william’s suspected demise

The facts

“Why didn’t you tell me the river is flooding?” she screamed, “You must have known.”
“Well,” said William with a burst of inspiration, “I din’ want to give you a sudden shock – what I thought it might give you tellin’ you you was macarooned.”

  • Number: 7.9
  • Published: 1927 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Outlaw
  • Synopsis: William climbs through a fissure in a cave and floods a sanatorium.


At last a break from cunning costume ploys: a classic old adventure story in which William goes exploring a narrow fissure at the back of a local cave (looking for smugglers) and emerges, unexpectedly, in a field with which he is unfamiliar.

“Who’s in charge of the staff, then?”
“Me.” said William simply. “I’m all there is left of it.”
He was rewarded by an even finer display of hysterics than the one before. He sat and watched this one, too, with critical enjoyment as one might watch a firework display or an exhibition of conjuring. His attitude seemed to irritate her.

He then readily agrees to take over the job of a servant-boy in the nursing home he comes across, floods the back yard, makes the patients cocoa using knife powder, unintentionally cures a patient suffering a nervous breakdown, fills the house with animals, kidnaps two young children and fakes amnesia – all before returning to the cave whence he had come and discovering that his entire family believes he had died in there.

This is an exceptional concatenation of chaos even for William, and unusually there is no real purpose to it (either good intention or bad). It just kind of happens and he finds himself getting deeper and deeper into it.

But I always think that William’s chaoses are far more entertaining when they form unintended consequences of a deliberate decision, rather than just being flukes.

The facts

“I think I’ll go as a lion,” said William. “I should think you could buy a lion skin quite cheap.”
“No, William, darling,” interposed Mrs Brown quickly, “I think you’d find a lion skin too hot for a crowded room.”
“But I wun’t go into the room,” said William, “I want to crawl about the garden in it roarin’ an’ springin’ out at folks, scarin’ ’em.”

  • Number: 5.11
  • Published: 1925 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: Still William
  • Synopsis: William has several hidden agendas at the Botts’ fancy-dress party.


There’s a lot going on in this one. And it all fits together very well.

At the Botts’ fancy-dress party, William has three objectives: first, to shed the Little Lord Fauntleroy costume his family had forced on him, and to replace it with that of a “brigand”; second, to remonstrate with one of his fellow guests, a Cabinet minister, who Mr Brown announces at breakfast is ruining the country” (see also William Enters Politics, 4.12); and, third, to humiliate Robert – and, to be fair to William, Robert’s relationship with his lady-love (who he ‘romantically’ nicknames “Gloire”) in this story is genuinely vomit-inducing.

“We’re not going to let you out till you’ve promised to go away from England and never come back. Because you’re ruinin’ the country.”

For example, his letter to her the day before the party: “It will be my first meeting with you for two days and I do not want it profaned by other people, who know and care nothing of our deep feeling for each other. Just for a few sacred moments let us tell each other all that is in our souls. The memory of those few sacred moments, just you and me and the moon and the roses, will be with us in our souls all the evening.”

William achieves all of his objectives (albeit not quite in the way that he intended), but the third one most of all, and by the end of the story, when his mother asks him if his new socks are OK, he is able to make Robert go “a deep purple” by loudly replying: “They’ve given an entirely new meaning to my life. I shall give up all my life trying to be more worthy of them. I’ve not got them on now because I don’t want them profaned by people who don’ know or care about them…”

Contained within all the lovey-dovey content of this story, though, are a surprising number of double entendres – I’m not sure whether or not they’re intentional but just for the record…

  • More than once Robert’s love affairs had afforded useful handles.
  • “Gloire, let us be gay for the rest of the evening.”
  • “Oh, Glor,” he ejaculated softly.