william makes a rash promise

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.


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

William optimistically knocked at the door. A very old woman opened it. She smiled at him pleasantly and said: “Yes dear? What do you want?”
“Mr Chamb’lain’s sent me to ask if you’ve got any rooms vacant for ’vacuees.”
She looked at him pityingly.

  • Number: 22.1
  • Published: 1940 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William Takes Charge
  • Book: the eponymous William and the Evacuees
  • Synopsis: The children of the village are jealous of evacuees.


So warmly do the women of William’s village (led by the indomitable Vicar’s wife) welcome evacuee children – with presents, parties and above all food – that their native counterparts start getting jealous and demand that William, their natural leader, arrange for them to be evacuated too.

“I been ’vacuated,” said a small child proudly. “It made my arm come up somethink orful.”
“Shut up, Georgie Parker,” said Arabella. “It’s a diff’rent sort of ’vacuated you have done on your arm. It’s to stop you turnin’ into a cow you have it done on your arm.”
“Thought it was to stop you gettin’ chicken pox,” said Frankie, wrinkling up his snub nose in perplexity.
“It’s nothin’ to do with chickens,” snapped Arabella. “It’s cows. Everyone what’s not ’vacuated on their arms turns into cows. Half the cows you see in fields is people what weren’t ‘vacuated on their arms.”

“You saucy little hound!” said one indignant householder.
“You cheeky little rapscallion!” said an enraged housemaid as she slammed the door in his face.
“Bet they never did that to him,” William muttered indignantly to himself as he walked on down the road. “Bet they never did that to ole Mr Chamb’lain when he went round gettin’ places for ’em. Bet they treated him a bit different…”

William’s plan is to impersonate Mr Chamberlain, in person and in writing, and appeal to local householders’ patriotism in order to persuade them to take in some neighbourhood evacuees.

Astonishingly, he pulls it off… at least until the local committee for the care of evacuees arrives.

 The facts

“P’raps I oughn’t to’ve told you,” said William, his apprehension growing as he remembered one or two of his wilder flights of fancy. “P’raps you’d better not tell anyone else.”

  • Number: 20.10
  • Published: 1938 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William and the Phantom Legacy
  • Book: William the Dictator
  • Synopsis: William nearly makes Robert popular.


William overhears a fortune-teller telling Robert that he will receive a hefty legacy, and excitedly tells the entire town – adding in a rather confused story that the bequestor is an elderly man who Robert once rescued from a foggy doom.

“You know, dear boy,” said Miss Milton, “The possession of wealth is a great responsibility.”
Robert agreed absently and. assured himself that
Inexhaustible Power Surged within him.
“It’s so important,” said Miss Milton, “that it should be used for the public good and not for private pleasure.”
Robert agreed, remembering suddenly to Hold up his Head and Look the World in the Face. Miss Milton, a little startled by the sudden glare he turned on her, continued:
“My little Society for Providing Comforts for Sick Pets is sadly in need of funds. You won’t forget that, will you?”

Robert is not especially surprised by his newfound popularity among the village’s young ladies, because he ascribes it to the success of his reading matter How to be Popular, which encourages its students to recite mantras such as “nothing and no-one can withstand me” and “inexhaustible power surges within me”.

I’m very fond of this story as it has several hilarious moments (Robert buying his partner a mock-diamond brooch, and her assuming it to be a real-diamond brooch, for instance) – but the joke is definitely around Robert rather than William, whose role in the story is, essentially, confined to instigating the trouble and then taking a seat.