annoying houseguests

The facts

Anything might happen at the seaside. William saw himself rescuing a drowning man (it would be someone important – perhaps the Prime Minister)… carelessly netting a sea serpent… unmasking a villainous plot to steal naval secrets along the coast. He would become world famous
for all these exploits. A grateful country would reward him handsomely. He would shower gifts on his family: an American kitchen for his mother, a golf course for his father, a sports car for Robert, a mink and diamond head scarf for Ethel.
For himself he would buy a lion cub and a lighthouse.

Verdict

When William sets his mind to find some hidden treasure, he literally means, to find some hidden treasure; not to look for some, but to find some.

This proves a helpful distraction for him from troubles at home, namely the extended stay of a depressed Aunt Florence who refuses to leave the house. But he eventually gets drawn in when he hears of her yearning for “a lead from Providence”, some sort of heavenly sign that she can carry on living. He resolves to find her such a sign – or, in default of finding one, to produce one.

“Did you tell Hubert Lane that we were goin’ to look for smugglers’ treasure in that cave?” said William, his voice sinking so deep that it was almost a growl.
The radiance of Violet Elizabeth’s smile remained undimmed. “Yeth, I did, William,” she said. “I did. I met him yethterday and he thaid you were a nathty horrid boy and I thaid you weren’t. I thaid you were a brave boy and I told him you were going to climb up the rock and find the thmugglerth treathure and I thaid that he couldn’t do that ‘cauthe he wathn’t brave enough.”
“Oh,” said William, touched and a little disconcerted.

Hubert Lane humiliates them over the matter of the treasure, but in the end things turn out alright…

The facts

“You see, my aunt’s coming on Saturday, dear,” said Mrs Brown, “and I keep putting off telling your father. He does so hate having people staying in the house.”
William’s brow wove itself into an intricate pattern as he pondered on the situation. “Couldn’t you sort of hide her up somewhere in secret without him knowing?” he suggested at last. “Same as people did with exiles an’ Cavaliers an’ rebels an’ Roundheads in hist’ry.”

Verdict

When William’s father is having one of his characteristic meltdowns about household finances, he rather misguidedly ponders the possibility of taking in a “paying guest”, ie a lodger. William considers this to be an excellent idea, especially once he discovers that his neighbours have a paying guest who regularly supplies the children of the household with ice-cream.

So he sets out to find one, and in these days before Rightmove.com, he goes for the fairly direct approach of walking up to the first stranger he sees in the village and asking, “’Scuse me, are you a PG?” Unfortunately she is, and was on her way to her new host family until William diverts her to his.

Mr Brown snatched up another bill. “Why does that boy have to have a new pair of shoes every day of the year?” he roared.
“He doesn’t dear,” said Mrs Brown, “but sometimes things happen to them.”
“They sort of got caught up in a bonfire,” explained William apologetically.

Mr Brown is not especially surprised to see this prim elderly lady walk up his driveway, because he’s been expecting a visit from his wife’s aunt (they’ve never met), and this woman confirms all his worst fears.

Miss Privet went to the bed and felt the mattress. “Reasonably comfortable,” she said.
Mr Brown gulped and swallowed and again, by a supreme effort of will, managed to remain silent.
Miss Privet was now switching the bedside light on and off. “Too strong,” she said. “I like a twenty-five watt bulb for the bedside light.” She opened the cupboard that contained the overflow of Mrs Brown’s wardrobe. “I shall need all this space. Will you please have all these clothes removed?”
Mr Brown’s face was purple with his efforts at self control.

It all gets sorted out eventually (and to Mr Brown’s delight, the real aunt is a dream guest compared to Miss Privet), but not before William’s tried some complicated scheme involving dressing up as a spaceman to scare the unwanted paying guest away.

The facts

“Go to sleep,” said Mrs Brown. “It’s long past your bed-time.”
Sleep?” echoed William in disgust. “I jolly well wouldn’t waste an air raid sleepin’ in it.”
He stopped and listened for a few moments. “That’s a Dornier,” he pronounced with an air of finality.
“On the contrary, it’s a cow,” said Mr Brown, without looking up from his paper.

  • Number: 23.7
  • Published: 1941 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William Does His Bit
  • Synopsis: William collects scrap iron.

Verdict

William’s family shares its Anderson shelter with the insufferably chatty Mrs Beverton and her daughter Bella. They grate on Mr Brown’s already thin wartime temper:

“Can’t I have some chocolate?” asked William.
“Not yet.”
“I think you might let me have a bit of chocolate. I might be blown up any minute, an’ you’d be jolly sorry afterwards that you’d not let me have a bit of chocolate.”
Mr Brown glanced up from his paper. “Your nuisance value, William,” he said, “is so inestimably high that I’m sure you’re the last person in
England Hitler would wish to bomb.”

The maid entered.
“It’s that there William Brown, ’m,” she said. “He
says, thank you very much for the scrap iron an’ he’s come back for the lot he left here.”
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!” groaned Mrs. Brown. “I had a feeling all along that William was at the bottom of it.”

William finds the Bevertons a little irritating too, but he is excited to overhear Mrs Beverton’s prattle about how important it is that people gather scrap iron to help the war effort.

What follows is a brilliant Williamesque chain of events taking in an exhibition, Miss Milton, Mrs Monks, cross-purposes and many more classics.