Now the Outlaws, whatever they did, were watched and if possible emulated by their schoolmates. Though in the eyes of the grown-up world the Outlaws were the very dregs of boyhood, in the boy world the Outlaws were aristocrats. So by the end of a week innumerable little groups of boys were playing ‘hockey’ with their fathers’ walking-sticks.
- Number: 8.6
- Published: 1927 (1926 in magazine form)
- Book: William in Trouble
- Synopsis: The Outlaws beat the Hubert Laneites at hockey… with some magical help.
This is a hugely entertaining, rather off-the-wall, sequel to the previous story William’s Mammoth Circus (8.5). “Monk”, the mechanical monkey abstracted from Henry’s baby sister, played quite a limited role in the circus, but now it becomes the Chekhovian gun of this story, which revolves around the after-effects of the Monk’s theft.
Douglas’s father and Ginger’s father, meeting by accident the next Sunday afternoon, confided to each other that on taking their walking-sticks from the hat-stand they had found the handles deeply encrusted with mud and the varnish entirely worn away. They agreed that it was a curious coincidence.
We also see the bizarre spectacle of the Outlaws being deeply enthused by the sight of the local girls’ school playing hockey, to the extent that they borrow their fathers’ walking sticks and begin playing amongst themselves. Who would have thought that such a girly activity would appeal to the Outlaws?
The village’s boys eventually form themselves into two, bitterly rival, teams, one captained by William, the other (of course) by Hubert Lane.
But now we see the entry of another staple character, Mrs Lane. Mrs Lane, “notoriously lacking in any sort of sense”, decides that it would be rather nice to organise a friendly match between the two hockey teams, and she would provide a magnificent tea to follow.
The match itself is rather a MacGuffin (“As a matter of fact the actual game demands a story of itself. Bits of broken walking-sticks remained to mark the field for months afterwards”) because the plot moves straight on to the celebratory tea.
Henry had taken Monk to it, because, on discovering the monkey’s theft, his mother decided a fitting punishment would be to require him to carry the animal round all day, with all the humiliation that that would entail.
The Hubert Laneites, meanwhile, had hidden all the best cakes so that they could eat them privately later, unsullied by their Outlaw enemies. They had also taken the prizes (which rightfully belonged to the Outlaws) for themselves.
William manages to solve this nightmare situation beautifully, wonderfully. He saves Henry from embarassment and ensures a fair distribution of both tea and prizes.
“I say, William,” said Henry at length, “what made you think of it?”
William dug his unspeakably dirty hands into his pockets and elevated his unspeakably snub nose. “Oh jus’ nat’ral cleverness,” he said with a swagger.