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What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 20465

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The telephone bell rang sharply in the sunlit and charming, if shabby, hall of Old Place.

To John Tosswill there was always something incongruous, and recurringly strange, in this queer link between a little country parish mentioned in Domesday Book and the big bustling modern world.

The bell tinkled on and on insistently, perhaps because it was now no one's special duty to attend to it. But at last the mistress of the house came running from the garden and, stripping off her gardening gloves, took up the receiver.

Janet Tosswill was John Tosswill's second wife, and, though over forty, a still young and alert looking woman, more Irish than Scotch in appearance, with her dark hair and blue eyes. But she came of good Highland stock and was proud of it.

"London wants you," came the tired, cross voice she knew all too well.

"I think there must be some mistake. This is Old Place, Beechfield, Surrey. I don't think anyone can be ringing us from London."

She waited a moment impatiently. Of course it was a mistake! Not a soul in London knew their telephone number. It had never been put on their notepaper. Still, she went on listening with the receiver held to her ear, and growing more and more annoyed at the futile interruption and waste of time.

She was just going to hang up the receiver when all at once the expression of her face altered. From being good-humoured, if slightly impatient, it became watchful, and her eyes narrowed as was their way when Janet Tosswill was "upset" about anything. She had suddenly heard, with startling clearness, the words:-"Is that Old Place, Beechfield? If so, Mr. Godfrey Radmore would like to speak to Mrs. Tosswill."

She was so surprised, so taken aback that for a moment she said nothing. At last she answered very quietly:-"Tell Mr. Radmore that Mrs. Tosswill is here waiting on the 'phone."

There was another longish pause, and then, before anything else happened, Janet Tosswill experienced an odd sensation; it was as if she felt the masterful, to her not over-attractive, presence of Godfrey Radmore approaching the other end of the line. A moment later, she knew he was there, within earshot, but silent.

"Is that you, Godfrey? We thought you were in Australia. Have you been home long?"

The answer came at once, in the deep, resonant, once familiar voice-the voice no one had heard in Old Place for nine years-nine years with the war having happened in between.

"Indeed no, Janet! I've only been back a very short time." (She noticed he did not say how long.) "And I want to know when I may come down and see you all? I hope you and Mr. Tosswill will believe me when I say it wasn't my fault that I didn't come to Beechfield last year. I hadn't a spare moment!"

The tone of the unseen speaker had become awkward, apologetic, and the listener bit her lips-she did not believe in his explanation as to why he had behaved with such a lack of gratitude and good feeling last autumn.

"We shall be very glad to see you at any time, of course. When can we expect you?"

But the welcoming words were uttered very coldly.

"It's Tuesday to-day; I was thinking of motoring down on Friday or Saturday. I've got a lot of business to do before then. Will that be all right?"

"Of course it will. Come Friday."

She was thawing a little, and perhaps he felt this, for there came an eager, yearning note into the full, deep voice which sounded so oddly near, and which, for the moment, obliterated the long years since she had heard it last.

"How's my godson? Flick still in the land of the living, eh?"

"Thank heaven, yes! That dog's the one thing in the world Timmy cares for, I sometimes think."

He felt that she was smiling now.

She heard the question:-"Another three minutes, sir?" and the hasty answer:-"Yes, another three minutes," and then, "Still there, Janet?"

"Of course I am. We'll expect you on Friday, Godfrey, by tea-time, and I hope you'll stay as long as you can. You won't mind having your old room?"

"Rather not!" and then in a hesitating, shamefaced voice:-"I needn't tell you that to me Old Place is home."

It was in a very kindly voice that she answered: "I'm glad you still feel like that, Godfrey."

"Of course I do, and of course I am ashamed of not having written more often. I often think of you all-especially of dear old George-" There came a pause, then the words:-"I want to ask you a question, Janet."

Janet Tosswill felt quite sure she knew what that question would be. Before linking up with them all again Godfrey wanted to know certain facts about George. While waiting for him to speak she had time to tell herself that this would prove that her husband and Betty, the eldest of her three step-daughters, had been wrong in thinking that Godfrey Radmore knew that George, Betty's twin, had been killed in the autumn of 1916. At that time all correspondence between Radmore and Old Place had ceased for a long time. When it had begun again in 1917, in the form of a chaffing letter and a cheque for five pounds to the writer's godson, Betty had suggested that nothing should be said of George's death in Timmy's answer. Of course Betty's wish had been respected, the more so that Janet herself felt sure that Godfrey did not know. Why, he and George-dear, sunny-natured George-had been like fond brothers in the long ago, before Godfrey's unfortunate love-affair with Betty.

And so it was that when she heard his next words they took her entirely by surprise, for it was such an unimportant, as well as unexpected, question that the unseen speaker asked.

"Has Mrs. Crofton settled down at The Trellis House yet?"

"She's arriving to-day, I believe. When she first thought of coming here she wrote John such a nice letter, saying she was a friend of yours, and that you had told her about Beechfield. Luckily, The Trellis House was to let, so John wrote and told her about it."

Then, at last, came a more intimate question. The man's voice at the other end of the telephone became diffident-hesitating:-"Are you all right? Everything as usual?"

She answered, drily. "Everything's quite as usual, thank you. Beechfield never changes. Since you were last here there have only been two new cottages built." She paused perceptibly, and then went on:-"I think that Timmy told you that Betty was with the Scottish Women's Hospital during the war? She's got one of the best French decorations."

Should she say anything about George? Before she could make up her mind she heard the words-"You can't go on any longer now. Time's up." And Radmore called out hastily:-"Till Friday then-so long!"

Janet Tosswill hung up the receiver; but she did not move away from the telephone at once. She stood there, wondering painfully whether she had better go along and tell Betty now, or whether it would be better to wait till, say, lunch, when all the young people would be gathered together? After all Betty had been nineteen when her engagement to Godfrey Radmore had been broken off, and so very much had happened since then.

And then, in a sense, her mind was made up for her by the fact that a shadow fell across the floor of the hall, and looking up, she saw her old friend and confidant, Dr. O'Farrell, blocking up the doorway with his big burly body.

"D'you remember Godfrey Radmore?" she asked as their hands met.

"Come now, you're joking surely. Remember Radmore? I've good cause to; I don't know whether I ever told you-" there came a slight, very slight note of embarrassment into his hearty Irish voice-"that I wrote to the good fellow just after the Armistice, about our Pat. That the boy's doing as well out in Brisbane as he is, is largely owing to Radmore's good offices."

Mrs. Tosswill was surprised, and not quite pleased. She wondered why Dr. O'Farrell had not told her at the time that he was writing to Godfrey. She still subconsciously felt that Godfrey Radmore belonged to Old Place and to no one else in Beechfield.

"I didn't know about Pat," she said slowly. "But you'll be able to thank him in person now, for he's coming on Friday to stay with us."

"Is he now?" The shrewd Irishman looked sharply into her troubled face. "Well, well, you'll have to let bygones be bygones-eh, Mrs. Toss? I take it he's a great man now."

"I don't think money makes for greatness," she said.

"Don't you?" he queried drily. "I do! Come admit, woman, that you're sorry now you didn't let Betty take the risk?"

"I'm not at all sorry-" she cried. "It was all his fault. He was such a strange, rough, violent young fellow!"

The words trembled on the old doctor's lips-"Perhaps it will all come right now!" But he checked himself, for in his heart of hearts he did not in the least believe that it would all come right. He knew well enough that Godfrey Radmore, after that dramatic exit to Australia, had cut himself clean off from all his friends. He was coming back now as that wonderful thing to most people-a millionaire. Was it likely, so the worldly-wise old doctor asked himself, that a man whose whole circumstances had so changed, ever gave a thought to that old boyish love affair with Betty Tosswill?-violent, piteous and painful as the affair had been. But had Betty forgotten? About that the doctor had his doubts, but he kept them strictly to himself.

He changed the subject abruptly. "It isn't scarlet fever at the Mortons-only a bit of a red rash. I thought you'd like to know.

"It's good of you to have come and told me," she exclaimed. "I confess I did feel anxious, for Timmy was there the whole of the day before yesterday."

"Ah! and how's me little friend?"

Janet Tosswill looked around-but no, there was no one in the corridor of which the door, giving into the hall, was wide open.

"He's gone to do an errand for me in the village."

"The boy is much more normal, eh?" He looked at her questioningly.

"He still says that he sees things," she admitted reluctantly, "though he's rather given' up confiding in me. He tells old Nanna extraordinary tales, but then, as you know, Timmy was always given to romancing, and of course Nanna believes every word he says and in a way encourages him."

The doc

tor looked at Timmy's mother with a twinkle in his eye. "Nanna isn't the only one," he observed. "I was told in the village just now that Master Timmy had scared away the milk from Tencher's cow."

A look of annoyance came over Mrs. Tosswill's face. "I shall have to speak to Timmy," she exclaimed. "He's much too given to threatening the village people with ill fortune if they have done anything he thinks wrong or unkind. The child was awfully upset the other day because he discovered that the Tenchers had drowned a half-grown kitten."

"He's a queer little chap," observed the old doctor, "a broth of a boy, if ye'll allow me to say so-I'd be proud of Timmy if I were his mother, Mrs. Toss!"

"Perhaps I am proud of him," she said smiling, "but still I always tell John he's a changeling child-so absurdly unlike all the others."

"Ah, but that's where you come in, me good friend. 'Twas a witch you must have had among ye're ancestresses in the long ago."

He gripped her hand, and went out to his two-seater, his mind still full of his friend's strange little son.

Then all at once-he could not have told you why-Dr. O'Farrell's mind switched off to something very different, and he went back into the hall again.

"A word more with ye, Mrs. Tosswill. What sort of a lady has taken The Trellis House, eh? We don't even know her name."

"She's a Mrs. Crofton-oddly enough, a friend or acquaintance of Godfrey Radmore. He seems to have first met her during the war, when he was quartered in Egypt. She wrote to John and asked if there was a house to let in Beechfield, quoting Godfrey as having told her it was a delightful village."

"And how old may she be?"

"Her husband was a Colonel Crofton, so I suppose she's middle-aged. She's only been a widow three months-if as long."

Janet Tosswill waited till Dr. O'Farrell was well away, and then she began walking down the broad corridor which divided Old Place. It was such a delightful, dignified, spacious house, and very dear to them all, yet Janet was always debating within herself whether they ought to go on living in it, now that they had become so poor.

When she came to the last door on the left, close to the baize door Which shut off the commons from the living rooms, she waited a moment. Then, turning the handle, she walked into what was still called the schoolroom, though Timmy never did his lessons there.

Betty Tosswill, the eldest of John Tosswill's three daughters, was sitting at a big mid-Victorian writing-table, examining the house-books. She had just discovered two "mistakes" in the milkman's account, and she felt perhaps unreasonably sorry and annoyed. Betty had a generous, unsuspicious outlook on human nature, and a meeting with petty dishonesty was always a surprise. She looked up with a very friendly, welcoming smile as her step-mother came into the room. They were very good friends, these two, and they had a curiously close bond in Timmy, the only child of the one and the half-brother of the other. Betty was now twenty-eight and there were only two persons in the world whom she had loved in her life as well as she now loved her little brother.

As her step-mother came close up to her-"Janet? What's the matter?" she exclaimed, and as the other made no answer, a look of fear came over the girl's face. She got up from her chair. "Don't look like that, Janet,-you're frightening me!"

The older woman tried to smile. "To tell the truth, Betty, I've had rather a shock. You heard the telephone bell ring?"

"You mean some minutes ago?"

"Yes."

"Who was it?"

"Godfrey Radmore, speaking from London."

"Is that all? I was afraid that something had happened to Timmy!" But, even so, the colour flamed up into Betty Tosswill's face.

Her step-mother looked away out of the window as she went on:-"It was stupid of me to have been so surprised, but somehow I thought he was still in Australia."

"He was in England last year." Betty, not really knowing what she was doing, bent over the peccant milkman's book.

"He's coming down here on Friday. I think he realises that I haven't forgiven him for not coming to see us last year. Still we must let bygones be bygones."

Then she wondered with a sharp touch of self-reproach what had made her say such a stupid thing-a thing which might have, and indeed had, two such different meanings? What she had meant had been that she must forget the hurt surprise she and her husband had felt that Godfrey Radmore, on two separate occasions, had deliberately avoided coming down from London to what had been, after all, so long his home; in fact, as he himself had said just now, the only home he had ever known.

But what was this Betty was saying?-her face rather drawn and white, all the bright colour drifted out of it-"Of course we must, Janet! Besides Godfrey was not to blame-not at the last."

Janet knew what Betty meant. That at the end it was she who had failed him. But when their engagement had been broken off, Godfrey had been worse than penniless-in debt, and entirely through his own fault. He had gambled away what little money he had, and it had ended in his going off to Australia-alone.

Then an astounding thing had happened. Godfrey had had a fortune left him by an eccentric old man in whose employment he had been as secretary for a while. His luck still holding, he had gone through most of the war, including Gallipoli, with only one wound, which had left no ill effects. A man so fortunate ought not to have neglected his old friends.

Janet Tosswill, the step-mother completely merging into the friend, came forward, and put her arms round the girl's shoulders. "Look here, Betty. Wouldn't you rather go away? I don't suppose he'll stay longer than Monday or Tuesday-"

"I shouldn't think of going away! I expect he's forgotten all about that old affair. It's a long time ago, Janet-nine years. We were both so young, that I've forgotten too-in a sense." And then, as she saw that the other was far more moved than she herself was outwardly, she repeated: "It really has faded away, almost out of sight. Think of all that has happened since then!"

The other muttered, "Yes, that's true," and Betty went on, a little breathlessly, "I'll tell you who'll be pleased-that's Timmy. He's got a regular hero-worship of Godfrey." She was smiling now. "I hope he asked after his godson?"

"Indeed he did. After Flick too! By the way he wanted to know if Mrs. Crofton was settled down in The Trellis House. I wonder if she's an Australian?"

"I don't think so," said Betty. "I think he met them in Egypt during the war. He mentioned them in one of his letters to Timmy, and then, when he was in England last year, he must have stayed with them, for that's where Flick came from. Colonel Crofton bred terriers. I remember reading Timmy a long letter signed 'Cecil Crofton' telling him all about how to manage Flick, and he mentioned Godfrey."

"I don't remember that-I must have been away."

They were both glad to have glided on to a safe, indifferent subject.

"I'll go back to my carnations now, but first I'd better tell your father the news."

"You-you-needn't remind father of anything that happened years ago, Janet-need you?"

Janet Tosswill shook her head, and yet when she had shut the door behind her in her husband's study, almost the first words she uttered, after having told him of Godfrey Radmore's coming visit, were:-"I shall never, never forgive him for the way he treated Betty. I hate the thought of having to be nice to him-I wish Timmy wasn't his godson!"

She spoke the words breathlessly, defiantly, standing before her old John's untidy writing table.

As she spoke, he rather nervously turned some papers over under his hand:-"I don't know that he behaved as badly as you think, my dear. Neither of them had any money, and at that time he had no prospects."

"He'd thrown away his prospects! Then I can't forgive him for his behaviour last year-never coming down to see us, I mean. It was so-so ungrateful! Handsome presents don't make up for that sort of thing. I used to long to send the things back."

"I don't think you're fair," began Mr. Tosswill deprecatingly. "He did write me a very nice letter, Janet, explaining that it was impossible for him to come."

"Well, I suppose we must make the best of it-particularly as he says that he's come back to England for good."

She went out of the room, and so into the garden-back to the border she had left unwillingly but at which she now glanced down with a sensation of disgust. She felt thoroughly ruffled and upset-a very unusual condition for her to be in, for Janet Tosswill was an equable and happy-natured woman, for all her affectionate and sensitive heart.

She told herself that it was true the whole world had altered in the last nine years-everything had altered except Beechfield. The little Surrey village seemed to her mind exactly the same as it was when she had come there, as a bride, fourteen years ago, except that almost everybody in it, from being comfortably off, had become uncomfortably poor. Then all at once, she smiled. The garden of Old Place was very different from the garden she had found when she first came there. It had been a melancholy, neglected, singularly ugly garden-the kind of garden which only costly bedding-out had made tolerable in some prosperous early Victorian day. Now it was noted for its charm and beauty even among the many beautiful gardens of the neighbourhood, and during the War she had made quite a lot of money selling flowers and fruit for the local Red Cross. Now she was trying to coax her husband to take one of the glebe fields on a long lease in order to start a hamper trade in fruit, vegetables and flowers. Dolly, the one of her three step-daughters whom she liked least, was fond of gardening, in a dull plodding way, and might be trained to such work.

But try though she did to forget Godfrey Radmore, her mind swung ceaselessly back to the man with whom she had just had that curious talk on the telephone. She was sorry-not glad as a more worldly woman would have been-that Godfrey Radmore was coming back into their life.

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