travel

The facts

“I’ve got a… sort of power over people,” said William.
Angela’s incredulity was fading into puzzled admiration. “Oh, William,” she said, “have you? Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“There were reasons,” said William. “I… well, I don’t like people to know about this power I’ve got.”
“I suppose they’d always be wanting you to do things?” said Angela.
“Yes,” said William, thankfully accepting the explanation.

  • Number: 22.4
  • Published: 1940 (1939 in magazine form)
  • Book: William and the Evacuees
  • Synopsis: William comes across to rival girls hunting for seashells.

Verdict

On a beach holiday, William meets Adela and Angela, two immaculately-attired schoolgirls who are, as bitter rivals, collecting seashells in order the better to impress their much-idolised schoolteacher Miss Twemlow.

Bored out of his mind by the absence of other boys to play with, he sets himself two goals: find an orange shell for each girl; and reconcile them.

They both liked talking about Miss Twemlow, so it would be much better for them to talk to each other about her than to him. He wasn’t interested in Miss Twemlow. He imagined her, in fact, as a mixture of Violet Elizabeth Bott and a Pantomime Dame.

But when Miss Twemlow arrives at the seaside resort with her fiancé, William makes a rash promise and acquires a new mission: take the fiancé away somewhere so that the girls have unfettered access to Miss Twemlow.

 The facts

“Well, it began with Aunt Belle’s father.”
“Gosh!” said William, thinking of Aunt Belle’s venerable figure. “As far back as that?”
“He was a colonel in the army.”
“What did he fight in?” asked William with interest. “‘The Wars of the Roses?”

  • Number: 20.9
  • Published: 1938 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William the Collector
  • Book: William the Dictator
  • Synopsis: William intervenes in a probate dispute.

Verdict

Aunt Louie (she of Aunt Louie’s Birthday Present, 20.7, fame) has invited William to spend a week with her and her Aunt Belle.

William had gingered up the collection to the best of his ability. No longer did the bottles contain merely colourless river water. One had been filled with red ink and beneath it was a notice in William’s uneven handwriting: “Water from the Red Sea.” One was a bright blue and beneath it William (with vague memories of popular songs), had.written: “Water from the Danube.” In another there floated a selection of dead insects and several dead minnows. This was labelled: “Water from the Dead Sea.” The collection of pressed flowers had been swept away and in its place stood specimens freely adapted by William. There was a tulip with a daffodil’s head wired on just below the tulip’s head, there were primroses painted green and black, there was a fern decorated with gold and silver paint; and grape hyacinths grew, surprisingly, from an apple-tree branch.”

And in doing so, he walks right into the middle of an Agatha Christie-style mystery: Aunt Belle’s father had owned a valuable figure of a Chinese god, which he had planned to bequeath to the town museum when he died. But when it went missing on his death, Aunt Belle dedicated her life to travelling the world, collecting things, to try to make it up to the museum.

Sadly, the museum is not especially interested in Aunt Belle’s collection (personally I think she had a pretty cool idea: bottles of water from different famous rivers around the world, pebbles from famous beaches, and so on).

So William tries to help make her exhibition more interesting.

 The facts

Since the train journey began he had pretended that he was a spy travelling disguised through an enemy country (none of the other people in the carriage suspected him), a general on his way to the war (the other people in the carriage were his staff), a circus man travelling with his show (the large man with the long nose was an elephant and the woman in the black satin coat was a performing seal) and a wizard, who, by a wave of his wand, made trees, fields, telegraph posts skip to his bidding.

  • Number: 18.10
  • Published: 1936 (same year in magazine form, originally titled William the Hero)
  • Book: Sweet William
  • Synopsis: William carefully cultivates an image as a crime-fighting hero.

Verdict

The Browns need a temporary respite from William, so he is put on a train to the seaside to stay with an old schoolfriend of his mother’s.

After his various imaginary exploits begin to pall, he looks for more tangible forms of entertainment, and eventually decides to experiment with the emergency brake. He wonders whether pulling it just a little bit will only slow the train down a little bit.

William began to recount his exploit vaingloriously and with many additions. He described how a ferocious ruffian had suddenly begun to threaten him in a railway carriage and how, after a tremendous tussle, he had managed to overpower him and pull the communication-cord.

It doesn’t. It stops the train. But William gets away with it because the sudden lurch saves a fellow passenger from a particularly menacing mugger – the passenger assumes that William espied the confrontation and bravely and pluckily intervened. William arrives in the seaside resort as a hero, interviewed by the local newspaper, receiving reward money, being unable to walk anywhere without being asked for an autograph.

Unfortunately, he then feels compelled to engage in yet more heroism, if necessary by manufacturing a few situations. And he somewhat overdoes it.