“So what’s your story about?” asked Ginger.
“Well, it’s jolly excitin’,” said William. “It’s about a gang of international diamond smugglers an’ they all pretend to be members of a golf club, but really this golf club’s a sort of blind. It’s the headquarters of this smugglin’ gang. They only pretend to play golf. Really they’re smugglin’ diamonds all the time.”
Ginger considered this in comparative silence. “Sounds like all your other stories to me,” he said at last.
“Well, it isn’t,” said William indignantly. “It’s abs’lutely diff’rent. It’s diff’rent from every other story I’ve ever written in all my life.”
Somewhat overawed by a visiting and erudite friend of Robert’s, William is converted to the ‘school of nature’ in which the most important characteristic of fiction is that its characters appear genuine and natural.
So, in his latest story about smugglers, William names the characters after residents of the village, and invents a detective, Meredith (“red hair an’ a bit of a limp”), to pursue them.
The doors burst open.
William charged through one, brandishing his fire extinguisher, and Ginger charged through the other, hurtling his trolley before him. But, unfortunately, no rehearsal had been possible and their sense of direction misfired. They charged across the room full tilt into each other. William directed his fire extinguisher into Ginger’s face and Ginger drove his trolley with all his might against William’s solid form. The two struggled on the floor amid the wreckage of the trolley.
“Fire!” shouted William.
“Murder!” shouted Ginger.
So, of course, when a young man with red hair an’ a bit of a limp arrives in the village, William naturally assumes that his work of fiction has, remarkably, turned out to be fact.
They do what they can to save poor Meredith from the evil clutches of Miss Golightly (headmistress of the girls’ school and archvillain of William’s story), but it turns out that the two of them are actually quite happy to meet…
“William!” said Mrs Brown, noticing her younger son’s appearance for the first time. “Did you wash your face before you came to the table?”
“D’you mean, did I put it right into water?” temporised William.
“Yes, of course I do.”
“Well, listen,” said William earnestly. “Cats are s’posed to be clean animals an’ they don’t put their faces right into water when they wash ’em.” He gave his short sarcastic laugh. “Well, it’s news to me if cats put their faces right into water when they wash ’em. I mus’ say I’ve never seen a cat puttin’ its face right into water when…”
“William!” said Mr Brown.
In a moment of frustration with William, Mrs Brown declares that what she’d like for her birthday is just one thoughtful act from him.
She’s feeling slightly ruminative in general:
Then Mrs Brown entered. She looked coy and bashful and radiantly pretty. Her cheeks were delicately tinted, her eyelashes darkened, ‘eyeshadow’ enhanced the blue of her eyes and lipstick gave to her lips an allure with which/ nature had never endowed them.
“I’ve been made-up,” she said simply. “The woman used me as a model.”
“Heavens above!” said Robert helplessly.
“You’re a menace,” said Ethel. “I shall never dare invite a boy friend to the house again. What do you think of it, William?”
“I like you better old,” said Wtlliam politely.
Then Mr Brown came in and stood in the doorway, open-mouthed with amazement.
“I’ve been made-up,” said Mrs Brown again. “She used me as a model.”
“It’s positively staggering, my dear,” said Mr Brown, partly gratified, partly outraged by the sight of his glamorised wife. “I’ve never seen you look like this in all my life before.”
“What do you feel like?” said Robert.
Mrs Brown glanced again at her reflection in the mirror. “It makes me think I’ve wasted my life,” she said. “It makes me think of all the things I haven’t done or been to. I’ve never been to the South of France or Ascot or a Buckingham Palace Garden Party…”
Suddenly the recumbent man sat up, blinking distractedly. “Crikey!” it said. “Where am I?”
“In the garden of Mr Selwyn’s house,” Police-constable Higgs reassured him.
“I hit you on the head with a hammer,” said William as if in further reassurance.
This gives William an idea for his One Thoughtful Act. He’s going to lessen his mother’s fears about having wasted her life by organising a local Olympic Games for her to spectate.
“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.
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.