Back o' the Moon, and Other Stories/Back o' the Moon/Chapter 6

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pp. 77–88.

CHAPTER VI.

EMMASON.

From John Emmason, the magistrate, circuitously through James Eastwood (who, better than anyone else, had the magistrate's humour), came a word that set Matthew Moon's brows a-pucker and started him pacing with his fists doubled deep in his breeches pockets. Emmason, meeting the flockmaster near the Piece Hall, had put it after his own fashion.

“Willis is looking very well,” he had remarked, allowing his eyelids to flutter and fall.

Eastwood's own eyes had narrowed suddenly. “Who is?” he had asked.

“Willis. Parker's clerk at Ford. I saw him in conversation with our supervisor on one of the feast days.”

“Oh, aye?” Eastwood had replied. “Well, your health's a grand thing to keep.... How if me and Matthew was to look in for a bit of a chat this evening, John?”

“You'd be very welcome, James,” the magistrate had answered; and Eastwood had straightway sought Matthew Moon.

They repaired to the magistrate's house at eight that evening; they found him in his blandest mood. His lids drooped more than ever; his finger-tips met silkily; and he rang for wine.

“We must have wine,” he remarked. “You, James, or your daughter, or our good friend Monjoy (or all three), are to be congratulated, I believe? We must drink their healths. A happy event! I should have liked well to assist at the ceremony, but business—His Majesty's business——

“To be sure; I thank ye, John. Ay, there were stirrings; ye'd ha' laughed to see Cope o' th' pile o' fleeces——

“Ah, Cope was there? An oddity, that man; a crooked sort of personage; a man, I should say, not readily understood.”

Matthew Moon was frowning at his untasted wine. He looked up.

“What's that you told James about Cope?” he demanded; and again the magistrate's horse-face grew bland.

“I told James? Surely not!... Ah! I remember; I did mention that Willis seemed in excellent health and spirits. A very capable fellow, that Willis—zealous. I wish I had his like for a clerk. A clerk who can be trusted on a delicate errand——

“What sort o' delicate errand?” Moon demanded again; and the magistrate's brows rose.

“—who can be trusted on a delicate errand, why, I've been looking for one this five years!”

James Eastwood nudged the merchant that he should hold his peace; and by and by the magistrate hummed softly, as if at something interior to himself, and punctuated his remarks with delicate touchings of his fingers.

“Hum, hum! Do you happen, James (but possibly you won't)—do you happen to remember a conversation we had a little while ago, about saying Yes when No is meant?—Surely it was to you I was speaking of that?”

“To be sure,” said Eastwood (though he remembered no such thing). “It's odd ye should mention it, for I was thinking of it to-day. I've oft noticed that to speak o' things seems in a way to bring 'em about a'most.”

“Ah! I thought my memory had not failed me! Well, I had an instance only this morning, a trifle of business; briefly, it was this: Among my many letters was one from the solicitor to the Mint; two letters, to be precise, and they come pat on that conversation of ours. I was struck by the way in which these highly-placed law-officers can talk (so to put it), and say nothing. You will excuse me that I do not show you the letters themselves; and certainly I expected news in them. Perfectly formal, courteous letters—” he mused long, “—and yet so entirely superfluous as almost to seem blinds—puttings-off——” His eyes closed; he seemed to be tasting something delicate on his tongue; and Matthew Moon opened his mouth to speak. Again Eastwood nudged him.

“Ay,” said the flockmaster unctuously, “when letters doesn't say anything ye ha' to be sharpish to understand 'em.”

“Yes—yes and no,” mused the magistrate. “Ah, this Law!—You make a full confession of a thing, the Law finds it insufficient; you deny, and the Law murmurs 'Indeed?' and presently takes you by the heels. I have long letters sometimes, full of words, and all they say is this 'Indeed?'—And so much for our recent conversation, James.”

This time Matthew Moon struck bluntly in.

“Do ye mean, i' plain words, that they're setting ye aside?” he said; and at that moment an accident befell the magistrate's glass of wine. It overturned at his elbow, and Emmason rose hastily for a napkin. He dabbed up the spilt liquid, and then crossed to the window, putting his hand against the crack of the shutter.

“I think the wind is north, for this room is uncommonly draughty,” he muttered. “You will pardon me, I'm sure, but I am just recovering from an ear-ache——” He took some morsels of cotton-wool from his pocket and stuffed them into his ears.

The merchant made a little exclamation of contempt, and turned to Eastwood.

“Is that it, James?” he asked, while the magistrate inspected the cornice of the room.

“Nay, if ye will come in like that——

“Does he mean Cope's trafficking wi' Ford magistrates and leaving ours alone?”

“Why won't ye leave John to me?”

“No need; it's plain enough. We've been looking west instead o' east, that's all.” (The magistrate nodded, and immediately seemed to doze, nodding again twice or thrice.) “There's the Gazette at the clogger's, with its pigeons and creeping about and all that, that's all west; and east, there's them I warned ye o' before, that'll ha' nothing to do with us, and Ford, and a Ford magistrate's clerk i' Horwick.—His legs don't amount to much, but he can get letters, and sit in the 'Pipes' all ears, and set fools sniggering with his 'La, Mr. Monjoy!'”

“Well, let me get what I can out o' John.”

“Ay, let's have the clever work.”

Eastwood rose, set his hand for a moment to the crack of the door, and returned to Emmason.

“Ye're wrong, John; it's from the door, not the window. Come and sit between us,” he said.

The magistrate took the wool from his ears and changed his place, and while the others rested their elbows on the table he leaned back between them. Eastwood began the farce slowly.

“It's come over me this bit back, John,” he said deliberatively, “that there's a deal o' queer work goes on i' Horwick that folk knows little about.”

“Ay?” murmured the magistrate. “And in what sort?”

“Well, say there's poaching. A man i' your position doesn't hear tell of it, but it's spoken of openly among us. Magistrates can't be everywhere.”

“No, no; we occupy a difficult position,” Emmason assented; but the slow shake of his head said a good deal more. It said (for instance) that, if in truth he were officially discredited, zeal against poachers would hardly reinstate him.

“Then, there's more nor a bit o' smuggling along th' Causeway, fro' the Lancashire ports,” Eastwood suggested, tentatively; and again Emmason shook his head.

“The person to inform of that is Cope,” he said.

“True, true,” said Eastwood; and when again he spoke it was very slowly indeed.

“The Law, ye say, doesn't al'ays take plain speech; well, there's another thing, that ye'd best not take official till ye know more.—Now and then th' coin's been tampered wi'.”

“Are you sure the draught was from the door?”

“Ay, ay; come a bit closer this way.—Now, if that's so, ye ought to be informed; and supposing ye were to show some knowledge, as I might say, to the authorities—to interest 'em, like—then happen there'd be fewer letters wi' this 'Indeed?' in 'em.”

Emmason sat suddenly upright in his chair.

“You cannot mean to suggest to me, James, that in the event of any evidence being produced against such person or persons and so forth—that I should ever think of disregarding such evidence?”

Eastwood spoke with indescribable dryness—“I said information, not evidence,” he murmured; “it's a rum thing, is th' Law.”

Emmason leaned slowly back again. He ceased to set his finger-tips together, and his eyes gazed steadily at the reflection of the candles in the polished table. Eastwood watched him furtively; Moon had not moved. The magistrate began to murmur, neither quite aloud nor quite to himself; and the expression on Eastwood's face became one of deep abstraction. All the world is agreed that when a man's musings are overheard the secrecy of them remains inviolable; it is a nicer point whether or not you may rule your conduct by the light of any information they may contain. Only by the acutest attention could John Emmason's murmurings have been overheard; but they were something like this: “If it isn't too late—if they'll still listen to me—I could approach Cope before he gets too deep with Parker—yes, to show a little knowledge—ah! ...”

*****

Between Matthew Moon and the flagitious magistrate little love was lost, and Moon's view of the case was laid before the Executive two days later, at a meeting in an upper room of the “Gooise” at Wadsworth.

“I was jealous of it at first; I am more than jealous now. Listen,” he said with great earnestness. “A gauger without legs, that can't knock about and keep an eye on things, what good is he? And that's the sort they've sent to Horwick. Why, think ye? I've a wit o' my own, with the fancy-work left out, and I know what it might be.—Suppose he wants us to make light of him, and to be the jest of every lad in the market-place, till we say, 'Tut, it's only Cope'; and then suppose he's listening and hedge-creeping, and setting a knot here and a knot there, like poachers wi' pheasants—what then?”

“You go too fast,” said Monjoy. “It may be that Emmason's being passed over; we're not sure of that yet; but even to think it would cast John down a bit.”

“John's as cast down as you're set up, Arthur, wi' the pomp o' this grand scheme o' yours. You're not the fittest man for a counsellor just now—leaving out ye're newly wed.”

“No?” said Monjoy with a laugh. “Fit or not, I've got a hillside of ore to go at, and laid out the foundations of two furnaces, and got the fire-brick made and the stone to the spot and men just starting to work day and night. That was a ballad, if I remember; but never mind that. You're out o' health, Matthew; perhaps you've some trouble we know nothing of.”

“Finish your say.”

“Here's Emmason going over to give Parker a neighbourly call. If all Emmason wants is to put up a show of zeal, we can manage that for him. An old die or two planted here and there won't do any harm, and he can give Cope a search-warrant, all as fair as the day. That'll amuse Cope in Horwick, and we're not going to invite him this side of Wadsworth.”

“Have you finished?” Moon asked.

“Why, what ails you, Matthew?”

“Because if ye have, I'll ask ye this: Who's been watching Cope lately?”

“I've been watching something better worth while,” Monjoy returned.

“Maybe; but I'll tell ye what I've seen, that won't hurt ye to know. I said before yon's mind was as ill-shapen as his body; listen: he's a man-eater, and hyænas laugh like him. There's no man's blood in yon. He lets ye shoot your spittle at him, and laughs just the same. What was it he laughed at first in the 'Pipes'? I see ye remember. I began to watch him after that, and I'll back my own wits against Emmason's clot o' sized warps, for all the fancy-work. I've seen him licking round at ye all with his filthy eyes, choosing men to fit the white cap wi' the black strings on and reckoning how many widows there'd be. Ay, I've seen his eyes feeding on that!—” He pointed suddenly to John Raikes's great neck.

“What!” cried Raikes, with a hoarse oath, starting suddenly up, while his chair tumbled behind him.

“Ay, and he's leered at Sally bringing in ale, and at Cicely, too, by God!—We've no grand new furnaces in Horwick, but there's odds and ends to watch. They weighed him at the shearing: how many of us has he weighed, and measured the rope for, with his watch in his hand?”

John Raikes gave a cry to drown his words. “Whisht, whisht!” he shouted.

“Ay, I've touched ye, have I? That's Cope. Don't trust my eyes; come and see. Come and see the busiest man in Horwick. Ye're going to bide what happens, are ye? See ye don't bide too long. What Emmason's going to do he must do quick, and James, that can talk his daft talk, must see to it. Don't tell me I've troubles ye know nothing about; ye've heard my trouble.”

John Raikes was pale, and he was clenching and unclenching his hands. Eastwood's crafty face was anxious and drawn into corrugations. Monjoy fiddled with his russet whiskers. Moon's speech had set a load on their spirits. But soon Monjoy began to come round. He remembered the merchant's habitual caution and lack of enterprise, his attachment to filing and clipping and sweating and such small matters, and quickly his own hazardous venture filled his mind again.—It was the obtaining of fuel that troubled him chiefly. Ore he had, and labour, and the security of the hills, but unless fuel was to be had near at hand ... but there must be coal still unworked ... there would be much to do before the furnaces were finished that did not need his immediate supervision, and he would see about the coal.... He was as thoughtful as the others, tapping his fingers on the table; but the merchant's words were already out of his mind.

“Give me two months, if this weather holds,” he cried suddenly, “and Johnny Cope shall think we've coined the big blessed silver moon herself! By heaven! if we stick for fuel, the lads shall bring their loom-timbers for the first fire! We'll weave a shalloon with a ring and music in it! What?—Then, some Horwick way, some Trawden, and we'll run it, rund and bar, down the Pennine to Sheffield, and Nottingham, and Derby, where Charlie turned back.... An ilion-end for the Elector! What, lads?”

He was on his feet, his arms extended, and the three looked at his red radiant countenance as if it had suddenly become unfamiliar.—“What, lads?” he cried again; and Matthew Moon rose.

“I've said my say,” he said. “There's no talking to Arthur; but you, John, keep in mind what I told you. I'll stand by the Exec'tive as long as I'm on it, and now I'll go and look after these things that doesn't matter so much in Horwick. Good night.”

The door closed behind him, and his heavy tread was heard on the stairs. Soon the others were deep in the discussion of the details of Big Monjoy's dangerous undertaking.