Just – William Page 10

“He’s gone,” she said. “Mother, it’s simply horrible! He didn’t tell me much, but it seems that William actually went to his house and told him that I wanted to see him alone at seven o’clock this evening. I’ve hardly spoken to William to-day. He couldn’t have misunderstood anything I said. And he actually took a flower with him—a dreadful-looking rosebud—and said I’d sent it. I simply didn’t know where to look or what to say. It was horrible!”

Mrs. Brown sat gazing weakly at her daughter.

Mr. Brown rose with the air of a man goaded beyond endurance.

“Where is William?” he said shortly.

“I don’t know, but I thought I heard him go upstairs some time ago.”

William was upstairs. For the last twenty minutes he had been happily and quietly engaged upon his bedroom door with a lighted taper in one hand and penknife in the other. There was no doubt about it. By successful experiment he had proved that that was the way you got old paint off. When Mr. Brown came upstairs he had entirely stripped one panel of its paint.

An hour later William sat in the back garden on an upturned box sucking, with a certain dogged defiance, the last and dirtiest of the Gooseberry Eyes. Sadly he reviewed the day. It had not been a success. His generosity to the little girl next door had been misconstrued into an attempt upon her life, his efforts to help on his only sister’s love affair had been painfully misunderstood, lastly because (among other things) he had discovered a perfectly scientific method of removing old paint, he had been brutally assaulted by a violent and unreasonable parent. Suddenly William began to wonder if his father drank. He saw himself, through a mist of pathos, as a Drunkard’s child. He tried to imagine his father weeping over him in Hospital and begging his forgiveness. It was a wonder he wasn’t there now, anyway. His shoulders drooped—his whole attitude became expressive of extreme dejection.

Inside the house, his father, reclining at length in an armchair, discoursed to his wife on the subject of his son. One hand was pressed to his aching brow, and the other gesticulating freely. “He’s insane,” he said, “stark, raving insane. You ought to take him to a doctor and get his brain examined. Look at him today. He begins by knocking me into the middle of the rhododendron bushes—under no provocation, mind you. I hadn’t spoken to him. Then he tries to poison that nice little thing next door with some vile stuff I thought I’d thrown away. Then he goes about telling people he’s consumptive. He looks it, doesn’t he? Then he takes extraordinary messages and love tokens from Ethel to strange young men and brings them here just when we’re going to begin dinner, and then goes round burning and hacking at the doors. Where’s the sense in it—in any of it? They’re the acts of a lunatic—you ought to have his brain examined.”

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