The stationery cupboard was not a cupboard at all. It was a small room at the end of the corridor.

 Two days before Mr Wilkins had been 1 here and made up a list of the stationery f which he needed for next term. But he had no time to tidy the shelves. So when Jennings opened the door of the little room he saw exercise-books, rulers, pens, pencils and boxes of chalk scattered on the shelves and on the floor.

He began to work. Soon Darbishire's face appeared in the doorway.

"I'll help you if you like, Jen," he said. "But only till the party starts, of course." "Thank you, Darbi," said Jennings. "Of course, if there is something nice to eat at the party I'll try to take it out for you in my pocket," said Darbishire.

For some minutes they worked without saying a word. They put the books in rows and gathered together rulers and erasers.

And then Jennings made his great discovery... At the back of a shelf behind a box of chalk he found a fountain-pen. He knew whose fountain-pen it was when he saw it.

"Look what I've found!" he cried and waved the pen under his friend's nose.

   "Why are you so happy? It's only an old fountain-pen," said Darbishire.

   "But don't you know whose pen it is? It's Old Wilkie's!"

   "That's right," said Darbishire. "It's the fountain-pen that he always uses when he corrects our exercise-books."

   "But that isn't all," said Jennings. "he had lost it and was very angry when he couldn't find it."

   "He doesn't deserve to get it back, if you ask me."

   "Maybe not, but - well, I can't confiscate it like he confiscated my penknife," Jennings answered. Then he thought for a moment.

   "If I give him back his pen he may be in a good mood and he may let me go to the party. What do you think, Darbi?"

   "You never know with Old Wilkie. But we can try. Let's go and find him. The party may start any minute now."

   They put the rest of the books back on the shelves. Jennings put the fountain-pen in his pocket and the boys went to the door. When Jennings closed the cupboard door a bright idea came into his head.

   "Listen, Darbi, I have a wonderful idea," he exclaimed. "I'm not going to give the fountain-pen to Old Wilkie now."

   "Why not?"

   "Come to the dormitory with me and I'll tell you all about it."

   At that moment the school bell began to ring. Along the corridor the doors opened and boys hurried to the party in the dinning hall.

   "But I can't come now," said Darbishire. "I'm going to the party, Jen, even if you are not."

   "We'll both go to the party, if you do what I tell you." Jennings took his friend by the arm and they hurried to Dormitory 4.

   "I don't want to give Old Wilkie his fountain-pen when he is angry. He'll take it and say nothing," Jennings explained. "The right time to do it is during tea. He'll be in a good mood then."

   "Yes, of course. Wait till he begins to drink his tea and then come into the dining hall and give him his fountain-pen as a Christmas present. A good plan, Jen! He will have to let you stay at the party then."

   "That is not all, Darbi, it won't be me who comes into the hall - it'll be Father Christmas!"

   "Father Christmas?"

   "When everybody sits down at tea there

   • will be a knock on the door. Everybody will ; look round and I shall come in in a red robe and white beard. I shall walk straight up to Mr Wilkins and give him his fountain-pen back - as a present from Father Christmas."

   "You are right, Jen. Even Old Wilkie can't be so bad as to ask Father Christmas to leave the room," said Darbishire. "But where are you going to get the robe and the beard? You haven't got much time, you know."

   Jennings, as usual, had a ready answer. He went to his bed and took from it a bright red blanket.

   "I can put it over by head and pin it under by chin."

   "And what about your beard?" asked Darbishire.

   "Cotton wool! Matron has got a lot of it," answered Jennings.

* * *

   It must be said that Mr Wilkins was going to let Jennings be present at the party. He was also going to. give him back his penknife.

   But on his way to the stationery cupboard he heard the bell and at that very moment he met Mr Carter.

   "You haven't dressed up yet," said Mr Carter.

   "Dressed up?" asked Mr Wilkins in surprise.

   Then he, remembered. Oh, yes, of course! That Father Christmas business! He had had so many things to do in the last days that he had forgotten about it.

   "You know. Carter, I think you'll be a better Father Christmas," said Mr Wilkins. "I don't think I can do it well."

   "Nonsense! You'll be a wonderful Father Christmas," said Mr Carter. He took Mr Wilkins by his arm and led him to the staff room. And now Mr Wilkins quite forgot about Jennings.

   "I think it will be better if you dress up here where the boys won't see you", Mr Carter said as he closed the staff room door. "I want it to be a surprise."

   Unwillingly Mr Wilkins put on a red robe and a long white beard.

   "That's wonderful!" exclaimed Mr Carter. "I tell you, Carter, I shall be happy when the party is over," said Mr Wilkins.

   "Well, well!" said Mr Carter. "You stay here till all the boys have gone into the dining hall to tea. Then go to the kitchen and wait by the door, which leads into the dining hall. Then I'll announce that an important visitor has arrived. When you hear this you'll knock on the door and come into the hall."

   "All right," said Mr Wilkins in a sad voice.

© 2023