“Of course,” Mss Smithers was saying, “the country had been full of their spies for years before the war began. They’d come over as tourists or students or even professors and they’d each take a tiny bit of the coast line and study it till they knew every inch of it. Riddled with spies, the country was. And what they’ve done once they can do again.”
In the hall stood an elderly man with a short, white beard. He was saying, “I’m a geologist, you know. I’ve come here to study this part of the coast.”
And then, of course, William knew beyond a shadow of doubt that he was a German spy who had come over to prepare for the next war.
- Number: 13.1
- Published: 1931 (1930 in magazine form)
- Book: William’s Crowded Hours
- Synopsis: William belives a geologist is actually a German spy.
William is so convinced that Professor Sommerton, a fellow guest in the Browns’ seaside hotel, is a German spy preparing for the next war (ie the one after World War One) that he dogs the poor geologist’s every move, steals his notes at the end of each day and generally makes his life a misery.
To be fair, this is not just one of his usual over-imaginative games overstepping its bounds (although there are elements of that: “Here’s his code what I’ve got at deadly peril,” William was saying to his imaginary chief. “If he’d seen me he’d’ve killed me. He’d gotter special pistol in his pocket made to look like a fountain-pen an’ I bet if he’d’ve seen me I’d’ve been dead by now”). So genuine is his fear of German espionage that he tries to summon police assistance to deal with the menace.
The Browns were staying in the boarding-house in which they generally stayed. The Browns chose it because it did not object to William. It was not enough for the Browns to go to a boarding-house that did not object to children. It bad to be one that did not object to William.
It turns out that the police in small seaside resorts don’t take reports of espionage very seriously if they come from 11-year-old boys whose suits are covered in sand and seaweed.
So William charters a boat to sneak up on the spy from the sea, intending to use its owner as an adult witness to Professor Sommerton’s subversive activities.
They find Professor Sommerton chest-deep in an unexpected rising tide. So while William doesn’t manage to save England from invasion, he does manage to save an eminent geologist from a watery grave.