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   Chapter 9 No.9

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 22038

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Mrs. Crofton was walking restlessly about her new home-the house that was so new to her, and yet, if local tradition could be trusted, one of the oldest inhabited dwellings in that part of England.

She had felt so sure that Godfrey Radmore would manage to get away from Old Place, and call on her this afternoon, for Jack Tosswill had told her that he was arriving before tea-she felt depressed and disappointed though she had not yet given up hope.

She wondered if he would come alone the first time, or if one of the girls would accompany him. She felt just a little afraid of Rosamund-Rosamund was so very pretty with all the added, evanescent charm of extreme youth. She told herself that it was lucky that she, Enid, and Godfrey Radmore were already friends, and good friends too.

Twice she went up into her bedroom and gave a long, searching, anxious look at herself in the narrow panel mirror which she had fixed on to one of the cupboard doors. That there is no truer critic of herself, and of her appearance, than a very pretty woman, is generally true even of the vainest and most self-confident of her sex.

Enid Crofton had put on a white serge skirt, and a white woolen jumper, the only concession to her new widowhood being that the white jumper was bordered in pale grey of a shade that matched her shoes and stockings. Though her anxious surveys of herself had been reassuring, she felt nervous, and a trifle despondent. She did not like the country-the stillness even of village life got on her nerves. Still, Beechfield was very different from the horribly lonely house in Essex to which she never returned willingly in her thoughts-though sometimes certain memories of all that had happened there would thrust themselves upon her, refusing to be denied.

Fortunately for the new occupant of The Trellis House, a certain type of prettiness gives its lucky possessor an extraordinary sense of assurance and tranquillity when dealing with the average man. Enid Crofton wasn't quite sure, however, if Godfrey Radmore was an average man. He had never made love to her in those pleasant, now far-away days in Egypt, when every other unattached man did so. That surely proved him to be somewhat peculiar.

During the whole of her not very long life she had been petted and spoilt, admired and sheltered, by almost everyone with whom fate had brought her in contact.

Enid Crofton's father had been a paymaster in the Royal Navy named Joseph Catlin. After his death she and her mother had lived on in Southsea till the girl was sixteen, when her mother had pronounced her quite old enough to be "out." Mrs. Catlin was still too attractive herself to feel her daughter a rival, and the two years which had followed had been delightful years to them both. Then something which they regarded as most romantic occurred. On the day Enid was eighteen, and her mother thirty-seven, there had been a double wedding, Mrs. Catlin becoming the wife of a prosperous medical man, while Enid married a young soldier who had just come in for £4,000, which he and his girl-wife at once proceeded to spend.

To-day, in spite of herself, her mind went back insistently to her first marriage-that marriage of which she never spoke, but of which she was afraid she would have to tell Godfrey Radmore some day. She was shrewd enough to know that many a man in love with a widow would be surprised and taken aback were he suddenly told that she had been married before, not once, but twice.

Unknowingly to them both, the young, generous, devoted, lover-husband, to whom even now she sometimes threw a retrospective, kindly thought, had done her an irreparable injury. He had opened to her the gates of a material paradise-the kind of paradise in which a young woman enjoys a constant flow of ready money. Though she was quite unaware of it, it was those fifteen weeks spent on the Riviera, for the most part at Monte Carlo, which had gradually caused Enid to argue herself into the belief that she was justified in doing anything-anything which might contribute to the renewal of that delicious kind of existence-the only life, from her point of view, worth living.

Her first husband's death in a motor accident had left her practically penniless, as well as frightened and bewildered, and so she had committed the mistake of marrying, almost at once, clever, saturnine Colonel Crofton, a man over thirty years older than herself. His mad passion had died down like a straw-fed flame, and when there had come, like a bolt from their already grey sky, the outbreak of War, it had been a godsend to them both.

Colonel Crofton had at once stepped into what had seemed to them both a good income, with all sorts of delightful extras, and allowances, attached to it. And while he was in France, at the back of the Front, absorbed in his job, though resentful of the fact that he was not in the trenches, Enid had shared a small flat in London with another young and lonely wife. The two had enjoyed every moment of war-time London, dancing, flirting, taking part, by way of doing their bit, in every form of the lighter kind of war charities, their ideal existence only broken by the occasional boredom of having to entertain their respective husbands when the latter were home on leave.

Then had come the short interval in Egypt during which the Croftons had met Godfrey Radmore, and, after that for Enid, another delightful stretch of London life.

She had felt it intolerable to go back to the old, dull life, on an income which seemed smaller than ever with rising prices, and everything sacrificed, or so it had seemed to her, to Colonel Crofton's new, dog-breeding hobby. She resented too, perhaps, more bitterly than she knew herself, her husband's altered attitude to herself. From having been passionately, foolishly in love, he had become critical, and, what to her was especially intolerable, jealous. For a time she had kept up with some of her war-time acquaintances, but there was a strain of curious timidity in her nature, and she grew afraid of Colonel Crofton. Even now, when Enid Crofton, free at last, remembered those dreary months in the shabby little manor-house which Colonel Crofton had taken after the Armistice, she told herself, with a quickened pulse, that flesh and blood cannot stand more than a certain amount of dulness and discomfort. But she seldom went back in thought to that hateful time. She had wanted to obliterate, as far as was possible, all recollection of the place where she had spent such unhappy months, and where had occurred the tragedy of her husband's death. And it would have been difficult to find two dwelling-houses more different than the lonely, austere-looking, Fildy Fe Manor, which stood surrounded by water-clogged fields, some two miles from an unattractive, suburban Essex town, and the delightful, picturesque, cheerful-looking Trellis House which formed an integral part of a prosperous-looking and picturesque Surrey village.

* * *

At last Mrs. Crofton settled herself down into her low-ceilinged, square little sitting-room, and, looking round at her new possessions, she told herself that outwardly her new home was perfect.

The Trellis House had been for a short time in the possession of a clever, modern architect who had done his best to restore the building to what it must have been before it had been transformed, early in the 19th century, from a farm into a so-called gentleman's house. He had uncovered the old oak beams, stripped five layers of paper off the walls of the living rooms, and laid bare what panelling there was-in fact he had restored the interior of the old building, while leaving the rose and clematis covered trellis which was on the portion of the house standing at right angles to the village street, and which gave it its name.

In a sense it was too much like a stage picture to please a really fine taste. But to Enid Crofton it formed an ideal background for her attractive self. She had sold for very high prices the sound, solid, fine, 18th century furniture, which her husband had inherited, and with the proceeds she had bought the less comfortable but to the taste of the moment, more attractive oak furnishings of The Trellis House.

Enid Crofton was the kind of woman who acquires helpful admirers in every profession. The junior partner of the big firm of house-agents who had disposed of the lease of Fildy Fe Manor had helped her in every way possible, though he had been rather surprised and puzzled, considering that she knew no one there, at her determination to find a house in, or near, the village of Beechfield.

It was also an admirer, the only one who had survived from her war sojourn in Egypt-a cheery, happy, good-looking soldier, called Tremaine, now at home on leave from India-who had helped her in the actual task of settling in. Not that there had been much settling in to do-for the house had been left in perfect order by its last tenant. But Captain Tremaine had fetched her from the hotel where she had stayed in London; he had bought her first-class ticket (Enid always liked someone to pay for her); they had shared a delightful picnic lunch which he provided in the train; and then, finally, reluctantly, he had left The Trellis House-after a rather silly, tiresome, little scene, during which he had vowed that she should marry him, even if it came to his kidnapping her by force!

While hoping and waiting, in nervous suspense, for Godfrey Radmore, she cast a tender thought to Bob Tremaine. Nothing, so she told herself with a certain vehemence, would induce her to marry him, for he had only £200 a year beside his pay, and that, even in India, she believed would mean poverty. Also she had been told that no woman remained really pretty in India for very long. But she was fond of Tremaine-he was "her sort," and far, far more her ideal of what a man should be than was the rich man she had deliberately made up her mind to marry; but bitter experience had convinced Enid Crofton that money-plenty of money-was as necessary to her as the air she breathed.

* * *

Suddenly there broke on her ear the peal of an old-fashioned bell, followed by a short, sharp knock on the toy knocker of her front door. Enid started up, her face full of eagerness and pleasure; something seemed to tell her that it was-it must be-Radmore!

While the maid was going to the door, her mind worked quickly. Surely it was very late for a call? He must have been wishing to see her as soon as he possibly could, or he would never have managed to get away from Old Place, and its many tiresome inmates. There came a mischievous smile over her face. Of one of those inmates, the rather priggish Jack Tosswill, she had made a real conquest. Under some flimsy excuse he had come every day, always staying for a considerable time. This very morning he had not gone till she had told him frankly that she only had lunch enough for one!

The door opened slowly, and

her smile died away, giving place to a touching, pathetic expression. And then, instead of the tall, dark man she expected to see walk in, there advanced towards her a small, freckled-faced, fair-haired little boy-Timmy Tosswill, the child whom she was already beginning to regard with something akin to real distaste.

But Enid Crofton was never unpleasant in manner to anybody, and she even forced herself to smile, as she exclaimed:-"I was not expecting a visitor so late, but I'm very pleased to see you all the same, Master Timmy! How wonderful that you should have been able to reach my knocker. It's placed so very high up on the door-I think I must get it altered."

"I didn't knock," said Timmy shortly, "it was my godfather who knocked, Mrs. Crofton."

And when Radmore followed his godson into the room he was surprised, even a little touched, at the warmth of Mrs. Crofton's greeting.

She put out both her hands, "I am glad to see you"-and then she added, characteristically, for truth was not in her, "I was afraid you wouldn't have time to look me up for ever so long!"

But though Radmore was pleased by her evident joy in seeing him, he looked at her with a curiously critical eye. He was surprised to find her in a white frock-inclined, even, to be just a little bit shocked.

And there was something else. Enid Crofton had enjoyed the War-she had admitted this just a little shamefacedly a week ago, when they two were having dinner together at the Savoy Grill, where she had been easily the prettiest woman in the room. At the time he had felt indulgently that it was a good thing that someone should have gone through that awful time untouched by the pains and scars of war. But now everything seemed different, somehow. Beechfield was a place of mourning, and in a place of mourning this smiling, beautifully dressed, almost too pretty young creature looked out of place. Still that wasn't her fault, after all.

As the three sat down, Timmy upset the narrow oak stool on which he had placed himself with a great clatter, and Radmore suddenly realised that he had made a mistake in bringing the boy. For the first time since his return to England he saw something like a frown gather on Mrs. Crofton's face. Perhaps, unlike most nice women, she didn't like children?

"I'm awfully grateful to you for having told me about Beechfield," she exclaimed. "Although I've hardly been here a week, I do feel what a delightful place it is! Everybody is so kind and friendly. Why the very first day I was here I was asked to supper at Old Place-and several people have left cards on me already. What sort of a woman is Miss-" she hesitated, "Pendarth?"

Timmy and Radmore looked at one another, but neither spoke for a moment. Then Radmore answered, rather drily:-"In my time, Miss Pendarth was the greatest gossip and busy-body within a radius of thirty miles. She must be an old woman now."

"Oh, I don't think she would like you to call her that!" exclaimed Timmy, and both his grown-up auditors laughed. But Enid Crofton felt a little disappointed, for on Miss Pendarth's card had been written the words:-"I look forward to making your acquaintance. I think I must have known Colonel Crofton many years ago. There was a Cecil Crofton who was a great friend of my brother's-they joined the Ninetieth on the same day." She had rather hoped to find a kindly friend and ally in the still unknown caller.

And then, as if answering her secret thought, Radmore observed carelessly:-"It's wrong to prejudice you against Miss Pendarth; I've known her do most awfully kind things. But she had what the Scotch call a 'scunner' against me when I was a boy. She's the sort of woman who's a good friend and a bad enemy."

"I must hope," said his hostess softly, "that she'll be a good friend to me. At any rate, it was nice of her to come and call almost at once, wasn't it?"

"You've delightful quarters here," observed Radmore. "The Trellis House was a very different place to this in my time; I can remember a hideous, cold and white wallpaper in this room-it looks twice as large as it did then."

"I found the things I sold made it possible for me to buy almost everything in The Trellis House. Tappin & Edge say that I got a great bargain."

"Yes," said Radmore hesitatingly, "I expect you did."

But all the same he felt that his pretty friend had made a mistake, for he remembered some of Colonel Crofton's furniture as having been very good. In the bedroom in which he had slept at Fildy Fe Manor there had been a walnut-wood tallboy of the best Jacobean period. That one piece must certainly have been worth more than all the furniture in this particular room put together.

Poor Enid Crofton! The call to which she had been looking forward so greatly was not turning out a success. Godfrey Radmore seemed a very different man here, in Beechfield, from what he had seemed in London. They talked in a desultory way, with none of the pleasant, cosy, intimacy to which she had insensibly accustomed him; and though Timmy remained absolutely quiet and silent after that unfortunate accident with the stool, his presence in some way affected the atmosphere.

All at once Radmore asked:-"And where's Boo-boo? It's odd I never thought of asking you in London, but somehow one expects to see a dog in the country, even as highly civilised and smart a little dog as Boo-boo!"

"I sold her," answered Mrs. Crofton, in a low, pained tone. "I got £40 for her, and a most awfully good home. Still," she sighed, "of course I miss my darling little Boo-" and then a sharp tremor ran through her, for there suddenly fell on her ears the sound of a dog, howling.

Now Enid Crofton did not believe that what she heard so clearly were real howls, proceeding from a flesh-and-blood dog. She thought that her nerves were betraying her, as they had a way of doing since her husband's death. Often when she fell asleep, there would come to her a strange and horrible nightmare. It was such a queer, uncanny kind of dream for a grown-up woman to have! She used to dream that she was a rat-and that Colonel Crofton's own terrier, a fierce brute called Dandy, was after her.

"That's Flick! Perhaps I'd better go and let him out?" Timmy jumped up as he spoke. "I thought you didn't like dogs, Mrs. Crofton, and so I shut Flick up in your stable-yard. I expect he's got bored, being in there all by himself, in the dark!"

The boy's words brought delicious relief, and then, all at once, she felt unreasonably angry. How stupid of this odious little fellow to have brought his horrid, savage dog with him-after what had happened the other night!

Timmy shot out of the room and so through the front door, and Radmore got up too. "I'm afraid we ought to be going," he said.

His white-clad hostess came up close to him:-"It's so good of you to have come to see me so soon," she murmured. "Though I do like Beechfield, and the people here are awfully kind, I feel very forlorn, Mr. Radmore. Seeing you has cheered me up very much. I hope you'll come again soon."

There fell on the still air the voice of Timmy talking to his dog outside. Mrs. Crofton went quickly past Radmore into the tiny hall; she shut the front door, which had been left ajar; and then she came back.

"It's quite true that I don't like dogs!" she exclaimed. "Poor Cecil's terriers got thoroughly on my nerves last winter. I sometimes dream of them even now."

He looked at her, surprised, and rather concerned. Poor little woman! There were actually tears in her eyes.

"Yes," she went on, as if she could not help the words coming out, "that's the real reason I sold Boo-boo. I even felt as if my poor little Boo-boo had turned against me." There was a touch of excitement, almost of defiance, in her low voice, and Radmore felt exceedingly taken aback and puzzled. This was an Enid Crofton he had never met. "Come, come-you mustn't feel like that"-he took her hand in his and held it closely.

She looked up at him and her eyes filled with tears, and then, suddenly, her heart began beating deliciously. She saw flash into his dark face a look she had seen flash into many men's faces, but never in his, till now-the excited, tender look that she had longed to see there. She swayed a little towards him; dropping her hand, he put out his arms-in another moment, what she felt sure such a man as Radmore would have regarded as irreparable would have happened, had not the door just behind them burst open.

They fell apart quickly, and Radmore, with a sudden revulsion of feeling-a sensation that he had been saved from doing a very foolish thing-turned to see his godson, Timmy Tosswill.

Enid Crofton looked at Timmy, too, and if evil thoughts could kill, the child would have fallen dead. But evil thoughts do not kill, and so all that happened was that Timmy had a sudden, instinctive feeling that he must account for his presence.

Looking up into his godfather's face, he said breathlessly:-"The front door was shut, so I came in, through the kitchen. It's ever so late, Godfrey-after half past seven. Dad will be upset if you're not back to speak to him before dinner!"

* * *

As the two, the tall man and the short boy, walked away into the darkness, Radmore was possessed by an extraordinary mixture of feelings. "You've had an escape! You've got well out of what would have been not only a dangerous but an absurd situation," so whispered a secret, inner voice. And yet there was a side of him which felt not only balked and disappointed, but exasperated...

"Do you ever think of people's faces when they're not there?" asked Timmy suddenly, and then, without waiting for an answer, he went on:-"When I shut my eyes, before I go quite off to sleep, you know, I see a row of faces. Sometimes they're people I've never seen at all; but last night I kept seeing Mrs. Crofton's face, looking just as it looked when Flick ran in and growled at her the other night. It was such an awful look-I don't think I shall ever forget it."

As Radmore said nothing, the little boy asked another question: "Do you think Mrs. Crofton pretty?" This time Timmy waited for an answer.

"Yes, I think she's very pretty. But gentlemen don't discuss ladies and their looks, old boy."

"Don't they? How stupid of them!" said Timmy. He added a little shyly, "I suppose a gentleman may talk of his sister?"

Radmore turned hot in the darkness. Was Timmy going to say something of Betty, and of that old, painful, now he hoped forgotten, episode? But Timmy only observed musingly:-"You haven't seen Rosamund yet. Of course we never say so to her, because it might make her vain, but I do think, Godfrey, that she's very, very pretty."

And then, rather to his companion's discomfiture, his queer little mind swung back to the woman to whose house they had just been. "Mrs. Crofton," he observed, with an air of finality, "may be pretty, but she's got what I call a blotting-paper face."

* * *

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