William the Rebel

The facts

William’s mother had the night before shown him a collection of valentines that had been sent to his grandmother in her youth: elaborate affairs of red velvet hearts on white lace background, of discreetly amorous ditties surrounded by corpulent cupidsor pierced hearts.
William, deeply impressed by these masterpieces and fired by a longing to emulate the makers of them, had “borrowed” the red ink from Robert’s bureau. He found that he could make excellent pierced hearts with it. Moreover, the process was a distinctly pleasant one. William had always enjoyed having dealings of any kind with red ink. He outlined the hearts first, then filled them in by splashes of red ink. When the splashes went over the outline he enlarged the outline till in the end the hearts assumed odd, sausage-like contours that would have much puzzled any student of anatomy. William, however, was completely satisfied with them.

  • Number: 15.12
  • Published: 1933 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William and the Typewriter
  • Book: William the Rebel
  • Synopsis: William sets up a Valentine’s Day French farce.


William’s enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day is less because he is of a romantic personality, and more because it offers the perfect opportunity to experiment with red ink and Robert’s prized typewriter.

The card he makes reads:

Sofair you? are%. SO fairand sweet.
ilay my heart down¾ at youR feet.

But while William is abstracting Robert’s typewriter, despite having been banned from doing so, Robert is abstracting their father’s top hat, despite having been banned from doing so. Robert needs the top hat to impress Lorna Barton with his sophistication and poise.

“I’ll give you a penny if you’ll take this letter,” Robert said.
William ran along the road quickly, pretending that he wasa spy carrying despatches through an enemy’s country and that the hedge was alive with hostile spies, trying to shoot him. Occasionally he flung himself full length upon the ground in order to avoid the imaginary bullets that whizzed around him. Sometimes he crawled along the ditch – much to the detriment of his personal appearance – in an attempt to mislead his imaginary pursuers. He did not, of course, hurry.

He is also in the awkward position of having to write to his previous love, Cornelia Gerrard, in his capacity as secretary of the badminton club, to ask her to prepare the refreshments at their forthcoming tournament.

Unfortunately, Robert’s coldly formal letter to Cornelia and William’s eccentrically-formatted Valentine’s Day card end up on the same sheet of paper.

William notices his mistake and immediately tries to put things right, by starting a rumour that Robert is already married. This is certainly successful in repelling Cornelia, but of course it also repels Lorna, and attracts the attention of the village’s righteous elders. Poor Mr Solomon the Sunday School superintendant is deputed, in the Vicar’s absence, to remonstrate with Robert – and Robert, deeply guilty about his theft of the top hat, is in just the frame of mind to be remonstrated with…

The facts

“You have a little boy, I believe?” said the visitor.
“Yes,” said Mrs Brown.
“I love little boys. I’d love to meet him.”
“I’m afraid he’s out,” said Mrs Brown, aware that William was not the sort of little boy that people are thinking of when they say that they love little boys.
“Perhaps he’ll come home before we go.”
“I h… I mean I think not,” said Mrs Brown.

  • Number: 15.11
  • Published: 1933 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William’s Bad Bargain
  • Book: William the Rebel
  • Synopsis: William is interviewed about how he got to the ripe old age of 78.


When William meets an older boy who has spent the morning causing chaos of a sort that William could only dream of – baiting farmers, swapping their animals etc – William has a new idol. William excitedly adopts the idol’s exploits as his own. And, therefore, ends up getting the blame for them. Farmer Jenks locks him in his shed while he goes to fetch a policeman.

Escaping by the simple but humiliating method of swapping clothes with a little girl, and topping this outfit with a charwoman’s outfit he comes across. Once at a safe distance from captivity, he offers to swap back, but the little girl apparently likes being a little boy, and decides to keep William’s suit.

“How many children have you had?” said the
“I’ve forgotten jus’ how many,” he croaked, “a good
“B… but,” protested her surprised interviewer,
“surely, dear Mrs Hobbin, you remember how many children you have.”
“I’m always meanin’ to count ’em,” croaked William, “but I keep on forgettin’.”

Of course, this now means that William must ‘be’ Mrs Hobbin, since he is cloaked in her clothes and she is well-known around the village.

Unfortunately, Mrs Hobbins was due to be interviewed that afternoon by a journalist producing a piece on Nature’s Ladies and Gentlemen. The journalist is somewhat taken aback by Mrs Hobbins’ appearance and manner:

“To what,” she said, “do you attribute your longevity?”
“Uh?” said William.
“I mean how do you think it is that you’ve lived so much longer than… er… than some other people?”
“Jus’ ’cause I’ve not died, I suppose,” croaked William after deep thought.

The facts

April the First was a day generally enjoyed to the full by William, but this year something seemed to have gone wrong. Not one of his efforts had been successful. Ethel had calmly put on one side, without even attempting to crack it, the empty egg-shell that he had carefully arranged in her egg-cup; Robert had removed the upturned tintack from his chair before sitting down, and had placed it so neatly upon William’s that William had been taken unawares; his father had refused even to raise his eyes from his newspaper at William’s excited: “Look, father, there’s a cow in the garden”; and his mother had merely murmured: “Yes, dear,” when William had informed her that Ethel had been bitten by a mad dog on her way to the village.

  • Number: 15.10
  • Published: 1933 (1932 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Rebel
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws are desperate to make a fool of someone.


Having found themselves unable to pull off a successful prank, the Outlaws bitterly retreat to Marleigh to play football.

But when this occupation begins to pall – or, to be more accurate, when they have driven the lady whose house abutts the field to distraction by continually kicking their ball into her garden – they resume their quest to make an April Fool of someone in the precious few minutes before 12pm.

“Tell you what I’d like to do,” said William dreamily. “I’d like to make someone really important, like the King or Parliament, an April Fool.”
“You couldn’t.”
“Yes, I could. I could eas’ly. I could ring them up and say that an enemy had landed. I bet they’d be April Fools all right.”
“You don’t know their telephone number.”

Their chosen target is a random boy the meet in the street. Their chosen strategy is a high-risk one (“We shall get into a beastly row if we’ve got him murdered”).

And, surprisingly enough, it doesn’t go quite to plan.