Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 10

Mowbray was in a state of great excitement. It was Saturday evening: the mills were closed; the news had arrived of the arrest of the Delegate.

"Here's a go!" said Dandy Mick to Devilsdust. "What do you think of this?"

"It's the beginning of the end," said Devilsdust.

"The deuce!" said the Dandy, who did not clearly comprehend the bent of the observation of his much pondering and philosophic friend, but was touched by its oracular terseness.

"We must see Warner." said Devilsdust, "and call a meeting of the people on the Moor for to-morrow evening. I will draw up some resolutions. We must speak out; we must terrify the Capitalists."

"I am all for a strike," said Mick.

"'Tisn't ripe," said Devilsdust.

"But that's what you always say, Dusty," said Mick.

"I watch events," said Devilsdust. "If you want to be a leader of the people you must learn to watch events."

"But what do you mean by watching events?"

"Do you see Mother Carey's stall?" said Dusty, pointing in the direction of the counter of the good-natured widow.

"I should think I did; and what's more, Julia owes her a tick for herrings."

"Right," said Devilsdust: "and nothing but herrings are to be seen on her board. Two years ago it was meat."

"I twig," said Mick.

"Wait till it's wegetables; when the people can't buy even fish. Then we will talk about strikes. That's what I call watching events."

Julia, Caroline, and Harriet came up to them.

"Mick," said Julia, "we want to go to the Temple."

"I wish you may get it," said Mick shaking his head. "When you have learnt to watch events, Julia, you will understand that under present circumstances the Temple is no go."

"And why so, Dandy?" said Julia.

"Do you see Mother Carey's stall?" said Mick, pointing in that direction. "When there's a tick at Madam Carey's there is no tin for Chaffing Jack. That's what I call watching events."

"Oh! as for the tin," said Caroline, "in these half-time days that's quite out of fashion. But they do say it's the last night at the Temple, for Chaffing Jack means to shut up, it does not pay any longer; and we want a lark. I'll stand treat; I'll put my earrings up the spout—they must go at last, and I would sooner at any time go to my uncle's for frolic than woe."

"I am sure I should like very much to go to the Temple if any one would pay for me," said Harriet, "but I won't pawn nothing."

"If we only pay and hear them sing," said Julia in a coaxing tone.

"Very like," said Mick; "there's nothing that makes one so thirsty as listening to a song, particularly if it touches the feelings. Don't you remember, Dusty, when we used to encore that German fellow in 'Scots wha ha.' We always had it five times. Hang me if I wasn't blind drunk at the end of it."

"I tell you what, young ladies," said Devilsdust, looking very solemn, "you're dancing on a volcano."

"Oh! my," said Caroline. "I am sure I wish we were; though what you mean exactly I don't quite know."

"I mean that we shall all soon be slaves," said Devilsdust.

"Not if we get the Ten-Hour Bill," said Harriet.

"And no cleaning of machinery in meal time," said Julia; "that is a shame."

"You don't know what you are talking about," said Devilsdust. "I tell you, if the Capitalists put down Gerard we're done for another ten years, and by that time we shall be all used up."

"Lor! Dusty, you quite terrify one," said Caroline.

"It's a true bill though. Instead of going to the Temple we must meet on the Moor, and in as great numbers as possible. Go you and get all your sweethearts. I must see your father, Harriet; he must preside. We will have the hymn of Labour sung by a hundred thousand voices in chorus. It will strike terror into the hearts of the Capitalists. This is what we must all be thinking of if we wish Labour to have a chance, not of going to Chaffing Jack's and listening to silly songs. D'ye understand?"

"Don't we!" said Caroline; "and for my part for a summer eve I prefer Mowbray Moor to all the Temples in the world, particularly if it's a sociable party and we have some good singing."

This evening it was settled among the principal champions of the cause of Labour, among whom Devilsdust was now included, that on the morrow there should be a monster meeting on the Moor to take into consideration the arrest of the delegate of Mowbray. Such was the complete organisation of this district that by communicating with the various lodges of the Trades Unions fifty thousand persons, or even double that number, could within four-and-twenty hours on a great occasion and on a favourable day be brought into the field. The morrow being a day of rest was favourable, and the seizure of their cherished delegate was a stimulating cause. The excitement was great, the enthusiasm earnest and deep. There was enough distress to make people discontented without depressing them. And Devilsdust after attending a council of the Union, retired to rest and dreamed of strong speeches and spicy resolutions, bands and banners, the cheers of assembled thousands, and the eventual triumph of the sacred rights.

The post of the next morning brought great and stirring news to Mowbray. Gerard had undergone his examination at Bow Street. It was a long and laborious one; he was committed for trial for a seditious conspiracy, but he was held to bail. The bail demanded was heavy; but it was prepared and instantly proffered. His sureties were Morley and a Mr Hatton. By this post Morley wrote to his friends, apprising them that both Gerard and himself intended to leave London instantly, and that they might be expected to arrive at Mowbray by the evening train.

The monster meeting of the Moor it was instantly resolved should be converted into a triumphant procession, or rather be preceded by one. Messengers on horseback were sent to all the neighbouring towns to announce the great event. Every artisan felt as a Moslemin summoned by the sacred standard. All went forth with their wives and their children to hail the return of the patriot and the martyr. The Trades of Mowbray mustered early in the morning, and in various processions took possession of all the churches. Their great pride was entirely to fill the church of Mr St Lys, who not daunted by their demonstration, and seizing the offered opportunity, suppressed the sermon with which he had supplied himself and preached to them an extemporary discourse on "Fear God and honour the King." In the dissenting chapels thanksgivings were publicly offered that bail had been accepted for Walter Gerard. After the evening service, which the Unions again attended, they formed in the High Street and lined it with their ranks and banners. Every half hour a procession arrived from some neighbouring town with its music and streaming flags. Each was received by Warner or some other member of the managing committee, who assigned to them their appointed position, which they took up without confusion, nor was the general order for a moment disturbed. Sometimes a large party arrived without music or banners, but singing psalms and headed by their minister; sometimes the children walked together, the women following, then the men each with a ribbon of the same colour in his hat: all hurried, yet spontaneous and certain, indications how mankind under the influence of high and earnest feelings recur instantly to ceremony and form; how when the imagination is excited it appeals to the imagination, and requires for its expression something beyond the routine of daily life.

It was arranged that the moment the train arrived and the presence of Gerard was ascertained, the Trade in position nearest to the station should commence the hymn of Labour, which was instantly to be taken up by its neighbour, and so on in succession, so that by an almost electrical agency the whole population should almost simultaneously be assured of his arrival.

At half past six o'clock the bell announced that the train was in sight; a few minutes afterwards Dandy Mick hurried up to the leader of the nearest Trade, spoke a few words, and instantly the signal was given and the hymn commenced. It was taken up as the steeples of a great city in the silence of the night take up the new hour that has just arrived; one by one the mighty voices rose till they all blended in one vast waving sea of sound. Warner and some others welcomed Gerard and Morley, and ushered them, totally unprepared for such a reception, to an open carriage drawn by four white horses that was awaiting them. Orders were given that there was to be no cheering or any irregular clamour. Alone was heard the hymn. As the carriage passed each Trade, they followed and formed in procession behind it; thus all had the opportunity of beholding their chosen chief, and he the proud consolation of looking on the multitude who thus enthusiastically recognised the sovereignty of his services.

The interminable population, the mighty melody, the incredible order, the simple yet awful solemnity, this representation of the great cause to which she was devoted under an aspect that at once satisfied the reason, captivated the imagination, and elevated the heart—her admiration of her father, thus ratified as it were by the sympathy of a nation—added to all the recent passages of her life teeming with such strange and trying interest, overcame Sybil. The tears fell down her cheek as the carriage bore away her father, while she remained under the care of one unknown to the people of Mowbray, but who had accompanied her from London,—this was Hatton.

The last light of the sun was shed over the Moor when Gerard reached it, and the Druids' altar and its surrounding crags were burnished with its beam.

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