William’s pocket money was mortgaged for a month to pay for the crockery he had broken while training to be a juggler. “Well, they’ve all gotter learn , haven’t they?” he had protested, when sentence was passed on him. “Gosh! D’you think jugglers can throw up plates like that without practisin’? D’you think they’re born throwin’ up plates like that? They’ve gotter break a few plates an’ things practisin’. Stands to reason… Well , how’m I goin’ to earn my livin’ bein’ a juggler when I’m grown up if you won’t let me practise? Anyone ’d think you didn’t want me to earn my livin’ when I’m grown up. It’s gain’ to be jolly expensive to you keepin’ me all my life , just ’cause you won’t ever let me start practisin’ to earn my livin’ jugglin’…”
- Number: 22.7
- Published: 1940 (same year in magazine form)
- Book: William and the Evacuees
- Synopsis: William wants a tin hat; and Robert has a competitor.
William, envious of the tin hats that every other boy in the village seems to own, tries to gain permission to borrow Robert’s.
But Robert has other problems on his hands, because his relationship with the delightful Philippa Pomeroy (William and the Begging Letter, 21.8) is under pressure from an airy newcomer called Claude – who would, as a child, undoubtly have fallen into the ‘insufferably virtuous’ category.
For while Robert plays at soldiers with only slightly more realism than has William – his duties in the ARP seem to revolve around “battles won on
the darts board and tense moments at draughts” – Claude abounds with stories of bravery and pluck, and says he intends to ‘join up’ to the Royal Air Force as soon as possible. Philippa is enchanted (or should I say ‘fooled’).
William sat down hopefully. It was about tea time, and you generally got a jolly decent tea in other people’s houses, much better than you ever got at home. He looked from one to the other cheerfully, ready to play his social part and take his share in any conversation that might be going.
“I’m sure your friends are missing you,” said Claude.
“Yes, I ‘spect they are,” agreed William pleasantly.
There was a short silence, then Claude said: “I can’t tell you how much we enjoy having you here, but I don’t think we ought to deprive your friends any longer of the pleasure of your company.”
There was nothing subtle about William. He took
things at their face value. “Oh, no, that’s all right,” he said, flattered by the compliment. “I c’n stay here as long as you want me. I c’n stay,” hopefully, “anyway till after tea.”
This leads William to a brilliant fundraising idea, hopefully brilliant enough to net him a new tin hat: he offers to concoct some stories of bravery and pluck for Robert to tell Philippa. Robert, fairly sensibly, declines.
But then William witnesses Claude walking home in the black-out and acting in an unplucky and disbrave way; and, without for a moment losing his faith in Claude’s genuineness, accidentally and unintentionally blackmails him.