When the anthropopper was young, among my favourite books were those by Richmal Crompton (1890 – 1969) about the adventures of an 11-year old boy, William Brown and his friends Ginger, Douglas and Henry, who between them made up The Outlaws.
Richmal Crompton’s first William book came out in 1919 and the last in the 1960s, but throughout the series William and his friends always remained at the age of 11. In all, thirty-eight William books were published, but the ones I liked best were those written in the 1920s and 1930s.
So it was a real pleasure to discover, while doing some archival research, a hitherto-unpublished William story from the 1920s, called William and the Anthroposophists. Why Miss Crompton decided not to publish this story is unknown, but I hope you will agree that it is a worthwhile find.
Mr and Mrs Bott and their daughter Violet Elizabeth had as usual gone away for a lengthy summer holiday abroad and the Hall was to be let to new tenants. The Outlaws always kept a close eye upon the Hall and made the most of its frequent periods of emptiness. They had made an extensive study of the habits of caretakers and gardeners, knew their hours of repose and took full advantage of this knowledge to play undisturbed in the garden, grounds and woods and sometimes even in the house itself. But the arrival of new tenants interested them too, because new tenants, though they might of course prove uninteresting, might also give to life that added zest that the Outlaws always liked life to have. They remembered with fondness previous tenants of the Hall such as Mr and Mrs Pennyman and their mission to take the village back to the Morning of the World. With their homespun garments, home made-macaroni and vegetarian diet, their weaving and flute-playing, it was evident that the Pennymans were loonies but they were also fun to watch when the Outlaws had nothing else to do. They had fond memories, too, of another tenant of the Hall – Miss Gregoria Mush, President of the Society of Ancient Souls. The Society of Ancient Souls was a society of people who remembered their previous existence. The memory usually came in a flash. For instance, you might remember in a flash when visiting the Petit Trianon at Versailles that you had been Marie Antoinette. Or you might shudder at the sight of the butcher using his cleaver and remember in a flash that you had been King Charles I. Then you joined the Society of Ancient Souls, paid a large subscription and attended meetings at the Hall in costume. The Outlaws had found that these meetings in costume were always worth watching surreptitiously as an unfailing source of amusement. So when the Outlaws heard that the Hall was let again, their disappointment at being deprived of their unofficial playground was tempered by excitement at the prospect of new neighbours.
William first heard of it one day at lunch. “I understand that the Hall has been let for a summer school”, said Robert, William’s elder brother. Apparently it’s a group from London who are all followers of some doctor in Switzerland.” “What are they going to do here?” asked Mrs Brown. “Oh, the usual sort of thing, I should think” said Robert. “Camping in the grounds, walks in the countryside, I expect.” This did not sound very promising to William but nevertheless when he told the rest of the Outlaws about it, they decided to be the first to take a look at the newcomers. The Outlaws generally did this when new people were coming to the village. One glance sufficed to tell them whether the newcomers were capable of adding any sort of zest to life.
Stealthily they made their way into the grounds of the Hall through a hole in the hedge and cautiously crept through the woods until they came to a field where a cluster of tents had been erected. Groups of adults and children were clearing up plates and cutlery and cooking pots. They had obviously just had lunch. Down by the stream at the bottom of the field were several boys who were strangers to the neighbourhood. “Crumbs!” murmured William. As if by common consent, the Outlaws inched forward to a vantage point near the stream where they could observe the boys, who were washing tin mugs and plates in the water.
The three boys who were washing crockery in the stream were not reassuring in appearance. They were very clean and tidy, and they were washing the mugs and plates very thoroughly and with an air of conscientious absorption. Not only did they not yield to the temptation to splash water over each other – a temptation that the Outlaws would have found irresistible – but they did not seem even to experience the temptation. William, Ginger, Henry and Douglas, after watching them in a depressed silence for some time, drew nearer to the three boys and at last began a tentative conversation.
“You here campin’?” said William.
The biggest boy – a boy with well brushed hair and an almost startlingly clean collar – constituted himself the spokesman of the little group.
“Yes,” he said, “we’re camping. We came yesterday. Our teachers, Miss Olivier and Mr Harwood, have kindly brought us. We’ve got some parents with us as well. We’re from the Waldorf School.”
“Oh,” said William, faintly, “what sort of school is that, then?”
“It’s a Steiner school,” said the biggest boy. “We don’t have a headmaster.”
“Crumbs!” said William incredulously, whose meetings with Mr. Markson, headmaster of the school attended by the Outlaws, were often painful occasions. “What do you do here all day?”
“We go for nature rambles. We build lime-kilns. We do eurythmy in the morning.“
“Crumbs!!” ejaculated William, completely nonplussed by the mention of lime-kilns and eurythmy. “Do you play football? I could lend you a football, if you like.”
“Oh no!” said the biggest boy. “We’re not allowed to play football. It isn’t really safe for young bodies.”
At this point, a short stout man with glasses, shorts, knobbly knees and a prominent Adam’s apple came up and indignantly addressed the Outlaws. “Now then, you boys, what are you doing here? Don’t you know you’re trespassing? Be off at once!”
At this, William and the rest of the Outlaws turned hastily away. “No use wastin’ any time over them!” said Ginger disconsolately.
“N-no,” agreed William. “Still, we haven’t had a look at the grown-ups yet. They might be as loony as the Pennymans. We ought to go back this evenin’. Anyway, it’s time for tea. Let’s go home.”
* * * * * *
William made as perfunctory a toilet as he thought he could get away with and went slowly downstairs for tea. He heard his mother’s voice and that of an unknown lady in the drawing-room and decided to go in to find out who the visitor was. As he entered the room, he assumed the expression of intense ferocity that he always wore when he intended to be especially polite. Then he took his seat in a corner of the room. His mother glanced at him helplessly. William did not usually bestow his presence upon her drawing-room, and when he did she always suspected that it cloaked some sinister design. Moreover, his hair looked terrible. It stood up wildly around the margins of his face whither his washing operations had driven it. The visitor, introduced as Miss Olivier from the summer camp at the Hall, had given him a vague smile and turned at once to his mother again. Evidently his entrance had interrupted an impassioned speech.
“So you see, Mrs Brown, when we decided to hold our summer school here at the Hall, it seemed too good an opportunity not to try to involve some of the children of the village with the wonderful privilege of experiencing some aspects of Waldorf education. It can be so strengthening for their etheric forces and for their development generally.”
“Er – yes,” murmured Mrs Brown, obviously much perplexed by the conversation, “er – yes. Of course.”
“Dr Steiner has set out a complete model of child development that we follow. It provides for such a healthy unfolding of the child’s true being and is so helpful in counteracting the ugly materialism of modern life. The world of course is not yet fully ready to receive such riches. We have found that we must go slowly and educate the world. You see, we in the anthroposophical movement feel that we have a mission. We want to begin in this little country village, and once the fire is set alight here, it will spread like a – like a network throughout England. And we want your support, dear Mrs Brown, in setting it alight.”
Mrs. Brown looked about her desperately, as if for escape, but all she could see was William gazing at Miss Olivier with fascinated eyes, drinking in her every word. She tried to turn the conversation on to the weather but Miss Olivier continued:
“What we would like to do is to invite your dear little boy” (William grimaced inwardly and vowed revenge) “… and the other dear children of the same age in the village to join our pupils for Dr Steiner’s version of the Greek Olympics. All the 11-year olds in the Waldorf school study ancient Greece, and the Olympic event will celebrate this particular time of childhood. Of course it relates directly to the philosophy of the ancient Greek athlete, who strove to strike a balance between the spiritual path and physical attainment.”
“Ah, I see,” said Mrs Brown, sensing that she might at last be on firmer ground. “You want to organise a sports competition between your pupils and the village children.” Miss Olivier looked pained.
“Oh no,” she said. “Oh no. Certainly not a competition. Dr Steiner was most insistent on that point. A child should not compete against other children but only against him or her self. No, the games are not competitive. The focus is on the qualities that the child presents during training and on the day of the Olympics itself, things like positive attitude, teamwork and grace of movement.
Mr Harwood and I are giving a talk about Waldorf education at the Hall this evening, and it would be so good if you could be there to hear more about it. May we count on your support, dear Mrs Brown?”
Mrs Brown gave a non-commital murmur that evidently satisfied her visitor.
“Thank you so much,” said Miss Olivier. “I can feel the spiritual world rejoice!”
When she had gone, Mrs Brown looked about for William, but William was not there. The episode had revived all his interest in the newcomers, and he was at that moment meeting with the rest of the Outlaws to plan a visit to the Hall that evening.
* * * * * *
While William and the Outlaws awaited what they anticipated would be a good evening’s entertainment at the Hall, they decided to while away the remaining time by going ratting. The village had recently decided it had to do something about the increasing number of rats, and had therefore decided to hold a “rat week”. William had overheard a conversation on the subject the previous week between his father and the Vicar and was considerably interested and cheered to hear a mention of rat week.
“Well, I’m jolly glad to hear of somethin’ bein’ done for rats at last,” said William fervently. I don’t mind helpin’ to give rats a good time. It’s everyone fussin’ over birds I’m so sick of.”
“What do you mean, give rats a good time?” said his father irritably. “No one wants to give rats a good time. All we want is to get rid of them.”
“Get rid of them?” said William indignantly. “Why?”
“Why? Because they’re destructive vermin.”
“So are birds,” said William. “Eatin’ jolly well everything in the garden they can get hold of. Well, if you want to get rid of ‘em, why’re you havin’ a rat week for them?”
During rat week, William,” explained his father patiently, “everyone does their best to exterminate as many of the pest as possible.”
“Exter – does that mean kill?” said William.
William gave a gasp of incredulous horror.
“Gosh! All that fuss about birds, an’ then killin’ poor rats! Jus’ cause they’ve not got feathers an’ can’t sing. Well, it’s jolly well the unfairest thing I ever heard of.”
But by the following week, William had somewhat revised his view, as he had decided that rat week might provide an opportunity to show off the skills of his beloved mongrel dog, Jumble. William, together with the rest of the Outlaws and Jumble, accordingly went to a farmyard where they had heard that rat-catching was in full progress. A man and two boys were leaning over a stone enclosure, a fox terrier at their heels. To the Outlaws’ delight and amazement, they found that the enclosure was full of rats. The man, who was friendly towards boys, explained that it was the result of a wire cage ratting campaign on the farm buildings. He pointed to the fox terrier.
“Him’s a champion ratter. Goin’ to be put in and timed.”
William couldn’t resist the challenge. “So’s mine a champion ratter,” he said.
The man looked critically at Jumble.
“All right,” he said succinctly, “Give ‘em five minutes each.”
Overjoyed but slightly apprehensive for Jumble, William took off his overcoat, flung it carelessly on the side of the enclosure and set to work preparing Jumble for the contest with admonitions and encouragement, to which Jumble listened with ears cocked and his head on one side. In the first round, Jumble was beaten by fifteen rats but acquitted himself none too badly on the whole.
“Let’s try ‘em again,” shouted William, purple with excitement.
Again the fox terrier was put in first. It surpassed its previous record. Then Jumble was put in. He had by now got an idea of what was expected of him and his natural good humour was dissipated by a bite from a particularly large and ferocious rat. Encouraged by frenzied yells from William, Ginger, Henry and Douglas, Jumble dealt destruction right and left like a small streak of lightning. To William’s frantic joy, Jumble won the round by ten rats.
The man looked at Jumble appreciatively when he was finally taken out, foaming at the mouth with lust for murder and struggling to get back to his foes.
“Him’s not a bad’un, him ain’t,” said the man and William’s heart swelled with pride. “Aye, he’s a one, that dog o’yourn,’ and William’s pride was almost more than he could bear.
“Oh, he’s not so bad,” said William with an unconvincing air of nonchalance and went to retrieve his overcoat, which, during the rat hunt, had fallen into the stone enclosure.
“Well,” said the man whistling to his fox terrier, “I’d better be gettin’.”
William, imitating both whistle and tone, said that they, too, had better be gettin’, and they parted, the man and his two boys going to the farm, and the Outlaws, with Jumble at their heels, heading back to the Hall for Miss Olivier’s meeting.
* * * * * *
The Outlaws and their super dog swaggered along the road together, and swaggered up the drive to the Hall. William knocked long and loudly at the front door, which was opened by a plainly irritated Miss Olivier.
“What do you want, boys, and why must you make so much noise?” she said.
“We’ve come to the meeting,” said William. He pointed to Jumble the super dog. “Brought my dog along, too.”
Miss Olivier was disconcerted, but after all, she reasoned, it would not be right to turn them away. These boys may be dirty and disreputable (and the ratting and the ditches they had climbed in and out of had not improved the Outlaws’ appearance) but one had to remember that even the most difficult children could still be trailing clouds of glory from their recent sojourn in the spiritual worlds. Probably, in spite of their faces, they had beautiful souls. What is more, a notice of the meeting had been pinned up on the post office door with the words ALL ARE WELCOME written in capital letters at the top.
“You may come in, boys,” she said, “but you will have to tie that dog to the railing until you come out.”
His heart seething with rage at this insult to the world’s champion ratter, William tied up Jumble to the railing and, together with the other Outlaws, entered the Hall, grim and dogless, and made his way to the drawing-room, where the meeting was about to begin.
“Need you come into the room in that dirty overcoat?” said Miss Olivier coldly, who was beginning to regret her decision to let them in. William took off his overcoat and threw it carelessly on to a sofa by the door. He wasn’t going to bother to take it into the hall. Not now they wouldn’t have his dog in.
A smattering of villagers were already in the drawing room, and the Outlaws noted with some concern that their mothers were among them. Miss Olivier had clearly been successful in dragooning the ladies of the village to attend.
The opening speaker was the same small stout man in glasses, the one with a prominent Adam’s apple, who had evicted the Outlaws from the grounds of the Hall earlier in the day. This was Mr Harwood, who was evidently one of the teachers at the Waldorf school.
“Ladies and gentlemen, many parents and teachers today are not satisfied with the education in mainstream schools. It tends to be one-sided, emphasising mainly the process of thinking and learning by rote, which involves mere habituation and unintelligent memory. Creativity and innovation take a back seat, because the main goal is to pass the class with good results. Very young children must learn how to read, write and count. The competition and the pressure in the classroom seems to be increasing day by day, and there is a great need to find alternatives to this kind of materialistic education.
Waldorf Education is one alternative, which has proved to be a success. In Waldorf schools, children start at the age of three in the kindergarten, where they are allowed to be children, where they learn by playing, doing and imitating. In Class One, at age six plus, they first learn the three R’s, and this is done in an artistic and creative manner.
Our Waldorf school in London was started recently by a group of teachers who wanted a human approach to school education for their own and other young children. We wanted a school where these children could study and play without stress and without fear, a school where there was an emphasis on moral values and high thinking.”
William sat in a silent ferment of rage. He wasn’t listening to a word Mr Harwood said. The realisation of his injuries and the insult done to his dog was growing stronger and stronger…
Mr Harwood’s rather high-pitched voice went on:
“The emphasis is not just on the head and the thinking, but the education takes into consideration the three ways in which the child relates to the world — through thinking, through the life of feeling and through physical activity – and tries to achieve a balance in these faculties through the subjects that are taught in class. No doubt, it is very important to school the thinking and enable the children to study the various academic subjects, which are in the syllabus. But equally important is the heart of the child, the life of feeling, which too has to be nurtured through subjects of art and nature. This enables the heart of the growing child to open up to its surroundings and to become more aware of the aesthetic qualities of life. Thus it is possible for the children to be more caring and compassionate towards the world we live in, and to have reverence for all life, qualities that are very important in our times…”
The speaker froze suddenly, staring at the overcoat that William had thrown over a sofa at the back of the room. From the pocket of it a brown form was emerging. And another. And yet another… They were the survivors of the rat hunt who had considered discretion the better part of valour and had taken refuge in the pockets of the overcoat, which had fallen into the stone enclosure during the fray. They had discreetly remained in hiding during William’s walk to the Hall. Now that the walk seemed to be over they had decided to explore their new surroundings …
The expectant eyes of the audience gradually shifted from the orator’s face to the object of his fixed and stricken gaze. The third rat was just emerging from William’s pocket… For one second a paralysis of sheer horror held them, and the room resembled a room in a waxworks. Then a rat scuttled across the room to the curtain. Another disappeared behind a bookcase. The third remained in the corner by the door, cutting off all escape. The members of the audience leapt upon chairs and sofas, gathering their skirts about them.
“Help!” screamed Miss Olivier, from her precarious perch upon a fern stand. “Cecil, do something. Quick!” But Mr Harwood had already taken refuge upon the grand piano.
A gleam had come into William’s eyes. “All right,” he said. “I’ll do somethin’. I gotter dog outside what’s a world champion ratter, an’ I’ll fetch him in an’ he’ll kill ‘em all in a minute if you like.”
A rat scuttled across the room from the curtain to the fireplace.
Fetch him in – quick!” moaned Miss Olivier. The others screamed assent.
William went to fetch Jumble, stepping carefully over the rat by the door. Jumble entered. And at once the room was a pandemonium of barking and growling and the smashing of ornaments and furniture … then out of chaos emerged Jumble, proudly laying three carcases at William’s feet.
William, the Outlaws and Jumble exited in triumph from the scene, followed by the smattering from the village, who were anxious to begin spreading the news before anyone else got in with it before them.
Inside the Hall, all was bustle and activity. Miss Olivier and Mr Harwood were busy making arrangements for the summer camp to be ended early, and the parents and pupils to return to London. They did not admit by word or look that their aim of setting a beacon alight in the village to spread throughout the land had been discredited, their call for reverence for all life undone by the carnage in the drawing room. No, they were leaving because they had received a call. A sudden, unexpected inward call. There was work for them to do elsewhere.
Miss Olivier paused while packing her trunk. “Our work here, Cecil,” she was saying, “has not been appreciated. Our efforts, on the whole, have been wasted. There is no soul here, no fire, no spark of inspiration. We have sounded a note, but it has not reverberated in the hearts of these benighted villagers. It is time we went elsewhere.
“You are quite right, Daphne,” said Mr Harwood. “Dr Steiner himself would have struggled to make an impact among these villagers. The people here are not yet sufficiently evolved to value such riches. However, I’ve recently heard of a little village in East Sussex which has a large house for sale where we could start a new school – I think it might be called Forest Row. Shall we go there, Daphne? I feel this could be a matter of Destiny.” Thus keeping up their spirits and reassured in their mission, they resumed their packing.