Day 339: William and the Holiday Task

The facts

Mr French, the form master, did not approve of holiday tasks; he considered that they imposed an undue strain on both master and pupil. He had occasionally been tempted to set his pupils the task of committing to memory ‘The Ancient Mariner’ or ‘John Gilpin’ – poems that, he considered, every educated person should know by heart – but had always been restrained by the sobering thought that be would have to hear them say it.

Verdict

A supply teacher with an eccentric educational philosophy (see also William and the Temporary History Master, 13.5) has set William’s class the holiday homework of assembling a ‘museum’ consisting of local ‘finds’.

There was a faraway look in William’s eyes, a jaunty swagger in his walk. He was being feted and acclaimed as the discoverer of the most sensational archaeological find of the century. Scholars and professors of the highest standing showered congratulations on him. Fantastic offers flowed in to him from America, but he refused them and presented the head to the British Museum. The British Museum was ecstatically grateful and held a banquet in his honour, giving three cheers for him at the end. He was knighted and his photograph – Sir William Brown – appeared in all the papers. Reporters flocked to interview him. A modest smile curved his lips as he kicked a stone across the road. “Well, it was sort of luck in a way,” he was saying. “I mean, I’ve got a sort of instinct. I jus’ looked at that hole an’ I knew it had got a heathen god’s statue’s head in it.”

Chiefly out of a sense of rivalry with Hubert, they throw themselves into it body-and-soul, albeit at the last minute.

Their plan of action is pure genius:

“There was somethin’ in the newspaper once,” said Henry thoughtfully. “It was dug up in London. It was a head.”
“What sort of a head?” said Ginger.
“It was a heathen god that people used to worship,” said Henry, “an’ it was jolly important. There were pictures of it in the newspapers. It was hundreds of years old.”
William’s interest was quickening. “Where did they find it?” he said.
“They found it when they were diggin’ a hole in the road in London near the Post Office. There was a picture of that, too.”
“But… gosh!” said William excitedly. “They’re diggin’ a hole in the road near the Post Office here. Come on! Let’s go an’ have a look!”

Astonishingly, they do find a statue’s head, but unfortunately it turns out not to be an ancient one, but rather Archie Mannister’s latest artwork of Ethel (“she’s more my girl friend than I’m her boy friend, if you know what I mean”) which he’d hidden in the hole as a surprise.

Before the Outlaws figure this out, though, they sincerely believe themselves to be in possession of an artefact that is both valuable and cursed: a suspicious incident in William’s home in which a shelf collapsed is naturally ascribed to the head (“Use a bit of sense. It couldn’t have been anythin’ but the curse. What else could it have been?” “Gravity,” suggested Henry tentatively after a moment’s thought).

What a fun story!