Back o' the Moon, and Other Stories/Back o' the Moon/Chapter 15

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pp. 202–216.

CHAPTER XV.

THE CAVE IN SOYLAND.

Day was breaking when the parson returned from Horwick. As he passed beneath the wrought-iron arch of his gate he looked wearily at his own drawn curtains, and thought of the two charges under his roof. But the living must come before the dead, and he had opened his door and was passing to his study when he all but fell over the legs of a sentry who slept on a chair in the passage. He had forgotten that the man was there. The sentry started up, still half asleep, and grunted apologies.

“Has your captain returned?” the parson asked.

He was sleeping at the inn, the man replied. Nothing had happened during the night, he added, except that he had thought he heard movements in the house.

“You were mistaken. I live alone, and have been to Horwick,” the parson replied, and passed to his study.

He entered it with his finger on his lips. Monjoy, who was sitting awake in a chair, nodded, and the parson drew a chair close to him and spoke in a low whisper.

“You are to join your wife two days from now,” he said; and Monjoy needed no further informing that Sally had passed away—for victim had followed hunter within a very few hours.

“The man outside thinks he heard you,” the parson continued by and by.

Monjoy frowned. “Then that drags you into the business,” he muttered.

“Yes, I'm in it,” the parson sighed, passing his hand over his harassed brow.—“When your wife joins you, she will bring her friend's child.”

Monjoy frowned again. “Oh, why couldn't she meet me somewhere over the Edge!” he murmured.

“The district is almost enclosed by soldiers by this.”

“Ah! ... Then together will be safer than singly, with one a woman and certain to be watched. The child!——

“Another thing; I was to tell you they'd found Ellah.”

“I didn't know they'd lost him.”

“Ah, of course not....”

And though the parson whispered no more than a word or two, the finish of Eastwood Ellah had best be related here. They say that doctors have a name for that disease of the mind of his, that shunning of light and air and space and creeping into holes. Narrower than the niche in the kitchen of the “Cross Pipes,” or than the chimney of the “Fullers' Arms,” was the space in which, the day before, at eight in the evening, they had found him. He had not left Sally Northrop's inn. An old well, covered with loose boards, lay in one corner of the cellar in which the ale-casks were kept; maybe Ellah had seen this well in times past; at what hour of the day or night he had sought it none knew. It had occurred to somebody to search there, and, lowering a lantern by a string, they had seen his feet.

Monjoy sighed, and then roused himself a little.

“Now one word,” he said. “I may have compromised you to-night. It's up-kedge-and-cut now, for they're wanting three or four of us; so if you wish to be rid of me, I'll thank you for what you've done and take my chance.”

“God knows I do, and I don't!” the parson groaned. “Hush! ... I'll leave you now; I need rest. I'll lock you in—I'll lock £200 in—that's your figure on a handbill I've seen——

He passed heavily out. The sentry was nodding again in the chair.

That morning Cope was taken to his own house at the top of the croft in Horwick.

The captain, Captain Ritchie, was in sole command now. Certain scrupulous limitations inherent in the man, of which his acceptance of the parson's word had been one, made him a less useful instrument than the late Jeremy Cope had been; but these apart, he did his work thoroughly. The district was immense, but as far as possible he encircled it. The Edge into Lancashire, ten miles away, was a sentry-beat, sentry meeting sentry every furlong. The Causeway was picketed three men to the mile, passing and returning; guards were changed four times a day; and on every Shelf and Scout and Ridge throughout Back o' th' Mooin men were posted as if for war. It took two days to enclose the country for beating; and the midday of the second day was the time appointed for the funeral of Sally Northrop, which was to take place in Wadsworth.

Only a dozen folk saw Sally laid to rest; among them were Cicely and Dooina Benn. All the morning the bell tolled in the squat belfry that had baffled Pim o' Cuddy's pigeon, and at midday the parson came out of his house. All was over in an hour. There was no “arvill,” or funeral drinking; and those who had followed the bier set on back immediately for Horwick. Cicely and Dooina, both in their blacks, carried little Jimmy between them, and at a turn at the foot of the street, where for a moment the rest could not see them, Dooina kissed Cicely quickly and wiped her eyes.

“So it won't be me 'at does for ye, love,” she sobbed, and she carried Jimmy yet a little further. The road turned to pass down round Wadsworth Shelf, and again the two women dropped behind. In a few minutes Dooina rejoined the little party alone; and when a lad asked after Cicely, she sobbed and laughed and choked all at once, and answered him that he'd know more o' women and life th' longer he lived. They dropped to the Horwick valley.

Cicely had left the road at the mouth of a narrow grassy gully that turned behind a fold of the hill to a small dean half a mile away. Far away a glimpse of the distant Holdsworth moors and rocky Soyland showed. Cicely had known the dean from her infancy; there was a hollow cavity in the sandy bank of a beck, overgrown with scrubby alder, that long ago had been her playing-hole, and it was there that she was to wait for Arthur. If possible, too, she was to sleep, for they would have to foot it during the night.

In twenty minutes she was ascending the bleached stones of the dry bed of the stream, stepping carefully so as to make as little noise as possible; and then she found the alder, drew it aside, and crept into her retreat. She unburdened herself of a basket and a jar of milk, and stretched herself on the sand, Jimmy asleep in her arms.

The curtains of the parson's house had been flung back again, and the sentry had disappeared from the passage. The parson and Monjoy could now talk freely. As much as a merry word had passed between them, for a year of Back o' th' Mooin had set the parson longing for the conversation of his own kind; and then his brow had become clouded again. He had taken to this great red bear of a guest of his, as he had taken immediately to Cicely; but that did not excuse his lapse from rectitude; and, moreover, it appalled him to find that he was, for the time being, at any rate, no longer capable of prayer. He envied the beguiled captain his peace of mind. He sighed; but he was too fully occupied just then for remorse to stay long. His bad hour was yet to come.

“Monjoy,” he said suddenly, on the afternoon of Sally's funeral, “you owe me something.”

“I haven't forgotten it yet,” Monjoy replied.

“You owe it to me to let me do now what I refrained from before—to improve the occasion.”

“I'd like to repay you in a better sort than that,” Monjoy replied.

“Ah, you can't; and even that will not clear me of my fault. You see how reluctant I am to speak—this cloth of ours is more often than not a disadvantage, for none but professional words are expected from it——

“Go ahead,” said Monjoy.

“Very well.—Leave it alone after this, my good fellow.”

Monjoy made a little brusque gesture with his hand.

“Oh, that's all settled,” he replied. “That was settled before—but humph! Perhaps not; I'm hanged if I know!” A whimsical smile crossed his face. “I was going to say—I should have liked to be able to say—that that was all settled before the smash-up began; but frankly, I don't know.... Give me the benefit of the doubt of it.”

“And after this, what are your plans?”

“Why, if (thanks to you) I am able to get through to Liverpool—the sea. Boston, perhaps—anywhere. If you mean my livelihood, well, I'm a good engraver.... I see you don't want to exact a promise from me; let me offer it myself. Here and now, I promise you all—all you are thinking. Will you take that as my part of a Jesuitical sort of bargain?”

They shook hands for the first time.

“Have you any money?” the parson asked, by and by.

Monjoy shrugged his shoulders. “I've two furnaces over the Slack; not a stiver besides.”

“Will you let me lend you a little?”

“Hm!—I might even have asked it. But let's get something to eat first. I'm hungry.”

At ten o'clock that night they shook hands again, and with a God-speed, the delinquent parson closed his kitchen door behind Arthur Monjoy. Before eleven, by dark hillsides and pasture-paths, that none would have seen who had not known them, Monjoy had come to the dry stream bed. He found the alder; his name was called softly, and, entering, he folded Cicely in his arms.

In ten minutes they bestirred themselves.

“It's up and away now for our wedding-trip,” he said. “We must be in Soyland by dawn. I know a place there. Are you well shod? Milk and bread we have; give them to me, and give me Jimmy. Now, Jimmy, my man.—Kiss me again, dear.”

And so, with their kiss, begins the story of their flight.

Could they have gone direct, they were but ten miles from Trawden Edge. The Causeway, three miles to the north of them, and running away like the side of a triangle, crossed the high undulating plateau that was formed by the joining of a dozen Shelves and Ridges; their own course lay up and over each Ridge as they came to it. They began to breast the first Ridge, that that shuts in the hamlet of Holdsworth, at half-past eleven of a hot and moonless night, with Arcturus peeping over a distant crest for their guide.

They struck knee-deep heather in twenty minutes, and their progress was a plunging and floundering through it. It snapped and crackled loudly. “Kilt yourself up as much as you can, dear; there's none to see,” Monjoy muttered; but her gathering up of her skirts made little difference, and in the absence of moon the winding tracks between the thickest of it could not be seen. They flushed a covey of birds, that rose with harsh cries, and Monjoy, with the provisions on his back and Jimmy sleeping on his arm, went a little ahead, seeking such choice of tracks as he could. Cicely's hair made a dim and ghostly shape in the darkness.

The ascent grew steep, and Monjoy assisted Cicely constantly. She began to breathe short; and ever as they toiled upwards the sharp snapping of the dry heather accompanied them. They gained the top of the Ridge, crossed it, descended again, and set forth up the next. In an hour they were across the Holdsworth valley, nearing the second top. They had not seen a sentry.

They raised another slope of the hill, and a dimness less black showed, a shorn crest of grey bents among the heather. “Courage—it will be easier there,” Monjoy murmured in Cicely's ear; and they crossed a hollow slack of heather that lay between them and the short grass. Over the faraway moor to the north the Polestar had lifted, and the tail of the Plough, and Monjoy passed his arm about Cicely and helped her to the bents.

A dozen yards within the patch he seized her shoulder and drew her sharply back into the heather again. A voice fifty yards away had challenged them, and they had heard the cocking of a musket. They dropped flat into the heather, and Jimmy gave a little whimper. Again the voice challenged, nearer; and then fortune came to their aid. A ewe, with a couple of lambs, lifted up her woody voice in the night and scampered past them down the slope they had ascended. They saw the dark form of the sentry turn after the ewe and disappear.

“What clothes have you got on, Cicely?” Monjoy whispered.

“My blacks—for Sally,” she whispered back.

“Ah! You showed like a shadow-shape on the bents. The moon will be up soon; it must be the heather again, lass. Bear up; the next Ridge is the beginning of Soyland. Put your arm in mine, and stoop.”

They skirted the patch of bents stooping. As they began the next descent they heard voices behind them and a soft laugh; there were two sentries. They took to the heather again.

At three o'clock the moon rose, a great half-round over the dark hillside. Cut out against her disc, a quarter of a mile away, a third sentry showed; but the light revealed a little more clearly the divisions of the tortuous heather bushes, and they went with less noise and more quickly. There did not seem to be sentries in the bottoms, and they were unchallenged as they crossed the lower slopes of Soyland. They began the ascent of Soyland.

By half-past four o'clock they were five hundred feet up the rocky hill, a thousand above the sea, among enormous grey boulders that studded the heather. Cliffs rose towering above them like an eaves. Bidding Cicely remain at the foot of a narrow rocky gorge, Monjoy started away under these eaves. Presently he returned. Two score yards farther on he pulled aside a great mass of heather; behind the heather was a crack scarce a foot high.

“Let me go in first; take Jimmy,” he said; and he forced himself through the crack, and presently received Cicely in his arms. The cavern was black as pitch, but it had a floor of dry sand. Cicely, exhausted, stretched herself upon it with Jimmy at her bosom, and Monjoy lifted her head and pillowed it on his breast.

It was ten o'clock and a brilliant morning when they awoke. Monjoy stepped at once up the sandy slope and put aside the screen of heather from the opening. Across the valley, against the sky, four red dots moved; and the like, he knew, would be moving on the hill over their heads. But he was on his own ground in Soyland. There was not a nook nor corner of it that he had not rummaged for ore, and of the very cavern in which they were he had one day thought jestingly how carefully Matthew Moon would have taken its bearings against an unforeseen hour when he might have need of it. He could venture out, too, as, indeed, he must, no less for information than for milk for the infant and sustenance for themselves. The cave was of rock; it glowed with a soft and pleasant morning light; but it was not more than a dozen yards deep, and led nowhere.

Cicely had spread bread in her lap and opened the jar of milk, and they breakfasted cheek against cheek, Cicely rising once to still Jimmy's crowing as he rolled and tumbled on the sandy floor. After breakfast Arthur kissed Cicely, a smacking, business-like buss on the mouth, spied for a while through the opening, and went out.

It was two o'clock when he returned, and gave Cicely such news as he had. The furnaces were only a couple of miles away; there was a camp there, and Soyland was picketed. But the soldiers could not keep the Holdsworth and Brotherton men from their own hills, and from behind a rock he had seen one or two by whom he did not especially want to be seen. On the Ridge to the westward of them, too, red spots were marching and counter-marching; but they were busiest behind them and to the north-east, Wadsworth way. “I'll go out later in the afternoon,” he said. “I may run across a man I may speak to, for all the £200. Did you know your husband was worth £200, love? ...”

At four o'clock he went out again. It was past seven when he returned, and something in his cheerfulness seemed to alarm Cicely.

“Tell me what's the matter, dear,” she asked gently.

“What matter, Cis?”

“You're putting it on, your lightness. What have you seen or heard?”

“Nothing I didn't know before, dear. I saw little Crutchie of Fluett, and he's bringing us food to-night. It seems £200 tempts some of them; but that's no news.”

She pressed closer to him. “It would be kinder to tell me, dear; there's no secrecy between us now, not like before.”

He was silent for a long time.

“Very well,” he said at last. “They're flag-flapping. They began flag-flapping on Wadsworth Shelf when you turned off into the dean. They've seen you, or, maybe, both of us. It couldn't be helped, for they'd have missed you in any case. Never mind.”

It did not take her an instant to come to her decision. She sat up, suddenly very pale.

“Arthur, you must leave me,” she said. “They can do nothing to me, and I'll meet you somewhere in a week or two—a month or two—oh, Arthur!”

“What's that?” he said, with infinite gentleness. “No, dear. It would be just the same in a week or a month; they'd follow you. We'll take our wedding-trip together, I think; won't we, Jim?—No, darling; I decide this. It's three quarters through to get to Soyland; another hill, then the Edge, and down into Ratchet, and over Chat Moss to Liverpool ... now say 'Yes'—say it at once——

She made a lovely little murmuring against his shoulder, and he laughed.

“That's my lass. Now let's talk.—I like your parson, Cis. Why, you've never asked me how I got along with him yet! ...”

At ten o'clock he went out again, and met Crutchie of Fluett at the appointed place. He was back by eleven.

“Is it time to push on?” she asked.

“No, dear,” he replied quietly; “I've brought food for another day here.”

“Oh! ...” she cried, tortured with apprehension; “what is it?”

“Ssh! It makes no difference. I know ways they wouldn't find in a year. It's ten to one they're mostly town men. Come and lie down, and trust your husband. Come....”

It was long before she had sobbed herself to sleep in his arms, and he, his own brain busily working, heard her murmuring in her sleep from time to time through the night.

They awoke at seven o'clock, and he passed to the opening. As it had happened, seven o'clock was not a minute too early for them to have awakened. A fresh morning breeze stirred, and the ridge they had passed showed through a sunny haze, shot with gold and grey and tender purple. Down the hillside moved slowly a party of redcoats, and, their heads visible from time to time and again hidden in the heather, four dogs tugged at their leashes.

“Why don't the fools loose 'em?” Monjoy muttered grimly. “Ay, they're town-bred.—Come, Cis, we'll not stay for breakfast.”

He patted his pockets as if to make sure of something, and then looked to the priming of a pair of pistols that Cicely did not know he carried.