Sybil/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 of violence: violence perhaps that some of them may preach, yet will not practise: both bad; traitors it may be, or, at the best, hare-brained men."

"Stephen is prejudiced," said Gerard. "He is a visionary, indulging in impossible dreams, and if possible, little desirable. He knows nothing of the feeling of the country or the character of his countrymen. Englishmen want none of his joint-stock felicity; they want their rights,—rights consistent with the rights of other classes, but without which the rights of other classes cannot, and ought not, to be secure."

"Stephen is at least your friend, my father; and once you honoured him."

"And do so now; and love him very dearly. I honour him for his great abilities and knowledge. Stephen is a scholar; I have no pretensions that way; but I can feel the pulse of a people, and can comprehend the signs of the times, Sybil. Stephen was all very well talking in our cottage and garden at Mowbray, when we had nothing to do; but now we must act, or others will act for us. Stephen is not a practical man; he is crotchety, Sybil, and that's just it."

"But violence and action," said Sybil, "are they identical, my father?"

"I did not speak of violence."

"No; but you looked it. I know the language of your countenance, even to the quiver of your lip. Action, as you and Stephen once taught me, and I think wisely, was to prove to our rulers by an agitation, orderly and intellectual, that we were sensible of our degradation; and that it was neither Christianlike nor prudent, neither good nor wise, to let us remain so. That you did, and you did it well; the respect of the world, even of those who differed from you in interest or opinion, was not withheld from you; and can be withheld from none who exercise the moral power that springs from great talents and a good cause. You have let this great moral power, this pearl of price," said Sybil with emotion,—"we cannot conceal it from ourselves, my father,—you have let it escape from your hands."

Gerard looked at her as she spoke with an earnestness unusual with him. As she ceased, he cast his eyes down, and seemed for a moment deep in thought; then looking up, he said, "The season for words is past. I must be gone, dear Sybil." And he moved towards the door.

"You shall not leave me," said Sybil, springing forward, and seizing his arm.

"What would you, what would you?" said Gerard, distressed.

"That we should quit this city to-night."

"What, quit my post?"

"Why yours? Have not your colleagues dispersed? Is not your assembly formally adjourned to another town? Is it not known that the great majority of the delegates have returned to their homes? And why not you to yours?"

"I have no home," said Gerard, almost in a voice of harshness. "I came here to do the business that was wanting, and, by the blessing of God, I will do it. I am no changeling, nor can I refine and split straws, like your philosophers and Morleys: but if the people will struggle, I will struggle with them; and die, if need be, in the front. Nor will I be deterred from my purpose by the tears of a girl," and he released himself from the hand of his daughter with abruptness.

Sybil looked up to heaven with streaming eyes, and clasped her hands in unutterable woe. Gerard moved again towards the door, but before he reached it, his step faltered, and he turned again and looked at his daughter with tenderness and anxiety. She remained in the same position, save that her arms that had fallen were crossed before her, and her downward glance seemed fixed in deep abstraction. Her father approached her unnoticed; he took her hand; she started, and looking round with a cold and distressed expression, said, in a smothered tone, "I thought you had gone."

"Not in anger, my sweet child," and Gerard pressed her to his heart.

"But you go," murmured Sybil.

"These men await me," said Gerard. "Our council is of importance. We must take some immediate steps for the aid of our brethren in distress at Birmingham, and to discountenance similar scenes of outbreak as this affair: but the moment this is over, I will come back to you; and for the rest, it shall be as you desire; to-morrow we will return to Mowbray."

Sybil returned her father's embrace with a warmth which expressed her sense of his kindness and her own soothed feelings, but she said nothing; and bidding her now to be of good cheer, Gerard quitted the apartment.