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.