grown-ups shown to be hypocrites

 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.

The facts

“He’s heir to a knighthood,” said Mrs Bott.
“You can’t be heir to a knighthood,” snapped her husband.
“I never said I was,” replied Mrs Bott. “I said he was.”

  • Number: 17.7
  • Published: 1935 (same year in magazine form) – originally titled William and the League of Love
  • Book: William the Detective
  • Synopsis: William encounters some staunch defenders of animal rights.

Verdict

Mrs Bott and the Pennymans in this story, who jointly found the League of Perfect Love, a group devoted to the cause of kindness to animals. Its principles include the cessation of all blood sports, including the blood sport of removing mice from kitchens.

“It’s our unkindness that has driven the creatures to be wild and unsocial,” said Mrs. Pennyman. “Isn’t the world big enough for them as well as for us? Why should we turn upon our little brothers and slay them? Tell me that? Why were they created if they were not meant to exist? Tell me that?”
The servants listened to this harangue with expressionless faces, said “Very good, ma’am,” and went off to set the mousetraps and lay the rat poison as usual.

“My good boy,” she said, “you can’t come to a meeting in that state.”
William looked down at his person. His career as spy tracker and world ratting champion owner had left their marks upon him. The ditches he had burrowed in and the trees he had climbed had all
made their various and by no means negligible contributions
to the general effect. Fortunately he could not see his face and head, but he would not have been in any way dismayed if he had seen them. It was, after all, the way he generally looked.
“Why not?” he said simply.

 

Their members consist largely of what we would now call ‘Highgate Mums’ – middle-class ladies who lunch, and who consider themselves to be the height of sophistication. (Interestingly they are quite happy to feed their Poms – they all have Poms – chicken, which seems somewhat at odds with their principles.)

Their lack of success in recruiting a full demographic range of volunteers, though, leads them to desperate measures; when Robert, as secretary of the local football club, wants to renew the lease on their field, Mrs Bott refuses to engage with him unless he joins the League (which is an altogether different sort of league than that which interests football enthusiasts).

But William solves it all – with the help of a few rats.

Another good story in general, but as with all the Pennyman material, Richmal Crompton seems to be using it mainly to satirise them and society, with William’s involvement mainly an (inadequate) vehicle.