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   Chapter 27 No.27

What Timmy Did By Marie Belloc Lowndes Characters: 14022

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


It was after seven, on the evening of that same Sunday, that Enid Crofton, after having spent the whole day in her bedroom, came down to her pretty, cheerful, little sitting-room.

She had returned from London in an anxious, nervous, strung-up frame of mind. For the first time in her life she did not know what it was she really wanted, or rather she was uncertain as to what it would be best for her to do.

The thought of seeing Jack Tosswill, of having to fence and flirt with him in her present disturbed state of mind, had been intolerable. That was the real reason why she had stayed upstairs all to-day. He had called three times, and the third time he had brought with him a letter even more passionately loving, while also even more angry and hurt in tone, than the one which she had received from him the day before.

As she read this second epistle she had told herself, with something like rage, that it was not her fault that what she had intended should be a harmless flirtation had caused such havoc. Still, deep in her heart she was well aware that but for the havoc she had caused, she could never have confided to him her urgent need of the five hundred pounds which he had procured with such surprising ease.

Jack had been quite honest with the woman he loved. He had told her of his talk with Radmore, of Radmore's immediate, generous response, and the cheque he had given which he, Jack, handed to her as a free gift.

She had gone up to London fully intending to see the Pipers after she had cashed the cheque. But when it came to the point she had shirked the second half of her programme, telling herself, with perhaps a certain amount of truth, that by waiting till the last day of grace allowed her by that terrible old-clothes woman she would get better terms. Perhaps then they would be satisfied with three hundred pounds, or even less, and acting on that hope, she had expended a portion of the money in purchasing a few of the pretty dress etceteras which are so costly nowadays.

Apart from the time occupied by those pleasant purchases, she had spent every waking minute of the day with Harold Tremaine, lunching and dining at the big smart restaurants which both her soul and her body loved, going to the play, and listening in between to the most delightful love-making....

Small wonder that during that long, dull Sunday, spent perforce in her bedroom, Enid Crofton's mind often took refuge in the thought of the only man now in her life with whom all her memories and all her relations had been, and were, absolutely satisfactory. Captain Tremaine was a simple, happy, cheerful soul. Though he was always what he called "dashed short," when with a woman he flung about his money right royally. Also he was an expert, not a teasing, lover. He knew, so Enid reminded herself gratefully, when to stop, as well as when to begin, making love. How unlike inexpert, tiresome Jack Tosswill! And yet he also was in dead earnest. He knew exactly what he wanted, and more than once, in a chaffing, yet serious, fashion, he had assured her that she had best submit at once, as he always "got there in the end." What he wanted was that they should be married, by special license, within a week from now, so that they might go back to India, a happy, honeymooning couple, in a fortnight! And while he was with her, describing in eloquent, eager language what their life would be like and what a delightful, jolly time they would have, Enid had been sorely, sorely tempted to say "yes."

And yet? Though Tremaine was Enid Crofton's ideal of what a lover, even a husband, should be, and she had never liked any man as well, she knew with a painful, practical knowledge the meaning of the words "genteel poverty." Tremaine's regiment would not remain for ever in India, and then would begin the enforced economies, the weary struggle with an inadequate income she had known with Colonel Crofton. No, no-it wasn't good enough!-or at any rate not good enough as long as there was a hope of anything better. Even so, it was comfortable to know that Harold Tremaine would still be there, a second string to her bow, in six months' or a year's time.

It was of all this that she thought, a little despondently, as she settled herself down in the easy chair close to the little wood fire. In a few moments her supper would be brought in by her pleasant-faced, rosy-cheeked parlourmaid. Enid Crofton was dainty and particular as to her food. The bad cooking she had had to endure during those miserable months she had spent in Essex, after her husband had been demobilised, had proved a very real addition to her other troubles.

She had brought a nice sweetbread with her from London yesterday, and she was now looking forward to having it for her supper.

All at once there came a ring at the front door, and a feeling of keen, angry annoyance shot through her. Of course it was Jack-Jack again! He would ask tiresome, inconvenient questions about the mythical woman friend, the almost sister, for whom she had required the money, and she would have to make up tiresome, inconvenient lies. Also he would want to kiss her, and she did so want her dinner!

She stood up-and then the door opened and, instead of Jack, Timmy Tosswill came through it. For the first time in their acquaintance she was glad to see the boy, though she told herself that of course he had brought her a letter-another of those odious, reproachful letters from Jack.

"Good evening, Timmy," she spoke, as she always did speak, pleasantly. "Have you brought me a message from Rosamund? I hope she hasn't thrown me over? I'm expecting her to lunch to-morrow, you know."

"I didn't know," he said gravely, "and I've not brought a message from anyone, Mrs. Crofton. My coming is a secret."

"A secret?" Again she spoke easily, jokingly; but there came over her a strange, involuntary feeling of repulsion for the odd-looking child.

He came up close to her, and, putting his hands behind his back, began to stare fixedly beyond her, at the empty space between her chair and the white wall.

There crept over Enid Crofton a sensation of acute discomfort. She stepped back, and sat down in her low, easy-chair. What was Timmy looking at with that curious, fixed stare?

It was in vain that she reminded herself that no sensible person now believes in ghosts, and that she had but to press the bell on the other side of the fireplace to ensure the attendance of her cheerful servant. These comforting reflections availed her nothing, and a wave of fear advanced and threatened to engulf her.

After what seemed to her an interminable pause, but which was really less than a minute, Timmy's eyes met hers, and he said abruptly, "Is it true that someone has asked you to go to India? Rosamund says it is."

She gave a little gasp of relief. On her way home from the station in the Old Place pony-cart, she had told her companion that while in London she had met a man who had fallen in lov

e with her in Egypt, during the War. Further, that this handsome, brilliant, rich young soldier had urged her to marry him and go off to India with him at once. She was surprised as well as dismayed by this quick betrayal of her confidence. What a goose Rosamund was!

"Yes, Timmy," she bent forward and smiled a little, "it is quite true that I have been asked to go to India, but that doesn't mean that I'm going."

"I would, if I were you," said the child gravely.

"Would you?" Again she smiled. "But I've only just come to Beechfield. I hope you're not in a hurry to get rid of me?"

"No," he said, "I'm not in a hurry, exactly. It's you who ought to be in a hurry, Mrs. Crofton." He waited a moment and then added: "India is a very nice place."

"Yes, indeed. Full of tigers and leopards!" she said playfully.

"I should go as soon as you can if I were you."

She looked at him distrustfully. What exactly did he mean?

"Someone we wot of got off very lightly at the inquest."

His voice sank almost to a whisper, but Enid Crofton felt as if the terrible sentence was being shouted for all the world to hear.

Timmy's eyes were now fixed on the gay-looking blue rug spread out before the fender to his right. He was remembering something he had done of which he was ashamed.

Then he lifted his head and began again staring at the space between Mrs. Crofton's chair and the wall.

Enid Crofton opened her mouth and then she shut it again. What did the boy know? What had he seen? What had he been told? She remembered that Mr. Tosswill was a magistrate. Had the Pipers been down to see him?

"There were some people," went on the boy, and again he spoke in that queer, muffled whisper, almost as if the words were being dragged out of him against his will, "who thought"-he stopped-"who thought," he repeated, "that Colonel Crofton did not take that poison knowingly."

She told herself desperately that she must say something-something ordinary, something of no account, before a power outside herself forced her to utter words which would lead to horror incalculable.

Speaking in such a loud discordant voice that Timmy quickly moved back a step or two, she exclaimed: "I was not going to tell anybody yet-but as you seem so anxious to know my plans, I will tell you a secret, Timmy. I am going to India after all! A splendid strong man, an officer and a gentleman who would have won the V.C. ten times over in any other war, and who would kill anyone who ever said a word against me, has asked me to be his wife, and to go out to India very, very soon."

"And have you said you will?" he asked.

"Of course I have."

"And will you be married soon?" went on her inquisitor.

"Yes, very soon," she cried hysterically. "As soon as possible!"

"Then you will have to leave Beechfield."

She told herself with a kind of passionate rage that the child had no right to ask her such a silly, obvious question, and yet she answered at once: "Of course I shall leave Beechfield."

"And you will never come back?"

"I shall never, never come back." And then she added, almost as if in spite of herself, and with a kind of strange, bitter truthfulness very foreign to her: "I don't like Beechfield-I don't agree that it's a pretty place-I think it's a hideous little village."

There was a pause. She was seeking for a phrase in which to say "Good-bye," not so much to Timmy as to all the others.

"Will you go away to-morrow?" he asked, this time boldly. And she answered, "Yes, to-morrow."

"Perhaps I'd better not tell any of them at Old Place?" It was as if he was speaking to himself.

She clutched at the words.

"I would far rather you did not tell them-I will write to them from London. Can I trust you not to tell them, Timmy?"

He looked at her oddly. "Jack and Rosamund will be sorry," he said slowly. And then he jerked his head-his usual way of signifying "Good-bye" when he did not care to shake hands.

Turning round he walked out of the room, and she heard the front door bang after him, as also, after a moment or two, the outside door set in the garden wall.

Enid Crofton got up. Though she was shaking-shaking all over-she walked swiftly across her little hall into the dining-room. There she sat down at the writing-table, and took up the telephone receiver. "9846 Regent."

It was the number of Harold Tremaine's club. She thought he would almost certainly be there just now.

She then hung up the receiver again, and, going to the door which led into the kitchen, she opened it: "Don't bring in my supper yet. I'll ring, when I'm ready for it." She then went back to the little writing-table and waited impatiently.

At last the bell rang.

"I want to speak to Captain Tremaine. Is he in the Club? Can you find him?"

She felt an intense thrill of almost superstitious relief when the answer came: "Yes, ma'am. He's in the Club. I'll go and fetch him."

She remembered with relief that Tremaine had told her that no one could overhear, at any rate at his end, what was being said or answered through the telephone-but she also remembered that it was not the same here, in The Trellis House.

Judging others by herself, as most of us do in this strange world, she felt sure that her two young servants were listening behind the door. Still, in a sense there was nothing Enid Crofton liked better than pitting her wits against other wits. So when she heard the question, "Who is it?" she simply answered, "Darling! Can't you guess?"

In answer to his rapturous assent, she said quietly, "I've made up my mind to do what you wish."

And then she drank in with intense delight the flood of eager, exultant words, uttered with such a rush of joy, and in so triumphant a tone, that for a moment she thought that they must be heard, if not here, then there, if not there, then here. But, after all, what did it matter? She would have left this hateful place for ever to-morrow!

And then came a rather difficult moment. She did not wish to tell her servants to-night that she was leaving The Trellis House to-morrow, and yet somehow she must convey that fact to Tremaine.

As if he could see into her mind, there came the eager question, "Can you come up to-morrow, darling? The sooner, the better, you know-"

She answered, "I will if you like-at the usual time."

He said eagerly, "You mean that train arriving at 12.30-the one I met you by the other day?"

And again she said, "Yes."

He asked a little anxiously, "How about money, my precious pet? Are you all right about money?"

For once her hard, selfish heart was touched and she answered truly: "You need not bother about that."

And then there came a whispered, "Call me darling again, darling."

And she just breathed the word "Darling" into the receiver, making a vague resolution as she did so that she would be, as far as would be possible to her, a good wife to this simple-hearted, big baby of a man who loved her so dearly.

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