fêtes fairs and circuses

The facts

William gave a daredevil laugh. “Huh!” he exclaimed. “I’m not scared of danger. I’ve had my life hangin’ by threads before now. I’m not scared of danger. Huh! Come on, Ginger.”
“But be careful, dear,” urged Miss Thompson. “The law is ruthless once it gets its grip on you.

  • Number: 38.4
  • Published: 1970
  • Book: William the Lawless
  • Synopsis: William tries to save a friend from prosecution for theft.

Verdict

Miss Thompson accidentally ‘lifted’ a red-and-blue knitted cap from a shop, and believes that the manager – who lives opposite her – is ‘on her case’. She would dearly like to return the contraband but has accidentally donated it to Mrs Monks’s latest sale-of-work.

“Did you see Arabella’s mother’s face?” exclaimed Ginger. “She looked mad.”
“She’s out for our blood,” said William.
“Yes,” said Ginger. “Things look pretty black for us.”
William gave his throaty chuckle. “But they aren’t dull any more,” he said.

The Outlaws set out to recover it, and from then on events follow a similar track to William and the White Elephants, 7.5 – though at least Miss Thompson seems to find happiness by the end.

The facts

“My aunt kept on an’ on about doin’ service to the community,” said Ginger.
“What’s the community?” said William.
“It’s people,” said Ginger earnestly. “It’s anyone. Helpin’ the community means helpin’ people. Anyone. An’ this aunt of mine promised me ten shillings if I did somethin’ to help the community.”
“Oh,” said William. “That’d be jolly useful. We could do a lot with ten shillin’s… What sort of things did she mean?”
“Well, she kept talkin’ about things that people had done for the community, like puttin’ a stop to slavery an’ settin’ up the Health Service an’ stoppin’ people gettin’ executed in public.”
“It’s too late to do any of those,” said William after a moment’s thought. “They’ve been done.”

Verdict

Ginger’s aunt has offered ten shillings to the boys on condition that they do something altruistic, and Ginger has an idea:

“She’s got a friend that works at a Citizens’ Advice Bureau.”
“What’s that?” said William.
“It’s… well, it’s sort of advisin’ citizens,” said Ginger uncertainly.
“Sounds easy enough,” said William. There was a new note of interest in his voice. “Gosh, I could do that all right. I bet I could advise anyone about anythin’.”
“They might ask us things we don’t know about,” said Ginger.
“Oh, I know about most things,” said William airily, “an’ I can make ’em up if I don’t.”

So they set up shop in the Old Barn, and their first customer is another local child, Anthea Green, who needs support in obtaining a new fancy dress costume. (I can’t help feel that Richmal Crompton rather slipped up in imagining that William was familiar with French plurals though: “’Course we can’t get you a new fancy dress costume. Citizens’ Advice Bureaux aren’t there to get people new fancy dress costumes.”)

“You’re a story-teller,” said Douglas sternly.
“I know I am,” said Violet Elizabeth with an air of modest pride. “I’m a very good thtory-teller.”

Goaded into promising to help, the boys quickly start trying to raise four shillings and sixpence so they can buy a Gretl costume they’ve seen on sale at the village fair.

This backfires.

The facts

“Is he the man?” whispered Henry to William.
“Yes, he is,” said William.
“He looks pretty strong,” said Douglas. “I don’t think it’d be any good tryin’ to kidnap him.”
“’Course it wouldn’t” said William. “We’ve got to think out somethin’ better than that.”
“Somethin’ subtle,” said Henry, pronouncing the word as spelt.

Verdict

Serious business in this story, in which Henry warns:

Anyone might wake up one mornin’ an’ find houses goin’ up all over the place an’, once they’ve started, it’s too late to stop ’em ’cause of these plans.”
“What plans?” said William.
“They make plans for buildin’ houses” said Henry. “Sort of drawings of them, you know, an’ they take them to a meeting of the mayor an’ corporation an’ they pass them an’, once these plans have been passed, no one can stop ’em building them.”
“Can’t people go to this meetin’ an’ stop the mayor an’ corporation passin’ them?” said William.
“Yes, they could, but ordin’ry people don’t go to meetings ’cause they’ve not got time, so the nex’ thing they know is they wake up one mornin’ an’ find houses all round ’em and all the fields an’ woods gone.”

The visiting lecturer from whom Henry learnt about the evils of developers used the Outlaws’ beloved Old Barn as an example of a picturesque structure vulnerable to the ravages of housebuilding.

But the boys are having none of this. “The first thing to do is to keep a look-out,” William determines.

“You tell him about the hauntin’, Henry, an’ Ginger about the tomb an’ I’ll do the black magic, an’ I bet we get him so scared that he’ll never make any more plans for the rest of his life.”
“I bet he won’t listen,” said Douglas.
“Yes, he will,” said William. “I’ll be specially polite so he’ll have to.”

So imagine their horror when they see a man sketching the building and measuring it up with a tape measure!

They immediately begin a campaign to scare him away, loosely based on the curse of Tutenkhamen’s tomb, and, in parallel, bribe his granddaughter to tell him where he keeps his plans, so that they can destroy them. (The bribe is a donkey which gets them into all sorts of complications.)

Fortunately, the Old Barn is safe.