“He says that you’re the apple of his life, Ethel,” said William mournfully. “He says that he loves you with a mos’ devourin’ passion. He says that you’re ab’s’lutely the mos’ beauteous maid he’s ever come across. He says that he doesn’t mind your hair bein’ red though he knows some people think it’s ugly. That’s noble of him, you know, Ethel.”
- Number: 5.8
- Published: 1925 (1924 in magazine form)
- Book: Still William
- Synopsis: William tries to set Ethel up with a suitor so as to get her out of his life.
This is an astonishingly jam-packed story which sees William being somehow persuaded to play ‘House’ with Violet Elizabeth, before ditching her for a better wife in the form of Joan (“You can’t change your wife. Ith divorth if you do an’ you get hung for it”).
Then Hubert Lane arrives on the scene. A rather muted Hubert Lane. He’s best known for being William’s unctuous nemesis. In this first appearance, he is more of a superstitious loner who the Outlaws soon manage to shake off by the simple device of pretending a witch has made him invisible.
“Aren’t you going to kiss me?” said Violet Elizabeth plaintively.
“No,” said William, “I won’t kiss you. I’m ’fraid of givin’ you some sort of germ. I don’t think I’d better. G’bye.”
He departed hastily before the tears had time to swim.
And then the meat of the story: setting Ethel up with Mr March, a ghastly avuncular gentleman with a very high opinion of himself but, fortunately, a similarly high opinion of Ethel.
William passes on invented love messages to his sister, while Joan becomes his partner-in-crime and forges typewritten letters from Ethel to Mr March (and attempting to resist interference from William such as, “I hope you will love my little brother too. He is very fond of caramels”).
The climactic scene between Mr March, who believed every word that ‘Ethel’ wrote to him, and Ethel, who always ignored everything William said to her on principle and was thus totally unaware of the situation, is uncomfortably close to what we would now call sexual harassment. But she pushes him into the stream so it’s OK in the end.