Day 115: William the Showman

The facts

“Oh, there’s lots of things to give money to,” said Ginger. “Societies they call ’em. Lookin’ after old people an’ givin’ socks to fishermen that sort of thing.”
“I don’t feel as if I could get up much interest in anythin’ like that,” said William. “All the old people I know can look after themselves a jolly sight too well an’ I don’t see what fishermen want with socks.”

  • Number: 10.5
  • Published: 1929 (1928 in magazine form) – not to be confused with the 1923 story, 4.10, or the 1937 book, 19, of the same name
  • Book: William
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws put on their own waxwork show, and promise the village a female actress.


What little plot this story has – William swapping places with a girl unwilling to attend a photoshoot – was basically lifted from William and the Fairy Daffodil, 8.2 – and the bit at the end where he sees himself in the photo, published in a national magazine, closely mirrors William at the Garden Party, 8.8. (There is an amusing moment when the lady journalist, scandalised at the appearance of the ‘girl’, blames it, and all the other ills of the world, on “jazz and cubism”.)

And, indeed, the Outlaws have already hosted an ahistorical waxwork show, in A Birthday Treat, 6.2 (“One of us could be Henry VIII an’ another could be the seven wives”).

“Sometimes there’s someone there that knows things an’ keeps on contradictin’ you,” said William.
“Smack his head,” said Ginger simply.
“I’d better not start ’em all fightin’. There always seems to be trouble when everyone starts fightin’. No, if anyone starts contradictin’ me I’ll jus’ reason with ’em. I’m good at reasonin’!”

But this story’s charm lies not in its plot but in the truly side-splitting things that William spends it saying.

He first gets the idea of putting on a waxwork show – replicating that which he unofficially participated in in William and the Waxwork Prince, 10.4 – because he is worried that “people’ll be thinkin’ we can’t think of anythin’ else to do an’ I shun’t like people to get thinkin’ things like that about us”.

They also decide to donate their proceeds to charity (largely because the trustee of one local charity has a garden in which they would very much like to play).

The story is just a succession of gems:

“History people jus’ wore tablecloths and long stockings an’ funny things on their heads.”

” We’ve gotter think of famous history people,” said William.
“All right,” said Ginger, “you start.”
“Oh, there’s heaps of ’em,” said William carelessly, “you jus’ say one or two.”
“S’pose you jus’ say one or two first,” said ” Ginger.
Anyone ‘d think,” said William, “hearin’ you talk, that you thought I di’n’ know any history people.”
“I don’ think you do,” said Ginger simply.
“Robinson Crusoe,” William said at last uncertainly.
Ginger had a vague impression that there was something wrong with this, but did not like to commit himself too definitely. “I think we’d better stick to English history people,” he said, “he was a foreigner.”

“They fought in wars an’ went to the Crusades.”
“What were they?”
“Crusades?” said Ginger vaguely. “Oh, they were jus’ things people went to wearin’ armour an’ suchlike. There wasn’t much goin’ on at home those days, you see. It was before cinemas an’ things were invented. They’d gotter do somethin’.”

“King Alfred burnt the cakes, you know,” said William vaguely. “Let ’em fall into the fire jus’ when he was eatin’ ’em. Pulled ’em out, but they were too burnt to finish eatin’. Got insurance on ’em,” he ended uncertainly.

“Your history book’s all wrong. It was written ever so many years ago an’ I’ve found out a lot of things about history what no one knew when your history book was written. So you’d better listen to me or get out.”
So impressive was William’s tone and mien that that young student subsided and ever hereafter regarded his history book with deep distrust.

“That waxwork looks to me,” said another critic, “jus’ like Douglas dressed up.”
“Yes,” said William, unperturbed, “I had it made like Douglas. I thought it would be more int’restin’ to have it made like someone we all knew.”

“What were the Crusades?” demanded a member of the audience.
“Islands,” said William with a burst of inspiration, “like the Hebrides what we learnt in Geography las’ week.”

“It wouldn’t feel it if I pinched it, seein’ it’s wax ?” said the red-headed boy.
“Course not,” said William, “but you’d better not go spoilin’ my waxworks or…”
His warning was too late. The red-headed boy had given Ginger a sharp, experimental nip. With a yell of fury Ginger hurled himself upon him. Henry and Douglas joined the fray. William stood in the background and murmured pathetically, “I had ’em made to fight like that. There’s speshul machinery inside ’em makin’ ’em fight like that.”

“Well, shurely I can disguise myself to look like a beautiful lady, can’t I?” challenged William with spirit. “‘S easy enough,” he went on carelessly, “you jus’ put on a sort of soppy look.”