Day 283: William and the Four Forty

 The facts

“Hi!” panted Ginger. “Don’t run so fast. I can’t keep up with you.”
“Well, don’t talk so much,” said William. “You oughter save your breath for runnin’ same as me. I’m not talkin’ all the time. I’m savin’ my breath
for runnin’.”
“You’ve never stopped talkin’ since we started,” Ginger reminded him. “I say! Let’s pretend there’s a herd of wolves after us. That oughter make us run quicker.”
“I’m not scared of wolves,” said William. “I bet if wolves were after us I’d jus’ turn round an’ kill ’em one after the other.”
“You’ve got nothin’ to kill ’em with.”
“I’d strangle ’em. I’ve got jolly strong hands. I can unscrew tops of tins an’ things what my mother can’t.”
“You’d find a wolf jolly diff’rent from the top of a tin.”

  • Number: 27.7
  • Published: 1950 (1948 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Bold
  • Synopsis: William and Ginger accidentally stop a train, and fall victim to Hubert the master blackmailer.


William and Ginger buy a magnificent pen-knife, whose most magnificent feature is “a thing for takin’ stones out of a horse’s hoof” (“You never know when you’ll get a horse”) – although their first act on receiving it is to test said tool on a horse which neither needs nor wants a stone taken out of its hoof. They get kicked across the road and then chased by an irate horseman (the description of whom as a “black-faced giant” is, I suspect/ hope, more a reference to their class and trade than to their ethnicity).

Hubert also wanted the knife, for no reason other than spite, and the Outlaws hand him the perfect leverage when they (from the best of intentions) stop a train – the 4:40 – unnecessarily and imagine that they must thenceforth be fugitives for the rest of their lives. In fact, Hubert blackmails William for many posssessions; again, for no reason other than spite.

“I’m feeling jolly ill. I’ve got an awful pain in my backand in my stomach an’…” – he paused for a moment, decided that it would be foolish to risk omitting any convincing illness by understatement, and went on – “an’ in my legs an’ in both my arms an’… an’ in my head.” He paused again and added simply, “I’ve got toothache too.”
William!” said Mrs Brown incredulously.

Affairs come to a head when Hubert and William are both invited to the same tea party as Robert and his crush of the moment:

“Hubert Lane!” said William in disgust. “Fancy anyone askin’ Hubert Lane to tea!”
“I’d a darn sight sooner have Hubert Lane to tea than you,” said Robert. “He doesn’t eat like something out of the zoo.”
“No, he eats like something in it,” said William, and was so delighted at his own wit that a bland smile overspread his countenance and the heavy weight lifted itself for a moment from his spirit.

But the hostess is indebted to William for reasons of her own…