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What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 17520

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Saturday, Sunday, Monday, slipped away, and on Tuesday there seemed no reason why Godfrey Radmore should leave Old Place. And so he stayed on, nominally from day to day, settling down, as none of them would have thought possible that anyone now a stranger could settle down, to the daily round and common task of the life led by the Tosswill family. After two or three days he even began to take command of the younger ones, and Janet was secretly amused to see how he shamed both Rosamund and Dolly into doing something like their full share of the housework.

In relation to the two younger girls, his attitude was far more that of a good-natured, rather cynical, elder brother than was his attitude to Betty. Into her special department, the kitchen, he seldom intruded, though when he did so it was to real purpose. Thus, Dolly's twentieth birthday was made by him the excuse for ordering from a famous London caterer a hamper containing enough cold and half-cooked food to keep them junketing for two or three days. Janet was rather puzzled to note that Betty, alone of them all, seemed to look askance at the way Radmore spent his substance in showering fairy-godfather-like gifts on the inmates of Old Place.

The happiest of them all was Timmy. Most men would have been bored by having so much of a child's company, but Radmore was touched and flattered by the boy's devotion, and that though there was a side of his godson which puzzled and disturbed him. Now and again Timmy would say something which made Radmore wonder for a moment if he had heard the words aright, but he followed the example silently set him by all the others of taking no notice of Timmy's claim both to see and foresee more than is vouchsafed to the ordinary mortal.

Miss Crofton had also stayed on in Beechfield, but only a day longer than she had intended to do-that is, till the Tuesday. She and Miss Pendarth had met more than once, striking up something like a real friendship. But this, instead of modifying, had intensified Miss Pendarth's growing prejudice against the new tenant of The Trellis House. She felt convinced that the pretty young widow had made her kind sister-in-law believe that she was far poorer, and more to be pitied, than she really was.

Life in an English village is in some ways like a quiet pool-and, just as the throwing of a pebble into such a pool causes what appears to create an extraordinary amount of commotion on the surface of the water, so the advent of any human being who happens to be a little out of the common produces an amount of discussion, public and private, which might well seem to those outside the circle of gossip, extravagant, as well as unnecessary.

The general verdict on Mrs. Crofton had begun by being favourable. Both with gentle and simple her appealing beauty told in her favour, and very soon the village people smiled, and looked knowingly at one another, as they noted the perpetual coming and going of Jack Tosswill to The Trellis House. No day went by without the young man making some more or less plausible excuse to call there once, twice, and sometimes thrice.

It was noticed, too, by those interested in such matters-and in Beechfield they were in the majority-that Mr. Godfrey Radmore, whose return to Old Place had naturally caused a good deal of talk and speculation-was also a frequent visitor at The Trellis House. Now and again he would call there in his car, and take Mrs. Crofton for a long drive; but they never went out alone-either Dolly or Rosamund, and invariably Timmy, would be of the party.

As the days went on, each member of the Tosswill family began to have a definite and, so to speak, crystallised view of Enid Crofton. Rosamund had become her champion, thus earning for the first time in her life the warm approval of her brother Jack; but Dolly and Tom grew rather jealous of their sister's absorption in the stranger. Rosamund was so very often at The Trellis House. In fact, when Jack was not to be found there, Rosamund generally was. But she had soon discovered that her new friend preferred to see her visitors singly. Betty kept her thoughts as to Mrs. Crofton to herself-for one thing the two very seldom met. But Janet Tosswill was more frank. With her, tepid liking had turned into dislike, and when she alluded to the pretty widow, which was not often, she would tersely describe her as "second-rate."

Now there is no word in the English language more deadly in its vague import than that apparently harmless adjective. As applied to a human being, it generally conveys every kind of odious significance, and curiously enough it is seldom applied without good reason.

Mrs. Crofton had gentle, pretty manners, but her manner lacked sincerity. She was not content to leave her real beauty of colouring and feature to take care of itself; her eye-brows were "touched up," and when she fancied herself to be "off colour" she would put on a suspicion of rouge. But what perhaps unduly irritated the mistress of Old Place were Mrs. Crofton's clothes! To such shrewd, feminine eyes as were Janet Tosswill's, it was plain that the new tenant of The Trellis House had taken as much pains over her widow's mourning as a coquettish bride takes over her trousseau.

Janet Tosswill was far too busy a woman to indulge in the village game of constant informal calls on her neighbours. She left all that sort of thing to her younger step-daughters; and as Mrs. Crofton never came to Old Place-making her nervous fear of the dogs the excuse-Janet only saw the new tenant of The Trellis House when she happened to be walking about the village or at church.

But for a while, at any rate, an untoward event drove the thoughts of most of the inmates of Old Place far from Mrs. Crofton and her peculiarities, attractive or other.

* * *

One day, when Radmore had already been at Beechfield for close on a fortnight, Timmy drew him aside, and said mysteriously: "Godfrey, I want to tell you something."

Radmore looked down and said pleasantly, though with a queer inward foreboding in his mind: "Go ahead, boy-I'm listening."

"Something's going to happen to someone here. I saw Dr. O'Farrell last night, I mean in a dream. You were driving him in your car through our gate. Last time I dreamt about him Dolly had measles; she was awfully ill; she nearly died."

As he spoke, Timmy kept looking round, as if afraid of being overheard. "I don't mean to tell anyone else," he added confidentially. "You see it upsets Mum, and makes the others cross, if I say things like that. But still, I just thought I'd tell you."

Radmore was impressed, disagreeably so, in spite of himself; but: "Look here, Timmy," he said chaffingly. "The Greeks have a proverb about the bearer of ill-tidings; don't let yourself ever become that, old man! Have you ever heard, by the by, about 'the long arm of coincidence'?"

Timmy nodded.

"Don't you think it possible that your having dreamt about Dr. O'Farrell just before Dolly was taken ill may have been that long arm of coincidence-and nothing more? I can't help thinking that probably your mother said something about sending for Dr. O'Farrell-for people don't get measles in a minute, you know; they are seedy for some days beforehand-and that made you dream of him. Eh?"

But Timmy answered obliquely, as was rather his way when brought to book by some older person than himself. "I think this time it's going to be an accident," he said thoughtfully.

And an accident it was! Old Nanna, who, in spite of her age, had become the corner-stone of the household as regarded its material well-being, slipped on the back staircase, and sprained her leg, and of course it was Radmore who went off in his car to fetch and bring back Dr. O'Farrell.

A slight alleviation to their troubles was brought about by Miss Pendarth, who was going off on a visit the very day the accident happened, and who practically compelled Janet to accept the temporary service of her own excellent servant. It was her readiness to give that sort of quick, kindly, decisive help which made so many of those who had the privilege of her acquaintance regard Miss Pendarth with the solid liking which is founded on gratitude.

But the help, offered and accepted in the same spirit, could not go on for long, for Miss Pendarth came home after a four days' absence; and, for the first time in many months, Janet Tosswill made time to pay a formal call at Rose Cottage in order that she might thank her old friend. She intended to stay only the time that strict civility enjoined, and she would have been surprised indeed had she been able to foresee what a pregnant and, to her, personally, painful train of events were to follow as a

result of the quarter of an hour she spent in Miss Pendarth's old-fashioned upstairs sitting-room where only privileged visitors were ever made welcome.

"Will you come upstairs to-day, Janet? I have something about which I want to consult you."

And then, when they had sat down, Miss Pendarth said abruptly: "While I was in Essex I came across some people who had been acquainted with Mrs. Crofton and her husband."

Janet looked across at the speaker with some surprise. "What an odd thing!" she exclaimed, and she did think it rather odd.

But Olivia Pendarth was a very honest woman-too honest, some people might have said. "It was not exactly odd," she said quickly, "for, to tell you the truth, I made it my business while there to make certain enquiries about the Croftons. In fact, I partly went to Essex for that purpose, though I did not tell my friends so."

The visitor felt rather shocked, as well as surprised. Surely Olivia Pendarth's interest in her neighbours' concerns was, to say the least of it, excessive. But the other's next words modified her censorious thoughts.

"Colonel Crofton and one of my brothers were in the same regiment together. I knew him quite well when he and I were both young, and when Miss Crofton came to see her sister-in-law a fortnight ago, I offered to make certain enquiries for her."

There was a touch of mystery, of hesitation in the older lady's voice, and Janet Tosswill "rose" as she was perhaps meant to do. "What sort of enquiries?" she asked. "I thought Miss Crofton was on the best of terms with her sister-in-law."

"So she is; but she wanted to know more than Mrs. Crofton was inclined to tell her about the circumstances-the really extraordinary circumstances, Janet-concerning Colonel Crofton's death. And now I'm rather in a quandary as to whether I ought to tell her what I heard, and indeed as to whether I ought even to send her the report of the inquest which appeared in a local paper, and which I at last managed to secure."

"Of course I know that Colonel Crofton committed suicide." Janet Tosswill lowered her voice instinctively. "That poor, second-rate little woman seems to have told Rosamund as much, and Godfrey Radmore confirmed it."

"Yes, I suppose one ought to say that there is no real doubt that he committed suicide." Yet Miss Pendarth's voice seemed to imply that there was some doubt.

She went on: "It was suggested at the inquest that the chemist who made up a certain heart tonic Colonel Crofton had been in the habit of taking for some time, had put in a far larger dose of strychnine than was right."

Janet Tosswill repeated in a startled tone: "Strychnine! You don't mean to say the poor man committed suicide with that horrible poison?"

Miss Pendarth looked up, and Janet was struck by her pallor and look of pain. "Yes, Janet; he died of a big dose of strychnine, and the medical evidence given at the inquest makes most painful reading."

"It must have been a mistake on the part of the chemist. No sane man would take strychnine in order to commit suicide. Besides, how could he have got it?"

"There was strychnine in the house," said Miss Pendarth slowly. "When Mrs. Crofton was in Egypt it was prescribed for her. You know how people take it by the drop? A chemist out there seems to have given her a much greater quantity than was needed, and in an ordinary, unlabelled medicine bottle, too." The speaker waited a moment, then went on: "Though she brought it back to England with her, she seems to have quite forgotten that she had it. But he must have known it was there, for after his death the bottle was found in his dressing room."

"What a dreadful thing! And how painful it must have been for her!"

"Yes, I think she did go through a very dreadful time. But, Janet, what impressed me most painfully, and what I am sure would much distress Miss Crofton were I to tell her even only a part of what I heard, was the fact that the husband and wife were on very bad terms. This was testified to, and very strongly, by the only woman servant they had at the time of his death."

"I never believe servants' evidence," observed Janet Tosswill drily.

"The Coroner, who I suppose naturally wished to spare Mrs. Crofton's feelings, told the jury that it was plain that Colonel Crofton was a very bad-tempered man. But the people with whom I was staying, and who drove me over to look at the God-forsaken old house where the Croftons lived, said that local feeling was very much against her. It was thought that she really caused him to take his life by her neglect and unkindness."

"What a terrible idea!"

"I fear it's true. And now comes the question-ought I to tell his sister this? Some of the gossip I heard was very unpleasant."

"Do you mean that there was another man?"

"Other men-rather than another man. She was always going up to London to enjoy herself with the various men friends she had made during the War, and the only guests they ever entertained were young men who were more or less in love with her."

Janet smiled a little wryly. "There's safety in numbers, and after all she's extraordinarily attractive to men."

"Yes," said Miss Pendarth, "there is safety in numbers, and it's said that Colonel Crofton was almost insanely jealous. They seem to have led a miserable existence, constantly quarrelling about money, too, and often changing their servants. On at least one occasion Mrs. Crofton went away, leaving him quite alone, with only their odd man to look after him, for something like a fortnight. Colonel Crofton's only interest in life was the terriers which he apparently bred with a view to increasing his income."

"They can't have been so very poor," said Janet abruptly. "Look at the way she's living now."

"I feel sure she's living on capital," said Miss Pendarth slowly, "and I think-forgive me for saying so-that she hopes to marry Godfrey Radmore. I'm sure that's why she came to Beechfield."

"You're wrong there! She settled to come here before Godfrey came home."

"I'm convinced that she knew he was coming home soon."

Janet got up. "I must be going now," she exclaimed. "There's a great deal to do, and only Betty and I to do it."

"I suppose Godfrey Radmore will be leaving now?"

"I hope not, for he's a help rather than a hindrance. He takes Timmy off our hands-"

"-And he's so much at The Trellis House. I hear he dined there last night."

"Yes, with Rosamund," answered Janet shortly.

Miss Pendarth accompanied her visitor down and out to the wrought-iron gate. There the two lingered for a moment, and than Janet Tosswill received one of the real surprises of her life.

"Colonel Crofton and I were once engaged. I went out to India to stay with my brother, and it happened there. Now we should have married. But things were very different then. When my father found Captain Crofton was not in a position to make what was then regarded as a proper settlement, he declared the engagement at an end."

Janet felt touched. There was such a depth of restrained feeling in her old friend's voice. Somehow it had never occurred to her that Olivia Pendarth could ever have been in love!

"It must be very painful for you to have her here," she said involuntarily.

"In a way, yes. But I suspected she was his widow from the first."

"I think that, if I were you, I would say nothing to his sister," observed Janet.

"Very well. I will take your advice."

She changed the subject abruptly. "Let me know if Kate can be of any more use. She's quite anxious to go on helping you all. She's got so fond of Betty: she says she'd do anything for her."

"We're managing all right now, and Godfrey really is a help, instead of a hindrance. He actually suggested that he should do the washing-up this morning!"

"That's the best thing I've ever heard of Godfrey Radmore," exclaimed Miss Pendarth. "I sincerely hope-forgive me for saying so, Janet-that there's really nothing between him and Enid Crofton. I should be sorry for my worst enemy to marry that woman, if the things I was told about her were true."

"I don't believe that he is thinking of her, consciously-" Janet Tosswill spoke slowly, choosing her words.

"Of course she's making a dead set at him. But there's safety in numbers, even here," observed the other, grimly. "I hear that your Jack simply lives at The Trellis House. The whole village is talking about it."

Jack? Janet Tosswill felt vexed by what she considered a bit of stupid, vulgar, village gossip. "Jack's the most level-headed young man about women I've ever known," she said, trying to speak pleasantly. "If anyone has fallen in love with Mrs. Crofton, it's our silly little Rosamund!"

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