“What I think’s so awful,” said William, seated firmly on one of his favourite hobby-horses, “is that I’ve lived all these years and not done anything yet.”
“You’ve done quite enough,” said his mother. “You’ve broken every window in the house at one time or another, you’ve made the geyser explode twice, you’ve ruined the parquet by sliding on it, and you’ve got tar all over the hall carpet.”
“Well, I can’t help them putting tar on the roads, can I?” said William, stung by the injustice of this accusation.
“I’ve got to walk somewhere, haven’t I? I can’t fly, can I? It’s not fair to blame me because people put tar on the roads.”
“Eleven years old,” he muttered bitterly to the umbrella stand, “and not done a thing with my life but sums an’ g’ography an’ stuff like that.”
- Number: 15.2
- Published: 1933 (1932 in magazine form) – originally titled William and the House of Mystery
- Book: William the Rebel
- Synopsis: William rescues Mr Bott from a fate worse than death.
Embittered with life, for no particular reason this time, William makes another of his periodic decisions to run away from home and seek his fortune. So he fills his pockets with meat pasties and sets off on the road to Marleigh.
In Marleigh, he sees something unexpected: Mr Bott lying on a table in a house. This is unexpected partly because he had heard that Mr Bott was on holiday in Scotland, and partly because the masseuse who was delivering Mr Bott’s treatment was, in William’s eye, a savage “torcherer” who had kidnapped the sauce magnate for sinister reasons of his own.
“I’m goin’ to Scotland Yard when we’ve done this rescue an’ I’ll give any of you a job as a policeman when you’re old enough. You can’t have quite such a high-up job as mine. Stands to reason you can’t, ’cause it was me what found this man in the white coat pullin’ his arms an’ legs out.”
Fortunately (or unfortunately), Mrs Bott is an adult almost as over-excitable and credulous as William himself. So when he goes to her and tells his tale, she is totally convinced (“It’s the sort of thing one dreams of after lobster mayonnaise” – #highgatemums). Her butler less so:
“Do you know where the back door is?” he said.
“Yes,” said William in unsuspecting friendliness.
“’Course I do. Have you got lost? I’ll show you if you like. But I want to see Mrs Bott first.”
“Mrs Bott is not at liberty,” said the butler.
“Yes, she is,” said William, “it’s him what isn’t.
That’s what I’ve come about. Where is she?”
“I’ve already told you…” began the butler.
“Well, I can’t stop here chattering with you like this,” said William kindly. “I’m busy.”
With William, she raids the building in question – a health farm, of course – with threats aplenty: “Don’t you dare speak to me,” she warns, “I’ve got the house surrounded by aeroplanes and armoured cars.”
While she parleys with the ‘kidnappers’, William occupies himself “taking to pieces a clock that he suspected of being an elaborately contrived instrument of torture”.