Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 9

It was Monday morning. Hatton, enveloped in his chamber robe and wearing his velvet cap, was lounging in the best room of the principal commercial inn of Mowbray, over a breakfast table covered with all the delicacies of which a northern matin meal may justly boast. There were pies of spiced meat and trout fresh from the stream, hams that Westphalia never equalled, pyramids of bread of every form and flavour adapted to the surrounding fruits, some conserved with curious art, and some just gathered from the bed or from the tree.

"It's very odd," said Hatton to his companion Morley, "you can't get coffee anywhere."

Morley who had supposed that coffee was about the commonest article of consumption in Mowbray, looked a little surprised; but at this moment Hatton's servant entered with a mysterious yet somewhat triumphant air, and ushering in a travelling biggin of their own fuming like one of the springs of Geyser.

"Now try that," said Hatton to Morley, as the servant poured him out a cup; "you won't find that so bad."

"Does the town continue pretty quiet?" enquired Morley of the servant as he was leaving the room.

"Quite quiet I believe, Sir; but a great many people in the streets. All the mills are stopped."

"Well, this is a strange business," said Hatton when they were once more alone. "You had no idea of it when I met you on Saturday?"

"None; on the contrary, I felt convinced that there were no elements of general disturbance in this district. I thought from the first that the movement would be confined to Lancashire and would easily be arrested; but the feebleness of the government, the want of decision, perhaps the want of means, have permitted a flame to spread the extinction of which will not soon be witnessed."

"Do you mean that?"

"Whenever the mining population is disturbed the disorder is obstinate. On the whole they endure less physical suffering than most of the working classes, their wages being considerable; and they are so brutalized that they are more difficult to operate on than our reading and thinking population of the factories. But when they do stir there is always violence and a determined course. When I heard of their insurrection on Saturday I was prepared for great disturbances in their district, but that they should suddenly resolve to invade another country as it were, the seat of another class of labour, and where the hardships however severe are not of their own kind, is to me amazing, and convinces me that there is some political head behind the scenes, and that this move, however unintentional on the part of the miners themselves, is part of some comprehensive scheme which, by widening the scene of action and combining several counties and classes of labour in the broil, must inevitably embarrass and perhaps paralyse the Government."

"There is a good deal in what you say," said Hatton, taking a strawberry with a rather absent air, and then he added, "You remember a conversation we once had, the eve of my departure from Mowbray in '39?"

"I do," said Morley reddening.

"The miners were not so ready then," said Hatton.

"They were not," said Morley speaking with some confusion.

"Well they are here now," said Hatton.

"They are," said Morley thoughtfully, but more collected.

"You saw them enter yesterday?" said Hatton. "I was sorry I missed it, but I was taking a walk with the Gerards up Dale to see the cottage where they once lived, and which they used to talk of so much! Was it a strong body?"

"I should say about two thousand men, and as far as bludgeons and iron staves go, armed."

"A formidable force with no military to encounter them."

"Irresistible, especially with a favourable population."

"You think the people were not grieved to see them?"

"Certainly. Left alone they might have remained quiet; but they only wanted the spark. We have a number of young men here who have for a long time been murmuring against our inaction and what they call want of spirit. The Lancashire strike set them all agog; and had any popular leader, Gerard for example or Warner, resolved to move, they were ready."

"The times are critical," said Hatton wheeling his arm-chair from the table and resting his feet on the empty fire-place. "Lord de Mowbray had no idea of all this. I was with him on my way here, and found him quite tranquil. I suppose the invasion of yesterday has opened his eyes a little."

"What can he do?" said Morley. "It is useless to apply to the Government. They have no force to spare. Look at Lancashire; a few dragoons and rifles hurried about from place to place and harassed by night service; always arriving too late, and generally attacking the wrong point, some diversion from the main scheme. Now we had a week ago some of the 17th Lancers here. They have been marched into Lancashire. Had they remained the invasion would never have occurred."

"You haven't a soldier at hand?"

"Not a man; they have actually sent for a party of 73d from Ireland to guard us. Mowbray may be burnt before they land."

"And the castle too," said Hatton quietly. "These are indeed critical times Mr Morley. I was thinking when walking with our friend Gerard yesterday, and hearing him and his charming daughter dilate upon the beauties of the residence which they had forfeited, I was thinking what a strange thing life is, and that the fact of a box of papers belonging to him being in the possession of another person who only lives close by, for we were walking through Mowbray woods—"

But at this moment a waiter entered and said there was one without who wished to speak with Mr Morley.

"Let him come up," said Hatton, "he will give us some news perhaps."

And there was accordingly shown up a young man who had been a member of the Convention in '39 with Morley, afterwards of the Secret Council with Gerard, the same young man who had been the first arrested on the night that Sybil was made a prisoner, having left the scene of their deliberations for a moment in order to fetch her some water. He too had been tried, convicted, and imprisoned, though for a shorter time than Gerard; and he was the Chartist Apostle who had gone and resided at Wodgate, preached the faith to the barbarians, converted them, and was thus the primary cause of the present invasion of Mowbray.

"Ah! Field," said Morley, "is it you?"

"You are surprised to see me;" and then the young man looked at Hatton.

"A friend," said Morley; "speak as you like."

"Our great man, the leader and liberator of the people," said Field with a smile, "who has carried all before him, and who I verily believe will carry all before him, for Providence has given him those superhuman energies which can alone emancipate a race, wishes to confer with you on the state of this town and neighbourhood. It has been represented to him that no one is more knowing and experienced than yourself in this respect; besides as the head of our most influential organ in the Press, it is in every way expedient that you should see him. He is at this moment below giving instructions and receiving reports of the stoppage of all the country works, but if you like I will bring him up here, we shall be less disturbed."

"By all means," said Hatton who seemed to apprehend that Morley would make some difficulties. "By all means."

"Stop;" said Morley, "have you seen Gerard?"

"No," said Field. "I wrote to him some time back, but his reply was not encouraging. I thought his spirit was perhaps broken."

"You know that he is here?"

"I concluded so, but we have not seen him; though to be sure, we have seen so many, and done so much since our arrival yesterday, it is not wonderful. By the bye, who is this blackcoat you have here, this St Lys? We took possession of the church yesterday on our arrival, for it's a sort of thing that pleases the miners and colliers wonderfully, and I always humour them. This St Lys preached us such a sermon that I was almost afraid at one time the game would be spoiled. Our great man was alarmingly taken by it, was saying his prayers all day and had nearly marched back again: had it not been for the excellence of the rum and water at our quarters, the champion of the Charter would have proved a pious recreant."

"St Lys will trouble you," said Morley. "Alas! for poor human nature, when violence can only be arrested by superstition."

"Come don't you preach," said the Chartist. "The Charter is a thing the people can understand, especially when they are masters of the country; but as for moral force, I should like to know how I could have marched from Wodgate to Mowbray with that on my banner."

"Wodgate," said Morley, "that's a queer place."

"Wodgate," said Hatton, "what Wodgate is that?"

At this moment a great noise sounded without the room, the door was banged, there seemed a scuttling, some harsh high tones, the deprecatory voices of many waiters. The door was banged again and this time flew open, while exclaiming in an insolent coarse voice, "Don't tell me of your private rooms; who is master here I should like to know?" there entered a very thickset man, rather under the middle size, with a brutal and grimy countenance, wearing the unbuttoned coat of a police serjeant conquered in fight, a cocked hat, with a white plume, which was also a trophy of war, a pair of leather breeches and topped boots, which from their antiquity had the appearance of being his authentic property. This was the leader and liberator of the people of England. He carried in his hand a large hammer which he had never parted with during the whole of the insurrection; and stopping when he had entered the room, and surveying its inmates with an air at once stupid and arrogant, recognizing Field the Chartist, he halloed out, "I tell you I want him. He's my Lord Chancellor and Prime Minister, my head and principal Doggy; I can't go on without him. Well, what do you think," he said advancing to Field, "here's a pretty go! They won't stop the works at the big country mill you were talking of. They won't, won't they? Is my word the law of the land or is it not? Have I given my commands that all labour shall cease till the Queen sends me a message that the Charter is established, and is a man who has a mill, to shut his gates upon my forces, and pump upon my people with engines? There shall be fire for this water;" and so saying the Liberator sent his hammer with such force upon the table, that the plate and porcelain and accumulated luxuries of Mr Hatton's breakfast perilously vibrated.

"We will enquire into this, Sir," said Field, "and we will take the necessary steps."

"We will enquire into this and we will take the necessary steps," said the Liberator, looking round with an air of pompous stupidity, and then taking up some peaches, he began devouring them with considerable zest.

"Would the Liberator like to take some breakfast?" said Mr Hatton.

The Liberator looked at his host with a glance of senseless intimidation, and then as if not condescending to communicate directly with ordinary men, he uttered in a more subdued tone to the Chartist these words, "Glass of ale."

Ale was instantly ordered for the Liberator, who after a copious draught assumed a less menacing air, and smacking his lips, pushed aside the dishes, and sate down on the table swinging his legs.

"This is my friend of whom I spoke and whom you wished to see, Sir," said the Chartist, "the most distinguished advocate of popular rights we possess, the editor of the Mowbray Phalanx, Mr Morley."

Morley slightly advanced, he caught the Liberator's eye, who scrutinized him with extreme earnestness, and then jumping from the table shouted; "Why this is the muff that called on me in Hell-house Yard three years ago."

"I had that honour," said Morley quietly.

"Honour be hanged," said the Bishop, "you know something about somebody; I couldn't squeeze you then, but by G— I will have it out of you now. Now, cut it short; have you seen him, and where does he live?"

"I came then to gain information, not to give it," said Morley. "I had a friend who wished much to see this gentleman—"

"He ayn't no gentleman," said the Bishop; "he's my brother: but I tell you what, I'll do something for him now. I'm cock of the walk you see, and that's a sort of thing that don't come twice in a man's life. One should feel for one's flesh and blood, and if I find him out I'll make his fortune, or my name is not Simon Hatton."

The creator and counsellor of peers started in his chair and turned pale. A look was interchanged between him and Morley which revealed their mutual thoughts, and the great antiquary—looking at the Liberator with a glance of blended terror and disgust—walked away to the window.

"Suppose you put an advertisement in your paper," continued the Bishop. "I know a traveller who lost his keys at the Yard and got them back again by those same means. Go on advertising till you find him, and my prime minister and principal doggy here shall give you an order on the town council for your expenses."

Morley bowed his thanks in silence.

The Bishop continued—"What's the name of the man who has got the big mill here, about three mile off, who won't stop his works and ducked my men this morning with his engines. I'll have fire I say for that water—do you hear that Master Newspaper—I'll have fire for that water before I am many hours older."

"The Liberator means Trafford," said the Chartist.

"I'll Trafford him," said the Liberator and he struck the table with his hammer. "He ducks my messenger does he? I tell you I'll have fire for that water," and he looked around him as if he courted some remonstrance in order that he might crush it.

"Trafford is a humane man," said Morley in a quiet tone, "and behaves well to his people."

"A man with a big mill humane!" exclaimed the Bishop; "with two or three thousand slaves working under the same roof, and he doing nothing but eating their vitals. I'll have no big mills where I'm main master. Let him look to it. Here goes," and he jumped off the table. "Before an hour I'll pay this same Trafford a visit and I'll see whether he'll duck me. Come on my prime Doggy," and nodding to the Chartist to follow him, the Liberator left the room.

Hatton turned his head from the window, and advanced quickly to Morley. "To business, friend Morley. This savage can-not be quiet for a moment; he exists only in destruction and rapine. If it were not Trafford's mill it would be something else. I am sorry for the Traffords; they have old blood in their veins. Before sunset their settlement will be razed to the ground. Can we prevent it? And why not attack the castle instead of the mill?"

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