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Johnny Ludlow : first series online

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"We spake of many a vanished scene,
Of what we once had thought and said,
Of what had been, and might have been,
And who was changed, and who was dead."






+Fiftieth Thousand.+

+Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen.+

(_All rights reserved._)
































We lived chiefly at Dyke Manor. A fine old place, so close upon the
borders of Warwickshire and Worcestershire, that many people did not
know which of the two counties it was really in. The house was in
Warwickshire, but some of the land was in Worcestershire. The Squire
had, however, another estate, Crabb Cot, all in Worcestershire, and very
many miles nearer to Worcester.

Squire Todhetley was rich. But he lived in the plain, good old-fashioned
way that his forefathers had lived; almost a homely way, it might be
called, in contrast with the show and parade that have sprung up of
late years. He was respected by every one, and though hotheaded and
impetuous, he was simple-minded, open-handed, and had as good a heart as
any one ever had in this world. An elderly gentleman now, was he, of
middle height, with a portly form and a red face; and his hair, what was
left of it, consisted of a few scanty, lightish locks, standing up
straight on the top of his head.

The Squire had married, but not very early in life. His wife died in
a few years, leaving one child only; a son, named after his father,
Joseph. Young Joe was just the pride of the Manor and of his father's

I, writing this, am Johnny Ludlow. And you will naturally want to hear
what I did at Dyke Manor, and why I lived there.

About three-miles' distance from the Manor was a place called the Court.
Not a property of so much importance as the Manor, but a nice place,
for all that. It belonged to my father, William Ludlow. He and Squire
Todhetley were good friends. I was an only child, just as Tod was; and,
like him, I had lost my mother. They had christened me John, but always
called me Johnny. I can remember many incidents of my early life now,
but I cannot recall my mother to my mind. She must have died - at least I
fancy so - when I was two years old.

One morning, two years after that, when I was about four, the servants
told me I had a new mamma. I can see her now as she looked when she came
home: tall, thin, and upright, with a long face, pinched nose, a meek
expression, and gentle voice. She was a Miss Marks, who used to play the
organ at church, and had hardly any income at all. Hannah said she was
sure she was thirty-five if she was a day - she was talking to Eliza
while she dressed me - and they both agreed that she would probably turn
out to be a tartar, and that the master might have chosen better. I
understood quite well that they meant papa, and asked why he might have
chosen better; upon which they shook me and said they had not been
speaking of my papa at all, but of the old blacksmith round the corner.
Hannah brushed my hair the wrong way, and Eliza went off to see to her
bedrooms. Children are easily prejudiced: and they prejudiced me against
my new mother. Looking at her with the eyes of maturer years, I know
that though she might be poor in pocket, she was good and kindly, and
every inch a lady.

Papa died that same year. At the end of another year, Mrs. Ludlow, my
step-mother, married Squire Todhetley, and we went to live at Dyke
Manor; she, I, and my nurse Hannah. The Court was let for a term of
years to the Sterlings.

Young Joe did not like the new arrangements. He was older than I, could
take up prejudices more strongly, and he took a mighty strong one
against the new Mrs. Todhetley. He had been regularly indulged by his
father and spoilt by all the servants; so it was only to be expected
that he would not like the invasion. Mrs. Todhetley introduced order
into the profuse household, hitherto governed by the servants. They and
young Joe equally resented it; they refused to see that things were
really more comfortable than they used to be, and at half the cost.

Two babies came to the Manor; Hugh first, Lena next. Joe and I were sent
to school. He was as big as a house, compared with me, tall and strong
and dark, with an imperious way and will of his own. I was fair, gentle,
timid, yielding to him in all things. His was the master-spirit, swaying
mine at will. At school the boys at once, the very first day we entered,
shortened his name from Todhetley to Tod. I caught up the habit, and
from that time I never called him anything else.

And so the years went on. Tod and I at school being drilled into
learning; Hugh and Lena growing into nice little children. During the
holidays, hot war raged between Tod and his step-mother. At least
_silent_ war. Mrs. Todhetley was always kind to him, and she never
quarrelled; but Tod opposed her in many things, and would be generally
sarcastically cool to her in manner.

We did lead the children into mischief, and she complained of that. Tod
did, that is, and of course I followed where he led. "But we can't let
Hugh grow up a milksop, you know, Johnny," he would say to me; "and he
would if left to his mother." So Hugh's clothes in Tod's hands came to
grief, and sometimes Hugh himself. Hannah, who was the children's nurse
now, stormed and scolded over it: she and Tod had ever been at daggers
drawn with each other; and Mrs. Todhetley would implore Tod with tears
in her eyes to be careful with the child. Tod appeared to turn a deaf
ear to them, and marched off with Hugh before their very eyes. He really
loved the children, and would have saved them from injury with his life.
The Squire drove and rode his fine horses. Mrs. Todhetley had set up a
low basket-chaise drawn by a mild she-donkey: it was safer for the
children, she said. Tod went into fits whenever he met the turn-out.

But Tod was not always to escape scot-free, or incite the children to
rebellion with impunity. There came a day when he brought himself,
through it, to a state of self-torture and repentance.

It occurred when we were at home for the summer holidays, just after
the crop of hay was got in, and the bare fields looked as white in
the blazing sun as if they had been scorched. Tod and I were in the
three-cornered meadow next the fold-yard. He was making a bat-net with
gauze and two sticks. Young Jacobson had shown us his the previous day,
and a bat he had caught with it; and Tod thought he would catch bats
too. But he did not seem to be making much hand at the net, and somehow
managed to send the pointed end of the stick through a corner of it.

"I don't think that gauze is strong enough, Tod."

"I am afraid it is not, Johnny. Here, catch hold of it. I'll go indoors,
and see if they can't find me some better. Hannah must have some."

He flew off past the ricks, and leaped the little gate into the
fold-yard - a tall, strong fellow, who might leap the Avon. In a few
minutes I heard his voice again, and went to meet him. Tod was coming
away from the house with Lena.

"Have you the gauze, Tod!"

"Not a bit of it; the old cat won't look for any; says she hasn't time.
I'll hinder her time a little. Come along, Lena."

The "old cat" was Hannah. I told you she and he were often at daggers
drawn. Hannah had a chronic complaint in the shape of ill-temper, and
Tod called her names to her face. Upon going in to ask her for the
gauze, he found her dressing Hugh and Lena to go out, and she just
turned him out of the nursery, and told him not to bother her then with
his gauze and his wants. Lena ran after Tod; she liked him better than
all of us put together. She had on a blue silk frock, and a white straw
hat with daisies round it; open-worked stockings were on her pretty
little legs. By which we saw she was about to be taken out for show.

"What are you going to do with her, Tod?"

"I'm going to hide her," answered Tod, in his decisive way. "Keep where
you are, Johnny."

Lena enjoyed the rebellion. In a minute or two Tod came back alone. He
had left her between the ricks in the three-cornered field, and told her
not to come out. Then he went off to the front of the house, and I stood
inside the barn, talking to Mack, who was hammering away at the iron of
the cart-wheel. Out came Hannah by-and-by. She had been dressing herself
as well as Hugh.

"Miss Lena!"

No answer. Hannah called again, and then came up the fold-yard, looking

"Master Johnny, have you seen the child?"

"What child?" I was not going to spoil Tod's sport by telling her.

"Miss Lena. She has got off somewhere, and my mistress is waiting for
her in the basket-chaise."

"I see her just now along of Master Joseph," spoke up Mack, arresting
his noisy hammer.

"See her where?" asked Hannah.

"Close here, a-going that way."

He pointed to the palings and gate that divided the yard from the
three-cornered field. Hannah ran there and stood looking over. The ricks
were within a short stone's throw, but Lena kept close. Hannah called
out again, and threw her gaze over the empty field.

"The child's not there. Where can she have got to, tiresome little

In the house, and about the house, and out of the house, as the old
riddle says, went Hannah. It was jolly to see her. Mrs. Todhetley and
Hugh were seated patiently in the basket-chaise before the hall-door,
wondering what made Hannah so long. Tod, playing with the mild
she-donkey's ears, and laughing to himself, stood talking graciously to
his step-mother. I went round. The Squire had gone riding into Evesham;
Dwarf Giles, who made the nattiest little groom in the county, for all
his five-and-thirty years, behind him.

"I can't find Miss Lena," cried Hannah, coming out.

"Not find Miss Lena!" echoed Mrs. Todhetley. "What do you mean, Hannah?
Have you not dressed her?"

"I dressed her first, ma'am, before Master Hugh, and she went out of
the nursery. I can't think where she can have got to. I've searched

"But, Hannah, we must have her directly; I am late as it is."

They were going over to the Court to a children's early party at the
Sterlings'. Mrs. Todhetley stepped out of the basket-chaise to help in
the search.

"I had better fetch her, Tod," I whispered.

He nodded yes. Tod never bore malice, and I suppose he thought Hannah
had had enough of a hunt for that day. I ran through the fold-yard to
the ricks, and called to Lena.

"You can come out now, little stupid."

But no Lena answered. There were seven ricks in a group, and I went into
all the openings between them. Lena was not there. It was rather odd,
and I looked across the field and towards the lane and the coppice,
shouting out sturdily.

"Mack, have you seen Miss Lena pass indoors?" I stayed to ask him, in
going back.

No: Mack had not noticed her; and I went round to the front again, and
whispered to Tod.

"What a muff you are, Johnny! She's between the ricks fast enough. No
danger that she'd come out when I told her to stay!"

"But she's not there indeed, Tod. You go and look."

Tod vaulted off, his long legs seeming to take flying leaps, like a
deer's, on his way to the ricks.

To make short of the story, Lena was gone. Lost. The house, the outdoor
buildings, the gardens were searched for her, and she was not to be
found. Mrs. Todhetley's fears flew to the ponds at first; but it was
impossible she could have come to grief in either of the two, as they
were both in view of the barn-door where I and Mack had been. Tod avowed
that he had put her amid the ricks to hide her; and it was not to be
imagined she had gone away. The most feasible conjecture was, that she
had run from between the ricks when Hannah called to her, and was hiding
in the lane.

Tod was in a fever, loudly threatening Lena with unheard-of whippings,
to cover his real concern. Hannah looked red, Mrs. Todhetley white. I
was standing by him when the cook came up; a sharp woman, with red-brown
eyes. We called her Molly.

"Mr. Joseph," said she, "I have heard of gipsies stealing children."

"Well?" returned Tod.

"There was one at the door a while agone - an insolent one, too. Perhaps
Miss Lena - - "

"Which way did she go? - which door was she at?" burst forth Tod.

"'Twas a man, sir. He came up to the kitchen-door, and steps inside as
bold as brass, asking me to buy some wooden skewers he'd cut, and saying
something about a sick child. When I told him to march, that we never
encouraged tramps here, he wanted to answer me, and I just shut the door
in his face. A regular gipsy, if ever I see one," continued Molly; "his
skin tawny and his wild hair jet-black. Maybe, in revenge, he have stole
off the little miss."

Tod took up the notion, and his face turned white. "Don't say anything
of this to Mrs. Todhetley," he said to Molly. "We must just scour the

But in departing from the kitchen-door, the gipsy man could not by any
possibility have made his way to the rick-field without going through
the fold-yard. And he had not done that. It was true that Lena might
have run round and got into the gipsy's way. Unfortunately, none of
the men were about, except Mack and old Thomas. Tod sent these off in
different directions; Mrs. Todhetley drove away in her pony-chaise to
the lanes round, saying the child might have strayed there; Molly and
the maids started elsewhere; and I and Tod went flying along a by-road
that branched off in a straight line, as it were, from the kitchen-door.
Nobody could keep up with Tod, he went so fast; and I was not tall and
strong as he was. But I saw what Tod in his haste did not see - a dark
man with some bundles of skewers and a stout stick, walking on the other
side of the hedge. I whistled Tod back again.

"What is it, Johnny?" he said, panting. "Have you seen her?"

"Not her. But look there. That must be the man Molly spoke of."

Tod crashed through the hedge as if it had been so many cobwebs,
and accosted the gipsy. I followed more carefully, but got my face

"Were you up at the great house, begging, a short time ago?" demanded
Tod, in an awful passion.

The man turned round on Tod with a brazen face. I say brazen, because he
did it so independently; but it was not an insolent face in itself;
rather a sad one, and very sickly.

"What's that you ask me, master?"

"I ask whether it was you who were at the Manor-house just now,
begging?" fiercely repeated Tod.

"I was at a big house offering wares for sale, if you mean that, sir. I
wasn't begging."

"Call it what you please," said Tod, growing white again. "What have you
done with the little girl?"

For, you see, Tod had caught up the impression that the gipsy _had_
stolen Lena, and he spoke in accordance with it.

"I've seen no little girl, master."

"You have," and Tod gave his foot a stamp. "What have you done with

The man's only answer was to turn round and walk off, muttering to
himself. Tod pursued him, calling him a thief and other names; but
nothing more satisfactory could he get out of him.

"He can't have taken her, Tod. If he had, she'd be with him now. He
couldn't eat her, you know."

"He may have given her to a confederate."

"What to do? What do gipsies steal children for?"

Tod stopped in a passion, lifting his hand. "If you torment me with
these frivolous questions, Johnny, I'll strike you. How do I know what's
done with stolen children? Sold, perhaps. I'd give a hundred pounds
out of my pocket at this minute if I knew where those gipsies were

We suddenly lost the fellow. Tod had been keeping him in sight in the
distance. Whether he disappeared up a gum-tree, or into a rabbit-hole,
Tod couldn't tell; but gone he was.

Up this lane, down that one; over this moor, across that common; so
raced Tod and I. And the afternoon wore away, and we had changed our
direction a dozen times: which possibly was not wise.

The sun was getting low as we passed Ragley gates, for we had finally
got into the Alcester road. Tod was going to do what we ought to have
done at first: report the loss at Alcester. Some one came riding along
on a stumpy pony. It proved to be Gruff Blossom, groom to the Jacobsons.
They called him "Gruff" because of his temper. He did touch his hat to
us, which was as much as you could say, and spurred the stumpy animal
on. But Tod made a sign to him, and he was obliged to stop and listen.

"The gipsies stole off little Miss Lena!" cried old Blossom, coming out
of his gruffness. "That's a rum go! Ten to one if you find her for a
year to come."

"But, Blossom, what do they do with the children they steal?" I asked,
in a sort of agony.

"They cuts their hair off and dyes their skins brown, and then takes 'em
out to fairs a ballad-singing," answered Blossom.

"But why need they do it, when they have children of their own?"

"Ah, well, that's a question I couldn't answer," said old Blossom.
"Maybe their'n arn't pretty children - Miss Lena, she is pretty."

"Have you heard of any gipsies being encamped about here?" Tod demanded
of him.

"Not lately, Mr. Joseph. Five or six months ago, there was a lot 'camped
on the Markis's ground. They warn't there long."

"Can't you ride about, Blossom, and see after the child?" asked Tod,
putting something into his hand.

Old Blossom pocketed it, and went off with a nod. He was riding
about, as we knew afterwards, for hours. Tod made straight for the
police-station at Alcester, and told his tale. Not a soul was there but
Jenkins, one of the men.

"I haven't seen no suspicious characters about," said Jenkins, who
seemed to be eating something. He was a big man, with short black hair
combed on his forehead, and he had a habit of turning his face upwards,
as if looking after his nose - a square ornament, that stood up straight.

"She is between four and five years old; a very pretty child, with blue
eyes and a good deal of curling auburn hair," said Tod, who was growing

Jenkins wrote it down - "Name, Todhetley. What Christian name?"

"Adalena, called 'Lena.'"

"Recollect the dress, sir?"

"Pale blue silk; straw hat with wreath of daisies round it; open-worked
white stockings, and thin black shoes; white drawers," recounted Tod, as
if he had prepared the list by heart coming along.

"That's bad, that dress is," said Jenkins, putting down the pen.

"Why is it bad?"

"'Cause the things is tempting. Quite half the children that gets stole
is stole for what they've got upon their backs. Tramps and that sort
will run a risk for a blue silk that they'd not run for a brown holland
pinafore. Auburn curls, too," added Jenkins, shaking his head; "that's a
temptation also. I've knowed children sent back home with bare heads
afore now. Any ornaments, sir?"

"She was safe to have on her little gold neck-chain and cross. They are
very small, Jenkins - not worth much."

Jenkins lifted his nose - not in disdain, it was a habit he had. "Not
worth much to you, sir, who could buy such any day, but an uncommon bait
to professional child-stealers. Were the cross a coral, or any stone of
that sort?"

"It was a small gold cross, and the chain was thin. They could only be
seen when her cloak was off. Oh, I forgot the cloak; it was white:
llama, I think they call it. She was going to a child's party."

Some more questions and answers, most of which Jenkins took down.
Handbills were to be printed and posted, and a reward offered on the
morrow, if she was not previously found. Then we came away; there was
nothing more to do at the station.

"Wouldn't it have been better, Tod, had Jenkins gone out seeking her and
telling of the loss abroad, instead of waiting to write all that down?"

"Johnny, if we don't find her to night, I shall go mad," was all he

He went back down Alcester Street at a rushing pace - not a run but a
quick walk.

"Where are you going now?" I asked.

"I'm going up hill and down dale until I find that gipsies' encampment.
You can go on home, Johnny, if you are tired."

I had not felt tired until we were in the police-station. Excitement
keeps off fatigue. But I was not going to give in, and said I should
stay with him.

"All right, Johnny."

Before we were clear of Alcester, Budd the land-agent came up. He was
turning out of the public-house at the corner. It was dusk then. Tod
laid hold of him.

"Budd, you are always about, in all kinds of nooks and by-lanes: can you
tell me of any encampment of gipsies between here and the Manor-house?"

The agent's business took him abroad a great deal, you know, into the
rural districts around.

"Gipsies' encampment?" repeated Budd, giving both of us a stare.
"There's none that I know of. In the spring, a lot of them had the
impudence to squat down on the Marquis's - - "

"Oh, I know all that," interrupted Tod. "Is there nothing of the sort
about now?"

"I saw a miserable little tent to-day up Cookhill way," said Budd. "It
might have been a gipsy's or a travelling tinker's. 'Twasn't of much
account, whichever it was."

Tod gave a spring. "Whereabouts?" was all he asked. And Budd explained
where. Tod went off like a shot, and I after him.

If you are familiar with Alcester, or have visited at Ragley or anything
of that sort, you must know the long green lane leading to Cookhill; it
is dark with overhanging trees, and uphill all the way. We took that
road - Tod first, and I next; and we came to the top, and turned in the
direction Budd had described the tent to be in.

It was not to be called dark; the nights never are at midsummer; and
rays from the bright light in the west glimmered through the trees. On
the outskirts of the coppice, in a bit of low ground, we saw the tent,
a little mite of a thing, looking no better than a funnel turned upside
down. Sounds were heard within it, and Tod put his finger on his lip
while he listened. But we were too far off, and he took his boots off,
and crept up close.

Sounds of wailing - of some one in pain. But that Tod had been three
parts out of his senses all the afternoon, he might have known at
once that they did not come from Lena, or from any one so young. Words
mingled with them in a woman's voice; uncouth in its accents, nearly
unintelligible, an awful sadness in its tones.

"A bit longer! a bit longer, Corry, and he'd ha' been back. You needn't
ha' grudged it to us. Oh - - h! if ye had but waited a bit longer!"

I don't write it exactly as she spoke; I shouldn't know how to spell it:
we made a guess at half the words. Tod, who had grown white again, put
on his boots, and lifted up the opening of the tent.

I had never seen any scene like it; I don't suppose I shall ever see
another. About a foot from the ground was a raised surface of some sort,
thickly covered with dark green rushes, just the size and shape of a
gravestone. A little child, about as old as Lena, lay on it, a white
cloth thrown over her, and just touching the white, still face. A torch,
blazing and smoking away, was thrust into the ground and lighted up the

Online LibraryHenry WoodJohnny Ludlow : first series → online text (page 1 of 47)