“Terrible news from Birmingham,” said Mr Egerton at Brookes’. “They have massacred the police, beat off the military, and sacked the town. News just arrived.”
“I have known it these two hours,” said a grey-headed gentleman, speaking without taking his eyes off the newspaper. “There is a cabinet sitting now.”
“Well I always said so,” said Mr Egerton, “our fellows ought to have put down that Convention.”
“It is deuced lucky,” said Mr Berners, “that the Bedchamber business is over, and we are all right. This affair in the midst of the Jamaica hitch would have been fatal to us.”
“These chartists evidently act upon a system,” said Mr Egerton. “You see they were perfectly quiet till the National Petition was presented and debated; and now, almost simultaneously with our refusing to consider their petition, we have news of this outbreak.”
“I hope they will not spread,” said the grey-headed gentleman. “There are not troops enough in the country if there be anything like a general movement. I hear they have sent the guards down by a special train, and a hundred more of the police. London is not over-garrisoned.”
“They are always ready for a riot at Birmingham,” said a Warwickshire peer. “Trade is very bad there and they suffer a good deal. But I should think it would not go farther.”
“I am told,” said the grey-headed gentleman, “that business is getting slack in all the districts.”
“It might be better,” said Mr Egerton, “but they have got work.” Here several gentlemen entered, enquiring whether the evening papers were in and what was the news from Birmingham.
“I am told,” said one of them, “that the police were regularly smashed.”
“Is it true that the military were really beat off?”
“Quite untrue: the fact is there were no proper preparations; the town was taken by surprise, the magistrates lost their heads; the people were masters of the place; and when the police did act, they were met by a triumphant populace, who two hours before would have fled before them. They say they have burnt down above forty houses.”
“It is a bad thing — this beating the police,” said the grey-headed gentleman.
“But what is the present state of affairs?” enquired Mr Berners. “Are the rioters put down?”
“Not in the least,” said Mr Egerton, “as I hear. They are encamped in the Bull Ring amid smoking ruins, and breathe nothing but havoc.”
“Well, I voted for taking the National Petition into consideration,” said Mr Berners. “It could do us no harm, and would have kept things quiet.”
“So did every fellow on our side,” said Mr Egerton, “who was not in office or about to be. Well, Heaven knows what may come next. The Charter may some day be as popular in this club as the Reform Act.”
“The oddest thing in that debate,” said Mr Berners, “was Egremont’s move.”
“I saw Marney last night at Lady St Julians,” said Mr Egerton, “and congratulated him on his brother’s speech. He looked daggers, and grinned like a ghoul.”
“It was a very remarkable speech — that of Egremont,” said the grey-headed gentleman. “I wonder what he wants.”
“I think he must be going to turn radical,” said the Warwickshire peer.
“Why the whole speech was against radicalism,” said Mr Egerton.
“Ah, then he is going to turn whig, I suppose.”
“He is ultra anti-whig,” said Egerton.
“Then what the deuce is he?” said Mr Berners.
“Not a conservative certainly, for Lady St Julians does nothing but abuse him.”
“I suppose he is crotchetty,” suggested the Warwickshire noble.
“That speech of Egremont was the most really democratic speech that I ever read,” said the grey-headed gentleman. “How was it listened to?”
“Oh capitally,” said Mr Egerton. “He has very seldom spoken before and always slightly though well. He was listened to with mute attention; never was a better house. I should say made a great impression, though no one knew exactly what he was after.”
“What does he mean by obtaining the results of the charter without the intervention of its machinery?” enquired Lord Loraine, a mild, middle-aged, lounging, languid man, who passed his life in crossing from Brookes’ to Boodle’s and from Boodle’s to Brookes’, and testing the comparative intelligence of these two celebrated bodies; himself gifted with no ordinary abilities cultivated with no ordinary care, but the victim of sauntering, his sultana queen, as it was, according to Lord Halifax, of the second Charles Stuart.
“He spoke throughout in an exoteric vein,” said the grey-headed gentleman, “and I apprehend was not very sure of his audience; but I took him to mean, indeed it was the gist of the speech, that if you wished for a time to retain your political power, you could only effect your purpose by securing for the people greater social felicity.”
“Well, that is sheer radicalism,” said the Warwickshire peer, “pretending that the People can be better off than they are, is radicalism and nothing else.”
“I fear, if that be radicalism,” said Lord Loraine, “we must all take a leaf out of the same book. Sloane was saying at Boodle’s just now that he looked forward to the winter in his country with horror.”
“And they have no manufactures there,” said Mr Egerton.
“Sloane was always a croaker,” said the Warwickshire peer. “He always said the New Poor Law would not act, and there is no part of the country where it works so well as his own.”
“They say at Boodle’s there is to be an increase to the army,” said Lord Loraine, “ten thousand men immediately; decided on by the cabinet this afternoon.”
“It could hardly have leaked out by this time,” said the grey-headed gentleman. “The cabinet were sitting less than an hour ago.”
“They have been up a good hour,” said Lord Loraine, “quite long enough for their decisions to be known in St James’s Street. In the good old times, George Farnley used always to walk from Downing Street to this place the moment the council was up and tell us everything.”
“Ah! those were the good old gentleman-like times,” said Mr Berners, “when members of Parliament had nobody to please and ministers of State nothing to do.”
The riots of Birmingham occurred two months after the events that closed our last volume. That period, as far as the obvious movements of the chartists were concerned, had been passed in preparations for the presentation and discussion of the National Petition, which the parliamentary embroilments of the spring of that year had hitherto procrastinated and prevented. The petition was ultimately carried down to Westminster on a triumphal car accompanied by all the delegates of the Convention in solemn procession. It was necessary to construct a machine in order to introduce the huge bulk of parchment signed by a million and a half of persons, into the House of Commons, and thus supported, its vast form remained on the floor of the House during the discussion. The House after a debate which was not deemed by the people commensurate with the importance of the occasion, decided on rejecting the prayer of the Petition, and from that moment the party in the Convention who advocated a recourse to physical force in order to obtain their purpose, was in the ascendant. The National Petition and the belief that although its objects would not at present be obtained, still that a solemn and prolonged debate on its prayer would at least hold out to the working classes the hope that their rights might from that date rank among the acknowledged subjects of parliamentary discussion and ultimately by the force of discussion be recognized, as other rights of other portions of the people once equally disputed, had been the means by which the party in the Convention who upheld on all occasions the supremacy of moral power had been able to curb the energetic and reckless minority, who derided from the first all other methods but terror and violence as effective of their end. The hopes of all, the vanity of many, were frustrated and shocked by finding that the exertions and expenditure of long months were not only fruitless, but had not even attracted as numerous an assembly or excited as much interest, as an ordinary party struggle on some petty point of factitious interest forgotten as soon as fought. The attention of the working classes was especially called by their leaders to the contrast between the interest occasioned by the endangered constitution of Jamaica, a petty and exhausted colony, and the claims for the same constitutional rights by the working millions of England. In the first instance, not a member was absent from his place; men were brought indeed from distant capitals to participate in the struggle and to decide it; the debate lasted for days, almost for weeks; not a public man of light and leading in the country withheld the expression of his opinion; the fate of governments was involved in it; cabinets were overthrown and reconstructed in the throes and tumult of the strife, and for the first time for a long period the Sovereign personally interposed in public transactions with a significance of character, which made the working classes almost believe that the privileged had at last found a master, and the unfranchished regained their natural chief. The mean position which the Saxon multitude occupied as distinguished from the Jamaica planters sunk deep into their hearts. From that moment all hope of relief from the demonstration of a high moral conduct in the millions, and the exhibition of that well-regulated order of public life which would intimate their fitness for the possession and fulfilment of public rights, vanished. The party of violence, a small minority as is usually the case, but consisting of men of determined character, triumphed; and the outbreak at Birmingham was the first consequence of those reckless councils that were destined in the course of the ensuing years to inflict on the working classes of this country so much suffering and disaster.
It was about this time, a balmy morning of July, that Sybil, tempted by the soft sunshine, and a longing for the sight of flowers and turf and the spread of winding waters, went forth from her gloomy domicile to those beautiful gardens that bloom in that once melancholy region of marsh, celebrated in old days only for its Dutch canal and its Chinese bridge, and now not unworthy of the royal park that incloses them.. Except here and there a pretty nursery-maid with her interesting charge; some beautiful child with nodding plume, immense bow, and gorgeous sash; the gardens were vacant. Indeed it was only at this early hour, that Sybil found from experience, that it was agreeable in London for a woman unaccompanied to venture abroad. There is no European city where our fair sisters are so little independent as in our metropolis; to our shame.
Something of the renovating influence of a beautiful nature was needed by the daughter of Gerard. She was at this moment anxious and dispirited. The outbreak at Birmingham, the conviction that such proceedings must ultimately prove fatal to the cause to which she was devoted, the dark apprehension that her father was in some manner implicated in this movement, that had commenced with so much public disaster, and which menaced consequences still more awful, all these events, and fears, and sad forebodings, acted with immense influence on a temperament which, though gifted with even a sublime courage, was singularly sensitive. The quick and teeming imagination of Sybil conjured up a thousand fears which were in some degree unfounded, in a great degree exaggerated, but this is the inevitable lot of the creative mind practising on the inexperienced.
The shock too had been sudden. The two months that had elapsed since she had parted, as she supposed for ever, from Egremont, while they had not less abounded than the preceding time in that pleasing public excitement which her father’s career, in her estimation alike useful, honourable, and distinguished, occasioned her, had been fruitful in some sources of satisfaction of a softer and more domestic character. The acquaintance of Hatton, of whom they saw a great deal, had very much contributed to the increased amenity of her life. He was a most agreeable, instructive, and obliging companion; who seemed peculiarly to possess the art of making life pleasant by the adroit management of unobtrusive resources. He lent Sybil books; and all that he recommended to her notice, were of a kind that harmonized with her sentiment and taste. He furnished her from his library with splendid works of art, illustrative of those periods of our history and those choice and costly edifices which were associated with her fondest thought and fancy. He placed in her room the best periodical literature of the day, which for her was a new world; he furnished her with newspapers whose columns of discussion taught her, that the opinions she had embraced were not unquestioned: as she had never seen a journal in her life before, except a stray number of the “Mowbray Phalanx,” or the metropolitan publication which was devoted to the cause of the National Convention, and reported her father’s speeches, the effect of this reading on her intelligence was, to say the least, suggestive.
Many a morning too when Gerard was disengaged, Hatton would propose that they should show Sybil something of the splendour or the rarities of the metropolis; its public buildings, museums, and galleries of art. Sybil, though uninstructed in painting, had that native taste which requires only observation to arrive at true results. She was much interested with all she saw and all that occurred, and her gratification was heightened by the society of an individual who not only sympathised with all she felt, but who, if she made an inquiry, was ever ready with an instructive reply. Hatton poured forth the taste and treasures of a well-stored and refined intelligence. And then too, always easy, bland, and considerate; and though with luxuries and conveniences at his command, to participate in which, under any other circumstances, might have been embarrassing to his companions, with so much tact, that either by an allusion to early days, happy days when he owed so much to Gerard’s father, or some other mode equally felicitous, he contrived completely to maintain among them the spirit of social equality. In the evening, Hatton generally looked in when Gerard was at home, and on Sundays they were always together. Their common faith was a bond of union which led them to the same altar, and on that day Hatton had obtained their promise always to dine with him. He was careful to ascertain each holy day at what chapel the music was most exquisite, that the most passionate taste of Sybil might be gratified. Indeed, during this residence in London, the opportunity it afforded of making her acquainted with some of the great masters of the human voice was perhaps to Sybil a source of pleasure not the least important. For though it was not deemed consistent with the future discipline which she contemplated to enter a theatre, there were yet occasions which permitted her, under every advantage, to listen to the performance of the master-pieces of sacred melody. Alone, with Hatton and her father, she often poured forth those tones of celestial sweetness and etherial power that had melted the soul of Egremont amid the ruins of Marney Abbey.
More intimately acquainted with Sybil Gerard, Hatton had shrunk from the project that he had at first so crudely formed. There was something about her that awed, while it fascinated him. He did not relinquish his purpose, for it was a rule of his life never to do that; but he postponed the plans of its fulfilment. Hatton was not, what is commonly understood by the phrase, in love with Sybil: certainly not passionately in love with her. With all his daring and talents and fine taste, there was in Hatton such a vein of thorough good sense, that it was impossible for him to act or even to think anything that was ridiculous. He wished still to marry Sybil for the great object that we have stated; he had a mind quite equal to appreciate her admirable qualities, but sense enough to wish that she were a less dazzling creature, because then he would have a better chance of accomplishing his end. He perceived when he had had a due opportunity to study her character, that the cloister was the natural catastrophe impending over a woman who, with an exalted mind, great abilities, a fine and profound education and almost supernatural charms, found herself born and rooted in the ranks of a degraded population. All this Hatton understood; it was a conclusion he had gradually arrived at by a gradual process of induction and by a vigilant observation that in its study of character had rarely been deceived; and when one evening with an art that could not be suspected, he sounded Gerard on the future of his daughter, he found that the clear intellect and straight-forward sagacity of the father had arrived at the same result. “She wishes,” said Gerard, “to take the veil, and I only oppose it for a time, that she may have some knowledge of life and a clear conception of what she is about to do. I wish not that she should hereafter reproach her father. But, to my mind, Sybil is right. She cannot look to marriage: no man that she could marry would be worthy of her.”
During these two months, and especially during the last, Morley was rarely in London, though ever much with Gerard, and often with his daughter during his visits. The necessary impulse had been given to the affairs of the Convention, the delegates had visited the members, the preparations for the presentation of the National Petition had been completed; the overthrow of the whig government, the abortive effort of Sir Robert Peel, the return of the whig administration, and the consequent measures, had occasioned a delay of two months in the presentation of the great document: it was well for Gerard to remain, who was a leader in debate, and whose absence for a week would have endangered his position as the head of a party, but these considerations did not influence Morley, who had already found great inconvenience in managing his journal at a distance; so, about the middle of May, he had returned to Mowbray, coming up occasionally by the train if anything important were stirring, or his vote could be of service to his friend and colleague. The affair of Birmingham however had alarmed Morley and he had written up to Gerard that he should instantly repair to town. Indeed he was expected the very morning that Sybil, her father having gone to the Convention where there were at this very moment very fiery debates, went forth to take the morning air of summer in the gardens of St James’ Park.
It was a real summer day; large, round, glossy, fleecy clouds, as white and shining as glaciers, studded with their immense and immoveable forms the deep blue sky. There was not even a summer breeze, though the air was mellow, balmy, and exhilarating. There was a bloom upon the trees, the waters glittered, the prismatic wild-fowl dived, breathed again, and again disappeared. Beautiful children, fresh and sweet as the new-born rose, glanced about with the gestures and sometimes the voices of Paradise. And in the distance rose the sacred towers of the great Western Minster.
How fair is a garden amid the toils and passions of existence! A curse upon those who vulgarize and desecrate these holy haunts; breaking the hearts of nursery maids, and smoking tobacco in the palace of the rose!
The mental clouds dispelled as Sybil felt the freshness and fragrance of nature. The colour came to her cheek; the deep brightness returned to her eye; her step that at first had been languid and if not melancholy, at least contemplative, became active and animated. She forgot the cares of life and was touched by all the sense of its enjoyment. To move, to breathe, to feel the sunbeam, were sensible and surpassing pleasures. Cheerful by nature, notwithstanding her stately thoughts and solemn life, a brilliant smile played on her seraphic face, as she marked the wild passage of the daring birds, or watched the thoughtless grace of infancy.
She rested herself on a bench beneath a branching elm, and her eye, that for some time had followed the various objects that had attracted it, was now fixed in abstraction on the sunny waters. The visions of past life rose before her. It was one of those reveries when the incidents of our existence are mapped before us, when each is considered with relation to the rest, and assumes in our knowledge its distinct and absolute position; when, as it were, we take stock of our experience, and ascertain how rich sorrow and pleasure, feeling and thought, intercourse with our fellow creatures and the fortuitous mysteries of life — have made us in wisdom.
The quick intelligence and the ardent imagination of Sybil had made her comprehend with fervor the two ideas that had been impressed on her young mind; the oppression of her church and the degradation of her people. Educated in solitude and exchanging thoughts only with individuals of the same sympathies, these impression had resolved themselves into one profound and gloomy conviction, that the world was divided only between the oppressors and the oppressed. With her, to be one of the people, was to be miserable and innocent; one of the privileged, a luxurious tyrant. In the cloister, in her garden, amid the scenes of suffering which she often visited and always solaced, she had raised up two phantoms which with her represented human nature.
But the experience of the last few months had operated a great change in these impressions. She had seen enough to suspect that the world was a more complicated system than she had preconceived. There was not that strong and rude simplicity in its organization she had supposed. The characters were more various, the motives more mixed, the classes more blended, the elements of each more subtle and diversified, than she had imagined. The People she found was not that pure embodiment of unity of feeling, of interest, and of purpose, which she had pictured in her abstractions. The people had enemies among the people: their own passions; which made them often sympathize, often combine, with the privileged. Her father, with all his virtues, all his abilities, singleness of purpose and simplicity of aim, encountered rivals in their own Convention, and was beset by open or, still worse, secret foes.
Sybil, whose mind had been nurtured with great thoughts, and with whom success or failure alike partook of the heroic, who had hoped for triumph, but who was prepared for sacrifice, found to her surprise that great thoughts have very little to do with the business of the world; that human affairs, even in an age of revolution, are the subject of compromise; and that the essence of compromise is littleness. She thought that the People, calm and collected, conscious at last of their strength and confident in their holy cause, had but to express their pure and noble convictions by the delegates of their choice, and that an antique and decrepid authority must bow before the irresistible influence of their moral power. These delegates of their choice turned out to be a plebeian senate of wild ambitions and sinister and selfish ends, while the decrepid authority that she had been taught existed only by the sufferance of the millions was compact and organized, with every element of physical power at its command, and supported by the interests, the sympathies, the honest convictions, and the strong prejudices of classes influential not merely from their wealth but even by their numbers.
Nor could she resist the belief that the feeling of the rich towards the poor was not that sentiment of unmingled hate and scorn which she associated with Norman conquerors and feudal laws. She would ascribe rather the want of sympathy that unquestionably exists between Wealth and Work in England, to mutual ignorance between the classes which possess these two great elements of national prosperity; and though the source of that ignorance was to be sought in antecedent circumstances of violence and oppression, the consequences perhaps had outlived the causes, as customs survive opinions.
Sybil looked towards Westminster, to those proud and passionate halls where assembles the Parliament of England; that rapacious, violent, and haughty body, that had brought kings and prelates to the block; spoiled churches and then seized the sacred manors for their personal prey; invested their own possessions with infinite privileges, and then mortgaged for their state and empire the labour of countless generations. Could the voice of solace sound from such a quarter?
Sybil unfolded a journal which she had brought; not now to be read for the first time; but now for the first time to be read alone, undisturbed, in a scene of softness and serenity. It contained a report of the debate in the House of Commons on the presentation of the National Petition; that important document which had been the means of drawing forth Sybil from her solitude, and of teaching her something of that world of which she had often pondered, and yet which she had so inaccurately preconceived.
Yes! there was one voice that had sounded in that proud Parliament, that free from the slang of faction, had dared to express immortal truths: the voice of a noble, who without being a demagogue, had upheld the popular cause; had pronounced his conviction that the rights of labour were as sacred as those of property; that if a difference were to be established, the interests of the living wealth ought to be preferred; who had declared that the social happiness of the millions should be the first object of a statesman, and that if that were not achieved, thrones and dominions, the pomp and power of courts and empires, were alike worthless.
With a heart not without emotion; with a kindling cheek, and eyes suffused with tears, Sybil read the speech of Egremont. She ceased; still holding the paper with one hand, she laid on it the other with tenderness, and looked up to breathe as it were for relief. Before her stood the orator himself.
Egremont had recognized Sybil as she entered the garden. He was himself crossing the park to attend a committee of the House of Commons which had sat for the first time that morning. The meeting had been formal and brief, the committee soon adjourned, and Egremont repaired to the spot where he was in the hope of still finding Sybil.
He approached her not without some restraint; with reserve and yet with tenderness. “This is a great, an unexpected pleasure indeed.” he said in a faltering tone. She had looked up; the expression of an agitation, not distressful, on her beautiful countenance could not be concealed. She smiled through a gushing vision: and with a flushed cheek, impelled perhaps by her native frankness, perhaps by some softer and irresistible feeling of gratitude, respect, regard, she said in a low voice, “I was reading your beautiful speech.”
“Indeed,” said Egremont much moved, “that is an honour — a pleasure — a reward, I never could have even hoped to have attained.”
“By all,” continued Sybil with more self-possession, “it must be read with pleasure, with advantage, but by me — oh! with what deep interest.”
“If anything that I said finds an echo in your breast,” and here he hesitated, “— it will give me confidence for the future,” he hurriedly added.
“Ah! why do not others feel like you!” said Sybil, “all would not then be hopeless.”
“But you are not hopeless,” said Egremont, and he seated himself on the bench, but at some distance from her.
Sybil shook her head.
“But when we spoke last,” said Egremont, “you were full of confidence — in your cause, and in your means.”
“It is not very long ago,” said Sybil, “since we thus spoke, and yet time in the interval has taught me some bitter truths.”
“Truth is very precious,” said Egremont, “to us all; and yet I fear I could not sufficiently appreciate the cause that deprived you of your sanguine faith.”
“Alas!” said Sybil mournfully, “I was but a dreamer of dreams: I wake from my hallucination as others have done I suppose before me. Like them too I feel the glory of life has gone; but my content at least,” and she bent her head meekly, “has never rested I hope too much on this world.”
“You are depressed, dear Sybil?”
“I am unhappy. I am anxious about my father. I fear that he is surrounded by men unworthy of his confidence. These scenes of violence alarm me. Under any circumstances I should shrink from them, but I am impressed with the conviction that they can bring us nothing but disaster and disgrace.”
“I honor your father,” said Egremont, “I know no man whose character I esteem so truly noble; such a just compound of intelligence and courage, and gentle and generous impulse. I should deeply grieve were he to compromise himself. But you have influence over him, the greatest, as you have over all. Counsel him to return to Mowbray.”
“Can I give counsel?” said Sybil, “I who have been wrong in all my judgments? I came up to this city with him, to be his guide, his guardian. What arrogance! What short-sighted pride! I thought the People all felt as I feel; that I had nothing to do but to sustain and animate him; to encourage him when he flagged, to uphold him when he wavered. I thought that moral power must govern the world, and that moral power was embodied in an assembly whose annals will be a series of petty intrigues, or, what is worse, of violent machinations.”
“Exert every energy,” said Egremont, “that your father should leave London, immediately; tomorrow, to-night if possible. After this business at Birmingham, the government must act. I hear that they will immediately increase the army and the police; and that there is a circular from the Secretary of State to the Lords Lieutenant of counties. But the government will strike at the Convention. The members who remain will be the victims. If your father return to Mowbray and be quiet, he has a chance of not being disturbed.”
“An ignoble end of many lofty hopes,” said Sybil.
“Let us retain our hopes,” said Egremont, “and cherish them.”
“I have none,” she replied.
“And I am sanguine,” said Egremont.
“Ah! because you have made a beautiful speech. But they will listen to you, they will cheer you, but they will never follow you. The dove and the eagle will not mate; the lion and the lamb will not lie down together; and the conquerors will never rescue the conquered.”
Egremont shook his head. “You still will cherish these phantoms, dear Sybil! and why? They are not visions of delight. Believe me they are as vain as they are distressing. The mind of England is the mind ever of the rising race. Trust me it is with the People. And not the less so, because this feeling is one of which even in a great degree it is unconscious. Those opinions which you have been educated to dread and mistrust are opinions that are dying away. Predominant opinions are generally the opinions of the generation that is vanishing. Let an accident, which speculation could not foresee, the balanced state at this moment of parliamentary parties cease, and in a few years, more or less, cease it must, and you will witness a development of the new mind of England, which will make up by its rapid progress for its retarded action. I live among these men; I know their inmost souls; I watch their instincts and their impulses; I know the principles which they have imbibed, and I know, however hindered by circumstances for the moment, those principles must bear their fruit. It will be a produce hostile to the oligarchical system. The future principle of English politics will not be a levelling principle; not a principle adverse to privileges, but favourable to their extension. It will seek to ensure equality, not by levelling the Few but by elevating the Many.”
Indulging for some little time in the mutual reflections, which the tone of the conversation suggested, Sybil at length rose, and saying that she hoped by this time her father might have returned, bade farewell to Egremont, but he also rising would for a time accompany her. At the gate of the gardens however she paused, and said with a soft sad smile, “Here we must part,” and extended to him her hand.
“Heaven will guard over you!” said Egremont, “for you are a celestial charge.”
As Sybil approached her home, she recognized her father in the court before their house, accompanied by several men, with whom he seemed on the point of going forth. She was so anxious to speak to Gerard, that she did not hesitate at once to advance. There was a stir as she entered the gate; the men ceased talking, some stood aloof, all welcomed her with silent respect. With one or two Sybil was not entirely unacquainted; at least by name or person. To them, as she passed, she bent her head; and then going up to her father, who was about to welcome her, she said, in a tone of calmness and with a semblance of composure, “If you are going out, dear father, I should like to see you for one moment first.”
“A moment, friends,” said Gerard, “with your leave;” and he accompanied his daughter into the house. He would have stopped in the hall, but she walked on to their room, and Gerard, though pressed for time, was compelled to follow her. When they had entered their chamber. Sybil closed the door with care, and then, Gerard sitting, or rather leaning carelessly, on the edge of the table, she said, “We are once more together, dear father; we will never again he separated.”
Gerard sprang quickly on his legs, his eye kindled, his cheek flushed. “Something has happened to you, Sybil!”
“No,” she said, shaking her head mournfully, “not that; but something may happen to you.”
“How so, my child?” said her father, relapsing into his customary good-tempered placidity, and speaking in an easy, measured, almost drawling tone that was habitual to him.
“You are in danger,” said Sybil, “great and immediate. No matter at this moment how I am persuaded of this I wish no mysteries, but there is no time for details. The government will strike at the Convention; they are resolved. This outbreak at Birmingham has brought affairs to a crisis. They have already arrested the leaders there; they will seize those who remain here in avowed correspondence with them.”
“If they arrest all who are in correspondence with the Convention,” said Gerard, “they will have enough to do.”
“Yes; but you take a leading part,” said Sybil; “you are the individual they would select.”
“Would you have me hide myself?” said Gerard, “just because something is going on besides talk.”
“Besides talk!” exclaimed Sybil. “O! my father, what thoughts are these! It may be that words are vain to save us; but feeble deeds are vainer far than words.”
“I do not see that the deeds, though I have nothing to do with them, are so feeble,” said Gerard; “their boasted police are beaten, and by the isolated movement of an unorganized mass. What if the outbreak had not been a solitary one? What if the people had been disciplined?”
“What if everything were changed, if everything were contrary to what it is?” said Sybil. “The people are not disciplined; their action will not be, cannot be, coherent and uniform; these are riots in which you are involved, not revolutions; and you will be a victim, and not a sacrifice.”
Gerard looked thoughtful, but not anxious: after a momentary pause, he said, “We must not be scared at a few arrests, Sybil. These are hap-hazard pranks of a government that wants to terrify, but is itself frightened. I have not counselled, none of us have counselled, this stir at Birmingham. It is a casualty. We were none of us prepared for it. But great things spring from casualties. I say the police were beaten and the troops alarmed; and I say this was done without organization and in a single spot. I am as much against feeble deeds as you can be, Sybil; and to prove this to you, our conversation at the moment you arrived, was to take care for the future that there shall be none. Neither vain words nor feeble deeds for the future,” added Gerard, and he moved to depart.
Sybil approached him with gentleness; she took his hand as if to bid him farewell; she retained it for a moment, and looked at him steadfastly in the face, with a glance at the same time serious and soft. Then throwing her arms round his neck and leaning her cheek upon his breast, she murmured, “Oh! my father, your child is most unhappy.”
“Sybil,” exclaimed Gerard in a tone of tender reproach, “this is womanish weakness; I love, but must not share it.”
“It may be womanish,” said Sybil, “but it is wise: for what should make us unhappy if not the sense of impending, yet unknown, danger?”
“And why danger?” said Gerard.
“Why mystery?” said Sybil. “Why are you ever preoccupied and involved in dark thoughts, my father? It is not the pressure of business, as you will perhaps tell me, that occasions this change in a disposition so frank and even careless. The pressure of affairs is not nearly as great, cannot he nearly as great, as in the early period of your assembling, when the eyes of the whole country were on you, and you were in communication with all parts of it. How often have you told me that there was no degree of business which you found irksome? Now you are all dispersed and scattered: no discussions, no committees, little correspondence — and you yourself are ever brooding and ever in conclave, with persons too who I know, for Stephen has told me so, are the preachers of violence: violence perhaps that some of them may preach, yet will not practise: both bad; traitors it may be, or, at the best, hare-brained men.”
“Stephen is prejudiced,” said Gerard. “He is a visionary, indulging in impossible dreams, and if possible, little desirable. He knows nothing of the feeling of the country or the character of his countrymen. Englishmen want none of his joint-stock felicity; they want their rights — rights consistent with the rights of other classes, but without which the rights of other classes cannot, and ought not, to be secure.”
“Stephen is at least your friend, my father; and once you honoured him.”
“And do so now; and love him very dearly. I honour him for his great abilities and knowledge. Stephen is a scholar; I have no pretensions that way; but I can feel the pulse of a people, and can comprehend the signs of the times, Sybil. Stephen was all very well talking in our cottage and garden at Mowbray, when we had nothing to do; but now we must act, or others will act for us. Stephen is not a practical man; he is crotchety, Sybil, and that’s just it.”
“But violence and action,” said Sybil, “are they identical, my father?”
“I did not speak of violence.”
“No; but you looked it. I know the language of your countenance, even to the quiver of your lip. Action, as you and Stephen once taught me, and I think wisely, was to prove to our rulers by an agitation, orderly and intellectual, that we were sensible of our degradation; and that it was neither Christianlike nor prudent, neither good nor wise, to let us remain so. That you did, and you did it well; the respect of the world, even of those who differed from you in interest or opinion, was not withheld from you; and can be withheld from none who exercise the moral power that springs from great talents and a good cause. You have let this great moral power, this pearl of price,” said Sybil with emotion — “we cannot conceal it from ourselves, my father — you have let it escape from your hands.”
Gerard looked at her as she spoke with an earnestness unusual with him. As she ceased, he cast his eyes down, and seemed for a moment deep in thought; then looking up, he said, “The season for words is past. I must be gone, dear Sybil.” And he moved towards the door.
“You shall not leave me,” said Sybil, springing forward, and seizing his arm.
“What would you, what would you?” said Gerard, distressed.
“That we should quit this city to-night.”
“What, quit my post?”
“Why yours? Have not your colleagues dispersed? Is not your assembly formally adjourned to another town? Is it not known that the great majority of the delegates have returned to their homes? And why not you to yours?”
“I have no home,” said Gerard, almost in a voice of harshness. “I came here to do the business that was wanting, and, by the blessing of God, I will do it. I am no changeling, nor can I refine and split straws, like your philosophers and Morleys: but if the people will struggle, I will struggle with them; and die, if need be, in the front. Nor will I be deterred from my purpose by the tears of a girl,” and he released himself from the hand of his daughter with abruptness.
Sybil looked up to heaven with streaming eyes, and clasped her hands in unutterable woe. Gerard moved again towards the door, but before he reached it, his step faltered, and he turned again and looked at his daughter with tenderness and anxiety. She remained in the same position, save that her arms that had fallen were crossed before her, and her downward glance seemed fixed in deep abstraction. Her father approached her unnoticed; he took her hand; she started, and looking round with a cold and distressed expression, said, in a smothered tone, “I thought you had gone.”
“Not in anger, my sweet child,” and Gerard pressed her to his heart.
“But you go,” murmured Sybil.
“These men await me,” said Gerard. “Our council is of importance. We must take some immediate steps for the aid of our brethren in distress at Birmingham, and to discountenance similar scenes of outbreak as this affair: but the moment this is over, I will come back to you; and for the rest, it shall be as you desire; tomorrow we will return to Mowbray.”
Sybil returned her father’s embrace with a warmth which expressed her sense of his kindness and her own soothed feelings, but she said nothing; and bidding her now to be of good cheer, Gerard quitted the apartment.
The clock of St John’s church struck three, and the clock of St John’s church struck four; and the fifth hour sounded from St John’s church; and the clock of St John’s was sounding six. And Gerard had not yet returned.
The time for a while after his departure had been comparatively light-hearted and agreeable. Easier in her mind and for a time busied with the preparations for their journey, Sybil sate by the open window more serene and cheerful than for a long period had been her wont. Sometimes she ceased for a moment from her volume and fell into a reverie of the morrow and of Mowbray. Viewed through the magic haze of time and distance, the scene of her youth assumed a character of tenderness and even of peaceful bliss. She sighed for the days of their cottage and their garden, when the discontent of her father was only theoretical, and their political conclaves were limited to a discussion between him and Morley on the rights of the people or the principles of society. The bright waters of the Mowe and its wooded hills; her matin walks to the convent to visit Ursula Trafford — a pilgrimage of piety and charity and love; the faithful Harold, so devoted and so intelligent; even the crowded haunts of labour and suffering among which she glided like an angel, blessing and blessed; they rose before her — those touching images of the past — and her eyes were suffused with tears, of tenderness, not of gloom.
And blended with them the thought of one who had been for a season the kind and gentle companion of her girlhood — that Mr Franklin whom she had never quite forgotten, and who, alas! was not Mr Franklin after all. Ah! that was a wonderful history; a somewhat thrilling chapter in the memory of one so innocent and so young! His voice even now lingered in her ear. She recalled without an effort those tones of the morning, tones of tenderness and yet of wisdom and considerate thought, that had sounded only for her welfare. Never had Egremont appeared to her in a light so subduing. He was what man should be to woman ever-gentle, and yet a guide. A thousand images dazzling and wild rose in her mind; a thousand thoughts, beautiful and quivering as the twilight, clustered round her heart; for a moment she indulged in impossible dreams, and seemed to have entered a newly-discovered world. The horizon of her experience expanded like the glittering heaven of a fairy tale. Her eye was fixed in lustrous contemplation, the flush on her cheek was a messenger from her heart, the movement of her mouth would have in an instant become a smile, when the clock of St John’s struck four, and Sybil started from her reverie.
The clock of St John’s struck four, and Sybil became anxious; the clock of St John’s struck five, and Sybil became disquieted; restless and perturbed, she was walking up and down the chamber, her books long since thrown aside, when the clock of St John’s struck six.
She clasped her hands and looked up to heaven. There was a knock at the street door; she herself sprang out to open it. It was not Gerard. It was Morley.
“Ah! Stephen,” said Sybil, with a countenance of undisguised disappointment, “I thought it was my father.”
“I should have been glad to have found him here,” said Morley. “However with your permission I will enter.”
“And he will soon arrive,” said Sybil; “I am sure he will soon arrive. I have been expecting him every minute —”
“For hours,” added Morley, finishing her sentence, as they entered the room. “The business that he is on,” he continued, throwing himself into a chair with a recklessness very unlike his usual composure and even precision, “The business that he is on is engrossing.”
“Thank Heaven,” said Sybil, “we leave this place tomorrow.”
“Hah!” said Morley starting, “who told you so?”
“My father has so settled it; has indeed promised me that we shall depart.”
“And you were anxious to do so.”
“Most anxious; my mind is prophetic only of mischief to him if we remain.”
“Mine too. Otherwise I should not have come up today.” “You have seen him I hope?” said Sybil.
“I have; I have been hours with him.”
“I am glad. At this conference he talked of?”
“Yes; at this headstrong council; and I have seen him since; alone. Whatever hap to him, my conscience is assoiled.”
“You terrify me, Stephen,” said Sybil rising from her seat. “What can happen to him? What would he do, what would you resist? Tell me — tell me, dear friend.”
“Oh! yes,” said Morley, pale and with a slight yet bitter smile. “Oh! yes; dear friend!”
“I said dear friend for so I deemed you.” said Sybil; “and so we have ever found you. Why do you stare at me so strangely, Stephen?”
“So you deem me, and so you have ever found me,” said Morley in a slow and measured tone, repeating her words. “Well; what more would you have? What more should any of us want?” he asked abruptly.
“I want no more,” said Sybil innocently.
“I warrant me, you do not. Well, well, nothing matters. And so,” he added in his ordinary tone, “you are waiting for your father?”
“Whom you have not long since seen,” said Sybil, “and whom you expected to find here?”
“No;” said Morley, shaking his head with the same bitter smile; “no, no. I didn’t. I came to find you.”
“You have something to tell me,” said Sybil earnestly. “Something has happened to my father. Do not break it to me; tell me at once,” and she advanced and laid her hand upon his arm.
Morley trembled; and then in a hurried and agitated voice, said, “No, no, no; nothing has happened. Much may happen, but nothing has happened. And we may prevent it.”
“We! Tell me what may happen; tell me what to do.”
“Your father,” said Morley, slowly, rising from his seat and pacing the room, and speaking in a low calm voice, “Your father — and my friend — is in this position Sybil: he is conspiring against the State.”
“Yes, yes,” said Sybil very pale, speaking almost in a whisper and with her gaze fixed intently on her companion. “Tell me all.”
“I will. He is conspiring, I say, against the State. Tonight they meet in secret to give the last finish to their plans; and tonight they will be arrested.”
“O God!” said Sybil clasping her hands. “He told me truth.”
“Who told you truth?” said Morley, springing to her side, in a hoarse voice and with an eye of fire.
“A friend,” said Sybil, dropping her arms and bending her head in woe; “a kind good friend. I met him but this morn, and he warned me of all this.”
“Hah, hah!” said Morley with a sort of stifled laugh; “Hah, hah; he told you did he; the kind good friend whom you met this morning? Did I not warn you, Sybil, of the traitor? Did I not tell you to beware of taking this false aristocrat to your hearth; to worm out all the secrets of that home that he once polluted by his espionage, and now would desolate by his treason.”
“Of whom and what do you speak?” said Sybil, throwing herself into a chair.
“I speak of that base spy Egremont.”
“You slander an honourable man,” said Sybil with dignity. “Mr Egremont has never entered this house since you met him here for the first time; save once.”
“He needed no entrance to this house to worm out its secrets,” said Morley maliciously. “That could be more adroitly done by one who had assignations at command with the most charming of its inmates.”
“Unmannerly churl!” exclaimed Sybil starting in her chair, her eye flashing lightning, her distended nostril quivering with scorn.
“Oh! yes. I am a churl,” said Morley; “I know I am a churl. Were I a noble the daughter of the people would perhaps condescend to treat me with less contempt.”
“The daughter of the people loves truth and manly bearing, Stephen Morley; and will treat with contempt all those who slander women, whether they be nobles or serfs.”
“And where is the slanderer?”
“Ask him who told you I held assignations with Mr Egremont or with any one.”
“Mine eyes — mine own eyes — were my informant,” said Morley. “This morn, the very morn I arrived in London, I learnt how your matins were now spent. Yes!” he added in a tone of mournful anguish, “I passed the gate of the gardens; I witnessed your adieus.”
“We met by hazard,” said Sybil, in a calm tone, and with an expression that denoted she was thinking of other things, “and in all probability we shall never meet again. Talk not of these trifles. Stephen; my father, how can we save him?”
“Are they trifles?” said Morley, slowly and earnestly, walking to her side, and looking her intently in the face. “Are they indeed trifles, Sybil? Oh! make me credit that, and then —” he paused.
Sybil returned his gaze: the deep lustre of her dark orb rested on his peering vision; his eye fled from the unequal contest: his heart throbbed, his limbs trembled; he fell upon his knee.
“Pardon me, pardon me,” he said, and he took her hand. “Pardon the most miserable and the most devoted of men!”
“What need of pardon, dear Stephen?” said Sybil in a soothing tone. “In the agitated hour wild words escape. If I have used them, I regret; if you, I have forgotten.”
The clock of St John’s told that the sixth hour was more than half-past.
“Ah!” said Sybil, withdrawing her hand, “you told me how precious was time. What can we do?”
Morley rose from his kneeling position, and again paced the chamber, lost for some moments in deep meditation. Suddenly he seized her arm, and said, “I can endure no longer the anguish of my life: I love you, and if you will not be mine, I care for no one’s fate.”
“I am not born for love,” said Sybil, frightened, yet endeavouring to conceal her alarm.
“We are all born for love,” said Morley. “It is the principle of existence, and its only end. And love of you, Sybil,” he continued, in a tone of impassioned pathos, “has been to me for years the hoarded treasure of my life. For this I have haunted your hearth and hovered round your home; for this I have served your father like a slave, and embarked in a cause with which I have little sympathy, and which can meet with no success. It is your image that has stimulated my ambition, developed my powers, sustained me in the hour of humiliation, and secured me that material prosperity which I can now command. Oh! deign to share it; share it with the impassioned heart and the devoted life that now bow before you; and do not shrink from them, because they are the feelings and the fortunes of the People.”
“You astound, you overwhelm me,” said Sybil, agitated. “You came for another purpose, we were speaking of other feelings; it is the hour of exigency you choose for these strange, these startling words.”
“I also have my hour of exigency,” said Morley, “and its minutes are now numbering. Upon it all depends.”
“Another time,” said Sybil, in a low and deprecatory voice; “speak of these things another time!”
“The caverns of my mind are open,” said Morley, “and they will not close.”
“Stephen,” said Sybil, “dear Stephen, I am grateful for your kind feelings: but indeed this is not the time for such passages: cease, my friend!”
“I came to know my fate,” said Morley, doggedly.
“It is a sacrilege of sentiment,” said Sybil, unable any longer to restrain her emotion, “to obtrude its expression on a daughter at such a moment.”
“You would not deem it so if you loved, or if you could love me, Sybil,” said Morley, mournfully. “Why it’s a moment of deep feeling, and suited for the expression of deep feeling. You would not have answered thus, if he who had been kneeling here had been named Egremont.”
“He would not have adopted a course,” said Sybil, unable any longer to restrain her displeasure, “so selfish, so indecent.”
“Ah! she loves him!” exclaimed Morley, springing on his legs, and with a demoniac laugh.
There was a pause. Under ordinary circumstances Sybil would have left the room and terminated a distressing interview, but in the present instance that was impossible; for on the continuance of that interview any hope of assisting her father depended. Morley had thrown himself into a chair opposite her, leaning back in silence with his face covered; Sybil was disinclined to revive the conversation about her father, because she had already perceived that Morley was only too much aware of the command which the subject gave him over her feelings and even conduct. Yet time, time now full of terror, time was stealing on. It was evident that Morley would not break the silence. At length, unable any longer to repress her tortured heart, Sybil said, “Stephen, be generous; speak to me of your friend.”
“I have no friend,” said Morley, without taking his hands from his face.
“The Saints in heaven have mercy on me,” said Sybil, “for I am very wretched.”
“No, no, no,” said Morley, rising rapidly from his seat, and again kneeling at her side, “not wretched; not that tone of anguish! What can I do? what say? Sybil, dearest Sybil, I love you so much, so fervently, so devotedly; none can love you as I do: say not you are wretched!”
“Alas! alas!” said Sybil.
“What shall I do? what say?” said Morley.
“You know what I would have you say,” said Sybil. “Speak of one who is my father, if no longer your friend: you know what I would have you do — save him: save him from death and me from despair.”
“I am ready,” said Morley; “I came for that. Listen. There is a meeting to-night at half-past eight o’clock; they meet to arrange a general rising in the country: their intention is known to the government; they will be arrested. Now it is in my power, which it was not when I saw your father this morning, to convince him of the truth of this, and were I to see him before eight o’clock, which I could easily do, I could prevent his attendance, certainly prevent his attendance, and he would be saved; for the government depend much upon the papers, some proclamations, and things of that kind, which will be signed this evening, for their proofs. Well, I am ready to save Gerard, my friend, for so I’ll call him as you wish it; one I have served before and long; one whom I came up from Mowbray this day to serve and save; I am ready to do that which you require; you yourself admit it is no light deed; and coming from one you have known so long, and, as you confess, so much regarded, should be doubly cherished; I am ready to do this great service; to save the father from death and the daughter from despair. — if she would but only say to me, ‘I have but one reward, and it is yours.’”
“I have read of something of this sort,” said Sybil, speaking in a murmuring tone, and looking round her with a wild expression, “this bargaining of blood, and shall I call it love? But that was ever between the oppressors and the oppressed. This is the first time that a child of the people has been so assailed by one of her own class, and who exercises his power from the confidence which the sympathy of their sorrows alone caused. It is bitter; bitter for me and mine — but for you, pollution.”
“Am I answered?” said Morley.
“Yes,” said Sybil, “in the name of the holy Virgin.”
“Good night, then,” said Morley, and he approached the door. His hand was on it. The voice of Sybil made him turn his head.
“Where do they meet to-night?” she inquired, in a smothered tone.
“I am bound to secrecy,” said Morley.
“There is no softness in your spirit,” said Sybil.
“I am met with none.”
“We have ever been your friends.”
“A blossom that has brought no fruit.”
“This hour will be remembered at the judgment-seat,” said Sybil.
“The holy Virgin will perhaps interpose for me,” said Morley, with a sneer.
“We have merited this,” said Sybil, “who have taken an infidel to our hearts.”
“If he had only been a heretic, like Egremont!” said Morley. Sybil burst into tears. Morley sprang to her. “Swear by the holy Virgin, swear by all the saints, swear by your hope of heaven and by your own sweet name; without equivocation, without reserve, with fulness and with truth, that you will never give your heart or hand to Egremont; — and I will save your father.”
As in a low voice, but with a terrible earnestness, Morley dictated this oath, Sybil, already pale, became white as the marble saint of some sacred niche. Her large dark eyes seemed fixed; a fleet expression of agony flitted over her beautiful brow like a cloud; and she said, “I swear that I will never give my hand to —”
“And your heart, your heart,” said Morley eagerly. “Omit not that. Swear by the holy oaths again you do not love him. She falters! Ah! she blushes!” For a burning brightness now suffused the cheek of Sybil. “She loves him,” exclaimed Morley, wildly, and he rushed franticly from the room.
Agitated and overcome by these unexpected and passionate appeals, and these outrageous ebullitions acting on her at a time when she herself was labouring under no ordinary excitement, and was distracted with disturbing thoughts, the mind of Sybil seemed for a moment to desert her; neither by sound nor gesture did she signify her sense of Morley’s last words and departure; and it was not until the loud closing of the street door echoing through the long passage recalled her to herself, that she was aware how much was at stake in that incident. She darted out of the room to recall him; to make one more effort for her father; but in vain. By the side of their house was an intricate passage leading into a labyrinth of small streets. Through this Morley had disappeared; and his name, more than once sounded in a voice of anguish in that silent and most obsolete Smith’s Square, received no echo.
Darkness and terror came over the spirit of Sybil; a sense of confounding and confusing woe, with which it was in vain to cope. The conviction of her helplessness prostrated her. She sate her down upon the steps before the door of that dreary house, within the railings of that gloomy court, and buried her face in her hands: a wild vision of the past and the future, without thought or feeling, coherence or consequence: sunset gleams of vanished bliss, and stormy gusts of impending doom.
The clock of St John’s struck seven.
It was the only thing that spoke in that still and dreary square; it was the only voice that there seemed ever to sound; but it was a voice from heaven; it was the voice of St John.
Sybil looked up: she looked up at the holy building. Sybil listened: she listened to the holy sounds. St John told her that the danger of her father was yet so much advanced. Oh! why are there saints in heaven if they cannot aid the saintly! The oath that Morley would have enforced came whispering in the ear of Sybil —“Swear by the holy Virgin and by all the saints.”
And shall she not pray to the holy Virgin and all the saints? Sybil prayed: she prayed to the holy Virgin and all the saints; and especially to the beloved St John: most favoured among Hebrew men, on whose breast reposed the divine Friend.
Brightness and courage returned to the spirit of Sybil: a sense of animating and exalting faith that could move mountains, and combat without fear a thousand perils. The conviction of celestial aid inspired her. She rose from her sad resting-place and reentered the house: only, however, to provide herself with her walking attire, and then alone and without a guide, the shades of evening already descending, this child of innocence and divine thoughts, born in a cottage and bred in a cloister, she went forth, on a great enterprise of duty and devotion, into the busiest and the wildest haunts of the greatest of modern cities.
Sybil knew well her way to Palace Yard. This point was soon reached: she desired the cabman to drive her to a Street in the Strand in which was a coffee-house, where during the last weeks of their stay in London the scanty remnants of the National Convention had held their sittings. It was by a mere accident that Sybil had learnt this circumstance, for when she had attended the meetings of the Convention in order to hear her father’s speeches, it was in the prime of their gathering and when their numbers were great, and when they met in audacious rivalry opposite that St Stephen’s which they wished to supersede. This accidental recollection however was her only clue in the urgent adventure on which she had embarked.
She cast an anxious glance at the clock of St Martin’s as she passed that church: the hand was approaching the half hour of seven. She urged on the driver; they were in the Strand; there was an agitating stoppage; she was about to descend when the obstacle was removed; and in a few minutes they turned down the street which she sought.
“What number. Ma’am?” asked the cabman.
“’Tis a coffee-house; I know not the number nor the name of him who keeps it. ’Tis a coffee-house. Can you see one? Look, look, I pray you! I am much pressed.”
“Here’s a coffee-house, Ma’am,” said the man in a hoarse voice.
“How good you are! Yes; I will get out. You will wait for me, I am sure?”
“All right,” said the cabman, as Sybil entered the illumined door. “Poor young thing! she’s wery anxious about summut.”
Sybil at once stepped into a rather capacious room, fitted up in the old-fashioned style of coffee-rooms, with mahogany boxes, in several of which were men drinking coffee and reading newspapers by a painful glare of gas. There was a waiter in the middle of the room who was throwing some fresh sand upon the floor, but who stared immensely when looking up he beheld Sybil.
“Now, Ma’am, if you please,” said the waiter inquiringly.
“Is Mr Gerard here?” said Sybil.
“No. Ma’am; Mr Gerard has not been here today, nor yesterday neither”— and he went on throwing the sand.
“I should like to see the master of the house,” said Sybil very humbly.
“Should you, Ma’am?” said the waiter, but he gave no indication of assisting her in the fulfilment of her wish.
Sybil repeated that wish, and this time the waiter said nothing. This vulgar and insolent neglect to which she was so little accustomed depressed her spirit. She could have encountered tyranny and oppression, and she would have tried to struggle with them; but this insolence of the insignificant made her feel her insignificance; and the absorption all this time of the guests in their newspapers aggravated her nervous sense of her utter helplessness. All her feminine reserve and modesty came over her; alone in this room among men, she felt overpowered, and she was about to make a precipitate retreat when the clock of the coffee-room sounded the half hour. In a paroxysm of nervous excitement she exclaimed, “Is there not one among you who will assist me?”
All the newspaper readers put down their journals and stared.
“Hoity-toity,” said the waiter, and he left off throwing the sand.
“Well, what’s the matter now?” said one of the guests.
“I wish to see the master of the house on business of urgency,” said Sybil, “to himself and to one of his friends, and his servant here will not even reply to my inquiries.”
“I say, Saul, why don’t you answer the young lady?” said another guest.
“So I did,” said Saul. “Did you call for coffee, Ma’am?”
“Here’s Mr Tanner, if you want him, my dear.” said the first guest, as a lean black-looking individual, with grizzled hair and a red nose, entered the coffee-room from the interior. “Tanner, here’s a lady wants you.”
“And a very pretty girl too,” whispered one to another.
“What’s your pleasure?” said Mr Tanner abruptly.
“I wish to speak to you alone,” said Sybil: and advancing towards him she said in a low voice, “’Tis about Walter Gerard I would speak to you.”
“Well, you can step in here if you like,” said Tanner very discourteously; “there’s only my wife:” and he led the way to the inner room, a small close parlour adorned with portraits of Tom Paine, Cobbett, Thistlewood, and General Jackson; with a fire, though it was a hot July, and a very fat woman affording still more heat, and who was drinking shrub and water and reading the police reports. She stared rudely at Sybil as she entered following Tanner, who himself when the door was closed said, “Well, now what have you got to say?”
“I wish to see Walter Gerard.”
“Do you indeed!”
“And,” continued Sybil notwithstanding his sneering remark, “I come here that you may tell me where I may find him.”
“I believe he lives somewhere in Westminster,” said Tanner, “that’s all I know about him; and if this be all you had to say it might have been said in the coffee-room.”
“It is not all that I have to say,” said Sybil; “and I beseech you, sir, listen to me. I know where Gerard lives: I am his daughter, and the same roof covers our heads. But I wish to know where they meet to-night — you understand me;” and she looked at his wife, who had resumed her police reports; “’tis urgent.
“I don’t know nothing about Gerard,” said Tanner, “except that he comes here and goes away again.”
“The matter on which I would see him,” said Sybil, “is as urgent as the imagination can conceive, and it concerns you as well as himself; but if you know not where I can find him”— and she moved as if about to retire —”’tis of no use.”
“Stop.” said Tanner, “you can tell it to me.”
“Why so? You know not where he is; you cannot tell it to him.”
“I don’t know that,” said Tanner. “Come, let’s have it out; and if it will do him any good. I’ll see if we can’t manage to find him.”
“I can impart my news to him and no one else,” said Sybil. “I am solemnly bound.”
“You can’t have a better counseller than Tanner,” urged his wife, getting curious; “you had better tell us.”
“I want no counsel; I want that which you can give me if you choose — information. My father instructed me that if certain circumstances occurred it was a matter of the last urgency that I should see him this evening and before nine o’clock, I was to call here and obtain from you the direction where to find him; the direction,” she added in a lowered tone, and looking Tanner full in the face, “where they hold their secret council to-night.”
“Hem!” said Tanner: “I see you’re on the free-list. And pray how am I to know you are Gerard’s daughter?”
“You do not doubt I am his daughter!” said Sybil proudly.
“Hem!” said Tanner: “I do not know that I do very much,” and he whispered to his wife. Sybil removed from them as far as she was able.
“And this news is very urgent,” resumed Tanner; “and concerns me you say?”
“Concerns you all,” said Sybil; “and every minute is of the last importance.”
“I should like to have gone with you myself, and then there could have been no mistake,” said Tanner; “but that can’t be; we have a meeting here at half-past eight in our great room. I don’t much like breaking rules, especially in such a business; and yet, concerning all of us, as you say, and so very urgent, I don’t see how it could do harm; and I might — I wish I was quite sure you were the party.
“How can I satisfy you?” said Sybil, distressed.
“Perhaps the young person have got her mark on her linen,” suggested the wife. “Have you got a handkerchief Ma’am?” and she took Sybil’s handkerchief and looked at it, and examined it at every corner. It had no mark. And this unforeseen circumstance of great suspicion might have destroyed everything, had not the production of the handkerchief by Sybil also brought forth a letter addressed to her from Hatton.
“It seems to be the party,” said the wife.
“Well,” said Tanner, “you know St Martin’s Lane I suppose? Well, you go up St Martin’s Lane to a certain point, and then you will get into Seven Dials; and then you’ll go on. However it is impossible to direct you; you must find your way. Hunt Street, going out of Silver Street, No. 22. ’Tis what you call a blind street, with no thoroughfare, and then you go down an alley. Can you recollect that?”
“No. 22 Hunt Street, going out of Silver Street. Remember the alley. It’s an ugly neighbourhood; but you go of your own accord.”
“Yes, yes. Good night.”
Urged by Sybil’s entreaties the cab-driver hurried on. With all the skilled experience of a thorough cockney charioteer he tried to conquer time and space by his rare knowledge of short cuts and fine acquaintance with unknown thoroughfares. He seemed to avoid every street which was the customary passage of mankind. The houses, the population, the costume, the manners, the language through which they whirled their way, were of a different state and nation to those with which the dwellers in the dainty quarters of this city are acquainted. Now dark streets of frippery and old stores, new market-places of entrails and carrion with gutters running gore, sometimes the way was enveloped in the yeasty fumes of a colossal brewery, and sometimes they plunged into a labyrinth of lanes teeming with life, and where the dog-stealer and the pick-pocket, the burglar and the assassin, found a sympathetic multitude of all ages; comrades for every enterprise; and a market for every booty.
The long summer twilight was just expiring, the pale shadows of the moon were just stealing on; the gas was beginning to glare in the shops of tripe and bacon, and the paper lanthorns to adorn the stall and the stand. They crossed a broad street which seemed the metropolis of the district; it flamed with gin-palaces; a multitude were sauntering in the mild though tainted air; bargaining, blaspheming, drinking, wrangling: and varying their business and their potations, their fierce strife and their impious irreverence, with flashes of rich humour, gleams of native wit, and racy phrases of idiomatic slang.
Absorbed in her great mission Sybil was almost insensible to the scenes through which she passed, and her innocence was thus spared many a sight and sound that might have startled her vision or alarmed her ear. They could not now he very distant from the spot; they were crossing this broad way, and then were about to enter another series of small obscure dingy streets, when the cab-driver giving a flank to his steed to stimulate it to a last effort, the horse sprang forward, and the wheel of the cab came off.
Sybil extricated herself from the vehicle unhurt; a group immediately formed round the cab, a knot of young thieves, almost young enough for infant schools, a dustman, a woman nearly naked and very drunk, and two unshorn ruffians with brutality stamped on every feature, with pipes in their mouths, and their hands in their pockets.
“I can take you no further,” said the cabman: “my fare is three shillings.”
“What am I to do?” said Sybil, taking out her purse.
“The best thing the young lady can do,” said the dustman, in a hoarse voice, “is to stand something to us all.”
“That’s your time o’day,” squeaked a young thief.
“I’ll drink your health with very great pleasure my dear,” hiccupped the woman.
“How much have you got there?” said the young thief making a dash at the purse, but he was not quite tall enough, and failed.
“No wiolence,” said one of the ruffians taking his pipe out of his mouth and sending a volume of smoke into Sybil’s face, “we’ll take the young lady to Mother Poppy’s, and then we’ll make a night of it.”
But at this moment appeared a policeman, one of the permanent garrison of the quarter, who seeing one of her Majesty’s carriages in trouble thought he must interfere. “Hilloa,” he said, “what’s all this?” And the cabman, who was a good fellow though in too much trouble to aid Sybil, explained in the terse and picturesque language of Cockaigne, doing full justice to his late fare, the whole circumstances.
“Oh! that’s it,” said the policeman, “the lady’s respectable is she? Then I’d advise you and Hell Fire Dick to stir your chalks, Splinter-legs. Keep moving’s the time of day, Madam; you get on. Come;” and taking the woman by her shoulder he gave her a spin that sent her many a good yard. “And what do you want?” he asked gruffly of the lads.
“We wants a ticket for the Mendicity Society,” said the captain of the infant hand putting his thumb to his nose and running away, followed by his troop.
“And so you want to go to Silver Street?” said her official preserver to Sybil, for she had not thought it wise to confess her ultimate purpose, and indicate under the apprehended circumstances the place of rendezvous to a member of the police.
“Well; that’s not very difficult now. Go a-head; take the second turning to your right, and the third to your left, and you’re landed.”
Aided by these instructions, Sybil hastened on, avoiding notice as much as was in her power, and assisted in some degree by the advancing gloom of night. She had reached Silver Street; a long, narrow, hilly Street; and now she was at fault. There were not many persons about, and there were few shops here; yet one was at last at hand, and she entered to enquire her way. The person at the counter was engaged, and many customers awaited him: time was very precious: Sybil had made the enquiry and received only a supercilious stare from the shopman, who was weighing with precision some article that he was serving. A young man, shabby, but of a very superior appearance to the people of this quarter, good-looking, though with a dissolute air, and who seemed waiting for a customer in attendance, addressed Sybil. “I am going to Hunt Street,” he said, “shall I show you the way?”
She accepted this offer most thankfully. “It is close at hand, I believe?”
“Here it is,” he said; and he turned down a street. “What is your house?”
“No. 22: a printing-office.” said Sybil; for the street she had entered was so dark she despaired of finding her way, and ventured to trust so far a guide who was not a policeman.
“The very house I am going to,” said the stranger: “I am a printer.” And they walked on some way, until they at length stopped before a glass and illumined door, covered with a red curtain. Before it was a group of several men and women brawling, but who did not notice Sybil and her companion.
“Here we are,” said the man; and he pushed the door open, inviting Sybil to enter. She hesitated; it did not agree with the description that had been given her by the coffee-house keeper, but she had seen so much since, and felt so much, and gone through so much, that she had not at the moment that clear command of her memory for which she was otherwise remarkable; but while she faltered, an inner door was violently thrown open, and Sybil moving aside, two girls, still beautiful in spite of gin and paint, stepped into the Street.
“This cannot be the house,” exclaimed Sybil starting back, overwhelmed with shame and terror. “O! holy Virgin aid me!”
“And that’s a blessed word to hear in this heathen land,” exclaimed an Irishman, who was one of the group on the outside.
“If you be of our holy church,” said Sybil appealing to the man who had thus spoken and whom she gently drew aside, “I beseech you, by everything we hold sacred, to aid me.”
“And will I not?” said the man; “and I should like to see the arm that would hurt you;” and he looked round, but the young man had disappeared. “You are not a countrywoman I am thinking,” he added.
“No, but a sister in Christ,” said Sybil; “listen to me, good friend. I hasten to my father — he is in great danger — in Hunt Street — I know not my way — every moment is precious — guide me, I beseech you — honestly and truly guide me!”
“Will I not? Don’t you be afraid my dear. And her poor father is ill! I wish I had such a daughter! We have not far to go. You should have taken the next turning. We must walk up this again for ’tis a small street with no thoroughfare. Come on without fear.”
Nor did Sybil fear; for the description of the street which the honest man had incidentally given, tallied with her instructions. Encouraging her with many kind words, and full of rough courtesies, the good Irishman led her to the spot she had so long sought. There was the court she was told to enter. It was well lit, and descending the steps she stopped at the first door on her left, and knocked.
On the same night that Sybil was encountering so many dangers, the saloons of Deloraine House blazed with a thousand lights to welcome the world of power and fashion to a festival of almost unprecedented magnificence. Fronting a royal park, its long lines of illumined windows and the bursts of gay and fantastic music that floated from its walls attracted the admiration and curiosity of another party that was assembled in the same fashionable quarter, beneath a canopy not less bright and reclining on a couch scarcely less luxurious, for they were lit by the stars and reposed upon the grass.
“I say, Jim,” said a young genius of fourteen stretching himself upon the turf, “I pity them ere jarvies a sitting on their boxes all the night and waiting for the nobs what is dancing. They as no repose.”
“But they as porter,” replied his friend, a sedater spirit with the advantage of an additional year or two of experience. “They takes their pot of half-and-half by turns, and if their name is called, the link what they subscribe for to pay, sings out ‘here;’ and that’s the way their guvners is done.”
“I think I should like to be a link Jim,” said the young one.
“I wish you may get it,” was the response: “it’s the next best thing to a crossing: it’s what every one looks to when he enters public life, but he soon finds ‘taint to be done without a deal of interest. They keeps it to themselves, and never lets any one in unless he makes himself very troublesome and gets up a party agin ’em.”
“I wonder what the nobs has for supper,” said the young one pensively. “Lots of kidneys I dare say.”
“Oh! no; sweets is the time of day in these here blowouts: syllabubs like blazes, and snapdragon as makes the flunkys quite pale.”
“I would thank you, sir, not to tread upon this child,” said a widow. She had three others with her, slumbering around, and this was the youngest wrapt in her only shawl.
“Madam,” replied the person whom she addressed, in tolerable English, but with a marked accent, “I have bivouacked in many lands, but never with so young a comrade: I beg you a thousand pardons.”
“Sir, you are very polite. These warm nights are a great blessing, but I am sure I know not what we shall do in the fall of the leaf.”
“Take no thought of the morrow,” said the foreigner, who was a Pole; had served as a boy beneath the suns of the Peninsula under Soult and fought against Diebitsch on the banks of the icy Vistula. “It brings many changes.” And arranging the cloak which he had taken that day out of pawn around him, he delivered himself up to sleep with that facility which is not uncommon among soldiers.
Here broke out a brawl: two girls began fighting and blaspheming; a man immediately came up, chastised and separated them. “I am the Lord Mayor of the night,” he said, “and I will have no row here. ’Tis the like of you that makes the beaks threaten to expel us from our lodgings.” His authority seemed generally recognized, the girls were quiet, but they had disturbed a sleeping man, who roused himself, looked around him and said with a scared look, “Where am I? What’s all this?”
“Oh! it’s nothin’,” said the elder of the two lads we first noticed, “only a couple of unfortinate gals who’ve prigged a watch from a cove what was lushy and fell asleep under the trees between this and Kinsington.”
“I wish they had not waked me,” said the man, “I walked as far as from Stokenchurch, and that’s a matter of forty miles, this morning to see if I could get some work, and went to bed here without any supper. I’m blessed if I worn’t dreaming of a roast leg of pork.”
“It has not been a lucky day for me,” rejoined the lad, “I could not find a single gentleman’s horse to hold, so help me, except one what was at the House of Commons, and he kept me there two mortal hours and said when he came out, that he would remember me next time. I ain’t tasted no wittals today except some cat’s-meat and a cold potatoe what was given me by a cabman; but I have got a quid here, and if you are very low I’ll give you half.”
In the meantime Lord Valentine and the Princess Stephanie of Eurasberg with some companions worthy of such a pair, were dancing a new Mazurka before the admiring assembly at Deloraine House. The ball was in the statue gallery illumined on this night in the Russian fashion, which while it diffused a brilliant light throughout the beautiful chamber, was peculiarly adapted to develope the contour of the marble forms of grace and loveliness that were ranged around.
“Where is Arabella?” enquired Lord Marney of his mother, “I want to present young Huntingford to her. He can be of great use to me, but he bores me so, I cannot talk to him. I want to present him to Arabella.”
“Arabella is in the blue drawing-room. I saw her just now with Mr Jermyn and Charles. Count Soudriaffsky is teaching them some Russian tricks.”
“What are Russian tricks to me; she must talk to young Huntingford; everything depends on his working with me against the Cut-and-Come-again branch-line; they have refused me my compensation, and I am not going to have my estate cut up into ribbons without compensation.”
“My dear Lady Deloraine,” said Lady de Mowbray. “How beautiful your gallery looks to-night! Certainly there is nothing in London that lights up so well.”
“Its greatest ornaments are its guests. I am charmed to see Lady Joan looking so well.”
“You think so?”
“I wish —” and here Lady de Mowbray gave a smiling sigh. “What do you think of Mr Mountchesney?”
“He is universally admired.”
“So every one says, and yet —”
“Well what do you think of the Dashville, Fitz?” said Mr Berners to Lord Fitzheron, “I saw you dancing with her.”
“I can’t bear her: she sets up to be natural and is only rude; mistakes insolence for innocence; says everything which comes first to her lips and thinks she is gay when she is only giddy.”
“’Tis brilliant,” said Lady Joan to Mr Mountchesney.
“When you are here,” he murmured.
“And yet a ball in a gallery of art is not in my opinion in good taste. The associations which are suggested by sculpture are not festive. Repose is the characteristic of sculpture. Do not you think so?”
“Decidedly,” said Mr Mountchesney. “We danced in the gallery at Matfield this Christmas, and I thought all the time that a gallery is not the place for a ball; it is too long and too narrow.”
Lady Joan looked at him, and her lip rather curled.
“I wonder if Valentine has sold that bay cob of his,” said Lord Milford to Lord Eugene de Vere.
“I wonder,” said Lord Eugene.
“I wish you would ask him, Eugene,” said Lord Milford, “you understand, I don’t want him to know I want it.”
“’Tis such a bore to ask questions,” said Lord Eugene.
“Shall we carry Chichester?” asked Lady Firebrace of Lady St Julians.
“Oh! do not speak to me ever again of the House of Commons,” she replied in a tone of affected despair. “What use is winning our way by units? It may take years. Lord Protocol says that ‘one is enough.’ That Jamaica affair has really ended by greatly strengthening them.”
“I do not despair,” said Lady Firebrace. “The unequivocal adhesion of the Duke of Fitz–Aquitaine is a great thing. It gives us the northern division at a dissolution.”
“That is to say in five years, my dear Lady Firebrace. The country will be ruined before that.”
“We shall see. Is it a settled thing between Lady Joan and Mr Mountchesney?”
“Not the slightest foundation. Lady Joan is a most sensible girl, as well as a most charming person and my dear friend. She is not in a hurry to marry, and quite right. If indeed Frederick were a little more steady — but nothing shall ever induce me to consent to his marrying her, unless I thought he was worthy of her.”
“You are such a good mother,” exclaimed Lady Firebrace, “and such a good friend! I am glad to hear it is not true about Mr Mountchesney.”
“If you could only help me, my dear Lady Firebrace, to put an end to that affair between Frederick and Lady Wallington. It is so silly, and getting talked about; and in his heart too he really loves Lady Joan; only he is scarcely aware of it himself.”
“We must manage it,” said Lady Firebrace, with a look of encouraging mystery.
“Do, my dear creature; speak to him; he is very much guided by your opinion. Tell him everybody is laughing at him, and any other little thing that occurs to you.”
“I will come directly,” said Lady Marney to her husband, “only let me see this.”
“Well, I will bring Huntingford here. Mind you speak to him a great deal; take his arm, and go down to supper with him if you can. He is a very nice sensible young fellow, and you will like him very much I am sure; a little shy at first, but he only wants bringing out.”
A dexterous description of one of the most unlicked and unlickable cubs that ever entered society with forty thousand a year; courted by all, and with just that degree of cunning that made him suspicious of every attention.
“This dreadful Lord Huntingford!” said Lady Marney.
“Jermyn and I will intefere,” said Egremont, “and help you.”
“No, no,” said Lady Marney shaking her head, “I must do it.”
At this moment, a groom of the chambers advanced and drew Egremont aside, saying in a low tone, “Your servant, Mr Egremont, is here and wishes to see you instantly.”
“My servant! Instantly! What the deuce can be the matter? I hope the Albany is not on fire,” and he quitted the room.
In the outer hall, amid a crowd of footmen, Egremont recognized his valet who immediately came forward.
“A porter has brought this letter, sir, and I thought it best to come on with it at once.”
The letter directed to Egremont, bore also on its superscription these words. “This letter must be instantly carried by the bearer to Mr Egremont wherever he may be.”
Egremont with some change of countenance drew aside, and opening the letter read it by a lamp at hand. It must have been very brief; but the face of him to whom it was addressed became, as he perused its lines, greatly agitated. When he had finished reading it, he seemed for a moment lost in profound thought; then looking up he dismissed his servant without instructions, and hastening back to the assembly, he enquired of the groom of the chambers whether Lord John Russell, whom he had observed in the course of the evening, was still present; and he was answered in the affirmative.
About a quarter of an hour after this incident, Lady Firebrace said to Lady St Julians in a tone of mysterious alarm. “Do you see that?”
“Do not look as if you observed them: Lord John and Mr Egremont, in the furthest window, they have been there these ten minutes in the most earnest conversation. I am afraid we have lost him.”
“I have always been expecting it,” said Lady St Julians. “He breakfasts with that Mr Trenchard and does all those sorts of things. Men who breakfast out are generally liberals. Have not you observed that? I wonder why?”
“It shows a restless revolutionary mind,” said Lady Firebrace, “that can settle to nothing; but must be running after gossip the moment they are awake.”
“Yes,” said Lady St Julians. “I think those men who breakfast out or who give breakfasts are generally dangerous characters; at least, I would not trust them. The whigs are very fond of that sort of thing. If Mr Egremont joins them, I really do not see what shadow of a claim Lady Deloraine can urge to have anything.”
“She only wants one thing,” said Lady Firebrace, “and we know she cannot have that.”
“Because Lady St Julians will have it.”
“You are too kind,” with many smiles.
“No, I assure you Lord Masque told me that her Majesty —” and here Lady Firehrace whispered.
“Well,” said Lady St Julians evidently much gratified, “I do not think I am one who am likely to forget my friends.”
“That I am sure you are not!” said Lady Firebrace.
Behind the printing office in the alley at the door of which we left Sybil, was a yard which led to some premises that had once been used as a work-shop, but were now generally unoccupied. In a rather spacious chamber over which was a loft, five men, one of whom was Gerard, were busily engaged. There was no furniture in the room except a few chairs and a deal table, on which was a solitary light and a variety of papers.
“Depend upon it,” said Gerard, “we must stick to the National Holiday: we can do nothing effectively, unless the movement is simultaneous. They have not troops to cope with a simultaneous movement, and the Holiday is the only machinery to secure unity of action. No work for six weeks, and the rights of Labour will be acknowledged!”
“We shall never be able to make the people unanimous in a cessation of labour,” said a pale young man, very thin but with a countenance of remarkable energy. “The selfish instincts will come into play and will baulk our political object, while a great increase of physical suffering must be inevitable.”
“It might be done,” said a middle-aged, thickset man, in a thoughtful tone. “If the Unions were really to put their shoulder to the wheel, it might be done.”
“And if it is not done,” said Gerard, “what do you propose? The people ask you to guide them. Shrink at such a conjuncture, and our influence over them is forfeited and justly forfeited.”
“I am for partial but extensive insurrections,” said the young man. “Sufficient in extent and number to demand all the troops and yet to distract the military movements. We can count on Birmingham again, if we act at once before their new Police Act is in force; Manchester is ripe; and several of the cotton towns; but above all I have letters that assure me that at this moment we can do anything in Wales.”
“Glamorganshire is right to a man,” said Wilkins a Baptist teacher. “And trade is so bad that the Holiday at all events must take place there, for the masters themselves are extinguishing their furnaces.
“All the north is seething,” said Gerard.
“We must contrive to agitate the metropolis,” said Maclast, a shrewd carroty-haired paper-stainer. “We must have weekly meetings at Kennington and demonstrations at White Conduit House: we cannot do more here I fear than talk, but a few thousand men on Kennington Common every Saturday and some spicy resolutions will keep the Guards in London.”
“Ay, ay,” said Gerard; “I wish the woollen and cotton trades were as bad to do as the iron, and we should need no holiday as you say, Wilkins. However it will come. In the meantime the Poor-law pinches and terrifies, and will make even the most spiritless turn.”
“The accounts today from the north are very encouraging though,” said the young man. “Stevens is producing a great effect, and this plan of our people going in procession and taking possession of the churches very much affects the imagination of the multitude.”
“Ah!” said Gerard, “if we could only have the Church on our side, as in the good old days, we would soon put an end to the demon tyranny of Capital.”
“And now,” said the pale young man, taking up a manuscript paper, “to our immediate business. Here is the draft of the projected proclamation of the Convention on the Birmingham outbreak. It enjoins peace and order, and counsels the people to arm themselves in order to secure both. You understand: that they may resist if the troops and the police endeavour to produce disturbance.”
“Ay, ay,” said Gerard. “Let it be stout. We will settle this at once, and so get it out tomorrow. Then for action.”
“But we must circulate this pamphlet of the Polish Count on the manner of encountering cavalry with pikes,” said Maclast.
“’Tis printed,” said the stout thickset man; “we have set it up on a broadside. We have sent ten thousand to the north and five thousand to John Frost. We shall have another delivery tomorrow. It takes very generally.”
The pale young man read the draft of the proclamation; it was canvassed and criticised sentence by sentence; altered, approved: finally put to the vote, and unanimously carried. On the morrow it was to be posted in every thoroughfare of the metropolis, and circulated in every great city of the provinces and populous district of labour.
“And now,” said Gerard, “I shall tomorrow to the north, where I am wanted. But before I go I propose, as suggested yesterday, that we five together with Langley, whom I counted on seeing here to-night, now form ourselves into a committee for arming the people. Three of us are permanent in London; Wilkins and myself will aid you in the provinces. Nothing can be decided on this head till we see Langley, who will make a communication from Birmingham that cannot be trusted to writing. The seven o’clock train must have long since arrived. He is now a good hour behind his time.”
“I hear foot-steps,” said Maclast.
“He comes,” said Gerard.
The door of the chamber opened and a woman entered. Pale, agitated, exhausted, she advanced to them in the glimmering light.
“What is this?” said several of the council.
“Sybil!” exclaimed the astonished Gerard, and he rose from his seat.
She caught the arm of her father, and leant on him for a moment in silence. Then looking up with an expression that seemed to indicate she was rallying her last energies, she said, in a voice low yet so distinct that it reached the ear of all present, “There is not an instant to lose: fly!”
The men rose hastily from their seats; they approached the messenger of danger; Gerard waved them off, for he perceived his daughter was sinking. Gently he placed her in his chair; she was sensible, for she grasped his arm, and she murmured — still she murmured —“fly!”
“’Tis very strange,” said Maclast.
“I feel queer!” said the thickset man.
“Methinks she looks like a heavenly messenger,” said Wilkins. “I had no idea that earth had anything so fair,” said the youthful scribe of proclamations.
“Hush friends!” said Gerard: and then he bent over Sybil and said in a low soothing voice, “Tell me, my child, what is it?”
She looked up to her father; a glance as it were of devotion and despair: her lips moved, but they refused their office and expressed no words. There was a deep silence in the room.
“She is gone,” said her father.
“Water,” said the young man, and he hurried away to obtain some.
“I feel queer,” said his thickset colleague to Maclast.
“I will answer for Langley as for myself.” said Maclast; “and there is not another human being aware of our purpose.”
“Yes: except Morley. But I should as soon doubt Gerard as Stephen Morley.”
“I cannot conceive how she traced me,” said Gerard. “I have never even breathed to her of our meeting. Would we had some water! Ah! here it comes.
“I arrest you in the Queen’s name,” said a serjeant of police. “Resistance is vain.” Maclast blew out the light, and then ran up into the loft, followed by the thickset man, who fell down the stairs: Wilkins got up the chimney. The sergeant took a lanthorn from his pocket, and threw a powerful light on the chamber, while his followers entered, seized and secured all the papers, and commenced their search.
The light fell upon a group that did not move: the father holding the hand of his insensible child, while he extended his other arm as if to preserve her from the profanation of the touch of the invaders.
“You are Walter Gerard, I presume,” said the serjeant, “six foot two without shoes.”
“Whoever I may he,” he replied, “I presume you will produce your warrant, friend, before you touch me.”
“’Tis here. We want five of you, named herein, and all others that may happen to be found in your company.”
“I shall obey the warrant,” said Gerard after he had examined it; “but this maiden, my daughter, knows nothing of this meeting or its purpose. She has but just arrived, and how she traced me I know not. You will let me recover her, and then permit her to depart.”
“Can’t let no one out of my sight found in this room.”
“But she is innocent, even if we were guilty; she could be nothing else but innocent, for she knows nothing of this meeting and its business, both of which I am prepared at the right time and place to vindicate. She entered this room a moment only before yourself, entered and swooned.”
“Can’t help that; must take her; she can tell the magistrate anything she likes, and he must decide.”
“Why you are not afraid of a young girl?”
“I am afraid of nothing; but I must do my duty. Come we have no time for talk. I must take you both.”
“By G— d you shall not take her;” and letting go her hand, Gerard advanced before her and assumed a position of defence. “You know, I find, my height: my strength does not shame my stature! Look to yourself. Advance and touch this maiden, and I will fell you and your minions like oxen at their pasture.”
The inspector took a pistol from his pocket and pointed it at Gerard. “You see,” he said, “resistance is quite vain.”
“For slaves and cravens, but not for us. I say you shall not touch her till I am dead at her feet. Now, do your worst.”
At this moment two policemen who had been searching the loft descended with Maclast who had vainly attempted to effect his escape over a neighbouring roof; the thickset man was already secured; and Wilkins had been pulled down the chimney and made his appearance in as grimy a state as such a shelter would naturally have occasioned. The young man too, their first prisoner who had been captured before they had entered the room, was also brought in; there was now abundance of light; the four prisoners were ranged and well guarded at the end of the apartment; Gerard standing before Sybil still maintained his position of defence, and the serjeant was, a few yards away, in his front with his pistol in his hand.
“Well you are a queer chap,” said the serjeant; “but I must do my duty. I shall give orders to my men to seize you, and if you resist them, I shall shoot you through the head.”
“Stop!” called out one of the prisoners, the young man who drew proclamations, “she moves. Do with us as you think fit, but you cannot be so harsh as to seize one that is senseless, and a woman!”
“I must do my duty,” said the serjeant rather perplexed at the situation. “Well, if you like, take steps to restore her, and when she has come to herself, she shall be moved in a hackney coach alone with her father.”
The means at hand to recover Sybil were rude, but they assisted a reviving nature. She breathed, she sighed, slowly opened her beautiful dark eyes, and looked around. Her father held her death-cold hand; she returned his pressure: her lips moved, and still she murmured “fly!”
Gerard looked at the serjeant. “I am ready,” he said, “and I will carry her.” The officer nodded assent. Guarded by two policemen the tall delegate of Mowbray bore his precious burthen out of the chamber through the yard, the printing-offices, up the alley, till a hackney coach received them in Hunt Street, round which a mob had already collected, though kept at a discreet distance by the police. One officer entered the coach with them: another mounted the box. Two other coaches carried the rest of the prisoners and their guards, and within halt an hour from the arrival of Sybil at the scene of the secret meeting, she was on her way to Bow Street to be examined as a prisoner of state.
Sybil rallied quickly during their progress to the police office. Satisfied to find herself with her father she would have enquired as to all that had happened, but Gerard at first discouraged her; at length he thought it wisest gradually to convey to her that they were prisoners, but he treated the matter lightly, did not doubt that she would immediately be discharged, and added that though he might be detained for a day or so, his offence was at all events bailable and he had friends on whom he could rely. When Sybil clearly comprehended that she was a prisoner, and that her public examination was impending, she became silent, and leaning back in the coach, covered her face with her hands.
The prisoners arrived at Bow Street; they were hurried into a back office, where they remained some time unnoticed, several police-men remaining in the room. At length about twenty minutes having elapsed, a man dressed in black and of a severe aspect entered the room accompanied by an inspector of police. He first enquired whether these were the prisoners, what were their names and descriptions, which each had to give and which were written down, where they were arrested, why they were arrested: then scrutinising them sharply he said the magistrate was at the Home Office, and he doubted whether they could be examined until the morrow. Upon this Gerard commenced stating the circumstances under which Sybil had unfortunately been arrested, but the gentleman in black with a severe aspect, immediately told him to hold his tongue, and when Gerard persisted, declared that if Gerard did not immediately cease he should be separated from the other prisoners and be ordered into solitary confinement.
Another half hour of painful suspense. The prisoners were not permitted to hold any conversation; Sybil sat half reclining on a form with her back against the wall, and her face covered, silent and motionless. At the end of half an hour the inspector of police who had visited them with the gentleman in black entered and announced that the prisoners could not be brought up for examination that evening, and they must make themselves as comfortable as they could for the night. Gerard made a last appeal to the inspector that Sybil might be allowed a separate chamber and in this he was unexpectedly successful.
The inspector was a kind-hearted man: he lived at the office and his wife was the housekeeper. He had already given her an account, an interesting account, of his female prisoner. The good woman’s imagination was touched as well as her heart; she had herself suggested that they ought to soften the rigour of the fair prisoner’s lot; and the inspector therefore almost anticipated the request of Gerard. He begged Sybil to accompany him to his better half, and at once promised all the comforts and convenience which they could command. As, attended by the inspector, she took her way to the apartments of his family, they passed through a room in which there were writing materials, and Sybil speaking for the first time and in a faint voice enquired of the inspector whether it were permitted to apprise a friend of her situation. She was answered in the affirmative, on condition that the note was previously perused by him.
“I will write it at once,” she said, and taking up a pen she inscribed these words,
“I followed your counsel; I entreated him to quit London this night. He pledged himself to do so on the morrow.
“I learnt he was attending a secret meeting; that there was urgent peril. I tracked him through scenes of terror. Alas! I arrived only in time to be myself seized as a conspirator, and I have been arrested and carried a prisoner to Bow Street, where I write this.
“I ask you not to interfere for him: that would be vain; but if I were free, I might at least secure him justice. But I am not free: I am to be brought up for public examination tomorrow, if I survive this night.
“You are powerful; you know all; you know what I say is truth. None else will credit it. Save me!”
“And now,” said Sybil to the inspector in a tone of mournful desolation and of mild sweetness, “all depends on your faith to me,” and she extended him the letter, which he read.
“Whoever he may be and wherever he may be,” said the inspector with emotion, for the spirit of Sybil had already controlled his nature, “provided the person to whom this letter is addressed is within possible distance, fear not it shall reach him.”
“I will seal and address it then,” said Sybil, and she addressed the letter to
“THE HON. CHARLES EGREMONT M.P.”
adding that superscription the sight of which had so agitated Egremont at Deloraine House.
Night waned: and Sybil was at length slumbering. The cold that precedes the dawn had stolen over her senses, and calmed the excitement of her nerves. She was lying on the ground, covered with a cloak of which her kind hostess had prevailed on her to avail herself, and was partly resting on a chair, at which she had been praying when exhausted nature gave way and she slept. Her bonnet had fallen off, and her rich hair, which had broken loose, covered her shoulder like a mantle. Her slumber was brief and disturbed, but it had in a great degree soothed the irritated brain. She woke however in terror from a dream in which she had been dragged through a mob and carried before a tribunal. The coarse jeers, the brutal threats, still echoed in her ear; and when she looked around, she could not for some moments recall or recognise the scene. In one corner of the room, which was sufficiently spacious, was a bed occupied by the still sleeping wife of the inspector; there was a great deal of heavy furniture of dark mahogany; a bureau, several chests of drawers: over the mantel was a piece of faded embroidery framed, that had been executed by the wife of the inspector when she was at school, and opposite to it, on the other side, were portraits of Dick Curtis and Dutch Sam, who had been the tutors of her husband, and now lived as heroes in his memory.
Slowly came over Sybil the consciousness of the dreadful eve that was past. She remained for some time on her knees in silent prayer: then stepping lightly, she approached the window. It was barred. The room which she inhabited was a high story of the house; it looked down upon one of those half tawdry, half squalid streets that one finds in the vicinities of our theatres; some wretched courts, haunts of misery and crime, blended with gin palaces and slang taverns, burnished and brazen; not a being was stirring. It was just that single hour of the twenty-four when crime ceases, debauchery is exhausted, and even desolation finds a shelter.
It was dawn, but still grey. For the first time since she had been a prisoner, Sybil was alone. A prisoner, and in a few hours to be examined before a public tribunal! Her heart sank. How far her father had committed himself was entirely a mystery to her; but the language of Morley, and all that she had witnessed, impressed her with the conviction that he was deeply implicated. He had indeed spoken in their progress to the police office with confidence as to the future, but then he had every motive to encourage her in her despair, and to support her under the overwhelming circumstances in which she was so suddenly involved. What a catastrophe to all his high aspirations! It tore her heart to think of him! As for herself, she would still hope that ultimately she might obtain justice, but she could scarcely flatter herself that at the first any distinction would be made between her case and that of the other prisoners. She would probably be committed for trial; and though her innocence on that occasion might be proved, she would have been a prisoner in the interval, instead of devoting all her energies in freedom to the support and assistance of her father. She shrank, too, with all the delicacy of a woman, from the impending examination in open court before the magistrate. Supported by her convictions, vindicating a sacred principle, there was no trial perhaps to which Sybil would not have been superior, and no test of her energy and faith which she would not have triumphantly encountered; but to be hurried like a criminal to the bar of a police office, suspected of the lowest arts of sedition, ignorant even of what she was accused, without a conviction to support her or the ennobling consciousness of having failed at least in a great cause; all these were circumstances which infinitely disheartened and depressed her. She felt sometimes that she should be unable to meet the occasion: had it not been for Gerard she could almost have wished that death might release her from its base perplexities.
Was there any hope? In the agony of her soul she had confided last night in one; with scarcely a bewildering hope that he could save her. He might not have the power, the opportunity, the wish. He might shrink from mixing himself up with such characters and such transactions; he might not have received her hurried appeal in time to act upon it, even if the desire of her soul were practicable. A thousand difficulties, a thousand obstacles now occurred to her; and she felt her hopelessness.
Yet notwithstanding her extreme sorrow, and the absence of all surrounding objects to soothe and to console her, the expanding dawn revived and even encouraged Sybil. In spite of the confined situation, she could still partially behold a sky dappled with rosy hues; a sense of freshness touched her: she could not resist endeavouring to open the window and feel the air, notwithstanding all her bars. The wife of the inspector stirred, and half slumbering, murmured, “Are you up? It cannot be more than five o’clock. If you open the window we shall catch cold; but I will rise and help you to dress.”
This woman, like her husband, was naturally kind, and at once influenced by Sybil. They both treated her as a superior being; and if, instead of the daughter of a lowly prisoner and herself a prisoner, she had been the noble child of a captive minister of state, they could not have extended to her a more humble and even delicate solicitude.
It had not yet struck seven, and the wife of the inspector suddenly stopping and listening, said, “They are stirring early:” and then, after a moment’s pause, she opened the door, at which she stood for some time endeavouring to catch the meaning of the mysterious sounds. She looked back at Sybil, and saying, “Hush, I shall be back directly,” she withdrew, shutting the door.
In little more than two hours, as Sybil had been informed, she would be summoned to her examination. It was a sickening thought. Hope vanished as the catastrophe advanced. She almost accused herself for having without authority sought out her father; it had been as regarded him a fruitless mission, and, by its results on her, had aggravated his present sorrows and perplexities. Her mind again recurred to him whose counsel had indirectly prompted her rash step, and to whose aid in her infinite hopelessness she had appealed. The woman who had all this time been only standing on the landing-place without the door, now reentered with a puzzled and curious air, saying, “I cannot make it out; some one has arrived.”
“Some one has arrived.” Simple yet agitating words. “Is it unusual,” enquired Sybil in a trembling tone, “for persons to arrive at this hour?”
“Yes,” said the wife of the inspector. “They never bring them from the stations until the office opens. I cannot make it out. Hush!” and at this moment some one tapped at the door.
The woman returned to the door and reopened it, and some words were spoken which did not reach Sybil, whose heart beat violently as a wild thought rushed over her mind. The suspense was so intolerable, her agitation so great, that she was on the point of advancing and asking if — when the door was shut and she was again left alone. She threw herself on the bed. It seemed to her that she had lost all control over her intelligence. All thought and feeling merged in that deep suspense when the order of our being seems to stop and quiver as it were upon its axis.
The woman returned; her countenance was glad. Perceiving the agitation of Sybil, she said, “You may dry your eyes my dear. There is nothing like a friend at court; there’s a warrant from the Secretary of State for your release.”
“No, no,” said Sybil springing from her chair. “Is he here?”
“What the Secretary of State!” said the woman.
“No, no! I mean is any one here?”
“There is a coach waiting for you at the door with the messenger from the office, and you are to depart forthwith. My husband is here, it was he who knocked at the door. The warrant came before the office was opened.”
“My father! I must see him.”
The inspector at this moment tapped again at the door and then entered. He caught the last request of Sybil, and replied to it in the negative. “You must not stay,” he said; “you must be off immediately. I will tell all to your father. And take a hint; this affair may be bailable or it may not be. I can’t give an opinion, but it depends on the evidence. If you have any good man you know — I mean a householder long established and well to do in the world — I advise you to lose no time in looking him up. That will do your father much more good than saying good bye and all that sort of thing.”
Bidding farewell to his kind wife, and leaving many weeping messages for her father, Sybil descended the stairs with the inspector. The office was not opened: a couple of policemen only were in the passage, and as she appeared one of them went forth to clear the way for Sybil to the coach that was waiting for her. A milkwoman or two, a stray chimney-sweep, a pieman with his smoking apparatus, and several of those nameless nothings that always congregate and make the nucleus of a mob — probably our young friends who had been passing the night in Hyde Park — had already gathered round the office door. They were dispersed, and returned again and took up their position at a more respectful distance, abusing with many racy execrations that ancient body that from a traditionary habit they still called the New Police.
A man in a loose white great coat, his countenance concealed by a shawl which was wound round his neck and by his slouched hat, assisted Sybil into the coach, and pressed her hand at the same time with great tenderness. Then he mounted the box by the driver and ordered him to make the best of his way to Smith’s Square.
With a beating heart, Sybil leant back in the coach and clasped her hands. Her brain was too wild to think: the incidents of her life during the last four-and-twenty hours had been so strange and rapid that she seemed almost to resign any quality of intelligent control over her fortunes, and to deliver herself up to the shifting visions of the startling dream. His voice had sounded in her ear as his hand had touched hers. And on those tones her memory lingered, and that pressure had reached her heart. What tender devotion! What earnest fidelity! What brave and romantic faith! Had she breathed on some talisman, and called up some obedient genie to her aid, the spirit could not have been more loyal, nor the completion of her behest more ample and precise.
She passed the towers of the church of St John: of the saint who had seemed to guard over her in the exigency of her existence. She was approaching her threshold; the blood left her cheek, her heart palpitated. The coach stopped. Trembling and timid she leant upon his arm and yet dared not look upon his face. They entered the house; they were in the room where two months before he had knelt to her in vain, which yesterday had been the scene of so many heart-rending passions.
As in some delicious dream, when the enchanted fancy has traced for a time with coherent bliss the stream of bright adventures and sweet and touching phrase, there comes at last some wild gap in the flow of fascination, and by means which we cannot trace, and by an agency which we cannot pursue, we find ourselves in some enrapturing situation that is as it were the ecstasy of our life; so it happened now, that while in clear and precise order there seemed to flit over the soul of Sybil all that had passed, all that he had done, all that she felt — by some mystical process which memory could not recall, Sybil found herself pressed to the throbbing heart of Egremont, nor shrinking from the embrace which expressed the tenderness of his devoted love!
Mowbray was in a state of great excitement. It was Saturday evening: the mills were closed; the news had arrived of the arrest of the Delegate.
“Here’s a go!” said Dandy Mick to Devilsdust. “What do you think of this?”
“It’s the beginning of the end,” said Devilsdust.
“The deuce!” said the Dandy, who did not clearly comprehend the bent of the observation of his much pondering and philosophic friend, but was touched by its oracular terseness.
“We must see Warner.” said Devilsdust, “and call a meeting of the people on the Moor for tomorrow evening. I will draw up some resolutions. We must speak out; we must terrify the Capitalists.”
“I am all for a strike,” said Mick.
“‘Tisn’t ripe,” said Devilsdust.
“But that’s what you always say, Dusty,” said Mick.
“I watch events,” said Devilsdust. “If you want to be a leader of the people you must learn to watch events.”
“But what do you mean by watching events?”
“Do you see Mother Carey’s stall?” said Dusty, pointing in the direction of the counter of the good-natured widow.
“I should think I did; and what’s more, Julia owes her a tick for herrings.”
“Right,” said Devilsdust: “and nothing but herrings are to be seen on her board. Two years ago it was meat.”
“I twig,” said Mick.
“Wait till it’s wegetables; when the people can’t buy even fish. Then we will talk about strikes. That’s what I call watching events.”
Julia, Caroline, and Harriet came up to them.
“Mick,” said Julia, “we want to go to the Temple.”
“I wish you may get it,” said Mick shaking his head. “When you have learnt to watch events, Julia, you will understand that under present circumstances the Temple is no go.”
“And why so, Dandy?” said Julia.
“Do you see Mother Carey’s stall?” said Mick, pointing in that direction. “When there’s a tick at Madam Carey’s there is no tin for Chaffing Jack. That’s what I call watching events.”
“Oh! as for the tin,” said Caroline, “in these half-time days that’s quite out of fashion. But they do say it’s the last night at the Temple, for Chaffing Jack means to shut up, it does not pay any longer; and we want a lark. I’ll stand treat; I’ll put my earrings up the spout — they must go at last, and I would sooner at any time go to my uncle’s for frolic than woe.”
“I am sure I should like very much to go to the Temple if any one would pay for me,” said Harriet, “but I won’t pawn nothing.”
“If we only pay and hear them sing,” said Julia in a coaxing tone.
“Very like,” said Mick; “there’s nothing that makes one so thirsty as listening to a song, particularly if it touches the feelings. Don’t you remember, Dusty, when we used to encore that German fellow in ‘Scots wha ha.’ We always had it five times. Hang me if I wasn’t blind drunk at the end of it.”
“I tell you what, young ladies,” said Devilsdust, looking very solemn, “you’re dancing on a volcano.”
“Oh! my,” said Caroline. “I am sure I wish we were; though what you mean exactly I don’t quite know.”
“I mean that we shall all soon be slaves,” said Devilsdust.
“Not if we get the Ten–Hour Bill,” said Harriet.
“And no cleaning of machinery in meal time,” said Julia; “that is a shame.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about,” said Devilsdust. “I tell you, if the Capitalists put down Gerard we’re done for another ten years, and by that time we shall be all used up.”
“Lor! Dusty, you quite terrify one,” said Caroline.
“It’s a true bill though. Instead of going to the Temple we must meet on the Moor, and in as great numbers as possible. Go you and get all your sweethearts. I must see your father, Harriet; he must preside. We will have the hymn of Labour sung by a hundred thousand voices in chorus. It will strike terror into the hearts of the Capitalists. This is what we must all be thinking of if we wish Labour to have a chance, not of going to Chaffing Jack’s and listening to silly songs. D’ye understand?”
“Don’t we!” said Caroline; “and for my part for a summer eve I prefer Mowbray Moor to all the Temples in the world, particularly if it’s a sociable party and we have some good singing.”
This evening it was settled among the principal champions of the cause of Labour, among whom Devilsdust was now included, that on the morrow there should be a monster meeting on the Moor to take into consideration the arrest of the delegate of Mowbray. Such was the complete organisation of this district that by communicating with the various lodges of the Trades Unions fifty thousand persons, or even double that number, could within four-and-twenty hours on a great occasion and on a favourable day be brought into the field. The morrow being a day of rest was favourable, and the seizure of their cherished delegate was a stimulating cause. The excitement was great, the enthusiasm earnest and deep. There was enough distress to make people discontented without depressing them. And Devilsdust after attending a council of the Union, retired to rest and dreamed of strong speeches and spicy resolutions, bands and banners, the cheers of assembled thousands, and the eventual triumph of the sacred rights.
The post of the next morning brought great and stirring news to Mowbray. Gerard had undergone his examination at Bow Street. It was a long and laborious one; he was committed for trial for a seditious conspiracy, but he was held to bail. The bail demanded was heavy; but it was prepared and instantly proffered. His sureties were Morley and a Mr Hatton. By this post Morley wrote to his friends, apprising them that both Gerard and himself intended to leave London instantly, and that they might be expected to arrive at Mowbray by the evening train.
The monster meeting of the Moor it was instantly resolved should be converted into a triumphant procession, or rather be preceded by one. Messengers on horseback were sent to all the neighbouring towns to announce the great event. Every artisan felt as a Moslemin summoned by the sacred standard. All went forth with their wives and their children to hail the return of the patriot and the martyr. The Trades of Mowbray mustered early in the morning, and in various processions took possession of all the churches. Their great pride was entirely to fill the church of Mr St Lys, who not daunted by their demonstration, and seizing the offered opportunity, suppressed the sermon with which he had supplied himself and preached to them an extemporary discourse on “Fear God and honour the King.” In the dissenting chapels thanksgivings were publicly offered that bail had been accepted for Walter Gerard. After the evening service, which the Unions again attended, they formed in the High Street and lined it with their ranks and banners. Every half hour a procession arrived from some neighbouring town with its music and streaming flags. Each was received by Warner or some other member of the managing committee, who assigned to them their appointed position, which they took up without confusion, nor was the general order for a moment disturbed. Sometimes a large party arrived without music or banners, but singing psalms and headed by their minister; sometimes the children walked together, the women following, then the men each with a ribbon of the same colour in his hat: all hurried, yet spontaneous and certain, indications how mankind under the influence of high and earnest feelings recur instantly to ceremony and form; how when the imagination is excited it appeals to the imagination, and requires for its expression something beyond the routine of daily life.
It was arranged that the moment the train arrived and the presence of Gerard was ascertained, the Trade in position nearest to the station should commence the hymn of Labour, which was instantly to be taken up by its neighbour, and so on in succession, so that by an almost electrical agency the whole population should almost simultaneously be assured of his arrival.
At half past six o’clock the bell announced that the train was in sight; a few minutes afterwards Dandy Mick hurried up to the leader of the nearest Trade, spoke a few words, and instantly the signal was given and the hymn commenced. It was taken up as the steeples of a great city in the silence of the night take up the new hour that has just arrived; one by one the mighty voices rose till they all blended in one vast waving sea of sound. Warner and some others welcomed Gerard and Morley, and ushered them, totally unprepared for such a reception, to an open carriage drawn by four white horses that was awaiting them. Orders were given that there was to be no cheering or any irregular clamour. Alone was heard the hymn. As the carriage passed each Trade, they followed and formed in procession behind it; thus all had the opportunity of beholding their chosen chief, and he the proud consolation of looking on the multitude who thus enthusiastically recognised the sovereignty of his services.
The interminable population, the mighty melody, the incredible order, the simple yet awful solemnity, this representation of the great cause to which she was devoted under an aspect that at once satisfied the reason, captivated the imagination, and elevated the heart — her admiration of her father, thus ratified as it were by the sympathy of a nation — added to all the recent passages of her life teeming with such strange and trying interest, overcame Sybil. The tears fell down her cheek as the carriage bore away her father, while she remained under the care of one unknown to the people of Mowbray, but who had accompanied her from London — this was Hatton.
The last light of the sun was shed over the Moor when Gerard reached it, and the Druids’ altar and its surrounding crags were burnished with its beam.
It was the night following the day after the return of Gerard to Mowbray. Morley, who had lent to him and Sybil his cottage in the dale, was at the office of his newspaper, the Mowbray Phalanx, where he now resided. He was alone in his room writing, occasionally rising from his seat and pacing the chamber, when some one knocked at his door. Receiving a permission to come in, there entered Hatton.
“I fear I am disturbing an article,” said the guest.
“By no means: the day of labour is not at hand. I am very pleased to see you.”
“My quarters are not very inviting,” continued Hatton. “It is remarkable what bad accommodation you find in these great trading towns. I should have thought that the mercantile traveller had been a comfortable animal — not to say a luxurious; but I find everything mean and third-rate. The wine execrable. So I thought I would come and bestow my tediousness on you. ’Tis hardly fair.”
“You could not have pleased me better. I was, rather from distraction than from exigency, throwing some thoughts on paper. But the voice of yesterday still lingers in my ear.”
“What a spectacle!”
“Yes; you see what a multitude presents who have recognised the predominance of Moral Power,” said Morley. “The spectacle was august; but the results to which such a public mind must lead are sublime.”
“It must have been deeply gratifying to our friend,” said Hatton.
“It will support him in his career,” said Morley.
“And console him in his prison,” added Hatton.
“You think that it will come to that?” said Morley inquiringly.
“It has that aspect; but appearances change.”
“What should change them?”
“Time and accident, which change everything.”
“Time will bring the York Assizes,” said Morley musingly; “and as for accident I confess the future seems to me dreary. What can happen for Gerard?”
“He might win his writ of right,” said Hatton demurely, stretching out his legs and leaning back in his chair. “That also may be tried at the York Assizes.”
“His writ of right! I thought that was a feint — a mere affair of tactics to keep the chance of the field.”
“I believe the field may be won,” said Hatton very composedly.
“Ay! the castle and manor of Mowbray and half the lordships round, to say nothing of this good town. The people are prepared to be his subjects; he must give up equality and be content with being a popular sovereign.”
“You jest my friend.”
“Then I speak truth in jest; sometimes, you know, the case.”
“What mean you?” said Morley rising and approaching Hatton; “for though I have often observed you like a biting phrase, you never speak idly. Tell me what you mean.”
“I mean,” said Hatton, looking Morley earnestly in the face and speaking with great gravity, “that the documents are in existence which prove the title of Walter Gerard to the proprietorship of this great district; that I know where the documents are to be found; and that it requires nothing but a resolution equal to the occasion to secure them.”
“Should that be wanting?” said Morley.
“I should think not,” said Hatton. “It would belie our nature to believe so.”
“And where are these documents?”
“In the muniment room of Mowbray castle.”
“Hah!” exclaimed Morley in a prolonged tone.
“Kept closely by one who knows their value, for they are the title deeds not of his right but of his confusion.”
“And how can we obtain them?”
“By means more honest than those they were acquired by.”
“They are not obvious.”
“Two hundred thousand human beings yesterday acknowledged the supremacy of Gerard,” said Hatton. “Suppose they had known that within the walls of Mowbray Castle were contained the proofs that Walter Gerard was the lawful possessor of the lands on which they live; I say suppose that had been the case. Do you think they would have contented themselves with singing psalms? What would have become of moral power then? They would have taken Mowbray Castle by storm; they would have sacked and gutted it; they would have appointed a chosen band to rifle the round tower; they would have taken care that every document in it, especially an iron chest painted blue and blazoned with the shield of Valence, should have been delivered to you, to me, to any one that Gerard appointed for the office. And what could be the remedy of the Earl de Mowbray? He could scarcely bring an action against the hundred for the destruction of the castle, which we would prove was not his own. And the most he could do would be to transport some poor wretches who had got drunk in his plundered cellars and then set fire to his golden saloons.”
“You amaze me,” said Morley, looking with an astonished expression on the person who had just delivered himself of these suggestive details with the same coolness and arid accuracy that he would have entered into the details of a pedigree.
“’Tis a practical view of the case,” remarked Mr Hatton.
Morley paced the chamber disturbed; Hatton remained silent and watched him with a scrutinizing eye.
“Are you certain of your facts?” at length said Morley abruptly stopping.
“Quite so; Lord de Mowbray informed me of the circumstances himself before I left London, and I came down here in consequence.”
“You know him?”
“No one better.”
“And these documents — some of them I suppose,” said Morley with a cynical look, “were once in your own possession then?”
“Possibly. Would they were now! But it is a great thing to know where they may be found.”
“Then they once were the property of Gerard?”
“Hardly that. They were gained by my own pains, and often paid for with my own purse. Claimed by no one, I parted with them to a person to whom they were valuable. It is not merely to serve Gerard that I want them now, though I would willingly serve him. I have need of some of these papers with respect to an ancient title, a claim to which by a person in whom I am interested they would substantiate. Now listen, good friend Morley; moral force is a fine thing especially in speculation, and so is a community of goods especially when a man has no property, but when you have lived as long as I have and have tasted of the world’s delight, you’ll comprehend the rapture of acquisition, and learn that it is generally secured by very coarse means. Come, I have a mind that you should prosper. The public spirit is inflamed here; you are a leader of the people. Let us have another meeting on the Moor, a preconcerted outbreak; you can put your fingers in a trice on the men who will do our work. Mowbray Castle is in their possession; we secure our object. You shall have ten thousand pounds on the nail, and I will take you back to London with me besides and teach you what is fortune.”
“I understand you,” said Morley. “You have a clear brain and a bold spirit; you have no scruples, which indeed are generally the creatures of perplexity rather than of principle. You ought to succeed.”
“We ought to succeed you mean,” said Hatton, “for I have long perceived that you only wanted opportunity to mount.”
“Yesterday was a great burst of feeling occasioned by a very peculiar cause,” said Morley musingly; “but it must not mislead us. The discontent here is not deep. The people are still employed, though not fully. Wages have fallen, but they must drop more. THE PEOPLE are not ripe for the movement you intimate. There are thousands who would rush to the rescue of the castle. Besides there is a priest here, one St Lys, who exercises a most pernicious influence over the people. It will require immense efforts and great distress to root him out. No; it would fail.”
“Then we must wait awhile,” said Hatton, “or devise some other means.”
“’Tis a very impracticable case,” said Morley.
“There is a combination for every case,” said Hatton. “Ponder and it comes. This seemed simple; but you think, you really think it would not answer?”
“At this moment, not; that is my conviction.”
“Well suppose instead of an insurrection we have a burglary. Can you assist me to the right hands here?”
“Not I indeed!”
“What is the use then of this influence over the people of which you and Gerard are always talking? After yesterday I thought here you could do anything.”
“We have not hitherto had the advantage of your worldly knowledge; in future we shall be wiser.”
“Well then,” said Hatton, “we must now think of Gerard’s defence. He shall have the best counsel. I shall retain Kelly specially. I shall return to town tomorrow morning. You will keep me alive to the state of feeling here, and if things get more mature drop me a line and I will come down.”
“This conversation had better not be mentioned to Gerard.”
“That is obvious; it would only disturb him. I did not preface it by a stipulation of confidence because that is idle. Of course you will keep the secret; it is your interest; it is a great possession. I know very well you will be most jealous of sharing it. I know it is as safe with you as with myself.”
And with these words Hatton wished him a hearty farewell and withdrew.
“He is right,” thought Morley; “he knows human nature well. The secret is safe. I will not breathe it to Gerard. I will treasure it up. It is knowledge; it is power: great knowledge, great power. And what shall I do with it? Time will teach me.”
END OF THE FIFTH BOOK
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07