Sybil/Book 4/Chapter 10

"You can't have that table, sir, it is engaged," said a waiter at the Athenaeum" to a member of the club who seemed unmindful of the type of appropriation which in the shape of an inverted plate, ought to have warned him off the coveted premises.

"It is always engaged," grumbled the member. "Who has taken it?"

"Mr Hatton, sir."

And indeed at this very moment, it being about eight o'clock of the same day on which the meeting detailed in the last chapter had occurred, a very handsome dark brougham with a beautiful horse was stopping in Waterloo Place before the portico of the Athenaeum Club-house, from which equipage immediately emerged the prosperous person of Baptist Hatton.

This club was Hatton's only relaxation. He had never entered society; and now his habits were so formed, the effort would have been a painful one; though with a first-rate reputation in his calling and supposed to be rich, the openings were numerous to a familiar intercourse with those middle-aged nameless gentlemen of easy circumstances who haunt clubs, and dine a great deal at each others' houses and chambers; men who travel regularly a little, and gossip regularly a great deal; who lead a sort of facile, slipshod existence, doing nothing, yet mightily interested in what others do; great critics of little things; profuse in minor luxuries and inclined to the respectable practice of a decorous profligacy; peering through the window of a clubhouse as if they were discovering a planet; and usually much excited about things with which they have no concern, and personages who never heard of them.

All this was not in Hatton's way, who was free from all pretension, and who had acquired, from his severe habits of historical research, a respect only for what was authentic. These nonentities flitted about him, and he shrunk from an existence that seemed to him at once dull and trifling. He had a few literary acquaintances that he had made at the Antiquarian Society, of which he was a distinguished member; a vice-president of that body had introduced him to the Athenaeum. It was the first and only club that Hatton had ever belonged to, and he delighted in it. He liked splendour and the light and bustle of a great establishment. They saved him from that melancholy which after a day of action is the doom of energetic celibacy. A luxurious dinner without trouble, suited him after his exhaustion; sipping his claret, he revolved his plans. Above all, he revelled in the magnificent library, and perhaps was never happier, than when after a stimulating repast he adjourned up stairs, and buried himself in an easy chair with Dugdale or Selden, or an erudite treatise on forfeiture or abeyance.

To-day however Hatton was not in this mood. He came in exhausted and excited; eat rapidly and rather ravenously; despatched a pint of champagne; and then called for a bottle of Lafitte. His table cleared; a devilled biscuit placed before him, a cool bottle and a fresh glass, he indulged in that reverie, which the tumult of his feelings and the physical requirements of existence had hitherto combined to prevent.

"A strange day," he thought, as with an abstracted air he filled his glass, and sipping the wine, leant back in his chair. "The son of Walter Gerard! A chartist delegate! The best blood in England! What would I not be, were it mine.

"Those infernal papers! They made my fortune—and yet, I know not how it is, the deed has cost me many a pang. Yet it seemed innoxious! the old man dead—insolvent; myself starving; his son ignorant of all, to whom too they could be of no use, for it required thousands to work them, and even with thousands they could only be worked by myself. Had I not done it, I should ere this probably have been swept from the surface of the earth, worn out with penury, disease, and heart-ache. And now I am Baptist Hatton with a fortune almost large enough to buy Mowbray itself, and with knowledge that can make the proudest tremble.

"And for what object all this wealth and power? What memory shall I leave? What family shall I found? Not a relative in the world, except a solitary barbarian, from whom when, years ago I visited him as a stranger I recoiled with unutterable loathing.

"Ah! had I a child—a child like the beautiful daughter of Gerard!"

And here mechanically Hatton filled his glass, and quaffed at once a bumper.

"And I have deprived her of a principality! That seraphic being whose lustre even now haunts my vision; the ring of whose silver tone even now lingers in my ear. He must be a fiend who could injure her. I am that fiend. Let me see—let me see!"

And now he seemed wrapt in the very paradise of some creative vision; still he filled the glass, but this time he only sipped it, as if he were afraid to disturb the clustering images around him.

"Let me see—let me see. I could make her a baroness. Gerard is as much Baron Valence as Shrewsbury is a Talbot. Her name is Sybil. Curious how, even when peasants, the good blood keeps the good old family names! The Valences were ever Sybils.

"I could make her a baroness. Yes! and I could give her wherewith to endow her state. I could compensate for the broad lands which should be hers, and which perhaps through me she has forfeited.

"Could I do more? Could I restore her to the rank she would honour, assuage these sharp pangs of conscience, and achieve the secret ambition of my life? What if my son were to be Lord Valence?

"Is it too bold? A chartist delegate—a peasant's daughter. With all that shining beauty that I witnessed, with all the marvellous gifts that their friend Morley so descanted on,— would she shrink from me? I'm not a crook-backed Richard.

"I could proffer much: I feel I could urge it plausibly. She must be very wretched. With such a form, such high imaginings, such thoughts of power and pomp as I could breathe in her,—I think she'd melt. And to one of her own faith, too! To build up a great Catholic house again; of the old blood, and the old names, and the old faith,—by holy Mary it is a glorious vision!"