Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 2

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; to-morrow, 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."

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