archie mannister

The grand finale – Day 360: William’s Foggy Morning – and an Afterword

The facts

“Are there any auras here?” William had asked doubtfully. “I’ve never seen one an’ I’ve lived here eleven years.”
“You don’t see an aura, William,” she had explained, “you sense it, though you may see manifestations.”
“They may have some manifest’uns in the Library,” Henry suggested helpfully, but Miss Montecute shook her head.

Note: as I observed yesterday under William and the Sponsored Walk, 38.6, today’s story, William’s Foggy Morning, was the last on which Richmal Crompton worked – and, indeed, it was unfinished at the time of her death on 11 January 1969. Her niece and literary executor Richmal Ashbee completed it posthumously based on her notes.

So here we go, the final story…

Verdict

“How do you fight creatures from Outer
Space?” asked Douglas, slightly alarmed.
“We could ask General Moult to shoot him,” suggested Ginger.
“You can’t shoot spacemen,” pronounced Henry. “They’ll be like the vampires in that film we saw, an’ you need silver bullets to shoot ’em with and stakes an’mallets to pin ’em down.”
“We’d better go an’ get ’em, then,” said William simply.
Henry fetched a ball of string and his Latin grammar. “You’ve got to chant Latin at ’em,” he insisted. “They only know Latin an’ it frightens ’em.”
“It sort of frightens me,” agreed William.

On an exceptionally (implausibly?) foggy morning, the Extra Dimension Community – loopy spiritualists planning a commune in the village – are arriving. Things very rapidly become silly, with people going missing, people unable to see people, the Outlaws misunderstanding spiritualism and assuming evil monsters to be behind the fog…

They set out to rescue Archie (lost in the mist) from these extraterrestrial demons, and when they find him dressed as Mephistopheles things only become more confused.

Afterword

Well, that is that – the end. Except I wouldn’t want to let the end go by without adding on a few words.

In my professional life, I tend to deal more with Moses, Abraham, Joseph and suchlike. But William is by far and away my favourite fictional character. His bafflement at the adult world is a joy. His language – so often inexpertly borrowed from the grown-ups he fails to understand – makes my sides ache. His inventiveness is quite something. And his unstintingly good heart and relentless optimism are a lesson to us all.

Who knows what would have happened to William had Richmal Crompton lived longer: he would, of course, have stayed 11 and never progressed to adolescence or marriage or adulthood. But how would he have found the ’80s and the ’90s? The internet? The Iraq War? Pokémon? Fidget spinners? It’s sometimes fun to think about.

What I’ve also had fun thinking about is long-term trends across the decades of books. As I’ve gone along, I’ve classified each story as ending with either William comes out on top or William comes out on the bottom. The final totals were: on top, 266; on the bottom, 94.

But it was kind of hard to quantify. The stories where William came out on top were easy enough to identify: wrongs righted, money earned, confiscated items recovered… But where he might be thought to have come out on the bottom (aims not met, or serious disciplinary consequences incurred) I quite often ended up categorising it as ‘on top’ regardless because he found something to be glad about, or proud of, or just enjoyed the experience so much.

I’ve enjoyed this experience too. It’s been a long and packed year for me: I’ve begun seminary, started learning Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, moved house, got engaged, even found time for a brief holiday. But the sheer joy of being able to fill spare time with William’s exploits, and force myself to navigate through all 360 stories – from the best-known to the never-published – has been wonderful.

And thank you all for reading and encouraging and joining with me!

The facts

William tried the handle of the back door. It opened. “Good!” he said. “We can have a look inside now. Come on!”
“There’s laws…” said Douglas.
“Rubbish!” said William. “Ole Frenchie always says that if a thing’s worth doin’ it’s worth doin’ well, so we’re only doin’ what he tells us to.”

  • Number: 38.3
  • Published: 1970
  • Book: William the Lawless
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws try to find their teacher the best wedding present money can (not) buy.

Verdict

This is a really fun story, and it’s driven by William’s soft-hearted and well-concealed affection for his form master, Mr French. Following his engagement in William’s Adventure Society, 37.5, the time has now come for the boys to buy Mr French a wedding present. As Henry confesses, “After all, he’s had a lot to put up with from us.”

One of the boys remembers his parents’ tactic for choosing a wedding present: they waited until invited to dinner by the recipient, and took advantage of the opportunity to look around and see what items were missing. Of course, the Outlaws realise that they are unlikely to be invited to dinner by Mr French, so instead they wait until he goes out for the day “to readsomethin’ up in the British Museum for an article he’s writin’ on middle-aged gardens” before breaking in to his house.

“We’ve done a good -bit of damage,” said Douglas.
“He’ll forgive us,” said William, “when he finds out that we’ve rescued him from the clutches of a blackmailer.”
“Maybe,” said Douglas doubtfully.

While they’re in there – specifically, while William is looking for one of Ginger’s exercise books to compare one of the answers against one of his own – a letter comes through the front door, and the boys inevitably misread it and believe it to be a blackmail threat, signed “M”.

They split up and investigate four prominent Ms in the village. A series of misunderstandings with each suspect only strengthen’s their investigator’s suspicions: William hears Miss Milton lamenting her “killer” dog and assumes his teacher to be a murderer; Henry interprets General Moult’s concern about plagiarism of his biography as the teacher being a “spy”; Douglas gets nowhere at all with Archie Mannister; and Ginger gets particularly confused when Reverend Monks refers to a trendy church organist as “drug pushing his wretched wares among the young and innocent”.

Fortunately, the Outlaws are able to salvage the situation because the damage they caused to Mr French’s house uncovers something rather interesting…

The facts

“We know something about art,” said William.
“We learn it at school,” said Douglas. “We have lessons in it.”
“I drew a picture of a volcano last week,” said Ginger, “an’ my mother said it was abs’lutely realistic.”
“She thought it was meant to be a pineapple,” said William.

Verdict

When the secretaryship of the local Art Club becomes vacant, the Outlaws are determined to give Archie Mannister the career boost he deserves – in Douglas’s words, they want “to get him hung in the British Museum”.

“But what’s happened?” said Miss Golightly, rubbing her eye.
“It’s William Brown that’s happened,” said Miss Milton.

Archie’s first task is to organise a field trip to a local stately home filled with Old Masters. On a preparatory visit, the house’s highly eccentric mistress presents him with a puppy as a gift – for which she later bills him 30 guineas. He is desperate to return the dog, but has, unfortunately, lost it.

The lady’s small god-daughter holds the key to the mystery; and William unlocks it.