miss milton

The facts

William tried the handle of the back door. It opened. “Good!” he said. “We can have a look inside now. Come on!”
“There’s laws…” said Douglas.
“Rubbish!” said William. “Ole Frenchie always says that if a thing’s worth doin’ it’s worth doin’ well, so we’re only doin’ what he tells us to.”

  • Number: 38.3
  • Published: 1970
  • Book: William the Lawless
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws try to find their teacher the best wedding present money can (not) buy.

Verdict

This is a really fun story, and it’s driven by William’s soft-hearted and well-concealed affection for his form master, Mr French. Following his engagement in William’s Adventure Society, 37.5, the time has now come for the boys to buy Mr French a wedding present. As Henry confesses, “After all, he’s had a lot to put up with from us.”

One of the boys remembers his parents’ tactic for choosing a wedding present: they waited until invited to dinner by the recipient, and took advantage of the opportunity to look around and see what items were missing. Of course, the Outlaws realise that they are unlikely to be invited to dinner by Mr French, so instead they wait until he goes out for the day “to readsomethin’ up in the British Museum for an article he’s writin’ on middle-aged gardens” before breaking in to his house.

“We’ve done a good -bit of damage,” said Douglas.
“He’ll forgive us,” said William, “when he finds out that we’ve rescued him from the clutches of a blackmailer.”
“Maybe,” said Douglas doubtfully.

While they’re in there – specifically, while William is looking for one of Ginger’s exercise books to compare one of the answers against one of his own – a letter comes through the front door, and the boys inevitably misread it and believe it to be a blackmail threat, signed “M”.

They split up and investigate four prominent Ms in the village. A series of misunderstandings with each suspect only strengthen’s their investigator’s suspicions: William hears Miss Milton lamenting her “killer” dog and assumes his teacher to be a murderer; Henry interprets General Moult’s concern about plagiarism of his biography as the teacher being a “spy”; Douglas gets nowhere at all with Archie Mannister; and Ginger gets particularly confused when Reverend Monks refers to a trendy church organist as “drug pushing his wretched wares among the young and innocent”.

Fortunately, the Outlaws are able to salvage the situation because the damage they caused to Mr French’s house uncovers something rather interesting…

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

“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.

Verdict

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.