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- Sybil, or the Two Nations - 20/101 -
"I would I could see a communion of Men," said Stephen, "and then there would be no more violence, for there would be no more plunder."
"You must regain our lands for us, Stephen," said the Religious; "promise me my father that I shall raise a holy house for pious women, if that ever hap."
"We will not forget our ancient faith," said her father, "the only old thing that has not left us."
"I cannot understand," said Stephen, "why you should ever have lost sight of these papers, Walter."
"You see, friend, they were never in my possession; they were never mine when I saw them. They were my father's; and he was jealous of all interference. He was a small yeoman, who had risen in the war time, well to do in the world, but always hankering after the old tradition that the lands were ours. This Hatton got hold of him; he did his work well, I have heard;--certain it is my father spared nothing. It is twenty- five years come Martinmas since he brought his writ of right; and though baffled, he was not beaten. But then he died; his affairs were in great confusion; he had mortgaged his land for his writ, and the war prices were gone. There were debts that could not be paid. I had no capital for a farm. I would not sink to be a labourer on the soil that had once been our own. I had just married; it was needful to make a great exertion. I had heard much of the high wages of this new industry; I left the land."
"And the papers?"
"I never thought of them, or thought of them with disgust, as the cause of my ruin. Then when you came the other day, and showed me in the book that the last abbot of Marney was a Walter Gerard, the old feeling stirred again; and I could not help telling you that my fathers fought at Azincourt, though I was only the overlooker at Mr Trafford's mill."
"A good old name of the good old faith," said the Religious; "and a blessing be on it."
"We have cause to bless it," said Gerard. "I thought it then something to serve a gentleman; and as for my daughter, she, by their goodness, was brought up in holy walls, which have made her what she is."
"Nature made her what she is," said Stephen in a low voice, and speaking not without emotion. Then he continued, in a louder and brisker tone, "But this Hatton--you know nothing of his whereabouts?"
"Never heard of him since. I had indeed about a year after my father's death, cause to enquire after him; but he had quitted Mowbray, and none could give me tidings of him. He had lived I believe on our law-suit, and vanished with our hopes."
After this, there was silence; each was occupied with his thoughts, while the influence of the soft night and starry hour induced to contemplation.
"I hear the murmur of the train," said the Religious.
"'Tis the up-train," said her father. "We have yet a quarter of an hour; we shall be in good time."
So saying, he guided the pony to where some lights indicated the station of the railway, which here crossed the moor. There was just time to return the pony to the person at the station from whom it had been borrowed, and obtain their tickets, when the bell of the down-train sounded, and in a few minutes the Religious and her companions were on their way to Mowbray, whither a course of two hours carried them.
It was two hours to midnight when they arrived at Mowbray station, which was about a quarter of a mile from the town. Labour had long ceased; a beautiful heaven, clear and serene, canopied the city of smoke and toil; in all directions rose the columns of the factories, dark and defined in the purple sky; a glittering star sometimes hovering by the crest of their tall and tapering forms.
The travellers proceeded in the direction of a suburb and approached the very high wall of an extensive garden. The moon rose as they reached it, tipped the trees with light, and revealed a lofty and centre portal, by the side of it a wicket at which Gerard rang. The wicket was quickly opened.
"I fear, holy sister," said the Religious, "that I am even later than I promised."
"Those that come in our lady's name are ever welcome," was the reply.
"Sister Marion," said Gerard to the porteress, "we have been to visit a holy place."
"All places are holy with holy thoughts, my brother."
"Dear father, good night," said the Religious; "the blessings of all the saints be on thee,--and on thee, Stephen, though thou dost not kneel to them."
"Good night, mine own child," said Gerard.
"I could believe in saints when I am with thee," murmured Stephen; "Good night,--SYBIL."
Book 2 Chapter 9
When Gerard and his friend quitted the convent they proceeded at a brisk pace, into the heart of the town. The streets were nearly empty; and with the exception of some occasional burst of brawl or merriment from a beer-shop, all was still. The chief street of Mowbray, called Castle Street after the ruins of the old baronial stronghold in its neighbourhood, was as significant of the present civilization of this community as the haughty keep had been of its ancient dependence. The dimensions of Castle Street were not unworthy of the metropolis: it traversed a great portion of the town, and was proportionately wide; its broad pavements and its blazing gas- lights indicated its modern order and prosperity; while on each side of the street rose huge warehouses, not as beautiful as the palaces of Venice, but in their way not less remarkable; magnificent shops; and here and there, though rarely, some ancient factory built among the fields in the infancy of Mowbray by some mill-owner not sufficiently prophetic of the future, or sufficiently confident in the energy and enterprise of his fellow-citizens, to foresee that the scene of his labours would be the future eye-sore of a flourishing posterity.
Pursuing their course along Castle Street for about a quarter of a mile, Gerard and Stephen turned down a street which intersected it, and so on, through a variety of ways and winding lanes, till they arrived at an open portion of the town, a district where streets and squares and even rows, disappeared, and where the tall chimneys and bulky barrack- looking buildings that rose in all directions, clustering yet isolated, announced that they were in the principal scene of the industry of Mowbray. Crossing this open ground they gained a suburb, but one of a very different description to that in which was situate the convent where they had parted with Sybil. This one was populous, noisy, and lighted. It was Saturday night; the streets were thronged; an infinite population kept swarming to and fro the close courts and pestilential cul-de-sacs that continually communicated with the streets by narrow archways, like the entrance of hives, so low that you were obliged to stoop for admission: while ascending to these same streets, from their dank and dismal dwellings by narrow flights of steps the subterraneous nation of the cellars poured forth to enjoy the coolness of the summer night, and market for the day of rest. The bright and lively shops were crowded; and groups of purchasers were gathered round the stalls, that by the aid of glaring lamps and flaunting lanthorns, displayed their wares.
"Come, come, it's a prime piece," said a jolly looking woman, who was presiding at a stall which, though considerably thinned by previous purchasers, still offered many temptations to many who could not purchase.
"And so it is widow," said a little pale man, wistfully.
"Come, come, it's getting late, and your wife's ill; you're a good soul, we'll say fi'pence a pound, and I'll throw you the scrag end in for love."
"No butcher's meat to-morrow for us, widow," said the man.
"And why not, neighbour? With your wages, you ought to live like a prize-fighter, or the mayor of Mowbray at least."
"Wages!" said the man, "I wish you may get 'em. Those villains, Shuffle and Screw, have sarved me with another bate ticket: and a pretty figure too."
"Oh! the carnal monsters!" exclaimed the widow. "If their day don't come, the bloody-minded knaves!"
"And for small cops, too! Small cops be hanged! Am I the man to send up a bad-bottomed cop, Widow Carey?"
"You sent up for snicks! I have known you man and boy John Hill these twenty summers, and never heard a word against you till you got into Shuffle and Screw's mill. Oh! they are a bad yarn, John."
"They do us all, widow. They pretends to give the same wages as the rest, and works it out in fines. You can't come, and you can't go, but there's a fine; you're never paid wages, but there's a bate ticket. I've heard they keep their whole establishment on factory fines."
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