jumble

 The facts

“Mr French’ll prob’ly give us an awful report. He always does.”
“I know,” said William. “I think it’s ’cause he can’t spell words like ‘excellent’ an’ ‘satisfactory’. He puts ‘poor’ to everything jus’ ’cause it’s an easy word to spell.”

  • Number: 28.3
  • Published: 1952 (1950 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Tramp
  • Synopsis: William and Ginger obtain some seed capital.

Verdict

William’s form master, Mr French, institutes an Apprentice-style competition to promote fundraising for the school’s new gymnasium: the boys should start with a little money, and with it try to raise as much as they can within the week.

William enters less out of a desire to improve his school or impress his teacher, and more out of natural competitiveness and bloody-mindedness. In fact, he is positively teeming with business plans:

“Listen,” he said. “I’ve got another idea.”
“Gosh!” said Ginger. “Not another!”

“Please, sir, Ginger an’ me got this given us for stackin’ logs for Miss Thompson,” William said hoarsely.
“Ginger and I,” said Mr French.
William stared at him in indignant surprise. “You weren’t even there,” he said.

His favoured plan (which is not actually a dreadful one) is to wait near Farmer Jenks’s pond, and at an opportune moment fish out of it a brooch and a cigarette case. He is confident that it will, shortly, contain these two items, because Robert has had a bad break-up with Dahlia Macnamara and both vowed to throw each other’s gifts “into the nearest pond”.

“She might not throw it into the pond till tonight,” said Ginger gloomily. “It’s gain’ to be a rotten waste of time hangin’ round all day an’ night…”
“That’s right,” said William bitterly. “Start makin’ objections. Whenever I get a really good plan you always start makin’ objections. Think of that man Bruce that made spiders’ webs an’ all the weeks an’ weeks an’ weeks he mus’ have took doin’ it, an’ you start makin’ a fuss jus’ ’cause you’ve got to wait a few minutes to see a girl throw a brooch into a pond.”
“What did he make spiders’ webs for?” said Ginger, interested despite himself.
“I’ve forgot jus’ for the moment,” said William vaguely, “but it’s in hist’ry, so it mus’ be true…”

The boys eventually get their hands on the desired items, sell them for three shillings and re-invest the three shillings in an accordion, which is promptly confiscated by Miss Milton for disrupting her afternoon’s rest (“It’s like one of those daylight smash an’ grab raids you read about in the newspapers”).

Various other complications occur, including Jumble eating their money, but eventually they strike gold dust.

The facts

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.”

Verdict

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.”
“You did.”
“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.

The facts

“Bet you anythin’ you like you couldn’t make him a sheep-dog,” said Ginger.
“All right ,” said William, his vague speculations now hardened into iron purpose. “You wait and see. You jolly well wait till I’ve got him trained , an’ winnin’ prizes all over the place, an’ being hired out by farmers an’ suchlike. You jolly well wait…”

Verdict

This is a genuinely heart-rending story and quite upsetting to read.

William decides to train Jumble up as a sheep-dog. The chaos that ensues is predictable, but less predictable is that the chaos brings consequences. Farmer Jenks is so enraged that he tells the Browns that they will have to pay £5 of damages and (horror of horrors) have Jumble put down. Mr Brown’s solicitor advises that they co-operate, so Jumble’s death sentence is confirmed.

William “had looked on Farmer Jenks’s threat as belonging to the ‘I’ll break every bone in your body’ class: not as one that would actually, and in cold blood, be fulfilled”. And he pleaded with his parents, “almost in tears”, for mercy.

“He only did what he was told. He was only obedient same as you’re always wantin’ me to be. It would be a jolly sight fairer to have me destroyed. Why don’t you have me destroyed?”

William was surprised to see a vague-looking elderly lady coming out of the garden gate opposite, and making her way to him across the road. He assumed his most aggressive expression. What was she goin’ to make a fuss about? Couldn’t be doin’ her any harm jus’ standin’ in the road by her house. The whole world didn’t belong to her, did it? But he saw, to his surprise, that she was smiling quite pleasantly.
“Er – do you like dogs, boy?” she began.
He glanced at her, puzzled and still on the defensive. “’Course I do,” he muttered  ungraciously.

(I’m almost in tears too by this point – as, to be fair, were most members of the Brown household.)

So William decides to hide Jumble, Ann Frank-style. But when he hears his father putting together a search party (“Go up to that old barn where he plays, and see if it’s there. And ring up Ginger’s people, and the others, and tell them to keep a look out?”) he makes an astonishing, for him, realisation:

“The grown-up world was too strong for him. He had no chance against it. His optimism at long last failed him. There was only one thing to be done, and it must be done without delay. He and Jumble must leave this cruel place for ever. The world was wide. They must run away and find, if possible, some place where people were less hard-hearted.”

Fortunately, another dog – and Farmer Jenks’s old rival, Farmer Smith – save the day. But it was a close thing.