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   Chapter 24 No.24

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 27836

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Two days went by, and now Saturday had come round again.

In a sense nothing had happened during those two days, and to some of the inmates of Old Place the week had seemed extremely long and dull.

Mrs. Crofton had suddenly gone up to town for two nights, and both Jack and Rosamund, in their very different ways, felt depressed and lonely in consequence. But she was coming back to-day, and Rosamund was going to meet her at the station with the Old Place pony cart.

At breakfast Rosamund suggested that perhaps Godfrey might like to motor her there instead, but to her vexation he didn't "rise" at all. He simply observed, rather shortly, that he was going on a rather long business expedition: and Rosamund retorted, pertly, "Business on a Saturday? How strange!" to receive the dry reply: "Yes, it does seem strange, doesn't it?"

Half an hour later Betty and Timmy were busily engaged in washing up the breakfast things when Godfrey Radmore strolled into the scullery.

"I thought that I was always to be in on this act?" he exclaimed. And it was true that he had fallen into the way of helping to wash up, turning what had always been a very boresome task into what Timmy to himself called "great fun" for while Radmore washed and dried the plates and dishes, he told them funny things about some of his early experiences in Australia.

"We've done quite well without you. We're nearly through," said Betty merrily. Somehow she felt extraordinarily light-hearted to-day.

Her visitor-for very well she knew he was her visitor rather than Timmy's-came a little nearer, and shut the scullery door behind him.

"Look here," he said mysteriously, "I want just us three to take a secret expedition to-day. I think I've found my house of dreams! If you'll then both run upstairs and put on your things, we could go there and be back in quite good time for tea."

"For tea?" repeated Betty, startled. "But who would look after lunch?"

"There's plenty of delicious cold mutton in the house," said Radmore decidedly. He added with a certain touch of cunning: "I did ask your mother, Timmy, if she'd come too, but she can't leave the house this morning: she's expecting a very important telephone message-something to do with the garden. She'll see about lunch, for she's particularly anxious,"-he turned to Betty,-"that you should have a good blow this time. We shall get a little lunch while we are out, and be home by four."

"Let's take lunch with us," broke in Timmy eagerly. "We can eat it anywhere." He had always had a passion for picnics.

Betty was the last human being to make any unnecessary fuss. Also, somehow, she felt as if to-day was not quite like other days. She could not have told why. "All right. I'll cut some sandwiches, and then I'll go and get ready," she said.

Janet was in the hall when Betty came down.

"That's right," she said heartily, "I'm glad you're going to have a real outing at last!"

She took the girl in her arms and kissed her, and Betty felt touched. Her step-mother was not given to affectionate demonstration. And then, all at once, Janet looked round and said in a low voice: "Betty, I'm dreadfully worried about Jack. D'you think it's conceivably possible that there's anything serious between him and Mrs. Crofton?"

Betty hardly knew what to answer. For some days past she had felt quite sure that there was something between those two. Jack had been so odd, so unlike himself, and once he had said to her, "Betty, I do wish you'd make friends with Mrs. Crofton. After all you're my sister ..." and then they had been, perhaps fortunately, interrupted. But if there was anything between Jack and the fascinating widow, Rosamund, who was so devoted to Enid Crofton, knew nothing of it.

"I really can't say," she answered at last, "I've hardly ever felt so doubtful about anything in my life! Sometimes I think there is, and sometimes I think there isn't."

"I'm afraid there's no doubt as to what he feels. I happen to know she's just had a very good offer for The Trellis House-seven guineas a week for six months. But she seems to have settled in here for good and all, doesn't she?"

"I wonder if she really has," said Betty. And then she grew a little pink.

Deep in her heart she had felt quite convinced that Mrs. Crofton had come to Beechfield for Godfrey Radmore, and for no other reason. Now she wondered if she had been unjust.

"How I wish she'd stay away now, even for a few days longer!" exclaimed Janet.

At that moment Timmy rushed into the hall, Radmore drove up in his motor, and in a couple of minutes the three were off-Janet looking after them, a touch of wistful longing and anxiety in her kind heart.

She had hoped somehow, that Godfrey would persuade Betty to go alone with him to-day, and she was wondering now whether she could have said a word to Timmy. Her child was so unlike other little boys. If selfish, he was very understanding where the few people he cared for were concerned, and his mother had never known him to give her away.

But the harm, if harm there was, was done now, and for some things she was not sorry to get rid of Timmy for some hours. There had arisen between the boy and his eldest half-brother a disagreeable state of tension. Timmy seemed to take pleasure in teasing Jack, and Jack was not in the humour to bear even the smallest practical joke just now.

* * *

On and on sped the party in the motor, Timmy sitting by his godfather in front, Betty, in lonely state, behind.

They hadn't gone very far before the countryside began to have all the charm of strangeness to Betty Tosswill, and she found herself enjoying the change of scene as only a person who has been cooped up in one familiar place for a considerable time can enjoy it.

"Why, we must be on the borders of Sussex!" she called out, at a point where Radmore, slowing down, was consulting a sign-post. He turned round and nodded.

They started again. And then something rather absurd happened. Betty's hat blew off! It was an ordinary, rather floppy hat, and she had tied it on, as she thought, securely with a veil under her chin.

Both Timmy and Radmore jumped out to pick the hat up, and as they came back towards the car, Timmy exclaimed: "It's a shame that Betty hasn't got a proper motor bonnet! Rosamund's got a lovely one."

"Why hasn't Betty got one?"

"Because they're so expensive," said Timmy simply. He went on, "When I've got lots of money, I shall give Betty heaps of beautiful clothes; but only one very plain dress apiece to Rosamund and Dolly."

"Betty! You ought to have a motor bonnet," called out Radmore as he came up to the car.

Her fair hair, blowing in the wind, formed an aureole round her face. She looked very, very different to the staid Betty of Old Place.

She answered merrily: "So I will when my ship comes home! I had one before the War, and I stupidly gave it away."

"Surely we might get one somewhere to-day," suggested Radmore.

"Get one to-day-what an extraordinary idea? Motor bonnets don't grow on hedges-"

But when they were going through-was it Horsham?-Radmore, alone of the three, espied a funny little shop. It was called "The Bandbox": its woodwork was painted bright green, and in the window were three hats.

"Now then," he exclaimed, slowing down, "this, I take it, is where motor bonnets grow. At any rate we'll get down and see."

"What a lark!" cried Timmy delightedly. "Please, please Betty, don't make yourself disagreeable-don't be a 'govvey'!"

And Betty, not wishing to be a "govvey," got out of the car.

"But I've no money with me," she began.

"I wouldn't let you pay for what's going to be a present," said Radmore shortly. "You're the only inhabitant of Old Place to whom I haven't given a present since I've been home."

Home? It gave Betty such pleasure to hear him call it that.

They all three marched into the tiny shop where the owner of "The Bandbox," described by Timmy to his mother, later, as a "rather spidery-looking, real lady," sat sewing.

She received them with a mixture of condescension and pleasure at the thought of a new customer, which diverted Radmore, who was new to the phenomenon of the lady shopkeeper. But when it came to business, she took a very great deal of trouble, bringing out what seemed, at the time, the whole of her considerable stock, for "The Bandbox" was cleverly lined with deep, dust-proof cupboards.

At last she produced a quaint-looking little blue and purple bonnet, with an exquisitely soft long motor veil of grey chiffon.

"My sister is at Monte Carlo," she observed, "and when she was passing through Paris she got me a dozen early autumn models. I have already copied this model in other colours, but this is the original motor bonnet. May I advise that you try it on?"

It was in its way a delightful bit of colour, and Betty hardly knew herself when she looked in the glass and saw what a very pretty reflection was presented there. She was startled-but oh, how pleasantly startled-to see how young she still could look.

"Of course you must have that one," said Radmore, in a matter of fact tone, "and leave the horrid thing you wore coming here behind you." Then he turned to Timmy:-"Now then, don't you think you could choose something for your mother?"

The lady of the shop turned patronisingly towards the little boy. She went across to a corner cupboard and opened what appeared to be a rather secret receptacle. Though she had not been in business long, she already realised what an advantage it is to deal, as regards feminine fripperies, with a man-customer. Also, Radmore, almost in spite of himself, looked opulent.

"I think I have the very thing!" she explained. "It's a little on the fantastic side, and so only suits a certain type of face."

As she spoke she brought out a miniature brown poke bonnet which was wreathed with one uncurled ostrich feather of a peculiar powder blue tint. She put it deftly on Betty's head, then stepped back and gazed delightedly into the smiling face and dancing eyes of her new client.

"I have kept this back," she began, "hoping I should come across a bride-elect whom it might really suit, for it would make a perfect 'going-away' hat! But it is so extraordinarily becoming to this lady, that I feel I ought to let her have it!"

She turned appealingly to Radmore, but Timmy intervened:-"That's not my mother!" he cried, going off into fits of laughter. "We want a hat for my mother. That's only my sister!"

The shop-lady looked vexed, and Radmore felt awkward. He realised that he and Betty had been taken for husband and wife, Timmy for their spoilt little boy.

"I'm quite sure I could find something that would suit Janet," exclaimed Betty, hastily taking off the delightful bit of headgear.

She put on the motor bonnet again, and then she went over to where a black garden hat, with just one rose on the brim, and with long blue velvet strings, was lying on a table.

"I think Timmy's mother would look very nice in this," she said smiling.

The black hat was slipped into a big paper-bag, and handed to Timmy. Then Radmore exclaimed: "Now then, we've no time to lose! Help your sister into the car, Timmy, while I stop behind and pay the bill."

The bill did not take a minute to make out, and Radmore was rather surprised to find that the three hats-for he bought three-cost him not far short of fifteen pounds between them, though the lady observed pleasantly, "Of course I can afford to sell my hats at a much less price than London people charge."

To Betty's eyes, Godfrey looked rather funny when he came out of the gay little painted door with a flower-covered bandbox slung over his right arm.

She had thought it just a little mean that the shop-woman should give Timmy Janet's hat in a paper-bag. Though Betty would have been horrified indeed at the prices paid by Radmore, she yet suspected that "The Bandbox" lady asked quite enough for her pretty wares to be able to throw in a cardboard box, so "Is that for Janet's hat?" she called out.

"This," he said, looking up at her, "is that queer-looking brown thing with the blue feather that suited you so well. Of course I meant you to have it too."

Betty felt at once disturbed, and yet, absurdly pleased. "I'm afraid it was very expensive," she began. And then suddenly Radmore told himself that after all the poke bonnet had been cheap indeed if the thought of it could bring such a sparkle into Betty's eyes, and such a vivid while delicate colour to her cheeks.

There came a day, as a matter of fact the day when Betty wore that quaint-looking bonnet for the first time, when she did venture to ask Godfrey what it had cost. He refused to tell her, simply saying that whatever he had paid he had had the best of the bargain as it had been worth its weight in gold. Even so it is very unlikely that she will ever know what that queer little bonnet, which she intends to keep as long as she lives, really meant to Godfrey Radmore-how it had suddenly made him feel that here was the young Betty of nine years ago come back, never to disappear into the mists of time again.

Something else happened in the High Street of that little Sussex town. Radmore decided that it was Timmy's turn to sit behind, and the boy gave in with a fairly good grace; though after they had left the houses behind them and were again moving swiftly between brown hedges, he called out patronisingly:-"The back of your head looks very nice now, Betty-quite different to what it looked in that horrid old hat you left in the shop."

At last the car slowed down in front of a gate, on one side of which was a big board. On this board was painted a statement to the effect that the historic estate of Doryford House was to be let or sold, furnished or unfurnished, "Apply to the principal Londo

n agents."

The finding of the place had not been quite easy, and Radmore drew a breath of relief as he helped Betty down.

"When Timmy and I were last here," he said hurriedly, "there was a child very ill at the lodge. So I think I'd better go and just find how things are."

He was hoping with all his heart that the news he would see on the mother's face would be good news. Somehow he felt that it would be of happy augury for himself.

As he rang the bell his heart was beating-a feeling of acute suspense had suddenly come over him, of which he was secretly ashamed, for it was almost entirely a selfish distress. And then, when the door opened, he saw that all was well, for the young woman's worn face was radiant.

"Is that you, sir? Oh, I did hope that you would come again!" she exclaimed, "The doctor says that my little girl's certain to get well. I was terrible anxious the day before yesterday, but now though she's weak and wan, you'd hardly know she'd been bad, sir."

"I wonder if you could give me the keys of Doryford House?" began Radmore. "I want to go over it, and we need not trouble you to come with us."

"I'm supposed always to go up with visitors," she said hesitatingly, "even if I leaves them there," but she looked troubled at the thought of leaving her child. Then, all at once, Radmore had a happy inspiration.

"Would you feel easier if we left the little boy we've brought with us in charge? He's very intelligent. He might sit in your kitchen."

She looked across to where Betty Tosswill and Timmy were standing. "Why, yes!" she exclaimed, relieved. "If the young gentleman don't mind, perhaps he would sit with Rosie. 'Tain't nothing infectious, you know, sir, and it would please her like to have a visitor. She's got a book in which there's a picture of a little sick girl and someone coming to see her. She said to me yesterday, 'No one comes to see me, mother, 'cepting doctor.'"

Radmore went off to the other two.

"The woman evidently feels that she ought to come up herself to the house. But she's nervous about leaving her little girl. I was wondering whether Timmy would mind staying and amusing the child? We might have our picnic in the house itself, if it's in any way possible."

"What sort of a little girl is she?" began Timmy, but his godfather cut him short.

"Never mind what sort of a little girl she is-she's longing for a visitor, and you will be the first one to see her since she's been ill."

He turned to Betty. "Perhaps you'd like to go in and see what sort of a place it is? Meanwhile I'll open the gate and get the car through."

Betty and Timmy followed the woman through the kitchen of the lodge to a bedroom, where lay a pale-faced little girl of six. On the patchwork counterpane were a pair of scissors and a big sheet of paper. It was evident that the child had been trying to amuse herself by cutting out patterns. As the visitors came in, she sat up, and her little face flushed with joy. Here was her dream come true! Here were some visitors-a beautiful lady in a peculiarly lovely blue bonnet, and a pleasant-looking young gentleman too!

Timmy, who was quite unshy, went up to her bedside. "Good-morning," he said in a polite, old-fashioned way. "I'm sorry you're ill, and I hope you'll soon be quite well. I've come to look after you while your mother goes up to the house with my godfather and my sister. If you like, I'll cut you some beautiful fairy figures out of that paper, and then we can pretend they're dancing."

He looked round and espied a chair, which he brought up close to the bed.

Rosie was far too excited and shy to speak.

"What's your name?" he began. "Mine is Timothy Godfrey Radmore Tosswill."

The little girl whispered "Rosamund."

"I've got a sister called Rosamund; now, isn't that curious?" cried Timmy.

He had already seized the scissors, and was engaged in cutting out some quaint, fantastic looking little figures.

After the others had left the room, Rosamund's mother turned to Betty. "I never saw such a nice, kind, young gentleman!" she exclaimed. "He fair took my breath away-a regular little doctor he'd make."

* * *

Houses are like people-they have their day, their hour, even, one feels inclined to add, their moods of sadness and of joy, of brightness and of dulness.

To-day the white Corinthian-looking building called Doryford House was at its best, in the soft lambent light of an autumn day. For a moment, when the long, pillared building first came into view, Radmore had felt a thrill of unreasonable disappointment. He had hoped, somehow, for a red-brick manor-house-a kind of glorified Old Place. But a few minutes later, when the mahogany front doors had been unlocked, and they passed into a light, circular hall and so into a delightful-looking sunny drawing-room filled with enchanting examples of 18th century furniture, he began to think that this was, after all, a very attractive house.

"In what wonderful order everything seems to be!" he exclaimed. "Have the people to whom the place belongs only just left it?"

"It's this way, sir. The gentleman to whom it belongs has several other homes-he don't care for this place at all. But it's all kep' up proper-one of the gardeners sees to the furnace-and about all this here furniture, anybody who takes the house unfurnished, or buys the place, will be able to keep what they likes at a valuation. Perhaps you and your lady would like to go over the house by yourselves? People often do, I notice. If you'll excuse me, I'll just nip away. I wants to go to the village for a few minutes-that is if your little boy will be so kind as to stay with my Rosie till I'm back."

"I'm sure he will," said Radmore heartily. He told himself that it was very natural that everyone should think that he and Betty were married.

The front door shut behind the caretaker, and the two left behind began going through the ground floor of the great empty house. Their progress gave Betty an eerie feeling. She felt as if she was in a kind of dream; the more so that this was quite unlike any country house into which she had ever been.

They finally came to the last living-room of all, and both exclaimed together: "This is the room I like best of all!"

It was an octagon library, lined with mahogany bookcases filled with bound books which looked as though they hadn't been disturbed for fifty years. The wide, fan-shaped window looked out on a formal rose garden.

And then, all at once, Radmore's quick eye detected a concealed door in the wall, on which there were encrusted the sham book titles often to be found on the doors of an old country home library. Quickly he went across and, opening it, found it gave straight on to a corkscrew staircase.

Filled with a queer sense of adventure, he motioned Betty to go up first, in front of him.

The staircase led up to a tiny lobby, into which opened a most beautiful bedchamber, a replica as to shape and size of the library beneath.

The furniture there interested Betty, for she had never seen anything like it, except once in a chateau near Arras. It was First Empire, and on the pin-cushion, lying on the ornate dressing-table, someone had written in a fine Italian hand on an envelope, the words: "This room was furnished from Paris in 1810. The bed is a replica of a bed made for the Empress Josephine."

They went on through many of the rooms on the upper floor, full to-day of still, sunny late autumn charm.

Radmore scarcely spoke at all during their curious progress through the empty house, and Betty still felt as if in a dream. She had asked herself again and again if he could really be thinking of buying this stately mansion.

The mere possibility of such a thing meant that he must be thinking of marrying Mrs. Crofton, and also that he must be much richer than any of them knew.

At last they came down a wide staircase which terminated in a corridor leading into the circular hall, and then it was Betty who broke what was becoming an oppressive silence:

"Shall we go on and see the kitchen and the servants' quarters, Godfrey?"

"No; they're sure to be all right."

Again came what seemed to Betty a long, unnatural silence.

"Do you really like the house?" he asked at last.

"I like it very much," she said frankly. "But wouldn't it cost a tremendous lot of money, Godfrey? It would be a pity not to buy it exactly as it stands. It all seems so-so-"

"I know! As if the furniture had grown there," he broke in.

"So beautiful and so-so unusual," Betty went on diffidently.

"I'm afraid I'm a commonplace person, Betty. I like a room to be beautiful, but I like comfort, and I think this is a very comfortable house. I feel, somehow, as if happy, good people had lived here. I like that, too."

He was standing by one of the round pillars which carried out the type of architecture which had been the fashion at the time Doryford was built; and he was gazing at her with what seemed to her a rather odd expression on his dark face. Was he going to tell her of his hopes or intention with regard to Mrs. Crofton?

Betty felt, for the first time that day, intensely shy. She walked away, towards the big half-moon window opposite the front door. A wide grass gallop, bordered with splendid old trees, stretched out as if illimitable, and she began gazing down it with unseeing eyes.

He came quickly across the hall, and stood by her. Then he said slowly, "I'm wondering, wondering, wondering if I shall ever be in this house again!"

"You must think it well over," she began.

But he cut her short. "It depends on you whether Doryford becomes my home or not."

"On me?" she repeated, troubled. "Don't trust to my taste as much as that, Godfrey."

"But you do like it?" he asked insistently.

"Of course I like it. If it comes to that, I don't know that I've ever been in so beautiful and perfect a house. And then, well perhaps because we've everything so shabby at Old Place, I do like to see everything in such apple-pie order!"

A little disappointed, he went on, "I fear it isn't your ideal house, Betty? Not your house of dreams?"

And then, all at once, she knew that she couldn't answer him, for tears had welled up in her eyes, and choked her speech.

Her house of dreams? Betty Tosswill's house of dreams had vanished, she thought, for ever, so very long ago. Betty's house of dreams had been quite a small house-but such a cosy, happy place, full of the Godfrey of long ago, and of good, delicious dream children....

She turned her head away.

"Well," he exclaimed, "that's that! We won't think about this house again. We'll go and look at another place to-morrow."

His matter-of-fact, rather cross, tone made her pull herself together. What a baby he was after all!

"Don't be absurd, Godfrey. I don't believe if we were to look England through, that I should see a house I thought more delightful than this house. I'm a little overawed by it, that's all! You see I've never dwelt in marble halls-"

"Oh, one gets used to that!"

"Yes, I expect one does."

"Whether I buy this place depends on you," he said obstinately.

"Well, then, if I'm to decide, I say buy it!" She turned and smiled at him a little tremulously, keeping her head well down-her face shadowed by the deep brim of her motor-bonnet.

More and more was this like a scene out of a dream to Betty Tosswill. In a way, it was, of course, natural that she and Godfrey should be alone, and that he should turn to her as his closest friend. And yet it seemed strange and unnatural, too. But Betty had a very generous nature-and to this man, who was looking at her with such an eager, searching look, she felt in a peculiar relation. So she repeated, with greater ease and lightness, "Let's settle, here and now, that this is to be the future residence of Godfrey Radmore, Esquire! Timmy's a little bit like a cat, you know. He'll simply adore this house. He'll love all the pretty things in it. Perhaps you'd run him up in the motor presently, while I stay with the little girl and that nice woman?"

And then all at once he took a step forward and roughly took her two hands in his: "Betty," he said, "don't you understand? I shall never enter this house again unless you're willing to come and share it with me. No place would be home to me without you in it. Why, Old Place is only home now because you're there."

She looked at him with a long, searching, measuring look; a look that was, unconsciously, full of questioning; but her hands remained in his strong grasp.

"Don't you know that I've always been yours?" he asked-"that I shall always be yours even if you won't have me-even if I end by marrying another woman, as I daresay I shall do if you won't have me, for I'm a lonely chap-" And then something in her face made him add: "Try to love me again, Betty. I want you to say to yourself-'a poor thing but mine own.' Do, my dear."

And then Betty burst out crying, and found herself clasped in his arms, strained to his heart, while his lips sought and found her soft, tremulous mouth.

He was gentle with her, gentle and strangely restrained. And yet as the happy moments went by in that silent, sunny house, something deep in her still troubled heart told her that Radmore really loved her-loved her as perhaps he had not loved her ten years ago, in his hot, selfish, impulsive youth.

"We needn't tell anyone for a little while, need we?" she whispered at last.

She had shared her life, given her services to so many during the last nine years, and she longed to keep this strange new joy a secret for a while.

"If you like, we need never tell them at all," he answered. "We can just go out, find a church, and be married!"

"Oh, no; that wouldn't be fair to Janet." And yet the notion of doing this fascinated her.

* * *

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