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   Chapter 21 No.21

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 19678

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Some three or four hours later, Miss Pendarth, attired in a queer kind of brown smock which fell in long folds about her tall, still elegant figure, and with a gardening basket slung over her arm, stood by the glass door giving into her garden, when suddenly she heard a loud double knock on her stout, early Victorian knocker.

She turned quickly into her morning room. Who could it be? She knew the knock and ring of each of her neighbours, and this was none of them.

Her maid hurried out of the kitchen, and a moment later she heard a man's voice exclaim: "Will you kindly give this note to Miss Pendarth? I will return for the answer in about an hour."

Miss Pendarth knew the voice, and, stepping out of her morning room, she called out: "Come in just for a few minutes, Mr. Radmore."

In the old days she had always called him "Godfrey," but when Timmy had brought him to call within a day or two of his return to Beechfield, she had used the formal mode of address.

Radmore had to obey her, willy-nilly, and as he came down the hall towards her, she was struck by the keenness and intelligence of his dark face. She told herself grudgingly that he had certainly improved amazingly, at any rate in outward appearance, during the last ten years.

"Do let us go into your garden," he said courteously. "I hear that you are still Mrs. Tosswill's only rival!"

She softened, in spite of herself. The Godfrey Radmore of ten years ago would not have thought of saying such a civil, pleasant thing.

They walked through the glass door, and proceeded in silence down the path. The herbaceous borders were in fuller beauty than anything the Old Place garden could now show, but Radmore paid no further compliment, and it was she who broke the silence.

"You must see amazing changes at Old Place," she said musingly. "The rest of Beechfield has altered comparatively little, but Old Place is very different, with George gone, and all those young people who were children when you went away, grown up. As for Timmy, he was little more than a baby ten years ago."

"Timmy is my godson," said Radmore quickly. Her allusion to George had cut him.

Miss Pendarth turned on him rather sharply. "Of course I know that! I remember his christening as if it was yesterday. It must be twelve or thirteen years ago. I can see you and Betty standing by the font-" and then she stopped abruptly, while Radmore blushed hotly under his tan.

He said hastily: "Timmy's a dear little chap, but I confess I can't make him out sometimes."

Miss Pendarth turned and looked at him. She knew everything there was to know about Timmy Tosswill. His mother had early confided in her, and she never spoke of the child to other people. Like so many gossips, when really trusted with a secret, Miss Pendarth could keep a confidence-none better.

But she felt that Godfrey Radmore was entitled to know the little she could tell him, so "Timmy is a very queer child," she said slowly, "but I can't help thinking, Mr. Radmore-"

"Do call me Godfrey," he exclaimed, and at once she went on:

"Well, Godfrey, I think a certain amount of his oddity is owing to the fact that he's never been to school or mixed with other boys. I'm told he's a good scholar, but he's a shocking speller! Where's the good of knowing Latin and Greek if you can't spell such a simple word as chocolate-he spells it 'chockolit.' Still, I'm bound to admit the child sees and foresees more than most human beings are allowed to see and foresee."

And then, as Radmore remained silent, she went on: "Do you yourself believe in all that sort of thing, Godfrey-I mean second sight, and so on?"

Radmore answered frankly: "Yes, I think I do. I didn't before the War-I never gave any thought to any of these subjects. But during the War things happened to me and to some of my chums which made me believe, in a way I never had believed till then, in the reality of another state of being-I mean a world quite near to this world, one full of spirits, good and evil, who exercise a certain influence on the living."

They had come to a circular stone seat which was much older even than this old garden, and Miss Pendarth motioned her visitor to sit down.

"It isn't a new thing with Timmy," she said. "As a matter of fact, even before you left Beechfield, Dr. O'Farrell regarded the child as being in some way abnormal."

"D'you mean while he was still a baby?" asked Radmore.

"Well, when he had just emerged from babyhood. But I doubt if anyone knew it but Timmy's parents, the doctor, myself, and yes, I mustn't forget Nanna. He was a very extraordinary little child. He spoke so very early, you know."

"I do remember that."

"Unfortunately," went on Miss Pendarth, "it's difficult to know when Timmy is telling the truth, or what he believes to be the truth, about his gift. I think that often-and I know that Betty agrees with me-the boy invents all kinds of fantastic tales in order to impress the people about him."

"As far as I can make out," said Radmore slowly, "he's always told me the truth."

"I'll tell you something curious that happened-let me see, about seven years ago. You remember an old man we used to call Gaffer John? He had Wood Cottage, and lived in a very comfortable sort of way."

"Of course I remember Gaffer John! He was well over ninety when I left Beechfield, and he had been valet years ago to one of Queen Victoria's cousins."

"Yes, that's the man I mean. At last he was found dead in his chair. He had what was by way of being rather a grand funeral. Timmy, for some reason or other (I think he had a cold), wasn't allowed to attend the funeral, and as he was set on seeing it, Janet said that he might come and see it from one of my windows. Well, after the funeral was over, he stayed on with me for a few minutes, and suddenly he exclaimed: 'Gaffer John isn't dead at all, Miss Pendarth.' I naturally answered, 'Of course he is, Timmy. Why, we've just seen him buried.' And then he said: 'Don't you see him walking out there, along the road, quite plainly? He's behind an old gentleman dressed up for a fancy ball.' Then, Godfrey, the child went on to describe the kind of uniform which would have been worn seventy years ago by a staff officer. I couldn't help being impressed, in spite of myself, for I'd never given Timmy the slightest encouragement to talk in that sort of way, and it's the only time he's ever done it, with me."

"What does his mother really think of this queer power of his?" asked Radmore. "I've never liked to talk to her about it."

"It's difficult to say. In some ways Janet Tosswill's a very reserved woman. But I'll tell you another curious thing about the child." Instinctively she lowered her voice.

"The day before poor George was killed, Timmy cried and cried and cried. It was impossible to comfort him-and he wouldn't give any reason for his grief. Both Janet and Betty were dreadfully upset. They thought he had some pain that he wouldn't tell them of, and they would have sent for Dr. O'Farrell, but they knew he was away, some miles off, at a very difficult case. Betty actually came in and asked if I would try to make him say what was the matter! But of course I could do nothing with him. I think you know that he was passionately fond of George."

"What does Dr. O'Farrell think of it all?"

"He's convinced that Timmy has got a kind of peculiar, rare, thought-reading gift. He won't hear of its being in any sense supernatural. I haven't spoken to him about it lately, but the last time he mentioned the child, he told me he was sure that what he called the boy's 'subconscious self' would in time sink into its proper place."

"I wonder if it will?" exclaimed Radmore. "I don't see why it should."

"No, nor do I, excepting that, as time goes on, Timmy has become much more like a normal boy than he used to be. I'm convinced that very often he pretends to see things that he doesn't see. He loves frightening the village people, for instance, and some of them are really afraid of him. They think he can heal certain simple ailments, and they're absolutely certain that he can what they call 'blight' them!"

"What a very convenient gift," observed Radmore drily. "I've known a good many people in my time I should have liked to 'blight'!"

Even as he spoke, an unpleasant question was obtruding itself. Was it possible that Timmy had a "scunner" against poor little Enid Crofton?

"D'you think the child has a jealous disposition?" he asked abruptly.

Miss Pendarth looked round at him, rather surprised by the question. "He's never any occasion to be jealous," she said shortly. "Betty and Janet both worship him, and so does his old nurse. I don't think he cares for anyone else in the world excepting these three. Perhaps I ought to make an exception in your favour-from what I'm told he cherishes a romantic affection for you."

Miss Pendarth went on: "Mind you-I think there's often a touch of malice about the boy! Timmy wouldn't be at all averse to doing mischief to anyone he didn't like, or whom he thought ill of."

"There are a good many grown-up people of whom one can say that," observed Radmore.

And then, almost as if the other had seen into his mind, Miss Pendarth, with a touch of significance in her voice, observed musingly: "I fancy Timmy doesn't much like the pretty young widow who has taken The Trellis House. The first evening Mrs. Crofton came to see the Tosswills, she got an awful fright. Timmy's dog, Flick, rushed into the room and began snarling and growling at her. There was a most disagreeable scene, and from what one of the girls said the other day, it seems to have prejudiced the boy against her."

Radmore looked straight into Miss Pendarth's face. Then she hadn't yet heard about last night?

There was a slight pause.

"Yes," said Radmore at last. "I'm afraid that Timmy does dislike Mrs. Crofton."

"Perhaps," said Miss Pendarth slowly, "the boy has more reason to dislike her than we know." As Radmore said nothing, she went on: "Mrs. Crofton is behaving in a very wrong, as well as in a very unladylike, way with Jack Tosswill."

Radmore moved uneasily in his seat. It was time for him to escape. This was the Miss Pendarth of long ago-noted for the spiteful, dangerous things she sometimes said.

He got up. "Jack certainly goes to see her very often," he said, "but I don't think that's her fault. Forgive me for saying so, Miss Pendarth, but you know what village gossip is?"

"I'm afraid that she's giving Jack a great deal of deliberate encouragement. Even her servants believe that he regards himself as engaged to her."

"What absolute nonsense!" exclaimed Radmore vigorously. "Why, if it comes to that, Rosamund's quite as much at The Trellis House as Jack is, and even I go there very often!"

"Yes, I know you do; at one time you were first favourite," said Miss Pendarth coolly.

She had never been lacking in courage.

"And yet I can assure you," he exclaimed in a challenging tone, "that I, at any rate, am not at all in love with Mrs. Crofton."

"Sit down, Godfrey. There's something I want to ask you."

Unwillingly he obeyed.

"I think you knew Colonel Crofton?"

"Yes, and I liked him very much."

"I'm afraid from what I've heard that she wasn't a particularly good wife to him." Radmore was surprised at the feeling in her voice, but he asked himself irritably how the devil had Miss Pendarth heard anything of the Croftons and their private affairs?

He got up again, feeling vexed with himself for having come in to Rose Cottage.

She also rose from the stone seat.

"Stop just one moment, Godfrey. I didn't realize that you knew Mrs. Crofton as well as you seem to do. I do beg of you to convey to her that she ought to be more prudent. I'm quite serious as to the talk about Jack Tosswill. They seem to have gone on a walk together yesterday afternoon, and the girl at the post-office, who is often sent long distances with telegrams and messages, saw them in the North Wood kissing one another."

Godfrey uttered an exclamation of surprise and disgust.

How extraordinary that a woman of Miss Pendarth's birth and breeding should listen to, and believe, low village gossip!

"Really," he said at last, "that's too bad! I can't understand, Miss Pendarth, how you can believe such a story-" He nearly added, "or allow it to be told you!"

"I wouldn't believe everybody," she said in a low voice, "but I do believe Jane Nichol. She's a sensible, quiet, reserved girl. She seems to have passed quite close to them, but they were so absorbed in themselves that they didn't see her. She told no one but her aunt, and her aunt told me. I'm sorry to say I do believe the story, and I think you will agree that what may be sport to your pretty friend might mean lifelong bitterness to such a boy as Jack Tosswill." She added earnestly, "Can't you say just a word to her?"

"Well, no, I don't see how I can! Still I promise you to try to do it if I get the chance."

He felt sharply disturbed and annoyed, and yet he didn't believe a word of that vulgar story! Of course it was foolish of Enid Crofton to go for a long walk alone with Jack Tosswill. That sort of thing was bound to make talk. What would the village people think if they knew how often he, Radmore, and Mrs. Crofton had dined and lunched together during the three weeks that he had been there? Thank Heaven, they didn't know, and never would.

"Did you ever read the report of the inquest on Colonel Crofton?" asked Miss Pendarth meaningly.

"I hadn't the chance. I was still in Australia," he said shortly.

"If you'll wait a moment I'll bring it to you," was the, to him, astonishing reply.

Miss Pendarth walked off with her quick, light footsteps towards the house, and Radmore, gazing after her, told himself that she was indeed a strange woman. In some ways he had liked her far better to-day than he had ever liked her before, but the low, silly bit of gossip she had just told him filled him with disgust.

Very soon she was back, holding in her hand a newspaper.

An inquest of the kind that was held on Colonel Crofton is a godsend to any local sheet, and Radmore saw at a glance that this county paper had made the most of it.

"Will you read it here, if you're not in a hurry? I don't want it taken away; so while you're reading it, I'll go and do some potting over there."

She disappeared into a glass-house built across a corner of her garden, and he settled down to read the long newspaper columns.

Soon his feeling quickened into intense interest. The local Essex reporter had a turn for descriptive writing, and, as he read, Godfrey Radmore saw the scene described rise vividly before him. He seemed to visualise the intensely crowded little court-house, the kindly coroner, the twelve good men and true, and the motley gathering of small town and country folk drawn together in the hope of hearing something startling.

Yet the facts were simple enough. Colonel Crofton had died from either an accidental, or a deliberate, over-dose of strychnine. And his death had been a terrible one.

The outstanding points of interrogation were: Had he consciously added to a tonic which he was taking an ounce or more of the deadly drug? Or, as some people were inclined to believe, had the local chemist by some mistake or gross piece of carelessness, put a murderous amount of strychnine into a mixture which had been prescribed for his customer about a fortnight before?

But for the fact that a bottle of nux vomica had been actually found on the ledge of the dead man's dressing-room window, it would have gone hard with the chemist. But there the bottle had been found, and in her evidence, evidently given very clearly and simply, Mrs. Crofton had explained that, during the war, while in Egypt, she had palpitations of the heart, and so many drops of diluted strychnine had been ordered her.

When asked why there was so large a bottle full of the deadly stuff, she had answered that it had come from the Army Stores, where they always did things in a big and generous way. At that there had been laughter in Court.

Mrs. Crofton had further explained that, as a matter of fact, she had brought the bottle back to England without really knowing that she had done so; and that she had never given it a thought till it had been found, as described, after her husband's death, by the doctor who had been called in to attend Colonel Crofton in his agonizing seizure.

One thing stated by Mrs. Crofton much surprised Radmore. She had asserted, quite definitely, that her husband had suffered from shell-shock. That Radmore believed to be quite untrue.

With quickened, painful interest he read her account of how odd and how cranky Colonel Crofton had become when wholly absorbed in his hobby of breeding wire-haired terriers. How, when one of his dogs had failed to win a prize, he would go about muttering to himself, and visiting his annoyance and disappointment on those about him.

She had drawn a sad picture of the last long months of their joint life together and Radmore began to feel very, very sorry for her.... What an awful ordeal the poor little woman had gone through!

The doctor's evidence made painful reading, but what had really clinched the matter was the evidence of one Piper, the Croftons' general odd man and trusted servant. He had been Colonel Crofton's batman during part of the war, and was evidently much attached to him. When Piper repeated the words in which his master had once or twice threatened to take his own life, his evidence had obviously made a strong impression on both coroner and jury.

Radmore remembered Piper with a faint feeling of dislike. It was Piper who had prepared the puppy, Flick, for the cross-country journey to Beechfield, and Radmore had given the man a handsome tip for all the trouble he had taken.

Yes, he had not liked Piper; so much he remembered. He had thought the man self-assertive, over self-confident, while disagreeably cringing in manner.

He read through the coroner's charge, which was given fully, very attentively. It was quite clear that the coroner was strongly biased, if one could put it that way, in Mrs. Crofton's favour. He had spoken touchingly of the difficult time the poor young lady had had with her husband. Then he had recalled that the Colonel's own favourite terrier, Dandy, on which he had built great hopes, had only been commended, instead of winning, as he had hoped, the first prize at an important show, and that had thoroughly upset him. Indeed, according to Piper's evidence, he had used the exaggerated phrase, "My life is no longer worth living." Finally the coroner had touched lightly, but severely, on evidence tendered by a spiteful ex-woman-servant of the Croftons who had drawn a very unpleasant picture of the relations existing between the husband and wife.

Yet when the verdict of felo de se had been returned, there had been murmurs in Court, at once sharply checked by the coroner.

Radmore felt surprised. Surely everyone present should have rejoiced from every point of view. Had a different verdict been returned, it would have put the unfortunate chemist in a very difficult position, and might easily have ruined his business.

Though Radmore was grateful to Miss Pendarth for allowing him to read the report, it had an effect very different from that she had intended, for it made him pity Mrs. Crofton intensely. Somehow he had never realised what a terrible ordeal the poor little woman had been through.

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