mistaken identity and impersonation

The facts

“I’m a gold-digger,” William said to the kitchenmaid. “I’ve got ship-loads an’ ship-loads of gold. At least, I will have soon. You shall have a whole lot of nuggets. Look here.” With a princely flourish he took up a knife and cut off three buttons from the middle of his coat and gave them to her.
“When I come home rich you show me the buttons an’ I’ll remember and give you the nuggets. See? I’ll maybe marry you,” he promised, “if I’ve not married anyone else.”
The kitchenmaid put her head round the pantry door. “’E’s loony,” she said. “It’s lovely listening to ’im talkin.’”

  • Number: 1.3
  • Published: 1922 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: Just William
  • Synopsis: Running away from home, William takes a position as servant in a local mansion. But there’s a dinner party that evening.


I don’t know whether William just looks very generic, but he seems to spend an awful lot of his time being mistaken for other people.

In this story, he runs away from home to make his fortune as a gold prospector, embittered at having had his whoopee cushion confiscated by his French teacher. And, at the first house at which he calls to beg for provisions, he is assumed to be “the new boots” (servant boy) and given some knives to clean.

“I’d like to meet your son,” said the host.
“You probably will, sooner or later,” said Mr Brown gloomily. “Everyone in the neighbourhood meets him sooner or later. He does not hide his light under a bushel. Personally, I prefer people who haven’t met him. They can’t judge me by him.”

His performance is as bad/ comical as could be expected, though he managed (just about) to stay on the good side of the householders until he decides to use the whoopee cushion – which he had confiscated back from the French teacher – at their dinner party.

And one of the guests at the dinner party happens to recognise William.

Perhaps the most astonishing part of this story is that anyone could seriously intend to hire someone who very obviously looks like an 11-year-old boy as a servant!