attempted good deeds

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

William, Ginger and Henry had not intended to join the meeting. They had come to the house in order to call for Douglas. But Douglas, it turned out, had not yet returned from an appointment with the dentist, so they decided to wait for him. Ginger and Henry would have loitered fidgeting in the doorway, but William, who liked to be in anything that was going on, had made his way at once to the front row.

  • Number: 38.2
  • Published: 1970
  • Book: William the Lawless
  • Synopsis: William tries to give a retired army officer a taste of how life used to be.

Verdict

The Outlaws are compiling a Railway Museum. What they really want for this Railway Museum is a guard’s lamp. And Major Reading, a retired military gentleman, has one. They can’t afford to offer him any money for it, but they try to give him an experience that he’d like.

“Well, I got the trivial thoughts out of my mind all right,” said Douglas. “Then I started thinkin’ how I’d like to have the dentist in the chair an’ me have a go at him with that drill thing.”
“That’s not very upliftin’,” said William. “What did you think, Ginger?”
“Well, I got the trivial thoughts out of my mind, too,” said Ginger. “Then… well, I started thinkin’ about those two trees by the road an’ I thought if I climbed up one of them I could sort of swing myself from the middle branch of that one on to the middle branch of the other an’ climb down its trunk.”

So when they overhear him saying to someone in conversation, “I’d give almost anything to have an hour or two of the old days back,” they know their task.

“What’ll we do, then?” asked Ginger.
“Give him an hour of danger, discomfort, an’ challenge,” said William simply, “an’ he’ll get so ’zilarated with zest that he’ll give us the guard’s lantern.”
“He mightn’t, you know,” said Henry.
“It’s goin’ to be one of the biggest muddles we’ve ever got into in all our lives,” said Douglas.

It doesn’t entirely go to plan, but remarkably (and slightly implausibly) they do get their hands on a guard’s lamp!

The facts

“I’d worked jolly hard an’ painted a good bit of that pipe when suddenly the tin fell off the window-sill. It fell off quite sudden right on top of her.”
“Who?” asked Henry.
“Mrs Peters,” answered William. “She was jus’ comin’ in at the door an’ it fell right on top of her.”
“Did it kill her?” asked Douglas in a tone of dispassionate interest.
’Course not, snapped William. “We’d have had to pay for her funeral if it’d killed her, an’ I bet they’d have stopped my pocket money for years to pay for that. They’re jolly expensive things, are funerals. They cost pounds.”

  • Number: 38.1
  • Published: 1970
  • Book: William the Lawless
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws are hoping for a trip to the London Transport Museum.

Verdict

Mr Brown had (possibly out of self-interest) volunteered to take the Outlaws on a much-coveted trip to the London Transport Museum during their school holidays. But an act of careless naughtiness by William places the whole thing in jeopardy.

The boys immediately set about doing a good deed to outweigh the previous act of evil, namely “puttin’ the neglected gardens of old age pensioners to rights”.

William was thinking about life – that it was odd and bewildering and inconsistent and unpredictable. You did good things and they turned out bad. You did bad things and they turned out good. You… Then he dismissed the thought. After all, why quarrel with life when it held such wonders as the Coppemob, the Cornwall, the Butler Henderson, and the Pet?
He drew a deep sigh of contentment.
“Engines,” he said.

Of course, they don’t actually have any plants with which to spruce up these poor oldies’ gardens, but other people’s gardens are full of plants, and as William reasons, “We wouldn’t be pinchin’ things. We’d jus’ be sharin’ them out.”

Not entirely surprisingly, this only propels the Outlaws further into hot water, and they feel that their trip to London is so irrevocably cancelled that they may as well take advantage of the opportunity to do something really naughty: things can hardly get worse.

So they go climbing on the roof of an abandoned cottage from which Mr Brown has specifically forbidden them, just as he happens to be walking home from the station. And somehow they put a smile on his face…