The Outlaws met joyfully in the middle of the road and were only separated by a motor car, which narrowly missed putting an end to all further exploits of the Outlaws.
“Serve him right if he’d killed us,” said Ginger, “an’ got hung for it.”
“No,” said William. “I bet it’d be more fun for him not to get hung – but for us to haunt him. I bet if he’d killed us an’ we’d turned into ghosts, we could have had awful fun haunting him – I say” – warming to his theme – “I bet it would be as much fun as anythin’ we’ve ever done, hauntin’ someone, groanin’ an’ rattlin’ chains an’ scarin’ ’em an’ jumpin’ out at ’em an’ such like.”
- Number: 9.3
- Published: 1928 (1927 in magazine form, originally titled William the Bold Archer)
- Book: William the Good
- Synopsis: William sets up a reserve army to defend the country if it runs out of gunpowder.
Fortunately nothing whatsoever to do with The Archers, this story begins to hint at the interwar period in which all the William anecdotes so far have been set.
The Outlaws decide to gather a “bow an’ arrer army” of local boys, so that when the next war comes along (how prescient they were!) and national stocks of gunpowder run low (“’cause with all the lot they used up in the last war there can’t be much left”) they can step in and save England (“like Moses an’ Napoleon did”).
“Always the way,” Douglas muttered bitterly as he listlessly strung his bow. “Umpire for hours an’ hours an’ hours an’ when my time comes only two goes left.”
In a classic Crompton coincidence, the next morning the village is ‘occupied’ by soldiers on training manoeuvres, and though they look, act and sound English, William convinces his really quite numerous band of archers that this is all just a ruse to lull the villagers into a false sense of security.
He reaches this conclusion (i) because he has an overactive imagination, (ii) because he overhears one of the commanders using a Latin phrase (“foreign langwidges wot I couldn’t under stand a word of”), and (iii) because Ginger sees General Bastow* looking at a map (“If he was really English like what they pretend to be he’d’ve done England at school in Geography”).
William’s life was too full to admit of his cherishing vengeance against anyone for longer than a week.
So the archers engage in a complicated plot to vanquish the invading army, which comes to a head when they believe themselves (all sharing William’s overactive imagination) to have drowned General Bastow.
When General Bastow is seen striding up the path to William’s house the next day, then, Ginger naturally concludes, “This must be his ghost!” Challenged by William to “go’n’ give him a good hit and see if it goes through him”, he does so, and oh-so-human consequences follow…
*Geek note: General Bastow is erroneously referred to as “General Bristow” in the caption to one of the illustrations, and this error continues to the present-day Kindle edition!