Rushedge, A Confessional

Everybody said it was high time for Mr. Moore to return home; all Briarfield wondered at his strange absence, and Whinbury and Nunnely brought each its separate contribution of amazement.

Was it known why he stayed away? Yes, it was known twenty—forty times over, there being, at least, forty plausible reasons adduced to account for the unaccountable circumstance. Business it was not—that the gossips agreed; he had achieved the business on which he departed long ago; his four ringleaders he had soon scented out and run down; he had attended their trial, heard their conviction and sentence, and seen them safely shipped prior to transportation.

This was known at Briarfield; the newspapers had reported it; the Stilbro’ Courier had given every particular, with amplifications. None applauded his perseverance or hailed his success, though the mill-owners were glad of it, trusting that the terrors of Law vindicated would henceforward paralyze the sinister valour of disaffection. Disaffection, however, was still heard muttering to himself. He swore ominous oaths over the drugged beer of ale-houses, and drank strange toasts in fiery British gin.

One report affirmed that Moore dared not come to Yorkshire; he knew his life was not worth an hour’s purchase if he did.

‘I’ll tell him that,’ said Mr. Yorke, when his foreman mentioned the rumour; ‘and if that does not bring him home full-gallop, nothing will.’

Either that or some other motive prevailed at last to recall him. He announced to Joe Scott the day he should arrive at Stilbro’, desiring his hackney to be sent to the George for his accommodation: and Joe Scott having informed Mr. Yorke, that gentleman made it in his way to meet him.

It was market-day. Moore arrived in time to take his usual place at the market-dinner. As something of a stranger—and as a man of note and action—the assembled manufacturers received him with a certain distinction. Some, who in public would scarcely have dared to acknowledge his acquaintance, lest a little of the hate and vengeance laid up in store for him should perchance have fallen on them, in private hailed him as in some sort their champion. When the wine had circulated, their respect would have kindled to enthusiasm, had not Moore’s unshaken nonchalance held it in a damp, low, smouldering state.

Mr. Yorke—the permanent president of these dinners —witnessed his young friend’s bearing with exceeding complacency. If one thing could stir his temper or excite his contempt more than another, it was to see a man befooled by flattery or elate with popularity. If one thing smoothed, soothed, and charmed him especially, it was the spectacle of a public character incapable of relishing his publicity—incapable, I say; disdain would but have incensed—it was indifference that appeased his rough spirit.

Robert, leaning back in his chair, quiet and almost surly, while the clothiers and blanket-makers vaunted his prowess and rehearsed his deeds—many of them interspersing their flatteries with coarse invectives against the operative class—was a delectable sight for Mr. Yorke. His heart tingled with the pleasing conviction that these gross eulogiums shamed Moore deeply, and made him half scorn himself and his work. On abuse, on reproach, on calumny, it is easy to smile; but painful, indeed, is the panegyric of those we contemn. Often had Moore gazed with a brilliant countenance over howling crowds from a hostile hustings; he had breasted the storm of unpopularity with gallant bearing and soul elate; but he drooped his head under the half-bred tradesmen’s praise, and shrank, chagrined, before their congratulations.

Yorke could not help asking him how he liked his supporters, and whether he did not think they did honour to his cause. ‘But it is a pity, lad,’ he added, ‘that you did not hang these four samples of the Unwashed. If you had managed that feat, the gentry here would have riven the horses out of the coach, yoked to a score of asses, and drawn you into Stilbro’ like a conquering general.’

Moore soon forsook the wine, broke from the party, and took the road. In less than five minutes Mr. Yorke followed him: they rode out of Stilbro’ together.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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