William was too much of an artist to overdo things. The bell did not ring continuously. He waited always till the household next door should have settled down again to its various occupations before he made the next interruption. Several innocent callers were surprised to be greeted by the master of the house, who sprang out upon them brandishing a stick.
- Number: 14.5
- Published: 1932 (1931 in magazine form) – originally titled William’s Next Door Enemy
- Book: William the Pirate
- Synopsis: William takes exception to a stand-offish new neighbour.
I’ve not labelled this one deliberate naughtiness because although William’s motives in trying to make life unbearable for his new next-door neighbour are mainly selfish, the new neighbour is so malignant one finds it hard not to take against him.
He gives William permission to climb over his fence to fetch a stray ball, with the sole intention of hiding behind a bush and hitting him with a stick. He tears up Mrs Brown’s visiting cards (“I don’t see that it’s done anyone any harm,” says William, “I mean, she can stick it together now and use it again if she wants to, and she couldn’t have if he’d kept it”), punches Robert down a flight of steps and lays down dog poison in his garden.
Suddenly William noticed some wires near the aperture into next door’s cellar. He took up the stick that he had been
carrying in his hand – William carried sticks as naturally as most people wear clothes – and gave the wires an exploratory probe. Immediately there came the sound of a bell jangling in the kitchen regions, then the front door was opened and after a few moments shut again with a bang expressive of intense irritation. William’s lips parted in a seraphic smile. There was no need of dead cats…
William’s formal offers of help (“Well, if you want anything really ruthless done to him just you let me know”) are politely declined, so he takes matters into his own hands.
His earlier plans, most of which involve dead cats, are rather outlandish, but then he discovers that it is possible to cause next door’s bell to ring from his own back garden.
To give himself an alibi, to avoid being accused of using the bell-pull at the front door, he asks his mother for a patch of garden of his own and spends all his spare time in it ‘gardening’ (“Mrs Brown was thinking that William’s method of gardening was rather strange, but then his method of doing everything was rather strange”).
This is a doubly glorious time for William, because not only is he able to get revenge on the neighbour with continual interruptions, but he is able to get revenge on various other figures in his life (especially teachers) by ringing the bell at the precise moment they appear to be passing the house, causing the enraged neighbour to leap out and assault them.
*Child development note: William might not ever get older, but he was apparently once younger, and we are treated to a rare glimpse of his early years in this story: “As a toddler he had invariably answered ‘Villum’ when she asked him whom he loved best in all the world.”