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Authors: Richmal Crompton

William the Fourth

BOOK: William the Fourth
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CONTENTS

Foreword by Frank Cottrell Boyce

1. The Weak Spot

2. William and Photography

3. The Fête – and Fortune

4. William All the Time

5. Aunt Jane’s Treat

6. ‘Kidnappers’

7. William’s Evening Out

8. William Advertises

9. William and the Black Cat

10. William the Showman

11. William’s Extra Day

12. William Enters Politics

13. William Makes a Night of It

14. A Dress Rehearsal

 

FOREWORD

This is a true story . One day, a long time ago, a little boy was staring glumly out of the window of a council flat. It was raining outside and nothing was happening. From
the window he could just about see the docks, where there were ships at anchor that had come from all over the world – Africa, India, America, Australia. But this boy had hardly been
anywhere. This really was a long time ago, by the way, before the Second World War. The boy had never heard of computers, or jet engines, or even television (no wonder he was bored). Then there was
a knock at the door and suddenly it was all excitement – jokes and tea and tears and hugs – because the person at the door was his big brother, a sailor, who had just come back from his
first voyage. Imagine him striding into that dark little flat in his crisp white uniform, with a big grin on his face and a massive kitbag over his shoulder. He’s kissing his mum and
he’s telling a few stories. Then he reaches into that massive kitbag and pulls out a present for the little boy . The present is a copy of the book that you’ve got in your hand.
It’s even got the same pictures.

The little boy is my dad, by the way. That’s how I know.

His mum (my gran) sees the picture of the disreputable-looking William on the cover and says, ‘What’s this about?’

‘It’s about a boy,’ says my uncle, winking at my dad, ‘a boy who commits depredations.’ ‘Depredations’ is one of those fancy words that they used to
use in school reports back then. It comes from the Latin for ‘to plunder’ – it’s the kind of word that William would have loved. I think my uncle said it in a deep voice. He
was teasing my gran.

But my dad wasn’t listening. He was curled up on the couch by then, half listening to the rain and the merrymaking, but mostly he was laughing at William – at William accidentally
having next door’s cat put down, at William pretending to be a fortuneteller, and reading Ethel’s palm (‘You’ve got a brother, he won’t live long’).

He was probably puzzled by some parts too (what is going on with all that ‘Higher Thinking’ malarkey?), but my dad had already learned that you didn’t have to understand
everything to enjoy something, so he just kept on reading and laughing.

And when he’d finished, he had to have more. So he went to the library and got out some more William. And that was the start of something. Because from that day on my dad used to read
books for pleasure. And that made him clever. And he became a teacher and he passed on that love of reading to me, and I became a writer and, when you think about it, all that began with my Uncle
Jim reaching into his kitbag and pulling out that book. So thank you, William. I always thought you had a good heart underneath it all.

Only a year or so after this happened, aeroplanes were dropping bombs on those ships that my dad could see from his window. Houses and shops and churches were burning and exploding. The children
were all sent away to the countryside. The big passenger ship that my uncle sailed on was turned into a troop carrier. The war had begun and the whole world changed and kept changing. Whole
countries appeared and disappeared. Empires rose and fell. The little boy on the couch became a dad, then a grandad and even a great-grandad. But William carried on being eleven years old. And he
carried on being funny. Because although the world has changed, the jokes haven’t. They’re just as funny now as they were then. Because a good joke is stronger than bricks and mortar
and empires, and not just stronger but more valuable too.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

 

CHAPTER 1

THE WEAK SPOT

‘Y
ou see,’ said Jameson Jameson, ‘we’re all human beings. That’s a very important point. You must admit that
we’re all human beings?’

Jameson Jameson, aged nineteen and three-quarters, was very eloquent. He paused more for rhetorical effect than because he really needed confirmation on the point. His audience, all under
nineteen, agreed hoarsely and unanimously.

They were all human beings. They admitted it.

‘Well, then,’ Jameson continued, warming to his subject, ‘as human beings we’re equal. As being equal we’ve got equal rights, I suppose. Anyone deny
that?’

Robert Brown, aged seventeen, in whose room the meeting took place, leaned forward eagerly. He was thoroughly enjoying the meeting. The only drawback was the presence of his younger brother,
William, aged eleven. By some mistake someone had admitted William, and by some still greater mistake no one had ejected him; and now it was too late. He gave no excuse for ejection. He was sitting
motionless, his hands on his knees, his eyes, under their untidy shock of hair, glued on the speaker, his mouth wide open. There was no doubt at all that he was impressed. But Robert wished he
wasn’t there. He felt that the presence of a kid was an insult to the mature intelligences round him, most of whom were in their first year at college.

But no one seemed to mind, so he contented himself with sitting so that he could not see William.

‘Well,’ continued Jameson Jameson, ‘then why aren’t we equal? Why are some rich and some poor? Why do some work and others not? Tell me that.’

There was no answer – only a gasp of wonder and admiration.

Jameson Jameson (whose parents had perpetrated on him the supreme practical joke of giving him his surname for a Christian name, so that people who addressed him by his full name always seemed
to be indulging in some witticism) brought down his fist upon the table with a bang.

‘Then it’s somebody’s duty to make us equal. It’s only common justice, isn’t it? You admit that? Those who haven’t any money must be given money, and those
who have too much must have some taken off them. We want Equality. And no more Tyranny. The working-class must have Freedom. And who’s going to do it?’

He thrust his hand into his coat front in a manner reminiscent of the late Mr Gladstone and glared at his audience from under scowling brows.

‘Ah, who?’ gasped the audience.

‘It’s here that the Bolshevists come in!’

‘Bolshevists?’ said Robert, aghast.

‘The Bolshevists are very much misjudged and – er – maligned,’ retorted Jameson Jameson, with emotion. ‘Shamefully misjudged and—’ he wasn’t sure
whether he’d pronounced it right, so he ended feebly, ‘what I said before. I’m not,’ he admitted frankly, ‘in direct communication with Lenin, but I’ve read
about it in a magazine, and I know a bit about it from that. The Bolshevists want to share things out so as we’re equal, and that’s only right, isn’t it? ’Cause we’re
all human beings, and as such are equal, and as such have equal rights. Well, that’s clear, isn’t it? Does anyone,’ he glared round fiercely, ‘wish to contradict
me?’

No one did. William, who was sitting in a draught, sneezed and was annihilated by a glance from Robert.

‘Well,’ he continued, ‘I propose to form a Bolshevist Society, first of all, just to start with. You see, the Bolshevists have gone to extremes, but we’ll join the
Bolshevist party and – and purge it of all where it’s wrong now. Now, who’ll join the Society?’

As human beings with equal rights they were all anxious to join. They were all fired to the soul by Jameson Jameson’s eloquence. Even William pressed onward to give in his name, but was
sternly ordered away by Robert.

‘But I believe all you do,’ he pleaded wistfully, ‘ ’bout want’n other people’s money an’ thinking we oughtn’t to work.’

‘You’ve misunderstood me, my young friend,’ said Jameson Jameson, with a sigh, ‘but we want numbers. There’s no reason why—’

‘If that kid belongs, I’m not going to,’ said Robert firmly

‘We might have a Junior Branch—’ suggested one of them.

So thus it was finally settled. William became the Junior Branch of the Society of Reformed Bolshevists. Alone he was President and Secretary and Committee and Members. He resented any
suggestion of enlarging the Junior Branch. He preferred to form the Branch himself. He held meetings of his Branch under the laurel bushes in the garden, and made eloquent speeches to an audience
consisting of a few depressed daffodil roots, and sometimes the cat from next door.

‘All gotter be equal,’ he pronounced fiercely, ‘all gotter have lots of money. All ’uman beings. That’s
sense,
isn’t it? Is it
sense
or
isn’t it?’

WILLIAM MADE ELOQUENT SPEECHES TO AN AUDIENCE OF DEPRESSED DAFFODIL ROOTS AND THE CAT FROM NEXT DOOR.

The cat from next door scratched its ear and slowly winked.

‘Well,
then,’
said William, ‘someone ought to
do
somethin’.’

The Society of Advanced Bolshevists met next month in Robert’s room. William had left nothing to chance. He had heard Robert saying that he’d see no kids got in on this one, so he
installed himself under Robert’s bed, before anyone arrived. Robert looked round the room with a keen and threatening gaze before he ushered Jameson Jameson into the chair, or, to be more
accurate, on to the bed. The meeting began.

‘Comrades,’ began Jameson Jameson, ‘we have, I hope, all spent this time in thinking things out and making ourselves more devoted to the cause. But now is the time for action.
We’ve got to
do
something. If we had any money ’cept the mean bit that our fathers allow us we could make people jolly well sit up – we could—’

Here William, who had just inhaled a large mouthful of dust, sneezed loudly, and Robert made a dive beneath the bed. In the scuffle that ensued William embedded his teeth deeply into Jameson
Jameson’s ankle, and vengeance was vowed on either side.

‘Well, why can’t I come? I’m a Bolshevist too like wot all you are!’

‘Well, you’ve got a Branch of your own,’ said Robert fiercely

Jameson Jameson was still standing on one leg and holding the other in two hands with an expression of (fortunately) speechless agony on his face.

‘Look!’ went on Robert, ‘you may have maimed him for life for all you know, and he’s the life and soul of the Cause, and what can he do with a maimed foot? You’ll
have to keep him all his life if he is maimed for life, and when the Bolshevists get in power he’ll have your blood – and I shan’t mind,’ he added, darkly

Jameson Jameson gave a feeble smile.

‘It’s all right, Comrade,’ he said, ‘I harbour no thoughts of vengeance. I hope I can bear more than this for the Cause.’

Very ungently William was deposited on the landing outside.

‘You can keep your nasty little Branch to yourself, and don’t come bothering us,’ was Robert’s parting shot.

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