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Chapter Forty-Two. Two father Christmases at one party.

Antony Buckeridge 
Jennings and His Friends

Book Content

Chapter Forty-Two.  Two father Christmases at one party.

It was quiet in Dormitory 4 and though all the boys were in the dining hall Jennings and Darbishire were speaking in whispers.
"They've just sat down for tea," said Darbishire.
Jennings pinned the red blanket under his chin, and Darbishire began to glue cotton wool to Jennings' face.
"I only hope that it will not drop in the middle," said Darbishire.
"Oh, it will be all right in the middle. But the pieces on the sides..."
"Oh, I don't mean the middle of the beard, I mean the middle of the party."
"You will wait by the door," Darbishire said to Jennings when they left the dormitory. "I'll go first. Then you'll knock and open the door."
"And if Old Wilkie gets angry again, or my beard drops and everybody laughs!"
"You'll be all right, Jen. Have you got the fountain-pen?"
"Yes, it's in my pocket."
"That's all right, then. Let's hope for the best."
Jennings would have been surprised to know that he was not the only person who was worrying about the part which he had to play... But then, he could not know that, at that moment. Mr Wilkins in a red robe and white beard was hiding behind the kitchen door ready to go in from the other end of the dining hall.
* * *
As usual, there was a Christmas tree in the dining hall. After tea there were usually games and singing, and then a concert which was organized by the boys themselves. But this time Mr Pemberton had decided to show a film.
The party had been going for the minutes when Darbishire went into the dining hall and hurried to his place where his plate of cheese and tomatoes was waiting for him.
"Where have you been?" asked Venables.
"I can't tell you now," answered Darbishire. "It's a secret."
He looked at the top table where Mr Wilkins usually sat... and his eyes opened wide in surprise... Mr Wilkins wasn't there! He looked round the hall. Mr Wilkins wasn't anywhere in the hall!
"That is the end of our plan," Darbishire said to himself. "What will old Jen do when he comes into the hall? It's too late now to warn him. It's too late to do anything. I can only wait and see what will happen."
At that moment Mr Carter rang the bell.
"You'll be interested to hear that an important visitor has promised to come and join us this evening," he announced with a smile. "I think that our guest has already arrived and is waiting to come in."
Mr Carter coughed loudly... and Mr Wilkins knocked on the door.
All heads turned at the sound and so only some of the boys heard some taps which came from the door at the other end of the room. But Darbishire heard them and knew too well what they meant.
Then the door from the kitchen opened and the boys saw Father Christmas standing in the doorway.
There was a gasp of surprise and delight. But even a greater surprise followed... Because at the same moment that Mr Wilkins was coming into the dining hall from the kitchen, the door at the far end of the dining hall opened and a little figure in a red blanket and with cotton wool round its face came in.
The two Father Christmases stopped and stood looking at each other in surprise. All the boys turned their heads from one end of the dining hall to the other like spectators at a tennis match.
"What's going on?" asked Atkinson. "Two Father Chrismases."
"Well, why not?" said Temple. "I think they mean Big Father Christmas and Little Father Christmas, or maybe Father Christmas and Grandfather Christmas."
Mr Wilkins began to walk. Jennings began to walk too.
Slowly, the teacher and the boy walked till they met in the middle of the dining hall by the Christmas tree.
Mr Wilkins recognized Little Father Christmas at once.
"Well, well! I've never expected to meet another Father Christmas here," said Mr Wilkins.
"I didn't expect to meet you, either, sir... I mean I didn't want to come here because of... of what you said, sir," Jennings explained. "But I came for a moment to give you a Christmas present, sir."
And Little Father Christmas put his hand into his pocket and then gave Big Father Christmas a fountain-pen.
The Big Father Christmas looked in surprise. Then he took the present.
"My fountain-pen!" he exclaimed. "How wonderful! That's very kind of you, Jennings - or - Father Christmas! Thank you very much for finding it."
"That's all right, sir," said Little Father Christmas.
"Now let me see if I can give you a present," said Big Father Christmas, and he took Jennings' penknife and gave it to its owner. "Please, take this little present with my best wishes."
"Oh, thank you, sir,-I mean Father Christmas, sir."
There was a burst of applause from the boys in the dining hall.
There was still one important thing that Jennings wanted to say. Now was the time, he decided.
"I think I must go now, sir," he said. "I only wanted to give you your pen. You see, I found it in the stationery cupboard, and you said I must stay and tidy it..."
"I see what you mean," said Big Father Christmas smiling through his bear. "That was very careless of me. And now I can't ask my little brother to leave the party. So, please, stay and join us this evening."
"Oh, thank you, Father,- I mean, thank you, sir,- Father Christmas, sir."
Jennings was going to hurry to his table, but Mr Wilkins said, "Wait a minute, Jennings, or Father Christmas. We Father Christmases must say our greetings to all these people who have come here. So, let's do it together, shall we?"
"Yes, sir," said Jennings.
And the two Father Christmases said together, "A very merry Christmas to you all."
After a burst of applause Jennings took off his blanket and beard and sat down at the table to eat his cheese, tomatoes and cakes.

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