Sybil/Book 3/Chapter 8

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Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli
Book 3/Chapter 8


A few days after his morning walk with Sybil, it was agreed that Egremont should visit Mr Trafford's factory, which he had expressed a great desire to inspect. Gerard always left his cottage at break of dawn, and as Sybil had not yet paid her accustomed visit to her friend and patron, who was the employer of her father, it was arranged that Egremont should accompany her at a later and more convenient hour in the morning, and then that they should all return together.

The factory was about a mile distant from their cottage. which belonged indeed to Mr Trafford, and had been built by him. He was the younger son of a family that had for centuries been planted in the land, but who, not satisfied with the factitious consideration with which society compensates the junior members of a territorial house for their entailed poverty, had availed himself of some opportunities that offered themselves, and had devoted his energies to those new sources of wealth that were unknown to his ancestors. His operations at first had been extremely limited, like his fortunes; but with a small capital, though his profits were not considerable, he at least gained experience. With gentle blood in his veins, and old English feelings, he imbibed, at an early period of his career, a correct conception of the relations which should subsist between the employer and the employed. He felt that between them there should be other ties than the payment and the receipt of wages.

A distant and childless relative, who made him a visit, pleased with his energy and enterprise, and touched by the development of his social views, left him a considerable sum, at a moment too when a great opening was offered to manufacturing capital and skill. Trafford, schooled in rigid fortunes, and formed by struggle, if not by adversity, was ripe for the occasion, and equal to it. He became very opulent, and he lost no time in carrying into life and being the plans which he had brooded over in the years when his good thoughts were limited to dreams. On the banks of his native Mowe he had built a factory which was now one of the marvels of the district; one might almost say, of the country: a single room, spreading over nearly two acres, and holding more than two thousand work-people. The roof of groined arches, lighted by ventilating domes at the height of eighteen feet, was supported by hollow cast-iron columns, through which the drainage of the roof was effected. The height of the ordinary rooms in which the work-people in manufactories are engaged is not more than from nine to eleven feet; and these are built in stories, the heat and effluvia of the lower rooms communicated to those above, and the difficulty of ventilation insurmountable. At Mr Trafford's, by an ingenious process, not unlike that which is practised in the House of Commons, the ventilation was also carried on from below, so that the whole building was kept at a steady temperature, and little susceptible to atmospheric influence. The physical advantages of thus carrying on the whole work in one chamber are great: in the improved health of the people, the security against dangerous accidents for women and youth. and the reduced fatigue resulting from not having to ascend and descend and carry materials to the higher rooms. But the moral advantages resulting from superior inspection and general observation are not less important: the child works under the eye of the parent, the parent under that of the superior workman; the inspector or employer at a glance can behold all.

When the workpeople of Mr Trafford left his factory they were not forgotten. Deeply had he pondered on the influence of the employer on the health and content of his workpeople. He knew well that the domestic virtues are dependent on the existence of a home, and one of his first efforts had been to build a village where every family might be well lodged. Though he was the principal proprietor, and proud of that character, he nevertheless encouraged his workmen to purchase the fee: there were some who had saved sufficient money to effect this: proud of their house and their little garden, and of the horticultural society, where its produce permitted them to be annual competitors. In every street there was a well: behind the factory were the public baths; the schools were under the direction of the perpetual curate of the church, which Mr Trafford, though a Roman Catholic, had raised and endowed. In the midst of this village, surrounded by beautiful gardens, which gave an impulse to the horticulture of the community, was the house of Trafford himself, who comprehended his position too well to withdraw himself with vulgar exclusiveness from his real dependents, but recognized the baronial principle reviving in a new form, and adapted to the softer manners and more ingenious circumstances of the times.

And what was the influence of such an employer and such a system of employment on the morals and manners of the employed? Great: infinitely beneficial. The connexion of a labourer with his place of work, whether agricultural or manufacturing, is itself a vast advantage. Proximity to the employer brings cleanliness and order, because it brings observation and encouragement. In the settlement of Trafford crime was positively unknown: and offences were very slight. There was not a single person in the village of a reprobate character. The men were well clad; the women had a blooming cheek; drunkenness was unknown; while the moral condition of the softer sex was proportionately elevated.

The vast form of the spreading factory, the roofs and gardens of the village, the Tudor chimneys of the house of Trafford, the spire of the gothic church, with the sparkling river and the sylvan hack-ground, came rather suddenly on the sight of Egremont. They were indeed in the pretty village-street before he was aware he was about to enter it. Some beautiful children rushed out of a cottage and flew to Sybil, crying out, "the queen, the queen;" one clinging to her dress, another seizing her arm, and a third, too small to struggle, pouting out its lips to be embraced.

"My subjects," said Sybil laughing, as she greeted them all; and then they ran away to announce to others that their queen had arrived.

Others came: beautiful and young. As Sybil and Egremont walked along, the race too tender for labour, seemed to spring out of every cottage to greet "their queen." Her visits had been very rare of late, but they were never forgotten; they formed epochs in the village annals of the children, some of whom knew only by tradition the golden age when Sybil Gerard lived at the great house, and daily glanced like a spirit among their homes, smiling and met with smiles, blessing and ever blessed.

"And here," she said to Egremont, "I must bid you good bye; and this little boy," touching gently on his head a very serious urchin who had never left her side for a moment, proud of his position, and holding tight her hand with all his strength, "this little boy shall be your guide. It is not a hundred yards. Now, Pierce, you must take Mr Franklin to the factory, and ask for Mr Gerard." And she went her way.

They had not separated five minutes when the sound of whirling wheels caught the ear of Egremont, and, looking round, he saw a cavalcade of great pretension rapidly approaching; dames and cavaliers on horseback; a brilliant equipage, postilions and four horses; a crowd of grooms. Egremont stood aside. The horsemen and horsewomen caracoled gaily by him; proudly swept on the sparkling barouche; the saucy grooms pranced in his face. Their masters and mistresses were not strangers to him: he recognized with some dismay the liveries, and then the arms of Lord de Mowbray, and caught the cold, proud countenance of Lady Joan, and the flexible visage of Lady Maud, both on horseback, and surrounded by admiring cavaliers.

Egremont flattered himself that he had not been recognised, and dismissing his little guide, instead of proceeding to the factory he sauntered away in an opposite direction, and made a visit to the church.

The wife of Trafford embraced Sybil, and then embraced her again. She seemed as happy as the children of the village, that the joy of her roof, as of so many others, had returned to them, though only for a few hours. Her husband she said had just quitted the house; he was obliged to go to the factory to receive a great and distinguished party who were expected this morning, having written to him several days before for permission to view the works. "We expect them to lunch here afterwards," said Mrs Trafford, a very refined woman, but unused to society, and who rather trembled at the ceremony; "Oh! do stay with me, Sybil, to receive them."

This intimation so much alarmed Sybil that she rose as soon as was practicable; and saying that she had some visits to make in the village, she promised to return when Mrs Trafford was less engaged.

An hour elapsed; there was a loud ring at the hall-door, the great and distinguished party had arrived. Mrs Trafford prepared for the interview, and tried to look very composed as the doors opened, and her husband ushered in and presented to her Lord and Lady de Mowbray, their daughters, Lady Firebrace, Mr Jermyn, who still lingered at the castle, and Mr Alfred Mountchesney and Lord Milford, who were mere passing guests, on their way to Scotland, but reconnoitering the heiresses in their course.

Lord de Mowbray was profuse of praise and compliments. His lordship was apt to be too civil. The breed would come out sometimes. To-day he was quite the coffee-house waiter. He praised everything: the machinery, the workmen, the cotton manufactured and the cotton raw, even the smoke. But Mrs Trafford would not have the smoke defended, and his lordship gave the smoke up, but only to please her. As for Lady de Mowbray, she was as usual courteous and condescending, with a kind of smouldering smile on her fair aquiline face, that seemed half pleasure and half surprise at the strange people she was among. Lady Joan was haughty and scientific, approved of much, but principally of the system of ventilation, of which she asked several questions which greatly perplexed Mrs Trafford, who slightly blushed, and looked at her husband for relief, but he was engaged with Lady Maud, who was full of enthusiasm, entered into everything with the zest of sympathy, identified herself with the factory system almost as much as she had done with the crusades, and longed to teach in singing schools, found public gardens, and bid fountains flow and sparkle for the people.

"I think the works were very wonderful," said Lord Milford, as he was cutting a pasty; "and indeed, Mrs Trafford, everything here is quite charming; but what I have most admired at your place is a young girl we met—the most beautiful I think I ever saw."

"With the most beautiful dog," said Mr Mountchesney.

"Oh! that must have been Sybil!" exclaimed Mrs Trafford.

"And who is Sybil?" asked Lady Maud. "That is one of our family names. We all thought her quite beautiful."

"She is a child of the house," said Mrs Trafford, "or rather was, for I am sorry to say she has long quitted us."

"Is she a nun?" asked Lord Milford, "for her vestments had a conventual air."

"She has just left your convent at Mowbray," said Mr Trafford, addressing his answer to Lady Maud, "and rather against her will. She clings to the dress she was accustomed to there."

"And now she resides with you?"

"No; I should be very happy if she did. I might almost say she was brought up under this roof. She lives now with her father."

"And who is so fortunate as to be her father?" enquired Mr Mountchesney.

"Her father is the inspector of my works; the person who accompanied us over them this morning."

"What! that handsome man I so much admired," said Lady Maud, "so very aristocratic-looking. Papa," she said, addressing herself to Lord de Mowbray, "the inspector of Mr Trafford's works we are speaking of, that aristocratic-looking person that I observed to you, he is the father of the beautiful girl."

"He seemed a very intelligent person," said Lord de Mowbray with many smiles.

"Yes," said Mr Trafford; "he has great talents and great integrity. I would trust him with anything and to any amount. All I wish," he added, with a smile and in a lower tone to Lady de Mowbray, "all I wish is, that he was not quite so fond of politics."

"Is he very violent?" enquired her ladyship in a sugary tone.

"Too violent," said Mr Trafford, "and wild in his ideas."

"And yet I suppose," said Lord Milford, "he must be very well off?"

"Why I must say for him it is not selfishness that makes him a malcontent," said Mr Trafford; "he bemoans the condition of the people."

"If we are to judge of the condition of the people by what we see here," said Lord de Mowbray, "there is little to lament in it. But I fear these are instances not so common as we could wish. You must have been at a great outlay, Mr Trafford?"

"Why," said Mr Trafford, "for my part. I have always considered that there was nothing so expensive as a vicious population. I hope I had other objects in view in what I have done than a pecuniary compensation. They say we all have our hobbies; and it was ever mine to improve the condition of my workpeople, to see what good tenements and good schools and just wages paid in a fair manner, and the encouragement of civilizing pursuits, would do to elevate their character. I should find an ample reward in the moral tone and material happiness of this community; but really viewing it in a pecuniary point of view, the investment of capital has been one of the most profitable I ever made; and I would not, I assure you. for double its amount, exchange my workpeople for the promiscuous assemblage engaged in other factories."

"The influence of the atmosphere on the condition of the labourer is a subject which deserves investigation," said Lady Joan to Mr Jermyn, who stared and bowed.

"And you do not feel alarmed at having a person of such violent opinions as your inspector at the head of your establishment," said Lady Firebrace to Mr Trafford, who smiled a negative.

"What is the name of the intelligent individual who accompanied us?" enquired Lord de Mowbray.

"His name is Gerard," said Mr Trafford.

"I believe a common name in these parts," said Lord de Mowbray looking a little confused.

"Not very," said Mr Trafford; "'tis an old name and the stock has spread; but all Gerards claim a common lineage I believe, and my inspector has gentle blood, they say, in his veins."

"He looks as if he had," said Lady Maud.

"All persons with good names affect good blood," said Lord de Mowbray; and then turning to Mrs Trafford he overwhelmed her with elaborate courtesies of phrase; praised everything again; first generally and then in detail; the factory, which he seemed to prefer to his castle—the house, which he seemed to prefer even to the factory—the gardens, from which he anticipated even greater gratification than from the house. And this led to an expression of a hope that he would visit them. And so in due time the luncheon was achieved. Mrs Trafford looked at her guests, there was a rustling and a stir, and everybody was to go and see the gardens that Lord de Mowbray had so much praised.

"I am all for looking after the beautiful Nun," said Mr Mountchesney to Lord Milford.

"I think I shall ask the respectable manufacturer to introduce me to her," replied his lordship.

In the meantime Egremont had joined Gerard at the factory.

"You should have come sooner," said Gerard, "and then you might have gone round with the fine folks. We have had a grand party here from the castle."

"So I perceived," said Egremont, "and withdrew."

"Ah! they were not in your way, eh?" he said in a mocking smile. "Well, they were very condescending—at least for such great people. An earl! Earl de Mowbray,—I suppose he came over with William the Conqueror. Mr Trafford makes a show of the place. and it amuses their visitors I dare say, like anything else that's strange. There were some young gentlemen with them, who did not seem to know much about anything. I thought I had a right to be amused too; and I must say I liked very much to see one of them looking at the machinery through his eye-glass. There was one very venturesome chap: I thought he was going to catch hold of the fly-wheel, but I gave him a spin which I believed saved his life, though he did rather stare. He was a lord."

"They are great heiresses, his daughters, they say at Mowbray," said Egremont.

"I dare say," said Gerard. "A year ago this earl had a son— an only son, and then his daughters were not great heiresses. But the son died and now it's their turn. And perhaps some day it will be somebody else's turn. If you want to understand the ups and downs of life, there's nothing like the parchments of an estate. Now master, now man! He who served in the hall now lords in it: and very often the baseborn change their liveries for coronets, while gentle blood has nothing left but—dreams; eh, master Franklin?"

"It seems you know the history of this Lord de Mowbray?"

"Why a man learns a good many things in his time; and living in these parts. there are few secrets of the notables. He has had the title to his broad acres questioned before this time, my friend."

"Indeed!"

"Yes: I could not help thinking of that to-day," said Gerard, "when he questioned me with his mincing voice and pulled the wool with his cursed white hands and showed it to his dame, who touched it with her little finger; and his daughters who tossed their heads like pea-hens—Lady Joan and Lady Maud. Lady Joan and Lady Maud!" repeated Gerard in a voice of bitter sarcasm. "I did not care for the rest; but I could not stand that Lady Joan and that Lady Maud. I wonder if my Sybil saw them."

In the meantime, Sybil had been sent for by Mrs Trafford. She had inferred from the message that the guests had departed, and her animated cheek showed the eagerness with which she had responded to the call. Bounding along with a gladness of the heart which lent additional lustre to her transcendent brightness, she suddenly found herself surrounded in the garden by Lady Maud and her friends. The daughter of Lord de Mowbray, who could conceive nothing but humility as the cause of her alarmed look, attempted to re-assure her by condescending volubility, turning often to her friends and praising in admiring interrogatories Sybil's beauty.

"And we took advantage of your absence," said Lady Maud in a tone of amiable artlessness, "to find out all about you. And what a pity we did not know you when you were at the convent, because then you might have been constantly at the castle; indeed I should have insisted on it. But still I hear we are neighbours; you must promise to pay me a visit, you must indeed. Is not she beautiful?" she added in a lower but still distinct voice to her friend. "Do you know I think there is so much beauty among the lower order."

Mr Mountchesney and Lord Milford poured forth several insipid compliments, accompanied with some speaking looks which they flattered themselves could not be misconstrued. Sybil said not a word, but answered each flood of phrases with a cold reverence.

Undeterred by her somewhat haughty demeanour, which Lady Maud only attributed to the novelty of her situation, her ignorance of the world, and her embarrassment under this overpowering condescension, the good-tempered and fussy daughter of Lord de Mowbray proceeded to re-assure Sybil, and to enforce on her that this perhaps unprecedented descent from superiority was not a mere transient courtliness of the moment, and that she really might rely on her patronage and favourable feeling.

"You really must come and see me," said Lady Maud, "I shall never be happy till you have made me a visit. Where do you live? I will come and fetch you myself in the carriage. Now let us fix a day at once. Let me see; this is Saturday. What say you to next Monday?"

"I thank you," said Sybil, very gravely, "but I never quit my home."

"What a darling!" exclaimed Lady Maud looking round at her friends. "Is not she? I know exactly what you feel. But really you shall not be the least embarrassed. It may feel strange at first, to be sure, but then I shall be there; and do you know I look upon you quite as my prot‚g‚e."

"Prot‚g‚e," said Sybil. "I live with my father."

"What a dear!" said Lady Maud looking round to Lord Milford. "Is not she naive?"

"And are you the guardian of these beautiful flowers?" said Mr Mountchesney.

Sybil signified a negative, and added "Mrs Trafford is very proud of them."

"You must see the flowers at Mowbray Castle," said Lady Maud. "They are unprecedented, are they not, Lord Milford? You know you said the other day that they were almost equal to Mrs Lawrence's. I am charmed to find you are fond of flowers," continued Lady Maud; "you will be so delighted with Mowbray. Ah! mama is calling us. Now fix—shall it be Monday?"

"Indeed," said Sybil, "I never leave my home. I am one of the lower order, and live only among the lower order. I am here to-day merely for a few hours to pay an act of homage to a benefactor."

"Well I shall come and fetch you," said Maud, covering her surprise and mortification by a jaunty air that would not confess defeat.

"And so shall I," said Mr Mountchesney.

"And so shall I," whispered Lord Milford lingering a little behind.

The great and distinguished party had disappeared; their glittering barouche, their prancing horses, their gay grooms, all had vanished; the sound of their wheels was no longer heard. Time flew on; the bell announced that the labour of the week had closed. There was a half holiday always on the last day of the week at Mr Trafford's settlement; and every man, woman, and child, were paid their wages in the great room before they left the mill. Thus the expensive and evil habits which result from wages being paid in public houses were prevented. There was also in this system another great advantage for the workpeople. They received their wages early enough to repair to the neighbouring markets and make their purchases for the morrow. This added greatly to their comfort, and rendering it unnecessary for them to run in debt to the shopkeepers, added really to their wealth. Mr Trafford thought that next to the amount of wages, the most important consideration was the method in which wages are paid; and those of our readers who may have read or can recall the sketches, neither coloured nor exagerated, which we have given in the early part of this volume of the very different manner in which the working classes may receive the remuneration for their toil, will probably agree with the sensible and virtuous master of Walter Gerard.

He, accompanied by his daughter and Egremont, is now on his way home. A soft summer afternoon; the mild beam still gilding the tranquil scene; a river, green meads full of kine, woods vocal with the joyous song of the thrush and the blackbird; and in the distance, the lofty breast of the purple moor, still blazing in the sun: fair sights and renovating sounds after a day of labour passed in walls and amid the ceaseless and monotonous clang of the spindle and the loom. So Gerard felt it, as he stretched his great limbs in the air and inhaled its perfumed volume.

"Ah! I was made for this, Sybil," he exclaimed; "but never mind, my child, never mind; tell me more of your fine visitors."

Egremont found the walk too short; fortunately from the undulation of the vale, they could not see the cottage until within a hundred yards of it. When they were in sight, a man came forth from the garden to greet them; Sybil gave an exclamation of pleasure; it was MORLEY.