older people mirror the outlaws

The facts

William’s mother had the night before shown him a collection of valentines that had been sent to his grandmother in her youth: elaborate affairs of red velvet hearts on white lace background, of discreetly amorous ditties surrounded by corpulent cupidsor pierced hearts.
William, deeply impressed by these masterpieces and fired by a longing to emulate the makers of them, had “borrowed” the red ink from Robert’s bureau. He found that he could make excellent pierced hearts with it. Moreover, the process was a distinctly pleasant one. William had always enjoyed having dealings of any kind with red ink. He outlined the hearts first, then filled them in by splashes of red ink. When the splashes went over the outline he enlarged the outline till in the end the hearts assumed odd, sausage-like contours that would have much puzzled any student of anatomy. William, however, was completely satisfied with them.

  • Number: 15.12
  • Published: 1933 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William and the Typewriter
  • Book: William the Rebel
  • Synopsis: William sets up a Valentine’s Day French farce.


William’s enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day is less because he is of a romantic personality, and more because it offers the perfect opportunity to experiment with red ink and Robert’s prized typewriter.

The card he makes reads:

Sofair you? are%. SO fairand sweet.
ilay my heart down¾ at youR feet.

But while William is abstracting Robert’s typewriter, despite having been banned from doing so, Robert is abstracting their father’s top hat, despite having been banned from doing so. Robert needs the top hat to impress Lorna Barton with his sophistication and poise.

“I’ll give you a penny if you’ll take this letter,” Robert said.
William ran along the road quickly, pretending that he wasa spy carrying despatches through an enemy’s country and that the hedge was alive with hostile spies, trying to shoot him. Occasionally he flung himself full length upon the ground in order to avoid the imaginary bullets that whizzed around him. Sometimes he crawled along the ditch – much to the detriment of his personal appearance – in an attempt to mislead his imaginary pursuers. He did not, of course, hurry.

He is also in the awkward position of having to write to his previous love, Cornelia Gerrard, in his capacity as secretary of the badminton club, to ask her to prepare the refreshments at their forthcoming tournament.

Unfortunately, Robert’s coldly formal letter to Cornelia and William’s eccentrically-formatted Valentine’s Day card end up on the same sheet of paper.

William notices his mistake and immediately tries to put things right, by starting a rumour that Robert is already married. This is certainly successful in repelling Cornelia, but of course it also repels Lorna, and attracts the attention of the village’s righteous elders. Poor Mr Solomon the Sunday School superintendant is deputed, in the Vicar’s absence, to remonstrate with Robert – and Robert, deeply guilty about his theft of the top hat, is in just the frame of mind to be remonstrated with…

The facts

Aunt Jane raised her hand to her head with the expression of one who suffers acute mental anguish.
“But I said keep to the road, William,” she said. “Yes,” said William unabashed, “I remember now that you said that. But I forgot it this morning. I’ve got a very poor memory.”.

  • Number: 14.4
  • Published: 1932 (1931 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Pirate
  • Synopsis: William helps a friend choose between two suitors.


At the end of The Outlaws and the Triplets, 14.3, William fled the village to stay with Aunt Jane. This is the story of what happened to him there.

Aunt Jane found a friend for him, a nice quiet boy whose interests centred entirely in the study of geography and the making of maps. After one meeting William announced to his aunt that he would not go out with that boy again, not if he was to be put to death by torture for it.

Aunt Jane’s servant Molly is being wooed by two men, James the chauffeur and George the baker. William supports George (because he can yodel and blow smoke-rings) and opposes James (because he intentionally splashes William whenever he drives past him).

Being almost as childish as William himself, Molly decides to organise a test “same as people do in books” to help her make up her mind. Although William promises not to tell either James or George that the test is coming up, he doesn’t promise not to interfere.

When James – a deeply superstitious, and somewhat racist, character – splashes a black-faced man, he naturally assumes that the man is “an Eastern” and has put a curse on him. (It so happens he is a black-face minstrel but James doesn’t know this.)

William then makes clever use of Jumble to bring the ‘curse’ to life and so terrify James that he fails the test.

The facts

“I don’t see why people have fireworks
every year jus’ ’cause he di’n’ blow up the House of Commons.”
Henry thought over this for some minutes in silence. Henry never liked to own himself at a loss. “I know,” he said at last. “They felt so sick at him not doin’ it. You see it ‘d ‘ve been such a jolly good sort of thing to watch. The House of Commons shootin’ right up into the air like that. So they started havin’ fireworks to sort of comfort themselves with.”

  • Number: 10.7
  • Published: 1929 (1928 in magazine form, originally titled Fireworks Strictly Forbidden)
  • Book: William
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws are determined to celebrate Bonfire Night whatever their parents say.


We’ve had no shortage of stories in which Robert and his contemporaries reveal themselves to be of basically the same mental age as the Outlaws they so look down on.

But now we see that the Outlaws’ fathers – normally such stern figures of unstinting authority and respectability – are basically children as well. And especially petty children at that.

“Father,” William said brightly, “I expect you used to have a jolly good time when you was a boy, didn’t you?”
“Were a boy,” said Mr. Brown absently. “You were a boy. I was a boy.”
“Yes, I know,” said William patiently, “that’s jus’ what I’m tryin’ to talk about. About when you was a boy.”
Mr. Brown groaned but said nothing.

After an explosive incident last year, the boys have been forbidden from going anywhere near a firework this year.

But as William decides, “What I’m goin’ to take it to mean is that we’ve not gotter let off any fireworks where they can see or hear ’em. Well, that’s nacherally what they mean, isn’t it? I mean, you don’t mind anythin’ you can’t see, do you? You nacherally don’t.”

So now their only challenge is to acquire the necessary items. They did intend to buy them honestly, but when this plan fell through they decided to steal them from a neighbour, by playing the rather cruel trick of telling the neighbour’s elderly sister that they were defective, extremely dangerous and should be disposed of immediately. (An array of slings, crutches and bandages were used to ensure that she was genuinely terrified.)

Hubert Lane tips off the Outlaws’ parents, who hasten to the locale of the firework display…

But the minute they arrived on the scene something happened. They had been boys together.
William’s father had set off one of the catherine wheels, Ginger’s father was setting off the rockets, Henry’s father was just preparing a Roman candle, and Douglas’s father was opening another box of rockets.
They seemed suddenly to notice the presence of the Outlaws. “Clear off, you kids,” they said shortly, ” what are you hanging about for? Clear off!”

And so the adults glory in the fireworks which they know to have been both stolen and forbidden. And their children sneakily arrange for the fireworks’ true owner to exact vengeance on their parents.

What is remarkable about this story is how dreadfully almost everybody behaves.