It was almost the end of term and the Christmas Play was to be performed in two days’ time. There had been so much to do in the last year that no-one had had time to write a new one, so one that had been performed in Tyrol some years ago was to be repeated. This mattered less than might at first be thought, since most of the performers and all of the audience were new to it. Certainly the School found it enchanting and none more so than the Juniors in general, and Augusta in particular. Despite the fact that there were few parts suitable for girls of her age (and no-one would have dreamt of giving one of them to her), she threw herself into the production of ‘The Bells of Christmas’ heart and soul. She lived and breathed for the play. She sang with all her heart, earning herself a place in the front row of the chorus partly so that Mr. Denny could keep an eye on her and partly because she actually had rather a nice voice. She painted scenery and sewed costumes, the latter, it must be admitted, with so little success that the needle and thread were forcibly removed from her hands.
Admirable as her enthusiasm was, it was also prone to be a little wearing. The mistresses in charge discovered that whatever good intentions Augusta might have, her best laid plans (and theirs), were apt to veer off in unexpected directions. Her friends also found this new interest rather tiresome. Before Augusta’s arrival at the School they had been quite happy devising their own entertainment and mischief, and had rarely been dull. But they had quickly discovered that while they were not exactly backward in creating excitement, Augusta was capable of achieving it with apparently no effort whatsoever. Thrills and accidents seemed to follow her as children follow an ice-cream man. Adventure lay in wait for her at every corner. Even her most innocent plan or action was almost guaranteed to end in disaster. Not only this, but Augusta’s muddles always contained that element of the bizarre and unexpected which Kathie’s and Mollie’s somehow lacked. You might be certain that catastrophe would follow, but it seldom arrived in the form you had anticipated. But now their friend was engaged body, mind and soul in the Christmas play and while there were frequent minor incidents to lighten the atmosphere, they found that no longer could they expect the same sort of whole-hearted chaos that characterised the existence of Augusta.
“I’m bored, Gus,” Mollie complained one evening. “Can’t you think of something for us to do?”
“You could ask Miss Linton if she needs anything doing,” suggested her friend. Mollie groaned.
“Not something to do with the play. Something interesting, I mean.” Augusta looked doubtful.
“I don’t want to do anything too bad because of the play,” she explained. “It’s got to be something not against the rules.”
They wandered down the deserted, half-lit corridors. It was getting dark already, but was still too early for the blackouts to have been put up and the lamps lit. As they half-heartedly (at least in Augusta’s case) discussed vague schemes for their amusement a sudden howl rose up in the darkness outside. The two small girls came to an abrupt halt and dived as one man for the window. They flung it open and put their heads out.
The full moon shone down upon the thick snow, creating a silver glow over the skeletons of trees and hedges. Nothing moved. Then a second howl broke the hush. It was rather eerie, and it was not surprising that for a moment the girls felt like fleeing. But they were courageous (or foolhardy), and quickly realised that it was unlikely that the house was surrounded by a hungry pack of wolves howling at the moon.
“What on earth was that?” gasped Mollie.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s a person,” hazarded Augusta, her fertile imagination supplying the details of the situation. “Maybe they’ve been attacked on the road….helpless to fight back. They walked miles and miles over the lonely mountains, hearing the howling of the wolves in the distance. Then they came this way, and saw Plas Howell……a distant shadow on the snow many miles away. Wearily he trudged on and on, his feet dragging in the snow. He’d eaten his food long ago, of course, and lost his coat in a fight with a wild bear. Closer he came to the house, and closer. Then, even as he was almost within shouting distance, someone leapt on him. He was too exhausted to do anything, and they robbed him then stabbed him…….the blood flowed from the wound, staining the snow around his inert body a deep crimson….” Her voice died away as the little scene faded. Mollie shivered.
“Don’t say things like that, Gussie. What if it was true?” They looked at one another doubtfully. “It can’t really be,” she added uncertainly.
“Of course not,” said Augusta firmly. “We’d better go and see, though.”
She slipped through the window and was joined a moment later by Mollie.
“Which way?” whispered that young lady. As though the source of the noise had heard, it came again and they set off in the direction from which it had emanated.