Just – William Page 24

He walked briskly down the road away from the village. In his pocket reposed the balloon. He had made the cheering discovery that the mathematics master had left it on his desk, so he had joyfully taken it again into his possession. He thought he might reach the coast before night, and get to the goldfields before next week. He didn’t suppose it took long to make a fortune there. He might be back before next Christmas and—crumbs! he’d jolly well make people sit up. He wouldn’t go to school, for one thing, and he’d be jolly careful who he gave nuggets to for another. He’d give nuggets to the butcher’s boy and the postman, and the man who came to tune the piano, and the chimney-sweep. He wouldn’t give any to any of his family, or any of the masters at the school. He’d just serve people out the way they served him. He just would. The road to the coast seemed rather long, and he was growing rather tired. He walked in a ditch for a change, and then scraped through a hedge and took a short cut across a ploughed field. Dusk was falling fast, and even William’s buoyant spirits began to flag. The fortune part was all very well, but in the meantime, he was cold and tired and hungry. He hadn’t yet reached the coast, much less the goldfields. Something must be done. He remembered that the boy in the story had “begged his way” to the coast. William determined to beg his. But at present, there seemed nothing to beg it from, except a hawthorn hedge and a scarecrow in the field behind it. He wandered on disconsolately deciding to begin his career as a beggar at the first sign of human habitation.

At last he discovered a pair of iron gates through the dusk and, assuming an expression of patient suffering calculated to melt a heart of stone, walked up the drive. At the front door he smoothed down his hair (he had lost his cap on the way), pulled up his stockings, and rang the bell. After an interval a stout gentleman in the garb of a butler opened the door and glared ferociously up and down William.

“Please——” began William plaintively.

The stout gentleman interrupted.

“If you’re the new Boots,” he said majestically, “go round to the back door. If you’re not, go away.”

He then shut the door in William’s face. William, on the top step, considered the question for a few minutes. It was dark and cold, with every prospect of becoming darker and colder. He decided to be the new Boots. He found his way round to the back door and knocked firmly. It was opened by a large woman in a print dress and apron.

“What y’ want?” she said aggressively.

“He said,” said William firmly, “to come round if I was the new Boots.”

The woman surveyed him in grim disapproval.

“You bin round to the front?” she said. “Nerve!”

Her disapproval increased to suspicion.

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