Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 2

Two days after this conversation in Downing Street, a special messenger arrived at Marney Abbey from the Lord Lieutenant of the county, the Duke of Fitz-Aquitaine. Immediately after reading the despatch of which he was the bearer, there was a great bustle in the house; Lady Marney was sent for to her husband's library and there enjoined immediately to write various letters which were to prevent certain expected visitors from arriving; Captain Grouse was in and out the same library every five minutes, receiving orders and counter orders, and finally mounting his horse was flying about the neighbourhood with messages and commands. All this stir signified that the Marney regiment of Yeomanry were to be called out directly.

Lord Marney who had succeeded in obtaining a place in the Household and was consequently devoted to the institutions of the country, was full of determination to uphold them; but at the same time with characteristic prudence was equally resolved that the property principally protected should be his own, and that the order of his own district should chiefly engage his solicitude.

"I do not know what the Duke means by marching into the disturbed districts," said Lord Marney to Captain Grouse. "These are disturbed districts. There have been three fires in one week, and I want to know what disturbance can be worse than that? In my opinion this is a mere anti-corn-law riot to frighten the government; and suppose they do stop the mills—what then? I wish they were all stopped, and then one might live like a gentleman again?"

Egremont, between whom and his brother a sort of bad-tempered good understanding had of late years to a certain degree flourished, in spite of Lord Marney remaining childless, which made him hate Egremont with double distilled virulence, and chiefly by the affectionate manoeuvres of their mother, but whose annual visits to Marney had generally been limited to the yeomanry week, arrived from London the same day as the letter of the Lord Lieutenant, as he had learnt that his brother's regiment, in which he commanded a troop, as well as the other yeomanry corps in the North of England, must immediately take the field.

Five years had elapsed since the commencement of our history, and they had brought apparently much change to the character of the brother of Lord Marney. He had become, especially during the last two or three years, silent and reserved; he rarely entered society; even the company of those who were once his intimates had ceased to attract him; he was really a melancholy man. The change in his demeanour was observed by all; his mother and his sister-in-law were the only persons who endeavoured to penetrate its cause, and sighed over the failure of their sagacity. Quit the world and the world forgets you; and Egremont would have soon been a name no longer mentioned in those brilliant saloons which he once adorned, had not occasionally a sensation, produced by an effective speech in the House of Commons, recalled his name to his old associates, who then remembered the pleasant hours passed in his society and wondered why he never went anywhere now.

"I suppose he finds society a bore," said Lord Eugene de Vere; "I am sure I do; but then what is a fellow to do? I am not in Parliament like Egremont. I believe, after all, that's the thing; for I have tried everything else and everything else is a bore."

"I think one should marry like Alfred Mountchesney," said Lord Milford.

"But what is the use of marrying if you do not marry a rich woman—and the heiresses of the present age will not marry. What can be more unnatural! It alone ought to produce a revolution. Why, Alfred is the only fellow who has made a coup; and then he has not got it down."

"She behaved in a most unprincipled manner to me—that Fitz-Warene," said Lord Milford, "always took my bouquets and once made me write some verses."

"By Jove!" said Lord Eugene, "I should like to see them. What a bore it must have been to write verses."

"I only copied them out of Mina Blake's album: but I sent them in my own handwriting."

Baffled sympathy was the cause of Egremont's gloom. It is the secret spring of most melancholy. He loved and loved in vain. The conviction that his passion, though hopeless, was not looked upon with disfavour, only made him the more wretched, for the disappointment is more acute in proportion as the chance is better. He had never seen Sybil since the morning he quitted her in Smith's Square, immediately before her departure for the North. The trial of Gerard had taken place at the assizes of that year: he had been found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment in York Castle; the interference of Egremont both in the House of Commons and with the government saved him from the felon confinement with which he was at first threatened, and from which assuredly state prisoners should be exempt. During this effort some correspondence had taken place between Egremont and Sybil, which he would willingly have encouraged and maintained; but it ceased nevertheless with its subject. Sybil, through the influential interference of Ursula Trafford, lived at the convent at York during the imprisonment of her father, and visited him daily.

The anxiety to take the veil which had once characterised Sybil had certainly waned. Perhaps her experience of life had impressed her with the importance of fulfilling vital duties. Her father, though he had never opposed her wish, had never encouraged it; and he had now increased and interesting claims on her devotion. He had endured great trials, and had fallen on adverse fortunes. Sybil would look at him, and though his noble frame was still erect and his countenance still displayed that mixture of frankness and decision which had distinguished it of yore, she could not conceal from herself that there were ravages which time could not have produced. A year and a half of imprisonment had shaken to its centre a frame born for action, and shrinking at all times from the resources of sedentary life. The disappointment of high hopes had jarred and tangled even the sweetness of his noble disposition. He needed solicitude and solace: and Sybil resolved that if vigilance and sympathy could soothe an existence that would otherwise be embittered, these guardian angels should at least hover over the life of her father.

When the term of his imprisonment had ceased, Gerard had returned with his daughter to Mowbray. Had he deigned to accept the offers of his friends, he need not have been anxious as to his future. A public subscription for his service had been collected: Morley, who was well to do in the world, for the circulation of the Mowbray Phalanx daily increased with the increasing sufferings of the people, offered his friend to share his house and purse: Hatton was munificent; there was no limit either to his offers or his proffered services. But all were declined; Gerard would live by labour. The post he had occupied at Mr Trafford's was not vacant even if that gentleman had thought fit again to receive him; but his reputation as a first-rate artizan soon obtained him good employment, though on this occasion in the town of Mowbray, which for the sake of his daughter he regretted. He had no pleasant home now for Sybil, but he had the prospect of one, and until he obtained possession of it, Sybil sought a refuge, which had been offered to her from the first, with her kindest and dearest friend; so that at this period of our history, she was again an inmate of the convent at Mowbray, whither her father and Morley had attended her the eve of the day she had first visited the ruins of Marney Abbey.

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