Day 166: The Outlaws and the Penknife

The facts

“Anyway, I can make myself look cleaner than what you can,” said William,”’cause I’ve got some white paint, an’ I can paint over the dirty places on my collar, an’ my ears don’t stick out so much as what yours do.”

  • Number: 15.5
  • Published: 1933 (1932 in magazine form) – originally titled A Present for William
  • Book: William the Rebel
  • Synopsis: William’s penknife is confiscated by Ginger’s aunt.


Ginger has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of irascible and eccentric aunts with journalistic connections. In Aunt Arabelle in Charge, 14.10, the Outlaws had to placate Aunt Arabelle’s anger by getting her an interview with a much-sought-after subject.

Now, Ginger’s Aunt Amelia, also a writer, has taken a cottage in the village, which she shares with a female literary friend (cough cough, wink wink, say no more). Anxious to secure financial rewards from her, Ginger decides to do a spot of unsolicited work on her garden. When he inevitably ends up destroying her much-prized rose bushes, she angrily confiscates from him William’s equally-prized penknife, the article with which he had done the deed.

Surely you remember the rose garden he made and tended with his own hands for the bedridden old lady? And came to look after it and cut its blooms for her every afternoon? She liked a particular copper-coloured rose, you remember, and he took a lot of trouble growing it for her.”
William struggled against an overmastering feeling of unreality.
“Not Ginger,” he said weakly.
“I didn’t say ginger,” snapped Flavia, losing her poise for a moment, “there isn’t such a thing as a ginger rose. I said copper-coloured.”

This really gets William’s goat: “I shun’t be surprised if it was all jus’ a trick to get that knife,” he mutters darkly. He decides to visit her house the next day to ask for the return of his property; “She may’ve begun to feel sorry in the night.”

Of course, he has never seen Aunt Amelia, so when the door of the cottage is opened by the female literary friend, he is none-the-wiser. She similarly, although as she is expecting a visit from a literary child – one markedly similar to Anthony Martin from Aunt Arabelle in Charge, indeed – who is going to review some of her books. She shows no surprise, therefore, at William’s arrival, although some surprise at his appearance.

His conversation also scandalises her (“Now, dear boy, tell me some of the fancies and imaginings that go on in your clever little head.” “I often pretend I’m a cannibal cookin’ people or a prehistoric monster crunchin’ human bones”) and they spend the entire interview at completely and comically cross-purposes, but he ends up getting the knife back.