“Yesterday my mother was talkin’ to me about givin’ people a helpin’ hand an’ not always thinkin’ about yourself an’ it started me wonderin’
who to give a helpin’ hand to an’ I sort of fixed on Ethel,” said William.
The Outlaws’ expressions showed disapproval. “If you want someone to give a helpin’ hand to,” said Henry, “there’s me. I’ve always wanted that water-pistol of yours.”
“Well, I’m jolly well not goin’ to give it to you,” said William with spirit. “I’m only givin’ a helpin’ hand an’ a helpin’ hand’s different from a water-pistol.”
Overcome with gratitude for Ethel’s gift of an old fountain pen, William decides to give her a helping hand. They go through a heap of newspapers looking for job adverts (after discounting Poultry World) and eventually set their sights on a position vacant for a cat-carer.
There then ensues a wonderful scene:
“Look! Here’s an advert,” said Ginger. “‘Gentlewoman wanted as companion-help to elderly lady. No rough work. Every comfort.’”
“Yes, that sounds all right,” said William, interested. “She’s jolly good at havin’ every comfort… No, it won’t do. Look! It says ‘Pleasant disposition essential’ an’ she’s jolly well not got one. I bet she’d snap this elderly lady’s head off the minute she started crackin’ nuts or chewin’ gum or borrowing her things…”
“I’ll put on my p’lite manner,” said William, “an’ we’ll make a bit of p’lite conversation then we’ll ask for this job for Ethel. I’ve got it all organised im my mind. I’m a jolly good organist.”
“She can only say ‘no’, anyway,” said Ginger.
“I’ve known people do more than that,” said Douglas darkly.
Suddenly the door opened and a middle-aged woman with grey hair and a thin vague-looking face stood looking at them. “Are you trying to break the house down?” she said sternly.
“No,” William reassured her. “No, we’re not tryin’ to break the house down.” He assumed the wooden expression and glassy smile of his ‘polite manner’ and added, “Good afternoon.”
“It’s a mercy every piece of glass in the place isn’t broken,” she said. “Is that the way you generally knock at people’s doors?”
“Yes,” said William simply, then, intensifying the glassiness of his smile, added, “How are you?”
“What do you mean, how am I?” said the woman. “I’ve not been ill.”
“I’m glad you haven’t been ill,” said William, baring his teeth with a further effort. “It’s a nice day, isn’t it?”
The woman stared at him and he abandoned his smile to give his followers a scowl that urged them to second his efforts. “The days are drawing in,” said Henry hastily, repeating a remark that he had overheard in the post-office the day before.
“An’ the nights are drawing out,” said Ginger after a moment’s thought.
They looked at Douglas. who turned purple with mental effort as he strove to find some suitable contribution. “The evenings,” he said at last, “seem pretty much the same,” then, with a burst of inspiration, repeated a remark that he had heard his father make at breakfast, “an’ our foreign affairs seem to have reached a deadlock.”
William realised suddenly that their hostess was keeping them standing on her doorstep and a note of severity crept into his voice. “We’II come in an’ sit down if you like.”
But when William hears that a “film man” is staying in the village, he knows that his one mission in life is to have Ethel made a film star. He tries to organise an audition (and rather makes a rod for his own back by notifying neither Ethel nor the film man that the chain of events he is setting in place are an audition) – but he feels satisfied at the end of the story nonetheless.