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The Helper

The excitement began at breakfast. William descended slightly late, and, after receiving his parents' reproaches with an air of weary boredom, ate his porridge listlessly. He had come to the conclusion that morning that there was a certain monotonous sameness about life. One got up, and had one's breakfast, and went to school, and had one's dinner, and went to school, and had one's tea, and played, and had one's supper, and went to bed. Even the fact that to-day was a half-term holiday did not dispel his depression. One day's holiday! What good was one day? We all have experienced such feelings.

Half abstractedly he began to listen to his elders' conversation.

"They promised to be here by nine," his mother was saying. "I do hope they won't be late!"

"Well, it's not much good their coming if the other house isn't ready, is it?" said William's grown-up sister Ethel. "I don't believe they've even finished painting!"

"I'm so sorry it's William's half-term holiday," sighed Mrs. Brown. "He'll be frightfully in the way."

William's outlook on life brightened considerably.

"They comin' removin' this morning?" he inquired cheerfully.

"Yes, DO try not to hinder them, William."

"Me?" he said indignantly. "I'm goin' to help!"

"If William's going to help," remarked his father, "thank Heaven I shan't be here. Your assistance, William, always seems to be even more devastating in its results than your opposition!"

William smiled politely. Sarcasm was always wasted on William.

"Well," he said, rising from the table, "I'd better go an' be gettin' ready to help."

Ten minutes later Mrs. Brown, coming out of the kitchen from her interview with the cook, found to her amazement that the steps of the front door were covered with small ornaments. As she stood staring William appeared from the drawing-room staggering under the weight of a priceless little statuette that had been the property of Mr. Brown's great grandfather.

"WILLIAM!" she gasped.

"I'm gettin' all the little things ready for 'em jus' to carry straight down. If I put everything on the steps they don't need come into the house at all. You said you didn't want 'em trampin' in dirty boots!"

It took a quarter of an hour to replace them. Over the fragments of a blue delf bowl Mrs. Brown sighed deeply.

"I wish you'd broken anything but this, William."

"Well," he excused himself, "you said things do get broken removin'. You said so yourself! I didn't break it on purpose. It jus' got broken removin'."

At this point the removers arrived.

There were three of them. One was very fat and jovial, and one was thin and harassed-looking, and a third wore a sheepish smile and walked with a slightly unsteady gait. They made profuse apologies for their lateness.

"You'd better begin with the dining-room," said Mrs. Brown. "Will you pack the china first? William, get out of the way!"

She left them packing, assisted by William. William carried the things to them from the sideboard cupboards.

"What's your names?" he asked, as he stumbled over a glass bowl that he had inadvertently left on the hearth-rug. His progress was further delayed while he conscientiously picked up the fragments. "Things do get broken removin'," he murmured.

"Mine is Mister Blake and 'is is Mister Johnson, and 'is is Mister Jones."

"Which is Mr. Jones? The one that walks funny?"

They shook with herculean laughter, so much so that a china cream jug slipped from Mr. Blake's fingers and lay in innumerable pieces round his boot. He kicked it carelessly aside.

"Yus," he said, bending anew to his task, "'im wot walks funny."

"Why's he walk funny?" persisted William. "Has he hurt his legs?"

"Yus," said Blake with a wink. "'E 'urt 'em at the Blue Cow comin' 'ere."

Mr. Jones' sheepish smile broadened into a guffaw.

"Well, you rest," said William sympathetically. "You lie down on the sofa an' rest. I'll help, so's you needn't do anything!"

Mr. Jones grew hilarious.

"Come on!" he said. "My eye! This young gent's all roight, 'e is. You lie down an' rest, 'e says! Well, 'ere goes!"

To the huge delight of his companions, he stretched himself at length upon the chesterfield and closed his eyes. William surveyed him with pleasure.

"That's right," he said. "I'll—I'll show you my dog when your legs are better. I've gotter fine dog!"

"What sort of a dog?" said Mr. Blake, resting from his labours to ask the question.

"He's no partic'lar sort of a dog," said William honestly, "but he's a jolly fine dog. You should see him do tricks!"

William surveyed him with pleasure. "I'll show you my dog when your legs are better," he said.

"Well, let's 'ave a look at 'im. Fetch 'im art."

William, highly delighted, complied, and Jumble showed off his best tricks to an appreciative audience of two (Mr. Jones had already succumbed to the drowsiness that had long been creeping over him and was lying dead to the world on the chesterfield).

Jumble begged for a biscuit, he walked (perforce, for William's hand firmly imprisoned his front ones) on his hind legs, he leapt over William's arm. He leapt into the very centre of an old Venetian glass that was on the floor by the packing-case and cut his foot slightly on a piece of it, but fortunately suffered no ill-effects.

William saw consternation on Mr. Johnson's face and hastened to gather the pieces and fling them lightly into the waste-paper basket.

"It's all right," he said soothingly. "She said things get broken removin'."

When Mrs. Brown entered the room ten minutes later, Mr. Jones was still asleep, Jumble was still performing, and Messrs. Blake and Johnson were standing in negligent attitudes against the wall appraising the eager Jumble with sportsmanlike eyes.

"'E's no breed," Mr. Blake was saying, "but 'e's orl roight. I'd loik to see 'im arfter a rat. I bet 'e'd——"

Seeing Mrs. Brown, he hastily seized a vase from the mantel-piece and carried it over to the packing case, where he appeared suddenly to be working against time. Mr. Johnson followed his example.

Mrs. Brown's eyes fell upon Mr. Jones and she gasped.

"Whatever——" she began.

"'E's not very well 'm," explained Mr. Blake obsequiously. "'E'll be orl roight when 'e's slep' it orf. 'E's always orl roight when 'e's slep' 'it orf."

"He's hurt his legs," explained William. "He hurt his legs at the Blue Cow. He's jus' restin'!"

Mrs. Brown swallowed and counted twenty to herself. It was a practice she had acquired in her youth for use in times when words crowded upon her too thick and fast for utterance.

At last she spoke with unusual bitterness.

"Need he rest with his muddy boots on my chesterfield?"

At this point Mr. Jones awoke from sleep, hypnotised out of it by her cold eye.

He was profuse in his apologies. He believed he had fainted. He had had a bad headache, brought on probably by exposure to the early morning sun. He felt much better after his faint. He regretted having fainted on to the lady's sofa. He partially brushed off the traces of his dirty boots with an equally dirty hand.

"You've done nothing in this room," said Mrs. Brown. "We shall never get finished. William, come away! I'm sure you're hindering them."

"Me?" said William in righteous indignation. "Me? I'm helpin'!"

After what seemed to Mrs. Brown to be several hours they began on the heavy furniture. They staggered out with the dining-room sideboard, carrying away part of the staircase with it in transit. Mrs. Brown, with a paling face, saw her beloved antique cabinet dismembered against the doorpost, and watched her favourite collapsible card-table perform a thorough and permanent collapse. Even the hat-stand from the hall was devoid of some pegs when it finally reached the van.

"This is simply breaking my heart," moaned Mrs. Brown.

"Where's William?" said Ethel, gloomily, looking round.

"'Sh! I don't know. He disappeared a few minutes ago. I don't know where he is. I only hope he'll stay there!"

The removers now proceeded to the drawing-room and prepared to take out the piano. They tried it every way. The first way took a piece out of the doorpost, the second made a dint two inches deep in the piano, the third knocked over the grandfather clock, which fell with a resounding crash, breaking its glass, and incidentally a tall china plant stand that happened to be in its line of descent.

Mrs. Brown sat down and covered her face with her hands.

"It's like some dreadful nightmare!" she groaned.

Messrs. Blake, Johnson and Jones paused to wipe the sweat of honest toil from their brows.

"I dunno 'ow it's to be got out," said Mr. Blake despairingly.

"It got in!" persisted Mrs. Brown. "If it got in it can get out."

"We'll 'ave another try," said Mr. Blake with the air of a hero leading a forlorn hope. "Come on, mites."

This time was successful and the piano passed safely into the hall, leaving in its wake only a dislocated door handle and a torn chair cover. It then passed slowly and devastatingly down the hall and drive.

The next difficulty was to get it into the van. Messrs. Blake, Johnson and Jones tried alone and failed. For ten minutes they tried alone and failed. Between each attempt they paused to mop their brows and throw longing glances towards the Blue Cow, whose signboard was visible down the road.

The gardener, the cook, the housemaid, and Ethel all gave their assistance, and at last, with a superhuman effort, they raised it to the van.

They then all rested weakly against the nearest support and gasped for breath.

"Well," said Mr. Jones, looking reproachfully at the mistress of the house, "I've never 'andled a pianner——"

At this moment a well-known voice was heard in the recesses of the van, behind the piano and sideboard and hat-stand.

"Hey! let me out! What you've gone blockin' up the van for? I can't get out!"

There was a horror-stricken silence. Then Ethel said sharply:

"What did you go in for?"

The mysterious voice came again with a note of irritability.

"Well, I was restin'. I mus' have some rest, mustn't I? I've been helpin' all mornin'."

"Well, couldn't you see we were putting things in?"

The unseen presence spoke again.

"No, I can't. I wasn't lookin'!"

"You can't get out, William," said Mrs. Brown desperately. "We can't move everything again. You must just stop there till it's unpacked. We'll try to push your lunch in to you."

There was determination in the voice that answered, "I want to get out! I'm going to get out!"

There came tumultuous sounds—the sound of the ripping of some material, of the smashing of glass and of William's voice softly ejaculating "Crumbs! that ole lookin' glass gettin' in the way!"

"You'd better take out the piano again," said Mrs. Brown wanly. "It's the only thing to do."

With straining, and efforts, and groans, and a certain amount of destruction, the piano was eventually lowered again to the ground. Then the sideboard and hat-stand were moved to one side, and finally there emerged from the struggle—William and Jumble. Jumble's coat was covered with little pieces of horsehair, as though from the interior of a chair. William's jersey was torn from shoulder to hem. He looked stern and indignant.

William's jersey was torn from shoulder to hem. He looked stern and indignant.

"A nice thing to do!" he began bitterly. "Shuttin' me up in that ole van. How d'you expect me to breathe, shut in with ole bits of furniture. Folks can't live without air, can they? A nice thing if you'd found me dead!"

Emotion had deprived his audience of speech for the time being.

With a certain amount of dignity he walked past them into the house followed by Jumble.

It took another quarter of an hour to replace the piano. As they were making the final effort William came out of the house.

"Here, I'll help!" he said, and laid a finger on the side. His presence rather hindered their efforts, but they succeeded in spite of it. William, however, was under the impression that his strength alone had wrought the miracle. He put on an outrageous swagger.

"I'm jolly strong," he confided to Mr. Blake. "I'm stronger than most folk."

Here the removers decided that it was time for their midday repast and retired to consume it in the shady back garden. All except Mr. Jones, who said he would go down the road for a drink of lemonade. William said that there was lemonade in the larder and offered to fetch it, but Mr. Jones said hastily that he wanted a special sort. He had to be very particular what sort of lemonade he drank.

Mrs. Brown and Ethel sat down to a scratch meal in the library. William followed his two new friends wistfully into the garden.

"William! Come to lunch!" called Mrs. Brown.

"Oh, leave him alone, Mother," pleaded Ethel. "Let us have a little peace."

But William did not absent himself for long.

"I want a red handkerchief," he demanded loudly from the hall.

There was no response.

He appeared in the doorway.

"I say, I want a red handkerchief. Have you gotter red handkerchief, Mother?"

"No, dear."

"Have you Ethel?"

"NO!"

"All right," said William aggrievedly. "You needn't get mad, need you? I'm only askin' for a red handkerchief. I don't want a red handkerchief off you if you haven't got it, do I?"

"William, go away and shut the door."

William obeyed. Peace reigned throughout the house and garden for the next half-hour. Then Mrs. Brown's conscience began to prick her.

"William must have something to eat, dear. Do go and find him."

Ethel went out to the back garden. A scene of happy restfulness met her gaze. Mr. Blake reclined against one tree consuming bread and cheese, while a red handkerchief covered his knees. Mr. Johnson reclined against another tree, also consuming bread and cheese, while a red handkerchief covered his knees. William leant against a third tree consuming a little heap of scraps collected from the larder, while on his knees also reposed what was apparently a red handkerchief. Jumble sat in the middle catching with nimble, snapping jaws dainties flung to him from time to time by his circle of admirers.

Ethel advanced nearer and inspected William's red handkerchief with dawning horror in her face. Then she gave a scream.

"William, that's my silk scarf! It was for a hat. I've only just bought it. Oh, mother, do do something to William! He's taken my new silk scarf—the one I'd got to trim my Leghorn. He's the most awful boy. I don't think——"

Mrs. Brown came out hastily to pacify her. William handed the silk scarf back to its rightful owner.

"Well, I'm sorry. I thought it was a red handkerchief. It looked like a red handkerchief. Well, how could I know it wasn't a red handkerchief? I've given it her back. It's all right, Jumble's only bit one end of it. And that's only jam what dropped on it. Well, it'll wash, won't it? Well, I've said I'm sorry.

"I don't get much thanks," William continued bitterly. "Me givin' up my half holiday to helpin' you removin', an' I don't get much thanks!"

"Well, William," said Mrs. Brown, "you can go to the new house with the first van. He'll be less in the way there," she confided distractedly to the world in general.

William was delighted with this proposal. At the new house there was a fresh set of men to unload the van, and there was the thrill of making their acquaintance.

Then the front gate was only just painted and bore a notice "Wet Paint." It was, of course, incumbent upon William to test personally the wetness of the paint. His trousers bore testimony to the testing to their last day, in spite of many applications of turpentine. Jumble also tested it, and had in fact to be disconnected with the front gate by means of a pair of scissors. For many weeks the first thing that visitors to the Brown household saw was a little tuft of Jumble's hair adorning the front gate.

William then proceeded to "help" to the utmost of his power. He stumbled up from the van to the house staggering under the weight of a medicine cupboard, and leaving a trail of broken bottles and little pools of medicine behind. Jumble sampled many of the latter and became somewhat thoughtful.

It was found that the door of a small bedroom at the top of the stairs was locked, and this fact (added to Mr. Jones' failure to return from his lemonade) rather impeded the progress of the unpackers.

"Brike it open," suggested one.

"Better not."

"Per'aps the key's insoide," suggested another brightly.

William had one of his brilliant ideas.

"Tell you what I'll do," he said eagerly and importantly. "I'll climb up to the roof an' get down the chimney an' open it from the inside."

They greeted the proposal with guffaws.

They did not know William.

It was growing dusk when Mrs. Brown and Ethel and the second van load appeared.

"What is that on the gate?" said Ethel, stooping to examine the part of Jumble's coat that brightened up the dulness of the black paint.

"It's that dog!" she said.

Then came a ghost-like cry, apparently from the heavens.

"Mother!"

Mrs. Brown raised a startled countenance to the skies. There seemed to be nothing in the skies that could have addressed her.

Then she suddenly saw a small face peering down over the coping of the roof. It was a face that was very frightened, under a superficial covering of soot. It was William's face.

"I can't get down," it said hoarsely.

Mrs. Brown's heart stood still.

"Stay where you are, William," she said faintly. "Don't move."

The entire staff of removers was summoned. A ladder was borrowed from a neighbouring garden and found to be too short. Another was fetched and fastened to it. William, at his dizzy height, was growing irritable.

"I can't stay up here for ever," he said severely.

At last he was rescued by his friend Mr. Blake and brought down to safety. His account was confused.

"I wanted to help. I wanted to open that door for 'em, so I climbed up by the scullery roof, an' the ivy, an' the drain-pipe, an' I tried to get down the chimney. I didn't know which one it was, but I tried 'em all an' they were all too little, an' I tried to get down by the ivy again but I couldn't, so I waited till you came an' hollered out. I wasn't scared," he said, fixing them with a stern eye. "I wasn't scared a bit. I jus' wanted to get down. An' this ole black chimney stuff tastes beastly. No, I'm all right," he ended, in answer to tender inquiries. "I'll go on helpin'."

He was with difficulty persuaded to retire to bed at a slightly earlier hour than usual.

"Well," he confessed, "I'm a bit tired with helpin' all day."

Soon after he had gone Mr. Brown and Robert arrived.

"And how have things gone to-day?" said Mr. Brown cheerfully.

"Thank heaven William goes to school to-morrow," said Ethel devoutly.

Upstairs in his room William was studying himself in the glass—torn jersey, paint-stained trousers, blackened face.

"Well," he said with a deep sigh of satisfaction, "I guess I've jolly well helped to-day!"



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