Read Cunning Murrell Online

Authors: Arthur Morrison

Tags: #Historical Romance

Cunning Murrell (25 page)

But here Cunning Murrell interrupted. The whole speech was a trifle
disconcerting for him; but the latter sentences, which Roboshobery Dove had
wished him to take as an artistic and subtle assurance that his secret was
safe, put him in alarm. So now he came forward and took up the speech

“Axcuse me, Master Dove,” he said, with calm dignity. “‘Tis much as Master
Dove hev told yow, neighbours, though not said as I might say’t. It hev come
to be known to me that of late sarten of my lawful trials n’ experiments an’
inquisitions hev been interfered with an’ set wrong by a strange an’ unusual
matter, which I hev now mastered an’ got rid of, an’ so needn’t try to
explain to yow, especially as yow’d never unnerstan’ my meanin’ if I did. The
last experiment that was so made to fail was this evenin’ at Master Banham’s,
as doubtless yow’ll hear of at length in the mornin’. The trouble is now made
known to me, an’ got rid of for he future. I wish yow good-night,

Steve Lingood came up and joined the little crowd just as Murrell’s
explanation finished, and the neighbours, bedazed already by the tumultuous
events of the night, began to discuss this new marvel. As they did so, and
just as the sound of Banham’s cart was heard a little lower in the lane, a
shout arose from the meadow behind the stile, over which several fresh
coastguardsmen had come, scurrying in from eastward. And at the shout the
chief officer left the cart and came running. There was a scuffle behind the
hedge, an oath, and a few blows; then a wrangle of cries—“Hoad him!”
“Look out!” “Where be?” “Stop him, damme!” “There he go!” “Here! Where be
him?” “This way!” “No, he’s gone!”

The chief officer rushed at the stile with such a mouthful of salt-sea
rhetoric as Hadleigh had never heard before. But he was too late, for Golden
Adams had got away.

“But there’s a mort o’ tubs here in the ditch, sir!” a coastguardsman
reported. And the chief officer was appeased when he found there was.

Truly for Hadleigh this was a night of nights, this of the very last run
of tubs ever attempted on that coast.


IT was a year—more than a year—ere Hadleigh was
again the same quiet Hadleigh that it had been before old Sim Cloyse’s last
enterprise in contraband. Next year’s fair-day put a short check on the
matter as a subject of conversation, it is true; but it was restored in a
week, and thirty years afterward it was still a convenient topic at the
Castle Inn on winter evenings. It is possible that even now some remain who
use that bewildering night as the epoch in their calendar, before which and
after which they date the births, marriages, deaths, and other happenings of
Hadleigh and Leigh, even as the Moslem dates from the flight of his prophet.
It was near a week ere the quicker-witted had sorted out the night’s
adventures in their own minds, and never after did any one of them agree with
any other as to how it all came about, or in what order. As for the
slower-witted, they went puzzled to their graves.

But in some way the night’s work put a brace to Mrs Martin’s faculties.
She brought the revenue men to Castle Hill, and waited at the foot with
Dorrily while they crept stealthily to the top; and as soon as it was plain
that a seizure was being made and that nothing more remained for her to do,
she submitted to go quietly home and to bed. It was a piece of her old life,
a revival of her old activity, and it gave her sound and healthy sleep. And
in that sleep she slept away the clouds from her mind, waking to something of
her old self. For in the morning she gave a loose to her grief for her lost
son, such as she had not given before, even when the news was brought her;
much, indeed, as though its true meaning were only now made clear.

There was an end, too, of the tale of her witchcraft. There were women who
shook their heads still, and others who held it a shame that Cunning Murrell
had not been more careful; but most were content, with some shamefacedness,
to let the thing drop wholly. They had ever a reluctance to make over-close
acquaintance with her, but perhaps the shamefacedness had its part in that;
and, in truth. Mrs Martin was little perturbed, for she was never a

Whether or not the thing in any degree shook the popular confidence in
Murrell it would be hard indeed to say. Probably not, for Cunning Murrell was
an article of faith too long established to be overset by a trifle; and
indeed there was no sign of it, though for some little while Ann Pett was
regarded with suspicion, because of the adventure in Banham’s bake-house.
This, however, rather increased than diminished the awe in which the cunning
man was held; and soon his fame stood higher than ever, because of certain
very notable successes.

One of these was made evident in the case of Dorcas Brooker. For it came
to be known that she had looked in Cunning Murrell’s famous pail of blackened
water, and therein had seen Sam Gill’s ship flung on a rock, and wrecked. And
truly enough Sam Gill was shipwrecked on the Azores, for he came back
himself, sent home to his own parish by charity, and told the tale. And
anybody who doubted might go and ask for him at Atkins’s, the boat-builder,
where he got work, and behaved very well. And if, now that Atkins’s is no
more, you still offer to doubt, you may see the record of the wedding of
Samuel Gill and Dorcas Brooker in the Leigh register at this day.

Another triumph was in the case of Em Banham, whom Cunning Murrell cured
at last—or at any rate Em Banham was cured. He went to work, this time,
with more caution, and he used no more iron bottles. Instead he persevered
with experiments in physic, using herbs, some stewed, some dried, some
chopped, and many made into very large and ugly pills. He persisted so long
and so industriously in this treatment that it were a mere absurdity to
suggest that in the end the girl grew out of her trouble; and indeed nobody
did suggest it. The cure first began to show itself on the next Midsummer
Day, when Em Banham went a-fairing with Joe, Dan Fisk’s son, and was never
melancholic again. Her sister Mag went a-fairing too, with young Sim Cloyse,
just as she had done the last time; and there was nothing to mar the joy of
that day, nor to quench the smell of peppermint.

And so with a slow and gradual drowsing Hadleigh fell asleep again. The
black cottage stood in its place, and in truth neither before he went to gaol
nor after he came out did old Sim Cloyse dream of demolishing it; for that
was a project born of a moment’s ardent inspiration in the brain of young
Sim. The days came and went, and the months; even the back pay and
prize-money due to the day of Jack Martin’s fatal shore-going came at last,
and the tiny pension; and a year went, and another year; and life at the
black cottage saw little change.

But in time there came a day—though it was long to wait—when
Steve Lingood looked from the high meadows down to the black cottage, and saw
in the garden Dorrily Thorn, with a red rose in her hair.


SIX years were gone, and it was a bright day, and not so
cold as it might have been, in December, 1860. Stephen Lingood came up from
Leigh by way of the marshes, taking a zig-zag path with care and forethought,
for in the winter months it is an easy thing to get into difficulties in
boggy spots thereabout. Once on the slope of Castle Hill, however, he was
free of the soft places, and climbed with less heed.

He gained the top and stood beside the greatest of the broken towers to
look back. It was a view that had not changed for two hundred years and
more—since Croppenburgh dammed and dyked Canvey Island—save in
one particular. There toward the east and the sea lay Leigh with its red
roofs, floating, as it seemed, on the water. There stretched the water,
bright in the sunlight, with the grey Kent coast beyond; and there lay Canvey
Island, wide and flat and low, like a patch of duckweed in a pond. Nearer was
the Ray, that cut the island off from main Essex; and nearer still the green
marshes, where now a boy was jumping, backing, dodging, and jumping again, a
mere speck in the distance, trying to out-manoeuvre a pony that would not be
caught; while a man, a rather bigger speck, climbed a white gate to dodge the
pony on the other side. And this was where the one change was. For the white
gate closed a path that led across the railway; and the railway stretched, a
straight thin brown line, through Casey March from end to end, east and west,
and its next station was at Leigh.

Lingood descended the hill behind, and walked up the lane. The black
cottage looked down from he bank, but there was a new tenant there now The
smith kept his way up the lane along which old Sim Cloyse’s tubs had been
carried in Banham’s cart six years ago, in the time of the war, passed
Cunning Murrell’s cottage, and come out in Hadleigh street. The hammer rang
gaily in the smithy where his new man was at work, but Lingood stopped at his
house adjoining—the white cottage with the green door—at the
sound of a song within.

“What will you give me, captain, if that pirate I
“I’ll give you fame, I’ll give you gold, you little cabin boy,
And you shall wed my only child, she is my pride and joy,
If you sink ‘em in the Lowlands low.
Lowlands! Lowlands!
If you sink ‘em in the Lowlands low!”

Steve Lingood had no need to peep to know that Roboshobery Dove, with a
small girl on the sound knee and a small boy clinging to the wooden leg, was
at his favourite amusement in these days, when there were no captured ships
to watch for from the Castle loophole, and gardening was stayed till spring.
Lingood’s wife nodded and smiled from the window, and he went on to the

At Cunning Murrell’s, too, there was a change, though a change of a
different sort. There in the keeping-room, with all his books, papers, and
herbs about him, Cunning Murrell lay a-bed, wasted smaller than ever, though
sharp of eye still. He had had the bed brought downstairs, that he might lie
here among his treasures, in the place where he had listened to so many
secrets, solved so many difficulties, and settled so many destinies. The door
had been curtained off with old shawls to give him some privacy from draughts
and visitors, and Ann Pett waited on his wants faithfully still.

“Ann Pett,” said Murrell, his small voice smaller than ever, but sharp,
though now with something almost childish in it; “Ann Pett, I will hev the
book o’ conjurations from the drawer—no, no, the long one—and I
will read, Doan’t make the gruel—I shan’t want it.”

Ann Pett gave him the manuscript book with its teeming spiders of signs
and sigils, and, propped in his bed, he took his iron-rimmed goggles and
settled to read. But first he resolved certain business matters.

“If Mrs Bennett send round for more ‘intment,” he squeaked, “‘tis that in
the gallipot on the top shelf, next the window. ‘Tis twopence, an’ don’t let
her hev’t without. Ben’t as though she couldn’t pay it. An’ if Simmons’s come
about the cow send ‘em away. I woan’t be bothered.”

“An’ what mus’ I say if the noo curate comes agen?”

“Send him away too. I will not hev the noo curate. He knows nothen, that
he should come here teachin’ me. He be a boy as might be my great gran’son,
an’ I be the devil’s master, as be well knowed. Clargymen den’t bother me in
the oad time, an’ I will not hev this meddlin’. Send him away…What be that

The old man paused, with his thin grey lips apart, and his hand to his

“‘Haps it be the Lunnon railway train,” said Ann Pett.

“Ah! the railway train,” he repeated absently; “the railway train…Yes,
yes.” Then he spoke up again. “There be one more thing, Ann, an’ the last I
hev to tell ‘ee. I hev been carled. He who hev given me my cunnin’ an’ my
larnin’, and hev putt me in dominion over arl evil things, hev sent for me,
an’ I shall go—to-morrow, at one o’clock. Ann, yow’ve been a good
darter to me, though dull of unnerstandin’. It grieve me I han’t much to
leave ‘ee. Yow hev little money in hand, I know; but yow shall hev a good
gown for once in your life, to wear at the funeral. Look yow in the box under
the stairs an’ take a sovereign. Get the best frock it will buy, an’ if one
sovereign ben’t enough, yow’ll find anoather. An’ now leave me, Ann. I shall
go, as I tell ‘ee—tomorrow—at one o’clock.”

And he did, to the minute.




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