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XIV

William's Christmas Eve

It was Christmas. The air was full of excitement and secrecy. William, whose old-time faith in notes to Father Christmas sent up the chimney had died a natural death as the result of bitter experience, had thoughtfully presented each of his friends and relations with a list of his immediate requirements.

William's Christmas List

He had a vague and not unfounded misgiving that his family would begin at the bottom of the list instead of the top. He was not surprised, therefore, when he saw his father come home rather later than usual carrying a parcel of books under his arm. A few days afterwards he announced casually at breakfast:

"Well, I only hope no one gives me 'The Great Chief,' or 'The Pirate Ship,' or 'The Land of Danger' for Christmas."

His father started.

"Why?" he said sharply.

"Jus' 'cause I've read them, that's all," explained William with a bland look of innocence.

The glance that Mr. Brown threw at his offspring was not altogether devoid of suspicion, but he said nothing. He set off after breakfast with the same parcel of books under his arm and returned with another. This time, however, he did not put them in the library cupboard, and William searched in vain.

The question of Christmas festivities loomed large upon the social horizon.

"Robert and Ethel can have their party on the day before Christmas Eve," decided Mrs. Brown, "and then William can have his on Christmas Eve."

William surveyed his elder brother and sister gloomily.

"Yes, an' us eat up jus' what they've left," he said with bitterness. "I know!"

Mrs. Brown changed the subject hastily.

"Now let's see whom we'll have for your party, William," she said, taking out pencil and paper. "You say whom you'd like and I'll make a list."

"Ginger an' Douglas an' Henry and Joan," said William promptly.

"Yes? Who else?"

"I'd like the milkman."

"You can't have the milkman, William. Don't be so foolish."

"Well, I'd like to have Fisty Green. He can whistle with his fingers in his mouth."

"He's a butcher's boy, William! You can't have him?"

"Well, who can I have?"

"Johnnie Brent?"

"I don't like him."

"But you must invite him. He asked you to his."

"Well, I didn't want to go," irritably, "you made me."

"But if he asks you to his you must ask him back."

"You don't want me to invite folks I don't want?" William said in the voice of one goaded against his will into exasperation.

"You must invite people who invite you," said Mrs. Brown firmly, "that's what we always do in parties."

"Then they've got to invite you again and it goes on and on and on," argued William. "Where's the sense of it? I don't like Johnnie Brent an' he don't like me, an' if we go on inviting each other an' our mothers go on making us go, it'll go on and on and on. Where's the sense of it? I only jus' want to know where's the sense of it?"

His logic was unanswerable.

"Well, anyway, William, I'll draw up the list. You can go and play."

William walked away, frowning, with his hands in his pockets.

"Where's the sense of it?" he muttered as he went.

He began to wend his way towards the spot where he, and Douglas, and Ginger, and Henry met daily in order to wile away the hours of the Christmas holidays. At present they lived and moved and had their being in the characters of Indian Chiefs.

As William walked down the back street, which led by a short cut to their meeting-place, he unconsciously assumed an arrogant strut, suggestive of some warrior prince surrounded by his gallant braves.

"Garn! Swank!"

He turned with a dark scowl.

On a doorstep sat a little girl, gazing up at him with blue eyes beneath a tousled mop of auburn hair.

William's eye travelled sternly from her Titian curls to her bare feet. He assumed a threatening attitude and scowled fiercely.

"You better not say that again," he said darkly.

"Why not?" she said with a jeering laugh.

"Well, you'd just better not," he said with a still more ferocious scowl.

"What'd you do?" she persisted.

He considered for a moment in silence. Then: "You'd see what I'd do!" he said ominously.

"Garn! Swank!" she repeated. "Now do it! Go on, do it!"

"I'll—let you off this time," he said judicially.

"Garn! Softie. You can't do anything, you can't! You're a softie!"

"I could cut your head off an' scalp you an' leave you hanging on a tree, I could," he said fiercely, "an' I will, too, if you go on calling me names."

"Softie! Swank! Now cut it off! Go on!"

He looked down at her mocking blue eyes.

"You're jolly lucky I don't start on you," he said threateningly. "Folks I do start on soon get sorry, I can tell you."

"Garn! Swank!" William turned with a dark scowl.

"What you do to them?"

He changed the subject abruptly.

"What's your name?" he said.

"Sheila. What's yours?"

"Red Hand—I mean, William."

"I'll tell you sumpthin' if you'll come an' sit down by me."

"What'll you tell me?"

"Sumpthin' I bet you don't know."

"I bet I do."

"Well, come here an' I'll tell you."

He advanced towards her suspiciously. Through the open door he could see a bed in a corner of the dark, dirty room and a woman's white face upon the pillow.

"Oh, come on!" said the little girl impatiently.

He came on and sat down beside her.

"Well?" he said condescendingly, "I bet I knew all the time."

"No, you didn't! D'you know," she sank her voice to a confidential whisper, "there's a chap called Father Christmas wot comes down chimneys Christmas Eve and leaves presents in people's houses?"

He gave a scornful laugh.

"Oh, that rot! You don't believe that rot, do you?"

"Rot?" she repeated indignantly. "Why, it's truetrue as true! A boy told me wot had hanged his stocking up by the chimney an' in the morning it was full of things an' they was jus' the things wot he'd wrote on a bit of paper an' thrown up the chimney to this 'ere Christmas chap."

"Only kids believe that rot," persisted William. "I left off believin' it years and years ago!"

Her face grew pink with the effort of convincing him.

"But the boy told me, the boy wot got things from this 'ere chap wot comes down chimneys. An' I've wrote wot I want an' sent it up the chimney. Don't you think I'll get it?"

William looked down at her. Her blue eyes, big with apprehension, were fixed on him, her little rosy lips were parted. William's heart softened.

"I dunno," he said doubtfully. "You might, I s'pose. What d'you want for Christmas?"

"You won't tell if I tell you?"

"No."

"Not to no one?"

"No."

"Say, 'Cross me throat.'"

William complied with much interest and stored up the phrase for future use.

"Well," she sank her voice very low and spoke into his ear.

"Dad's comin' out Christmas Eve!"

She leant back and watched him, anxious to see the effect of this stupendous piece of news. Her face expressed pride and delight, William's merely bewilderment.

"Comin' out?" he repeated. "Comin' out of where?"

Her expression changed to one of scorn.

"Prison, of course! Silly!"

William was half offended, half thrilled.

"Well, I couldn't know it was prison, could I? How could I know it was prison without bein' told? It might of been out of anything. What—" in hushed curiosity and awe—"what was he in prison for?"

"Stealin'."

Her pride was unmistakable. William looked at her in disapproval.

"Stealin's wicked," he said virtuously.

"Huh!" she jeered, "you can't steal! You're too soft! Softie! You can't steal without bein' copped fust go, you can't."

"I could!" he said indignantly. "And, any way, he got copped di'n't he? or he'd not of been in prison, so there!"

"He di'n't get copped fust go. It was jus' a sorter mistake, he said. He said it wun't happen again. He's a jolly good stealer. The cops said he was and they oughter know."

"Well," said William changing the conversation, "what d'you want for Christmas?"

"I wrote it on a bit of paper an' sent it up the chimney," she said confidingly. "I said I di'n't want no toys nor sweeties nor nuffin'. I said I only wanted a nice supper for Dad when he comes out Christmas Eve. We ain't got much money, me an' Mother, an' we carn't get 'im much of a spread, but if this 'ere Christmas chap sends one fer 'im, it'll be—fine!"

Her eyes were dreamy with ecstasy. William stirred uneasily on his seat.

"I tol' you it was rot," he said. "There isn't any Father Christmas. It's jus' an' ole tale folks tell you when you're a kid, an' you find out it's not true. He won't send no supper jus' cause he isn't anythin'. He's jus' nothin'—jus' an ole tale——"

"Oh, shut up!" William turned sharply at the sound of the shrill voice from the bed within the room. "Let the kid 'ave a bit of pleasure lookin' forward to it, can't yer? It's little enough she 'as, anyway."

William arose with dignity.

"All right," he said. "Go'-bye."

He strolled away down the street.

"Softie!"

It was a malicious sweet little voice.

"Swank!"

William flushed but forbore to turn round.

That evening he met the little girl from next door in the road outside her house.

"Hello, Joan!"

"Hello, William!"

In these blue eyes there was no malice or mockery. To Joan William was a god-like hero. His very wickedness partook of the divine.

"Would you—would you like to come an' make a snow man in our garden, William?" she said tentatively.

William knit his brows.

"I dunno," he said ungraciously. "I was jus' kinder thinkin'."

She looked at him silently, hoping that he would deign to tell her his thoughts, but not daring to ask. Joan held no modern views on the subject of the equality of the sexes.

"Do you remember that ole tale 'bout Father Christmas, Joan?" he said at last.

She nodded.

"Well, s'pose you wanted somethin' very bad, an' you believed that ole tale and sent a bit of paper up the chimney 'bout what you wanted very bad and then you never got it, you'd feel kind of rotten, wouldn't you?"

She nodded again.

"I did one time," she said. "I sent a lovely list up the chimney and I never told anyone about it and I got lots of things for Christmas and not one of the things I'd written for!"

"Did you feel awful rotten?"

"Yes, I did. Awful."

"I say, Joan," importantly, "I've gotter secret."

"Do tell me, William!" she pleaded.

"Can't. It's a crorse-me-throat secret!"

She was mystified and impressed.

"How lovely, William! Is it something you're going to do?"

He considered.

"It might be," he said.

"I'd love to help." She fixed adoring blue eyes upon him.

"Well, I'll see," said the lord of creation. "I say, Joan, you comin' to my party?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Well, there's an awful lot comin'. Johnny Brent an' all that lot. I'm jolly well not lookin' forward to it, I can tell you."

"Oh, I'm so sorry! Why did you ask them, William?"

William laughed bitterly.

"Why did I invite them?" he said. "I don't invite people to my parties. They do that."

In William's vocabulary "they" always signified his immediate family circle.

William had a strong imagination. When an idea took hold upon his mind, it was almost impossible for him to let it go. He was quite accustomed to Joan's adoring homage. The scornful mockery of his auburn-haired friend was something quite new, and in some strange fashion it intrigued and fascinated him. Mentally he recalled her excited little face, flushed with eagerness as she described the expected spread. Mentally also he conceived a vivid picture of the long waiting on Christmas Eve, the slowly fading hope, the final bitter disappointment. While engaging in furious snowball fights with Ginger, Douglas, and Henry, while annoying peaceful passers-by with well-aimed snow missiles, while bruising himself and most of his family black and blue on long and glassy slides along the garden paths, while purloining his family's clothes to adorn various unshapely snowmen, while walking across all the ice (preferably cracked) in the neighbourhood and being several times narrowly rescued from a watery grave—while following all these light holiday pursuits, the picture of the little auburn-haired girl's disappointment was ever vividly present in his mind.

The day of his party drew near.

"My party," he would echo bitterly when anyone of his family mentioned it. "I don't want it. I don't want ole Johnnie Brent an' all that lot. I'd just like to un-invite 'em all."

"But you want Ginger and Douglas and Henry," coaxed his Mother.

"I can have them any time an' I don't like 'em at parties. They're not the same. I don't like anyone at parties. I don't want a party!"

"But you must have a party, William, to ask back people who ask you."

William took up his previous attitude.

"Well, where's the sense of it?" he groaned.

As usual he had the last word, but left his audience unconvinced. They began on him a full hour before his guests were due. He was brushed and scrubbed and scoured and cleaned. He was compressed into an Eton suit and patent leather pumps and finally deposited in the drawing-room, cowed and despondent, his noble spirit all but broken.

The guests began to arrive. William shook hands politely with three strangers shining with soap, brushed to excess, and clothed in ceremonial Eton suits—who in ordinary life were Ginger, Douglas, and Henry. They then sat down and gazed at each other in strained and unnatural silence. They could find nothing to say to each other. Ordinary topics seemed to be precluded by their festive appearance and the formal nature of the occasion. Their informal meetings were usually celebrated by impromptu wrestling matches. This being debarred, a stiff, unnatural atmosphere descended upon them. William was a "host," they were "guests"; they had all listened to final maternal admonitions in which the word "manners" and "politeness" recurred at frequent intervals. They were, in fact, for the time being, complete strangers.

Then Joan arrived and broke the constrained silence.

"Hullo, William! Oh, William, you do look nice!"

William smiled with distant politeness, but his heart warmed to her. It is always some comfort to learn that one has not suffered in vain.

"How d'you do?" he said with a stiff bow.

Then Johnnie Brent came and after him a host of small boys and girls.

William greeted friends and foes alike with the same icy courtesy.

Then the conjurer arrived.

Mrs. Brown had planned the arrangement most carefully. The supper was laid on the big dining room table. There was to be conjuring for an hour before supper to "break the ice." In the meantime, while the conjuring was going on, the grown-ups who were officiating at the party were to have their meal in peace in the library.

William had met the conjurer at various parties and despised him utterly. He despised his futile jokes and high-pitched laugh and he knew his tricks by heart. They sat in rows in front of him—shining-faced, well-brushed little boys in dark Eton suits and gleaming collars, and dainty white-dressed little girls with gay hair ribbons. William sat in the back row near the window, and next him sat Joan. She gazed at his set, expressionless face in mute sympathy. He listened to the monotonous voice of the conjurer.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, I will proceed to swallow these three needles and these three strands of cotton and shortly to bring out each needle threaded with a strand of cotton. Will any lady step forward and examine the needles? Ladies ought to know all about needles, oughtn't they? You young gentlemen don't learn to sew at school, do you? Ha! Ha! Perhaps some of you young gentlemen don't know what a needle is? Ha! Ha!"

William scowled, and his thoughts flew off to the little house in the dirty back street. It was Christmas Eve. Her father was "comin' out." She would be waiting, watching with bright, expectant eyes for the "spread" she had demanded from Father Christmas to welcome her returning parent. It was a beastly shame. She was a silly little ass, anyway, not to believe him. He'd told her there wasn't any Father Christmas.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, I will bring out the three needles threaded with the three strands of cotton. Watch carefully, ladies and gentlemen. There! One! Two! Three! Now, I don't advise you young ladies and gentlemen to try this trick. Needles are very indigestible to some people. Ha! Ha! Not to me, of course! I can digest anything—needles, or marbles, or matches, or glass bowls—as you will soon see. Ha! Ha! Now to proceed, ladies and gentlemen."

William looked at the clock and sighed. Anyway, there'd be supper soon, and that was a jolly good one, 'cause he'd had a look at it.

Suddenly the inscrutable look left his countenance. He gave a sudden gasp and his whole face lit up. Joan turned to him.

"Come on!" he whispered, rising stealthily from his seat.

The room was in half darkness and the conjurer was just producing a white rabbit from his left toe, so that few noticed William's quiet exit by the window followed by that of the blindly obedient Joan.

"You wait!" he whispered in the darkness of the garden. She waited, shivering in her little white muslin dress, till he returned from the stable wheeling a hand-cart, consisting of a large packing case on wheels and finished with a handle. He wheeled it round to the open French window that led into the dining-room. "Come on!" he whispered again.

Few noticed William's exit by the window, followed by the blindly obedient Joan.

Following his example, she began to carry the plates of sandwiches, sausage rolls, meat pies, bread and butter, cakes and biscuits of every variety from the table to the hand-cart. On the top they balanced carefully the plates of jelly and blanc-mange and dishes of trifle, and round the sides they packed armfuls of crackers.

At the end she whispered softly, "What's it for, William?"

"It's the secret," he said. "The crorse-me-throat secret I told you."

"Am I going to help?" she said in delight.

He nodded.

"Jus' wait a minute," he added, and crept from the dining-room to the hall and upstairs.

He returned with a bundle of clothing which he proceeded to arrange in the garden. He first donned his own red dressing gown and then wound a white scarf round his head, tying it under his chin so that the ends hung down.

"I'm makin' believe I'm Father Christmas," he deigned to explain. "An' I'm makin' believe this white stuff is hair an' beard. An' this is for you to wear so's you won't get cold."

He held out a little white satin cloak edged with swansdown.

"Oh, how lovely, William! But it's not my cloak! It's Sadie Murford's!"

"Never mind! you can wear it," said William generously.

Then, taking the handles of the cart, he set off down the drive. From the drawing-room came the sound of a chorus of delight as the conjurer produced a goldfish in a glass bowl from his head. From the kitchen came the sound of the hilarious laughter of the maids. Only in the dining-room, with its horrible expanse of empty table, was silence.

They walked down the road without speaking till Joan gave a little excited laugh.

"This is fun, William! I do wonder what we're going to do."

"You'll see," said William. "I'd better not tell you yet. I promised a crorse-me-throat promise I wouldn't tell anyone."

"All right, William," she said sweetly. "I don't mind a bit."

The evening was dark and rather foggy, so that the strange couple attracted little attention, except when passing beneath the street lamps. Then certainly people stood still and looked at William and his cart in open-mouthed amazement.

At last they turned down a back street towards a door that stood open to the dark, foggy night. Inside the room was a bare table at which sat a little girl, her blue, anxious eyes fixed on the open door.

"I hope he gets here before Dad," she said. "I wouldn't like Dad to come and find it not ready!"

The woman on the bed closed her eyes wearily.

"I don't think he'll come now, dearie. We must just get on without it."

The little girl sprang up, her pale cheek suddenly flushed.

"Oh, listen!" she cried; "something's coming!"

They listened in breathless silence, while the sound of wheels came down the street towards the empty door. Then—an old hand-cart appeared in the doorway and behind it William in his strange attire, and Joan in her fairy-like white—white cloak, white dress, white socks and shoes—her bright curls clustered with gleaming fog jewels.

The little girl clasped her hands. Her face broke into a rapt smile. Her blue eyes were like stars.

First the jellies and blanc manges—then the meat pies and trifles.

"Oh, oh!" she cried. "It's Father Christmas and a fairy!"

Without a word William pushed the cart through the doorway into the room and began to remove its contents and place them on the table. First the jellies and trifles and blanc-manges, then the meat pies, pastries, sausage rolls, sandwiches, biscuits, and cakes—sugar-coated, cream-interlayered, full of plums and nuts and fruit. William's mother had had wide experience and knew well what food most appealed to small boys and girls. Moreover she had provided plentifully for her twenty guests.

The little girl was past speech. The woman looked at them in dumb wonder. Then:

"Why, you're the boy she was talkin' to," she said at last. "It's real kind of you. She was gettin' that upset. It 'ud have broke her heart if nothin' had come an' I couldn't do nothin'. It's real kind of yer, sir!" Her eyes were misty.

Joan placed the last cake on the table, and William, who was rather warm after his exertions, removed his scarf.

The child gave a little sobbing laugh.

"Oh, isn't it lovely? I'm so happy! You're the funny boy, aren't you, dressed up as Father Christmas? Or did Father Christmas send you? Or were you Father Christmas all the time? May I kiss the fairy? Would she mind? She's so beautiful!"

Joan came forward and kissed her shyly, and the woman on the bed smiled unsteadily.

"It's real kind of you both," she murmured again.

Then the door opened, and the lord and master of the house entered after his six months' absence. He came in no sheepish hang-dog fashion. He entered cheerily and boisterously as any parent might on returning from a hard-earned holiday.

"'Ello, Missus! 'Ello, Kid! 'Ello! Wot's all this 'ere?" His eyes fell upon William. "'Ello young gent!"

"Happy Christmas," William murmured politely.

"Sime to you an' many of them. 'Ow are you, Missus? Kid looked arter you all right? That's right. Oh, I sye! Where's the grub come from? Fair mikes me mouth water. I 'aven't seen nuffin' like this—not fer some time!"

There was a torrent of explanations, everyone talking at once. He gave a loud guffaw at the end.

"Well, we're much obliged to this young gent and this little lady, and now we'll 'ave a good ole supper. This is all right, this is! Now, Missus, you 'ave a good feed. Now, 'fore we begin, I sye three cheers fer the young gent and little lady. Come on, now, 'Ip, 'ip, 'ip, 'ooray! Now, little lady, you come 'ere. That's fine, that is! Now 'oo'll 'ave a meat pie? 'Oo's fer a meat pie? Come on, Missus! That's right. We'll all 'ave meat pies! This 'ere's sumfin like Christmas, eh? We've not 'ad a Christmas like this—not for many a long year. Now, 'urry up, Kid. Don't spend all yer time larfin'. Now, ladies an' gents, 'oo's fer a sausage roll? All of us? Come on, then! I mustn't eat too 'eavy or I won't be able to sing to yer aterwards, will I? I've got some fine songs, young gent. And Kid 'ere 'll dance fer yer. She's a fine little dancer, she is! Now, come on, ladies an' gents, sandwiches? More pies? Come on!"

They laughed and chattered merrily. The woman sat up in bed, her eyes bright and her cheeks flushed. To William and Joan it was like some strange and wonderful dream.

And at that precise moment Mrs. Brown had sunk down upon the nearest dining-room chair on the verge of tears, and twenty pairs of hungry horrified eyes in twenty clean, staring, open-mouthed little faces surveyed the bare expanse of the dining-room table. And the cry that went up all round was:—

"Where's William?"

And then:—

"Where's Joan?"

They searched the house and garden and stable for them in vain. They sent the twenty enraged guests home supperless and aggrieved.

"Has William eaten all our suppers?" they said.

"Where is he? Is he dead?"

"People will never forget," wailed Mrs. Brown. "It's simply dreadful. And where is William?"

They rang up police-stations for miles around.

"If they've eaten all that food—the two of them," said Mrs. Brown almost distraught, "they'll die! They may be dying in some hospital now! And I do wish Mrs. Murford would stop ringing up about Sadie's cloak. I've told her it's not here!"

Meantime there was dancing, and singing, and games, and cracker-pulling in a small house in a back street not very far away.

"I've never had such a lovely time in my life," gasped the Kid breathlessly at the end of one of the many games into which William had initiated them. "I've never, never, never——"

"We won't ferget you in a 'urry, young man," her father added, "nor the little lady neither. We'll 'ave many talks about this 'ere!"

Joan was sitting on the bed, laughing and panting, her curls all disordered.

"I wish," said William wistfully, "I wish you'd let me come with you when you go stealin' some day!"

"I'm not goin' stealin' no more, young gent," said his friend solemnly. "I got a job—a real steady job—brick-layin', an' I'm goin' to stick to it."

All good things must come to an end, and soon William donned his red dressing-gown again and Joan her borrowed cloak, and they helped to store the remnants of the feast in the larder—the remnants of the feast would provide the ex-burglar and his family with food for many days to come. Then they took the empty hand-cart and, after many fond farewells, set off homeward through the dark.

Mr. Brown had come home and assumed charge of operations.

Ethel was weeping on the sofa in the library.

"Oh, dear little William!" she sobbed. "I do wish I'd always been kind to him!"

Mrs. Brown was reclining, pale and haggard, in the arm-chair.

"There's the Roughborough Canal, John!" she was saying weakly. "And Joan's mother will always say it was our fault. Oh, poor little William!"

"It's a good ten miles away," said her husband drily. "I don't think even William——" He rang up fiercely. "Confound these brainless police! Hallo! Any news? A boy and girl and supper for twenty can't disappear off the face of the earth. No, there had been no trouble at home. There probably will be when he turns up, but there was none before! If he wanted to run away, why would he burden himself with a supper for twenty? Why—one minute!"

The front door opened and Mrs. Brown ran into the hall.

A well-known voice was heard speaking quickly and irritably.

"I jus' went away, that's all! I jus' thought of something I wanted to do, that's all! Yes, I did take the supper. I jus' wanted it for something. It's a secret what I wanted it for, I——"

"William!" said Mr. Brown.

Through the scenes that followed William preserved a dignified silence, even to the point of refusing any explanation. Such explanation as there was filtered through from Joan's mother by means of the telephone.

"It was all William's idea," Joan's mother said plaintively. "Joan would never have done anything if William hadn't practically made her. I expect she's caught her death of cold. She's in bed now——"

"Yes, so is William. I can't think what they wanted to take all the food for. And he was just a common man straight from prison. It's dreadful. I do hope they haven't picked up any awful language. Have you given Joan some quinine? Oh, Mrs. Murford's just rung up to see if Sadie's cloak has turned up. Will you send it round? I feel so upset by it all. If it wasn't Christmas Eve——"

"Wasn't she a jolly little kid?" William said eagerly.
"Yes," a pause, then—"William, you don't like her better than me, do you?"

The houses occupied by William's and Joan's families respectively were semi-detached, but William's and Joan's bedroom windows faced each other, and there was only about five yards between them.

There came to William's ears as he lay drowsily in bed the sound of a gentle rattle at the window. He got up and opened it. At the opposite window a little white-robed figure leant out, whose golden curls shone in the starlight.

"William," she whispered, "I threw some beads to see if you were awake. Were your folks mad?"

"Awful," said William laconically.

"Mine were too. I di'n't care, did you?"

"No, I di'n't. Not a bit!"

"William, wasn't it fun? I wish it was just beginning again, don't you?"

"Yes, I jus' do. I say, Joan, wasn't she a jolly little kid and di'n't she dance fine?"

"Yes,"—a pause—then, "William, you don't like her better'n me, do you?"

William considered.

"No, I don't," he said at last.

A soft sigh of relief came through the darkness.

"I'm so glad! Go'-night, William."

"Go'-night," said William sleepily, drawing down his window as he spoke.


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