It was the night following the day after the return of Gerard to Mowbray. Morley, who had lent to him and Sybil his cottage in the dale, was at the office of his newspaper, the Mowbray Phalanx, where he now resided. He was alone in his room writing, occasionally rising from his seat and pacing the chamber, when some one knocked at his door. Receiving a permission to come in, there entered Hatton.
"I fear I am disturbing an article," said the guest.
"By no means: the day of labour is not at hand. I am very pleased to see you."
"My quarters are not very inviting," continued Hatton. "It is remarkable what bad accommodation you find in these great trading towns. I should have thought that the mercantile traveller had been a comfortable animal—not to say a luxurious; but I find everything mean and third-rate. The wine execrable. So I thought I would come and bestow my tediousness on you. 'Tis hardly fair."
"You could not have pleased me better. I was, rather from distraction than from exigency, throwing some thoughts on paper. But the voice of yesterday still lingers in my ear."
"What a spectacle!"
"Yes; you see what a multitude presents who have recognised the predominance of Moral Power," said Morley. "The spectacle was august; but the results to which such a public mind must lead are sublime."
"It must have been deeply gratifying to our friend," said Hatton.
"It will support him in his career," said Morley.
"And console him in his prison," added Hatton.
"You think that it will come to that?" said Morley inquiringly.
"It has that aspect; but appearances change."
"What should change them?"
"Time and accident, which change everything."
"Time will bring the York Assizes," said Morley musingly; "and as for accident I confess the future seems to me dreary. What can happen for Gerard?"
"He might win his writ of right," said Hatton demurely, stretching out his legs and leaning back in his chair. "That also may be tried at the York Assizes."
"His writ of right! I thought that was a feint—a mere affair of tactics to keep the chance of the field."
"I believe the field may be won," said Hatton very composedly.
"Ay! the castle and manor of Mowbray and half the lordships round, to say nothing of this good town. The people are prepared to be his subjects; he must give up equality and be content with being a popular sovereign."
"You jest my friend."
"Then I speak truth in jest; sometimes, you know, the case."
"What mean you?" said Morley rising and approaching Hatton; "for though I have often observed you like a biting phrase, you never speak idly. Tell me what you mean."
"I mean," said Hatton, looking Morley earnestly in the face and speaking with great gravity, "that the documents are in existence which prove the title of Walter Gerard to the proprietorship of this great district; that I know where the documents are to be found; and that it requires nothing but a resolution equal to the occasion to secure them."
"Should that be wanting?" said Morley.
"I should think not," said Hatton. "It would belie our nature to believe so."
"And where are these documents?"
"In the muniment room of Mowbray castle."
"Hah!" exclaimed Morley in a prolonged tone.
"Kept closely by one who knows their value, for they are the title deeds not of his right but of his confusion."
"And how can we obtain them?"
"By means more honest than those they were acquired by."
"They are not obvious."
"Two hundred thousand human beings yesterday acknowledged the supremacy of Gerard," said Hatton. "Suppose they had known that within the walls of Mowbray Castle were contained the proofs that Walter Gerard was the lawful possessor of the lands on which they live; I say suppose that had been the case. Do you think they would have contented themselves with singing psalms? What would have become of moral power then? They would have taken Mowbray Castle by storm; they would have sacked and gutted it; they would have appointed a chosen band to rifle the round tower; they would have taken care that every document in it, especially an iron chest painted blue and blazoned with the shield of Valence, should have been delivered to you, to me, to any one that Gerard appointed for the office. And what could be the remedy of the Earl de Mowbray? He could scarcely bring an action against the hundred for the destruction of the castle, which we would prove was not his own. And the most he could do would be to transport some poor wretches who had got drunk in his plundered cellars and then set fire to his golden saloons."
"You amaze me," said Morley, looking with an astonished expression on the person who had just delivered himself of these suggestive details with the same coolness and arid accuracy that he would have entered into the details of a pedigree.
"'Tis a practical view of the case," remarked Mr Hatton.
Morley paced the chamber disturbed; Hatton remained silent and watched him with a scrutinizing eye.
"Are you certain of your facts?" at length said Morley abruptly stopping.
"Quite so; Lord de Mowbray informed me of the circumstances himself before I left London, and I came down here in consequence."
"You know him?"
"No one better."
"And these documents—some of them I suppose," said Morley with a cynical look, "were once in your own possession then?"
"Possibly. Would they were now! But it is a great thing to know where they may be found."
"Then they once were the property of Gerard?"
"Hardly that. They were gained by my own pains, and often paid for with my own purse. Claimed by no one, I parted with them to a person to whom they were valuable. It is not merely to serve Gerard that I want them now, though I would willingly serve him. I have need of some of these papers with respect to an ancient title, a claim to which by a person in whom I am interested they would substantiate. Now listen, good friend Morley; moral force is a fine thing especially in speculation, and so is a community of goods especially when a man has no property, but when you have lived as long as I have and have tasted of the world's delight, you'll comprehend the rapture of acquisition, and learn that it is generally secured by very coarse means. Come, I have a mind that you should prosper. The public spirit is inflamed here; you are a leader of the people. Let us have another meeting on the Moor, a preconcerted outbreak; you can put your fingers in a trice on the men who will do our work. Mowbray Castle is in their possession; we secure our object. You shall have ten thousand pounds on the nail, and I will take you back to London with me besides and teach you what is fortune."
"I understand you," said Morley. "You have a clear brain and a bold spirit; you have no scruples, which indeed are generally the creatures of perplexity rather than of principle. You ought to succeed."
"We ought to succeed you mean," said Hatton, "for I have long perceived that you only wanted opportunity to mount."
"Yesterday was a great burst of feeling occasioned by a very peculiar cause," said Morley musingly; "but it must not mislead us. The discontent here is not deep. The people are still employed, though not fully. Wages have fallen, but they must drop more. THE PEOPLE are not ripe for the movement you intimate. There are thousands who would rush to the rescue of the castle. Besides there is a priest here, one St Lys, who exercises a most pernicious influence over the people. It will require immense efforts and great distress to root him out. No; it would fail."
"Then we must wait awhile," said Hatton, "or devise some other means."
"'Tis a very impracticable case," said Morley.
"There is a combination for every case," said Hatton. "Ponder and it comes. This seemed simple; but you think, you really think it would not answer?"
"At this moment, not; that is my conviction."
"Well suppose instead of an insurrection we have a burglary. Can you assist me to the right hands here?"
"Not I indeed!"
"What is the use then of this influence over the people of which you and Gerard are always talking? After yesterday I thought here you could do anything."
"We have not hitherto had the advantage of your worldly knowledge; in future we shall be wiser."
"Well then," said Hatton, "we must now think of Gerard's defence. He shall have the best counsel. I shall retain Kelly specially. I shall return to town to-morrow morning. You will keep me alive to the state of feeling here, and if things get more mature drop me a line and I will come down."
"This conversation had better not be mentioned to Gerard."
"That is obvious; it would only disturb him. I did not preface it by a stipulation of confidence because that is idle. Of course you will keep the secret; it is your interest; it is a great possession. I know very well you will be most jealous of sharing it. I know it is as safe with you as with myself."
And with these words Hatton wished him a hearty farewell and withdrew.
"He is right," thought Morley; "he knows human nature well. The secret is safe. I will not breathe it to Gerard. I will treasure it up. It is knowledge; it is power: great knowledge, great power. And what shall I do with it? Time will teach me."