William the Dictator

 The facts

“P’raps I oughn’t to’ve told you,” said William, his apprehension growing as he remembered one or two of his wilder flights of fancy. “P’raps you’d better not tell anyone else.”

  • Number: 20.10
  • Published: 1938 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William and the Phantom Legacy
  • Book: William the Dictator
  • Synopsis: William nearly makes Robert popular.

Verdict

William overhears a fortune-teller telling Robert that he will receive a hefty legacy, and excitedly tells the entire town – adding in a rather confused story that the bequestor is an elderly man who Robert once rescued from a foggy doom.

“You know, dear boy,” said Miss Milton, “The possession of wealth is a great responsibility.”
Robert agreed absently and. assured himself that
Inexhaustible Power Surged within him.
“It’s so important,” said Miss Milton, “that it should be used for the public good and not for private pleasure.”
Robert agreed, remembering suddenly to Hold up his Head and Look the World in the Face. Miss Milton, a little startled by the sudden glare he turned on her, continued:
“My little Society for Providing Comforts for Sick Pets is sadly in need of funds. You won’t forget that, will you?”

Robert is not especially surprised by his newfound popularity among the village’s young ladies, because he ascribes it to the success of his reading matter How to be Popular, which encourages its students to recite mantras such as “nothing and no-one can withstand me” and “inexhaustible power surges within me”.

I’m very fond of this story as it has several hilarious moments (Robert buying his partner a mock-diamond brooch, and her assuming it to be a real-diamond brooch, for instance) – but the joke is definitely around Robert rather than William, whose role in the story is, essentially, confined to instigating the trouble and then taking a seat.

 The facts

“Well, it began with Aunt Belle’s father.”
“Gosh!” said William, thinking of Aunt Belle’s venerable figure. “As far back as that?”
“He was a colonel in the army.”
“What did he fight in?” asked William with interest. “‘The Wars of the Roses?”

  • Number: 20.9
  • Published: 1938 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William the Collector
  • Book: William the Dictator
  • Synopsis: William intervenes in a probate dispute.

Verdict

Aunt Louie (she of Aunt Louie’s Birthday Present, 20.7, fame) has invited William to spend a week with her and her Aunt Belle.

William had gingered up the collection to the best of his ability. No longer did the bottles contain merely colourless river water. One had been filled with red ink and beneath it was a notice in William’s uneven handwriting: “Water from the Red Sea.” One was a bright blue and beneath it William (with vague memories of popular songs), had.written: “Water from the Danube.” In another there floated a selection of dead insects and several dead minnows. This was labelled: “Water from the Dead Sea.” The collection of pressed flowers had been swept away and in its place stood specimens freely adapted by William. There was a tulip with a daffodil’s head wired on just below the tulip’s head, there were primroses painted green and black, there was a fern decorated with gold and silver paint; and grape hyacinths grew, surprisingly, from an apple-tree branch.”

And in doing so, he walks right into the middle of an Agatha Christie-style mystery: Aunt Belle’s father had owned a valuable figure of a Chinese god, which he had planned to bequeath to the town museum when he died. But when it went missing on his death, Aunt Belle dedicated her life to travelling the world, collecting things, to try to make it up to the museum.

Sadly, the museum is not especially interested in Aunt Belle’s collection (personally I think she had a pretty cool idea: bottles of water from different famous rivers around the world, pebbles from famous beaches, and so on).

So William tries to help make her exhibition more interesting.

 The facts

“They’re my teeth, aren’t they? Not his. I know all right when there’s anythin’ wrong with ’em. An’ there never is anythin’ wrong with them. He’s one of those people what ought to be in prison for torcherin’ people. This Prevention of Cruelty to Children thing lets dentists torcher children without even tryin’ to stop ’em!”

  • Number: 20.8
  • Published: 1938 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William Visits the Dentist
  • Book: William the Dictator
  • Synopsis: William escapes from the dentist, into a rather confused lifestyle.

Verdict

I find this story really frustrating, because the premise – William literally fleeing from the dentist’s surgery – was so promising, but in actual fact the story just degenerated into fairly generic tramp-crimefighting-vagueness. (For what it’s worth, it’s also an unusual premise in that William quite openly shows his fear of the dentist; although less surpising is his idea to mask this behind the bravado of running away.)

“Well, look at pots an’… an’ milk jugs an’ things like that. You don’t take them to be mended before they’re broke, do you? It’s same as takin’ boots and shoes to be mended before they’re wore out. Just a waste of money.”

He was taken tot he surgery under heavy escort; last year, “he had gone alone to the dentist’s, had tapped on the door so softly that he could hardly hear the sound himself,
and immediately gone off to spend the afternoon with the Outlaws, reporting to his parents afterwards that he could get no answer to his knock”.

But he manages to give Ethel the slip, and soon meets up with his old friend/ nemesis Sandy Dick…