gardening

The facts

They had left an envelope at home on William’s dressing-table on which was written: “To be opened if we do not return.” Inside was a slip bearing the simple legend: “Mises Bretherton has murdered us,” and signed by all four Outlaws. “That’s jolly clever,” said William complacently. “I read about a man doing that in a book. Then if she kills us they’ll hang her an’ it’ll be jolly well sucks for her.”

  • Number: 11.8
  • Published: 1930 (1929 in magazine form, originally titled William and the Prize Cucumber)
  • Book: William the Bad
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws intervene in the local flower show.

Verdict

A return appearance for Mrs Roundway here, first seen in The Sentimental Widow, 10.9.

More remarkable, though, is the time-span over which the story takes place. It covers more than two years. The first scene is Mrs Roundway’s disappointment at her cucumber failing to win a prize at the village flower show; the second scene is in the run-up to the following year’s flower show, in which the Outlaws are determined to help her secure victory; and the latter part of the story covers the following year’s contest. This opens up all sorts of questions about the boys’ timespans (William, we know, remains 11 throughout this two-years-and-a-bit and, indeed, in stories on either side of it), but they are maybe not for now.

William and Ginger had each made a will. William’s read: “If I di I leeve everythin’ to Ginger. Pleese let him have the mouth orgun you tuke of me.”
And Ginger’s read: “If I di I leeve everythin’ to William. The ants egs for the golefish are in the toffy tinn.”
Henry had not made a will but Douglas, hoping to cause among his relations the panic and chagrin that the will of a rich uncle lately deceased had caused, had made a will that read: “I leeve everything to charryty.”

Anyhow, the Outlaws decide to stake out Mrs Bretherton, who always wins the cucumber prize, to monitor her cucumber’s progress and report back. Mrs Roundway has some slight moral qualms about this, even though it turns out she seems to be winning so far, but as William assures her, “Isn’t as if we did anythin’ to make it smaller.”

Despite Mrs Bretherton’s cucumber looking so scrawny the night before the show, at the show itself the Outlaws are astonished to see her produce a massive specimin and take home the prize once again.

Convinced that she is a witch, the following year they go to General Moult, one of the judges, to report her for witchcraft. Getting the predictable reception, they then vow to keep Mrs Bretherton under close surveillance. And guess what murky goings-on they witness in her garden the night before the flower show…

As the Outlaws’ busting of criminal activity (intentional or unintentional) goes, this is definitely at the The Adventure of the Three Students end of things: a story in which Sherlock Holmes dealt with a case of cheating in a university exam, hardly as exciting as his most gripping murder cases. But with William, the domestic nature of the challenge gives this story a rather pleasing realism.

The facts

“Meanness, that’s what it is. Anythin’ to keep the money themselves ’stead of givin’ it to us. Seems to me they go about makin’ things easy to break so’s they c’n have an excuse for keeping it themselves instead of givin’ it us.”
The parents of the Outlaws who formed a sort of unofficial Parents’ Union and generally worked in concert had evolved the system of fines.

  • Number: 9.4
  • Published: 1928 (1927 in magazine form) – not to be confused with the 1925 story, 5.6, of the same name
  • Book: William the Good
  • Synopsis: William has to raise eight shillings and sixpence to buy a wicket.

Verdict

In The Fête and Fortune, 4.3, it was William who impersonated a clairvoyant to extract personal concessions from his family when they came to have their fortunes told. Now, he is able to profit (or ‘prophet’…) from someone else playing at that game.

The Outlaws had these holidays developed a passion for cricket. They chalked stumps on a tree trunk and played quite happily with them for a long time. But they found that stumps chalked on a tree trunk have their drawbacks, of which the chief one is that the bowler and batter are seldom agreed as to when one is hit. The Outlaws generally settled the question by single combat between batter and bowler, which at first was all right because the Outlaws always enjoyed single combats, but as the game itself became more and more exciting the perpetual abandoning of it to settle the score by single combat became monotonous and rather boring.

This story provides yet another example of the village’s young adults being just as childish and venal as William himself, as a suitor of Ethel’s – whose sister just happens to be the clairvoyant at another of the seemingly endless succession of village fêtes – prepares a script urging Ethel to say ‘yes’ to the next young man who asks her a question.

Banned by Mrs Brown from himself partaking in this unholy activity (“Mother, please may I have my crystal gazed?”) William decides instead to eavesdrop on proceedings within the now even-more-alluring tent. He overhears Ethel’s prophesy, and immediately goes and asks, “Please, Ethel, will you give me eight and six?”

He is therefore able to purchase, for the Outlaws, a superb set of cricket stumps. There shall be buns for tea.

The facts

William would have no half-measures. They were to be married by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. He would wear his balck pirate suit with the skull and crossbones.

  • Number: 1.4
  • Published: 1922 (1920 in magazine form)
  • Book: Just William
  • Synopsis: Left alone with Miss Drew after school one day, William becomes infatuated and begins to plan the wedding.

Verdict

Perhaps William’s headmaster was less astute as regarded his safeguarding responsibilities than would be a modern school.

But the scene in which William accompanies an unwilling Miss Drew on a date (with her “very nice-looking male cousin” no less) will defintely linger long in my memory – as, no doubt, it will in Miss Drew’s.

“Well, I can’t unnerstand any of it. I can’t think why people go on givin’ people bits of money for givin’ ’em lots of money. Anyone’s a mug for givin’ anyone a hundred pounds just ’cause he says he’ll go on giving’ him five pounds and go on stickin’ to his hundred pounds. How’s he to know he will? Well,” he warmed to his subject, “what’s to stop him not givin’ any five pounds once he’s got hold of the hundred pounds?”

Fortunately, William’s crush comes to a rapid end when he goes to a lot of trouble to obtain his teacher some syringa flowers – by ‘obtain’, of course, I mean ‘steal’, taking refuge in a dirty hen-coop when the irate landlord appears on the scene – only to discover that she prefers guelder roses.

His idol fallen, he treats her to his trademark look of “stony contempt” before abandoning his not altogether successful attempt at being a Model Student, and returning to his wayward ways.

This story seems particularly jarring to the modern reader but still a pleasing tale of William causing utter chaos to all around him, even when in love.