Day 122: William and the Little Girl

The facts

“I think,” said William, “that when I grow up I’m prob’ly goin’ to turn into one of those people that talk.”
“You’re one of them now,” said Ginger dispassionately.
“But I don’t get paid for it,” objected William. “Grown-ups get paid for it.”
“Oh, leckcherers,” said Henry, who was generally agreed to be the best informed of the Outlaws.

  • Number: 11.2
  • Published: 1930 (1929 in magazine form, originally titled William Falls in Love)
  • Book: William the Bad
  • Synopsis: To impress a girl, William tries to catch an escaped lunatic.


Invited to tea with a little girl visiting the village, William is surprised to find himself infatuated (no doubt due, in part, to the smug self-assurance of the other little boy in the house).

He was all the more infatuated because of her disdain for him. She was not impressed by his overture of, “Civilisation’s all wrong: savidges didn’t go to school or learn Latin.” She was not impressed by, “I killed a lion once.” She was not impressed by, “I’ve saved ever so many people’s lives” – even when he set out to prove this by saving Ginger from a (pre-arranged) drowning incident in front of her very eyes.

“I’ve got my diction’ry here,” Henry said. “I’ll open it jus’ anywhere an’ give you the first word I see to talk about.”
“Well, and I jolly well bet I’ll be able to talk about it too,” said William challengingly, “unless it’s in a foreign langwidge.”
Henry opened his dictionary and read out slowly and doubtfully: “Epitome.”
“That’s a foreign langwidge,” said William very firmly and without hesitation.
“What’s it doin’ in an English diction’ry, then?” said
“There’s lots of foreign words in the English diction’ry,” said William, “they get put in by mistake.”

But then he did manage to impress her. A lunatic (this story is not entirely PC) has escaped in Croombe Woods, and the little girl is enraputured by William’s telling of the story. She makes him take her to the railings surrounding the woods so she can gaze in.

Desperate to maintain his lead over the unctuous Claude, William fearlessly plunges into the woods to assist with the searches. Then it all gets a bit Shutter Island as he encounters two men in the woods, both of whom claim to be the keeper and both of whom accuse the other of being the escaped lunatic.

But William learns something significant from the episode. Not ‘don’t plunge into woods populated by dangerous escaped lunatics’: that would be too prosaic.

But he discovers that, as soon as the little girl is interested in him, he is no longer interested in her.

LIfe lesson right there.