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   Chapter 3 No.3

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 19027

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


After Timmy Tosswill had been to the village shop and done his mother's errand, he wandered on, his dog, Flick, at his heels, debating within himself what he should do next.

Like most children who lead an abnormal, because a lonely, childhood, he was in some ways very mature, in other ways still very babyish. He was at once secretive and-whenever anything touched his heart-emotionally expansive. To the indifferent observer Timmy appeared to be an exceptionally intelligent, naughty, rather spoilt little boy, too apt to take every advantage of a certain physical delicacy. This was also the view taken of him by his half-brothers, and by two out of his three step-sisters. But the three who really loved him, his mother, his nurse, and his eldest half-sister, Betty, were convinced that the child was either possessed of a curious, uncanny gift of-was it second sight?-as his old nurse entirely and his mother half, believed, or, as Dr. O'Farrell asserted, some abnormal development of his subconscious self. All three were ruefully aware that Timmy was often-well, his mother called it "sly," his sister called it "fanciful," his nurse by the good old nursery term, "deceitful."

It was this unlovable attribute of his which made it so difficult to know whether Timmy believed in the positive assertions occasionally made by him concerning his intimate acquaintance with the world of the unseen. That he could sometimes visualise what was coming to pass, especially if it was of an unpleasant, disturbing nature, was, so his mother considered, an undeniable fact. But sometimes the gift lay in abeyance for weeks, even for months. That had been the case, as Mrs. Tosswill had told Dr. O'Farrell, for a long time now-to be precise, since March, when, to the dismay of those about him he had predicted an accident in the hunting field which actually took place.

Timmy walked on up the steep bit of road which led to the upper part of the beautiful old village which was, like many an English village, shaped somewhat like a horseshoe-and then suddenly he stopped and gazed intently into a walled stable-yard of which the big gates were wide open.

Beechfield was Timmy Tosswill's world in little. He was passionately interested in all that concerned its inhabitants, and was a familiar and constant, though not always a welcome visitor to every cottage. Most of the older village men and women had a certain grudging affection for the odd little boy. They were all well aware of, and believed in, the gift which made him, as the nurse had once explained to a crony of hers, "see things which are not there," though not one of them would have cared to mention it to him.

Timmy had a special reason for wishing to know what was going on in this stable-yard, so, after a moment's thought, he walked deliberately through the gates as if he had some business there, and then he saw that two men, one of whom was a stranger to him, were tidying up the place in a very leisurely, thoroughgoing manner.

The back door of The Trellis House, as the quaint-looking, long, low building to the right was incongruously named, opened into the stable-yard and by the door was a bench. Timmy walked boldly across the yard and established himself on the bench and his dog, Flick, jumped up and sat sedately by him. The little boy then took a small black book out of his pocket. The book was called "The Crofton Boys" and Timmy had chosen it because the name of the new tenant of The Trellis House was Mrs. Crofton, a friend, as he was aware, of his godfather, Godfrey Radmore. He wondered if she had any boys.

The two men, busy with big new brooms, came up close to where Timmy was sitting. When the child, obviously "one of the gentry," had walked into the stable-yard, they had abruptly stopped talking; but now, seeing that he was reading intently, and apparently quite uninterested in what they were doing, they again began speaking to one another, or rather one of them, a hard-bitten, shrewd-looking man, much the older of the two, began talking in what was, though Timmy was not aware of it, a Cockney dialect.

"You won't find 'er a bad 'un to work for, m'lad. I speak of folks as I find them. I'm not one to take any notice of queer tales!"

"Queer tales. What be the queer tales, Mister Piper?"

Timmy knew this last speaker. He was the baker's rather sharp younger son, and Mrs. Crofton had just engaged him as handy man.

The older man lowered his voice a little, but Timmy, who, while his eyes seemed glued to the pages of the book he held open, was yet listening with all his ears, heard what followed quite clearly.

"It ain't for me to spread ill tales after what I've told you, eh? But the Colonel's death was a reg'lar tragedy, 'twas, and some there were who said that 'is widder wasn't exactly sorry. 'E were a melancholy cove for any young woman to 'ave to live with. But there, as my old mother used to say, 'any old barn-door can keep out the draught!'"

The younger man looked up:-"What sort o' tragedy?" he asked.

"The Colonel pizened 'isself, and the question was-did 'e do it o' purpose? Some said yes, and some said no. I was in it by a manner of speaking."

"You was in it?"

The boy left off working, and gazed at the other eagerly:-"D'you mean you saw him do it?"

"I was the first to see 'im in his agony-I calls that being in it. And I was called upon to give evidence at the inquest held on the corpse."

The man looked round him furtively as he spoke. The little boy sitting by the back door of the house caused him no concern, but he did not want what he said to be overheard by the two new maid-servants who had arrived at The Trellis House that morning.

"There's always a lot of talk when folks die sudden," he went on, in a sententious tone. "It was as plain as the nose on your face that the Colonel, poor chap, 'ad 'ad what they called shell-shock. I'd heard 'im a-talking aloud to 'isself many a time. 'E was a-weary of life 'e was. So 'tis plain 'e just thought 'e'd put an end to it, like many a better man afore 'im."

And then the youth said something that rather surprised himself, but his mind had been working while the other had been talking.

"Did anyone say different?" was his question and the other answered in a curious tone: "Now you're askin'! Yes, there was some folk as did say different. They argued that the Colonel never took the pizen knowingly. 'E was very keen over terriers-we bred 'em. The best of 'em, a grand sire, was the very spit of that little dawg sitting up on that there bench. Colonel bred 'em for profit, not pleasure. Mrs. Crofton, she 'ated 'em, and she lost no time either in getting rid of 'em after 'e was gone. They got on 'er nerves, same as 'e'd done. She give the best-prize-winner 'e was-to the Crowner as tried the corpse. 'E'd known 'em both-was a bit sweet on 'er 'isself."

The youth laughed discordantly. "Ho! Ho! She's that sort, is she?"

But the other spoke up at once with a touch of sharpness in his voice.

"She's a good sort to them as be'aves themselves, my lad. She give me a good present. Got me a good, new soft place, too, that's where I'm going to-morrer. I'm 'ere to oblige 'er, that's what I am-just to put you, young man, in the way of things. Look sharp, please 'er, mind your manners, and you may end better off than you know!"

The lad looked at the speaker with a gleam of rather hungry curiosity in his lack-lustre eyes.

"Mark my words! Your missus won't be a widder long. Ever 'eard of a Major Radmore?"

The speaker did not notice that the little boy sitting on the bench stiffened unconsciously.

"Major Radmore?" repeated the listener. "Folk in Beechfield did know a chap called Radmore. Lives in Australia, he does. He sent home some money for a village club 'e did, but nothing 'as been done about it yet. Some do say old Tosswill's sticking to the cash-a gent as what they calls trustee of it all. But then who'd trust anyone with a load o' money? The chap I'm thinking of used to live at Tosswill's a matter of ten years ago."

"Then 'tis the same one!" exclaimed the other eagerly, "and, if so, you'll not lack good things. Likely as not the Major's your future master. 'E's got plenty, and a generous soul too. Gave me a present last year when he was a stopping at Fildy Fe Manor. The Major, 'e bought one of our dawgs, and I sent it off for 'im to Old Place, Beechfield, damn me if I don't remember it now-name of Tosswill too." He stopped short, and then, as if he had thought better of what he was going to say, he observed musingly: "Some says Jack Piper's a blabber-but they don't know me! But one thing I'll tell you. The're two after the Missus, for all the Colonel's 'ardly cold, so to speak, but I put my money on the dark one."

He had hardly uttered these cryptic words when a pretty young woman opened the door which gave on to the stable-yard from the house: "Dinner-time!" she called out merrily.

Both men dropped the brooms they were holding, and going towards the door disappeared.

As they did so, Timmy heard the words:-"She's a peach-thinks herself one too-oh! the merry widder!"

The little boy waited a moment. He took a long look round the sunny, and now unnaturally tidy, stable-yard. Then he got up, shut his book, and put it sedately into his pocket. Flick seemed unwilling to move, so Timmy turned and called sharply:-"Flick! come along at once!"

The dog jumped down and ran up to his master. Timmy walk

ed across the big, flat, white stones, kicking a pebble as he went. At last, when he got close to the open gate, he hop-scotched, propelling the pebble far into the road.

He was extremely disturbed and surprised. He went over and over again what he had heard the two men say. The absurd suspicion of his father filled him with angry hurt disgust. Why only yesterday the plan of the village clubhouse had come from the architect! And then that extraordinary disconcerting hint about his godfather? Godfrey Radmore belonged in Timmy's imagination, first to himself, secondly to his parents, and then, in a much less close way, to the rest of the Tosswill family. A sensation of strong-dislike to the still unknown new tenant of The Trellis House welled up in his secretive little heart, and instead of going on round the village, he turned back and made his way straight home.

As he walked along the short avenue which led to the front door of Old Place he saw his mother kneeling on her gardening mat. He stepped up on to the grass hoping to elude her sharp eyes and ears, but she had already seen him.

"Hullo, Timmy!" she called out cheerfully. "What have you been doing with yourself all this time?"

"I've been sitting reading in the stable-yard of The Trellis House."

"That seems rather a funny thing to do, when you might have been here helping your Mummy," but she said the words very kindly. Then suddenly the mention of The Trellis House reminded her of Godfrey Radmore. "I've got a great piece of news!" she exclaimed. "Guess who's coming here to spend the week-end with us, Timmy?"

He looked at her gravely and said:-"I think I know, Mum."

She felt taken aback, as she so often was with her strange little son.

"I don't think you do," she cried briskly.

"I think it's"-he hesitated a moment-"Major Radmore, my godfather."

She was very, very surprised. Then her quick Scotch mind fastened on the one unfamiliar word. "Why Major Radmore?" she asked.

Timmy looked a little confused. "I-I don't know," he muttered unwillingly. "I thought he was a soldier, Mum."

"Of course he was a soldier. But he isn't a soldier now."

"Isn't it tea-time?" asked Timmy suddenly.

"Yes, I suppose it is."

As they walked towards the house together Janet was telling herself uneasily that unless Timmy had met Dr. O'Farrell, it was impossible for him to have learnt through any ordinary human agency that Godfrey Radmore was coming to Beechfield. Though a devoted, she was not a blind mother, and she was disagreeably aware that her little son never "gave himself away." She did not wish to start him on a long romancing explanation which would embody-if one were to put it in bald English-a lie. So she said nothing.

They were close to the door of the house when he again took her aback by suddenly saying:-"I don't think Mrs. Crofton can be a very nice sort of lady, Mum."

(Then he had seen Mrs. Crofton, and she had told him.)

"Why not, Timmy?"

"I have a sort of feeling that she's horrid."

"Nonsense! If only for your godfather's sake, we must all try and like her. Besides, my boy, she's in great trouble. Her husband only died two or three months ago."

"Some people aren't sorry when their husbands die," remarked Timmy.

She pretended not to hear. But as they walked through into the hall she heard him say as if to himself: "Some people are glad. Mrs. George Pott"-the woman who kept the local beer-shop-"danced when her husband died."

"I wish, Timmy," said his mother sharply, "that you would not listen to, or repeat low village gossip."

"Not even if it's true, Mum?"

"No, not even if it's true."

When Janet had first come to Old Place as a bride, eager to shoulder what some of her friends had told her would be an almost intolerable burden, her husband's six children had been a sad, subdued, nursery-brought-up group, infinitely pathetic to her warm Scotch heart. At once she had instituted, rather to the indignation of the old nurse who was yet to become in due time her devoted henchwoman, a daily dining-room tea, and the custom still persisted.

And now, to Timmy's surprise, his mother opened the drawing-room door instead of going on to the dining-room. "Tell Betty," she said abruptly, "to pour out tea. I'll come on presently."

She shut the door, and going over to the roomy old sofa, sat down, and leaning back, closed her eyes. It was a very unusual thing for her to do, but she felt tired, and painfully excited at the thought of Godfrey Radmore's coming visit. And as she lay there, there rose up before her, wearily and despondently, the changes which nine years had brought to Old Place.

Janet Tosswill, like all intelligent step-mothers, sometimes speculated as to what her predecessor had really been like. Her husband's elder children were so amazingly unlike one another, as well as utterly unlike her own son Timmy.

Betty, the eldest of her step-children, was her favourite, and she had also been deeply attached to Betty's twin-brother, George. The two had been alike in many ways, though Betty was very feminine and George essentially masculine, and each of them had possessed those special human attributes which only War seems to bring to full fruition.

George had been out in France seven months when he had been killed at Beaumont Hamel, and he had already won a bar to his Military Cross by an action which in any other campaign would have given him the Victoria Cross. As for Betty, she had shown herself extraordinarily brave, cool, and resourceful when after doing some heavy home war work, she had gone out with one of the units of the Scottish Women's Hospital.

But Janet Tosswill admired and loved the girl more than ever since Betty had come back, from what had perforce been a full and exciting life, to take up the dull, everyday routine existence at Old Place where, what with a bad investment, high prices, and the sudden leap in the income-tax, from living pleasantly at ease they had become most unpleasantly poor.

Jack, who came next to Betty, though a long way after, and who had just missed being in the war, was a very different type of young Englishman from what George had been. He was clever, self-assertive, and already known as a brilliant debater and as a sound speaker at the Oxford Union. There need be no trouble as to Jack Tosswill's future-he was going to the Bar, and there was little doubt that he would succeed there. One of his idiosyncrasies was his almost contemptuous indifference to women. He was fond of his sisters in a patronising way, but the average pleasant girl, of whom the neighbourhood of Beechfield had more than its full share, left him quite cold.

The next in age-Dolly-was the most commonplace member of the family. Her character seemed to be set on absolutely conventional lines, and the whole family, with the exception of her father, who did not concern himself with such mundane things, secretly hoped that she would marry a young parson who had lately "made friends with her." As is often the case with that type of young woman, Dolly was feckless about money, and would always have appeared badly and unsuitably dressed but for the efforts of her elder sister and step-mother.

Rosamund, the youngest and by far the prettiest of the three sisters, was something of a problem. Though two years younger than Dolly, she had already had three or four love affairs, and when only sixteen, had been the heroine of a painful scrape-the sort of scrape which the people closely concerned try determinedly to forget, but which everyone about them remembers to his or her dying day.

The hero of that sorry escapade had been a man of forty, separated from his wife. On the principle that "truth will out even in an affidavit," poor Rosamund's little world was well aware that the girl, or rather the child, had been simply vain and imprudent. But still, she had disappeared for two terrible long days and nights, and even now, when anything recalled the episode to her step-mother or to Betty, they would shudder with an awful inward tremor, recollecting what they had both gone through. That she had come back as silly and innocent a girl as she had left, and feeling as much shame as she was capable of feeling, had been owing to the tardily awakened sense of prudence and honour in the man to whom she had run away in a fit of temper after a violent quarrel with-of all people in the world-her brother Jack.

Rosamund now ardently desired to become an actress, and after much secret discussion with his wife, her father had at last told her that if she were of the same opinion when she reached the age of twenty-one he would put no obstacle in her way.

As to Tom, the youngest of Janet Tosswill's step-children, he was "quite all right." Though only fifteen months younger than Rosamund, whereas she was as much of a woman as she ever would be, he was still a cheery, commonplace schoolboy. He had been such a baby when Janet had married that sometimes she almost felt as if he were her own child and that though Tom's relation to her own son was peculiar. Theoretically the two boys ought to have been pals, or at any rate good friends. But in practice they were like oil and water-and found it impossible to mix. When Tom was at home, as now, on his holidays, he spent most of his time with a schoolfellow of his own age who lived about two miles from Beechfield. In some ways Timmy was older now than Tom would ever be.

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