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   Chapter 13 No.13

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 16858

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

There is nothing like a meal, especially a good meal, for inducing between two people an agreeable sense of intimacy. When Enid Crofton and her elderly sister-in-law passed from the dining-room of The Trellis House into the gay-looking little sitting-room, with its old-fashioned, brightly coloured chintz furnishings, and quaint reproductions of eighteenth-century prints, the two ladies were far more at ease the one with the other than before luncheon.

Enid, in the plain black woollen gown, with its white linen collar and cuffs, which she had discarded almost at once after her husband's funeral, felt that she was producing a pleasant impression. As they sat down, one on each side of the cheerful little wood fire, and began sipping the excellent coffee which the mistress of the house had already taught her very plain cook to make as it should be made, she suddenly exclaimed:-

"I do want to thank you again for the money you sent me when poor Cecil died! It was most awfully good of you, and very useful, too, for the insurance people did not pay me for nearly a month."

These words gave her visitor an opening for which she had waited during the last hour: "I'm glad my present was so opportune," said Miss Crofton in her precise, old-fashioned way. "As we have mentioned money, I should like to know, my dear, how you are situated? I was afraid from something Cecil told me last time he and I met that you would be very poorly left."

She stopped speaking, and there followed a long pause. Enid Crofton was instinctively glad that she was seated with her back to the window. She was afraid lest her face should betray her surprise and discomfiture at the question. And yet, what more natural than that her well-to-do, kind-hearted sister-in-law should wish to know how she, Enid, was now situated?

Cecil Crofton's widow was not what ordinary people would have called a clever woman, but during the whole of her short life she had studied how to please, cajole, and yes-deceive, the men and women about her. Unfortunately for her, Alice Crofton was a type of woman with whom she had never before been brought in contact; and something deep within her told her that she had better stick as close to the truth as was reasonably possible with this shrewd spinster who was, in some ways, so disconcertingly like what Enid Crofton's late husband had been, in the days when he had been a forlorn girl-widow's protecting friend and ardent admirer.

Yet, even so, she began with a lie: "When my mother died last year she left me a little money. I thought it wise to spend it in getting this house, and in settling down here." She said the words in a very low voice, and as Miss Crofton said nothing for a moment, she added timidly:-"I do hope that you think I did right? I know people think it wrong to use capital, but the War has changed everything, including money, and one simply can't get along at all without paying out sums which before the War would have seemed dreadful."

"That's very true," said Miss Crofton finally.

Enid, feeling on sure ground now, went on: "Why, I had to pay a premium of £200 for the lease of this little house. But I'm told I could get that again-even after living for a year or two in it."

Miss Crofton began looking about her with a doubtful air: "I suppose you mean to spend the winter here," she said musingly, "and then let the house each summer?"

"Yes," said Enid, "that is my idea."

As a matter of fact, she had never thought of doing such a thing, though she saw the point of it, now that it was put by her sister-in-law. She hoped, however, that long before next summer her future would be settled on most agreeable lines.

"Then I suppose the balance of what your mother left you forms a little addition to your pension, and to what poor Cecil was able to leave you?"

As the other hesitated, Miss Crofton went on, in a very friendly tone:-"I hope you won't think it interfering that I should speak as I am doing? I expected to find you much less comfortably circumstanced, and I was going to propose that I should increase what I had feared would be a very small income, by two hundred a year."

Enid was as much touched by this unexpected generosity as it was in her to be, and it was with an accent of real sincerity that she exclaimed:-"Oh, Alice, you are kind! Of course two hundred a year would be a great help. Nothing remains of what my mother left me. But you must not think that I'm extravagant. I sold a lot of things, and that made it possible for me to take over The Trellis House exactly as you see it. But even during the very few days I have been here I have begun to find how expensive life can be, even in a village like this."

"All right," said Miss Crofton. She got up from her easy chair with a quick movement, for she was still a vigorous woman. "Then that's settled! I'll give you a cheque for £100 to-day-and one every six months as long that is, as you're a widow." Then she smiled a little satirically, for Enid had made a quick movement of recoil which Alice Crofton thought rather absurd.

"It's early to think of such a thing, no doubt," she said coolly. "But still, I shall be very much surprised, Enid, if you do not re-make your life. I myself have a dear young friend, very little older than you are, who has been married three times. The War has altered the views and prejudices even of old-fashioned people."

"I want to ask you something," said Enid, "d'you think I ought to tell people that I have already been married twice?"

Miss Crofton told herself quickly that such questions are always put with a definite reason, and that she probably would not be called upon to pay her sister-in-law's allowance for very long.

"I don't think you are in the least bound to tell anyone such a fact about yourself, unless"-she hesitated,-"you were seriously thinking of marrying again. In such a case as that I think you would be well advised, Enid, to tell the man in question the fact before you become obliged to reveal it to him."

There was a pause, and then Miss Crofton abruptly changed the subject by saying something which considerably disturbed her young sister-in-law.

"I should be much obliged, my dear, if you would tell me a few details as to my poor brother's death. Your letter contained no particulars at all," and as the other made no immediate answer, Miss Crofton went on:-"I know there was an inquest, for one of my friends in Florence saw a report of it in an English paper. Perhaps you would kindly let me see any newspaper account or cuttings you may have preserved?"

"I have kept nothing, Alice!" Enid Crofton uttered the words with a touch of almost angry excitement. Then, perhaps seeing that the other was very much surprised, she said more quietly:-"The inquest was a purely formal affair-the Coroner himself told me that there must always be an inquest when a person died suddenly."

"Oh, but surely the question was raised, and that very seriously, as to whether Cecil took what he did take on purpose, or by accident? I understood from my friend that the account of the inquest she saw in some popular Sunday paper was headed 'An Essex Mystery.'"

Enid felt as if all the blood in her body was flowing towards her face. She congratulated herself that she was sitting with her back to the light. These remarks, these questions made her feel sick and faint. Yet she answered, composedly:-"Both the Coroner and the jury felt sure he had taken it on purpose. Poor Cecil had never been like himself since the unlucky day, for us, that the War ended!" And then to Miss Crofton's surprise and discomfiture Enid burst into tears.

The older lady got up and put her hand very kindly on the younger one's shoulder:-"I'm sorry I said anything, my dear," she exclaimed; "I'm afraid you went through a much worse time than you let me know."

"I did! I did!" sobbed Enid. "I cannot tell you how terrible it was, Alice."

Then she made a determined effort over herself, ashamed of her own emotion. Still neither hostess nor guest was sorry when there came a knock at the door, followed a moment later by the entry into the room of a stranger who was announced by the maid as "Miss Pendarth."

Enid Crofton got up, and as she shook hands with the newcomer she tried to remember what it was that Godfrey Radmore had said of her old-fashioned looking visitor. That she was

a good friend but a bad enemy? Yes, that had been it. Then she remembered something else-the few kind words scribbled on a visiting card which had been left at The Trellis House a day or two ago.

She turned to her sister-in-law:-"I think Miss Pendarth knew poor Cecil years and years ago," she said softly.

"Are you-you must be Olivia Pendarth?" There was a touch of emotion in Alice Crofton's level voice.

"Yes, I am Olivia Pendarth."

Enid was surprised-not over pleased by the revelation that these two knew one another.

"I suppose it's a long time since you met?" she said pleasantly.

"Miss Crofton and I have never met before," said Miss Pendarth quietly. "But I knew your husband very well in India, when he and I were both young. My brother was in his regiment."

"The dear old regiment!" exclaimed Miss Crofton.

Enid Crofton smiled a little to herself. It amused her to see that these two old things-for so she described them to herself-had so quickly become friends. "The Regiment!" How sick she had got of those two words during her second married life! She was sorry that Alice, whom she liked, should be so queerly like Cecil. Even their voices were alike, and she had uttered the two words with that peculiar intonation her husband always used when speaking of any of his old comrades-in-arms.

All the same Miss Pendarth's sudden appearance had been a godsend. Enid hated going back to the dreadful time of her husband's death.

And then, when everything seemed going so pleasantly, and when Enid Crofton was still feeling a glow of joy at the thought of the cheque for £100, one of those things happened which seem sometimes to occur in life as if to remind us poor mortals that Fate is ever crouching round the corner, ready to spring. The door opened, and the buxom little maid brought in two letters on the salver she had just been taught to use.

One of the envelopes was addressed in a clear, ordinary lady's hand; the other, cheap and poor in quality, was in a firm, and yet unformed, handwriting.

Enid glanced at the two elder ladies; they were talking together eagerly. She walked over to the bow-shaped window, and opened the commoner envelope:

Dear Madam,

I hope you will excuse me writing to tell you that my husband has had to leave Mr. Winter's situation. Piper considers he has been treated shameful, and that if he chose he could get the law on Mr. Winter. I am writing to you unknown to Piper. If you could see me I think I could explain exactly what it is I want Piper to get. There do seem a difficulty now in getting jobs of Piper's sort, but from what he has told me there were one or two other jobs you heard of that might have suited him.

Yours respectfully,

Amelia Piper.

Enid Crofton stared down at the signature with a sensation of puzzled dismay. Piper married? This was indeed a complication, and a complication which in her most anxious communings she had never thought of. The man had always behaved like a bachelor-for instance he had always made love to the maids. There also came back to her the memory of something her husband had once said, with one of his grimly humorous looks:-"Piper's a regular dog! If he'd been born in a different class of life he'd have been a real Don Juan." She now asked herself very anxiously how far a married Don Juan of any class confides in his wife? Does he tell her his real secrets, or does he keep them to himself? Judging by her own experience the average man who loves a woman is only too apt to tell her not only his own, but other people's secrets.

Slowly she put the letter back in its envelope. She had gone to a great deal of trouble, and even to some little expense, over procuring Piper a really good situation. She had seen not only his new employer, but also what she liked doing far less, his new employer's wife; and she had got him extraordinarily good wages, even for these days. It was too bad that he should worry her, after all she had done for him. As for his wife-nothing would induce her to see Mrs. Piper. Neither did she wish Piper to come down to Beechfield. She was particularly anxious that the man should not learn of Godfrey Radmore's return to England. Unfortunately Radmore was on the lookout for a good manservant.

She took up the other letter. It was a nice, prosperous-looking, well addressed envelope, very different from the other. Perhaps this second letter would contain something that would cheer her up. But alas! when she opened it, she found it was from Mrs. Winter, Piper's late employer's wife.

Poor Enid Crofton! As she stood there reading it, she turned a little sick. Piper had got drunk the very first day he had been in his new situation. While drunk he had tried to kiss a virtuous young housemaid. There had been a regular scene, which had ended in the lady of the house being sent for. There and then Piper had been turned out neck and crop.

It was not only a justifiably angry letter, it was a very disagreeable letter, the writer saying plainly that Mrs. Crofton had been very much to blame for recommending such a man....

Feeling very much disturbed she turned and came back towards her two visitors. They were now deep in talk, having evidently found a host of common associations: "I find I ought to answer one of my letters at once," she said. "Will you forgive me for a few moments?"

They both looked up, and smiled at her. She looked so pretty, so fragile, so young, in her widow's mourning.

She went through into the dining-room. There was a writing-table in the window, and there she sat down and put her head in her hands; she felt unutterably forlorn, frightened too-she hardly knew of what. It had given her such a horrible shock to learn that Piper was married....

Taking up a pen, she held it for a while poised in the air, staring out of the window at the attractive though rather neglected old garden, in which only this morning she had spent more than an hour with Jack Tosswill.

Then, at last, she dipped her pen in the ink, and after making two rough drafts, she decided on the following form of answer to Mrs. Piper, telling herself that it might be read as addressed to either husband or wife:-

Mrs. Crofton is very sorry to hear that Piper has lost his good situation. She will try and hear of something that will suit him. Mrs. Crofton cannot see Mrs. Piper for the present, as she is leaving home to start on a round of visits, but she will keep in touch with Mr. and Mrs. Piper and hopes to hear of something that may suit Piper very soon.

She began by writing "Mr. Piper," on one of her pretty black-edged mauve envelopes; then she altered the "Mr." to "Mrs." After all it was Piper's wife who had written to her, and she suddenly remembered with a slight feeling of apprehension, that Mrs. Piper, for some reason best known to herself, had not told Piper that she was writing. On the other hand it was quite possible that the husband and wife had concocted the letter between them.

Having addressed the envelope, she suddenly got up and ran up to her bedroom. There she opened her dressing-table drawer. Quite at the back lay an envelope containing four £5 notes. She took one of the notes, and running down again, slipped it in the envelope and added a postscript to her letter:-

Mrs. Crofton sends £5, which she hopes will be of use while Piper is out of a situation.

She went downstairs, giving her letter, on her way back to the drawing-room, to the cook to take out to the post-box.

As she opened the drawing room door, something which struck her as a little odd happened. Her two visitors, the murmur of whose voices she had heard in deep, eager converse while she was stepping across her hall, abruptly stopped talking, and she wondered uneasily what they could have been saying that neither wished her to hear.

As a matter of fact that sudden silence was owing to a kindly, old-fashioned, wholly "ladylike" instinct, on the part of the two older women. Miss Crofton had been talking of her brother's death, confiding to Miss Pendarth her desire to learn something more as to how it had actually come about. With what was for her really eager sympathy, Miss Pendarth had offered to write to a friend in Essex, in order to discover the name of the local paper where, without doubt, a full account of the inquest on Colonel Crofton must have been published.

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