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   Chapter 23 No.23

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 14366

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


As he walked away from The Trellis House Radmore felt terribly disturbed, and maddened with himself for feeling so disturbed.

After all, Enid Crofton meant very little to him! He even told himself that he had never really liked, still less respected, her and yet there had been something that drove him on, that allured him, that made him feel as he had felt to-night. But for the accident of his having seen that letter from poor foolish Jack Tosswill he might, by this time to-morrow, have been in the position of Enid Crofton's future husband! The knowledge turned him sick.

Just now he felt that he never wished to see her again.

As he walked on, leaving the village behind him, and emerging on the great common which stretched between Beechfield and the nearest railway station-he asked himself whether or no it was possible that she had genuinely fallen in love with Jack Tosswill?

And then he stayed his steps suddenly. He had remembered the look of terror, the look of being "found out," which had crossed her face, when she had realised that he had seen that fatally revealing corner of her love-letter.

Why had she looked like that? And then, all at once, he knew. It was for him that Enid Crofton had come to Beechfield, for him, or rather for his money. He felt hideously disturbed as certain tiny past happenings crowded on his memory. He felt he would give half his possessions were it possible thereby to transplant The Trellis House hundreds of miles from Beechfield.

He threw a rueful thought to Jack Tosswill. Miss Pendarth had been right, after all. That sort of experience might well embitter the whole of the early life of such a priggish, self-centred youth; and while he was chewing the cud of these painful, troubling thoughts there came a woman's voice out of the darkness.

"Does this lead on into Beechfield, sir? I want to find The Trellis House. I've been there once before, but it was broad daylight then."

Radmore peered at the speaker: a thin, medium-sized woman she seemed to be; obviously not one of the country folk-by her accent a Londoner.

"Go straight on, and in about a quarter of an hour, you'll find The Trellis House on your right. But you'd better enquire as soon as you get into the village itself. Is it Mrs. Crofton's house that you want to find?"

"Yes, that's the place I'm bound for," said the woman.

"Look here," said Radmore good-naturedly. "I was only going for a walk. I'll take you along to The Trellis House. You might easily miss it."

He turned, and they began walking along the road side by side.

"I suppose Mrs. Crofton 'asn't gone away yet, I'm sure to find 'er there, sir?" There was a doubting, almost a resentful, tone in the mincing voice.

"I think she's at home. Isn't she expecting you?" Radmore had taken the woman for a superior servant.

"She's not expecting me exactly, but me and my 'usband have been 'oping for a letter from Mrs. Crofton. As nothing's come, I thought I'd just come down and see 'er. My 'usband asked 'er to get the address of a gentleman who 'e thinks might 'elp 'im-Major Radmore. I don't suppose as what you've ever 'eard of 'im, sir?"

Radmore said quietly, "I know Major Radmore rather well. May I ask your name?"

She hesitated, then answered:-"Mrs. Piper, sir. My 'usband was Colonel Crofton's dog-breeding assistant, and 'e's about to start for 'imself in the same line, if 'e can get the money that's been promised 'im. If 'e can't get that money-well, 'e'll have to go into service again, and 'e thought that Major Radmore, who's a kind, generous gentleman, might 'elp 'im to a job."

Radmore felt amused, interested, and, yes, a little touched. Evidently his distaste for Piper had not been reciprocal.

"I suppose to start dog-breeding requires a good bit of money," he said.

"Well, sir, it's this way. Fancy dogs fetch a good bit more money than they did. Such a lot o' breeding stopped during the War. But what with one thing and another, and prices 'aving gone up so, Piper says 'twould be no good going in for such a thing under a matter of £500. But we've got good hopes of getting the money," said the woman composedly.

"Have you indeed?"

Then he felt rather ashamed of the little game he was playing with this no doubt excellent woman.

"Look here, Mrs. Piper," he exclaimed, "perhaps I ought to tell you frankly that my name is Radmore. I no longer call myself 'Major Radmore.' My address for the present is Old Place, Beechfield. But Beechfield alone would find me, and I hope your husband will let me know if I can do anything for him."

"There now! Could one ever hope for such a thing coming to pass as my meeting you, sir, accidental like?"

Mrs. Piper was genuinely moved and excited. She felt that Providence, in whom she only believed when she was in trouble, had done her a good turn. For a moment or two she remained silent, thinking intently, wondering whether she dared take advantage of this extraordinary chance-a chance that might never occur again.

"I take it, sir," she said at last, "that you are a friend of Mrs. Crofton's?"

"Of course I am well acquainted with the lady you name." There came a tone of reserve, instantly detected by the woman's quick ear and quicker mind, into the speaker's voice. "And I had a great regard for your husband's late employer, Colonel Crofton," he added.

"Aye, 'e was a good gentleman and no mistake," said Mrs. Piper feelingly.

She was wondering how far she dare go. She knew the man walking by her side was very rich; Piper had called him a millionaire.

"I 'ope you won't think me troublesome, sir, if I tells you 'ow matters are between Mrs. Crofton and my 'usband?"

There came no immediate answer to her question. Still she decided to go on.

"Piper was with the Colonel a long time, sir. And after the poor gentleman's death Mrs. Crofton promised Piper that she'd oblige 'im in the matter of financing 'is new business."

Radmore was very much surprised. He felt certain that Enid Crofton had no money to spare, then he told himself that women are sometimes very foolish, especially if any matter of sentiment is in question. But somehow he would not have thought that particular woman would ever be tempted to show herself impulsively generous.

"You spoke just now, Mrs. Piper, as if there was some doubt about the money?"

"Did I, sir? Well, one can never tell in this world. But I think Mrs. Crofton will find the money." She added, almost in a whisper, "It's to 'er interest to do so, sir."

"To her interest?" repeated Radmore. "What exactly do you mean?"

"I don't quite understand it myself, sir." Mrs. Piper spoke with a touch of light indifference in her voice, "Piper don't tell me very much. I was in Islington, conducting a little business I've got, when Colonel Crofton came by 'is sad death. Mrs. Crofton spoke to Piper most feelingly, sir, about the service 'e'd done her by what 'e said at the inquest. I've always 'ad my belief, sir, that Piper might 'ave said something more and different that would have been, maybe, awkward for Mrs. Crofton." She waited a moment, realising that she had burnt her boats.

"Do you take my meaning, sir?"

"No," said Radmore sternly, "I don't take your meaning at all, Mrs. Piper. I don't in the least understand what you meant to imply just now."

A most disturbing suspicion had begun to assail him. Was this woman, with her low, mincing voice, and carefully chosen words, something of a blackmailer?

They walked on in silence for a few minutes, and on her side, Mrs. Piper began to doubt very much whether she had acted for the best in being so honest-"honest" was the word she used to herself. But she told herself that now she had started, perhaps she had better go straight on with it.

"It's my belief that Piper did ask Mrs. Crofton to speak to you, sir, about the matter, and I thought, maybe, that she 'ad done so. 'Ave I your permission to say, sir, that I met you in the road, and that the subject cropped up as it were?"

"You can say anything you like," said Radmore coldly.

He could not ask this strange, sinister woman to remain silent, yet the thought that Enid Crofton was about to be told that he and this Mrs. Piper had discussed her affairs was very disagreeable to him.

Radmore was tempted for a moment to do a quixotic act, to say to the woman, "I will find this money for your husband; don't trouble Mrs. Crofton," and but for what had happened not an hour ago he would almost certainly have done so. But now he felt as if he never wanted to hear Enid Crofton's name mentioned again, and he would have given a good deal to obliterate her and her concerns entirely from his memory.

They were now, much to his relief, close to The Trellis House: "I will ring the bell for you," he said courteously, and then, without waiting for her thanks, he hurried off towards Old Place.

* * *

The next evening Jack Tosswill drew Radmore aside. "Look here," he said awkwardly, "I wonder if you'd kindly wait a bit after the others have gone to bed? I want to ask you something, Godfrey."

"Of course I will, old chap." Radmore looked hard into the young man's moody, troubled face, and came to a certain conclusion. Doubtless Enid Crofton had given Jack his dismissal, and the foolish fellow was going to pour it all out. He felt he was in for a disagreeable, not to say painful, half hour. Few people of a kindly disposition even reach the age Radmore had reached without having had more than one such talk with a young man crossed in love.

As soon as they settled themselves down, each with his pipe, in front of the drawing-room fire, Jack began, speaking obviously with a great effort, and yet with a directness and honesty which the older man admired:-

"Look here, Godfrey? It's no use beating about the bush. I want to know if you can lend me £500, and I want to say at once that I don't know when I shall be able to pay you back. Still, I shall be able to pay you interest. I suppose one pays the bank rate? I don't know anything about those things. Of course, you may ask why don't I go to my father, but-"

Radmore stopped him. "It's all right, old chap. I'll give you a cheque this evening before we go to bed."

"I say-" Jack turned round. "You're a good fellow, Radmore; I wouldn't do it, only-only-"

"I know," said Radmore coolly. "I quite realise it isn't for yourself. I suppose it's to oblige a pal. You needn't tell me anything more about it. As a matter of fact I meant to ask you whether you'd take a present from me of just that sum. I don't suppose you know how I feel about you all. George and I were just like brothers. He'd have given me anything."

"No, no! I want this to be a business transaction, Godfrey." He said the words just a little fiercely.

"So it shall be-if you want it that way. I'll go and get my cheque book now."

When he came back, the cheque made out in his hand, he said thoughtfully, "I hope your friend hasn't got into the sort of scrape which means that one has to pay money of a-well, of a blackmailing sort? There's no end to that, you know."

Jack Tosswill looked surprised. "Good Heavens, no! He's only being rushed over a bill-legal proceedings threatened-you know the sort of thing?"

"I've made out the cheque to self and endorsed it," observed Radmore.

"Thanks awfully. You are a good sort. I am far more grateful than I can say, far more than-than-if it was only for myself-"

He stopped abruptly, and there was an awkward pause. Then Jack, speaking rather breathlessly, asked an odd question:-

"You knew Crofton very well, didn't you, Godfrey? What kind of a chap was he?"

He brought out the question with an effort. But he did so want to know! For the first time in his self-confident, comfortable, young life Jack Tosswill was in love and full of painful, poignant, retrospective jealousy.

Radmore looked away, instinctively. "I liked Colonel Crofton, I always got on with him-but he was not popular. He was not at all happy when I knew him, and unhappy people are rarely popular."

He was wondering whether he had better say anything to Jack-whether the favour he had just done him gave him the right to speak.

"I suppose he was at least thirty years older than Mrs. Crofton?"

Radmore nodded, and then they neither spoke for a few moments. Each was waiting for the other to say something, and at last Jack asked another question.

"They didn't get on very well together, did they?"

"When I first knew them they seemed to be all right. But he was very jealous of her, and he had cause to be, for most of the fellows out there were in love with her, and well, not to put too fine a point on it, she liked it!" He hesitated. "She was rather too fond of telling people that her husband wasn't quite kind to her."

"I think that was very natural of her!" exclaimed Jack, and Radmore felt a surge of pity for the young fellow. Still he forced himself to go on: "It's no use pretending. She was-and still is-a tremendous flirt."

Jack made a restless movement.

"I'm afraid you think me rather a cad for saying that, and I wouldn't say it to anyone but you. She was bred in a bad school-brought up, so I understood from a man who had known her as a girl, in Southsea, by a widowed mother as pretty as herself. Her first husband-"

"But-but surely Colonel Crofton was her first husband?"

"No," again Radmore avoided looking at his companion, "she's been married twice. Her first husband, a good-looking young chap in the 11th Hussars, died quite soon after the marriage, the two of them having 'blued' all they had between them. I suppose she foolishly thought there was nothing left for it but for her to marry Colonel Crofton. And the real trouble was that Colonel Crofton was poor. I fancy they'd have got on perfectly well if he had had pots of money."

"I-I don't agree to that," Jack said hotly.

"I'm afraid it's true. But we really oughtn't to discuss a woman, even as we are doing now. The only excuse is that we're both so fond of her," said Radmore lightly.

But even as he spoke he felt heavy-hearted. Jack Tosswill had got it very badly, far worse than he had suspected, and somehow he didn't believe that the medicine he had just administered had done the young man any good.

* * *

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