Back o' the Moon, and Other Stories/Back o' the Moon/Chapter 2

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pp. 21–46.

CHAPTER II.

THE EXECUTIVE.

Through the wall-stones of the end of the “Cross Pipes” that abutted on the market-place the soot of the chimneys had in some mysterious way worked, so that the flues and branchings from the various chambers showed like some grimy inverted cactus. An addition had been built forward to the cobbled space, and up and down it, following the pitch of the roof, ran the name of the house, with every “S” turned the wrong way about. From this again projected the red-curtained bow-window of the parlour; and while the public entrance lay to the right within the stable-arch, the approach to the kitchen and private parts of the house lay on the other side, up a cobbled alley.

The March night had fallen, and the lights of the scattered farmhouses of the Shelf might almost have been stars, so lofty were they. The market-place was filled with the dim illumination that came through the blinds and the chinks of the shutters of the surrounding houses. A lantern that had been set down for a moment on one of the pieceboards made a dull gleam down the polished surface. The crimson square of the window of the “Pipes” was broken by the shadows of heads within the window-seat, and up the dark alleyway to the kitchen, through an ace-of-heart's perforation in the upper part of the door, another light flickered, as of a candle guttering in a draughty passage.

In the kitchen a fire of peats smouldered on the hearth and made a rich glow on the copper kettle that bubbled before it. The lid of the kettle vibrated with a continuous sound of purring metal. Two oil-lamps hung side by side from the low ceiling; and the blur of lamp carbon on the plaster above them was patterned with concentric circles that intersected and made as it were the eyes of an enormous owl. A deep recess formed a window-seat; opposite, a niche in the wall was hidden by a curtain on a string; and the kitchen was spotlessly clean and smelt of new bread.

Matthew Moon sat on an infant's stool by the hearth, with a quill set bit-wise between his teeth. On the floor by his side lay a ledger. Goîtred John Raikes (who, in this business that was not cloth, represented the Back o' th' Mooiners on the Executive) lay smoking along the window-seat. Eastwood, the flockmaster, was spinning a bright crown-piece on the table; and Arthur Monjoy bestrode the hearth colossus-wise with the back of his fox-skin cap rubbing against the high mantel.

The purring of the kettle seemed to irritate Matthew Moon; he set the lid on edge, the sound ceased, and a little cloud of vapour escaped. Presently Monjoy spoke.

“Well, say you have it so,” he said. “I'll not deny the prudence of watching, setting an extra crow or two along the Causeway, and all that; but why do you want to shift the Forge? We were glad enough to move from Fluett; before that we were Booth way, and a pretty time we had getting there; and now you'd set it up in Brotherton Slack, the dampest, darkest hole in all the district, five miles from the Causeway—Brotherton Slack, where the ground steams like a tip and toadstools come up out o' the bog rank as sink-strippings and red as a runner's waistcoat——

Matthew Moon answered earnestly.

“Do listen, Arthur. If the Causeway's handy for us, it's handy for others too. Fluett was different. You know why we left Fluett. Fluett was over-easy got at t'other side, Trawden side, and the lime-trade was brisk at Fluett, too, and folk about. As for toadstools, it's safety we're taking to the Slack for, not health.”

Monjoy brought himself to an upright posture and rubbed his hands down his scorched thighs. “Heigho!” he cried; and he was about to reply, when the door opened, and Sally Northrop entered. She was a dark-haired little body, but her brightness was faded, and weeks of anxiety had pulled her down. She stepped to the niche in the wall, lifted the curtain, and looked within.

“I thought he stirred,” she said, replacing the curtain; and then she hesitated, her hands fumbling with her apron.

“Ye've no word, I suppose, Arthur? Cicely hasn't been gone an hour; she knew o' no news, she said——

“No word's a good word, Sally,” Monjoy replied gently. “He has all he wants—money for garnish, ease o' irons, and all you can think of; and the lawyers shall have every penny but he shall be back. Don't worry. 'No case' is what John Emmason says.”

“What did he say o' Jimmy?” She glanced towards the niche.

“His love he sent, and a kiss. That'll make his home-coming glad. Keep all as tidy as a new pin for a little longer, and let Cicely help you all she can.”

“D'ye want anything now?”

“No.”

She sighed and went out. The men remained silent for a full minute, and then Moon muttered: “Thank God I bring trouble to no woman.” They resumed their discussion.

“Another thing,” said the merchant. “John there brings the silver in, and I keep the books, and bring most o' the gold. John and me's your outriders, that can tell the way things are going. Now ask John if this isn't true. Though the most shuts their eyes and thinks none the worse of a guinea after we've had it a day or two, yet there's others wouldn't lend us a crown or a Portugal, no, not to have it back an hour after with interest paid safe as a bank. They're quiet, that sort, but they're always there. They've been there all along, and I know who they are.—Ay, I see this plating idea well enough; it's good, and does away with a deal o' borrowing; but these others is still there. So this new man has that to start wi'. He may be another Huggins, or he mayn't; give him no advantage. He must be watched for the present from getting up to doffing his shirt again. The clogger's shop—we're agreed on that; and past Wadsworth Scout a crow must be set behind every whin and stone. It's expense, but it's the cheapest. We're the Exec'tive, and that's my vote; that, and shift the Forge to Brotherton, and all meetings after this at the 'Gooise.'”

“It's right what Matthew says about them others,” Raikes observed from the window-seat; “things has got very tight lately. Your plating-notion's naught but just come i' time.”

Monjoy leaned against the mantel-piece again.

“Well, I'll not hold out; we may as well eat the devil as sup the broth he's boiled in,” he said. “So we shift the forge. Well, what next?”

Moon glanced quickly at the door by which Sally Northrop had gone out; then he dropped his voice.

“This next, that I was saying to James this morning, Arthur,” he said. “Ye give too much away wi' your tongue. It's folly to talk as ye did this morning. They say ye told him ye'd thought o' copying the Queen Anne yonder i' metal.”

“I never said so,” cried Monjoy.

“Well, you talk o' Charles Edwards and Commonwealths. Remember, there's a bairn i' yon niche that his father hasn't seen yet——

James Eastwood interposed quickly.

“Let me speak,” he said. “John Emmason's sent this Cope word to sup wi' him next week. Now mark; afore Cope can do anything—and that's supposing he isn't another Huggins, and Huggins got bedsore sooner nor footsore—afore he can do anything, he must see John, or else John Leedes, or else Hemstead, the solicitor. Very well; what is it he wants? Information, ye say: now listen. He can have it. Let him come to this very Horwick Thursday. Let one of us say this: 'Yon's Red Monjoy, that engraves the dies; plating's his next move! Yon's Matthew Moon, a cloth-merchant by trade, that keeps the books, every crown and Portugal entered up this dozen year and more. Mish yonder, and Dick o' Dean, they do most o' th' striking; and for clipping and lending and so on, there's three or four hundred here, and ye can tak' your pick.' Tch! All that isn't worth a tick o' one o' my sheep! It's like he knew all that afore he came. Hear what John Emmason says, mumbling in his sleep in an armchair (ye know John's ways): It's evidence he'll want, evidence to base a case on. They'd ha' hanged Jim and Haigh months ago if they'd had evidence. They're bound by th' Law, same as us, and John—well, if John hasn't, telled me th' Law, he can leave a book open, can't he? and I can read what's marked in it wi' a pen, can't I? It's treason, by Edward Third; four hundred pound and branding for having clippings, William; a search-warrant on complaint, George; but all's ta'en on evidence.—But I'm for moving the Forge too, for it wadn't be such bad evidence to catch us wi' our fingers in it.”

“To be sure,” murmured John Raikes.

“That's agreed,” said Monjoy, curtly. He had not ceased to frown since Matthew Moon's rebuke.

The infant in the niche gave a feeble cry, and Moon rose to call Sally. Sally took up babe and bedclothes in a bundle.

“Send us some ale in, Sally,” Monjoy said; and he added to his companions; “When the ale comes I have something to say to the Executive.”

Presently the ale was brought. Monjoy took a deep draught, and bestrode the hearth again.

“Tell me, Matthew—tell me, John and James,” he said slowly, “what d'ye think this trade of ours, as it stands, is worth? (Wait a minute and let me finish.) Is it worth a deal? Reckon the risk. Reckon the cost, time and money. Reckon we've to dodge about with the Forge, Fluett, Booth, Brotherton, and so on. Reckon what I could make at engraving; John at the stocks and teazels; James with his flocks; Matthew at the pieceboards and his warehouse. Is it a deal better than honesty?”

The amazed faces of the three told how deeply they were committed to the traffic; for a minute they were motionless. Then Moon said, “Ye haven't finished.”

“I say, as it stands, it's poor wages,” Monjoy said.

There was no chair to his hand; he drew up the infant's stool that the merchant had vacated. His chin was just above the edge of the table, and he took the bright crown-piece and weighed it thoughtfully in his hand. After a minute's pondering he continued:

“This—the plating—is well enough; but suppose there's better to be done?—Tell me, which of you've heard of Bulmer's workings, Trawden side?”

“Eh?” said Moon. “Nobody, since their mother dandled them.”

“Of course, of course; my tongue will be running away with me, I suppose. Never mind Bulmer, then. Instead, what about the bellpits all along the Causeway, and the alum mine still working a mile or two over the Edge?”

“Come to something, Arthur,” Eastwood interposed.

“By and by.—Lead has been found hereabouts, and some of it's been shipped to Holland, and worked over again, and a tithe of it lost in the working, but a profit made even then. How, think you?” He advanced his chin along the table, flipped away the crown-piece, and quietly pronounced the word “Silver.”

By and by he continued.

“I've had a busyish winter in that garret over your warehouse, Matthew. This is our first meeting since last November, and perhaps I'm over-shooting myself a little. Never mind. At Rimington in Craven, and on Brunghill Moor in Craven, they've had it. Lead ore it is, and a test-master has assayed it (Basby, they called him), and it worked out at sixty pounds more or less to the ton.”

“In Craven,” observed Matthew Moon, drily.

“Well, I've been to see it,” Monjoy retorted; “but let me finish. Here, alum and coal we know about. For iron, Holdsworth Dyke is red as a haw with canker-water any day you care to go and look. Noon Nick stones, they're pure pyrites. Kick up the heather, and all Back o' th' Mooin's red and blue and grey with mineral. Whether it would pay's another matter; the Dutchmen made it pay.”

“It were me closed up th' last bellpit,” John Raikes remarked; “go on, Arthur; it's grand hearing.”

“Very well; and you'll laugh at this; Matthew will, because it isn't business-like. What else d'you think I've studied this winter? Why, a ballad-book. Hugh Pudsay's ballad. You've heard of Pudsay's cockleshell-shillings (when you were dandled, maybe), and so had I; but I thought twice. I'm not talking now of his making silver dilly-spoons and selling them for a shilling, and then waking up to it that he might just as well make the shilling. Perhaps he didn't work a silver mine without patent, and get tripped by some Cope or other, and set off on horse-back for London to save his neck. Perhaps that's only a song about his getting patent and pardon and meeting the exciseman coming in ten minutes after the fair. But that cockleshell he stamped his shillings with—follow me—it was an escallop, and a mint-mark for that very year of Elizabeth. D'you take me?”

James Eastwood was tilted back in his chair, watching the intersecting rings of light on the ceiling; he let the chair slowly down.

“D'ye mean, Arthur, you'd mine Back o' th' Mooin on th' chance o' finding silver?”

“We haven't got quite so far yet,” Monjoy replied, rising from the low stool; and James Eastwood gave a low whistle.

Presently Matthew Moon shoved out his lip.

“Pshaw! It's a ballad, Arthur, a ballad,” he said.

“What do you say, John?” Monjoy demanded of Raikes in the window-seat.

“Tell us some more; it's grand,” murmured Raikes.

“Very well; now take this in. Within this ten years money's been put up in Lancashire to open Bulmer's workings again. Reason they didn't do it, it was blabbed, and the excise pricked up its ears. They prayed for a patent for lead, but that wasn't what they wanted. They'd have mixed their ores and done the Dutchmen's trick; but as soon as that pays and the excise wakes up, pff!—it's a Mine Royal at once.”

“If they stopped it in Lancashire, they'd stop it here,” Eastwood said thoughtfully.

“In Back o' th' Mooin?” said Monjoy, meaningly; and there was a long silence, broken only by the sound of the leaves of the ledger that Matthew Moon turned over at arms-length.

Suddenly he closed the ledger with a flap.

“Ah, well!” he observed, “then we've only to walk there and get it.”

Monjoy spoke composedly, ignoring the irony.

“I wonder what Matthew would say if he heard my plan for finding it,” he said. “Phew! He'd call that madness!”

“Tell us, Arthur,” said Raikes.

“Not I! If I don't find it, I'm fool enough already without that.”

Raikes and Eastwood were plainly engaged by the idea, and soon Eastwood ejaculated under his breath: “My God! the risk!”

At that Monjoy flung out his arms, displaying his vast chest.

“Risk?” he cried. “What can you risk more than you're risking now—a white cap and the mortal push? You've risked that this dozen years; and for what? Clippings and scrapings and filings! You've risked Ouse Bridge for that! Now by ——, there are those in Back o' th' Mooin ready to call Arthur Monjoy king, but I'll kick my shoes off at the end of a tow for the chance of being a king in truth! ... Risk? Could an army rout us out o' that wilderness? Who gets far over Wadsworth Scout without a 'by-your-leave'? The country's made for it!—To Pudsay and the ballad, Matthew!” He drank.

“To the gold they find i' partridges' heads and hares' bellies,” quoth the merchant, rising. “Well, I suppose we go on the old way while Arthur's looking for his silver? A new way o' finding it, too; happen it'll be a new sort o' silver. We'll have to wait for the plating-plant too, now. Ah, well!—The next meeting's at the 'Gooise' ... Nay, if we're all stirring I'll turn the lamps down; there's no sense in wasting oil; we aren't kings yet——

He turned low the lamps that made on the ceiling the rings that intersected like the eyes of an owl.