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MRS. HENRY WOOD
(ELLEN WOOD)

CRABB RAVINE

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First published in The Argosy, May 1869

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-08-04
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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



"YES! Halloa! What is it?"

To be wakened up short by a knocking, or some other noise, in the night, is enough to make you start up in bed, and stare round in confusion. The room was dark, barring the light that always glimmers in at the window on a summer's night, and I listened and waited for more. Nothing came: it was all as silent as the grave.

We were staying at Crabb Cot. I had gone to bed at half-past nine, dead tired after a day's fishing. The Squire and Tod were away: Mrs. Todhetley went over to the Coneys' after tea, and did not seem in a hurry to come back. They fried one of the fish I had caught for my supper; and after that, there being no one to speak to, I went to bed.

It was a knocking that had wakened me out of my sleep: I was sure of that. And it sounded exactly as though it were at the window—which was very improbable. Calling out again to know who was there, and what was wanted—though not very loudly, for the children slept within earshot—and getting no answer, I lay down again, and was all but asleep when the noise came a second time.

It was at the dining-room window, right underneath mine. There could be no mistake about it. The ceilings of the old-fashioned house were low; the windows were very near each other, and mine was down at the top. I thought it time to jump out of bed, and take a look out.

Well, I was surprised! Instead of its being the middle of the night, it must be quite early still; for the lamp was yet alight in the dining-room. It was a cosy kind of room, with a bow window jutting on to the garden, of which the middle compartment opened to the ground, as French windows do. My window was a bow also, and close above the other. Throwing it up, I looked out.

There was not a soul to be seen. Yet the knocking could not have been from within, for the inside shutters were closed: they did not reach to the top panes, and the lamplight shone through them on the mulberry tree. As I leaned out, wondering, the crazy old clock at North Crabb Church began to tell the hour. I counted the strokes, one by one—ten of them. Only ten o'clock! And I thought I had been asleep half the night.

All in a moment I caught sight of some one moving slowly away. He was keeping in the shade; close to the shrubs that encircled the lawn, as if not caring to be seen. A short, thin man, in dark clothes and round black felt hat. Who he was, and what he wanted, was more than I could imagine. It could not be a robber. Robbers don't come knocking at houses before people have gone to bed.

The small side-gate opened, and Mrs. Todhetley came in. Old Coney's farm was only a stone's-throw off, and she had run home alone. We people in the country think nothing of being abroad alone at night. The man emerged from the shade, and placed himself right in her path, on the gravel walk. They stood there together. I could see him better now: there was no moon, but the night was light; and it flashed into my mind that he was the same man I had seen Mrs. Todhetley with in the morning, as I went across the fields, with my rod and line. She was at the stile, about to descend into the Ravine, when he came up from it, and accosted her. He was a stranger; wearing a seedy, shabby black coat; and I had wondered what he wanted. They were still talking together when I got out of sight, for I turned to look.

Not long did they stand now. The gentleman went away; she came hastening on with her head down, a soft wool kerchief thrown over her cap. In all North Crabb, no one was so fearful of catching face-ache as Mrs. Todhetley.

"Who was it?" I called out, when she was under the window: which seemed to startle her considerably, for she gave a spring back, right on to the grass.

"Johnny! how you frightened me! What are you looking out at?"

"At that fellow who has just taken himself off. Who is he?"

"I do believe you have on nothing but your nightshirt! You'll be sure to take cold. Shut the window down, and get into bed."

Four times over, in all, had I to ask about the man before I got an answer. Now it was the nightshirt, now catching cold, now the open window and the damp air. She always wanted to be as tender with us as though we were chickens.

"The man that met me in the path?" she got to, at length. "He made some excuse for being here: was not sure whose house it was, I think he said: had turned in by mistake to the wrong one."

"That's all very fine; but, not being sure, he ought to mind his manners. He came rapping at the dining-room window like anything, and it woke me up. Had you been at home, sitting there, good mother, you might have been startled out of your seven senses."

"So I should, Johnny. The Coneys would not let me come away: they had friends with them. Good-night, dear. Shut down that window."

She went on to the side-door. I put down the window, opened it at the top, and let the white curtain drop before it. It was an hour or two before I got to sleep again, and I had the man and the knocking in my thoughts all the time.

"Don't say anything about it in the house, Johnny," Mrs. Todhetley said to me, in the morning. "It might alarm the children." So I promised her I would not.


Tod came home at mid-day, not the Squire: and the first thing I did was to tell him. I wouldn't have broken faith with the mother for the world; not even for Tod; but it never entered my mind that she wished me to keep it a close secret, excepting from those, servants or others, who might be likely to repeat it before Hugh and Lena. I cautioned Tod.

"Confound his impudence!" cried Tod. "Could he not be satisfied with disturbing the house at the door at night, but he must make for the window? I wish I had been at home."

Crabb Ravine lay to the side of our house, beyond the wide field. It was a regular wilderness. The sharp descent began in that three-cornered grove, of which you've heard before, for it was where Daniel Ferrar hanged himself; and the wild, deep, mossy dell, about as wide as an ordinary road, went running along below, soft, green and damp. Towering banks, sloping backwards, rose on either side; a mass of verdure in summer; of briars, brown and tangled, in winter. Dwarf shrubs, tall trees, blackberry and nut bushes, sweet-briar and broom clustered there in wild profusion. Primroses and violets peeped up when spring came in; blue bells and cowslips, dog-roses, woodbine, and other sweet flowers, came later. Few people would descend except by the stile opposite our house and the proper zigzag path leading down the side bank, for a fall might have broken limbs, besides bringing one's clothes to grief. No houses stood near it, except ours and old Coney's; and the field bordering it just here on this side belonged to Squire Todhetley. If you went down the zigzag path, turned to the right, walked along the Ravine some way, and then up another zigzag on the opposite side, you soon came to Timberdale, a small place in itself, but our nearest post-town. The high-road to Timberdale, winding past our house from South Crabb, was twice the distance, so that people might sometimes be seen in the Ravine by day; but no one cared to go near it in the evening, as it had the reputation of being haunted. A mysterious light might sometimes be observed there at night, dodging about the banks, where it would be rather difficult for ordinary human beings to walk: some said it was a will-o'-the-wisp, and some said a ghost. It was difficult to get even a farm-servant to go the near way to Timberdale after dark.


One morning, when I was running through the Ravine with Tod in search of Tom Coney, we came slap against a man, who seemed to be sneaking there, for he turned short off, into the underwood, to hide himself. I knew him by his hat.

"Tod, that's the man," I whispered.

"What man, Johnny?"

"The one who came knocking at the window three nights ago."

"Oh!" said Tod, carelessly. "He looks like a fellow who comes out with begging petitions."

It might have been an hour after that. We had come up from the Ravine, on our side of it, not having seen or spoken to a soul, except Luke Mackintosh. Tod told me to stay and waylay Coney if he made his appearance, whilst he went again to the farm in search of him. Accordingly, I was sitting on the fence (put there to hinder the cattle and sheep from getting over the brink of the Ravine), throwing stones and whistling, when I saw Mrs. Todhetley cross the stile to go down the zigzag. She did not see me: the fence could hardly be gained for trees, and I was hidden.

Just because I had nothing to do, I watched her as she went; tall, thin, and light in figure, she could spin along nearly as quick as we. The zigzag path went in and out, sloping along the bank until it brought itself to the dell at a spot a good bit beyond me as I looked down, finishing there with a high, rough step. Mrs. Todhetley took it with a spring.

What next! In one moment the man with the black coat and hat had appeared from somewhere, and placed himself in front of her parasol. Before I could quit the place, and leap down after her, a conviction came over me that the meeting was not accidental: and I rubbed my eyes in wonder, and thought I must be dreaming.

The summer air was clear as crystal; not a bee's hum just then disturbed its stillness. Detached words ascended from where they stood; and now and again a whole sentence. She kept looking each way as if afraid to be seen; and so did he, for that matter. The colloquy seemed to be about money. I caught the word two or three times; and Mrs. Todhetley said it was "impossible." "I must, and I will have it," came up distinctly from him in answer.

"What's that, Johnny?"

The interruption came from Tod. All my attention absorbed in them, he stood at my elbow before I knew he was near. When I would have answered, he suddenly put his hand upon my mouth for silence. His face had a proud anger on it as he looked down.

Mrs. Todhetley seemed to be using entreaty to the man, for she clasped her hands in a piteous manner, and then turned to ascend the zigzag. He followed her, talking very fast. As to me, I was in a regular sea of marvel, understanding nothing. Our heads were hardly to be distinguished from the bushes, even if she had looked up.

"No," she said, turning round upon him; and they were near us then, half way up the path, so that every word was audible. "You must not venture to come to the house, or near the house. I would not have Mr. Todhetley know of this for the world: for your sake as well as for his."

"Todhetley's not at home," was the man's answer: and Tod gave a growl as he heard it.

"If he is not, his son is," said Mrs. Todhetley. "It would be all the same; or worse."

"His son's here," roared out passionate Tod. "What the deuce is the meaning of this, sir?"

The man shot down the path like an arrow. Mrs. Todhetley—who had been walking on, seeming not to have caught the words, or to know whose the voice was, or where it came from—gazed round in all directions, her countenance curiously helpless. She ran up the rest of the zigzag, and went swiftly home across the field. Tod disentangled himself from the brambles, and drew a long breath.

"I think it's time we went now, Johnny." It was not often he spoke in that tone. He had always been at war tacitly with Mrs. Todhetley, and was not likely to favour her now. Generous though he was by nature, there could be no denying that he took up awful prejudices.

"It is something about money, Tod."

"I don't care what it is about—the fellow has no business to be prowling here, on my father's grounds; and he shan't be, without my knowing what it's for. I'll watch madam's movements."

"What do you think it can mean?"

"Mean! Why, that the individual is some poor relation of hers, come to drain as much of my father's money out of her as he can. She is the one to blame. I wonder how she dare encourage him!"

"Perhaps she can't help herself."

"Not help herself? Don't show yourself a fool, Johnny. An honest-minded, straightforward woman would appeal to my father in any annoyance of this sort, or to me, in his absence, and say 'Here's So-and-so come down upon us, asking for help, can we give it him?'—and there's no doubt the Squire would give it him; he's soft enough for anything."

It was of no use contending. I did not see it quite in that light, but Tod liked his own opinion. He threw up his head with a haughty jerk.

"You have tried to defend Mrs. Todhetley before, in trifling matters, Johnny; don't attempt it now. Would any good woman, say any lady, if you will, subject herself to this kind of thing?—hold private meetings with a man—allow him to come tapping at her sitting-room window at night? No; not though he were her own brother."

"Tod, it may be her brother. She would never do anything wrong willingly."

"Shut up, Johnny. She never had a brother."

Of course I shut up forthwith, and went across the field by Tod's side in silence, his strides wide and indignant, his head up in the air. Mrs. Todhetley was hearing Lena read when we got in, and looked as if she had never been out that morning.


Some days went on. The man remained near, for he was seen occasionally, and the servants began to talk. One remarked upon him, wondering who he was; another remarked upon him, speculating on what he did there. In a quiet country place, a dodging stranger excites curiosity, and this one dodged about as much as ever the ghostly light did. If you caught sight of him in the three-cornered plantation, he vanished forthwith to appear next in the Ravine; if he stood peering out from the trees on the bank, and found himself observed, the next minute he'd be crouching amongst the broom on the other side.

This came to be observed, and was thought strange, naturally; Hannah, who was often out with Hugh and Lena, often saw him, and talked to the other servants. One evening, when we were finishing dinner, the glass doors of the bow-window being open, Hannah came back with the children. They ran across the grass-plat after the fawn—one we had, just then—and Hannah sat down in the porch of the side-door to wait. Old Thomas had just drawn the slips from the table, and went through the passage to the side-door to shake them.

"I say," cried Hannah's voice, "I saw that man again."

"Where?" asked Thomas, between his shakes of the linen.

"In the old place—the Ravine. He was sitting on the stile at the top of the zigzag, as cool as might be."

"Did you speak to him? I should, if I came across the man; and ask what his business might be in these parts."

"I didn't speak to him," returned Hannah. "I'd rather not. There's no knowing the answer one might get, Thomas, or what he's looking after. He spoke to the children."

"What did he say to them?"

"Asked if they'd go away with him to some beautiful coral islands over the sea, and catch pretty birds, and parrots, and monkeys. He called them by their names, too—'Hugh' and 'Lena.' I should like to know how he got hold of them."

"I can't help thinking that he belongs to them engineering folk who come spying for no good on people's land: the Squire won't like it if they cut a railroad through here," said Thomas; and the supposition did not appear to please Hannah.

"Why you must be as silly as a turkey, old Thomas! Engineers have no need to hide themselves as if they were afraid of being took up for murder. He has about as much the cut of an engineer as you have, and no more: they don't go about looking like Methodist parsons run to seed. My opinion is that he's something of that sort."

"A Methodist parson!"

"No; not anything half so respectable. If I spoke out my thoughts, though, I dare say you'd laugh at me."

"Not I," said Thomas. "Make haste. I forgot to put the claret jug on the table."

"Then I've got it in my head that he is one of them seducing Mormons. They appear in neighbourhoods without the smallest warning, lie partly concealed by day, and go abroad at night, persuading all the likely women and girls to join their sect. My sister told me about it in a letter she wrote me only three days ago. There has been a Mormon down there; he called himself a saint, she says; and when he went finally away he took fifteen young women with him. Fifteen, Thomas! and after only three weeks' persuasion! It's as true as that you've got that damask cloth in your hand."

Nothing further was heard for a minute. Then Thomas spoke. "Has the man here been seen talking with young women?"

"Who is to know? They take care not to be seen; that's their craft. And so you see, Thomas, I'd rather steer clear of the man, and not give him the opportunity of trying his arts on me. I can tell him it's not Hannah Baber that would be cajoled off to a barbarous desert by a man who had fifteen other wives beside! Lord help the women for geese! Miss Lena" (raising her voice), "don't you tear about after the fawn like that; you'll put yourself into a pretty heat."

"I'd look him up when I came home, if I were the Squire," said Thomas, who evidently took it all gravely in. "We don't want a Mormon on the place."

"If he were not a Mormon, which I'm pretty sure he is, I should say he was a kidnapper of children," went on Hannah. "After we had got past him over so far, he managed to 'tice Hugh back to the stile, gave him a sugar-stick, and said he'd take him away if he'd go. It struck me he'd like to kidnap him."


Tod, sitting at the foot of the table in the Squire's place, had listened to all this deliberately. Mrs. Todhetley, opposite to him, her back to the light, had tried, in a feeble manner, once or twice, to drown the sounds by saying something. But when urgently wanting to speak, we often can't do so; and her efforts died away helplessly. She looked miserably uncomfortable, and seemed conscious of Tod's feeling in the matter; and when Hannah wound up with the bold assertion touching the kidnapping of Hugh, she gave a start of alarm, which left her face white.

"Who is this man that shows himself in the neighbourhood?" asked Tod, putting the question to her in a slow, marked manner, his dark eyes, stern then, fixed on hers.

"Johnny, those cherries don't look ripe. Try the summer apples."

It was of no use at any time trying to put aside Tod. Before I had answered her that the cherries were ripe enough for me, Tod began at her again.

"Can you tell me who he is?"

"Dear me, no," she faintly said. "I can't tell you anything about it."

"Nor what he wants?"

"No. Won't you take some wine, Joseph?"

"I shall make it my business to inquire, then," said Tod, disregarding the wine and everything else. "The first time I come across the man, unless he gives me a perfectly satisfactory answer as to what he may be doing here on our land, I'll horse-whip him."

Mrs. Todhetley put the trembling fingers of her left hand into the finger-glass, and dried them. I don't believe she knew what she was about more than a baby.

"The man is nothing to you, Joseph. Why should you interfere with him?"

"I shall interfere because my father is not here to do it," he answered, in his least compromising of tones. "An ill-looking stranger has no right to be prowling mysteriously amongst us at all. But when it comes to knocking at windows at night, to waylaying—people—in solitary places, and to exciting comments from the servants, it is time some one interfered to know the reason of it."

I am sure he had been going to say you; but with all his prejudice he never was insolent to Mrs. Todhetley, when face to face; and he substituted "people." Her pale blue eyes had the saddest light in them you can well conceive, and yet she tried to look as though the matter did not concern her. Old Thomas came in with the folded damask slips, little thinking he and Hannah had been overheard, put them in the drawer, and set things straight on the sideboard.

"What time tea, ma'am?" he asked.

"Any time," answered Mrs. Todhetley. "I am going over to Mr. Coney's, but not to stay. Or perhaps you'll go for me presently, Johnny, and ask whether Mrs. Coney has come home," she added, as Thomas left the room.

I said I'd go. And it struck me that she must want Mrs. Coney very particularly, for this would make the fifth time I had gone on the same errand within a week. On the morning following that rapping at the window, Mrs. Coney had news that Mrs. West, her married daughter, was ill, and she started at once by the rail to Worcester to visit her.

"I think I'll go and look for the fellow now," exclaimed Tod, rising from his seat and making for the window. But Mrs. Todhetley rose too, as one in mortal fright, and put herself in his way.

"Joseph," she said, "I have no authority over you; you know that I have never attempted to exercise any since I came home to your father's house; but I must ask you to respect my wishes now."

"What wishes?"

"That you will refrain from seeking this stranger: that you will not speak to or accost him in any way, should you and he by chance meet. I have good reasons for asking it." Tod stood stock-still, neither saying Yes nor No; only biting his lips in the anger he strove to keep down.

"Oh, very well," said he, going back to his seat. "Of course, as you put it in this light, I have no alternative. A night's delay cannot make much difference, and my father will be home to-morrow to act for himself."

"You must not mention it to your father, Joseph. You must keep it from him."

"I shall tell him as soon as he comes home."

"Tell him what? What is it that you suspect? What would you tell him?"

Tod hesitated. He had spoken in random heat; and found, on consideration, he was without a case. He could not complain to his father of her: in spite of his hasty temper, he was honourable as the day. Her apparent intimacy with the man would also tie his tongue as to him, whomsoever he might be.

"You must be quite aware that it is not a pleasant thing, or a proper thing, to have this mysterious individual encouraged here," he said, looking at her.

"And you think I encourage him, Joseph?"

"Well, it seems that you—that you must know who he is. I saw you talking with him one day in the Ravine," continued Tod, disdaining not to be perfectly open, now it had come to an explanation. "Johnny was with me. If he is a relative of yours, why, of course——"

"He is no relative of mine, Joseph." And Tod opened his eyes wide to hear the denial. It was the view he had taken all along.

"Then why do you suffer him to annoy you?—and I am sure he does do it. Let me deal with him. I'll soon ascertain what his business may be."

"But that is just what you must not do," she said, seeming to speak out the truth in very helplessness, like a frightened child. "You must leave him in my hands, Joseph: I shall be able, I dare say, to—to—get rid of him shortly."

"You know what he wants?"

"Yes, I am afraid I do. It is quite my affair; and you must take no more notice of it: above all, you must not say anything to your father."

How much Tod was condemning her in his heart perhaps he would not have cared to tell; but he could but be generous, even to his step-mother.

"I suppose I must understand that you are in some sort of trouble?"

"Indeed I am."

"If it is anything in which I can help you, you have only to ask me to do it," he said. But his manner was lofty as he spoke, his voice had a hard ring in it.

"Thank you very much, Joseph," was the meek, grateful answer. "If you will only take no further notice, and say nothing to your father when he comes home, it will be helping me sufficiently."

Tod strolled out; just as angry as he could be; and I ran over to the farm. Jane Coney had received a letter from her mother by the afternoon post, saying she might not be home for some days to come.

"Tell Mrs. Todhetley that I am sorry to have to send her bad news over and over again," said Jane Coney, who was sitting in the best kitchen, with her muslin sleeves turned up, and a big apron on, stripping fruit for jam. The Coneys had brought up their girls sensibly, not to be ashamed to make themselves thoroughly useful, in spite of their education, and the fair fortune they would have. Mary was married; Jane engaged to be. I sat on the table by her, eating away at the fruit.

"What is it Mrs. Todhetley wants with my mother, Johnny?"

"As if I knew!"

"I think it must be something urgent. When she came in, that morning, only five minutes after mamma had driven off, she was so terribly disappointed, saying she would give a great deal to have spoken to her first. My sister is not quite so well again; that's why mamma is staying longer."

"I'll tell her, Jane."

"By the way, Johnny, what's this they are saying—about some strange man being seen here? A special constable, peeping after bad characters?"

"A special constable?"

Jane Coney laughed. "Or a police-officer in disguise. It is what one of our maids told me."

"Oh," I answered, carelessly, for somehow I did not like the words; "you must mean a man that is looking at the land; an engineer."

"Is that all?" cried Jane Coney. "How foolish people are!"

It was a sort of untruth, no doubt; but I should have told a worse in the necessity. I did not like the aspect of things; and they puzzled my brain unpleasantly all the way home.

Mrs. Todhetley was at work by the window when I got there. Tod had not made his re-appearance; Hugh and Lena were in bed. She dropped her work when I gave the message.

"Not for some days to come yet! Oh, Johnny!"

"But what do you want with her?"

"Well, I do want her. I want a friend just now, Johnny, that's the truth; and I think Mrs. Coney would be one."

"Joe asked if he could help you; and you said 'No.' Can I?"

"Johnny, if you could, there's no one in the world I'd rather ask. But you cannot."

"Why?"

"Because"—she smiled for a moment—"you are not old enough. If you were—of age, say—why then I would."

I had hold of the window-frame, looking at her, and an idea struck me. "Do you mean that I should be able then to command money?"

"Yes, that's it, Johnny."

"But, perhaps—if I were to write to Mr. Brandon——"

"Hush!" she exclaimed in a sort of fright. "You must not talk of this, Johnny; you don't know the sad mischief you might do. Oh, if I can only keep it from you all! Here comes Joseph," she added in a whisper; and gathering up her work, went out of the room.

"Did I not make a sign to you to come after me?" began Tod, in one of his tempers.

"But I had to go over to the Coneys'. I've only just got back again."

He looked into the room and saw that it was empty. "Where's madam gone? To the Ravine after her friend?"

"She was here sewing not a minute ago."

"Johnny, she told a lie. Did you notice the sound of her voice when she said the fellow was no relative of hers?"

"Not particularly."

"I did, then. At the moment the denial took me by surprise; but I remembered the tone later. It had an untrue ring in it. Madam told a lie, Johnny, as sure as that we are here. I'd lay my life he is a relative of hers, or a connection in some way. I don't think now it is money he wants; if it were only that, she'd get it, and send him packing. It's worse than that: disgrace, perhaps."

"What sort of disgrace can it be?"

"I don't know. But if something of the sort is not looming, never trust me again. And here am I, with my hands tied, forbidden to unravel it. Johnny, I feel just like a wild beast barred up in a cage."

Had he been a real wild beast he could not have given the window-frame a much worse shake, as he passed through in his anger to the bench under the mulberry-tree.


When you have to look far back to things, recollection sometimes gets puzzled as to the order in which they happened. How it came about I am by no means clear, but an uncomfortable feeling grew up in my mind about Hugh. About both the children, in fact, but Hugh more than Lena. Mrs. Todhetley seemed to dread Hugh's being abroad—and I'm sure I was not mistaken in thinking it. I heard her order Hannah to keep the children within view of the house, and not to allow Hugh to stray away from her. Had it been winter weather I suppose she'd have kept them indoors altogether; there could be no plea for it under the blue sky and the hot summer sun.

The Squire came home; he had been staying some time with friends in Gloucestershire; but Mrs. Coney did not come—although Mrs. Todhetley kept sending me for news. Twice I saw her talking to the strange man; who I believed made his abode in the Ravine. Tod watched, as he had threatened to do; and would often appear with in-drawn lips. There was active warfare between him and his step-mother: at least if you can say that when both kept silence. As to the Squire, he observed nothing, and knew nothing: and no one enlightened him. It seems a long time, I dare say, when reading of this, as if it had extended over a month of Sundays; but I don't think it lasted much more than a fortnight in all.


One evening, quite late, when the sun was setting, and the Squire was smoking his pipe on the lawn, talking to me and Tod, Lena and her mother came in at the gate. In spite of the red rays lighting up Mrs. Todhetley's face, it struck me that I had never seen it look more careworn. Lena put her arms on Tod's knee, and began telling about a fright she had had: of a big toad that leaped out of the grass, and made her scream and cry. She cried "because nobody was with her."

"Where was mamma?" asked Tod; but I am sure he spoke without any ulterior thought.

"Mamma had gone to the zigzag stile to talk to the man. She told me to wait for her."

"What man?" cried the Squire.

"Why, the man," said Lena logically. "He asks Hugh to go with him over the sea to see the birds and the red coral."

If any one face ever turned whiter than another, Mrs. Todhetley's did then. Tod looked at her, sternly, ungenerously; and her eyes fell. She laid hold of Lena's hand, saying it was bed-time.

"What man is the child talking about?" the Squire asked her.

"She talks about so many people," rather faintly answered Mrs. Todhetley. "Come, Lena dear; Hannah's waiting for you. Say good-night."

The Squire, quite unsuspicious, thought no more. He got up and walked over to the beds to look at the flowers, holding his long churchwarden pipe in his mouth. Tod put his back against the tree.

"It is getting complicated, Johnny."

"What is?"

"What is! Why, madam's drama. She is afraid of that hinted scheme of her friend's—the carrying-off Master Hugh beyond the seas."

He spoke in satire. "Do you think so?" I returned.

"Upon my honour I do. She must be an idiot! I should like to give her a good fright."

"Tod, I think she is frightened enough without our giving her one."

"I think she is. She must have caught up the idea from overhearing Hannah's gossip with old Thomas. This afternoon Hugh was running through the little gate with me; madam came flying over the lawn and begged me not let him out of my hand, or else to leave him indoors. But for being my father's wife, I should have asked her if her common-sense had gone wool-gathering."

"I suppose it has, Tod. Fancy a kidnapper in these days! The curious thing is, that she should fear anything of the sort."

"If she really does fear it. I tell you, Johnny, the performance is growing complicated; somewhat puzzling. But I'll see it played out if I live."


The week went on to Friday. But the afternoon was over, and evening set in, before the shock fell upon us: Hugh was missing.

The Squire had been out in the gig, taking me; and it seems they had supposed at home that Hugh was with us. The particulars of Hugh's disappearance, and what had happened in the day, I will relate further on.

The Squire thought nothing: he said Hugh must have got into Coney's house or some other neighbour's house: and sat down to dinner, wondering why so much to-do was made. Mrs. Todhetley looked scared to death; and Tod tore about as if he were wild. The servants were sent here, the outdoor men there: it was like a second edition of that day in Warwickshire when we lost Lena: like it, only worse, more commotion. Hannah boldly said to her mistress that the strange man must have carried off the boy.

Hour after hour the search continued. With no result. Night came on, with a bright moon to light it up. But it did not light up Hugh.

Mrs. Todhetley, a dark shawl over her head, and I dare say a darker fear upon her heart, went out for the second or third time towards the Ravine. I ran after her. We had nearly reached the stile at the zigzag, when Tod came bounding over it.

"Has not the time for shielding this man gone by, think you?" he asked, placing himself in Mrs. Todhetley's path, and speaking as coolly as he was able for the agitation that shook him. And why Tod, with his known carelessness, should be so moved, I could not fathom.

"Joseph, I do not suppose or think the man knows anything of Hugh; I have my reasons for it," she answered, bearing on for the stile, and leaning over it to look down into the dark Ravine.

"Will you give me permission to inquire that of himself?"

"You will not find the man. He is gone."

"Leave the finding him to me," persisted Tod. "Will you withdraw the embargo you laid upon me?"

"No, no," she whispered, "I cannot do it."

The trees had an uncommonly damp feel in the night-air, and the place altogether looked as weird as could be. I was away then in the underwood; she looked down always into the Ravine and called Hugh's name aloud. Nothing but an echo answered.

"It has appeared to me for several days that you have feared something of this," Tod said, trying to get a full view of her face. "It might have been better for—for all of us—if you had allowed me at first to take the affair in hand."

"Perhaps I ought; perhaps I ought," she said, bursting into tears. "Heaven knows, though, that I acted from a good motive. It was not to screen myself that I've tried to keep the matter secret."

"Oh!" The sarcasm of Tod's short comment was like nothing I ever heard. "To screen me, perhaps?" said he.

"Well, yes—in a measure, Joseph," she patiently answered. "I only wished to spare you vexation. Oh, Joseph! if—if Hugh cannot be found, and—and all has to come out—who he is and what he wants here—remember that I wished nothing but to spare others pain."

Tod's eyes were blazing with angry, haughty light. Spare him! He thought she was miserably equivocating; he had some such idea as that she sought (in words) to make him a scape-goat for her relative's sins. What he answered I hardly know; except that he civilly dared her to speak.

"Do not spare me: I particularly request you will not," he scornfully retorted. "Yourself as much as you will, but not me."

"I have done it for the best," she pleaded. "Joseph, I have done it all for the best."

"Where is this man to be found? I have been looking for him these several hours past, as I should think no man was ever looked for yet."

"I have said that I think he is not to be found. I think he is gone."

"Gone!" shouted Tod. "Gone!"

"I think he must be. I—I saw him just before dinner-time, here at this very stile; I gave him something that I had to give, and I think he left at once, to make the best of his way from the place."

"And Hugh?" asked Tod savagely.

"I did not know then that Hugh was missing. Oh, Joseph, I can't tell what to think. When I said to him one day that he ought not to talk nonsense to the children about corals and animals—in fact, should not speak to them at all—he answered that if I did not get him the money he wanted he'd take the boy off with him. I knew it was a jest; but I could not help thinking of it when the days went on and on, and I had no money to give him."

"Of course he has taken the boy," said Tod, stamping his foot. And the words sent Mrs. Todhetley into a tremor.

"Joseph! Do you think so?"

"Heaven help you, Mrs. Todhetley, for a—a simple woman! We may never see Hugh again."

He caught up the word he had been going to say—fool. Mrs. Todhetley clasped her hands together piteously, and the shawl slipped from her shoulders.

"I think, madam, you must tell what you can," he resumed, scarcely knowing which to bring uppermost, his anxiety for Hugh or his lofty, scornful anger. "Is the man a relative of yours?"

"No, not of mine. Oh, Joseph, please don't be angry with me! Not of mine, but of yours."

"Of mine!" cried proud Tod. "Thank you, Mrs. Todhetley."

"His name is Arne," she whispered.

"What!" shouted Tod.

"Joseph, indeed it is. Alfred Arne."

Had Tod been shot by a cannon-ball, he could hardly have been more completely struck into himself; doubled up, so to say. His mother had been an Arne; and he well remembered to have heard of an ill-doing mauvais sujet of a half-brother of hers, called Alfred, who brought nothing but trouble and disgrace on all connected with him. There ensued a silence, interrupted only by Mrs. Todhetley's tears. Tod was looking white in the moonlight.

"So it seems it is my affair!" he suddenly said; but though he drew up his head, all his fierce spirit seemed to have gone out of him. "You can have no objection to speak fully now."

And Mrs. Todhetley, partly because of her unresisting nature, partly in her fear for Hugh, obeyed him.

"I had seen Mr. Arne once before," she began. "It was the year that I first went home to Dyke Manor. He made his appearance there, not openly, but just as he has made it here now. His object was to get money from the Squire to go abroad with. And at length he did get it. But it put your father very much out; made him ill, in fact; and I believe he took a sort of vow, in his haste and vexation, to give Alfred Arne into custody if he ever came within reach of him again. I think—I fear—he always has something or other hanging over his head worse than debt; and for that reason can never show himself by daylight without danger."

"Go on," said Tod, quite calmly.

"One morning recently I suddenly met him. He stepped right into my path, here at this same spot, as I was about to descend the Ravine, and asked if I knew him again. I was afraid I did. I was afraid he had come on the same errand as before: and oh, Joseph, how thankful I felt that you and your father were away! He told me a long and pitiful tale, and I thought I ought to try and help him to the money he needed. He was impatient for it, and the same evening, supposing no one was at home but myself, he came to the dining-room window, wishing to ask if I had already procured the money. Johnny heard him knock."

"It might have been better that we had been here," repeated Tod. "Better that we should have dealt with him than you."

"Your father was so thankful that you were at school before, Joseph; so thankful! He said he would not have you know anything about Alfred Arne for the world. And so—I tried to keep it this time from both you and him, and, but for this fear about Hugh, I should have done it."

Tod did not answer. He looked at her keenly in the twilight of the summer's night, apparently waiting for more. She continued her explanation; not enlarging upon things, suffering, rather, inferences to be drawn. The following was its substance:—


Alfred Arne asked for fifty pounds. He had returned to England only a few months before, had got into some fresh danger, and had to leave it again, and to hide himself until he did so. The fifty pounds—to get him off, he said, and start him afresh in the colonies—he demanded not as a gift, but a matter of right: the Todhetleys, being his near relatives, must help him. Mrs. Todhetley knew but of one person she could borrow it from privately—Mrs. Coney—and she had gone from home just as she was about to be asked for it. Only this afternoon had Mrs. Todhetley received the money from her and paid it to Alfred Arne.

"I would not have told you this, but for being obliged, Joseph," she pleaded meekly, when the brief explanation was ended. "We can still keep it from your father; better, perhaps, that you should know it than he: you are young and he is not."

"A great deal better," assented Tod. "You have made yourself responsible to Mrs. Coney for the fifty pounds?"

"Don't think of that, Joseph. She is in no hurry for repayment, and will get it from me by degrees. I have a little trifle of my own, you know, that I get half-yearly, and I can economize in my dress. I did so hope to keep it from you as well as from your father."

I wondered if Tod saw all the patient, generous, self-sacrificing spirit. I wondered if he was growing to think that he had been always on the wrong tack in judging harshly of his stepmother. She turned away, thinking perhaps that time was being lost. I said something about Hugh.

"Hugh is all right, Johnny; he'll be found now," Tod answered in a dreamy tone, as he looked after her with a dreamy look. The next moment he strode forward, and was up with Mrs. Todhetley.

"I beg your pardon for the past, mother; I beg it with shame and contrition. Can you forgive me?"

"Oh, pray don't, dear Joseph! I have nothing to forgive," she answered, bursting into fresh tears as she took his offered hand. And that was the first time in all his life that Tod, prejudiced Tod, had allowed himself to call her "mother."

Johnny Ludlow.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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