attempted crime fighting

The facts

William, asleep in bed, was dreaming of Mr and Mrs Croombe, handcuffed, and dressed from head to foot in red triangles.

  • Number: 3.10
  • Published: 1923 (1922 in magazine form)
  • Book: William Again
  • Synopsis: William decides to be a dressing-gown wearing detective.

Verdict

For no particular reason, William – who has decided to be a detctive following a thrilling village play – deduces that Mr Croombe is the thief responsible for a string of local burglaries.

William frenziedly accused Mr Croombe of theft and murder. He referred to handcuffs and bloodhounds. He said wildly that he had had the house surrounded by police. It took about half an hour to convince him of his mistake.
“How do you know they’re their own things? How do you know he isn’t a gang?”

He so dogs the poor suspect that Mr Croombe begins to think he is hallucinating, and seeks psychiatric help.

As with all the best detective stories, affairs come to a denoument at a dinner party (unfortunately attended by a mortified Mr and Mrs Brown) but the Croombes are so grateful to William for not being a sign of impending madness that they offer him dinner.

And William decides on a new career as an actor: “On the stage, one could be a detective in comfort.”

The facts

“If you’re deliberately turning that child loose into a boarding-house full, presumably, of quiet, inoffensive people,” Mr Brown said, “you deserve all you get. It’s nothing to do with me. I’ve disowned him.”

  • Number: 2.11
  • Published: 1922 (1920 in magazine form)
  • Book: More William
  • Synopsis: At a holiday to the seaside, William is determined to save the land from the ravages of smugglers.

Verdict

This is a fun story because Mr Jones almost fulfils two of the William stories’ stock roles: the insufferably virtuous child, except he is not a child; and the annoying houseguest, except he is not a houseguest.

At last the day of departure arrived. William was instructed to put his things ready on his bed, and his mother would then come and pack for him. He summoned her proudly over the balusters after about twenty minutes. “I’ve got everythin’ ready, Mother.”
Upon his bed was a large pop-gun, a dormouse in a cage, a punchball on a stand, a large box of “curios,” and a buckskin which was his dearest possession. Mrs Brown sat down weakly on a chair.
“You can’t possibly take any of these things,” she said faintly but firmly.
“Well, you said put my things on the bed for you to pack an’ I’ve put them on the bed, an’ now you say—”
“I meant clothes.”
“Oh, clothes!” scornfully. “I never thought of clothes.”

He is, in fact, a fellow visitor to the seaside resort that at which the Browns are staying (in February!) and it doesn’t take him long to monopolise conversation, both in the boarding-house in general, and for the Browns in particular – referring, privately, to William’s sister Ethel as his “future spouse”.

Mr Brown had hired a beach hut for William’s exclusive use/ exile, and from this base William makes friends with a little girl and schemes with her to catch a smuggler.

Of course, the ‘smuggler’ actually turns out to be none other than Mr Jones on an innocent, if insufferable, nocturnal walk, and he is so offended at his treatment that he leaves town at once – to the Browns’ delight.

The facts

William’s bugle had just returned to public life after one of its periodic terms of retirement into his father’s keeping.

  • Number: 2.4
  • Published: 1922 (1921 in magazine form)
  • Book: More William
  • Synopsis: William appoints himself Knight and Ginger his Squire, and searches for a damsel in distress.

Verdict

One of the shortest William stories, at just over 2,000 words, but following the classic and well-worn formula of William’s attempted good deed.

This time, his teacher reveals to him the concept of the Knight and the Squire roaming round the countryside doing good deeds, and the boys naturally decide to revive the tradition.

“You ought to have brought sumthin’,” said William severely. “You’re the squire. You’re not much of a squire not to have brought sumthin’ for me to eat.”
“An’ me,” put in Ginger. “If I’d brought any I’d have brought it for me more’n for you.”

They pass an open window and hear, emanating from within, the threatening words: “And how long will you keep me in this vile prison? Base wretch that you are!”

The fact that people don’t talk like this, even in fictionalised 1920s villages, didn’t occur to them, so William takes the first opportunity to lock the ‘base wretch’ into a coal-cellar.

It really messes up the play rehearsal.

I’m beginning to notice something of a William version of The Seven Basic Plots emerging, something I might try to classify at some point – but somehow the predictability of the principles of many of Richmal Cromopton’s endings (‘Obviously they’re doing amateur dramatics’) somehow doesn’t impair (i) the suspense of finding out the exact details of William’s inevitable cock-up, and (ii) how enjoyable the stories still are.