Back o' the Moon, and Other Stories/Back o' the Moon/Chapter 5

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pp. 61–76.

CHAPTER V.

THE WADSWORTH WEDDING.

For one thing above all others Wadsworth is even yet renowned—its famous wedding. This memorable event came to pass about that time, and it began with the procuring by the new parson from John Emmason, the Horwick magistrate, the list of the King's Hearth Tax.

You have heard of the state in which the parson had found his church, and of the repairs which he had undertaken at his own cost. These repairs had not been effected in a day, nor for that matter in a couple of months; and Pim o' Cuddy's pigeons still fluttered against the new louver-boards of the belfry, seeking entrance. But the parson had contrived to instil such a fear into his bandy-legged clerk that Pim went in an extreme of penitence and humility; and for the humours of Pim's re-conversion and of his vacillating conscience—well, Cole the clogger was the man to hear on that.

From the magistrate, then, the parson procured this list. His church being at last ready, maybe he judged it expedient to make the nearer acquaintance of his parishioners. He set forth on a round of visits.

Then followed something that puzzled the weavers of Wadsworth exceedingly.

At ten o'clock in the morning the parson had begun, and from house to house he had passed during the greater part of the day, talking now with the women in the yards and kitchens, now with the men in the loom-lofts. At five o'clock he had passed quickly up the street, and had been seen to enter his own house almost at a run. That evening he sent for his verger. He asked him this and that, cried aloud on his God, and went to his room without preparing his supper—for he had got rid of his housekeeper and now fended for himself. He came out the next morning still fasting, and was seen to ascend the Scout, and to disappear in the direction of the Causeway; and about midday a packman, leaving his string of horses with lime from Fluett at the top of the Scout, came down into Wadsworth, and reported that beyond Holdsworth Head he had heard lamentations, and, stepping aside, had seen a man on his knees in prayer.

That was on the Friday. On the following Sunday morning, in the renovated church, the parson made an announcement. Only half a dozen women and a lad or two heard it, but hardly was the Benediction out of his mouth, before, with incredible speed, it was all over the village, and already on its way to Horwick. It was this: That, to make (in effect) the best of a very bad job, thenceforward all marriage fees would be remitted, and the clerk's proper perquisite would be paid out of the same canvas bag that had already provided the money for the new floorboards and windows and the rest of the repairs to the fabric of the church.

Well, the first thought of all that entered folks' heads was: What did the parson stand to gain? They screwed up their eyes knowingly; you couldn't catch Wadsworth folk napping; as sure as a club, there was something in it. A few incredulous ones shook their heads. It couldn't be right! A crown piece for Pim o' Cuddy for each wedding? Parsons were not much readier than other folk to part with crown pieces for nothing, not they! More would appear by and by. The parson might be deep, but——

And so forth, measuring the parson's peck out of their own bushel. It was decided to await events.

But as time went on it did not become much clearer what profit could accrue to the parson, and the fact remained that, body or soul, something was offered for nothing. One couple only had taken the parson at his word, and had had the spurrins read; and when, a little later, they were safely married, it was in the presence of all Wadsworth, half Holdsworth, and more than a few from Horwick, assembled as if for a sign and wonder. The swain was not required to put his hand into his pocket, and, journeying to Horwick next day, Pim o' Cuddy passed his new crown piece round a company gathered in the shop of Cole the clogger.

“It's a right eniff crown,” Cole remarked, half convinced of the parson's disinterestedness, but wholly persuaded of his folly; and John Raikes, who had dropped in from the fulling-mill, took the coin.

“I suppose I can keep it while to-morrow?” he said, making a movement of his hand towards his pocket.

An extraordinary agitation became apparent in Pim o' Cuddy's face, and his voice faltered.

“Sich wark belongs to th' Devil, 'at I've put at th' back o' me, John,” he said uneasily, and Cole the clogger winked at the goîtred fuller.

“To be sure it does, Pim,” he said solemnly. “For an extra sixpence, who'd loss th' ease o' his conscience? Give it him back, John, and don't tempt him. Sixpence? Nay, it might naughbut be fourpence. Give it him back.”

“He hasn't asked for it yet,” said Raikes, grinning; and Pim o' Cuddy, in his misery, reckoned up that probably other couples would get married; that a few weddings would soon make the difference of another crown; that after all, he had no precise knowledge of what John Raikes would do with the coin....

“Here, tak' it,” said John, grinning again; and involuntarily Pim made a gesture of refusal.

“Nay, John—” he stammered, “if ye want a crown while to-morrow—for some godly purpose—it isn't neighbourly to refuse it—but al'ays tak' heed to your steps, John! ... Now I've wondered many a time if a sixpence wad go down th' spout o' that little brass kettle o' mine o' th' chimley-piece—I think a sixpence wad a'most go down....”

The magpie joined in the roar of laughter with a shrill cackle.

Another couple (at the parson's urgent request) had the spurrins read; and the event that shortly followed coming to Cole's ears, the clogger made as much of it (while all who heard him writhed in fits and convulsions of laughter) as if in the mere ceremony and solemnization of a union there lay some miraculous virtue and speed and efficacy. Again Pim o' Cuddy temporised with the Adam within him, and again it was suggested by John Raikes that in order to introduce a sixpence into the brass kettle it was not necessary to remove the lid. And then, nobody volunteering for a full week to put a third crown into his pocket, Pim himself began to experience qualms lest his own marriage, a score of years ago, should not have been regularly blessed and sanctioned.

“I doubt if him 'at wed us were ever right ordained a parson,” he said, troubled in spirit: “I ha' it on my mind he were no better nor one o' these broomstick chaps—and th' wife can't think on——

“I should wed a fresh 'un next time,” they advised him.

“Don't mak' droll wi' holy things,” Pim adjured them. “I feel as if I couldn't live another day wi'out making sure——

And on the following Sunday he hung his head, shamefast, in the clerk's desk, while the parson, at the other end of the church, required of those who knew of any impediment why Pim o' Cuddy and the woman called Mrs. Pim o' Cuddy should not be joined in matrimony that they should declare the same. The parson was past niceties now.

After that, half the village flocked to be married.

The end of May is always a stirring time Horwick and Wadsworth way, for on the 29th there falls due the Horwick Spring Fair, and within a fortnight or so the sheep-shearing begins. Strangers come to Horwick for the fair, and for three days the pieceboards are converted into stalls for all manner of merchandise, and a big field off the Fullergate is given over to clowns and vagabond players and tumblers, who perform in tents or on wooden stages. All is noise and bustle and gaiety; and that spring, in addition, these weddings were being celebrated almost every day, each with its private feast. Sweethearts and mothers and grandmothers, young men from the looms and old men from the pastures and scanty farms, all were for the churching; there was never anything like it. For the women, some of them had wedding-rings that, nevertheless, had not been put on their fingers in the presence of any priest; some wore rings of their mothers', or of their mothers' mothers; and for another batch Pim o' Cuddy (now very well married indeed, and, moreover, living in intimacy with his wife again) was despatched for the new key of the church door. They stood in the building that their dogs and fowls and ferrets had made profane for them; they shuffled their feet on the new floor-boards; they glanced uneasily at the scratched and disfigured pillars; and children stood up the mountainous Scout to peer in at the windows. Their neighbours gave them in marriage, or they received the service at the hands of Pim o' Cuddy; and men took to be their wedded wives and to live together the women whose sons and daughters awaited the same Ordinance and their turn to take on themselves the same solemn vows. And all the time the Horwick streets were thronged, and the inns filled to overflowing, and the Back o' th' Mooiners, coming down on the Wednesday or Thursday, did not return to their hills till the Saturday or Sunday.

It was worth something, in those days, to hear Cole the clogger make sport of Dooina Benn. For Dooina, with her times and seasons, was utterly lost and bewildered. The clogger, winking at those about him, gave her the news of the marriage of a couple whose ages together totted up to a hundred and twenty or thereabouts, and bade her mark it on her calendar; and poor Dooina could hardly have told plantain from ivy-berries, which are the best and worst things wedded folk can make use of. During this comedy the supervisor of excise came out of his door at the top of the croft; with all this marrying, the supervisor could not be left out; and the Back o' th' Mooiners writhed on Cole's bench and clicked their clogs feebly with delight when Cole suggested that no fitter mate could be found for the dwarf than fat Dooina herself. The jest became current within an hour.

On the second day of the feast Arthur Monjoy came upon Cope in the fair-field; the exciseman was talking to a couple of strangers behind a tent.

“Ah, Cope,” Monjoy cried; “what's this news I hear of you and Mrs. Benn?”

“Ah, Monjoy!” Cope replied absently, as a man answers to an interruption he has scarce heard. “Eh? ... Yes, yes; hn! hn! You are such a one for your jest, Mr. Monjoy!” He patted the air softly away from him again, and Monjoy passed on without noticing that he had for once omitted the deferential “Mr.”

The big engraver, too, was not untouched by this gale of universal espousals. Cicely Eastwood was a Wadsworth lass, eligible to be married in Wadsworth. Not all these amazing nuptials were of flesh so fair and fresh as hers; and a Wadsworth wedding that left Cicely single and a maid would have been like to break Dooina Benn's heart. Arthur Monjoy sought an occasion.

Cicely was to have left Sally a fortnight before, but the fair had so crowded the “Pipes” every evening that even with a couple of extra men her help was no more than was needed. She was in and out of the parlour, and her colour was brighter and deeper, as, indeed, that of every marriageable lass seemed to be. The parlour discussed her openly, almost before the door had closed behind her; and when one man, speaking of her two suitors, remarked that “a loom only wanted one shuttle,” it was pretty well settled among them that Monjoy was like to be the shuttle.

He found her in the kitchen one evening cutting up great loaves and cheese, and breaking on every minute to answer a knock or shout. He flung his cap into the window-seat, and she looked up and smiled, but did not speak. He perched himself on the end of the table, watching her housewifely occupation, and thinking, maybe, that her hand was as much made to divide a loaf as her foot to press a rocker. A call summoned her to the parlour; and when she returned it was to find him cutting clumsily at the cheese—for he had lately burnt his hand. Sally was upstairs, and they were singing in the parlour.

“Nay, let me do it,” she said, putting forth her hand for the knife; and Monjoy took her hand as if it were quite a natural thing to do. She seemed as little constrained.

“Where's Ellah?” he asked.

“He was here an hour ago. Oh, let me get on, Arthur!”

“Do you want him here—now?” he said, drawing her nearer to him.

“I don't want any of you, this busy,” she replied; but as she became suddenly conscious, her colour deepened, and her hair seemed startlingly fair against it. There was a rising hubbub outside in the market-place.

“Listen!” she cried; “here are more coming!” She drew away her hand swiftly and ran out. She returned with a pile of platters, and pushed at the door with her knee, steadied the platters, and guided the closing of the door with her foot, all in one busy gesture.

“They're on from the 'Fullers,' shouting for supper.—Nay, not now, Arthur!—”

But he did not withdraw the arm he had placed about her, and his great red bear's head was close to her cheek. “Will you, Cis?” he said, huskily.

“Oh, reach me that butter! Nay, I've knocked your hand.—Will I what?”

“Marry me——

“Yes, yes—reach me another loaf from yon pot——

“And when, dear?”

“Oh, go, go! They'll be in here in a minute. Another time—in the morning—go, and send Harry——

The noise of steps was heard along the passage. He caught up his cap and started for the door, not wishing her to be found with him. Suddenly she stepped backward to the passage door, pushed the bolt, and lifted her head. He darted towards her. She gave him her cheek, pushed back the bolt at the same instant, and he disappeared as the door opened.

Thus hurriedly, for Cicely Eastwood, came and went her delicious moment.

After that, not the clogger's shop only, but half Horwick and all Back o' th' Mooin were abuzz with the news. The strict three days of the spring fair were over, but Horwick seemed as if it would never know the sober traffic of a Thursday again. Far into the warm nights lads and men sat on the pieceboards and drank ale. James Eastwood was boisterously complimented on the winding up of his clock. The jest of Cope and fat Dooina was renewed, and Eastwood Ellah, it was said, had been seized with another igg and had talked loudly and disjointedly in the middle of the Fullergate. The wedding was fixed for the second week in June; that was also the appointed time for the shearing of Eastwood's sheep, and one supper was to celebrate both events.

The wedding morning broke hot and cloudless, with a sky of midsummer blue and larks invisible in it singing tirelessly. The bell in the squat belfry at Wadsworth began to ring at eight o'clock in the morning, and up the Shelf from Horwick and down the Scout from Back o' th' Mooin hundreds of people poured. From behind the houses at the top of the village, where a stream had been dammed for the washing that had taken place the day before, came the constant calling of penned sheep; and now and then a man passed up the street with a bucket of tar or ruddle for marking. You could hardly get into the “Gooise” for drinkers and merrymakers, and a throng as dense filled James Eastwood's yard, where three tables were already set up. Matthew Moon had come, little in his way as were women and weddings; and to top all, Monjoy had taken no refusal but Jeremy Cope must come also.

The parson passed from his house at a quarter-past eleven; but no sooner had he set foot in the church but out he came again, beside himself with indignation. The church was a tumult of laughing and shouting and hilarity. Pim o' Cuddy was fetched from the bellrope and sternly bidden to announce that there would be no wedding, and Pim fled from the ire in the parson's face. His appearance in the clerk's desk was the signal for a shout; and in consternation, Arthur Monjoy, who had but just arrived, sought the parson. The parson was already half way to his own house.

“Be off, if you are he!” the parson cried; “or bow your back to the pillars, as Samson did, that God's defiled house may overwhelm you all together!”

But Monjoy's own rage and remorse were so apparent, and he besought the parson so movingly for one minute in which he himself might restore order, that the parson cried, “I give you three minutes, then; but if so much as a whisper reaches my ears——” Monjoy was gone. Before the parson had fairly turned back, the engraver, coiner, forger, unlicensed smelter of metals, was in the clerk's desk and Pim o' Cuddy was pitched into the arms of the horde below. As he stood there, it was hardly too much to say of him that he looked a king, a barbarian king of some older time, who made laws with his eye and executed them with his hand.

“Have you done?” he roared.

At his wrathful voice the tumult fell.

“Take those caps off!”

There was a movement, every cap was removed, and Monjoy's head moved arrogantly from side to side.

“Now. He who moves hand or foot settles with me. When the words 'Let us pray' are pronounced, you will kneel, and you will remain kneeling till the Amen. There's none here who doesn't know me; he doesn't know me who doesn't do this. When my head bows and my knee bends, by this house and its Master, yours shall!”

A moment longer he stood in the desk, and then left it amid such a silence that the calling of the sheep away by the dam could be heard. They fell from before him as he passed out of the church again; he reappeared alone at the altar, his back to the congregation. Presently Cicely and James Eastwood appeared, the parson following.

The now familiar service was brief. Obediently as children, docile and uncomprehending as children, Back o' th' Mooin knelt for the prayer. An Amen or two, well-nigh forgotten, rose to lips as the parson ceased; and then they rose again. The parson gave out a couple of verses of a hymn; only Pim o' Cuddy and a few others sang it, but all stood in imitative attitudes of reverence, just as at the pieceboards they had imitated gestures of ridicule and derision. They passed out of the church and put on their caps again, and the chief actors entered the vestry where the registers were.

In the afternoon the sheep were shorn and turned off again up the Scout, where they bleated continually. The grey fleeces were stacked in James Eastwood's yard, and a great drinking and carousing was toward in the “Gooise,” where the parlours and passages were so packed that the ale for the shearers had to be passed out of a window. The noise increased as the afternoon wore on. Mish Murgatroyd, Dick o' Dean, and certain others, wishing to know what Cope the supervisor weighed, set him on a pair of wool-scales amid uproarious applause—six and a half stone—“six for th' body and th' odd half for his legs.” You could have told where Monjoy was by the cheers that rose from time to time. Cicely and Sally and Dooina Benn appeared at an upper window, and there was more cheering; but the biggest cheer of all came when Cicely and Arthur rose hand in hand at the supper-board and Arthur tried to thank them all. But there was no hearing him for the din, and he sat down again. The parson, still in righteous dudgeon (and, maybe, having his own opinion of the big bridegroom's method of obtaining order in the church), had looked in for a minute and withdrawn again; but as he passed the gate of the yard there arose another tow-row, and half a dozen Back o' th' Mooiners brought in Jeremy Cope on a hurdle, as if for a stang-riding, and shuttered him off on to a pile of fleeces. “Fotch Dooina tul him!” they cried; and Cope mopped and mowed and blinked his purple lids. Monjoy rescued him from Dooina's arms. It grew late. Over the Scout the moon rose mild and yellow, and they began to leave Eastwood's yard and to assemble in the square outside the “Gooise.” Some began to ascend the sheep-tracks of the Scout, but the most remained till morning, when there was a great swilling and sousing and freshening-up at the horse-troughs. During all the following day they straggled homewards, to celebrate Red Monjoy's wedding in their own fastnesses; and two days later there came word of rejoicings still continued at Booth, where, with fantastic rites, the effigies of Monjoy and Cicely had been crowned and enthroned, King and Queen of Back o' th' Mooin.