“How many times am I to tell you,” bellowed William’s father, “that I won’t have you going about eating filthy poisons all day between meals?”
“It’s not filthy poison,” said William. “It’s jus’ a few sweets Aunt Susan gave me ’cause I kin’ly went to the post office for her an’——”
“Be quiet! Have you got any more of the foul things?”
“They’re not foul things,” said William, doggedly. “They’re good. Jus’ have one, an’ try. They’re jus’ a few sweets Aunt Susan kin’ly gave me an’——”
“Be quiet! Where are they?”
Slowly and reluctantly William drew forth his bag. His father seized it and flung it far into the bushes. For the next ten minutes William conducted a thorough and systematic search among the bushes and for the rest of the day consumed Gooseberry Eyes and garden soil in fairly equal proportions.
He wandered round to the back garden and climbed on to the wall.
“Hello!” said the little girl next door, looking up.
Something about the little girl’s head and curls reminded William of the simple country maiden. There was a touch of the artistic temperament about William. He promptly felt himself the simple country son of the soil.
“Hullo, Joan,” he said in a deep, husky voice intended to be expressive of intense affection. “Have you missed me while I’ve been away?”
“Didn’t know you’d been away,” said Joan. “What are you talking so funny for?”
“I’m not talkin’ funny,” said William in the same husky voice, “I can’t help talkin’ like this.”
“You’ve got a cold. That’s what you’ve got. That’s what Mother said when she saw you splashing about with your rain tub this morning. She said, ‘The next thing that we shall hear of William Brown will be he’s in bed with a cold.’”
“It’s not a cold,” said William mysteriously. “It’s jus’ the way I feel.”
“What are you eating?”
“Gooseberry Eyes. Like one?” He took the packet from his pocket and handed it down to her. “Go on. Take two—three,” he said in reckless generosity.
“Go on. It’s only ord’nery dirt. It soon sucks off. They’re jolly good.” He poured a shower of them lavishly down to her.
“I say,” he said, reverting to his character of simple country lover. “Did you say you’d missed me? I bet you didn’t think of me as much as I did of you. I jus’ bet you didn’t.” His voice had sunk deeper and deeper till it almost died away.
“I say, William, does your throat hurt you awful, that you’ve got to talk like that?”
Her blue eyes were anxious and sympathetic.
William put one hand to his throat and frowned.
“A bit,” he confessed lightly.