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Chapter Twelve: Luke Walker and the new teacher
“Search everyone’s quarters on decks five to seven.”
“It’s nillogical to search deck six …”
“No, you don’t say that.”
“Coz you’re Tom Paris.”
“Paris knows when things aren’t logical.”
“No he doesn’t. Paris don’t think like that.”
“I’m Tuvok, you’re Paris,” Luke put his foot down, “say somethin’ like ‘no don’t search deck six coz it smells in there’.”
“No, don’t search deck six, it smells in there coz that’s where Tuvok’s quarters is.”
“This is a serious situation Mr Paris! My quarters do not smell and even if they did it is nillogical to leave an entire deck out of the search. Search all quarters on decks five, six and seven. Now!”
“Luke, come downstairs please,” Mum called, “I want you to try on your new school uniform.”
Luke pulled a face. They would be back at school in three days and he had been trying not to think about it.
“Luuuke, now please.”
He reluctantly put down his tricorder and did as he was told. In the living room Mum had all his new clothes laid out on the settee. They looked horrible. Two pairs of grey trousers with a smart crease pressed down the front; four white shirts folded and pinned with cardboard under the collars; five pairs of grey socks; one black sweatshirt with the name of his school written in gold across the front; one black jumper, and new shoes. Luke looked suspiciously at the shoes.
“Are they leather? I’m not wearin’ cow skin,” he insisted.
“I know they look like it but they’re not,” Mum assured him, “look.”
She showed him the label inside and Luke was satisfied that they were made of synthetic materials.
“If they can make shoes what look like leather and feel like leather and do the same job as leather without bein’ leather, why do they keep killin’ cows?”
“Beats me,” said Mum, she really didn’t have time to get into it right now. “Okay, try these on. If they don’t fit I’ll have to take them straight back and change them.”
Luke tried it all on and everything fitted perfectly. Mum had a knack for choosing the right size which she was very glad about because it meant she didn’t have to take him with her when she went shopping.
“Oh, you do look smart,” she said proudly.
“I don’t like this,” he said, pulling at the black jumper, “it’s itchy. What’s it made of?”
“Lamb’s wool act…, oh Luke, don’t start. Taking the wool doesn’t hurt the lamb, they have to have it sheared so they don’t get too hot. It’s just like when you have your hair cut. That doesn’t hurt does it?”
“How do you know? Have you ever seen a sheep bein’ sheared? Or a lamb? I don’t think Squirt would like it.”
Mum looked at the ceiling and took a deep breath.
“Luke, you need a warm jumper for school. Honestly, it doesn’t hurt them to have their hair cut.”
Luke didn’t know what to think. He supposed there could be no harm if the sheep did need to have their wool cut off; if they didn’t want it themselves. He decided to let it go for now, but he would have to find out more about it before making a final decision. He tossed the jumper onto the settee and ran back upstairs. He wanted Joe’s opinion.
Joe wasn’t sure.
“When Janet doesn’t know somethin’ she looks it up on the computer,” he said, “p’rhaps we should do that.”
“I bro…, erm, Dad’s computer doesn’t work anymore and Jared won’t let me use his. Can we borra Janet’s?”
Joe laughed and shook his head. Luke was stumped.
“We’ll ‘ave to investigate it ourselves,” he said eventually, “I’m not wearin’ that jumper ’til I know for sure it’s not hurtin’ anybody.”
Tuesday came around as it was bound to, and Luke found himself back at school. He was predictably annoyed about it but took solace in the fact that at least he wasn’t in Mrs Tebbut’s class anymore. Everyone knew Ms Robinson was the nicest teacher in school. She never sent anyone to the headmaster or made anyone stand in the corner or made anyone do extra homework when they had trouble doing the normal amount of homework. From what he’d heard, Luke felt sure she was the type of teacher who would sympathise with someone if they accidentally stapled their own finger. And she certainly wasn’t the type of teacher to make someone eat all their mushy peas just because they’d asked for a big portion when they couldn’t possibly have known they would be so salty.
At ten to nine he and the rest of class 5 were allowed to enter the classroom. There were a lot of unfamiliar faces and not enough desks or seats for everyone. Those who could, found seats, others sat on the desks while some, mostly the children Luke had never seen before, just stood around in huddles.
“I know there’s not enough seats,” said Thomas, Ms Robinson’s teaching assistant, “but bear with us. Ms Robinson and Mr Beardsley will be here in a minute and they’ll explain everything.”
“Who’s Mr Beardsley?” asked Katia.
“Ah, here he is. Mr Beardsley, meet Year 5.”
At that moment a tall, thin man with very short, sandy hair and glasses walked into the room. He wore a beige knitted waistcoat buttoned up over a white and beige checked shirt. Luke was a little concerned.
“Good morning everyone,” said the man, “I’m Mr Beardsley and I’ll be teaching some of you this year.”
“Where’s Muz Robinson?” shouted Kenny.
“She’s still talking to the Headmaster, she’ll be here in a moment.”
Luke and Joe stood against the back wall feeling rather uneasy. The room hummed with muffled mutterings. Nobody knew what was going on. A few minutes later Ms Robinson joined them.
“Sorry to keep you waiting class 5,” she said, “it’s all a bit last minute so I hope you’ll bear with us.”
“If they told us what needs bearin’ with, we might be able to,” whispered Luke.
Joe nodded. Ms Robinson explained.
“Little Greatoak Primary school has closed due to insufficient attendance. That is, the council has decided it’s too expensive to run a whole school when there are not enough pupils to fill it.”
Everyone was listening.
“So, all the children from Little Greatoak will be coming to school here from now on.” She looked around at the new faces. “Welcome to Gingham County Primary, we hope you’ll be very happy here.”
Luke, without understanding why, felt suddenly possessive of the school he’d never liked.
“Most classes have had the addition of three or four pupils,” Ms Robinson went on, “but Year 5 has been increased by twenty, making a class of fifty pupils which is far too many.”
Luke didn’t like the way this was going.
“So we’re going to have two Year 5 classes: Class 5A and Class 5B. I will take Class 5B and Mr Beardsley – who has also joined us from Little Greatoak – will take Class 5A.”
It could not truthfully be said that Luke was good at maths but even he was quick to work out that, since half of fifty was twenty five, at least some of his old class would not be in Ms Robinson’s group. Without realising it, he held his breath.
Mr Beardsley and Ms Robinson stood at the front of the class with open registers in their hands. Ms Robinson continued.
“Class 5B,” she said, “we will be moving to the new mobile classroom next to the playground. When I call your name, collect your bags and coats and wait for me in the cloakroom.”
Ms Robinson called the names on her register and, one by one, children left the room. Luke realised with horror that the division had been done alphabetically. Ms Robinson was taking the top of the alphabet. Those at the bottom were being left with Mr Beardsley. Joe Currant’s name was called. Luke Walker’s was not.
At the end of the day Luke couldn’t find Joe so he walked home alone feeling very sorry for himself. Then he saw something which took his mind off it. Across the road sheep were being rounded up with two dogs and a quad bike. They looked scared and tried to run in all directions but the dogs and the motorbike kept heading them off so that in the end they had no choice but to enter a fenced paddock at the edge of the field. Unlike the grassy field, this paddock was nothing but mud. There was nothing to eat and nothing to drink. Luke watched from the bus shelter as the quad bike rider locked the gate, ordered the dogs onto the back of the bike, and then rode away. When they were out of sight Luke went over to the sheep. There were thirty or forty of them who recoiled as he approached. Luke wanted to release them but wondered if he should. He couldn’t understand why the farmer would lock them in there like that without even a water trough, but maybe the sheep needed some medicine that had to be taken on an empty stomach. It would be wrong to act without knowing all the facts. He felt it best to come back and check on them later and decide then what to do.
Luke opened the back door, dropped his book bag on the kitchen floor, kicked off his shoes and reached for the biscuit tin.
“Erm, did you forget something?” said Mum, suddenly appearing from the pantry.
Luke stuck his feet back in his shoes and shuffled them out of the kitchen.
“Sohhy,” he said, his mouth full of gingernut.
“Don’t tread the heels down!” she reminded him wearily, “and that’s not what I meant.”
He looked back, confused, and then noticed his book bag.
“Sorry,” he said again, picked it up and started to walk away.
“That’s not what I meant,” she said again, in a sort of sing-songy tone of voice.
Luke stood still. He was tired. It had been a long day. Could she not just tell him what she meant? Did they have to go through this trial and error game every time? He turned to look at her.
“What?” he asked, “what did you mean?”
Mum gave him a look which meant he should modify his look. He did. Then she told him.
“Shouldn’t you ask before you take a biscuit?”
“Can I have a biscuit please?”
“You may have two biscuits,” she said smiling, “how was your first day back? Did you like your new teacher?”
Luke slumped into a chair in the dining room.
“He’s alright,” he said unenthusiastically.
“He? I thought you’d be with Ms Robinson this year.”
“Yeah. So did I.”
“So, how come you’re not? Who are you with? Mr Green?”
“No. A new one. Mr Beardsley.”
“Oh. What’s he like?”
Luke appreciated his mother’s interest but really wasn’t in the mood to recap the day’s events.
“He’s alright,” he said again, “I’ve got to do me homework,” and he lifted himself sluggishly from the chair and headed upstairs to cover his new books.
On Wednesday afternoon Luke was able to find Joe at the end of school.
“What’s it like in Muz Robinson’s class?” he asked jealously.
“‘s’alright,” said Joe.
Luke was surprised to get such a tepid response but realised that Joe was just being considerate, not wanting to rub it in. He appreciated that and gladly changed the subject.
“We need to go home by the main road,” he told his friend, “I’ve got to check on some sheep.”
When they got there Luke was very concerned to see they were just as he’d left them the day before.
“They must be so hungry,” he said, “and thirsty.”
The boys crossed the road. Joe was equally worried.
“We should let ’em back into the field,” he suggested, “there’s grass; and a water trough.”
“Yeah, I think so too,” said Luke, “but I can’t open the gate coz o’ the padlock.” He tugged pointlessly at the hardened steel lock. “Where’s the farmer got to? I thought he would ‘ave let ’em out by now.”
“P’rhaps he’s had an accident,” Joe said anxiously, “he might be dead!”
Luke hadn’t thought of that.
“Oh no! He prob’ly dint tell no one he’d locked the sheep up without food ‘n’ water, and if he’s dead, no one’ll know they’re here, and they’ll starve to death!” His eyes were wide with alarm.
“Call the RSPCA!” said Joe suddenly, “this is cruelty to animals, lockin’ em up without food or water! The RSPCA’ll rescue ’em!”
“Yesss!” said Luke and the two of them rushed back to his house.
Luke found the number in the phone book and decided, for privacy, to use the phone in his mum’s bedroom. He put it on speaker so that Joe could hear. It rang for a few seconds before being answered by a recorded message.
“Thank you for calling the RSPCA. Please note some calls may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes. To proceed press 1 now.”
Luke pressed 1.
“Thank you. Please say your postcode.”
Luke was flummoxed.
“What’s my postcode?” he mouthed to Joe.
The recording tried again.
“Please say your postcode out loud or key it into the keypad.”
Luke pressed some random keys.
“Thank you. Now please key in your house number.”
He pressed the seven and the one.
“Thank you. Your address is 71 Broomhill Drive, Glasgow, Scotland. If this is correct press 1; if this is incorrect press 2; press 3 to return to the main menu.”
Luke was exasperated. No, it wasn’t correct but he wasn’t going to tell them that or he’d have to start all over again. He pressed 1.
“Thank you. Now say your name out loud.”
“Thank you. If you have called because of an animal in distress, please choose between the following options: If you’re worried about a dog in a hot car, press 1. If you’ve found an abandoned …”
Luke threw his head back in frustration.
“We ‘aven’t got time for this! Jus’ let me talk ta someone!”
“It’s a good job you’re not on a mobile,” Joe agreed, “Janet’s always runnin’ out of credit on hers.”
The machine listed several options before concluding with:
“For anything else, please hold for an operator.”
“Finally,” Luke mouthed and the ring tone began again. After a minute or so, a live person answered.
“Thank you for calling the RSPCA. How may I help you?”
“There’s some sheep locked in a muddy paddock with no food or water,” Luke told her.
“Are they in distress?”
“Wun’t you be distressed if you hadn’t eaten anythin’ for a whole day an’ night? Or drunken anythin’?”
“It’s only been one day?”
“And a night. More ‘n that now,” Luke said.
“Are they injured? Do they look like they’ve been abused or neglected.”
“Well, no, they don’t seem to be injured.”
“I’m sorry but I don’t think any of our inspectors will come out if they’re not injured or in distress.”
“They haven’t had anythin’ to drink or eat since yesterday! They’re really hungry and they’re locked in there! You’ve got to let ’em out!”
“I’m sorry. Perhaps you can ask the farmer to check on them. Do you know who the sheep belong to?”
“We think the farmer might be dead.”
“Who are you talking to?” Mum stood in the doorway.
Luke disconnected the call.
“Nobody. We was jus’ pretendin’,” he thought it best not to involve Mum.
“I heard a woman’s voice. Who were you talking to?” she persisted.
“Somebody. Don’t matter who.”
“I beg your pardon? You’re in my room, using my phone and I insist you tell me who you were speaking to!”
Luke looked momentarily at the floor and then back at her.
“Joe’s mum,” he lied again, “she said Joe could stay for tea. We’re goin’ to check on Curly and Squirt.”
Mrs Walker decided to pretend she believed him.
“Okay,” she consented, “back by six please. And in future, ask before you use the phone.”
While Mum stayed in her room to sort the laundry, Luke and Joe rushed downstairs.
“We’ll feed ’em ourselves!” Luke decided.
He handed a shopping bag to Joe and opened the fridge. Luckily, Mum had just been shopping.
“Take these,” he said, “and these, and these,” and he handed him about twenty carrots, two cucumbers, a cabbage, a lettuce and sixteen apples. The bag was heavy. Luke grabbed another one to share Joe’s burden and they left.
When they got to the bus stop they stood under the shelter and looked carefully in every direction to make sure no one was watching. Then they hurried across the road and emptied their bags into the muddy paddock. The sheep didn’t trust the boys and they crowded against the opposite fence.
“These’ll give ’em water as well as food,” said Luke, “I hope they like ’em.” He was a little disappointed that they didn’t seem too keen to tuck in.
“I think they’re frightened of us,” Joe suggested, “p’rhaps we should go back over the road and watch from there.”
Luke agreed and within a few minutes the sheep bravely and hungrily partook. The boys were extremely relieved.
“That’s good,” said Joe, “we’ll jus’ feed ’em every day ’til they let ’em out.”
“Yeah, but tomorrow we’ll get the food from your house or my mum’ll catch on.”
Then they went to visit Curly and Squirt, before popping in to Joe’s house to tell his mum that he was going to tea at Luke’s.
On Thursday Mr Beardsley said that Year 5 were going to be responsible for the Christmas concert this year. He said they were going to put on a musical production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
“… so for any of you who are aspiring singers or actors, the auditions are being held on Friday after school.”
This was interesting. It was a good story. The Muppet Christmas Carol was one of Luke’s favourite films. He’d never thought of himself as an actor and the idea of performing did not really appeal to him. However, when Jared was in the school play a couple of years ago he said they had to rehearse so much that he missed loads of lessons.
“What parts?” he blurted out suddenly without thinking. Mr Beardsley was writing on the board.
Luke felt a bit embarrassed.
“er, sorry, what parts are in the play?”
“Oh, er, well, lots. Scrooge, Scrooge’s nephew, Bob Cratchit, the Spirits, Tiny Tim, …”
“They’re all boy parts,” said Tania Spriggs, one of the new girls. She was understandably disgruntled.
“Oh, there’s lots of girls’ parts too,” said Mr Beardsley, trying to think of one. “Oh, er, there’s Mrs Cratchit, and er, the Cratchit daughters, and Scrooge’s sister, Scrooge’s nephew’s wife,” he was on a roll now. But then he realised he wasn’t. He couldn’t think of any more.
“The wife, the sister, the daughter! All minor roles!” she said, dispirited, “I look forward to a school play with a strong female lead!”
“I tell you what, talk to Ms Robinson at the auditions. She’s adapting the story into a script so I’m sure she’ll make sure there’s plenty of good roles to be had for both sexes.”
Luke gave it some more thought. He liked the idea of being one of the spirits. The really scary one.
Mr Beardsley resumed writing on the board. Maths. Again. Luke pictured himself as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. He’d have a long, black, hooded cape; his face would be painted white with black cavernous eyes; he’d have sharp talons for fingernails and …
“Luke. What’s next?”
Luke, brought abruptly from his reverie, had no idea what was being asked of him. His bewilderment was visible. Mr Beardsley banged the pen on the board to draw Luke’s attention to the sum written there.
“Four thousand, two hundred and seventy nine divided by twenty two. Long division. Max did the first part. What’s next?”
Luke shook his head. He really hated it when someone interrupted his train of thought. He was in the middle of something. What was it? He turned to ask Joe but Joe wasn’t there. Oh yes, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, that was the part for him. Then he had another thought. If Joe was in it too they’d be together again. He wondered what part Joe would like. Mr Beardsley moved on to Katia. She didn’t know either.
On their way home from school Luke and Joe discussed the Christmas concert.
“I don’t wanna be in it,” said Joe.
“You could just ‘ave a small part,” Luke suggested, “then we’d be together.”
“Oh yeah,” said Joe, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was terrified at the thought of being on stage; of being watched by people. Luke sympathised and racked his brains for a way that Joe could be part of the production without actually having to be on stage. Then it came to him.
“You could be the scenery painter!” he said with great satisfaction. “Then you’d ‘ave to be there, paintin’ the scenes while we’re rehearsin’. Then I could chat to you when it’s not my scene and I could help you. I could fetch your pens and paints and brushes. You could tell ’em I’m your assistant so they don’t send me back to lessons when it’s not my scene.”
It was a brilliant plan. Joe was as happy about it as Luke.
They ducked into Joe’s house for sheep food. His mum was in the kitchen.
“Hello Joe, oh, and hello Luke. Are we returning the favour tonight then?” she asked.
“What d’you mean?” said Joe, trying to think of a way to entice her from the kitchen.
“Is Luke staying here for tea today?”
“Oh, er, no. Thank you,” said Luke, “I’ve jus’ come to borra somethin’.”
That gave Joe an idea.
“Yeah, I want to lend ‘im my book about trains,” he said, “ya know, the one Auntie Sue gave me.”
“Okay,” said his mum without looking up from the potatoes she was peeling.
“on’y,” said Joe, tentatively, “I don’t know where it is. Could you find it for me?”
“Haven’t I got enough to do?” she said indignantly, “what else do you want – shall I tie your shoelaces? Shall I clean your teeth for you?”
Joe shook his head.
“Find it yourself you cheeky beggar!” she concluded, and that was that.
The boys stepped back outside. It was no use. She’d started the dinner which meant she’d be in there for at least another hour.
“Sorry,” said Joe, “we’ll have to get somethin’ from yours again.”
“There’s nothin’ left to take,” said Luke, “Mum said we’ll have to have tinned veg ’til she can get to the shops again and coz she thinks I took it for Curly and Squirt and the damsons – typical! They always blame me! – she won’t let me watch telly for a week!”
The boys looked at each other and thought hard. There had to be a way to get something to eat for those poor starving sheep.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Luke, not for the first time. Then he had a thought. An idea. A good one. It might be tricky but it was do-able.
“Remember that farm behind the pony field, next to the rec?”
“Yes,” said Joe.
“They grow salads and things, in them plastic tunnels.”
“Mmm,” said Joe, nervously.
“So, I’ve seen ’em, them tunnels, all they ‘ave to do is water ’em twice a day. The rest of the time there’s no one in ’em.”
“But they’ve got them big dogs,”
“Okay, well, we’ll take a couple o’ dog toys, and then you can distract …”
Joe shook his head.
“I don’t want to distract.”
“Okay, I’ll distract ’em and you can go into the tunnels to get the salad.”
“To save lives!” Luke reminded him, “and anyway, they’ve prob’ly got hundreds o’ lettuces and cucumbers, they won’t miss a few.”
Taking Joe’s silence as tacit consent, Luke continued.
“First, we’ll go to mine to get the dog toys; and a bag; then we’ll go to the farm and I’ll climb in to play with the dogs; as soon as I’ve got their ‘ttention, you sneak into the …”
“What?” said Luke, annoyed that his great plan was a source of amusement.
“Look over there,” said Joe, pointing to the bottom of his garden.
There stood two heavily laden apple trees.
“Or,” said Luke, “we could take some apples.”
They emptied the contents of their school bags behind the water butt and replaced them with apples. With no time to lose, they headed to the muddy paddock.
The top deck was already full of sheep. The farmer was there, with his dogs, talking to the lorry driver. It was clear to the boys what was about to happen. That’s why they were locked up there. They were waiting for transport. Waiting to be taken to their deaths. Luke and Joe stood frozen at the bus shelter. They dropped their bags of apples.
“The lorry must be late,” said Joe in a husky whisper.
“Coz they haven’t been fed for two days, they must’ve not known it was gonna be that long.”
“It’s not late!” snapped Luke angrily, “look how clean an’ shiny that lorry is! I bet they don’t wanna get their lorry dirty – they don’t want no poo and wee in their lorry so they don’t let ’em eat or drink before the journey. Their last journey!”
Joe felt a lump in his throat and his heart ached.
“That’s horrible!” he said desperately, “what can we do? We’ve got to do something!”
Luke’s eyes started to sting as he watched them send in the dogs to herd the hungry sheep onto the lorry. He picked up the biggest stone he could find and threw it as hard as he could at the lorry’s windscreen across the road. It missed.
“There’s nothin’ we can do!” he said, grabbing his bag of apples, “unless you’ve got a thousand pounds to pay the farmer for ’em, and a hundred allotments to keep ’em on!”
Still they hated themselves for doing nothing and walked away in silent misery.
Friday morning at breakfast, Luke’s dad observed how cold and wet it was.
“It’s big coat weather already,” he told his wife, “it’s amazing how quick the temperature drops once September arrives.”
“Sometimes,” Mum agreed, “it’ll probably be warm again tomorrow.” She looked at her boys. “Your big coats need a wash to freshen them up,” she remembered, “so you’ll have to wear an extra jumper under your summer jackets for now.”
“I’m not wearin’ that wool jumper!” said Luke firmly.
“Luke, it’s cold. If your Dad says it’s cold then you know it is. He’s usually hotter than the rest of us.”
“Than you,” Dad corrected her.
“Yeah,” Jared agreed, “you’re the one who’s always cold,” he laughed.
“Well then, there you go, so if Dad thinks it’s cold …”
“I’m not wearin’ that jumper! Take it back an’ get your money back! We’re not givin’ money to farmers!”
Everyone stopped eating. Dad was not impressed.
“Luke Eugene Walker, how dare you speak to your mother like that? Apologise right now!” He spoke in that slow, quiet, angry way that meant you’d gone too far. Luke realised he shouldn’t be taking it out on Mum.
“Sorry,” he said quietly, “but I don’t want you to pay money to sheep farmers. I hate farmers!”
Mum’s response was gentle.
“Luke, clearly something has upset you, but the fact remains, as I told you, that wool isn’t cruel. It doesn’t hurt them to be sheared.”
Luke tried to explain it to her in a way she would understand.
“It doesn’t make any difference,” he said, “they kill ’em anyway.”
“Not for wool they don’t. They kill animals for leather but not for wool.”
“They kill ’em anyway,” Luke said again, “they make money out of ’em for wool; then they kill ’em and make money out of ’em for meat. They kill ’em for money and they’re horrible, nasty, evil, criminal murderers and I don’t want you to give them any of our money!”
Nobody could argue with that.
“Okay,” said Mum, “I’ll take it back today.”
Joe gave Luke back the books and pens he’d left in his garden the day before.
“I forgot them last night,” he apologised.
“Me too,” said Luke, taking possession of three brand new, very soggy, text books, and two exercise books in which a lot of his work had dissolved.
“Put them on the radiator,” Joe suggested helpfully.
“Yeah,” said Luke.
The bell rang and they went their separate ways.
At half past three, all the Year Fives who wanted to be in the Christmas concert went to the hall to audition for Ms Robinson and Mr Beardsley. There were more parts available than actors to play them so Luke felt confident he’d get something. He was expecting to have to get up on stage and recite a line or two from the play, as he’d seen done in a movie once. However, when Ms Robinson saw how few people had turned up she simply asked for a show of hands for each role. If only one person raised their hand for a particular role, they got it. If more than one person raised their hand, Mr Beardsley drew one of their names from a hat. Luke felt this diminished the accomplishment somewhat. He was the only applicant for the role of Third Spirit so the part was his, in addition he was pressed to play Jacob Marley which he was happy to do. Simon Butler would play Ebenezer Scrooge as an old man, a young man and a child. Katia got the parts of young Scrooge’s sweetheart and Mrs Cratchit; Kenny got Bob Cratchit, Fezziwig and the coachman; Tania wanted to play Scrooge’s nephew and Scrooge’s sister because she thought it would add realism to have some discernible family resemblance between those characters. Her wish was granted. And so it went on. Children were permitted to leave after their roles were assigned and by a quarter past five only a few minor roles remained to be cast. Joe and Luke were the only children left in the hall. Luke was waiting for Joe who, for almost two hours, had waited patiently for an opportunity to ask if he could paint the scenery. He had brought with him some preliminary sketches of ideas for backdrops and costumes but when he approached Ms Robinson, she misunderstood his reason for being there.
“Okay Joe, that leaves us with Scrooge’s Servant, the Gentleman Visitor, the Cook, and the Butcher. Do you think you can handle those?”
Joe went white in the face.
“er, no, he don’t want them,” said Luke, stepping in.
“Excuse me, I was talking to Joe,” said Ms Robinson, quite testily. “Come on Joe, they’re only small parts, you can do those for me can’t you?”
Joe looked at the sketchbook in his hands.
“I brought these …” he mumbled nervously.
“What was that? You’ll do it? Thank you Joe,” and she wrote his name next to the character names on her clipboard.
Joe looked at Luke with panic in his eyes.
“No, he’s not doin’ the actin’, he’s good at paintin’ scenery. He’ll be too busy paintin’ to do any actin’,” said Luke persuasively.
Ms Robinson looked at Luke as if her patience was at an end.
“This is nothing to do with you. If Joe didn’t want to do it he would have said so. Please credit him with enough intelligence to speak for himself and stop interfering.” She turned back to Joe. “Okay Joe?”
Joe nodded his assent.
Ms Robinson closed her clipboard and began to pack up her things. Luke knew full well that Joe was only there because he’d asked him to be. He couldn’t let him get lumbered with this.
“No,” he said with determination “Joe don’t wanna do it. That’s not why he came. He daren’t say it coz you’re in a mood, but he definitely don’t wanna do it!”
Ms Robinson glared at him in that all too familiar way.
“Luke. Walker,” she said slowly as if something had just occurred to her, “you’re the one Cathy Tebbut warned me about.”
At this point Mr Beardsley, who had witnessed the entire interaction, decided it was time to intervene.
“Can I have a word Ms Robinson?” he asked.
She glared again at Luke and then stepped aside to speak to her colleague. Luke sat down on the floor next to Joe.
“Sorry,” he said.
“S’oright,” his friend replied.
After a few minutes of hushed discussion Ms Robinson left. Mr Beardsley walked over to the boys.
“Ms Robinson and I have been thinking,” he said, “it doesn’t work very well to have an odd number of pupils in a class because when we need you to work with a partner, there’s always an odd one out.”
The boys nodded. That was true.
“So,” Mr Beardsley went on, “it’s better to have twenty six or twenty four pupils in a class than twenty five.”
The boys nodded again.
“So, Ms Robinson has agreed that it would be a good idea for you to transfer to my class Joe, if that’s alright with you.”
Joe’s now very enthusiastic nod was accompanied by a wide smile. Luke smiled too.
“Okay then,” said Mr Beardsley, smiling back at them, “I’ll see you both, ten to nine, on Monday.” He started to turn away before adding, “oh, and Joe, Ms Robinson said she’d be delighted to have your help with the scenery because she’s going to give some of the Year 4 kids the opportunity to audition for the minor roles.”
He winked and walked away.
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