Authors: Jacqueline Harvey
It's the beginning of term and Alice-Miranda is delighted to be back at school. There is excitement in the air with the news of Miss Reedy and Mr Plumpton's engagement and fast-approaching wedding. When a surprise arrival is added to the mix, both the students and teachers are thrown into a spin. Meanwhile, Caprice and Millie's bickering reaches an all-time high and things look set to explode.
Nearby, in Winchesterfield, there is plenty afoot with the village about to host Chudleigh's, the country's most prestigious dog show. Along with the event comes a series of bizarre characters. Could their strange behaviour be hiding something alarming? If so, Alice-Miranda will need to act quickly to save the day!
For Ian and Sandy, and Suzie the wonder dog, biter of meter men, collector of rubbish, swimmer extraordinaire and faithful family pet
The tiny pup struggled to free himself from beneath his mother's matted fur. She growled softly as he grazed a raw patch of her flea-bitten skin. In the corner of the enclosure, his six siblings lay entangled, shivering to keep warm. A sliver of light grew larger as the shed door scraped open and the silhouettes of two men appeared. One was tall and heavy-set, the other slightly built and rangy.
Tails whumped on the bare concrete. Several of the creatures struggled to their feet, an as-yet-
unextinguished hope in their eyes. The taller figure walked to a plastic tub at the end of the shed and prised open the lid. âHurry up,' he muttered, âwe haven't got all day.'
âWhy do I always have to get the bowls?' the other lad griped.
âBecause I said, and I'm the oldest.'
âYou're not the boss of me.' The words flew out of the younger lad's mouth before he had time to wish they hadn't. Within seconds his brother was upon him, pummelling his ears before a swift kick to the shin sent him hopping about and moaning in pain. âI hate you,' he hissed under his breath.
The older fellow laughed and walked back to snatch up a small measuring cup. A few of the animals began to bark, their sharp hacks drowning out the high-pitched whimpers of many more. âQuiet down, you lot!' he yelled.
His brother limped along the row of cages, opening and closing the wire doors and piling putrid plastic dishes into a tower. At the far end, the curly caramel pup pushed his paw against the door. It opened just enough to get his foreleg through and then his head. He wriggled and squeezed and eventually tumbled out.
He padded towards the open door, then stopped to glance back at his sleeping brothers and sisters, their barrel-like chests rising and falling with each breath. One of them flinched as if in the middle of a terrible dream. His mother mustered the energy to raise her head and looked at him with sad brown eyes. The pup let out a whine and turned back to the shed door. The canine chorus drowned out the sound of his skittering claws as he raced across the concrete to freedom.
Alice-Miranda and Sloane waved goodbye to Millie as girls charged off all over the place to their second lesson of the day.
âSee you at morning tea,' Millie shouted. âAnd good luck with the experiment. Don't let Plumpy blow up the Science lab again.' She jogged away in her PE kit, wielding a hockey stick by her side.
Neither Alice-Miranda nor Sloane noticed the group of students walking just ahead of them and
they certainly didn't see the smile which had lit up one of the girls' faces.
Sloane groaned. âIt's probably about time, you know. Plumpy hasn't blown anything up for ages.'
âI think Mr Plumpton's reputation for explosions has always been much worse than the reality,' Alice-Miranda said as she bounced along beside her friend. âAnd you know it's always an accident. He never
âGood morning, you two,' Miss Reedy greeted the pair as she caught up to them on the path. âBeautiful day, isn't it?'
A grey dawn had cleared to a dazzling blue sky with just the slightest breath of wind. The temperature was crisp but there was a promise of warmth in the day ahead.
âIt's gorgeous,' Alice-Miranda agreed.
âWhere are you both heading?' the teacher asked.
âI've got Maths and we're doing
long division,' Sloane said with a sigh.
Miss Reedy frowned. âI hadn't realised there was anything more complicated than ordinary long division.'
âThere's not,' Sloane said, grinning. âI'm just not a fan of any sort of division. Isn't that what calculators were invented for?'
Alice-Miranda giggled. âIt's Science for me and we're doing an experiment but it's a surprise.'
The corners of Miss Reedy's eyes crinkled into a smile and she glanced at the oval diamond on her left hand.
Alice-Miranda noticed immediately what she was looking at. âIt's a stunning ring.'
âYes, it is,' the woman said, her cheeks rising red. âI was beginning to wonder if Mr Plumpton was ever going to ask me. And then the ring almost went over the side of the hot-air balloon, and Josiah with it â I thought my heart was going to stop.'
The child smiled. âThankfully, it didn't and Mr Plumpton's safe and now you have the most exciting engagement story I've ever heard.'
Livinia Reedy beamed. âThat's true. I can only hope the wedding is less eventful.'
âHow come it's so soon?' Sloane asked. âI thought weddings took ages to organise.'
Miss Reedy nodded. âMr Plumpton has a surprise arranged for our honeymoon and we have to go away on a particular date or we'll miss it. He
says it's a once-in-a-lifetime event, so Miss Grimm has granted us special leave during term.'
âI wonder what it is.' Sloane wrinkled her nose and thought for a moment. âProbably some boring Science thing.'
Alice-Miranda nudged her friend. âIt sounds like it will be unforgettable.'
âNo offence, Miss Reedy,' Sloane said quickly. âIt's just that seeing the migration of the bandy-footed bongo bird isn't what I'd want to be doing on my honeymoon.'
Livinia Reedy's smile faltered slightly. âHas Mr Plumpton said something to you?' she asked the girl.
âI'm sure Sloane just made that up,' Alice-Miranda giggled.
Sloane grinned and shrugged. âI was only guessing. I'm sure it will be way more exciting than that, like swimming with giant snapping turtles or â'
âIs everything organised, Miss Reedy?' Alice-Miranda asked, thinking it best to step in.
âAlmost.' The woman bit her lip. âI think Mrs Smith has the menu in hand and I've booked the minister and the school chapel. But I've still got to sort out the cake and the decorations for the dining
room and the chapel, not to mention the flowers â heavens, now that I think about it, there's still plenty to do.'
The woman's breathing had become shallow and she seemed to be gasping for air.
âAre you all right, Miss Reedy?' Alice-Miranda asked.
The teacher clutched the folder she was carrying to her chest and exhaled. âYes, I'm fine,' she replied unconvincingly.
âWhat about your dress?' Sloane asked.
âOh, I've had that for over a year now,' Miss Reedy replied.
Sloane did the calculations in her head. âBut you didn't even know that Mr P liked you until we went to Paris,' she pointed out.
The woman blushed. âDid I say a year? I meant a month, silly me. Oh dear, look at the time. Must be off.' Livinia Reedy raced down the path towards the main building.
Sloane chuckled. âShe's
had that dress for a year.'
âWell, I don't care if she's had it for ten years, I'm just glad they finally realised how much they love each other. It's going to be a beautiful wedding,'
Alice-Miranda said. She held open the door as they filed into a long corridor teeming with girls rushing to their lessons.
âI'll see you at morning tea,' Sloane said, turning in to her classroom.
Alice-Miranda gave her a wave and walked to the end of the hall, where she could see Mr Plumpton through the laboratory windows. Half-a-dozen large red balloons bobbed against the ceiling while the man was busy filling another from a gas cylinder. The girls had all retrieved their white lab coats and protective glasses from the storeroom next door and were patiently waiting for their teacher. He looked up and beckoned for them to enter.
âHello everyone, I'm just about ready,' Mr Plumpton said as he tied off the last balloon and released it into the air. As always, he was wearing his white lab coat over the top of his short-sleeved shirt and tie, shorts and long socks. He had his safety glasses on too.
âIs it your birthday, sir?' one of the girls called out.
âNot today, Paige, but I think you're going to find our lesson very exciting nonetheless.' He clapped his hands together. âNow, who can tell me which gas is lighter than air?'
Hands shot up around the room. The teacher pointed at a girl in the back row.
âHelium. That's why the balloons are floating,' she said confidently.
âYes, Mimi, that's true, but there's another gas that's even lighter than helium,' the man replied.
Alice-Miranda raised her hand and he pointed her way. âHydrogen,' she said. âIt's far more dangerous too. In the early twentieth century, inventors built huge airships and they used hydrogen to power them until there was a terrible tragedy involving a ship called the
. It was coming in to land in New Jersey all the way from Germany when it caught fire and lots of people died. And that's why they stopped using hydrogen in airships.'
âMy goodness, Alice-Miranda, that's an excellent account of what happened. Now, girls, I thought you might like to see for yourselves the dangers of hydrogen gases.' The teacher picked up a long taper, like the sort used to light a barbecue or a gas cooker. âWho wants to come up and help?'
There was a chorus of shouts and a sea of waving hands. The teacher selected seven girls, who quickly made their way to the front and collected their tapers.
âIsn't it a bit dangerous, sir?' a small girl called from the middle of the room.
!' Mr Plumpton fizzed. âOn the count of three, light your tapers. âOne, two, three!'
The girls ignited their flames and reached them up to a balloon. There was a series of explosions followed by a shower of sticky red powder. Several of the girls screamed in horror while others stood rooted to the spot, wondering whether the red shower was intentional or not.
Mr Plumpton wiped the top of his head and stared at his blood-red palms. âThat wasn't meant to happen,' he muttered.
There was a hiss as the overhead fire sprinklers sputtered to life, spraying water acrossÂ the room and sending rivers of red trickling all over the girls and the classroom.
âEveryone out!' the man shouted.
Teachers and students who had heard the commotion spilled from their classrooms and into the corridor, eager to see what was going on.
âIt looks like a crime scene, sir!' a girl exclaimed.
Mr Plumpton raced to a control panel and turned the sprinklers off before staggering outside. âCalm down, everyone, we're all right,' he shouted,
unaware that he resembled an axe murderer. He tried to wipe the paint from his safety goggles, which only made it worse. âGo back inside, the rest of you. There's nothing to see here.'
Mimi examined her hands. âWhat is it?'
âIt looks like powdered dye,' Alice-Miranda said, rubbing the substance between her fingers. âWhen it gets wet it stains everything.'
One of the girls glanced around at the streaky crew. âI think we might need new lab coats, Mr Plumpton.'
The teacher grimaced. Mrs Howard was going to have a fit. She complained enough as it was about having to wash their lab coats every couple of weeks. âWhoever thought this was funny is going to be very sorry.' The man rubbed his brow, smearing red all over the front of his bald head. âCome along, girls. We need to get this place cleaned up.'
The children followed him back inside. Alice-Miranda grabbed a roll of paper towels and began to distribute sheets to the girls. She glanced up and saw Caprice Radford standing in the hallway, staring into the room. The smile on her face was troubling, to say the least.