Back o' the Moon, and Other Stories/Back o' the Moon/Chapter 12

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pp. 162–178.

CHAPTER XII.

THE CLOTH MERCHANT.

Every man who had anything to conceal—a file, a suspicious-looking pair of shears, a paper or snuffbox of clippings—made haste to conceal it; and for that which was already hidden they sought safer and yet safer places. There was a deal of the dangerous stuff about. During the building of the furnaces, filings and such small matters had been disdained, and for weeks had accumulated uncollected. They began now to rummage chimneys, dusty rafters, the upper back-shelves of cupboards, and to hide it again in their gun-cartridges, in hollows they burned in the galley-baulks of their looms (tallowing all over again), in holes in yards and gardens, in the linings of their jackets and caps. The work began within an hour of Cope's return; it lasted throughout the night. Even neighbours were scarce to be trusted, for no man knew but in his own extremity another might turn against him. And as they ran here and there, hiding and rehiding, they planned itineraries of escape in the last resort.

Before the next day was two hours old they had reason to congratulate themselves on their celerity; for before Monjoy's house in the Fullergate there stood an empty chaise and a score of redcoats with muskets. Monjoy's door stood open.

He had not slept there, however, and presently there issued from the door Cope—the same waddling, blinking, imbecile Cope—and an officer. Except for his burins, his sandbag and engraver's globe of water, they had found nothing indicative of Monjoy's trade, and a soldier stepped forward and set a seal on the lock of the door. Cope hoisted himself into the chaise, the officer gave orders, and the party swung off down the Fullergate. It was half-past five in the morning. They halted opposite Matthew Moon's warehouse, and Cope lowered himself from the chaise again.

They would have forced the door, but it was of unexpected strength, and Moon lived within a stone's throw. A hasty consultation was held; the officer rode on to demand the key in the King's name; and in a quarter of an hour he had returned with Matthew Moon himself, clad in his shirt and breeches.

“Good-morning, Mr. Moon, good-morning,” giggled Cope. “I fear I have disturbed your rest.—Come, lose no time.”

Then Matthew Moon began an extraordinarily loud altercation. He would see Mr. Cope's warrant. If Mr. Cope had no warrant he should answer this. Let him see the warrant. Cope produced it. It was signed by Parker, and Moon stormed. A search-warrant on Horwick premises signed by a Ford magistrate! Was that legal? Was that in due form?

“Ask your friend Emmason,” Cope returned, and the merchant continued his clamour. A very clever man might have supposed he was making a disturbance for the purpose of warning somebody inside the warehouse, and Cope was a clever man. He chuckled, and the merchant grew violent.

“I've warned ye, ye clammy, filthy hell-toad!” he vociferated; and Cope turned away. Already the officer was flinging back the bar of the door. They entered, a couple of soldiers following them.

The ground floor of the warehouse was little more than an office, with pieces of grey cloth ranged methodically on racks all round it, and a long counter running down the middle. The ledgers were in a locked cupboard, and for the present Cope contented himself with setting a seal on the lock. There was no cellar, no fireplace, or chimney; the floor was of stone flags, and the ceiling of beams and boards without underdrawing. Moon obstructed the men at every turn, swearing outrageously, and Cope's thick-lidded eyes never for a fraction of an instant left his face. “You make a deal of noise, Mr. Moon,” he remarked ironically. “The next floor, gentlemen, I think.”

The first floor was cumbered with bales and wicker skeps, and had double crane doors, through the chink of the back pair of which a vertical glimpse of trees and daylight showed. “It will be necessary to disturb your stock,” Cope observed, still watching the merchant unwinkingly, and the two soldiers began to move the heavy bales from the walls, examining every foot for a possible communication with the adjoining warehouse. They found none. The whole building was no more than a shell, and Moon could not have moved a muscle of his face without Cope observing it. Then all at once Cope took the taper and wax and seal from the soldier and began himself to seal the padlocks of the crane doors. He bent over a padlock, and Moon continued to rail behind him.

Then happened a very quick piece of work. Like a flash Cope turned from his sealing, to surprise any change in Moon's expression. How the merchant had known that he would turn at that moment he could hardly have told, save that not until then had the supervisor ceased to watch him. And though Moon's brow was moist and beaded with sweat, his lips were twitched into something like a smile. Cope's hand shook on the seal, but the merchant thought he knew now where they were. He kicked one of the bales.

“There's almost room for a man in one of these,” he said mockingly.

“Upstairs,” ordered Cope curtly, and they passed up the dark, dusty staircase to the garret.

In the garret where Monjoy had worked, the heavy two-legged table lay a-tilt just within the door, and his hearth, the grimy bricks of which lay scattered over the floor, had been newly dismantled. Save for one empty box, all else—tests, crucibles, bellows, Monjoy himself—had gone. Overhead the structure of the rafters showed, and only single boards divided the garret from the chamber beneath. Cope stood for a minute blinking at the lately-disturbed bricks of the little refining-furnace; then he looked rather sheepishly at Matthew Moon.

“My compliments, Mr. Moon,” he said, with evident chagrin. “That was very creditably well done. Long ago I had some opinion of your ability. Now, I do not see—no, I do not see—how this could have been improved. Hn! hn! In the street I didn't doubt of finding here what I wanted. I began to doubt a little down below ... yes, I make you my compliments on having gained perhaps half an hour. Nay,” he seemed suddenly not altogether to disrelish his own discomfiture, “'twas excellent, and you find favour for it. Ah, well! Seal these doors also, men, and downstairs again quickly.”

The two sets of crane doors were quickly sealed, and they passed down the narrow staircase again. Before they had reached the basement Monjoy was in the garret.

Even for that perilous hiding-place he had had to scramble. The double doors that gave on the crofts and gardens at the back swung inwards, filling the dingy garret with a flood of morning light. The bar parted, not in the middle, which was sealed, but at one end, and beyond the doors was only the thickness of the wall, the sheer drop, and the sky and the mounting larks. On the sill, where he had stood, lay the apparatus, and the garret became dark again as Monjoy softly closed the doors behind him. He stretched himself along the floor, rather pale, for to any eyes that might have chanced to view the back of the building he had been about as publicly concealed as the Queen Anne in the niche of the Piece Hall. He lay there thinking till close on midday.

Long before midday, however, Matthew Moon's own house had been searched from cellar to garret; but the famous books of the Association were not found there. (Indeed, when they did at last come to light it was very far from Horwick town.) Cope was losing no time. By one o'clock John Raikes's house had been gone through—John Raikes, who had handled most of the silver; but somebody had found time to do goîtred John a neighbourly service during the night, and nothing was discovered. Horwick was in a ferment, that rose during the afternoon to a panic, for a quiet, obscure member of the Association was visited. Who would have supposed Cope had ever heard of that man? It did not occur to them that Cope visited, also, the houses of two men who had notoriously held aloof; no, Cope knew more than they knew themselves. Then the searching slackened a little. A soldier mounted guard at the door of Matthew Moon's warehouse, and another marched a beat opposite the door of his house. Cope's own house was guarded back and front, and soldiers smoked their pipes in the shop of Cole the clogger. The rest built a fire in the market-place between the pieceboards, stacked their arms like an encampment, and made themselves comfortable for the August night.

James Eastwood, making haste to his own house at Wadsworth, was the first to carry the news there. Thence it spread to Back o' th' Mooin. There it seemed to serve as a signal for a succession of drinking bouts, in which Booth and Brotherton men vied with their fellows of Holdsworth and Fluett in demonstrations of brutality, so that the quiet and decent folk kept their houses even from their friends. Murgatroyd paraded his formidable dog without muzzle. Dick o' Dean was back and forth every day as far as the Shelf, where the two men hung in chains, and the youth Charley had not been a minute sober since the draught of brandy that had been given him after the drawing of the fatal string. Pim o' Cuddy, in Wadsworth, stuck to the parson's heels as if his very cloth were a protection, and he blubbered in his sleep (they said) that he had been led away—led away——.

Whether by Cope's favour or not, Matthew Moon was suffered to go about unmolested; but he was watched at every turn, knew it, and even when alone no more betrayed himself than he had done when Cope had wheeled so swiftly round from the sealing of the crane door. Crossing the market-place, he noticed two or three strangers in plain clothes among the soldiers, and these seemed to hang constantly about the door of the “Cross Pipes.” At first he felt a wrathful mounting of his blood. Had Cope not finished with that house yet? Then suddenly his brows contracted; he thought he saw the reason; and he began to plot again.

A butcher's lad, an impudent, whistling young rascal, called at his house for orders for meat. Matthew gave the lad a letter, with precise instructions, for Dooina Benn, to be given to her at her own home. Dooina was now taking turns with Cicely to watch Sally, who had been given another draught.

“You're sure you understand, Teddy?” said the merchant anxiously, and the lad gave him an intelligent look and a grimace.

“Ye don't want it ta'en straight to the 'Pipes,' ye mean?” he said, and the merchant nodded and gave him sixpence.

The lad delivered the message to Dooina (with whom Cole the clogger had taken up his quarters), and so it came to Cicely Monjoy, who read it and thrust it immediately into the kitchen fire. It informed her that for the present Arthur was safe, and that if all should seem quiet about two o'clock in the morning she was to take a basket of provisions to Webster's stackyard, a mile out of Horwick, near the dean in which she had returned Arthur his ring. She was to do this on successive nights, and should she not see Arthur, she was to do it none the less. The crafty merchant contrived, also, to communicate with Webster, who owned the stackyard. Except for himself, Matthew Moon, cloth merchant, there was none to set a spoke in Cope's wheel, and he took to ways a little more devious than his ordinary with readiness. “He'll watch his wife, will he?” he muttered. “Well, wives won't tell what they don't know.”

In the meantime Arthur Monjoy sat on the empty box in the garret up the Fullergate. Except for a crust that he had slipped into his pocket in preparing for his busy night, he had not eaten since the previous midday, and it was now evening—Friday evening. Matthew, however, would see to that, if Matthew still had his liberty; and, in anticipation, Monjoy had occupied himself during the day by shredding to pieces an old end of crane-rope and knotting the fibres together. Towards eight o'clock (as he knew from the chiming of the Piece Hall clock) he opened his crane doors an inch or two, and paid out his length of string till it touched earth; then he fastened the other end of it to the empty box and tightened his belt.

He was oddly cheerful. One immediate care only was on his mind—the warning of Cope. Whether or not it was a duty to Cope, it was now one to Cicely, and he cogitated long without result. Some way would, however, present itself.

Between eight and nine he felt a gentle tug at his string. He started up, and then, suddenly irresolute, stood with one hand on the bar of the double door and the other pulling at his whiskers. He listened intently; somebody below gave a little dental whistle—“Hey, Johnny Cope, are ye waukin' yet.” That tune might be from either friend or foe, for Cope was malignant enough to use the air that had been his own mocking. Monjoy put his hand into his pocket for a coin and stooped to the ray of light that came through the crack of the doors.

It was shield—'answer.' He knelt, set his hand to the bar, and opened the doors. It was clear sunset. He opened the doors wide and put his head and shoulders out. Looking down, at first he could not see anybody; then, all but hidden in the docks and grass and nettles at the foot of the wall, heedless of stings, taking cover for sheer delight in the fun, he saw Teddy.

“Sss, Teddy!” he called softly; the boy was fastening a bundle to the string. “Can you hear?—Not that tune!——

Teddy comprehended, and gave the sharp cry of the pewit, that comes naturally to the throat of a lad, and is scarce to be imitated by a man.

“Yes, that'll do. Quick!”

“Throw them things down; they show,” the boy called up; and Monjoy dropped the phials and pestles and mortars one by one from the sill.

“Right?” he said, and Teddy nodded. Monjoy drew the bundle up quickly and closed the doors again.

He read Matthew Moon's letter at the chink, half a line at a time. It was brief. Eastwood was in Wadsworth. Nothing had come of the searching yet. They had been through such-and-such houses, and so forth. It said nothing of the errand on which he was sending Cicely. Arthur was to remain where he was and not to use the rope he sent yet (it was an inch-rope, and very long). They seemed to be giving him, Matthew, his liberty, that he might have a chance to commit himself; that was all right, and Teddy was a good lad. Monjoy ate his supper in darkness, stretched himself on the floor, and soon slept soundly. Early the following morning, Saturday, he heard noises downstairs in the warehouse and glided noiselessly to his doors again. They had come for the books of Matthew Moon's business, but they departed quickly.

Monjoy had had vague ideas of warning Cope in person—harebrained notions of disguise, of getting to the house adjoining Cope's, passing from dormer to dormer under cover of the pear-tree, of visiting Cope in his bed. Presently he abandoned them. Moon must carry the message. He split a board from his empty box, and from the bricks of the broken hearth he scraped with his knife a quantity of soot. He mixed this with spittle, and then, making a pen of a splinter of wood wrapped round with his handkerchief, he rubbed into the dingy board a letter. It was neatly enough done considering the materials; he was an engraver; and he smiled as he worked, for this at least was as honest as Cicely could desire. He blew Cicely a kiss from his prison, and then he split his board from end to end that it might be carried doubled with the message inside. About eight o'clock he heard Teddy's call.

“Mr. Moon, Teddy,” he said, throwing down the pieces when he had drawn up his bundle.—“I say, Teddy, pewits don't nest in nettles, you know.”

“Keep low, Arthur—we'll get you away,” quoth Teddy, with huge importance. “Cope's been to Wadsworth to-day.”

“Ay? You're a great man, Teddy. Off with you!” Monjoy answered; and a quarter of an hour later Teddy was marching through the soldiery in the market-place with his flat boards shouldered like a gun. The soldiers laughed, and one of them flung a bone from the pot at him.

At warning Cope, however, Matthew Moon demurred; he would have nothing to do with it, and informed Monjoy so on the Sunday. Himself (he said), he would be well pleased to see Cope stuck like a pig so he were not required to do it himself: hell would be the richer by a devil as cruel as any it held. Sign it, too! Was Monjoy mad? ... Teddy had brought ink and paper this time, and Monjoy wrote back: Very well, then he would see to it himself, and that very night. Cope was getting near the wolves' country at Wadsworth. Once out of the garret, there would be no getting back; therefore Matthew need not trouble himself to send further provisions.—Teddy bore off this answer, but the pewit's call came again soon after the Piece Hall clock had struck eleven. Matthew Moon cursed him for a fool, but yielded. “But I'll not give him your name,” he wrote, “unless you want to lug me in too. He's able to arrest me any minute, and I want to have you out of the way first. No names, except those of the three men.”

“All right, Teddy,” said Monjoy.

And Cicely carried food by night to the stackyard, wasting her cunning had she but known it. It was only a question of time before she was followed, and (to come to that at once) it happened on that very Sunday evening. Reaching the stackyard, she found herself forestalled, and she lay low with her basket under a wall, listening in an agony of fear to the voices of three strangers, who talked in an outhouse. She heard her husband's name spoken. They were questioning Webster, the owner of the stackyard; and it was much that she did not throw herself at their feet and implore mercy for him there and then. Matthew had judged wisely to keep her in ignorance. The voices ceased; she heard steps; she thrust her basket into the roadside weeds and fled. Dooina Benn had to watch Sally that night, and by morning a further calamity had happened. This was the disappearance from the niche in the kitchen of Eastwood Ellah. He had scarcely stirred since he had been put there, and, maybe, they had grown a little careless in watching him; anyway, he was gone. Neighbours were sent to search for him. Cicely was calmer, but very pale, and she started at sudden sounds.

At nine o'clock on the Monday morning the soldiers in the clogger's shop saw Matthew Moon walk up the croft. They stretched their necks for a sight of the man who had publicly abused Jeremy Cope—Cope of Bow Street, the most ruthless manhunter in the land (you had to leave Horwick to learn of what consequence the Horwick folk were). Moon demanded of the sentry at the door whether Mr. Cope was up, and at a sign from the sentry one of the soldiers went inside to announce the visitor.

Cope, in a grey dressing-gown, was drinking chocolate at a desk and opening letters. He rubbed his hands as if with pleasure at seeing the merchant.

“You honour me, Mr. Moon—honour me, honour me—hn!—(leave us, you). Be seated, Mr. Moon, be seated.”

“I'll stand,” said the merchant; “my business won't take so long.”

“Nay, sit, and let me ring for a cup of chocolate. I failed—hn!—I fear I failed a little the other morning in my expression of esteem for you. To tell you the truth, Mr. Moon, I was for the moment a little chagrined. Let me make amends now—hn! hn! hn!”

“I think you know my handwriting,” said the merchant abruptly. “I've something here might advantage ye to read, and when ye've read it I'd be obliged if ye'd gi'e me an attestation ye've seen it. It might come in useful for me if aught were to happen to you.”

He handed him a copy of Monjoy's letter. Cope read it with perfect composure.

“So you want a sort of receipt for this? Irregular, irregular, Mr. Moon. Suppose, with your indemnity in your pocket, you were to change your mind, and even to take a hand in my despatch yourself? ...”

“I lose little for want o' asking; and for changing my mind, I've been i' one mind all along the sort ye are,” the merchant replied imperturbably.

Cope patted the air with his smooth deprecating little gesture.

“Tut, Mr. Moon; I did but jest. It's a superfluous service you render me, but since you transact everything according to rule, I'll give you your discharge of it—hn! hn!” Calmly he endorsed the letter and handed it back. “Take it, Mr. Moon. Ah, I wish you were not passionate. That's a weakness. Generosity and passion, we cannot afford to entertain them. I say 'we,' because a valuable man is lost in you, Mr. Moon. Fatal, I fear; ah, me!—I tell you, my methods are the only methods. We may have to override the law a little now and then—lawyers will find us legal reasons enough after the event. True, an humble instrument like myself may once in a while be sacrificed; judges will tell us we have exceeded our duty——

“I think I've warned ye o' them that'll sacrifice ye,” interrupted the merchant bluntly, “and now I'll bid ye good morning.”

“So soon?” Cope mused. “Now I believe, Mr. Moon, that if I had a warrant for your arrest in my pocket at this moment I should detain you, if only for the pleasure of further conversation.” His bruised-looking lids blinked rapidly.

“I'm capped if ye haven't,” said Moon composedly; “and lawyers to whitewash ye afterwards an' all!”

Cope sighed. “A great pity, a great pity,” he mused, and Matthew Moon passed heavily down the stairs.

There awaited him at his house, circuitously conveyed from Cicely Monjoy, a distraught letter, in which she announced that her goings-out at night had been discovered. This news disturbed him little, as may be imagined, and he took a taper and burned the letter. But it was certain that no time would now be lost in searching the stackyard. He would surely be credited with the dupery, and he now reckoned his time for activity short. Teddy was not about; Matthew strode unhesitatingly across the market-place, and walked into the kitchen of the “Cross Pipes.”

Cicely was alone in the kitchen, and the merchant put up his hand warningly.

“Quietly!” he said. “He's safe enough yet—ssh! But there's no knowing how little time I have. They'll ha' found out about the stackyard in an hour or two—let me see——

“Oh, they've found out!” Cicely moaned.

“Quiet, I tell ye! He's not there, and hasn't been. Let me see——

“Not there?” whispered Cicely, dazed; and Moon interrupted her with an impatient gesture.

“Ha' ye anywhere in Wadsworth ye can put him? (For God's sake stop that choking!) Listen! I'll send Dooina here; get ye off to Wadsworth as fast as ye can. Find out where he's to be put, and then back to me. Where's your bonnet?—Hark! They're forming up for the stackyard now. Quick! on with your bonnet!”

In five minutes Cicely was on her way to Wadsworth, by near cuts and bypaths, for the soldiers were already marching along the road below her to Webster's stackyard.