school and schoolteachers

The facts

Mr French, the form master, did not approve of holiday tasks; he considered that they imposed an undue strain on both master and pupil. He had occasionally been tempted to set his pupils the task of committing to memory ‘The Ancient Mariner’ or ‘John Gilpin’ – poems that, he considered, every educated person should know by heart – but had always been restrained by the sobering thought that be would have to hear them say it.

Verdict

A supply teacher with an eccentric educational philosophy (see also William and the Temporary History Master, 13.5) has set William’s class the holiday homework of assembling a ‘museum’ consisting of local ‘finds’.

There was a faraway look in William’s eyes, a jaunty swagger in his walk. He was being feted and acclaimed as the discoverer of the most sensational archaeological find of the century. Scholars and professors of the highest standing showered congratulations on him. Fantastic offers flowed in to him from America, but he refused them and presented the head to the British Museum. The British Museum was ecstatically grateful and held a banquet in his honour, giving three cheers for him at the end. He was knighted and his photograph – Sir William Brown – appeared in all the papers. Reporters flocked to interview him. A modest smile curved his lips as he kicked a stone across the road. “Well, it was sort of luck in a way,” he was saying. “I mean, I’ve got a sort of instinct. I jus’ looked at that hole an’ I knew it had got a heathen god’s statue’s head in it.”

Chiefly out of a sense of rivalry with Hubert, they throw themselves into it body-and-soul, albeit at the last minute.

Their plan of action is pure genius:

“There was somethin’ in the newspaper once,” said Henry thoughtfully. “It was dug up in London. It was a head.”
“What sort of a head?” said Ginger.
“It was a heathen god that people used to worship,” said Henry, “an’ it was jolly important. There were pictures of it in the newspapers. It was hundreds of years old.”
William’s interest was quickening. “Where did they find it?” he said.
“They found it when they were diggin’ a hole in the road in London near the Post Office. There was a picture of that, too.”
“But… gosh!” said William excitedly. “They’re diggin’ a hole in the road near the Post Office here. Come on! Let’s go an’ have a look!”

Astonishingly, they do find a statue’s head, but unfortunately it turns out not to be an ancient one, but rather Archie Mannister’s latest artwork of Ethel (“she’s more my girl friend than I’m her boy friend, if you know what I mean”) which he’d hidden in the hole as a surprise.

Before the Outlaws figure this out, though, they sincerely believe themselves to be in possession of an artefact that is both valuable and cursed: a suspicious incident in William’s home in which a shelf collapsed is naturally ascribed to the head (“Use a bit of sense. It couldn’t have been anythin’ but the curse. What else could it have been?” “Gravity,” suggested Henry tentatively after a moment’s thought).

What a fun story!

The facts

“I’ve got a jolly good idea,” said William. “It’s come to me quite sudden. We’ll go over the road to the woods on the other side an’ play Red Indians.”
“We’re s’posed to be doin’ nature,” said Douglas.
“Well, Red Indians are nature,” said William. “Gosh! They’re nat’ral, aren’t they?”

Verdict

During the school’s annual wild-flower-gathering competition, even Mr Crisp is bored stiff, and doesn’t really notice when the Outlaws sneak off for a ‘quiet’ game of Red Indians.

But it turns out there is a girls’ school operating in the same area, and one of its members attaches herself to the Outlaws as their squaw. And, with a Violet Elizabeth-esque determination not to be shaken off, they are stuck with her. But on the plus side, she offers them delightful delicacies, in huge quantities.

“You… you’ve none of you noticed anything strange going on, have you?” asked Miss Hampshire.
“No,” said the Outlaws. The blank imbecility of their expressions would have roused suspicion in anyone who knew them, but, fortunately for them, Miss Hampshire did not know them.

It all turns out alright, though, and they even manage to entertain a bird-watcher, foil a crime, feed Douglas monstrous quantities of sweets in a deliberate attempt to make him vomit up some poison (I particularly enjoy this scene: “Mr Bentley, standing behind his counter, was mildly surprised by the sight of three boys watching with tense, set faces a fourth boy eating an ice-cream”), complete a struggling writer’s poem, help the headmistress of the girls’ school, and, best of all, find an exceptionally rare flower.

 The facts

“This is the old barn, I presume?” asked Mr Marks.
“Yes, but it’s our place,” said William a little indignantly. “We always play here.”
“Doubtless, my boy. Doubtless. But when you in your turn are a prosperous city gentleman or an ornament to some learned profession…”
“I’m going to be a diver, sir.”
“Yes, yes… well, the particular sphere on which you shed lustre by your presence does not affect the situation. Other boys will still play here and regard it as their property.”
“Yes, I suppose so, sir,” said William, surprised and a little outraged by the idea.

Verdict

This is yet another occasion when William saves his school from a self-important and disruptive influence: see also William Holds the Stage, 14.2. Mr Marks is intensely frustrated by the enforced presence of James Aloysius Worfield, who is holding the prospect of a large donation for a cricket pavilion over the headmaster’s head as a token with which to interfere, generally, in the running of the school.

As such, hostilities between Mr Marks and William (which were always fairly good-natured) are temporarily suspended.

Mr Marks took the cheque from his pocket and contemplated it with satisfaction. “Well, we got it,” he said.
“We got it,” said Mr French, “in spite of young Brown.”
“In spite of young Brown,” agreed Mr Marks. Then a thoughtful look came over his face. “Or could it be – we shall never know, of course – could it possibly be because of young Brown?”

But old boys, apparently, come in twos. Because the Outlaws bump into a friendly hiker who turns out also to have attended their school – a contemporary of Worfield, in fact. He has some stories to tell. Stories that prove very useful to William and the headmaster in getting rid of the unwelcome presence in their midst.