At twenty-five minutes to eight there was a knock on the staff room door.

"Come in!" called Mr Wilkins.

The visitor was Temple. When he saw that the room was not empty he took an autograph book from his pocket.

"Please, sir, write something in my book, please, sir," he asked.

That was not an unusual thing for Mr Wilkins.

"Do you only want my signature?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. Of course, you can write something else, if you like, sir," said Temple. "Something like, for example: By hook or by crook I'll be first in your book, sir." , "All right. Leave the book here. I'll do it later."

Temple sadly went out of the room. It was too bad. Old Wilkie was there. But he had done what he could.

At twenty minutes to eight Mr Wilkins again heard a knock on the door. This time the visitor was Darbishire. He stood half in the room and half out of the door with an eraser in his hand.

"What's the matter, Darbishire? Do you want to see me?"

   "N-no, sir. I didn't think you were here. sir."

   Mr Wilkins frowned. "My dear boy, if you don't want to see me and you thought I wasn't here, why did you knock on the door?"

   "I - I... just wondered whether you could write something in my autograph book."

   Mr Wilkins was surprised. Two boys asking him to write in their autograph books on one evening!

   "You can write anything you like, sir, said Darbishire. "Like: By hook or by crook I'll be first in your book."

   "I'm busy now," answered Mr Wilkins. "I certainly want to be first in your book. Bu1 you'll have to wait till I finish my cross - till I finish correcting your geography exercise-books."

   "Our geography exercise-books!" exclaimed Darbishire. "You haven't corrected them, then, sir?"

   "No, Darbishire, I haven't. And if any more people come and knock on the door. I'm sure, I shall not finish them this evening."

   "Excuse me, sir," said Darbishire, put his autograph book on the table and left the room.

   Five minutes passed during which Mr Wilkins could not find the answer to 17 down. He left it and began to think about 29 down.

   Then Atkinson arrived. "Oh, you are here, sir! I thought maybe there wasn't anybody here," he said. "I mean I thought you were on duty this evening."

   "Oh, I see," Mr Wilkins said with a suspicion. "And so you decided to come into the staff room to see what it looks like when it is empty, didn't you?"

   "Oh, no, sir. I remember now. I really wanted to see you, sir." He took an autograph book from his pocket. "I wondered whether you could write something in this book for me, sir? Just something like: By hook or by crook I'll be first in your book. And then if you sign..." He looked up at Mr Wilkins' expression and stopped.

   "What game are you silly little boys playing?" the teacher asked angrily. He was sure that all those visitors were going to make fun of him. "You come to the staff room, find me here and then tell me that you haven't expected to see me here."

   "No, sir, it isn't so, really, sir."

   "And these autograph books! Somebody must think I'm a film star!"

   Atkinson looked down at his shoes and said nothing.

   "I've had enough nonsense about autograph books for one evening," Mr Wilkins continued. "And if anyone else comes and knocks at the door, I'll - I'll... Well, they'd better not."

   "Yes, sir... No, sir," said Atkinson and ran out of the room.

   In the library he met Darbishire and Temple.

   "I shall not go there any more," said Atkinson. "He is ready to go off like an H-bomb."

   "He wasn't too bad when I was there," Temple said. "I just asked for his autograph and..."

   "You did what?" asked Atkinson.

   "I asked for his autograph. It was the only thing I could think of," answered Temple.

   "Why did you do it? You knew that I was going to ask him for his autograph," said Atkinson.

   "No, I didn't. You never told me," said Temple. "Do you mean that you asked for his autograph, too?"

   "Yes, of course, I did," said Atkinson. "Now I can see why he is so angry - because both of us made the same excuse."

   Darbishire looked at his friends sadly and said, "Not only both of you - all three of us. I only hope that Jennings has got some other excuses for him when he goes to see him."

   "I think we must warn him," said Temple. "Let's go and see if we can find him before it's too late."

   It was already too late. When the three boys came to the common room they did not find Jennings there.

   "Well, he has already gone," Atkinson looked at his watch. "There is nothing more we can do. I only hope that he will be all right."

   The clock on the wall of the staff room stood at ten minutes to eight when, for the fourth time in twenty minutes, there was a knock on the door.

   "Come in!" Mr Wilkins shouted in an angry voice.

   But nobody came in. Because when Jennings heard Mr Wilkins' voice he understood that the room was not empty and decided to run away.

   Mr Wilkins shouted again. Then he stood up from his arm-chair, quickly crossed the room and opened the door. He looked out into the corridor and saw a boy disappearing round the corner.

   "Stop! Come back, that boy!" he shouted.

   After a short time Jennings appeared.

   "Did you call me, sir?" he asked.

   "Yes, I did. Did you knock at the staff room door?"

   "Do you mean just now, sir?"

   "Of course I mean just now. You don't think I meant last term, do you?"

   "No, sir. Well, you see I just tapped on it, sir, if you see what I mean."

   "I see. Then why did you run away and not come in when I told you?"

   "I ... I ... changed my mind at the last moment, sir. I decided not to come in. You see, I was going to ask you to write something in my autograph book. Something like. By hook or by crook..."

   "What!" shouted Mr Wilkins. "This is too much for me! I've had enough of this nonsense! And if you are not out of my sight in a moment, Jennings, then by hook or by crook you'll be first in the detention book!"

   "Yes, sir," said Jennings and ran along the corridor.

   When Mr Wilkins turned to the door he met Mr Hind who was coming back to the staff room.

   "Have you finished correcting your tests?" asked Mr Hind.

   "No," answered Mr Wilkins. "I think I'll wait till morning. There is too much noise at this time of the day."

   "But the Headmaster asked us to give him the results of all the tests at once. So I really think you have to give him the results of the test tomorrow morning, by hook or by crook," said Mr Hind.

   Mr Wilkins looked at him angrily.

   "Will you please not use that idiotic expression, Hind," he said angrily. "I've had enough of that expression on the last twenty minutes to last me quite a long time."

   He went into the staff room and shut the door loudly.

© 2023