insufferably virtuous children

The facts

“If you’re deliberately turning that child loose into a boarding-house full, presumably, of quiet, inoffensive people,” Mr Brown said, “you deserve all you get. It’s nothing to do with me. I’ve disowned him.”

  • Number: 2.11
  • Published: 1922 (1920 in magazine form)
  • Book: More William
  • Synopsis: At a holiday to the seaside, William is determined to save the land from the ravages of smugglers.

Verdict

This is a fun story because Mr Jones almost fulfils two of the William stories’ stock roles: the insufferably virtuous child, except he is not a child; and the annoying houseguest, except he is not a houseguest.

At last the day of departure arrived. William was instructed to put his things ready on his bed, and his mother would then come and pack for him. He summoned her proudly over the balusters after about twenty minutes. “I’ve got everythin’ ready, Mother.”
Upon his bed was a large pop-gun, a dormouse in a cage, a punchball on a stand, a large box of “curios,” and a buckskin which was his dearest possession. Mrs Brown sat down weakly on a chair.
“You can’t possibly take any of these things,” she said faintly but firmly.
“Well, you said put my things on the bed for you to pack an’ I’ve put them on the bed, an’ now you say—”
“I meant clothes.”
“Oh, clothes!” scornfully. “I never thought of clothes.”

He is, in fact, a fellow visitor to the seaside resort that at which the Browns are staying (in February!) and it doesn’t take him long to monopolise conversation, both in the boarding-house in general, and for the Browns in particular – referring, privately, to William’s sister Ethel as his “future spouse”.

Mr Brown had hired a beach hut for William’s exclusive use/ exile, and from this base William makes friends with a little girl and schemes with her to catch a smuggler.

Of course, the ‘smuggler’ actually turns out to be none other than Mr Jones on an innocent, if insufferable, nocturnal walk, and he is so offended at his treatment that he leaves town at once – to the Browns’ delight.

The facts

Mrs de Vere Carter was a neighbour with a genius for organisation. There were few things she did not organise till their every other aspect or aim was lost but that of “organisation”. She also had what amounted practically to a disease for “getting up” things. She “got up” plays, and bazaars, and pageants, and concerts. There were, in fact, few things she did not “get up”.

  • Number: 2.6
  • Published: 1922 (1920 in magazine form)
  • Book: More William
  • Synopsis: William always used to command the affections of Joan, the little girl next door. But then a rival entered the scene…

Verdict

And here entereth another stock character who William will encounter, time and time again, for the remainder of his 11-hood: the insufferably virtuous child.

This is very different from the insufferably selfish or self-centred child represented by Hubert Lane (yet to make his first appearance).

The insufferably virtuous child typically has golden hair, a sailor suit and a lisp. They are adored by adults (“‘Oh, the darling!’ ‘Isn’t he adorable?’ ‘What a picture!’ ‘Come here, sweetheart.’ Cuthbert was quite used to this sort of thing”) but always get William’s goat – even if they are not secretly the malicious sort, which our villain from this story, Cuthbert, certainly is.

“What shall we do?” Joan was saying. “Would you like to play hide and seek?”
“No; leth not play at rough gameth,” said Cuthbert.
With a wild spasm of joy William realised that his enemy lisped. It is always well to have a handle against one’s enemies.
“What shall we do, then?” said Joan, somewhat wearily.
“Leth thit down an’ I’ll tell you fairy thorieth,” said Cuthbert.

This is also the first of William’s many escapades in the world of amateur dramatics. Appointed to the (relatively) simple role of playing a wolf, he manages to turn what was intended to be a touching children’s performance into a riotous comedy:

‘William,’ hissed the prompter, ‘go on! A wolf am I—‘ But William was engrossed in the audience. ‘A wolf am I— Go on, William!’
William had now found the cook and housemaid in the last row. The prompter grew desperate.
A wolf am I, a wolf on mischief bent. Say it, William.’
William turned his wolf’s head towards the wings. ‘Well, I was goin’ to say it,’ he said irritably, ‘if you’d lef’ me alone.’
The audience tittered.
‘Well, say it,’ said the voice of the invisible prompter.
‘Well, I’m going to,’ said William. ‘I’m not goin’ to say that again wot you said ’cause they all heard it. I’ll go on from there.’
The audience rocked in wild delight. Behind the scenes Mrs. de Vere Carter wrung her hands and sniffed strong smelling-salts. ‘That boy!’ she moaned.

The beginning of a long career as a hilariously incompetent thespian…

In the end, of course, Joan is won over by William’s performance and she too tires of the insufferable Cuthbert: “”Oh, William, he’s going home tomorrow, and I am glad. Isn’t he a softie? Oh, William, I do love you, you do such ‘citing things!”