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What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 23858

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"No, you mustn't come in; I'm tired. Besides, I've got someone coming to tea."

The ready lie slipped easily off Enid Crofton's tongue, as Jack Tosswill looked down into her face with a strained, pleading look. They were standing in the deserted road close to the outside door set in the lichen-covered wall of The Trellis House. It was already getting dusk, for they had been for a long walk.

"I shall never, never forget to-day!" He gripped her hand hard as he spoke, and she looked up and down the empty road a little apprehensively. But no one was coming or going, and the group of little old cottages opposite The Trellis House held as yet no twinkling lights.

"I shall never forget it, either," she said softly. "But I really must go in now-you know we are meeting this evening?"

"May I come and fetch you?" he asked.

"No, I'd rather you didn't do that-if you don't mind," and then, seeing his look of deep disappointment, she added, "Perhaps you will walk back with me after dinner?"

"Of course I will, but I'm afraid Radmore or one of the girls will want to come too."

As he gazed down into her face there was a look of infinite longing in his eyes, and even she felt a certain touch of genuine emotion sweep over her. It is so very, very delicious to be loved.

"Good-bye, darling," he whispered huskily; and, before she had time to stop him, he had taken her in his arms and kissed her, passionately, lingeringly. Then, with no other word, he released her and went off quickly down the road.

* * *

After Enid Crofton had shut the heavy door in the wall behind her, she did not go straight along the path which led to her front door. Instead, she turned in the gathering darkness to the left, and started walking round the garden which in daylight looked so different, now that Jack Tosswill had put in so many hard mornings' work at it.

She felt more surprised and moved by what had happened this afternoon than she would have thought possible. Poor Jack! Poor, foolish, adoring, priggish boy!

When he had come in this morning, bringing the note of invitation from his step-mother, he had seemed excited and ill at ease. She had felt vexed at his coming so early, as she was anxious to superintend the jam-making herself. Enid Crofton had a very practical side to her character, and she was the last person to risk the wasting of good sugar and good fruit through the stupidity of an inexperienced cook.

While Jack was still there one of her new acquaintances had come in for a moment, for she had already made herself well liked in the neighbourhood, and after the visitor had gone, Jack, exclaiming angrily that they were never left in peace together, had begged her to go for a walk with him that afternoon. This she had consented to do, after discovering that Godfrey Radmore had gone up to London for the day.

And then, during their walk, Jack had suddenly made her a pompous offer of marriage!

No wonder she smiled mischievously to herself, when pacing slowly up and down the path between a row of espaliered apple trees.

She told herself that in a sense it had been her fault. They were sitting on a fallen tree trunk, in a lonely little wood, Jack, as he seldom was, tongue-tied and dull. Piqued, she had twitted him on his silence. And then, all at once, he had turned and, seizing her roughly, had kissed her with the pent-up passion of a man in love who till now has never kissed a woman.

Pacing slowly in her dark garden, Enid Crofton's pulse quickened at the recollection of those maladroit, hungry kisses. Something-a mere glancing streak of the great shaft of ecstasy which enveloped Jack Tosswill's whole being had touched her senses into what had seemed to him marvellous response.

When at last he had released her, and in words of at once triumphant and humble adoration, had made her an offer of marriage, she had felt it an absurd anti-climax to a very delicious and, even in her well-stored memory, a unique experience.

And now she remembered the last time a man had kissed her. It was quite a little while ago, on the day she had taken possession of The Trellis House. Of course Captain Tremaine had tipped the guard so that they should have a carriage to themselves. But she had been uncomfortably aware that he was half-ashamed of himself-that he remembered, all the time, that she was a newly-made widow.

Somehow Jack Tosswill hadn't remembered that. Jack hadn't thought of it. But oh! how absurd he had been when his first rapture was over. Without even waiting for an answer to his proposal, he had coolly suggested they should wait till he had made a start at the Bar! At last she had managed to make him listen to her plea that, till a year had elapsed, she could not think of re-marriage. And he had believed her!

All at once she told herself, a little ruefully, that she had perhaps been foolish; that this affair, slight and altogether unimportant as it was, might become a tiresome complication. Of course she could keep him in order, but she was well aware that when a man had kissed her once, he generally wanted to kiss her again, and very soon.

In principle, she had no objection to Jack Tosswill's kisses. There was something fresh, alluring, wholly delightful, even to so hardened a flirt as was Enid Crofton, in being the object of a youth's first love. But she told herself, almost fiercely, that she must make him understand very, very clearly that, though they might sometimes kiss, they must never be caught. Fortunately Jack was curiously cautious for so young a man. That had been one of the reasons why she had been tempted to-well-to make him lose his head.

And then another figure, one of far greater importance and moment to herself than poor Jack Tosswill, came and challenged Enid Crofton to anxious attention. How did she stand with regard to Godfrey Radmore?

She stopped in her pacing, and stared straight before her. For the first time in her life she was quite at a loss as to what a man, of whom she was seeing a great deal, really felt about her.

Rosamund Tosswill was very young, and Enid secretly thought her very stupid, but there could be no doubt as to her essential truthfulness. Now, a day or two ago, Rosamund had said: "Isn't it funny of Godfrey? He told Janet when he first came here that he had made up his mind to remain a bachelor!"

And yet they two, she, Enid, and Godfrey, had had something tantamount to an emotional little scene the first time he had come to see her at The Trellis House. True, it had only lasted two or three seconds, but while it lasted it had been intense. Had Timmy Tosswill not burst into the room in that stupid, inopportune way, Radmore would have certainly taken her in his arms. Though Radmore was no innocent, high-principled boy, even one kiss between them would have altered their whole attitude, the one to the other. She would have seen to that. In her heart she had cursed Timmy for his idiotic intrusion, and now she cursed him again.

Lately she had thought Radmore was becoming aware of Jack Tosswill's growing absorption in her, and she had suspected, as well as hoped, that he was a trifle jealous. Now jealousy, as Enid knew well, is a potent quickener of feeling between a man and a woman. It was unfortunate that Radmore seemed to regard Jack Tosswill as a mere boy-a rather tiresome, priggish boy. Still, that had its good side. Jack was only a very slight complication after all!

Again she cast a fleeting thought to Tremaine. In a sense he was her real mate, her real soul, and, yes, body mate. If only he wasn't so poor! She felt for a moment tempted to throw up everything-to do what he had so urged her to do, what he was always writing and begging her to do. That was to marry him quickly just before the end of his leave, and go out to India with him. He wrote to her every day, and his last letter was in the little silk bag now hanging on her arm.

It was the kind of love-letter that Enid understood, and enjoyed receiving: full of ardent, if rather commonplace, expressions, and of comparisons, very pleasant to her vanity, between her pretty self and the stupid, ugly women he said he was now meeting. He had been with his people in Cornwall-but for that he would of course have come down to see how she was getting on. In this particular letter he announced that he was going to be in London very soon, and might he run down for a day? He had added a question, chaffingly worded, and yet, as she well knew, seriously intended. Did she think it would be improper for him to come and spend two or three days with her? And now she told herself, very decidedly, that of course she couldn't have him here-in stupid, old-fashioned Beechfield. It would be a tiresome, useless complication. But why shouldn't she go up to London for three or four days and have a good time with him there?

Enid was well aware that absence frequently makes the heart grow fonder, and that distance does lend enchantment to the view. But she would not have put it in those exact words.

At last she began walking towards the house, telling herself that she felt oddly tired, and that it would be very pleasant, for once, to have a solitary cup of tea. Her house-parlourmaid was shaping very nicely. Thus the girl had evidently brought the lamps into the sitting-room, though she had forgotten to draw the curtains.

Enid knocked and rang. She had a theory that the possession of a latchkey by their mistress makes servants slow to answer the door.

"There's a person waiting for you in the drawing-room, ma'am. She says she's come down on purpose from London to see you. She came just after you went out first."

There swept over Enid Crofton a strong, sudden premonition of evil. She realised that for the last ten days she had been secretly dreading that this would happen to her. She blamed herself sharply, now that it was too late, for having done nothing further to help the Pipers; but she had hoped the five pounds would have kept them quiet.

"I'll go upstairs and take off my things," she said wearily. "Bring me a cup of tea in my bedroom-I don't want anything to eat-and then I'll come down and see this person." She forced herself to add, "I suppose it's a Mrs. Piper?"

The girl answered at once, "She didn't give her name, ma'am. She just said that she wanted to see you, and that it was urgent. She's not got very long; she wants to catch the six o'clock train from Telford. She wouldn't believe at first that you wasn't in."

Enid found some comfort in those words, and she made up her mind that she would linger upstairs as long as she possibly could, so as to cut short her coming interview with the tiresome young woman. After all there was very little to say. She had behaved in a kind and generous manner to her late husband's servant, and she had already said she would do her best to help him again.

When she got upstairs she lit the two high brass candlesticks on the dressing-table, and then, after she had taken off her hat and long black woollen coat, she sat down in her easy-chair by the wood fire. Soon there came a familiar rap and a welcome cup of tea.

She was sipping it, luxuriously, when there suddenly came a very different kind of rap on the door. It was a sharp, insistent knock, and before she could call out "Come in," the door opened, and a singular-looking figure advanced into the luxurious-looking, low-ceilinged bedroom.

"Excuse me coming up like this, Modam. But I'm afraid of losing my train."

The speaker was small and stout, with a sallow face which might once have held a certain gipsy-like charm, for, in the candlelight, the luminous dark eyes were by far its most arresting feature. She wore a small, old-fashioned-looking, red velvet bonnet perched on her elaborately dressed hair.

Enid Crofton looked at her odd-looking visitor with astonishment.

Who on earth could this be? Certainly not Piper's wife. A feeling of intense relief came over her when the strange-looking woman came towards her with a soft, gliding step, and handed her a card on which was written:

Madame Flora

Ladies' wardrobes, gold teeth, and old jewellery purchased at the highest prices known in the trade

"I do 'ope you will excuse me coming up like this," she said again, and her queer Cockney voice sounded quite pleasantly in Enid Crofton's ears. "I've not got very long, and I've been 'ere since four o'clock."

As she spoke she did not look at the pretty young lady sitting by the fire. Her dark eyes were glancing furtively round the attractively furnished bedroom, as if appraising everything that was there, from the uncommon-looking high brass candlesticks on the dressing-table to the pink silk covered eiderdown and drawn linen coverlid on the bed.

Perhaps because she was so extraordinarily relieved, Enid Crofton spoke to this somewhat impudent old-clothes woman very graciously.

"I'm sorry," she began, "but I've nothing in the least suitable for you, Madame Flora. It's a pity you wasted your time waiting for me. There are several other people in Beechfield with whom I expect you might have done business." She smiled as she spoke.

"I wish I'd thought of that, Modam." The woman spoke with a touch of regret. "But your maids expected you might be back any minute, and I did want to meet you, for Piper's that down on 'is luck, I sometimes don't know what to do with 'im! Instead of wanting to employ ex-soldiers, as in course they ought ter, people seem just to avoid them-"

"Piper?" repeated Enid Crofton in a low, hesitating voice. "Then are you Mrs. Piper?"

Was it conceivable that this strange-looking old thing was Piper's wife?

"I've been Mrs. Piper eighteen years," replied Madame Flora composedly, "but I've always kep' on my business, Modam. It's not much of a business now, worse luck! Ladies won't part with their clothes, not when they're dropping off them. In old days, if Piper was down, I was up, so we was all right. But we've both struck a streak of bad luck."

For a few moments neither of them spoke. Mrs. Crofton was staring, astonished, at her visitor, and through her shallow mind there ran the new thought of how very, very little any of us know of other people's lives. After her first shock of dismayed surprise to find that Piper was married at all, she had imagined Piper's wife as something young and, of course, in a way, attractive and easily managed.

"Did you ever come down to my house in Essex?" she asked, still trying to speak pleasantly.

"No, Modam, I never was there. Piper and I 'as always kep' clear of each other's jobs, and I wouldn't be interfering now, but that the matter's becoming serious. Piper's worse than no good when 'e's idle." She hesitated, then went on, "If 'e's to keep off 'is failing, 'e must be working."

There was a pause, and then Enid Crofton spoke, in a low, uncertain tone. "Believe me, Mrs. Piper, when I say that I really will do all I can for him. But it's not easy now to hear of good jobs, and Piper doesn't seem easy to suit."

"You wouldn't care to take my 'usband on again yourself, Modam?"

Again there followed that curious pause which somehow filled Enid with a vague fear.

"I wish I could," she said at last, "but I can't afford it, Mrs. Piper. As a matter of fact, I've done a foolish thing in coming here, to Beechfield, at all. Only the other day one of my husband's relations advised me to let the house."

"Piper thinks, Modam, as how you might 'elp 'im to a job with Major Radmore." The name tripped quickly off the speaker's tongue, as if she was quite used to the sound.

Enid felt a throb of dismay. Did the Pipers know Godfrey Radmore was back?

"We was wondering," said the woman, "if you would give us the major's address?"

Then they didn't know he was back-or did they?

"I don't know it."

Enid Crofton was one of those women-there are more than a truthful world suspects-who actually find it easier to lie than to tell the truth. But she saw the look of incredulity which flashed over the sallow face of her unwelcome visitor.

"Mr. Radmore," she went on hastily, "is taking a motor tour. But he'll be back in London soon, and I'll let you know the moment I know he's settled down."

"I should 'ave thought," said the woman, "that the Major would 'ave 'ad a club where Piper could 'ave written."

"If he has, I don't know it."

And then, all at once, Enid Crofton pulled herself together. After all the interview was going quite smoothly. Nothing-well, disagreeable-had been said.

She got up from her chair. "I hope you'll forgive me, Mrs. Piper, for saying that Piper will never keep any job if he behaves as he did with these last people-I had a very disagreeable letter from the lady."

Mrs. Piper, alias Madame Flora, grew darkly red.

"Piper 'ad a shock this last July," she said, moving a little farther into the room, and so nearer to Enid Crofton. "The thing's been a-weighing on 'is mind for a long time. It's something 'e won't exactly explain. But it's on 'is conscience. Only yesterday 'e says to me, 'e says, 'If I'm drinking, my dear, it's to drown care; I ought to have spoken up very differently to what I done at the poor Colonel's inquest."

The terrible little woman again took a step or two forward, and then she waited, as if she expected the lady to say something. But Enid, though she opened her lips, found that she could not speak. Hardly knowing what she was doing, she sat down again. And, after what seemed to the owner of the attractive, candle-lit room an awful silence, Mrs. Piper went on, speaking now in quite a different tone-easy, confidential, and with a touch of wheedling good nature in it.

"Thanks to your late gentleman, Piper knows all about dogs, and all 'e requires, Modam, to set 'im up as a dogfancier, so to speak, is a moderate bit o' money. As 'e says 'imself, five hundred pound would do it easy. If I may make so bold, that's what reely brought me 'ere, Mrs. Crofton. It do seem to us both, that, under the circumstances, you might feel disposed to find the money?"

Enid looked down as she answered, falteringly: "I told Piper some time ago that it was quite impossible for me to do anything of the kind."

In her fear and distress she uttered the words more loudly than she was aware, and the woman looked round at the closed door with an apprehensive look: "Don't speak so loud. We don't want to tell everyone our business," she said sharply.

Now she came quite close up to her victim, for by now Enid Crofton knew that she was in very truth this woman's victim.

"You think it over," whispered Madame Flora. "We're not in a 'urry to a day or two. And look here, Modam, I'll be open with you! If you'll do that for Piper, it'll be in full discharge of anything you owe 'im-d'you take my meaning?"

Enid Crofton got up slowly from her chair almost as an automaton might have done. She wanted to say that she did not in the least know what Mrs. Piper did mean. But somehow her lips refused to form the words. She was afraid even to shake her head.

"I told you a fib just now"-Mrs. Piper's voice again dropped to a whisper. "Piper's made a clean breast o' the matter to me, and I do think as what it's common justice to admit that my 'usband's evidence at that inquest was worth more than twenty-five pound to you. It wasn't what Piper said; it was what 'e didn't say that mattered, Mrs. Crofton. It's been on 'is mind awful-I'll take my Bible oath on that. But 'live and let live,' that's my motter. We don't want to do anything unkind, but we're in a fix ourselves-"

"I haven't got five hundred pounds," said Enid Crofton desperately; "that's God's truth, Mrs. Piper."

To that assertion Madame Flora made no direct answer; she only observed, in a quiet conversational tone, and speaking no longer in a whisper. "The insurance gent told Piper as what 'e was not entirely satisfied, and 'e said as 'e'd be pleased to see Piper any time if anything 'appened as could throw further light on the Colonel's death. 'An extraordinary occurrence'-that's what the insurance people's gentleman called it, Mrs. Crofton-'an extraordinary occurrence.'"

And then Enid was stung into saying a very unwise thing. "The Coroner did not think it an extraordinary occurrence," she said quietly.

"'E says sometimes as what 'e ought to give 'imself up and say what 'e saw," went on Mrs. Piper with seeming irrelevance.

There was another brief pause: "If you 'aven't got five hundred pounds, Modam, I take it the insurance money has not yet been paid, for it was a matter of two thousand pounds-or so Piper understood from that party what came down to make enquiries."

Enid Crofton looked at her torturer dumbly. She did not know what to say-what to admit, and what to deny.

"Think it over," said the terrible little woman. "We're not in a 'urry to a day or two. We'll give you a fortnight to find the money."

She put her hand, fat, yet claw-like, on Mrs. Crofton's shoulder. "There's nothing to look so frightened about," she said a little gruffly. "Piper and me aren't blackmailers. But we've got to look out for ourselves, same as everybody else does. It's Piper's idea-that five hundred pounds is. 'E says 'twould ease 'is conscience to carry on the pore old Colonel's dog-breeding. As for me, I'd just as lief 'ave 'im in a good job-what gentlefolk call 'a cushy job'-with a gentleman like this Major Radmore seems to be. But there! Piper's just set on them nasty dogs, and 'e's planned it all out."

"Five hundred pounds is a great deal of money." Enid Crofton spoke in a dull, preoccupied tone.

"Not so much as it used to be, not by any manner of means," said Mrs. Piper shrewdly. "Think it over, Mrs. Crofton-and let us know what you can do. Perhaps it needn't be paid all in one; but best to write to Piper next time. 'E says 'e'd like to feel you and 'im were partners-like. I'll tell 'im I arranged for you to 'ave ten days to a fortnight to think it over."

"Thinking won't make money," said Enid in a low voice.

"Such a beautiful young lady as yourself, Modam, can't find it difficult to put 'er 'and on five hundred pounds," murmured Mrs. Piper, and as she said the words there came a leering smile over her small, pursed-up mouth.

And then, turning, she glided across the candle-lit room, and noiselessly opening the door, she slid through it.

Enid Crofton sank farther back into her chintz-covered easy-chair. She was trembling all over, and her hands were shaking. She had not felt so frightened as she felt now, even during the terrible moments which had preceded her being put in the witness-box at the inquest held on her husband's body; and with a feeling of acute, unreasoning terror, she asked herself how she could cope with this new, dreadful situation.

What, for instance, did that allusion to the insurance company mean? She had had the two thousand pounds, and she had spent about a quarter of it paying bills of which her husband had known nothing. Then the settling in at The Trellis House had cost a great deal more than she had expected. Of course she had some left, but five hundred pounds would make a hideous hole in her little store.

What could the Pipers do to her? Could they do anything? The sinister woman's repetition of Piper's curious remark, "'E says sometimes as what 'e ought to give 'imself up, and say what 'e saw," came back to her with sickening vividness.

She looked round her, timorously. The candles on her dressing-table gave such a poor light. How stupid of a village like Beechfield not to have electric light! She stood up and rang for a hot-water bottle. At any rate she might as well try to get a little beauty sleep before dressing to go to the Tosswills.

* * *

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