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   Chapter 18 No.18

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 14990

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Meanwhile Timmy, upstairs, had performed what was for him quite an elaborate toilet. He possessed a new Eton suit of which he was secretly proud, for in this as in so many things unlike most little boys, he took great care of his clothes, and had an almost finicking dislike to what was rough or untidy. His two younger sisters' untidiness was a perpetual annoyance to him, and he still felt sore and angry at the way Rosamund had upset his toy-box when looking for that old prescription.

To-night he felt queerly excited and above himself. After-dinner coffee had been made in a way Betty had learnt in France, and she had foolishly allowed him to drink a cup of the strong, potent, delicious fluid. This had had a curious effect on him, intensifying his already acute perceptions, and making him feel both brave and bold as well as wary-wary Timmy Tosswill always was.

And now he was eagerly debating within himself whether he could carry out an experiment he had an eager wish to try. It had filled his mind, subconsciously, ever since he had slipped quickly in front of his brother Jack to open the front door to Mrs. Crofton, a couple of hours ago.

Mrs. Crofton was very much of a town lady, and she had actually been accompanied, during her short progress through the dark village, by her parlourmaid. When Timmy opened the front door, she had been engaged in giving the girl a few last directions as to how a lighted candle was to be left out for her in her hall, for she had brought her latchkey with her. After ringing the bell, the lady and her maid had moved away from the door a little way, and Timmy, staring out at the two figures, who stood illumined by the hall light out on the gravel carriage drive, had seen Something Else.

He did not invariably see Mrs. Crofton accompanied or companioned by that of which he had spoken to his mother. Sometimes days would go by and he would see nothing, though he was a constant, if never a welcome, visitor at The Trellis House.

Then all at once, sometimes when she was in the garden, at other times in the charming little parlour, Timmy would see the wraith of Colonel Crofton, and the wraith of Colonel Crofton's terrier, Dandy, looking as real as the flesh-and-blood woman beside whom they seemed to stand. Sometimes they appeared, as it were, intermittently, but now and again they would stay quite a long time.

As long as he could remember, Timmy had been aware of what Nanna expressed by the phrase "things that were not there," and he was so accustomed to the phenomena that it did not impress his own mind as anything very much out of the way, or strange.

Dr. O'Farrell had always shown a keen interest in Timmy's alleged visions and presentiments. Like so many country doctors of the old school, he was a man not only of great natural shrewdness, but of considerable intellectual curiosity, and, from his point of view, by far the most inexplicable of the little boy's assertions had concerned a long vanished building which had stood, for something like three centuries, close to the parish church, right on the main street of the village.

One Easter Sunday, Timmy, coming out of church, had excitedly exclaimed that he saw to his right a house where no house had been up to yesterday. His sisters had laughed at him and his mother had snubbed him. But when Janet had told Dr. O'Farrell of her little boy's latest and most peculiar claim to having seen something which was not there, the doctor had gone home and looked up an old county history, to find that up to Waterloo year there had still been standing in the pretty little hamlet of Beechfield, a small Elizabethan manor-house which had figured in the Titus Oates conspiracy.

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But to return to the evening of Mrs. Crofton's second visit to Old Place.

Timmy had given his mother his word of honour that Flick should not be released from the stable till their visitor had left. But no casuist ever realised more clearly than did Timothy Tosswill, the delicate distinctions which spread, web-like, between the spirit, and the letter, of a law. And while he moved nimbly about his bedroom, the plan, or rather the plot he had formed, took formal shape.

Josephine, Timmy's white Angora cat, was now established in a comfortable basket in a corner of the scullery. There she lay, looking like a ball of ermine, with her two ten-days old kittens snuggling up close to her. Josephine was a nervous, fussy mother, but she was devoted to her master, and he could do with her anything he liked.

Very softly he crept past Nanna's door, and as he started walking down the back staircase, he heard voices.

Then Betty and Godfrey were still in the scullery? That was certainly a bit of bad luck, for though he thought he could manage his godfather, he knew he couldn't deceive Betty. Betty somehow seemed to know by instinct when he, Timmy, was bent on some pleasant little bit of mischief.

He need not have been afraid, for as he slowly opened the door at the bottom of the stairs, Betty exclaimed, "I'm going into the drawing-room after all! But first I must run upstairs and make myself tidy. You two go on, and I'll follow as soon as I can."

She ran past Timmy, and at once the boy said firmly to Radmore, "I'm going to take my cat, Josephine, into the drawing-room. Ladies who hate dogs nearly always like cats."

"I don't think Mrs. Crofton cares for cats," answered Radmore carelessly.

"Oh, yes, she does-and the other day she said The Trellis House was overrun with mice. Betty thinks it would be a very good home for one of Josephine's new kittens."

Even while he was speaking, the big white cat had left her basket and was walking round her master, purring. He stooped down and lifted her up.

"If Mrs. Crofton sees Josephine, she will simply long to have one of her kittens! Will you bring along the white one, Godfrey-the one we call Puff? We do so want to find him a good home."

Radmore walked across to where the big basket stood on the floor, and peered into it dubiously: "Why, Timmy, they're tiny! Poor little wretches! I wouldn't dream of bringing one of them along-it would be sheer cruelty. Of course you can bring the cat if you feel like it, but I shouldn't if I were you."

"I'll only take her in for a minute."

Timmy felt just a little sorry Radmore had refused to bring Puff along, for he was well aware that a cat is never so fierce as when she imagines she is defending her young.

They went off together, Radmore in front, Timmy, hugging Josephine, behind. Just outside the drawing-room door the boy stopped for a moment, and shifted the cat's weight from one arm to the other. There had come over him a rather uncomfortable premonition of evil, but he now felt strung up to go through with his experiment.

From within the drawing-room there came the sound of laughter and talking. It was evident that the party was going well, and that everyone in there was merry and at their ease.

"Would you mind opening the door, Godfrey?" There was a slight quiver of apprehension in Timmy's voice.

Radmore opened the door, and for a fleeting moment he saw an attractive, placid scene spread out before him.

The two girls, in their pretty light dresses, were standing by the wood fire. On the sofa, to their left, with the light from one of the lamps focussed full on her, sat Mrs. Crofton, her bare left arm hanging over the side of the low couch. Jack, perched on the arm of a big cha

ir, was looking at her, all his soul in his eyes. Mr. Tosswill sat some way off under a shaded reading lamp; his wife, knitting, not far from him. Tom was surreptitiously reading a book in a corner behind the sofa.

And then, all at once, Radmore found himself whirled into an unutterable scene of confusion and terror.

As Timmy walked through the open door Josephine had leapt out of his arms on to the floor. For a flashing second the cat stood on the carpet, her white fur all abristle, her back arched, and her tail lashing furiously in the air. Then, uttering a hoarse cry of rage and fear, she sprang towards Mrs. Crofton, and dug first her claws, and then her teeth, into the white arm that hung over the side of the couch.... Josephine's terrified victim gave a fearful cry, everyone in the room got up and rushed forward, and at that exact instant Betty came into the drawing-room. Sweeping a piece of embroidery off the piano, she threw it over the cat's head, took up the now struggling, helpless bundle, and rushed out of the room with it.

Then followed a scene of appalling confusion. Enid, completely losing control of herself, screamed and screamed and screamed.

Few people, fortunately for themselves, have ever heard a woman scream, and some of those present felt they would never forget the sound. In the minds of most of the grown-up people there was the same unspoken question-had the cat suddenly gone mad? Had she got hydrophobia?

They all crowded round their unfortunate guest-all but Timmy, who stood aside with a look in which remorse, fear, and triumph struggled for mastery on his queer little face.

And then at last, when Mrs. Crofton lay back, moaning, on the sofa, surrounded by her distracted and horrified hosts, somebody suggested that Dr. O'Farrell should be sent for, and Jack rushed into the hall to find Betty already at the telephone.

Meanwhile Janet Tosswill was doing her best to persuade the victim of Josephine's savage aggression to come upstairs and await the doctor there; but, shudderingly, Enid Crofton refused to stir.

A slight diversion was created when Betty came in with a basin of warm water, soap, and a sponge. Again everyone crowded round the sofa, and Jack and Radmore both felt alarm, as well as horror, when they saw the wounds made by the cat's claws and the cat's teeth.

While her arm was being bathed, Mrs. Crofton grew so pale that Janet feared she was going to faint, and Rosamund was sent flying up to the medicine cupboard to get some brandy.

Dr. O'Farrell was at home when telephoned for, but the quarter of an hour which elapsed before he reached Old Place seemed very long to some of the people waiting there. The doctor came in smiling, but his face altered and grew very grave when he saw Mrs. Crofton's arm, and heard the confused, excited account of what had happened.

To the patient he made light of the whole matter, but while someone was putting on Mrs. Crofton's overshoes and while her evening cloak was being brought in he moved a little aside with Jack, Mr. Tosswill, and Radmore. None of them noticed that Timmy was hovering on the outskirts of the group.

"I want to say," he began in a low voice, "that of course that cat will have to be kept under observation, or else she'll have to be destroyed and her body sent up to town to make sure of-you know what! Meanwhile, no one must go near her. Where is she now?"

Mr. Tosswill looked vaguely round. "I think Betty took her into the kitchen," he said slowly, and then he called out, "Betty?"

The girl came up. "Yes, father?"

"What did you do with Timmy's cat?"

"I put her back in the scullery, with her kittens. They only opened their eyes yesterday. Of course Timmy ought never to have brought her into the drawing-room."

Dr. O'Farrell looked much relieved. He turned round: "Oh, she's just had kittens, has she? That probably accounts for the whole thing."

Mrs. Crofton roused herself. "I do hope that horrible cat will be killed at once," she cried hysterically. "I can't stay in Beechfield if she's left alive."

Dr. O'Farrell answered soothingly, "Don't you fret, Mrs. Crofton. She's a vicious brute, and shot she shall be."

No one noticed that Timmy had heard every word of this conversation; no one noticed the expression on his face.

It had been arranged that the doctor should take Mrs. Crofton home in his car, and that only when she was comfortably in bed should those ugly little wounds be properly dressed.

As the doctor was hurrying down the passage into the hall, he was surprised to see Timmy at his elbow and to hear the boy's voice pipe up: "If my cat's not mad, she won't have to be killed, doctor, will she?" He asked the question in a quiet, matter-of-fact tone.

"Yes, my little friend, mad or not mad, she's deserved death-and no one must go near her till the fell deed is done!" And then, as he suddenly caught sight of Timmy's strained, agonised face, he added kindly: "She'll be in the cats' heaven before she knows she's touched. I'll come down in the morning and I'll shoot her through the window myself-I'm a dead shot, Timmy, my boy."

As Janet came along, Timmy burst out crying, and his mother, distracted, turned to Radmore. "Oh, Godfrey, do get him away upstairs! He's tired out, that's what it is. Unfortunately the cat belongs to him, and he's very fond of her-he's almost as fond of Josephine as he is of Flick."

Radmore put his hand on his godson's shoulder. "Come, Timmy, don't cry. It's unmanly."

But Timmy, instead of making an effort to control himself, wrenched himself away and ran down the long corridor towards the kitchen. Even as a tiny child he had hated to be caught crying.

There followed an absurd scene at the front door, Jack and Rosamund almost quarrelling as to which of them should accompany Mrs. Crofton home. In the end they had both gone, and Janet, ordering everyone else to bed, sat up, wearily awaiting their return, for neither of them had thought of taking a latchkey.

Poor Janet! Her thoughts were sad and worried thoughts, as she waited, trying to read, in the drawing-room. At the very last, Betty had lingered for a moment after the others, and she had noticed that the girl's eyes were full of tears.

"Why, Betty, what's the matter? I don't think we need really worry over Mrs. Crofton."

"I'm not thinking of Mrs. Crofton. I can't bear the thought of poor Josephine being shot to-morrow morning."

"Oh, my dear, don't you turn sentimental! I never did like that poor cat; to me there's always been something queer and uncanny about her."

"You've never liked cats," Betty answered, rather aggressively. "Timmy and I are devoted to Josephine-so is Nanna."

Janet had checked the contemptuous words trembling on her lips. Abruptly she had changed the subject: "I want to tell you, Betty, how splendidly the dinner went off to-night. Your cooking was first chop!"

Betty at once softened. But all she said was: "I would give anything for Mrs. Crofton to leave Beechfield, Janet. Did you see Jack's face?"

"Yes, and I do feel worried about it. Yet one can't do anything."

"I suppose one can't. But it's too bad of her. I think her a horrid woman. Jack is just a scalp to her. I don't mind her flirtation with Godfrey-that's much more reasonable!"

Then she had hurried off upstairs without waiting for an answer, and her step-mother, looking back, rather wondered that Betty had said that.

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