Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 9

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 re-entered 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!

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