“You see, Mrs Brown,” she said, “I want it to be a great social movement sweeping the whole of England. It will solve, I am sure, all our social problems. I want every family of ordinary means to adopt a poor family.”
“But we couldn’t,” gasped Mrs Brown.
Miss Milton waved aside her objections. “I suggest that, as you have young people in your family, you choose one with young people. Here is one with six girls and three boys. Your young people could help these young people in many ways. They could have them to tea, try to interest them in the arts…”
“Miss Milton,” said Mrs Brown, so firmly that Miss Milton actually stopped talking to listen to her, “I don’t want to. I think it’s a dreadful idea.”
- Number: 19.6
- Published: 1937 (same year in magazine form, originally titled William the Benefactor)
- Book: William the Showman
- Synopsis: William adopts a poor family.
Step forward Mrs Brown, the real star of this story for having the (unusual) nerve to call out Miss Milton’s truly insane, and desperately patronising, ‘charitable’ project as the nonsense it was.
William, of course, was not sufficiently subtle to understand the scheme’s shortcomings, and is all for it.
In fact, he finds a poor family almost straight away, and thinks it would be only fitting for Miss Milton to adopt the youngest child in it.
Miss Milton had had rather a disappointing day. People had been strangely lukewarm about her
wonderful scheme, and the reluctance of well-to-do families to adopt poor ones had been as nothing compared with the reluctance of poor families to be adopted.
A farcical outbreak of mistaken identity and cross-purposed conversation ensues, which is large even by William’s own high standards.
Sadly, the confusion was not so great that he was able to escape detection as its source.
The Vicar’s wife was a determined woman – her determination, in fact, bordered on ruthlessness – and by dint of ceaseless visits and an unfailing flow of eloquence she had persuaded most of the local mothers to enrol their children’s names in the Children’s Guild. As Mrs Brown said to her husband: “Yes, dear, I know it’s ridiculous – I quite agree with you – but I feel I’d rather make William join anything on earth than have her coming here again talking about it.”
- Number: 16.8
- Published: 1934 (1933 in magazine form) – originally titled William the Philanthropist, which happens to have also been the title of 6.9
- Book: William the Gangster
- Synopsis: William is invited to help the cause of housing deprivation.
The Vicar’s wife really is indomitable, having spent most of this book organising various worthy causes (only to see William dismantle them in front of her eyes). In this story, her cause du jour is slum clearance.
She brings a lecturer to the Children’s Guild, who asks each child to bring a sixpence donation by the following day. William is keen to help out, less because he cares about the fate of slum-dwellers and more because he fancies the lecturer.
The lecturer began to talk about too many people living together in one house so that they hadn’t enough air to breathe. It wasn’t very interesting, so William began to imagine her imprisoned by Red Indians and himself fighting his way, single-handed, through several hundred of them to rescue her.
Penniless as usual, his first gambit is to ask Ethel if there is anything he can do to help her worth sixpence.
“Thanks,” said Ethel sarcastically. “I’ve been helped by you before. I’d pay you sixpence not to help me.”
William hopefully accepted this offer, only to find to his disgust that it was immediately withdrawn.
But he soon comes up with a much-more-practical alternative: clearing the slums himself. Starting with some small boys he meets who happen to mention that they live in a small house. And the Botts’ mansion just happens to be empty.
Then things become rather confused…
William was deeply interested in the prospect of Ethel’s tennis party.
“I’ll think out some new sorts of games, Ethel,” he had volunteered, “somethin’ that’ll make it go with a bit of a swing. I bet everyone’s tired of tennis.”
- Number: 14.3
- Published: 1932 (1931 in magazine form) – originally titled William and the Lost Babies
- Book: William the Pirate
- Synopsis: The Outlaws acquire three babies.
In The Outlaws, 1.8, the boys made a spectacular mess of looking after a baby. But someone’s decided to give them another shot at it this time, and they do marginally better until they leave the poor thing outside a shop.
“What illnesses have they had?” asked the proprietress of the baby show.
“Lumbago,” said William, remembering the complaint that had kept his father in bed for a day last week.
When they split up to search the neighbourhood for the missing child, they discover three (cf. buses) and are unsure how to dispose of the two which are surplus to requirements.
In the end, they decide to dump them at a local baby show.
William makes a hasty escape by agreeing to take up his aunt’s invitation of a visit to her home some way away.