Johnny Ludlow, First Series, by Ellen Wood

2.

Finding Both of Them.

Worcester Assizes were being held, and Squire Todhetley was on the grand jury. You see, although Dyke Manor was just within the borders of Warwickshire, the greater portion of the Squire’s property lay in Worcestershire. This caused him to be summoned to serve. We were often at his house there, Crabb Cot. I forget who was foreman of the jury that time: either Sir John Pakington, or the Honourable Mr. Coventry.

The week was jolly. We put up at the Star-and-Garter when we went to Worcester, which was two or three times a-year; generally at the assizes, or the races, or the quarter-sessions; one or other of the busy times.

The Pater would grumble at the bills — and say we boys had no business to be there; but he would take us, if we were at home, for all that. The assizes came on this time the week before our summer holidays were up; the Squire wished they had not come on until the week after. Anyway, there we were, in clover; the Squire about to be stewed up in the county courts all day; I and Tod flying about the town, and doing what we liked.

The judges came in from Oxford on the usual day, Saturday. And, to make clear what I am going to tell about, we must go back to that morning and to Dyke Manor. It was broiling hot weather, and Mrs. Todhetley, Hugh, and Lena, with old Thomas and Hannah, all came on the lawn after breakfast to see us start. The open carriage was at the door, with the fine dark horses. When the Squire did come out, he liked to do things well; and Dwarf Giles, the groom, had gone on to Worcester the day before with the two saddle-horses, the Pater’s and Tod’s. They might have ridden them in this morning, but the Squire chose to have his horses sleek and fresh when attending the high sheriff.

“Shall I drive, sir?” asked Tod.

“No,” said the Pater. “These two have queer tempers, and must be handled carefully.” He meant the horses, Bob and Blister. Tod looked at me; he thought he could have managed them quite as well as the Pater.

“Papa,” cried Lena, as we were driving off, running up in her white pinafore, with her pretty hair flying, “if you can catch that naughty kidnapper at Worcester, you put her in prison.”

The Squire nodded emphatically, as much as to say, “Trust me for that.” Lena alluded to the woman who had taken her off and stolen her clothes two or three weeks before. Tod said, afterwards, there must have been some prevision on the child’s mind when she said this.

We reached Worcester at twelve. It is a long drive, you know. Lots of country-people had arrived, and the Squire went off with some of them. Tod and I thought we’d order luncheon at the Star — a jolly good one; stewed lampreys, kidneys, and cherry-tart; and let it go into the Squire’s bill.

I’m afraid I envied Tod. The old days of travelling post were past, when the sheriff’s procession would go out to Whittington to meet the judges’ carriage. They came now by rail from Oxford, and the sheriff and his attendants received them at the railway station. It was the first time Tod had been allowed to make one of the gentlemen-attendants. The Squire said now he was too young; but he looked big, and tall, and strong. To see him mount his horse and go cantering off with the rest sent me into a state of envy. Tod saw it.

“Don’t drop your mouth, Johnny,” said he. “You’ll make one of us in another year or two.”

I stood about for half-an-hour, and the procession came back, passing the Star on its way to the county courts. The bells were ringing, the advanced heralds blew their trumpets, and the javelin-guard rode at a foot-pace, their lances in rest, preceding the high sheriff’s grand carriage, with its four prancing horses and their silvered harness. Both the judges had come in, so we knew that business was over at Oxford; they sat opposite to the sheriff and his chaplain. I used to wonder whether they travelled all the way in their wigs and gowns, or robed outside Worcester. Squire Todhetley rode in the line next the carriage, with some more old ones of consequence; Tod on his fine bay was nearly at the tail, and he gave me a nod in passing. The judges were going to open the commission, and Foregate Street was crowded.

The high sheriff that year was a friend of ours, and the Pater had an invitation to the banquet he gave that evening. Tod thought he ought to have been invited too.

“It’s sinfully stingy of him, Johnny. When I am pricked for sheriff — and I suppose my turn will come some time, either for Warwickshire or Worcestershire — I’ll have more young fellows to my dinner than old ones.”

The Squire, knowing nothing of our midday luncheon, was surprised that we chose supper at eight instead of dinner at six; but he told the waiter to give us a good one. We went out while it was getting ready, and walked arm-inarm through the crowded streets. Worcester is always full on a Saturday evening; it is market-day there, as every one knows; but on Assize Saturday the streets are almost impassable. Tod, tall and strong, held on his way, and asked leave of none.

“Now, then, you two gents, can’t you go on proper, and not elbow respectable folks like that?”

“Holloa!” cried Tod, turning at the voice. “Is it you, old Jones?”

Old Jones, the constable of our parish, touched his hat when he saw it was us, and begged pardon. We asked what he was doing at Worcester; but he had only come on his own account. “On the spree,” Tod suggested to him.

“Young Mr. Todhetley,” cried he — the way he chiefly addressed Tod —“I’d not be sure but that woman’s took — her that served out little Miss Lena.”

“That woman!” said Tod. “Why do you think it?”

Old Jones explained. A woman had been apprehended near Worcester the previous day, on a charge of stripping two little boys of their clothes in Perry Wood. The description given of her answered exactly, old Jones thought, to that given by Lena.

“She stripped ’em to the skin,” groaned Jones, drawing a long face as he recited the mishap, “two poor little chaps of three years, they was, living in them cottages under the Wood — not as much as their boots did she leave on ’em. When they got home their folks didn’t know ’em; quite naked they was, and bleating with terror, like a brace of shorn sheep.”

Tod put on his determined look. “And she is taken, you say, Jones?”

“She was took yesterday, sir. They had her before the justices this morning, and the little fellows knowed her at once. As the ‘sizes was on, leastways as good as on, their worships committed her for trial there and then. Policeman Cripp told me all about it; it was him that took her. She’s in the county gaol.”

We carried the tale to the Pater that night, and he despatched a messenger to Mrs. Todhetley, to say that Lena must be at Worcester on the Monday morning. But there’s something to tell about the Sunday yet.

If you have been in Worcester on Assize Sunday, you know how the cathedral is on that morning crowded. Enough strangers are in the town to fill it: the inhabitants who go to the churches at other times attended it then; and King Mob flocks in to see the show.

Squire Todhetley was put in the stalls; Tod and I scrambled for places on a bench. The alterations in the cathedral (going on for years before that, and going on for years since, and going on still) caused space to be limited, and it was no end of a cram. While people fought for standing-places, the procession was played in to the crash of the organ. The judges came, glorious in their wigs and gowns; the mayor and aldermen were grand as scarlet and gold chains could make them; and there was a large attendance of the clergy in their white robes. The Bishop had come in from Hartlebury, and was on his throne, and the service began. The Rev. Mr. Wheeler chanted; the Dean read the lessons. Of course the music was all right; they put up fine services on Assize Sundays now; and the sheriff’s chaplain went up in his black gown to preach the sermon. Three-quarters of an hour, if you’ll believe me, before that sermon came to an end!

Ere the organ had well played its Amen to the Bishop’s blessing, the crowd began to push out. We pushed with the rest and took up our places in the long cathedral nave to see the procession pass back again. It came winding down between the line of javelin-men. Just as the judges were passing, Tod motioned me to look opposite. There stood a young boy in dreadful clothes, patched all over, but otherwise clean; with great dark wondering eyes riveted on the judges, as if they had been stilted peacocks; on their wigs, their solemn countenances, their held-up scarlet trains.

Where had I seen those eyes, and their brightness? Recollection flashed over me before Tod’s whisper: “Jake’s boy; the youngster we saw in the tent.”

To get across the line was impossible: manners would not permit it, let alone the javelin-guard. And when the procession had passed, leaving nothing but a crowd of shuffling feet and the dust on the white cathedral floor, the boy was gone.

“I say, Johnny, it is rather odd we should come on those tent-people, just as the woman has turned up,” exclaimed Tod, as we got clear of the cathedral.

“But you don’t think they can be connected, Tod?”

“Well, no; I suppose not. It’s a queer coincidence, though.”

This we also carried to the Squire, as we had the other news. He was standing in the Star gateway.

“Look here, you boys,” said he, after a pause given to thought; “keep your eyes open; you may come upon the lad again, or some of his folk. I should like to do something for that poor man; I’ve wished it ever since he brought home Lena, and that confounded Molly drove him out by way of recompense.”

“And if they should be confederates, sir?” suggested Tod.

“Who confederates? What do you mean, Joe?”

“These people and the female-stripper. It seems strange they should both turn up again in the same spot.”

The notion took away the Pater’s breath. “If I thought that; if I find it is so,” he broke forth, “I’ll — I’ll — transport the lot.”

Mrs. Todhetley arrived with Lena on Sunday afternoon. Early on Monday, the Squire and Tod took her to the governor’s house at the county prison, where she was to see the woman, as if accidentally, nothing being said to Lena.

The woman was brought in: a bold jade with a red face: and Lena nearly went into convulsions at the sight of her. There could be no mistake the woman was the same: and the Pater became redhot with anger; especially to think he could not punish her in Worcester.

As the fly went racing up Salt Lane after the interview, on its way to leave the Squire at the county courts, a lad ran past. It was Jake’s boy; the same we had seen in the cathedral. Tod leaped up and called to the driver to stop, but the Pater roared out an order to go on. His appearance at the court could not be delayed, and Tod had to stay with Lena. So the clue was lost again. Tod brought Lena to the Star, and then he and I went to the criminal court, and bribed a fellow for places. Tod said it would be a sin not to hear the kidnapper tried.

It was nearly the first case called on. Some of the lighter cases were taken first, while the grand jury deliberated on their bills for the graver ones. Her name, as given in, was Nancy Cole, and she tried to excite the sympathies of the judge and jury by reciting a whining account of a deserting husband and other ills. The evidence was quite clear. The two children (little shavers in petticoats) set up a roar in court at sight of the woman, just as Lena had done in the governor’s house; and a dealer in marine stores produced their clothes, which he had bought of her. Tod whispered to me that he should go about Worcester after this in daily dread of seeing Lena’s blue-silk frock and open-worked stockings hanging in a shop window. Something was said during the trial about the raid the prisoner had also recently made on the little daughter of Mr. Todhetley, of Dyke Manor, Warwickshire, and of Crabb Cot, Worcestershire, “one of the gentlemen of the grand jury at present sitting in deliberation in an adjoining chamber of the court.” But, as the judge said, that could not be received in evidence.

Mrs. Cole brazened it out: testimony was too strong for her to attempt denial. “And if she had took a few bits o’ things, ‘cause she was famishing, she didn’t hurt the childern. She’d never hurt a child in her life; couldn’t do it. Just contrairy to that; she gave ’em sugar plums — and candy — and a piece of a wig,1 she did. What was she to do? Starve? Since her wicked husband, that she hadn’t seen for this five year, deserted of her, and her two boys, fine grown lads both of ’em, had been accused of theft and got put away from her, one into prison, t’other into a ‘formitory, she hadn’t no soul to care for her nor help her to a bit o’ bread. Life was hard, and times was bad; and — there it was. No good o’ saying more.”

1 A small plain bun sold in Worcester.

“Guilty,” said the foreman of the jury, without turning round. “We find the prisoner guilty, my lord.”

The judge sentenced her to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour. Mrs. Cole brazened it out still.

“Thank you,” said she to his lordship, dropping a curtsey as they were taking her from the dock; “and I hope you’ll sit there, old gentleman, till I come out again.”

When the Squire was told of the sentence that evening, he said it was too mild by half, and talked of bringing her also to book at Warwick. But Mrs. Todhetley said, “No; forgive her.” After all, it was only the loss of the clothes.

Nothing whatever had come out during the trial to connect Jake with the woman. She appeared to be a waif without friends. “And I watched and listened closely for it, mind you, Johnny,” remarked Tod.


It was a day or two after this — I think, on the Wednesday evening. The Squire’s grand-jury duties were over, but he stayed on, intending to make a week of it; Mrs. Todhetley and Lena had left for home. We had dined late, and Tod and I went for a stroll afterwards; leaving the Pater, and an old clergyman, who had dined with us, to their wine. In passing the cooked-meat shop in High-street, we saw a little chap looking in, his face flattened against the panes. Tod laid hold of his shoulder, and the boy turned his brilliant eyes and their hungry expression upon us.

“Do you remember me, Dor?” You see, Tod had not forgotten his name.

Dor evidently did remember. And whether it was that he felt frightened at being accosted, or whether the sight of us brought back to him the image of the dead sister lying on the rushes, was best known to himself; but he burst out crying.

“There’s nothing to cry for,” said Tod; “you need not be afraid. Could you eat some of that meat?”

Something like a shiver of surprise broke over the boy’s face at the question; just as though he had had no food for weeks. Tod gave him a shilling, and told him to go in and buy some. But the boy looked at the money doubtingly.

“A whole shilling! They’d think I stole it.”

Tod took back the money, and went in himself. He was as proud a fellow as you’d find in the two counties, and yet he would do all sorts of things that many another glanced askance at.

“I want half-a-pound of beef,” said he to the man who was carving, “and some bread, if you sell it. And I’ll take one of those small pork-pies.”

“Shall I put the meat in paper, sir?” asked the man: as if doubting whether Tod might prefer to eat it there.

“Yes,” said Tod. And the customers, working-men and a woman in a drab shawl, turned and stared at him.

Tod paid; took it all in his hands, and we left the shop. He did not mind being seen carrying the parcels; but he would have minded letting them know that he was feeding a poor boy.

“Here, Dor, you can take the things now,” said he, when we had gone a few yards. “Where do you live?”

Dor explained after a fashion. We knew Worcester well, but failed to understand. “Not far from the big church,” he said; and at first we thought he meant the cathedral.

“Never mind,” said Tod; “go on, and show us.”

He went skimming along, Tod keeping him within arm’s-length, lest he should try to escape. Why Tod should have suspected he might, I don’t know; nothing, as it turned out, could have been farther from Dor’s thoughts. The church he spoke of proved to be All Saints’; the boy turned up an entry near to it, and we found ourselves in a regular rookery of dirty, miserable, tumble-down houses. Loose men stood about, pipes in their mouths, women, in tatters, their hair hanging down.

Dor dived into a dark den that seemed to be reached through a hole you had to stoop under. My patience! what a close place it was, with a smell that nearly knocked you backwards. There was not an earthly thing in the room that we could see, except some straw in a corner, and on that Jake was lying. The boy appeared with a piece of lighted candle, which he had been upstairs to borrow.

Jake was thin enough before; he was a skeleton now. His eyes were sunk, the bones of his face stood out, the skin glistened on his shapely nose, his voice was weak and hollow. He knew us, and smiled.

“What’s the matter?” asked Tod, speaking gently. “You look very ill.”

“I be very ill, master; I’ve been getting worse ever since.”

His history was this. The same night that we had seen the tent at Cookhill, some travelling people of Jake’s fraternity happened to encamp close to it for the night. By their help, the dead child was removed as far as Evesham, and there buried. Jake, his wife, and son, went on to Worcester, and there the man was taken worse; they had been in this room since; the wife had found a place to go to twice a week washing, earning her food and a shilling each time. It was all they had to depend upon, these two shillings weekly; and the few bits o’ things they had, to use Jake’s words, had been taken by the landlord for rent. But to see Jake’s resignation was something curious.

“He was very good,” he said, alluding to the landlord and the seizure; “he left me the straw. When he saw how bad I was, he wouldn’t take it. We had been obliged to sell the tent, and there was a’most nothing for him.”

“Have you had no medicine? no advice?” cried Tod, speaking as if he had a lump in his throat.

Yes, he had had medicine; the wife went for it to the free place (he meant the dispensary) twice a week, and a young doctor had been to see him.

Dor opened the paper of meat, and showed it to his father. “The gentleman bought it me,” he said; “and this, and this. Couldn’t you eat some?”

I saw the eager look that arose for a moment to Jake’s face at sight of the meat: three slices of nice cold boiled beef, better than what we got at school. Dor held out one of them; the man broke off a morsel, put it into his mouth, and had a choking fit.

“It’s of no use, Dor.”

“Is his name ‘Dor’?” asked Tod.

“His name is James, sir; same as mine,” answered Jake, panting a little from the exertion of swallowing. “The wife, she has called him ‘Dor’ for ‘dear,’ and I’ve fell into it. She has called me Jake all along.”

Tod felt something ought to be done to help him, but he had no more idea what than the man in the moon. I had less. As Dor piloted us to the open street, we asked him where his mother was. It was one of her working-days out, he answered; she was always kept late.

“Could he drink wine, do you think, Dor?”

“The gentleman said he was to have it,” answered Dor, alluding to the doctor.

“How old are you, Dor?”

“I’m anigh ten.” He did not look it.

“Johnny, I wonder if there’s any place where they sell beef-tea?” cried Tod, as we went up Broad Street. “My goodness! lying there in that state, with no help at hand!”

“I never saw anything so bad before, Tod.”

“Do you know what I kept thinking of all the time? I could not get it out of my head.”

“What?”

“Of Lazarus at the rich man’s gate. Johnny, lad, there seems an awful responsibility lying on some of us.”

To hear Tod say such a thing was stranger than all. He set off running, and burst into our sitting-room in the Star, startling the Pater, who was alone and reading one of the Worcester papers with his spectacles on. Tod sat down and told him all.

“Dear me! dear me!” cried the Pater, growing red as he listened. “Why, Joe, the poor fellow must be dying!”

“He may not have gone too far for recovery, father,” was Tod’s answer. “If we had to lie in that close hole, and had nothing to eat or drink, we should probably soon become skeletons also. He may get well yet with proper care and treatment.”

“It seems to me that the first thing to be done is to get him into the Infirmary,” remarked the Pater.

“And it ought to be done early tomorrow morning, sir; if it’s too late to-night.”

The Pater got up in a bustle, put on his hat, and went out. He was going to his old friend, the famous surgeon, Henry Carden. Tod ran after him up Foregate Street, but was sent back to me. We stood at the door of the hotel, and in a few moments saw them coming along, the Pater arm-inarm with Mr. Carden. He had come out as readily to visit the poor helpless man as he would to visit a rich one. Perhaps more so. They stopped when they saw us, and Mr. Carden asked Tod some of the particulars.

“You can get him admitted to the Infirmary at once, can you not?” said the Pater, impatiently, who was all on thorns to have something done.

“By what I can gather, it is not a case for the Infirmary,” was the answer of its chief surgeon. “We’ll see.”

Down we went, walking fast: the Pater and Mr. Carden in front, I and Tod at their heels; and found the room again with some difficulty. The wife was in then, and had made a handful of fire in the grate. What with the smoke, and what with the other agreeable accompaniments, we were nearly stifled.

If ever I wished to be a doctor, it was when I saw Mr. Carden with that poor sick man. He was so gentle with him, so cheery and so kind. Had Jake been a duke, I don’t see that he could have been treated differently. There was something superior about the man, too, as though he had seen better days.

“What is your name?” asked Mr. Carden.

“James Winter, sir, a native of Herefordshire. I was on my way there when I was taken ill in this place.”

“What to do there? To get work?”

“No, sir; to die. It don’t much matter, though; God’s here as well as there.”

“You are not a gipsy?”

“Oh dear no, sir. From my dark skin, though, I’ve been taken for one. My wife’s descended from a gipsy tribe.”

“We are thinking of placing you in the Infirmary, Jake,” cried the Pater. “You will have every comfort there, and the best of attendance. This gentleman ——”

“We’ll see — we’ll see,” interposed Mr. Carden, breaking in hastily on the promises. “I am not sure that the Infirmary will do for him.”

“It is too late, sir, I think,” said Jake, quietly, to Mr. Carden.

Mr. Carden made no reply. He asked the woman if she had such a thing as a tea-cup or wine-glass. She produced a cracked cup with the handle off and a notch in the rim. Mr. Carden poured something into it that he had brought in his pocket, and stooped over the man. Jake began to speak in his faint voice.

“Sir, I’d not seem ungrateful, but I’d like to stay here with the wife and boy to the last. It can’t be for long now.”

“Drink this; it will do you good,” said Mr. Carden, holding the cup to his lips.

“This close place is a change from the tent,” I said to the woman, who was stooping over the bit of fire.

Such a look of regret came upon her countenance as she lifted it: just as if the tent had been a palace. “When we got here, master, it was after that two days’ rain, and the ground was sopping. It didn’t do for him”— glancing round at the straw. “He was getting mighty bad then, and we just put our heads into this place — bad luck to us!”

The Squire gave her some silver, and told her to get anything in she thought best. It was too late to do more that night. The church clocks were striking ten as we went out.

“Won’t it do to move him to the Infirmary?” were the Pater’s first words to Mr. Carden.

“Certainly not. The man’s hours are numbered.”

“There is no hope, I suppose?”

“Not the least. He may be said to be dying now.”

No time was lost in the morning. When Squire Todhetley took a will to heart he carried it out, and speedily. A decent room with an airy window was found in the same block of buildings. A bed and other things were put in it; some clothes were redeemed; and by twelve o’clock in the day Jake was comfortably lying there. The Pater seemed to think that this was not enough: he wanted to do more.

“His humanity to my child kept him from seeing the last moments of his,” said he. “The little help we can give him now is no return for that.”

Food and clothes, and a dry, comfortable room, and wine and proper things for Jake — of which he could not swallow much. The woman was not to go out to work again while he lasted, but to stay at home and attend to him.

“I shall be at liberty by the hop-picking time,” she said, with a sigh. Ah, poor creature! long before that.

When Tod and I went in later in the afternoon, she had just given Jake some physic, ordered by Mr. Carden. She and the boy sat by the fire, tea and bread-and-butter on the deal table between them. Jake lay in bed, his head raised on account of his breathing, I thought he was better; but his thin white face, with the dark, earnest, glistening eyes, was almost painful to look upon.

“The reading-gentleman have been in,” cried the woman suddenly. “He’s coming again, he says, the night or the morning.”

Tod looked puzzled, and Jake explained. A good young clergyman, who had found him out a day or two before, had been in each day since with his Bible, to read and pray. “God bless him!” said Jake.

“Why did you go away so suddenly?” Tod asked, alluding to the hasty departure from Cookhill. “My father was intending to do something for you.”

“I didn’t know that, sir. Many thanks all the same. I’d like to thank you too, sir,” he went on, after a fit of coughing. “I’ve wanted to thank you ever since. When you gave me your arm up the lane, and said them pleasant things to me about having a little child in heaven, you knew she was gone.”

“Yes.”

“It broke the trouble to me, sir. My wife heard me coughing afar off, and came out o’ the tent. She didn’t say at first what there was in the tent, but began telling how you had been there. It made me know what had happened; and when she set on a-grieving, I told her not to: Carry was gone up to be an angel in heaven.”

Tod touched the hand he put out, not speaking.

“She’s waiting for me, sir,” he continued, in a fainter voice. “I’m as sure of it as if I saw her. The little girl I found and carried to the great house has rich friends and a fine home to shelter her; mine had none, and so it was for the best that she should go. God has been very good to me. Instead of letting me fret after her, or murmur at lying helpless like this, He only gives me peace.”

“That man must have had a good mother,” cried out Tod, as we went away down the entry. And I looked up at him, he spoke so queerly.

“Do you think he will get better, Tod? He does not seem as bad as he did last night.”

“Get better!” retorted Tod. “You’ll always be a muff, Johnny. Why, every breath he takes threatens to be his last. He is miles worse than he was when we found him. This is Thursday: I don’t believe he can last out longer than the week; and I think Mr. Carden knows it.”

He did not last so long. On the Saturday morning, just as we were going to start for home, the wife came to the Star with the news. Jake had died at ten the previous night.

“He went off quiet,” said she to the Squire. “I asked if he’d not like a dhrink; but he wouldn’t have it: the good gentleman had been there giving him the bread and wine, and he said he’d take nothing, he thought, after that. ‘I’m going, Mary,’ he suddenly says to me about ten o’clock, and he called Dor up and shook hands with him, and bade him be good to me, and then he shook hands with me. ‘God bless ye both,’ says he, ‘for Christ’s sake; and God bless the friends who have been kind to us!’ And with that he died.”

That’s all, for now. And I hope no one will think I invented this account of Jake’s death, for I should not like to do it. The wife related it to us in the exact words written.

“And I able to do so little for him,” broke forth the Squire, suddenly, when we were about half-way home; and he lashed up Bob and Blister regardless of their tempers. Which the animals did not relish.

And so that assize week ended the matter. Bringing imprisonment to the kidnapping woman, and to Jake death.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30