Augusta strolled towards her form room, her hands in her pockets, pondering the last few hours. Despite the gravity of the circumstances she had found herself quite unable to resist the dramatic lure of the situation in the Hall. She replayed it in her mind. Miss Annersley standing at the front, appealing to the School for information – any information – about who might have stolen Gwensi Howell’s family photographs on the very same day that she heard her brother was dead. The lengthening pause, and finally, the slight rustle as Augusta had risen, all eyes upon her. It had been a good moment.
But really it was perfectly sickening. She was sure, herself, that Maria had taken the pictures. After all, hadn’t she, Kathie and Mollie spent the whole of the previous week patrolling the corridor in search of spies? They’d have noticed if anyone else had gone into Gwensi’s room, and everyone knew that she and Maria hated each other. Anyway, that was the sort of thing Maria did. If she couldn’t hurt you by shouting and insulting you, she’d come at you sideways and do things that other people never would, even Augusta.
She pushed open the door of the form room and slid inside. Miss Linton, who was taking Prep., looked up.
“Ah, Augusta. Yes, there’s no need to explain; I know where you’ve been. Sit down and begin your Prep., please.”
Augusta did so, ignoring the attempts of Molly, beside her, to gain her attention. Two days later, when she received her history back, it turned out that she hadn’t been concentrating as hard as she thought she had been. Apparently such remarks as ‘Henrey the Eigth stole treshur from the munks but were did he putt it? not in his cubby, it woud have been found. maibe in his desk’ were not appreciated.
As soon as Miss Linton had left the room Mollie seized Augusta’s wrist and whispered ferociously.
“What happened, Gussie? Did the Abbess absolutely slay you? And what on earth did you take Gwensi’s photographs for? I mean, I know you must have had a good reason, but it – well, it was awfully bad timing, wasn’t it? You aren’t going to be expelled, are you?”
Augusta stared at her. Then she gathered up her books and stalked out of the room. Kathie and Mollie trotted behind until Augusta reached the dormitory, where she turned on them.
“Honestly, you two! Anyone would think you didn’t have brains at all. Why would I take Gwensi’s photographs? I like her! Remember how we helped her when Eiluned was being beastly?”
“Yes, but you never know with you,” said Kathie.
“I always know with me.”
“Yes, but we don’t,” said Kathie. “Oh, don’t be grumpy, Gus. If it wasn’t you, at least tell us what’s been going on. I mean, you did stand up in front of everyone and say it was you."
“No I didn’t. If you’d been listening you’d know I said I knew something about it. And I do.”
“Well, what?” said Mollie, moving sideways into her own cubicle and starting to change into her evening frock.
Augusta took pity on them.
“When I was in that corridor, keeping watch, you know, I saw Maria going into Gwensi’s room. She came out again after a minute and I thought she was holding something. I thought Gwensi’d asked her to get something, but that’s not terribly likely, is it?”
“Maria took the pictures?” said Kathie, pausing with just her eyes peering out over the neckline of her velveteen. “Maria? I thought it was just one of the first formers, just being an idiot and then being too scared to own up in front of everyone. But why didn’t she say when the Abbess asked?”
“’Cos it’s Maria,” said Mollie succinctly. “She doesn’t say things were her even when half a dozen people saw her doing them.”
“No, she won’t say unless it gets proved, I shouldn’t think,” said Augusta.
Kathie and Mollie exchanged wary glances.
“And you want us to find proof?” said Kathie.
“Well.” Augusta heaved a sigh. “The thing is, I’ve already looked in Maria’s cubey – actually, her whole dorm – and her locker, and her Splashery and her desk, and they aren’t in any of those places. They could be anywhere in the School.”
Kathie’s eyes widened.
“Are you saying you don’t want to look for them?” she said.
Augusta paused, gulped, and nodded.
“You see, the Abbess said Maria was innocent until proven guilty, but I could tell she really thought she was guilty all the time. And she’ll make Maria tell her because it’s practically impossible not to tell the Abbess things when she wants you to.”
“You don’t tell her things all the time,” said Mollie.
“Yes, but that’s because I’m good at not telling things and I don’t care how much she stares at me. But other people do, so they tell.”
“Well, maybe Maria won’t.”
“I bet she will, though,” said Augusta. “Sooner or later. And when she does she’ll have to give the pictures back. Honestly, I don’t think we need do anything.”
Kathie and Mollie fell silent, the expressions on their faces betraying their helpless bewilderment at Augusta’s lack of desire for action.
“Anyway,” she added, dropping her own frock neatly over her head. “Gwensi’s just heard that her brother’s gone. She doesn’t want us rushing around getting in the way and making everything even more beastly than it already is.”
It hadn’t been an easy decision to make, but Augusta was sure it was the right one. Obviously Gwensi’d be pleased if they found the photographs, but not if they turned the School upside down while they did it, because the effects would be bound to rub off on her and she didn’t have misery to waste on silly things like that.
All the same, she couldn’t help wishing that there was something she could do to help. The next day at break, having considered the question deeply overnight and during French that morning, she collected her milk, disposed hastily of her biscuits, and approached Gwensi and her little circle of friends as they sat soberly around a table.
“I say,” she said, and Gwensi looked up, her face pale and her eyes blank and uninterested. “I just wanted to say that I’m terribly sorry for not stopping Maria taking your pictures. If I’d known then what she was doing I would have, but I thought I’d just found out where the bug was hidden.”
“You could have stopped her anyway.” Augusta saw Daisy glance at Gwensi, and Gwensi looked hard at the table for a moment, then sighed. “I’m sorry. It isn’t your fault, and thank you for saying something. Look, if you get any trouble from Maria about it then let us know, ok?”
Augusta pushed her table back from the table and smiled at Gwensi.
“I shan’t have any trouble,” she said. “I’ve got a device I brought from home which I can use if I need to.”
She nodded at them all and joined Kathie and Mollie, who had been watching anxiously.
“Was it all right? Does she hate us?” said Mollie.
“Don’t be stupid, she doesn’t care about us,” said Augusta. “She’s only thinking about Ernest. All the same, she did warn me about Maria.”
“Maria?” Kathie echoed.
“Yes. You know, the one who took Gwensi’s pictures and –”
“Oh, shut up. I mean, why was she warning you?”
“She seemed to think Maria might want to get her own back, that’s all.”
Mollie’s face fell dramatically.
“Do you think so?” she said. “Oh, Gussie, I really did think this might all be over! For us, anyway.”
“Yes, but Maria’s isolated in San,” said Kathie. “She can’t do anything.”
“Want to bet?” said Mollie darkly.
“No,” said Augusta. “But don’t worry. I told Gwensi. I’ve got a thing I brought from home and it’ll soon teach her a lesson if she tries anything with any of us.”
A few missing scenes from Ariel/ChubbyMonkey's 'Isobel' drabble (you don't need to have read 'Isobel' to enjoy this, though I do recommend it!). Someone has taken all Gwensi Howell's photographs of her brother from her room, and Augusta saw Maria entering and leaving the room - the only person to do so...