“What did this man do underground?” said Ginger.
“What could we read?” said Douglas. “We’ve read all the books we’ve got.”
“I’ve got a book my aunt gave me that I’ve never read, called ‘Heroes of Hebrew History’,” said William. “We could take that.”
“What else could we do?” said Douglas.
“We could think,” said William.
“Well… jus’ anythin’. We needn’t think about anythin’ in particular. We could jus’ think.”
“Sounds jolly dull to me,” said Douglas. “Jus’ readin’ ‘Heroes of Hebrew Hist’ry’ an’ thinkin’ about nothin’.”
- Number: 37.7
- Published: 1968
- Book: William the Superman
- Synopsis: The Outlaws decide to live underground as a nice little earner.
The boys have read the story of a spelunker who was paid £600 by a newspaper for living in a cave for four months. Henry works out that, if the Outlaws went in for the same offer, they’d earn £4 a day.
They choose a cave – an old air raid shelter of Sir Gerald Markham’s – and begin settling in, borrowing materials that they find around them to strengthen and improve their new accommodation.
“It’s about four pounds a day,” said Henry.
“Gosh!” said William. “If we only did it for one month we’d have nearly enough money to last us for the rest of our lives.”
“Depends how long we lived,” said Henry judicially.
But when they meet a friendly old soldier who has been camping illegally on Sir Gerald’s land and is facing eviction, their mission changes.
“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.”
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.
“We know something about art,” said William.
“We learn it at school,” said Douglas. “We have lessons in it.”
“I drew a picture of a volcano last week,” said Ginger, “an’ my mother said it was abs’lutely realistic.”
“She thought it was meant to be a pineapple,” said William.
When the secretaryship of the local Art Club becomes vacant, the Outlaws are determined to give Archie Mannister the career boost he deserves – in Douglas’s words, they want “to get him hung in the British Museum”.
“But what’s happened?” said Miss Golightly, rubbing her eye.
“It’s William Brown that’s happened,” said Miss Milton.
Archie’s first task is to organise a field trip to a local stately home filled with Old Masters. On a preparatory visit, the house’s highly eccentric mistress presents him with a puppy as a gift – for which she later bills him 30 guineas. He is desperate to return the dog, but has, unfortunately, lost it.
The lady’s small god-daughter holds the key to the mystery; and William unlocks it.