insufferably virtuous children

The facts

“Anyway, I can make myself look cleaner than what you can,” said William,”’cause I’ve got some white paint, an’ I can paint over the dirty places on my collar, an’ my ears don’t stick out so much as what yours do.”

  • Number: 15.5
  • Published: 1933 (1932 in magazine form) – originally titled A Present for William
  • Book: William the Rebel
  • Synopsis: William’s penknife is confiscated by Ginger’s aunt.

Verdict

Ginger has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of irascible and eccentric aunts with journalistic connections. In Aunt Arabelle in Charge, 14.10, the Outlaws had to placate Aunt Arabelle’s anger by getting her an interview with a much-sought-after subject.

Now, Ginger’s Aunt Amelia, also a writer, has taken a cottage in the village, which she shares with a female literary friend (cough cough, wink wink, say no more). Anxious to secure financial rewards from her, Ginger decides to do a spot of unsolicited work on her garden. When he inevitably ends up destroying her much-prized rose bushes, she angrily confiscates from him William’s equally-prized penknife, the article with which he had done the deed.

Surely you remember the rose garden he made and tended with his own hands for the bedridden old lady? And came to look after it and cut its blooms for her every afternoon? She liked a particular copper-coloured rose, you remember, and he took a lot of trouble growing it for her.”
William struggled against an overmastering feeling of unreality.
“Not Ginger,” he said weakly.
“I didn’t say ginger,” snapped Flavia, losing her poise for a moment, “there isn’t such a thing as a ginger rose. I said copper-coloured.”

This really gets William’s goat: “I shun’t be surprised if it was all jus’ a trick to get that knife,” he mutters darkly. He decides to visit her house the next day to ask for the return of his property; “She may’ve begun to feel sorry in the night.”

Of course, he has never seen Aunt Amelia, so when the door of the cottage is opened by the female literary friend, he is none-the-wiser. She similarly, although as she is expecting a visit from a literary child – one markedly similar to Anthony Martin from Aunt Arabelle in Charge, indeed – who is going to review some of her books. She shows no surprise, therefore, at William’s arrival, although some surprise at his appearance.

His conversation also scandalises her (“Now, dear boy, tell me some of the fancies and imaginings that go on in your clever little head.” “I often pretend I’m a cannibal cookin’ people or a prehistoric monster crunchin’ human bones”) and they spend the entire interview at completely and comically cross-purposes, but he ends up getting the knife back.

The facts

Robert had been acting in a dramatic entertainment organised by the local football club. The play was a thriller of a highly complicated sort, freely interspersed with screams and pistol shots and mysterious failures of the electric lights. Every character in it who tried to telephone found the cord cut, and whenever the electric lights did function, shadows of strange, bat-like figures were seen passing to and fro outside the window – a phenomenon that remained unexplained throughout the play.

  • Number: 15.3
  • Published: 1933 (1932 in magazine form)
  • Book: William the Rebel
  • Synopsis: William intervenes in the casting process for a Shakespeare production.

Verdict

Robert’s part in a play requires him to appear – ‘dead’, drenched in red ink – behind a curtain about 30 minutes in. “He therefore engaged William (at a fee of a penny each time) to sit on the chair behind the curtain till the moment of the denouement approached, and then come and warn him in time for him to take his place.” What could possibly go wrong?

It goes wrong. And Robert is humiliated in front of his latest love, Dorinda Merton (I thought ‘Dorinda’ was a brand of tortilla chip but there you go). His only recourse is to do her the supreme favour of ensuring that her younger brother Georgie is selected for a key role in a Shakespeare being put on by the school that he and William go to. She is worried that their much-hated cousin will be chosen instead.

“Why doesn’t someone do something to that boy for shutting me in the coal-shed?” howled the black one again vociferously.

Robert subcontracts the role of nobbling the casting process to William, promising a mouth-organ if successful.

William takes immediate steps to become acquainted with Georgie Merton, and, on meeting him, discovers him to be a boy after his own heart. Georgie has a particular penchant for fighting his much-hated cousin, an insufferably virtuous child with (yeah) golden curls etc etc.

William nobbles the casting process by the simple expedient of locking the much-hated cousin in a coal-shed, thus ensuring that Georgie will get the role. But something goes drastically wrong…

The facts

An exhaustive search of Aunt Arabelle’s desk revealed no stories of any sort, only a typewritten sheet headed: “Answers to Correspondents.” The first was: “I am sorry, dear, that he has not spoken yet. But just go on being your own sweet self, and I am sure he will soon.”
“What’s that mean?” said Ginger with a mystified frown.
“It’s someone who’s got a dumb child an’ is tryin’ to cure it,” explained William.

  • Number: 14.10
  • Published: 1932 (1931 in magazine form) – originally titled William’s Busy Fortnight
  • Book: William the Pirate
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws get Ginger’s aunt the interview of a lifetime.

Verdict

“We’ve got somethin’ to show you,” said Ginger, “an’ it’s something you’ll be jolly interested in.”
“Is it about ME?” said Anthony Martin.

I’ve labelled this one insufferably virtuous children but Anthony Martin is not wholly virtuous. In fact, he is insufferably unvirtuous. But nevertheless, as a visiting celebrity (his mother made him famous with her insufferable books and poems about him), he is a prime target for Aunt Arabelle to interview.

Aunt Arabelle, a journalist from Women’s Sphere (“I help women with their little troubles of the heart”) is looking after Ginger while his parents are away, and he will receive ten shillings at the end of the fortnight if he’s been good. Of course, deliberately flooding the conservatory (“We can turn on the tap enough to have the floor jus’ under water”) does not count as ‘good’, so the Outlaws desperately need to do Aunt Arabelle a favour in order to secure their reward.

“What is the paper?”
“It’s called ‘The Woman Spear’,” said Ginger.
“Never heard of it. What sort of thing does it go in for?”
“Dumbness and stomach-ache and heart disease and things like that,” said William.
“I’ve never given an interview to a medical paper before,” said Anthony Martin. “It hasn’t even any circulation to speak of.”
“It does speak of circulation,” said William, pugnaciously, “it’s included in heart disease.”

Anthony Martin, though, does not seem inclined to co-operate, and is instead too busy showing off his latest records, press clippings, toys and so on. He even shows off a gramaphone record recorder into which he is to give a recital the following day.

Then he throws a horrendous tantrum at teatime, really ripping into his poor nurse (“I’ll kick your nasty old shins. I’ll stamp on your nasty old toes. You leave me alone, I tell you, you old cat, you! Do you think I’m going to do what you tell me now I’m famous all over the world?”).

William pops out of the room during this episode. And shortly after that, Anthony Martin agrees to give an interview to Aunt Arabelle – and even have his photo taken sitting on her knee.

Everybody’s happy (except for the nurse, perhaps).