William and the Tramp

 The facts

“I’m having sixteen guests,” said Archie, “I sent out sixteen invitations – you remember, William. You posted them – and I said: ‘Don’t answer unless you can’t come. If I don’t hear from you, I shall expect you,’ and I haven’t heard from a single one, so that means they’re all coming. It’s very gratifying. Very gratifying indeed.” A blissful smile lit up his features.
A blank look had come over William’s face.

  • Number: 28.8
  • Published: 1952 (1953 in magazine form, ie first published in book form)
  • Book: William the Tramp
  • Synopsis: William has forgotten to take round the invitations for Archie’s party.

Verdict

When William realises on the eve of Archie’s party that he failed to deliver the sixteen invitations, he scours the district for sixteen people he can persuade to attend at the last minute.

“We realised as soon as we got away…”
“But why did you come here at all in the first place?” squeaked Archie, almost buried beneath his canvasses.
“A boy directed us here. I don’t know who he was. The other boys called him William.”

Of course, by complete Cromptonesque coincidence, there are sixteen art collectors lost in the neighbourhood, on their way to an art exhibition in Marleigh.

Day 291: William’s Secret Society

 The facts

William was silent for a few moments; then, with a burst of inspiration: “We’ll have a Secret Society.”
“Gosh, yes!” said Ginger. “That’s a jolly good idea.”
“An’ we’ll have passwords an’ disguises,” said William, “an’ put up a notice an’ have a meetin’ in the old barn an’ I’ll make a speech.”
“You can’t make a speech about a Secret Society,” said Henry. “If it’s a Secret Society it’s gotter be secret.”
“Yes, I s’pose so,” said William regretfully. He prided himself on his powers as a public orator and did not like to let slip any opportunity of using them.

  • Number: 28.7
  • Published: 1952 (same year in magazine form; not to be confused with the 1923 story, 3.7, of the same name)
  • Book: William the Tramp
  • Synopsis: William takes on a suspected Russian spy.

Verdict

Of all William’s plans and schemes, his creativity in this story I think surpasses all others. Faced with the prospect of an evil Russian spy in their midst, William does not demur from the danger like Douglas (“I think we’d better be a bit careful of atom bombs: they’re s’posed to be dangerous”) but instead gets right in.

His technique?

“We’ll take you to it,” said Henry. “It’s this way… over the stile.”
They entered the old barn. William sat in an impressive attitude on a packing case. His appearance had been copied faithfully (or rather as faithfully as possible) from the picture of Stalin in Henry’s encyclopaedia. He wore a golfing blouse of Robert’s that engulfed his figure, Ethel’s jockey cap, and a large straggling moustache that Robert had once worn in some amateur theatricals and that fell off whenever he moved.
Mr Kellyngs stood staring at him, open-mouthed with amazement. William rose to his feet with an air of dignity.
“Hail, Comrade!” he said, holding his moustache on with one hand and making a sweeping gesture with the other. “I’m Stalin come over to England to fetch thy papers about the atom bomb. I’m flying back to Russia ’ere nightfall an’ I’ll take them along with me. Thee will be well paid for thy trouble, but I haven’t any change on me at present. I’ll send thee a postal order from Russia when I get there. Hist! Not a word! Give me the papers and begone!”

An elaborate oath of secrecy was administered and a still more elaborate system of signals devised by which the Outlaws were to indicate to each other various degrees of danger – no danger, middling danger, special danger, deadly danger, pressing need for reinforcement and even the immediate calling in of Scotland Yard. And then suddenly things seemed to fall rather flat.
“Well, what’re we goin’ to do?” said Ginger.
“We’ve settled what to do,” said William a little irritably. “We’re goin’ to put down crim’nals.”
“They live in the underground,” said Ginger.
“You’re thinkin’ of the underworld,” said Henry. “It’s somethin’ quite diff’rent.”
“We ought to be a bit careful,” said Douglas. “They slash with razors.”
“I bet I’d get a crim’nal before he’d time to pull his razor out,” said William. “I’m jolly strong. Look! You can feel my muscle goin’ up an’ down when you put your hand on my arm. Gosh! It’s enormous.”

Of course, it turns out that Mr Kellyngs isn’t a Russian spy, but he ends up fairly grateful to the Outlaws anyway…

 The facts

Ginger had brought an old diary that his mother (who was an indifferent cook) had thrown away, in the empty spaces of which he meant to enrol the names of the pets and the owners who joined the club.
Arabella Simpkin arrived pushing a pram.
“What’s your pet?” said William coldly.
“’Im,” said Arabella, pointing to the pram’s occupant.
William looked down at the features of Arabella’s baby brother – repulsive even in sleep. “You can’t have him,” he said, outraged. “He’s not an animal.”
“That’s right!” shrilled Arabella. “Insult a pore kid wot can’t stand up for itself… ’E’s as good as an animal, isn’t ’e?”
William enrolled the repulsive baby among the pets: “Baby George Tommus Simpkin”.
Arabella watched him suspiciously. “’Ere! What’s this?” she said, reading the entry that was written just beneath the name. “’Baby pancakes. Flat and sodden.’ Startin’ insultin’ of ’im again, are you?”
“Oh, shut up!” said William. “That’s what Ginger’s mother wrote years an’ years ago.”

  • Number: 28.6
  • Published: 1952 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Tramp
  • Synopsis: William accidentally wins a fancy dress competition.

Verdict

This story – or at least the printed version I have – contains the unique feature of an asterisk, in relation to Robert’s collection of birds’ eggs, sternly warning readers, “It is now against the law to collect the eggs of any British wild bird.” I have to say, given the amount of serious criminal offences William and the Outlaws have committed, it’s surprising this is considered the only one worth warning of. But there we go.

The birds’ eggs form an important part of the story, because Robert wants to give them as a present to the ridiculously-named Peregrine Forrester – Peregrine being the favoured younger brother of Dolores, who Robert particularly wants to impress.

“But your egg c’lection!” said William. “That ole
Pelican havin’ your egg c’lection! He’s no right. It’s
not fair. It’s – it’s the same as stealin’.”
“Don’t be absurd,” said Robert, “and his name’s Peregrin.”
“It can be Kangaroo for all I care,” said William heatedly. “It’s the meanest thing anyone’s done to anyone since the world began. It’s worse than Cain or Dr Crippen or – or Guy Fawkes or – or that man called Squeers that kept a school in Shakespeare or – or…”

Because the rest of the Browns are united that Robert should not give away such a treasured possession to anyone outside the family, he comes up with the clever technique of offering them as a prize for a local fancy dress competition, which he is sure will be won by the insufferably virtuous Peregrine.

But he reckons without William, who – his own clothes having been destroyed by an over-enthusiastic member of the Pets’ Club he has just founded – makes a surprise appearance…