Back o' the Moon, and Other Stories/Back o' the Moon/Chapter 13

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pp. 179–192.

CHAPTER XIII.

THE SCOUT.

As by degrees folk had come out of the daze into which Cope's arrival had thrown them, growls and murmurs had begun to be heard. A town's meeting had been held (none knew exactly by whom convened), in an upper chamber of the Piece Hall, and their temper had begun to show then, for half-a-dozen soldiers who claimed admittance “by order” had been bundled out with little ceremony. Back o' th' Mooiners assembled in bands. At one house a search had been resisted, and scuffling had taken place. The soldiers no longer had the square to themselves, for groups buzzed angrily among the Piece Hall pillars and the blinds of the houses had been raised again. There had been stone-throwing up the Fullergate. A deputation had waited on Cope at his house, and Cope had again been incontrollably shaken with silent mirth.

There were four new stacks in Webster's yard, and a three-quarters cut old one. They were not thatched, but covered by wooden roofs that ran up and down corner-posts on pulleys. Hundreds of people followed the soldiers thither, and some of the Back o' th' Mooiners were talking their jargon again. Webster watched sullenly from his door the soldiers surround his premises; but the mob could not be kept out, and the yard was packed. They knew now what or whom the officer in charge looked to find there; word was passed that an orderly had ridden the previous evening up the Fullergate for more troops, that were to advance to Wadsworth and Back o' th' Mooin itself; and the crowd surged this way and that, no man using force, but of formidable force in the mass. The surrounding of the premises was futile; the officer in charge gave sharp orders; and with bayonets fixed a double rank of men facing outwards formed a lane from the gate to the stacks. The rest drew up in close order out in the road.

Down the bayonet-guarded lane four men advanced with a ladder. It was placed against the foremost stack, and a man went up it with a pistol in his hand and crawled under the wooden roof. “He'll ha' little time to use a pistol if Arthur gets a hand on him i' yonder,” the watchers muttered; and the next moment they had grown suddenly quiet. By and by the man came out from under the roof again, and the ladder was set up against the next stack. Soon they had searched the tops of the four stacks and thrust rakes and bayonets beneath them.

“Throw the ricks down,” the officer ordered.

A storm of remonstrances, oaths, cries, broke forth. Throw down four stacks o' nicely-settled hay! Couldn't they do their rummaging wi'out ruining folk? Who was to set 'em up again? And did they think to take Big Monjoy when all was done?—They were tingling for quarrel; the stacks would serve as well for a pretext as anything else; the disturbing of a sitting hen would have served; and the mob swayed like a flood. A Back o' th' Mooiner had a cudgel; it crossed a bayonet suddenly; there was a rush, and a breach appeared in the red-coated line; and fifty men poured through it, taking the other rank in the backs. The yard was a confusion of struggling men, with a redcoat or a bayonet isolated here and there.

The officer had sprung half-way up the ladder, his back to a stack; he called a cracking order. Down the rank of men in the road three rhythmic movements passed like a wave, and there was a sharp clicking of musket-locks. The tumult changed to a frantic backward pressure—they fell back behind the stacks, against walls, anywhere from the row of levelled muskets. The officer up the ladder called more orders, and those who had formed the lane drew up at right-angles to the others, enclosing two sides of the yard.

“Throw the ricks down,” said the officer; and the ropes of the poles were cut, the heavy roofs hove down into the yard, and the demolition begun.

A couple of hundred soldiers had followed Cope's chaise to Horwick; down the Fullergate that morning there marched from Ford Town thrice that number. At their head rode the Captain Ritchie of whom Horwick had heard. They formed in the market-place, and the captain cantered to Cope's house, and flung himself from his horse.

The two men were closeted for half an hour, and then the captain came out again. He returned to the market-place; and as he gave the order to stack arms he saw a fair-haired woman making great haste beyond the Piece Hall.

Cicely had done the six miles to Wadsworth and back in less than two hours. She found Matthew Moon striding up and down his dining-room with his watch in his hand. He had flung the door open and cried, “Well?” hearing the brushing of her skirts in the passage.

“I've been—let me sit down——” she panted.

“Where have ye found?”

“Oh, I saw all manner o' folk; I went——

Matthew Moon stamped angrily. “Where have ye found?”

“Oh! ... the parson's....”

He was surprised; but, “When?” he demanded.

“Yes—yes—anytime——

Already the merchant had sprung towards the door and disappeared. Presently he returned, mopping his brow, and sat down opposite Cicely. He gave a long “Ah!” of relief.

“Ye see, Cicely,” he explained more quietly, “they've been at Webster's two hours and more now—they must be doing it thoroughly. Now ye can tell me about it.”

“Oh, first—where is he?”

“Never mind. Nowhere near the stackyard. Tell me about the parson.”

Wadsworth, it appeared from Cicely's tale, was in as great a turmoil as Horwick. Her father had bidden her good-bye, given her an address in Liverpool, and was ready for flight. Many would have been glad to have Arthur, but what was the use? Arthur was safer in Horwick than in Wadsworth. Then, as she had stood distraught in the square, she had seen the parson coming out of the church, and had flown to him and well-nigh dragged him back into the building. There, on her knees, she had supplicated him (“Easy, lass,” said Matthew Moon, soothingly)—all was different now—oh! if the parson could but know!—Back o' th' Mooin, too, was against him ... she did not remember all she had said. At last the parson had consented to take him in for a night, during which he would pray for guidance; but it must be understood that after that all must be as God should direct.

“Humph!” said the merchant. “And yourself; when can ye join him?”

“Me?” exclaimed Cicely, “Oh, Matthew, I promised Sally I'd not leave her, and I can't take that word back now——

“He'll not clear out without ye.”

“Oh, he must, he must!”

“I don't think Arthur right knows what that means,” Matthew observed drily.

“Then he must trust i' God and wait somewhere while I can meet him. It were the last word I passed Sally afore she went off. I'd see to Jimmy, too, I promised——

“Sally wouldn't hold ye to it if she knew how it is; let Dooina see to her.”

“No, no, I can't; he must do the best he can while I can join him. It must come to pass as it will.”

“Heigho! ... Very well. Is aught heard o' Ellah yet?” “No,” she answered distractedly.

The merchant had not smoked during that day; he now rose for tobacco. Slowly he filled and lighted his pipe, and puffed thoughtfully for a time.

“Well, we'll manage somehow, no doubt,” he said composedly at last. “They'll be here for me soon.”

“You too!” Cicely moaned; and he made a slight gesture of impatience.

“The devil take the women! ... Yes, for me; but they've got a prickly piece when they've got me. I've made myself safe, as I've made all safe this many a year; they'd ha' been badly to seek this last day or two wi'out Matthew. Now listen. Arthur 'll have to chance it for himself now. 'The parson's, Wadsworth, to-night,' was all I said in the note. I'm not going to tell ye where he is, and if ye love him keep away from the parson's—keep out o' Wadsworth. The parson's! Nay, that caps me; who'd ha' thought—hark! ... Ay, I told ye; they're here. Off wi' ye, quick. Ye can go out o' the front door now; good-bye for a bit .... Nay, don't blubber all ower my hands! ... off wi' ye, and keep as far away from Wadsworth as ye can till all's ready——

He closed the door behind her and sat down to his pipe again. He had not finished the pipe before he was put under close arrest, with a sentry on either side of his dining-room door.

Monjoy had heard the marching of fresh troops down the Fullergate, and, at intervals during the afternoon, distant confused roars. Of Webster's stackyard he knew nothing. Moon's message came; he was mortally weary of that dingy garret, and he waited impatiently till nightfall. Ten o'clock came, and he still waited, hearing movements out in the town; and then the Piece Hall bell struck eleven. All was quiet, and he opened the crane doors. He flung his rope over the crane-arm, and as he did so saw why Matthew had sent one so long; he could descend by it doubled and take it away instead of leaving it dangling. He stood on the narrow sill, closed the doors behind him, and slipped to earth. The night was moonless and dark. Quickly he crossed yards and gardens and crofts, and now and then poultry stirred or a dog barked. He had so mapped out his way that he had only two deserted streets to cross. Down the first of them a soldier marched, making noise enough for ten, and Monjoy waited till his tramp sounded in the distance and crossed swiftly and noiselessly. He continued over walls and across more gardens. One light only burned, and he passed it within a hundred yards; it was the window of the chamber where Cicely watched Sally. He stopped for a minute and regarded it; then he passed on again to the fields above the Shelf road. At one o'clock in the morning he knocked at the parson's door and was admitted. He was led to a room on the ground floor without light; a couch was indicated to him, and he was left without a word.

Of the morning's interview with the parson a word or two must be said. It occurred at eight o'clock, in the same room—a little back study on the ground floor. Of the two breakfasts that the parson had laid with his own hands, one—his own—was untouched. The study was but four strides long, and the parson walked and turned, and walked again. His big guest leaned forward in a chair, watching him, and flipping the fingers of his right hand against the knuckles of his left. There were signs that the parson had not slept.

Suddenly he stopped in his walk, and smiled faintly.

“No, I am not one whit nearer to it, Monjoy,” he said.

Monjoy hoisted his shoulders; it was not for him to speak.

“And for what your wife said,” the parson continued, “you will understand that I hardly feel at liberty to repeat the whole of it.”

“No, no; Cis would be wrought up; leave her out, poor lass.”

“That, of course,” said the parson with a nod; “but I was thinking more particularly of what she said of you, not of herself. Hm! ... You'll observe that during our talk I've made no attempt to—let us say, improve the occasion.”

This time Monjoy nodded.

“I mustn't say it's more than I should have expected, for I know so few of your calling,” he replied. “And I don't know what Cicely said neither. But I myself can say this, that with hands and heart a little less clean I could have been safe away in Liverpool by this. Yes, since last Thursday, too. Don't think I'm careless or swaggering; I know just what danger I'm in, and from both sides; let me tell you.”

Briefly and honestly he told the parson of the lot-drawing in the loom-loft and of his own share therein.

“And that's the whole of it,” he concluded, “except that if I hadn't stayed behind to tidy Moon's garret up a bit he'd have been worse off than I.”

The parson, with a very grave face, drew a chair up opposite Monjoy, and they continued to talk low and earnestly.

*****

At a little after eleven that morning there appeared in Wadsworth an object the like of which had never before entered the hamlet. It was a single-horse, yellow chaise, with an extra horse for tracing, and it was followed up the steep street by an officer leading his horse and a company of redcoats. In the chaise Cope sat nursing one foot.

There was no smile on his face now. He had (so it was afterwards said) stumped raging about his room throughout the night, cursing, gnawing his nails, and spitting like a cat when any approached him. It seemed he had calculated confidently on the stackyard. He now sat in the yellow chaise like some ugly nodding idol, biting the edge of his forefinger unceasingly, and nesting his foot. The procession reached the square. The redcoats did not pile arms; they formed up four deep in front of the “Gooise,” and detachments were told off by Captain Ritchie to begin the searching immediately. Another party was sent off to reconnoitre the mountainous Scout; and the yellow chaise, with the supervisor in it, remained drawn up before the inn door. When Jeremy Cope took command in person matters were to be expedited.

At a little after one o'clock Pim o' Cuddy, who for the last two hours had hidden and rehidden and hidden again his brass kettle down the spout of which sixpences would go (the verger seemed now to think the very possession of money a crime), was taken in the guilty act of putting back the kettle into its original hiding-place. He was haled before Cope, and there he fell and grovelled on the ground before the redoubtable dwarf.

“What's this?” Cope snapped, tearing at his finger with his teeth.

The soldier displayed the kettle.

“Well, and what o' that?” yelped Cope. “Curse your clumsy limbs, find the red man! His jade of a wife was here yesterday—it's odds she's not playing the same trick twice—skip, ye hamfaced fool! Set your heel on that worm first—skip!”

The Scout shimmered in the heat, and spots of red straggled here and there among the bracken and birches and teazels. Besides these, many dark figures moved and clustered, Wadsworth men, Horwick men, men from Booth and Brotherton and Back o' th' Mooin. Down in the village the search-parties slowly ascended the street and began in the square and the houses that stood back; and Cope still gnawed at his finger in the yellow chaise, now and then striking the wood with his fist in his mortification.

At two o'clock Captain Ritchie approached him.

“When what is in progress is concluded, there only remains the Parsonage,” he announced.

“Then search it, can't ye?” cried Cope, with an oath. “What d'ye think you're here for—to talk?”

The officer drew himself up.

“I would remind you, Mr. Cope, that you're not addressing a trooper,” he said stiffly; and Cope spluttered and spat.

“O—my—dear—God! ... Is this a time for your airs and dignities? Will you make dainty with your seminary manners when—aaaah!”

The left-hand lamp-glass of the yellow chaise was shattered by a bullet. The candle leaped out, cut in two. Echoes were following the report, and a puff of smoke drifted slowly along the edge of the Scout. Captain Ritchie sprang aside.

“Fire as you are!” he ordered; “mind the others——”; and, save for a figure that was seen running far along the skyline, every man on the face of the Scout had dropped for cover. The muskets came up as if for birds; quick dropping shots rang out; and sharp cracks from the soldiers up the Scout seemed to answer them like echoes.

“Draw this chaise to one side,” said Cope, biting at his finger again.

Captain Ritchie strode up the lane to the parson's house and knocked loudly at the door. The parson himself answered the knock.

“You know whom it is we seek?” the officer said curtly.

The parson inclined his head.

“We must be assured of your house also. It is my desire to respect your cloth——

The parson returned his steady look.

“I take that to mean that, on my word, you are willing to forego a search?”

“Yes.”

The parson lied like a layman, without a quiver. “I pass it you,” he said; and immediately the officer retired.

By half-past two the searching of Wadsworth was completed.

It was much that a chaise had got as far as Wadsworth; legs alone could clear the Scout. A man was despatched with a couple of horses to strike the Causeway lower down the valley and then to wait on the heights, and Cope descended from the chaise with the broken lamp-glass. At that, out stepped the parson from his house, and earnestly besought him to remain behind.

“Look!” he cried, pointing up the Scout, that seemed to crawl with ascending figures, “and not a man among them but bears you the worst will in the world! If not for your own safety, yet to save these from a deadly sin——

Cope struck at the air with his hand.

The captain added his entreaties. His presence was unnecessary; with so much depending on him he had no right to accept the risk; he should be informed of every movement where he was. Cope, in a paroxysm of anger, shouted for him to be silent.

“You, too, mock my infirmity!” he cried tremulously. “Nay!—that's all past, d'ye hear? That's past months ago; this is my hour of mocking. What d'ye think I've endured, smiling and bowing and soft, waiting for this day? I'm going up yonder to laugh now, d'ye hear me?—to laugh in my turn! I'm going to click triggers instead o' clogs, hear you?—to make 'em march to their own tune of Johnny Cope, mark well! If I'd but a trumpeter to play it! Raikes I hold in my finger, Moon's locked inside his own doors, and a dozen I've marked over yonder shall be in this square in a quarter of a day from now; remains the big man.... Their furnaces? I'll make their furnaces such a place o' dread with swinging bodies....” He became inarticulate, and soon, suddenly dropping his voice a little, he cried, “Up! Why are we talking here? Up!”

On the fourteenth day of August, of the year 1779, at half-past three in the afternoon, they hoisted and pushed and carried Jeremy Cope up Wadsworth Scout to where the horses waited on the Causeway.