“An’ Ethel always wears a sort of ATS uniform,” William plunged on. “It’s not a real one, of course. Someone gave it her for Christmas, an’ she’s sort of taken to it. An’ the doctor says she’s not to be crossed…”
Mr Polliter nodded understandingly. Halfwitted children, he imagined, would get these strange whims. “I suppose she’s seen psycho-analysts?” he said.
“Oh yes,” said William, supposing that these were optical illusions peculiar to the feeble-minded. “She’s always seein’ ’em.”
- Number: 25.6
- Published: 1945 (1943 in magazine form)
- Book: William and the Brains Trust
- Synopsis: William tries to make Ethel’s leave more enjoyable… with a history lesson.
William is so enjoying his new history teacher’s passion for the subject that he wants to share it with others – specifically, with Ethel, who is home on leave from the ATS and bored out of her mind due to the fact that all the young men of the village are busy defending Britain.
Because Mr Polliter does not accept social invitations, William has to resort to the more cunning method of claiming that Ethel is a disabled sister (“backward all round”) about his own age who would like some history tutoring.
Because Ethel does not accept overtures from old men or from schoolteachers, William has to resort to the more cunning method of telling her that “he’s pretendin’ to be a schoolmaster, but he’s not really. He’s gotter pretend to be one, ’cause of this secret work he’s doin’ for the gov’nment.”
All William had to do, he thought, was to amend “sitting in the box adjoining yours at the playhouse last night” to “seeing you in Mr Moss’s sweet shop this afternoon” (for Ethel had visited Mr Moss to spend her sweet coupons). He might as wellleave the aunt’s legacy in. For all he knew, Mr Polliter had one, and it might influence Ethel Yes, it was a jolly good letter, thought William, reading it again appreciatively. He couldn’t have made up a better one himself.
Upon learning that a man cannot just call round on a woman without first writing to her to express his admiration, William resignedly reaches for his father’s Court Letter Writer to find an appropriate template. He doesn’t find an appropriate template, but he goes ahead regardless (“From a Gentleman of Inferior Fortune to a Lady, Desiring the Honour of her Acquaintance”), and signs it ‘Major Polliter’ to impress upon Ethel his teacher’s supposed high rank in the secret service.
But it just so happens that Mr Polliter’s nephew, Major Polliter, is staying with his uncle on leave at the same time as Ethel is home…