adults who think they’re good with boys

 The facts

“This is the old barn, I presume?” asked Mr Marks.
“Yes, but it’s our place,” said William a little indignantly. “We always play here.”
“Doubtless, my boy. Doubtless. But when you in your turn are a prosperous city gentleman or an ornament to some learned profession…”
“I’m going to be a diver, sir.”
“Yes, yes… well, the particular sphere on which you shed lustre by your presence does not affect the situation. Other boys will still play here and regard it as their property.”
“Yes, I suppose so, sir,” said William, surprised and a little outraged by the idea.

Verdict

This is yet another occasion when William saves his school from a self-important and disruptive influence: see also William Holds the Stage, 14.2. Mr Marks is intensely frustrated by the enforced presence of James Aloysius Worfield, who is holding the prospect of a large donation for a cricket pavilion over the headmaster’s head as a token with which to interfere, generally, in the running of the school.

As such, hostilities between Mr Marks and William (which were always fairly good-natured) are temporarily suspended.

Mr Marks took the cheque from his pocket and contemplated it with satisfaction. “Well, we got it,” he said.
“We got it,” said Mr French, “in spite of young Brown.”
“In spite of young Brown,” agreed Mr Marks. Then a thoughtful look came over his face. “Or could it be – we shall never know, of course – could it possibly be because of young Brown?”

But old boys, apparently, come in twos. Because the Outlaws bump into a friendly hiker who turns out also to have attended their school – a contemporary of Worfield, in fact. He has some stories to tell. Stories that prove very useful to William and the headmaster in getting rid of the unwelcome presence in their midst.

 The facts

William had had started a Punishment Insurance Society at school. The members were to pay him a penny a week and to receive twopence for a detention and threepence for a caning. He had thought it all out, and it had seemed an excellent scheme, but it had been unfortunately discovered by Authority, and all its members punished, so that it was now bankrupt and discredited.

  • Number: 18.8
  • Published: 1936 (same year in magazine form, originally titled William and the Good Uncle)
  • Book: Sweet William
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws are determined to humiliate Hubert Lane’s odious Uncle Charlie.

Verdict

Hubert Lane’s Uncle Charlie provides a clear and frightening illustration of what Hubert himself will, plainly, grow up to be like. Plump, smug, convinced of his own superiority and consumed by a worryingly juvenile desire to play pranks on William, Uncle Charlie makes his presence very much felt during his stay in the village.

“Now I’ll show you a native of Lapland dressed exactly like the people I myself saw there.” Uncle Charlie rang his little bell. He couldn’t know, of course, that Ginger had appeared in the aperture dressed in Ethel’s bathing dress, his nose reddened, a wicker plant-pot on his head.

Mrs Lane is wont to excuse her brother’s childishness by remarking gaily that he has “the heart of a boy”, but can that really explain the spectacle of a grown man hiding in a tree so as to drop fireworks on boys with whom he has no real connection? Or posting a box of chocolates to William, having first filled every one with chilli powder? Mrs Lane is quick enough to condemn William’s pranks against her Hubert, but no doubt this is very different.

But then comes the day of Uncle Charlie’s smug lecture to William’s school about his (in fact, entirely fictional) travels. The Outlaws make some small adjustments to his props.

The facts

William was feeling specially aggrieved. This afternoon he had been condemned to accompany his mother to a meeting at the Vicarage. It was the housemaid’s afternoon off, and the cook said that she wouldn’t be left in the house again with that young limb, not if they went down on their bended knees to her, she wouldn’t. She’d pack up and go, she would, sooner. She was a good cook, so Mrs. Brown promised faithfully that the young limb should not be left with her, which meant that the young limb must accompany Mrs Brown to the meeting of the Women’s Guild at the Vicarage.

  • Number: 18.2
  • Published: 1936 (1935 in magazine form)
  • Book: Sweet William
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws acquire a horse.

Verdict

The Outlaws come across and appropriate for themselves a horse (“William saw himself arriving at school triumphantly on horseback, the admired of all beholders”).

Despite Douglas’s level-headed reminder that it doesn’t belong to them, the others enthusiastically come up with reasons why it should. William speculates that it is a wild horse (“like in anshunt times”). Ginger assumes that “the man it belonged to’s dead”.

Ultimately, they all agree to keep it in the Old Barn, and share ownership.

That afternoon, William has to accompany his mother to a lecture at the vicarage on the subject of The Upbringing of Children. Mrs Gladhill, the lecturer, is accompanied by her divinely perfect daughter Frances Mary.

There had been a slight hitch in their journey owing to William’s having been discovered to be wearing odd shoes – both for the same foot – when they were half-way there. William protested passionately that it didn’t matter, that he never kept his shoes for special feet, anyway, that he always wore any shoe on any foot, and both shoes and feet were used to it. He said that no one would notice the fact that they were of different pattern unless they were balmy, and then it didn’t matter what they thought. But Mrs. Brown was determined that for once in his life William should do her credit.

William cunningly escapes out of a window, only to bump into Frances Mary in the garden. He offers to show her ‘his’ horse, so imperiously demanding, “Hi, Ginger! Get off my horse!” that Ginger obeys without question.

And so it came to pass that, just as Mrs Gladhill was telling the mothers of the village, “Several of you have remarked to me today on the beautiful manners and behaviour of my own little girl. They are not some freak of nature, but merely the result of correct upbringing,” said beautifully-mannered girl arrived at the vicarage, mud-spattered and clinging to a horse which trampled everything in sight.