARD and STEPHEN MORLEY.
It is much to be deplored that our sacred buildings are generally closed except at the stated periods of public resort. It is still more to be regretted that when with difficulty entered, there is so much in their arrangements to offend the taste and outrage the feelings. In the tumult of life, a few minutes occasionally passed in the solemn shadow of some lofty and ancient aisle, exercise very often a salutary influence: they purify the heart and elevate the mind; dispel many haunting fancies, and prevent many an act which otherwise might be repented. The church would in this light still afford us a sanctuary; not against the power of the law but against the violence of our own will; not against the passions of man but against our own.
The Abbey of Westminster rises amid the strife of factions. Around its consecrated precinct some of the boldest and some of the worst deeds have been achieved or perpetrated: sacrilege, rapine, murder, and treason. Here robbery has been practised on the greatest scale known in modern ages: here ten thousand manors belonging to the order of the Templars, without any proof, scarcely with a pretext, were forfeited in one day and divided among the monarch and his chief nobles; here the great estate of the church, which, whatever its articles of faith, belonged and still belongs to the people, was seized at various times, under various pretences, by an assembly that continually changed the religion of their country and their own by a parliamentary majority, but which never refunded the booty. Here too was brought forth that monstrous conception which even patrician Rome in its most ruthless period never equalled — the mortgaging of the industry of the country to enrich and to protect property; an act which is now bringing its retributive consequences in a degraded and alienated population. Here too have the innocent been impeached and hunted to death; and a virtuous and able monarch martyred, because, among other benefits projected for his people, he was of opinion that it was more for their advantage that the economic service of the state should be supplied by direct taxation levied by an individual known to all, than by indirect taxation, raised by an irresponsible and fluctuating assembly. But thanks to parliamentary patriotism, the people of England were saved from ship-money, which money the wealthy paid, and only got in its stead the customs and excise, which the poor mainly supply. Rightly was King Charles surnamed the Martyr; for he was the holocaust of direct taxation. Never yet did man lay down his heroic life for so great a cause: the cause of the Church and the cause of the Poor.
Even now in the quiet times in which we live, when public robbery is out of fashion and takes the milder title of a commission of inquiry, and when there is no treason except voting against a Minister, who, though he may have changed all the policy which you have been elected to support, expects your vote and confidence all the same; even in this age of mean passions and petty risks, it is something to step aside from Palace Yard and instead of listening to a dull debate, where the facts are only a repetition of the blue books you have already read, and the fancy an ingenious appeal to the recrimination of Hansard, to enter the old abbey and listen to an anthem!
This was a favourite habit of Egremont, and though the mean discipline and sordid arrangements of the ecclesiastical body to which the guardianship of the beautiful edifice is intrusted, have certainly done all that could injure and impair the holy genius of the place, it still was a habit often full of charm and consolation.
There is not perhaps another metropolitan population in the world that would tolerate such conduct as is pursued to “that great lubber, the public” by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, and submit in silence to be shut out from the only building in the two cities which is worthy of the name of a cathedral. But the British public will bear anything; they are so busy in speculating in railroad shares.
When Egremont had entered on his first visit to the Abbey by the south transept, and beheld the boards and the spikes with which he seemed to be environed as if the Abbey were in a state of siege; iron gates shutting him out from the solemn nave and the shadowy aisles; scarcely a glimpse to be caught of a single window; while on a dirty form, some noisy vergers sate like ticket-porters or babbled like tapsters at their ease — the visions of abbatial perfection in which he had early and often indulged among the ruins of Marney rose on his outraged sense, and he was then about hastily to retire from the scene he had so long purposed to visit, when suddenly the organ burst forth, a celestial symphony floated in the lofty roof, and voices of plaintive melody blended with the swelling sounds. He was fixed to the spot.
Perhaps it was some similar feeling that influenced another individual on the day after the visit of the deputation to Egremont. The sun, though in his summer heaven he had still a long course, had passed his meridian by many hours, the service was performing in the choir, and a few persons entering by the door into that part of the Abbey Church which is so well known by the name of Poet’s Corner, proceeded through the unseemly stockade which the chapter have erected, and took their seats. One only, a female, declined to pass, notwithstanding the officious admonitions of the vergers that she had better move on, but approaching the iron grating that shut her out from the body of the church, looked wistfully down the long dim perspective of the beautiful southern aisle. And thus motionless she remained in contemplation, or it might be prayer, while the solemn peals of the organ and the sweet voices of the choir enjoyed that holy liberty for which she sighed, and seemed to wander at their will in every sacred recess and consecrated corner.
The sounds — those mystical and thrilling sounds that at once elevate the soul and touch the heart — ceased, the chaunting of the service recommenced; the motionless form moved; and as she moved Egremont came forth from the choir, and his eye was at once caught by the symmetry of her shape and the picturesque position which she gracefully occupied; still gazing through that grate, while the light pouring through the western window, suffused the body of the church with a soft radiance, just touching the head of the unknown with a kind of halo. Egremont approached the transept door with a lingering pace, so that the stranger, who he observed was preparing to leave the church, might overtake him. As he reached the door, anxious to assure himself that he was not mistaken, he turned round and his eye at once caught the face of Sybil. He started, he trembled; she was not two yards distant, she evidently recognised him; he held open the swinging postern of the Abbey that she might pass, which she did and then stopped on the outside, and said “Mr Franklin!”
It was therefore clear that her father had not thought fit, or had not yet had an opportunity, to communicate to Sybil the interview of yesterday. Egremont was still Mr Franklin. This was perplexing. Egremont would like to have been saved the pain and awkwardness of the avowal, yet it must be made, though not with unnecessary crudeness. And so at present he only expressed his delight, the unexpected delight he experienced at their meeting. And then he walked on by her side.
“Indeed,” said Sybil, “I can easily imagine you must have been surprised at seeing me in this great city. But many things, strange and unforeseen, have happened to us since you were at Mowedale. You know, of course you with your pursuits must know, that the People have at length resolved to summon their own parliament in Westminster. The people of Mowbray had to send up two delegates to the Convention, and they chose my father for one of them. For so great is their confidence in him none other would content them.”
“He must have made a great sacrifice in coming?” said Egremont.
“Oh! what are sacrifices in such a cause!” said Sybil. “Yes; he made great sacrifices,” she continued earnestly; “great sacrifices, and I am proud of them. Our home, which was a happy home, is gone; he has quitted the Traffords to whom we were knit by many, many ties,” and her voice faltered —“and for whom, I know well he would have perilled his life. And now we are parted,” said Sybil, with a sigh, “perhaps for ever. They offered to receive me under their roof,” she continued, with emotion. “Had I needed shelter there was another roof which has long awaited me: but I could not leave my father at such a moment. He appealed to me: and I am here. All I desire, all I live for, is to soothe and support him in his great struggle; and I should die content if the People were only free, and a Gerard had freed them.”
Egremont mused: he must disclose all, yet how embarrassing to enter into such explanations in a public thoroughfare! Should he bid her after a-while farewell, and then make his confession in writing? Should he at once accompany her home, and there offer his perplexing explanations? Or should he acknowledge his interview of yesterday with Gerard, and then leave the rest to the natural consequences of that acknowledgment when Sybil met her father! Thus pondering, Egremont and Sybil, quitting the court of the Abbey, entered Abingdon Street.
“Let me walk home with you,” said Egremont, as Sybil seemed to intimate her intention here to separate.
“My father is not there,” said Sybil; “but I will not fail to tell him that I have met his old companion.”
“Would he had been as frank!” thought Egremont. And must he quit her in this way. Never! “You must indeed let me attend you!” he said aloud.
“It is not far,” said Sybil. “We live almost in the Precinct — in an old house with some kind old people, the brother of one of the nuns of Mowbray. The nearest way to it is straight along this street, but that is too bustling for me. I have discovered,” she added with a smile, “a more tranquil path.” And guided by her they turned up College Street.
“And how long have you been in London?”
“A fortnight. ’Tis a great prison. How strange it is that, in a vast city like this, one can scarcely walk alone?”
“You want Harold,” said Egremont. “How is that most faithful of friends?”
“Poor Harold! To part with him too was a pang.”
“I fear your hours must be heavy,” said Egremont.
“Oh! no,” said Sybil, “there is so much at stake; so much to hear the moment my father returns. I take so much interest too in their discussions; and sometimes I go to hear him speak. None of them can compare with him. It seems to me that it would be impossible to resist our claims if our rulers only heard them from his lips.”
Egremont smiled. “Your Convention is in its bloom, or rather its bud,” he said; “all is fresh and pure now; but a little while and it will find the fate of all popular assemblies. You will have factions.”
“But why?” said Sybil. “They are the real representatives of the people, and all that the people want is justice; that Labour should be as much respected by law and society as Property.”
While they thus conversed they passed through several clean, still streets, that had rather the appearance of streets in a very quiet country town than of abodes in the greatest city in the world, and in the vicinity of palaces and parliaments. Rarely was a shop to be remarked among the neat little tenements, many of them built of curious old brick, and all of them raised without any regard to symmetry or proportion. Not the sound of a single wheel was heard; sometimes not a single individual was visible or stirring. Making a circuitous course through this tranquil and orderly district, they at last found themselves in an open place in the centre of which rose a church of vast proportions, and built of hewn stone in that stately, not to say ponderous, style which Vanburgh introduced. The area round it, which was sufficiently ample, was formed by buildings, generally of a very mean character: the long back premises of a carpenter, the straggling yard of a hackney-man: sometimes a small, narrow isolated private residence, like a waterspout in which a rat might reside: sometimes a group of houses of more pretension. In the extreme corner of this area, which was dignified by the name of Smith’s Square, instead of taking a more appropriate title from the church of St John which it encircled, was a large old house, that had been masked at the beginning of the century with a modern front of pale-coloured bricks, but which still stood in its courtyard surrounded by its iron railings, withdrawn as it were from the vulgar gaze like an individual who had known higher fortunes, and blending with his humility something of the reserve which is prompted by the memory of vanished greatness.
“This is my home,” said Sybil. “It is a still place and suits us well.”
Near the house was a narrow passage which was a thoroughfare into the most populous quarter of the neighbourhood. As Egremont was opening the gate of the courtyard, Gerard ascended the steps of this passage and approached them.
When Gerard and Morley quitted the Albany after their visit to Egremont, they separated, and Stephen, whom we will accompany, proceeded in the direction of the Temple, in the vicinity of which he himself lodged, and where he was about to visit a brother journalist, who occupied chambers in that famous inn of court. As he passed under Temple Bar his eye caught a portly gentleman stepping out of a public cab with a bundle of papers in his hand, and immediately disappearing through that well-known archway which Morley was on the point of reaching. The gentleman indeed was still in sight, descending the way, when Morley entered, who observed him drop a letter. Morley hailed him, but in vain; and fearing the stranger might disappear in one of the many inextricable courts, and so lose his letter, he ran forward, picked up the paper, and then pushed on to the person who dropped it, calling out so frequently that the stranger at length began to suspect that he himself might be the object of the salute, and stopped and looked round. Morley almost mechanically glanced at the outside of the letter, the seal of which was broken, and which was however addressed to a name that immediately fixed his interest. The direction was to “Baptist Hatton, Esq., Inner Temple.”
“This letter is I believe addressed to you, Sir,” said Morley, looking very intently upon the person to whom he spoke — a portly man and a comely; florid, gentleman-like, but with as little of the expression which Morley in imagination had associated with that Hatton over whom he once pondered, as can easily be imagined.
“Sir, I am extremely obliged to you,” said the strange gentleman; “the letter belongs to me, though it is not addressed to me. I must have this moment dropped it. My name, Sir, is Firebrace — Sir Vavasour Firebrace, and this letter is addressed to a — a — not exactly my lawyer, but a gentleman — a professional gentleman — whom I am in the habit of frequently seeing; daily, I may say. He is employed in a great question in which I am deeply interested. Sir, I am vastly obliged to you, and I trust that you are satisfied.”
“Oh I perfectly, Sir Vavasour;” and Morley bowed; and going in different directions, they separated.
“Do you happen to know a lawyer by name Hatton in this Inn?” inquired Morley of his friend the journalist, when, having transacted their business, the occasion served.
“No lawyer of that name; but the famous Hatton lives here,” was the reply.
“The famous Hatton! And what is he famous for? You forget I am a provincial.”
“He has made more peers of the realm than our gracious Sovereign,” said the journalist. “And since the reform of parliament the only chance of a tory becoming a peer is the favour of Baptist Hatton; though who he is no one knows, and what he is no one can describe.”
“You speak in conundrums,” said Morley; “I wish I could guess them. Try to adapt yourself to my somewhat simple capacity.”
“In a word, then,” said his friend, “if you must have a definition, Hatton may rank under the genus ‘antiquary,’ though his species is more difficult to describe. He is a heraldic antiquary; a discoverer, inventor, framer, arranger of pedigrees; profound in the mysteries of genealogies; an authority I believe unrivalled in everything that concerns the constitution and elements of the House of Lords; consulted by lawyers, though not professing the law; and startling and alarming the noblest families in the country by claiming the ancient baronies which they have often assumed without authority, for obscure pretenders, many of whom he has succeeded in seating in the parliament of his country.”
“And what part of the country did he come from: do you happen to know?” inquired Morley, evidently much interested, though he attempted to conceal his emotion.
“He may be a veritable subject of the kingdom of Cockaigne, for aught I know,” replied his friend. “He has been buried in this inn I believe for years; for very many before I settled here; and for a long time I apprehend was sufficiently obscure, though doing they say a great deal in a small way; but the Mallory case made his fortune about ten years ago. That was a barony by writ of summons which had been claimed a century before, and failed. Hatton seated his man, and the precedent enabled three or four more gentlemen under his auspices to follow that example. They were Roman Catholics, which probably brought him the Mallory case, for Hatton is of the old church; better than that, they were all gentlemen of great estate, and there is no doubt their champion was well rewarded for his successful service. They say he is very rich. At present all the business of the country connected with descents flows into his chambers. Not a pedigree in dispute, not a peerage in abeyance, which is not submitted to his consideration. I don’t know him personally; but you can now form some idea of his character: and if you want to claim a peerage,” the journalist added laughingly, “he is your man.”
A strong impression was on the mind of Morley that this was his man: he resolved to inquire of Gerard, whom he should see in the evening, as to the fact of their Hatton being a Catholic, and if so, to call on the antiquary on the morrow.
In the meantime we must not forget one who is already making that visit. Sir Vavasour Firebrace is seated in a spacious library that looks upon the Thames and the gardens of the Temple. Though piles of parchments and papers cover the numerous tables, and in many parts intrude upon the Turkey carpet, an air of order, of comfort, and of taste, pervades the chamber. The hangings of crimson damask silk blend with the antique furniture of oak; the upper panes of the windows are tinted by the brilliant pencil of feudal Germany, while the choice volumes that line the shelves are clothed in bindings which become their rare contents. The master of this apartment was a man of ordinary height, inclined to corpulency, and in the wane of middle life, though his unwrinkled cheek, his undimmed blue eye, and his brown hair, very apparent, though he wore a cap of black velvet, did not betray his age, or the midnight studies by which he had in a great degree acquired that learning for which he was celebrated. The general expression of his countenance was pleasing, though dashed with a trait of the sinister. He was seated in an easy chair, before a kidney table at which he was writing. Near at hand was a long tall oaken desk, on which were several folio volumes open, and some manuscripts which denoted that he had recently been engaged with them. At present Mr Hatton, with his pen still in his hand and himself in a chamber-robe of the same material as his cap, leant back in his chair, while he listened to his client, Sir Vavasour. Several most beautiful black and tan spaniels of the breed of King Charles the Second were reposing near him on velvet cushions, with a haughty luxuriousness which would have become the beauties of the merry monarch; and a white Persian cat with blue eyes and a very long tail, with a visage not altogether unlike that of its master, was resting with great gravity on the writing-table, and assisting at the conference.
Sir Vavasour had evidently been delivering himself of a long narrative, to which Mr Hatton had listened with that imperturbable patience which characterised him, and which was unquestionably one of the elements of his success. He never gave up anything, and he never interrupted anybody. And now in a silvery voice he replied to his visitor:
“What you tell me, Sir Vavasour, is what I foresaw, but which, as my influence could not affect it, I dismissed from my thoughts. You came to me for a specific object. I accomplished it. I undertook to ascertain the rights and revive the claims of the baronets of England. That was what you required me: I fulfilled your wish. Those rights are ascertained; those claims are revived. A great majority of the Order have given in their adhesion to the organized movement. The nation is acquainted with your demands, accustomed to them, and the monarch once favourably received them. I can do no more; I do not pretend to make baronets, still less can I confer on those already made the right to wear stars and coronets, the dark green dress of Equites aurati, or white hats with white plumes of feathers. These distinctions, even if their previous usage were established, must flow from the gracious permission of the Crown, and no one could expect in an age hostile to personal distinctions, that any ministry would recommend the sovereign to a step which with vulgar minds would be odious, and by malignant ones might be rendered ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous!” said Sir Vavasour.
“All the world,” said Mr Hatton, “do not take upon these questions the same enlightened view as ourselves, Sir Vavasour. I never could for a moment believe that the Sovereign would consent to invest such a numerous body of men with such privileges.”
“But you never expressed this opinion,” said Sir Vavasour.
“You never asked for my opinion,” said Mr Hatton; “and if I had given it, you and your friends would not have been influenced by it. The point was one on which you might with reason hold yourselves as competent judges as I am. All you asked of me was to make out your case, and I made it out. I will venture to say a better case never left these chambers; I do not believe there is a person in the kingdom who could answer it except myself. They have refused the Order their honours, Sir Vavasour, but it is some consolation that they have never answered their case.”
“I think it only aggravates the oppression,” said Sir Vavasour, shaking his head; “but cannot you advise any new step, Mr Hatton? After so many years of suspense, after so much anxiety and such a vast expenditure, it really is too bad that I and Lady Firebrace should be announced at court in the same style as our fishmonger, if he happens to be a sheriff.”
“I can make a Peer,” said Mr Hatton, leaning back in his chair and playing with his seals, “but I do not pretend to make Baronets. I can place a coronet with four balls on a man’s brow; but a coronet with two balls is an exercise of the prerogative with which I do not presume to interfere.”
“I mention it in the utmost confidence,” said Sir Vavasour in a whisper; “but Lady Firebrace has a sort of promise that in the event of a change of government, we shall be in the first batch of peers.”
Mr Hatton shook his head with a slight smile of contemptuous incredulity.
“Sir Robert,” he said, “will make no peers; take my word for that. The whigs and I have so deluged the House of Lords, that you may rely upon it as a secret of state, that if the tories come in, there will be no peers made. I know the Queen is sensitively alive to the cheapening of all honours of late years. If the whigs go out tomorrow, mark me, they will disappoint all their friends. Their underlings have promised so many, that treachery is inevitable, and if they deceive some they may as well deceive all. Perhaps they may distribute a coronet or two among themselves: and I shall this year make three: and those are the only additions to the peerage which will occur for many years. You may rely on that. For the tories will make none, and I have some thoughts of retiring from business.”
It is difficult to express the astonishment, the perplexity, the agitation, that pervaded the countenance of Sir Vavasour while his companion thus coolly delivered himself. High hopes extinguished and excited at the same moment; cherished promises vanishing, mysterious expectations rising up; revelations of astounding state secrets; chief ministers voluntarily renouncing their highest means of influence, and an obscure private individual distributing those distinctions which sovereigns were obliged to hoard, and to obtain which the first men in the country were ready to injure their estates and to sacrifice their honour! At length Sir Vavasour said, “You amaze me Mr Hatton. I could mention to you twenty members of Boodle’s, at least, who believe they will be made peers the moment the tories come in.”
“Not a man of them,” said Hatton peremptorily. “Tell me one of their names, and I will tell you whether they will be made peers.”
“Well then there is Mr Tubbe Sweete, a county member, and his son in parliament too — I know he has a promise.”
“I repeat to you, Sir Vavasour, the tories will not make a single peer; the candidates must come to me; and I ask you what can I do for a Tubbe Sweete, the son of a Jamaica cooper? Are there any old families among your twenty members of Brookes’?”
“Why I can hardly say,” said Sir Vavasour; “there is Sir Charles Featherly, an old baronet.”
“The founder a lord mayor in James the First’s reign. That is not the sort of old family that I mean,” said Mr Hatton.
“Well there is Colonel Cockawhoop,” said Sir Vavasour. “The Cockawhoops are a very good family I have always heard.”
“Contractors of Queen Anne: partners with Marlborough and Solomon Medina; a very good family indeed: but I do not make peers out of good families, Sir Vavasour; old families are the blocks out of which I cut my Mercurys.”
“But what do you call an old family?” said Sir Vavasour.
“Yours,” said Mr Hatton, and he threw a full glance on the countenance on which the light rested.
“We were in the first batch of baronets,” said Sir Vavasour.
“Forget the baronets for a while,” said Hatton. “Tell me, what was your family before James the First?”
“They always lived on their lands,” said Sir Vavasour. “I have a room full of papers that would perhaps tell us something about them. Would you like to see them?”
“By all means: bring them all here. Not that I want them to inform me of your rights: I am fully acquainted with them. You would like to be a peer, sir. Well, you are really Lord Vavasour, but there is a difficulty in establishing your undoubted right from the single writ of summons difficulty. I will not trouble you with technicalities, Sir Vavasour: sufficient that the difficulty is great though perhaps not unmanageable. But we have no need of management. Your claim on the barony of Lovel is very good: I could recommend your pursuing it, did not another more inviting still present itself. In a word, if you wish to be Lord Bardolf, I will undertake to make you so, before, in all probability, Sir Robert Peel obtains office; and that I should think would gratify Lady Firebrace.”
“Indeed it would,” said Sir Vavasour, “for if it had not been for this sort of a promise of a peerage made — I speak in great confidence Mr Hatton — made by Mr Taper, my tenants would have voted for the whigs the other day at the —— shire election, and the conservative candidate would have been beaten. Lord Masque had almost arranged it, but Lady Firebrace would have a written promise from a high quarter, and so it fell to the ground.”
“Well we are independent of all these petty arrangements now,” said Mr Hatton.
“It is very wonderful,” said Sir Vavasour, rising from his chair and speaking as it were to himself. “And what do you think our expenses will be in this claim?” he inquired.
“Bagatelle!” said Mr Hatton. “Why a dozen years ago I have known men lay out nearly half a million in land and not get two per cent for their money, in order to obtain a borough influence which might ultimately obtain them a spick and span coronet; and now you are going to put one on your head, which will give you precedence over every peer on the roll, except three (and I made those), and it will not cost you a paltry twenty or thirty thousand pounds. Why I know men who would give that for the precedence alone. — Here!” and he rose and took up some papers from a table: “Here is a case; a man you know, I dare say; an earl, and of a decent date as earls go: George the First. The first baron was a Dutch valet of William the Third. Well I am to terminate an abeyance in his favour through his mother, and give him one of the baronies of the Herberts. He buys off the other claimant who is already ennobled with a larger sum than you will expend on your ancient coronet. Nor is that all. The other claimant is of French descent and name; came over at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Well, besides the hush money, my client is to defray all the expense of attempting to transform the descendant of the silkweaver of Lyons into the heir of a Norman conqueror. So you see, Sir Vavasour, I am not unreasonable. Pah! I would sooner gain five thousand pounds by restoring you to your rights, than fifty thousand in establishing any of these pretenders in their base assumptions. I must work in my craft, Sir Vavasour, but I love the old English blood, and have it in my veins.”
“I am satisfied, Mr Hatton.” said Sir Vavasour: “let no time be lost. All I regret is, that you did not mention all this to me before; and then we might have saved a great deal of trouble and expence.”
“You never consulted me,” said Mr Hatton. “You gave me your instructions, and I obeyed them. I was sorry to see you in that mind, for to speak frankly, and I am sure now you will not be offended, my lord, for such is your real dignity, there is no title in the world for which I have such a contempt as that of a baronet.”
Sir Vavasour winced, but the future was full of glory and the present of excitement; and he wished Mr Hatton good morning, with a promise that he would himself bring the papers on the morrow.
Mr Hatton was buried for a few moments in a reverie, during which he played with the tail of the Persian cat.
We left Sybil and Egremont just at the moment that Gerard arrived at the very threshold which they had themselves reached.
“Ah! my father,” exclaimed Sybil, and then with a faint blush of which she was perhaps unconscious, she added, as if apprehensive Gerard would not recall his old companion, “you remember Mr Franklin?”
“This gentleman and myself had the pleasure of meeting yesterday,” said Gerard embarrassed, while Egremont himself changed colour and was infinitely confused. Sybil felt surprised that her father should have met Mr Franklin and not have mentioned a circumstance naturally interesting to her. Egremont was about to speak when the street-door was opened. And were they to part again, and no explanation? And was Sybil to be left with her father, who was evidently in no haste, perhaps had no great tendency, to give that explanation? Every feeling of an ingenuous spirit urged Egremont personally to terminate this prolonged misconception.
“You will permit me, I hope,” he said, appealing as much to Gerard as to his daughter, “to enter with you for a few moments.”
It was not possible to resist such a request, yet it was conceded on the part of Gerard with no cordiality. So they entered the large gloomy hail of the house, and towards the end of a long passage Gerard opened a door, and they all went into a spacious melancholy room, situate at the back of the house, and looking upon a small square plot of dank grass, in the midst of which rose a very weather-stained Cupid, with one arm broken, and the other raised in the air with a long shell to its mouth. It seemed that in old days it might have been a fountain. At the end of the plot the blind side of a house offered a high wall which had once been painted in fresco. Though much of the coloured plaster had cracked and peeled away, and all that remained was stained and faded, still some traces of the original design might yet be detected: festive wreaths, the colonnades and perspective of a palace.
The wails of the room itself were waincsotted in pannels of dark-stained wood; the window-curtains were of coarse green worsted, and encrusted with dust so ancient and irremovable, that it presented almost a lava-like appearance; the carpet that had once been bright and showy, was entirely threadbare, and had become grey with age. There were several heavy mahogany arm-chairs in the room, a Pembroke table, and an immense unwieldy sideboard, garnished with a few wine-glasses of a deep blue colour. Over the lofty uncouth mantel was a portrait of the Marquis of Granby, which might have been a sign, and opposite to him, over the sideboard, was a large tawdry-coloured print, by Bunbury, of Ranelagh in its most festive hour. The general appearance of the room however though dingy, was not squalid: and what with its spaciousness, its extreme repose, and the associations raised by such few images as it did suggest, the impression on the mind of the spectator was far from unpleasing, partaking indeed of that vague melancholy which springs from the contemplation of the past, and which at all times softens the spirit.
Gerard walked to the window and looked at the grass-plot; Sybil seating herself, invited their guest to follow her example; Egremont, not without agitation, seemed suddenly to make an effort to collect himself, and then, in a voice not distinguished by its accustomed clearness, he said, “I explained yesterday to one who I hope I may still call my friend, why I assumed a name to which I have no right.”
Sybil started a little, slightly stared, but did not speak.
“I should be happy if you also would give me credit, in taking that step, at least for motives of which I need not be ashamed; even,” he added in a hesitating voice, “even if you deemed my conduct indiscreet.”
Their eyes met: astonishment was imprinted on the countenance of Sybil, but she uttered not a word; and her father, whose back was turned to them, did not move.
“I was told,” continued Egremont, “that an impassable gulf divided the Rich from the Poor; I was told that the Privileged and the People formed Two Nations, governed by different laws, influenced by different manners, with no thoughts or sympathies in common; with an innate inability of mutual comprehension. I believed that if this were indeed the case, the ruin of our common country was at hand; I would have endeavoured, feebly perchance, but not without zeal, to resist such a catastrophe; I possessed a station which entailed on me some portion of its responsibility: to obtain that knowledge which could alone qualify me for beneficial action, I resolved to live without suspicion among my fellow-subjects who were estranged from me; even void of all celebrity as I am, I could not have done that without suspicion, had I been known; they would have recoiled from my class and my name, as you yourself recoiled, Sybil, when they were once accidentally mentioned before you. These are the reasons, these the feelings, which impelled, I will not say justified, me to pass your threshold under a feigned name. I entreat you to judge kindly of my conduct; to pardon me: and not to make me feel the bitterness that I have forfeited the good opinion of one for whom, under all circumstances and in all situations, I must ever feel the highest conceivable respect — I would say a reverential regard.”
His tones of passionate emotion ceased. Sybil, with a countenance beautiful and disturbed, gazed at him for an instant, and seemed about to speak, but her trembling lips refused the office; then with an effort, turning to Gerard, she said, “My father, I am amazed; tell me, then, who is this gentleman who addresses me?”
“The brother of Lord Marney, Sybil,” said Gerard, turning to her.
“The brother of Lord Marney!” repeated Sybil, with an air almost of stupor.
“Yes,” said Egremont: “a member of that family of sacrilege, of those oppressors of the people, whom you have denounced to me with such withering scorn.”
The elbow of Sybil rested on the arm of her chair, and her cheek upon her hand; as Egremont said these words she shaded her face, which was thus entirely unseen: for some moments there was silence. Then looking up with an expression grave but serene, and as if she had just emerged from some deep thinking, Sybil said, “I am sorry for my words; sorry for the pain I unconsciously gave you; sorry indeed for all that has past: and that my father has lost a pleasant friend.”
“And why should he be lost?” said Egremont mournfully, and yet with tenderness. “Why should we not still befriends?”
“Oh, sir!” said Sybil, haughtily; “I am one of those who believe the gulf is impassable. Yes,” she added, slightly but with singular grace waving her hands, and somewhat turning away her head, “utterly impassable.”
There are tumults of the mind when like the great convulsions of nature all seems anarchy and returning chaos, yet often in those moments of vast disturbance, as in the material strife itself, some new principle of order, or some new impulse of conduct, develops itself, and controls and regulates and brings to an harmonious consequence, passions and elements which seemed only to threaten despair and subversion. So it was with Egremont. He looked for a moment in despair upon this maiden walled out from sympathy by prejudices and convictions more impassable than all the mere consequences of class. He looked for a moment, but only for a moment, in despair. He found in his tortured spirit energies that responded to the exigency of the occasion. Even the otherwise embarrassing presence of Gerard would not have prevented — but just at this moment the door opened, and Morley and another person entered the room.
Morley paused as he recognised Egremont; then advancing to Gerard, followed by his companion, he said, “This is Mr Hatton of whom we were speaking last night, and who claims to be an ancient acquaintance of yours.”
“Perhaps I should rather say of your poor dear father,” said Hatton, scanning Gerard with his clear blue eye, and then he added, “He was of great service to me in my youth, and one is not apt to forget such things.”
“One ought not,” said Gerard: “but it is a sort of memory, as I have understood, that is rather rare. For my part I remember you very well, Baptist Hatton,” said Gerard, examining his guest with almost as complete a scrutiny as he had himself experienced. “This world has gone well with you, I am glad to hear and see.”
“Qui laborat, orat,” said Hatton in a silvery voice, “is the gracious maxim of our Holy Church; and I venture to believe my prayers and vigils have been accepted, for I have laboured in my time,” and as he was speaking these words, he turned and addressed them to Sybil.
She beheld him with no little interest; this mysterious name that had sounded so often in her young ears, and was associated with so many strange and high hopes, and some dark blending of doubt and apprehension and discordant thoughts. Hatton in his appearance realised little of the fancies in which Sybil had sometime indulged with regard to him. That appearance was prepossessing: a frank and even benevolent expression played upon his intelligent and handsome countenance: his once rich brown hair, still long though very thin, was so arranged as naturally to conceal his baldness; he was dressed with great simplicity, but with remarkable taste and care: nor did the repose and suavity of his manner and the hushed tone of his voice detract from the favourable effect that he always at once produced.
“Qui laborat, orat,” said Sybil with a smile, “is the privilege of the people.”
“Of whom I am one,” said Hatton bowing, well recollecting that he was addressing the daughter of a chartist delegate.
“But is your labour, their labour,” said Sybil. “Is yours that life of uncomplaining toil wherein there is so much of beauty and of goodness, that by the fine maxim of our Church, it is held to include the force and efficacy of prayer?”
“I am sure that I should complain of no toil that would benefit you,” said Hatton; and then addressing himself again to Gerard, he led him to a distant part of the room where they were soon engaged in earnest converse. Morley at the same moment approached Sybil, and spoke to her in a subdued tone. Egremont feeling embarrassed advanced, and bade her farewell. She rose and returned his salute with some ceremony; then hesitating while a soft expression came over her countenance, she held forth her hand, which he retained for a moment, and withdrew.
“I was with him more than an hour,” continued Morley. “At first he recollected nothing: even the name of Gerard, though he received it as familiar to him, seemed to produce little impression; he recollected nothing of any papers; was clear that they must have been quite insignificant; whatever they were, he doubtless had them now, as he never destroyed papers: would order a search to be made for them, and so on. I was about to withdraw, when he asked me carelessly a question about your father; what he was doing, and whether he were married and had children. This led to a very long conversation in which he suddenly seemed to take great interest. At first he talked of writing to see your father, and I offered that Gerard should call upon him. He took down your direction in order that he might write to your father and give him an appointment; when observing that it was Westminster, he said that his carriage was ordered to go to the House of Lords in a quarter of an hour, and that if not inconvenient to me, he would propose that I should at once accompany him. I thought, whatever might be the result, it must be a satisfaction to Gerard at last to see this man of whom he has talked and thought so much — and so we are here.”
“You did well, good Stephen, as you always do,” said Sybil with a musing and abstracted air; “no one has so much forethought and so much energy as you.”
He threw a glance at her: and immediately withdrew it. Their eyes had met: hers were kind and calm.
“And this Egremont,” said Morley rather hurriedly and abruptly, and looking on the ground, “how came he here? When we discovered him yesterday your father and myself agreed that we should not mention to you the — the mystification of which we had been dupes.”
“And you did wrong,” said Sybil. “There is no wisdom like frankness. Had you told me, he would not have been here today. He met and addressed me, and I only recognised an acquaintance who had once contributed so much to the pleasantness of our life. Had he not accompanied me to this door and met my father, which precipitated an explanation on his part which he found had not been given by others, I might have remained in an ignorance which hereafter might have produced inconvenience.”
“You are right,” said Morley, looking at her rather keenly. “We have all of us opened ourselves too unreservedly before this aristocrat.”
“I should hope that none of us have said to him a word that we wish to be forgotten,” said Sybil. “He chose to wear a disguise, and can hardly quarrel with the frankness with which we spoke of his order or his family. And for the rest, he has not been injured from learning something of the feelings of the people by living among them.”
“And yet if anything were to happen tomorrow,” said Morley, “rest assured this man has his eye on us. He can walk into the government offices like themselves and tell his tale, for though one of the pseudo-opposition, the moment the people move, the factions become united.”
Sybil turned and looked at him, and then said, “And what could happen tomorrow, that we should care for the government being acquainted with it or us? Do not they know everything? Do not you meet in their very sight? You pursue an avowed and legal aim by legal means — do you not? What then is there to fear? And why should anything happen that should make us apprehensive?”
“All is very well at this moment,” said Morley, “and all may continue well; but popular assemblies breed turbulent spirits, Sybil. Your father takes a leading part; he is a great orator, and is in his element in this clamorous and fiery life. It does not much suit me; I am a man of the closet. This Convention, as you well know, was never much to my taste. Their Charter is a coarse specific for our social evils. The spirit that would cure our ills must be of a deeper and finer mood.”
“Then why are you here?” said Sybil.
Morley shrugged his shoulders, and then said “An easy question. Questions are always easy. The fact is, in active life one cannot afford to refine. I could have wished the movement to have taken a different shape and to have worked for a different end; but it has not done this. But it is still a movement and a great one, and I must work it for my end and try to shape it to my form. If I had refused to be a leader, I should not have prevented the movement; I should only have secured my own insignificance.”
“But my father has not these fears; he is full of hope and exultation,” said Sybil. “And surely it is a great thing that the people should have their Parliament lawfully meeting in open day, and their delegates from the whole realm declaring their grievances in language which would not disgrace the conquering race which has in vain endeavoured to degrade them. When I heard my father speak the other night, my heart glowed with emotion; my eyes were suffused with tears; I was proud to be his daughter; and I gloried in a race of forefathers who belonged to the oppressed and not to the oppressors.”
Morley watched the deep splendour of her eye and the mantling of her radiant cheek, as she spoke these latter words with not merely animation but fervour. Her bright hair, that hung on either side her face in long tresses of luxuriant richness, was drawn off a forehead that was the very throne of thought and majesty, while her rich lip still quivered with the sensibility which expressed its impassioned truth.
“But your father, Sybil, stands alone,” at length Morley replied; “surrounded by votaries who have nothing but enthusiasm to recommend them; and by emulous and intriguing rivals, who watch every word and action, in order that they may discredit his conduct, and ultimately secure his downfall.”
“My father’s downfall!” said Sybil. “Is he not one of themselves! And is it possible, that among the delegates of the People there can be other than one and the same object?”
“A thousand,” said Morley; “we have already as many parties as in St Stephen’s itself.”
“You terrify me,” said Sybil. “I knew we had fearful odds to combat against. My visit to this city alone has taught me how strong are our enemies. But I believed that we had on our side God and Truth.”
“They know neither of them in the National Convention,” said Morley. “Our career will be a vulgar caricature of the bad passions and the low intrigues, the factions and the failures, of our oppressors.”
At this moment Gerard and Hatton who were sitting in the remote part of the room rose together and advanced forward; and this movement interrupted the conversation of Sybil and Morley. Before however her father and his new friend could reach them, Hatton as if some point on which he had not been sufficiently explicit, had occurred to him, stopped and placing his hand on Gerard’s arm, withdrew him again, saying in a voice which could only be heard by the individual whom he addressed. “You understand — I have not the slightest doubt myself of your moral right: I believe on every principle of justice, that Mowbray Castle is as much yours as the house that is built by the tenant on the lord’s land: but can we prove it? We never had the legal evidence. You are in error in supposing that these papers were of any vital consequence; mere memoranda; very useful no doubt: I hope I shall find them; but of no validity. If money were the only difficulty, trust me, it should not be wanting; I owe much to the memory of your father, my good Gerard; I would fain serve you — and your daughter. I’ll not tell you what I would do for you, my good Gerard. You would think me foolish; but I am alone in the world, and seeing you again, and talking of old times — I really am scarcely fit for business. Go, however, I must; I have an appointment at the House of Lords. Good bye. I must say farewell to the Lady Sybil.”
“You can’t have that table, sir, it is engaged,” said a waiter at the Athenaeum to a member of the club who seemed unmindful of the type of appropriation which in the shape of an inverted plate, ought to have warned him off the coveted premises.
“It is always engaged,” grumbled the member. “Who has taken it?”
“Mr Hatton, sir.”
And indeed at this very moment, it being about eight o’clock of the same day on which the meeting detailed in the last chapter had occurred, a very handsome dark brougham with a beautiful horse was stopping in Waterloo Place before the portico of the Athenaeum Club-house, from which equipage immediately emerged the prosperous person of Baptist Hatton.
This club was Hatton’s only relaxation. He had never entered society; and now his habits were so formed, the effort would have been a painful one; though with a first-rate reputation in his calling and supposed to be rich, the openings were numerous to a familiar intercourse with those middle-aged nameless gentlemen of easy circumstances who haunt clubs, and dine a great deal at each others’ houses and chambers; men who travel regularly a little, and gossip regularly a great deal; who lead a sort of facile, slipshod existence, doing nothing, yet mightily interested in what others do; great critics of little things; profuse in minor luxuries and inclined to the respectable practice of a decorous profligacy; peering through the window of a clubhouse as if they were discovering a planet; and usually much excited about things with which they have no concern, and personages who never heard of them.
All this was not in Hatton’s way, who was free from all pretension, and who had acquired, from his severe habits of historical research, a respect only for what was authentic. These nonentities flitted about him, and he shrunk from an existence that seemed to him at once dull and trifling. He had a few literary acquaintances that he had made at the Antiquarian Society, of which he was a distinguished member; a vice-president of that body had introduced him to the Athenaeum. It was the first and only club that Hatton had ever belonged to, and he delighted in it. He liked splendour and the light and bustle of a great establishment. They saved him from that melancholy which after a day of action is the doom of energetic celibacy. A luxurious dinner without trouble, suited him after his exhaustion; sipping his claret, he revolved his plans. Above all, he revelled in the magnificent library, and perhaps was never happier, than when after a stimulating repast he adjourned up stairs, and buried himself in an easy chair with Dugdale or Selden, or an erudite treatise on forfeiture or abeyance.
To-day however Hatton was not in this mood. He came in exhausted and excited; eat rapidly and rather ravenously; despatched a pint of champagne; and then called for a bottle of Lafitte. His table cleared; a devilled biscuit placed before him, a cool bottle and a fresh glass, he indulged in that reverie, which the tumult of his feelings and the physical requirements of existence had hitherto combined to prevent.
“A strange day,” he thought, as with an abstracted air he filled his glass, and sipping the wine, leant back in his chair. “The son of Walter Gerard! A chartist delegate! The best blood in England! What would I not be, were it mine.
“Those infernal papers! They made my fortune — and yet, I know not how it is, the deed has cost me many a pang. Yet it seemed innoxious! the old man dead — insolvent; myself starving; his son ignorant of all, to whom too they could be of no use, for it required thousands to work them, and even with thousands they could only be worked by myself. Had I not done it, I should ere this probably have been swept from the surface of the earth, worn out with penury, disease, and heart-ache. And now I am Baptist Hatton with a fortune almost large enough to buy Mowbray itself, and with knowledge that can make the proudest tremble.
“And for what object all this wealth and power? What memory shall I leave? What family shall I found? Not a relative in the world, except a solitary barbarian, from whom when, years ago I visited him as a stranger I recoiled with unutterable loathing.
“Ah! had I a child — a child like the beautiful daughter of Gerard!”
And here mechanically Hatton filled his glass, and quaffed at once a bumper.
“And I have deprived her of a principality! That seraphic being whose lustre even now haunts my vision; the ring of whose silver tone even now lingers in my ear. He must be a fiend who could injure her. I am that fiend. Let me see — let me see!”
And now he seemed wrapt in the very paradise of some creative vision; still he filled the glass, but this time he only sipped it, as if he were afraid to disturb the clustering images around him.
“Let me see — let me see. I could make her a baroness. Gerard is as much Baron Valence as Shrewsbury is a Talbot. Her name is Sybil. Curious how, even when peasants, the good blood keeps the good old family names! The Valences were ever Sybils.
“I could make her a baroness. Yes! and I could give her wherewith to endow her state. I could compensate for the broad lands which should be hers, and which perhaps through me she has forfeited.
“Could I do more? Could I restore her to the rank she would honour, assuage these sharp pangs of conscience, and achieve the secret ambition of my life? What if my son were to be Lord Valence?
“Is it too bold? A chartist delegate — a peasant’s daughter. With all that shining beauty that I witnessed, with all the marvellous gifts that their friend Morley so descanted on — would she shrink from me? I’m not a crook-backed Richard.
“I could proffer much: I feel I could urge it plausibly. She must be very wretched. With such a form, such high imaginings, such thoughts of power and pomp as I could breathe in her — I think she’d melt. And to one of her own faith, too! To build up a great Catholic house again; of the old blood, and the old names, and the old faith — by holy Mary it is a glorious vision!”
On the evening of the day that Egremont had met Sybil in the Abbey of Westminster, and subsequently parted from her under circumstances so distressing, the Countess of Marney held a great assembly at the family mansion in St James Square, which Lord Marney had intended to have let to a new club, and himself and his family to have taken refuge for a short season at an hotel, but he drove so hard a bargain that before the lease was signed, the new club, which mainly consisted of an ingenious individual who had created himself secretary, had vanished. Then it was agreed that the family mansion should be inhabited for the season by the family; and to-night Arabella was receiving all that great world of which she herself was a distinguished ornament.
“We come to you as early as possible my dear Arabella,” said Lady Deloraine to her daughter-in-law.
“You are always so good! Have you seen Charles? I was in hopes he would have come,” Lady Marney added in a somewhat mournful tone.
“He is at the House: otherwise I am sure he would have been here,” said Lady Deloraine, glad that she had so good a reason for an absence, which under any circumstances she well knew would have occurred.
“I fear you will be sadly in want of beaus this evening, my love. We dined at the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine’s, and all our cavaliers vanished. They talk of an early division.”
“I really wish all these divisions were over,” said Lady Marney. “They are very anti-social. Ah! here is Lady de Mowbray.”
Alfred Mountchesney hovered round Lady Joan Fitz–Warene, who was gratified by the devotion of the Cupid of May Fair. He uttered inconceivable nothings, and she replied to him in incomprehensible somethings. Her learned profundity and his vapid lightness effectively contrasted. Occasionally he caught her eye and conveyed to her the anguish of his soul in a glance of self-complacent softness.
Lady St Julians leaning on the arm of the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine stopped to speak to Lady Joan. Lady St Julians was determined that the heiress of Mowbray should marry one of her sons. She watched therefore with a restless eye all those who attempted to monopolize Lady Joan’s attention, and contrived perpetually to interfere with their manoeuvres. In the midst of a delightful conversation that seemed to approach a crisis, Lady St Julians was sure to advance, and interfere with some affectionate appeal to Lady Joan, whom she called her “dear child” and “sweetest love,” while she did not deign even to notice the unhappy cavalier whom she had thus as it were unhorsed.
“My sweet child!” said Lady St Julians to Lady Joan, “you have no idea how unhappy Frederick is this evening, but he cannot leave the House, and I fear it will be a late affair.”
Lady Joan looked as if the absence or presence of Frederick was to her a matter of great indifference, and then she added, “I do not think the division so important as is generally imagined. A defeat upon a question of colonial government does not appear to me of sufficient weight to dissolve a cabinet.”
“Any defeat will do that now,” said Lady St Julians, “but to tell you the truth I am not very sanguine. Lady Deloraine says they will be beat: she says the radicals will desert them; but I am not so sure. Why should the radicals desert them? And what have we done for the radicals? Had we indeed foreseen this Jamaica business, and asked some of them to dinner, or given a ball or two to their wives and daughters! I am sure if I had had the least idea that we had so good a chance of coming in, I should not have cared myself to have done something; even to have invited their women.”
“But you are such a capital partisan, Lady St Julians,” said the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine, who with the viceroyalty of Ireland dexterously dangled before his eyes for the last two years, had become a thorough conservative and had almost as much confidence in Sir Robert as in Lord Stanley.
“I have made great sacrifices,” said Lady St Julians. “I went once and stayed a week at Lady Jenny Spinner’s to gain her looby of a son and his eighty thousand a-year, and Lord St Julians proposed him at White’s; and then after all the whigs made him a peer! They certainly make more of their social influences than we do. That affair of that Mr Trenchard was a blow. Losing a vote at such a critical time, when if I had had only a remote idea of what was passing through his mind, I would have even asked him to Barrowley for a couple of days.”
A foreign diplomatist of distinction had pinned Lord Marney, and was dexterously pumping him as to the probable future.
“But is the pear ripe?” said the diplomatist.
“The pear is ripe if we have courage to pluck it,” said Lord Marney; “but our fellows have no pluck.”
“But do you think that the Duke of Wellington —” and here the diplomatist stopped and looked up in Lord Marney’s face, as if he would convey something that he would not venture to express.
“Here he is,” said Lord Marney, “he will answer the question himself.”
Lord Deloraine and Mr Ormsby passed by; the diplomatist addressed them: “You have not been to the Chamber?”
“No,” said Lord Deloraine; “but I hear there is hot work. It will be late.”
“Do you think — ” said the diplomatist, and he looked up in the face of Lord Deloraine.
“I think that in the long run everything will have an end,” said Lord Deloraine.
“Ah!” said the diplomatist.
“Bah!” said Lord Deloraine as he walked away with Mr Ormsby. “I remember that fellow — a sort of equivocal attache at Paris, when we were there with Monmouth at the peace: and now he is a quasi ambassador, and ribboned and starred to the chin.”
“The only stars I have got,” said Mr Ormsby demurely, “are four stars in India stock.”
Lady Firebrace and Lady Maud Fitz–Warene were announced: they had just come from the Commons; a dame and damsel full of political enthusiasm. Lady Firebrace gave critical reports and disseminated many contradictory estimates of the result; Lady Maud talked only of a speech made by Lord Milford, which from the elaborate noise she made about it, you would have supposed to have been the oration of the evening; on the contrary, it had lasted only a few minutes and in a thin house had been nearly inaudible; but then, as Lady Maud added, “it was in such good taste!”
Alfred Mountchesney and Lady Joan Fitz–Warene passed Lady Marney who was speaking to Lord Deloraine. “Do you think,” said Lady Marney, “that Mr Mountchesney will bear away the prize?”
Lord Deloraine shook his head. “These great heiresses can never make up their minds. The bitter drop rises in all their reveries.”
“And yet,” said Lady Marney, “I would just as soon be married for my money as my face.”
Soon after this there was a stir in the saloons; a murmur, the ingress of many gentlemen: among others Lord Valentine, Lord Milford, Mr Egerton, Mr Berners, Lord Fitz–Heron, Mr Jermyn. The House was up; the great Jamaica division was announced; the radicals had thrown over the government, who left in a majority of only five, had already intimated their sense of the unequivocal feeling of the House with respect to them. It was known that on the morrow the government would resign.
Lady Deloraine, prepared for the great result, was calm: Lady St Julians, who had not anticipated it, was in a wild flutter of distracted triumph. A vague yet dreadful sensation came over her in the midst of her joy that Lady Deloraine had been beforehand with her; had made her combinations with the new Minister; perhaps even sounded the Court. At the same time that in this agitating vision the great offices of the palace which she had apportioned to herself and her husband seemed to elude her grasp; the claims and hopes and interests of her various children haunted her perplexed consciousness. What if Charles Egremont were to get the place which she had projected for Frederick or Augustus? What if Lord Marney became master of the horse? Or Lord Deloraine went again to Ireland? In her nervous excitement she credited all these catastrophes; seized upon “the Duke” in order that Lady Deloraine might not gain his ear, and resolved to get home as soon as possible, in order that she might write without a moment’s loss of time to Sir Robert.
“They will hardly go out without making some peers,” said Sir Vavasour Firebrace to Mr Jermyn.
“Why they have made enough.”
“Hem! I know Tubbe Swete has a promise, and so has Cockawhoop. I don’t think Cockawhoop could show again at Boodle’s without a coronet.”
“I don’t see why these fellows should go out,” said Mr Ormsby. “What does it signify whether ministers have a majority of five, or ten or twenty? In my time, a proper majority was a third of the House. That was Lord Liverpool’s majority. Lord Monmouth used to say that there were ten families in this country who, if they could only agree, could always share the government. Ah! those were the good old times! We never had adjourned debates then; but sate it out like gentlemen who had been used all their lives to be up all night, and then supped at Watier’s afterwards.”
“Ah! my dear Ormsby,” said Mr Berners, “do not mention Watier’s; you make my mouth water.”
“Shall you stand for Birmingham, Ormsby, if there be a dissolution?” said Lord Fitz–Heron.
“I have been asked,” said Mr Ormsby; “but the House of Commons is not the House of Commons of my time, and I have no wish to reenter it. If I had a taste for business, I might be a member of the Marylebone vestry.”
“All I repeat,” said Lord Marney to his mother, as he rose from the sofa where he had been some time in conversation with her, “that if there be any idea that I wish Lady Marney should be a lady in waiting, it is an error, Lady Deloraine. I wish that to be understood. I am a domestic man, and I wish Lady Marney to be always with me; and what I want I want for myself. I hope in arranging the household the domestic character of every member of it will be considered. After all that has occurred the country expects that.”
“But my dear George, I think it is really premature —”
“I dare say it is; but I recommend you, my dear mother, to be alive. I heard Lady St Julians just now in the supper room asking the Duke to promise her that her Augustus should be a Lord of the Admiralty. She said the Treasury would not do, as there was no house, and that with such a fortune as his wife brought him he could not hire a house under a thousand a-year.”
“He will not have the Admiralty,” said Lady Deloraine.
“She looks herself to the Robes.”
“Poor woman!” said Lady Deloraine.
“Is it quite true?” said a great whig dame to Mr Egerton, one of her own party.
“Quite,” he said.
“I can endure anything except Lady St Julian’s glance of triumph,” said the whig dame. “I really think if it were only to ease her Majesty from such an infliction, they ought to have held on.”
“And must the household be changed?” said Mr Egerton. “Do not look so serious,” said the whig dame smiling with fascination; “we are surrounded by the enemy.”
“Will you be at home tomorrow early?” said Mr Egerton.
“As early as you please.”
“Very well, we will talk then. Lady Charlotte has heard something; nous verrons.”
“Courage; we have the Court with us, and the Country cares for nothing.”
“It is all right,” said Mr Tadpole. “They are out. Lord Melbourne has been with the Queen and recommended her Majesty to send for the Duke, and the Duke has recommended her Majesty to send for Sir Robert.”
“Are you sure?” said Mr Taper.
“I tell you Sir Robert is on his road to the palace at this moment; I saw him pass, full-dressed.”
“It is too much,” said Mr Taper.
“Now what are we to do?” said Mr Tadpole.
“We must not dissolve,” said Mr Taper. “We have no cry.”
“As much cry as the other fellows,” said Mr Tadpole; “but no one of course would think of dissolution before the next registration. No, no; this is a very manageable Parliament, depend upon it. The malcontent radicals who have turned them out are not going to bring them in. That makes us equal. Then we have an important section to work upon — the Sneaks, the men who are afraid of a dissolution. I will be bound we make a good working conservative majority of five-and-twenty out of the sneaks.”
“With the Treasury patronage,” said Mr Taper; “fear and favour combined. An impending dissolution, and all the places we refuse our own men, we may count on the Sneaks.”
“Then there are several religious men who have wanted an excuse for a long time to rat,” said Mr Tadpole. “We must get Sir Robert to make some kind of a religious move, and that will secure Sir Litany Lax and young Mr Salem.”
“It will never do to throw over the Church Commission,” said Mr Taper. “Commissions and committees ought always to be supported.”
“Besides it will frighten the saints,” said Mr Tadpole. “If we could get him to speak at Exeter Hall — were it only a slavery meeting — that would do.”
“It is difficult,” said Taper; “he must be pledged to nothing — not even to the right of search. Yet if we could get up something with a good deal of sentiment and no principle involved; referring only to the past, but with his practised powers touching the present. What do you think of a monument to Wilberforce or a commemoration of Clarkson?”
“There is a good deal in that,” said Mr Tadpole. “At present go about and keep our fellows in good humour. Whisper nothings that sound like something. But be discreet; do not let there be more than half a hundred fellows who believe they are going to be Under Secretaries of State. And be cautious about titles. If they push you, give a wink and press your finger to your lip. I must call here,” continued Mr Tadpole as he stopped before the house of the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine. “This gentleman is my particular charge. I have been cooking him these three years. I had two notes from him yesterday, and can delay a visit no longer. The worst of it is, he expects that I shall bear him the non-official announcement of his being sent to Ireland, of which he has about as much chance as I have of being Governor–General of India. It must be confessed ours is critical work sometimes, friend Taper; but never mind — what we have to do to individuals Peel has to with a nation, and therefore we ought not to complain.”
The Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine wanted Ireland and Lord de Mowbray wanted the Garter. Lord Marney, who wanted the Buckhounds, was convinced that neither of his friends had the slightest chance of obtaining their respective objects, but believed that he had a very good one of securing his own if he used them for his purpose, and persuaded them to combine together for the common good. So at his suggestion they had all met together at the duke’s, and were in full conference on the present state of affairs, while Tadpole and Taper were engaged in that interesting and instructive conversation of which we have snatched a passage.
“You may depend upon it,” said Lord Marney, “that nothing is to be done by delicacy. It is not delicacy that rules the House of Lords. What has kept us silent for years? Threats; and threats used in the most downright manner. We were told that if we did not conform absolutely and without appeal to the will and pleasure of one individual, the cards would be thrown up. We gave in; the game has been played, and won. I am not at all clear that it has been won by those tactics — but gained it is; and now what shall we do? In my opinion it is high time to get rid of the dictatorship. The new ruse now for the palace is to persuade her Majesty that Peel is the only man who can manage the House of Lords. Well, then it is exactly the time to make certain persons understand that the House of Lords are not going to be tools any longer merely for other people. Rely upon it a bold united front at this moment would be a spoke in the wheel. We three form the nucleus; there are plenty to gather round. I have written to Marisforde; he is quite ripe. Lord Hounslow will be here tomorrow. The thing is to be done; and if we are not firm the grand conservative triumph will only end in securing the best posts both at home and abroad for one too powerful family.”
“Who had never been heard of in the time of my father,” said the duke.
“Nor in the time of mine,” said Lord de Mowbray.
“Royal and Norman blood like ours,” said Lord Marney, “is not to be thrown over in that way.”
It was just at this moment that a servant entered with a card, which the duke looking at said “It is Tadpole; shall we have him in? I dare say he will tell us something.” And notwithstanding the important character of their conference, political curiosity and perhaps some private feeling which not one of them cared to acknowledge, made them unanimously agree that Mr Tadpole should be admitted.
“Lord Marney and Lord de Mowbray with the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine,” thought Mr Tadpole, as he was ushered into the library and his eye, practised in machinations and prophetic in manoeuvres surveyed the three nobles. “This looks like business and perhaps means mischief. Very lucky I called!” With an honest smile he saluted them all.
“What news from the palace, Tadpole?” inquired the duke.
“Sir Robert is there,” replied Tadpole.
“That’s good news,” exclaimed his grace, echoed by Lord de Mowbray, and backed up with a faint bravo from Lord Marney.
Then arose a conversation in which all affected much interest respecting the Jamaica debate; whether the whigs had originally intended to resign; whether it were Lord Melbourne or Lord John who had insisted on the step; whether if postponed they could have tided over the session; and so on. Tadpole, who was somewhat earnest in his talk, seemed to have pinned the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine; Lord Marney who wanted to say a word alone to Lord de Mowbray had dexterously drawn that personage aside on the pretence of looking at a picture. Tadpole, who had a most frank and unsophisticated mien had an eye for every corner of a room, seized the opportunity for which he had been long cruising. “I don’t pretend to be behind the scenes, duke; but it was said to me today, ‘Tadpole, if you do chance to see the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine you may say that positively Lord Killcroppy will not go to Ireland.’”
A smile of satisfaction played over the handsome face of the duke — instantly suppressed lest it might excite suspicion; and then with a friendly and very significant nod that intimated to Tadpole not to dwell on the subject at the present moment, the duke with a rather uninterested air recurred to the Jamaica debate, and soon after appealed on some domestic point to his son-in-law. This broke up the conversation between Lord de Mowbray and Lord Marney. Lord de Mowbray advancing was met accidentally on purpose by Mr Tadpole, who seemed anxious to push forward to Lord Marney.
“You have heard of Lord Ribbonville?” said Tadpole in a suppressed tone.
“Can’t live the day out. How fortunate Sir Robert is! Two garters to begin with!”
Tadpole had now succeeded in tackling Lord Marney alone; the other peers were far out of ear-shot. “I don’t pretend to be behind the scenes, my Lord,” said the honest gentleman in a peculiarly confidential tone, and with a glance that spoke volumes of state secrecy; “but it was said to me today, ‘Tadpole, if you do chance to meet Lord Marney, you may say that positively Lord Rambrooke will not have the Buck-hounds.’”
“All I want,” said Lord Marney, “is to see men of character about her Majesty. This is a domestic country, and the country expects that no nobleman should take household office whose private character is not inexpugnable. Now that fellow Rambrooke keeps a French woman. It is not much known, but it is a fact.”
“Dreadful!” exclaimed Mr Tadpole. “I have no doubt of it. But he has no chance of the Buck-hounds, you may rely on that. Private character is to be the basis of the new government. Since the Reform Act that is a qualification much more esteemed by the constituency than public services. We must go with the times, my Lord. A virtuous middle class shrink with horror from French actresses; and the Wesleyans — the Wesleyans must be considered, Lord Marney.”
“I always subscribe to them,” said his Lordship.
“Ah!” said Mr Tadpole mysteriously, “I am glad to hear that. Nothing I have heard today has given me so much pleasure as those few words. One may hardly jest on such a subject,” he added with a sanctimonious air; “but I think I may say”— and here he broke into a horse smile —“I think I may say that those subscriptions will not be without their fruit.” And with a bow honest Tadpole disappeared, saying to himself as he left the house, “If you were ready to be conspirators when I entered the room, my Lords, you were at least prepared to be traitors when I quitted it.”
In the meantime Lord Marney in the best possible humour said to Lord de Mowbray, “You are going to White’s are you? If so take me.”
“I am sorry, my dear Lord, but I have an appointment in the city. I have got to go to the Temple, and I am already behind my time.”
And why was Lord de Mowbray going to the Temple? He had received the day before when he came home to dress a very disagreeable letter from some lawyers, apprising him that they were instructed by their client Mr Walter Gerard to commence proceedings against his lordship on a writ of right with respect to his manors of Mowbray, Valence, Mowedale, Mowbray Valence, and several others carefully enumerated in their precise epistle, and the catalogue of which read like an extract from Domesday Book.
More than twenty years had elapsed since the question had been mooted; and though the discussion had left upon Lord de Mowbray an impression from which at times he had never entirely recovered, still circumstances had occurred since the last proceedings which gave him a moral if not a legal conviction that he should be disturbed no more. And these were the circumstances: Lord de Mowbray after the death of the father of Walter Gerard had found himself in communication with the agent who had developed and pursued the claim for the yeoman, and had purchased for a good round sum the documents on which that claim was founded, and by which apparently that claim could only be sustained.
The vendor of these muniments was Baptist Hatton, and the sum which he obtained for them, by allowing him to settle in the metropolis, pursue his studies, purchase his library and collections, and otherwise give himself that fair field which brains without capital can seldom command, was in fact the foundation of his fortune. Many years afterwards Lord de Mowbray had recognised Hatton in the prosperous parliamentary agent who often appeared at the bar of the House of Lords and before committees of privileges, and who gradually obtained an unrivalled reputation and employment in peerage cases. Lord de Mowbray renewed his acquaintance with a man who was successful; bowed to Hatton whenever they met; and finally consulted him respecting the barony of Valence which had been in the old Fitz–Warene and Mowbray families and to which it was thought the present earl might prefer some hocus-pocus claim through his deceased mother; so that however recent was his date as an English earl, he might figure on the roll as a Plantagenet baron, which in the course of another century would complete the grand mystification of high nobility. The death of his son dexterously christened Valence had a little damped his ardour in this respect; but still there was a sufficiently intimate connection kept up between him and Hatton; so that before he placed the letter he had received in the hands of his lawyers he thought it desirable to consult his ancient ally.
This was the reason that Lord de Mowbray was at the present moment seated in the same chair in the same library as was a few days back that worthy baronet, Sir Vavasour Firebrace. Mr Hatton was at the same table similarly employed; his Persian cat on his right hand, and his choice spaniels reposing on their cushions at his feet.
Mr Hatton held forward his hand to receive the letter of which Lord de Mowbray had been speaking to him, and which he read with great attention, weighing as it were each word. Singular! as the letter had been written by himself, and the firm who signed it were only his instruments, obeying the spring of the master hand.
“Very remarkable!” said Mr Hatton.
“Is it not!” said Lord de Mowbray.
“And your Lordship received this yesterday?”
“Yesterday. I lost no time in communicating with you.”
“Jubb and Jinks,” continued Mr Hatton, musingly, surveying the signature of the letter. “A very respectable firm.”
“That makes it more strange,” said his Lordship.
“It does,” said Mr Hatton.
“A respectable firm would hardly embark in such a proceeding without some show of pretext,” said Lord de Mowbray.
“Hardly,” said Mr Hatton.
“But what can they have?” urged his Lordship.
“What indeed!” said Mr Hatton. “Mr Walter Gerard without his pedigree is a mere flash in the pan; and I defy him to prove anything without the deed of ‘77.”
“Well, he has not got that,” said Lord de Mowbray.
“Safe, of course?” said Mr Hatton.
“Certain. I almost wish I had burnt it as well as the whole box-full.”
“Destroy that deed and the other muniments, and the Earl de Mowbray will never be Baron Valence,” said Mr Hatton.
“But what use are these deeds now?” said his lordship. “If we produce them, we may give a colour to this fellow’s claim.”
“Time will settle his claim,” said Mr Hatton; “it will mature yours. You can wait.”
“Alas! since the death of my poor boy —”
“It has become doubly important. Substantiate the barony, it will descend to your eldest daughter, who, even if married, will retain your name. Your family will live, and ennobled. The Fitz–Warenes Lords Valence will yield to none in antiquity; and as to rank, as long as Mowbray Castle belongs to them, the revival of the earldom is safe at the first coronation, or the first ministry that exists with a balanced state of parties.”
“That is the right view of the case,” said Lord de Mowbray; “and what do you advise?”
“Be calm, and you have nothing to fear. This is the mere revival of an old claim, too vast to be allowed to lapse from desuetude. Your documents you say are all secure?”
“Be sure of that. They are at this moment in the muniment room of the great tower of Mowbray Castle; in the same iron box and in the same cabinet they were deposited —”
“When, by placing them in your hands,” said Mr Hatton finishing a sentence which might have been awkward, “I had the extreme satisfaction of confirming the rights and calming the anxieties of one of our ancient houses. I would recommend your lordship to instruct your lawyers to appear to this writ as a matter of course. But enter into no details, no unnecessary confidence with them. They are needless. Treat the matter lightly, especially to them. You will hear no more of it.”
“You feel confidence?”
“Perfect. Walter Gerard has no documents of any kind. Whatever his claim might be, good or bad, the only evidence that can prove his pedigree is in your possession and the only use to which it ever will be put, will be in due time to seat your grandson in the House of Lords.”
“I am glad I called upon you,” said Lord Mowbray.
“To be sure. Your lordship can speak to me without reserve, and I am used to these start-ups. It is part of the trade; but an old soldier is not to be deceived by such feints.”
“Clearly a feint, you think?”
“A feint! a feint.”
“Good morning. I am glad I have called. How goes on my friend Sir Vavasour?”
“Oh! I shall land him at last.”
“Well, he is an excellent, neighbourly, man. I have a great respect for Sir Vavasour. Would you dine with me, Mr Hatton, on Thursday? It would give me and Lady de Mowbray great pleasure.”
“Your lordship is extremely kind,” said Mr Hatton bowing with a slight sarcastic smile, “but I am an hermit.”
“But your friends should see you sometimes,” said Lord de Mowbray.
“Your lordship is too good, but I am a mere man of business and know my position. I feel I am not at home in ladies’ society.”
“Well then come tomorrow: I am alone, and I will ask some persons to meet you whom you know and like — Sir Vavasour and Lord Shaftesbury and a most learned Frenchman who is over here — a Vicomte de Narbonne, who is very anxious to make your acquaintance. Your name is current I can tell you at Paris.”
“Your lordship is too good; another day: I have a great pressure of affairs at present.”
“Well, well; so be it. Good morning, Mr Hatton.”
Hatton bowed lowly. The moment the door was shut, rubbing his hands, he said, “In the same box and in the same cabinet: the muniment room in the great tower of Mowbray Castle! They exist and I know their whereabouts. I’ll have ’em.”
Two and even three days had rolled over since Mr Tadpole had reported Sir Robert on his way to the palace, and marvellously little had transpired. It was of course known that a cabinet was in formation, and the daily papers reported to the public the diurnal visits of certain noble lords and right honourable gentlemen to the new first minister. But the world of high politics had suddenly become so cautious that nothing leaked out. Even gossip was at fault. Lord Marney had not received the Buckhounds, though he never quitted his house for ride or lounge without leaving precise instructions with Captain Grouse as to the identical time he should return home, so that his acceptance should not be delayed. Ireland was not yet governed by the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine, and the Earl de Mowbray was still ungartered. These three distinguished noblemen were all of them anxious — a little fidgetty; but at the same time it was not even whispered that Lord Rambrooke or any other lord had received the post which Lord Marney had appropriated to himself; nor had Lord Killcroppy had a suspicious interview with the prime minister, which kept the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine quiet though not easy; while not a shadow of coming events had glanced over the vacant stall of Lord Ribbonville in St George’s Chapel, and this made Lord de Mowbray tranquil, though scarcely content. In the meantime, daily and hourly they all pumped Mr Tadpole, who did not find it difficult to keep up his reputation for discretion; for knowing nothing, and beginning himself to be perplexed at the protracted silence, he took refuge in oracular mystery, and delivered himself of certain Delphic sentences which adroitly satisfied those who consulted him while they never committed himself.
At length one morning there was an odd whisper in the circle of first initiation. The blood mantled on the cheek of Lady St Julians; Lady Deloraine turned pale. Lady Firebrace wrote confidential notes with the same pen to Mr Tadpole and Lord Masque. Lord Marney called early in the morning on the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine, and already found Lord de Mowbray there. The clubs were crowded even at noon. Everywhere a mysterious bustle and an awful stir.
What could be the matter? What has happened?
“It is true,” said Mr Egerton to Mr Berners at Brookes’.
“Is it true?” asked Mr Jermyn of Lord Valentine at the Canton.
“I heard it last night at Crockford’s,” said Mr Ormsby; “one always hears things there four-and-twenty hours before other places.”
The world was employed the whole of the morning in asking and answering this important question “Is it true?” Towards dinner time, it was settled universally in the affirmative, and then the world went out to dine and to ascertain why it was true and how it was true.
And now what really had happened? What had happened was what is commonly called a “hitch.” There was undoubtedly a hitch somewhere and somehow; a hitch in the construction of the new cabinet. Who could have thought it? The whig ministers it seems had resigned, but somehow or other had not entirely and completely gone out. What a constitutional dilemma? The Houses must evidently meet, address the throne, and impeach its obstinate counsellors. Clearly the right course, and party feeling ran so high, that it was not impossible that something might be done. At any rate, it was a capital opportunity for the House of Lords to pluck up a little courage and take what is called, in high political jargon, the initiative. Lord Marney at the suggestion of Mr Tadpole was quite ready to do this; and so was the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine, and almost the Earl de Mowbray.
But then when all seemed ripe and ready, and there appeared a probability of the “Independence of the House of Lords” being again the favourite toast of conservative dinners, the oddest rumour in the world got about, which threw such a ridicule on these great constitutional movements in petto, that even with the Buckhounds in the distance and Tadpole at his elbow, Lord Marney hesitated. It seemed, though of course no one could for a moment credit it, that these wrong-headed, rebellious ministers who would not go out, wore — petticoats!
And the great Jamaica debate that had been cooked so long, and the anxiously expected, yet almost despaired of, defection of the independent radical section, and the full-dressed visit to the palace that had gladdened the heart of Tadpole — were they all to end in this? Was Conservatism, that mighty mystery of the nineteenth century — was it after all to be brained by a fan!
Since the farce of the “Invincibles” nothing had ever been so ludicrously successful.
Lady Deloraine consoled herself for the “Bedchamber Plot” by declaring that Lady St Julians was indirectly the cause of it, and that had it not been for the anticipation of her official entrance into the royal apartments the conspiracy would not have been more real than the Meal-tub plot or any other of the many imaginary machinations that still haunt the page of history, and occasionally flit about the prejudiced memory of nations. Lady St Julians on the contrary wrung her hands over the unhappy fate of her enthralled sovereign, deprived of her faithful presence and obliged to put up with the society of personages of whom she knew nothing and who called themselves the friends of her youth. The ministers who had missed, especially those who had received their appointments, looked as all men do when they are jilted — embarrassed and affecting an awkward ease; as if they knew something which, if they told, would free them from the supreme ridicule of their situation, but which, as men of delicacy and honour, they refrained from revealing. All those who had been in fluttering hopes, however faint, of receiving preferment, took courage now that the occasion had passed, and loudly complained of their cruel and undeniable deprivation. The constitution was wounded in their persons. Some fifty gentlemen who had not been appointed under secretaries of state, moaned over the martyrdom of young ambition.
“Peel ought to have taken office,” said Lord Marney. “What are the women to us?”
“Peel ought to have taken office,” said the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine. “He should have remembered how much he owed to Ireland.”
“Peel ought to have taken office,” said Lord de Mowbray. “The garter will become now a mere party badge.”
Perhaps it may be allowed to the impartial pen that traces these memoirs of our times to agree, though for a different reason, with these distinguished followers of Sir Robert Peel. One may be permitted to think that, under all circumstances, he should have taken office in 1839. His withdrawal seems to have been a mistake. In the great heat of parliamentary faction which had prevailed since 1831, the royal prerogative, which, unfortunately for the rights and liberties and social welfare of the people, had since 1688 been more or less oppressed, had waned fainter and fainter. A youthful princess on the throne, whose appearance touched the imagination, and to whom her people were generally inclined to ascribe something of that decision of character which becomes those born to command, offered a favourable opportunity to restore the exercise of that regal authority, the usurpation of whose functions has entailed on the people of England so much suffering and so much degradation. It was unfortunate that one who, if any, should have occupied the proud and national position of the leader of the tory party, the chief of the people and the champion of the throne, should have commenced his career as minister under Victoria by an unseemly contrariety to the personal wishes of the Queen. The reaction of public opinion, disgusted with years of parliamentary tumult and the incoherence of party legislation, the balanced state in the kingdom of political parties themselves, the personal character of the sovereign — these were all causes which intimated that a movement in favour of prerogative was at hand. The leader of the tory party should have vindicated his natural position, and availed himself of the gracious occasion: he missed it; and as the occasion was inevitable, the whigs enjoyed its occurrence. And thus England witnessed for the first time the portentous anomaly of the oligarchical or Venetian party, which had in the old days destroyed the free monarchy of England, retaining power merely by the favour of the Court.
But we forget, Sir Robert Peel is not the leader of the Tory party: the party that resisted the ruinous mystification that metamorphosed direct taxation by the Crown into indirect taxation by the Commons; that denounced the system that mortgaged industry to protect property; the party that ruled Ireland by a scheme which reconciled both churches, and by a series of parliaments which counted among them lords and commons of both religions; that has maintained at all times the territorial constitution of England as the only basis and security for local government, and which nevertheless once laid on the table of the House of Commons a commercial tariff negociated at Utrecht, which is the most rational that was ever devised by statesmen; a party that has prevented the Church from being the salaried agent of the state, and has supported through many struggles the parochial polity of the country which secures to every labourer a home.
In a parliamentary sense, that great party has ceased to exist; but I will believe it still lives in the thought and sentiment and consecrated memory of the English nation. It has its origin in great principles and in noble instincts; it sympathises with the lowly, it looks up to the Most High; it can count its heroes and its martyrs; they have met in its behalf plunder, proscription, and death. Nor when it finally yielded to the iron progress of oligarchical supremacy, was its catastrophe inglorious. Its genius was vindicated in golden sentences and with fervent arguments of impassioned logic by St John; and breathed in the intrepid eloquence and patriot soul of William Wyndham. Even now it is not dead, but sleepeth; and in an age of political materialism, of confused purposes and perplexed intelligence, that aspires only to wealth because it has faith in no other accomplishment, as men rifle cargoes on the verge of shipwreck, Toryism will yet rise from the tomb over which Bolingbroke shed his last tear, to bring back strength to the Crown, liberty to the Subject, and to announce that power has only one duty — to secure the social welfare of the PEOPLE.
During the week of political agitation which terminated with the inglorious catastrophe of the Bedchamber plot, Sybil remained tranquil, and would have been scarcely conscious of what was disturbing so many right honourable hearts, had it not been for the incidental notice of their transactions by her father and his friends. To the chartists indeed the factious embroilment at first was of no great moment, except as the breaking up and formation of cabinets might delay the presentation of the National Petition. They had long ceased to distinguish between the two parties who then and now contend for power. And they were tight. Between the noble lord who goes out and the right honourable gentleman who comes in, where is the distinctive principle? A shadowy difference may be simulated in opposition, to serve a cry and stimulate the hustings: but the mask is not even worn in Downing Street: and the conscientious conservative seeks in the pigeon-holes of a whig bureau for the measures against which for ten years he has been sanctioning by the speaking silence of an approving nod, a general wail of frenzied alarm.
Once it was otherwise; once the people recognised a party in the state whose principles identified them with the rights and privileges of the multitude: but when they found the parochial constitution of the country sacrificed without a struggle, and a rude assault made on all local influences in order to establish a severely organised centralisation, a blow was given to the influence of the priest and of the gentleman, the ancient champions of the people against arbitrary courts and rapacious parliaments, from which they will find that it requires no ordinary courage and wisdom to recover.
The unexpected termination of the events of May, 1839, in the reestablishment in power of a party confessedly too weak to carry on the parliamentary government of the country, was viewed however by the chartists in a very different spirit to that with which they had witnessed the outbreak of these transactions. It had unquestionably a tendency to animate their efforts, and imparted a bolder tone to their future plans and movements. They were encouraged to try a fall with a feeble administration. Gerard from this moment became engrossed in affairs; his correspondence greatly increased; and he was so much occupied that Sybil saw daily less and less of her father.
It was on the morning after the day that Hatton had made his first and unlooked-for visit in Smith’s Square, some of the delegates who had caught the rumour of the resignation of the whigs had called early on Gerard, and he had soon after left the house in their company; and Sybil was alone. The strange incidents of the preceding day were revolving in her mind, as her eye wandered vaguely over her book. The presence of that Hatton who had so often and in such different scenes occupied their conversation; the reappearance of that stranger, whose unexpected entrance into their little world had eighteen months ago so often lent interest and pleasure to their life — these were materials for pensive sentiment. Mr Franklin had left some gracious memories with Sybil; the natural legacy of one so refined, intelligent, and gentle, whose temper seemed never ruffled, and who evidently so sincerely relished their society. Mowedale rose before her in all the golden beauty of its autumnal hour; their wild rambles and hearty greetings and earnest converse, when her father returned from his daily duties and his eye kindled with pleasure as the accustomed knock announced the arrival of his almost daily companion. In spite of the excitement of the passing moment, its high hopes and glorious aspirations, and visions perchance of greatness and of power, the eye of Sybil was dimmed with emotion as she recalled that innocent and tranquil dream.
Her father had heard from Franklin after his departure more than once; but his letters, though abounding in frank expressions of deep interest in the welfare of Gerard and his daughter, were in some degree constrained: a kind of reserve seemed to envelope him; they never learnt anything of his life and duties: he seemed sometimes as it were meditating a departure from his country. There was undoubtedly about him something mysterious and unsatisfactory. Morley was of opinion that he was a spy; Gerard, less suspicious, ultimately concluded that he was harassed by his creditors, and when at Mowedale was probably hiding from them.
And now the mystery was at length dissolved. And what an explanation! A Norman, a noble, an oppressor of the people, a plunderer of the church — all the characters and capacities that Sybil had been bred up to look upon with fear and aversion, and to recognise as the authors of the degradation of her race.
Sybil sighed: the door opened and Egremont stood before her. The blood rose to her cheek, her heart trembled; for the first time in his presence she felt embarrassed and constrained. His countenance on the contrary was collected; serious and pale.
“I am an intruder,” he said advancing, “but I wish much to speak to you,” and he seated himself near her. There was a momentary pause. “You seemed to treat with scorn yesterday,” resumed Egremont in accents less sustained, “the belief that sympathy was independent of the mere accidents of position. Pardon me, Sybil, but even you may be prejudiced.” He paused.
“I should be sorry to treat anything you said with scorn,” replied Sybil in a subdued tone. “Many things happened yesterday,” she added, “which might be offered as some excuse for an unguarded word.”
“Would that it had been unguarded!” said Egremont in a voice of melancholy. “I could have endured it with less repining. No, Sybil, I have known you, I have had the happiness and the sorrow of knowing you too well to doubt the convictions of your mind, or to believe that they can be lightly removed, and yet I would strive to remove them. You look upon me as an enemy, as a natural foe, because I am born among the privileged. I am a man, Sybil, as well as a noble.” Again he paused; she looked down, but did not speak.
“And can I not feel for men, my fellows, whatever be their lot? I know you will deny it; but you are in error, Sybil; you have formed your opinions upon tradition, not upon experience. The world that exists is not the world of which you have read; the class that calls itself your superior is not the same class as ruled in the time of your fathers. There is a change in them as in all other things, and I participate that change. I shared it before I knew you, Sybil; and if it touched me then, at least believe it does not influence me less now.”
“If there be a change,” said Sybil, “it is because in some degree the People have learnt their strength.”
“Ah! dismiss from your mind those fallacious fancies,” said Egremont. “The People are not strong; the People never can be strong. Their attempts at self-vindication will end only in their suffering and confusion. It is civilisation that has effected, that is effecting this change. It is that increased knowledge of themselves that teaches the educated their social duties. There is a dayspring in the history of this nation which those who are on the mountain tops can as yet perhaps only recognize. You deem you are in darkness, and I see a dawn. The new generation of the aristocracy of England are not tyrants, not oppressors, Sybil, as you persist in believing. Their intelligence, better than that, their hearts are open to the responsibility of their position. But the work that is before them is no holiday-work. It is not the fever of superficial impulse that can remove the deep-fixed barriers of centuries of ignorance and crime. Enough that their sympathies are awakened; time and thought will bring the rest. They are the natural leaders of the People, Sybil; believe me they are the only ones.”
“The leaders of the People are those whom the People trust,” said Sybil rather haughtily.
“And who may betray them,” said Egremont.
“Betray them!” exclaimed Sybil. “And can you believe that my father —”
“No, no; you can feel, Sybil, though I cannot express, how much I honour your father. But he stands alone in the singleness and purity of his heart. Who surround him?”
“Those whom the People have also chosen; and from a like confidence in their virtues and abilities. They are a senate supported by the sympathy of millions, with only one object in view — the emancipation of their race. It is a sublime spectacle, these delegates of labour advocating the sacred cause in a manner which might shame your haughty factions. What can resist a demonstration so truly national! What can withstand the supremacy of its moral power!”
Her eye met the glance of Egremont. That brow full of thought and majesty was fixed on his. He encountered that face radiant as a seraph’s; those dark eyes flashing with the inspiration of the martyr.
Egremont rose, moved slowly to the window, gazed in abstraction for a few moments on the little garden with its dank turf that no foot ever trod, its mutilated statue and its mouldering frescoes. What a silence; how profound! What a prospect: how drear! Suddenly he turned, and advancing with a more rapid pace: he approached Sybil. Her head was averted, and leaning on her left arm she seemed lost in reverie. Egremont fell upon his knee and gently taking her hand he pressed it to his lips. She started, she looked round, agitated, alarmed, while he breathed forth in tremulous accents, “Let me express to you my adoration!
“Ah! not now for the first time, but for ever; from the moment I first beheld you in the starlit arch of Marney has your spirit ruled my being and softened every spring of my affections. I followed you to your home, and lived for a time content in the silent worship of your nature. When I came the last morning to the cottage, it was to tell, and to ask, all. Since then for a moment your image has never been absent from my consciousness; your picture consecrates my hearth and your approval has been the spur of my career. Do not reject my love; it is deep as your nature, and fervent as my own. Banish those prejudices that have embittered your existence, and if persisted in may wither mine. Deign to retain this hand! If I be a noble I have none of the accidents of nobility: I cannot offer you wealth, splendour, or power; but I can offer you the devotion of an entranced being — aspirations that you shall guide — an ambition that you shall govern!”
“These words are mystical and wild,” said Sybil with an amazed air; “they come upon me with convulsive suddenness.” And she paused for an instant, collecting as it were her mind with an expression almost of pain upon her countenance. “These changes of life are so strange and rapid that it seems to me I can scarcely meet them. You are Lord Marney’s brother; it was but yesterday — only but yesterday — I learnt it. I thought then I had lost your friendship, and now you speak of — love!
“Love of me! Retain your hand and share your life and fortunes! You forget what I am. But though I learnt only yesterday what you are, I will not be so remiss. Once you wrote upon a page you were my faithful friend: and I have pondered over that line with kindness often. I will be your faithful friend; I will recall you to yourself. I will at least not bring you shame and degradation.”
“O! Sybil, beloved, beautiful Sybil — not such bitter words; no, no!”
“No bitterness to you! that would indeed be harsh,” and she covered with her hand her streaming eyes.
“Why what is this?” after a pause and with an effort she exclaimed. “An union between the child and brother of nobles and a daughter of the people! Estrangement from your family, and with cause, their hopes destroyed, their pride outraged; alienation from your order, and justly, all their prejudices insulted. You will forfeit every source of worldly content and cast off every spring of social success. Society for you will become a great confederation to deprive you of self-complacency. And rightly. Will you not be a traitor to the cause? No, no, kind friend, for such I’ll call you. Your opinion of me, too good and great as I feel it, touches me deeply. I am not used to such passages in life; I have read of such. Pardon me, feel for me, if I receive them with some disorder. They sound to me for the first time — and for the last. Perhaps they ought never to have reached my ear. No matter now — I have a life of penitence before me, and I trust I shall be pardoned.” And she wept.
“You have indeed punished me for the fatal accident of birth, if it deprives me of you.”
“Not so,” she added weeping; “I shall never be the bride of earth; and but for one whose claims though earthly are to me irresistible, I should have ere this forgotten my hereditary sorrows in the cloister.”
All this time Egremont had retained her hand, which she had not attempted to withdraw. He had bent his head over it as she spoke — it was touched with his tears. For some moments there was silence; then looking up and in a smothered voice Egremont made one more effort to induce Sybil to consider his suit. He combated her views as to the importance to him of the sympathies of his family and of society; he detailed to her his hopes and plans for their future welfare; he dwelt with passionate eloquence on his abounding love. But with a solemn sweetness, and as it were a tender inflexibility, the tears trickling down her beautiful cheek, and pressing his hand in both of hers, she subdued and put aside all his efforts.
“Believe me,” she said, “the gulf is impassable.”
END OF THE FOURTH BOOK
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