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   Chapter 15 No.15

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 16523

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The morning after Janet Tosswill's call at Rose Cottage, Rosamund followed her step-mother into the drawing-room immediately after breakfast, and observed plaintively that it did seem strange that "Enid" was never asked to Old Place. "We take anything from her, and never give anything back," she said.

Janet, who had a certain tenderness for the pretty black sheep of the family, checked the sharp retort which trembled on her lips. Still, it was quite true that Rosamund had more than once been kept to lunch at The Trellis House, and that on the day of Nanna's accident Mrs. Crofton had issued a sort of general invitation to supper to the young people of Old Place-an invitation finally accepted, at Betty's suggestion, by Godfrey Radmore and Rosamund.

Janet admitted to herself that they did owe Mrs. Crofton some civility. If the thing had to be done, it might as well be done at once, and so, when Rosamund had reluctantly gone upstairs to do her share of the household work, his mother beckoned Timmy into the drawing-room, and told him that she would have a note ready for him to take to The Trellis House in a few minutes.

"Oh, Mum, do let Jack take it!" the boy exclaimed. "I can't go to The Trellis House with Flick, and it's such a bore to shut him up."

"Why can't Flick go with you?"

"Mum! Don't you remember? Mrs. Crofton is terrified of dogs. Do let Jack take it!"

"But are you sure Jack is going there this morning?" she asked, and then she remembered Miss Pendarth's ill-natured remark.

"He goes there every morning," said Timmy positively, "and this morning he's going there extra early, as he's lending Mrs. Crofton our best preserving pan. She wants to make some blackberry jam."

And then there occurred one of those odd incidents which were always happening in connection with Timmy and with which his mother never knew quite how to deal. He screwed up his queer little face for a moment, shaded his eyes with his hand, and said quietly: "I think Jack is just starting down the drive now. You'll catch him if you'll open the window and shout to him, Mum-it's no good my going after him-he wouldn't come back for me."

Janet Tosswill got up from her writing-table. She opened the nearest window and, stepping out, looked to her right. Yes, there was Jack's neat, compact figure sprinting down the long, straight avenue towards the gate. He was holding a queer-looking, badly done up parcel in his hands.

"Jack! Jack! Come here for a minute-I want you," she called out in her clear, rather high-pitched voice.

He slackened, and it was as if she could see him hesitating, wondering whether he dare pretend he had not heard her. Then he turned and ran back down the drive and across the wide lawn to the window.

"What is it?" he asked breathlessly. "I'm late as it is! I'm taking one of our preserving pans to The Trellis House. The fruit was all picked yesterday."

"I won't be a moment. I want you to take a letter for me to Mrs. Crofton. I'm asking her to come in to dinner to-night."

She turned back into the room and, sitting down, took up her pen: "Timmy? Go into the scullery, and help Betty for a bit."

After her little son had left the room, she called out to Jack, "Do come inside; it fidgets me to feel that you're standing out there."

After what seemed to Jack Tosswill a long time, though it was only three minutes, his step-mother turned, and held out her note: "She needn't write-a verbal answer will do. If she can't come we shall have done the civil thing."

And then, thinking aloud, she went on: "Somehow I don't expect her to stay long in Beechfield. She's too much of a London bird."

"I don't suppose she would have come at all if she had known what a beastly, inhospitable place Beechfield is," said Jack sharply. Though he was in such a hurry to be off, he waited in order to add: "She's been here nearly a month, and you've never called on her yet-it's too bad!"

Janet Tosswill flushed deeply. Jack had not spoken to her in such a tone since he was fifteen.

"What nonsense! She must be indeed silly and affected," she exclaimed, "if she expected me to pay her a formal call, especially as we had her in to supper the very first day she was here! I might retort by saying that she might have sent or called to know how poor old Nanna was! Everyone in the village has done so-but then your friend, Jack, is not what my father used to call '18 carat'!"

"I think it's we who are not '18 carat,'" he answered furiously. "We have shown Mrs. Crofton the grossest discourtesy, and I happen to know that she feels it very much."

Janet Tosswill looked at her elder stepson with a feeling of blank amazement. It had often astonished her to notice how completely Jack had his emotions and temper under control. Yet here he was, his face aglow with anger, his voice trembling with rage.

Poor Janet! She had had long days of fatigue and worry since the old nurse's accident, and suddenly she completely lost her temper. "I don't want to say anything unkind about the little woman, but I do think her both silly and second-rate. I took a dislike to her when she behaved in such a ridiculous manner over Flick."

"You were almost as frightened as she was," said Jack roughly.

"It's quite true that I was frightened for a moment, but only because I was afraid for Timmy."

"I can tell you one thing-she won't come here again to supper unless I can give her my word that all our dogs are really shut up. And I fear I must ask you to undertake to see that Timmy does not let Flick out after I have shut him up."

Janet Tosswill held out her hand. "I think you'd better give me that note back," she said curtly. "We certainly don't want anyone here of the kind you have just described. From something Godfrey said to me it's clear that Mrs. Crofton's horror of dogs is just a pose she thinks makes her interesting. Why, her husband bred terriers; Flick actually came from there! And Godfrey says that she herself had a little dog called by the absurd name of 'Boo-boo' to which she was devoted."

"'Boo-boo' was the exception that proves the rule," answered Jack hotly. "As for Colonel Crofton, it was beastly of him to breed terriers, knowing how his wife felt about dogs! She told me herself she would never have married him if she had known there was any likelihood of that coming to pass. She feels about dogs as some people feel about cats."

"I never heard such nonsense!"

"Nonsense?" he repeated in an enraged tone. "It isn't nonsense! The best proof that that horror of dogs is instinctive with her is the effect that she herself has on every dog she comes across. That was shown the evening she was here."

"Really, Jack, that's utterly absurd! Flick was not thinking of her at all. Something in the garden had frightened him. Your father feels sure that it was a snake which he himself killed the next morning." And then, for she was most painfully disturbed by this scene between herself and Jack, she said quietly: "I'm sorry that Mrs. Crofton ever came to Beechfield. I didn't think there was anyone in the world who would make you speak to me as you have spoken to me now."

"I hate injustice!" he exclaimed, a little shamefacedly. "I can't think why you've turned against her, Janet. It's so mean as well as so unkind! She has hardly any friends in the world, and she thought by the account Godfrey gave of us that we should become her friends."

"It's always a woman's own fault if she has no friends, especially when she's such an attractive woman as Mrs. Crofton," said Janet shortly. She hesitated, and then added something for which she was sorry immediately afterwards: "I happen to know rather more about Mrs. Crofton than most of the people in Beechfield do."

She spoke with that touch of mysterious finality which is always so irritating to a listener who is in indifferent sympathy with a speaker.

"What d'you mean?" cried Jack fiercely. "I insist on your telling me what you mean!"

Janet Tosswill told herself with Scotch directness that she had been a fool. But if Jack was-she hardly knew how to put it to herself-so-so bewitched by Mrs. Crofton as he seemed to be, then perhaps, as they had got to this point, he h

ad better hear the truth:

"Mrs. Crofton made herself very much talked about in the neighbourhood of the place where she and her husband settled after the War. She was so actively unkind, and made him so wretched, that at last he committed suicide. At least that is what is believed by everyone who knew them in Essex."

"I suppose a woman told you all this?" he said in a dangerously calm voice.

"Yes, it was a woman, Jack."

"Of course it was! Every woman, young or old, is jealous of her because she's so pretty and-so-so feminine, and because she has nothing about her of the clever, hard woman who is the fashion nowadays! The only person who does her justice in this place is Rosamund."

"I disapprove very much of Rosamund's silly, school-girlish, adoration of her," said Janet sharply.

She was just going to add something more when she saw Timmy slipping quietly back into the room. And all at once she felt sorry-deeply sorry-that this rather absurd scene had taken place between herself and Jack. She blamed herself for having let it come to this pass.

"I daresay I'm prejudiced," she exclaimed. "Take this note, Jack, and tell Mrs. Crofton that Flick shall be securely shut up."

"All right." Jack shrugged his shoulders rather ostentatiously, and disappeared through the window, while Janet, with a half-humorous sigh, told herself that perhaps he was justified in condemning in his own mind, as he was certainly doing now, the extraordinary vagaries of womankind. She turned back to her writing-table again. However disturbed and worried she might feel, there were the weekly books to be gone through, and this time without Nanna's shrewd, kindly help.

Suddenly she started, for Timmy's claw-like little hand was on her arm: "Mum," he said earnestly, "do tell me what Colonel Crofton was really like? Did that lady-you know, I mean the person Jack thinks is jealous of Mrs. Crofton-tell you what he was like?"

"No-yes-oh, Timmy! I'm afraid you must have been listening at the door just now?"

"I didn't like to come in," he said, wriggling uneasily. "I've never heard Jack speak in such an angry way before. He was in a wax, wasn't he? But, Mum, do tell me what Colonel Crofton looked like-I do so want to know."

She put down her pen, and turning, gazed down into the child's eager, inquisitive little face.

"Why should you wish to know, Timmy?" She spoke rather coldly and sternly.

She was sorry indeed now that she had been tempted to repeat what was perhaps after all only the outcome of Miss Pendarth's unconscious jealousy of the woman who had made a fool of the man she had loved as a girl. It was unfortunately true that Olivia Pendarth had an unconscious prejudice against all young and pretty women.

"I want to know," mumbled Timmy, "because I think I do know what he was like."

"If you know what he was like, then there is nothing more to say."

"I want to be sure," he repeated obstinately.

"But how absurd, Timmy! Why should you want to know about a poor old gentleman who is dead, and of whom you are not likely ever to hear anything? I have often told you how horrid it is to be inquisitive."

Timmy paused over that remark. "I want to know," he said in a low mumbling voice, "because I think I have seen him." He did not look up at his mother as he spoke. With the forefinger of his right hand he began tracing an imaginary pattern on the blue serge skirt which covered her knee.

She looked around apprehensively. Yes, the door was shut. She remembered that Dr. O'Farrell had told her never to encourage the child's confidences, but, on the other hand, never to check them.

"I first saw him the evening she came to supper," Timmy mumbled. "They were walking together down the avenue. I thought he was a real old gentleman. There was a dog with him, a terrier exactly like Flick, only a little bigger. Of course I thought it was a real dog too. But now I know that it wasn't. I know now that it was a ghost-dog. It is that dog, Mum, that frightens the other dogs who meet them-not herself, as she's come to think."

"Oh, Timmy,"-Janet felt acutely uncomfortable-"you know I cannot bear to think that such things really happen to you. If you really think them I'd rather know, but I'd so much rather, dear boy, that you didn't think them."

But Timmy was absorbed in what he was saying. "I know now that it was Colonel Crofton," he went on, "because I've seen an old photograph of him, Mum. Mrs. Crofton brought a tin box full of papers with her, and there were some old photographs in it. There was one of an officer in uniform, and it had written across it, 'Yours sincerely, Cecil Crofton.' She tore it up the day after she came here, and threw it in the waste-paper basket, but her cook took it out of the dustbin, and that's how I saw it."

"How disgusting!" exclaimed his mother, feeling herself now on firm ground. "How often have I had to tell you, Timmy, not to go into other people's kitchens and sculleries? No nice boy, no little gentleman, would do such a thing. Of course it was seeing that photograph made you believe you saw Colonel Crofton's-"

She stopped abruptly, for she never, if she could help it, used the word "ghost," or "spirit," to the child.

"Up to now I've always supposed that animals had no souls, Mum, but now I know they have. I know another thing, too," but there was a doubtful note in his voice. "I suppose that ghost-dog hates Mrs. Crofton because she was so unkind to his master. That's why he makes the other dogs fly at her, I expect-or d'you think it's just because they're frightened that they do it?"

Janet Tosswill was an unconventional woman, also she was on terms of very close kinship with her strange little son. Still, she reddened as she drew him closer to her and said: "Look here, Timmy, I want to tell you something. I'm sorry now I said what I did say to Jack about Mrs. Crofton. I ought not to have said it-I'm ashamed of having said it! It was told me by someone who is rather fond of repeating disagreeable, sometimes even untrue, things."

Timmy had also grown very red while his mother was making her little confession. He took up her hand and squeezed it impulsively, as an older person might have done.

"I think I know who you mean," he said. "You mean Miss Pendarth?"

"Yes," said his mother steadily, "I do mean Miss Pendarth. I think it quite possible that poor little Mrs. Crofton was never really unkind to Colonel Crofton at all."

"But you wouldn't like Jack to marry her, Mum, would you?"

Janet felt a shock of dismay go through her. There flashed into her mind that sometimes most disturbing text-"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings...."

"I shouldn't like it at all," she exclaimed, "and I think you're old enough to understand that such a thing would be impossible. Jack won't make enough money to keep a wife for years and years." She hesitated, and then added, speaking to herself rather than to Timmy, "Still, I hope with all my heart that he won't get foolish about her."

"He is foolish about her," said Timmy positively. "Even Nanna thinks"-he waited a moment, then said carefully-"that he is past praying for. She said yesterday to Betty that there were some things prayers didn't help in at all, and that love was one of them. She says that Jack's heart has gone out of his own keeping. Isn't that a funny idea, Mum?"

"It is a terrible idea," and, a little to her own surprise, tears rose to Janet Tosswill's eyes. Timmy, looking up into her face, felt his heart swell with anger against the person who was causing his mother to look as she was looking now.

He moved away a little bit, as if aware that what he was going to say would not meet with her approval, and then he said in a peculiar voice, a defiant, obstinate voice which she knew well: "I do wish that Mrs. Crofton would die-I do hate her so!"

Janet Tosswill looked straight into her little son's face. She felt that she had perhaps made a mistake in treating Timmy as if he were grown up. "My dear," she said very gravely, "remember the Bible says-'Thou shalt not kill.'"

"Of course I know that,"-he spoke with a good deal of scorn. "Of course I want her to die a natural death."

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