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   Chapter 17 No.17

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 18569

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Although no definite suggestion or order had been issued by Janet Tosswill, it was understood by everyone in Old Place that special honour was to be paid to Mrs. Crofton this evening.

Janet, when giving Betty a slight but vigorous sketch of the scene which had taken place between herself and Jack, observed, "If she's that sort of woman I think we ought to give her a proper dinner, don't you?" And Betty heartily agreed.

This was the reason why Betty herself, Tom, who acted as butler, and Timmy, who was supposed to help generally both in the kitchen and in the dining-room, did not sit down to table with the others.

Mrs. Tosswill's sarcastic observation was so far justified in that Enid Crofton did feel vaguely gratified to find herself treated to-night far more as a guest of honour than she had been on the first occasion when she had come to the house. The guest herself had done honour to the feast by putting on the most becoming of her diaphanous black evening dresses, and, as she sat to the right of her host, each of her three feminine critics admitted to their secret selves that she was that rather rare thing, a genuinely pretty woman. Features, colouring, hair, were all as near perfection as they well could be, while her slight, rounded figure was singularly graceful.

How fortunate it is that we poor mortals cannot see into each other's hearts and minds! Who, looking at Jack Tosswill's composed, secretive, self-satisfied face, could have divined, even obscurely, his state of mingled pride, ecstasy, and humble astonishment at his own good fortune? To him the lovely young woman sitting next his father was as much his own as though they had already been through the marriage ceremony, and he felt awed and uplifted as well as triumphantly glad.

As for Godfrey Radmore, he also was affected rather more than he would have cared to admit even to himself by the presence of Enid Crofton this evening.

She had become to him something of a mystery, and there is always something alluring in a mystery, especially if the mystery be young, and endowed with that touch of pathos which makes feminine beauty always a touch more attractive to the masculine heart. He was aware that she preferred to see him alone, and this flattered him. While he was able to assure himself confidently that he was in no sense in love with her, his heart certainly beat a little quicker on the comparatively few occasions when he went over into her garden, or, better still, into her little sitting-room, and found her by herself. He also thought it very good-natured, if a little tiresome, of her, to put up with so much of the company of a prig like Jack, and of a selfish girl like Rosamund.

To-night Radmore wondered, not for the first time, why Janet Tosswill did not like Enid Crofton, for he felt, somehow, that there was no love lost between them. He told himself that he must ask Betty to try to become friends with her. Instinctively he relied on Betty's judgment, and that though he saw very little of her, considering what very old friends he and she were. And then, when he was thinking these secret, idle thoughts, he became suddenly conscious that Betty was not among those sitting at the full dining-table.

When Tom came in, bearing a huge soup tureen, and looking, it must be confessed, very red and embarrassed, Janet observed composedly that the person on whom they had relied to help them to-night had failed them at the last moment, and they had decided that it would be simpler for them to wait on themselves.

Radmore muttered to his neighbour, Rosamund, "Where's Betty?"

"In the kitchen. She's the only one of us who knows how to cook. She loves cooking. She'll come into the drawing-room later if she's not too tired."

Radmore felt indignant. It was too bad that Betty, whom he vividly remembered as the petted darling of the house, should now have become-to put it in a poetical way-the family Cinderella! But as the dinner went on, and as the soup was succeeded by some excellent fish, as well as by roast chicken, a particularly delicious blackberry fool, and a subtly composed savoury, he began to wonder whether some good professional cook had not been got in after all. He could hardly believe that Betty had cooked and dished up this really excellent dinner.

All through the meal Timmy flitted in and out, bringing round and removing the plates, but it was Tom who did most of the waiting.

At last Janet, catching Enid Crofton's eye, got up and delivered as parting injunction, "Please don't stay too long behind us, gentlemen-we're going to have coffee in the drawing-room."

Jack Tosswill sprang to the door, and tried to catch Mrs. Crofton's eye as she passed out first, but of course he failed, and as he came back to the table, he observed: "I do hope Betty won't be too tired to come into the drawing-room. Mrs. Crofton was saying the other day that she wished she knew her better." He was in a softened mood, the kind of mood which makes a man not only say, but think, pleasant things.

And then Mr. Tosswill made one of his rare practical remarks. "I have always thought that every woman ought to be taught cooking," he said musingly. "We have certainly just had a very good dinner; I must remember to tell Betty how much I enjoyed that savoury."

"Did Betty cook it all?" asked Radmore.

It was Jack who answered, "Yes, of course she did. Early in the War there was a great shortage of cooks in some of the country hospitals, and so Betty asked a friend of ours to allow her to spend a few weeks in her kitchen. So now we have the benefit of all she learnt there."

Five minutes later the three men stood at the open door of the drawing-room, and at once Radmore saw that Betty was not there. That was really too bad! What selfish girls her sisters were!

Acting on an impulse he could not have analysed, he stepped back into the corridor and walked quickly towards the green baize door which led to the kitchen quarters. Just as he reached it, the door burst open, and Tom, rushing through, almost knocked him over.

"Hullo! Steady there! Where are you going?"

"I'm so sorry, Godfrey, but I'm in the devil of a hurry, for I've got to clear the dining-room. Once that's done, my work's over, and I can go into the drawing-room." Tom was grinning good-humouredly. "I say, Mrs. Crofton does look a peach to-night, doesn't she?"

Even as he spoke, he was hooking the door back. Then he hurried into the dining-room without waiting for an answer.

Godfrey went on with rather hesitating steps down the broad, stone-flagged passage. According to tradition, this part of Old Place was medi?val, and it was certainly quite different from the rest of the house. He felt a little awkward for he knew he had no business there, and when he got to the big, vaulted kitchen, he stopped and looked round him dubiously. The fire in the old-fashioned, wasteful range had been allowed to die down, and on the round wooden table in the middle of the room were heaped up the dinner plates and dishes.

Suddenly he noticed that the door which led into the scullery was ajar, and he heard Betty's clear, even voice saying: "When you've tidied yourself up a bit, run down and let me see how you look. I'm afraid they're not likely to play any games this evening. It's a real, proper dinner-party, you know, Timmy."

Then he heard his godson's eager voice. "Oh, Betty, do come too! Mrs. Jones can do the washing-up to-morrow morning. If you want to dress I'll hook you up."

"I'm too tired to go up and dress," and Betty's voice did sound very weary. There was a despondent note in it, too, which surprised the man standing in the kitchen. Excepting during the few moments, to him intensely moving and solemn moments, when they had spoken of George within a day or two of his return to Beechfield, he had always seen Betty extraordinarily cheerful.

"You can go just as you are," he heard Timmy say eagerly. "You could pretend you'd just been to a fancy ball as a cook!" He added, patronizingly, "If you put on a clean apron, you'll look quite nice."

Radmore did not catch the answer, but he gathered that it was again in the negative, and a moment later Timmy's little feet scampered up the uncarpeted flight of stairs which led into the upper part of the house.

Walking forward, he quietly pushed open the scullery door, and for some seconds he stood unseen, taking in the far from unattractive scene before him.

The scullery of Old Place was a glorified kind of scullery, for, just before the War, Janet had spent a little of her own money on "doing it up." Since then she had often congratulated herself on the fact that in the days when the process was comparatively cheap, she had had the scullery walls lined five feet up with black and white tiles matching the linoleum which covered the stone floor.

Against this background Betty Tosswill was now standing, a trim, neat figure, in her pink cotton gown and big white apron. She was engaged in washing, drying, and polishing the fine old table glass which had been used that evening.

It was such a relief to her to be alone at last! For one thing, though Timmy and Tom both loved her dearly, their love never suggested to them

that it must be disagreeable to her to hear them constantly bickering the one with the other, and they would have been surprised indeed had they known how their teasing squabbles had added to the strain and fatigue of serving the elaborate dinner she had just cooked.

She felt spent, in body and in mind, and in the mood when a woman craves, above all things, for solitude.

"Look here, Betty, can't I do anything to help?"

She started violently, and gave a little cry, while the stem of the wine-glass she held in her hand snapped in two. But Radmore, to her relief, did not notice the little accident.

"There isn't anything to do, thank you." She tried to speak composedly and pleasantly. "I'm going to leave most of the washing-up to the woman who comes in every morning to help us."

"Then why don't you come into the drawing-room now? I heard what Timmy said-and it's quite true!"

"What Timmy said just now?" She turned and looked at him, puzzled.

Godfrey Radmore, in his well-cut dress clothes and the small, but perfect, pearl studs in the shirt of which she had heard Jack openly envy the make and cut, seemed an incongruous figure in the Old Place scullery.

He blundered on. "Timmy said that you look as if you had been at a fancy dress ball as a cook. He ought to have said 'cordon bleu,' for I've never eaten a better dinner!"

And then to his aghast surprise, Betty sat down on one of the wooden chairs near the table where she had been standing and burst into tears. "I don't want to be a 'cordon bleu,'" she sobbed. "I hate cooking-and everything connected with cooking." Then, feeling ashamed of herself, she pulled a clean handkerchief out of her apron pocket, and dabbed her eyes. "I'm just tired out, that's what it is!" she exclaimed, trying to smile. "We had a worrying half-hour, thinking the fish was not going to arrive. You see, Janet dislikes poor Mrs. Crofton so much that she suddenly made up her mind that it was her duty to kill the fatted calf, and in such a case I have to do the killing!"

"It's such a waste for you to be doing the things you are doing now." He spoke with a touch of anger in his voice. "Why, you and I hardly ever see one another! After all, even if you've forgotten the old times, I often remember them-I mean the times when you and I and George were so much together and such good pals. I love every brick of Old Place because of those days." He was speaking with deep feeling now. "Sometimes I feel as if I should like to run away-it's all so different here from what it used to be."

He saw a kind, moved, understanding look come over her eyes, and firm, generous mouth, and quickly, man-like, he pressed his advantage.

"Look here," he said coaxingly, "don't you think we might hit on some kind of compromise? Won't you allow me just to get some sort of temporary housekeeper who can look after things while poor Nanna is laid up?"

She shook her head. "I don't think any of us would like that," she said. "But I daresay I have become too much of a Martha."

She got up, feeling painfully afraid that she was going to cry again. "I don't see why I shouldn't do as Timmy said-change my apron, I mean, and go into the drawing-room. For one thing, I should like to see Mrs. Crofton's dress. Tom says she looks a regular peach! That's his highest form of praise, you know."

Radmore suddenly resolved to say something which had been on his mind of late. "Don't you think that Jack's making rather a fool of himself over that pretty little lady?"

Betty looked across at him with the frank, direct gaze that he remembered so well. "I'm afraid he is," she answered. "He and Janet had quite a row about her this morning. He seemed to think we had been rude to her; he was most awfully huffy about it. But I suppose saying anything only makes things worse in such a case, doesn't it?"

"I don't see why I shouldn't speak to her. She and I know each other pretty well. She was a desperate little flirt when I first knew her in Egypt." And then, as he saw a look cross her face to which he had no clue, he added hastily:-"She's quite all right, Betty. She's quite a straight little woman."

"I'm sure she is," said Betty cordially.

She was wondering, wondering, wondering what Godfrey really thought of Enid Crofton? Whether or no there had been a touch of jealousy in what he had said about Jack just now? He had said the words about Jack's making a fool of himself very lightly. Still there had been a peculiar expression on his face.

During the last fortnight, while doing the hundred and one things which fell to her share, Betty had given the subject of Enid Crofton and Godfrey Radmore a good deal of thought, while telling herself all the time that, after all, it was none of her business-now.

All at once she became aware that Radmore was looking hard at her. "Look here," he exclaimed, coming up close to where she was again engaged in drying and polishing the heavy old crystal goblets. "I want to ask you a favour, Betty. It's absurd that I should be here, with far more money than I know what to do with, while the only people in the world I care for, are all worried, anxious, and overworking themselves. Janet says it's impossible to get a cook. What I want to do if you'll let me-" he looked at her pleadingly, and Betty's heart began to beat: thus was he wont to look at her in the old days, when he wanted to wheedle something out of her.

"What I want to do," he went on eagerly, "is to go up to London to-morrow morning and bring back a cook in triumph! Life has taught me one thing,-that is that money can procure anything." As she remained silent, he added in a tone of relief, "There, that's settled! You go up to bed now. I'll be off early in the morning, and we'll have a cook back by lunch-time."

"Indeed you won't!" She faced him squarely. "I know you mean very kindly, Godfrey-I know exactly how you feel. I've often felt like that myself; you feel that

"'Sympathy without relief

Is like mustard without beef.'

"That's the organ-grinder's motto, and a very good motto, too. But we're the exception which proves the rule. We're grateful for your sympathy, but we don't want your relief."

As he gazed at her, both dismayed and very exasperated, she went on, speaking a little wildly:-"Mustard's a very good thing. I think I needed a little mustard just now to binge me up!"

"But that's perfectly absurd!" he exclaimed. "Why not have the beef as well as the mustard? And look here. I don't think it's fair to me." He stood, looking straight at her, his face aglow with feeling. And again it was as if the old Godfrey of long ago, the Godfrey that had been impetuous, hot-tempered, unreasonable, and yet so infinitely dear to her, who stood there, so near to her that had she moved, he must have touched her. She sat down, and unseen by him, she put her two hands on the edge of the well-scrubbed table, and pressed her fingers down tightly. Then she smiled up at him, and shook her head.

"You're treating me like a stranger," he protested doggedly; "however badly I've behaved, I've not deserved that."

He was looking down at her hair, the lovely fair hair which had always been her greatest beauty-the one beauty she now shared with Rosamund. He wondered if it would ever grow long again. And yet now he told himself that he did not want to see her different from what she had become.

"Treating you like a stranger? You're the first visitor we've had to stay at Old Place since the Armistice."

As he said nothing, she went on, a little breathlessly, "D'you remember what a lot of people used to come and go in the old days? That was one of the nice things about Janet. She loved to entertain our friends, even our acquaintances. But now we never have anybody. It shows how we feel about you that we are having you here, like this. But we can only do it if you'll take us as we are."

"Of course I take you as you are," he said aggrieved, "but I don't see why I shouldn't do my little bit, when it's so easy for me to do it. People talk such rot about money! They'll take anything in the world but money from those who-" he hesitated, and then boldly brought out the word-"love them."

"And yet," said Betty quietly, "you yourself contemptuously rejected the money that father wanted to give you when he could well afford it-the day you left Beechfield nine years ago."

He hesitated, unutterably astonished, and yes, very much moved, too, at this, her first reference to their joint past.

"I know I did," he said at last, "and I was a fool to do it. That cheque of Mr. Tosswill's would have made all the difference to me during certain awful weeks in Australia when I didn't know where to turn for a shilling. I've been right up against it-the reality of things, I mean-and I know both how much and how little money counts in life. It counts a lot, Betty."

"I've been up against the reality of things, too," said Betty slowly, "and I've learnt how very little money counts. You'd have known that, if you'd been with the French Army. That was the difference between the French and the English. The French poilu had no money at all, and the English Tommy had plenty. But it made no difference in the big things."

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