William was aware when his father promised to take him to the pantomime for a Christmas treat that he would have to tread very carefully between the promise and its fulfilment if he wished the fulfilment to materialise.
“If I was you,” said Douglas earnestly, “I’d jus’ do nothin’ between now and then ‘cept eat at meal times an’ go to bed at night.”
- Number: 10.10
- Published: 1929 (1928 in magazine form)
- Book: William
- Synopsis: The Outlaws ride a prize pig, and so need to blackmail its owner.
In many ways this is a completely classic William story. It has all the key features: William, with no ill intent, absently gets himself into a situation in which he causes chaos, and tries to get out of it by doing an act of public service which is, it turns out, based on a misunderstanding, but miraculously gets out of it anyway.
To put some flesh on the bones of that outline: the Outlaws go to look at Eglantine, a local pig well-known for being repulsively/ prize-winningly fat. For the Outlaws, it is but a short step from looking at Eglantine to riding Eglantine “as if she was an elephant”.
The life of quiet virtue that he had led for nearly a day was getting on William’s nerves.
When Eglantine’s enraged owner vows to complain to William’s father, it is clear that desperate measures are necessary: “We’ll find out somethin’ he’s done wrong in his past an’ hold it over him that if he goes an’ tells about the pig we’ll set the police on him.”
They don’t consider it necessary actually to discover any facts, but instead write Eglantine’s owner, Mr Ballater, a generic note reading: “All is nown fle.”
But then things all get rather confusing when they decide to ‘return’ to the Vicar a teapot which they are convinced was stolen by Mr Ballater. And, astonishingly, in the process of extricating themselves from the situation they actually manage to catch a real thief.
So all in all, a typical day for William!
Mrs Roundway looked at William. There was nothing romantic about William, nothing remotely suggestive of Cupid in William’s appearance. There was even something about William’s expression that would have chilled sentiment at its very fount.
“No, love,” she said simply, “I’m sure that no one would propose to anyone with you about.”
- Number: 10.9
- Published: 1929 (same year in magazine form)
- Book: William
- Synopsis: William strives to save an elderly heiress from a gold-digger.
The narrator commences this story by remarking that William has very few adult friends – I’m not so sure this is true, but in any event Mrs Roundway is definitely one of them. She has spent his whole life feeding him boy-shaped cookies, so when she has a problem of the heart, William is only too keen to help out.
Her problem is that her rich, elderly sister Maggie has just lost her husband and moved back from Australia. Her two suitors from their youth immediately start ramping up again. One, a handsome golden-haired man, is Maggie’s favourite but, Mrs Roundway is firmly convinced, a gold-digger; the other is a simple country gentleman who genuinely loves her.
“I once heard of a man who climbed up a church steeple when he was a boy an’ couldn’t get down an’ had to stay there till he was old.”
William’s assistance takes the form of dogging Maggie and the golden-haired suitor wherever they go, aiming with his demeanour to put him off from proposing.
This story would be relatively simplistic and unentertaining were it not for William’s ‘romantic’ conversational overtures as he accompanied the couple of country walks: these included, “I heard of a man once that had seven fingers on each hand,” “I once heard of a man what ate five chickens one after the other straight off for dinner” and more.
“Pirates,” suggested Ginger.
“Robbers,” suggested Douglas.
“Smugglers,” suggested Henry.
William shook his head. “We’ve played them so often,” he said. “Let’s think of somethin’ quite diff’rent. I know!” His
freckled face lit up with inspiration. ”
I know… Arabs!”
“What?” said the Outlaws.
“Arabs!” said William excitedly.
“Arab chiefs fightin’ each other in the desert with camels an’ things.”
- Number: 10.8
- Published: 1929 (1928 in magazine form, originally titled Fetching the Holly)
- Book: William
- Synopsis: The Outlaws procrastinate an errand for the Vicar’s wife.
The Vicar’s wife, who clearly has a total inability to learn from experience, arms the Outlaws with a treasured wheelbarrow and sends them out to collect holly with which she can decorate the Vicarage for Christmas.
The Outlaws instead decide to use the wheelbarrow as a camel in their game of Arabs.
“Mells’ Wood’s borin’,” objected Ginger. “No one minds you goin’ there. It isn’t even a trespass
“Crown Wood’s better,” suggested William.
Crown Wood had the allurement of (almost) impenetrable barbed wire barriers, frequent notice boards that warned trespassers of prosecution, and a ferocious keeper armed with a gun and a dog that, the Outlaws firmly believed, would rend them limb from limb if ever he caught them.
It so happens that the woods in which they are trespassing happen to be owned by a highly eccentric professor who, seeing William – blacked up and dressed in flowing robes – fall from the sky (drop out of a tree), naturally assumes him to be a visitor from Mars and welcomes him into his home.
William is happy to play the character of a visitor from Mars (“Flam gobba manxy pop gebboo”), at least until his father arrives looking for him. The professor introduces the Martian visitor to Mr Brown.
Astonishingly, William (just about) gets away with this. But he still has to face up to the Vicar’s wife and explain the absence of any holly…