Day 15: William’s Burglar

The facts

William began quietly to remodel his life. He would not be an explorer, after all, nor an engine-driver nor chimney-sweep. He would be a man of mystery, a murderer, fighter, forger. He glanced with utter contempt at his father who had just come in. His father’s life of blameless respectability seemed to him at that minute utterly despicable.

  • Number: 2.3
  • Published: 1922 (1919 in magazine form)
  • Book: More William
  • Synopsis: William befriends “Mr Blank”, who claims to be a war veteran but may, actually, have slightly different professional interests.


This story consists of a number of William tropes – his attachment to anyone looking curious, unkempt or tramp-like; and his deep generosity (albeit with other people’s property).

William expressed his surprise. “Oh, ‘ell!” he ejaculated, with a slightly self-conscious air.
Mr. Brown turned round and looked at his son. “May I ask,” he said politely, “where you picked up that expression?”
“I got it off one of my fren’s,” said William with quiet pride.
“Then I’d take it as a personal favour,” went on Mr. Brown, “if you’d kindly refrain from airing your friends’ vocabularies in this house.”
“He means you’re never to say it again, William,” translated Mrs. Brown sternly. “Never.”
“All right,” said William. “I won’t. See? Strike me pink. See?”

Also a welcome cameo return by Mrs de Vere Carter (“Willie! Dear child! Sweet little soul!”): see William Joins the Band of Hope, 1.7.

She was at the Browns’ for tea and desperate showing-off to Robert’s (purportedly) celebrity friend Mr Lewes, “editor of Fiddle Strings: Mrs de Vere Carter’s greatest ambition was to see her name in print”.

Of course, one more William trope came to the forefront in this story. For how many other 11-year-old boys could invite a burglar into their family home, allow said burglar to help themselves to all sorts of objects from all sorts of rooms, then finish the day by, unintentionally, publicly recovering the loot and getting all the credit?

William has a knack for accidentally foiling crimes, hence this story’s categorisation as William comes out on top. As Ralph Stewart has written, “An important part of his appeal seems to be that he can combine misunderstandings, which all children experience, with a high success rate.”