Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 5

The beam of the declining sun, softened by the stained panes of a small gothic window, suffused the chamber of the Lady Superior of the convent of Mowbray. The vaulted room, of very moderate dimensions, was furnished with great simplicity and opened into a small oratory. On a table were several volumes, an ebon cross was fixed in a niche, and leaning in a high-backed chair, sate Ursula Trafford. Her pale and refined complexion that in her youth had been distinguished for its lustre, became her spiritual office; and indeed her whole countenance, the delicate brow, the serene glance, the small aquiline nose, and the well-shaped mouth, firm and yet benignant, betokened the celestial soul that habited that gracious frame.

The Lady Superior was not alone; on a low seat by her side, holding her hand, and looking up into her face with a glance of reverential sympathy, was a maiden over whose head five summers have revolved since first her girlhood broke upon our sight amid the ruins of Marney Abbey, five summers that have realized the matchless promise of her charms, and while they have added something to her stature have robbed it of nothing of its grace, and have rather steadied the blaze of her beauty than diminished its radiance.

"Yes, I mourn over them," said Sybil, "the deep convictions that made me look forward to the cloister as my home. Is it that the world has assoiled my soul? Yet I have not tasted of worldly joys; all that I have known of it has been suffering and tears. They will return, these visions of my sacred youth, dear friend, tell me that they will return!"

"I too have had visions in my youth, Sybil, and not of the cloister, yet am I here."

"And what should I infer?" said Sybil enquiringly.

"That my visions were of the world, and brought me to the cloister, and that yours were of the cloister and have brought you to the world."

"My heart is sad," said Sybil, "and the sad should seek the shade."

"It is troubled, my child, rather than sorrowful."

Sybil shook her head.

"Yes, my child," said Ursula, "the world has taught you that there are affections which the cloister can neither satisfy nor supply. Ah! Sybil, I too have loved."

The blood rose to the cheek of Sybil, and then returned as quickly to the heart; her trembling hand pressed that of Ursula as she sighed and murmured, "No, no, no."

"Yes, it is his spirit that hovers over your life, Sybil; and in vain you would forget what haunts your heart. One not less gifted than him; as good, as gentle, as gracious; once too breathed in my ear the accents of joy. He was, like myself, the child of an old house, and Nature had invested him with every quality that can dazzle and can charm. But his heart was as pure, and his soul as lofty, as his intellect and frame were bright,—" and Ursula paused.

Sybil pressed the hand of Ursula to her lips and whispered, "Speak on."

"The dreams of by-gone days," continued Ursula in a voice of emotion, "the wild sorrows than I can recall, and yet feel that I was wisely chastened. He was stricken in his virtuous pride, the day before he was to have led me to that altar where alone I found the consolation that never fails. And thus closed some years of human love, my Sybil," said Ursula, bending forward and embracing her. "The world for a season crossed their fair current, and a power greater than the world forbade their banns; but they are hallowed; memory is my sympathy; it is soft and free, and when he came here to enquire after you, his presence and agitated heart recalled the past."

"It is too wild a thought," said Sybil, "ruin to him, ruin to all. No, we are severed by a fate as uncontrollable as severed you dear friend; ours is a living death."

"The morrow is unforeseen," said Ursula. "Happy indeed would it be for me, my Sybil, that your innocence should be enshrined within these holy walls, and that the pupil of my best years, and the friend of my serene life, should be my successor in this house. But I feel a deep persuasion that the hour has not arrived for you to take the step that never can be recalled."

So saying, Ursula embraced and dismissed Sybil; for the conversation, the last passages of which we have given, had Occurred when Sybil according to her wont on Saturday afternoon had come to request the permission of the Lady Superior to visit her father.

It was in a tolerably spacious and not discomfortable chamber, the first floor over the printing-office of the Mowbray Phalanx, that Gerard had found a temporary home. He had not long returned from his factory, and pacing the chamber with a disturbed step, he awaited the expected arrival of his daughter.

She came; the faithful step, the well-known knock; the father and the daughter embraced; he pressed to his heart the child who had clung to him through so many trials, and who had softened so many sorrows, who had been the visiting angel in his cell, and whose devotion had led captivity captive.

Their meetings, though regular, were now comparatively rare. The sacred day united them, and sometimes for a short period the previous afternoon, but otherwise the cheerful hearth and welcome home were no longer for Gerard. And would the future bring them to him? And what was to be the future of his child? His mind vacillated between the convent of which she now seldom spoke, and which with him was never a cherished idea, and those dreams of restored and splendid fortunes which his sanguine temperament still whispered him, in spite of hope so long deferred and expectations so often baulked, might yet be realized. And sometimes between these opposing visions, there rose a third and more practical, though less picturesque result, the idea of her marriage. And with whom? It was impossible that one so rarely gifted and educated with so much daintiness, could ever make a wife of the people. Hatton offered wealth, but Sybil had never seemed to comprehend his hopes, and Gerard felt that their ill-assorted ages was a great barrier. There was of all the men of his own order but one, who from his years, his great qualities, his sympathy, and the nature of his toil and means, seemed not unfitted to be the husband of his daughter; and often had Gerard mused over the possibility of these intimate ties with Morley. Sybil had been, as it were, bred up under his eye; an affection had always subsisted between them, and he knew well that in former days Sybil had appreciated and admired the great talents and acquirements of their friend. At one period he almost suspected that Morley was attached to her. And yet, from causes which he had never attempted to penetrate, probably from a combination of unintentional circumstances, Sybil and Morley had for the last two or three years been thrown little together, and their intimacy had entirely died away. To Gerard it seemed that Morley had ever proved his faithful friend: Morley had originally dissuaded him with energy against that course which had led to his discomfiture and punishment; when arrested, his former colleague was his bail, was his companion and adviser during his trial; had endeavoured to alleviate his imprisonment; and on his release had offered to share his means with Gerard, and when these were refused, he at least supplied Gerard with a roof. And yet with all this, that abandonment of heart and brain, and deep sympathy with every domestic thought that characterized old days, was somehow or other wanting. There was on the part of Morley still devotion, but there was reserve.

"You are troubled, my father," said Sybil, as Gerard continued to pace the chamber.

"Only a little restless. I am thinking what a mistake it was to have moved in '39."

Sybil sighed.

"Ah! you were right, Sybil," continued Gerard; "affairs were not ripe. We should have waited three years."

"Three years!" exclaimed Sybil, starting; "are affairs riper now?"

"The whole of Lancashire is in revolt," said Gerard. "There is not a sufficient force to keep them in check. If the miners and colliers rise, and I have cause to believe that it is more than probable they will move before many days are past,—the game is up."

"You terrify me," said Sybil.

"On the Contrary," said Gerard, smiling, "the news is good enough; I'll not say too good to be true, for I had it from one of the old delegates who is over here to see what can be done in our north countree."

"Yes," said Sybil inquiringly, and leading on her father.

"He came to the works; we had some talk. There are to be no leaders this time, at least no visible ones. The people will do it themselves. All the children of Labour are to rise on the same day, and to toil no more, till they have their rights. No violence, no bloodshed, but toil halts, and then our oppressors will learn the great economical truth as well as moral lesson, that when Toil plays Wealth ceases."

"When Toil ceases the People suffer," said Sybil. "That is the only truth that we have learnt, and it is a bitter one."

"Can we be free without suffering," said Gerard. "Is the greatest of human blessings to be obtained as a matter of course; to be plucked like fruit, or seized like a running stream? No, no: we must suffer, but we are wiser than of yore,—we will not conspire. Conspiracies are for aristocrats, not for nations."

"Alas, alas! I see nothing but woe," said Sybil. "I cannot believe that after all that has passed, the people here will move: I cannot believe that after all that has passed, all that you, that we, have endured, that you, my father, will counsel them to move."

"I counsel nothing," said Gerard. "It must be a great national instinct that does it: but if all England, if Wales, if Scotland won't work, is Mowbray to have a monopoly?"

"Ah! that's a bitter jest," said Sybil. "England, Wales, Scotland will be forced to work as they were forced before. How can they subsist without labour? And if they could, there is an organised power that will subdue them."

"The Benefit Societies, the Sick and Burial Clubs, have money in the banks that would maintain the whole working classes, with aid in kind that will come, for six weeks, and that will do the business. And as for force, why there are not five soldiers to each town in the kingdom. It's a glittering bugbear this fear of the military; simultaneous strikes would baffle all the armies in Europe."

"I'll go back and pray that all this is wild talk," said Sybil earnestly. "After all that has passed, were it only for your child, you should not speak, much less think, this, my father. What havoc to our hearts and homes has been all this madness! It has separated us; it has destroyed our happy home; it has done more than this—" and here she wept.

"Nay, nay, my child," said Gerard, coming up and soothing her; "one cannot weigh one's words before those we love. I can't hear of the people moving with coldness—that's out of nature; but I promise you I'll not stimulate the lads here. I am told they are little inclined to stir. You found me in a moment of what I must call I suppose elation; but I hear they beat the red-coats and police at Staley Bridge, and that pricked my blood a bit. I have been ridden down before this when I was a lad, Sybil, by Yeomanry hoofs. You must allow a little for my feelings."

She extended her lips to the proffered embrace of her father. He blessed her and pressed her to his heart, and soothed her apprehensions with many words of softness. There was a knock at the door.

"Come in," said Gerard. And there came in Mr Hatton.

They had not met since Gerard's release from York Castle. There Hatton had visited him, had exercised his influence to remedy his grievances, and had more than once offered him the means of maintenance on receiving his freedom. There were moments of despondency when Gerard had almost wished that the esteem and regard with which Sybil looked upon Hatton might have matured into sentiments of a deeper nature; but on this subject the father had never breathed a word. Nor had Hatton, except to Gerard, ever intimated his wishes, for we could scarcely call them hopes. He was a silent suitor of Sybil, watching opportunities and ready to avail himself of circumstances which he worshipped. His sanguine disposition, fed by a very suggestive and inventive mind, and stimulated by success and a prosperous life, sustained him always to the last. Hatton always believed that everything desirable must happen if a man had energy and watched circumstances. He had confidence too in the influence of his really insinuating manner; his fine taste, his tender tone, his ready sympathy, all which masked his daring courage and absolute recklessness of means.

There were general greetings of the greatest warmth. The eyes of Hatton were suffused with tears as he congratulated Gerard on his restored health, and pressed Sybil's hand with the affection of an old friend between both his own.

"I was down in this part of the world on business," said Hatton, "and thought I would come over here for a day to find you all out." And then after some general conversation he said "And where do you think I accidentally paid a visit a day or two back? At Mowbray Castle. I see you are surprised. I saw all your friends. I did not ask his Lordship how the writ of right went on. I dare say he thinks 'tis all hushed. But he is mistaken. I have learnt something which may help us over the stile yet."

"Well-a-day," said Gerard, "I once thought if I could get back the lands the people would at last have a friend; but that's past. I have been a dreamer of dreams often when I was overlooking them at work. And so we all have I suppose. I would willingly give up my claim if I could be sure the Lancashire lads will not come to harm this bout."

"'Tis a more serious business," said Hatton, "than any thing of the kind that has yet happened. The government are much alarmed. They talk of sending the Guards down into the north, and bringing over troops from Ireland."

"Poor Ireland!" said Gerard. "Well, I think the frieze-coats might give us a helping hand now, and employ the troops at least."

"No, my dear father, say not such things."

"Sybil will not let me think of these matters friend Hatton," said Gerard smiling. "Well, I suppose it's not in my way, at least I certainly did not make the best hand of it in '39; but it was London that got me into that scrape. I cannot help fancying that were I on our Moors here a bit with some good lads it might be different, and I must say so, I must indeed, Sybil."

"But you are very quiet here I hope," said Hatton.

"Oh! yes," said Gerard, "I believe our spirit is sufficiently broken at Mowbray. Wages weekly dropping, and just work enough to hinder sheer idleness; that sort of thing keeps the people in very humble trim. But wait a bit, and when they have reached the starvation point I fancy we shall hear a murmur."

"I remember our friend Morley in '39, when we returned from London, gave me a very good character of the disposition of the people here," said Hatton; "I hope it continues the same. He feared no outbreak then, and the distress in '39 was severe."

"Well," said Gerard, "the wages have been dropping ever since. The people exist, but you can scarcely say they live. But they are cowed I fancy. An empty belly is sometimes as apt to dull the heart as inflame the courage. And then they have lost their leaders, for I was away you see, and have been quiet enough since I came out; and Warner is broken: he has suffered more from his time than I did; which is strange, for he had his pursuits; whereas I was restless enough, and that's the truth, and had it not been for Sybil's daily visit I think, though I may never be allowed to live in a castle, I should certainly have died in one."

"And how is Morley?"

"Right well; the same as you left him: I saw not a straw's change when I came out. His paper spreads. He still preaches moral force, and believes that we shall all end in living in communities. But as the only community of which I have personal experience is a gaol, I am not much more inclined to his theory than heretofore."

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