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   Chapter 5 No.5

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 22059

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Close on eight that same evening, Timmy Tosswill stood by the open centre window of the long drawing-room, hands duly washed, and his generally short, rough, untidy hair well brushed, whistling softly to himself.

He was longing intensely for his godfather's arrival, and it seemed such a long time off to Friday. A photograph of Radmore, in uniform, sent him at his own request two years ago, was the boy's most precious personal possession. Timmy was a careful, almost uncannily thrifty child, with quite a lot of money in the Savings Bank, but he had taken out 10/- in order to buy a frame for the photograph, and it rested, alone in its glory, on the top of the chest of drawers that stood opposite his bed.

There had been a time when Timmy had hoped that he would grow up to look like his godfather, but now he was aware that this hope would never be fulfilled, for Radmore, in this photograph, at any rate, had a strongly-featured, handsome face, very unlike what his mother had once called "Timmy's wizened little phiz."

It seemed strange to care for a person you had never seen since you were a tiny child-but there it was! To Timmy everything that touched his godfather was of far greater moment than he would have admitted to anyone. Radmore was his secret hero; and now, to-night, he asked himself painfully, why had his hero left off loving Betty? The story he had overheard this afternoon had deeply impressed him. For the first time he began to dimly apprehend the strange and piteous tangle we call life.

Suddenly there broke on the still autumn air the distant sound of sharp barks and piteous whines. Much against his will, the little boy had had to bow to the edict that Flick should be shut up in the stable. Dolly, who so seldom bothered about anything, had seen to this herself, because Mrs. Crofton, who was coming to supper, hated dogs. Timmy inhospitably hoped that the new tenant of The Trellis House would very seldom honour Old Place with a visit. It would be impossible for them always to hide Flick away like this!

He moved further into the pretty, old-fashioned room. Like most old-fashioned country drawing-rooms of the kind, it was rather over-full of furniture and ornaments. The piano jutted out at right angles to a big, roomy sofa, which could, at a pinch, hold seven or eight people, the pinch usually being when, for the benefit of Timmy, the sofa was supposed to be a stage coach of long ago on its way to London. The Tosswills had been great people for private theatricals, charades, and so on-Timmy's own mother being a really good actress and an excellent mimic, but she did not often now indulge in an exhibition of her powers.

At last Timmy looked round at the clock. It was ten minutes to eight, and his mother would not be down for another five minutes. So he went back to the window. All at once he saw in the gathering twilight, two people walking up the avenue which led to the house. The little boy felt surprised. "Who can they be?" was his immediate thought.

As far as he could make out the one was an elderly-looking gentleman-Timmy could just see the rough grey Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers-by whose side there walked, sedately, a wire-haired terrier. What an extraordinary thing! Surely that dog, walking by the stranger, was Flick-Flick, having escaped from the stable, and behaving for all the world as if the stranger were his master. But again there fell on his ears Flick's distant squeals of anger and annoyance and he felt a queer sensation of relief.

Timmy turned his attention to the other figure, that of the young lady who, dressed all in black, tripped gracefully along by the side of her companion. Evidently some tiresome old gentleman, and his equally tiresome daughter. He told himself crossly that his absent-minded, kind-hearted father, or his incurably hospitable mother, forgetting all about Mrs. Crofton, had asked these two people in to supper. If that was so, Timmy, who was as much at home in the kitchen as in the drawing-room, knew that there would not be quite enough to go round comfortably. This was all the more irritating, as he himself was looking forward to-night to tasting, for the first time, an especially delicious dish. This was lobster pie, for which Old Place had been famed before the War, but which, owing to the present price of lobsters, was among the many delightful things which the War had caused to vanish from poor little Timmy's world. One of the few sensible people in the world who know what other people really like in the way of a present had sent by parcels-post a lot of lobsters to Timmy's mother-hence the coming lobster pie to-night.

Realising that the strangers must be very near the front door by now, he edged towards the door of the drawing-room, meaning to make a bolt for it into what was still called the schoolroom. He did not wish to be caught by himself in the drawing-room. But he was caught, for the door suddenly opened, and his mother came in.

Janet Tosswill "paid for dressing" as the old saying is. She looked charming to-night, in a rather bright blue evening dress, and Timmy, slipping his hand into hers, said softly: "You do look nice, Mum."

She smiled, touched and pleased, for her child was not given to compliments. Also, she had told herself, when glancing at her slim, active figure in the early Victorian cheval glass which had belonged to her husband's mother, that this blue dress was really very old-fashioned, and would probably appear so to Mrs. Crofton.

In view of Timmy's pleasant compliment, she did not like to ask him if he had washed his hands and brushed his hair. She could only hope for the best: "I hope we shall like Mrs. Crofton," she said meditatively. "You know she's a friend of your godfather, my dear."

"Yes, I know that," he announced, in rather an odd voice, and she felt just a little surprised. How did Timmy know that? Then she remembered her husband had read aloud Mrs. Crofton's pretty, well-turned letter-the letter which explained that the writer was looking out for a country house, and would like to find one at Beechfield if possible, as her friend, Godfrey Radmore, had described it as being the most beautiful village in England.

Timmy let go his mother's hand-then he looked searchingly into her face: "Do you suppose," he asked, "that my godfather is in love with Mrs. Crofton?"

She was taken aback, and yes, shocked, by the question: "Of course not. Whatever put such an extraordinary idea into your head, Timmy?"

The words had hardly left her lips when the door opened, and the village girl, who was staying on for two hours beyond her usual time because of this visitor, announced in a breathless voice:-"Mrs. Crofton, ma'am."

Timmy saw at once that the visitor was the young lady he had seen walking up the avenue. Then the old gentleman and his dog-the dog which was so extraordinarily like Flick-had only brought her as far as the door. And then, while his mother was shaking hands with Mrs. Crofton, and shepherding her towards the sofa, Timmy managed to have a good, long look at the new tenant of The Trellis House.

Grudgingly he admitted to himself that she was what most people-such people, for instance, as Rosamund and Betty-would call "very pretty."

Mrs. Crofton had a small three-cornered face, a ridiculously little, babyish mouth, and a great deal of dark, curly hair which matched in a queer kind of way the color of her big, pathetic-looking eyes. Timmy told himself at once that he did not like her-that she looked "a muff". It distressed him to think that his hero should be a friend of this weak-looking, sly little thing-for so he uncompromisingly described Enid Crofton to himself.

Hostess and guest sat down on the big, roomy sofa, while Timmy moved away and opened a book. He was afraid lest his mother should invite him to leave the room, for he wanted to hear what they were saying. Timmy always enjoyed hearing grown-up people's conversation, especially when they had forgotten that he was present. All at once his sharp ears heard Mrs. Crofton's low, melodious voice asking the question he had been half-expecting her to ask: "Do you expect Mr. Radmore soon?"

"Yes, he's coming down on Friday." There was a pause, then Timmy heard his mother say: "Have you known Godfrey Radmore long?"

Janet really wanted to know. Somehow, she found it difficult to imagine a friendship between Godfrey and this little fribble of a woman. But as to that, Janet Tosswill showed less than her usual intelligence. She still thought of Godfrey Radmore as of the rather raw, awkward, though clear-headed and determined lad of twenty-three-the Radmore, that is, of nine years ago.

"My husband and I first met him in Egypt," said Mrs. Crofton hesitatingly. The delicate colour in her cheeks deepened. "One day he began to talk about himself, and he told me about Beechfield, what a beautiful village it was, how devoted he was to you all!"

Janet Tosswill glanced at the clock. "It's already five minutes past eight!" she exclaimed. "I must go and hurry my young people-their father likes them to be absolutely punctual. The gong will go in a minute."

After his mother had left the room, Timmy crept up close to the sofa, and so suddenly appeared, standing with his hands behind his back, before the visitor. She felt just a little startled; she had not known the strange-looking boy was still there. Then she told herself quickly that this surely must be Godfrey Radmore's godson-the child to whom he had sent one of her late husband's puppies.

There came over pretty Mrs. Crofton a slight feeling of apprehension and discomfiture-she could not have told why.

"When did you last see my godfather?" he asked abruptly, in an unchildish voice, and with a quaintly grown-up manner.

"Your godfather?" she repeated hesitatingly, and yet she knew quite well who he meant.

"I mean Major Radmore," he explained.

She wondered why the disagreeable little fellow had asked such an indiscreet question.

Then, reluctantly, she made up her mind she had better answer it truly: "I saw him the day before yesterday." She forced herself to go on lightly. "I suppose you're the young gentleman to whom he sent a puppy last year?"

He nodded, and then asked another disconcerting question: "Did you leave your dog outside? Dolly thought you didn't like dogs, so my terrier, Flick, has been shut up in the stable. I suppose you only like your own dog-I'm rather like that, too."

"I haven't got a dog," she answered nervously. "It's quite true that I don't like dogs-or, rather, I should like them if they liked me, but they don't."

"Then the dog that was with you belonged to the old gentleman?"

"Old gentleman?" repeated Mrs. Crofton vaguely. This time she didn't in the least know what the child was talking about, and she was relieved when the door opened, and the Tosswill family came streaming through it, accompanied by their step-mother.

Laughing

introductions took place. Mrs. Crofton singled out instinctively her gentle, cultivated-looking host. She told herself with a queer sense of relief, that he was the sort of man who generally shows a distantly chivalrous regard for women. Next to her host, his eldest son, Jack Tosswill, came in for secret, close scrutiny, but Enid Crofton always found it easy and more than easy, to "make friends" with a young man.

She realised that she was up against a more difficult problem in the ladies of the family. She felt a little frightened of Mrs. Tosswill, of whom Godfrey Radmore had spoken with such affection and gratitude. Janet looked what Mrs. Crofton called "clever," and somehow she never got on with clever women. Betty and Dolly she dismissed as of no account. Rosamund was the one the attractive stranger liked best. There is no greater mistake than to think that a pretty woman does not like to meet another pretty woman. On the contrary, "like flies to like" in this, as in almost everything else.

But how did they regard her? She would have been surprised indeed had she been able to see into their hearts.

Mr. Tosswill, who was much more wideawake than he looked, thought her a poor exchange for the amusing, lively, middle-aged woman who had last lived at The Trellis House, and who had often entertained there a pleasant, cultivated guest or two from London. Jack, though sufficiently human to be attracted by the stranger's grace and charm, was inclined to reserve his judgment. The three girls found her very engaging, and their step-mother, if more critical, was quite ready to like her. As is often the case with people who only care for those near and dear to them, the world of men and women outside Janet Tosswill's own circle interested her scarcely at all. She would make up her mind as to what any given individual was like, and then dismiss him or her once for all from her busy, over-burdened mind.

One thing, however, both Janet and the three girls did notice-that was the way their new acquaintance was dressed. Her black frock was not only becoming, but had that indefinable look which implies thought, care, and cost-especially cost. All four ladies decided immediately that Mrs. Crofton must be much better off than she had implied in the letter she had written to Mr. Tosswill some weeks ago.

Timmy, alone of them all, on that first evening, felt strongly about their visitor. Already he was jealous of the pretty, pathetic-looking young widow. It irritated him to think that she was a friend of his godfather.

After they had all gone into the dining-room, and had sorted themselves out, the guest being seated on her host's right, with Jack on the other side of her, Janet announced: "This is supper, not dinner, Mrs. Crofton. I hope you don't mind lobster? When I first came to Old Place, almost the first thing I learnt was that it was celebrated for its lobster pie! Since the War we have not been able to afford lobsters, but a kind friend sent us six from Littlehampton yesterday, so I at once thought of our dear old lobster pie!"

Mrs. Crofton declared that, far from minding, she adored lobsters! And then after she had been served, Timmy's fears were set at rest, for his mother, very improperly the rest of the family thought, served him next, and to a generous helping.

As the meal went on, the mistress of Old Place realised that she had made one mistake about Mrs. Crofton; their visitor was far more intelligent, though in a mean, rather narrow way, than she had at first supposed. Also, Mrs. Crofton was certainly very attractive. As the talk turned to London doings, his step-mother was amused to notice that Jack was becoming interested in their guest, and eagerly discussed with her a play they had both seen.

And the visitor herself? During supper she began to feel most pleasantly at home, and when she walked into the long, high-ceilinged sitting-room, which had such a cosy, homelike look she told herself that it was no wonder Godfrey Radmore liked the delightful old house, and these kindly, old-fashioned, and-and unsuspicious people.

Two tall Argand lamps cast a soft radiance over the shabby furniture and faded carpet. It was a lovely evening, a true St. Martin's summer night, and the middle one of the three long French windows was widely open on to the fragrant, scented garden.

Mrs. Crofton, a graceful, appealing figure in her soft, black chiffon gown, hesitated a moment-she wondered where they wanted her to sit? And then Mrs. Tosswill came forward and, taking her hand, led her to the big sofa, while one of the girls fetched an extra cushion so that she might sit back comfortably. The talk drifted to the War, and Enid Crofton was soon engaged in giving an animated account of some of her own experiences-how she had managed to spend a very exciting fortnight not far from the Front, in a hospital run by a great lady with whom she had a slight acquaintance. Soon, sooner than usual, Mr. Tosswill and his three sons came into the drawing-room, and they were all talking and laughing together happily when a most unlucky, and untoward, accident happened! Timmy's dog, Flick, having somehow escaped from the stable, suddenly ran in from the dark garden, straight through the window opposite the sofa round which the whole of the party was now gathered together. When about a yard from Mrs. Crofton, he stopped dead, and emitted a series of short, wild howls, while his hair bristled and stood on end, and his eyes flamed blood red.

They were all so surprised-so extremely taken aback by Flick's behaviour-that no one moved. Then Mrs. Crofton gave a kind of gasp, and covering her face with her hands, cowered back in the corner of the sofa.

Timmy jumped up from the stool where he had been sitting, and as he did so, his mother called out affrightedly: "Don't go near Flick, Timmy-he looks mad!"

But Timmy was no coward, and Flick was one of the few living things he loved in the world. He threw himself on the floor beside his dog. "Flick," he said warningly, "what's the matter, old chap? Has anything hurt you?" As he spoke he put out his skinny little arms, and Flick, though still shivering and growling, began to calm down.

The little boy waited a moment, Flick panting convulsively in his arms, then he gathered the dog to him, and, getting up from the floor, walked quickly through the open window into the garden.

For a moment no one stirred-and then Mr. Tosswill, who had been sitting rather apart from the rest of the party, got up and shut the window.

"What a curious thing," he said musingly. "I have always regarded Flick as one of the best tempered of dogs. This is the first time he has ever behaved like this."

Mrs. Crofton dragged herself up from her comfortable seat. Her face looked white and pinched. In spite of her real effort to control herself, there were tears in her eyes and her lips were trembling. "If you are on the telephone," she said appealingly, "I should be so grateful if you should send for a fly. I don't feel well enough to walk home." She tried to smile. "My nerves have been upset for some time past."

Janet felt vexed and concerned. "Jack will drive you home in our old pony cart," she said soothingly. "Will you go and bring it round, Tom?"

Tom slipped off, and there arose a babel of voices, everyone saying how sorry they were, Dolly especially, explaining eagerly how she herself had personally superintended the shutting up of the dog. As for Betty, she went off into the hall and quietly fetched Mrs. Crofton's charming evening cloak and becoming little hood. As she did so she told herself again that Mrs. Crofton must be much better off than they had thought her to be from her letter. Every woman, even the least sophisticated, knows what really beautiful and becoming clothes cost nowadays, and Mrs. Crofton's clothes were eminently beautiful and becoming.

As Betty went back into the drawing-room, she heard the visitor say:-"I was born with a kind of horror of dogs, and I'm afraid that in some uncanny way they always know it! It's such bad luck, for most nice people and all the people I myself have cared for in my life, have been dog lovers."

And at that Dolly, who had a most unfortunate habit of blurting out just those things which, even if people are thinking of, they mostly leave unsaid, exclaimed:-"Your husband bred terriers, didn't he? Flick came from him."

Mrs. Crofton made no answer to this, and Janet, who was looking at her, saw her face alter. A curious expression of-was it pain?-it looked more like fear,-came over it. It was clear that Dolly's thoughtless words had hurt her.

Suddenly there came the sound of a tap on the pane of one of the windows, and Mrs. Crofton, whose nerves were evidently very much out of order, gave a suppressed cry.

"It's only Timmy," said Timmy's mother reassuringly, and then she went and opened the window. "I hope you've shut Flick up," she said in a low voice.

"Of course I have, Mum. He's quite quiet now."

As the boy came forward, into the room, he looked straight up into Mrs. Crofton's face, and as she met the enquiring, alien look, she told herself, for the second time that evening, what a pity it was that these nice people should have such an unpleasant child.

Tom came in to say that the pony cart was at the door, and that Jack was waiting there for Mrs. Crofton.

They all went out in the hall to see her off. It was a bright, beautiful, moonlight night, and Rosamund thought the scene quite romantic.

Mr. Tosswill handed his guest into the pony cart with his usual, rather aloof, courtesy; and after all the good-byes had been said, and as Jack drove down the long, solitary avenue, Enid Crofton told herself that in spite of that horrible incident with the dog-it was so strange that Flick should come, as it were, to haunt her out of her old life, the life she was so anxious to forget-she had had a very promising and successful evening. The only jarring note had been that horrid little boy Timmy-Timmy and his hateful dog.

And then suddenly Enid Crofton asked herself whether Godfrey Radmore was likely to go on being as fond of Timmy Tosswill as he seemed to be now. She had been surprised at the reminiscent affection with which he had spoken of his little godson. But there is a great difference between an attractive baby-child of three and a forward, spoilt, undersized boy of twelve. About a week ago, while they were enjoying a delicious little dinner in the Berkeley Hotel grill-room, he had said:-"Although of course none of them know it, for the present at any rate, Master Timmy is my heir; if I were to die to-night Timmy Tosswill would become a very well-to-do young gentleman!"

Even at the time they had been uttered, the careless words had annoyed Enid Crofton; and now the recollection of them made her feel quite angry. All her life long money had played a great part in this very pretty woman's inmost thoughts.

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