Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 9

Morley greeted Gerard and his daughter with great warmth, and then looked at Egremont. "Our companion in the ruins of Marney Abbey," said Gerard; "you and our friend Franklin here should become acquainted, Stephen, for you both follow the same craft. He is a journalist like yourself, and is our neighbour for a time, and yours."

"What journal are you on, may I ask?" enquired Morley.

Egremont reddened, was confused, and then replied, "I have no claim to the distinguished title of a journalist. I am but a reporter; and have some special duties here."

"Hem!" said Morley, and then taking Gerard by the arm, he walked away with him, leaving Egremont and Sybil to follow them.

"Well I have found him, Walter."

"What, Hatton?"

"No, no; the brother."

"And what knows he?"

"Little enough; yet something. Our man lives and prospers; these are facts, but where he is, or what he is—not a clue."

"And this brother cannot help us?"

"On the contrary, he sought information from me; he is a savage, beneath even our worst ideas of popular degradation. All that is ascertained is that our man exists and is well to do in the world. There comes an annual and anonymous contribution, and not a light one, to his brother. I examined the post-marks of the letters, but they all varied, and were evidently arranged to mislead. I fear you will deem I have not done much; yet it was wearisome enough I can tell you."

"I doubt it not; and I am sure Stephen, you have done all that man could. I was fancying that I should hear from you to-day; for what think you has happened? My Lord himself, his family and train, have all been in state to visit the works, and I had to show them. Queer that, wasn't it? He offered me money when it was over. How much I know not, I would not look at it. Though to be sure, they were perhaps my own rents, eh? But I pointed to the sick box and his own dainty hand deposited the sum there."

"'Tis very strange. And you were with him face to face?"

"Face to face. Had you brought me news of the papers, I should have thought that providence had rather a hand in it—but now, we are still at sea."

"Still at sea," said Morley musingly, "but he lives and prospers. He will turn up yet, Walter."

"Amen! Since you have taken up this thing, Stephen, it is strange how my mind has hankered after the old business, and yet it ruined my father, and mayhap may do as bad for his son."

"We will not think that," said Morley. "At present we will think of other things. You may guess I am a bit wearied; I think I'll say good night; you have strangers with you."

"Nay, nay man; nay. This Franklin is a likely lad enough; I think you will take to him. Prithee come in. Sybil will not take it kindly if you go, after so long an absence; and I am sure I shall not."

So they entered together.

The evening passed in various conversation, though it led frequently to the staple subject of talk beneath the roof of Gerard—the Condition of the People. What Morley had seen in his recent excursion afforded materials for many comments.

"The domestic feeling is fast vanishing among the working classes of this country," said Gerard; "nor is it wonderful—the Home no longer exists."

"But there are means of reviving it," said Egremont; "we have witnessed them to-day. Give men homes, and they will have soft and homely notions, If all men acted like Mr Trafford, the condition of the people would be changed."

"But all men will not act like Mr Trafford," said Morley. "It requires a sacrifice of self which cannot be expected, which is unnatural. It is not individual influence that can renovate society: it is some new principle that must reconstruct it. You lament the expiring idea of Home. It would not be expiring, if it were worth retaining. The domestic principle has fulfilled its purpose. The irresistible law of progress demands that another should be developed. It will come; you may advance or retard, but you cannot prevent it. It will work out like the development of organic nature. In the present state of civilization and with the scientific means of happiness at our command, the notion of home should be obsolete. Home is a barbarous idea; the method of a rude age; home is isolation; therefore anti-social. What we want is Community."

"It is all very fine," said Gerard, "and I dare say you are right, Stephen; but I like stretching my feet on my own hearth."

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