“In the holidays,” he exclaimed wildly. “There’s lors against it. I’ve never heard of anyone having lessons in the holidays. Not anyone! I bet even slaves didn’t have lessons in the holidays. I bet if they knew about it in Parliament, there’d be an inquest about it. Besides I shall only get ill with overworkin’ an’ get brain fever same as they do in books, an’ then you’ll have to pay doctors’ bills an’ p’raps,” darkly, “you’ll have to pay for my funeral too. An’ I shun’t be surprised if the judge did something to you about it.”
- Number: 12.2
- Published: 1930 (same year in magazine form, originally titled William’s School Report)
- Book: William’s Happy Days
- Synopsis: William has an inconvenient document to dispose of.
Quite a well-known story this one, and rightly so.
William knows that his school report is so dire, he will be made to spend his holidays in private tutoring. But he also knows that if he comes home without it, his father will see through its ‘loss’ and form his own suspicions about its content.
So the challenge is: how can he get rid of the report but with an independent witness to provide cast-iron corroboration that its destruction was a pure and genuine accident?
Aunt Augusta picked up the “oo” of “poor” and said, “This must be a ‘good’ of course,” and she picked up the “ex” of “extremely lazy and inattentive” and said, “This must be an ‘excellent’ of course,” but even Aunt Augusta realised that it would be impossible to put together all the pieces. “I’m afraid it can’t be done, dear,” she said sadly. “How disappointing for you. I feel so sorry that I
mentioned it at all. It must have raised your hopes.”
William’s genius is well up to meeting this challenge, however.
When he meets his visiting Aunt Augusta on her way to visit his family, he offers to take her on a short-cut. But, and how unfortunate is this, he loses his bearings and they end up irretrievably lost in a local wood.
His initial reason for getting lost was simply to stall for time, and to delay the moment of reckoning when he arrived home with his report.
But then he has an idea. In books, when people are lost in woods and split up to search for a way out, they leave a trail. William could do that. He just happens to have an envelope with him which he could rip up to mark his path.
This he does (“Certain sentences, for instance the one that said, ‘Uniformly bad. Has made no progress at all,’ he tore up till the paper on which they were written was almost reduced to its component elements”), and his aunt’s admiration of his bravery is only intensified when she learns of the great sacrifice he has made: “I remember so well the joy and pride of the moment when I handed my school report to my parents. I’m sure you know that moment well.”
His father sees through the trick without much difficulty, of course. But, on the other hand, William did manage to make a good impression on an elderly and rich relative, and one shouldn’t look a gift-horse in the mouth…