It was in a mood of blithe optimism that Augusta embarked on her journey back to the Chalet School. The holidays had been long and fruitful and had provided a much-needed respite from the trials of the previous term, although her parents had been a little horrified at the sight of the bruises on her neck. She had also had a chance to look back at some of her more interesting escapades and to come to a momentous conclusion.
“I’ve made a decision,” she announced to Kathie and Mollie as the train drew out of the station and they started on the final leg of their journey. They had contrived to obtain a compartment almost to themselves, mostly owing to the fact that all three of the mistresses on duty had deliberately turned a blind eye to their presence, hoping that someone else would attend to Augusta. The only other occupants of their compartment were a white-haired couple fast asleep in opposite corners and a nervous looking middle-aged woman who was knitting as though her life depended on it.
“What sort of decision?” said Mollie, brushing hard at her blazer, which had been dropped on the platform and subsequently trodden into the dust by twenty-three girls and one bespectacled youth who had been inadvertently swept along in the rush of schoolgirls.
“I’ve decided not to get into trouble any more.”
Mollie dropped the blazer and stared at her in open-mouthed astonishment. Kathie wrinkled her brow.
“Are you sure?” she said.
“What do you mean?” said Augusta, affronted. “Of course I’m sure. I got into so much last term that I’m sure to be expelled if I do anything else. From now on, I’m going to be a – what d’you call it? Something like paraffin...”
“Parrot?” suggested Mollie.
“What on earth would I want to be a parachute for?” said Augusta. “No, it’s para – para – well, it means being so good you couldn’t be gooder, anyway, and it’s what I’m going to be.”
“Do you think you can?” Mollie said, with unflattering disbelief. “I mean, you seem to get into trouble without even meaning to. Look at Miss Gray, and how you thought she worked for the Secret Service.”
“Well, I’m going to do it this time,” said Augusta, ignoring the aspersions cast on her character by Mollie. She clenched her jaw and jutted her chin forward in a do-or-die expression. The thin, pale, knitter glanced up, caught sight of her face, gave something between a gasp and a moan of horror, and bent her head to her needles once more, hands trembling.
Twenty minutes later the train, which was a slow local one, left Market Posham, the station two stops before the one at which the Chalet girls were to alight. The knitter had departed, tripping over a trailing tendril of pink wool on the way, and the elderly couple had woken up and were asking one another where they were and whether they had passed their station. No-one had entered the compartment except for a particularly irritating wasp which instantly developed a liking for Augusta. She flapped at it intermittently for some five minutes with no effect, then tried to expel it through the window. The wasp eluded her attempts with ease and continued to buzz round her head, occasionally landing on arm or leg, making Augusta shake it off with exclamations of disgust.
The elderly lady pushed her thick glasses further up her nose and gave Augusta a watery glare.
“You know, dear, that’s really very distracting. If you leave him alone, he’ll leave you alone.”
Augusta clenched her jaw but desisted from her flapping. The wasp circled her head a number of times at top speed, then flew at her face. Augusta jumped up.
“That’s jolly well it!” she said. “I’m getting out at the next stop.”
“You can’t,” said Kathie. “We’ve still got another stop before we get off. We’re supposed to stay on the train until we get there."
The train began to slow down.
“I never saw a school rule that says that,” said Augusta, pulling her nightcase down from the luggage rack.
“Have you even read the rules?” said Mollie.
“Well, not exactly. But all I’m going to do is get into another compartment. They can’t possibly say anything about that. Or is it School Rule Number Six Thousand and Thirty-Nine that pupils shall not leave ye train until aforesaid contraption has puffed itself to a halt at Armiford?”
“Well, no, I don’t think so,” faltered Kathie. “But I still don’t think they’d like –” The train came to a halt and Augusta grasped the door handle, looking back over her shoulder.
“You don’t have to come with me, of course,” she said.
The wasp landed on Kathie’s wrist and she flicked it off with a yelp.
“Fine. I’m coming,” she said. Augusta swung the door open and jumped out onto the deserted platform as Kathie followed and Mollie struggled with her case, which had become wedged in the rack.
No-one else was getting out. The guard glanced along the train and waved at them to hurry up. Mollie hopped back onto the train to help Kathie while Augusta waved frantic signals back at him.
“Wait a minute!” she called, and the guard gave a friendly nod.
At last the case was freed, Kathie and Mollie jumped down and Augusta slammed the train door shut. They turned to hurry along to the next compartment, and the guard, with a pleasant sense of having done a good deed, blew a long blast on his whistle and boarded the train, which began to move.
“Hey!” Augusta emitted a high-pitched wail of panic. “No! Wait!” She bounded forward in a fruitless attempt to catch the train before it left the platform. But it gathered speed and drew away, leaving the three of them standing on the deserted platform, speechless and immobile.