“There’s four sorts of people tryin’ to get to be rulers,” said Henry. “They all want to make things better, but they want to make ’em better in different ways. There’s Conservatives an’ they want to make things better by keepin’ ’em jus’ like what they are now. An’ there’s Lib’rals an’ they want to make things better by alterin’ them jus’ a bit, but not so’s anyone’d notice, an’ there’s Socialists, an’ they want to make things better by taking everyone’s money off ’em an’ there’s Communists an’ they want to make things better by killin’ everyone but themselves.”
- Number: 11.3
- Published: 1930 (1929 in magazine form)
- Book: William the Bad
- Synopsis: William becomes a Conservative Prime Minister, only to find that he is expected to use his powers for good.
William has a real political education in this story. Firstly, he learns that the King is not in total command of the country (“if he does, he can’t doesn’t as well, can he? Stands to reason”). Secondly, he learns that the person really in charge of Britain is the ‘Prime Minister’ – a different title to that used in Italy (“duck”) and Venice (“dog”).
“What’s this gen’ral election they keep talkin’ about?” said Ginger.
“It’s somethin’ to do with makin’ a tunnel under the sea,” answered William.
The Outlaws each select a political party to represent, and hold an election of the village’s youngsters (following a hysterical round of speeches, William’s key policy pledge being that his father has a friend who once shot an elephant).
On being eleced – of course he was elected – William learns his third lesson: that his powers are not untrammelled:
“What are you goin’ to do for us first?” said the boy with red hair.
“Do for you?” repeated William indignantly. “I’m not goin’ to do anythin’ for you. I’m goin’ to rule.”
“But that means doin’ things for us,” persisted the boy with red hair. “I know it does. We learnt it at school. It’s somethin’ called civics. An’ I vote you get back the tadpole pond for us.”
So William is, reluctantly, persuaded to seek to regain the boys’ cherished tadpole pond from a neighbour, Miss Dalrymple, who has recently fenced it off into her garden.
William’s plan is a genius one: he decides to falsify documents demonstrating that the government had bought the pond from Miss Dalrymple’s father, and so it should, in fact, be public property. So he writes:
“Dear Mister Dalrimpul,
“Thank you very much for selling us the pond at the end of your garden. We want it to be rite outsid your garden so that the boys can studdy tadpols and things in it. We want it to be a fre pond for everyone who liks to go and fish in. Thank you for putting the fens on the other sid of the pond so as to make it a fre pond and rite outsid your garden.
“We hop that your dorter Miss Felisher Dalrimpul is quit wel,
Having finished this letter William regarded it with deep satisfaction. The subtle touch of the introduction of Miss Felicia Dalrymple’s name caused
him many chuckles. “I bet not many people would’ve thought of that,” he said complacently.
Creeping around at night, intending to plant this document in the aforementioned pond, in a bottle, in order that it could be ‘found’ the next day, he somehow ended up tripping Miss Dalyrmple’s belief in the supernatural – and somehow came out on top!
“William raised the brass knocker of Miss Dalrymple’s green-painted door and let it fall again heavily. It was rather a fascinating knocker. It represented a lion’s head with its tongue out. When you raised the knocker the tongue went in, and when you dropped it, it came out again. When you went on knocking, the lion put its tongue in and out continually. William, deeply absorbed in this phenomenon, went on knocking. An indignant housemaid opened the door.
William, who was used to hostility from housemaids, and accepted it as part of the natural order of things, entered the morning-room dreamily, wishing that he lived in a house with a knocker like that. So absorbed was he in dreams of himself making the tongue go in and
out, in and out, all day long, that when Miss Dalrymple entered, it took him a few moments to remember what he’d come for.
The lady saw him to the door, and closed it on him firmly. He stood looking at it dreamily. The tongue was out now, it would go in and come out again when you lifted the knocker and dropped it. He lifted the knocker and dropped it several times. It was a fascinating spectacle. Then he set off to the gate.
The housemaid had rushed to the door again, and the lady had hurried breathlessly into the hall.
“What on earth is it?” she said.
“It’s that boy again,” said the housemaid.
William was just closing the gate. He was quite unaware that he had roused the entire household.