Day 156: Mrs Bott’s Hat

The facts

“You’ve got to fix on somethin’ to bet me I won’t steal an’ then I’m goin’ to steal it an’ bring it to show you an’ put it back an’ it’s goin’ to be jolly dangerous an’ excitin’. You’re not to send me to steal anything miles and miles away like somethin’ in the Tower of London or anythin’ like that,” William added, “because it’s too far for me to go an’ I’m not goin’ to waste any money on train

  • Number: 14.6
  • Published: 1932 (1931 in magazine form) – originally titled William in Disguise
  • Book: William the Pirate
  • Synopsis: William spends a day as Mrs Bott.


Another case of ‘William doesn’t learn his lesson’: in William and the Chinese God, 8.3, he got himself into hot water by stealing (dared by Ginger) a curio of his Headmaster’s. Now, he actually suggests, nay demands, that his fellow Outlaws designate another object for him to steal for no reason other than sheer bravado.

The chosen item: Mrs Bott’s Sunday hat. William isn’t too happy about this (“I nat’rally meant something I could put in my pocket”) but goes ahead nonetheless. He dogs Mrs Bott’s home; fortunately she is sufficiently short-sighted to mistake him for a “carved bush”. But then fortune lends a helping hand and his target goes to tea at the Browns’ house. Easy pickings.

Less easy, of course, is William’s progress through the village dressed in Mrs Bott’s hat and coat. He takes refuge in a lorry for a few moments, but is then transported elsewhere and is mistaken for ‘Mrs Tom Thumb’ from a local circus by the ‘Mrs Tom Thumb’ from another local circus (“Funny you an’ me ‘ve never met before, isn’t it, dear?”), who is scandalised, quite reasonably, to discover that her rival is, in fact, a small boy and thus a fraud.

“I rescued her,” said William. “The place was flooded. An’ she was upstairs an’ no one could get to her an’ she’d have been drowned in two seconds if I hadn’t swum upstairs an’ rescued her an’ then swum downstairs again.”

William is just on the verge of deciding that he’s caused enough chaos for one day and restoring Mrs Bott her property, back at home, when the boiler in his loft explodes and floods the house. Mrs Brown, with her endearing faith in William’s better nature, credits him with saving Mrs Bott’s expensive clothes from the deluge. And William gets a great story to tell the Outlaws.