insufferably virtuous children

 The facts

Yes, of course he’d be polite to her. Wasn’t he polite to everyone always? Well, nearly everyone an’ nearly always. He would be to her, anyway.
Well, was he goin’ to get anythin’ for it? It’d be jolly hard work bein’ polite to a silly ole girl for a whole fortnight. Mrs Brown offered threepence. William said that threepence was all right for a week, but that a fortnight was worth a jolly sight more than threepence.

  • Number: 20.3
  • Published: 1938 (1937 in magazine form) – originally titled William and the Awful Child.
  • Book: William the Dictator
  • Synopsis: An objectionable girl comes to stay with the Browns.


Agnes Matilda isn’t so much ‘insufferably virtuous’ as just plain insufferable, as this story’s original title (William and the Awful Child) attests.

It’s also an interesting role reversal, because so often William is being foisted on unsuspecting and/ or unwilling hosts to recuperate – see eg A Spot of Heroism, 18.10 – but now his parents are the hosts, and the patient, daughter of one of Mr Brown’s business partners, is interfering in his life.

“Have you bad anything to do with Agnes Matilda today, William?” Mr Brown asked.
“Well,” William temporised, “mother promised me sixpence for leavin’ her alone.”

She and William cordially ignore each other for the first thirteen days of her fortnight’s visit. But then she suddenly decides to follow William to his meeting with the Outlaws.

And proves herself to be a formidable warrior, both against the Outlaws and against the Hubert Laneites. She is, in fact, such an unpredictable and uncontrollable attack dog that the Outlaws just ‘have’ to lock her in a shed and let consequences take their own course…

The facts

William became deeply interested when he heard that Ronald Markham possessed a real policeman’s helmet. William’s eyes opened wide when he heard of it. A policeman’s helmet. A real policeman’s real helmet. It had always been one of his ambitions to try on a real policeman’s real helmet. Perhaps Ronald would let him try it on. Surely Ronald would let him try it on. He might even lend it to him for an indefinite period, so that he could swagger about in it before an admiring crowd of friends and enemies… There wasn’t really any reason why Ronald shouldn’t lend it him. It was the sort of thing that people often did in stories. Perhaps he, William, would save his life, and he’d ask him what he’d like in return, and he’d ask for the loan of the policeman’s helmet, and then he’d give it him. In stories, people were always saving other people’s lives and being asked to choose anything they liked in return. He’d had rotten luck so far in saving people’s lives. He’d never had a decent chance.

  • Number: 18.5
  • Published: 1936 (same year in magazine form, originally titled William Plays Policeman)
  • Book: Sweet William
  • Synopsis: Robert’s friend owns a policeman’s helmet, and William’s life will be but an empty shell until he possesses it.


William is supremely bored at Sir Gerald Markham’s Christmas party, since the only company of his own age is Walter Markham, “whose ambition in life was to become a schoolmaster, because it would give him so many opportunities of doing good”.

So while the grown-ups play an intricately costumed version of charades, and while Walter sits contentedly reading the Encyclopædia Britannica, William sneaks off to try on the policeman’s helmet which he knows to be sitting in a bedroom upstairs.

Of course, it is at precisely this moment that a masked and armed robber arrives on the scene – and, being mistaken by an admiring crowd for a particularly successful actor in the game of charades, freely allowed to load the Markhams’ silver into his sack and escape into the night.

But then they see, through the darkness, “a cop”…

The facts

William was feeling specially aggrieved. This afternoon he had been condemned to accompany his mother to a meeting at the Vicarage. It was the housemaid’s afternoon off, and the cook said that she wouldn’t be left in the house again with that young limb, not if they went down on their bended knees to her, she wouldn’t. She’d pack up and go, she would, sooner. She was a good cook, so Mrs. Brown promised faithfully that the young limb should not be left with her, which meant that the young limb must accompany Mrs Brown to the meeting of the Women’s Guild at the Vicarage.

  • Number: 18.2
  • Published: 1936 (1935 in magazine form)
  • Book: Sweet William
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws acquire a horse.


The Outlaws come across and appropriate for themselves a horse (“William saw himself arriving at school triumphantly on horseback, the admired of all beholders”).

Despite Douglas’s level-headed reminder that it doesn’t belong to them, the others enthusiastically come up with reasons why it should. William speculates that it is a wild horse (“like in anshunt times”). Ginger assumes that “the man it belonged to’s dead”.

Ultimately, they all agree to keep it in the Old Barn, and share ownership.

That afternoon, William has to accompany his mother to a lecture at the vicarage on the subject of The Upbringing of Children. Mrs Gladhill, the lecturer, is accompanied by her divinely perfect daughter Frances Mary.

There had been a slight hitch in their journey owing to William’s having been discovered to be wearing odd shoes – both for the same foot – when they were half-way there. William protested passionately that it didn’t matter, that he never kept his shoes for special feet, anyway, that he always wore any shoe on any foot, and both shoes and feet were used to it. He said that no one would notice the fact that they were of different pattern unless they were balmy, and then it didn’t matter what they thought. But Mrs. Brown was determined that for once in his life William should do her credit.

William cunningly escapes out of a window, only to bump into Frances Mary in the garden. He offers to show her ‘his’ horse, so imperiously demanding, “Hi, Ginger! Get off my horse!” that Ginger obeys without question.

And so it came to pass that, just as Mrs Gladhill was telling the mothers of the village, “Several of you have remarked to me today on the beautiful manners and behaviour of my own little girl. They are not some freak of nature, but merely the result of correct upbringing,” said beautifully-mannered girl arrived at the vicarage, mud-spattered and clinging to a horse which trampled everything in sight.