The next morning Jennings and Darbishire spent
every moment of their free time with ears or mouths in a tobacco tin.
They talked about the weather or asked about each other's health. At
last they were tired of their homemade telephone.
"You know, Darbi, we have to think of something
else that we can do with our homemade telephone," said Jennings. "It's
silly to say 'How are you?' and 'I'm all right. How are you?' again and
"Yes, I see what you mean," answered
Darbishire. "But it's very difficult to know what else to say after the
first half an hour."
"Well, never mind, I expect I'll think of something," said Jennings.
The next lesson was geography, but Mr Wilkins,
who taught this subject to Form Three decided to spend the first ten
minutes on an inspection of books and stationery.
"Well, boys! Take out your books in all subjects and lay them on your desks," said Mr Wilkins.
Form Three were surprised.
"All our books, sir? But it's a geography lesson, sir," said Bromwich.
"You heard what I said. And I also want to see your pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, everything."
"Is it an inspection, sir?" asked Atkinson.
"Of course it's an inspection. You don't think
I'm organizing an exhibition, do you? I want to be quite sure that each
thing has its owner's name on it."
Form Three liked book and stationery
inspections as it was a pleasant change. The boys decided to make it
last till the end of the lesson.
"Sir, please, sir, what shall I do, sir? I haven't got my name on my algebra book, sir," Temple began.
"Write it on the book at once then," came the answer.
Darbishire decided to ask the next pointless question.
"Please, sir, I've only got two inches of my ruler."
"Well, sir, my name is too long, sir, and I
can't write it on one side. So will it be all right if I write Darbi on
one side and shire on the other, sir?"
"I... I... Don't ask such silly questions, you silly little boy!"
"But, sir, I was only thinking..."
"Well, don't think!" said Mr Wilkins angrily.
"Now the first thing I want to do is to make a list of all boys who need
stationery. So, please, be quiet and put your hands up if you need
Now Atkinson was the first. "Please, sir, I
would write my name on my ruler, if I had one, but I gave it to Bromwich
who says that he has lost it."
"Please, sir, can I ask for a new pencil if mine is only one and three-quarter inches long?" It was Crosby.
When at last Mr Wilkins finished the list, he stood up from the desk.
"I'm going to the staff room to get these
things for you. And you, please, write down your names on all your books
and stationery," said Mr Wilkins and went to the door.
"Sir, please, sir, how can I put my name on the
eraser, sir?" It was Jennings. "You see, I tried to write my name in
pencil, sir, but it disappears every time I rub something
"I'm not taking any excuses," said Mr Wilkins. "Think of something!"
"Be quiet, Jennings, and do as I told you. If I
find any of your things that hasn't your name on when I get back, I'll -
I'll... Well, it had better have your name on, that's all," said Mr
Wilkins and left the classroom.
For some moments Jennings sat thinking. All his
other things had his name on them. How could he put it on the eraser?
"And now that Mr Wilkins knows that my eraser hasn't got my name on, he
will certainly want to know whether I have written my name on it or
not... Shall I take a penknife and carve my name on the eraser?"
But at that moment he looked at the desk in
front of him where Bromwich was gathering his books for the inspection.
Near the books lay a ruler on which the name of the owner was branded by
focusing the rays of the sun through a magnifying glass.
Here was the answer, Jennings decided. It was an autumn day, but the sun was shining brightly that afternoon.
"Hey, Bromo, may I borrow your magnifying glass, please?" asked Jennings.
Bromwich passed him the magnifying glass, and
Jennings began to focus the rays of the sun on his eraser. Soon the
eraser began to smoke. It worked! It worked! Jennings was happy.
Very slowly he began to move the magnifying
glass, and soon the first letter of his name was ready. But he was so
absorbed in his work that he did not notice a smell of burning rubber.
But the other boys in the classroom noticed it.
"I say," Venables turned to Temple, "something is burning."
"I'm sure rubber is burning somewhere,"
answered Temple. He began to look around the room and soon found it.
"Hey, Jennings, what do you think you are doing? Are you trying to
suffocate the whole Form Three?"
Jennings looked at him, surprised.
"I'm only writing my name on my eraser. Don't
worry. I've nearly finished. I must only do another... Hey! Help! The
whole rubber is on fire!"
In a moment the whole classroom was full of smoke.
"You must be crazy, Jen," said Temple. "What will Old Wilkie say when..."
The door opened and Mr Wilkins came into the
classroom with exercise-books and stationery in his hands. But he did
not go far. He stopped between the door and his desk and smelt.
"There's something on fire!" he said.
"It's all right, sir," Jennings said quickly.
"It certainly isn't all right. I can smell it." And he smelt again. "Burning rubber, that's what it is."
"Yes, I know, sir, but it was by chance. I was only doing what you told me."
"I never told you to set fire to the building."
"I didn't mean that, sir. I was only writing my name on my eraser, sir."
"What! With a magnifying glass!" exclaimed Mr Wilkins when he saw the magnifying glass on Jennings' desk.
"Yes, sir. It worked well on Bromwich's ruler, sir, so I thought..."
"You silly little boy!" said Mr Wilkins and dropped the exercise-books and stationery on his desk.
Now Form Three decided to use the situation. The boys began to cough loudly.
"May we open the windows, sir?" said Atkinson,. and the boys ran to the windows.
"Be quiet!" said Mr Wilkins loudly. "Stop this nonsense and go back to your places!"
"But, sir, we can't breathe, sir," said Venables. "You said yourself that the whole room was..."
"Do as I tell you and be quiet!"
When everybody was sitting down at their desks,
Mr Wilkins said, "You will have to come to the detention class this
"Oh, sir!" exclaimed Form Three.
"...if you don't behave yourselves now."
Form Three breathed again. Mr Wilkins wasn't a bad man, after all.
"And you, Jennings..." began Mr Wilkins.
"But I was only doing what you told me," said Jennings. "You said I had to write my name on..."
"Don't argue with me, boy! I've had enough
nonsense from you, and if I have any more I'll - I'll... Well, there had
better not be any more nonsense, that's all."