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RED CIRCLE STORY: This episode, taken from The Hotspur issue: 789 December 22ND 1951.

Customer for Cribber.

Mr Goof, the Second Form master at Red Circle school, closed his book and looked round at his Form. “Well, that is the end of this morning’s work.” He said. “But I feel that many of you could work harder. In order to see whether I am right, I intend to give you a test this afternoon.” A groan went round the Form, Mr Goof smiled slightly. “It will cover most of the work we have done so far,” he said. “You may go now.” The fags clattered out. Busty Parker, the most energetic lad in the Form, rushed for the door. His pal, Alan Reader, was close behind. Alan was in a hurry because he wasn’t keen on having Percy Winter tagging along. But this time Percy wasn’t haunting Alan. Waiting until the Form had stampeded for the door, he went quietly up to Mr Goof’s desk, and stood there, with a respectful air about him. He didn’t actually bow, but he looked as if he might at any moment. One of the fags among the last to leave, paused and looked back curiously at Percy. Cribber Foxe always liked to be in the know. “Yes, Winter?” said Mr Goof. Percy looked mournfully at Mr Goof with his large, timid eyes. “Shall I have to take the test, sir?’ he asked. “Of course,” said Mr Goof. “Very well, sir,” said Percy. “I was just thinking that as I am a new boy, you might think it better for me to get more used to the work and your methods before I sit the test.” “This is just the chance to find out how you are settling down, Winter,” said Mr Goof. “Oh, yes, sir, of course,” murmured Percy. “But examinations always upset me.” “Don’t worry, this won’t be very upsetting,” said Mr Goof. “And I shan’t deal out punishment to anybody who doesn’t do well. I shall expect those boys to do some extra work, but if you’re one of them – well, it won’t hurt you.” “Oh, no, sir,” agreed Percy. “Thank you, sir.” He went to the door, and Mr Goof looked after him thoughtfully. Mr Goof couldn’t make up his mind about Percy. With his pale face and general appearance of being frightened to death, the new boy looked as if he ought to be packed in straw and labeled “Fragile,” but Mr Goof had a wide experience of boys, and there was something about Percy that made him doubtful. Percy sidled out into the corridor, and slipped along as if he didn’t want to be noticed. He jumped nervously when somebody popped out at him from a doorway. “It’s only me!” grinned Cribber Foxe, who lived up to his nickname. “Oh, hello, Foxe,” murmured Percy. “I heard you asking Goof about it,” grinned Cribber. “You can’t fool me, Winter. You’re afraid of failing in the test, and you don’t want to do any extra work.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Percy. “Cut it out,” said Cribber. “I’ve been watching you. I think you’re pretty smart. You can fool Reader, because he’s soft-hearted enough to fall for your helpless act, but I know better.” “Naturally I want to do well in the test,” said Percy. “I can probably help you,” said Cribber. “What subjects are you weak in?” Percy looked at him thoughtfully.

The new boy’s timid expression had gone, for a moment. “My memory’s not very strong,” he murmured. “I find history dates hard to remember.” “Just where I ‘come in,” smirked Cribber. “We’re bound to have some questions on the period we’ve been doing from 1789, the French Revolution, to 1914, the First World War.” “Well?” said Percy. Cribber looked round and lowered his voice. “It’ll cost you half a crown!” he said. Percy hesitated. “All right,” he said. “I’ll let you have a list of dates that matter,” said Cribber. “All done on thin paper, so that you can roll it up nice and small and use it without being spotted.” “All right,” said Percy. “But I want the half-crown now,” demanded Cribber. Percy dug in his pocket and handed over a coin. Cribber took it and winked. “I’ll get cracking,” he said. “See you before afternoon lessons.” He hurried off, and Percy turned towards the Junior House Common Room. The new boy looked completely scared of this strange new world, once more. In the Common Room, Alan and Busty, having fought off all-comers were wedged in a corner, trying to play table tennis on a rickety table with one broken bat, the cover of an atlas, and a dented ball. Percy edged through the crowd. Nobody took much notice of him. Some of the Juniors had tried to rag Percy on his first arrival, but Percy had promptly fainted, and since then the fags had left him alone. He moved around so timidly that most of the time the lads didn’t notice whether he was there or not. Busty caught sight of Percy, muttered something to Alan, and nodded in Percy’s direction. Percy smiled feebly, and perched on the arm of a chair to watch. Alan looked across at Percy. Like Mr Goof, he wasn’t sure what to make of Percy. On arriving at the school, Percy had looked so forlorn that he had been put in Alan’s charge. Busty had regarded the new boy as a complete drip, but Alan had felt sorry for him, remembering his own days as a rather scared new boy. Percy had attached himself to Alan like a limpet, and Alan had found himself fighting the new boy’s battles. Lately, however, he had begun to realise that Percy wasn’t quite so soft as he looked. His most recent trick had been to wangle himself out of fagging by what seemed to Alan a bit of jiggery-pokery. However, with Percy drooping mournfully all over the place, Alan still had the feeling that he ought to be doing something to make him feel at home. He held out the broken bat to Percy. “Here have a go!” he said. Percy smiled faintly, and shook his head. “Thank you very much, but I’d rather not!” he murmured. “I’m not very strong.” Busty snorted, and gave vent to his feelings by smashing a service over the tattered net. The ball whipped up off one of the many bumps on the table top, skidded sideways, and hit Percy in the eye. Percy fell off his chair with a yell. He came up again holding his watering eye, peered at Busty more in sorrow than in anger, and mumbled, “You did that on purpose, Parker!” Then he stumbled out, holding a handkerchief to his eye. “you needn’t have done that to the kid, Busty!” said Alan. Busty nearly blew up. “I didn’t do anything to him!” he hooted. “It was an accident! Anyway what harm could a ping-pong ball do?” “You scared him,” said Alan. “He cries for nothing,” protested Busty. “Weepy Winter his name ought to be!” “Well, let’s not argue about him,” said Alan. “Your service!” Busty bent down and picked up something from the floor. “Game’s over!” he said glumly. “Weepy Winter bust our last ball!”

Percy Gets Protection.

Mr Goof had a pile of exercise books on his desk. It wasn’t often that he had complete quiet in which to catch up with his marking, but he certainly had it at the moment. A deathly hush hung over the classroom as the Second grappled with their test. At his desk, Percy was working through the paper. Looking up, he caught the eye of Cribber, who was sitting across the gangway from him. Cribber winked, and Percy glanced at Mr Goof. The master was bent over an exercise book, and his pencil was busy. Percy picked up the cap of his fountain pen from the desk in front of him. He poked inside and fished out a rolled up piece of tissue paper. On it was a list of dates, with notes, a copy of the history crib that Foxe had made for his own use. “Winter!” snapped Mr Goof. “What have you got there?” Percy jumped. He had thought Mr Goof was too busy to watch the boys. But Mr Goof was not easily taken in, despite his mild air, and he made a habit of glancing up at regular intervals. He had been in time to see Percy looking at his list. Percy stood up. He looked even more timid and forlorn than usual. “I don’t know, sir,” he said. “You don’t know?” said Mr Goof. “No, sir,” said Percy. “It’s a piece of paper Foxe just passed to me. I was trying to make out what it was.” The whole Form was looking at him now. As for Cribber, he sat up with a jerk, and his mouth sagged open. Mr Goof looked at him. Cribber had guilt printed prominently on his face. “Come here, Winter,” said Mr Goof. “Bring that piece of paper with you, and your examination paper. You, too, Foxe.” Percy went out, and Cribber followed. Alan watched them go by. Cribber had obviously been up to something, but after his previous experiences with Percy, Alan had his doubts about the new boy’s innocence. He also had his doubts about the way in which Percy had given Cribber away. His simple behaviour was too good to be true, and in anybody else it would have immediately been classed as sneaking. Mr Goof glanced at the list of dates, and turned to Cribber. “Did you give this to Winter, Foxe?” “No, sir,” said Cribber. “It appears to be in your writing,” said Mr Goff dryly. Cribber gulped. “Well, yes, sir, I did give it to him, but –” “He stopped. If he explained about selling the crib to Percy, he would be in a worse mess. “Did you ask Foxe for this, Winter?” asked Mr Goof. “What is it, sir?” murmured Percy. Mr Goof looked at him thoughtfully. Then he said, “It is a history crib.” “I don’t use cribs, sir,” said Percy primly. Cribber glared at him, but Percy looked meekly at the floor. Mr Goof glanced down at Percy’s paper. “You certainly do not appear to have used it here,” he said. “You have not started the history questions. Let me see your paper, Foxe.” Slowly Cribber handed over his paper. Mr Goof glanced at it. Then he compared the crib. “You seem to be a faster worker, Foxe. You have done the history questions. You have also made a mistake. You have given the date of the Battle of Waterloo as 1915 instead of 1815. The same mistake appears on the crib. You must have copied it out in a hurry!” Cribber said nothing, but glanced at Percy for a moment. Percy was still looking at the floor. “You may sit down, Winter," said Mr Goof. “I am entirely satisfied with your conduct in this affair, but Foxe appears to be the real culprit. However, I advise you not to give your Form-mates away in future.” “Oh, no, sir!” said Percy. “I wouldn’t have said anything if I’d realised it was a crib Foxe was offering me. He was only trying to do me a good turn. He probably didn’t realise it was wrong!” With his eyes downcast, Percy went back to his seat. Mr Goof turned to Cribber. “I don’t like corporal punishment, Foxe, but this seems to be an occasion for it!”

He opened his desk and took out a cane. “Bend over!” When Cribber stood up again, he looked almost as watery as Weepy Percy Winter. But they were tears of anger as much as anything else. “Go back to your seat,” ordered Mr Goof. “You will finish this paper, but you will stay behind and do another test which I shall set you – without cribs!” Cribber went back to his seat and eased himself down gingerly. He gave Percy one glance, but Percy was bent studiously over his paper. At the end of the afternoon, Cribber stayed behind, while the other boys hurried out to freedom in a cheerful, noisy crowd, Percy sidled up to Alan. “What happened there?” demanded Alan. “I know Cribber’s a shifty type, but you sank him pretty thoroughly.” “I know,” sighed Percy. “If I’d realised it was a crib, I’d have taken the blame myself. But Cribber pushed the paper to me, and then Mr Goof asked me what it was, and it all took me by surprise.” He looked round nervously. “But I’m afraid Cribber won’t understand. “I’ll stay with you, if you don’t mind.” Percy stayed close to Alan and Busty all the evening, to Busty’s disgust. They saw Cribber at Prep, but Percy hurried out close behind Alan when Prep, was over, while Cribber was kept back for Mr Goof to inspect his work. Cribber finally ran Percy to earth in the dormitory that night. He came bursting in, and Percy, who was just getting ready for bed, Jumped round behind his locker. “Keep off!” mumbled Percy. “I’ll flatten you, you little rat!” shouted Cribber. He made a rush, and Percy dodged round the bed. “Come here you little sneak!” yelled Cribber. He made a sudden dive across the bed, seized Percy, and began to drag him across the bed. “Help! Let go!” yelled Percy. Alan ran up from his bed, and pulled them apart. Percy sank on the bed, pale of face. “I’ll smash him!” shouted Cribber. “He bought that crib off me, and then sneaked to Goof!” Percy stared at him his eyes wide and surprised. “How can you say that, Foxe? I’m sorry I gave you away, and I can understand you being angry. But it was an accident, and it’s unfair to accuse me of cribbing, too.” Cribber stared at him, spluttering for words. “Unfair?” he howled. He made another leap at Percy, but Alan pulled him back. By now a crowd of juniors were standing round, and Jamie Murchison, the Form Captain, spoke up. “There’s only one way to settle this,” he said. “In the gym, with the gloves on. After all, Winter did sneak on Foxe, whether he intended to or not. Percy shrank back, his expression terrified. “Oh, I couldn’t,” he said. “I’m not strong enough to fight!” “The kid can’t fight Cribber,” said Alan. “Foxe is too big. Winter hasn’t got the stamina. Look here, Cribber, the only thing you can do is to forget about it. It’s bad luck that Winter gave you away, but you have been asking for trouble for a long time.” “Forget it?” shouted Cribber. “I’ll flatten his pasty little face!” “No, you won’t!” said Alan. He grabbed Cribber and pushed him over to his own bed. “Now stay there! And don’t try bullying Winter!” Cribber tried to get up, glared at Alan, and Percy called over meekly. “Thank you, Alan!” Slowly the dorm settled down. Busty came over and sat on Alan’s bed. “You know,” he said quietly. “I shouldn’t be surprised if Cribber’s story is right. It isn’t like him to go out of his way to help anybody, even with a crib, but it is like him to sell one – and I reckon it’s like Weepy Winter to buy one!” Alan had a worried expression on his face. “I’ve been thinking it over,” he said. “I wonder if you’re right, Busty? But, anyway, Winter’s such a timid little rabbit that I can’t let Cribber bully him.”

Weepy Winter’s Wangle.

The Second Form went to their room the following day in some fear and trembling. Although Mr Goof was no tyrant, the boys were still wondering what the results of the test would be. Mr Goof came in, and dropped a pile of papers on his desk. “I burned a lot of midnight oil marking your papers,” he remarked. “However, I am glad to find that most of them are quite good, some of you will have to do extra work. The following boys will stay behind – Foxe, Russel, Tranter, Winter!” Jamie Murchison stood up. “Excuse me, sir,” he said, “but will you let them off to-morrow afternoon? It’s half-day, and it’s out cross-country practice run.” “Yes, I had remembered that, Murchison,” nodded Mr Goof. “It is the custom for everybody to take part is it not, so that you can pick the best team? Yes, those boys will be excused to-morrow afternoon. But I want them all after lessons to-night!” Percy Winter sat at his desk with his usual meek expression. It was difficult to tell what he was thinking. But Cribber Foxe obviously didn’t like the idea of extra work. Mr Goof began to go over the test questions, and the morning’s work began. Time slipped by, and at last the boys were free. Percy gave Cribber a wide berth, but apart from scowling at him, Cribber passed him by. Percy let the Form get clear, and then he slipped down to the telephone-box near the porter’s lodge, and asked for a long-distance call. “Reverse the charge, please!” he said. Soon a woman’s voice came on the line. “Hello, mother!” said Percy. “Why, Percy, dear!” cooed the voice. “how are you?” For a few moments Percy was kept busy answering his fond mother’s eager questions. Then he said. “I find I’m running out of clean shirts, and the laundry won’t be back yet.” “I’ll send some at once,” said Mrs Winter. “I’d like some immediately,” murmured Percy. “I wonder if you could bring them?” “Well, it’s a long way,” said his mother doubtfully. “I’d like to see you,” said Percy, his voice plaintive. “You poor lamb,” gushed Mrs Winter. “Are you homesick? Yes, I’ll come. But I can’t stay. Your grandfather is coming on a visit to-morrow. It’ll be a rush, but I can manage it in the car.” “Good!” said Percy. “If you ring Mr Barrel, my Housemaster, right away, he’ll let me out to see you to-night. I’ll meet you at the Lington Station Hotel.” He rang off and smirked at the phone. “That takes care of to-night,” he muttered. “Now what about that stupid cross-country run?” Percy hung about in the quad for a time. Then he went along to Mr Barrel’s room. Mr Barrel, the huge young master in charge of Junior House, was sitting at his desk. “Excuse me, sir,” said Percy. “But I understand that there’s a cross-country run arranged for to-morrow. I don’t think I’m strong enough to take part.” “It’ll do you good, lad!” boomed Mr Barrel. “I don’t feel very well, sir,” said Percy. “The fresh air will buck you up,” said Mr Barrel. “But if you are unwell, I’ll get the school doctor to have a look at you.” “Oh, no, sir,” said Percy He had no desire to be examined by a doctor. “I’m not as ill as that. I’ll take part, if you think it’ll do me good.” “Of course it will!” said Mr Barrel. “But I’m glad you came. Your mother has just rung, and she’s coming to see you to-night.” “Oh, dear,” said Percy. “Mr Goof has given me extra work for to-night, sir.” “Well your mother tells me she can’t stay long,” said Mr Barrel. “I’ll have a word with Mr Goof, and no doubt he will let you off this once.” “Oh, thank you, sir!” said Percy. Outside Mr Barrel’s room, Percy paused in thought. Then he shrugged. “Oh, well, perhaps the cross-country run won’t be too bad. It was worth trying it on Mr Barrel, anyway!

The Duck-Pond Ducking.

Percy, with a parcel of clean shirts under his arm, watched a car drive off into the darkness. He had spent the evening with his mother, and now he was off to Red Circle again. Walking past the station on his way to the bus stop, Percy grinned as he remembered Cribber’s face as Percy had strolled by the classroom window on his way to freedom. Then he stopped. There was Cribber’s face again! But in reality this time, not in imagination. Cribber was standing in the station entrance, deep in conversation with two tough-lookin lads about his own age. Percy had permission to be in town, but not Cribber at this time of the evening. He must have broken bounds. Percy glanced round. The boys were standing near a truck laden with luggage. Percy slithered forward and disappeared behind the truck. The boys were too deep in conversation to notice. Through gaps in the piled-up luggage, Percy could see and hear. “Now, listen,” Cribber was saying. “You owe me a favour, don’t you? I let you have some smashing cribs for that exam at Brown Street School.” “And charged us fro ‘em!” grunted one of the boys. “You passed didn’t you?” said Cribber. “Look I’ll give you five bob each as well!” “You sound dead keen to get your own back,” said one of the lads, whom his pal called be’gg. “I am!” said Cribber. “The little sniveler put one over on me and I can’t touch him at the school. He got out again to-night, when he should have been doing extra work.” “What do you want us to do? asked Begg. “There’s a cross-country run to-morrow,” said Cribber. “We go out at five minute intervals, and our results are timed to pick a Form team. It’s compulsory, so Winter will be there. There’s a list of running order on the board, and I copied it. See, it’s in alphabetical order, and Winter will be number forty-four.” “Well?” demanded Begg. “There’s a duck-pond on Carter’s farm,” said Cribber. “The run passes there, and it would do Winter good to be thrown in.” There was a pause. Then Begg said, “it’s risky. Suppose we get the wrong one?” “Percy wears a singlet his mother embroidered with his initials,” grinned Cribber. “I’ve seen him wearing it in gym. Number forty-four, initials P.W. You can’s fail. And I’ll have finished my run earlier on, so that I can sit back and watch Percy come in soaking wet!” “All right,” said Begg. “We’ll do it.”

The boys walked away. Percy remained crouching behind the truck. He intended to let Cribber catch the bus before him. The fags made a noisy crowd in the pavilion the following afternoon. They were soon changed – all except Alan Reader. He was wearing a pair of shorts, and nothing else. “Come on!” said Busty. “Can’t find my shoes and singlet!” said Alan. Busty came over to help him look, and Percy joined them. But Alan’s running shoes and singlet were definitely missing. Jamie Murchison put his head round the door. “Put me lower on the list,” said Alan. “I’m looking for my shoes.” The runners began to leave. Cribber Foxe trotted off with a smirk on his face. When it was Busty’s turn, the shoes were still missing. Busty went off, and Alan turned to Percy. “No good, I’ll have to borrow some,” he said. “I’ll have a last look,” said Percy. He went hunting around, and came back with a pair of running shoes. “Those are mine!” said Alan. “They were under a locker,” said Percy. “Thanks,” said Alan, thrusting the shoes on. “Oh, darn it, my spare singlet’s at the school.” “I’ve got a spare,” said Percy, producing a neatly-embroidered singlet. “Thanks,” said Alan, pulling it on. “Gosh, it’s tight. Sounds as if a stitch went there.” “It doesn’t matter,” said Percy. “It’s my turn now. I’ll tell Murchison you’re following.” Once clear of the school, Percy stopped, took off his singlet and turned it inside out. Then he trotted on. Approaching Carter’s Farm, he put on speed, shot past the duck-pond, and disappeared quickly down the lane. Behind a hedge, Begg and his pal grinned at each other. Number forty-three,” said Begg. “The next one!” Alan trotted up, wearing his tight-fitting singlet embroidered with P.W. He was near the duck-pond when the tough Lington lads burst out at him. “Nice day for a swim, Percy!” cackled Begg. He dived at Alan. Alan taken by surprise, staggered back. Then recovering, he hit Begg in the eye. The other lad jumped forward, and Alan pushed Begg at him. The toughs weren’t expecting opposition, and they paused for a moment. Then they came back. Alan took the attack to them, and dived at Begg’s legs. Begg went down, and all three boys rolled on the ground. They rolled too far, and there was a splash as they entered the duck-pond. Begg went in first, but that didn’t stop Alan getting wet as well. He pushed Begg’s face under, stood on the other lad’s stomach, and scrambled out. Begg made a grab for his leg, but then there was shout. Mr Goof, who was acting as an umpire, had come back from his check-point to see what had held up the last runner. The toughs squelched out of the water and fled. Mr Goof came up to Alan. “What on earth happened, Reader?” “I don’t know, sir,” said Alan. “They just jumped out at me.” He looked down at his soaking togs. The embroidered singlet was very muddy. The initials P.W. were almost hidden. Alan squinted at the initials. Percy had obligingly lent him the singlet. And Percy had found his shoes, just in time for Alan to take Percy’s place in the running order. What’s more, one of the toughs had called Alan “Percy.” “Sheer hooliganism,” said Mr Goof. “Yes, sir,” said Alan. But inwardly he was now convinced that Percy didn’t need anybody to look after him, after all.

There are too many stories to list here about the Red Circle School, as they appeared in the Hotspur, every week for over twenty-five years.

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2003