Even his schoolmasters could not have accused William of a lack of application as, methodically, he rehearsed his Great Address. In the morning he concentrated on presentation, locking his bedroom door and positioning his bedroom mirror for maximum effect. For two hours he paraded in front of this looking- glass, trying to match his gestures to those of other great speechmakers, whose efforts he had seen captured on Pathe newsreel. Jenkins, his faithful Welsh collie, meanwhile curled up miserably on the bed, her great eyes full of reproach, whining gently for thrown sticks and freedom.
But William was deaf to her entreaties. He was entering vigorously into the spirit of addressing the masses, as represented in his bedroom by the corner wash-stand. In alternate passages he entreated the wash-stand to greater effort, bullied it with new realities, opened its eyes to the wider world, praised it for its stalwart past and, almost tearfully, bade it follow him to its glorious future.
No gesticulation was left untried. William sawed the air with his finger, and cleared his mantelpiece of ornaments with one great, commanding sweep of his arm. He stuck out his jaw to convey pugnacity, raised his eyebrows as far as they could possibly go to signify ironic amusement and - most gruesome of all - smiled ferociously, as he received his imaginary ovation.
By lunchtime William was convinced that he had done as much as a boy could do, as far as style was concerned. Now only the content remained to be settled. Complacently, he was sure that the decrepit inhabitants of Dunrulin would be happy whatever he told them. He would call for the compulsory culling of the over-sixties, and still be received by a tumultuous banging of walking sticks. But his mind was on that other, bigger audience, whose perceptions of his Address would be formed by the reporting of the formidable Miss Evadne Trott.
So, the afternoon was spent in a damp corner of Farmer Jenks's barn, while the Outlaws thrashed out the messages to be contained in their Leader's speech. For once the presence of Violet Elizabeth, usually thought so soppy and wet as to be beneath even the expansive contempt of the Outlaws, was permitted. Grudgingly William had been forced to concede that this tiny girl had somehow been granted insights denied to others.
Violet Elizabeth, arrayed in a dress of pink and white, and resembling the sugar fairy on a Christmas cake, now took the floor. "I think your thpeech should be all about caring,William," she lisped, "tho you should be compathonate." Braving the derisive snorts of Howard, she went on: "People want more hothpitalth, more thchoolth, more pretty flowerth. They want to be nithe to each other, not nathty. They want to give their pocket money to thingle parenth, gay people, lethbianth, and beggarth. They do, William, I know they do."
Howard could contain his wrath no longer. "We might as well be girls!" he exclaimed disgustedly. "Flowers and lesbians! We need to hang crim'nals, an' keep all our pocket money and play soldiers. Don't listen to her!" He looked up at William expectantly. But his leader was faraway, lost in thought.