Back o' the Moon, and Other Stories/Back o' the Moon/Chapter 10

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pp. 133–146.

CHAPTER X.

THE HOME-COMING.

Even a parson (the cynical said) could not remain for ever in ignorance of that which was so bruited about that little else was spoken of, and the Wadsworth parson awoke to the knowledge at last. The way in which he showed his distress was by a public preaching.

More of those concerned would have heard him had he preached in a tavern instead of in a church (on which also the cynical had something to say); but among the sprinkling into whose hearts his words sank was Cicely Monjoy, come over for the Sunday to see her father. She heard the earnest and broken sentences in which he addressed himself directly to the women, and his supplication and promise of God's pardon; and he did not hesitate to speak even of the two men in York, now on the eve of another trial for their lives. At that many of the women sobbed, and Pim o' Cuddy's voice seemed to strangle as he read out the hymn. Just before the Benediction the parson prayed especially for Northrop and Haigh; and Cicely, knowing well that after the service he would seek her out, made speed away, a painful heaviness at her heart.

The sermon came at the right time to make a stir in Horwick. The new trial was in everybody's mouth, and (though they did not speak much of this) the disappearance, not of Eastwood Ellah only, but since several days of Jeremy Cope himself, was at the back of everybody's thought. From John Raikes, far away in York, there came not so much as a word to allay their anxiety. It was rumoured that John Emmason had paid another call on Parker of Ford, and that Parker also was away from home and his clerk unable or unwilling to inform Emmason of his whereabouts. As the day appointed for the trial approached, the anxiety increased; and some even waited on the Wadsworth parson, who, as a public man, might have news that others lacked.

Then one morning Eastwood Ellah was seen to issue from the “Fullers' Arms” as if he had never left the house.

Of the replies he gave to their eager questions they could make nothing. The questioners ran in haste for Matthew Moon or James Eastwood. These met with no better success. Ellah could not, or would not, hear. His eyes now rested constantly on the ground, and a lunatic he looked, with the helplessly dangling wrist at his breast. He hugged the wall, and whimpered when they tried to drag him from it; and he entered the inn again, chattering to himself, and locked himself in the landlord's loom-loft. The landlord could only tell them that Ellah had knocked him up at two o'clock in the morning, alone.

Matthew Moon would not now set foot in the “Cross Pipes” for fear of meeting Sally's glance, and on Monjoy's spirits no less a heaviness rested. One evening Monjoy besought his wife to accompany him for a walk, and they passed out of the Town End to a dean in the valley under Wadsworth Shelf. They sat down on the bank of a dried-up stream. Monjoy implored her to leave the inn and to come to their own house up the Fullergate.

At the tone in which she replied he started a little.

“You shall tell me why first; you shall tell me all,” she answered frigidly.

“There's nothing to tell, dear; John Raikes has sent no word,” he replied. He tried to take her hand, but she drew a little away from him.

“Well, I can find out elsewhere; I thought I'd ask you first,” she said, in the same cold tone. “Come, let's get back.”

“Wait a bit, dearie,” he said dejectedly, and at that she turned quickly round on him.

“Oh, I wait too much; it's all waiting with us women. I waited in Wadsworth, before leaving all of a sudden. I'm to wait again now. Your tidings are public enough for a parson to preach about, but I'm not to be trusted, it seems. The only thing I've ever asked you for, too—a ring to wed me right—I must wait for that an' all. Ay, we have need to be patient.”

“I don't want you to wait another day before you come to our own house that you asked for, Cicely.”

“Our own house: but when I asked for that I asked you to turn to your engraving again, and buy me a ring I shouldn't shame to wear, and be honest wi' me as I am wi' you. We spoil you wi' waiting your pleasure, all of us, and I'm glad I came out to-night. I'm glad, because I can tell you this: I'll come, perhaps, by and by. I'll have a real husband or none. Look, there's your ring. If I'm to have a husband o' Sally's sort, very well; me and Sally'll wait together.”

He had turned pale. “You can't mean, Cicely——?”

“Nay, that's all past. I've thought over this. You tell me nothing, but I can guess what you dread for Jim and Sally—I can tell it by your face now. And I'm to leave her! ... Nay, I'd rather leave my husband than have him ta'en from me. I'll lie wi' Sally to-night; you'll be foolish to follow me. Keep your ring—it will melt up into something. I've waited; the little house can wait now.”

She was on her feet. “Cicely!” he cried, but she was gone. He half rose as if to follow her, then he sank back again. The going down of the sun found him still on the bank of the dried-up stream.

The very trade of the town was at a standstill on account of the new trial. It was fixed for the seventh, a Friday, and loungers in the market-place exchanged odd guilty looks and glanced at the grimy cactus-pattern of chimney-flues on the end of the “Cross Pipes”—for with the fixing of the date it had been impossible to keep the news any longer from Sally, and she had broken down and taken to her bed, where Cicely tended her. Another man was sent off to York to see what had become of John Raikes, and a number of Back o' th' Mooiners remained in Horwick to see what might befall. The door of the loom-loft at the “Fullers' Arms,” within which Ellah had shut himself, had been forced, and Ellah had been discovered cowering in a corner and swallowing a guinea; and it was passed about that Ellah had guineas. They had locked him in the loft again and barred the window; but a bright flame had shone out into the Fullergate towards evening, and they had hastily entered again. He had collected a quantity of rubbish under the loom and had tried to set fire to it. They removed all that was loose and combustible. Friday morning broke; it might have been a Sabbath for all the work men offered to do; and they moved silently about the market-place, waiting, scarce entering their houses for their meals. The day wore to evening.

That evening a noble sunset flooded Wadsworth Scout with golden light. Groups of men stood about the small square, walking from the “Gooise” to the church, and returning again. The parson had locked himself in the church, and Pim o' Cuddy had retired to his chamber. They watched the declining sun. As it dipped, the ridges and wrinkles of the Scout started out suddenly into strong relief, dramatic as if a scene had been changed at a playhouse; and suddenly a pigeon was seen to rise over James Eastwood's roof and to wheel and circle as he neared his home. From every throat there issued an eager cry.

“Whose is it?” “'Tis Pim's!” “Ho'd on—shoo'll coit in a minute!” “Where's Pim? Run for Pim!”

Some dashed off for the verger. The bird was wheeling in the golden light over the belfry of the church, the belfry with the new louver-boards. They recognised the bird—it was from John Raikes; and Pim o' Cuddy was haled from his agonies of repentance. He stood peering up at the pigeon.

“Shoo's trying to get into th' owd coit—sitha!—shoo's flinging hersen ageean th' boards—th' other coit, th' other coit, ye——!”

“Is shoo from John?” a voice demanded.

“Ay—ay—it's on her leg, look! Oh, coit, ye——!” “Fotch a gun.”

A man ran off to the “Gooise” for a gun, and presently returned, ramming home a double charge. They clustered about the buttress of the church, and the man stood back to shoot. The parson's prayers were interrupted by the bang of a gun, and the heavy charge of lead rattled against the louver-boards of the belfry. A yell of rage went up; the double weight of shot had blown the bird to morsels, and they scrambled among the falling flesh and feathers for the message. The message, too, had disappeared.

“Up to th' roof, Tommy—see if there's aught there.” A lad was hoisted up by the spout.

“Can ye find owt?”

“Nooa.”

They searched far and wide; they found nothing. A man started off to Horwick at a run, another after him; and the parson, coming out of the church, strove helplessly to quell the rage of cursing. “Had John another o' yours?” somebody demanded of Pim o' Cuddy; and the verger, cringing under the parson's eye, blubbered, “No—Ay, ay—No, no. Oh, go back an' pray for us all, parson!”

They learned in Horwick within an hour that some fool had blown John Raikes's pigeon to bits with a gun, and they ground their teeth. To York, it was thirty-eight miles as the pigeon had flown—nearer fifty than forty by the roads; but “Who has th' best horse?” they cried, and pockets were emptied of silver there and then, and a tall fellow was despatched hell-for-leather. Again the loom-loft where Ellah crouched in the corner was entered, this time by half a dozen Back o' th' Mooiners, with Mish Murgatroyd at their head. They found him apparently in physical agony, and were compelled to leave him. They ran to Cope's house at the top of the croft. His door was barred, but they thrust the pale youth Charley through a window, and he admitted them by the door at the back by the beck. They ransacked the house and found a bundle of letters; they took them into the clogger's shop. Charley could read, and he read them. They were from Parker of Ford, from somebody in London called Chamberlayne, from somebody else called Captain Ritchie, and from other folk of whom they had never heard. But they were all covering-letters, or letters of general compliment, beginning, “Herewith I send you,” or “The enclosed, with Mr. Parker's compliments,” or else, “Captain Ritchie presents his compliments to Mr. Cope.” The correspondence was copious, but they were little the wiser for the perusal of it, and they trooped on to John Emmason's. Emmason's servant told them the magistrate was not at home.

The latest-sent messenger should have been back early in the morning; he did not appear. He had not appeared by midday, and by that time Horwick was crowded with Back o' th' Mooiners. The afternoon passed, and the evening. York might have been the Indies for all the communication there was. Night fell. The Back o' th' Mooiners would have dragged out Eastwood Ellah, but Arthur Monjoy with difficulty prevented it, and there was an uproar in the “Fullers' Arms.” The next day was a Sunday, and the better sort betook themselves to church in the most extraordinary fashion, seeking their Lord (as men do) only in the hour of their need of Him. Perhaps, too, they thought of another service that, for all they knew, was being held thirty-eight miles away as pigeons fly, and of two men in a pew by themselves, and by their sides that which, by the rising of the morrow's sun.... But no! Not that! Why, did not months sometimes elapse between sentence (to admit even so much as that) and the consummation of it? And had not juries ceased to convict for such offences? And why should the trial have been over all in one day? And was there not reprieve?... Not very many from Back o' th' Mooin went to church, but for four days not a hand had been lifted to open up the coal-workings, nor to forward the labour at the furnaces. That night a fourth rider was despatched for York.

He alone of the four returned, and that was not until the Monday midnight. A furious clattering of hoofs in the night was heard down the Fullergate, and every man who heard it sprang from his bed. The sound ceased at the “Fullers' Arms.” In two minutes a crowd thronged the street, and the man fell from the saddle into their arms. Lights were brought, and he was carried into the inn, and there, lying extended on a bench, he gasped it out in broken sentences, the news, or some of it.

It was high flattery that he brought for Back o' th' Mooin. You are of consequence when, at York, thirty-eight miles away, and farther than that, you can make a stir. All York was speaking of their doings. Whether Cope was there in person the messenger was unable of his own knowledge to say. It mattered little, for men even greater than Cope had come to see to the hanging of Jim Northrop and Will Haigh, the event that the Monday morning's sun had shone upon. John Raikes had been seized in the very act of throwing up a pigeon—(Could they get him a drop o' brandy?)—and the other two men had been identified, or, at least, taken up on suspicion, from the pattern of their clogs.—(No, no water in it.)—He himself had barely managed to creep out of York at nightfall, without horse (he had not dared to go back for the horse), and he had walked four miles to a quiet farm and had got a horse from a stable (No, he was no horse stealer; he had left some money on the edge of the manger), and so he had ridden back. Eh, but Back o' th' Mooin did not know its own fame! On its sole account, constables with pikes had lined the streets, and special guards of the soldiers of the garrison had been set, and a dreaded judge and counsel, who rarely appeared out of London, had come, and prolonged the sitting of the court in order to finish ... for all he knew, a special jury had been packed too.... Famous? You had to go to York to learn how famous you were!

And the evidence—was it that of the man in the chamber upstairs, who had swallowed guineas and tried to set the house ablaze?—The messenger did not know for certain; all he knew was that the evidence had been taken on deposition. He knew no more than that; that he had heard spoken of in a tavern where they had all talked about the trial. He had had much ado to get himself away without making too many inquiries.—Ay, maybe they had ta'en it by deposition so as not to put a mooncalf in the box; he hadn't come to try, the judge hadn't—he'd come to hang. Ay, Back o' th' Mooin was as famous as that!—They had spoken in the tavern, too, of a new thing called an Exchequer bond, that a great lord had been made a baron for inventing; and after that, they said, gold itself would hardly be worth tampering with.—What was going to be done next he didn't know, but they'd best look out i' Horwick, Wadsworth, everywhere, for all wasn't over yet.—(Could they get him some vinegar to sponge himself with, for he was one ache and bruise from neck to ankle.)—Oh, yes, they were selling Jim's last speech, too, printed, and a letter Jim had written to his wife an' all. He hadn't bought one.—Ay, it was a shame, that was, the letter not being meant to be printed and sold; to be sure, that was a shame. John Raikes had had time to buy 'em both new suits o' clothes; they hadn't died dunghills, neither of 'em; they'd kicked their shoes off.—If anybody'd rub him wi' the vinegar, and make him a bed middling soft.... He dozed as he talked.

They tolled the church bells of Horwick and Wadsworth the next day.

In the collection of records among which Matthew Moon's accounts—those of the crown-pieces and guineas and Portugals—have been preserved, you may read also of the home-coming of Jim Northrop and Will Haigh. It was two days later, on a Thursday, and no market was held that day. But every man for miles round assembled as never market-day had seen them, and they had put black crape on their arms and hats, and the women sobbed in one another's kitchens. Every blind in Horwick was drawn. The “Cross Pipes” was closed, but Sally knew nothing of what happened, for before the Piece Hall bell had begun to toll she had been given a heavy draught, and it was said that she breathed but thrice in a minute. The day was hot and brilliant; the hills and moors were magnificent under the August sun; and the larks sang as if there was no care or anguish or death in the world.

They were aware of the approach of the procession while it was yet miles away. Men preceded it at a trot, dusty, breathless, eager as if they brought joyful news. One footsore fellow—he had walked from York—carried some of the pamphlets of which the man who had ridden in at midnight had spoken. They were seized by Matthew Moon, who plunged a shaking hand into his breeches-pockets for silver and told off lads to buy up all of that sort that appeared. Folk began to come in in a dense stream, gaping about them, curious to see the place that had become so suddenly famous; but their holiday humour soon passed. You can't be light-hearted in a town of mourning. They asked which was “his” inn, and gazed foolishly at the sooty flue-branchings of the “Pipes.” “Right to his own door!” they said; and some asked where the other had lived, and went away to see the place, where they stood, lugubriously contented. The bell of the Piece Hall continued to toll; the Fullergate became packed; and Arthur Monjoy, who had sought unavailingly to see Cicely, could scarce get to his own house.

A low distant murmur sounded and increased. Northrop and Haigh were coming home at last. All at once the sun glinted on the steel head of a pike, and on another and another. Above the heads of the crowd a chief constable on horseback could be seen, and behind him the driver of a cart. The nodding heads of the horses were hung with black crape. Cope did not accompany his cruel procession. The two coiners were lapped in straw in the cart, tarred for the chains, and their gibbet-timbers rode with them. Every hat, of native or sightseer, was off, and the vendors of pamphlets and liquor and sugar-candy and rope at sixpence an inch were silent. The convoy turned into the market-place, and then all stopped. The chief constable on the horse held a proclamation in his hand, and suddenly his voice sounded over the square. The proclamation set forth the crimes for which these had died, and admonished all men to take heed; and when he had read it, he passed it to another constable, who ascended the Piece Hall steps and affixed it to the pillar that still bore the placard that only a few months before had filled Matthew Moon with apprehension. The constable gave orders for a fresh start to be made, towards a spot half way up Wadsworth Shelf, and the driver of the cart shook up his crape-draped horses.

They fell in behind the cart. All at once a stormy muttering rose and a low confused roar. About the cobbled space where they unloaded the pack-horses there was a sudden movement of men, not after the cart, but towards the “Fullers' Arms.” Mish Murgatroyd's tall figure headed it. James Eastwood saw whither they were bound, and he began to run by back ways and short cuts up the Fullergate to Monjoy's house.