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   Chapter 6 No.6

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 13290

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Betty Tosswill sat up in bed and told herself that it was Friday morning. Then she remembered what it was that was going to happen to-day.

It was something that she had thought, deep in her heart, would never happen. Godfrey Radmore was coming back-coming back into her life, and into all their lives. Though everything seemed just the same as when he had left Old Place, everything was different, both in a spiritual and material sense. The War had made a deep wound, nay, far more than one wound, in the spiritual body politic of Old Place. And it was of a very material thing that Betty Tosswill thought first, and most painfully, this morning. This was the fact that from having been in easy circumstances they were now very poor.

When Godfrey Radmore had gone out of their lives there had been a great, perhaps even then a false, air of prosperity over them all. John Tosswill was a man who had always made bad investments; but in that far-off time, "before the War," living was so cheap, wages were so low, the children were all still so young, that he and Janet had managed very well.

Only Betty knew the scrimping and the saving Jack, at Oxford, and Tom, at Winchester, now entailed on the part of those who lived at Old Place. Why, she herself counted every penny with anxious care, and the stupid, kindly folk who asked, just a trifle censoriously, why she wasn't "doing something," now that "every career is open to a girl, especially to one who did so well in the War," would perhaps have felt a little ashamed had they discovered that she was housemaid, parlourmaid, often cook, to a large and not always easily pleased family. They never had a visitor to stay now-they simply couldn't afford it-and she hated the thought of Godfrey, himself now so unnaturally prosperous, coming back to such an altered state of things.

Besides, that was not all. Betty covered her face with her hands, and slow, bitter, reluctant tears began to ooze through her fingers. She had tried not to think of Godfrey and of his coming, these last two or three days. She had put the knowledge of what was going to happen from her, with a kind of hard, defiant determination. But now she was sorry-sorry, that she had not taken her step-mother's advice, and gone away for a long week-end. Betty Tosswill felt like a man who, having suffered intolerably from a wound which has at last healed, learns with sick apprehension that his wound is to be torn open.

Although not even Janet, her one real close friend and confidant, was aware of it, Godfrey had not been the only man in Betty's life. There had been two men, out in France, who had loved her, and lost no time in telling her so. One had been killed; the other still wrote to her at intervals, begging her earnestly, pathetically, to marry him, and sometimes she half thought she would.

But always Godfrey Radmore stood before the door of her heart, imperiously, almost contemptuously, "shooing off" any would-be intruder. And yet to-day she told herself, believing what she said, that she no longer loved him. She remembered now, as if they had been uttered yesterday, the cruel words he had flung at her during their last hour together when he had taunted her with not giving up everything and going off with him-and that though she had known that there was, even then, a part of his acute, clever brain telling him insistently that she would be a drag on him in his new life.... She had also been cut to the heart that Godfrey had not written to her father when his one-time closest friend, her twin-brother, George, had been killed.

To-day for the first time, Betty Tosswill told herself that perhaps she had been mistaken in doing right instead of wrong, in coming here to help Janet with her far from easy task with the younger children, instead of getting a good job, as she knew she could have done, after the War.

There is a modern type of young woman, quite a good young woman, too, who, in Betty's position, would have thought that it was far better that she should go out and earn, say, three or four pounds a week, sending half the money, or a third of the money, home. But poor Betty was no self-deceiver-she was well aware that what was wanted at Old Place in the difficult months, aye, and even years, which would follow the end of the Great War, was personal service.

And so she had come home, making no favour of it, settling into her often tiring and tiresome duties, trying now and again to make Rosamund and Dolly do their share. In a way they did try, but they were both very selfish in their different ways, and only Janet knew all that everyone of them owed to Betty's hard, continuous work, and sense of order. Not that the girl was perfect by any means; now and again she would say a very sharp, sarcastic word, but on the whole she was wonderfully indulgent, kindly and understanding-more like a mother than a sister to the others.

Everyday life is a mosaic of infinitely little things, whatever those who write and talk may say. Betty had come back and settled down to life at home, mainly because her step-mother could no longer "carry on." Janet could not get servants, and if she could have got them, she could not now have paid them. Then there had been the silly, vulgar but highly dangerous affair between Rosamund and their too attractive married "billet". Had Betty been at home that business would almost certainly have been checked in the bud. As for Dolly, she was worse than no good in the home. But-a certain secret hope was cherished both by Janet and by Betty concerning Dolly. The bachelor vicar of the next parish seemed to find a strange pleasure in her society. He was away now in Switzerland and he had written to Dolly a minute account of his long, tiresome journey.

She wondered, with a feeling of pain at her heart, what Godfrey would think of them all. There had been such an air of charm and gaiety about the place nine years ago. Now, beautiful in a sense as was the stately Georgian house, lovely as was the garden, thanks to Janet's cleverness and hard work, there was an air of shabbiness over everything though Betty only fully realised it on the very rare occasions when she got away for a few days for a change and rest with old friends.

This summer her brother Jack had said a word to her, not exactly complainingly, but with a sort of regret. "Don't you think we could afford new furniture covers for the drawing-room?" and Betty had shaken her head. They could afford nothing for the house-she alone knew how very difficult it was to keep up Jack's own modest allowance.

There had been a discussion b

etween herself and Janet as to whether Mr. Tosswill should start taking pupils again in his old age, but they had decided against it, largely because they felt that the class of pupils whom he had been accustomed to take before the war, and who could alone be of any use from the financial point of view, could not now be made really comfortable at Old Place. Betty was ashamed of feeling how much it hurt her pride to know how concerned Godfrey would be to find how poor they had become. She would not have minded this if he had been poor himself. But she hated the thought of a rich Godfrey, who flung money about over foolish, extravagant presents, discovering, suddenly, how altered were their circumstances since the day when he had rushed out of the house throwing the big cheque kind John Tosswill had shamefacedly handed to him, on to the floor.

* * *

After Betty had had her own cold bath, and had prepared a tepid one for her father, she dressed quickly, and going over to the dressing-table in the large, low-ceilinged room-a room which, in spite of the fact that everything in it was old and worn, had yet an air of dainty charm and dignity, for everything in it was what old-fashioned people call "good"-she looked dispassionately at herself in the glass.

Her step-mother had said, "You haven't changed one bit!" But that was not true. Of course she had changed-changed very much, outwardly and inwardly, since she was nineteen. For one thing, the awful physical strain of her work in France had altered her, turned her from a girl into a woman. She had seen many terrible things, and she had met with certain grim adventures she could never forget, which remained all the more vivid because she had never spoken of them to a living being.

And then, as she suddenly told herself, with a rather bitter feeling of revolt, the life she was leading now was not calculated to make her retain a look of youth. Last week, in a fit of temper, Rosamund had said to her:-"I only wish you could see yourself! You look a regular 'govvy'!" She had laughed-the rather spiteful words passing her by-for she had never cared either for learning or teaching. But now, as she gazed critically in her mirror, she told herself that, yes, she really did look rather like a nice governess-the sort of young woman a certain type of smart lady would describe as her "treasure". Forty or fifty years ago that was the sort of human being into which she would have turned almost automatically when poverty had first knocked at the door of Old Place. Now, thank God, people who could afford to pay well for a governess wanted a trained teacher, not an untrained gentlewoman for their children.

But Betty did not waste much time staring at herself. Throwing her head back with what had become a characteristic gesture, she went off and called her sisters and brothers before running lightly down the back stairs.

Nanna was already pottering about the kitchen. She had laid and lit the fire, and put the kettle on to boil for Mrs. Tosswill's early cup of tea. The old woman looked up as Betty came into the kitchen, and a rather touching expression came over her old face. She had a strong, almost a maternal affection for her eldest nurseling, and she wondered how Miss Betty was feeling this morning. Nanna had been told of the coming visitor by Timmy, but with that peculiar touch of delicacy so often found in her class, she had said nothing about it to Betty.

"Well, Nanna? I expect Mrs. Tosswill has told you that Mr. Radmore is coming to-day, and that he's to have George's room."

Nanna nodded. "It's quite ready, Miss Betty. I went in there yesterday afternoon while you was all out. He'll find everything there just as he left it. Eh, dear, I do mind how those dear boys loved their stamps and butterflies."

Betty sighed, a sharp, quick sigh. After calling Jack she had thought of going into the room which had been her brother's and Godfrey's joint room in the long, long ago. And then she had decided that she couldn't bear to do so. The room had never been slept in since George had spent his last happy leave for now there was never any occasion to put a visitor in what was still called by Nanna "Master George's room."

"I expect he'll arrive for tea," said Betty, "and I was wondering whether we couldn't make one of those big seed cakes he and George used to be so fond of."

"That's provided for, too," said Nanna quietly.

And then, all at once, almost as though she were compelled to do so by something outside herself, Betty went across the kitchen and threw her arms round her old nurse's neck and kissed her.

"There, there," said Nanna soothingly, "do you mind much, my dearie!"

"No, I don't think I do." Betty winked away the tears. "It's George I'm really thinking of, Nanna."

"But the dear lad is in the Kingdom of the Blessed, my dear. You wouldn't have him back-surely?"

"Not if he's really happier where he is," said the girl, "but oh, Nanna, it's so hard to believe that." She went across to the big old-fashioned kitchen range, and poured the boiling water into a little silver teapot. Then she took the tray to her step-mother's room.

Next she went down into the drawing-room-she always "did" that room while Nanna laid the breakfast with the help of the village girl who, although she was supposed to come in at seven, very seldom turned up till eight. And then, while Betty was carefully dusting the quaint, old-fashioned Staffordshire figures on the mantelpiece, the door opened, and Nanna came in and shut it behind her. "There isn't any wine," she began mysteriously. "Gentlemen do like a little drop of wine after their dinner."

"I think what father and Jack can do without, Mr. Radmore can do without, too," said Betty. For the first time her colour heightened. "In any case, I don't see how we can get anything fit to drink by this evening."

"I was thinking, Miss Betty, that you might borrow a bottle of port wine at Rose Cottage."

"I don't think I can do that," said Betty decidedly, "you see, Miss Pendarth's port is very good port, and we could never give her back a bottle of the same quality."

And then, as Nanna sidled towards the door, the old woman suddenly remarked, a little irrelevantly:-"I suppose you've told Miss Pendarth that Mr. Godfrey is coming, Miss Betty?"

Betty looked round quickly. "No," she said, "I haven't had a chance yet. Thank you for reminding me."

The old woman slipped away, and Betty suddenly wondered whether Nanna had really come in to ask that question as to Miss Pendarth. Somehow Betty suspected that she had.

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