Just – William Page 19

They comforted Robert’s wounded feelings as best they could, but it was Ethel who devised the plan that finally cheered him. She suggested a picnic on the following Thursday, which happened to be Robert’s birthday and incidentally the last day of Miss Cannon’s visit, and the picnic party was to consist of—Robert, Ethel, Mrs. Clive and Miss Cannon, and William was not even to be told where it was to be. The invitation was sent that evening and Robert spent the week dreaming of picnic lunches and suggesting impossible dainties of which the cook had never heard. It was not until she threatened to give notice that he reluctantly agreed to leave the arrangements to her. He sent his white flannels (which were perfectly clean) to the laundry with a note attached, hinting darkly at legal proceedings if they were not sent back, spotless, by Thursday morning. He went about with an expression of set and solemn purpose upon his frowning countenance. William he utterly ignored. He bought a book of poems at a second-hand bookshop and kept them on the table by his bed.

They saw nothing of Miss Cannon in the interval, but Thursday dawned bright and clear, and Robert’s anxious spirits rose. He was presented with a watch and chain by his father and with a bicycle by his mother and a tin of toffee (given not without ulterior motive) by William.

They met Mrs. Clive and Miss Cannon at the station and took tickets to a village a few miles away whence they had decided to walk to a shady spot on the river bank.

William’s dignity was slightly offended by his pointed exclusion from the party, but he had resigned himself to it, and spent the first part of the morning in the character of Chief Red Hand among the rhododendron bushes. He had added an ostrich feather found in Ethel’s room to his head-dress, and used almost a whole cork on his face. He wore the door-mat pinned to his shoulders.

After melting some treacle toffee in rain-water over his smoking fire, adding orange juice and drinking the resulting liquid, he tired of the game and wandered upstairs to Robert’s bedroom to inspect his birthday presents. The tin of toffee was on the table by Robert’s bed. William took one or two as a matter of course and began to read the love-poems. He was horrified a few minutes later to see the tin empty, but he fastened the lid with a sigh, wondering if Robert would guess who had eaten them. He was afraid he would. Anyway he’d given him them. And anyway, he hadn’t known he was eating them.

He then went to the dressing-table and tried on the watch and chain at various angles and with various postures. He finally resisted the temptation to wear them for the rest of the morning and replaced them on the dressing-table.

Then he wandered downstairs and round to the shed, where Robert’s new bicycle stood in all its glory. It was shining and spotless and William gazed at it in awe and admiration. He came to the conclusion that he could do it no possible harm by leading it carefully round the house. Encouraged by the fact that Mrs. Brown was out shopping, he walked it round the house several times. He much enjoyed the feeling of importance and possession that it gave him. He felt loth to part with it. He wondered if it was very hard to ride. He had tried to ride one once when he was staying with an aunt. He stood on a garden bench and with difficulty transferred himself from that to the bicycle seat. To his surprise and delight he rode for a few yards before he fell off. He tried again and fell off again. He tried again and rode straight into a holly bush. He forgot everything in his determination to master the art. He tried again and again. He fell off or rode into the holly bush again and again. The shining black paint of the bicycle was scratched, the handle bars were slightly bent and dulled; William himself was bruised and battered but unbeaten.

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