hubert lane

The facts

William kept an anxious and rather distrustful eye on the invitations. He had a deep suspicion that his mother would sacrifice his pride on the altar of the social code by inviting some of his deadly enemies to his party just because their mothers had asked her to lunch of Ethel knew their elder sister, or some equally futile reason.

  • Number: 6.11
  • Published: 1926 (1925 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Conqueror
  • Synopsis: Hubert Lane ruins William’s Christmas party, so, obviously, William has to ruin Hubert’s.

Verdict

Finally, some proper warfare between the Outlaws and the “Hubert Laneites”.

“But I don’t wanter do anything dignified,” persisted William. “I wanter fight ’em.”

Unusually, this story ends on a definite cliffhanger: the Outlaws are determined to wreak their revenge on Hubert for ruining their Christmas party, but Hubert shrouds his party in such impenetrable secrecy that they don’t find out its date until the very end of the story. Fortunately, they do obtain the vital datum, hence my labelling this one as William comes out on top, but I was sorely tempted to categorise it differently because, in the course of their investigations, William is forced to sit through a lecture on Spinoza, which he finds unbearable.

Still, the stage is set for two stories hence: Revenge is Sweet, 6.13.

Geeky note: there’s an interesting continuity error (?) in this story. At one point, Robert has the following exchange with William:
“It’s a pity if someone messes up your party, but, when all’s said and done, you messed up ours.”
“Yes, but I thought he was a burglar!”

Those events don’t happen until William Starts the Holidays, 6.12, the next story, which not only comes after this one in the book but was in fact published a month later in real life…

The facts

William had attended a superior Sunday School for the sons of gentlefolk held by one Miss Lomas at her home. Since her nervous breakdown, however (which occurred shortly after William joined her class)…

  • Number: 6.8
  • Published: 1926 (1925 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Conqueror
  • Synopsis: William uncovers a plot to assassinate Ethel.

Verdict

When William and Hubert Lane (now accorded the status of “sworn enemy”, a promotion from his rather grey first appearance in William the Match-maker, 5.8) start a wrestling match that derails the Sunday School games afternoon, the curate is too busy flirting with Ethel to intervene. So William was left to his own devices, to roam the countryside.

Besides, William decided, it would be one thing for him to think of killing Ethel, but quite another thing for a perfect stranger to think of it. William’s indignation increased. It was little short of impertinence for a complete stranger to contemplate killing his sister.

While roaming he overhears two men scheming to “kill Ethel” by pushing her into a river. Of course, it turns out that one of them is a writer of thrillers and referring to a character.

This is a slightly contrived and underwhelming story, then – mainly marked by the total negligence of everyone supposed to be involved in the organisation of the Sunday School event, from Ethel to the curate to the Vicar (who resolutely pretends not to notice the terrible events happening under his very nose… sound familiar?)

The facts

“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.

Verdict

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.