Sybil/Book 2/Chapter 8

We must now for a while return to the strangers of the Abbey ruins. When the two men had joined the beautiful Religious, whose apparition had so startled Egremont, they all three quitted the Abbey by a way which led them by the back of the cloister garden, and so on by the bank of the river for about a hundred yards, when they turned up the winding glen of a dried-up tributary stream. At the head of the glen, at which they soon arrived, was a beer-shop, screened by some huge elms from the winds that blew over the vast moor, which, except in the direction of Mardale, now extended as far as the eye could reach. Here the companions stopped, the beautiful Religious seated herself on a stone bench beneath the trees, while the elder stranger calling out to the inmate of the house to apprise him of his return, himself proceeded to a neighbouring shed, whence he brought forth a very small rough pony with a rude saddle, but one evidently intended for a female rider.

"It is well," said the taller of the men "that I am not a member of a temperance society like you, Stephen, or it would be difficult to reward this good man for his care of our steed. I will take a cup of the drink of Saxon kings." Then leading up the pony to the Religious, he placed her on its back with gentleness and much natural grace, saying at the same time in a subdued tone, "And you—shall I bring you a glass of nature's wine?"

"I have drank of the spring of the Holy Abbey," said the Religious, "and none other must touch my lips this eve."

"Come, our course must be brisk," said the elder of the men as he gave up his glass to their host and led off the pony, Stephen walking on its other side.

Though the sun had fallen, the twilight was still glowing, and even on this wide expanse the air was still. The vast and undulating surface of the brown and purple moor, varied occasionally by some fantastic rocks, gleamed in the shifting light. Hesperus was the only star that yet was visible, and seemed to move before them and lead them on their journey.

"I hope," said the Religious, turning to the elder stranger, "that if ever we regain our right, my father, and that we ever can save by the interposition of divine will seems to me clearly impossible, that you will never forget how bitter it is to he driven from the soil; and that you will bring back the people to the land."

"I would pursue our right for no other cause," said the father. "After centuries of sorrow and degradation, it should never be said, that we had no sympathy with the sad and the oppressed."

"After centuries of sorrow and degradation," said Stephen, "let it not be said that you acquired your right only to create a baron or a squire."

"Nay, thou shalt have thy way, Stephen," said his companion, smiling, "if ever the good hour come. As many acres as thou choosest for thy new Jerusalem."

"Call it what you will, Walter," replied Stephen; "but if I ever gain the opportunity of fully carrying the principle of association into practice, I will sing 'Nunc me dimittas.'"

"'Nunc me dimittas,'" burst forth the Religious in a voice of thrilling melody, and she pursued for some minutes the divine canticle. Her companions gazed on her with an air of affectionate reverence as she sang; each instant the stars becoming brighter, the wide moor assuming a darker hue.

"Now, tell me, Stephen," said the Religious, turning her head and looking round with a smile, "think you not it would be a fairer lot to bide this night at some kind monastery, than to be hastening now to that least picturesque of all creations, a railway station."

"The railways will do as much for mankind as the monasteries did," said Stephen.

"Had it not been for the railway, we should never have made our visit to Marney Abbey," said the elder of the travellers.

"Nor seen its last abbot's tomb," said the Religious. "When I marked your name upon the stone, my father;—woe is me. but I felt sad indeed, that it was reserved for our blood to surrender to ruthless men that holy trust."

"He never surrendered," said her father. "He was tortured and hanged."

"He is with the communion of saints," said the Religious.

"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."