Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 11

When the news had arrived in the morning at Mowbray, that the messengers of the Bishop had met with a somewhat queer reception at the Mowedale works, Gerard prescient that some trouble might in consequence occur there, determined to repair at once to the residence of his late employer. It so happened that Monday was the day on which the cottages up the dale and on the other side of the river were visited by an envoy of Ursula Trafford, and it was the office of Sybil this morning to fulfil the duties of that mission of charity. She had mentioned this to her father on the previous day, and as in consequence of the strike, he was no longer occupied, he had proposed to accompany his daughter on the morrow. Together therefore they had walked until they arrived at the bridge, it being then about two hours to noon, a little above their former residence. Here they were to separate. Gerard embraced his daughter with even more than usual tenderness; and as Sybil crossed the bridge, she looked round at her father, and her glance caught his, turned for the same fond purpose.

Sybil was not alone; Harold, who had ceased to gambol, but who had gained in stature, majesty and weight what he had lost of lithe and frolick grace, was by her side. He no longer danced before his mistress, coursed away and then returned, or vented his exuberant life in a thousand feats of playful vigour; but sedate and observant, he was always at hand, ever sagacious, and seemed to watch her every glance.

The day was beautiful, the scene was fair, the spot indeed was one which rendered the performance of gracious offices to Sybil doubly sweet. She ever begged of the Lady Superior that she might be her minister to the cottages up Dale. They were full of familiar faces. It was a region endeared to Sybil by many memories of content and tenderness. And as she moved along to-day her heart was light, and the natural joyousness of her disposition, which so many adverse circumstances had tended to repress, was visible in her sunny face. She was happy about her father. The invasion of the miners, instead of prompting him as she had feared to some rash conduct, appeared to have filled him only with disgust. Even now he was occupied in a pursuit of order and peace, counselling prudence and protecting the benevolent.

She passed through a copse which skirted those woods of Mowbray wherein she had once so often rambled with one whose image now hovered over her spirit. Ah! what scenes and changes, dazzling and dark, had occurred since the careless though thoughtful days of her early girlhood! Sybil mused: she recalled the moonlit hour when Mr Franklin first paid a visit to their cottage, their walks and wanderings, the expeditions which she planned and the explanations which she so artlessly gave him. Her memory wandered to their meeting in Westminster, and all the scenes of sorrow and of softness of which it was the herald. Her imagination raised before her in colours of light and life the morning, the terrible morning when he came to her desperate rescue; his voice sounded in her ear; her cheek glowed as she recalled their tender farewell.

It was past noon: Sybil had reached the term of her expedition, had visited her last charge; she was emerging from the hills into the open country, and about to regain the river road that would in time have conducted her to the bridge. On one side of her was the moor, on the other a wood that was the boundary of Mowbray Park. And now a number of women met her, some of whom she recognised, and had indeed visited earlier in the morning. Their movements were disordered, distress and panic were expressed on their countenances. Sybil stopped, she spoke to some, the rest gathered around her. The Hell-cats were coming, they said; they were on the other side of the river, burning mills, destroying all they could put their hands on, man, woman and child.

Sybil, alarmed for her father, put to them some questions, to which they gave incoherent answers. It was however clear that they had seen no one, and knew nothing of their own experience. The rumour had reached them that the mob was advancing up Dale, those who had apprised them had, according to their statement, absolutely witnessed the approach of the multitude, and so they had locked up their cottages, crossed the bridge, and ran away to the woods and moor. Under these circumstances, deeming that there might be much exaggeration, Sybil at length resolved to advance, and in a few minutes those whom she had encountered were out of sight. She patted Harold, who looked up in her face and gave a bark, significant of his approbation of her proceeding, and also of his consciousness that something strange was going on. She had not proceeded very far before two men on horseback, at full gallop, met her. They pulled up directly they observed her, and said, "You had better go back as fast as you can: the mob is out, and coming up Dale in great force."

Sybil enquired, with much agitation, whether they had themselves seen the people, and they replied that they had not, but that advices had been received from Mowbray of their approach, and as for themselves they were hurrying at their utmost speed to a town ten miles off, where they understood some yeomanry were stationed, and to whom the Mayor of Mowbray had last night sent a despatch: Sybil would have enquired whether there were time for her to reach the bridge and join her father at the factory of Trafford, but the horsemen were impatient and rode off. Still she determined to proceed. All that she now aimed at was to reach Gerard and share his fate.

A boat put across the river; two men and a crowd of women. The mob had been seen; at least there was positively one person present who had distinguished them in the extreme distance, or rather the cloud of dust which they created; there were dreadful stories of their violence and devastation. It was understood that a body meant to attack Trafford's works, but, as the narrator added, it was very probable that the greater part would cross the bridge and so on to the Moor, where they would hold a meeting.

Sybil would fain have crossed in the boat, but there was no one to assist her. They had escaped, and meant to lose no time in finding a place of refuge for the moment. They were sure if they recrossed now, they must meet the mob. They were about to leave her, Sybil in infinite distress, when a lady driving herself in a pony carriage, with a couple of grooms behind her mounted also on ponies of the same form and colour, came up from the direction of the Moor, and observing the group and Sybil much agitated, pulled up and enquired the cause. One of the men, frequently interrupted by all the women, immediately entered into a narrative of the state of affairs for which the lady was evidently quite unprepared, for her alarm was considerable.

"And this young person will persist in crossing over," continued the man. "It's nothing less than madness. I tell her she will meet instant death or worse."

"It seems to me very rash," said the lady in a kind tone, and who seemed to recognise her.

"Alas! what am I to do!" exclaimed Sybil. "I left my father at Mr Trafford's!"

"Well, we have no time to lose," said the man, whose companion had now fastened the boat to the bank, and so wishing them good morning, and followed by the whole of his cargo, they went on their way.

But just at this moment a gentleman, mounted on a very knowing little cob, came cantering up, exclaiming, as he reached the pony carriage, "My dear Joan, I am looking after you. I have been in the greatest alarm for you. There are riots on the other side of the river, and I was afraid you might have crossed the bridge."

Upon this, Lady Joan related to Mr Mountchesney how she had just become acquainted with the intelligence, and then they conversed together for a moment or so in a whisper: when turning round to Sybil, she said, "I think you had really better come home with us till affairs are a little more quiet."

"You are most kind," said Sybil, "but if I could get back to the town through Mowbray Park, I think I might do something for my father!"

"We are going to the Castle through the park at this moment," said the gentleman. "You had better come with us. There you will at least be safe, and perhaps we shall be able to do something for the good people in trouble over the water," and so saying, nodding to a groom who, advancing, held his cob, the gentleman dismounted, and approaching Sybil with great courtesy, said, "I think we ought all of us to know each other. Lady Joan and myself had once the pleasure of meeting you, I think, at Mr Trafford's. It is a long time ago, but," he added in a subdued tone, "you are not a person to forget."

Sybil was insensible to Mr Mountchesney's gallantry, but alarmed and perplexed, she yielded to the representations of himself and Lady Joan, and got into the phaeton. Turning from the river, they pursued a road which entered after a short progress into the park, Mr Mountchesney cantering on before them, Harold following. They took their way for about a mile through a richly-wooded demesne, Lady Joan addressing many observations with great kindness to Sybil, and frequently endeavouring, though in vain, to distract her agitated thoughts, till they at length emerged from the more covered parts into extensive lawns, while on a rising ground which they rapidly approached rose Mowbray Castle, a modern castellated building, raised in a style not remarkable for its taste or correctness, but vast, grand, and imposing.

"And now," said Mr Mountchesney, riding up to them and addressing Sybil, "I will send off a scout immediately for news of your father. In the mean time let us believe the best!" Sybil thanked him with cordiality, and then she entered—Mowbray Castle.

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