“You think you can go messing up other people’s property with impunity,” said Robert, with elder brother severity, “and it’s time you learnt that you can’t.”
“I haven’t messed up anyone’s prop’ty with that thing you said,” replied William indignantly. “I haven’t got one, so I can’t have.”
Robert sighed hopelessly. “It’s impossible to talk to you,” he said. “No
wonder Father says you can’t speak English.”
“It’s the King’s English he says I can’t speak,” said William. “I can speak my own all right.”
“Do you ever listen to anything?” Robert said. “I was talking about it at lunch.”
“I’ve got other things to do at lunch than listenin’ to you talkin’,” said William loftily. “I was pretendin’ that I was shipwrecked on a raft, an’ that that mince was the last ship’s biscuit left.”
- Number: 27.3
- Published: 1950 (1947 in magazine form) – originally titled William Scares the General
- Book: William the Bold
- Synopsis: William accidentally gives away Robert’s coat.
Banned from playing in a spinney owned by General Moult, William is left with nothing to do except a favour for Robert: waiting in for the buyer of Robert’s brown check sports coat to arrive, and collecting his money.
Naturally he manages to give it to a wily tramp (there seem to be an awful lot of tramps in such a small village, and most of them wily) and the Outlaws spread out across the neighbourhood to find it. When they see General Moult with a similar coat, they naturally conclude (following the path already trodden by Soldiers for Sale, 25.8) that he must be “head of a gang for stealin’ clothes: a man what stops people goin’ into fields for no reason at all – well, he’d think nothin’ of stealin’ clothes”.
In a rather silly twist, it turns out that General Moult (the big, irascible war veteran) lives in fear of the supernatural powers of a witch doctor he met during the Boer War, and the Outlaws accidentally intensify his terror to the point of him giving them permission to use his spinney once again.
And, in a rather repetitive twist, Henry and Douglas find other similar coats in the district and steal them too; see also William and the White Elephants, 7.5.
The story also contains a fine example of William’s endearing tendency to express his frustration to household and garden objects:
“Him and his South Africa!” muttered William, addressing himself now to a dandelion that had eluded Robert’s haphazard weekend ‘weeding’ and flourished brazenly in the top niche of the rockery . “Him and his South Africa! You’d think that anyone what was as keen on South Africa as what he thinks he is, wouldn’t grudge other people a bit of ole felt… That’s what they call fields in South Africa,” he explained, a little self-consciously, turning his frowning gaze to a stone frog that had been given to his sister Ethel on her last birthday by a boyfriend and that seemed to be staring at him enquiringly from a cluster of nasturtiums.