playing on fear

The facts

“Is he the man?” whispered Henry to William.
“Yes, he is,” said William.
“He looks pretty strong,” said Douglas. “I don’t think it’d be any good tryin’ to kidnap him.”
“’Course it wouldn’t” said William. “We’ve got to think out somethin’ better than that.”
“Somethin’ subtle,” said Henry, pronouncing the word as spelt.

Verdict

Serious business in this story, in which Henry warns:

Anyone might wake up one mornin’ an’ find houses goin’ up all over the place an’, once they’ve started, it’s too late to stop ’em ’cause of these plans.”
“What plans?” said William.
“They make plans for buildin’ houses” said Henry. “Sort of drawings of them, you know, an’ they take them to a meeting of the mayor an’ corporation an’ they pass them an’, once these plans have been passed, no one can stop ’em building them.”
“Can’t people go to this meetin’ an’ stop the mayor an’ corporation passin’ them?” said William.
“Yes, they could, but ordin’ry people don’t go to meetings ’cause they’ve not got time, so the nex’ thing they know is they wake up one mornin’ an’ find houses all round ’em and all the fields an’ woods gone.”

The visiting lecturer from whom Henry learnt about the evils of developers used the Outlaws’ beloved Old Barn as an example of a picturesque structure vulnerable to the ravages of housebuilding.

But the boys are having none of this. “The first thing to do is to keep a look-out,” William determines.

“You tell him about the hauntin’, Henry, an’ Ginger about the tomb an’ I’ll do the black magic, an’ I bet we get him so scared that he’ll never make any more plans for the rest of his life.”
“I bet he won’t listen,” said Douglas.
“Yes, he will,” said William. “I’ll be specially polite so he’ll have to.”

So imagine their horror when they see a man sketching the building and measuring it up with a tape measure!

They immediately begin a campaign to scare him away, loosely based on the curse of Tutenkhamen’s tomb, and, in parallel, bribe his granddaughter to tell him where he keeps his plans, so that they can destroy them. (The bribe is a donkey which gets them into all sorts of complications.)

Fortunately, the Old Barn is safe.

The facts

“You see, my aunt’s coming on Saturday, dear,” said Mrs Brown, “and I keep putting off telling your father. He does so hate having people staying in the house.”
William’s brow wove itself into an intricate pattern as he pondered on the situation. “Couldn’t you sort of hide her up somewhere in secret without him knowing?” he suggested at last. “Same as people did with exiles an’ Cavaliers an’ rebels an’ Roundheads in hist’ry.”

Verdict

When William’s father is having one of his characteristic meltdowns about household finances, he rather misguidedly ponders the possibility of taking in a “paying guest”, ie a lodger. William considers this to be an excellent idea, especially once he discovers that his neighbours have a paying guest who regularly supplies the children of the household with ice-cream.

So he sets out to find one, and in these days before Rightmove.com, he goes for the fairly direct approach of walking up to the first stranger he sees in the village and asking, “’Scuse me, are you a PG?” Unfortunately she is, and was on her way to her new host family until William diverts her to his.

Mr Brown snatched up another bill. “Why does that boy have to have a new pair of shoes every day of the year?” he roared.
“He doesn’t dear,” said Mrs Brown, “but sometimes things happen to them.”
“They sort of got caught up in a bonfire,” explained William apologetically.

Mr Brown is not especially surprised to see this prim elderly lady walk up his driveway, because he’s been expecting a visit from his wife’s aunt (they’ve never met), and this woman confirms all his worst fears.

Miss Privet went to the bed and felt the mattress. “Reasonably comfortable,” she said.
Mr Brown gulped and swallowed and again, by a supreme effort of will, managed to remain silent.
Miss Privet was now switching the bedside light on and off. “Too strong,” she said. “I like a twenty-five watt bulb for the bedside light.” She opened the cupboard that contained the overflow of Mrs Brown’s wardrobe. “I shall need all this space. Will you please have all these clothes removed?”
Mr Brown’s face was purple with his efforts at self control.

It all gets sorted out eventually (and to Mr Brown’s delight, the real aunt is a dream guest compared to Miss Privet), but not before William’s tried some complicated scheme involving dressing up as a spaceman to scare the unwanted paying guest away.

 The facts

William was finding life rather interesting. His home was in the hands of “the decorators”, and William was enjoying the experience.
“Look!” he said proudly to the Outlaws. “There’s no staircarpet, an’ I bet none of you can make as much noise as what I can, goin’ upstairs. Come on. Let’s try it.”

  • Number: 27.6
  • Published: 1950 (1949 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Bold
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws haunt Hubert.

Verdict

Hubert Lane has humiliated the Outlaws by scaring them with a bearskin rug, so they need to hatch some revenge.

But Hubert is not only crowing over his antics with the rug. He is also proud to be going to tea at a posh mansion with a friend of his mother’s, a famous author. The only downside is, the mansion is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a woman who died of a broken heart after her beloved left to Jamaica (no, he wanted to go) – and as we know from long experience, Hubert is a believer in the paranormal.

“I write stories myself,” said William, “an’ I bet mine are a jolly sight better than that friend of your mother’s.”
“I bet they’re not,” said Hubert.
“I bet they are,” said William. “I bet she’s never had four murders an’ three burglaries an’ a train accident an’ an aeroplane crash an’ a man havin’ his head pulled off by a gorilla all in one story, has she?”
“I dunno,” said Hubert, somewhat deflated by this wealth of invention.”

So naturally, the Outlaws plan to make sure that Hubert has a ghostly experience, creating a shadowy figurine so that “he’ll think it was that woman that died of eatin’ pineapples” (“She didn’t die of eatin’ pineapples,” said Henry. “She pined away”).

And then it is that Ethel’s dress-making dummy, affectionately known as Esmerelda, gets involved.

It doesn’t work very well – and as William ends up remarking, “Gosh! Five! Five of ’em! I don’t think anyone’s ever got in five sep’rate rows at the same time before since the world began.”