mr and mrs bott

The facts

“I think I’ll go as a lion,” said William. “I should think you could buy a lion skin quite cheap.”
“No, William, darling,” interposed Mrs Brown quickly, “I think you’d find a lion skin too hot for a crowded room.”
“But I wun’t go into the room,” said William, “I want to crawl about the garden in it roarin’ an’ springin’ out at folks, scarin’ ’em.”

  • Number: 5.11
  • Published: 1925 (same year in magazine form)
  • Book: Still William
  • Synopsis: William has several hidden agendas at the Botts’ fancy-dress party.

Verdict

There’s a lot going on in this one. And it all fits together very well.

At the Botts’ fancy-dress party, William has three objectives: first, to shed the Little Lord Fauntleroy costume his family had forced on him, and to replace it with that of a “brigand”; second, to remonstrate with one of his fellow guests, a Cabinet minister, who Mr Brown announces at breakfast is ruining the country” (see also William Enters Politics, 4.12); and, third, to humiliate Robert – and, to be fair to William, Robert’s relationship with his lady-love (who he ‘romantically’ nicknames “Gloire”) in this story is genuinely vomit-inducing.

“We’re not going to let you out till you’ve promised to go away from England and never come back. Because you’re ruinin’ the country.”

For example, his letter to her the day before the party: “It will be my first meeting with you for two days and I do not want it profaned by other people, who know and care nothing of our deep feeling for each other. Just for a few sacred moments let us tell each other all that is in our souls. The memory of those few sacred moments, just you and me and the moon and the roses, will be with us in our souls all the evening.”

William achieves all of his objectives (albeit not quite in the way that he intended), but the third one most of all, and by the end of the story, when his mother asks him if his new socks are OK, he is able to make Robert go “a deep purple” by loudly replying: “They’ve given an entirely new meaning to my life. I shall give up all my life trying to be more worthy of them. I’ve not got them on now because I don’t want them profaned by people who don’ know or care about them…”

Contained within all the lovey-dovey content of this story, though, are a surprising number of double entendres – I’m not sure whether or not they’re intentional but just for the record…

  • More than once Robert’s love affairs had afforded useful handles.
  • “Gloire, let us be gay for the rest of the evening.”
  • “Oh, Glor,” he ejaculated softly.

The facts

Dear Sir or Maddam,
On Satterday we are going to have a Wembley no thte one in London but one here so as to save you fairs and other exspences there will be natifs in natif coschume with natif potts and ammusments and other things which are secrits till the day entranse will be one penny exsit free ammusments are one penny hopping to have the pleshure of your company,
Yours truley,
The Wembley Comitty
PS It is a secrit who we are.
PPS It will probly be in the feeld next the barn but notises will be put up later.

  • Number: 5.6
  • Published: 1925 (1924 in magazine form) – not to be confused with the 1928 story, 9.4, of the same name
  • Book: Still William
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws launch “a nexhibition” modelled on Wembley.

Verdict

The Outlaws need some money, and although William’s fundraising stratagems invariably end in total disaster, Henry’s reaction to this latest one says it all: “I’d rather be in it even if it goes wrong. I’d rather be in a thing that turns out wrong than not be in anything at all.”

So, inspired by Ginger’s mother’s visit to the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, they black up (again) and each impersonate a different variety of “natif”: William a South African, Ginger an Australian, Henry a Canadian, Douglas an Egyptian (“Talk Egyptian, native.” “Bonus, bona, bonum, bonum, bonam, bonum”) and a self-appointed Violet Elizabeth Bott “a Nindian”.

“How do you know?” William said. “You ever been there? You ever been to a Red Indian climit? Well, I din’t know you’d ever been to a Red Indian climit. But I’m very int’rested to hear it. It’s very int’restin’ an’ funny you didn’t get killed an’ eat, I mus’ say.”
William’s weapon of sarcasm always proved rather bewildering to his friends.

But the Outlaws’ exhibition isn’t just voyeurism for racists. There are also the rides to consider:

There were three amusements. The first consisted in climbing a tree and lowering oneself from the first branch by a rope previously fastened to it by William. The second consisted in being wheeled once round the field in a wheelbarrow by William. The third consisted in standing on a plank at the edge of the pond and being gently propelled into the pond by William. The entrance fee to each was one penny.

Blacking up aside, this is an entertaining story because it shows that William’s utter bafflement towards the adult world is not quite the same as total contempt. He sees bits of it that he wants to emulate, assumes he can emulate.

The only difference is that he is undeterred by dozens of failures which would exhaust any grown-up’s spirit.

This story definitely marks yet another failure for William. Yet after some deliberation, I’ve nevertheless labelled it as William comes out on top. Why? Because he remains cheerful and optimistic at its ending. Sure, the exhibition totally fails to impress its audience, makes barely a dent in the Outlaws’ financial troubles, and they get chased off ‘their’ field by an enraged farmer who is under the bizarre impression that it is actually his field.

But they make tuppence and go for lemonade. How is that not a victory?

The facts

“They said it was himportant business, sir,” said the butler, “an’ you knew about it.”
Then four boys walked up to his desk.

  • Number: 5.5
  • Published: 1925 (1924 in magazine form)
  • Book: Still William
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws want Mr Bott to reconsider his decision to fire one of their friends.

Verdict

Bob Andrews, a gardener at the Hall, is a man after the Outlaws’ own heart – bone-idle, a collector of birds’ eggs, a maker of whistles and always willing to play Red Injuns.

Robert’s eye fell sternly and accusingly upon William. William looked up, met it unflinchingly with an expression of patient endurance on his face.
“Robert,” he said with a sigh. “I wish you’d talk more quietly. I’m trying to learn my history dates.”

Mr Bott, having taken up residence at the Hall, not unreasonably decided not to continue paying Bob Andrews a salary for the vital task of playing with the Outlaws, and sacks him.

William considers this to have been an unfair dismissal and does what he can to have the decision reversed.

His increasingly desperate attempts to blackmail Mr Bott are plausible in and of themselves, but the vice he discovers in Mr Bott does seem somewhat far-fetched.