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What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 24836

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


At the moment that Enid Crofton was telling herself that everything was going fairly well with her, and that nothing could alter the fact that she was now, and likely to remain for a long time, a woman likely to attract every man with whom she came in contact-Godfrey Radmore, following Janet Tosswill after breakfast into the drawing-room of Old Place, exclaimed deprecatingly:-"I feel like Rip Van Winkle!'

"Do you?" She turned to him and smiled a little sadly. "It's you that have changed, Godfrey. Everything here is much the same. As for me, I never see any change from one year to another."

"But they've all grown up!" he exclaimed plaintively. "You can't think how odd it seems to find a lot of grown-up young ladies and gentlemen instead of the jolly little kids who were in the nursery with Nanna nine years ago. By the way, Nanna hasn't changed, and"-he hesitated, then brought out with an effort, "Mr. Tosswill is exactly the same."

She felt vexed that he hadn't included Betty. To her step-mother's fond eyes Betty was more attractive now than in her early girlhood. "I think the children have improved very much," she said quickly. "Jack was a horrid little prig nine years ago!"

She hadn't forgiven Radmore. And yet, in a sense, she was readjusting her views and theories about him, for the simple reason that he, Godfrey Radmore, had changed so utterly. From having been a hot-tempered, untameable, high-spirited boy, he was now, or so it seemed to her, a cool, restrained man of the world, old for his years. In fact it was he who was now a stranger-but a stranger who had most attractive manners, and who had somehow slipped very easily into their everyday life. Janet liked his deferential manner to the master of the house, she enjoyed his kindly and good-humoured, if slightly satirical dealings with Jack and with pretty Rosamund, and she was very grateful to him for the way he treated queer, little Timmy, her own beloved changeling child.

And now something happened that touched her, and made her suddenly feel as if she was with the old Godfrey Radmore again.

"Look here," he said, in a low, hesitating voice, "I want to tell you, Janet, that I didn't know till yesterday about George. You'll think me a fool-but somehow I always thought of him as being safe in India." And then with sudden passion he asked:-"How can you say that everything is the same in Old Place with George not here? Why, to me, George was as much part of Old Place as-as Betty is!"

"We all thought you knew-at least I wasn't sure."

"Thank God he didn't think so poorly of me as that," he muttered, and then he looked away, his eyes smarting with unshed tears. "Nothing will ever be the same to me again without George in the world."

As she said nothing, he went on with sudden passion:-"Every other country in Europe has changed utterly since the War, but England seemed to me, till last night, exactly the same-only rather bigger and more bustling than nine years ago." He drew a long breath. "Timmy and I went into the post-office last evening, and Cobbett asked me to go in, and see his wife. I thought I remembered her so well-and when I saw her, Janet, I didn't know her! Then I asked after her boys-and she told me."

"It's strange that a man who went through it all himself should feel like that," she said slowly.

The door opened suddenly and Rosamund's pretty head appeared: "There's a message come through saying that your car's all right, and that it will be along in about an hour," she exclaimed joyfully. To Rosamund, Godfrey Radmore was in very truth a stranger, and a very attractive stranger at that.

As a rule, after breakfast, all the young people went their various ways, but this morning they were all hanging about waiting vaguely for Godfrey to come and do something with one or all of them. Rosamund was longing to ask him whether he knew any of the London theatrical managers; Tom was wondering whether Godfrey would allow him to drive his car; Dolly and Timmy, as different in everything else as two human beings could well be, each desired to take him into the village and show him off to their friends. The only one of the young people who was not really interested in Radmore was Jack Tosswill. He was engaged just now in looking feverishly for an old gardening book which he had promised to lend Mrs. Crofton, and he was cursing under his breath because the book had been mislaid.

As Rosamund looked in, her step-mother and Radmore both stopped speaking abruptly, and so after a doubtful moment, she withdrew her head, and shut the door behind her.

"Tell me about George," he said, without looking at her.

"I think Betty would like to tell you," she answered slowly: "Ask her about him some time when you're alone together."

"Where is she now?" he asked abruptly.

"In the kitchen I think-but she won't be long."

Jack, looking ruffled and uneasy, very unlike his quiet, cool self, burst into the room. "I can't think where that old shabby green gardening book has gone, Janet. Do you know where it is?"

"You mean 'Gardening for Ladies'?"

"Yes."

"What on earth d'you want it for?"

"For Mrs. Crofton. Her garden's been awfully neglected."

"I'll find it presently. I think it's in my bedroom."

Again the door shut, and Janet turned to Radmore: "Your friend has made a conquest of Jack!" She spoke with a touch of rather studied unconcern, for she had been a little taken aback last evening when Timmy had told her casually of his own and his godfather's call at The Trellis House.

"My friend?" Radmore repeated uncertainly.

"I mean Mrs. Crofton. The coming of a new person to live in Beechfield is still quite an event, Godfrey."

"I don't think she'll make much difference to Beechfield," again he spoke with a touch of hesitation. "To tell you the truth, Janet, I rather wonder that she decided to live in the country at all. I should have thought that she would far prefer London, and all that London stands for. But I'm afraid that she's got very little money, and, of course, the country is cheaper than town, isn't it?"

"I suppose it is. But Mrs. Crofton can't be poor. I know she paid a premium for the lease of The Trellis House."

"That's odd." Radmore spoke in an off-hand manner, but Janet, watching him, thought he felt a little awkward. He went on:-"I know that Colonel Crofton was hard up. He told me so, quite frankly, the last time I saw him. But of course she may have had money of her own."

Janet looked at him rather hard. A disagreeable suspicion had entered her mind. She wondered whether there was anything like an "understanding" between the man she was talking to and the tenant of The Trellis House. If so, she wished with all her heart that Godfrey Radmore had kept away. Why stir up embers they had all thought were dead, if he was going to marry this very pretty but, to her mind, second-rate little woman, as soon as a decent time had elapsed?

"What are your plans for the future?" she asked. "Are you going to settle down, or are you going to travel a bit?" ("After all, he won't be able to marry Mrs. Crofton for at least another six months," she said to herself.)

"Oh, I mean to settle down." His answer was quick, decisive, final.

He went on: "My idea is to find a place, not too far from here, that I can buy; and my plan is to go about and look for it now. That's why I've hired a motor for a month. Perhaps you'd lend me Timmy, and, if it wouldn't be improper, one of the girls, now and again? We might go round and look about a bit."

And then he walked across to where she was standing, and put his hand on her arm, "How about you?" he asked, "why shouldn't I take you and Timmy a little jaunt just for a week or so-that would be rather fun, eh?"

She smiled and shook her head.

He took a step back. "Look here, Janet-do try and forgive me-I'm a more sensible chap than I was, honest Injun!"

"I'm beginning to think you are," she cried, and then they both burst out laughing.

He lingered a moment. He was longing, longing intensely, to ask her certain questions. He wanted to know about Betty-what sort of a life Betty had made for herself. He still, in an odd way, felt responsible for Betty-which was clearly absurd.

And then Janet Tosswill said something that surprised him very much. "I think you'd better go round and see some of the people in the village to-day. I was rather sorry you went off straight to The Trellis House last evening. You know how folks talked, even in the old days, in Beechfield?"

He looked uneasy-taken aback, and she felt, if a little ashamed, glad that she had made that "fishing" remark.

There was a pause, and then he said with a touch of formality: "Look here, Janet? I'd like you to know that though I've become quite fond of Mrs. Crofton, I'm only fond-nothing more, you understand? Perhaps I'll make my meaning clearer when I tell you that I was the only man in Egypt who knew her who wasn't in love with her."

He saw her face change and, rather piqued, he asked: "Did you think I was?"

"I thought that you and she were great friends-"

"Well, so we are in a way. I saw a great deal of her in London."

"And you went straight off to see her the moment you arrived here."

"Well, perhaps I was foolish to do that."

What an odd admission to make. He certainly had changed amazingly in the last nine years!

Then it was Janet who surprised him: "Don't make any mistake," she said quickly. "There's no reason in the world why you shouldn't marry Mrs. Crofton-after a decent interval has elapsed. All I meant to say-and I'd rather say it right out now-is that as most people know that her husband hasn't been dead more than a few weeks, you ought to be rather careful, all the more careful if-if your friendship should come to anything, Godfrey."

"But it won't!" he exclaimed, with a touch of the old heat, "indeed it won't, Janet. To tell you the truth, I don't think I shall ever marry."

"I certainly shouldn't if I were a rich bachelor," she said laughing; and yet somehow what he had just said hurt her.

As for Radmore, he felt just a little jarred by her words. Had she quite forgotten all that had happened in that long ago which, in a sense, seemed to belong to another life? He hadn't, and since his arrival yesterday certain things had come back in a rushing flood of memory.

"I've something to do in the garden now." Janet was smiling-she really did feel perhaps rather absurdly relieved. Like Timmy, she didn't care for Mrs. Crofton, and the mere suspicion that Godfrey Radmore had come back here to Old Place in order to carry on a love affair had disturbed her.

"By the way, how's McPherson?" he asked abruptly. "He is a splendid gardener and no mistake! I've never seen a garden looking more beautiful than yours does just now, Janet. I woke early this morning and looked out of my window. I suppose McPherson's about-I'll go out and speak to him."

Her face shadowed. "McPherson," she said slowly, "was one of the first men to leave Beechfield. He was perfectly fit, and he made up his mind to go at once. You know, Godfrey-or perhaps you don't know-that the Scotch glens emptied first of men?"

"D'you mean...?"

She nodded. "He was killed at the second battle of Ypres. He was sent to the Front rather sooner than most, for he was a very intelligent man, and really keen. I've got a boy now, a lad of seventeen-not half a bad sort, but it does seem strange to give him every Saturday just double the money I used to give McPherson!"

She went out, through into the garden, on these last words, and again there came over Radmore a feeling of poignant sadness. How strange that he should have spent those weeks in London, knowing so little, nay, not knowing at all, what the War had really meant to the home country.

He opened the door into the corridor, and listened, wondering where they had all gone. He had some business letters to write, and he told himself that he would go and get them done in what he still thought of in his mind as George's room. He had noticed that the big plain deal writing table was still there.

He went upstairs, and when he opened the bedroom door, he was astonished to find Rosamund kneeling in front of George's old play-box, routing among what looked like a lot of papers and books.

"I'm hunting for a pres

cription for father," she said, looking up. "Timmy thinks he put it in here one day after coming back from the chemist's at Guildford." She looked flushed, and decidedly cross, as she went on: "No one's taught Timmy to put things in their proper place, as we were taught to do, when we were children!"

Radmore felt amused. She certainly was very, very pretty, and did not look much more than a child herself.

"Look here," he said good-naturedly, "let me help. I don't think you're going the right way to work." He felt just a little bit sorry for Timmy; Rosamund was raking about as if the play-box was a bran-pie.

Bending down he took up out of the box a bundle of envelopes, copybooks, and Christmas cards. Then he sat himself down on a chair in the window, and began going through what he held, carefully and methodically.

Suddenly through the open door there came a cry of "Miss Rosamund, I want you!"

Rosamund got up reluctantly. "Nanna's a regular tyrant!"

"Leave all this to me," he said. "I'll find the prescription if it's here."

She went off, and almost at once he came to a folded bit of paper. Perhaps this was the prescription? He opened it, and this is what he read:-

March 12, 1919. This is the happiest day of my life. One of my godmothers has died and left me £50. I am going to buy two nanny-goats, a boy and a girl. They will have kids, and I shall make munny. We shall then have a propper cook, and I shall never help Betty wash up any more. I wish my other godmother would die. She is very genrus and kind-she would go strait to Heaven. But she is very hellfy.

Poor little Timmy! Dear little unscrupulous child of nature! Would Timmy wish him, Godfrey Radmore, dead, if some accident were to reveal to him what a great difference it would make to them all? He hoped not. But he couldn't feel sure, for, from being well-to-do the Tosswills must have become poor, painfully and, to his mind, unnaturally poor.

Further search proved the prescription was not in the play-box, and he went downstairs. Still that same unnatural silence through the house. Where could Timmy be? Somehow he felt that he wanted to see Timmy and find out about the nanny-goats. He feared his godson's expectations of wealth had not been fulfilled, but he supposed that there was a "propper cook," probably the lack of her had been quite temporary.

He wandered into the drawing-room. In the old days all five sitting-rooms had been in use. Now four of them were closed, and the drawing-room was everybody's meeting place. Dolly was there working a carpet-sweeper languidly.

"Where's everybody?" he asked.

"I think Betty and Timmy are still in the scullery. I don't know where Rosamund is."

"I suppose I can go into the scullery?"

She looked at him dubiously. "Yes, if you'd like to-certainly. Betty loves cooking and all that sort of thing. I hate it-so in our division of labour, I do the other kind of housework." She looked ruffled and he told himself, a little maliciously, that she was not unlike a lazy, rather incompetent, housemaid. "If it's Timmy you want," she continued, "I'll go and see if he can come."

"Please don't trouble. I'll find him all right."

Radmore went out into the passage. As the baize door, which shut off the kitchen quarters, opened, he saw his godson and Rosamund before they saw him, and he heard Rosamund say, in a cross tone: "It only means that someone else will have to help her; I think it's very selfish of you, Timmy."

From being full of joy Timmy's face became downcast and sullen.

"Hullo!" Radmore called out, "I want you to show me the garden, Timmy. Where's Betty?"

"She's in the scullery, of course. I tell you I have done, Rosamund. You are a cruel pig-"

"Come, Timmy, don't speak to your sister like that."

It ended in the three of them going off-Rosamund to look for the prescription, and the other two into the garden.

* * *

Nanna waddled into the scullery: "I'll wipe up them things, Miss Betty," she said good-naturedly; "you go out to Mr. Godfrey and Master Timmy-they was asking for you just now."

Betty hesitated-and then suddenly she made up her mind that, yes, she would do as Nanna suggested.

In early Victorian days women of Betty Tosswill's class and kind worked many of their most anxious thoughts and fears, hopes and fancies, into the various forms of needlework which were then considered the only suitable kind of occupation for a young gentlewoman; and often Betty, when engaged on the long and arduous task of washing up for her big family party, pondered over the problems and secret anxieties which assailed her. Though something of a pain, it had also been to her a great relief to realise that the living flesh and blood Godfrey Radmore of to-day had ousted the passionately devoted, if unreasonable and violent, lover of her early girlhood. In the old days, intermingled with her deep love of Radmore, there had been a protective, almost maternal, feeling, and although Radmore had been four years older than herself, she had always felt the older of the two. But now, in spite of the responsible, anxious work she had done in France during the War, she felt that the r?les were reversed, and that her one-time lover had become infinitely older than she was herself in knowledge of the world.

Old Nanna hoped that Miss Betty would go upstairs and change her plain cotton dress for something just a little prettier and that she would put on, maybe, a hat trimmed with daisies which Nanna admired. But Betty did nothing of the sort. She washed her hands at the sink, and then she went out into the hall, and taking up her big plain old garden hat went straight out into the keen autumnal air.

And then, as she caught sight of the tall man and of the little boy, she stayed her steps, overwhelmed by a flood of both sweet and bitter memories.

During the year which had followed the breaking of her engagement there had been corners and by-ways of the big, rambling old garden filled with poignant, almost unbearable, associations of the days when she and Godfrey had been lovers. There had been certain nooks and hidden oases where it had been agony to go. She had considered all kinds of things as being possible. Perhaps her most certain conviction had been that he would come back some day with a wife whom she, Betty, would try to teach herself to love; but never had she visioned what had now actually occurred, that is Radmore's quiet, commonplace falling-back into the day-to-day life of Old Place.

All at once she heard Timmy's clear treble voice:-"Hullo! There's Betty."

Radmore turned and said something Betty did not hear, and the child went off like an arrow from the bow. Then Radmore, turning, came towards her quickly. She had no clue to the strange look of pain and indecision on his face, and her heart began to beat, strangely.

When close to her:-"Betty," he said in a low voice, "I want to tell you that I didn't know about George till last night. How could you think I did?"

"I suppose one does think unjust things when one's in great trouble," she answered.

He felt hurt and angry and showed it. "I should have thought you would all have known me well enough to know that I should have written at once-at once. Why, the whole world's altered now that I know that George is no longer in it! Perhaps that sounds foolish and exaggerated, as I never wrote to him. But I think you'll know what I mean, Betty? It was all right, as long as I knew he was somewhere, happy."

She said almost inaudibly:-"I think that he is happy somewhere. You know-but no, you don't know-that George was a born soldier. Those months after he joined up, and until he was killed, were, I do believe, by far the happiest of his life. He always said they were."

As he made no answer she went on:-"I'll show you some of his letters if you like, and father will show you the letters that were sent to us-afterwards."

By now they had left the garden proper, and were walking down an avenue which was known as the Long Walk. It was here that they two, with George always as a welcome third, used to play "tip and run" and "hide and seek" with the then little children.

"Tell me something about the others," he said abruptly. "I'm moving in a world unrealised."

She smiled up into his face. Somehow that confession touched her, and brought them nearer to one another.

"Jack frightens me a bit, you know-he's so unlike George. And then the girls? Is it true what Timmy says-that Rosamund wants to be an actress?"

There was a slight tone of censorious surprise in his voice, and Betty reddened.

"I don't see why she shouldn't be an actress if she wants to be! Father's making her wait till she's twenty-one."

"Let me see," he said hesitatingly, "Dolly's older than Jack, isn't she?"

"Oh, no. Dolly will only be twenty next Thursday."

There came over her an overwhelming impulse to tell him something-the sort of thing she could only have told George.

"You know that pretty old church at Oakford?"

He nodded.

"Well, Mr. Runsby is dead. They've got a bachelor clergyman now, and Janet and I think that he's becoming very fond of Dolly! He's away just now, or you would have already seen him. He's very often over here."

"I should have thought-" He hesitated in his turn, but already he was falling again into the way of saying exactly what he thought right out to Betty-"that with you and Rosamund in the house, no one would look at Dolly!"

Betty blushed, and for a fleeting moment Godfrey saw the blushing, dimpling Betty of long ago.

"Rosamund has the utmost contempt for him. As for me, he never sees me-I'm always in the kitchen when he comes here." She added with a touch of the quiet humour he remembered, "I don't think Dolly's in any danger from me!"

"Why are you always in the kitchen, Betty?" he asked. "Is it really necessary?"

"Yes, it really is necessary," she answered frankly. "Father's got much poorer, and everything's about a hundred times as dear as it was before the War. But you mustn't think that I mind. I like it in a way-and it won't last for ever. Some of father's investments are beginning to recover a little even now, and prices are coming down-"

They had now come back to the garden end of the Long Walk. "I must go now," she said. "Would you like me to send out one of the girls to entertain you?"

He shook his head. "No, I think I'll stroll about the village for a bit."

They both felt as if the first milestone of their new relationship had been set deep in the earth, and both were glad and relieved that it was so.

Radmore walked about a bit, admiring Janet's autumnal herbaceous borders, and then he remembered a door that he had known of old which led from the big kitchen garden into the road. If it was open he could step out without walking across the front of the house.

He turned into the walled garden, and walked quickly down a well-kept path past the sun-dial to the door. It was open. He walked through it, and then, with a rather guilty feeling-a feeling he did not care to analyse-he made his way round the lower half of the village till he reached the outside wall of The Trellis House.

There he hesitated for a few moments, but even while he was hesitating he knew that he would go in. Before he could turn the handle the door in the garden wall was opened by Enid Crofton herself. Radmore was surprised to see that she was dressed in a black dress, with the orthodox plain linen collar and cuffs of widowhood. It altered her strangely.

He was at once disappointed and a little relieved also, to find Jack Tosswill in the garden with her. But soon the three went indoors, and then, as had often been Mrs. Crofton's experience with admirers in the past, each man tried to sit the other out.

At last the hostess had to say playfully:-"I'm afraid I must turn you out now, for I'm expecting my sister-in-law, Miss Crofton."

And then they both, together, took their departure; Radmore feeling that he had wasted an hour which might have been so very much more profitably spent in going to see some of his old friends among the cottagers. As to Jack Tosswill, he felt perplexed, and yes, considerably put out and annoyed. He had been a good deal taken aback to see how close was the acquaintance between Mrs. Crofton and Godfrey Radmore.

* * *

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