The Reform of William

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To William the idea of reform was new and startling and not wholly unattractive. It originated with the housemaid whose brother was a reformed burglar now employed in a grocer's shop.

"'E's got conversion," she said to William. "'E got it quite sudden-like, an' 'e give up all 'is bad ways straight off. 'E's bin like a heavenly saint ever since."

William was deeply interested. The point was all innocently driven in later by the Sunday-school mistress. William's family had no real faith in the Sunday-school as a corrective to William's inherent wickedness, but they knew that no Sabbath peace or calm was humanly possible while William was in the house. So they brushed and cleaned and tidied him at 2.45 and sent him, pained and protesting, down the road every Sunday afternoon. Their only regret was that Sunday-school did not begin earlier and end later.

Fortunately for William, most of his friends' parents were inspired by the same zeal, so that he met his old cronies of the week-days—Henry, Ginger, Douglas and all the rest—and together they beguiled the monotony of the Sabbath.

But this Sunday the tall, pale lady who, for her sins, essayed to lead William and his friends along the straight and narrow path of virtue, was almost inspired. She was like some prophetess of old. She was so emphatic that the red cherries that hung coquettishly over the edge of her hat rattled against it as though in applause.

"We must all start afresh," she said. "We must all be turned—that's what conversion means."

William's fascinated eye wandered from the cherries to the distant view out of the window. He thought suddenly of the noble burglar who had turned his back upon the mysterious, nefarious tools of his trade and now dispensed margarine to his former victims.

Opposite him sat a small girl in a pink and white checked frock. He often whiled away the dullest hours of Sunday-school by putting out his tongue at her or throwing paper pellets at her (manufactured previously for the purpose). But to-day, meeting her serious eye, he looked away hastily.

"And we must all help someone," went on the urgent voice. "If we have turned ourselves, we must help someone else to turn...."

Determined and eager was the eye that the small girl turned upon William, and William realised that his time had come. He was to be converted. He felt almost thrilled by the prospect. He was so enthralled that he received absent-mindedly, and without gratitude, the mountainous bull's-eye passed to him from Ginger, and only gave a half-hearted smile when a well-aimed pellet from Henry's hand sent one of the prophetess's cherries swinging high in the air.

After the class the pink-checked girl (whose name most appropriately was Deborah) stalked William for several yards and finally cornered him.

"William," she said, "are you going to turn?"

"I'm goin' to think about it," said William guardedly.

"William, I think you ought to turn. I'll help you," she added sweetly.

William drew a deep breath. "All right, I will," he said.

She heaved a sigh of relief.

"You'll begin now, won't you?" she said earnestly.

William considered. There were several things that he had wanted to do for some time, but hadn't managed to do yet. He had not tried turning off the water at the main, and hiding the key and seeing what would happen; he hadn't tried shutting up the cat in the hen-house; he hadn't tried painting his long-suffering mongrel Jumble with the pot of green paint that was in the tool shed; he hadn't tried pouring water into the receiver of the telephone; he hadn't tried locking the cook into the larder. There were, in short, whole fields of crime entirely unexplored. All these things—and others—must be done before the reformation.

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