Noddy
NODDY COMES
TO TOYLAND

    *     
by Enoch Blyton
*
transcribed and edited
from the original manuscript
by Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying a book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford, 2009  -
 

©  Copyright: Robin Gordon, 2009

Preface / by Robin Gordon

    While I was in the Babylon Library in Auksford recently – looking up various references in my capacity as unofficial (and unpaid) research assistant to Professor Knuckleweed, I came across an envelope in a box of manuscripts and letters, and in it I discovered the following story, written in a crabbed and faded nineteenth-century hand, on paper which had not stood the test of time at all well.  A typewritten label attached to the envelope attested that the enclosed manuscript had been deposited in the library on 23 July 1956 by Kenneth Walters, that it had been written by a great uncle of his wife, the novelist Edith Brighton, that it contained source material on which she had drawn for some of her best-known works, and that it was not to be made available to researchers for fifty years from the date of deposit.  That period having elapsed, I felt justified in opening the envelope and reading the manuscript.
    It rapidly became obvious that the typist responsible for the label had made a number of errors.  The author gave his name as Enoch Blyton, and it was apparent that his tale of “trouble at t’ mill” somewhere up north, and of the struggles of an honourable union man to make his way through the suspicions of his fellow workers, the sabotage of wreckers and the determination of the factory owner to keep the screws on hard to prevent any discontent among the workforce threatening his profits, had been utilised, and completely transmogrified into a series of children’s stories by the most popular British children’s writer of the mid twentieth century: not Edith Brighton but Enid Blyton.  The depositor of the manuscript would therefore have been, not Kenneth Walters, as the label indicated, but Kenneth Darrell Waters, Enid Blyton’s second husband.
    Critics and scholars to whom I have shown my transcriptions have cast doubt on the authenticity of the original, one objection being that toys were not made of plastic in the nineteenth century.  Particular exception was taken to the word polymers in the description of Noddy’s work.  This word, it was alleged was of twentieth-century origin.
    My first thought was that perhaps I had misread, but on checking the manuscript again, I could not make the objectionable word into anything other than polymers.  Reference to the dictionary then confirmed that the word had come into use in 1866 and that it was therefore quite feasible that Enoch Blyton would have used it.
    There were still doubters.
    Could the manuscript have been a forgery intended to discredit Enid Blyton by casting doubt on the originality of her work?  Hardly, for even if she had used her great uncle’s story as source material, the use she made of it was entirely original.
    Could the manuscript have been placed in the Babylon manuscript archives as a mischievous prank by a rogue librarian?  Again hardly, for it is surely inconceivable that a member of that solemn and humourless profession would have stooped to playing practical jokes on serious researchers.
    The final allegation is perhaps the most serious of all.  That most subtle of critics, Dr Malcolm Potter-Brown has suggested, on the basis of a stylistic and thematic analysis of Noddy comes to Toyland that, far from having discovered a genuine, or even a fraudulent, manuscript in the Babylon, I have written the story myself.
    Unfortunately, when I returned to the Babylon to reserve the manuscript so that I could show it to Dr Potter-Brown, there was no trace of that particular box on the shelf.  The library staff thought it must have been mis-shelved, possibly in the wrong bay, or in the wrong stack, or even perhaps on the wrong floor.  They assured me that it would eventually turn up, either by chance or during the regular stock-taking process, but the library is so large that it might take fifteen or twenty years before the stock-takers rediscovered it.
    In the circumstances, all I can do is place the story before you, dear readers, for yours must be the final verdict.
--Robin Gordon


Noddy comes to Toyland
Part I



    Big Lugs Brown was pushing his bike up the hill when he met a smallish sort of man.
    “Is there work?” said the stranger.
    Big Lugs peered through the gloom.  Cloud and smog obscured the setting sun.
    “Happen,” he said.
    “What sort?”
    “Toys.”
    “Plastic?”
    “Plastic.  Rubber.  Metal.  The lot.”
    “Who do A see?”
    “Mr Plod.”
    The stranger nodded and walked off down the hill.  Big Lugs stood for a moment and looked down after him until he disappeared into the murk.  A chill wind blew round the hills and across the valley, sending the brown-yellow smoke swirling down from the chimneys.  It rolled along the damp street and swallowed the small figure.
    Big Lugs coughed, pulled up his collar, and trudged on.
    “We could do with a new face round here,” he thought, for there was something he liked about the stranger’s face, a sort of innocence that reminded him of how he’d felt, himself, when he first came to the Toyland factory – about a hundred years ago.

    Down below, the stranger asked for Mr Plod’s office.  Somebody jerked a thumb.  He followed the direction, climbed a rickety staircase and knocked.
    “In!”
    He went in.
    “A’m lookin’ for work,” he said.
    “Ay?”
    “Plastic.”
    “Moulder?”
    “Ay.  And mixer.  Owt.”
    Mr Plod leaned back in his chair.
    “So ’appens,” he said, “that I do ’ave a vacancy for a plastic moulder.  What’s your name?”
    “Noddy.”
    Mr Plod nodded.  “Start Monday,” he said.
    “A need somewhere to lodge.”
    Mr Plod went to the door and peered out.
    “Hey!  You!  Bear!  Tubby Bear!  Here!”
    Mr Plod returned to his chair.  Tubby Bear came in – the thinnest man Noddy had ever seen.
    Mr Plod nodded at Noddy.  “New lodger,” he said.  “Starts Monday.”
    “Yes Mr Plod,” wheezed Tubby Bear and backed out.  Noddy followed him.  Neither said a word as they trudged through the gloom until they came to a house like all the others in a street like all the others.
    “Here,” grunted Tubby Bear.
    They went in.
    “Glenys,” said Tubby Bear hoarsely, “new lodger.  From Mr Plod.”
    Glenys was as short as Tubby was long, though not as fat as he was thin.  She looked at Noddy wearily and turned back to her cooking.  Tubby slid behind the table and pointed wordlessly at another of the chairs.  Noddy took it.
    Wordlessly Glenys dished a soup made of vegetables.  Noddy and Tubby spooned it up with relish.
    “There’s meat in this,” thought Noddy.
    “Good soup,” he said.
    Tubby and Glenys exchanged glances.
    “Come far?” said Tubby.
    “Tidy step.”
    “You’ll be tired.”
    “Ay.”
    “Ay.”
    Tubby got to his feet and headed for a ladder in the corner.  Noddy followed him.
    The loft was low.  Noddy nearly cracked his head on a beam.  Tubby slid past like a snake.  He pointed.
    “Me an’ ’er,” he grunted pointing one way into the blackness, “you an’ La’al Tubby,” the other.
    “La’al Tubby?”
    “Ay.  Fourteen, nigh on fifteen.  Starts soon.”
    Pride mingled with bitterness in his voice.  Noddy had no need to ask why.  Young Tubby, old Tubby’s son, grown no doubt into a fine young fellow, ready to assume the rights and duties of manhood, ready to start his career – in the factory, where his back would be bent beneath the loads he had to carry, where his skin would be burned by chemicals, his joints grow arthritic before their time, and his lungs be seared by the choking fumes rising from the molten rubber and plastic – and  all so that the pampered kids of the rich southern bourgeoisie could have toys with which to amuse themselves.
    Of this he said nothing.  He did not entirely trust Tubby Bear and his wife.  They seemed decent enough, but you never could tell.  It might not have been pure chance that led Mr Plod to lodge him with the Bears.  Better not to reveal his political opinions too soon.
    “Out back?” he said.
    “Ay.”
    Noddy went out into the little yard.  It was cold. The reeking smog still lay over the valley.
    “A bet Mr Plod has one inside,” he thought sourly as he made his way back to the garret.
    When his eyes grew accustomed to the blackness he made out Little Tubby in one corner and found a pile of straw for himself in another.  He lay awake for a while listening to Tubby and Glenys talking in low voices – more talk than he had heard all day, but what they said he couldn’t make out.

    Sunday was a day of rest.
    The Bears were up at dawn.  They breakfasted on bread and weak tea, then Glenys washed Tubby’s working clothes while Tubby dug his allotment.  Noddy and La’al Tubby helped.
    “Time,” said Tubby.
    Noddy was surprised.  Why stop their work?
    “It’s not ten yet,” he said.
    “Church,” said Tubby.
    “Not me,” said Noddy, without thinking.  “I’ll go on digging.
    Tubby paused and looked at him.
    “Mr Claws,” he said.
    “Who?”
    “Mr Claws.  Owns factory.”
    “Oh.
    So Noddy went to church.  He sat with the Bears.  He sang the hymns.  He listened to the sermon – and he looked at Mr Claws, the fat and prosperous factory owner, with his fat and prosperous wife clad in silks and satins, and their plump and pretty little girl.
    After church, more digging.  Vegetable soup for dinner, with not a trace of meat, then more digging.
    “A’d like to tek a walk roun’ them woods,” said Noddy that evening.
    Tubby and Glenys exchanged glances.
    “Private,” said Tubby.
    “No-one goes there,” said Glenys, “not ever.”
    “Mr Claws,” said Tubby.

    “Starts soon,” Tubby had said.  In fact La’al Tubby started on Monday.  Noddy was set to work moulding plastic ducks, scooping up the molten polymers and ladling them into the moulds or matrices, then setting them to cool while he scooped up more.  He felt again the searing, choking fumes that would leave him breathless and disabled before he was fifty.
    He knew Mr Plod was watching him, checking his ducks and having them checked by skilled workers, but he knew that his work couldn’t be faulted.  He had served his apprenticeship and he was a skilled man.  In his time he had moulded more than ducks and done more skilful tasks than moulding.  It wasn’t poor workmanship that had sent him off on his travels.
    Half an hour was allowed for lunch.  The men swarmed out of the factory into the yard.  It might be cold and the wind biting, but the air was fresher than round the vats.
    The girls were out too, from the packing department.  One of them came over and called La’al Tubby.  He looked doubtful, but his father jerked his head as if to say Go on.
    She took him round the corner of the shed.  Some of the men exchanged grins.  Tubby didn't look up from his sandwiches.  Noddy heard scuffles, girlish giggles, a boy’s voice only half broken, raised in protest, then more giggles and a bit of a cheer.  Then a few minutes later La’al Tubby came back, dishevelled and red in the face, but smiling bravely.  The younger lads made room for him, and he sat down with them, became one of them, and joined in their laughter.  He didn’t look in his father’s direction at all, and Old Tubby still seemed to have no eyes for anything but his sandwiches.  Then the hooter went and they returned to their work.
    As they trooped in, Noddy saw a lass make her way up the steps to Mr Plod’s office.
    “Who’s that?” he asked.
    She was a lass worth looking at, and her dress, though cheap, made the most of her figure.
    “Tess,” replied Tubby.  “My niece.”
    Noddy nodded and said nothing.
    “Teks Mr Plod ’is hot chocolate,” Tubby explained.
    “Ay.”

    “New lad today, Tessie.”
    “Yes, Mr Plod.”
    “La’al Tubby.”
    “Yes, Mr Plod.”
    “No worries there.  New man too.”
    “Yes, Mr Plod?”
    “Incomer.  “A know nowt about ’im.  Good workman.  Too good to be lookin’ for work.  Why, Tessie?"
    Tess gave a half shrug and said nothing.
    “A need to know, Tessie,” said Mr Plod.  “A rely on you.”
    “Yes, Mr Plod.

    Mr Plod had good reason to be worried.  Mr Claws had summoned him up to the Big House after church.
    “Come in, Plod.  I’ve got summat to say.  No good beating round the bush.  Have we taken on any men lately?”
    “Only one, Mr Claws.”
    “Who?”
    “Plastic moulder.  Pickersgill fell into t’ plastic last week.  We needed a new man quick.  Busy time comin’ up.”
    “You checked his references, of course?”
    “Oh, ay, Mr Claws.  Good worker.  Never a moment’s trouble.”
    “Not a union man?”
    “Never, Mr Claws.”
    “You rely on references, Plod?”
    “No, Mr Claws, not even the best of ’em.  A’m keepin’ me eye on’im, Sir, but you’ve no need to worry.  A can smell them union agitators.  There’s not one would get past the door.”
    “Vigilance, Plod, that’s the watchword.  Ho ho, watchword, that’s good.  A joke, Plod, a joke.”
    “Yes, Mr Claws, heh heh ...”
    “I don’t know why I bother.  Listen, Plod!  Stop that silly cackling and be serious.  There’s been trouble up north.  Agitators trying to start a union.  Wicked men trying to rob the benefactors who give them work – rob them of their meagre profits.  Well, they’ve been given a sharp lesson.  They’ve been turned out of their jobs and their tied housing.  Watch out for them, Plod!  They’ll come flooding down here.  They’ll be looking for work and houses.  Don’t take pity on them, Plod.  They’re rotten apples, the lot of ’em.  Don’t want rotten apples in the Toyland barrel, do we?”
    “No, Mr Claws.”
    Mr Claws leaned back in his big chair.  He took up a cigar and lit it.  He drew on it and exhaled a cloud of smoke.  He took a nip of brandy from a balloon glass.
    “Christmas coming up, Plod,” he said, and a smile spread over his fat face.
    “I like Christmas,” he continued.  “It’s the best time of the year.  I rely on you to see that production is not interrupted.  You can go now, Plod.”
    Mr Plod bowed and backed towards the door.  He fumbled his way out, bowed again on the thresh-hold, and closed the door.
    “This way, if you please,” said a haughty under-butler, and he was guided along a luxuriously carpeted corridor, through a green baize door, along a stone-flagged passage, and out of a rear entrance.
    “Yes, Mr Claws.  No, Mr Claws.  Three bags full, Mr Claws,” he muttered.  Why had he been such a fool as to engage that new man without references.  All he knew of him was that his name was Noddy.  What sort of a name was that?
    It was a hard life, he thought as he trudged down the hill towards his house.  He had risen to be overseer, but for what?  Brickbats from both sides, like pig in the middle.
    There were compensations, of course: his house was comfortable and he didn’t have to go out back at night, he could afford coal for the winter and meat for Sundays – and there was Tessie, the only one who understood him, to bring him his hot chocolate and to find out how the wind was blowing.  It was pure chance that had led him to pick on Tubby Bear to lodge Noddy, but it couldn’t have worked out better.
    “You’ll be visiting Tubby and Glenys, Tessie?”
    “Ay, Mr Plod.”
    “Good lass.”

    That night La’al Tubby celebrated his initiation into manhood by going out with the lads.  He had no money of his own yet, but Tom Catt let him have credit.  Tom Catt knew that there would be a wage packet at the end of the week. La’al Tubby had never had money or credit.  It went to his head.  The lads let him sup his ale and buy round after round.  He’d have nowt left in his wage packet, but that would teach him to be more careful in future.
    Noddy lay in his attic straw listening to the voices below.  Tubby and Glenys were talking again.  Did they talk like this every night? he wondered.  Then he heard singing in the street, someone being sick outside, the door opening, and Glenys’ voice raised in a mixture of concern, anger and despair.
    More talk from downstairs.  Glenys, mainly Glenys.  La’al Tubby’s voice, strangely slurred. Then Glenys again, sharp and angry, and then La’al Tubby, shouting.  Then after that Old Tubby, so loud that Noddy could hear what he said.
    “Don’t you talk to your mother like that or A’ll take me belt to you!  Get to bed, this minute!  A’ll talk to you in the morning!”
    Then La’al Tubby came stumbling up the steep steps, staggering across the attic, blundering into the beam, and crashing on to his mound of straw.  Noddy heard him muttering indignantly to himself for a few minutes, then, suddenly, he began to snore.  Downstairs the voices continued: Glenys complaining, interrupted from time to time by Tubby’s wheezing rumble.  They were still at it when he fell asleep.

    It was vegetable stew for dinner the next night.  La’al Tubby went straight up to the attic.  Noddy took a walk.  He looked in at Tom Catt’s place.  There was a hum of talk, but it stopped as soon as he entered.  He drank a pint in silence, nodded in a friendly way, and left.
    He walked up the hill, out of the village, toward Mr Claws’ woods.  They were well fenced.  Barbed wire.  No way in.  But there had been meat in that soup.  Either it was poached, or it had been given – and Mr Claws was not one to give anything for nothing.
    Noddy stood under a tree to think.  He wasn't intending to hide, but he was invisible to someone who passed by on the road.  Noddy was sure it was La’al Tubby.  He followed, but trod on a twig.  The boy swung round, then hared off uphill far faster than Noddy could run.
    He shrugged and turned.  The old man he had seen when he first arrived was watching him.
    Noddy nodded curtly.
    “They call me Big Lugs Brown,” said the old man.  “Tubby Bear’ll tell you why.  A see a lot, and A hear a lot, but A’m no spy.  You’re from up north?”
    “Ay.”
    “You can trust Tubby Bear.  And Glenys.  Watch out for Wiley.”  The man turned and went into a nearby cottage.  Noddy went home.
    The Bears were in the ground-floor room.  They fell silent as Noddy came in.
    “A met a man up the hill,” said Noddy.  “Old fella.  Said ’is name is Bug Lugs Brown.”  He knew La’al Tubby would have seen and told.
    Glenys sniffed scornfully.
    “A went up to tek a look at the woods.  I wondered if mebbe sometimes a rabbit might cross the road and get knocked down.”
    La’al Tubby got up and went upstairs.
    You can trust Tubby Bear.  And Glenys.  That’s what he said.
    “A’m from up north.  You’ve mebbe heard.  There was a strike.  Then a lock-out.  Then we were sacked and put out of our homes.  If you’re going to tell Mr Plod, there it is.  A’m a union man.”
    Noddy went out back, then up to the loft.  La’al Tubby was asleep, or, more likely, pretending.  Downstairs he heard the voices: worried, anxious, debating.  He could imagine it.  Is he a real union man?  Or is he a spy for Mr Plod?
    “A’m a union man,” he said out loud.  “There was a strike up north.  We were all sacked and put out of our homes.  We’re exploited by the rich.  Worked to death and thrown on the scrap-heap.  A bet nowt was done for Pickersgill’s widow.  We need to organize.”
    La’al Tubby had stopped snoring.  He was obviously listening.
    “If you can get a rabbit for the pot,” said Noddy, “A’ll say nowt.  A’ve taken many a rabbit in my time, and pheasants.  They’re wild creatures.  They don’t belong to t’ masters.  A went up looking for a way into the wood.”
    La’al Tubby said never a word.
    “That’s done it,” thought Noddy.  “If they tell Mr Plod A’m out of a job and up before the magistrates for poaching.  A wonder why A believed old Big Lugs.”

    Sunday came round again.  Work on the allotment, this time in a thin cold drizzle, then church, then Sunday dinner, vegetable soup again and coarse bread.  Tessie came round in the afternoon and she and Glenys stayed in the house talking while Tubby and Noddy and La’al Tubby dug and hoed and weeded.  Not a word was said about unions, in fact no a word was said about anything except digging and weeding and hoeing, and even those words were few.  Tubby would point and say “There,” and Noddy or La’al Tubby would weed or dig or hoe the spot.
    It was getting dark when Tessie got up to go.
    “A don’t like you walking through the streets alone in the dark, Tessie,” said Glenys.
    “A’ll go,” Tubby wheezed, and then broke into a fit of coughing.
    “No,” said Glenys.  “Where’s La’al Tubby?  Never here when he’s wanted.”
    “A’ll go,” wheezed Tubby, and coughed as if his lungs were bursting.
    “A’ll go,” said Noddy.
    Glenys nodded.

    They set off through the dark drizzle.
    “You’re new,” said Tessie.  “We don’t see many new faces round here.”
    “Happen,” said Noddy.
    “From up north?”
    “Happen.”
    “I heard there was trouble.”
    “You tek Mr Plod his ’ot chocolate.”
    “Ay.”
    “An’ you're Tubby’s niece?”
    “Ay.”
    “So?”
    “So you’ll tell me nowt.”
    “Nowt.”
    “There’s ways.”
    “Ay?”
    “La’al Tubby started last week.”
    “Ay?”
    “You’re new too.”
    “Oh, that’s it is it.  Listen lass, A’ve served me apprenticeship.  A’ve worked here an’ there.  There’s more than once A’ve had me clogs pulled of and me feet tickled by the lasses.  That’ll not mek me squeal for mercy.  An’ A bet you wouldn’t get any helpers to tickle the toes of an old codger like me, now would you?”
    “Mebbe not, though you’re not so old.”
    “A’ll be getting’ me hopes up if you talk like that, lass.  But anyway, who’s asked you to find out?”
    “That’d be tellin’.”
    “I've put me cards on’t table wi’ Tubby and Glenys, so you’ll know anyway.  A’m a union man.  We tried for a strike, but they brought in blacklegs and put us out – out of our jobs and out of our houses.  Some o’ the lads went back.  They had to: babbies to feed.  Not me.  No wife, no babbies.  And they’d not have taken me.  Will you tell Plod?”
    “Have you ever heard of Evan Jones?”
    “Evan Jones?  Best union organiser ever.  Driven out of Wales.  Came up this way.  Dead now they say.”
    “Three year ago.  Glenys’s father.”
    “What?”
    “Came up this way sixteen years ago.  Brought his wife and Glenys.  She fell for me Uncle Tubby.  He couldn’t get a job in the factory.  Mr Claws knew, you see.  Worked for Tom Catt in the pub.  Pot washer.  Shame.  Skilled craftsman.”
    “But he probably lived longer away from the vats.”
    “Ay, he did.  He was fifty-five!”
    “A wish A’d met him.”
    “A’ll not be telling Mr Plod.”

    Two days later there was a distinct taste of meat in the soup, and Noddy decided to take another walk around the woods to see if he could get something to contribute to the pot.
    He had found a weak spot in the fencing a few days earlier, and gone in to scout.  He’d managed to find some old wire and made a snare – and after all, rabbits were wild animals, almost vermin.  They didn’t belong to the landowners and it was really doing them a favour to take out a few now and then.
    It wasn’t actually raining, but it was dark and overcast with a hint of drizzle and the odd patch of mist – a perfect night.  Noddy found a suitable run, and had just finished setting his snare when he heard the snap of a twig.  He sprang up and turned, just in time to see the back of someone’s coat disappearing through the trees.  Without thinking Noddy set off in pursuit.  The spy was thin and wiry, and he sped through the undergrowth like a wild beast, out of the woods and into the lane.  Noddy was close behind him but tiring rapidly when the lad tripped, and Noddy was on him.
    “A’ll teach you to spy on me!” he yelled, turned the lad over and pulled off his cap.  It was La’al Tubby!
    “Easy, Easy!” said an old man’s voice nearby, and Big Lugs Brown hobbled out of the gloom.
    “A see you’ve found the way into the woods,” he said to Noddy.  “A rabbit now and then for the soup won’t be missed, that’s what Ah say.  But you shouldn’t be fighting.  You’re both on the same errand.  And A hear there’s dogs been bought.”
    “Dogs?” said Noddy.
    “Ay, dogs.  Guard dogs.  Mr Claws’ll have them patrolling the woods by the end o’ t’ week.  They’ll eat more rabbits than all the village ever took, and pheasants too, but he won’t care.  Best get your snares back while you can.”
    “How d’you find out,” Noddy asked.
    “Mr Claws told him!” sneered La’al Tubby.  “He’s a spy!  Everybody knows.”
    “A look and A listen,” said Big Lugs, “and A see things and A hear things, and A put two and two together, but that’s as far as it goes.  You’ll find A’m right about t’ dogs.  I was right about Tubby and Glenys, wasn’t A?”
    “What about Tubby and Glenys?” yelled the furious boy, thrashing about on the ground where Noddy still held him.
    “He said A could trust them,” said Noddy, “and he was right.  Best get our snares while we can.  It wasn’t easy finding a suitable bit o’ wire.”
    He let go of La’al Tubby and stood up.  The boy scrambled to his feet.
    “Never ’ave got me if I hadn’t fallen,” he said.
    “True,” said Noddy.
    Big Lugs laughed.  “You both need more woodcraft,” he said.  “Crashing about like city folk.  Here’s yer snares, La’al Tubby.  You won’t get back into the woods near the big house.  He’s got gamekeepers posted there.  Looks like no more meat for you, nor me, nor half the village.  Good evening, Mr Plod!  Out for a stroll?”
    “Um, yes.  I er ... I like to look at the woods in the moonlight.”
    “Not much of a moon tonight.  You’ll have heard about the dogs?”
    “What dogs?”
    “Mr Claws is getting dogs to patrol the woods – guard dogs from Germany.  Tear your throat out as soon as look at you.  There’ll be no more poaching in these woods.”
    “What?!!  Oh, yes, good ... very right and proper ... Where did you hear that?”
    “A can’t remember.”
    “And who were you talking to when A came up?”
    “A’m an old man, and lonely.  A talk to meself sometimes.  There’s no law against it.”
    “Not yet, there isn’t”
    “Good night, Mr Plod.”
    “Good night, Big Lugs.  Dogs, you say?”
    “Not till t’ weekend, Mr Plod.  You’ve time to get your snares.”  And the old man was gone.
    Noddy and La’al Tubby, lurking just out of sight heard Mr Plod’s snort of exasperation, then they made off.
    “Does old Plod really go poaching?” said La’al Tubby.
    “Happen,” said Noddy, “or mebbe Big Lugs was just trying to annoy him.”  

    It was just as Big Lugs said.  A few days later there was a pack of dogs in the woods.  Rabbits by the dozen were torn to pieces, and pheasants were snatched and devoured, but at least Mr Claws had the satisfaction of knowing that there would be no more poaching.

    The soup at the Bears’ house went back to being plain vegetable, with not a trace of meat.  The soup at the other houses was the same.  Even Mr Plod lived off the vegetables he could grow in his garden.  He had meat on some Sundays, but even the overseer found it too dear to have often.
    “We should do summat for Mrs Pickersgill,” said Noddy.  “We should set up a sort of friendly society to collect a little bit of each man’s wages every week and keep them in a fund.  Then, when there’s an accident, there’ll be summat in hand to tide a man ower till he’s fit to work again – or to see ’is widow all right.”
    “My father wanted to set up summat like that,” said Glenys, “but the bosses wouldn’t have it.  Too much like a union, they said.
    “They don’t like the idea of workers clubbin’ together for owt,” said Tubby, “not even to help a starving widow.
    “If Tessie were to put it to Mr Plod…?” suggested Noddy.
    So Tessie put it to Mr Plod.
    “A don’t like it, Tessie,” he said.
    “It’s not against the bosses, Mr Plod.  It’s to help widows and orphans like the Pickersgills.  Terrible accident that.  Don’t you feel pity for them Mr Plod?”
    “A’m not heartless, Tessie.  It’s just, A’ve got to satisfy Mr Claws.”
    “If Mr Claws had any decency,” said Tessie, “he would look after Mrs Pickersgill himself.  He can afford it.”
    “Tessie!” said Mr Plod.  “A’m shocked!  Shocked to the core to hear you say such a thing.  Mr Claws is a benefactor to the whole village.  He gives us work.  Without Mr Claws we would all starve.”
    “A know, Mr Plod.  I’m really grateful.  We all are.  I don’t know what came over me to say such a dreadful thing.  Don’t tell Mr Claws, Mr Plod.”
    “Of course A won’t, Tessie.  A know you feel as grateful to Mr Claws as Ah do myself.”
    “A do, Mr Plod, and A’m sure such a kind man wouldn’t object to us putting aside a bit of the wages he so kindly pays us so we can help anybody as has an accident.  Isn’t it our Christian duty, Mr Plod?  Aren’t we told so at church every Sunday?”
    “Ay, we are Tessie.”
    “So you’ll ask him?”
    “Well … A …”
    “Please Mr Plod, for me.”
    “Well … all right, Tessie.”

    “A mutual aid society, Plod?  To help widows and orphans?”
    “Ay, Mr Claws.”
    “We all know where that leads, don’t we Plod?”
    “Ay, Mr Claws.”
    “You don’t sound very sure, Plod.  Where does it lead?  Tell me that!
    “Um …”
    “You haven’t thought about it, have you Plod?  You’re a clod, Plod!  Mutual aid, workers banding together!  What’s that going to lead to?  I’ll tell you: a union.  That’s where it’s leading: a union, Plod.   Another thing, Plod: who’s behind it?”
    “A don’t know, Mr Claws.”
    “You don’t know, Plod?  But it’s your business to know.  What do you think I pay you for?  You don’t know, do you?  I know, though.  I can tell you exactly who’s put them up to banding together against me.  It’s that new man, Noddy.  He’s an agitator, Plod.  And you failed to see through him.  Well?”
    “He’s a good worker, Mr Claws.”
    “Why would a good worker be looking for work?  I’ll tell you, Plod.  He’s been dismissed, and if not for bad workmanship, then for what?  For organising a union to disrupt the factory, to steal profits of his employer.  Why haven’t you found this out Plod?  Haven’t you been watching him?”
    “Yes Mr Claws.  A can assure you, Mr Claws, if he steps out of line, A’ll know about it.  A’ve lodged him with Tubby Bear, and his niece, Tessie is the one as brings me me hot chocolate.  A rely on her to keep me informed.”
    “You seem to have forgotten, Plod, that Tubby Bear’s wife’s father was a union organiser.”
    “No Mr Claws.  A haven’t – and the Bears know A haven’t.  They won’t make any trouble Mr Claws.  They know A’m watching them.  If Noddy is an agitator, they’ll tell me.”
    “Mmmh!  I hope you’re right, Plod.  “Get things wrong, and you’ll find yourself back on the production line.  As for this idea of mutual aid: tell them “No!”  There’s to be no banding together of workers in my factory.  Not now, not ever.  As for that Pickersgill woman, don’t I do enough for her?  I’ve let her stay in her cottage even  though there’s no-one to work in the factory.  I’ve even let her defer part of the rent till the boy starts, and I’ve hardly charged her any interest.  I’d let the lad start right away if it wasn’t for those do-gooders in London passing laws to stop children earning their living, casting families on the charity of their employers, and depriving us factory owners of valuable young workers.  Remember that, Plod, and tell them it won’t do.  Off you go then.”
    “Yes Mr Claws.”

    “No go, Tessie.”
    “No, Mr Plod?”
    “Mr Claws thinks it’s a trick to start a union.  He thinks Noddy’s behind it.  Have you found out anything about him, Tessie?  He’s not a union man, is he?”
    “Wouldn’t A have told you right away, Mr Plod?  A’m sure you can rest easy about Noddy.  A suspect he left his old job because he knew there were union men planning to make trouble.  He’s the most honest, loyal worker we’ve got, Mr Plod.  Me uncle Tubby’s had long talks with him, and there’s never been a word amiss.”
    “Ay.  Good.  A rely on you, Tessie.”
    “A know, Mr Plod.”

    “Where has Mr Claws got the idea Noddy’s a union man, Tessie?”
    “Mr Plod didn’t say.  Don’t suppose he knows.”
    “Mebbe,” said Noddy, “he suspects me just cos A’m new.”
    “Somebody’s been spying and passing information,” said Tubby Bear, “and A know who: it’s that old feller, Big Lugs Brown.  He’s always sneaking about wid’is lugs flapping, picking up every bit o’ gossip he can – an’ he never passes owt on.”
    “He told me A could trust you,” said Noddy, “both on you, but he said to look out for Wiley.”
    “Ay, Wiley’s a wrong ’un,” said Tubby, “but A still divven’t trust yon Big Lugs.”
    “Well,” said Noddy, “if we can’t form a mutual aid friendly society with the support o’ the bosses, we’ll just have to do it in secret.”
    “How?”
    “All the lads’ll be in Tom Catt’s.  We’ll have a quiet talk, mebbe a bit of a whip-round.  Just keep it among ourselves.”

    “Sabotage, Plod?!!”
    “Ay, Mr Claws.  A whole vat o’ molten plastic lost.
    “And who’s responsible?
    “A don’t know, Mr Claws, not yet, but A’ll find out …”
    “I know, Plod.  Were you aware that last night a gang of workers met at Tom Catt’s place to form a forbidden association.  They collected money for a fund to tide them through thin times, then they sabotaged my factory.  And do you know who their leader is?”
    “No, Mr Claws.”
    “It’s that new man, Noddy, that you took on without proper references, that’s who.  You’re supposed to be my eyes and ears Plod.  You’re supposed to find out who’s plotting against me and stop them.  And what have you done?  Nothing!  You’re useless, Plod.  Now go and find out exactly who’s involved.  By God, if I have to get rid of the whole bloody lot of ‘em, I will.  Now, get out!”

    The chill of the morning fog gnawed at Mr Plod’s ears, gnawed at his cheek, gnawed at his very soul.  Things had been going so well for him.  He’d been overseer long enough to feel secure in the job, and Tessie had been bringing him his hot chocolate long enough for him to begin to feel that maybe she might be willing to consider putting their relationship on a more intimate footing.  There was Wiley, of course.  Wiley was always hanging around Tess.  She didn’t turn him away, but she didn’t really seem all that keen on his company either.  If the overseer, with the comfortable house, where you didn’t have to go out back into the cold … well, if Mr Plod were to make an offer, she might well look on it with some favour.
    Now it had all gone wrong.  It all started when Pickersgill fell into the vat of molten plastic.  There’d been accidents before, but this time he’d been fool enough to take on a new man without checking his references properly.  Day-dreaming about a comfortable future with Tessie not just bringing him his hot chocolate but cooking his breakfast and his tea, Tessie always there, offering him comfort when he felt down – and now all this: wreckers in the Toyland factory, rumours that Captain Moonlight was behind it, Mr Claws thinking the new man was the leader and threatening to turn Mr Plod out of his job and out of his comfortable house, and, to cap it all, that new man setting his cap at Tessie, and Tessie looking as if she liked him.
    Mr Plod felt in his bones, even before he unlocked the factory gate, that there would be more wrecking, more sabotage to report to Mr Claws, and more rebukes and threats from Mr Claws.  Every day brought him closer to his doom.
    It was just as bad as he thought.  Broken tools, finished toys smashed to smithereens.  Mr Claws ranted and raved at him.
    “One last chance, Plod, that’s all I’m giving you.  One last chance.  If there’s more sabotage and you can’t catch the wreckers you can say goodbye to your life of ease and comfort.”
    Ease and comfort!  Daily interviews, with Mr Claws threatening to sack him; envy and hatred from the workers, who blamed him for the hard lives they lived, as if he was making the rules himself and not just following instructions.
    “Squeeze ’em, Plod.  Make ’em work harder.  Make ’em work longer hours.  We’ve got to maximise profit, Plod.  Squeeze these idle reprobates till they sweat blood.”
    If he protested that the lads were doing their best, Mr Claws would fly into a rage and berate him until he was too terrified to do anything but carry out his instructions to the letter.  As far as the workers were concerned the squeezing came from Mr Plod.  All they saw of Mr Claws was his fat and jolly smiling face in church each Sunday.  How could anyone believe a man with such a kindly smile could be the squeezer?  Mr Claws knew it, and Mr Plod knew it.
    Mr Claws could threaten, and Mr Plod knew that he could be deprived not just of his wages and his comfortable house and his prospects of winning Tessie, but of his status.  When he wasn’t Mr Plod anymore, but just Plod, one of the workers, they’d make sure they had their revenge.  He’d be given all the dirtiest jobs.  He’d be pushed around by everyone.  Even the youngest apprentice would have more respect than he.  He’d be the butt of their jokes, the whipping boy, the scapegoat to take the blame whenever anything went wrong.  He’d be ragged and punched and bullied, until he’d have to pack up his few belonging and take to the road to see if he might be able to find work somewhere else, and he’d go without a reference, and very likely with the workers all along his travels warned that he was a former overseer.
    “What am A to do, Tessie?” he blubbed.  “It must have been Noddy.”
    “No, Mr Plod,” said Tessie.  “It can’t have been.  He was with me all evening till late.  Then he went straight home.  Ask me Uncle Tubby and me Auntie Glenys.”
    “Can A believe you, Tessie?”
    “Ay, Mr Plod.  You know A’d never lie to you.”
    “A know you wouldn’t, Tessie.”
    “A’ll keep me eyes and ears open, Mr Plod, and let you know if A find owt out.  These wreckers, they’re just making it worse for us all.”

    Noddy was desperate to talk to Tessie.  He’d walked her home the previous night, then gone straight back to his lodgings.  Tubby and Glenys were just going to bed.  He’d exchanged a few words with them, gone out back, then gone up to his attic.  La’al Tubby wasn’t there.  He didn’t come in till much later.  Noddy wouldn’t have thought anything of it – young lads often kept late hours – but La’al Tubby wanted to talk.
    “A’ve been out wi’ the Hobgoblins,” he said.  “A’ve just joined.  We’ve been wrecking the factory.  You should join us.  Captain Moonlight told me to ask you.”
    “Who’s Captain Moonlight.”
    “The leader.  He’s called Captain Moonlight ‘cos his men only come out at night.”
    “Yeah, but who is he?  What’s his real name?”
    “Aw, A dunno.  He was wearing a mask.  They say he’s come up from London.”
    “Does he have a London accent?”
    “What’s a London accent?”
    “They talk different down there.”
    “Different language?  Like French?
    “Naw, they talk English, but the words sound different.”
    “Dunno.  Sounded just the same to me.”
    “Must be a local man, then.”
    “Anyway,” said La’al Tubby, “will you join us?”
    “Never,” said Noddy.  “What we need is a union, so that we can join together and speak to the bosses with one voice, threaten to withdraw our labour if they won’t pay a living wage.”
    “Smash up the factories!”
    “Naw!” said Noddy.  “That way you fall foul of the law.  You make the bosses your enemies and you give them a weapon to use against you.  Smash up the factories and you’ll go to gaol.”
    “That’s the sort of talk A get from Mam and Dad,” cried La’al Tubby.  “They’re old, out of date, behind the times.  A thought you would understand, but you’re just as stupid as they are.  Smashing up the machinery is like rubbing out all the hardships, all the insults, everything we have to suffer from them, the bosses.  We just rub it out!”
    “It’s against the law, and you’ll find A’m talking sense,” said Noddy, but there was nothing he could do to persuade La’al Tubby to leave the Hobgoblins, and La’al Tubby made him promise not to tell Tubby or Glenys that he’d joined.  Noddy despaired all day, and at last decided that the only person in whom he could possibly confide was Tessie, but at every break, and after work too, she had Wiley with her, holding her hand and looking as if he thought he owned her.
    At last, as darkness fell, Noddy gave up.  He left Tessie with Wiley and went off by himself for a walk.  Maybe he could think things out if he left the town and went along by Mr Claws’ woods.  The dogs were there, of course, and they hurled themselves at the fence, barking and snarling, ready to tear any intruder to pieces.
    Noddy looked at them.
    “Good dogs,” he said, encouragingly.  They snarled and barked and rattled the fence.
    Noddy stood still.
    “Good lads,” he said.  “Good old dogs.  When you get to know me you’ll like me, you really will.”
    The dogs raged and barked and tried to jump over the fence or to barge through it.
    “A hope it holds,” thought Noddy, “or A’m a goner, but … if A keep coming night after night, if A keep talking to them … well, we’ll see.”
    The dogs were working themselves up more and more and the fence was shaking.  Noddy thought he’d better move on.  Try again another day.
    He moved away from the woods and strolled along the path towards the next village.  What could he do about La’al Tubby?  He’d given his word not to tell Glenys or Tubby, and there was no-one else except Tessie.  “Damn and blast Wiley!” he thought.  Still there was nothing for it but to wait until he could confide in Tessie, and, in the meantime, he could always try again to persuade La’al Tubby that wrecking the factory wouldn’t improve conditions for the workers and might well get him thrown in prison.
    Noddy sighed and turned for home, rehearsing the arguments he could put to the boy and trying to imagine La’al Tubby’s objections.  If only he could talk to Tessie.
    Then a group of shadows moved out from under the trees.  He was surrounded by masked men.
    “We’re the Hobgoblins,” one of them growled, “and we want you to join us.”
    “Join you?” scoffed Noddy.  “What good do you think it does to wreck the machines.  We just get laid off, weeks without pay till they get them fixed.  And what if you’re caught.  Prison at best, or maybe transportation.  Wouldn’t surprise me if Mr Claws could find some law to have you all hanged.”
    “Join us!  Now!”
    “No!”
    “Right!”
    The spokesman swung a punch at Noddy.  He ducked, but someone thumped him from behind.  He swung round.  Someone grabbed his arm.  Someone hit him from behind.  They pulled him down.  They kicked him in the legs and the ribs.  A boot struck his head and he knew no more.

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Noddy comes to Toyland, Part II

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