“Shut up, for goodness’ sake!”
“Well, your elbow’s right in among my ribs. Anyone would think they were xylophones from the way you’re banging on them.”
“Shh! She’ll hear!”
Augusta, realising the truth of Mollie’s statement, desisted and they crouched together behind the row of coats that hung from the Splashery hooks. The noises of thudding and rustling continued for a few more moments, then soft footsteps indicated that the intruder had left the cloakroom.
“Ugh,” said Augusta, emerging from her hiding place and peering through the doorway. “Someone’s coat is horribly fluffy.”
“I know,” said Molly, rubbing her mouth. “I’ve got a whole mouthful of cat hairs off it.”
“Coast’s clear, anyway.” Augusta snapped the light back on and they gathered up the packages they had discarded on hearing approaching steps.
“Come on,” said Molly. “I say, it was an awfully good idea to hide the things in a senior Splash. No-one would ever think of looking for them there.”
“I always have good ideas,” said Augusta, sublimely confident. She flicked the light off again and they scurried down the corridor towards their common room, where their cronies awaited them. Their midnight feast was somewhat spare, owing to the difficulty of obtaining food, but no less hilarious for that. They trailed back to bed at two in the morning, unable to stay awake any longer.
They crept down to breakfast the next morning yawning and bleary and were so quiet that Gwensi Howell, heading their table, began to worry.
“What on earth have you people been doing?” she demanded suspiciously.
“We’re not doing anything, Gwensi,” said Augusta, sounding injured. “We’re being quite good.”
Gwensi eyed her for a moment before grinning.
“I’ll believe that when the sky turns green,” she said. “All right, time to clear.”
“Golly, I thought she was going try to get it out of us,” said Kathie in great relief.
“Shut up, you lunatic.” Mollie prodded her and Kathie fell silent, realising that Gwensi and her bosom friend Daisy were standing just behind them.
“Did you find it?” Daisy was saying.
“No. I’m sure I put it in my locker after prep yesterday, but it’s vanished now.”
“Are you sure you didn’t take it to the common room or something?” Daisy sounded concerned and Augusta, scenting trouble, dawdled to listen.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Gwensi, exasperated. “It’s not as though I’ve never lost anything before. I expect it’ll turn up. It’s just this is the second time this week I won’t have my English book. Miss Derwent’s going to be furious.”
Losing interest, Augusta piled her crockery onto the big trolley and turned to hurry after her friends.
“Oof! Sorry Eiluned!” she gasped, steering round the older girl, who was carrying a pile of dishes.
“You kids really ought to be more careful,” said Eiluned mildly. Realising that Eiluned wasn’t even watching her, Augusta removed herself hastily.
“One! Two! Three – Go!” shrieked Molly. Kathie and Augusta pushed off from their starting points and, cheered on by the half of the form that hadn’t minded risking being caught on the main staircase, shot down the wide, polished banisters. For a moment the glorious sensation – almost like flying – was the only thing Augusta thought of. Then, glancing towards Kathie, she realised that she was in danger of losing the race and, with vague memories of her father talking about friction, attempted to increase her speed by raising her legs above the banister. The next moment, with a shriek of horror, she found herself battered on every side, coming to rest halfway down the staircase, all the breath knocked out of her.
After a few seconds she was able to sit up, her breath coming in great, whooping gasps. To her indignation, she discovered that no-one appeared in the least concerned about the fact that she’d practically killed herself. Instead they were all gathered in a babbling group at the bottom of the stairs. Struggling to her feet – heroically – she staggered down to join them.
“What’s happened?” she demanded, pushing her way to the front of the group.
“I’m awfully sorry, Eiluned.” Kathie was almost in tears. “I never meant to, honestly.” She hovered awkwardly next to Eiluned Vaughn, who was standing clutching the banister end, still gasping slightly and looking furious.
“I don’t care whether you meant to or not,” she choked. “You could have broken my neck, you little beast. I think you have broken some of my ribs.”
“I don’t think they can be broken, Eiluned,” Molly said anxiously. “My brother broke two of his at Christmas and he could hardly stand up. I expect they’re just bruised.”
“Oh shut up!” Eiluned snarled, clutching her chest. “That doesn’t alter the fact that you’re a lot of little apes and you ought to be in a zoo, not a school. I’ve a good mind to tell Matey and Miss Annersley just what you’ve done to me. And,” she added, suddenly noticing the state of her dress, “Look what you’ve done to my frock! Enormous great smears of mud, and it’s torn.”
“I’m sorry, I truly am,” Kathie repeated. “I’ll mend your frock. And of course I’ll tell Matey it was me that did it. I’ll – I’ll do all your other mending too, if you like. I’m awfully sorry.”
“I wouldn’t let you within a mile of my mending if you gave me fifty pounds,” said Eiluned, her voice trembling. “And I’d rather you didn’t tell Matey, thanks.”
“No, but I will. Otherwise she’ll think you –”
“I really couldn’t care less what Matey thought.” Eiluned was beginning to recover her dignity. “You just keep your nasty little mouth shut about it. I can cope in my own way, thanks very much.”
She stalked off – up the staircase – and left them staring, silent and horrified, at her retreating back.