playing on fear

 The facts

“You know Miss Evesham?”
“That stupid woman who comes here for her cat? Yes.”
“Well, I think she’d give you a lot of money for the Society in Aid of Vivisection.”
“Anti-vivisection, William dear.”

  • Number: 27.4
  • Published: 1950 (1947 in magazine form) – originally titled William and the Witch
  • Book: William the Bold
  • Synopsis: William needs to drive a distasteful woman out of the village.

Verdict

Irksomely punny name aside (the original title of William and the Witch presumably having been changed to avoid clashing with the later book, 34, of the same name), this story is basically a much better and more fun version of William and the Black Cat, 4.9.

Entreatied by Joan to drive out Miss Evesham, the unpleasant sitting tenant living in Joan’s house, William starts by accidentally killing her cat and then weaves a cunning – although rather cruel – plan to do the deed.

“Well, there’s one other thing,” said William, with a burst of inspiration. “My father’s got a book with ‘Laws of Banking’ on the outside, but I think there’s something quite different inside. Once I got hold of it an’ he shouted ‘Leave that alone’.”
“Can you get the book, William, and bring it to me?”
“’Fraid I can’t. He’d miss it at once an’ he’s a very savage man.”

It helps, of course, that there is a slightly witchy-looking writer staying in Honeysuckle Cottage, and that Miss Evesham has a mortal fear of witches.

The facts

“Be quiet,” interrupted Mrs. Lane severely. “If you tell any more of these wicked lies I shall come round and tell your father this evening. Of course I believe Hubert rather than you. Hubert’s a most truthful little boy, aren’t you, Hubert?”
“Yes, Mother,” agreed Hubert smugly.

Verdict

At last, a relative of Hubert’s who is genuinely pleasant. In fact, Uncle Paul from Australia is so closely attuned to the Outlaws’ rough-and-tumble way of life that he much prefers them to his own nephew.

 

“Well,” said William, lowering his voice confidentially. “When we came here this morning we saw an ole woman in the field with a cloak an’ a big pointed hat an’ a broomstick.”
The superior sneer fell from Hubert’s face. “It was a witch,” he said excitedly. “It was a witch, of course. What was she doin’?”
“She was jus’ goin’ about an’ wavin’ her broomstick an’ sayin’ things.”
“Spells!” said Hubert, his round, credulous face pink with eagerness. “She was makin’ spells. I say” – his eyes glinted greedily – “did she say anythin’ about findin’ treasure or anythin’ like that?”

When he returns to Australia, he gives Hubert a pistol as a goodbye present (!) and also buys a pen-knife for William, to be delivered by Hubert.

Hubert, though, doesn’t deliver it. He claims it as his own, and with no witness to Uncle Paul’s intentions, Mrs Lane sends William away when he calls round to ask for it.

But the Outlaws play on Hubert’s fear of the supernatural – and specifically, his fear of having his family turned into hens – to convince him to return what is rightfully theirs (and also the pistol…)

The facts

“He’s heir to a knighthood,” said Mrs Bott.
“You can’t be heir to a knighthood,” snapped her husband.
“I never said I was,” replied Mrs Bott. “I said he was.”

  • Number: 17.7
  • Published: 1935 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William and the League of Love
  • Book: William the Detective
  • Synopsis: William encounters some staunch defenders of animal rights.

Verdict

Mrs Bott and the Pennymans in this story, who jointly found the League of Perfect Love, a group devoted to the cause of kindness to animals. Its principles include the cessation of all blood sports, including the blood sport of removing mice from kitchens.

“It’s our unkindness that has driven the creatures to be wild and unsocial,” said Mrs. Pennyman. “Isn’t the world big enough for them as well as for us? Why should we turn upon our little brothers and slay them? Tell me that? Why were they created if they were not meant to exist? Tell me that?”
The servants listened to this harangue with expressionless faces, said “Very good, ma’am,” and went off to set the mousetraps and lay the rat poison as usual.

“My good boy,” she said, “you can’t come to a meeting in that state.”
William looked down at his person. His career as spy tracker and world ratting champion owner had left their marks upon him. The ditches he had burrowed in and the trees he had climbed had all
made their various and by no means negligible contributions
to the general effect. Fortunately he could not see his face and head, but he would not have been in any way dismayed if he had seen them. It was, after all, the way he generally looked.
“Why not?” he said simply.

 

Their members consist largely of what we would now call ‘Highgate Mums’ – middle-class ladies who lunch, and who consider themselves to be the height of sophistication. (Interestingly they are quite happy to feed their Poms – they all have Poms – chicken, which seems somewhat at odds with their principles.)

Their lack of success in recruiting a full demographic range of volunteers, though, leads them to desperate measures; when Robert, as secretary of the local football club, wants to renew the lease on their field, Mrs Bott refuses to engage with him unless he joins the League (which is an altogether different sort of league than that which interests football enthusiasts).

But William solves it all – with the help of a few rats.

Another good story in general, but as with all the Pennyman material, Richmal Crompton seems to be using it mainly to satirise them and society, with William’s involvement mainly an (inadequate) vehicle.