playing on fear

The facts

This was a strange time for William. William had previously escaped scot free for most of his crimes. Now to his amazament and indignation he found himself in the unfamiliar position of a scapegoat. Any disturbance in William’s part of the room was visited on William and quite occasionally William was not guilty of it. Most people considered that this was very good for William, but it was a view that was not shared by William himself.

  • Number: 5.12
  • Published: 1925 (1924 in magazine form)
  • Book: Still William
  • Synopsis: William decides that one of his teachers needs taking down a peg or two.

Verdict

A lesson to all teachers here: don’t have an Achilles heel, if you do then on no account allow your pupils to discover it, and ideally live a long way away from those you teach.

“I hope my nephew is kind to you,” said Miss Felicia.
William gave her a pathetic glance like one who wishes to avoid a dark and painful subject. “I expect he means to be,” he said sadly.

Mr Evelyn Courtnay failed on all three of these fronts, and so it was that he found his (genuine) wrongdoing against William being punished by William letting a mouse – of which his visiting rich aunt was terrified – loose in his home, followed by a cat – of which he was terrified – followed by a William, who saved both adults from the menace and obtained ample material for blackmail in the process.

This story is perhaps most notable, though for its touching description of the unorthodox kinship between William and “Old Stinks” the regular science master.

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.