William the Outlaw

The facts

The headmaster’s nephew had a beautiful conscience. It was his beautiful conscience that annoyed the Outlaws most. His beautiful conscience was always making him tell his uncle anything that he thought his uncle ought to know. And the things which he thought his uncle ought to know were just the things which the Outlaws thought his uncle ought not to know. For instance, Bertie thought that his uncle ought to know that the Outlaws were keeping white mice in their desks, while the Outlaws on the other hand did not consider it at all necessary for his uncle to know this.

  • Number: 7.10
  • Published: 1927 (same year in magazine form, originally titled A New Page in History)
  • Book: William the Outlaw
  • Synopsis: William is determined to secure a place in the village paegant at the expense of the headmaster’s nephew.

Verdict

Although all the individual stories are very good, taken individually, this book is bizarrely repetitive. We have another story which hinges on historical costumes, and another story which features the Outlaws desperate to get one up on an insufferably virtuous child.

In this story, the village is holding a paegant in which Mrs Bertram was to play Queen Elizabeth – and she selected little Bertie, the Outlaws’ nemesis, to play her page. The Vicar’s wife insisted on a strict ban on any other children taking part, and the scene in which the women of the village ruminate on how terrified they are of William is fairly entertaining.

The Vicar’s wife cleared her throat and spoke mysteriously. “One or two occasions in this village have been spoilt… wrecked by the presence of certain children.”
“The children of this village,” said Mrs Franks still with something of the Vicar’s wife’s mysteriousness in her tone, “seem, I don’t know why, to bring bad luck to anything they take part in.”
Someone seemed to murmur the two words “William Brown” in the background and then they all changed the subject.

William rashly promises in front of the whole school (most of whom detest Bertie as much as him) to take his place as page. This is, of course, due entirely to jealousy and not at all to any real desire on William’s part to participate: “Had William been asked to be a page in the pageant in the first instance his indignation and scorn would have known no bounds. But the fact that children were expressly excluded had filled him with as great an indignation as the enforced inclusion of him in any capacity would have caused him.”

Things come perilously close to the wire, but in the end, of course, William succeeds, thanks to Bertie’s credulous belief in hypnotism.

Quote that may be of interest to Operation Yewtree: “The Outlaws cherished a deep respect for the headmaster’s right arm. They had come into pretty frequent contact with it, they were good judges of its strength and they knew that it was not to be unduly provoked.”

The facts

“Why didn’t you tell me the river is flooding?” she screamed, “You must have known.”
“Well,” said William with a burst of inspiration, “I din’ want to give you a sudden shock – what I thought it might give you tellin’ you you was macarooned.”

  • Number: 7.9
  • Published: 1927 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Outlaw
  • Synopsis: William climbs through a fissure in a cave and floods a sanatorium.

Verdict

At last a break from cunning costume ploys: a classic old adventure story in which William goes exploring a narrow fissure at the back of a local cave (looking for smugglers) and emerges, unexpectedly, in a field with which he is unfamiliar.

“Who’s in charge of the staff, then?”
“Me.” said William simply. “I’m all there is left of it.”
He was rewarded by an even finer display of hysterics than the one before. He sat and watched this one, too, with critical enjoyment as one might watch a firework display or an exhibition of conjuring. His attitude seemed to irritate her.

He then readily agrees to take over the job of a servant-boy in the nursing home he comes across, floods the back yard, makes the patients cocoa using knife powder, unintentionally cures a patient suffering a nervous breakdown, fills the house with animals, kidnaps two young children and fakes amnesia – all before returning to the cave whence he had come and discovering that his entire family believes he had died in there.

This is an exceptional concatenation of chaos even for William, and unusually there is no real purpose to it (either good intention or bad). It just kind of happens and he finds himself getting deeper and deeper into it.

But I always think that William’s chaoses are far more entertaining when they form unintended consequences of a deliberate decision, rather than just being flukes.

The facts

“What’s the matter?” William said gruffly.
She raised blue, tear-filled eyes. “My daddy’s out of work,” she said.
“What d’you mean?” said Douglas, “d’you mean he’s got nothin’ to do?”
“Yes,” said the little girl, “nobody’ll give ’im any work to do, an’ he’s got to stop at home all day.”
“Coo!” said Ginger feelingly, “I wish I was him.”

  • Number: 7.8
  • Published: 1927 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Outlaw
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws attempt to find work for an unemployed man.

Verdict

This is literally the third story in a row in this book to rely, for its denouement, on the coincidental availability of a very specific costume: a Tudor dress in 7.6, a Communist commander in 7.7, and now a set of “Charles the First clothes”. So the allure of the ploy is beginning to pall.

This story sees the Outlaws on a quest to procure employment for a local unemployed man to whose daughter they have taken a shine. They have various plans. William wants to see him hired as “a motor-car driver” (“shuvver”, Ginger corrects him) or “a sort of man what looks after people’s clothes” (“valley”, Ginger corrects him).

Henry suggests that they try to find a vacancy as a doctor, lawyer or clergyman, but is firmly rebuffed by William’s observation: “Those are special sorts of people. They start turnin’ into those before they leave school.”

“When are we goin’ to have a car?” William demanded innocently.
“Not while I’m alive,” answered his father.
William considered this in silence for some minutes, then asked: “How soon after you’re dead?”
His father glared at him and William cautiously withdrew into silence.

Douglas thinks their client would make a good male nurse for a lunatic… and he even knows where to find a lunatic: “I acted like I was goin’ queer in my head. But I couldn’t sort of seem to make ’em understand I was actin’ queer in the head. They seemed to think I was actin’ ordin’ry.”

William, though, finally comes up with the goods (almost): “bein’ drawed”. He’s been sketched by a local artist who has been commissioned to illustrate a short story about a young boy ruffian (“Fancy writing a story about a boy,” he exclaims with no sense of irony), and the artist agrees to pay the unemployed man to model for him – on condition that the unemployed man wears Civil War-era clothing.

Fortunately, Robert has just such an outfit, for a party to which he is hoping to escort the artist’s daughter. William’s complicated plan goes wrong, but a twist at the end means that the consequences aren’t quite so disastrous as they might have been…