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More William

IX

The Revenge

William was a scout. The fact was well known. There was no one within a five-mile radius of William's home who did not know it. Sensitive old ladies had fled shuddering from their front windows when William marched down the street singing (the word is a euphemism) his scout songs in his strong young voice. Curious smells emanated from the depth of the garden where William performed mysterious culinary operations. One old lady whose cat had disappeared looked at William with dour suspicion in her eye whenever he passed. Even the return of her cat a few weeks later did not remove the hostility from her gaze whenever it happened to rest upon William.

William's family had welcomed the suggestion of William's becoming a scout.

"It will keep him out of mischief," they had said.

They were notoriously optimistic where William was concerned.

William's elder brother only was doubtful.

"You know what William is," he said, and in that dark saying much was contained.

Things went fairly smoothly for some time. He took the scouts' law of a daily deed of kindness in its most literal sense. He was to do one (and one only) deed of kindness a day. There were times when he forced complete strangers, much to their embarrassment, to be the unwilling recipients of his deed of kindness. There were times when he answered any demand for help with a cold: "No, I've done it to-day."

He received with saint-like patience the eloquence of his elder sister when she found her silk scarf tied into innumerable knots.

"Well, they're jolly good knots," was all he said.

He had been looking forward to the holidays for a long time. He was to "go under canvas" at the end of the first week.

The first day of the holidays began badly. William's father had been disturbed by William, whose room was just above and who had spent most of the night performing gymnastics as instructed by his scout-master.

"No, he didn't say do it at nights, but he said do it. He said it would make us grow up strong men. Don't you want me to grow up a strong man? He's ever so strong an' he did 'em. Why shun't I?"

His mother found a pan with the bottom burnt out and at once accused William of the crime. William could not deny it.

"Well, I was makin' sumthin', sumthin' he'd told us an' I forgot it. Well, I've got to make things if I'm a scout. I didn't mean to forget it. I won't forget it next time. It's a rotten pan, anyway, to burn itself into a hole jus' for that."

At this point William's father received a note from a neighbour whose garden adjoined William's and whose life had been rendered intolerable by William's efforts upon his bugle.

The bugle was confiscated.

Darkness descended upon William's soul.

"Well," he muttered, "I'm goin' under canvas next week an' I'm jolly glad I'm goin'. P'r'aps you'll be sorry when I'm gone."

He went out into the garden and stood gazing moodily into space, his hands in the pocket of his short scout trousers, for William dressed on any and every occasion in his official costume.

"Can't even have the bugle," he complained to the landscape. "Can't even use their rotten ole pans. Can't tie knots in any of their ole things. Wot's the good of bein' a scout?"

His indignation grew and with it a desire to be avenged upon his family.

"I'd like to do somethin'," he confided to a rose bush with a ferocious scowl. "Somethin' jus' to show 'em."

Then his face brightened. He had an idea.

He'd get lost. He'd get really lost. They'd be sorry then alright. They'd p'r'aps think he was dead and they'd be sorry then alright. He imagined their relief, their tearful apologies when at last he returned to the bosom of his family. It was worth trying, anyway.

He set off cheerfully down the drive. He decided to stay away for lunch and tea and supper, and to return at dusk to a penitent, conscience-stricken family.

He first made his way to a neighbouring wood, where he arranged a pile of twigs for a fire, but they refused to light, even with the aid of the match that William found adhering to a piece of putty in the recess of one of his pockets.

Slightly dispirited, he turned his attention to his handkerchief and tied knots in it till it gave way under the strain. William's handkerchiefs, being regularly used to perform the functions of blotting paper among other duties not generally entrusted to handkerchiefs, were always in the last stages of decrepitude.

He felt rather bored and began to wonder whether it was lunch-time or not.

He then "scouted" the wood and by his wood lore traced three distinct savage tribes' passage through the wood and found the tracks of several elephants. He engaged in deadly warfare with about half-a-dozen lions, then tired of the sport. It must be about lunch-time. He could imagine Ethel, his sister, hunting for him wildly high and low with growing pangs of remorse. She'd wish she'd made less fuss over that old scarf. His mother would recall the scene over the pan and her heart would fail her. His father would think with shame of his conduct in the matter of the bugle.

"Poor William! How cruel we were! How different we shall be if only he comes home ...!"

He could almost hear the words. Perhaps his mother was weeping now. His father—wild-eyed and white-lipped—was pacing his study, waiting for news, eager to atone for his unkindness to his missing son. Perhaps he had the bugle on the table ready to give back to him. Perhaps he'd even bought him a new one.

He imagined the scene of his return. He would be nobly forgiving. He would accept the gift of the new bugle without a word of reproach. His heart thrilled at the thought of it.

He was getting jolly hungry. It must be after lunch-time. But it would spoil it all to go home too early.

Here he caught sight of a minute figure regarding him with a steady gaze and holding a paper bag in one hand.

William stared down at him.

"Wot you dressed up like that for?" said the apparition, with a touch of scorn in his voice.

William looked down at his sacred uniform and scowled. "I'm a scout," he said loftily.

"'Cout?" repeated the apparition, with an air of polite boredom. "Wot's your name?"

"William."

"Mine's Thomas. Will you catch me a wopse? Look at my wopses!"

He opened the bag slightly and William caught sight of a crowd of wasps buzzing about inside the bag.

"Want more," demanded the infant. "Want lots more. Look. Snells!"

He brought out a handful of snails from a miniature pocket, and put them on the ground.

"Watch 'em put their horns out! Watch 'em walk. Look! They're walkin'. They're walkin'."

His voice was a scream of ecstasy. He took them up and returned them to their pocket. From another he drew out a wriggling mass.

"Wood-lice!" he explained, casually. "Got worms in 'nother pocket."

He returned the wood-lice to his pocket except one, which he held between a finger and thumb laid thoughtfully against his lip. "Want wopses now. You get 'em for me."

William roused himself from his bewilderment.

"How—how do you catch 'em?" he said.

"Wings," replied Thomas. "Get hold of their wings an' they don't sting. Sometimes they do, though," he added casually. "Then your hands go big."

A wasp settled near him, and very neatly the young naturalist picked him up and put him in his paper prison.

"Now you get one," he ordered William.

William determined not to be outshone by this minute but dauntless stranger. As a wasp obligingly settled on a flower near him, he put out his hand, only to withdraw it with a yell of pain and apply it to his mouth.

"Oo—ou!" he said. "Crumbs!"

Thomas emitted a peal of laughter.

"You stung?" he said. "Did it sting you? Funny!"

William's expression of rage and pain was exquisite to him.

"Come on, boy!" he ordered at last. "Let's go somewhere else."

William's bewildered dignity made a last stand.

"You can go," he said. "I'm playin' by myself."

"All right!" agreed Thomas. "You play by you'self an' me play by myself, an' we'll be together—playin' by ourselves."

He set off down a path, and meekly William followed.

It must be jolly late—almost tea-time.

"I'm hungry," said Thomas suddenly. "Give me some brekfust."

"I haven't got any," said William irritably.

"Well, find some," persisted the infant.

"I can't. There isn't any to find."

"Well, buy some!"

"I haven't any money."

"Well, buy some money."

Goaded, William turned on him.

"Go away!" he bellowed.

Thomas's blue eyes, beneath a mop of curls, met his coldly.

"Don't talk so loud," he said sternly. "There's some blackberries there. You can get me some blackberries."

William began to walk away, but Thomas trotted by his side.

"There!" he persisted. "Jus' where I'm pointing. Lovely great big suge ones. Get 'em for my brekfust."

Reluctantly the scout turned to perform his deed of kindness.

Thomas consumed blackberries faster than William could gather them.

"Up there," he commanded. "No, the one right up there I want. I want it kick. I've etten all the others."

William was scratched and breathless, and his shirt was torn when at last the rapacious Thomas was satisfied. Then he partook of a little refreshment himself, while Thomas turned out his pockets.

"I'll let 'em go now," he said.

One of his wood-lice, however, stayed motionless where he put it.

"Wot's the matter with it?" said William, curiously.

"I 'speck me's the matter wif it," said Thomas succinctly. "Now, get me some lickle fishes, an' tadpoles an' water sings," he went on cheerfully.

William turned round from his blackberry-bush.

"Well, I won't," he said decidedly. "I've had enough!"

"You've had 'nuff brekfust," said Thomas sternly. "I've found a lickle tin for the sings, so be kick. Oo, here's a fly! A green fly! It's sittin' on my finger. Does it like me 'cause it's sittin' on my finger?"

"No," said William, turning a purple-stained countenance round scornfully.

It must be nearly night. He didn't want to be too hard on them, to make his mother ill or anything. He wanted to be as kind as possible. He'd forgive them at once when he got home. He'd ask for one or two things he wanted, as well as the new bugle. A new penknife, and an engine with a real boiler.

"Waffor does it not like me?" persisted Thomas.

William was silent. Question and questioner were beneath contempt.

"Waffor does it not like me?" he shouted stridently.

"Flies don't like people, silly."

"Waffor not?" retorted Thomas.

"They don't know anything about them."

"Well, I'll tell it about me. My name's Thomas," he said to the fly politely. "Now does it like me?"

William groaned. But the fly had now vanished, and Thomas once more grew impatient.

"Come on!" he said. "Come on an' find sings for me."

William's manly spirit was by this time so far broken that he followed his new acquaintance to a neighbouring pond, growling threateningly but impotently.

"Now," commanded his small tyrant, "take off your boots an' stockings an' go an' find things for me."

"Take off yours," growled William, "an' find things for yourself."

"No," said Thomas, "crockerdiles might be there an' bite my toes. An pittanopotamuses might be there. If you don't go in, I'll scream an' scream an' scream."

William went in.

He walked gingerly about the muddy pond. Thomas watched him critically from the bank.

"I don't like your hair," he said confidingly.

William growled.

He caught various small swimming objects in the tin, and brought them to the bank for inspection.

"I want more'n that," said Thomas calmly.

"Well, you won't get it," retorted William.

He began to put on his boots and stockings, wondering desperately how to rid himself of his unwanted companion. But Fate solved the problem. With a loud cry a woman came running down the path.

"Tommy," she said. "My little darling Tommy. I thought you were lost!" She turned furiously to William. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," she said. "A great boy of your age leading a little child like this into mischief! If his father was here, he'd show you. You ought to know better! And you a scout."

William gasped.

She turned furiously to William. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," she said.

"Well!" he said. "An' I've bin doin' deeds of kindness on him all morning. I've——"

She turned away indignantly, holding Thomas's hand.

"You're never to go with that nasty rough boy again, darling," she said.

"Got lots of wopses an' some fishes," murmured Thomas contentedly.

They disappeared down the path. With a feeling of depression and disillusionment William turned to go home.

Then his spirits rose. After all, he'd got rid of Thomas, and he was going home to a contrite family. It must be about supper-time. It would be getting dark soon. But it still stayed light a long time now. It wouldn't matter if he just got in for supper. It would have given them time to think things over. He could see his father speaking unsteadily, and holding out his hand.

"My boy ... let bygones be bygones ... if there is anything you want...."

His father had never said anything of this sort to him yet, but, by a violent stretch of imagination, he could just conceive it.

His mother, of course, would cry over him, and so would Ethel.

"Dear William ... do forgive us ... we have been so miserable since you went away ... we will never treat you so again."

This again was unlike the Ethel he knew, but sorrow has a refining effect on all characters.

He entered the gate self-consciously. Ethel was at the front-door. She looked at his torn shirt and mud-caked knees.

"You'd better hurry if you're going to be ready for lunch," she said coldly.

"Lunch?" faltered William. "What time is it?"

"Ten to one. Father's in, so I warn you," she added unpleasantly.

He entered the house in a dazed fashion. His mother was in the hall.

"William!" she said impatiently. "Another shirt torn! You really are careless. You'll have to stop being a scout if that's the way you treat your clothes. And look at your knees!"

Pale and speechless, he went towards the stairs. His father was coming out of the library smoking a pipe. He looked at his son grimly.

"If you aren't downstairs cleaned by the time the lunch-bell goes, my son," he said, "you won't see that bugle of yours this side of Christmas."

William swallowed.

"Yes, father," he said meekly.

He went slowly upstairs to the bathroom.

Life was a rotten show.



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