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   Chapter 4 No.4

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 18269

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Timmy went on into the dining-room to find his brothers and sisters all gathered there excepting Dolly. But as he sat down, and as Betty began to pour out tea, Dolly came in from the garden with the words:-"Guess who I've met and had a talk with?"

She looked round her eagerly, but no one ventured an opinion. There were so many, many people whom Dolly might have met and had a talk with, for she was the most gregarious member of the Tosswill family.

At last Timmy spoke up:-"I expect you've seen Mrs. Crofton," he observed, his mouth already full of bread and butter.

Dolly was taken aback. "How did you know?" she cried. "But it's quite true-I have seen Mrs. Crofton!"

"What is she like?" asked Jack indifferently.

"How old is she?" This from Betty, who somehow always seemed to ask the essential question.

"D'you think she'll prove a 'stayer'?" questioned Tom.

He had hoped that someone with a family of boys and girls would have come to The Trellis House. It was a beautiful little building-the oldest dwelling-house in the village, in spite of its early Victorian name. But no one ever stayed there very long. Some of the older village folk said it was haunted.

"Did you speak to her, or did she speak to you?" asked Rosamund.

And then again Timmy intervened.

"I know more about her than any one of you do. But I don't mean to tell you what I know," he announced.

No one took any notice of him. By common consent efforts were always made in the family circle to keep Timmy down-but such efforts were rarely successful.

"Well, tell us what's she like?" exclaimed Rosamund. "I did so hope we should escape another widow."

She had hoped for a nice, well-to-do couple, with at least one grown-up son preferably connected, in some way, with the stage.

Dolly Tosswill, still standing, looked down at her audience.

"She's quite unlike what I thought she would be," she began. "For one thing, she's quite young, and she's awfully pretty and unusual-looking. You'd notice her anywhere."

"Did you meet her in the post-office?" asked Betty.

"No, at church. She only arrived this morning, and she said she felt so lonely and miserable that when she heard the bell ring she thought she'd go along and see what our church was like."

"Oh, then she's 'pi'?" in a tone of disgust from Rosamund.

"I'd noticed her in church, though she was sitting rather back, close to the door," went on Dolly, "and I'd wondered who she was, as she looked so very unlike any of the Beechfield people."

"How do you mean-unlike?" asked Tom.

"I can't explain exactly. I thought she was a summer visitor. And then something so funny happened-"

Dolly was sitting down now, and Betty handed her a cup of tea, grieving the while to see how untidy she looked with her hat tilted back at an unbecoming angle.

"What happened?"

"Well, as we came out of the church together, all at once that old, half-blind, post-office dog made straight for her! He gave a most awful howl, and she was so frightened that she ran back into the church again. But of course I didn't know she was Mrs. Crofton then. I got the dog into the post-office garden and then I went back into the church to tell her the coast was clear. But she waited a bit, for she was awfully afraid that he might get out again."

"What a goose she must be"-this from Jack.

"She asked if she were likely to meet any other dog in the road; so I asked her where she lived, and then she told me she was Mrs. Crofton, and that she had only arrived this morning. I offered to walk home with her, and then we had quite a talk. She has the same kind of feeling about dogs that some people have about cats."

"That's rather queer!" said Tom suddenly, "for her husband bred wire-haired terriers. Colonel Crofton sold Flick to Godfrey Radmore last year-don't you remember?"

He appealed to Betty, who always remembered everything.

"Yes," she said quietly, "I was just thinking of that. Colonel Crofton wrote Timmy such a nice letter telling him how to manage Flick. It does seem strange that she should have that feeling about dogs."

Again Timmy's shrill voice rose in challenge. "I should hate my wife not to like dogs," he cried pugnaciously.

"It'll take you all your time to make her like you, old man," observed Tom.

"I've asked her in to supper to-night," went on Dolly, in her slow, deliberate way, "so we shall have to have Flick locked up."

"Whatever made you ask her to supper, Doll?" asked Jack sharply.

Jack Tosswill had a hard, rather limited nature, but he was very fond of his home, and unlike most young men, he had a curious dislike to the presence of strangers there. This was unfortunate, for his step-mother was very hospitable, and even now, though life had become a real struggle as to ways and means, she often asked people in to meals.

"Her cook didn't turn up," exclaimed Dolly. "And when she asked me if I knew of any woman in the village who could come in and cook dinner for her this evening, I said I was sure Janet would like her to come in and have supper."

"And I hope," chimed in Rosamund decidedly, "that we shall all dress for dinner. Why should she think us a hugger-mugger family?"

"I don't mean to change. I shall only wash my hands!" This from Timmy, who was always allowed to sit up to dinner. His brothers and sisters were too fond of their step-mother to say how absurdly uncalled-for they thought this privilege.

As everyone pretended not to have heard his remark, Timmy repeated obstinately: "I shall only wash my hands."

"Mrs. Crofton won't care how you look," observed Jack irritably. "If we didn't now live in such a huggery-muggery way, I should always dress. I do everywhere else."

Betty looked at him, and her face deadened. Though she would hardly have admitted it, even to herself, she regretted the way in which everything at Old Place was now allowed to go "slack." She knew it to be bad for her sisters. It wasn't as if they did any real housework or gave useful help in the kitchen. Dolly tried to do so in a desultory way, but in the end it was she, Betty, who kept everything going in this big, rambling old house, with the help of the old nurse and a day girl from the village.

Timmy gave a little cackle, and Jack felt annoyed. He looked across at his half-brother with a feeling akin to dislike. But Jack Tosswill was truly attached to his step-mother. He was old enough to remember what a change she had made in the then dull, sad, austere Old Place. Janet had at once thrown herself into the task of being sister, rather than step-mother, to her husband's children, and bountifully had she succeeded!

Still, with the exception of Betty, they all criticised her severely, in their hearts, for her weakness where her own child was concerned. And yet poor Janet never made the slightest difference between Timmy and the others. It was more the little boy's own clever insistence which got him his own way, and secured him certain privileges which they, at his age, had never enjoyed. Timmy also always knew how to manage his delicate, nervous father. John Tosswill realised that Timmy might some day grow up to do him credit. Timmy really loved learning, and it was a pleasure to the scholar to teach his clever, impish, youngest son.

* * *

Meanwhile Janet, who had remained on in the drawing-room, got up from the sofa and, going into the corridor, opened the dining-room door. For some moments she stood there, unseen, watching the eager party gathered round the table, and as she did so, she looked with a curious, yearning feeling at each of the young folk in turn.

How changed, how utterly changed, they all were since Godfrey Radmore had last been in that familiar room! The least changed, of course, was Betty. To her step-mother's partial eyes, Betty Tosswill, at twenty-eight, was still an extraordinarily charming and young-looking creature. Had her nose been rather less retroussé, her generous, full-lipped mouth just a little smaller, her brown hair either much darker, or really fair, as was Rosamund's, she would have been exceptionally pretty. What to the discriminating made her so much more attractive than either of her younger sisters was her look of intelligence and quiet humour. But of course she looked not only older, but different, from what she had looked nine years ago. Betty had lived a full and, in a sense, a tragic life during four of the years which had elapsed since she and Radmore had parted in this very room.

Janet's eyes travelled past Betty to Jack. Just at that moment he was looking with no very pleasant expression across at his little brother, and yet there was something softer than usual in his cold, clear-cut face. Janet Tosswill would have been touched and surprised indeed had she known that it was the thought of herself that had brought that look on Jack's face. Jack was twenty-one, but looked like a man of thirty-he was so set, he knew so exactly what he wanted of life. As she looked at him, she wondered doubtfully whether he would ever make that great career his schoolmast

er had so confidently predicted for him. He was so-so-she could only find the word "conventional" to describe him.

Janet Tosswill passed over Dolly quickly. To-day Dolly looked a little different from the others, for she was wearing a hat, and it was clear that she had just come in from the village. Her step-mother noticed with dissatisfaction that the over large brooch fastening Dolly's blouse was set in awry, and that there were wisps of loose hair lying on her neck.

As for Rosamund, she looked ill-humoured, frankly bored to-day-but oh, how pretty and dainty, next to the commonplace Dolly! Rosamund's gleaming fair hair curled naturally all over her head; she had lovely, startled-looking eyes which went oddly with a very determined, if beautifully moulded, mouth and chin.

Betty was convinced that, given a chance, Rosamund would make a success on the stage, but Betty was prejudiced. There had always been a curious link of sympathy between the two sisters, utterly different as they were, and many as were the years that separated them.

Tom was the only one of the flock who presented no problem. He was far more human than Jack, but, like Jack, absolutely steady and dependable.

Janet Tosswill's mind swung back to Godfrey Radmore. She wondered how he would like the changes in Old Place, whether they would affect him pleasantly or otherwise. She was woman enough to regret sharply their altered way of life. When Godfrey had lived in Old Place, there had been a good cook, a capable parlourmaid, and a well-trained housemaid, as well as a bright-faced "tweenie" there, and life had rolled along as if on wheels. It was very different now.

She wondered if Betty or Timmy had told the others of Radmore's coming visit. It was so strange, in a way, so painful to know that to most of them, with the possible exception of Jack, he was only a name.

Suddenly Betty, turning around, saw her step-mother. "Dolly has met Mrs. Crofton, and she's utterly unlike what any of us thought she would be!" she cried out. "She's young, and very pretty-quite lovely in fact! Dolly asked her into supper to-night, as her cook has not yet arrived."

She had a sort of prevision that Janet was now going to tell the others about Godfrey Radmore, and she wanted to get away out of the room first. But this was not to be. Janet Tosswill had a very positive mind-she was full of what she had come in to say, and the new tenant at The Trellis House interested her not at all, so as soon as she had sat down, she exclaimed, "Perhaps Timmy has told you my news?"

Then all turned to her, except Betty and Timmy himself.

"What news?" came in eager chorus.

"Godfrey Radmore is in England. He telephoned from London just now, and he's coming down on Friday to spend a long week-end!"

Rosamund was the only one who stole a look at Betty.

"Godfrey Radmore here?" repeated Jack slowly. "It's queer he would want to come-after the odd way he's behaved to us."

"Yes, it is rather strange," Janet tried to speak lightly. "But there it is! The whole world has turned topsy-turvy since any of us saw him last."

"I wonder if he's still very rich," went on Jack.

Janet Tosswill felt startled. "Why shouldn't he be?" she asked.

"Oh, I don't know-it only occurred to me that he might have lost some of this money in the same way that he lost that first fortune of his."

"It wasn't a fortune"-Betty's quiet voice broke in very decidedly-"and most of it was lost by a friend of his, not by Godfrey himself at all. He was too proud to say anything about it to father, but he wrote and told George."

A curious stillness fell over the company of young people. They were all in their different ways very much surprised, for Betty never mentioned her twin-brother. All at once they each remembered about Betty and Godfrey-all except Timmy, who had never been told.

"And now what's this about Mrs. Crofton?" asked Janet at last, breaking a silence that had become oppressive. "Do I understand that she's coming to supper to-night?"

It was Betty who answered: "I hope you don't mind? Dolly thought it the only thing to do, as the poor woman's cook hadn't arrived."

"We mustn't forget to ask her in for lunch or dinner on one of the days that Godfrey is here," observed Janet. "I gather they're friends. He asked if she'd already come."

* * *

Timmy was supposed to prepare his lessons between tea and dinner, but unlike the ordinary boy, he much preferred to wake early and work before breakfast. This was considered not good for his health, and there was a constant struggle between himself and his determined mother to force him to do the normal thing. So after she had finished her tea, she beckoned to her son, and he unwillingly got up and followed her into the drawing-room. But before he could settle down at his own special table Betty came in.

"Janet, I want to ask you something before I go into the village. There are one or two things we must get in, if Mrs. Crofton is coming this evening-"

The little boy did not wait to hear his mother's answer. He crept very quietly out of the open window, which was close to his table, and then made his way round to the first of the long French windows of the dining-room. He was just in time to hear his brother Tom ask in a very solemn tone: "I say, you fellows! Wasn't Betty once engaged to this Radmore chap?"

Timmy, skilfully ensconced behind the full old green damask curtains, listened, with all his ears, for the answer.

"Yes," said Jack at last, with a touch of reluctance. "They were engaged, but not for very long. Still, they'd been fond of one another for an age and George was his greatest friend-"

Rosamund broke in: "Do tell us what he's like, Jack! I suppose you can remember him quite well?"

Jack hesitated, rather uncomfortably.

"Of course I remember Radmore very well indeed. He had quite a tidy bit of money, as both his parents were dead. His snuffy old guardian had been at Balliol with father. So father was asked to coach him. And then, well, I suppose as time went on, and Betty began growing up, he fell in love with her."

"And she with him?" interposed Rosamund.

"A girl is apt to like any man who likes her," said Jack loftily. "But I believe 'twas he made all the fuss when the engagement was broken off."

"But why was it broken off?" asked Rosamund.

"Because he'd lost all his money racing."

"What a stupid thing to do!" exclaimed Tom.

"The row came during the Easter holidays," went on Jack meditatively, "and there was a fearful dust-up. Like an idiot, Radmore had gone and put the whole of the little bit of money he had saved out of the fire on an outsider he had some reason to think would be bound to romp in first-and the horse was not even placed!"

"Poor fellow!" exclaimed Rosamund.

"He rushed down here," went on Jack, "to say that he had made up his mind to go to Australia. And he was simply amazed when father and Janet wouldn't hear of Betty going with him."

"Would she have liked to go?" asked Tom.

"Well, yes-I believe she would. But of course it was out of the question. Father could have given her nothing, even then, so how could they have lived? There was a fearful rumpus, and in the end Godfrey went off in a tearing rage."

"Shaking the dust of Old Place off his indignant feet, eh?" suggested Tom.

"Yes, all that sort of thing. George was having scarlet fever-in a London hospital-so of course he was quite out of it."

"Then, at last Godfrey reopened communication via Timmy?" suggested the younger boy.

"Timmy's got the letter still," chimed in Rosamund. "I saw it in his play-box the other day. It was rather a funny letter-I read it."

"The devil you did!" from Tom, indignantly.

She went on unruffled:-"He said he'd been left a fortune, and wanted to share it with his godson. How much did he send? D'you remember?" She looked round.

"Five pounds!" said Dolly.

"I wish I was his godson," said Tom.

"And then," went on Dolly, in her precise way, "the War came, and nothing more happened till suddenly he wrote again to Timmy from Egypt, and then began the presents. I wonder if we ought to have thanked him for them? After all, we don't know that they came from him. The only present we know came from him was Flick."

"And a damned silly present, too!" observed Jack, drily.

"Do you think he's still in love with Betty?" asked Rosamund.

"Of course he's not. If he was, he would have written to her, not to Timmy. Nine years is a long time in a man's life," observed Jack sententiously.

"My hat! yes!" exclaimed Tom. "Poor Betty!"

Jack got up, and made a movement as if he were thinking of going out through the window into the garden. So Timmy, with a swift, sinuous movement, withdrew from the curtain, and edging up against the outside wall of the house, walked unobtrusively back into the drawing-room.

When his mother-who had gone out to find something for Betty to take into the village-came back, she was pleased and surprised to find her little son working away as if for dear life.

* * *

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