William's Burglar

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When William first saw him he was leaning against the wall of the White Lion, gazing at the passers-by with a moody smile upon his villainous-looking countenance.

It was evident to any careful observer that he had not confined his attentions to the exterior of the White Lion.

William, at whose heels trotted his beloved mongrel (rightly named Jumble), was passing him with a casual glance, when something attracted his attention. He stopped and looked back, then, turning round, stood in front of the tall, untidy figure, gazing up at him with frank and unabashed curiosity.

"Who cut 'em off?" he said at last in an awed whisper.

The figure raised his hands and stroked the long hair down the side of his face.

"Now yer arskin'," he said with a grin.

"Well, who did?" persisted William.

"That 'ud be tellin'," answered his new friend, moving unsteadily from one foot to the other. "See?"

"You got 'em cut off in the war," said William firmly.

"I didn't. I bin in the wor orl right. Stroike me pink, I bin in the wor and that's the truth. But I didn't get 'em cut orf in the wor. Well, I'll stop kiddin' yer. I'll tell yer strite. I never 'ad none. Nar!"

William stood on tiptoe to peer under the untidy hair at the small apertures that in his strange new friend took the place of ears. Admiration shone in William's eyes.

"Was you born without 'em?" he said enviously.

His friend nodded.

"Nar don't yer go torkin' about it," he went on modestly, though seeming to bask in the sun of William's evident awe and respect. "I don't want all folks knowin' 'bout it. See? It kinder marks a man, this 'ere sort of thing. See? Makes 'im too easy to track, loike. That's why I grow me hair long. See? 'Ere, 'ave a drink?"

He put his head inside the window of the White Lion and roared out "Bottle o' lemonide fer the young gent."

William followed him to a small table in the little sunny porch, and his heart swelled with pride as he sat and quaffed his beverage with a manly air. His friend, who said his name was Mr. Blank, showed a most flattering interest in him. He elicited from him the whereabouts of his house and the number of his family, a description of the door and window fastenings, of the dining-room silver and his mother's jewellery.

William, his eyes fixed with a fascinated stare upon Mr. Blank's ears, gave the required information readily, glad to be able in any way to interest this intriguing and mysterious being.

"Tell me about the war," said William at last.

"It were orl right while it larsted," said Mr. Blank with a sigh. "It were orl right, but I s'pose, like mos' things in this 'ere world, it couldn't larst fer ever. See?"

William set down the empty glass of lemonade and leant across the table, almost dizzy with the romance of the moment. Had Douglas, had Henry, had Ginger, had any of those boys who sat next him at school and joined in the feeble relaxations provided by the authorities out of school, ever done this—ever sat at a real table outside a real public-house drinking lemonade and talking to a man with no ears who'd fought in the war and who looked as if he might have done anything?

Jumble, meanwhile, sat and snapped at flies, frankly bored.

"Did you"—said William in a sibilant whisper—"did you ever kill anyone?"

Mr. Blank laughed a laugh that made William's blood curdle.

"Me kill anyone? Me kill anyone? 'Ondreds!"

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