Just – William Page 22


“Yes,” he said bitterly, “with other people. Who can talk with other people there? No one can. I’d have talked to her on the river. I’d got heaps of things ready in my mind to say. And William comes along and spoils my whole life—and my bicycle. And she’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen in my life. And I’ve wanted that bicycle for ever so long and it’s not fit to ride.”

“But poor William has caught a very bad chill, dear, so you oughtn’t to feel bitter to him. And he’ll have to pay for your bicycle being mended. He’ll have no pocket money till it’s paid for.”

“You’d think,” said Robert with a despairing gesture in the direction of the hall table and apparently addressing it, “you’d think four grown-up people in a house could keep a boy of William’s age in order, wouldn’t you? You’d think he wouldn’t be allowed to go about spoiling people’s lives and—and ruining their bicycles. Well, he jolly well won’t do it again,” he ended darkly.

Mrs. Brown, proceeded in the direction of the kitchen.

“Robert,” she said soothingly over her shoulder, “you surely want to be at peace with your little brother, when he’s not well, don’t you?”

Peace?” he said. Robert turned his haggard countenance upon her as though his ears must have deceived him. “Peace! I’ll wait. I’ll wait till he’s all right and going about; I won’t start till then. But—peace! It’s not peace, it’s an armistice—that’s all.”

CHAPTER III
WILLIAM BELOW STAIRS

William was feeling embittered with life in general. He was passing through one of his not infrequent periods of unpopularity. The climax had come with the gift of sixpence bestowed on him by a timid aunt, who hoped thus to purchase his goodwill. With the sixpence, he had bought a balloon adorned with the legs and head of a duck fashioned in cardboard. This could be blown up to its fullest extent and then left to subside. It took several minutes to subside, and during those minutes it emitted a long-drawn-out and high-pitched groan. The advantage of this was obvious. William could blow it up to its fullest extent in private and leave it to subside in public concealed beneath his coat. While this was going on William looked round as though in bewildered astonishment. He inflated it before he went to breakfast. He then held it firmly and secretly so as to keep it inflated till he was sitting at the table. Then he let it subside. His mother knocked over a cup of coffee, and his father cut himself with the bread knife. Ethel, his elder sister, indulged in a mild form of nervous breakdown. William sat with a face of startled innocence. But nothing enraged his family so much as William’s expression of innocence. They fell upon him, and he defended himself as well as he could. Yes, he was holding the balloon under the table. Well, he’d blown it up some time ago. He couldn’t keep it blown up forever. He had to let the air out some time. He couldn’t help it making a noise when the air went out. It was the way it was made. He hadn’t made it. He set off to school with an air of injured innocence—and the balloon. Observing an elderly and irascible-looking gentleman in front of him, he went a few steps down a back street, blew up his balloon, and held it tightly under his coat. Then, when abreast of the old gentleman, he let it off. The old gentleman gave a leap into the air and glared fiercely around. He glanced at the small virtuous-looking schoolboy with obviously no instrument of torture at his lips and then concentrated his glare of fury and suspicion on the upper windows. William hastened on to the next pedestrian. He had quite a happy walk to school.

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