William the Bad

The facts

“Lunies,” said Ginger, contemptuously, “I bet they’ve escaped from somewhere.”
“They’re fun to watch anyway,” said William. “We can always come an’ watch ’em when we’ve nothing else
to do.”
Heartened by the thought of this addition to their resources, they went home to bed.

  • Number: 11.10
  • Published: 1930 (1929 in magazine form, originally titled William and the New Neighbours)
  • Book: William the Bad
  • Synopsis: A couple of eccentric anti-modernity campaigners arrive in the village.

Verdict

William seems to be more or less of an afterthought in this story, in which Richmal Crompton focuses on and robustly satirises the Pennymans, who must surely be based on somebody she met in real life.

William entered the drawing-room and greeted the guest with the expression of intense ferocity that he always assumed when he intended to be especially polite.

The Pennymans are, as Ginger so astutely spotted, “lunies”. We still have “lunies” like them today, except we say that they follow the paleo diet.

The Pennymans basically follow the paleo diet. They are militant vegetarians, in addition to which they dress in flowing robes (“the clothes that nature intended us to wear”) and make their own entertainment to simulate that which would have been available to them at “the morning of the world”.

They have made it their mission to convert the world to their principles; and they have chosen William’s village to start with. Finding William’s village rather resistant to change – through no fault of William’s, on this occasion – they set their ambitions rather lower, and seek first to introduce a spirit of rustic “Merrie England”, as a preliminary stage to reintroducing the morning of the world.

All very odd, but they stick at it until William has a fight with their nephew Pelleas, while both William and Pelleas are inside the Pennymans’ “Merrie England” dragon costume…

The facts

“I must say it’s all very odd,” said the beloved coldly. “I’m not used to people I’m supposed to be dancing with suddenly going off and getting locked in sheds like this.”
“I wish you’d do something,” said the goaded Robert, “instead of standing there talking.”
“What do you expect me to do?” said the beloved still more coldly.

  • Number: 11.9
  • Published: 1930 (1929 in magazine form, originally titled William the Bold Pirate)
  • Book: William the Bad
  • Synopsis: William organises a three-way fancy dress swap (without the consent of the other two parties).

Verdict

A proper French farce, this one. When Robert and Ethel decide to host a fancy dress party, they do so with no little trepidation, given the disaster William made of their last one in William Starts the Holidays, 6.12.

This time, Robert has borrowed a magnificent pirate costume from his friend Gordon. William, envious, decides to swap it with the plain black monk’s robe which he has ‘borrowed’ from an eccentric writer staying in the village.

“Couldn’t you send William to an Asylum or an Orphanage or something till it’s over?” asked Robert.
“Of course not, dear,” said Mrs. Brown. “They wouldn’t take him.”
“No,” said Robert bitterly, “they’ve got more sense.”

When the eccentric writer, discovering his loss, flies forth in a rage, determined to wreak vengeance on the person he finds wearing his robe… yes, that happens.

When he informs Gordon that his costume has been taken from him, Gordon, believing the pirate suit to be the costume in question, flies forth in a rage, determined to wreak vengeance on the person he finds wearing his pirate suit… yes, that happens.

The ending is unexpectedly peaceful though; almost jarringly so.

The facts

They had left an envelope at home on William’s dressing-table on which was written: “To be opened if we do not return.” Inside was a slip bearing the simple legend: “Mises Bretherton has murdered us,” and signed by all four Outlaws. “That’s jolly clever,” said William complacently. “I read about a man doing that in a book. Then if she kills us they’ll hang her an’ it’ll be jolly well sucks for her.”

  • Number: 11.8
  • Published: 1930 (1929 in magazine form, originally titled William and the Prize Cucumber)
  • Book: William the Bad
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws intervene in the local flower show.

Verdict

A return appearance for Mrs Roundway here, first seen in The Sentimental Widow, 10.9.

More remarkable, though, is the time-span over which the story takes place. It covers more than two years. The first scene is Mrs Roundway’s disappointment at her cucumber failing to win a prize at the village flower show; the second scene is in the run-up to the following year’s flower show, in which the Outlaws are determined to help her secure victory; and the latter part of the story covers the following year’s contest. This opens up all sorts of questions about the boys’ timespans (William, we know, remains 11 throughout this two-years-and-a-bit and, indeed, in stories on either side of it), but they are maybe not for now.

William and Ginger had each made a will. William’s read: “If I di I leeve everythin’ to Ginger. Pleese let him have the mouth orgun you tuke of me.”
And Ginger’s read: “If I di I leeve everythin’ to William. The ants egs for the golefish are in the toffy tinn.”
Henry had not made a will but Douglas, hoping to cause among his relations the panic and chagrin that the will of a rich uncle lately deceased had caused, had made a will that read: “I leeve everything to charryty.”

Anyhow, the Outlaws decide to stake out Mrs Bretherton, who always wins the cucumber prize, to monitor her cucumber’s progress and report back. Mrs Roundway has some slight moral qualms about this, even though it turns out she seems to be winning so far, but as William assures her, “Isn’t as if we did anythin’ to make it smaller.”

Despite Mrs Bretherton’s cucumber looking so scrawny the night before the show, at the show itself the Outlaws are astonished to see her produce a massive specimin and take home the prize once again.

Convinced that she is a witch, the following year they go to General Moult, one of the judges, to report her for witchcraft. Getting the predictable reception, they then vow to keep Mrs Bretherton under close surveillance. And guess what murky goings-on they witness in her garden the night before the flower show…

As the Outlaws’ busting of criminal activity (intentional or unintentional) goes, this is definitely at the The Adventure of the Three Students end of things: a story in which Sherlock Holmes dealt with a case of cheating in a university exam, hardly as exciting as his most gripping murder cases. But with William, the domestic nature of the challenge gives this story a rather pleasing realism.