William and the Pop Singers

The facts

“Gosh! Wasn’t it awful yesterday?” said William as the four Outlaws walked slowly down the village street.
“Never stopped for a single second,” said Ginger.
“Nearly as bad as the one in the Bible,” said Douglas.
“Just rained cats and dogs all day,” said Henry.
“I wouldn’t have minded cats an’ dogs,” said William. “Cats an’ dogs would have been rather excitin’. Gosh! Think of ’em all tumblin’ down from the sky!” He gave his short harsh chuckle. “We’d have to have umbrellas made of iron to keep ’em off.”
The others considered this picture with rising spirits.

Verdict

After William had over-indulged in some supernatural fiction, the Outlaws decide to find a ghost. Fortunately, just at that moment, they hear a villager refer to another resident as “a ghost” so immediately go to investigate. They wonder at what he can have done so heinous as to justify being sentenced to eternal life as a ghost:

“P’raps he robbed a bank.”
“Or forged a will.”
“Or didn’t pay his income tax.”
“Or let his motor insurance run out.”

“My mother promised me sixpence if I’d sit quiet for an hour,” said William. “I found a book of ghost stories in the bookcase an’ I read it.”
“Did you get the sixpence?” said Henry.
“Well, I got fivepence halfpenny,” said William. “I started talkin’ about ghosts in the middle.”

For some reason they become convinced that the ghost is seeking to destroy some incindiary political papers, and try to find them before this can happen.

But they manage, instead, to find some rather interesting papers belonging – or, strictly speaking, not quite belonging – to a local author.

The facts

“The Society believes that cows and sheep and all other animals should be allowed to lead long happy lives with freedom from want and fear and that they should be allowed to attain the peace and dignity of old age and die of simple natural diseases like human beings.”
“Dogs are all right,” said William, “an’ so are some insects. An’ I’ve met guinea-pigs an’ goldfish that were quite decent. I shouldn’t mind any of them dyin’ of natural diseases if they want to.”

Verdict

Definite echoes of Our Man in Havana in this story, with William’s friend Miss Thompson setting up a fictitious network of animal rights activists to save herself the embarassment of disappointing the nice officer from the national charity who has so much faith in her. “The odd thing is that I still half believe in them, you know – Mr Coleman, Mr Flower, Mr Beauchamp, Miss Poppins, Mrs Belmont and the rest.”

William took a formal farewell of his hostess, fixing her with the glassy smile that accompanied any exhibition of “manners” on his part and enunciating the words “Thank you for having me” in a loud and husky voice.

But that all comes later… first, William takes pity on a shy market researcher sitting by the side of the road and decides to help her out by finding people to complete her survey. (The whole episode has a very modern feel to it.)

Fortunately, William espies a student protest marching from ‘Newlick University’ (with a pig), and manages to solve both strands…

The facts

Mr French, the form master, did not approve of holiday tasks; he considered that they imposed an undue strain on both master and pupil. He had occasionally been tempted to set his pupils the task of committing to memory ‘The Ancient Mariner’ or ‘John Gilpin’ – poems that, he considered, every educated person should know by heart – but had always been restrained by the sobering thought that be would have to hear them say it.

Verdict

A supply teacher with an eccentric educational philosophy (see also William and the Temporary History Master, 13.5) has set William’s class the holiday homework of assembling a ‘museum’ consisting of local ‘finds’.

There was a faraway look in William’s eyes, a jaunty swagger in his walk. He was being feted and acclaimed as the discoverer of the most sensational archaeological find of the century. Scholars and professors of the highest standing showered congratulations on him. Fantastic offers flowed in to him from America, but he refused them and presented the head to the British Museum. The British Museum was ecstatically grateful and held a banquet in his honour, giving three cheers for him at the end. He was knighted and his photograph – Sir William Brown – appeared in all the papers. Reporters flocked to interview him. A modest smile curved his lips as he kicked a stone across the road. “Well, it was sort of luck in a way,” he was saying. “I mean, I’ve got a sort of instinct. I jus’ looked at that hole an’ I knew it had got a heathen god’s statue’s head in it.”

Chiefly out of a sense of rivalry with Hubert, they throw themselves into it body-and-soul, albeit at the last minute.

Their plan of action is pure genius:

“There was somethin’ in the newspaper once,” said Henry thoughtfully. “It was dug up in London. It was a head.”
“What sort of a head?” said Ginger.
“It was a heathen god that people used to worship,” said Henry, “an’ it was jolly important. There were pictures of it in the newspapers. It was hundreds of years old.”
William’s interest was quickening. “Where did they find it?” he said.
“They found it when they were diggin’ a hole in the road in London near the Post Office. There was a picture of that, too.”
“But… gosh!” said William excitedly. “They’re diggin’ a hole in the road near the Post Office here. Come on! Let’s go an’ have a look!”

Astonishingly, they do find a statue’s head, but unfortunately it turns out not to be an ancient one, but rather Archie Mannister’s latest artwork of Ethel (“she’s more my girl friend than I’m her boy friend, if you know what I mean”) which he’d hidden in the hole as a surprise.

Before the Outlaws figure this out, though, they sincerely believe themselves to be in possession of an artefact that is both valuable and cursed: a suspicious incident in William’s home in which a shelf collapsed is naturally ascribed to the head (“Use a bit of sense. It couldn’t have been anythin’ but the curse. What else could it have been?” “Gravity,” suggested Henry tentatively after a moment’s thought).

What a fun story!