GEORGE NEWNES, LIMITED
SOUTHAMPTON ST., STRAND, W.C.
"Wot you dressed up like that for?" said the apparition, with a touch of scorn in his voice. (See Chapter IX. The Revenge.)
I. A Busy Day
III. William's Burglar
IV. The Knight at Arms
V. William's Hobby
VI. The Rivals
VII. The Ghost
VIII. The May King
IX. The Revenge
X. The Helper
XI. William and the Smuggler
XII. The Reform of William
XIII. William and the Ancient Souls
XIV. William's Christmas Eve
A Busy Day
William awoke and rubbed his eyes. It was Christmas Day—the day to which he had looked forward with mingled feelings for twelve months. It was a jolly day, of course—presents and turkey and crackers and staying up late. On the other hand, there were generally too many relations about, too much was often expected of one, the curious taste displayed by people who gave one presents often marred one's pleasure.
He looked round his bedroom expectantly. On the wall, just opposite his bed, was a large illuminated card hanging by a string from a nail—"A Busy Day is a Happy Day." That had not been there the day before. Brightly-coloured roses and forget-me-nots and honeysuckle twined round all the words. William hastily thought over the three aunts staying in the house, and put it down to Aunt Lucy. He looked at it with a doubtful frown. He distrusted the sentiment.
A copy of "Portraits of our Kings and Queens" he put aside as beneath contempt. "Things a Boy Can Do" was more promising. Much more promising. After inspecting a penknife, a pocket-compass, and a pencil-box (which shared the fate of "Portraits of our Kings and Queens"), William returned to "Things a Boy Can Do." As he turned the pages, his face lit up.
He leapt lightly out of bed and dressed. Then he began to arrange his own gifts to his family. For his father he had bought a bottle of highly-coloured sweets, for his elder brother Robert (aged nineteen) he had expended a vast sum of money on a copy of "The Pirates of the Bloody Hand." These gifts had cost him much thought. The knowledge that his father never touched sweets, and that Robert professed scorn of pirate stories, had led him to hope that the recipients of his gifts would make no objection to the unobtrusive theft of them by their recent donor in the course of the next few days. For his grown-up sister Ethel he had bought a box of coloured chalks. That also might come in useful later. Funds now had been running low, but for his mother he had bought a small cream-jug which, after fierce bargaining, the man had let him have at half-price because it was cracked.
Singing "Christians Awake!" at the top of his lusty young voice, he went along the landing, putting his gifts outside the doors of his family, and pausing to yell "Happy Christmas" as he did so. From within he was greeted in each case by muffled groans.
He went downstairs into the hall, still singing. It was earlier than he thought—just five o'clock. The maids were not down yet. He switched on lights recklessly, and discovered that he was not the only person in the hall. His four-year-old cousin Jimmy was sitting on the bottom step in an attitude of despondency, holding an empty tin.
Jimmy's mother had influenza at home, and Jimmy and his small sister Barbara were in the happy position of spending Christmas with relations, but immune from parental or maternal interference.
"They've gotten out," said Jimmy, sadly. "I got 'em for presents yesterday, an' they've gotten out. I've been feeling for 'em in the dark, but I can't find 'em."
"What?" said William.
"Snails. Great big suge ones wiv great big suge shells. I put 'em in a tin for presents an' they've gotten out an' I've gotten no presents for nobody."
He relapsed into despondency.
William surveyed the hall.
"They've got out right enough!" he said, sternly. "They've got out right enough. Jus' look at our hall! Jus' look at our clothes! They've got out right enough."
Innumerable slimy iridescent trails shone over hats, and coats, and umbrellas, and wall-paper.
"Huh!" grunted William, who was apt to overwork his phrases. "They've got out right enough."
He looked at the tracks again and brightened. Jimmy was frankly delighted.
"Oo! Look!" he cried, "Oo funny!"
William's thoughts flew back to his bedroom wall—"A Busy Day is a Happy Day."
"Let's clean it up!" he said. "Let's have it all nice an' clean for when they come down. We'll be busy. You tell me if you feel happy when we've done. It might be true wot it