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MRS. HENRY WOOD
(ELLEN WOOD)

TOD'S REPENTANCE

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First published in The Argosy, June 1869

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



I NEVER saw anything plainer in my life. It was not just opposite to where I stood, but lower down towards the end of the Ravine. Amongst the dark thick underwood of the rising bank it dodged about, just as if some one who was walking carried it in his hand lifted up in front of him. A round white light, exactly as the ghost's light was described to be. One might have fancied it the light of a wax-candle, only that a candle would flicker itself dim and bright by turns in the air, and this was steady and did not.

If a ghost was carrying it, he must have been pacing backwards and forwards; for the light confined itself to the range of a few yards. Beginning at the environs of the black old yew-tree, it would come on amidst the broom and shrubs to the group of alders, and then go back again Timberdale way, sometimes lost to sight for a minute, as if hidden behind a thicker mass of underwood, and then gleaming out afresh further on in its path. Now up, now down; backwards and forwards; here, there, everywhere; it was about as unaccountable a sight as any veritable ghost ever displayed, or I, Johnny Ludlow, had chanced to come upon.

The early part of the night had been bright. It was the same night, spoken of in the last chapter, when Hugh was being searched for. Up to eleven o'clock the moon had shone radiantly. Since then a curious sort of darkness had come creeping along the heavens, and now, close upon twelve, it overshadowed the earth like a pall. A dark, black canopy, which the slight wind, getting up, never stirred, though it sighed and moaned with a weird unpleasant sound down the Ravine. I did not mind the light myself; don't think I should much have minded the ghost: but Luke Mackintosh, standing by me, did. Considering that he was a good five-and-twenty years of age, and had led an out-of-door life, it may sound queer to say it, but he seemed timid as a hare.

"I don't like it, Master Johnny," he whispered, as he grasped the fence with an unsteady hand, and followed the light with his eyes. What with the trees around us, and the pall overhead, it was dark enough, but I could see his face, and knew it had turned white.

"I believe you are afraid, Luke!"

"Well, sir, so might you be if you knowed as much of that there light as I do. It never comes but it bodes trouble."

"Who brings the light?"

"It's more than I can say, sir. They call it here the ghost's light. And folks say, Master Johnny, that when it's seen, there's sure to be some trouble in the air."

"I think we have trouble enough just now without the light, Luke; and our trouble was with us before we saw that."


The Ravine lay beneath us, stretching out on either hand, weird, lonesome, dreary, the bottom hidden in gloom. The towering banks, whether we looked down the one we leaned over, or to the other opposite, presented nothing to the eye but darkness: we knew the masses of trees, bushes, underwood were there, but could not see them: and the spot favoured by the restless light was too wild and steep to be safe for the foot of man. Of course it was a curious speculation what it could be.

"Did you ever see the light before, Mackintosh?"

"Yes," he answered, "half-a-dozen times. Do you mind, Master Johnny, my getting that there bad cut in the leg with my reaping-hook awhile agone? Seven weeks I lay in Worcester Infirmary: they carried me there on a mattress shoved down in the cart."

"I remember hearing of it. We were at Dyke Manor."

Before Luke went on, he turned his face to me and dropped his voice to a deeper whisper.

"Master Ludlow, as true as us two be a-standing here, I saw the ghost's light the very night afore I got the hurt. I was working for Mr. Coney then, it was before I came into the Squire's service. Young Master Tom, he came out of the kitchen with a letter when we was at our seven-o'clock supper, and said I were to cut off to Timberdale with it and to look sharp, or the letter-box 'ud be shut. So I had to do it, sir, and I came through this here Ravine, a-whistling and a-holding my head down, though I'd rather ha' went ten mile round. When I got out of it on t'other side, on top of the zigzag, I chanced to look back over the stile, and there I see the light. It were opposite then, on this side, sir, and moving about in the same see-saw way it be now, for I stood and watched it."

"I wonder you plucked up the courage to stand and watch it, Luke?"

"I were took aback, sir, all in a maze like: and then I started off full pelt, as quick as my heels 'ud carry me. That was the very blessed night afore I got the hurt. When the doctors was a-talking round me at the infirmary, and I think they was arguing whether or not my leg must come off, I telled 'em that I was afeared it wouldn't much matter neither way, for I'd seen the ghost's light the past night and knowed my fate. One of them, a young man he was, burst out laughing above my face as I lay, and t'other next him, a grave gentleman with white hair, turned round and hushed at him. Master Ludlow, it's all gospel true."

"But you got well, Luke."

"But I didn't think to," argued Luke. "And I see the light."

As he turned his face again, the old church clock at Timberdale struck twelve. It seemed to come booming over the Ravine with quite a warning sound, and Luke gave himself a shake. As for me, I could only wish one thing—that Hugh was found.

Tod came up the zigzag path, a lantern in his hand; I whistled to let him know I was near. He had been to look in the unused little shed-place nearly at the other end of the Ravine; not for Hugh, but for the man, Alfred Arne. Tod came up to us, and his face, as the lantern flashed upon it, was whiter and graver than that of Luke Mackintosh.

"Did you see that, sir?" asked Luke.

"See what?" cried Tod, turning sharply. He thought it might be some trace of Hugh.

"That there ghost light, sir. It's showing itself to-night."

Angry, perplexed, nearly out of his mind with remorse and fear, Tod gave Luke a word of a sort, ordering him to be silent for an idiot, and put the lantern down. He then saw the moving light, and let his eyes rest on it in momentary curiosity.

"It's the ghost light, sir," repeated Luke, for the man seemed as if he and all other interests were lost in that.

"The deuce take the ghost's light, and you with it," said Tod passionately. "Is this a time to be staring at ghosts' lights? Get you into Timberdale, Mackintosh, and see whether the police have news of the child."

"Sir, I'd not go through the Ravine to-night," was Luke's answer. "No, not though I knowed I was to be killed at to-morrow's dawn for disobeying the order."

"Man, what are you afraid of?"

"Of that," said Luke, nodding at the light. "But I don't like the Ravine in the night at no time."

"Why, that's nothing but a will-o'-the-wisp," returned Tod, condescending to reason with him.

Luke shook his head. There was the light; and neither his faith in it nor his fear could be shaken. Tod had his arms on the fence now, and was staring at the light as fixedly as Luke had done.

"Johnny."

"What?"

"That light is carried by some one. It's being lifted about."

"How could any one carry it there?" I returned. "He'd pitch head over heels down the Ravine. No fellow could get to the place, Tod, let alone keep his footing. It's where the bushes are thickest."

Tod caught up the lantern. As its light flashed on his face, I could see it working with new eagerness. He was taking up the notion that Hugh might have fallen on that very spot, and that some one was waving a light to attract attention. As to ghosts, Tod would have met an army of them without the smallest fear.

He went back down the Ravine, and we heard him go crashing through the underwood. Luke never spoke a word. Suddenly, long before Tod could get to it, the light disappeared. We waited and watched, but it did not come again.

"It have been like that always, Master Johnny," whispered Luke, taking his arms off the fence. "Folks may look as long as they will at that there light; but as soon as they go off, a-trying to get to see what it is, it takes itself away. It will be seen no more to-night, sir."

He turned off across the meadow for the high-road, to go and do Tod's bidding at Timberdale, walking at a sharp pace. Any amount of exertion would have been welcome to Mackintosh, as an alternative to passing through the Ravine.

It may be remembered that for some days we had been vaguely uneasy about Hugh, and the uneasiness had penetrated to Mrs. Todhetley. Tod had made private mockery of it to me, thinking she must be three parts a fool to entertain any such fear. "I should like to give madam a fright," he said to me one day—meaning that he would like to hide little Hugh for a time. But I never supposed he would really do it. And it was only to-night—hours and hours after Hugh disappeared, that Tod avowed to me the part he had taken in the loss. To make it clear to the reader, we must go back to the morning of this same day—Friday.

After breakfast I was shut up with my books, paying no attention to anything that might be going on, inside the house or out of it. Old Frost gave us a woeful lot to do in the holidays. The voices of the children, playing at the swing, came wafting in through the open window; but they died away to quietness as the morning went on. About twelve o'clock Mrs. Todhetley looked in.

"Are the children here, Johnny?"

She saw they were not, and went away without waiting for an answer. Lena ran up the passage, and I heard her say papa had taken Hugh out in the pony-gig. The interruption served as an excuse for putting up the books for the day, and I went out.

Of all young ragamuffins, the worst came running after me as I went through the fold-yard gate. Master Hugh! Whether he had been in the green pond again or over the house-roof, he was in a wonderful state; his blue eyes not to be seen for mud, his straw-hat bent, his brown holland blouse all tatters and slime, and the pretty fair curls that Hannah was proud of and wasted her time over, a regular mass of tangle.

"Take me with you, Johnny!"

"I should think I would, like that! What have you been doing with yourself?"

"Playing with the puppy. We fell down in the mud amongst the ducks. Joe says I am to stop in the barn and hide myself. I am afraid to go indoors."

"You'll catch it, and no mistake. Come, be off back again."

But he'd not go back, and kept running by my side under the high hedge. When we came to the gate at the end of the field, I stood and ordered him to go. He began to cry a little.

"Now, Hugh, you know you cannot go with me in that plight. Walk yourself straight off to Hannah and get her to change the things before your mamma sees you. There; you may have the biscuit: I don't much care for it."

It was a big captain's biscuit that I had caught up in going through the dining-room. He took that readily enough, the young cormorant, but he wouldn't stir any the more for it: and I might have had the small object with me till now, but for the appearance of the Squire's gig in the lane. The moment Hugh caught sight of his papa, he turned tail and scampered away like a young wild animal. Remembering Mrs. Todhetley's foolish fear, I mounted the gate and watched him turn safely in at the other.

"What are you looking at, Johnny?" asked the Squire, as he drove leisurely up.

"At Hugh, sir. I've sent him indoors."

"I'm going over to Massock's, Johnny, about the bricks for that cottage. You can get up, if you like to come with me."

I got into the gig at once, and we drove to South Crabb, to Massock's place. He was not to be seen; his people thought he had gone out for the day. Upon that, the Squire went on to see old Cartwright, and they made us stop there and put up the pony. When we reached home it was past dinner-time. Mrs. Todhetley came running out.

"Couldn't get here before: the Cartwrights kept us," called out the Squire. "We are going to catch it, Johnny," he whispered to me, with a laugh: "we've let the dinner spoil."

But it was not the dinner. "Where's Hugh?" asked Mrs. Todhetley.

"I've not seen Hugh," said the Squire, flinging the reins to Luke Mackintosh, who had come up. Luke did all kinds of odd jobs about the place, and sometimes helped the groom.

"But you took Hugh out with you," she said.

"Not I," answered the Squire.

Mrs. Todhetley's face turned white. She looked from one to the other of us in a helpless kind of manner. "Lena said you did," she returned, and her voice seemed to fear its own sound. The Squire talking with Mackintosh about the pony, noticed nothing particular.

"Lena did? Oh, ay, I remember. I let Hugh get up at the door and drove him round to the fold-yard gate. I dropped him there."

He went in as he spoke: Mrs. Todhetley seemed undecided whether to follow him. Tod had his back against the door-post, listening.

"What are you alarmed at?" he asked her, not even attempting to suppress his mocking tone.

"Oh, Johnny!" she said, "have you not seen him?"

"Yes; and a fine pickle he was in," I answered, telling her about it. "I dare say Hannah has put him to bed for punishment."

"But Hannah has not," said Mrs. Todhetley. "She came down at four o'clock to inquire if he had come in."

However, thinking that it might possibly turn out to be so, she ran in to ascertain. Tod put his hand on my shoulder, and walked me further off.

"Johnny, did Hugh really not go with you?"

"Why, of course he did not. Should I deny it if he did?"

"Where the dickens can the young idiot have got to?" mused Tod. "Jeffries vowed he saw him go off with you down the field, Johnny."

"But I sent him back. I watched him in at the fold-yard gate. You don't suppose I could take him further in that pickle!"

Tod laughed a little at the remembrance. Mrs. Todhetley returned, saying Hugh was not to be found anywhere. She looked ready to die. Tod was inwardly enjoying her fright beyond everything: it was better than a play to him. His particularly easy aspect struck her.

"Oh, Joseph!" she implored, "if you know where he is, pray tell me."

"How should I know?" returned Tod. "I protest on my honour I have not set eyes on him since before luncheon to-day."

"Do you know where he is, Tod?" I asked him, as she turned indoors.

"No; but I can guess. He's not far off. And I really did think he was with you, Johnny. I suppose I must go and bring him in, now; but I'd give every individual thing my pockets contain if madam had had a few hours' fright of it, instead of a few minutes'."

The dinner-bell was ringing, but Tod went off in an opposite direction. And I must explain here what he knew of it, though he did not tell me then. Walking through the fold-yard that morning, he had come upon Master Hugh, just emerging from the bed of green mud, crying his eyes out, and a piteous object. Hannah had promised Hugh that the next time he got into this state she would carry him to the Squire. Hugh knew she'd be sure to keep her word, and that the upshot would probably be a whipping. Tod, after gratifying his eyes with the choice spectacle, and listening to the fears of the whipping, calmly assured the young gentleman that he was "in for it," at which Hugh only howled the more. All in a moment it occurred to Tod to make use of this opportunity to frighten Mrs. Todhetley. He took Hugh off to the barn, and told him that if he'd hide himself there until the evening, he'd not only get him off his whipping, but give him all sorts of good things besides. Hugh was willing to promise, but said he wanted his dinner, upon which Tod went and brought him a plate of bread-and-butter, telling Molly, who cut it, that it was for himself. Tod left him devouring it in the dark corner behind the waggon, particularly impressing upon him the fact that he was to keep close and make no sign if his mamma, or Hannah, or anybody else, came to look for him. One of the men, Jeffries, was at work in the barn, and Tod, so to say, took him into confidence, ordering him to know nothing if Master Hugh were inquired for. As Hannah and Jeffries were at daggers drawn, and the man supposed this hiding was to spite her, he entered into it with interest.


There were two barns at Crabb Cot. One some way down the road in front of the house was the store barn, and you've heard of it before in connection with something seen by Maria Lease. It was called the yellow barn from the colour of its outer walls. The other, of red brick, was right at the back of the fold-yard, and it was in this last that Tod left Hugh, all safe and secure, as he thought, until told he might come out again.

But now, when Tod went into the dining-room to luncheon at half-past twelve—we country people breakfast early—at which meal he expected the hue and cry after Hugh to set in, for it was the children's dinner, he found there was a hitch in the programme. Mrs. Todhetley appeared perfectly easy on the score of Hugh's absence, and presently casually mentioned that he had gone out with his papa in the pony-gig. Tod's lips parted to say that Hugh was not in the pony-gig, but in a state of pickle instead. Prudence caused him to close them again. Hannah, standing behind Lena's chair, openly gave thanks that the child was got rid of for a bit, and said he was "getting a'most beyond her." Tod bit his lips with vexation: the gilt was taken off the gingerbread. He went to the barn again presently, and then found that Hugh had left it. Jeffries said he saw him going towards the lane with Master Ludlow, and supposed that the little lad had taken the opportunity to slip out of the barn when he (Jeffries) went to dinner, at twelve o'clock. And thus the whole afternoon had gone peaceably and unsuspiciously on; Mrs. Todhetley and Hannah supposing Hugh was with the Squire, Tod supposing he must be somewhere with me.

And when we both appeared at home without him, Tod took it for granted that Hugh had gone back to his hiding-place in the barn, and a qualm of conscience shot through him for leaving the lad there so many hours unlooked after. He rushed off to it at once, while the dinner-bell was ringing. But when he got there, Jeffries declared Hugh had not been back to it at all. Tod, in his hot way, retorted on Jeffries for saying so; but the man persisted that he could not be mistaken, as he had never been away from the barn since coming back from dinner.

And then arose the commotion. Tod came back with a stern face, almost as anxious as Mrs. Todhetley's. Hugh had not been seen, so far as could be ascertained, since I watched him in at the fold-yard gate soon after twelve. That was nearly seven hours ago. Tod felt himself responsible for the loss, and sent the men to look about. But the worst he thought then was, that the boy, whose fears of showing himself in his state of dilapidation Tod himself had mischievously augmented, had lain down somewhere or other and dropped asleep.

It had gone on, and on, and on, until late at night, and then had occurred that explanation between Tod and his step-mother told of in the other paper. Tod was all impulse, and pride, and heat, and passion; but his heart was made of sterling gold, just like the Squire's. Holding himself aloof from her in haughty condemnation, in the matter of the mysterious stranger, to find now that the stranger was a man called Alfred Arne, his relative, and that Mrs. Todhetley had been generously taking the trouble upon herself for the sake of sparing him and his father pain, completely turned Tod and his pride over.

He had grown desperately frightened as the hours went on. The moon-lit night had become dark, as I've already said, and the men could not pursue their search to much effect. Tod did not cease his. He got a lantern, and went rushing about as if he were crazy. You saw him come up with it from the Ravine, and now he had gone back on a wild-goose chase after the ghost light. Where was Hugh? Where could he be? It was not likely Alfred Arne had taken him, because he had that afternoon got from Mrs. Todhetley the fifty pounds he worried for, and she thought he had gone finally off with it. It stood to reason that the child would be an encumbrance to him. On the other hand, Tod's theory, that Hugh had dropped asleep somewhere, seemed, as the hours crept on, less and less likely to hold water, for he would have wakened up and come home long ago. As to the Ravine, in spite of Tod's suspicions that he might be there, I was sure the little fellow would not have ventured into it.

I stood on, in the dark night, waiting for Tod to come back again. It felt awfully desolate now Luke Mackintosh had gone. The ghost light did not show again. I rather wished it would, for company. He came at last—Tod, not the ghost. I had heard him shouting, and nothing answered but the echoes. A piece of his coat was torn, and some brambles were sticking to him, and the lantern was broken; what dangerous places he had pushed himself into could never be told.

"I wonder you've come out with whole limbs, Tod."

"Hold your peace, Johnny," was all the retort I got; and his voice rose nearly to a shout in its desperate sorrow.


Morning came, but no news with it, no Hugh. Tod had been about all night. With daylight, the fields, and all other seemingly possible places, were searched. Tom Coney went knocking at every house in North and South Crabb, and burst into cottages, and turned over, so to say, all the dwellings in that savoury locality, Crabb Lane, but with no result. The Squire was getting anxious; but none of us had ventured to tell him of our especial cause for anxiety, or to speak of Alfred Arne.

It appeared nearly certain now, to us, that he had gone with Alfred Arne, and, after a private consultation with Mrs. Todhetley, Tod and I set out in search of the man. She still wished to spare the knowledge of his visit to the Squire, if possible.

We had not far to go. Mrs. Todhetley's fears went ranging abroad to London, or Liverpool, or the Coral Islands beyond the sea, of which Arne had talked to Hugh: but Arne was found at Timberdale. In an obscure lodging in the further outskirts of the place, the landlord of which, a man named Cookum, was a bad character, and very shy of the police, Arne was found. We might have searched for him to the month's end, but for Luke Mackintosh. When Luke arrived at Timberdale in the middle of the night, ordered there by Tod to make inquiries at the police-station, he saw a tipsy man slink into Cookum's house, and recognized him for the one who had recently been exciting speculation at home. Luke happened to mention this to Tod, not connecting Hugh with it at all, simply as a bit of gossip: of course it was not known who Arne was, or his name, or what he had been waiting for.

We had a fight to get in. Cookum came leaping down the crazy stairs, and put himself in our way in the passage, swearing we should not go on. Tod lifted his strong arm.

"I mean to go on, Cookum," he said, in a slow, quiet voice that had determination in every tone of it. "I have come to see a man named Arne. I don't want to do him any ill, or you either; but, see him, I will. If you do not move out of my way I'll knock you down."

Cookum stood his ground. He was short, slight, and sickly, with a puffy face and red hair; a very reed beside Tod.

"There ain't no man here of that name. There ain't no man here at all."

"Very well. Then you can't object to letting me see that there is not."

"I swear that you shan't see, master. There!"

Tod flung him aside. Cookum, something like an eel, slipped under Tod's arm, and was in front of him again.

"I don't care to damage you, Cookum, as you must see I could do, and force my way in over your disabled body; you look too weak for it. But I'll either go in so, or the police shall clear an entrance for me."

The mention of the police scared the man; I saw it in his face. Tod kept pushing on and the man backing, just a little.

"I won't have no police here. What is it you want?"

"I have told you once. A man named Arne."

"I swear then that I never knowed a man o' that name; let alone having him in my place."

And he spoke with such passionate fervour that it struck me Arne did not go by his own name: which was more than probable. They were past the stairs now, and Cookum did not seem to care to guard them. The nasty passage, long and narrow, had a door at the end. Tod thought that must be the fortress.

"You are a great fool, Cookum. I've told you that I mean no harm to you or to any one in the place; so to make this fuss is needless. You may have a band of felons concealed here, or a cart-load of stolen goods; they are all safe for me. But if you force me to bring in the police it might be a different matter."

Perhaps the argument told on the man; perhaps the tone of reason it was spoken in; but he certainly seemed to hesitate.

"You can't prove that to me, sir: not that there's any felons or things in here. Show me that you don't mean harm, and you shall go on."

"Have you a stolen child here?"

Cookum's mouth opened with genuine surprise. "A stolen child!"

"We have lost a little boy. I have reason to think that a man who was seen to enter this passage in the middle of the night knows something of him, and I have come to ask and see. Now you know all. Let me go on."

The relief on the man's face was great. "Honour bright, sir."

"Don't stand quibbling, man," roared Tod passionately. "Yes!"

"I've got but one man in all the place. He have no boy with him, he haven't."

"But he may know something of one. What's his name?"

"All the name he've given me is Jack."

"I dare say it's the same. Come! you are wasting time."

But Cookum, doubtful still, never moved. They were close to the door now, and he had his back against it. Tod turned his head.

"Go for the two policemen, Johnny. They are both in readiness, Cookum. I looked in at the station as I came by, to say I might want them."

Before I could get out, Cookum howled out to me not to go, as one in mortal fear. He took a latch-key from his pocket, and put it into the latch of the door, which had no other fastening outside, not even a handle. "You can open it yourself," said he to Tod, and slipped away.

It might have been a sort of kitchen but that it looked more like a den, with nothing to light it but a dirty sky-light above. The floor was of red brick; a tea-kettle boiled on the fire; there was a smell of coffee. Alfred Arne stood on the defensive against the opposite wall, a life-preserver in his hand, and his thin hair on end with fright.

"I am here on a peaceable errand, if you will allow it to be so," said Tod, shutting us in. "Is your name Arne?"

Arne dropped the life-preserver into the breast-pocket of his coat, and came forward with something of a gentleman's courtesy.

"Yes, my name is Arne, Joseph Todhetley. And your mother—as I make no doubt you know—was a very near relative of mine. If you damage me, you will bring her name unpleasantly before the public, as well as your own and your father's."

That he thought our errand was to demand back the fifty pounds, there could be no doubt: perhaps to hand him into custody if he refused to give it up.

"I have not come to damage you in any way," said Tod in answer. "Where's Hugh?"

Arne looked as surprised as the other man had. "Hugh!"

"Yes, Hugh: my little brother. Where is he?"

"How can I tell?"

Tod glanced round the place; there was not any nook or corner capable of affording concealment. Arne gazed at him. He stood on that side the dirty deal table, we on this.

"We have lost Hugh since mid-day yesterday. Do you know anything of him?"

"Certainly not," was the emphatic answer, and I at least saw that it was a true one. "Is it to ask that, that you have come here?"

"For that, and nothing else. We have been up all night searching for him."

"But why do you come after him here? I am not likely to know where he is."

"I think you are likely."

"Why?"

"You have been talking to the boy about carrying him off with you to see coral islands. You hinted, I believe, to Mrs. Todhetley that you might really take him, if your demands were not complied with."

Arne slightly laughed. "I talked to the boy about the Coral Islands because it pleased him. As to Mrs. Todhetley, if she has the sense of a goose, she must have known I meant nothing. Take off a child with me! Why, if he were made a present to me, I should only drop him at his own door at Crabb Cot, as they drop the foundlings at the gate of the Maison Dieu in Paris. Joseph Todhetley, I could not be encumbered with a child: the life of shifts and concealment I have to lead would debar it."

I think Tod saw he was in earnest. But he stood in indecision: this dashed out his great hope.

"I should have been away from here last night, but that I got a drop too much and must wait till dark again," resumed Arne. "The last time I saw Hugh was on Thursday afternoon. He was in the meadow with you."

"I did not see you," remarked Tod.

"I saw you, though. And that is the last time I saw him. Don't you believe me? You may. I like the little lad, and would find him for you if I could, rather than help to lose him. I'd say take my honour upon this, Joseph Todhetley, only you might retort that it has not been worth anything this many a year."

"And with justice," said Tod, boldly.

"True. The world has been against me and I against the world. But it has not come yet with me to stealing children. With the loan of the money now safe in my pocket, I shall make a fresh start in life. A precious long time your step-mother kept me waiting for it."

"She did her best. You ought not to have applied to her at all."

"I know that: it should have been to the other side of the house. She prevented me: wanting, she said, to spare you and your father."

"The knowledge of the disgrace. Yes."

"There's no need to have recourse to hard names, Joseph Todhetley. What I am, I am, but you have not much cause to grumble, for I don't trouble you often. As many thousand miles away as the seas can put between me and England, I'm going now: and it's nearly as many chances to one against your ever seeing me again."

Tod turned to depart: the intensely haughty look his face wore at odd moments had been upon it throughout the interview. Had he been a woman he might have stood with his skirts picked up, as if to save them contamination from some kind of reptile. He stayed for a final word.

"Then I may take your answer in good faith—that you know nothing of Hugh?"

"Take it, or not, as you please. If I knew that I was going to stand next minute in the presence of Heaven, I could not give it more truthfully. For the child's own sake, I hope he will be found. Why don't you ask the man who owns the rooms?—he can tell you I have had no boy here. If you choose to watch me away to-night, do so; you'll see I go alone. A child with me! I might about as well give myself up to the law at once, for I shouldn't long remain out of its clutches, Joseph Todhetley."

"Good-morning," said Tod shortly. I echoed the words, and we were civilly answered. As we went out, Arne shut the door behind us. In the middle of the passage stood Cookum.

"Have you found he was who you wanted, sir?"

"Yes," answered Tod, not vouchsafing to explain. "Another time when I say I do not wish to harm you, perhaps you'll take my word."

Mrs. Todhetley, pale and anxious, was standing under the mulberry-tree when we got back. She came across the grass.

"Any news?" cried Tod. As if the sight of her was not enough, that he need have asked!

"No, no, Joseph. Did you see him?"

"Yes, he had not left. He knows nothing of Hugh."

"I had no hope that he did," moaned poor Mrs. Todhetley. "All he wanted was the money."

We turned into the dining-room by the glass-doors, and it seemed to strike out a gloomy chill. On the wall near the window, there was a chalk drawing of Hugh in colours, hung up by a bit of common string. It was only a rough sketch that Jane Coney had done half in sport; but it was like him, especially in the blue eyes and the pretty light hair.

"Where's my father?" asked Tod.

"Gone riding over to the brick-fields again," she answered: "he cannot get it out of his mind that Hugh must be there. Joseph, as Mr. Arne has nothing to do with the loss, we can still spare your father the knowledge that he has been here. Spare it, I mean, for good."

"Yes. Thank you."

Hugh was uncommonly fond of old Massock's brick-fields; he would go there on any occasion that offered, had once or twice strayed there a truant; sending Hannah, for the time being, into a state of mortal fright. The Squire's opinion was that Hugh must have decamped there some time in the course of the Friday afternoon, perhaps followed the gig; and was staying there, afraid to come home.

"He might have hung on to the tail of the gig itself, and I and Johnny never have seen him, the 'cute Turk," argued the Squire.

Which I knew was just as likely as that he had, unseen, hung on to the moon. In the state he had brought his clothes to, he wouldn't have gone to the brick-fields at all. The Squire did not seem so uneasy as he might have been. Hugh would be sure to turn up, he said, and should get the soundest whipping any young rascal ever had.

But he came riding back from the brick-fields as before—without him. Tod, awfully impatient, met him in the road by the yellow barn. The Squire got off his horse there, for Luke Mackintosh was at hand to take it.

"Father, I cannot think of any other place he can have got to: we have searched everywhere. Can you?"

"Not I, Joe. Don't be down-hearted. He'll turn up; he'll turn up. Halloa!" broke off the Squire as an idea struck him, "has this barn been searched?"

"He can't be in there, sir; it's just a moral impossibility that he could be," spoke up Mackintosh. "The place was empty, which I can be upon my oath, when I locked it up yesterday afternoon, after getting some corn out; and the key have never been out o' my trousers' pocket since. Mr. Joseph, he was inside with me at the time, and knows it."

Tod nodded assent, and the Squire walked away. As there was no other accessible entrance to the front barn, and the windows were ever so many yards from the ground, they felt that it must be, as the man said, a "moral impossibility."


The day went on, it was Saturday, remember, and the miserable hours went on, and there came no trace of the child. The Ravine was again searched thoroughly: that is, as thoroughly as its overgrown state permitted. It was like waste of time; for Hugh would not have hidden himself in it; and if he had fallen over the fence he would have been found before from the traces that must have been left in the bushes. The searchers would come in, one after another, now a farm-servant, now one of the police, bringing no news, except of defeat, but hoping some one else had brought it. Every time that Tod looked at the poor mild face of Mrs. Todhetley, always meek and patient, striving ever to hide the anguish that each fresh disappointment brought, I know he felt ready to hang himself. It was getting dusk when Maria Lease came up with a piece of straw hat that she had found in the withy walk. But both Mrs. Todhetley and Hannah, upon looking at it, decided that the straw was of finer grain than Hugh's.

That afternoon they dragged the pond, but there was nothing found in it. We could get no traces anywhere. No one had seen him, no one heard of him. From the moment when I had watched him into the fold-yard gate, it seemed that he had altogether vanished from above ground. Since then all scent of him was missing. It was very strange: just as though the boy had been spirited away.


Sunday morning rose. As lovely a Sunday as ever this world saw, but all sad for us. Tod had flung himself back in the pater's easy-chair, pretty near done over. Two nights, and he had not been to bed. In spite of his faith in Alfred Arne's denial, he had chosen to watch him away in the night from Timberdale; and he saw the man steal off in the darkness on foot and alone. The incessant hunting about was bringing its reaction on Tod, and the fatigue of body and mind began to show itself. But as to giving in, he'd never do that, and would be as likely as not to walk and worry himself into a fever.

The day was warm and beautiful; the glass-doors stood open to the sweet summer air. Light fleecy clouds floated over the blue sky, the sun shone on the green grass of the lawn and sparkled amidst the leaves of the great mulberry-tree. Butterflies flitted past in pairs, chasing each other; bees sent forth their hum as they sipped the honey-dew from the flowers; the birds sang their love-songs on the boughs: all seemed happiness outside, as if to mock our care within.

Tod lay back with his eyes closed: I sat on the arm of the old red sofa. The bells of North Crabb Church rang out for morning service. It was rather a cracked old peal, but on great occasions the ringers assembled and did their best. The Bishop of Worcester was coming over to-day to preach a charity sermon: and North Crabb never had anything greater than that. Tod opened his eyes and listened in silence.

"Tod, do you know what it puts me in mind of?"

"Don't bother. It's because of the bishop, I suppose."

"I don't mean the bells. It's like the old fable, told of in 'The Mistletoe Bough,' enacted in real life. If there were any deep chest about the premises——"

"Hold your peace, Johnny!—unless you want to drive me mad. If we come upon the child like that, I'll—I'll——"

I think he was going to say shoot himself, or something of that sort, for he was given to random speech when put to it. But at that moment Lena ran in dressed for church, in her white frock and straw hat with blue ribbons. She threw her hands on Tod's knee and burst out crying.

"Joe, I don't want to go to church; I want Hugh."

Quite a spasm of pain shot across his face, but he was very tender with her. In all my life I had never seen Tod so gentle as he had been at moments during the last two days.

"Don't cry, pretty one," he said, pushing the fair curls from her face. "Go to church like a good little girl; perhaps we shall have found him by the time you come home."

"Hannah says he's lying dead somewhere."

"Hannah's nothing but a wicked woman," savagely answered Tod. "Don't you mind her."

But Lena would not be pacified, and kept on sobbing and crying, "I want Hugh; I want Hugh."

Mrs. Todhetley, who had come in then, drew her away and sat down with the child on her knee, talking to her in low, soothing tones.

"Lena, dear, you know I wish you to go with Hannah to church this morning. And you will put papa's money into the plate. See: it is a golden sovereign. Hannah must carry it, and you shall put it in."

"Oh, mamma! will Hugh never come home again? Will he die?"

"Hush, Lena," she said, as Tod bit his lip and gave his hair a dash backwards. "Shall I tell you something that sounds like a pretty story?"

Lena was always ready for a story, pretty or ugly, and her blue eyes were lifted to her mother's brightly through the tears. At that moment she looked wonderfully like the portrait on the wall.

"Just now, dear, I was in my room upstairs, feeling very, very unhappy; I'm not sure but I was sobbing nearly as much as you were just now. 'He will never come back,' I said to myself; 'he is lost to us for ever.' At that moment those sweet bells broke out, calling people to Heaven's service, and I don't know why, Lena, but they seemed to whisper a great comfort to me. They seemed to say that God was over us all, and saw our trouble, and would heal it in His good time."

Lena stared a little, digesting what she could of the words. The tears were nowhere.

"Will He send Hugh back?"

"I can't tell, darling. He can take care of Hugh, and bless him, and keep him, wherever he may be, and I know He will. If He should have taken him to heaven above the blue sky—oh then, Hugh must be very happy. He will be with the angels. He will see Jesus face to face; and you know how He loved little children. The bells seemed to say all this to me as I listened to them, Lena."

Lena went off contented: we saw her skipping along by Hannah's side, who had on a new purple gown and staring red and green trimmings to her bonnet. Children are as changeable as a chameleon, sobbing one minute, laughing the next. Tod was standing now with his back to the window, and Mrs. Todhetley sat by the table, her long thin fingers supporting her cheek; very meek, very, very patient. Tod was thinking so as he glanced at her.

"How you must hate me for this!" he said.

"Oh, Joseph! Hate you?"

"The thing is all my fault. A great deal has been my fault for a long while; all the unpleasantness and the misunderstanding."

She got up and took his hand timidly, as if she feared he might think it too great a liberty. "If you can only understand me for the future, Joseph; understand how I wish and try to make things pleasant to you, I shall be fully repaid: to you most especially in all the house, after your father. I have ever striven and prayed for it."

He answered nothing for the moment; his face was working a little, and he gave her fingers a grip that must have caused pain.

"If the worst comes of this, and Hugh never is amongst us again, I will go over the seas in the wake of the villain Arne," he said in a low, firm tone, "and spare you the sight of me."

Tears began to trickle down her face. "Joseph, my dear—if you will let me call you so—this shall draw us near to each other, as we never might have been drawn without it. You shall not hear a word of reproach from us, or any word but love; there shall never be a thought of reproach in my heart. I have had a great deal of sorrow in my life, Joseph, and have learnt patiently to bear, leaving all things to Heaven."

"And if Hugh is dead?"

"What I said to Lena, I meant," she softly whispered. "If God has taken him he is with the angels, far happier than he could be in this world of care, though his lot were of the brightest."

The tears were running down her cheeks as she went out of the room. Tod stood still as a stone.

"She is made of gold," I whispered.

"No, Johnny. Of something better."

The sound of the bells died away. None of us went to church; in the present excitement it would have been a farce. The Squire had gone riding about the roads, sending his groom the opposite way. He telegraphed to the police at Worcester; saying, in the message, that these country officers were no better than dummies; and openly lamented at home that it had not happened at Dyke Manor, within the range of old Jones the constable.

Tod disappeared with the last sound of the bells. Just as the pater's head was full of the brick-fields, his was of the Ravine; that he had gone off to beat it again I was sure. In a trouble such as this you want incessantly to be up and doing. Lena and Hannah came back from church, the child calling for Hugh: she wanted to tell him about the gentleman who had preached in big white sleeves and pretty frills on his wrists.

Two o'clock was the Sunday dinner-hour. Tod came in when it was striking. He looked dead-beat as he sat down to carve in his father's place. The sirloin of beef was as good as usual, but only Lena seemed to think so. The little gobbler ate two servings, and a heap of raspberry pie and cream.

How it happened, I don't know. I was just as anxious as any of them, and yet, in sitting under the mulberry-tree, I fell fast asleep, never waking till five. Mrs. Todhetley, always finding excuses for us, said it was worry and want of proper rest. She was sitting close to the window, her head leaning against it. The Squire had not come home. Tod was somewhere about, she did not know where.

I found him in the yard. Luke Mackintosh was harnessing the pony to the gig, Tod helping him in a state of excitement. Some man had come in with a tale that a tribe of gipsies was discovered, encamped beyond the brick-fields, who seemed to have been there for a week past. Tod jumped to the conclusion that Hugh was concealed with them, and was about to go off in search.

"Will you come with me, Johnny? Luke must remain in case the Squire rides in."

"Of course I will. I'll run and tell Mrs. Todhetley."

"Stay where you are, you stupid muff. To excite her hopes, in the uncertainty, would be cruel. Get up."

Tod need not have talked about excited hopes. He was just three parts mad. Fancy his great strong hands shaking as he took the reins! The pony dashed off in a fright with the cut he gave it, and brought us cleverly against the post of the gate, breaking the near shaft. Over that, but for the delay, Tod would have been cool as an orange.

"The phaeton now, single horse," he called out to Mackintosh.

"Yes, sir. Bob, or Blister?"

Tod stamped his foot in a passion. "As if it mattered! Blister; he is the more fiery of the two."

"I must get the harness," said Mackintosh. "It is in the yellow barn."

Mackintosh went round on the run to gain the front barn; the harness, least used, was kept there, hung on the walls. Tod unharnessed the pony, left me to lead him to the stable, and went after the man. In his state of impatience and his strength, he could have done the work of ten men. He met Mackintosh coming out of the barn, without the harness, but with a white face. Since he saw the ghost's light on Friday night the man had been scared at shadows.

"There's sum'at in there, master," said he, his teeth chattering.

"What?" roared Tod, in desperate anger.

"There is, master. It's like a faint tapping."

Tod dashed in, controlling his hands, lest they might take French leave and strike Luke for a coward. He was seeking the proper set of harness, when a knocking, faint and irregular, smote his ear. Tod turned to look, and thought it came from the staircase-door. He went forward and opened it.

Lying at the foot of the stairs was Hugh. Hugh! Low, and weak, and faint, there he lay, his blue eyes only half opened, and his pretty curls mingling with the dust.

"Hugh! is it you, my darling?"

Tod's gasp was like a great cry. Hugh put up his little feeble hand, and a smile parted his lips.

"Yes, it's me, Joe."


The riddle is easily solved. When sent back by me, Hugh saw Hannah in the fold-yard; she was, in point of fact, looking after him. In his fear, he stole round to hide in the shrubbery, and thence got to the front of the house, and ran away down the road. Seeing the front barn-door open, for it was when Luke Mackintosh was getting the corn, Hugh slipped in and hid behind the door. Luke went out with the first lot of corn, and the senseless child, hearing Tod's voice outside, got into the place leading to the stairs, and shut the door. Luke, talking to Tod, who had stepped inside the barn, saw the door was shut and slipped the big outside bolt, never remembering that it was not he who had shut it. Poor little Hugh, when their voices had died away, ran upstairs to get to the upper granary, and found its door fastened. And there the child was shut up beyond reach of call and hearing. The skylight in the roof, miles, as it seemed, above him, had its ventilator open. He had called and called; but his voice must have been lost amidst the space of the barn. It was too weak to disturb a rat now.

Tod took him up in his arms, tenderly as if he had been a new-born baby that he was hushing to the rest of death.

"Were you frightened, child?"

"I was till I heard the church-bells," whispered Hugh. "I don't know how long it was—oh, a great while—and I had ate the biscuit Johnny gave me and been asleep. I was not frightened then, Joe; I thought they'd come to me when church was over."

I met the procession. What the dirty object might be in Tod's arms was quite a mystery at first. Tod's eyes were dropping tears upon it, and his breath seemed laboured. Luke brought up the rear a few yards behind, looking as if he'd never find his senses again.

"Oh, Tod! will he get over it?"

"Yes. Please God."

"Is he injured?"

"No, no. Get out of my way, Johnny. Go to the mother now, if you like. Tell her he has only been shut up in the barn and I'm coming in with him. The dirt's nothing: it was on him before."

Just as meek and gentle she stood as ever, the tears rolling down her face, and a quiet joy in it. Tod brought him in, laying him across her knee as she sat on the sofa.

"There," he said. "He'll be all right when he has been washed and had something to eat."

"God bless you, Joseph!" she whispered.

Tod could say no more. He bent to kiss Hugh; lifted his face, and kissed the mother. And then he went rushing out with a burst of emotion.


Johnny Ludlow.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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