ethel

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

Mr French, the form master, did not approve of holiday tasks; he considered that they imposed an undue strain on both master and pupil. He had occasionally been tempted to set his pupils the task of committing to memory ‘The Ancient Mariner’ or ‘John Gilpin’ – poems that, he considered, every educated person should know by heart – but had always been restrained by the sobering thought that be would have to hear them say it.

Verdict

A supply teacher with an eccentric educational philosophy (see also William and the Temporary History Master, 13.5) has set William’s class the holiday homework of assembling a ‘museum’ consisting of local ‘finds’.

There was a faraway look in William’s eyes, a jaunty swagger in his walk. He was being feted and acclaimed as the discoverer of the most sensational archaeological find of the century. Scholars and professors of the highest standing showered congratulations on him. Fantastic offers flowed in to him from America, but he refused them and presented the head to the British Museum. The British Museum was ecstatically grateful and held a banquet in his honour, giving three cheers for him at the end. He was knighted and his photograph – Sir William Brown – appeared in all the papers. Reporters flocked to interview him. A modest smile curved his lips as he kicked a stone across the road. “Well, it was sort of luck in a way,” he was saying. “I mean, I’ve got a sort of instinct. I jus’ looked at that hole an’ I knew it had got a heathen god’s statue’s head in it.”

Chiefly out of a sense of rivalry with Hubert, they throw themselves into it body-and-soul, albeit at the last minute.

Their plan of action is pure genius:

“There was somethin’ in the newspaper once,” said Henry thoughtfully. “It was dug up in London. It was a head.”
“What sort of a head?” said Ginger.
“It was a heathen god that people used to worship,” said Henry, “an’ it was jolly important. There were pictures of it in the newspapers. It was hundreds of years old.”
William’s interest was quickening. “Where did they find it?” he said.
“They found it when they were diggin’ a hole in the road in London near the Post Office. There was a picture of that, too.”
“But… gosh!” said William excitedly. “They’re diggin’ a hole in the road near the Post Office here. Come on! Let’s go an’ have a look!”

Astonishingly, they do find a statue’s head, but unfortunately it turns out not to be an ancient one, but rather Archie Mannister’s latest artwork of Ethel (“she’s more my girl friend than I’m her boy friend, if you know what I mean”) which he’d hidden in the hole as a surprise.

Before the Outlaws figure this out, though, they sincerely believe themselves to be in possession of an artefact that is both valuable and cursed: a suspicious incident in William’s home in which a shelf collapsed is naturally ascribed to the head (“Use a bit of sense. It couldn’t have been anythin’ but the curse. What else could it have been?” “Gravity,” suggested Henry tentatively after a moment’s thought).

What a fun story!

The facts

“There’s goin’ to be nothin’ left for us to do when we grow up,” said William gloomily.
“How d’you mean?” said Ginger.
“Well, they’ll have done everythin’,” said William. “They’ll have climbed every mountain there is an’ got on to the moon an’ dug down into the middle of the earth an’ come out at the other end. I bet they’ll even have found the Loch Ness monster. There’ll be nothin’ left for us to do.”
“There’s explorin’,” said Douglas after a moment’s thought.
“They’ve explored everywhere,” said William, his gloom deepening. “They’ve explored Egypt an’ Africa an’ India an’ Canada. They’ve not even left us the North Pole or… or the Isle of Man.”

  • Number: 34.4
  • Published: 1964
  • Book: William and the Witch
  • Synopsis: William tries to save his family from a witch who makes voodoo dolls.

Verdict

The Outlaws decide to “go explorin’” close to home, heading down a path they’ve never used before.

“Gosh, we might find anythin’” said William.
“Savages,” suggested Ginger.
“Cannibals,” said Douglas.
“Picts an’ Scots,” said Henry.
“Prehistoric monsters,” said William.
“Flying saucers,” said Ginger.
“We might find ’em all,” said William optimistically.

Miss Tyrral’s face broke into laughter. “So it was you all the time, not an earth spirit.”
“An’ it was you, not a witch,” said William half regretfully.

But what they actually encounter is a witch-like old woman, and, being uncharacteristically gullible, they assume her actually to be one.

They return for another look, notice a cat on the windowsill, and conclude: “Gosh, she’s changed herself into a cat. She’s a witch all right. That proves it.”

But then, genuinely troublingly, they find her making wax images of William’s family (a book Henry takes out from the library observes that this is a common witchy behaviour). When Mrs Brown is taken ill with a cold, that is naturally ascribed to magical causes.

Astonishingly, though, the woman herself feels she’s been being haunted by odd boy-like spirits with ugly faces. Hmm…