It was two weeks into Augusta's second at the Chalet School and she was growing bored. A small, thin, twelve year old, she had been sent to boarding school because her parents hoped it would help her to become a useful citizen. So far no-one was entirely sure if the experiment had been a success. On the one hand, Augusta and all the members of the Chalet School were still alive; on the other, Augusta's first term had been fraught with incidents ranging from the merely irritating to the near-catastrophic and had culminated in the hideous debacle of the Christmas Play. The aftermath of this had been unpleasant enough for Augusta to wish to keep a low profile for the first part of the term. Now, however, the effect was wearing off, and Augusta began to feel a certain ennui which even the thrill of a small air-raid did not dispell.
"Did you read," queried Mollie, one of Augusta's two great friends, "about that man who found a hidden treasure in the middle of a field? He was just ploughing it, and suddenly there was all this gold all over the place!"
"I did,” said Kathie Robertson. “It was some old highwayman's secret hideaway and then he was hanged before he could go back and collect it."
She stopped suddenly at the sight of the beatific smile that was spreading over Augusta's face.
"What?" she said.
"Well," said Augusta. "Don't you think it would be a jolly good scheme if we could find some treasure ourselves?"
There was a small pause.
"I s'pose so," Kathie admitted cautiously. "But how do we know there is any anywhere?"
"Oh there's treasure all over the place. People are always finding it," said Augusta carelessly. "You just have to look at an old map, and go wherever there's a cross, and dig, and there it is." Seeing their doubtful expressions she added, "If we found it, we could give it to the Spitfire Fund or something. I mean, if we give it to the War Effort it'll really be Digging for Victory, won't it?"
"Yes...," said Mollie. "Yes," she said more firmly. "I think it's a jolly good plan. Tell you what, I'll go and get a map, shall I, and we can see if it's got a cross on it."
"Yes, but make sure it's a map of here," said Kathie. "We can't go haring off to Scotland or somewhere. We wouldn't be allowed."
Mollie departed, grinning widely for no reason that Augusta or Kathie could discern. She returned at a run waving an old, battered map violently in the air like a conductor wielding his baton.
"Here!" she panted. "Here it is, look!"
The map, unfolded, looked even worse than it had on the outside - small tears, a few murky looking stains and innumerable creases were scattered about its surface. The red cross that adorned a field close to the School, however, was as bright and clean as though it had been placed there five minutes before.
"Gosh!" exclaimed Augusta, highly gratified by this proof of her casually offered theory. "You see," she added, rallying quickly. "I told you, didn't I? There's treasure everywhere. This is probably the lair of an ancient pirate, stealing up here in the dark to hide his ill-gotten gains..."
Her voice tailed off as hordes of villainous sailors floated through her mind, parrots on their shoulders, knives in their teeth and great, clinking sacks of gold slung on their backs.
"We're nowhere near the sea, Gussie. Pirates hide their treasure in caves on beaches," pointed out Kathie rather tartly.
"Oh, well, something like that, anyway," amended Augusta vaguely. She bent down to study the map more closely.
"It's really quite close," she said. "Less than half an hour's walk, I should think. Listen, it's Saturday tomorrow. Let's think about it in bed tonight and we'll make our plan tomorrow."
Augusta was still distrait at Prayers next morning. She remained standing after the rest of the School had seated itself and had to be violently hauled down by Kathie, and embarked loudly and tunelessly on the fifth verse of the hymn two bars early. Miss Edwards, Augusta's long-suffering form mistress, noticed these signs with severe misgivings.
She ran her errant pupil to earth some time after Prayers, walking backwards down the stairs.
"What are you doing, Augusta?" she asked, with some justification. Augusta jumped violently and almost fell down the stairs.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, grabbing the bannister and recovering herself. "I'm sorry, Miss Edwards. I didn't see you."
"I gather that, Augusta," said the mistress tartly. "What were you doing?"
"Just coming down the stairs," said Augusta, looking faintly bewildered.
"Oh, well, you see I like to go downstairs like that because then if I've forgotten something it means I don't have to turn round and go all the way upstairs again, I just have to carry on walking, only the other way."
Miss Edwards glared at Augusta for a moment, wondering if she was trying to be funny. Augusta decided that it would be prudent to explain further.
"It works going up the stairs, too," she added, "only then, of course, you have to face down them."
Miss Edwards abandoned the subject.
"Now, Augusta," she said, taking a firm line. "I have noticed certain - er - signs that indicate to me that you might be planning something."
"Planning?" Augusta's eyes widened innocently. Suspicion burgeoned in Miss Edwards' breast.
"Something you shouldn't be planning," she elaborated.
Augusta said nothing to this, but intensified the innocent expression until it began to appear slightly imbecilic. Miss Edwards began to wish she had not broached the subject.
"Would you be planning anything like that?" she pressed.
"Of course not, Miss Edwards," Augusta assured her. "I want to help. I'd thought of doing some digging... you know... digging for victory."
"I see.” Miss Edwards thought about it for a moment, but for the life of her she couldn’t see what catastrophes the child could precipitate with a bit of gardening. “Well, so long as you confine your activities to that, you can't go wrong. Just try to be sensible, please, Augusta."
"Yes, Miss Edwards. I always am."
Miss Edwards nodded, then retreated down the corridor, a slight frown creasing her forehead. She couldn't help feeling that the conversation had not gone precisely as planned. And she had forgotten to forbid Augusta to come down the stairs backwards.