“Children that get neglected by their parents goin’out to lead lives of lux’ry an’ pleasure turn into crim’nals when they grow up,” said William. “I’ve read about it in newspapers – so you can’t blame me if I turn into one after this. It’ll be your fault if I start doin’ smash an’ grab raids an’ stealin’ money out of gas meters an’ forgin’ bank notes when I grow up. It’ll be all your fault for neglectin’ me an’ leavin’ me at home while you all go out enjoyin’ yourselves.”
The Outlaws’ parents are all going on a joint trip to the theatre. Ordinarily this wouldn’t interest William – indeed, the thought of a largely unsupervised evening with his friends would be most enticing.
But Hubert Lane’s parents are also going to the play, and they are taking Hubert. So William’s dream is cast.
“It didn’t sound a suitable play for children,” said Mrs Brown.
“Children!” put in William with a bitter laugh. “I’m eleven, aren’t I? Well, it’s news to me that a person of eleven’s a child.”
“William, do stop using that idiotic expression,” said Mrs Brown wearily. “Will you please go out and play with someone. I’m tired of the sound of your voice.”
William looked at her; amazed and aggrieved.
“Me?” he said. “I’ve hardly spoke.”
“An’ it’s a play about a murder an’ who did it, isn’t it? Well, if anyone ought to see that play, it’s me. I’ve written plays about murders an’ who did ’em. ‘The Bloody Hand’ was about a murder an’ who did it an’ it was a jolly good play. Ginger said it was the best play he’d ever seen in his life an’ he ought to know. He once learnt a whole speech out of Shakespeare to get two an’ six out of his aunt, so he ought to know about plays.”
The unexpected absence of Aunt Hester, the Outlaws’ babysitter for the evening, is a heaven-sent opportunity for the boys to go roving round the countryside, in an attempt to disrupt the journey of the play’s lead actor (a famous West End gentleman) to the Lanes’ house (where he was to dine).
They don’t manage to do that. But they do manage to meet the author of the book on which the play is based…
“Gosh! Wasn’t it awful yesterday?” said William as the four Outlaws walked slowly down the village street.
“Never stopped for a single second,” said Ginger.
“Nearly as bad as the one in the Bible,” said Douglas.
“Just rained cats and dogs all day,” said Henry.
“I wouldn’t have minded cats an’ dogs,” said William. “Cats an’ dogs would have been rather excitin’. Gosh! Think of ’em all tumblin’ down from the sky!” He gave his short harsh chuckle. “We’d have to have umbrellas made of iron to keep ’em off.”
The others considered this picture with rising spirits.
After William had over-indulged in some supernatural fiction, the Outlaws decide to find a ghost. Fortunately, just at that moment, they hear a villager refer to another resident as “a ghost” so immediately go to investigate. They wonder at what he can have done so heinous as to justify being sentenced to eternal life as a ghost:
“P’raps he robbed a bank.”
“Or forged a will.”
“Or didn’t pay his income tax.”
“Or let his motor insurance run out.”
“My mother promised me sixpence if I’d sit quiet for an hour,” said William. “I found a book of ghost stories in the bookcase an’ I read it.”
“Did you get the sixpence?” said Henry.
“Well, I got fivepence halfpenny,” said William. “I started talkin’ about ghosts in the middle.”
For some reason they become convinced that the ghost is seeking to destroy some incindiary political papers, and try to find them before this can happen.
But they manage, instead, to find some rather interesting papers belonging – or, strictly speaking, not quite belonging – to a local author.
“I was thinkin’ it’s time they came back. Civil wars, I mean. Can’t think why they stopped havin’ them. They’re much better than all these abroad wars. Cheaper, too, ’cause you’ve not got to waste money on tickets goin’ out abroad to ’em, an’ you could come home to dinner when you wanted to. Why, it’d save money, havin’ a civil war. An’ there wouldn’t be all this messin’ about with foreign langwidges. Everyone’d understand what everyone else said. There’s no sense in foreign langwidges, anyway. They had civil wars in hist’ry an’ it’s a pity they ever stopped.”
Excited by a history lesson about the War of the Roses, William affixes the following sign to the Old Barn:
a sivil war will brake out this afternun at three oklock
fre to ennyone bring weppons.
cined William Brown.
William did not notice an old gentleman in formal morning suit coming down the path till a hand descended on his shoulder and a voice said, “What are you doing there, my boy?”
William looked up at his captor then bared his teeth in an ingratiating smile. “Me no spick English,” he said.
By good fortune, the Hall has been let for the summer to the Young Conservatives so a ready-made target for the civil war is available.
Discovered creeping about the grounds of the Hall, William pretends to be a miscellaneous foreigner, but to no avail…