A figure was walking jauntily along on the other side of the rope that separated the tea enclosure from the rest of the fête ground. It had no cap. Its hair stood up on end. A dirty collar (clean only an hour ago) and tie set up on end under one ear. Dark coloured rings, suggestive of toffee and chocolate, surrounded its mouth. Its knees were black; its bootstrings untied, its clothes covered with mud and bran. In one hand it held a stick of rock; in the other an ice-cream horn. It licked them alternately.
Suddenly it caught sight of the elegant party watching it in horror-stricken silence from the other side of the rope. A radiant smile overspread the grimy countenance. The figure was evidently quite unaware of the appearance it presented. “Hello!” it said cheerfully, “I’m having a jolly good time, are you?”
- Number: 8.8
- Published: 1927 (1926 in magazine form)
- Book: William in Trouble
- Synopsis: William tries to do Robert a good turn, so ends up impersonating a pianist.
William is keen to show his appreciation to Robert for the gift of five shillings. This should indeed have made Robert nervous; “There were those who said that they preferred William’s open enmity to William’s gratitude. William had a laudable habit of translating feelings into action and when William was openly out to avenge himself upon you the results were as a rule far less devastating than when he was out to help you.”
On this particular occasion, William has a multitude of ideas of how to show his appreciation to Robert, but the one he ultimately chooses is to help Robert obtain a trophy for running.
William’s familiar spirit of devilry came to his aid. He crashed both his hands upon the keys in a sudden ear-splitting discord. He ran his fingers up and down the keys. He crossed one hand over the other, he hurled himself wildly at the bass and then at the treble. His audience listened in amazed silence. He kept up a Bacchanalian riot of inharmonious sounds for nearly ten minutes, then he stopped and turned his sphinxlike expressionless face towards his audience.
His unconventional method, though, is to steal the trophy from the home of its owner, the son of the vicar of a neighbouring parish. (Although to be fair he probably misunderstood a comment made by Robert, who had come a close second in the race, to the effect that it was his trophy by rights.)
So, he gathers up his trusty band, and: “They walked through the wood and over the hill to West Mellings. ‘Walk,’ perhaps is not quite the right word, ‘Walk,’ suggests a decorous, unexciting mode of progression that did not apply to the Outlaws at all. They ran along the ditches, they balanced (or failed to balance) on the top of fences, they scouted each other as Red Indians through the woods, they played leapfrog in the lanes, they climbed trees and they held races and they deliberately walked through every stream they found – but at last, after several hours, and an expenditure of energy that would have taken them at walking pace there and back half-a-dozen times, they arrived at the village of West Mellings.”
He ends up being mistaken for a child progidy musician, and gives a piano recital so incompetent that all the ladies present pretend to be familiar with its ultra-contemporary style. Another instance of the village’s adults being exposed as sycophants, cf. The Native Protégé, 3.8.
And although he is eventually found out, it’s too late to stop the presses, and a review of his performance appears in a noted magazine – much to his delight.