Day 18: The Rivals

The facts

Mrs de Vere Carter was a neighbour with a genius for organisation. There were few things she did not organise till their every other aspect or aim was lost but that of “organisation”. She also had what amounted practically to a disease for “getting up” things. She “got up” plays, and bazaars, and pageants, and concerts. There were, in fact, few things she did not “get up”.

  • Number: 2.6
  • Published: 1922 (1920 in magazine form)
  • Book: More William
  • Synopsis: William always used to command the affections of Joan, the little girl next door. But then a rival entered the scene…

Verdict

And here entereth another stock character who William will encounter, time and time again, for the remainder of his 11-hood: the insufferably virtuous child.

This is very different from the insufferably selfish or self-centred child represented by Hubert Lane (yet to make his first appearance).

The insufferably virtuous child typically has golden hair, a sailor suit and a lisp. They are adored by adults (“‘Oh, the darling!’ ‘Isn’t he adorable?’ ‘What a picture!’ ‘Come here, sweetheart.’ Cuthbert was quite used to this sort of thing”) but always get William’s goat – even if they are not secretly the malicious sort, which our villain from this story, Cuthbert, certainly is.

“What shall we do?” Joan was saying. “Would you like to play hide and seek?”
“No; leth not play at rough gameth,” said Cuthbert.
With a wild spasm of joy William realised that his enemy lisped. It is always well to have a handle against one’s enemies.
“What shall we do, then?” said Joan, somewhat wearily.
“Leth thit down an’ I’ll tell you fairy thorieth,” said Cuthbert.

This is also the first of William’s many escapades in the world of amateur dramatics. Appointed to the (relatively) simple role of playing a wolf, he manages to turn what was intended to be a touching children’s performance into a riotous comedy:

‘William,’ hissed the prompter, ‘go on! A wolf am I—‘ But William was engrossed in the audience. ‘A wolf am I— Go on, William!’
William had now found the cook and housemaid in the last row. The prompter grew desperate.
A wolf am I, a wolf on mischief bent. Say it, William.’
William turned his wolf’s head towards the wings. ‘Well, I was goin’ to say it,’ he said irritably, ‘if you’d lef’ me alone.’
The audience tittered.
‘Well, say it,’ said the voice of the invisible prompter.
‘Well, I’m going to,’ said William. ‘I’m not goin’ to say that again wot you said ’cause they all heard it. I’ll go on from there.’
The audience rocked in wild delight. Behind the scenes Mrs. de Vere Carter wrung her hands and sniffed strong smelling-salts. ‘That boy!’ she moaned.

The beginning of a long career as a hilariously incompetent thespian…

In the end, of course, Joan is won over by William’s performance and she too tires of the insufferable Cuthbert: “”Oh, William, he’s going home tomorrow, and I am glad. Isn’t he a softie? Oh, William, I do love you, you do such ‘citing things!”