William was silent for a few moments; then, with a burst of inspiration: “We’ll have a Secret Society.”
“Gosh, yes!” said Ginger. “That’s a jolly good idea.”
“An’ we’ll have passwords an’ disguises,” said William, “an’ put up a notice an’ have a meetin’ in the old barn an’ I’ll make a speech.”
“You can’t make a speech about a Secret Society,” said Henry. “If it’s a Secret Society it’s gotter be secret.”
“Yes, I s’pose so,” said William regretfully. He prided himself on his powers as a public orator and did not like to let slip any opportunity of using them.
- Number: 28.7
- Published: 1952 (same year in magazine form; not to be confused with the 1923 story, 3.7, of the same name)
- Book: William the Tramp
- Synopsis: William takes on a suspected Russian spy.
Of all William’s plans and schemes, his creativity in this story I think surpasses all others. Faced with the prospect of an evil Russian spy in their midst, William does not demur from the danger like Douglas (“I think we’d better be a bit careful of atom bombs: they’re s’posed to be dangerous”) but instead gets right in.
“We’ll take you to it,” said Henry. “It’s this way… over the stile.”
They entered the old barn. William sat in an impressive attitude on a packing case. His appearance had been copied faithfully (or rather as faithfully as possible) from the picture of Stalin in Henry’s encyclopaedia. He wore a golfing blouse of Robert’s that engulfed his figure, Ethel’s jockey cap, and a large straggling moustache that Robert had once worn in some amateur theatricals and that fell off whenever he moved.
Mr Kellyngs stood staring at him, open-mouthed with amazement. William rose to his feet with an air of dignity.
“Hail, Comrade!” he said, holding his moustache on with one hand and making a sweeping gesture with the other. “I’m Stalin come over to England to fetch thy papers about the atom bomb. I’m flying back to Russia ’ere nightfall an’ I’ll take them along with me. Thee will be well paid for thy trouble, but I haven’t any change on me at present. I’ll send thee a postal order from Russia when I get there. Hist! Not a word! Give me the papers and begone!”
An elaborate oath of secrecy was administered and a still more elaborate system of signals devised by which the Outlaws were to indicate to each other various degrees of danger – no danger, middling danger, special danger, deadly danger, pressing need for reinforcement and even the immediate calling in of Scotland Yard. And then suddenly things seemed to fall rather flat.
“Well, what’re we goin’ to do?” said Ginger.
“We’ve settled what to do,” said William a little irritably. “We’re goin’ to put down crim’nals.”
“They live in the underground,” said Ginger.
“You’re thinkin’ of the underworld,” said Henry. “It’s somethin’ quite diff’rent.”
“We ought to be a bit careful,” said Douglas. “They slash with razors.”
“I bet I’d get a crim’nal before he’d time to pull his razor out,” said William. “I’m jolly strong. Look! You can feel my muscle goin’ up an’ down when you put your hand on my arm. Gosh! It’s enormous.”
Of course, it turns out that Mr Kellyngs isn’t a Russian spy, but he ends up fairly grateful to the Outlaws anyway…