Day 128: The Outlaws and the Cucumber

The facts

They had left an envelope at home on William’s dressing-table on which was written: “To be opened if we do not return.” Inside was a slip bearing the simple legend: “Mises Bretherton has murdered us,” and signed by all four Outlaws. “That’s jolly clever,” said William complacently. “I read about a man doing that in a book. Then if she kills us they’ll hang her an’ it’ll be jolly well sucks for her.”

  • Number: 11.8
  • Published: 1930 (1929 in magazine form, originally titled William and the Prize Cucumber)
  • Book: William the Bad
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws intervene in the local flower show.


A return appearance for Mrs Roundway here, first seen in The Sentimental Widow, 10.9.

More remarkable, though, is the time-span over which the story takes place. It covers more than two years. The first scene is Mrs Roundway’s disappointment at her cucumber failing to win a prize at the village flower show; the second scene is in the run-up to the following year’s flower show, in which the Outlaws are determined to help her secure victory; and the latter part of the story covers the following year’s contest. This opens up all sorts of questions about the boys’ timespans (William, we know, remains 11 throughout this two-years-and-a-bit and, indeed, in stories on either side of it), but they are maybe not for now.

William and Ginger had each made a will. William’s read: “If I di I leeve everythin’ to Ginger. Pleese let him have the mouth orgun you tuke of me.”
And Ginger’s read: “If I di I leeve everythin’ to William. The ants egs for the golefish are in the toffy tinn.”
Henry had not made a will but Douglas, hoping to cause among his relations the panic and chagrin that the will of a rich uncle lately deceased had caused, had made a will that read: “I leeve everything to charryty.”

Anyhow, the Outlaws decide to stake out Mrs Bretherton, who always wins the cucumber prize, to monitor her cucumber’s progress and report back. Mrs Roundway has some slight moral qualms about this, even though it turns out she seems to be winning so far, but as William assures her, “Isn’t as if we did anythin’ to make it smaller.”

Despite Mrs Bretherton’s cucumber looking so scrawny the night before the show, at the show itself the Outlaws are astonished to see her produce a massive specimin and take home the prize once again.

Convinced that she is a witch, the following year they go to General Moult, one of the judges, to report her for witchcraft. Getting the predictable reception, they then vow to keep Mrs Bretherton under close surveillance. And guess what murky goings-on they witness in her garden the night before the flower show…

As the Outlaws’ busting of criminal activity (intentional or unintentional) goes, this is definitely at the The Adventure of the Three Students end of things: a story in which Sherlock Holmes dealt with a case of cheating in a university exam, hardly as exciting as his most gripping murder cases. But with William, the domestic nature of the challenge gives this story a rather pleasing realism.