Back o' the Moon, and Other Stories/Back o' the Moon/Chapter 11

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pp. 147–161.

CHAPTER XI.

A HUNDRED POUNDS.

He burst into the room where Monjoy sat gazing spiritlessly at his empty hearth.

“Be quick, without ye want Ellah done for,” he said.

“What's that?” Monjoy asked, turning a haggard face.

“Rouse ye; they're for Ellah now, Mish and a dozen rough 'uns.”

“Where?” said Monjoy, rising.

“I' th' 'Fullers.' Haste ye.”

He threw him his cap and began to bundle him about, and Monjoy roused a little from his profound depression. In the Fullergate they broke into a run, and in three minutes they were at the inn. Half-way up the back stairs they found the landlord huddled against the handrail, white-faced, fear-ridden, and listening. They sprang past him, and reached the door of the loom-loft; a low hum of voices sounded inside it. It was locked, and Monjoy struck the heavy door with his fist. “Open!” he cried; and the sound of voices ceased.

“Who is it?” somebody called.

“I—Monjoy. Open the door.”

The bolt was shot back, and the two men entered.

The heavy loom-frame filled the greater part of the room, and about it stood a dozen—a score—it was not easy to tell how many men. Immediately Murgatroyd cried in a high voice, “Ye've come, but ye'll mind that that were sattled at th' Slack!” In his hand he held a clasp-knife.

Swiftly Monjoy's eyes sought Ellah. He lay, a motionless heap, in one corner. He was dressed in his shirt only, and he was blackened from head to foot. Monjoy strode past the loom-seat and turned Ellah's face up; it was of the colour of a bruised and rotten plum, and Monjoy drew in a long sibilant breath between his teeth.

“Whose work's this?” he roared.

Murgatroyd had given a quick glance about him; a nod or two backed him up, and he stood before Monjoy.

“Keep ye to your business, Arthur,” he said, truculently. “All were sattled. Ye needn't look at th' knife—nobody's been cutten yet; 'tis us tak's ho'd now. We foun' him all black like that; we've naughbut gotten out o' him how mich he got for th' job, and it were a hunderd pound. Now we've a bit o' business.... Where were we, lads?”

“Me an' Leventoes, an' Dick o' Dean, five; that's fifteen,” a voice said.

“Fifty-five, then, and Pim 'll mak' it sixty.”

On one of the uprights of the loom Mish was cutting a tally of notches; he cut another notch. “Charley an' Belch, how mich?” he demanded; and the low hum continued.

Monjoy had turned to Ellah again. A man standing by him remarked over his shoulder, “He'd been trying to climb up th' chimley when we come; he's all for smout-holes now,” and turned again to the business in hand.

“Take him on the other side, James,” Monjoy muttered; “he's horrible to see this way.” They began with their handkerchiefs to wipe the soot from Ellah's face.

However he had come by it, there was little doubt of Ellah's madness now. He shuddered convulsively under their hands, and fell back in fear into his corner. The corner was foul where he had lain for days. Cope had known better than to put this figure into the box; and Monjoy groaned. “I didn't think to bring him to this when I cast him down,” he said with a shudder.

The ominous low conference continued. They pressed about the loom, and by and by Murgatroyd said briefly, “Seventy-three. How much you, Hell Harry?”

“A month's weyvin'; I ha' nowt else.”

Mish made a scratch by the side of his tally, and all at once Monjoy stepped towards him.

“What is this?” he demanded. “D'ye hear? What is it?”

“A hunderd pounds,” said a sullen voice from the other side of the loom. “He's paid it, he's ha' it back”; and “Ay, ay,” came the consenting murmur.

“Who shall? ... Damnation, Murgatroyd, but you shall not play with me!”

Mish's brow was drawn into a “V” between his calf-licks; he turned a menacing face over his shoulder.

“Will ye stick to your own business?” he said savagely—“wi'out ye want to come in wi' us——?”

“How do you know he had a hundred pounds? The man's mad!”

“He come down th' chimley jabbering it right eniff. Look here; if ye want to know, we fotched him down th' same as they fotch th' sweeper-lads down. If ye don't know how that is, ye can look at th' grate.”

Monjoy glanced at the grate; it was a litter of white straw-ashes.

“Ay, did you?” said Monjoy grimly. Murgatroyd was turning to his tally again; he set his hand on his shoulder and spun him round as if he had been a skittle. Mish drew back the hand that held the knife.

“Ye've been warned——

“We'll talk about warnings in a minute. Listen, you, and every man here. If a finger's laid on that man in the corner it shall be the beginning of a nasty business. That's my promise.”

Murgatroyd had greenish hazel eyes; they were on Monjoy's like those of a cat. Suddenly he made an exclamation of contempt.

“On him?” he sneered.—“Nobody wants to touch him. But if ye'll speak up now to how mich your share is ye shall ha' your chance at Cope when th' lots is drawn.”

Monjoy took a step back. After a moment he said unsteadily, “So you're buying blood, are you?”

“Not right what ye might call 'buying'; anybody's won't do. Come in or stay out; it's all one to us.... Will ye say two for your cousin, Dick o' Dean?”

James Eastwood cried out suddenly from the corner where Ellah crouched.

“Ye're all wrong; he can't ha' had it!” he cried. “Listen to what Emmason telled me! Rewards is paid on a sheriff's certificate, and not of a month after conviction. It isn't a month yet—d'ye hear?—it isn't a month....”

His voice ceased as suddenly as it had begun; he seemed to realise that Cope was not sticking at irregularities; and none took the trouble to answer him.

Monjoy had fallen back quite to the wall. He steadied himself against it with one hand, and when he moved the hand it left its shape in moisture on the plaster. Now and then one of the group glanced at him, but they were intent on their own affair, and presently Mish said, “Well, let t'other stand ower, then.” He began to whisper, and Monjoy closed his eyes and continued to leave the moist prints on the plaster wall. Dazed, he strove to think.

One thing only was clear to him: he would have nothing to do with the revolting business that was being whispered about him; and again he drew in his breath between his teeth. Cope had not returned—might not return; should he return ... and, moreover, his blood would be shed with Monjoy's knowledge. The sweat trickled in streams from his hands; his eyes opened and rested with dread on Murgatroyd and on those who in this also were ready to follow any lead that was given them. Murgatroyd had taken a bunch of string from his pocket and was cutting it into lengths against the loom-timber—a long one—a short one—no, another long one. Monjoy watched, stupid and fascinated. Murgatroyd set the ends neatly together and bound them loosely about with another string; and suddenly Monjoy cried out aloud:

“Stop—stop—you shall not do it——

Every head turned, and Murgatroyd advanced with the bundle of strings.

“Weant we?” he said, the “V” of his brow deepening.

“Play and lose, and stand your stake; but no, no, that's murder!” Monjoy cried. “I'll not have it, I say! I, Arthur Monjoy—Harry—Charley—I tell you, d'you hear? He shall be warned; I'll warn him——

And, knowing in his heart all the time that he had now less authority than the least of them, he continued to command, to swear, to threaten impotently.

A menacing growl rose.

“He's turning ageean us, is he?”—“Mun we raise another hunderd?”—“Mak' him draw too an' stand his lot!”

They pressed upon him, and a man raised his hand. Mish's villainous face was within an inch or two of his own; and with that Monjoy became himself again. His red head rising above them all, he took a stride into their midst and with a sweep of his arm put the foremost back. He set his fists to his hips and leaned slightly forward, and his eyes moved from one man to another, dwelling here and there, as if he sought to remember their faces. His voice now came steadily.

“Very well, my lads,” he cried. “Get on with your drawing. Draw for your murder—for your torture at the Slack for all I know—I know the wolves you are. Eastwood and I are taking Ellah away, chance you change your fickle minds and wreak something on him, too; but we'll see you draw first. I want to see who the lucky wolves are so that I can watch them.—Into the cap with the strings, Mish my lad; you've a wolf's chough yourself for blood. About it. Remember, you're without me and Eastwood and Moon and Raikes, and the best of us. We stick at shooting and cutting and filling men's breeches with red-hot coals. Up with the strings, Mish; only mark you, the next information that's given will be by a man who's coming round to his senses, not taking leave of 'em. Draw, wolves!”

There was a howl, but Mish's voice sounded above it.

“Damn him, draw! We've telled him, haven't we? What are they doing to Jim Northrop and Will Haigh now?—Gi'e me th' cap!”

A sinister scene followed. The short strings of the bundle were to be the fatal draws, and Mish held them in the cap with the even ends showing above his thumb. “Stay!” he cried, “I claim first draw!”

He took the end of a string in his fingers and pulled it out. There was a sudden intaking of breath and a silence; Mish had drawn a short string the first time. “That's nooan so bad,” said Mish, thrusting the string into his pocket. One wolf.

Another man drew, and another, and a fourth. Hands faltered and shook, and while some watched fascinated, others turned their faces away as they drew, looking at the string only when sounds and indications about them assured them that they had missed. At the tenth draw there was a short checked cry; Dick o' Dean had drawn a string no longer than the width of the palm in which it lay. Two chances were accounted for; and men now pressed forward and drew more freely, and Mish paused to arrange the disordered ends. Monjoy watched without moving a muscle, and presently the pale youth called Charley backed whimpering away from his turn. There were but half a dozen strings left, and one wolf had not yet met his luck.

“Clog him up!” cried Mish, savagely; and the youth was thrust forward.

He shook his fingers free of the string he had drawn with a cry of terror, and Mish tossed the remaining strings aside and set the cap on his head. The lot was complete—Charley, Dick o' Dean, and Murgatroyd himself.

“Humph!” said Monjoy; “very prettily done. Now, James, fetch a blanket and we'll get Ellah away.”

Charley, on his knees, was uttering agonized cries; he had drawn wrong—had drawn wrong. Somebody lifted him to his feet and supported him. James Eastwood had unbarred the door and disappeared; he returned with a blanket, in which they wrapped Ellah. Another man had brought a draught of brandy for Charley, and Monjoy took up Ellah in his arms and moved towards the door.

“To the 'Pipes,' now, James,” he said; “I may take him home with me later. Stand on one side, wolves——

They allowed him to pass, and at the door he turned. “Don't forget, Mish,” he said.

“'Tis ye had best remember,” Mish replied.

*****

The white cotton blinds of Sally Northrop's bedroom were drawn against the sun, but the windows were open outside them. From time to time they moved gently in the light breeze, and the shadows of the house-martens flitted across them. The chamber was softly aglow with light, and it smelt of some preparation of lemon that Dooina Benn had supplied Cicely with for the sprinkling of it. Cicely's face was composed and grave, and the third finger of the hand with which every few minutes she felt Sally's low pulse was ringless.

So slowly did the coverlet rise to Sally's breathing that its movement was hardly noticeable. At long intervals there came a light purring sound from her lips. The little wicker cradle on the floor was trimmed with gaudy ribbons and muslin, and its patchwork quilt was of Sally's own making.

Round the front of the house there came the sound of steps. They passed up the alley, and there came a knock at the kitchen door. Cicely descended and called softly, “Who's there?”

“Arthur and your father. You must open the door, Cicely.”

She drew back the bar. Arthur carried Ellah in his arms in the blanket. “It's your cousin,” he said; “make a place for him in the niche.”

She drew back the curtain on the string, and Monjoy placed Ellah in the niche, bidding Eastwood watch. “I'll come upstairs with you, Cicely,” he said, and she led the way to Sally's chamber.

“How is she?” he asked, bending over the deeply sleeping woman.

“Very low.”

“Has she known anything?”

“She hasn't stirred more than you see her now since morning; she's to be kept so. What's wrong with Eastwood?—No, no, don't tell me any more o' that business. I want no word o' that ——” She added the last words hastily, and her hands made a movement as if to hold some physical thing away from her.

“I'll take him away if it's too much for you; but there's nothing to fear from him now,” Monjoy murmured, not looking at her; “and—Cicely—for the other business, I've something you must—must—hear——

“No, no!” she muttered, repeating her gesture and catching at her upper lip with her teeth. “I can't—I can't—oh, it's cruel to force it on me now! Haven't I care enough?” Her breathing was interrupted, her mouth drawn, and her bosom heaved.

“Over much, lass; but you must hear me——

Then, seeming still to struggle and to hold something away from her, she began to talk low and rapidly.

“Leave me quiet, to see it through. To-morrow—to-night, for all I know—the blinds may ha' to be drawn and the seeming-glasses covered—you men know nothing o' this—this is our part—the waiting—always waiting—. Yonder's one who's waited, and look at her!”

“Oh, hush, hush, Cicely!” But she continued more quickly.

“Oh, ye don't know! Heavens o' happiness, ye tell us, isn't too much for us, and see the hell o' misery that comes instead! All the things you're going to do for us, you in your pride ... but the little that will fit us, all we ask o' ye, no, no! ... Ay, ye're away forgetting, busy and forgetting all the time; if this turn misses o' happiness, the next'll do it; and what is it that we ask in our hearts? A bite and sup, a hearth and a babe and a kiss. I wed ye unthinking, Arthur—ay, ye know I did—but I ha' thought since—the time women do think, God help 'em! You never dazzled me wi' your talk o' riches, never; but the little a woman asks is too much for a man to give, it seems. I wonder what you'd ha' thought if you'd heard Sally before she took the draught! ... Courting again, she was, with Jim, o' spring evenings down the deans (forgive me, lass!), and him with her hair about his neck and suchlike, and sometimes her reckoning to be the man and toying wi' him and kissing him here and there, as lads kiss lasses, and all their tricks and babble.... Ay!” she cried, excitedly, “you've brought it all back to me now, all that I've held away for days that I might nurse and watch and tend the bairn and be a bit o' use!... And when they were wed, what more did she ask than just that? Would a golden crown ha' suited her better? Nay, nay! It's less we get after we're wed. Happen men'll know more of it i' th' next world, for they know little enough i' this.—But go your way, Arthur; I've told ye mine.”

He had not once lifted his head; he did not do so now.

“I'm making my way yours, if you'll go it with me,” he said in a low voice.

“Ay, I don't doubt this has shaken you all up a bit, but men soon get over it,” she replied.

“Well, you've a right to say what you will, and I'll not tell you what's shaken me; but, Cicely, little or much, I'm here to offer you all you ask.”

“Then all I ask, Arthur, is that you leave me. What use am I in this house if I begin to think? You've brought me another of 'em, too; then keep away from me, lest I break down. I'll do the best I can.”

Sad and broken-spirited, he gazed down at the cradle.

“Yes, I'll go,” he said. “But I'd hoped you'd see in me a man you haven't known yet, humbled, ay, and even his body in danger. I'm no king of Back o' th' Mooin now; when I've done what I'm going to do both sides will hunt me. I'd hoped, too, we might help one another, you and I.”

She began to tremble. “What is it, Arthur?” she asked quickly.

“Don't ask me, except that this is my finish with it. I'll tell you what it is I offer you now. All's closing in, and they won't stop at this; and I offer you danger for a portion, and not so much as a roof to your head it may be, and it may be, Cicely, just the same lot as hers stretched on the bed yonder. But a new man goes with it, Cis——

“Arthur!” she cried, sharply, as if transfixed with a sudden pain; and for the first time since he had entered he looked up at her face. Her eyes were bright with a starting of tears, and her lips were parted and drawn downwards. He did not raise his hands, but in a moment her head was on his breast.

There was a murmuring in the market-place; the crowd was returning.

She was sobbing and speaking against the cloth of his coat, and his head was bowed to catch her words.

“Oh, all the time I've longed for it—all my life—but I didn't think to get it like this!” she was murmuring brokenly. “Oh, among harsh and grudging folk I ha' thought o' gentle and bonnie things, and soft and that! And I'd thought never to know 'em now, after I'd said 'Yes' to you, Arthur. And you've right done wi' it, love?”

“Ay, sweetheart, come what may.”

“Oh, ay—ay—then whatever it costs, even that o' yon bed, I'll hug it and think mysel' happy! ... And you'll come really courting me now, dear—not like the last?”

“Kiss me, Cissie....”

Their lips met. Thrice they kissed; and then she murmured, “And now that I have you I must send you away! Oh, I have so much to do! But you'll come in the morning, love?”

“Yes, yes,” he promised her, with a brave smile.

But as it happened, he was not to come in the morning, for that afternoon all Horwick was thrown into a new commotion. All the afternoon the square had remained thronged, and at five o'clock more men began to run in, as they had done earlier in the day. At half-past five, a chaise, driven at the head of a company of soldiers, passed down the Fullergate, and in the chaise sat Jeremy Cope, his spectacles off, nodding and blinking, with one short leg curled up beneath him.