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 to-morrow."
"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.