“Bet you anythin’ you like you couldn’t make him a sheep-dog,” said Ginger.
“All right ,” said William, his vague speculations now hardened into iron purpose. “You wait and see. You jolly well wait till I’ve got him trained , an’ winnin’ prizes all over the place, an’ being hired out by farmers an’ suchlike. You jolly well wait…”
- Number: 21.5
- Published: 1939 (1938 in magazine form)
- Book: William and Air Raid Precautions
- Synopsis: Jumble is in jeopardy.
This is a genuinely heart-rending story and quite upsetting to read.
William decides to train Jumble up as a sheep-dog. The chaos that ensues is predictable, but less predictable is that the chaos brings consequences. Farmer Jenks is so enraged that he tells the Browns that they will have to pay £5 of damages and (horror of horrors) have Jumble put down. Mr Brown’s solicitor advises that they co-operate, so Jumble’s death sentence is confirmed.
William “had looked on Farmer Jenks’s threat as belonging to the ‘I’ll break every bone in your body’ class: not as one that would actually, and in cold blood, be fulfilled”. And he pleaded with his parents, “almost in tears”, for mercy.
“He only did what he was told. He was only obedient same as you’re always wantin’ me to be. It would be a jolly sight fairer to have me destroyed. Why don’t you have me destroyed?”
William was surprised to see a vague-looking elderly lady coming out of the garden gate opposite, and making her way to him across the road. He assumed his most aggressive expression. What was she goin’ to make a fuss about? Couldn’t be doin’ her any harm jus’ standin’ in the road by her house. The whole world didn’t belong to her, did it? But he saw, to his surprise, that she was smiling quite pleasantly.
“Er – do you like dogs, boy?” she began.
He glanced at her, puzzled and still on the defensive. “’Course I do,” he muttered ungraciously.
(I’m almost in tears too by this point – as, to be fair, were most members of the Brown household.)
So William decides to hide Jumble, Ann Frank-style. But when he hears his father putting together a search party (“Go up to that old barn where he plays, and see if it’s there. And ring up Ginger’s people, and the others, and tell them to keep a look out?”) he makes an astonishing, for him, realisation:
“The grown-up world was too strong for him. He had no chance against it. His optimism at long last failed him. There was only one thing to be done, and it must be done without delay. He and Jumble must leave this cruel place for ever. The world was wide. They must run away and find, if possible, some place where people were less hard-hearted.”
Fortunately, another dog – and Farmer Jenks’s old rival, Farmer Smith – save the day. But it was a close thing.