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MRS. HENRY WOOD
(ELLEN WOOD)

SHAVING THE PONIES' TAILS

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First published in The Argosy, January 1868

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-03-04
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NOTE

"Johnny Ludlow" was the name used by Ellen Wood as the by-line for a series of 90 popular stories and serial novels published in the British monthly Argosy, which she bought in 1867 and edited under her married name, Mrs. Henry Wood. The first story signed by and featuring "Johnny Ludlow" appeared in January 1868, the last in January-June 1891.

Six collections of stories in the series were published in book form. The first story, "Shaving the Ponies' Tails," was not included in any of these collections, presumably because some elements of the narrative and characterization are atypical in comparison with the rest of the series. The 48th story, "Fred Temple's Warning," was also omitted.

Roy Glashan



TOD did it. He made me hold the light, and he fastened them up to the manger, one at a time; and with Gruff Blossom's scissors, that were bigger than shears, he set to work. I had never been so frightened in my life before. Old Hetley was in-doors, Blossom was about somewhere, and there was no knowing which of them might come in upon us. Tod—But I had better begin at the beginning.

He lived at Dyke Manor, and his name was Todhetley. I mean the old Pater, not Tod; and, if you please, we must go back a few years, or you may not be able to understand it.

Old Todhetley was very rich; the farmers and people round about called him the Squire. He had no wife; she died when young Tod was a baby. Tod's proper name was the same as his father's, Joseph. We lived at the Court, three miles off, and I had no mother, any more than Tod had, for she was dead too. My father was William Ludlow; he was well off, but not so rich as Squire Todhetley, and they were good friends. I was John; and they called me Johnny.

One morning, when I was four years old, the servants told me I had a new mamma. I can see her now as she looked when she came home. We had a high post with a lamp upon it, outside the gate, and she was as tall and thin and upright as that; she had a pinched nose and flat, light curls on her forehead. Hannah said she was thirty-five—she was talking to Eliza while she dressed me—and they both agreed that she looked like a Tartar. She was a Miss Marks, who used to play the organ in church, and teach music; and Eliza said the master might have chosen better. I understood that they meant papa, and asked why he might have chosen better; upon which they both shook me, and said that they had not been speaking about my papa at all, but of the old blacksmith round the corner.

Papa died that year. At the end of another, Mrs. Ludlow married Mr. Todhetley, and we went to live at Dyke Manor; she, I, and Hannah. Tod did not like it. His father mostly called him Joe, the servants Master Joseph; but at school—to which we both went together—with the boys he was always "Tod," and I fell into the same habit. In contradistinction, I suppose, we got into the way of calling the Squire Old Hetley behind his back, and Pater to his face. Tod had been regularly spoilt by his father, awfully indulged; and naturally he did not like the invasion. As time went on, things grew uncomfortable. Tod and his step-mother waged mutual war in the holidays; the Pater resented it on Tod, and Tod resented it on both.

And now we can go on again from the present time. Tod was turned seventeen, and as big as a house; tall, and strong, and dark, with an imperious manner and a will of his own. I was fifteen; fair, delicate, and timid. People called me a muff; and they said Tod looked nearly old enough and wise enough to be my father. There were two little children at the Manor now: Hugh and Lena.

We were at home for the Christmas holidays. Things had gone on pretty peaceably the first week, but that came to an end. I think if Tod had taken the pains to understand Mrs. Todhetley better, he would not have hated her so. I used to say "Mamma" to her at times still, but he never would—he called her Madam. I am sure she would have been glad to be friends with him, but something was always happening to make them angry with each other. It rarely came to open battle of words; Tod was sarcastically cool to Mrs. Todhetley.

We did lead the children into mischief. Tod did, that is, and I helped. We loved them both; and Tod would have saved them from real injury with his life. "But we can't let Hugh grow up a milksop, you know, Johnny," he would say to me; "and that's what his mother is doing for him. I tell the Pater so." Everything Mrs. Todhetley said, everything she did, Tod resented. Not to herself, you know, but to himself. Before she came to the Manor, things were conducted there with a profuse hand; the Squire spending all his income; since then, expenses had been curtailed. First, this extravagance was cut off, next that toned down, until the outlay became moderate. Tod resented this worse than all.

We came home from church on Christmas Day; the Pater, Tod, I, and Hugh. Mrs. Todhetley had the tooth-ache, and did not go; she was always having it. Lena ran out in a white frock and blue sash, as we got home, and said the Sterlings had not come yet—who were to dine with us.

"There's plenty of time," cried the Pater. "We dine at four, and it's not two yet."

Tod and I divided an apple-pie, and then went out together. First of all, we had a look at the ponies, Punch and Toby; two beautiful black creatures, the pride of the Squire's stables, with flowing manes, and tails that touched the ground. They had been a recent purchase, and the Pater talked of them to everybody. The closed carriage had been laid down long ago; another of Mrs. Todhetley's innovations. It stood in the great coach-house still, but the horses had been sold. As a matter of comfort, the want affected neither Tod nor his father, it had been so rarely used; but Tod chose to be bitter over the curtailment. The Squire drove his ponies, he rode his saddle-horses, and Mrs. Todhetley went out in a low basket-chaise, drawn by a mild she-donkey. It was safer for the children, she thought. Tod went into fits whenever he met the procession.

Giles was in the stable, giving the ponies their beans. He had been groom there a long while; a cross-tempered fellow, especially when they called him "dwarf," from his small size, and he had never taken cordially to the ponies. An old horse that Giles cared for, if he cared for anything, had been got rid of to make room for the ponies, and Giles put on resentment, after the fashion of his young master.

"They eat well, Giles," remarked Tod, who had little Hugh in his hand.

"Ugh!" grunted Giles. "They'd eat their yeads off, an' 'ud let 'em, they creatures 'ould. I know. I wish they was buried, I do; they got me into a nice row with the master this morning."

"How was that?"

"About their exercising; and their food. He says I neglect 'em; 'ud serve all the horses afore I'd serve them. I said I knowed my duties to them as well as I knowed it to others; and then the row set in. Master's as fond o' they two cantankerous animals as he is of his children."

"Fonder than of me," put in Tod, who was laughing at Giles.

"I 'dun know about that, Master Joe; I know these ponies is always a making mischief atween me and others. It's they tails the Squire's proud on," added Giles, disparagingly, "and the animals is the same; you just watch 'em a bit else, a switching of 'em everlasting! I'd shave they tails off, for two pins."

"You would, would you!" broke upon our startled ears, and there stood the Squire at the stable-door, to the consternation of me and Giles. I had done nothing; but felt just as if I had. Tod kept his ground unmoved, and laid hold of Punch's tail; as if calculating what the trouble would be to dock it.

Letting the horsehair drop gradually from his fingers, he went off with Hugh; I followed, leaving the Squire and Giles to it By the sounds that supervened, it seemed the "row," as Giles had designated it, of the morning was being renewed.

We went as far as the Dyke, a broad ditch that divided at this spot the two counties, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, two miles from the Manor. There were no hedges on either side of the dyke, but a raised bank on this. Hugh, who was on in front, ran up it

"Stay where you are," shouted Tod to him. "You can't come to grief to-day, you know, in that fine plumage."

For Hugh had a new purple velvet affair on. If I call it affair, it's because I don't know what else to call it; it was not a coat, and it was not a frock. He was seven; and yet Mrs. Todhetley dressed him like a girl; his short white drawers had frills to 'em; and this was made another grievance of by Tod. Hugh's bare legs were scratched all over; his white neck-frills got torn. He was a brave little fellow, full of spirit, fearing neither man nor ghost; a pretty-faced child, with large blue eyes and long fair curls. For Tod to warn him against going to grief was something new, and I fancied he must be remembering that it was Christmas Day.

"I want to jump down, Joe," answered Hugh, from the top of the bank.

"You'd jump in. Stay where you are, I tell you, until I come."

Hugh came leaping down on this side, where there was no danger; the ditch, or dyke, was on the other. Tod ascended the bank and leaped it at once.

"Now then, Hugh, I'll catch you."

He stood on the edge of the dyke, ready to save Hugh, should his foot slip. The worst that would happen would be a wetting; but Tod meant to take care. Hugh leaped, and Tod caught him just as he was slipping backwards. How it happened I don't know, but the velvet got a tear in front. Such a rent!

"Whew!" cried Tod, with a whistle. "Madam will be brushing my jacket for that."

"I shan't say you did it, Joe," said Hugh, looking down ruefully. He had learnt to be fond of his fine clothes.

"Say it and welcome," returned Tod. "My back's broad enough. Mind you walk sedately now, Hugh; if you get your foot through that hole, you'll have the whole bottom off."

We were near the house on our return, us two talking secrets together (it was only about Mrs. Todhetley), and Hugh racing around, when we suddenly missed him. Tod stood still and looked back.

"What went with him, Johnny?"

I could not say. We should not have minded either, but for the velvet. Hugh was safe anywhere on the land. Tod had told me to smuggle him up-stairs to the nursery, and get Hannah to mend the slit.

"Perhaps he turned off by the oak-walk, Tod. If so, he is already in-doors."

"The young monkey! And Madam is now groaning over the rent! Well, my back, as I say, is broad enough for that."

The Sterlings had arrived, and there was bustle in the drawing-room. Young Mrs. Sterling had brought her baby, a little bundle in a blue cloak; old Mr. and Mrs. Sterling were talking to the Pater, young Mrs. Sterling was nursing Lena, Mrs. Todhetley was admiring the baby, whose nurse stood at the door. Old Thomas came in to say that dinner was served. Hugh was nowhere to be seen.

"He's gone up to Hannah of his own accord, Tod," I whispered. And Tod just nodded in answer; as if not caring one way or the other.

They began to cross the hall, and the nurse took the baby up-stairs. Lena had hold of Tod then, for the children were to dine with us, and I was behind. Suddenly they stopped in a sort of commotion, and there arose a hullabaloo that you might have heard over in Worcestershire.

Of all the miserable little objects possible for imagination to conceive, there stood the worst. It was Hugh, who had come bursting in at the hall-door with a great howl. He was green all over. The blood was pouring from his green face, his curls were dripping green slime, his legs and his purple velvet were nothing but green mud. As good explain at once that he had fallen into the duck-pond, and in scrambling out of it made his nose bleed. But it looked a great deal worse than that, and nobody could tell what to make of him. Mrs. Todhetley thought he was killed. She shrieked and sobbed, and gave Tod the accusation direct of being the author of the mischief. Tod denied it, his tone insolent.

"Look at his dress!" cried Hannah, who came flying down upon the scene. "Oh! ma'am, look at his beautiful dress! Can you deny doing that, sir?" she boldly asked Tod to his face, holding up the rent. She and Tod were always at daggers drawn.

"I did that," said Tod, distinctly. "That is, I caused him to do it"

A noise of a different sort, something like a man's passionate scream. It came from Tod, and I turned short round, frightened. The Pater had the horsewhip in his hand, laying it upon his shoulders. And he had never struck him since he was a child!

It was a wretched Christmas dinner; everybody in discomfort Tod had bolted up-stairs to his room, and the Pater scarcely spoke to anybody. He was a little man, with a few light hairs sticking up on his head, and excruciating nerves. These scenes would put him into an awful passion for a moment, but it was soon over. As he sat there, making only a pretence to eat, I knew that he was wishing in his bitter repentance that his hand had been cut off before it was used on Tod.

"Johnny," he whispered to me, by-and-by, pretending to pick up his table-napkin, "go up to Joe, and tell him to come down and have some dinner. Tell him it's Christmas Day."

Up I went, three stairs at a time, wondering in what condition I should find Tod, and half afraid to enter. But Tod was not there. He had taken the matter coolly, Tod fashion, and I found him in the housekeeper's room, seated at a table which had been laid for him, a servant in attendance.

"Wants me to come in to dinner, does he!" returned Tod, his mouth full of turkey. "My compliments to him, and I'm taking it here."

"Tod, I know he's as sorry as he can be. Do come! It's all so uncomfortable in there!"

"I'm glad to hear it!" answered Tod, emptying the tureen of bread-sauce on his plate

"But won't you come?"

"Not if I know it. That senseless little reptile goes and flings himself into the green pond, and the Pater—"

"Hugh says he fell in, Tod."

"It's all the same. And the Pater horsewhips me for it! If I don't pay him off, my name is not Todhetley. Here, Johnny."

"How will you pay him off?" I asked, drinking the glass of champagne he held out

"Leave that to me," said Tod, "I'll sleep upon it."

"I have told them it was not your fault, Tod. Hugh said so, too. He was coming in-doors by the fold-yard, and began chasing the ducks. That's how it happened."

"Awkward young donkey! But they shan't continue to blame me, right or wrong, for every scrape he falls into. That won't do, now it has come to a horsewhip. You may tell the Pater so."

"And you'll not come into the dining-room, Tod?"

"I've answered you once," said Tod, cutting himself a piece of pudding that must have weighed three pounds. "You needn't wait, Johnny." And back I went after the unsuccessful negotiation.

Tod's feast transpired, and the Pater was vexed. What had made him intensely miserable, apparently only made Tod more jolly. Had he heard that his son was indulging grief or resentment in solitude, he would have gone and made friends with him—I know he would—perhaps have said he was sorry for his haste. As it was, he let the affair drop, saying nothing.

But the old Pater was not one to bear resentment; and he loved Tod, in spite of his faults, better than anybody else in the world. On the following morning, when we were going to the Jacobsons'—a three-mile drive—to spend the day and dine, he spoke pleasantly to Tod.

"Put on your warmest top-coat, Joe. We shall have a sharp frost to-night."

Mrs. Todhetley's toothache was worse, and her face swollen the size of two, so she would not come. Hugh's nose was all right this morning, and she wanted to send him with us. But the Pater would not have it: he was not going to look after him all day, he said, to keep him out of the Jacobsons' duck-ponds.

We left him, sobbing and roaring with the disappointment, and started; I, Tod, and the Pater. Tod generally sat in front when his step-mother did not, but he put me there today, and got up behind. No servant went with us to the Jacobsons'; old Blossom, their groom, would take care of the ponies.

The Pater was a kind man when not in a passion. "I can see you are wanting to drive, Johnny," he said. "Well, you may take the reins for a little while." I could drive as well as the Pater, at any rate in my own opinion, and we bowled along the frosty road, old Pater in his usual glow over the ponies.

"Look at them, Joe!" he rapturously said, leaning back to Tod. "Don't they step together!—are not the heads fine? And the tails! There's not such a pair of tails in the county," he went on. "And I caught old Giles saying he should like to shave them off! I'd rather he came in when I was asleep, and shaved my head!"

Whether the words suggested ideas to Tod, or whether what happened later—but I had better go straight on. The Pater had not finished his say.

"I wouldn't answer for it, Joe, that I shall not have to send Giles about his business. He gets more pig-headed every day. You may keep a servant too long. Now, then, Johnny, I'll take the reins. We are close there."

At the Jacobsons' we found a regular party. All of them went out to see Squire Todhetley's model ponies, and decided that they and their tails deserved to be photographed About eighteen of us sat down to dinner at six. Old Sterling was one; and when the cloth was drawn, he told about Hugh's escapade, and what the Pater did with the whip. He meant it in joke, but he was an old fool for his pains. It put up Tod's blood awfully, and vexed the Pater, as I could see.

We did not sit so long as they did, and Tod got me round to the stables. "I want you there a minute, Johnny," he said. And I went, thinking nothing.

"I'm going to shave off their tails," he began, as he struck a light; and I laughed, supposing he was joking. But when I found he was in earnest, not jest, I nearly went out of my senses with fright; I almost went on my knees to him in the stable.

"Stow that!" said he. "All you've got to do is to hold the light. I shall never betray that you did as much as that, Johnny. Catch hold of the candle, and don't shake."

I always did what he told me: his was the master spirit: and I stood there, in the stable, lighting him, a very reed under his will. He had noticed a pair of large scissors, or shears, hanging there in the daytime. He said so as he took them down, when his preparations were made, and he proceeded to use them with right good will.

"We'll begin upon Punch first," said he, seizing the tail of the secured animal, and clipping off, at the first go, enough to stuff a pillowcase. "There's my beauty!" he chirped to the poor pony, with insidious flattery. "Punch shall have his tail trimmed, and make a fine show at the fair! Johnny, if you dodge the light about like that, I shall have an account to settle with you.. Are you laughing or crying, sir? Handsome Punch! A little more yet. Was it fond of its tail, then, and didn't it like to lose it!


"Oh, dear, what can the matter be?
Dear, dear, what can the matter be?
Oh, dear, what can the matter be?
He's got no tail for the fair!"


"Don't sing, Tod! Suppose they hear you?"

"Good Punch! Just a few more clips to make it perfect. We'll begin upon the mane next. Proud Punch! its tail shall be converted into a lady's chignon, and tied on with blue ribbons! Steady, Mr. Punch! be a gentleman, now! A little closer. You don't know how perfect an animal you'll be. Your own mother wouldn't know you!"

Perfect it was, but very bare. Had Tod served an apprenticeship to the art of tail-cutting, he could not have done it better. Toby's turn came next, but there was more trouble with him, and he could not be finished off so artistically. The manes escaped. Tod was beginning upon them when we heard a noise outside, so he just gave the nearest to him a good notch, and we prepared to decamp.

"Now, then, Johnny! Take down that apron of old Blossom's, and shove this horsehair in it as tight as you can. Make a ball of it, and pitch it into the pond. We must sacrifice the chignon. That's it!"

He blew out the light, and away we went. I flung the horsehair and apron into the pond, after which we got safe in-doors, and sat down to a round game at Pope Joan. Tod was going into fits of laughter perpetually, and the girls thought it was the cards that made him.

It was past twelve o'clock when we started home. The Pater had been boxed up in the dining-room, smoking with the old ones, and he looked half asleep. All of them were wanting their carriages together, and Tod ran out, telling Gruff Blossom he'd see to ours. Blossom thanked him: it stood to reason that he could not get about fifteen vehicles ready at once. So there was no difficulty in the matter. Tod harnessed the ponies to the carriage, and brought it round.

"You can drive, Joe," said the Pater, shaking hands with me, in mistake for somebody else; and he went fast asleep before we were clear of the Jacobsons' gates. Tod was silent all the way home, as if he did not like what he had done.

Success attended us. The Manor servants had been keeping up Christmas as well as ourselves, and Dwarf Giles was not in attendance to take the ponies. Three or four times in the year Giles would get too much to drink, and for twenty-four hours or so be no good to anybody. The Squire threatened to dismiss him every time, but never did it. Bill, the stable-boy, was there, and Tod and I went round with him.

"My eyes!" exclaimed Bill, when his lantern flashed on the ponies. "What's come to 'em?"

"Never you mind," answered Tod; "I suppose the Squire can do what he pleases with his own animals. The tails were getting too long." And that silenced Bill.

The Pater never came down the next day till twelve o'clock. The frost made him over-sleep himself, he said; and while he was breakfasting, Budd, the agent, came in. Tod was out of the way somewhere.

"I want to get over to Alcester to-day to the magistrates' meeting," said the Pater to Budd. "Ought to have started sooner, but the cold makes one sleep late. I'll drop you on the road, if you like, as you want to go towards Cookhill. It's a treat to sit behind those ponies of mine."

"So 'tis," answered Budd, tossing off a second glass of the ale brought in for him. "I never see foiner tails."

"Ah-h!" said the Pater, rubbing his hands at the compliment paid to the tails. "Johnny, go and tell Giles to get the chaise ready."

Giles was not about yet, but I and Bill did it, and he took the carriage round. I went under the pigeon-house, out of harm's way, and looked on.

Budd came out first, the Pater halting at the door to button his greatcoat Bill was at the ponies' heads, and the Pater caught sight of him. "Where's Giles?" he asked. Bill answered that he "was not in the way;" he did not dare to tell the master what was keeping him out of it

"Why, Squire, what on earth have ye had done to 'em?"

It was Budd that spoke, pointing to the ponies, and it caused the Pater to step quickly to his side. He stood transfixed for a minute, staring like a stone statue, and then he burst into a noise that brought the house out.

"He has shaved their tails! He said he'd do it. I'll transport him!"

"Who?" asked Mr. Budd, staring alternately at the ponies and the Pater.

"Dwarf Giles."

The poor things stood shivering like human creatures. No wonder, with their fine warm tails gone! Mrs. Todhetley came out, Hugh and Lena came out, old Thomas came out, the empty ale-jug in one hand, the glass in the other; the women-servants pat their heads out at the windows.

"Them there thick tails kep 'em warm," cried Budd,—about the worst thing he could have said. "'Twere like clothing to 'em, set aside the ornament they was."

"They are not our ponies, papa," cried Hugh.

Were they the ponies? The Pater rubbed his eyes as the doubt came over him. Had old Blossom harnessed the wrong ones to the chaise last night? Bill decided it

"They be um, sir, sure enough. This un's Punch, and that un's Toby."

Stepping up all perky, as if to show he'd had nothing the matter with him, came Dwarf Giles. At first the Pater did not notice him: they were all crowding around. To watch Giles's face, when he saw the ponies, was better than a comedy: his mouth and eyes opened, and did not shut again.

"Lawk-a-mercy!" cried he at last, "who's a done it?"

"You have!" roared the Pater, pouncing upon him with outstretched arms. And then there was an uproar. Lena screamed, Hugh began to kick Dwarf Giles, Mrs. Todhetley interposed, the tears running down her swollen face. Tod might have heard the uproar, though he was as far as Alcester.

Giles cleared himself, but it took some minutes to do it. In the face of this great evil, he confessed to the lesser one—that he had made too free with the Christmas tap early the previous afternoon, and had been lying up in the tallet amidst the hay until now, as witness the bits sticking to his small-clothes. It knocked him back'ards, it did, when he set eyes on the ponies, "as the master might ha' seen."

The master had been a little calming down, sufficiently so to hear. Bill ventured a word as to the state of the animals when they came home the previous night, and everybody turned to him. I tried to wink at Bill to keep him quiet, but he could no more see me than if I'd been in the rain-water barrel.

"My heart bled for 'em, it did, to see 'em brought back without their tails," cried the boy, earnestly. "They was shorn right off, they was, just as they be now. When I asked what had done it, Mr. Joseph, he telled me to mind my own business, he did. He said the Squire found the tails was growing too long, and he'd a right, he had, to do what he would with his own animals."

"Mr. Joseph said that?" roared the Pater, turning himself upon Bill.

"Yes, he did, sir; which were as good as saying you clipped 'em with your own hands. Ask Master Johnny if he didn't—he were there."

Master Johnny had taken care not to be in the way of being asked. The Pater saw it all—Joe had clipped the ponies.

But I never thought—no, not in my worst fear—that he'd take it up as he did. Sending the ponies back to the stable, he went in-doors to write a warrant for his son's apprehension, and hurried off with it himself to Jones, the constable. We kept our constable still, and the police turned their backs upon him. The Squire and his tenant-farmers thought it would be time enough to patronize the police when old Jones should be superannuated.

"You'll take him, Jones, dead or alive!" foamed the Pater, his passion having increased with the heat of walking. "Apprehend him just as you would a common felon, and put the handcuffs on him. I'll prosecute him for this work!"

Jones hid the handcuffs in his pocket, and started, his constable's staff in hand, and his mouth full of cold rabbit, for the Squire would not let him wait to finish his dinner. Of course the difficulty was, where to find Tod. I was behind the hedge, and saw and heard all this; and I went off on the search another way,

It was getting towards sunset, and I had been looking about for hours when I came upon them. I wish some artist-fellow had been there to photograph the scene. Tod was on the Worcestershire side of the dyke, and the constable on the other, and Tod was driving him wild.

Jones had fat legs, as if the gout had settled in them, and no breath to speak of. He wore that day brown corduroy smalls, and white ribbed stockings; the Squire had not allowed him time to put his gaiters on. Tod was young, and fleet as a deer. He made short inroads on the other's territory, stood meek as a lamb in the slanting sun, until Jones puffed up to within a yard of him, and then turned and leaped the ditch again, leaving Jones screaming with the aggravation. The old chap could have managed to get over the dyke, but on the other side he had no power.

"Howling is of no use, old Jones. Why don't you come over and take me? You've got your warrant, you know; you've got your staff; you've got your handcuffs. I'll stand stock still, and let you take me here, if you dare. Is that you, Johnny?—come to see the fun? Jones thinks he'd rather not take me over here. Now, then, Mr. Jones! why don't you leap the ditch? Shall I assist you down? Can't you? Wouldn't the law let you? Oh, that's it—is it? I'm in Worcestershire, and your warrant is for Warwickshire. Ho, ho, ho! Good old Jones!"

To see the way Tod danced about in the face of the constable as he said this—the most aggravating dance conceivable! To see the old chap's insane gestures, and his poor fat legs trying to dance too! Oh, it was good! Refreshing one's spirits after that scene of anger earlier.

They kept it up till dusk. And then old Jones, with the staff and the handcuffs, went, carrying back his rage to the Manor. I stayed there with Tod, on the safe side of the boundary, telling him how the discovery had come, as we walked about to keep ourselves warm. Tod laughed himself hoarse at the relation.

Down came the snow, a sharp, blinding shower of it. Under its safe cover, Tod stole home, I acting as pioneer, with my eyes on all sides. He got in through the dairy-window, and so up to his bed-room, not a soul seeing him; and I smuggled him up some bread and cheese and beer. The constable was taking a good meal in the kitchen, enchaining all the servants with the account of Master Joe's wicked doings. Tod sent me for some more beer, and Mrs. Todhetley pounced upon me as I was creeping down the staircase.

"You must come in and have some dinner, Johnny," she said. "Mr. Todhetley is not angry with you; he knows you'd not dare to do anything of the sort. Where have you been all day? You must be half starved."

The Pater helped me to a jolly good serving of beef; he saw I looked frightened; and Mrs. Todhetley gave me two great slices of plum-pudding.

"What do you know about the business, Johnny?" asked the Pater, while I was eating the pudding, his tone a kind one.

"Nothing," I answered, shivering inwardly. "And, if you please, sir," desperation gave me courage to say, "I couldn't have told of Joe, if I had."

The storm got worse as the evening went on. The wind howled, the snow came drifting against the dining-room windows. Generally the Pater went to sleep after dinner, but he was wide awake now. Hugh and Lena had gone to bed; Mrs. Todhetley was mending socks. Every now and then the Pater would walk to the window, draw aside the blind, and look out.

"I wonder where that young scamp, Joe, is?" he suddenly said, at about the sixth look. "One wouldn't wish a dog to be out such a night as this."

"Oh, Mr. Todhetley, won't you forgive him?" exclaimed my stepmother, the tears rising to her eyes. "He may be freezing to death in the snow."

"Serve him right!" growled Mr. Todhetley.

"No, no! Poor boy! you know, sir, you never did strike him before. And it was Christmas Day; and he was not in fault, after all."

Mr. Todhetley seized the poker, and drove it into the grate with such force that the live coals came flying out. Evidently he was vexed with somebody or other, unless it was himself.

"Suppose he should go and enlist for a soldier!" continued Mrs. Todhetley, who was sure to look on the worst side of things. "You know he threatened it once."

"Not he!" said the Pater, sending down the poker with a noise.

"Perhaps he's lying under some hedge for shelter—that high one beyond the dyke; or in the dyke itself. If sleep overtakes him he'll be frozen to death before morning."

Mr. Todhetley started up. "I think I'll go and look after him,"

"Not you," she said; "let Johnny go. You won't mind it, will you, Johnny? Try and find poor Joe; and tell him—tell him" (looking at the Pater) "that his papa will forgive him."

"May I tell it him, sir?"

"Nonsense, Johnny!" said the Squire, putting on as gruff a tone as old Blossom's. "You can't find him—"

"I think I could, sir."

"You young rascal, you know where he is! Tell me, this instant!" "I'll tell you, sir, if you'll promise to forgive him"

"Forgive him for making crying sights of my ponies!" returned the Pater; "and me the laughing-stock of all Warwickshire! I'd rather be seen behind a couple of mules. Go and look at the poor docked wretches."

"Their tails will grow again, sir," I pleaded, not in the least knowing whether they would or not. "Joe says that the feel of his father's whip will never wear off his back. He'd not have minded it from anybody else."

The Squire swallowed something in his throat. "Well, well; I'll not have him taken up, and I won't beat him. There, go and bring him home, Johnny."

"You can come too, please."

We went up-stairs in a body, the three of us. Tod was asleep. He lay with one arm outside the bed-clothes, and the shirt-sleeve had been pushed up to the shoulder, showing some blue wheals—those left on it on Christmas Day. Mrs. Todhetley quickly drew the sleeve down, and put the arm gently inside the bed.

"Poor Joe! don't wake him," said the Squire, in a soft voice. "But I must have a talk with him to-morrow. He can't expect to shave off ponies' tails, and not get told of it." And we went down-stairs again.

"It was all through the missis," I said to Tod when he awoke, respectfully alluding to Mrs. Todhetley. "But for her the Pater would not have come to. She wants to be kind to you, Tod."

"Madam shams," returned Tod. "I say, Johnny, though, I'd give my next quarter's allowance to be able to undo it. I dreamt just now that the Pater was dying, and that that precious gander of a Duff came in with his cane and his long face, and said the ponies' tails had killed him."

There's no more room. I'll tell something else about Tod another time.

Johnny Ludlow.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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