“My mother was telling me about this thing she once went to where people had to get things from all over the village an’ they had clues written in poetry to tell them what they’d got to find. It was called a scavenger hunt.”
“We won’t call it that,” said William. “We’ll call it Treasure Hunt. It’s easier to spell.”
He took the pencil stump and wrote ‘Tresher hunt’.
With the long summer holidays spread out in front of them – both exciting and daunting – the Outlaws decide to open an adventure holiday centre for local children.
For its inaugural treasure hunt, William chooses various objects from around the village that he is going to send his campers to fetch. But the dry run the Outlaws perform causes such chaos (including the accidental borrowing and destruction of a letter from Robert to his best beloved) that a rethink is called for.
Henry had had the idea of a blindfold race using plant pots instead of handkerchiefs and, while testing the effect, had got his plant pot so firmly wedged over his head that it had had to be broken by William and Ginger, leaving a cut across his forehead and a blackening eye.
“Did you take the dog back?” said William.
“Well, not quite,” said Douglas.
In the meantime, William has to re-create Robert’s letter… He can’t actually think of any nice things to say about the recipient, Diana, but he knows some unpleasant thinks Ethel has said about her and cleverly inverts them:
Dear Dianner, I hop you are well. Thank you for asking me to cum to the sowth of france with you I will cum to the sowth of france with you. I don’t think that your conseated and die your hair or that you look a site without makeup or that your a harfwit and I wouldent mind being seen ded in that hat with fethers and I no weel have a jolly good time in the sowth of france. with luv, Robert Brown.
The show was to be presented by the four Outlaws – William, Ginger, Henry and Douglas. Violet Elizabeth had had to be admitted to the organising committee for the simple reason that she refused to stay out of it. With the memory of the recent invasion practice fresh in his mind, William had at first firmly refused to allow her any share in the proceedings, but his firmness was not proof against her persistence.
“I’m not like that now,” she had protested when William sternly reminded her of the Mock Invasion. “I wath younger then, William. It’th nearly two weekth ago.”
Although a ‘staycation’ means holidaying in the UK rather than abroad, in wartime it became necessary for people to holiday literally at home rather than elsewhere in the UK.
But the Outlaws are determined to make this sorry state of affairs a little more cheerful by organising a “WAR-TIME HOLLYDAYS AT HOME FUN FAIR” (“ENTRUNCE ONE HAPENNY”).
“Ladies an’ gentlemen,” shouted William, “The first item is a dog race between Jumble an’ Hans. Jumble’s my dog, an’ Hans is Ginger’s aunt’s dog that we’ve borrowed for the race. He looks like a German dog, but he’s not a Nazi one. He’s same as a refugee. You know, the ones that come over in rowing boats.”
“He couldn’t row a boat,” objected the girl with
red hair. “He couldn’t possibly row a boat. Not a dog.
Well, have you ever seen a dog rowing a boat?”
“I never said he rowed a boat.”
“I didn’t. I said he was same as the people that come over in rowing boats.”
“How can he be the same? He’s a dog.”
“Oh, shut up!”
There follows a very light plot on which is hung amusing description after amusing description of the chaos that the Outlaws have organised.
And an amusing punchline comes in the form of Percival’s report to Mrs Mason – the innocent little lad, sent to observe proceedings on behalf of his visiting writer mother, enjoyed himself enormously, though somehow got the wrong end of every stick there was going.
“Ethel’s jolly fond of you,” said William with what he took to be consummate tact. “Jolly fond.”
Wing-Commander Glover made no comment.
“I bet there’s lots of ’em she doesn’t like as much as what she likes you,” William assured him emphatically.
The Wing-Commander adjusted his monocle and broke his silence. “Don’t let me take you out of your way,” he said with pointed politeness.
“Oh, no , that’s quite all right,” said William, “Well…” – William considered that by now the way had been sufficiently paved and with characteristic directness plunged at his objective – “well, will you lend us your stable for a party we’re goin’ to have?”
William, though taken aback, did not give up the struggle.
- Number: 22.3
- Published: 1940 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William and the Bird Lover
- Book: William and the Evacuees
- Synopsis: William encounters an ornithologist who isn’t quite what they seem.
Endeavouring to secure a venue for a party for evacuees, William begins ingratiating himself with all property-owning gentlemen in the area.
One such gentleman is Redding, an ornithologist (“You the bird man?”) who rather reluctantly shares some ornithological insights with William when William attaches himself to him like a limpet – and explains that the complex hand-drawn diagrams he is working on are of birds’ innards.
William approached the table and looked down with interest at the diagram the man was working on.
“What’re you drawin’?” he asked with interest.
The man tapped the diagram carelessly with the tip of his pen. “This is the diagram of a blackbird’s lungs,” he said. “I’m writing a book at present on wild birds’ diseases.”
“Corks!” said William. “I didn’t know they had any.”
But when William shares some of his newfound knowledge with others and discovers it all to be false, he realises that something is awry… and, for once, he’s right.