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Once upon a time, in a big, big forest, there lived two not-very-old widows and their respective sons.
Their husbands had been forestry workers, but unfortunately both had been killed in an industrial accident - a tree being felled by an inexperienced-but-highly-qualified graduate-student-of-forestry having landed on top of them when it should have fallen in the other direction.
Because it had happened in a time of cutbacks, Head Forester Cowley had not replaced the dead men, and had allowed their widows to remain in the tied houses by way of compensation (the fact that nobody else would have accepted these particular houses without extensive modernisation had really very little to do with his generosity) at a nominal rent and with a small pension (otherwise the union shop steward would have bullied them into taking the matter of compensation to an Industrial Tribunal).
The two fatherless boys had enjoyed a relatively carefree childhood. Despite the three years' difference in their ages they played together (there were in any case no other children living anywhere near) reasonably amicably, Graytel Doyle's superior age being cancelled out by Hansom Bodie's stubbornly strong will.
Both boys hated their given names; names for which their maternal grandmothers had both been responsible. The one, delighted that her daughter had had a son (she herself being the mother of five daughters) had incautiously exclaimed, "He's great!" and since by tradition a child was named in accordance with the first thing the maternal grandmother called him, poor Doyle (Junior) was saddled with the name Graytel - mercifully shortened by a sympathetic father to Ray.
Bodie Junior had suffered from a similarly incautious grandmother, whose first rapturous comment had been, "Ooh, he *is* handsome!" His father had tried shortening that to Andy, but mother and grandmother both insisted on using his full name of Hansom until his first day at school, where the boy discovered what his older playmate had had too much fellow-feeling to tease him with. Thereafter, Bodie Junior had flatly refused to answer to anything but his surname.
A pair of hard fists had persuaded his classmates not to tease him, and Ray Doyle's fists persuaded the older boys in the same manner. Bodie refused to admit to hero-worship, but his affection for the older boy, always present, became unswerving from that day.
Nothing really changed for either boy when their fathers were killed. They continued to attend school - fairly regularly - though warm summer weather and autumn days were more likely to see them guddling trout or collecting nuts and berries. Their mothers were too glad of the addition to their food supply to protest, and their school teachers were frankly relieved by the absence of the two boys who - while never obviously misbehaving - had to be strangely responsible for a certain... tension... that was absent when they were.
Ray Doyle shook from his feet the dust of a school that did not miss him, and began to look for work; but work was not to be had, unless he cared to move away from the Forest to the Big City.
One day, he knew, the City might claim him, but not until Bodie could accompany him. And that would not be for three years. And so he spent his time hunting for rabbits, fishing, gathering edible plants and - from time to time - earning a few coppers by doing odd jobs for the men who worked in the Forest.
The first of those three years passed, and the second began. And then, out of the blue, their carefree lives were totally disrupted.
It was wearing near Election time, and a farsighted government, leaning heavily on the well-known shortness of memory of the electorate (which seemed incapable of remembering anything political for more than a week at a time) provided a handout budget.
Departments that had been drastically shorted for months - nay, years - to the point where they were seriously undermanned suddenly found themselves in a position where they could employ men to fill the gaps in their ranks.
Head Forester Cowley decided that he could start four new men. He would have given sympathetic consideration to young Ray Doyle, near illiterate though he was (working on the principle that someone else could always read out to him the instructions on the bottles of weedkiller) but Betty, his secretary, secretly spilt the beans to her fiance, McCabe, who was, she knew, in need of work. McCabe, in turn, told three of his mates - Lucas, Macklin and Towser.
The four men met Cowley at the door of his office, and, not admitting that they knew there were jobs going - asked if there was any work available.
The canny Cowley asked if they had any experience; they answered him that they had. As far as Macklin and Towser were concerned, it was a downright lie; neither man had been more than a mile from the City until then, but it suited both of them to leave the City for a while - until the present search for them should die down. And since all could sign on the dotted line (unlike young Ray Doyle, whose signature wavered from above it to below it) Cowley employed them.
The problem of housing arose at once. Two of the tied houses were occupied by widows Doyle and Bodie, and Cowley knew full well that if he was to evict them Shop Steward Murphy would take up their case and press for proper compensation.
When he explained the problem of housing to the men, Macklin immediately proposed a solution that had Cowley congratulating himself on his intelligent choice of men.
Why, Macklin suggested, should he and Towser not marry the two widows? McCabe was already engaged - he did not say to who - and Lucas had a steady girlfriend, but he and Towser were free, and of full age to enjoy the benefits of married life. Neither woman would need to move from her house; he and Towser would simply move in with them, and everyone would be happy.
And everyone was happy with the new arrangement. Cowley because his forest was decently manned again and the two widows - who had frankly been an embarrassment - were widows no longer. Murphy because his conscience need no longer bother him about them. Macklin and Towser who had wives without the bother (or expense) of going courting and a useful new identity, and the two new wives who had been growing rather tired of their chaste existence and were delighted to be chased again, even if it was only from the kitchen to the bedroom.
Yes, everyone was happy - except Ray Doyle, who disliked his stepfather, harbouring the unworthy (albeit correct) suspicion that the man had been given the job that should have been his, and Hansom Bodie, about to leave school, who found *his* new father less than understanding of his wish to part company with that august and learned establishment.
"I didn't get no proper schoolin'," Towser informed him unsympathetically. "An' I've regretted it. Just like you, I was - keen to get away from school. And look at me - what am I doin' with my life? Plantin' trees, that's what!"
Bodie could have said that he would be perfectly content to spend his life planting trees, but he had already crossed swords with Towser; instinct told him that his stepfather would count such an answer impertinent, and Towser had a short way with impertinence. Young Bodie, the spoilt darling of his mother, had already felt the weight of the older man's hand as it descended upon his unaccustomed rear, and had no wish to feel it again. (The only reason the spoiling hadn't spoilt him was that he resented it as unmanly.)
In the peace of a schoolless Saturday, Bodie found Ray Doyle leaning morosely against the side of the old stone bridge that crossed the little river from which they had removed many small trout, and joined him, gazing down at the water as it flowed tranquilly underneath and out of sight.
"How's the stepdad, then?" Doyle asked at last.
Bodie shrugged. "Don't like him. He wants me to stop on at school."
"He could be right at that," Doyle commented at last.
Bodie stared at him in horror. "Ray?"
"No, I mean it."
"Come off it. You couldn't wait to get away from school yourself!"
"Yes, I know. But now ... I've been away from school for fifteen months now, and what good has it done me? I can't even get a job. The only jobs there have been in the Forest went to Pa and his mates! Foreigners! They don't even known an oak tree from an ash!"
Bodie shook his head. "Ray, what good is schooling to us? When will we ever need to be able to read? How many books do we ever see in this benighted place? What good is all that history and geography they keep on about? What's past is past; and why do we need to know anything about anyplace except the Forest?"
Doyle raised his eyes from his study of the water and glanced at Bodie. "I did think of going to the City," he said softly, and knew by the look of shock on his friend's face that he had horrified the younger boy.
"The City?" It was fully a day's walk away from the Forest, and voices hushed when it was spoken about. Everyone in the Forest knew that it was a hotbed of intrigue and sin.
Doyle nodded. "But not until we can go together," he said softly. Too softly for the man crouching in the bushes, watching them, to hear.
The two boys disliked their stepfathers, and the dislike was returned in full measure, though Towser, at least, felt that he should assume some responsibility for his wife's son. Macklin felt no such emotion.
He would willingly be rid of the boy, and overhearing their conversation gave him a plan. He would not, he decided, tell Towser; for a hard-bitten con man, Towser had a surprisingly acute sense of duty, and although he had not taken to his newly acquired son any more than his newly acquired son had taken to him, he was determined to do his best to bring up the boy decently. However, faced with a fait accompli, Macklin had no doubt that Towser would be pleased to be rid of the responsibility.
Cunningly, Macklin waited until the next afternoon, and then he deliberately went in search of the two boys, carefully assuming a smile as he approached them.
"Hello, Ray!" he said, his affected friendliness making the youth shiver as he nodded an acknowledgement. "What are you doing with yourself?"
"Nothing," Doyle said flatly. He preferred Macklin's thinly-disguised hostility to this overt friendliness, so over-effusive that it had to be false.
"You know, I was just thinkin'. There isn't anythin' for you here, is there? The City ain't that far away. I know a few people there - I could give you an introduction. An' you, Bodie - I know you want to get away from school. I don't blame you. You look older'n your age. You could go too. It'd give you a chance t' do better f'r yourselves than this old Forest."
"You came to it," Doyle pointed out.
Macklin hadn't expected the comeback, but he recovered quickly. "Sure, but I'm older'n you. I've had my chances. Didn' take them proper." He shrugged as if resigned to his lost chances.
Doyle looked suspiciously at him, but Bodie saw in the offer a chance to escape from the hated school and the even more hated Towser. Macklin patted him on the back in a gesture of camaraderie that it took him all his time to accept without flinching, sensing as he did its total falsity.
"I'll borrow a Forestry cart 'n' take you to the edge of the Forest," Macklin promised. "It's far enough t' walk from the Forest t' the City without addin' any extra distance. We'd best leave as soon as possible, so your mothers don't find out 'n' stop you - I'll let 'em know where you've gone once it's too late for 'em t' do anythin' about it."
"Thanks," Doyle said, with an effort. He didn't really want to be beholden to Macklin for anything.
At the edge of the forest, Macklin gave Doyle a sealed envelope. "Now you give that t' Willis 'n' he'll look after you," he said.
"You mind how t' get t' Willis' place?" Macklin demanded. He had been giving them verbal instructions all the bumpy way from the Forestry Village.
"Yes," Doyle said shortly. He and Bodie jumped to the ground and watched critically as Macklin turned the cart, noting that he had no great skill at handling a horse. Macklin whipped up the horse and the cart rumbled away.
Left alone, Bodie and Doyle looked first at each other and then at the treeless expanse of ground before them. In the far distance there was a dark smudge on the horizon - the smoke of the City.
Doyle glanced up at the sky. He had rarely seen it before except through the branches of trees - only where an area had been felled, and then it was not a wide horizon-to-horizon sweep like this. He was not sure he liked it.
"Shall we go?" There was the faintest of tremors in Bodie's voice, and Doyle knew that his friend was as nervous as he.
"I suppose so," he replied. He looked at the envelope still in his hand, a slight frown on his face. "You know - I don't trust Pa," he said slowly. "How do we know this Willis will help us find work? Maybe this note is telling him to kill us - get us out of Pa's way."
"There's one way to find out," Bodie said. "Let's open the envelope and read it. If it's harmless we can still give it to Willis - *he* won't know it should have been in an envelope."
Doyle nibbled his lip. "I don't know if I *can* read it," he confessed. "I haven't looked at a book since I left school - I think I've forgotten how to read."
"We should be able to make it out between us," Bodie reassured him.
Doyle wished he was as certain, but he slit the envelope open and took out the single sheet of paper inside. He opened it, and the two heads bent over it.
"Mr. Jax would never approve of this," Bodie said, noting the lack of any address on the top. Despite himself, some of his lessons had stuck.
Doyle read the letter aloud. *Willis - these two suck ... suckers?* he glanced at Bodie, *don't have no ... no-one to worry about them. Their Mas'll do what me and Towser say. You can sell them for that little deb ... deb ... debt we owe you. Macklin.*
Bodie's mouth had dropped open. "They're crooks!"
Doyle nodded. He looked at the distant smudge of smoke and then back at the Forest. "Are there many crooks in the City, do you think?"
"How should I know?" Bodie asked.
Doyle looked at him. "We can't go home either."
"What'll we do then?"
"Don't you mean 'Where'll we go'?"
"I suppose I do."
Bodie scratched his head. "We know how to feed ourselves in the Forest," he said. "Let's find somewhere we can make a home for ourselves - a cave or something where we can stay hidden. It's early enough in the year that we can get a store of food laid in before the winter. If it gets too tough we can always go to the Cow and show him that letter; with luck he'd kick out Macklin and Towser and maybe give us their jobs. But for now, let's try to manage for ourselves."
"Right!" Bodie had always been the more daring one, Doyle thought as he agreed.
They turned and headed back into the Forest. Neither admitted it but both felt relieved when the branches once again closed over their heads, shielding them from the open sky.
They left the track and ducked in among the trees until they came to a firebreak. They followed that for some distance until it reached a river. They stopped on the bank and looked down at the water.
It was deep and fast-flowing and neither of them recognized it.
"It ... it couldn't be *our* river, could it? Just a bit further downstream?" Doyle said doubtfully.
Bodie shook his head. "No. It's a different river altogether. Our river flows westwards - we're east of the Village." He pointed to where the sun glinted brightly through the branches.
"Are we ... are we out of our own Forest, too, then?" Doyle was discovering, to his disgust, that he was ever so slightly homesick.
"Nah. We can't be. We've been in among the trees all the time. I think we're just in a bit we've never seen before. Remember we're still young - we've never gone all that far from the Village."
"That's true." Doyle looked at the river again. "Well, we can't cross that. Which way do we go?"
"Upstream?" Bodie suggested. "We'll maybe find someplace we can get across. And it's bound to get narrower, too."
"I hope we find something to eat soon," Doyle commented as they set off again, scrambling awkwardly along the steeply sloping bank of the river. "I'm getting hungry."
Before long they came to a clearing. There was a building in it, a roughly built hut. They looked at each other.
Who could possibly live here? Head Forester Cowley was sudden death on any tramps who wandered into the Forest, and anyone who dared to build a hut would be handed over to the Law in short order as causing a fire hazard.
As they walked slowly forward the door creaked open, and an elderly woman stepped into view. "Hello, young gentlemen," she said.
"Hello," Bodie said, giving her the smile that had never failed to twist his admittedly over-indulgent mother around his little finger. "Do you live here?"
She gave no sign that she thought it was a silly question. "Yes. I'm a Wise Woman; my name's Walsh. Miss Walsh."
"Does Mr. Cowley know you're here?" Doyle asked.
"Oh yes. He let me build my little home here." She looked almost coy. "But where are you from, young gentlemen?"
"We're from the Village," Bodie told her defensively.
"You're a long way from home," the Wise Woman said. She sounded quite sympathetic.
"Our mothers remarried," Doyle said gloomily. "And our stepfathers don't like us."
"So you're running away?" she said as if it was the most natural thing in the world for them to do.
"Well ... my stepfather said he'd help us find work in the City, but it was a lie. He was really trying to sell us into slavery. When we found out, we came back to the Forest. But we don't dare go home."
"If you want, you can stay here," Miss Walsh said gently. "You can pay for your keep by doing odd jobs about the place. Get in wood, collect food ..."
Bodie wasn't sure he trusted the odd look in her eye; there was a calculating quality to her expression. But when it came down to it, there wasn't much else they could do; she was offering them shelter, which they would otherwise have to find for themselves, and there was no guarantee that they would find someplace suitable anywhere near. As for the rest, getting in firewood and collecting food was something they were accustomed to, and something they had known they would have to do for themselves anyway.
They thanked her and followed her into the house. Inside there was a small fire burning in a rough grate made up of big stones, with a kettle sitting at one side of it and a big pot on the other. The fire made it uncomfortably hot in the heat of the summer day, but of course it was needed for cooking.
The two boys looked round trying to disguise their curiosity. On the wall opposite the fire was a rough shelf on which was a row of bottles. Some looked full; some only half full. Since she was a Wise Woman it seemed likely that these were her simples, though Bodie at least wondered who her customers were; it seemed strange that they had never heard of a Wise Woman in the Forest before this.
Miss Walsh went over to the fire and stirred the pot. "Are you hungry?" she asked.
"Yes," Doyle said. Whatever it was in the pot certainly smelt good.
She ladled out two big bowls of soup and the boys tucked into them hungrily. When they finished, she refilled the bowls.
When the first edge was off their hunger, she gave them each a mug of fruit juice as she said, "I do like to see growing lads enjoying their food! How old are you anyway, young gentlemen?"
"I'm sixteen," Doyle told her.
"And I'm nearly fourteen," Bodie said. He was somewhat sensitive about his still-of-school-age age. He stood, putting his mug down. "We'd better go and see if we can find some wood. There's time before it gets dark."
"No, no," Miss Walsh said soothingly, pushing him back into his seat. "No need to rush. I've got enough wood in for a few days - I won't run out tonight. You take things easy tonight - you must have walked a long way today."
"Well, yes," Doyle admitted.
"Time enough to start work tomorrow," she said. "We'll do fine till then. You can start tomorrow ... tomorrow ... tomorrow ..."
When Doyle woke up it was morning. He was still sitting beside the fire, and a blanket had been thrown over him. Miss Walsh was bending over the kettle. There was no sign of Bodie.
He sat up, yawning. Miss Walsh looked over at him. "Good morning, young gentleman."
He glanced round. "Where's Bodie?"
She smiled and without knowing why he shivered. "He's in here."
She opened a door. Bodie was sitting slumped in a small cupboard. A small window above his head let in air. His wrists were bleeding where the manacles round them had bitten through the skin when he struggled. He raised his head and stared at Miss Walsh with hatred in his eyes.
"Bodie!" Doyle exclaimed. He swung round to the Wise Woman. "Why ... ?"
The wolfish gleam in her eyes intensified. "There is magic in the blood of a young adolescent," she said, almost chanting. "You are too old, Graytel Doyle; but Hansom Bodie is the perfect age. His blood will supply me with the necessary ingredient for my love potion. I will be able to make enough to make me rich!"
Doyle sprang to his feet threateningly, and she lifted a warning hand. "Only I know where the key to his chains is hidden. If you serve me well I will feed him - and I will permit him to live. If you defy me - or run away - I will simply drain all the blood from him for the potion. It will give me less profit - if he lives he can supply me with far more blood than I can get by bleeding him to death - but I will accept that. And when he is too old to provide blood I will release you both." She looked expectantly at Doyle. "Well? What will you do?"
He glared at her. "I'll behave."
"A wise choice. You can begin by getting in some wood."
She fed Bodie well, for she wanted him healthy to provide plenty of blood; but Doyle was kept permanently hungry. Indeed, if he had not been able to find edible herbs to augment what she gave him he would have been close to starvation. He lost weight that he could not afford to lose and he found it increasingly difficult to struggle through the work that she demanded of him.
He watched the Wise Woman carefully, trying to discover where she kept the key to Bodie's chains, but although - after the first few days - - she released Bodie for an hour each night so that he could get some exercise, she always went outside, locking them in, to get it. And before she unlocked Bodie she was careful to chain Doyle who, by that time, was too tired to resist her.
Autumn was setting in and still Miss Walsh held them prisoner. Doyle, who had spent much of the summer gathering wood regardless of the weather, was sent out now to collect nuts and berries, and because he feared that Bodie would suffer if he did not take back enough, he dared not eat many although he had at first hoped that for once he would be able to fill his stomach.
Finally there came a day of such wind and rain that even Miss Walsh agreed that Doyle should not go out. Instead, she set him to cleaning up the hut while she worked at the table with her brews, carefully measuring and mixing.
Doyle worked carefully, his exhaustion showing clearly in the laboured way in which he moved. Bodie watched him anxiously, hating the Wise Woman more than ever for what she was doing to Doyle. She was ruthlessly and deliberately working him to death. And once Doyle was dead, the chances were that his own life expectation would be short, too.
Somehow they had to escape; but how?
It was unlikely that she would release him that night; if she thought the weather too bad to send Doyle out to work, she would also think it too bad to let him out for exercise. He sighed as he listened to the rain battering against the window.
Miss Walsh crossed to the fireplace, lifted the kettle and took it back to the table. She poured some of the water into the bowl with the mixed ingredients and stirred carefully. Then she took the kettle back to the fire. She propped it on the side of the fire and turned away.
The kettle slipped and fell, sending the boiling water over the floor. It splashed over the Wise Woman's feet.
She screamed at the sudden pain and kicked off her shoes. The water on the floor was cooler than the water that had splashed into her shoes, but it was still uncomfortably hot and she scrambled away from the fire.
Doyle moved automatically to lift the fallen kettle - and saw The Key where it was hidden inside one of the Wise Woman's shoes.
He scooped it up. Miss Walsh saw him and rushed at him; he pushed her away and ran to Bodie, fumbling the key into the lock. Miss Walsh snatched up the mixing bowl and approached him again.
"Ray!" Bodie's warning gave Doyle time to swing round. Desperately, he kicked out and his foot caught her in the stomach. She staggered back again and Doyle turned back to Bodie and unlocked the chains.
Together they stood more chance. They had no difficulty in pushing her away from the door; they ran out, slammed the door and jammed it shut with a couple of the logs that lay nearby.
"Run!" Doyle gasped, and they set off, stumbling with weakness, into the Forest.
They ran until they could no longer hear the screams of rage from the hut, then sank, panting, to the ground. But they dared not stay there too long; Miss Walsh would surely get out and then she could very well come looking for them.
They picked themselves up when they regained their breath, and set off again, stumbling over the uneven ground. It was cold and wet, even here in the partial shelter afforded by the trees; their clothes were soon soaked in the wind-blown rain. It was getting dark, too; they would have to find shelter soon.
They reached a more open stretch of ground where the trees had been felled. The wind beat on them unrelentingly. They stumbled over half-seen stumps and cut-off branches.
Then ahead of them they saw a small, roughly-built hut; a foresters' shelter for wet weather. It would offer little in the way of comfort, but at least it would get them out of the wind and rain.
It had probably not been used for some time, for it was unlikely that anyone would be sent to work so far from the Village at this time of year; but inside, they found an almost whole bale of hay, taken there to feed the horses used to haul the felled wood, left over from the summer.
They shook the hay into a loose pile and snuggled into it, huddling close together for warmth, and slowly they began to feel less chilled.
"We'll have to go back to the Village," Doyle said at last. "It's too late in the year to collect stores for ourselves. And we ought to let the Cow know what sort of person that Miss Walsh is. He couldn't have known she was a witch."
Bodie nodded gloomily. He was unwilling to admit it but he had been forced to realize that they were still too young to leave home. One day - in another year or two - but not yet. Though at home there were Macklin and Towser to be faced. Yet even their hatred was not so unpleasant as the Wise Woman's greed.
As they felt warmer they began to relax. Their eyes closed and they fell asleep.
It was a relief to discover, when they woke, that the wind had dropped and the rain had stopped. The sky was blue, though a few clouds on the horizon spoke of more bad weather to come. The sun had even risen above the trees to the east, and where it was shining it was quite warm.
It was no hardship to leave the shelter and set off again. Their clothes had partially dried during the night, though they were still damp, but they dried quickly in the heat of the sun.
Too soon, however, the boys reached the end of the felled area and returned to the shadow of the Forest. They found the track, now half overgrown, where the logs had been hauled out, and followed it for mile after mile until at last they began to recognize their surroundings. Soon they came in sight of the Village.
The first person they saw was Shop Steward Murphy. He stared at them as they ran up to him, not recognizing them for a moment, then beamed his pleasure as he realized who they were.
"Ray! Bodie! Where have you been?"
"It's a long story. Macklin told us he could get us work in the City, but he really was trying to sell us as slaves because he owed money to the man he was sending us to," Bodie told him. "But we read the letter he gave us so we didn't go to the City."
"We came back into the Forest, but it was a good way east of here, beside a big river. There was a woman in a hut - she was a witch, and she kept us prisoner. She said Cowley knew she was there. We managed to get away yesterday, and came home."
"Macklin was owing someone in the City money?" Murphy seized on the one fact that to him made sense.
Doyle hauled the letter, dogeared now, out of his pocket. It was still slightly damp, and he opened it carefully before he handed it to the Shop Steward.
Murphy grinned. "There were strangers around here last week looking for Macklin and Towser. They didn't find them. They'd disappeared, and your Mas with them."
All three swung round at the voice that interrupted them, to see Head Forester Cowley limping over. "Oh - it's you two. Where the devil have you been?"
The two boys stared at him, open-mouthed. Cowley had never given any indication that he had any interest in either of them.
"We've been prisoners in Miss Walsh's hut," Bodie told him.
"Miss Walsh? Who the devil is Miss Walsh?"
"She's a witch. She said you knew she was there. In a hut near the big river."
Cowley scowled. "Aye, there's a hut there. But it's empty. There's been nobody living there since the cutbacks. There was a stable too, but it burned down about four years ago. If there's someone living there it's without permission. I'll send someone out to see her off." He looked at the boys. "Murphy'll have told you your stepfathers have disappeared?"
"It leaves me shorthanded." He looked piercingly at them. "Doyle, you're old enough to work - want one of the jobs?"
"Bodie - "
"I know, sir - I have to go back to school."
"Aye, laddie. You really ought to leave the Village, since you're no longer the dependent of one of the workers. But you can stay if you move in with Doyle, and that'll leave one of the houses free for another worker. Fair enough?"
The two boys wanted to race home, but they were too tired. They turned and walked slowly to Doyle's house. Tomorrow would do to move Bodie's things.
So Doyle started work in the Forest, and Bodie went unwillingly back to school and as soon as he was old enough he left and Cowley found work for him. They never saw Macklin or Towser - or their mothers, who were presumably happy with their new lives - again.
And they themselves lived happily ever after.