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- Sybil, or the Two Nations - 70/101 -
"I am unhappy. I am anxious about my father. I fear that he is surrounded by men unworthy of his confidence. These scenes of violence alarm me. Under any circumstances I should shrink from them, but I am impressed with the conviction that they can bring us nothing but disaster and disgrace."
"I honor your father," said Egremont, "I know no man whose character I esteem so truly noble; such a just compound of intelligence and courage, and gentle and generous impulse. I should deeply grieve were he to compromise himself. But you have influence over him, the greatest, as you have over all. Counsel him to return to Mowbray."
"Can I give counsel?" said Sybil, "I who have been wrong in all my judgments? I came up to this city with him, to be his guide, his guardian. What arrogance! What short-sighted pride! I thought the People all felt as I feel; that I had nothing to do but to sustain and animate him; to encourage him when he flagged, to uphold him when he wavered. I thought that moral power must govern the world, and that moral power was embodied in an assembly whose annals will be a series of petty intrigues, or, what is worse, of violent machinations."
"Exert every energy," said Egremont, "that your father should leave London, immediately; to-morrow, to-night if possible. After this business at Birmingham, the government must act. I hear that they will immediately increase the army and the police; and that there is a circular from the Secretary of State to the Lords Lieutenant of counties. But the government will strike at the Convention. The members who remain will be the victims. If your father return to Mowbray and be quiet, he has a chance of not being disturbed."
"An ignoble end of many lofty hopes," said Sybil.
"Let us retain our hopes," said Egremont, "and cherish them."
"I have none," she replied.
"And I am sanguine," said Egremont.
"Ah! because you have made a beautiful speech. But they will listen to you, they will cheer you, but they will never follow you. The dove and the eagle will not mate; the lion and the lamb will not lie down together; and the conquerors will never rescue the conquered."
Egremont shook his head. "You still will cherish these phantoms, dear Sybil! and why? They are not visions of delight. Believe me they are as vain as they are distressing. The mind of England is the mind ever of the rising race. Trust me it is with the People. And not the less so, because this feeling is one of which even in a great degree it is unconscious. Those opinions which you have been educated to dread and mistrust are opinions that are dying away. Predominant opinions are generally the opinions of the generation that is vanishing. Let an accident, which speculation could not foresee, the balanced state at this moment of parliamentary parties cease, and in a few years, more or less, cease it must, and you will witness a development of the new mind of England, which will make up by its rapid progress for its retarded action. I live among these men; I know their inmost souls; I watch their instincts and their impulses; I know the principles which they have imbibed, and I know, however hindered by circumstances for the moment, those principles must bear their fruit. It will be a produce hostile to the oligarchical system. The future principle of English politics will not be a levelling principle; not a principle adverse to privileges, but favourable to their extension. It will seek to ensure equality, not by levelling the Few but by elevating the Many."
Indulging for some little time in the mutual reflections, which the tone of the conversation suggested, Sybil at length rose, and saying that she hoped by this time her father might have returned, bade farewell to Egremont, but he also rising would for a time accompany her. At the gate of the gardens however she paused, and said with a soft sad smile, "Here we must part," and extended to him her hand.
"Heaven will guard over you!" said Egremont, "for you are a celestial charge."
Book 5 Chapter 3
As Sybil approached her home, she recognized her father in the court before their house, accompanied by several men, with whom he seemed on the point of going forth. She was so anxious to speak to Gerard, that she did not hesitate at once to advance. There was a stir as she entered the gate; the men ceased talking, some stood aloof, all welcomed her with silent respect. With one or two Sybil was not entirely unacquainted; at least by name or person. To them, as she passed, she bent her head; and then going up to her father, who was about to welcome her, she said, in a tone of calmness and with a semblance of composure, "If you are going out, dear father, I should like to see you for one moment first."
"A moment, friends," said Gerard, "with your leave;" and he accompanied his daughter into the house. He would have stopped in the hall, but she walked on to their room, and Gerard, though pressed for time, was compelled to follow her. When they had entered their chamber. Sybil closed the door with care, and then, Gerard sitting, or rather leaning carelessly, on the edge of the table, she said, "We are once more together, dear father; we will never again he separated."
Gerard sprang quickly on his legs, his eye kindled, his cheek flushed. "Something has happened to you, Sybil!"
"No," she said, shaking her head mournfully, "not that; but something may happen to you."
"How so, my child?" said her father, relapsing into his customary good-tempered placidity, and speaking in an easy, measured, almost drawling tone that was habitual to him.
"You are in danger," said Sybil, "great and immediate. No matter at this moment how I am persuaded of this I wish no mysteries, but there is no time for details. The government will strike at the Convention; they are resolved. This outbreak at Birmingham has brought affairs to a crisis. They have already arrested the leaders there; they will seize those who remain here in avowed correspondence with them."
"If they arrest all who are in correspondence with the Convention," said Gerard, "they will have enough to do."
"Yes; but you take a leading part," said Sybil; "you are the individual they would select."
"Would you have me hide myself?" said Gerard, "just because something is going on besides talk."
"Besides talk!" exclaimed Sybil. "O! my father, what thoughts are these! It may be that words are vain to save us; but feeble deeds are vainer far than words."
"I do not see that the deeds, though I have nothing to do with them, are so feeble," said Gerard; "their boasted police are beaten, and by the isolated movement of an unorganized mass. What if the outbreak had not been a solitary one? What if the people had been disciplined?"
"What if everything were changed, if everything were contrary to what it is?" said Sybil. "The people are not disciplined; their action will not be, cannot be, coherent and uniform; these are riots in which you are involved, not revolutions; and you will be a victim, and not a sacrifice."
Gerard looked thoughtful, but not anxious: after a momentary pause, he said, "We must not he scared at a few arrests, Sybil. These are hap-hazard pranks of a government that wants to terrify, but is itself frightened. I have not counselled, none of us have counselled, this stir at Birmingham. It is a casualty. We were none of us prepared for it. But great things spring from casualties. I say the police were beaten and the troops alarmed; and I say this was done without organization and in a single spot. I am as much against feeble deeds as you can be, Sybil; and to prove this to you, our conversation at the moment you arrived, was to take care for the future that there shall be none. Neither vain words nor feeble deeds for the future," added Gerard, and he moved to depart.
Sybil approached him with gentleness; she took his hand as if to bid him farewell; she retained it for a moment, and looked at him steadfastly in the face, with a glance at the same time serious and soft. Then throwing her arms round his neck and leaning her cheek upon his breast, she murmured, "Oh! my father, your child is most unhappy."
"Sybil," exclaimed Gerard in a tone of tender reproach, "this is womanish weakness; I love, but must not share it."
"It may be womanish," said Sybil, "but it is wise: for what should make us unhappy if not the sense of impending, yet unknown, danger?"
"And why danger?" said Gerard.
"Why mystery?" said Sybil. "Why are you ever pre-occupied and involved in dark thoughts, my father? It is not the pressure of business, as you will perhaps tell me, that occasions this change in a disposition so frank and even careless. The pressure of affairs is not nearly as great, cannot he nearly as great, as in the early period of your assembling, when the eyes of the whole country were on you, and you were in communication with all parts of it. How often have you told me that there was no degree of business which you found irksome? Now you are all dispersed and scattered: no discussions, no committees, little correspondence--and you yourself are ever brooding and ever in conclave, with persons too who I know, for Stephen has told me so, are the preachers
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