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   Chapter 20 No.20

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 21693

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


However long Radmore lives, he will never forget that strange drive through the autumn night. Fortunately, from the two conspirators' point of view, there were only old-fashioned stables at Old Place, and Radmore's car was kept in the village in a barn which had been cleverly transformed by the blacksmith into a rough garage.

While he dressed, and, indeed, after he joined the boy downstairs, he had puzzled over Timmy-over the mixture of cruelty and kindness the child had shown that evening. He could not but recall, with a feeling of discomfort, the simple, innocent way in which the boy had explained why he wanted to take his cat, Josephine, into the drawing-room-really to do a kindness to the mistress of The Trellis House! It was somewhat disagreeable to reflect how he, Radmore, who rather prided himself on his knowledge of human nature, had been taken in.

Off the two started at last, creeping out of one of the back doors. But in his agitation over the business of getting the cat and her kittens safely out of Old Place, Timmy had forgotten to put on a coat. They were halfway down the avenue before Radmore noticed that the boy was shivering, and then, mindful of Janet, he ordered him to go back and get the warmest coat he could.

And then, while he waited impatiently in the avenue, Radmore visualised the extraordinary scene which had taken place in the drawing-room last evening. Had the cat really seen anything of a supernatural nature? Or was it only that she had been frightened by being suddenly brought into a room full of people? If so, it was perhaps natural that she had blindly flown at the one stranger there.

At last Timmy returned, and they started off, neither speaking a word until they were clear of the village. Radmore thought he knew every inch of the way, for he and Betty had once cycled together all over the countryside. He checked a sigh as he thought of those days-how happy he had been, with that simple, unquestioning happiness which belongs only to extreme youth. He wondered if Betty ever remembered those far-off days. They had come very near, the one to the other, last evening, and yet, from his point of view, theirs was an unsatisfactory kind of friendship. It was as if she was always holding something back from him. And then, while he was thinking of Betty, the little boy sitting by his side suddenly observed:

"Perhaps we might tell Betty-I mean when we get back again-where Josephine and her kittens are? She was awfully upset last night; almost as upset as I was. You see, Josephine's a French cat. She was brought home-I mean to England, you know-by the officer who now wants to marry Betty." Timmy uttered these words in a very matter-of-fact voice. Then, for a moment, he forgot Betty, for the car swerved suddenly.

"The officer who wants to marry Betty?" repeated Radmore. "I didn't know there was an officer who wanted to marry Betty."

"Nobody's supposed to know," said Timmy composedly. "But Mum and I, as well as father, know. Only a very vulgar sort of girl lets anyone know when someone wants to marry her. Mr. Barton is so ridiculous about Dolly, following her about and always looking at her, that we all know it, though Mum wonders sometimes if he knows it himself. But neither Dolly nor Rosamund knows about Betty's man. Luckily, they were away when he last came here and saw father. The first time Betty meant him to send the kitten in a basket from London. She even gave him the money for Josephine's fare, but he would give it back to father. He brought her himself because he wanted to see father, and talk to him about Betty and George."

"Then he knew George, too?"

"Yes, that's how he got to know Betty, when she was in France, you know, and why she gave him the kitten to bring home on leave. He knew all about us, and when father called me into the study to take Josephine, he said: 'Is this Timmy?' And then after that he just went straight on about Betty, as if I wasn't there. He said that if he got through, he meant to wait-he didn't mind how long, if only Betty would say 'Yes' in the end."

"Has he been here since Betty came home?" asked Radmore abruptly.

Somehow this revelation astonished and discomfited him very much. It had never occurred to him that Betty might marry.

"No," said Timmy. "He has never come again, for he's in Mesopotamia; but he writes to Betty, and then she writes back to him. You see he was a friend of George's-that makes her like him, I suppose."

They drove on for a while in silence, and then Timmy enquired, rather anxiously: "You won't tell Betty I've told you, will you, Godfrey? I don't think she wants anyone to know. He sent me a lovely picture postcard once-it was to Timmy Tosswill, Esq.-and then I asked Betty whether she meant to marry him, as he was such a nice sort of man. She was awfully angry with me for knowing about it, and she began to cry. So you won't say anything to her, will you?"

"No, of course I won't," said Radmore hastily.

They were now emerging on the wide sweep of down commanding the little old country town which stands to the whole world as the racing capital of England. To their left, huge and gaunt against the night sky, rose the Grand Stand.

"Where does Trotman hang out?" asked Radmore. "Shan't we have a devil of a difficulty in knocking him up?"

"I don't think we shall," said his small companion, confidently. "You see there must always be some sick animal for someone to sit up with. I'd rather be nurse to a dog than to a woman, wouldn't you?"

They turned into the steep road leading into the town, flashing past shuttered villas set in gardens, till they reached a labyrinth of quaint, narrow, walled thoroughfares dating from the 18th century.

"We're very near now," said Timmy. "Isn't it funny, Godfrey, to feel that everybody's asleep but us?" They had come to a corner where high walls enclosed what might once have been the kitchen garden of a Georgian manor-house.

"Here it is!" cried the boy.

Radmore stopped the car and then he jumped out and struck a match. Over a door, set in the wall, stood out in clear lettering the words, "John Trotman, Veterinary Surgeon." Feeling a little doubtful of what their reception would be like, he pulled the bell. There was a pause, a long pause, and then they heard the sound of light, quick footsteps, and the door was unlocked.

"Who's there? What is it?" came in a woman's voice, and a quaint figure, dressed in a short, dark dressing-gown, and looking not unlike Noah's wife, appeared holding a lantern in her hand. She had a kindly, shrewd face, and when Radmore said apologetically, "I'm sorry to disturb you, but the matter is really urgent, and we've brought a sick animal many miles in order that it may benefit by Mr. Trotman's skill," her face cleared, and she said cordially: "All right, sir, come right in."

As they walked along through a curious kind of trellised tunnel, Timmy carrying Josephine and her kittens, there arose an extraordinary chorus of sounds in which furious barking predominated.

"You have a regular menagerie here," said Radmore, smiling.

"Why, yes, sir," she answered simply, "but they'll all quiet down after a bit. They're startled like, hearing strange footsteps."

She led them into the house, and so through into a pleasant little parlour, full of the good 18th Century furniture which may still be found in the older houses of an English country town. Sporting prints-some of considerable value-hung on the walls. There was still a little fire alight in the deep grate, throwing out a warmth that was comforting to both the man and the boy.

"If you'll wait here, I'll get my husband."

While Mrs. Trotman had left the room, Radmore remarked: "I've made up my mind what to say to Trotman, so please don't interrupt."

And Timmy listened silently to the explanation his godfather gave of Josephine's strange behaviour of the night before. It was an explanation that squared with the facts-at any rate, according to the speaker's point of view-for Radmore told the famous vet that the cat, upset by the sight of a strange dog, had flown at a lady and bitten her. He added frankly that the doctor had suggested that the animal should be kept under observation, and then he managed to convey that money was no object, as the cat was a cherished pet sent from France during the War.

Everything was soon arranged, for Mr. Trotman was a man of few words. Radmore gave his own name and the address of Old Place, and then, just before leaving the house, he put down a £5 note on the table.

The sturdy, grizzled old man took up the note and held it out to his new client. "I'd rather not take this, sir, if you don't mind," he said a little gruffly. "We'll send you in a proper bill in due course. You needn't be afraid. The cat shall have every care, and of course, if things should go wrong-you know what I mean-I'll at once give you a telephone call. But, as far as I can tell, you're right, and it was just fear for her young made her behave so." He turned to his wife. "Now then, mother, you just get back to bed! I'll see to these gentlemen, and to poor pussy."

They shook hands with Mrs. Trotman, and then the famous vet took them down the trellised path and stood in the doorway till they got into the car.

"I'm glad to have met you, Mr. Trotman," Radmore called out heartily. "I'd like to come over here one day, and go over your place."

As they raced up towards the Downs, Radmore suddenly turned to Timmy: "The more time goes on, the more it's borne in on me that there's nothing like the old people of the old country." And as the boy, surprised, said nothing for once, he went on, "I hope that the stock won't ever give out."

"How d'you mean?"

"Well, take those two people, that man and woman. We get them out of their warm, comfortable bed in the middle of the night, they knowing nothing about us, except that we bring a cat which may be mad; and yet they take it all in the day's work; they're civil, kindly, obliging-and the man won't take money he hasn't earned! I call that splendid, Timmy. You might almost go the world over before you'd find a couple like that-anywhere but in England."

* * *

They drove on and on, and then all at once, Radmore, glancing down to his left, saw that Timmy had fallen asleep. Now Timmy, asleep, looked like an angelic cherub, and so very different from his usual alert, inquisitive, little awake self. And there welled up in Radmore's heart the strangest feeling of tenderness-not only for Timmy but for the whole of the Tosswill family-not only for the Tosswill family, but for the whole of this sturdy, quiet, apparently unemotional world of England to which he had come back.

The human mind and brain work in mysterious ways. Radmore will n

ever know, to the day of his death, the effect that this curious night drive had on the whole of his future life. He was not a man to quote poetry, even to himself, but to-night there came into his mind some words he had heard muttered by a corporal in Gallipoli:

"What do they know of England

Who only England know?"

When he had left his homeland, now nearly ten years ago, he had been in a bitter mood. It had seemed to him that his own country was rejecting him with scorn. But now his heart swelled proudly at the thought of the old country-of all that she had endured since then. He had thought England altered and very much for the worse, when he was in London on his two brief "leaves" during the War, but now he knew how unchanged his country was-in the things that really matter....

When he had come back for good, this summer, he had looked forward to an easy, selfish life-the sort of life certain men whom he had envied as a boy used to lead before the war.

Radmore knew, as every man who has lived to the age of thirty-two must know, that marriage brings with it certain cares, responsibilities, and troubles, and so he had deliberately made up his mind to avoid marriage, though he had been conscious the while that if he fell violently in love, then, perhaps, half knowing all the time that he was a fool, he might find himself pushed into marriage with some foolish girl, or what was perchance more likely, with a pretty widow.

To-night he realised with a sort of shame that there were moments-he was glad that they were only moments-when he felt uneasily yet strongly attracted to Enid Crofton, and that though he knew how selfish, how self-absorbed and, yes, how cruel she could be. For well he knew she had been cruel to her elderly husband. He was sorry now that she had come to Beechfield. She had become an irritating, disturbing element in his life.

Radmore had looked at every eligible property within a radius of twenty miles of Old Place, but though some of them did not fall far short of the ideal he had in his mind, he hadn't felt as if he wanted any of them. They were too trim, too new-in a word, too suburban. Even the very old houses had been transformed by their owners much as The Trellis House had been transformed, into something to suit modern taste. He told himself that he must begin looking again-looking in real dead earnest, going farther afield.

Absorbed in his thoughts, he had driven on and on, almost mechanically, till suddenly they came to four cross-roads. He drew up under a sign-post, jumped out and struck a match, and as he read the painted words he realised, with vexation, that he had gone a good bit out of his way. There was nothing for it now but to go on till they struck the Portsmouth Road. It was the quietest hour of the twenty-four, and it was very unlikely they would meet with anyone who could put them right.

And then, while going up a lane, which he knew to be at any rate in the right direction, he came to a park gate. Just within was a lodge, and in one of the windows of the lodge there shone a light. Again Radmore stopped the car and jumped out, Timmy still heavily asleep.

He went up to the door of the lodge and rapped with his knuckles. It opened and revealed a young woman, fully dressed. "What do you want?" she exclaimed, in a frightened voice.

"I've lost my way," he said, "and seeing a light in your window, I ventured to knock. I've no idea where I am-I want to get to Beechfield."

"Beechfield? Why, you're nigh forty miles from there," she said, surprised.

"Can you tell me how I can get on to the Portsmouth Road?"

"Aye, I think I could do that; but stop your engine, please-I've a little girl in here as is very ill."

He ran out and did what she asked. Then he came back, and as she took him into her tiny living-room, he saw that there were tears rolling down her tired face.

"Is your child very ill?" he asked.

She nodded. "Doctor says if she can get through the next two days she may be all right."

"Is your husband with you?"

She shook her head. "I'm a widow, sir; my husband was killed in the War. I'm only caretaking here. When the house up there is sold, they'll turn me out."

"I'm looking for a country house. Perhaps I'll come over and see it one day. Is it an old house?"

"Well," she said vaguely, "it isn't a new house, sir. It's a mighty fine place, and they do say it's going dirt cheap." And then she added slowly, "There's a map hanging in the kitchen. It was hanging up yonder in the servants' hall but I brought it down here, as so many people asks the way."

It was an old-fashioned country road map, and Radmore, bending down, saw in a moment where he was, and the best way home; and then feeling in a queer kind of mood, a mood in which a man may do a strange and unexpected thing, he took out of his pocket the £5 he had offered to Mr. Trotman.

"Look here," he said, "I'd like you just to take this and get your little girl whatever you think necessary when she's on the mend. She'll want a lot of care, eh?"

Twice the woman opened her mouth, and found she couldn't speak.

He held out his hand, and she squeezed it with her thin, work-worn fingers. "I do hope God will bless you, sir!" she said. And he went back to the car, feeling oddly cheered.

* * *

It was past five when Radmore and Timmy crept like burglars through one of the back doors of Old Place. He sent the boy straight up to bed, but he himself felt hopelessly wide awake, so he went out of doors again, into Janet's delightful scented garden, and tramped up and down a bit to get warm. Suddenly he knew that he was hungry. Why shouldn't he go into the scullery and brew himself a cup of tea?

As he went into the kitchen, he saw on the table a kettle, a spirit stove, a cup and saucer, tea caddy and teapot, even a thermos full of hot water-everything ready to make an early cup of tea. He left the thermos alone, and filled up the kettle at the scullery sink.

Radmore was still very much of an old campaigner. Still it was a long time since he had made himself a cup of tea, and he became a little impatient for the cold water took a long time to boil.

The kettle was just beginning to sing, when the door which led to the flight of stairs connecting the scullery with the upper floors of the house opened quietly, and Betty appeared-Betty, in a becoming blue dressing-gown, which intensified the peachy clearness of her skin, and the glint of pale gold in the shadowed fairness of her hair. Morning was Betty's hour. As the day wore on, she was apt to become fagged and worried, especially since Nanna's accident.

Just for a moment she looked very much taken aback, then she smiled, "I've come down to make a cup of tea for Nanna."

"So I suppose, but you must have a cup first. See, I'm making some for you."

"Are you?" She tried not to show the surprise she felt.

"While you're having it, we'll make Nanna a cup of tea with the water in the thermos there. But where's the milk?"

He saw her face from merry become sad. "I always save some milk for Josephine," she said. "I'll go and get it now. But we mustn't use it all; I must save some for that poor cat."

"You'll have to go a long way to give milk to Josephine," he observed.

She looked at him, startled, and going to the scullery door, glanced quickly at the corner where stood the now empty basket.

"Where is she?" she exclaimed-and her whole face lightened. "Oh, Godfrey, have you managed to hide her away?"

He nodded. "Yes, ever so many miles away, where no one will find her."

"What do you mean?" She could not conceal her astonishment-her astonishment and her intense relief.

"Timmy and I spirited her away," he went on, "to a cat's paradise where she's going to be kept under observation."

"Won't Dr. O'Farrell be very angry?"

"I don't think he'll mind as much as he'll pretend to. The moment he was told about her kittens he knew that the cat wasn't mad at all."

"The person who will be angry," exclaimed Betty, "is Mrs. Crofton! I thought it horribly cruel of her to say what she did last night."

"It was rather vindictive," he said reflectively. "On the other hand, you must remember that she'd had an awful shock. I don't wonder she felt angry with Josephine, eh?" He looked a little quizzically, a little deprecatingly, over at Betty.

"Still it seemed so-so unnecessary that she should ask for the cat to be killed." Betty was now bustling about the kitchen with a heightened colour.

Radmore poured out a cup of tea. "Now then," he said, "do come and sit down quietly, and take your tea, Betty." Rather to his surprise, she meekly obeyed.

Presently she asked him, "But why have you got up so early?"

And then he told her the story of his and Timmy's night expedition, ending up with: "I intend going round to Dr. O'Farrell's house about eight o'clock. It wouldn't be fair to let the old fellow come down here to indulge his sporting instincts, eh?"

To that Betty made no answer, and as the water was now boiling she went across to the dresser and brought a clean cup and saucer. "Now then, Godfrey, this cup is for you. Nanna can wait a little longer for hers."

He sat down opposite to her, and into both their minds there came the thought that if they had married and gone out to Australia they would have often sat thus together in the early morning.

And then, when Nanna's cup of tea was at last ready, together with some nice thin bread and butter cut, he asked, "Can't I carry the tray up for you?"

She shook her head, smiling.

"I suppose you'll be down again soon? Isn't there anything else I can help you with?"

But this time Betty shook her head even more decidedly than before.

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "I've got to make Nanna comfortable for the day, and it's a long business, for she's dreadfully particular. As a matter of fact, Rosamund and Dolly will be down before I am. They'll start everything going for breakfast. They've been very good lately, you know! Perhaps you'd like to give them a hand?"

He looked at her hard. There was just the flicker of a mischievous smile on her face.

"I suppose I ought to help them," he said without enthusiasm. "But I'll go and have a bath now. You'll let me be your scullion when you're getting lunch ready, eh, Betty?" He added hastily, "I think Timmy ought to stay in bed all day to-day. You will let me take the place of Timmy, won't you, Betty?"

"That will be very kind of you," she replied demurely. And then, before she could say a word of protest, he had taken the heavy tray out of her hands. "You'll find me much more useful than Timmy," he said, with a touch of his old masterfulness. "Now you lead the way up, and I'll hand you over the tray at Nanna's door."

* * *

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