relatives

The facts

“Children that get neglected by their parents goin’out to lead lives of lux’ry an’ pleasure turn into crim’nals when they grow up,” said William. “I’ve read about it in newspapers – so you can’t blame me if I turn into one after this. It’ll be your fault if I start doin’ smash an’ grab raids an’ stealin’ money out of gas meters an’ forgin’ bank notes when I grow up. It’ll be all your fault for neglectin’ me an’ leavin’ me at home while you all go out enjoyin’ yourselves.”

Verdict

The Outlaws’ parents are all going on a joint trip to the theatre. Ordinarily this wouldn’t interest William – indeed, the thought of a largely unsupervised evening with his friends would be most enticing.

But Hubert Lane’s parents are also going to the play, and they are taking Hubert. So William’s dream is cast.

“It didn’t sound a suitable play for children,” said Mrs Brown.
“Children!” put in William with a bitter laugh. “I’m eleven, aren’t I? Well, it’s news to me that a person of eleven’s a child.”
“William, do stop using that idiotic expression,” said Mrs Brown wearily. “Will you please go out and play with someone. I’m tired of the sound of your voice.”
William looked at her; amazed and aggrieved.
“Me?” he said. “I’ve hardly spoke.”

“An’ it’s a play about a murder an’ who did it, isn’t it? Well, if anyone ought to see that play, it’s me. I’ve written plays about murders an’ who did ’em. ‘The Bloody Hand’ was about a murder an’ who did it an’ it was a jolly good play. Ginger said it was the best play he’d ever seen in his life an’ he ought to know. He once learnt a whole speech out of Shakespeare to get two an’ six out of his aunt, so he ought to know about plays.”

The unexpected absence of Aunt Hester, the Outlaws’ babysitter for the evening, is a heaven-sent opportunity for the boys to go roving round the countryside, in an attempt to disrupt the journey of the play’s lead actor (a famous West End gentleman) to the Lanes’ house (where he was to dine).

They don’t manage to do that. But they do manage to meet the author of the book on which the play is based…

The facts

“It’s not jus’ an ordin’ry Western,” said William. “It’s bloodcurdlin’ an’ nerve-shatterin’. It says so outside the cinema.”
“William, it sounds horrible,” said Mrs Brown with a shudder.
“But that’s what it’s meant to be,” said William in exasperation. “Victor Jameson’s seen it in London an’ he says it’s fab. It curdled his blood an’ shattered his nerves.”

Verdict

This is a really excellent story: William is desperate to see the latest, highly popular, Western at the local cinema, but a visit from his Aunt Felicia is in the way.

“It’s a prior engagement, William,” said Mrs Brown.
“I don’t care what it is,” said William. “I think it’s jus’ tyrrany.”

William turned to another of his favourite day-dreams. Suddenly (by what means he never could determine) he leapt to the loftiest pinnacle of fame, acclaimed and honoured by the highest in the land. His parents stood humbly in awe of him, but he was gracious and affable. He forgave them for their harsh treatment. “It’s all right,” he said when they apologised abjectly for not allowing him to see ‘The Masked Ranger’. “Don’t give it another thought. It was a little hard on me but don’t worry about it. any more.” He threw out his arms in an expansive gesture. “I’ll take you both to a party at Buckingham Palace tomorrow an’ I’ll take you for a voyage round the world nex’ summer holidays.”

So bitter is he that, on hearing from Henry about the Piltdown Man hoax, the Outlaws decide, out of sheer malice, to prank a local historian. Miss Radbury specialises in documentary research, so William resolves to create some fake historical letters to fool her.

“How could you forge old letters?” said Ginger.
“Write letters with bits of hist’ry in ’em an’ put old dates at the top, like January the third 1500 or somethin’ like that.”

They are just pondering the question of how to make the paper look old, when their friend Miss Thompson is about to throw away a load of old letters from her family’s recent past. They intercept them – but, of course, need to make some adjustments…

“Tell you what!” The light of an Idea gleamed in William’s face “If there isn’t any hist’ry in ’em let’s put a bit of hist’ry in ’em.”
He opened an envelope, took out the letter and scrawled across the bottom of the last sheet: “P.S. Someone told me ithere’s a battle going on at Trafalgar. I wonder whose going to win. Nelson’s got a wound in bis eye and can’t see signals.”
They set to work with energy.
An account of a Church Bazaar ended with the words: “P.S. Christopher Colombus has jus’ set off to discover America. I hope he gets there all right.”
An account of a local fair ended with the words: “P.S. I saw in the paper this morning that Charles the First has been executed. We’ll have to wait till 1660 for the Restoration.”
Henry, whose energies were chiefly taken up in supervising the spelling of the other three, tried to confine his historical references within certain roughly defined limits. “The Black Hole of Calcutta took place yesterday and tomorrow the six hundred are going to ride into the Valley of Death.”
William’s references spanned the whole field of history with wild abandon. “Henry VIII got married to the third of his six wives this morning.” … “I went to Lendon in a horse-coach last week. It took hours and hours. I shall be jolly glad when someone  invents railways.” … “I was helping to put out the· fire of London all yesterday. I feel rotten this morning. I think I must have caught the plague.”
Douglas confined himself to the only historical film he had seen: “Someone told me this morning that Richard the Third was thinking of getting the princes murdered in the Tower if he could find a good murderer. He’s swopped his kingdom for a horse and got into a muddle.”
Ginger who had recently read a book called ‘Scenes from English History’, gave a brief account of his experiences in the Crusades (which included the Battle of Agincourt).

As it turns out though, Miss Radbury is delighted with the letters… because one of them has a Penny Black on it!

Oh – and William rather takes to Aunt Felicia after all.

The facts

Anything might happen at the seaside. William saw himself rescuing a drowning man (it would be someone important – perhaps the Prime Minister)… carelessly netting a sea serpent… unmasking a villainous plot to steal naval secrets along the coast. He would become world famous
for all these exploits. A grateful country would reward him handsomely. He would shower gifts on his family: an American kitchen for his mother, a golf course for his father, a sports car for Robert, a mink and diamond head scarf for Ethel.
For himself he would buy a lion cub and a lighthouse.

Verdict

When William sets his mind to find some hidden treasure, he literally means, to find some hidden treasure; not to look for some, but to find some.

This proves a helpful distraction for him from troubles at home, namely the extended stay of a depressed Aunt Florence who refuses to leave the house. But he eventually gets drawn in when he hears of her yearning for “a lead from Providence”, some sort of heavenly sign that she can carry on living. He resolves to find her such a sign – or, in default of finding one, to produce one.

“Did you tell Hubert Lane that we were goin’ to look for smugglers’ treasure in that cave?” said William, his voice sinking so deep that it was almost a growl.
The radiance of Violet Elizabeth’s smile remained undimmed. “Yeth, I did, William,” she said. “I did. I met him yethterday and he thaid you were a nathty horrid boy and I thaid you weren’t. I thaid you were a brave boy and I told him you were going to climb up the rock and find the thmugglerth treathure and I thaid that he couldn’t do that ‘cauthe he wathn’t brave enough.”
“Oh,” said William, touched and a little disconcerted.

Hubert Lane humiliates them over the matter of the treasure, but in the end things turn out alright…