Chapter 31

Disappearance of a Butcher

That night, under cover of darkness, a party of horsemen dressed all in black rode out from Chouxville, headed by Major Roach. Hidden beneath a large bit of sacking on a wagon in their midst was the gigantic wooden foot, with its carved scales and long sharp claws.

At last they reached the outskirts of Baronstown. Now the riders – members of the Ickabog Defence Brigade whom Spittleworth had chosen for the job – slipped from their horses and covered the animals’ hooves with sacking to muffle the noise and the shape of their prints. Then they lifted the giant foot off the wagon, remounted, and carried it between them to the house where Tubby Tenderloin the butcher lived with his wife, which was luckily a little distance from its neighbours.

Several of the soldiers now tied up their horses, stole up to Tubby’s back door and forced entry, while the rest pressed the giant foot into the mud around his back gate.

Five minutes after the soldiers arrived, they carried Tubby and his wife, who had no children, out of their house, bound and gagged, then threw them onto the wagon. I may as well tell you now that Tubby and his wife were about to be killed, their bodies buried in the woods, in exactly the way Private Prodd had been supposed to dispose of Daisy. Spittleworth only kept alive those people for whom he had a use: Mr Dovetail might need to repair the Ickabog foot if it got damaged, and Captain Goodfellow and his friends might need to be dragged out again some day, to repeat their lies about the Ickabog. Spittleworth couldn’t imagine ever needing a treasonous sausage maker, though, so he’d ordered his murder. As for poor Mrs Tenderloin, Spittleworth barely considered her at all, but I’d like you to know that she was a very kind person, who babysat her friends’ children and sang in the local choir.

Once the Tenderloins had been taken away, the remaining soldiers entered the house and smashed up the furniture as though a giant creature had wrecked it, while the rest of the men broke down the back fence and pressed the giant foot into the soft soil around Tubby’s chicken coop, so that it appeared the prowling monster had also attacked the birds. One of the soldiers even stripped off his socks and boots, and made bare footprints in the soft earth, as though Tubby had rushed outside to protect his chickens. Finally, the same man cut off the head of one of the hens and made sure plenty of blood and feathers was spread around, before breaking down the side of the coop to allow the rest of the chickens to escape.

After pressing the giant foot many more times onto the mud outside Tubby’s house, so the monster appeared to have run away onto solid ground, the soldiers heaved Mr Dovetail’s creation back onto the wagon beside the soon-to-be-murdered butcher and his wife, remounted their horses, and disappeared into the night.

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