Sybil/Book 6/Chapter 10

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

About noon of this day there was a great stir in Mowbray. It was generally whispered about that the Liberator at the head of the Hell-cats and all others who chose to accompany them was going to pay a visit to Mr Trafford's settlement, in order to avenge an insult which his envoys had experienced early in the morning when, accompanied by a rabble of two or three hundred persons, they had repaired to the Mowedale works in order to signify the commands of the Liberator that labour should stop, and if necessary to enforce those commands. The injunctions were disregarded. and when the mob in pursuance of their further instructions began to force the great gates of the premises, in order that they might enter the building, drive the plugs out of the steam-boilers, and free the slaves enclosed, a masqued battery of powerful engines was suddenly opened upon them, and the whole band of patriots were deluged. It was impossible to resist a power which seemed inexhaustible, and wet to the skins and amid the laughter of their adversaries they fled. This ridiculous catastrophe had terribly excited the ire of the Liberator. He vowed vengeance, and as, like all great revolutionary characters and military leaders, the only foundation of his power was constant employment for his troops and constant excitement for the populace, he determined to place himself at the head of the chastising force, and make a great example which should establish his awful reputation and spread the terror of his name throughout the district.

Field the Chartist had soon discovered who were the rising spirits of Mowbray, and Devilsdust and Dandy Mick were both sworn on Monday morning of the council of the Liberator, and took their seats at the board accordingly. Devilsdust, used to public business and to the fulfilment of responsible duties, was calm and grave, but equally ready and determined. Mick's head on the contrary was quite turned by the importance of his novel position. He was greatly excited, could devise nothing and would do anything, always followed Devilsdust in council, but when he executed their joint decrees and showed himself about the town, he strutted like a peacock, swore at the men and winked at the girls, and was the idol and admiration of every gaping or huzzaing younker.

There was a large crowd assembled in the Market Place, in which were the Liberator's lodgings, many of them armed in their rude fashion, and all anxious to march. Devilsdust was with the great man and Field; Mick below was marshalling the men, and swearing like a trooper at all who disobeyed or who misunderstood.

"Come stupid," said he addressing Tummas, "what are you staring about? Get your men in order or I'll be among you."

"Stupid!" said Tummas, staring at Mick with immense astonishment. "And who are you who says 'Stupid?' A white-livered Handloom as I dare say, or a son of a gun of a factory slave. Stupid indeed! What next, when a Hell-cat is to be called stupid by such a thing as you?"

"I'll give you a piece of advice young man," said Master Nixon taking his pipe out of his mouth and blowing an immense puff; "just you go down the shaft for a couple of months, and then you'll learn a little of life, which is wery useful."

The lively temperament of the Dandy would here probably have involved him in an inconvenient embroilment had not some one at this moment touched him on the shoulder, and looking round he recognised Mr Morley. Notwithstanding the difference of their political schools Mick had a profound respect for Morley, though why he could not perhaps precisely express. But he had heard Devilsdust for years declare that Stephen Morley was the deepest head in Mowbray, and though he regretted the unfortunate weakness in favour of that imaginary abstraction called Moral Force for which the editor of the Phalanx was distinguished, still Devilsdust used to say that if ever the great revolution were to occur by which the rights of labour were to be recognised, though bolder spirits and brawnier arms might consummate the change, there was only one head among them that would be capable when they had gained their power to guide it for the public weal, and as Devilsdust used to add, "carry out the thing," and that was Morley.

It was a fine summer day, and Mowedale was as resplendent as when Egremont amid its beauties first began to muse over the beautiful. There was the same bloom over the sky, the same shadowy lustre on the trees, the same sparkling brilliancy on the waters. A herdsman following some kine was crossing the stone bridge, and except their lowing as they stopped and sniffed the current of fresh air in its centre, there was not a sound.

Suddenly the tramp and hum of a multitude broke upon the sunshiny silence. A vast crowd with some assumption of an ill-disciplined order approached from the direction of Mowbray. At their head rode a man on a white mule. Many of his followers were armed with bludgeons and other rude weapons, and moved in files. Behind them spread a more miscellaneous throng, in which women were not wanting and even children. They moved rapidly; they swept by the former cottage of Gerard; they were in sight of the settlement of Trafford.

"All the waters of the river shall not dout the blaze that I will light up to-day," said the Liberator.

"He is a most inveterate Capitalist," said Field, "and would divert the minds of the people from the Five Points by allotting them gardens and giving them baths."

"We will have no more gardens in England; everything shall be open," said the Liberator, "and baths shall only be used to drown the enemies of the People. I was always against washing; it takes the marrow out of a man."

"Here we are," said Field, as the roofs and bowers of the village, the spire and the spreading factory, broke upon them. "Every door and every window closed! The settlement is deserted. Some one has been before us and apprised them of our arrival."

"Will they pour water on me?" said the Bishop. "It must be a stream indeed that shall put out the blaze that I am going to light. What shall we do first? Halt there, you men," said the Liberator looking back with that scowl which his apprentices never could forget. "Will you halt or won't you? or must I be among you?"

There was a tremulous shuffling and then a comparative silence.

The women and children of the village had been gathered into the factory yard, of which the great gates were closed.

"What shall we burn first?" asked the Bishop.

"We may as well parley with them a little," said Field; "perhaps we may contrive to gain admission and then we can sack the whole affair, and let the people burn the machinery. It will be a great moral lesson."

"As long as there is burning," said the Bishop, "I don't care what lessons you teach them. I leave them to you; but I will have fire to put out that water."

"I'll advance," said Field, and so saying he went forward and rang at the gate; the Bishop, on his mule, with a dozen Hell-cats accompanying him; the great body of the people about twenty yards withdrawn.

"Who rings?" asked a loud voice.

"One who by the order of the Liberator wishes to enter and see whether his commands for a complete cessation of labour have been complied with in this establishment."

"Very good," said the Bishop.

"There is no hand at work here," said the voice; "and you may take my word for it."

"Your word be hanged," said the Bishop. "I want to know—"

"Hush, hush!" said Field, and then in a louder voice he said, "It may be so, but as our messengers this morning were not permitted to enter and were treated with great indignity—"

"That's it," said the Bishop.

"With great indignity," continued Field, "we must have ocular experience of the state of affairs, and I beg and recommend you therefore at once to let the Liberator enter."

"None shall enter here," replied the unseen guardian of the gate.

"That's enough," cried the Bishop.

"Beware!" said Field.

"Whether you let us in or not, 'tis all the same," said the Bishop; "I will have fire for your water, and I have come for that. Now lads!"

"Stop," said the voice of the unseen. "I will speak to you."

"He is going to let us in," whispered Field to the Bishop.

And suddenly there appeared on the flat roof of the lodge that was on one side of the gates—Gerard. His air, his figure, his position were alike commanding, and at the sight of him a loud and spontaneous cheer burst from the assembled thousands. It was the sight of one who was after all the most popular leader of the people that had ever figured in these parts, whose eloquence charmed and commanded, whose disinterestedness was acknowledged, whose sufferings had created sympathy, whose courage, manly bearing, and famous feats of strength were a source to them of pride. There was not a Mowbray man whose heart did not throb with emotion, and whose memory did not recall the orations from the Druid's altar and the famous meetings on the moor. "Gerard for ever" was the universal shout.

The Bishop who liked no one to be cheered except himself, like many great men, was much disgusted, a little perplexed. "What does all this mean?" he whispered to Field. "I came here to burn down the place."

"Wait awhile," said Field, "we must humour the Mowbray men a bit. This is their favourite leader, at least was in old days. I know him well; he is a bold and honest man."

"Is this the man who ducked my people?" asked the Bishop fiercely.

"Hush!" said Field; "he is going to speak."

"My friends," said Gerard, "for if we are not friends who should be? (loud cheers and cries of "Very true"), if you come hear to learn whether the Mowedale works are stopped, I give you my word there is not a machine or man that stirs here at this moment (great cheering). I believe you'll take my word (cheers, and cries of "We will"). I believe I'm known at Mowbray ("Gerard for ever!"), and on Mowbray Moor too (tumultous cheering). We have met together before this ("That we have"), and shall meet again yet (great cheering). The people haven't so many friends that they should quarrel with well-wishers. The master here has done his best to soften your lots. He is not one of those who deny that Labour has rights (loud cheers). I say that Mr Trafford has always acknowledged the rights of Labour (prolonged cheers and cries of "So he has"). Well, is he the man that we should injure? ("No, no"). What if he did give a cold reception to some visitors this morning—(groans)—perhaps they wore faces he was not used to (loud cheers and laughter from the Mowbray people). I dare say they mean as well as we do—no doubt of that—but still a neighbour's a neighbour (immense cheering). Now, my lads, three cheers for the National Holiday," and Gerard gave the time, and his voice was echoed by the thousands present. "The master here has no wish to interfere with the National Holiday; all he wants to secure is that all mills and works should alike stop (cries of "Very just"). And I say so too," continued Gerard. "It is just; just and manly and like a true-born Englishman as he is, who loves the people and whose fathers before him loved the people (great cheering). Three cheers for Mr Trafford I say;" and they were given; "and three cheers for Mrs Trafford too, the friend of the poor!" Here the mob became not only enthusiastic but maudlin; all vowing to each other that Trafford was a true-born Englishman and his wife a very angel upon earth. This popular feeling is so contagious that even the Hell-cats shared it—cheering, shaking hands with each other, and almost shedding tears—though it must be confessed that they had some vague idea that it was all to end in something to drink.

Their great leader however remained unmoved, and nothing but his brutal stupidity could have prevented him from endeavouring to arrest the tide of public feeling, but he was quite bewildered by the diversion, and for the first time failed in finding a prompter in Field. The Chartist was cowed by Gerard; his old companion in scenes that the memory lingered over, and whose superior genius had often controlled and often led him. Gerard too had recognized him and had made some personal allusion and appeal to him, which alike touched his conscience and flattered his vanity. The ranks were broken, the spirit of the expedition had dissolved, the great body were talking of returning, some of the stragglers indeed were on their way back, the Bishop silent and confused kept knocking the mane of his mule with his hammer.

"Now," said Morley who during this scene had stood apart accompanied by Devilsdust and Dandy Mick. "Now," said Morley to the latter, "now is your time."

"Gentlemen!" sang out Mick.

"A speech, a speech!" cried out several.

"Listen to Mick Radley," whispered Devilsdust moving swiftly among the mob and addressing every one he met of influence. "Listen to Mick Radley, he has something important."

"Radley for ever! Listen to Mick Radley! Go it Dandy! Pitch it into them! Silence for Dandy Mick! Jump up on that ere bank," and on the bank Mick mounted accordingly.

"Gentlemen," said Mick.

"Well you have said that before."

"I like to hear him say 'Gentlemen;' it's respectful."

"Gentlemen," said the Dandy, "the National Holiday has begun— "

"Three cheers for it!"

"Silence; hear the Dandy!"

"The National Holiday has begun," continued Mick, "and it seems to me the best thing for the people to do is to take a walk in Lord de Mowbray's park."

This proposition was received with one of those wild shouts of approbation which indicate the orator has exactly hit his audience between wind and water. The fact is the public mind at this instant wanted to be led, and in Dandy Mick a leader appeared. A leader to be successful should embody in his system the necessities of his followers; express what every one feels, but no one has had the ability or the courage to pronounce.

The courage and adroitness, the influence of Gerard, had reconciled the people to the relinquishment of the great end for which they had congregated; but neither man nor multitude like to make preparations without obtaining a result. Every one wanted to achieve some object by the movement; and at this critical juncture an object was proposed, and one which promised novelty, amusement, excitement. The Bishop whose consent must he obtained, but who relinquished an idea with the same difficulty with which he had imbibed it, alone murmured, and kept saying to Field, "I thought we came to burn down the mill! A bloody-minded Capitalist, a man that makes gardens and forces the people to wash themselves: What is all this?"

Field said what he could, while Devilsdust leaning over the mule's shoulder, cajoled the other ear of the Bishop, who at last gave his consent with almost as much reluctance as George the Fourth did to the emancipation of the Roman Catholics; but he made his terms, and said in a sulky voice he must have a glass of ale.

"Drink a glass of ale with Lord de Mowbray," said Devilsdust.