hubert lane

The facts

“Children that get neglected by their parents goin’out to lead lives of lux’ry an’ pleasure turn into crim’nals when they grow up,” said William. “I’ve read about it in newspapers – so you can’t blame me if I turn into one after this. It’ll be your fault if I start doin’ smash an’ grab raids an’ stealin’ money out of gas meters an’ forgin’ bank notes when I grow up. It’ll be all your fault for neglectin’ me an’ leavin’ me at home while you all go out enjoyin’ yourselves.”

Verdict

The Outlaws’ parents are all going on a joint trip to the theatre. Ordinarily this wouldn’t interest William – indeed, the thought of a largely unsupervised evening with his friends would be most enticing.

But Hubert Lane’s parents are also going to the play, and they are taking Hubert. So William’s dream is cast.

“It didn’t sound a suitable play for children,” said Mrs Brown.
“Children!” put in William with a bitter laugh. “I’m eleven, aren’t I? Well, it’s news to me that a person of eleven’s a child.”
“William, do stop using that idiotic expression,” said Mrs Brown wearily. “Will you please go out and play with someone. I’m tired of the sound of your voice.”
William looked at her; amazed and aggrieved.
“Me?” he said. “I’ve hardly spoke.”

“An’ it’s a play about a murder an’ who did it, isn’t it? Well, if anyone ought to see that play, it’s me. I’ve written plays about murders an’ who did ’em. ‘The Bloody Hand’ was about a murder an’ who did it an’ it was a jolly good play. Ginger said it was the best play he’d ever seen in his life an’ he ought to know. He once learnt a whole speech out of Shakespeare to get two an’ six out of his aunt, so he ought to know about plays.”

The unexpected absence of Aunt Hester, the Outlaws’ babysitter for the evening, is a heaven-sent opportunity for the boys to go roving round the countryside, in an attempt to disrupt the journey of the play’s lead actor (a famous West End gentleman) to the Lanes’ house (where he was to dine).

They don’t manage to do that. But they do manage to meet the author of the book on which the play is based…

The facts

Mr French, the form master, did not approve of holiday tasks; he considered that they imposed an undue strain on both master and pupil. He had occasionally been tempted to set his pupils the task of committing to memory ‘The Ancient Mariner’ or ‘John Gilpin’ – poems that, he considered, every educated person should know by heart – but had always been restrained by the sobering thought that be would have to hear them say it.

Verdict

A supply teacher with an eccentric educational philosophy (see also William and the Temporary History Master, 13.5) has set William’s class the holiday homework of assembling a ‘museum’ consisting of local ‘finds’.

There was a faraway look in William’s eyes, a jaunty swagger in his walk. He was being feted and acclaimed as the discoverer of the most sensational archaeological find of the century. Scholars and professors of the highest standing showered congratulations on him. Fantastic offers flowed in to him from America, but he refused them and presented the head to the British Museum. The British Museum was ecstatically grateful and held a banquet in his honour, giving three cheers for him at the end. He was knighted and his photograph – Sir William Brown – appeared in all the papers. Reporters flocked to interview him. A modest smile curved his lips as he kicked a stone across the road. “Well, it was sort of luck in a way,” he was saying. “I mean, I’ve got a sort of instinct. I jus’ looked at that hole an’ I knew it had got a heathen god’s statue’s head in it.”

Chiefly out of a sense of rivalry with Hubert, they throw themselves into it body-and-soul, albeit at the last minute.

Their plan of action is pure genius:

“There was somethin’ in the newspaper once,” said Henry thoughtfully. “It was dug up in London. It was a head.”
“What sort of a head?” said Ginger.
“It was a heathen god that people used to worship,” said Henry, “an’ it was jolly important. There were pictures of it in the newspapers. It was hundreds of years old.”
William’s interest was quickening. “Where did they find it?” he said.
“They found it when they were diggin’ a hole in the road in London near the Post Office. There was a picture of that, too.”
“But… gosh!” said William excitedly. “They’re diggin’ a hole in the road near the Post Office here. Come on! Let’s go an’ have a look!”

Astonishingly, they do find a statue’s head, but unfortunately it turns out not to be an ancient one, but rather Archie Mannister’s latest artwork of Ethel (“she’s more my girl friend than I’m her boy friend, if you know what I mean”) which he’d hidden in the hole as a surprise.

Before the Outlaws figure this out, though, they sincerely believe themselves to be in possession of an artefact that is both valuable and cursed: a suspicious incident in William’s home in which a shelf collapsed is naturally ascribed to the head (“Use a bit of sense. It couldn’t have been anythin’ but the curse. What else could it have been?” “Gravity,” suggested Henry tentatively after a moment’s thought).

What a fun story!

The facts

Ruthlessly Violet Elizabeth organised the Outlaws’ games. Where before she hadbeen rigorously excluded, she now lorded it as squaw,  exploress, and highwaywoman. She insisted on having the chief part in every game they played. She even forced them to play an outrageous game of her own invention featuring the Outlaws as courtiers and herself as queen. They endured it till the day before the garden party and then William decided that they could endure it no longer.
He summoned a meeting in the old barn. “We jolly well aren’t goin’ to have any more of it,” he pronounced. “The next time she tries to play with us we’ll chase. her off same as we used to an’-an’ she can scream her head off for all I care.”

  • Number: 34.5
  • Published: 1964
  • Book: William and the Witch
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws want to make sure Archie gets the chance to paint Mrs Bott.

Verdict

“We ought to have some ancestors, Botty,” said Mrs Bott.
“We’ve got ’em, dear,” said Mr Bott after a moment’s thought. “We must have. Come to think of it, we shouldn’t be here now if we’d not.”

Mrs Bott is adamant that her family should construct an aristocratic past – with paintings of fictitious ancestors, all modelled on her face.

In fact, this story is full of interesting insights into Mrs Bott’s mind:

“I hope she’ll take to gettin’ ’er picture done.”
“Yes, let’s hope she will,” said Mr Bott.
“If she won’t, I s’pose it’s off.”
“I s’pose so,” said Mr Bott. “She’s that obstinate.”
“It’s character, Botty,” said Mrs Bott reproachfully, “not obstinacy. It’s character the child’s got. An’ you can’t force it. I went to a talk about it at the Women’s Institute. A child’s got to ‘ave self-expression. Have. If you force a child to do what it doesn’t want to it gets exhibitions an’ it’s bad for it.”
“I think you’ve got the wrong word, love,” said Mr Bott. “I think it’s inhibitions, not exhibitions.”
“Well, in or ex, she’d get ’em,” said Mrs Bott, “so it’s no use tryin’ to force her.”
Violet Elizabeth gave another lick to her lolly and the remaining fragment detached itself from the stick and fell on to the parquet floor.
“Pick that up,” said Mr Bott.
“I don’t want to pick it up,” said Violet Elizabeth. “I’ll thquath it.”
She ground the piece · of ice into the parquet with a miniature sandal.
“Now don’t give ‘er exhibitions, Botty,” said Mrs Bott, seeing an expostulation quivering on her husband’s tongue.
“She’s givin’ ’em me,” said Mr Bott.

“We’ll advertise Archie the same way other people do it,” said William a little vaguely.
“How do they?” said Douglas.
“We can’t get posters printed about him,” said Ginger.
“We can’t put him on television,” said Henry.
“We can’t give free samples of him,” said Douglas.
“Oh, shut up,” said William. “It’s Mrs Bott we’ve got to advertise him to, so we’ve jus’ got to do the sort of advertisement she likes. An’ I know she likes Hoskyn’s advertisement on his van so we’ll put one on Archie’s car.”
“How?” said Douglas.
“Easy as easy,” said William. “Hoskyn’s has E HOSKYNS. BUTCHER. FAMILIES WAITED ON DAILY. So we’ll put A MANNISTER. ARTIST. FAMILIES PAINTED DAILY on Archie’s car.”

But in the meantime, a significant art commission is in the offing, and two artists are being considered: loveable but hapless Archie Mannister, and Hubert Lane’s cousin Tarquin.

William and Hubert both believe (quite correctly) that Violet Elizabeth’s influence over her mother is near-absolute, they both engage in a shameless campaign of flattery and bribery towards the girl.

Both backfire, but in the end Archie gets the upper hand with a commission that he really wants…