Sybil, or The Two Nations

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Chapter 12

Less than an hour after the arrival of Sybil at Mowbray Castle the scout that Mr Mountchesney had sent off to gather news returned, and with intelligence of the triumph of Gerard's eloquence, that all had ended happily, and that the people were dispersing and returning to the town.

Kind as was the reception accorded to Sybil by Lady de Mowbray and her daughter on her arrival, the remembrance of the perilous position of her father had totally disqualified her from responding to their advances. Acquainted with the cause of her anxiety and depression and sympathising with womanly softness with her distress, nothing could be more considerate than their behaviour. It touched Sybil much, and she regretted the harsh thoughts that irresistible circumstances had forced her to cherish respecting persons, who, now that she saw them in their domestic and unaffected hour, had apparently many qualities to conciliate and to charm. When the good news arrived of her father's safety, and safety achieved in a manner so flattering to a daughter's pride, it came upon a heart predisposed to warmth and kindness and all her feelings opened. The tears stood in her beautiful eyes, and they were tears not only of tenderness but gratitude. Fortunately Lord de Mowbray was at the moment absent, and as the question of the controverted inheritance was a secret to every member of the family except himself, the name of Gerard excited no invidious sensation in the circle. Sybil was willing to please and to be pleased: every one was captivated by her beauty, her grace, her picturesque expression and sweet simplicity. Lady de Mowbray serenely smiled and frequently when unobserved viewed her through her eyeglass. Lady Joan, much softened by marriage, would show her the castle; Lady Maud was in ecstasies with all that Sybil said or did: while Mr Mountchesney who had thought of little else but Sybil ever since Lady Maud's report of her seraphic singing, and who had not let four-and-twenty hours go by without discovering, with all the practised art of St James', the name and residence of the unknown fair, flattered himself he was making great play when Sybil, moved by his great kindness, distinguished him by frequent notice. They had viewed the castle, they were in the music-room, Sybil had been prevailed upon, though with reluctance, to sing. Some Spanish church music which she found there called forth all her powers: all was happiness, delight, rapture, Lady Maud in a frenzy of friendship, Mr Mountchesney convinced that the country in August might be delightful, and Lady Joan almost gay because Alfred was pleased. Lady de Mowbray had been left in her boudoir with the "Morning Post." Sybil had just finished a ravishing air, there was a murmur of luncheon—when suddenly Harold, who had persisted in following his mistress and whom Mr Mountchesney had gallantly introduced into the music-room, rose and coming forward from the corner in which he reposed, barked violently.

"How now!" said Mr Mountchesney.

"Harold!" said Sybil in a tone of remonstrance and surprise.

But the dog not only continued to bark but even howled. At this moment the groom of the chambers entered the room abruptly and with a face of mystery said that he wished to speak with Mr Mountchesney. That gentleman immediately withdrew. He was absent some little time, the dog very agitated; Lady Joan becoming disquieted, when he returned. His changed air struck the vigilant eye of his wife.

"What has happened Alfred?" she said.

"Oh! don't be alarmed," he replied with an obvious affectation of ease. "There are some troublesome people in the park; stragglers I suppose from the rioters. The gate-keeper ought not to have let them pass. I have given directions to Bentley what to do, if they come to the castle."

"Let us go to mama," said Lady Joan.

And they were all about leaving the music-room, when a servant came running in and called out "Mr Bentley told me to say, sir, they are in sight."

"Very well," said Mr Mountchesney in a calm tone but changing colour. "You had better go to your mama, Joan, and take Maud and our friend with you. I will stay below for a while," and notwithstanding the remonstrances of his wife, Mr Mountchesney went to the hall.

"I don't know what to do, sir," said the house steward. "They are a very strong party."

"Close all the windows, lock and bar all the doors," said Mr Mountchesney. "I am frightened," he continued, "about your lord. I fear he may fall in with these people."

"My lord is at Mowbray," said Mr Bentley. "He must have heard of this mob there."

And now emerging from the plantations and entering on the lawns, the force and description of the invading party were easier to distinguish. They were numerous, though consisting of only a section of the original expedition, for Gerard had collected a great portion of the Mowbray men, and they preferred being under his command to following a stranger whom they did not much like on a somewhat licentious adventure of which their natural leader disapproved. The invading section therefore were principally composed of Hell-cats, though singular enough Morley of all men in the world accompanied them, attended by Devilsdust, Dandy Mick, and others of that youthful class of which these last were the idols and heroes. There were perhaps eighteen hundred or two thousand persons armed with bars and bludgeons, in general a grimy crew, whose dress and appearance revealed the kind of labour to which they were accustomed. The difference between them and the minority of Mowbray operatives was instantly recognizable.

When they perceived the castle this dreadful band gave a ferocious shout. Lady de Mowbray showed blood; she was composed and courageous. She observed the mob from the window, and re-assuring her daughters and Sybil she said she would go down and speak to them. She was on the point of leaving the room with this object when Mr Mountchesney entered and hearing her purpose, dissuaded her from attempting it. "Leave all to me," he said; "and make yourselves quite easy; they will go away, I am certain they will go away," and he again quitted them.

In the meantime Lady de Mowbray and her friends observed the proceedings below. When the main body had advanced within a few hundred yards of the castle, they halted and seated themselves on the turf. This step re-assured the garrison: it was generally held to indicate that the intentions of the invaders were not of a very settled or hostile character; that they had visited the place probably in a spirit of frolic, and if met with tact and civility might ultimately be induced to retire from it without much annoyance. This was evidently the opinion of Mr Mountchesney from the first, and when an uncouth being on a white mule, attended by twenty or thirty miners, advanced to the castle and asked for Lord de Mowbray, Mr Mountchesney met them with kindness, saying that he regretted his father-in-law was absent, expressed his readiness to represent him, and enquired their pleasure. His courteous bearing evidently had an influence on the Bishop, who dropping his usual brutal tone mumbled something about his wish to drink Lord de Mowbray's health.

"You shall all drink his health," said Mr Mountchesney humouring him, and he gave directions that a couple of barrels of ale should be broached in the park before the castle. The Bishop was pleased, the people were in good humour, some men began dancing, it seemed that the cloud had blown over, and Mr Mountchesney sent up a bulletin to Lady de Mowbray that all danger was past and that he hoped in ten minutes they would all have disappeared.

The ten minutes had expired: the Bishop was still drinking ale, and Mr Mountchesney still making civil speeches and keeping his immediate attendants in humour.

"I wish they would go," said Lady de Mowbray.

"How wonderfully Alfred has managed them," said Lady Joan. "After all," said Lady Maud, "it must be confessed that the people—" Her sentence was interrupted; Harold who had been shut out but who had laid down without quietly, though moaning at intervals, now sprang at the door with so much force that it trembled on its hinges, while the dog again barked with renewed violence. Sybil went to him: he seized her dress with his teeth and would have pulled her away. Suddenly uncouth and mysterious sounds were heard, there was a loud shriek, the gong in the hail thundered, the great alarum-bell of the tower sounded without, and the housekeeper followed by the female domestics rushed into the room.

"O! my lady, my lady," they all exclaimed at the same time, "the Hell-cats are breaking into the castle."

Before any one of the terrified company could reply, the voice of Mr Mountchesney was heard. He was approaching them; he was no longer calm. He hurried into the room; he was pale, evidently greatly alarmed. "I have come to you," he said; "these fellows have got in below. While there is time and we can manage them, you must leave the place."

"I am ready for anything." said Lady de Mowbray.

Lady Joan and Lady Maud wrung their hands in frantic terror. Sybil very pale said "Let me go down; I may know some of these men."

"No, no," said Mr Mountchesney. "They are not Mowbray people. It would not be safe."

Dreadful sounds were now heard; a blending of shouts and oaths and hideous merriment. Their hearts trembled.

"The mob are in the house, sir," called out Mr Bentley rushing up to them. "They say they will see everything."

"Let them see everything," said Lady de Mowbray, "but make a condition that they first let us go. Try Alfred, try to manage them before they are utterly ungovernable."

Mr Mountchesney again left them on this desperate mission. Lady de Mowbray and all the women remained in the chamber. Not a word was spoken: the silence was complete. Even the maid-servants had ceased to sigh and sob. A feeling something like desperation was stealing over them.

The dreadful sounds continued increased. They seemed to approach nearer. It was impossible to distinguish a word, and yet their import was frightful and ferocious.

"Lord have mercy on us all!" exclaimed the housekeeper unable to restrain herself. The maids began to cry.

After an absence of about five minutes Mr Mountchesney again hurried in and leading away Lady de Mowbray, he said, "You haven't a moment to lose. Follow us!"

There was a general rush, and following Mr Mountchesney they passed rapidly through several apartments, the fearful noises every moment increasing, until they reached the library which opened on the terrace. The windows were broken, the terrace crowded with people, several of the mob were in the room, even Lady de Mowbray cried out and fell back.

"Come on," said Mr Mountchesney. "The mob have possession of the castle. It is our only chance."

"But the mob are here," said Lady de Mowbray much terrified.

"I see some Mowbray faces," cried Sybil springing forward, with a flashing eye and glowing cheek. "Bamford and Samuel Carr: Bamford, if you be my father's friend, aid us now; and Samuel Carr, I was with your mother this morning: did she think I should meet her son thus? No, you shall not enter," said Sybil advancing. They recognised her, they paused. "I know you, Couchman; you told us once at the Convent that we might summon you in our need. I summon you now. O, men, men!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands. "What is this? Are you led away by strangers to such deeds? Why, I know you all! You came here to aid, I am sure, and not to harm. Guard these ladies; save them from these foreigners! There's Butler, he'll go with us, and Godfrey Wells. Shall it be said you let your neighbours be plundered and assailed by strangers and never tried to shield them? Now, my good friends, I entreat, I adjure you, Butler, Wells, Couchman, what would Walter Gerard say, your friend that you have so often followed, if he saw this?"

"Gerard forever!" shouted Couchman.

"Gerard forever!" exclaimed a hundred voices.

"'Tis his blessed daughter," said others; "'tis Sybil, our angel Sybil."

"Stand by Sybil Gerard."

Sybil had made her way upon the terrace, and had collected around her a knot of stout followers, who, whatever may have been their original motive, were now resolved to do her bidding. The object of Mr Mountchesney was to descend the side-step of the terrace and again the flower-garden, from whence there were means of escape. But the throng was still too fierce to permit Lady de Mowbray and her companions to attempt the passage, and all that Sybil and her followers could at present do, was to keep the mob off from entering the library, and to exert themselves to obtain fresh recruits.

At this moment an unexpected aid arrived.

"Keep back there! I call upon you in the name of God to keep back!" exclaimed a voice of one struggling and communing with the rioters, a voice which all immediately recognised. It was that of Mr St Lys. Charles Gardner, "I have been your friend. The aid I gave you was often supplied to me by this house. Why are you here?"

"For no evil purpose, Mr St Lys. I came as others did, to see what was going on."

"Then you see a deed of darkness. Struggle against it. Aid me and Philip Warner in this work; it will support you at the judgment. Tressel, Tressel, stand by me and Warner. That's good, that's right! And you too, Daventry, and you, and you. I knew you would wash your hands of this fell deed. It is not Mowbray men who would do this. That's right, that's right! Form a band. Good again. There's not a man that joins us now who does not make a friend for life."

Mr St Lys had been in the neighbourhood when the news of the visit of the mob to the castle reached him. He anticipated the perilous consequences. He hastened immediately to the scene of action. He had met Warner the handloom weaver in his way, and enlisted his powerful influence with the people on his side.

The respective bands of Sybil and Mr St Lys in time contrived to join. Their numbers were no longer contemptible; they were animated by the words and presence of their leaders: St Lys struggling in their midst; Sybil maintaining her position on the terrace, and inciting all around her to courage and energy.

The multitude were kept back, the passage to the side-steps of the terrace was clear.

"Now," said Sybil, and she encouraged Lady de Mowbray, her daughters, and followers to advance. It was a fearful struggle to maintain the communication, but it was a successful one. They proceeded breathless and trembling, until they reached what was commonly called the Grotto, but which was in fact a subterranean way excavated through a hill and leading to the bank of a river where there were boats. The entrance of this tunnel was guarded by an iron gate, and Mr Mountchesney had secured the key. The gate was opened, Warner and his friends made almost superhuman efforts at this moment to keep back the multitude, Lady de Mowbray and her daughters had passed through, when there came one of those violent undulations usual in mobs, and which was occasioned by a sudden influx of persons attracted by what was occurring, and Sybil and those who immediately surrounded her and were guarding the retreat were carried far away. The gate was closed, the rest of the party had passed, but Sybil was left, and found herself entirely among strangers.

In the meantime the castle was in possession of the mob. The first great rush was to the cellars: the Bishop himself headed this onset, nor did he rest until he was seated among the prime binns of the noble proprietor. This was not a crisis of corkscrews; the heads of the bottles were knocked off with the same promptitude and dexterity as if they were shelling nuts or decapitating shrimps: the choicest wines of Christendom were poured down the thirsty throats that ale and spirits had hitherto only stimulated; Tummas was swallowing Burgundy; Master Nixon had got hold of a batch of tokay; while the Bishop himself seated on the ground and leaning against an arch, the long perspective of the cellars full of rapacious figures brandishing bottles and torches, alternately quaffed some very old Port and some Madeira of many voyages, and was making up his mind as to their respective and relative merits.

While the cellars and offices were thus occupied, bands were parading the gorgeous saloons and gazing with wonderment on their decorations and furniture. Some grimy ruffians had thrown themselves with disdainful delight on the satin couches and the state beds: others rifled the cabinets with an idea that they must be full of money, and finding little in their way, had strewn their contents—papers and books and works of art over the floors of the apartments; sometimes a band who had escaped from below with booty came up to consummate their orgies in the magnificence of the dwelling rooms. Among these were Nixon and his friends, who stared at the pictures and stood before the tall mirrors with still greater astonishment. Indeed many of them had never seen an ordinary looking-glass in their lives.

"'Tis Natur!" said Master Nixon surveying himself, and turning to Juggins.

Many of these last grew frantic, and finished their debauch by the destruction of everything around them.

But while these scenes of brutal riot were occurring there was one select but resolute band who shared in none of these excesses. Morley, followed by half a dozen Mowbray lads and two chosen Hell-cats, leaving all the confusion below, had ascended the great staircase, traced his way down a corridor to the winding steps of the Round Tower, and supplied with the necessary instruments had forced his entrance into the muniment room of the castle. It was a circular chamber lined with tall fire-proof cases. These might have presented invincible obstacles to any other than the pupils of Bishop Hatton; as it was, in some instances the locks in others the hinges yielded in time, though after prolonged efforts, to the resources of their art; and while Dandy Mick and his friends kept watch at the entrance, Morley and Devilsdust proceeded to examine the contents of the cases: piles of parchment deeds, bundles of papers arranged and docketed, many boxes of various size and materials: but the desired object was not visible. A baffled expression came over the face of Morley; he paused for an instant in his labours. The thought of how much he had sacrificed for this, and only to fail, came upon him—upon him, the votary of Moral Power in the midst of havoc which he had organised and stimulated. He cursed Baptist Hatton in his heart.

"The knaves have destroyed them," said Devilsdust. "I thought how it would be. They never would run the chance of a son of Labour being lord of all this."

Some of the cases were very deep, and they had hitherto in general, in order to save time, proved their contents with an iron rod. Now Morley with a desperate air mounting on some steps that were in the room, commenced formally rifling the cases and throwing their contents on the floor; it was soon strewn with deeds and papers and boxes which he and Devilsdust the moment they had glanced at them hurled away. At length when all hope seemed to have vanished, clearing a case which at first appeared only to contain papers, Morley struck something at its back; he sprang forward with outstretched arm, his body was half hid in the cabinet, and he pulled out with triumphant exultation the box, painted blue and blazoned with the arms of Valence. It was neither large nor heavy; he held it out to Devilsdust without saying a word, and Morley descending the steps sate down for a moment on a pile of deeds and folded his arms.

At this juncture the discharge of musketry was heard.

"Hilloa!" said Devilsdust with a queer expression. Morley started from his seat. Dandy Mick rushed into the room. "Troops, troops! there are troops here!" he exclaimed.

"Let us descend," said Morley. "In the confusion we may escape. I will take the box," and they left the muniment room.

One of their party whom Mick had sent forward to reconnoitre fell back upon them. "They are not troops," he said; "they are yeomanry; they are firing away and cutting every one down. They have cleared the ground floor of the castle and are in complete possession below. We cannot escape this way."

"Those accursed locks!" said Morley clenching the box. "Time has beat us. Let us see, let us see." He ran back into the mumment room and examined the egress from the window. It was just possible for any one very lithe and nimble to vault upon the roof of the less elevated part of the castle. Revolving this, another scout rushed in and said, "Comrades, they are here! they are ascending the stairs."

Morley stamped on the ground with rage and despair. Then seizing Mick by the hand he said, "You see this window; can you by any means reach that roof?"

"One may as well lose one's neck that way," said Mick. "I'll try."

"Off! If you land I will throw this box after you. Now mind; take it to the convent at Mowbray and deliver it yourself from me to Sybil Gerard. It is light; there are only papers in it; but they will give her her own again, and she will not forget you."

"Never mind that," said Mick. "I only wish I may live to see her."

The tramp of the ascending troopers was heard.

"Good bye my hearties," said Mick, and he made the spring. He seemed stunned, but he might recover. Morley watched him and flung the box.

"And now," he said drawing a pistol, "we may fight our way yet. I'll shoot the first man who enters, and then you must rush on them with your bludgeons."

The force that had so unexpectedly arrived at this scene of devastation was a troop of the yeomanry regiment of Lord Marney. The strike in Lancashire and the revolt in the mining districts had so completely drained this county of military, that the lord lieutenant had insisted on Lord Marney quitting his agricultural neighbourhood and quartering himself in the region of factories. Within the last two days he had fixed his headquarters at a large manufacturing town within ten miles of Mowbray, and a despatch on Sunday evening from the mayor of that town having reached him, apprising him of the invasion of the miners, Egremont had received orders to march with his troop there on the following morning.

Egremont had not departed more than two hours when the horsemen whom Sybil had met arrived at Lord Marney's headquarters, bringing a most alarming and exaggerated report of the insurrection and of the havoc that was probably impending. Lord Marney being of opinion that Egremont's forces were by no means equal to the occasion resolved therefore at once to set out for Mowbray with his own troop. Crossing Mowbray Moor he encountered a great multitude, now headed for purposes of peace by Walter Gerard. His mind inflamed by the accounts he had received, and hating at all times any popular demonstration, his lordship resolved without inquiry or preparation immediately to disperse them. The Riot Act was read with the rapidity with which grace is sometimes said at the head of a public table—a ceremony of which none but the performer and his immediate friends are conscious. The people were fired on and sabred. The indignant spirit of Gerard resisted; he struck down a trooper to the earth, and incited those about him not to yield. The father of Sybil was picked out—the real friend and champion of the People—and shot dead. Instantly arose a groan which almost quelled the spirit of Lord Marney, though armed and at the head of armed men. The people who before this were in general scared and dispersing, ready indeed to fly in all directions, no sooner saw their beloved leader fall than a feeling of frenzy came over them. They defied the troopers, though themselves armed only with stones and bludgeons; they rushed at the horsemen and tore them from their saddles, while a shower of stones rattled on the helmet of Lord Marney and seemed never to cease. In vain the men around him charged the infuriated throng; the people returned to their prey, nor did they rest until Lord Marney fell lifeless on Mowbray Moor, literally stoned to death.

These disastrous events of course occurred at a subsequent period of the day to that on which half-a-dozen troopers were ascending the staircase of the Round Tower of Mowbray Castle. The distracted house-steward of Lord de Mowbray had met and impressed upon them, now that the Castle was once more in their possession, of securing the muniment room, for Mr Bentley had witnessed the ominous ascent of Morley and his companions to that important chamber.

Morley and his companions had taken up an advantageous position at the head of the staircase.

"Surrender," said the commander of the yeomanry. "Resistance is useless."

Morley presented his pistol, but before he could pull the trigger a shot from a trooper in the rear, and who from his position could well observe the intention of Morley, struck Stephen in the breast; still he fired, but aimless and without effect. The troopers pushed on; Morley fainting fell back with his friends who were frightened, except Devilsdust, who had struck hard and well, and who in turn had been slightly sabred. The yeomanry entered the muniment room almost at the same time as their foes, leaving Devilsdust behind them, who had fallen, and who cursing the Capitalist who had wounded him managed to escape. Morley fell when he had regained the room. The rest surrendered.

"Morley! Stephen Morley!" exclaimed the commander of the yeomanry. "You, you here!"

"Yes. I am sped," he said in a faint voice. "No, no succour. It is useless and I desire none. Why I am here is a mystery; let it remain so. The world will misjudge me; the man of peace they will say was a hypocrite. The world will be wrong, as it always is. Death is bitter," he said with a deep sigh, and speaking with great difficulty, "more bitter from you; but just. We have struggled together before, Egremont. I thought I had scotched you then, but you escaped. Our lives have been a struggle since we first met. Your star has controlled mine; and now I feel I have sacrificed life and fame—dying men prophecy—for your profit and honour. O Sybil!" and with this name half sighed upon his lips the votary of Moral Power and the Apostle of Community ceased to exist.

Meanwhile Sybil, separated from her friends who had made their escape through the grotto, was left with only Harold for her protector, for she had lost even Warner in the crush. She looked around in vain for some Mowbray face that she could recognise, but after some fruitless research, a loud shouting in the distance, followed by the firing of musketry, so terrified all around her, that the mob in her immediate neighbourhood dispersed as if by magic, and she remained alone crouching in a corner of the flower-garden, while dreadful shouts and shrieks and yells resounded from the distance, occasionally firing, the smoke floating to her retreat. She could see from where she stood the multitude flying about the park in all directions, and therefore she thought it best to remain in her present position and await the terrible events. She concluded that some military force had arrived, and that if she could maintain her present post, she hoped that the extreme danger might pass. But while she indulged in these hopes, a dark cloud of smoke came descending in the garden. It could not be produced by musket or carbine: its volume was too heavy even for ordnance: and in a moment there were sparks mingled with its black form; and then the shouting and shrieking which had in some degree subsided, suddenly broke out again with increased force and wildness. The Castle was on fire.

Whether from heedlessness or from insane intention, for the deed sealed their own doom, the drunken Hell-cats brandishing their torches, while they rifled the cellars and examined every closet and corner of the offices, had set fire to the lower part of the building, and the flames that had for some time burnt unseen, had now gained the principal chambers. The Bishop was lying senseless in the main cellar, surrounded by his chief officers in the same state: indeed the whole of the basement was covered with the recumbent figures of Hell-cats, as black and thick as torpid flies during the last days of their career. The funeral pile of the children of Woden was a sumptuous one; it was prepared and lighted by themselves; and the flame that, rising from the keep of Mowbray, announced to the startled country that in a short hour the splendid mimickry of Norman rule would cease to exist, told also the pitiless fate of the ruthless savage, who, with analogous pretension, had presumed to style himself the Liberator of the People.

The clouds of smoke, the tongues of flame, that now began to mingle with them, the multitude whom this new incident and impending catastrophe summoned hack to the scene, forced Sybil to leave the garden and enter the park. It was in vain she endeavoured to gain some part less frequented than the rest, and to make her way unobserved. Suddenly a band of drunken ruffians, with shouts and oaths, surrounded her; she shrieked in frantic terror; Harold sprung at the throat of the foremost; another advanced, Harold left his present prey and attacked the new assailant. The brave dog did wonders, but the odds were fearful; and the men had bludgeons, were enraged, and had already wounded him. One ruffian had grasped the arm of Sybil, another had clenched her garments, when an officer covered with dust and gore, sabre in hand, jumped from the terrace, and hurried to the rescue. He cut down one man, thrust away another, and placing his left arm round Sybil, he defended her with his sword, while Harold now become furious, flew from man to man, and protected her on the other side. Her assailants were routed, they made a staggering flight; the officer turned round and pressed Sybil to his heart.

"We will never part again," said Egremont.

"Never," murmured Sybil.

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