“I’ve been thinkin’,” William said, “’bout what you said this mornin’.”
“Ah,” said Mr Cranthorpe-Cranborough, touched despite himself and thinking what a gift for dealing with the young he must possess to have made an impression upon such unpromising material as this boy’s mind, and how one should never despair of material however unpromising. “About what, my boy?” he said with interest, “the History? the French? the Arithmetic?”
“No,” said William simply, “the ghost.”
- Number: 7.5
- Published: 1927 (same year in magazine form)
- Book: William the Outlaw
- Synopsis: William is horrified at the prospect of being sent to boarding school.
This is one of my favourites. An almost perfect storm has William in its grasp, every single one of his much abhorred-tropes present: a relative, an annoying houseguest and an unctuous schoolmaster, all combined in the same person, Mr Cranthorpe-Cranborough.
As soon as he meets Mr C-C, William realises that something must be afoot, and he loses no time in finding out what it is, specifically by telling his father that Mr C-C is a little deaf, and Mr C-C that his father is a little deaf, and then crouching outside the morning-room window to listen to their conversation being conducted in a dialogue of ear-splitting yells.
William cracked another nut.
“How far have you got in Arithmetic?” asked Mr Cranthorpe-Cranborough.
“Uh-huh?” said William.
“Fractions?” suggested Mr Cranthorpe-Cranborough.
William’s whole attention was given to the inside of the nut that he had just cracked.
“Decimals?” said Mr Cranthorpe-Cranborough.
“No, Brazils,” said William succinctly.
And it turns out that Mr Brown is planning to pack William off to Mr C-C’s newly-opened boarding school.
Determined to avert this at any cost, he makes quick work of discovering his guest’s weakness (cf. The Cat and the Mouse, 5.12), in this case a credulous belief in ghosts, and proceeds to plan and execute an ingenious stratagem weaving in the fortuitious presence of Ethel’s friend Moyna, who just happened to be trying on an Elizabethan dress for a party.
Once Mr C-C hotfoots it to the station, Mr Brown is confronted with the reality that William will be remaining in the bosom of his family, and not being turned into a gentleman miles and miles away.
But his reaction is quite touching: “Doubtless I should have found it nice and quiet without him. But it would also have been extremely dull.”