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   Chapter 11 No.11

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 14390

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


After her visitors had gone, Mrs. Crofton had come back slowly, languidly, to her easy-chair.

It was too warm for a fire, yet somehow the fire comforted her, for she felt cold as well as tired, and, yes, she could admit it to herself, horribly disappointed. How stupid men were-even clever men!

It was so stupid of Godfrey Radmore not to have come to see her, this the first time, alone. He might have found it difficult to have come without one of the Tosswill girls, but there was no reason and no excuse for his being accompanied by that odious little Timmy. It was also really unkind of the boy to have brought his horrid dog with him. Even now she seemed to hear Flick's long-drawn-out howls-those horrible howls that at the time she had not believed to be real. What a nervous, hysterical fool she was becoming! How long would she go on being haunted by the now fast-disappearing past?

There came back to Enid Crofton the very last words uttered by Piper, the clever, capable man who, after having been Colonel Crofton's batman in the War, had become their general factotum in Essex:-"Don't you go and be startled, ma'am, if you see the very spit of Dandy in this 'ere village! As me and your new lad was cleaning out the stable-yard this morning, a young gentleman came in with a dog as was 'is exact image. After a bit o'course, I remembered as what we'd sent one of Juno's and Dandy's pups to a place called Beechfield this time last year-'tis that pup grown into a dog without a doubt!"

It was certainly a bit of rank bad luck that there should be here, in Beechfield, a dog which, whenever she saw it, brought the image of her dead husband so vividly before her.

She had just settled herself down, and was turning over the leaves of one of the many picture papers which Tremaine had bought for her on their jolly little journey on the day of her arrival at The Trellis House, when there came a ring at the door.

Who could it be coming so late-close to seven o'clock? Enid Crofton got up, feeling vaguely disturbed.

The new maid brought in a reply-paid telegram, and Mrs. Crofton tore open the orange envelope with just a faint premonition that something disagreeable was going to happen:-"May I come and stay with you for the week-end? Have just arrived in England. Alice Crofton."

Thank Heaven she had been wrong as to her premonition! This portended nothing disagreeable-only something unexpected. The sender of this telegram was the kind, opulent sister-in-law whom she always thought of as "Miss Crofton."

Going over to her toy writing-table, she quickly wrote on the reply-paid form:-"Miss Crofton, Buck's Hotel, Dover Street. Yes, delighted. Do come to-morrow morning. Excellent eleven o'clock train from Waterloo.-Enid."

As she settled herself by the fire she told herself that a visit from Miss Crofton might be quite a good thing-so far as Beechfield was concerned. Her associations with her husband's sister were wholly pleasant. For one thing, Alice Crofton was well off, and Enid instinctively respected, and felt interested in, any possessor of money. What a pity it was that Colonel Crofton had not had a fairy godmother! His only sister had been left £3,000 a year by a godmother, and she lived the agreeable life so many Englishwomen of her type and class live on the Continent. While her real home was in Florence, she often travelled, and during the War she had settled down in Paris, giving many hours of each day to one of the British hospitals there.

The young widow's mind flew back to her one meeting with Alice Crofton. It was during her brief engagement to Colonel Crofton, and the latter's sister, without being over cordial, had been quite pleasant to the startlingly pretty little woman, who had made such a fool of her brother.

But at the time of Colonel Crofton's death, his sister had been truly kind. She had telegraphed £200 to her sister-in-law from Italy, and this sum of ready money had been very useful during that tragic week-and even afterwards, for the insurance people had made a certain amount of fuss after Colonel Crofton's sad suicide, "while of unsound mind," and this had caused a disagreeable delay.

The new tenant of The Trellis House had her lonely dinner brought in to her on a tray, and then, perhaps rather too soon-for she was not much of a reader, and there was nothing to while away the time-she went upstairs to her pleasant, cosy bedroom, and so to bed.

But, try as she might, she found it impossible to fall asleep; for what seemed to her hours she lay wide awake, tossing this way and that. At last she got up, and, drawing aside the chintz curtain across one of the windows, she looked out. The window was open, and in the eerily bright moonlight the upper part of the hill on which Beechfield village lay seemed spread before her. There were twinkling lights in many of the windows-doubtless groups of happy, cheerful people behind them. She felt horribly lonely and depressed as well as wide awake to-night.

In her short, healthy life, Enid Crofton had only had one attack of insomnia. During the ten days that had followed her husband's sudden death-for the inquest had had to be put off for a day or two-she had hardly slept at all, and the doctor who had been so kind a friend during that awful time, had had to give her a strong narcotic. To his astonishment it had had no effect. She had felt as if she were going mad-the effect, so he had told her afterwards, of the awful shock she had had.

To-night she wondered with a kind of terror whether that terrible sleeplessness which had ended by making her feel almost lightheaded was coming back.

She turned away from the window, and, getting into bed again, tried to compose her limbs into absolute repose, as the doctor had advised her to do. And then, just as she was mercifully going to sleep, there floated in, through the open window, a variant on a doggerel song she had last heard in Egypt:-

"The angels sing-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling,

They've got the goods for me.

The bells of hell ring ting-a-ling-a-ling

For you, as you shall see."

Enid Crofton sat up in bed. She felt suddenly afraid-horribly, desperately afraid. As is often the case with those who have drifted away from any form of religion, she was very superstitious, and terrified of evil omens. During the War she had been fond of going first to one and then to another of the fashionable sooth-sayers.

They had all agreed as to one thing-this was that her husband would die, and of course she had thought he would be killed at the Front. But he had come through safe and sound, and more-more hateful than ever.

One fortune-teller, a woman, small, faded, commonplace-looking, yet with something sinister about her that impressed her patrons uncomfortably, had told Enid Crofton, with a curious smile, that she would have yet another husband, making the third. This had startled her very much, for the woman, who did not even know her name, could only have guessed that she had been married twice. Enid Crofton was not given to making unnecessary confidences. With the exception of her sister-in-law, none of the people who now knew

her were aware that Colonel Crofton had been her second husband.

She lay down again, and in the now dying firelight, fixed her eyes on the chintz square of the window curtain nearest to her. She shut her eyes, but, as always happens, there remained a square luminous patch on their retinas. And then, all at once, it was as if she saw, depicted on the white, faintly illuminated space, a scene which might have figured in one of those cinema-plays to which she and her house-mate, during those happy days when she had lived in London, used so often to go with one or other of their temporary admirers.

On the white, luminous background two pretty little hands were moving about, a little uncertainly, over a window-ledge on which stood a row of medicine bottles. Then, suddenly the two pretty hands became engaged in doing something which is done by woman's hands every day-the pouring of a liquid from one bottle into another.

Enid Crofton did not visualise the owner of the hands. She had no wish to do so, but she did see the hands.

Then there started out before her, with astonishing vividness, another little scene-this time with a man as central figure. He was whistling; that she knew, though she could not hear the whistling. It was owing to that surprised, long-drawn-out whistling sound that the owner of the pretty hands had become suddenly, affrightedly, aware that someone was there, outside the window, staring down, and so of course seeing the task on which the two pretty little hands were engaged.

Now, the owner of that pair of now shaking little hands had felt quite sure that no one could possibly see what they were engaged in doing-for the window on the ledge of which the medicine bottles were standing looked out on what was practically a blank wall. But the man whose long, surprised whistle had so suddenly scared her, happened at that moment to be sitting astride the top of the blank wall, engaged in the legitimate occupation of sticking bits of broken bottles into putty. The man was Piper, and doubtless the trifling incident had long since slipped his mind, for that same afternoon his master, Colonel Crofton, had committed suicide in a fit of depression owing to shell shock.

Enid Crofton opened her eyes wide, and the sort of vision, or nightmare-call it what you will-faded at once.

It was a nightmare she had constantly experienced during the first few nights which had succeeded her husband's death. But since the inquest she had no longer been haunted by that scene-the double scene of the hands, the pretty little hands, engaged in that simple, almost mechanical, action of pouring the contents of one bottle into another, and the vision of the man on the wall looking down, slantwise, through the window, and uttering that queer, long-drawn-out whistle of utter surprise.

When at last Mrs. Crofton had had to explain regretfully to clever, capable Piper that she could no longer afford to keep him on, they had parted the best of friends. She had made him the handsome present of twenty-five pounds, for he had been a most excellent servant to her late husband. And she had done more than that. She had gone to a good deal of trouble to procure him an exceptionally good situation. Piper had just gone there, and she hoped, rather anxiously, that he would do well in it.

The man had one serious fault-now and again he would go off and have a good "drunk." Sometimes he wouldn't do this foolish, stupid thing for months, and then, perchance, he would do it two weeks running! Colonel Crofton, so hard in many ways, had been indulgent to this one fault, or vice, in an otherwise almost perfect servant. When giving Piper a very high character Mrs. Crofton had just hinted that there had been a time when he had taken a drop too much, but she had spoken of it as being absolutely in the past. Being the kind of woman she was, she wouldn't have said even that, had it not been that Piper had got disgracefully drunk within a week of his master's death. She had been very much frightened then, though not too frightened to stay, herself, within hail of the man till he had come round, and to make him a cup of strong coffee. When, at last, he was fit to do so, he had uttered broken words of gratitude, really touched at her kindness, and frightfully ashamed of himself.

Lying there, wide awake, in the darkness and utter stillness of Beechfield village, Enid Crofton reminded herself that she had treated Piper very well. In memory of the master whom he had served she had also given him, before selling off her husband's kennel, two prize-winners. But it is sometimes a mistake to be too kind, for on receiving this last generous gift the man had hinted that with a little capital he could set up dog-breeding for himself! She had had to tell him, sadly but firmly, that she could not help him to any ready money, and Piper had been what she now vaguely described to herself as "very nice" about it, though obviously disappointed.

At the end of their little chat, however, he had said something which had made her feel rather uncomfortable:-"I was wondering, ma'am, whether Major Radmore might perhaps be inclined for a little speculation? I wouldn't mind paying, say, up to ten per cent, if 'e'd oblige me with a loan of five hundred pounds."

She had been astonished at the suggestion-astonished and unpleasantly taken aback. He had surprised her further by going on:-"I believe as what the Major is coming 'ome soon, ma'am. Perhaps then I might venture to ask you to say a word for me? Major Radmore was known in the regiment as a very kind gentleman."

"I'll do what I can, Piper." She had said the words with apparent earnestness, but, deep in her heart, she had thought the request totally unreasonable.

And now it was this conversation which came back to her as she moved restlessly about in her bed. She wondered uneasily whether she had made a mistake. Her capital was very small, and she was now living on her capital, but after all, perhaps it would have been wiser to have given Piper that £500. She was quite determined not to mix up Piper with Godfrey Radmore, but she had a queer, uncomfortable feeling that she had not done with this man yet.

At last she fell into a heavy, troubled, worried sleep-the kind of sleep from which a woman always wakes unrefreshed.

But daylight brought comfort to Enid Crofton, and after she had had her early cup of tea and had enjoyed her nice hot bath, she felt quite cheery again, and her strange, bad night faded into nothingness. She was young, she was strong, above all she was enchantingly pretty! She told herself confidently that nothing terrible, nothing really dreadful ever happens to a woman who is as attractive as she knew herself to be to the sex which still holds all the material power there is to hold in this strange world.

During the last three weeks, she had sometimes wondered uneasily whether Godfrey Radmore realised how very pretty she was. There was something so curiously impersonal about him-and yet last night he had very nearly kissed her!

She laughed aloud, gaily, triumphantly, as she went down to her late breakfast.

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