deliberate naughtiness

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.


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…

The facts

“It’s not jus’ an ordin’ry Western,” said William. “It’s bloodcurdlin’ an’ nerve-shatterin’. It says so outside the cinema.”
“William, it sounds horrible,” said Mrs Brown with a shudder.
“But that’s what it’s meant to be,” said William in exasperation. “Victor Jameson’s seen it in London an’ he says it’s fab. It curdled his blood an’ shattered his nerves.”


This is a really excellent story: William is desperate to see the latest, highly popular, Western at the local cinema, but a visit from his Aunt Felicia is in the way.

“It’s a prior engagement, William,” said Mrs Brown.
“I don’t care what it is,” said William. “I think it’s jus’ tyrrany.”

William turned to another of his favourite day-dreams. Suddenly (by what means he never could determine) he leapt to the loftiest pinnacle of fame, acclaimed and honoured by the highest in the land. His parents stood humbly in awe of him, but he was gracious and affable. He forgave them for their harsh treatment. “It’s all right,” he said when they apologised abjectly for not allowing him to see ‘The Masked Ranger’. “Don’t give it another thought. It was a little hard on me but don’t worry about it. any more.” He threw out his arms in an expansive gesture. “I’ll take you both to a party at Buckingham Palace tomorrow an’ I’ll take you for a voyage round the world nex’ summer holidays.”

So bitter is he that, on hearing from Henry about the Piltdown Man hoax, the Outlaws decide, out of sheer malice, to prank a local historian. Miss Radbury specialises in documentary research, so William resolves to create some fake historical letters to fool her.

“How could you forge old letters?” said Ginger.
“Write letters with bits of hist’ry in ’em an’ put old dates at the top, like January the third 1500 or somethin’ like that.”

They are just pondering the question of how to make the paper look old, when their friend Miss Thompson is about to throw away a load of old letters from her family’s recent past. They intercept them – but, of course, need to make some adjustments…

“Tell you what!” The light of an Idea gleamed in William’s face “If there isn’t any hist’ry in ’em let’s put a bit of hist’ry in ’em.”
He opened an envelope, took out the letter and scrawled across the bottom of the last sheet: “P.S. Someone told me ithere’s a battle going on at Trafalgar. I wonder whose going to win. Nelson’s got a wound in bis eye and can’t see signals.”
They set to work with energy.
An account of a Church Bazaar ended with the words: “P.S. Christopher Colombus has jus’ set off to discover America. I hope he gets there all right.”
An account of a local fair ended with the words: “P.S. I saw in the paper this morning that Charles the First has been executed. We’ll have to wait till 1660 for the Restoration.”
Henry, whose energies were chiefly taken up in supervising the spelling of the other three, tried to confine his historical references within certain roughly defined limits. “The Black Hole of Calcutta took place yesterday and tomorrow the six hundred are going to ride into the Valley of Death.”
William’s references spanned the whole field of history with wild abandon. “Henry VIII got married to the third of his six wives this morning.” … “I went to Lendon in a horse-coach last week. It took hours and hours. I shall be jolly glad when someone  invents railways.” … “I was helping to put out the· fire of London all yesterday. I feel rotten this morning. I think I must have caught the plague.”
Douglas confined himself to the only historical film he had seen: “Someone told me this morning that Richard the Third was thinking of getting the princes murdered in the Tower if he could find a good murderer. He’s swopped his kingdom for a horse and got into a muddle.”
Ginger who had recently read a book called ‘Scenes from English History’, gave a brief account of his experiences in the Crusades (which included the Battle of Agincourt).

As it turns out though, Miss Radbury is delighted with the letters… because one of them has a Penny Black on it!

Oh – and William rather takes to Aunt Felicia after all.

The facts

“I’m sick of this New Year business,” said William gloomily. “I don’t get anything out of it. Jus’ rotten ole good res’lutions an’ everyone goin’ on at you worse than what they did before.”
“I know,” said Ginger, “an’ they won’t even let you have anythin’ int’restin’ for a good res’lution. Jus’ dull things like bein’ obedient an’ quiet an’ clean an’ suchlike. Once I tried havin’ one to be an adventurer same as you read about in books, but they made such an awful fuss I had to stop.”


Fed up with the sanctimony of the new year, William announces: “I’ve had a jolly good idea. I’ll have a bad res’lution. It couldn’t come off worse than some of my good ones have, anyway. I’ll be reely bad. Same as people in the newspapers.”

And while he doesn’t go with Ginger’s suggestion of murder, the bad deed he chooses is pretty dire: stealing the Whistler painting which has just arrived in the Lanes’ house (although to be fair, the Outlaws suppose a Whistler to be some sort of whistle: “An anshunt Roman whistle,” suggests Henry, “You know, ‘whistla’, like ‘mensa’”).

William walked cautiously up to the Lanes’ front door. He rehearsed suitable excuses should Mrs Lane suddenly appear and demand an explanation
of his visit. “Please, Mother says can you come to tea next Wednesday?” (an awkward situation might arise next Wednesday, of course, but that was far enough off).

So, with much derringdo, he creeps into the Lanes’ house and takes away an ear trumpet with him.

When its owner – Hubert’s Great Aunt Sarah – blames Hubert for its disappearance, fate seems to turn in the Outlaws’ favour…