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   Chapter 26 No.26

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 15984

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Since she had had the horrid accident which had laid her up, Timmy had not gone to see his old Nanna nearly as often as he ought to have done. Nanna herself, however, with the natural cunning of those who love, had made certain rules which ensured her a regular, daily glimpse of the strange little being she had had under her charge, as she would have expressed it, "from the month." Nanna did not desire his attendance before breakfast for she would not have considered herself fit to be seen by him till she herself was neat and tidy. Like all the women of her class and generation, the Tosswills' old family nurse was full of self-respect, and also imbued with a stern sense of duty. Timmy stood far more in awe of her than he did of his mother.

One of the stated times for Timmy's visits to the old night nursery was just before he had to start for church each Sunday, and on this particular Sunday, the day after that on which had occurred Dolly's engagement, and Mrs. Crofton's return from London, he came in a few moments before he was expected, and began wandering about the room, doing nothing in particular. At once Nanna divined that he had something on his mind about which he was longing, yet half afraid, to speak to her. She said nothing, however, and at last it came out.

"I want you to lend me your Bible," he said, wriggling himself about. "I want to take it to church with me."

This was the last thing Nanna had expected the boy to ask, for, of course, Timmy had a Bible of his own, a beautiful thin-paper Bible, which she herself had given him on his seventh birthday, having first asked his mother's leave if she might do so. The Bible was in perfect condition. It stood on a little mat on his chest of drawers, and not long before her accident Nanna had gone into his bedroom, opened the sacred Book, and gazed with pleasure on the inscription, written in her own large, unformed handwriting, on the first page:

Timothy Godfrey Radmore Tosswill on his seventh birthday from his loving nurse,

Emily Pew.

All this being so, his mother, or even his sister, Betty, would at once have enquired, "Why don't you take your own Bible to church?" But somehow Nanna thought it best not to put this question, for a lie, shocking on any day, is more shocking than usual, or so she thought, if uttered on a Sunday. So, after a moment's hesitation, she replied: "Certainly, Master Timmy, if such is your wish. But I trust you will be very careful with it, my dear."

"I will be very, very careful!" he exclaimed. "And I will bring it straight back to you up here after church."

He threw her a grateful look. He did more, and Nanna felt amply rewarded as he climbed up on her bed and, putting his arms round her neck, kissed her on each cheek.

"I hope," she said impressively, "that you are going to be a good boy in church-a boy that Nurse can be proud of."

Nanna never called herself "Nanna" to the children.

"I am always very good in church," cried Timmy, offended. "I don't see why you should go and spoil everything by saying that!" With these cryptic words he slid off the bed, taking with him the large old-fashioned Bible which always lay by Nanna's bedside.

Dolly, and Rosamund, who was Dolly's stable-companion, were attending the service held by Dolly's fiancé, Lionel Barton, in the next parish. As for Betty, her heart was very full, and as she did her morning's work and while she dressed herself for church, she still felt as if she was living through a wonderful dream.

Jack, who did not always go to church, had elected to go to-day; so had Tom and Godfrey; and thus, in spite of the absence of the two younger girls, quite a considerable party filed into the Tosswill pew.

All the people belonging to Old Place were far too much absorbed in their own thoughts on this rather strange Sunday morning to give any thought to Timmy. So it was that he managed, after a moment's thought, to place himself between his father and his godfather. He judged, rightly, that neither of them would be likely to pay much attention to him or to his doings.

When the rather nervous young rector had got well away with his sermon, and had begun to attract the serious attention of Mr. Tosswill and of Godfrey Radmore, Timmy very quietly drew out of his little, worn tweed coat a long sharp pin. Wedging the Bible, as he hoped reverently, but undoubtedly very securely between his knees, he thrust the pin firmly in the middle of the faded, gilt-edged leaves of Nanna's Bible, where there were already many curious little brown dots caused by similar punctures, the work of Nanna herself.

Having done this, Timmy carefully lifted the Bible from between his knees and let it fall open at the page the pin had found. The text where the point rested ran as follows:

Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.

His father's eyes flickered for a moment and fixed themselves on Timmy with a worried, disturbed expression. As a child he himself would have been sternly reproved for reading, even the Bible, during a sermon, but he supposed that Janet knew better than his own mother had done. Timmy certainly loved Janet far, far more than he, John Tosswill, had loved his own good mother. So he averted his eyes from his little son, and tried to forget all about him.

But John Tosswill did not know his Janet. Though three off from Timmy, she had become aware that her son was bending over a very big, shabby-looking book, instead of sitting upright, listening sedately. She gave him one glance, and Timmy, with a rather confused and guilty look, hurriedly shut Nanna's Bible, and turned his mind to the sermon. He had seen what he wanted to see; and further, he had made a mental note of the page and place.

At last the service was over, and the congregation streamed out of church. Timmy hung back a little, behind his mother. He did not wish her to see that he had Nanna's Bible instead of his own, but she was far too full of her own exciting and anxious thoughts to give any attention to her little boy. Rather to her surprise, she found her mind dwelling persistently on Enid Crofton. It was at once a relief and a disappointment not to see the young widow's graceful figure, and her heart ached when she saw the cloud come down over Jack's face.

All at once she felt a detaining gesture on her arm, and turning, she found Miss Pendarth at her elbow. They generally had a little talk after church, for it was often the only time in the week when these two, both in their several ways busy women, felt that they had a few minutes to spare for gossip.

"I wonder if you could come in to Rose Cottage for a minute? I want to show you something which I think will interest you as much as it has me."

Neither of them noticed that Timmy had crept up quite close and was listening eagerly. In a village community the gossip holds a place apart, and Olivia Pendarth, though by no means popular with the young people of Old Place, nevertheless had her value as the source of many thrilling tales.

Janet Tosswill hesitated. "I wish I could come back with you," she said at last, regretfully. "But I promised to go straight home this morning."

She debated within herself whether she should say anything here and now about Dolly's engagement; then she made up her mind not to do so yet.

Miss Pendarth, slightly lowering her voice, went on: "Perhaps I might come in this afternoon, and bring what I want to show you with me? It's a full report of the inquest held on Colonel Crofton."

Janet looked up quickly. "I confess I should very much like to read that," she exclaimed, and then she added, "but I shan't be in this afternoon. I've promised to go over to Oakford."

That much information she would vouchsafe her old friend.

A slightly satirical look came over Miss Pendarth's face. She told herself how foolish it was of Janet to suppose for a single moment that that good-looking young

clergyman was ever likely to make an offer to tiresome, stupid, untidy Dolly Tosswill!

"I wonder if you would lend me the paper?" Janet suggested hesitatingly. "Timmy could go for it now, and I would send it you back the moment I had read it."

"Very well," said the other, not very graciously. "I suppose Timmy can be trusted to be careful of it? I went to great trouble to get a copy, and I don't think I should be able to get another." She added slowly: "I got it at the request of Colonel Crofton's sister, but I have not yet sent it to her because I thought it would distress her too much."

* * *

A few minutes later Timmy was gazing round the hall of Rose Cottage with eager, inquisitive eyes. Miss Pendarth did not care for children, and though Timmy frequently came to her door with a note, he was very seldom invited inside the house.

Even now his hostess said rather sharply: "Run out into the garden, Timmy, while I go upstairs and find an envelope big enough in which to put the paper for your mother. I daresay I shall be away five minutes, for I want you to take her a note with it."

The boy went through the glass door into the garden. He walked briskly up the path, kicking a pebble as he went, and then he sat down on the bench where, not so very long ago, Olivia Pendarth and Godfrey Radmore had sat discussing the curious and tragic occurrence which still filled Miss Pendarth's mind.

Timmy asked himself what exactly was the meaning of the word inquest? Why had a paper printed what Miss Pendarth called a full account of the inquest on Colonel Crofton's death? Was it "inquest" or "henquest"? His agile mind swung back to the mysterious words he had heard Mrs. Crofton's ex-man-servant utter in the stable-yard of The Trellis House.

At last Miss Pendarth opened the door giving into the garden, and Timmy, jumping up, hurried down the path toward the house. He then saw that she held a neat-looking brown paper roll in her hand, and over the roll was slipped an india-rubber band.

"I thought it a pity to waste a big envelope," she observed, "so I have done up the newspaper and my note to your mother into a roll. Will you please ask your mother to put it back exactly as it is now-with the india-rubber band round it? These bands have become so very expensive. She need not send it back. I will call for it to-morrow morning about twelve. Mind you give it to her at once, Timmy. I don't want to have a thing like that left lying about."

Timmy slipped into Old Place by a back way often used by the young people, for it was opposite a garden door set in the high brick wall which gave on to one of the by-ways of the village.

But instead of seeking out his mother, as he ought at once to have done, he went upstairs and so into what had been the day nursery. There he locked the door, and having first put Nanna's Bible on the big, round table, at which as a baby boy he had always sat in his high chair, he went over to the corner where Josephine was peacefully reposing with her kittens, and sat down on the floor by the cat's basket.

Very carefully he then slipped the india-rubber band off the roll of brown paper which had been confided to him by Miss Pendarth. He spread out the sheet of newspaper, putting aside the brown paper in which it had been rolled, as also Miss Pendarth's open letter to his mother. And then, with one hand resting on his cat's soft, furry neck, he read through the long account of the inquest held on Colonel Crofton's death. As he worked laboriously down the long columns, Timmy's freckled forehead became wrinkled, for, try as he might, he could not make out what it was all about. The only part he thoroughly understood was the description of Colonel Crofton's last hours; the agony the dying man had endured, the efforts made by the doctor, not only to save his life, but to force him to say how the virulent poison had got into his system-all became vividly present to the boy.

Timmy felt vexed when he realised, as he could not help doing, that Mrs. Crofton had looked very pretty when she was giving evidence at the inquest; in fact, the descriptive reporter had called her "the dead man's beautiful young widow."

And then, all at once, he bethought himself of Miss Pendarth's letter to his mother.

Now Timmy was well aware that it is not an honourable thing to read other people's letters; on the other hand, his mother always left Miss Pendarth's notes lying about on her writing table, and more than once she had exclaimed: "Betty? Do read that note, and tell me what's in it!"

And so, after a short conflict between principle and curiosity, in which curiosity won, he began to read the letter. As he did so, he realised that it formed a key to the newspaper report he had just read, for Miss Pendarth's letter ran:

My dear Janet,

I am longing to talk over the enclosed with you. I was lately in Essex, and when we meet I will tell you all that was said and suspected there at the time of Colonel Crofton's death.

Someone we wot of got off very lightly. You will realise from even this rather confused report that someone must have put the bottle of strychnine into the unhappy man's bedroom-also that he absolutely denied having touched it. No one connected with the household, save of course Mrs. Crofton, had ever seen the bottle until after his death.

It is a strange and sinister story, but I remember my father used to say that Dr. Pomfrett (who for fifty years was the great medical man of our part of the world) had told him that not one murder in ten committed by people of the educated class was ever discovered.

I think you know that Mrs. C. has had a very handsome offer for The Trellis House from that foolish Mrs. Wallis, but I believe that up to yesterday she had not vouchsafed any answer.

Your affectionate,

Olivia Pendarth.

P.S.-Please burn this note as soon as read. I don't want to be had up for libel.

Timmy read the letter twice through. Then he very carefully folded up the newspaper in its original creases, put Miss Pendarth's letter inside, and made as tidy a roll as he could with the help of the brown paper. Finally he slipped on the india-rubber band, and scrambling up from the floor, unlocked the door. Taking Nanna's Bible off the round table, he went into his own bedroom and there laboriously copied out, with the help of a very blunt pencil, the text where the pin had rested in church. Then he took the Bible into Nanna's room.

"What's that you're holding?" she asked suspiciously.

"It's something I have to give to Mum."

Somehow the sight of Nanna, sitting up there in her big armchair, made him feel extremely guilty, and he was relieved when she said mildly: "You run along and give it to her, then."

He found his mother in his father's study, and they both stopped abruptly when he came in. Timmy supposed, rightly, that they had been speaking of Dolly and her engagement.

Janet took the roll of paper from her boy and slipped off the band absently: "What's this?" she exclaimed. And then, "How stupid of me! I remember now." She turned to her husband. "It's an account of the inquest held on Colonel Crofton. What a tremendous long thing! I shall have to put it aside till after lunch."

She did, however, read through Miss Pendarth's letter.

"Oh! John," she said, smiling, "this letter is too funny! Olivia Pendarth may be a good friend, but she's certainly a good hater. She simply loathes Mrs. Crofton." Then, deliberately, she went over to the fireplace and, lighting a match, set fire to the letter.

Timmy watched the big sheet of paper curling up in the flame. He was glad indeed that he had read the letter before it was burnt, but he made up his mind that when he was a grown-up man, he also would burn any letter that he thought the writer would prefer destroyed. In a way Janet was her son's great exemplar, but he was apt to postpone following the example he admired.

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