Day 144: The Outlaws and Cousin Percy

The facts

“Cousin Percy’s very much looking forward to seeing Ginger and his friends,” she said. “He’s very fond of boys.”
It was William who, when told of this, succinctly remarked: “Well, p’raps he is, but that’s not the point. The point is, are boys fond of him?”
Ginger was inclined to be optimistic. “He’s been abroad anyway,” he said. “So he’s prob’ly shot wild animals.”
Ginger’s mental picture of “abroad” was a vast jungle in which intrepid hunters and fierce beasts of prey stalked each other through trackless undergrowth.

  • Number: 13.4
  • Published: 1931 (1930 in magazine form) – originally titled William and the Clever Cousin
  • Book: William’s Crowded Hours
  • Synopsis: Ginger’s cousin is so obnoxious that he threatens the Outlaws’ dignity.

Verdict

When Martin Jarvis reads the William stories, there is a certain voice he has for people like Cousin Percy. All people of that ilk apparently have a high, slightly horse-like timbre, and a lisp. And every believable it is too.

Never had boy been so brave, so innocently
mischievous, so popular, and so manly, as Cousin Percy. His life had consisted in daring exploits, undertaken invariably on someone else’s behalf (saving boys from drowning had been part of a normal day’s work to Cousin Percy). Occasionally, it seemed, Cousin Percy had got into trouble in the fashion of ordinary boys, but on every occasion only because he was shielding the real culprit (“I always took the punishment rather than played the sneak, my boys”), and he had frequently interfered with a big boy who was bullying a little one, however painful the consequences. (“Always protect .those who are weaker than yourself, my boys.”)

But while Richmal Crompton created many such characters, Cousin Percy has to be the most real, intense and obnoxious of the lot.

His breeziness with the boys, his fabricated tales of his own heroism, his oily smugness to Ginger’s mother, all are really rather sickening. He speaks to them “with the offensive jocularity of one who thinks he is imparting instruction so subtly that the recipient has no idea that he is being instructed: a manner that the Outlaws detested
beyond all other”.

As William remarked, after tolerating day after day of Cousin Percy’s self-serving stories, “I feel the only thing I want to do is go an’ sneak on someone or bully someone.”

The crowning horror comes when Cousin Percy reveals that he will transition from being a private torment to a public humiliation, by doing the entertainment at Ginger’s Christmas party: first a puerile magic routine (“Call them conjuring tricks! You can see him putting all the things in he takes out”), then a lecture on his travels in Italy (“Cousin Percy knew nothing of the ‘abroad’ of Ginger’s imagination. Cousin Percy’s ‘abroad’ consisted of museums and picture galleries”).

But then William makes a silly mistake. Tragically, he mis-hears a park keeper’s instruction that the Outlaws and Cousin Percy stay off the grass, and believes that the park keeper said, “There’s a mad bull coming this way.”

Cousin Percy gives a yelp of fear and barricades himself into a tiny kennel nearby.

Because of Cousin Percy’s lesson that “a manly boy ought to be the first to tell a joke against himself”, William tells the story, liberally, to everybody he meets.

Cousin Percy takes the first train home.