Day 24: The Reform of William

The facts

William’s family had no real faith in the Sunday-school as a corrective to William’s inherent wickedness, but they knew that no Sabbath peace or calm was humanly possible while William was in the house. So they brushed and cleaned and tidied him at 2:45 and sent him, pained and protesting, down the road every Sunday afternoon. Their only regret was that Sunday-school did not begin earlier and end later.

  • Number: 2.12
  • Published: 1922 (1921 in magazine form)
  • Book: More William
  • Synopsis: William plans one last day of naughtiness before he reforms for good.

Verdict

As a (Jewish) Sunday- (Saturday-) school headteacher of many years’ experience, I’m well aware of how some parents may be more interested in shedding custody of their children for a few hours than in having their children religiously educated.

But how could any family bear to part with a child as characterful as William?

William had sometimes idly imagined the impact of a pea sent violently from a pea-shooter with the gardener’s bald head. Before there had been a lifetime of experiment before him, and he had put off this one idly in favour of something more pressing. Now there was only one day. He took up his pea-shooter and aimed carefully.

A “pink-checked girl” in his class, Deborah, convinces him to change his ways, but he insists on one final day of lawlessness before the start of his new life.

He attacks the gardener, bunks off school (“The precious hours of such a day as this could not be wasted in school”), hijacks a gypsy caravan and its attendant donkey, and carries out many more acts of mischief.

Even though, as dusk falls, he has to face up to what he’s done – since we’re on a Jewish Sunday school theme, echoes of Yom Kippur here – I’ve categoried this story as William comes out on top because the delight he gets from his day of misrule far outweighs the downsides of his father’s anger (“Mr Brown’s rhetoric had been rather lost on William, because its pearls of sarcasm had been so far above his head”).