A bloom was spread over the morning sky. A soft golden light bathed with its fresh beam the bosom of the valley, except where a delicate haze, rather than a mist, still partially lingered over the river, which yet occasionally gleamed and sparkled in the sunshine. A sort of shadowy lustre suffused the landscape, which, though distinct, was mitigated in all its features—the distant woods, the clumps of tall trees that rose about the old grey bridge, the cottage chimneys that sent their smoke into the blue still air, amid their clustering orchards and garden of flowers and herbs.
Ah! what is there so fresh and joyous as a summer morn! That spring time of the day, when the brain is bright, and the heart is brave; the season of daring and of hope; the renovating hour!
Came forth from his cottage room the brother of Lord Marney, to feel the vigorous bliss of life amid sunshiny gardens and the voices of bees and birds.
"Ah! this is delicious!" he felt. "This is existence! Thank God I am here; that I have quitted for ever that formal and heartless Marney. Were it not for my mother, I would remain Mr Franklin for ever. Would I were indeed a journalist; provided I always had a mission to the vale of Mowbray. Or anything, so that I were ever here. As companions, independent of everything else, they are superior to any that I have been used to. Why do these persons interest me? They feel and they think: two habits that have quite gone out of fashion, if ever they existed, among my friends. And that polish of manners, that studied and factitious refinement, which is to compensate for the heartlessness or the stupidity we are doomed to—is my host of last night deficient in that refinement? If he do want our conventional discipline, he has a native breeding which far excels it. I observe no word or action which is not prompted by that fine feeling which is the sure source of good taste. This Gerard appears to me a real genuine man; full of knowledge worked out by his own head; with large yet wholesome sympathies; and a deuced deal better educated than Lord de Mowbray or my brother—and they do occasionally turn over a book, which is not the habit of our set.
"And his daughter—ay, his daughter! There is something almost sublime about that young girl, yet strangely sweet withal; a tone so lofty combined with such simplicity is very rare. For there is no affectation of enthusiasm about her; nothing exaggerated, nothing rhapsodical. Her dark eyes and lustrous face, and the solemn sweetness of her thrilling voice—they haunt me; they have haunted me from the first moment I encountered her like a spirit amid the ruins of our abbey. And I am one of 'the family of sacrilege.' If she knew that! And I am one of the conquering class she denounces. If also she knew that! Ah! there is much to know! Above all—the future. Away! the tree of knowledge is the tree of death. I will have no thought that is not as bright and lovely as this morn."
He went forth from his little garden, and strolled along the road in the direction of the cottage of Gerard, which was about three quarters of a mile distant. You might see almost as far; the sunshiny road a little winding and rising a very slight ascent. The cottage itself was hid by its trees. While Egremont was still musing of one who lived under that roof, he beheld in the distance Sybil.
She was springing along with a quick and airy step. Her black dress displayed her undulating and elastic figure. Her little foot bounded from the earth with a merry air. A long rosary hung at her side; and her head was partly covered with a hood which descended just over her shoulders. She seemed gay, for Harold kept running before her with a frolicsome air, and then returning to his mistress, danced about her, and almost overpowered her with his gambols.
"I salute thee, holy sister," said Egremont.
"Oh! is not this a merry morn!" she exclaimed with a bright and happy face.
"I feel it as you. And whither do you go?"
"I go to the convent; I pay my first visit to our Superior since I left them."
"Not very long ago," said Egremont, with a smile, and turning with her.
"It seems so," said Sybil.
They walked on together; Sybil glad as the hour; noticing a thousand cheerful sights, speaking to her dog in her ringing voice, as he gambolled before them, or seized her garments in his mouth, and ever and anon bounded away and then returned, looking up in his mistress' face to inquire whether he had been wanted in his absence.
"What a pity it is that your father's way each morning lies up the valley," said Egremont; "he would be your companion to Mowbray."
"Ah! but I am so happy that he has not to work in a town," said Sybil. "He is not made to be cooped up in a hot factory in a smoky street. At least he labours among the woods and waters. And the Traffords are such good people! So kind to him and to all."
"You love your father very much."
She looked at him a little surprised; and then her sweet serious face broke into a smile and she said, "And is that strange?"
"I think not," said Egremont; "I am inclined to love him myself."
"Ah! you win my heart," said Sybil, "when you praise him. I think that is the real reason why I like Stephen; for otherwise he is always saying something with which I cannot agree, which I disapprove; and yet he is so good to my father!"
"You speak of Mr Morley—"
"Oh! we don't call him 'Mr'," said Sybil slightly laughing.
"I mean Stephen Morley," said Egremont recalling his position, "whom I met in Marney Abbey. He is very clever, is he not?"
"He is a great writer and a great student; and what he is he has made himself. I hear too that you follow the same pursuit," said Sybil.
"But I am not a great writer or a great student," said Egremont.
"Whatever you be, I trust," said Sybil, in a more serious tone, "that you will never employ the talents that God has given you against the People."
"I have come here to learn something of their condition," said Egremont. "That is not to be done in a great city like London. We all of us live too much in a circle. You will assist me, I am sure," added Egremont; "your spirit will animate me. You told me last night that there was no other subject, except one, which ever occupied your thoughts."
"Yes," said Sybil, "I have lived under two roofs, only two roofs; and each has given me a great idea; the Convent and the Cottage. One has taught me the degradation of my faith, the other of my race. You should not wonder, therefore, that my heart is concentrated on the Church and the People."
"But there are other ideas," said Egremont, "that might equally be entitled to your thought."
"I feel these are enough," said Sybil; "too great, as it is, for my brain."