Casting sympathetic looks at their unfortunate crony, Kathie and Mollie trailed out of the form room. Augusta wrestled her desk into an upright position, leant on it to make sure it was steady, and fell over as it collapsed beneath her. Miss Edwards repressed a sigh.
“You’d better hurry up, Augusta. Break ends in quarter of an hour.” For a moment she peered down at the jumble of Augusta’s possessions on the floor and made a motion as though to pick up a tattered textbook. Then she thought better of it and left the room in a hurry. Augusta picked the desk up and set it on its feet again, pummelling it a few times to ensure that it wouldn’t crumple again.
She was picking up the paraphernalia that tended to accumulate at the back of her desk – pencil shavings, elastic bands, scraps of paper, some radish seeds and a hard-boiled egg – when the door opened again. Augusta ignored it and peered at the rolled up, blackened handkerchiefs she had just picked up. She shoved them into her pocket with a vague idea of putting them in her soiled linen bag.
“Hallo,” said a voice, and heels tapped down the centre of the room.
Augusta turned, with the intention of returning the greeting, but the words died on her lips. The person who entered the room was obviously a mistress, but not one Augusta had ever met before. She was petite, with curly blonde hair, blue eyes and a youthful, pretty face. Augusta blinked, swallowed once or twice and pulled herself together.
“Good morning,” she said formally. She advanced on the new mistress, hand held out and a welcoming smile on her face. “My name’s Augusta Maria Fraser. I’m twelve years old and I’m a pupil here.”
The woman looked amused, but shook Augusta’s hand.
“I’m Miss Gray. I’m here to teach English for the rest of the term while Miss Anderson recovers from her illness. Aren’t you supposed to be having a break?”
“Yes, but I knocked my desk over at the end of the lesson,” Augusta explained. Apparently feeling that Miss Gray needed further information, she went on. “I was showing Kathie how to dance a Highland Fling when Miss Edwards wasn’t looking, and I accidentally danced into the desk.”
Miss Gray’s face froze for a second.
“I see,” she said. “Well, you seem to have picked everything up, so why don’t you go off and join your friends?”
Since it was the end of break by the time Augusta found her friends, Kathie and Mollie were not informed of the presence of the new mistress until after lessons. When they did hear, they displayed a highly satisfactory level of interest and excitement.
“What’s she like?” demanded Mollie.
“Oh, she looks all right,” said Augusta, who, in her mind’s eye, had already saved Miss Gray from a burglar, a spy and a pack of lions. “She’s teaching English, though, while Miss Anderson gets better from her op.”
“English is first thing tomorrow morning. We’ll get to see what she’s like then,” said Mollie.
“I think we should do something to welcome her,” said Augusta. “You know, make her feel at home here.”
Kathie and Mollie looked at her warily.
“What sort of thing?” said Kathie.
“Oh, nothing big,” said Augusta. “Just a bunch of flowers, or some fruit. Or we could sing a song. We could even have a party. Maybe we could ask the Abbess if we could use the Hall and we could pool all our sweet rations, and you could play so that we could dance, Mollie, and we could play games.”
Kathie and Mollie exchanged looks. It was Kathie who took the plunge.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea, Gus?”
The plan was growing on Augusta, her fertile mind already conjuring scenarios in which Miss Gray joined the party, dancing country dances enthusiastically and playing hide and seek and pin the tail on the donkey with gusto.
“Yes, and we could buy her presents, too. You know, just little things that she could put in her room so it feels more homey.”
“She’s probably already got things like that.”
“Well, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind having a few more.”
Mollie began to look faintly panic-stricken. The idea of organising and running a party on the scale that Augusta seemed to be imagining had never been her idea of fun.
“I don’t think we’ve got time,” she said rather feebly.
“Also,” said Kathie, with a sudden flash of inspiration, “don’t you think it might make the other mistresses jealous if we just throw a party for Miss Gray?”
Augusta’s face fell.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” she said. Then she brightened. “Maybe we should ask all the mistresses.”
“No!” cried Mollie desperately. “How on earth would we organise a party that big?”
“Anyway, we wouldn’t have enough sweets in our rations to go round all of them. They’d get about one each, and we couldn’t afford to buy gifts for all of them – or have time to make them. And the mistresses wouldn’t want to play things like hide and seek.”
“I suppose we needn’t do gifts, then,” said Augusta. “It’s a shame about the food, though. It won’t be half such a fun party without it. And I suppose you’re right about the games, too.”
“Maybe we should just say ‘welcome’ to Miss Gray when she comes in to teach us,” suggested Kathie.
Augusta heaved a sigh as the dreams of Miss Gray beaming with happiness and gratitude at her welcoming party dwindled and died.
“Well, I’m still going to get her a bouquet,” she said firmly.