Sybil/Book 4/Chapter 9

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Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli
Book 4/Chapter 9

Morley paused as he recognised Egremont; then advancing to Gerard, followed by his companion, he said, "This is Mr Hatton of whom we were speaking last night, and who claims to be an ancient acquaintance of yours."

"Perhaps I should rather say of your poor dear father," said Hatton, scanning Gerard with his clear blue eye, and then he added, "He was of great service to me in my youth, and one is not apt to forget such things."

"One ought not," said Gerard: "but it is a sort of memory, as I have understood, that is rather rare. For my part I remember you very well, Baptist Hatton," said Gerard, examining his guest with almost as complete a scrutiny as he had himself experienced. "This world has gone well with you, I am glad to hear and see."

"Qui laborat, orat," said Hatton in a silvery voice, "is the gracious maxim of our Holy Church; and I venture to believe my prayers and vigils have been accepted, for I have laboured in my time," and as he was speaking these words, he turned and addressed them to Sybil.

She beheld him with no little interest; this mysterious name that had sounded so often in her young ears, and was associated with so many strange and high hopes, and some dark blending of doubt and apprehension and discordant thoughts. Hatton in his appearance realised little of the fancies in which Sybil had sometime indulged with regard to him. That appearance was prepossessing: a frank and even benevolent expression played upon his intelligent and handsome countenance: his once rich brown hair, still long though very thin, was so arranged as naturally to conceal his baldness; he was dressed with great simplicity, but with remarkable taste and care: nor did the repose and suavity of his manner and the hushed tone of his voice detract from the favourable effect that he always at once produced.

"Qui laborat, orat," said Sybil with a smile, "is the privilege of the people."

"Of whom I am one," said Hatton bowing, well recollecting that he was addressing the daughter of a chartist delegate.

"But is your labour, their labour," said Sybil. "Is yours that life of uncomplaining toil wherein there is so much of beauty and of goodness, that by the fine maxim of our Church, it is held to include the force and efficacy of prayer?"

"I am sure that I should complain of no toil that would benefit you," said Hatton; and then addressing himself again to Gerard, he led him to a distant part of the room where they were soon engaged in earnest converse. Morley at the same moment approached Sybil, and spoke to her in a subdued tone. Egremont feeling embarrassed advanced, and bade her farewell. She rose and returned his salute with some ceremony; then hesitating while a soft expression came over her countenance, she held forth her hand, which he retained for a moment, and withdrew.

"I was with him more than an hour," continued Morley. "At first he recollected nothing: even the name of Gerard, though he received it as familiar to him, seemed to produce little impression; he recollected nothing of any papers; was clear that they must have been quite insignificant; whatever they were, he doubtless had them now, as he never destroyed papers: would order a search to be made for them, and so on. I was about to withdraw, when he asked me carelessly a question about your father; what he was doing, and whether he were married and had children. This led to a very long conversation in which he suddenly seemed to take great interest. At first he talked of writing to see your father, and I offered that Gerard should call upon him. He took down your direction in order that he might write to your father and give him an appointment; when observing that it was Westminster, he said that his carriage was ordered to go to the House of Lords in a quarter of an hour, and that if not inconvenient to me, he would propose that I should at once accompany him. I thought, whatever might be the result, it must be a satisfaction to Gerard at last to see this man of whom he has talked and thought so much—and so we are here."

"You did well, good Stephen, as you always do," said Sybil with a musing and abstracted air; "no one has so much forethought and so much energy as you."

He threw a glance at her: and immediately withdrew it. Their eyes had met: hers were kind and calm.

"And this Egremont," said Morley rather hurriedly and abruptly, and looking on the ground, "how came he here? When we discovered him yesterday your father and myself agreed that we should not mention to you the—the mystification of which we had been dupes."

"And you did wrong," said Sybil. "There is no wisdom like frankness. Had you told me, he would not have been here today. He met and addressed me, and I only recognised an acquaintance who had once contributed so much to the pleasantness of our life. Had he not accompanied me to this door and met my father, which precipated an explanation on his part which he found had not been given by others, I might have remained in an ignorance which hereafter might have produced inconvenience."

"You are right," said Morley, looking at her rather keenly. "We have all of us opened ourselves too unreservedly before this aristocrat."

"I should hope that none of us have said to him a word that we wish to be forgotten," said Sybil. "He chose to wear a disguise, and can hardly quarrel with the frankness with which we spoke of his order or his family. And for the rest, he has not been injured from learning something of the feelings of the people by living among them."

"And yet if anything were to happen to-morrow," said Morley, "rest assured this man has his eye on us. He can walk into the government offices like themselves and tell his tale, for though one of the pseudo-opposition, the moment the people move, the factions become united."

Sybil turned and looked at him, and then said, "And what could happen to-morrow, that we should care for the government being acquainted with it or us? Do not they know everything? Do not you meet in their very sight? You pursue an avowed and legal aim by legal means—do you not? What then is there to fear? And why should anything happen that should make us apprehensive?"

"All is very well at this moment," said Morley, "and all may continue well; but popular assemblies breed turbulent spirits, Sybil. Your father takes a leading part; he is a great orator, and is in his element in this clamorous and fiery life. It does not much suit me; I am a man of the closet. This Convention, as you well know, was never much .to my taste. Their Charter is a coarse specific for our social evils. The spirit that would cure our ills must be of a deeper and finer mood."

"Then why are you here?" said Sybil.

Morley shrugged his shoulders, and then said "An easy question. Questions are always easy. The fact is, in active life one cannot afford to refine. I could have wished the movement to have taken a different shape and to have worked for a different end; but it has not done this. But it is still a movement and a great one, and I must work it for my end and try to shape it to my form. If I had refused to be a leader, I should not have prevented the movement; I should only have secured my own insignificance."

"But my father has not these fears; he is full of hope and exultation," said Sybil. "And surely it is a great thing that the people should have their Parliament lawfully meeting in open day, and their delegates from the whole realm declaring their grievances in language which would not disgrace the conquering race which has in vain endeavoured to degrade them. When I heard my father speak the other night, my heart glowed with emotion; my eyes were suffused with tears; I was proud to be his daughter; and I gloried in a race of forefathers who belonged to the oppressed and not to the oppressors."

Morley watched the deep splendour of her eye and the mantling of her radiant cheek, as she spoke these latter words with not merely animation but fervour. Her bright hair, that hung on either side her face in long tresses of luxuriant richness, was drawn off a forehead that was the very throne of thought and majesty, while her rich lip still quivered with the sensibility which expressed its impassioned truth.

"But your father, Sybil, stands alone," at length Morley replied; "surrounded by votaries who have nothing but enthusiasm to recommend them; and by emulous and intriguing rivals, who watch every word and action, in order that they may discredit his conduct, and ultimately secure his downfall."

"My father's downfall!" said Sybil. "Is he not one of themselves! And is it possible, that among the delegates of the People there can be other than one and the same object?"

"A thousand," said Morley; "we have already as many parties as in St Stephen's itself."

"You terrify me," said Sybil. "I knew we had fearful odds to combat against. My visit to this city alone has taught me how strong are our enemies. But I believed that we had on our side God and Truth."

"They know neither of them in the National Convention," said Morley. "Our career will be a vulgar caricature of the bad passions and the low intrigues, the factions and the failures, of our oppressors."

At this moment Gerard and Hatton who were sitting in the remote part of the room rose together and advanced forward; and this movement interrupted the conversation of Sybil and Morley. Before however her father and his new friend could reach them, Hatton as if some point on which he had not been sufficiently explicit, had occurred to him, stopped and placing his hand on Gerard's arm, withdrew him again, saying in a voice which could only be heard by the individual whom he addressed. "You understand—I have not the slightest doubt myself of your moral right: I believe on every principle of justice, that Mowbray Castle is as much yours as the house that is built by the tenant on the lord's land: but can we prove it? We never had the legal evidence. You are in error in supposing that these papers were of any vital consequence; mere memoranda; very useful no doubt: I hope I shall find them; but of no validity. If money were the only difficulty, trust me, it should not be wanting; I owe much to the memory of your father, my good Gerard; I would fain serve you—and your daughter. I'll not tell you what I would do for you, my good Gerard. You would think me foolish; but I am alone in the world, and seeing you again, and talking of old times—I really am scarcely fit for business. Go, however, I must; I have an appointment at the House of Lords. Good bye. I must say farewell to the Lady Sybil."