William and the Masked Ranger

The facts

“Children that get neglected by their parents goin’out to lead lives of lux’ry an’ pleasure turn into crim’nals when they grow up,” said William. “I’ve read about it in newspapers – so you can’t blame me if I turn into one after this. It’ll be your fault if I start doin’ smash an’ grab raids an’ stealin’ money out of gas meters an’ forgin’ bank notes when I grow up. It’ll be all your fault for neglectin’ me an’ leavin’ me at home while you all go out enjoyin’ yourselves.”

Verdict

The Outlaws’ parents are all going on a joint trip to the theatre. Ordinarily this wouldn’t interest William – indeed, the thought of a largely unsupervised evening with his friends would be most enticing.

But Hubert Lane’s parents are also going to the play, and they are taking Hubert. So William’s dream is cast.

“It didn’t sound a suitable play for children,” said Mrs Brown.
“Children!” put in William with a bitter laugh. “I’m eleven, aren’t I? Well, it’s news to me that a person of eleven’s a child.”
“William, do stop using that idiotic expression,” said Mrs Brown wearily. “Will you please go out and play with someone. I’m tired of the sound of your voice.”
William looked at her; amazed and aggrieved.
“Me?” he said. “I’ve hardly spoke.”

“An’ it’s a play about a murder an’ who did it, isn’t it? Well, if anyone ought to see that play, it’s me. I’ve written plays about murders an’ who did ’em. ‘The Bloody Hand’ was about a murder an’ who did it an’ it was a jolly good play. Ginger said it was the best play he’d ever seen in his life an’ he ought to know. He once learnt a whole speech out of Shakespeare to get two an’ six out of his aunt, so he ought to know about plays.”

The unexpected absence of Aunt Hester, the Outlaws’ babysitter for the evening, is a heaven-sent opportunity for the boys to go roving round the countryside, in an attempt to disrupt the journey of the play’s lead actor (a famous West End gentleman) to the Lanes’ house (where he was to dine).

They don’t manage to do that. But they do manage to meet the author of the book on which the play is based…

The facts

“We know something about art,” said William.
“We learn it at school,” said Douglas. “We have lessons in it.”
“I drew a picture of a volcano last week,” said Ginger, “an’ my mother said it was abs’lutely realistic.”
“She thought it was meant to be a pineapple,” said William.

Verdict

When the secretaryship of the local Art Club becomes vacant, the Outlaws are determined to give Archie Mannister the career boost he deserves – in Douglas’s words, they want “to get him hung in the British Museum”.

“But what’s happened?” said Miss Golightly, rubbing her eye.
“It’s William Brown that’s happened,” said Miss Milton.

Archie’s first task is to organise a field trip to a local stately home filled with Old Masters. On a preparatory visit, the house’s highly eccentric mistress presents him with a puppy as a gift – for which she later bills him 30 guineas. He is desperate to return the dog, but has, unfortunately, lost it.

The lady’s small god-daughter holds the key to the mystery; and William unlocks it.

The facts

“He’s been playin’ ‘Mothers an’ Fathers’ with her,” said Henry, disgustedly.
“It makes you sick,” said Ginger.
“He’s not been out with us for days,” said Henry.
“An’ Douglas!” said William. “Douglas, that never knew what to do without us till now!”

Note: today is the anniversary of Richmal Crompton’s death in 1969; zichrona livracha.

Verdict

Douglas has the rare honour of being the only Outlaw, besides William, to have a story named after him. And, indeed, the only Outlaw besides William to have the ‘great experience’ of infatuation with a girl of the female persuasion.

In equal parts disgusted and pitying, the others resolve to win Douglas back – before any real danger should befall him:

“It happened to Anthony an’ Cleopatra. She got him right down same as Patsy’s got Douglas an’ that was the end of him.”
“What was the end?” said William.
“He killed himself an’ she got stung by a snake.”
“That’s jolly serious,” said William. “We don’t want that sort of thing to happen to ole Douglas.”

“You’re really rather glad it’s over, aren’t you,
Douglas?” said Henry.
“Well, it was a bit of a tie,” admitted Douglas. “but…” he sighed deeply, “it was a great experience.”

Their intervention takes the form of trying to make the girl’s father appear to be a criminal. Douglas, being a very law-abiding soul, would then naturally break off the relationship. Equally naturally, William convinces himself that Mr Willingham genuinely is a criminal and gets somewhat confused between fact and fiction.

On the downside, the boys drop his box of indoor fireworks into a water tank (believing it to be a bomb); on the upside, Douglas is indeed cured.