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   Chapter 7 No.7

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 19723

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


It was about eleven, when most of her household chores were done, that Betty started off to pay an informal call on Miss Pendarth, in some ways the most outstanding personality in the village of Beechfield.

"Busybody"-"mischief-maker"-"a very kind lady"-"a disagreeable woman"-"a fearful snob"-"a true Christian"-were some of the epithets which had been, and were still, used, to describe the woman to whose house, Rose Cottage, Betty Tosswill, with a slight feeling of discomfort bordering on pain, began wending her way.

Olivia Pendarth and her colourless younger sister, Anne, the latter now long dead, had settled down at Beechfield in the nineties of the last century. When both over thirty years of age, they had selected Beechfield as a dwelling-place because of its quiet charm and nearness to London. Also because Rose Cottage, which, in spite of its unassuming name, was, if a small yet a substantial, red-brick house with a good garden, paddock and stables, exactly suited them, as to price, and as to the accommodation they then wanted. The surviving sister was now rather over sixty, and her income was very much smaller than it had been, but it never even occurred to her to try and sell what had become to her a place of mingled painful and happy memories.

In every civilised country a village is the world in little, though it is always surprising to the student of human nature to find how many distinct types are gathered within its narrow bounds. And if this is true of village communities all over Europe, it is peculiarly true of an English village.

Miss Pendarth was a clever woman. Too clever to be really happy in the life to which she had condemned herself. She had been born many years too early to follow up any of the various paths now open to the intelligent, educated woman. Yet she belonged, by birth and upbringing, to that age-long tradition of command which perhaps counts for most of all to the one class which has remained in England much the same for generations.

The Pendarths had once been very great people in Cornwall, and long records of the family are to be found in all county histories. Olivia Pendarth was wordlessly very proud of their lineage, and it is no exaggeration to say that she would have died rather than in any way disgrace it.

A woman of great activity, she had perforce no way of expending her energies excepting in connection with the people about her, and always in intention at least she spent herself to some beneficent purpose. Yet there was a considerable circle who much disliked her and whom she herself regarded with almost limitless scorn. These were the folk, idle people most of them, and very well-to-do, who, having made fortunes in London, now lived within a radius of five to ten miles round Beechfield.

Miss Pendarth was on excellent terms with what one must call, for want of a better name, the cottage class. To them she was a good, firm, faithful friend, seeing them through their many small and great troubles, and taking real pains to help their sons and daughters to make good starts in life. Many a village mother had asked Miss Pendarth to "speak" to her naughty girl or headstrong son, and as she was quite fearless, her words often had a surprising effect. She neither patronised nor scolded, and it was impossible to take her in.

But when dealing with the affairs of those of her neighbours, who were well-to-do, and who regarded themselves as belonging to her own class, it was quite another matter. With regard to them and their affairs she was what they often angrily accused her of being-a busy-body and even a mischief-maker. Her lively mind caused her to take a great interest-too great an interest-in the private affairs of people some of whom she disliked, and even despised. She was also not as scrupulous as she might have been in repeating unsavoury gossip. Yet, even so, so substantially good a woman was she, that what some people called Miss Pendarth's interfering ways had more than once brought about a reconciliation between husband and wife, or between an old-fashioned mother and a rebellious daughter. It was hopeless to try to keep from her the news of any local quarrel, love-affair, or money trouble-somehow or other she always found out everything she was likely to want to know-and she almost always wanted to know everything.

There was another fact about Miss Pendarth, and one which much contributed to her importance even with the people who disliked and feared her: she was the only inhabitant of the remote Surrey village who was in touch with the world of fashion and society-who knew people whose "pictures are in the papers." Now and again, though more and more rarely as time went on, she would leave Rose Cottage to take part in some big family gathering of the important and prosperous clan to which, in spite of her own lack of means, she yet belonged, and with whom she kept in touch. But she herself never entertained a visitor at Rose Cottage, for a reason of which she herself was painfully aware and which the more careless of those about her did not in the least realise. This reason was that she was very, very poor. Before the War, her little settled income had enabled her to live in comfort in a house which was her own. But now, had not her one servant been friend as well as maid, she could not have gone on living in Rose Cottage; and during the last year, as Betty Tosswill perhaps alone had noticed, certain beautiful things, fine bits of good old silver, delicate inlaid pieces of furniture, and a pair of finely carved gilt mirrors, had disappeared from Rose Cottage.

The house was situated in the village street, with, however, a paved forecourt, in which stood two huge Italian oil jars gay from April to November with narcissi, tulips, or pink geraniums. Miss Pendarth was proud of the fine old Sussex ironwork gate and railing which separated her domain from the village street. The gate was exactly opposite the entrance to the churchyard, while at right angles stood the village post office. From the windows of her drawing-room upstairs, the mistress of Rose Cottage was able to see a great deal that went on in the village of Beechfield.

Miss Pendarth's appearance, as is so often the case with an elderly, unmarried Englishwoman of her class, gave no clue to her clever, decisive, and original character. She had a thin, rather long mouth, what old-fashioned people call a good nose, and grey eyes, and she had kept the slight, rather stiff, figure of her girlhood. She still wore her hair, which was only now beginning to turn really grey, braided in the way which had been becoming to her thirty years before. The effect, if neat, was rather wig-like, and the one peculiar-looking thing about her appearance. She always wore, summer and winter, a mannish-looking tailor-made coat and skirt, and a plainly cut flannel or linen shirt. At night-and she dressed each evening-she alternated between two black dresses, the one a velvet dress gown, the other a sequin-covered satin tea-gown.

Such was the woman to whom Betty Tosswill had thought it just as well to go herself with the news of Godfrey Radmore's coming visit to Old Place, and as she walked slowly up the village street, the girl tried to remind herself that Miss Pendarth had a very kind side to her nature. Of all the letters Betty had received at the time of her brother's death, she had had none of more sincerely expressed sympathy than that from this old friend whom she was now going to see. And yet? Yet what pain and distress Miss Pendarth had caused them all at the time of the Rosamund trouble! Instead of behaving like a true friend, and, as far as possible, stopping the flow of gossip, she had added to its volume, causing the story to be known to a far larger circle than would otherwise have been the case. But Betty, honesty itself, was well aware that her step-mother had made a serious mistake in not telling Miss Pendarth what there was to tell. A confidence she never betrayed.

Betty also reminded herself ruefully that in the far-away days when Godfrey Radmore had been so often an inmate of Old Place, there had been something like open war between himself and Miss Pendarth, and when she had heard of his extraordinary good fortune, she had not hidden her regret that it had fallen on one so unworthy.

As Betty went up to the iron gate and unlatched it, she half hoped that the owner of Rose Cottage would be out. Miss Pendarth, unlike most of her neighbours, always kept her front door locked-you could not turn the handle and walk right into the house.

To-day she answered Betty's ring herself, and with a smile of welcome lighting up her rather grim face she drew the girl into the hall and kissed her affectionately.

"I was just starting to pay my first call on Mrs. Crofton. But I'm so glad. Perhaps you'll be able to tell me something about her. I hear she had supper with you the day she arrived!"

As she spoke, she led the way into a little room off the hall. "I've been trying to make out to what branch of the Croftons she belongs," she went on reflectively. "There was a man called Cecil Crofton in my second brother's regiment a matter of forty years ago."

"She looks quite young," said Betty doubtfully.

"Old enough to know better than to get herself talked about the first hour she arrived," observed Miss Pendarth grimly.

"I don't think she can have done that-"

"Not only did she bring a man with her, a Captain Tremaine,-but just before he left they had some kind of quarrel which was overheard by two of the tradespeople who were calling to leave their cards."

"How-how horrid," murmured Betty. But what really shocked her was that Miss Pendarth should listen to that sort of gossip.

"It was horrid and absurd too, for the man had turned the

key in the lock of the sitting-room, and it stuck for a minute or two when one of them tried to unlock the door in answer to the maid's knock!"

"What an extraordinary thing!"

"I could hardly believe the story, but now that I've seen Mrs. Crofton, I'm not so very much surprised!"

"Then you have seen her?" Betty smiled.

"I've just had a glimpse of her," admitted Miss Pendarth grudgingly, "as she came out of church, a day or two ago, with your sister Dolly."

"She's extraordinarily pretty, isn't she?"

"Too theatrical for my taste. But still, yes, I suppose one must admit that she will prove a very formidable rival to most of our young ladies. I'm told she's a war widow-and she certainly behaves as if she were."

"I don't think it's fair to say that!" Betty crimsoned. She felt a close kinship to all those women who had lost someone they loved in the War.

"You mean not fair to the war widows?"

"Yes, that is what I do mean. Only a few of them behave horridly-"

There was a pause. Betty was trying to bring herself to introduce the subject which filled her mind. But Miss Pendarth was still full of the new tenant of The Trellis House.

"I hear that Timmy's dog gave her a fearful fright."

Betty felt astonished, well used as she was to the other's almost uncanny knowledge of all that went on in the village. Who could have told her this particular bit of gossip?

"I wonder," went on the elder lady reflectively, "what made Mrs. Crofton come to Beechfield, of all places in the world. Somehow she doesn't look the sort of woman who would care for a country life."

"Godfrey Radmore first told her of Beechfield," said Betty, and in spite of herself, she felt the colour rise again hotly to her cheeks.

"Godfrey Radmore?" It was Miss Pendarth's turn to be genuinely surprised. "Godfrey Radmore! Then she's Australian? I thought there was something odd about her."

Betty smiled, but she felt irritated. In some ways Miss Pendarth was surely very narrow-minded!

"No, she's not Australian-at least I'm pretty sure she's not. They met during the War, in Egypt. Her husband was quartered there at the same time as Godfrey." She paused uncomfortably-somehow she found it very difficult to go on and say what, after all, she had come here to say this morning.

"I suppose," said Miss Pendarth at last, "that Godfrey Radmore is back in Brisbane by now. One of the strange things about this war has been the way in which those who could have been best spared, escaped."

In spite of herself, Betty smiled again. "Godfrey has come back to England for good," she said quietly, "he's coming to-day for a long week-end."

"D'you mean," asked Miss Pendarth, "that he's coming to stay with this Mrs. Crofton at The Trellis House?"

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Betty. (What odd ideas Miss Pendarth sometimes had.) "He's coming to Old Place of course: he telephoned to Janet from London, and proposed himself."

"I think it's very good of you all to put up with him," said Miss Pendarth drily, "I've never said so before, my dear, but I thought it exceedingly ungrateful of him not to have come down here when he was in England a year ago, I mean when he sent that puppy to your brother Timmy."

Betty remained silent, and for once her old friend felt-what she too seldom did feel-that she might just as well have kept her thoughts to herself.

Miss Pendarth was really attached to Betty Tosswill, but she was one of those people-there are many such-who find it all too easy to hurt those they love.

They both got up.

"I'm afraid you think me very uncharitable," said the older woman suddenly.

Betty looked at her rather straight. "I sometimes think it strange," she said slowly, "that anyone as kind and clever as I know you are, does not make more allowances for people. For my part, I wonder that Godfrey is coming here at all. As I look back and remember all that happened-I don't think that anyone at Old Place behaved either kindly or fairly to him-I mean about our engagement."

Miss Pendarth was moved as well as surprised by Betty's quiet words. The girl was extraordinarily reserved-she very rarely spoke out her secret thoughts. But Miss Pendarth was destined to be even more surprised, for Betty suddenly put out her hand, and laid it on the other's arm.

"I want to tell you," she said earnestly, "that as far as I am concerned, everything that happened then is quite, quite over. I don't think that Godfrey would have been happy with me, and so I feel that we both had a great escape. I want to tell you this because so many people knew of our engagement, and I'm afraid his coming back like this may cause a lot of silly, vulgar talk."

Miss Pendarth was more touched than she would have cared to admit even to herself. "You can count on me, my dear," she said gravely, "and may I say, Betty, that I feel sure you're right in feeling that you would have been most unhappy with him?"

As Betty walked on to the post office she was glad that that little ordeal was over.

* * *

John Tosswill was one of those men who instinctively avoid and put off as long as may be, a difficult or awkward moment. That was perhaps one reason why he had not made a better thing of his life. So his wife was not surprised when, after luncheon, he observed rather nervously that he was going out, and that she must tell Godfrey Radmore how sorry he was not to be there to welcome him.

As she remained silent, he added, rather shamefacedly:-"I'll be back in time to have a few words with him before dinner."

Poor Janet! She still loved her husband as much as she had done in the days when he, the absent-minded, gentle, refined scholar, made his way into her heart. Nay, in a sense, she loved him more, for he had become entirely dependent on her. But though she loved and admired him, she no longer relied on him, as she had once done; he had a queer way of failing her at the big moments of life, and now, to-day, she felt it too bad of him to shirk the moment of Godfrey Radmore's return. His presence would have made everything easier, for he had never admitted either to himself or her, that Godfrey had behaved in a strange or untoward manner.

As she turned over the leaves of a nursery-man's catalogue and gazed at the list of plants and bulbs she could not afford to buy, long-forgotten scenes crowded on her memory.

Radmore had been the violent, unreasonable element in the painful episode, for Betty had behaved well, almost too well. The girl would have thrown in her lot with her lover, but both her father and step-mother had been agonised at the thought of trusting her to a man-and so very young a man-who had made such a failure of his life. That he was going out to Australia practically penniless-nay, worse than penniless, saddled with debts of so-called honour-had been, or so they had judged at the time, entirely his own fault.

John Tosswill, who had a very clear and acute mind when any abstract question was under discussion, had told Betty plainly that she would only be a dangerous hindrance to a man situated as Radmore would be situated in a new country, and she had submitted to her father's judgment.

But how ironical are the twists and turns of life! If only they had known what the future was to bring forth, how differently Betty's father and step-mother would have acted! Yet now to-day, Janet tried to tell herself that Betty had had a happy escape. Godfrey had been like a bull in the net during those painful days nine years ago. He had shown himself utterly unreasonable, and especially angry, nay enraged, with her, Janet, because he had been foolish enough to hope that she would take his part against Betty's father.

* * *

Acting on a sudden impulse, she went upstairs, and, feeling a little ashamed of what she was doing, went into the room which was to be Godfrey Radmore's. Then she walked across to where stood Timmy's play-box, in order to find the letter which Betty's one-time lover had written to his godson.

The play-box had been George's play-box in the days of his preparatory school, and it still had his name printed across it.

She turned up the wooden lid. Everything in the box was very tidy, for Timmy was curiously grown-up in some of his ways, and so she very soon found the letter she was seeking for.

It was a quaint, humorous epistle-the letter of a man who feels quite sure of himself, and yet as she read it through rapidly, there rose before her the writer as he had last appeared in a railing whirlwind of rage and fury, just before leaving Old Place-he had vowed at the time-for ever. She remembered how he had shouted at her, hurling bitter reproaches, telling her she would be sorry one day for having persuaded Betty to give him up. But though she, Janet Tosswill, had not forgotten, he had evidently made up his mind, the moment he had met with his unexpected and astonishing piece of good luck, to let bygones be bygones. For, after that first letter to his godson, gifts had come in quick succession to Old Place, curious unexpected, anonymous gifts, but even Dolly had guessed at once from whom they came.

No wonder the younger children were all excited and delighted at the thought of his coming visit! Radmore was now looked upon as a fairy godfather might have been. They were too young, too self-absorbed, to realise that these wonderful gifts out of the blue never seemed to wing their way to Betty or Janet. Yet stop, there had been an exception. Last Christmas each had received an anonymous fairing-Betty, a beautiful little watch, set in diamonds, and Janet, a wonderful old lace flounce. Both registered parcels had come from London, Godfrey Radmore being known at the time to be in Australia. But neither recipient of the delightful gift had ever cared to wear or use it.

* * *

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