Alice-Miranda Takes the Stage is a part of the Alice-Miranda collection.
Alice-Miranda is thrilled to be back at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies, where the girls are rehearsing a play with the neighboring boys' school. But it's not all glamour and stage lights: there are rumors of a witch in the woods, and Alice-Miranda's friends, Jacinta and Millie, are clashing with Sloan Sykes, a rude new student whose pushy mother comes up with a get-rich scheme that could have disastrous results. When Alice-Miranda learns of the plot, she tries to set things right--and on the night of the big performance, no less!
An Excerpt fromAlice-Miranda Takes the Stage
Twelve pairs of eyes widened in unison, awaiting Miss Ophelia Grimm’s next move. She stood in the corner of the room, a scarlet flush creeping up from her neck to her cheeks. Her blond hair sparked with static and her lips drew tightly together.
“Out!” Her shrill voice shattered the silence. “Get out and don’t come back, you horrid little monsters!”
Eleven girls reeled backward in terror, their hands clutching pallid faces. Millie’s cinnamon freckles turned white and Jacinta’s mouth gaped open. Only Alice-Miranda dared to smile.
“And that, my dears, was how I got rid of the two cheeky chimps who had taken up residence in our room!” Miss Grimm smiled and plonked herself down in the striped armchair beside the fireplace in her study. Dressed casually in jeans and a pretty orange shirt, Ophelia Grimm was the picture of happiness.
The girls exchanged quizzical looks and then disintegrated into fits of giggles. Mr. Grump, who was sitting in the armchair opposite, roared with laughter.
“You should have seen those poor monkeys.” Aldous Grump grinned at his new wife. “They didn’t have a hope with Ophelia after them. Ran for their lives, they did--thought they’d be better off taking their chances with the lions out on the game reserve.”
“Very funny, darling,” Miss Grimm admonished. “I was just tired of the little brutes raiding my makeup purse, that’s all. I hadn’t realized chimps were fond of lipstick and blush until I caught them giving each other a makeover at the dressing table after we returned from breakfast one morning.”
“We must have stayed at the same lodge when we were on safari last year,” said Alice-Miranda, “because the very same thing happened to Mummy. The manager, Mr. Van Rensburg, said that his chimps had collected enough stolen lipstick to start their own beauty parlor. Apart from that, it does sound like you had a lovely time.”
“We most certainly did.” Mr. Grump nodded.
Millie took the last sip of her hot chocolate, upended the delicate blue-and-white mug and allowed a sodden marshmallow to slide into her mouth.
“Mmm, yum!” she exclaimed.
“All done?” Miss Grimm asked.
“Well, girls, I think you had better be heading off. School tomorrow, and we have loads of exciting things planned for the term.” Miss Grimm stood up and walked toward the mahogany door.
“But can’t we stay and hear more?” Jacinta grumbled. “I want to know what happened to the baby elephant you saw on safari. Did he escape from that crocodile?”
“Next time,” Miss Grimm promised. “And, girls?” She tapped her finger to her cheek as though she had just remembered something important. “We have a new student starting tomorrow. She’ll be rooming with you, Jacinta, so I expect you to make her feel very welcome.” Ophelia arched her eyebrow and gave Jacinta a meaningful look.
Jacinta nodded like a jack-in-the-box.
“A new girl? That’s lovely,” Alice-Miranda replied. “I can’t wait to meet her. What’s her name?”
“Sloane. Sloane Sykes,” Miss Grimm replied. “Now, off you go, girls.”
Alice-Miranda was the first to stand. She said goodnight to Mr. Grump, who was still sitting in his armchair. Without warning, the tiny child leaned forward and gave him a peck on his stubbly cheek.
“Now, what was that for?” Aldous asked.
“Just because,” Alice-Miranda replied, before skipping over to Miss Grimm to give her a warm hug too. Miss Grimm smiled at her youngest student with the cascading chocolate curls and eyes as big as saucers.
“And you know something?” Alice-Miranda scanned the walls on either side of the door. “I simply love your photographs. That one of you and Mr. Grump is gorgeous, and that one of the elephant is too cute--you could enter it in a competition.”
The previously bare walls now played host to more than a dozen pictures: Miss Grimm and Mr. Grump’s wedding, their honeymoon and even some casual shots of Miss Grimm with girls around the school. There were faces and places and memories.
“Do you remember, Miss Grimm, when I first met you, I said that what this room needed was some photographs? And now look--it’s perfect!”
“Yes, young lady, I certainly do recall that was one of your recommendations, among rather a few others,” Miss Grimm teased. Alice-Miranda grinned and leaned forward to give the headmistress another quick hug.
The group of girls behind her took turns saying goodnight to Miss Grimm and Mr. Grump. It was amazing how much things had changed at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale in the past few months. Who would ever have thought that Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones, along with eleven of her friends, would enjoy an hour in the head-mistress’s study, hearing all about her recent honeymoon safari in Africa?
Alice-Miranda smiled to herself. She couldn’t wait to see what excitement the new term would bring.
Alice-Miranda led the charge across the cobble-stoned courtyard toward Grimthorpe House. From her position on the dimly lit veranda, the house mistress, Mrs. Howard, peered out into the darkness, a flurry of bother frothing on her lips.
“Oh, thank heavens!” she exclaimed. “I was worrying myself into an early grave. Where on earth have you been? Dinner was an hour ago. Now hurry up inside. It’s cool out, and the last thing I need is a house full of coughs and splutters.”
The girls poured into the hallway, one after the other. Mrs. Howard gathered them around her like a mother hen, locked the front door and turned to face her charges.
“Sorry, Mrs. Howard, we should have phoned you,” Alice-Miranda began. “Miss Grimm and Mr. Grump invited us back to the study for hot chocolate and marshmallows and we lost track of the time. Miss Grimm was telling us about their honeymoon in Africa. It all sounded so wonderful. They went on a safari and they saw elephants and lions and hippos--”
“And guess what, Howie?” Millie interrupted as she rushed through from behind Alice-Miranda. “Two monkeys invaded their bedroom and stole Miss Grimm’s lipstick and when she was telling us about it, I almost jumped out of my skin. She’s good at scary stories, that’s for sure.”
Mrs. Howard rolled her eyes. “Imagine that! Well, run along, girls and brush your teeth. I’ll be in to turn the lights off in ten minutes.”
The girls began to disappear through doorways along opposite sides of the long corridor. Alice-Miranda and Millie were headed toward their room when Jacinta whispered Millie’s name. She then opened and closed her hands, signaling the number ten. “Ten minutes. Okay?” Jacinta asked.
Millie gave two thumbs up.
“What was that fo--?” Alice-Miranda began. Millie promptly put her hand over Alice-Miranda’s mouth and gave her a gentle shove into their bedroom.
Millie shut the door and flopped down onto her bed. “Midnight meeting in Jacinta’s room.”
“Midnight! What fun! But it’s school tomorrow,” Alice-Miranda said as she unbuttoned her shirt. “Won’t that upset Mrs. Howard? I don’t think she was very happy about our staying out late tonight.” She retrieved her pajamas from under her pillow and began to get changed.
“Don’t worry about Howie,” Millie replied. “She was just pretending to be annoyed. She could have phoned the kitchen if she was that worried. Anyway, the girls on the corridor always have a ‘midnight meeting’ on the first night back.”
“We didn’t last term,” Alice-Miranda replied.
Millie explained that this was because Alethea wouldn’t allow anyone except her friends last term. Apparently the meeting was not really at midnight anyway, more like quarter to nine, and usually someone fell asleep by quarter past and everyone got off to bed by ten at the latest. After vacations, when the girls got to stay up later, it was hard to go back to the routine of eight-thirty bedtime for at least a couple of nights.
“We can talk about what we did over vacation,” Millie informed her friend.
“But, Millie, there are some things we can’t talk about from vacation,” Alice-Miranda reminded her.
During the school vacation, Alice-Miranda, Jacinta and Millie had far more adventure and excitement than any of them had bargained for. Jacinta had gone to stay with Alice-Miranda for the whole break. The two girls quickly found themselves at the mercy of a rather cranky boy and a dastardly stranger. When Millie arrived to join in the fun for Aunt Charlotte’s birthday party, things went from bad to worse. A case of mistaken identity saw dear old Aunty Gee kidnapped by a gang of rogues intent on getting their hands on the Highton-Smith-Kennington-Joneses’ cook and her formula for Just Add Water Freeze-Dried Foods. The fact that Mrs. Oliver and Aunty Gee looked like twins had a lot to do with the confusion. In the end Aunty Gee returned safely and Alice-Miranda’s bravery ensured that the crooks were captured, but the girls had been sworn to secrecy. Since Aunty Gee also happened to be the Queen, her future freedom depended on their silence. Indeed, she would never be allowed anywhere on her own again if news of such misadventures reached the palace.
“Do we take snacks?” Alice-Miranda asked. “Because Mrs. Oliver packed a whole tin of her chocolate fudge.”
“Yum.” Millie licked her lips. “Treats are always welcome. But don’t expect to have any leftovers.”
Alice-Miranda and Millie finished changing into their pajamas, grabbed their toothbrushes and hurried to the bathroom at the end of the hallway. The place was a hive of activity as all of the girls from the ground floor readied themselves for bed.
Not five minutes later, the bathroom was empty and Mrs. Howard was patroling the corridor, poking her head into each room, saying her goodnights and flicking off the lights.
Alice-Miranda and Millie lay in the dark, watching the clock as the minutes ticked by slowly until eight-forty-five.
“It’s time,” Millie whispered as she pushed back the covers and sat up, swiveling her legs around to scoop her slippers from the floor.
Alice-Miranda hopped out of bed and pulled on her bathrobe, then slid her feet into her pink slippers. “This is such fun!” She smiled. Her tummy was full of butterflies. “Are you sure Mrs. Howard won’t mind?”
“Trust me,” Millie replied. “It’s a first night tradition. Well, most of the time.” She grabbed Alice-Miranda’s tiny hand and they scampered to the door.
The corridor was empty. Alice-Miranda followed her friend as they tiptoed along the softly lit hall to Jacinta’s door. Other doors were opening, and it wasn’t long before there were at least ten other girls headed to the same place.
“Password?” Jacinta’s voice murmured on the other side of the door.
“Dead,” Millie replied, louder than she had intended.
“That’s not it,” Jacinta whispered back.
“No, but that’s what you’ll be if you don’t hurry up and let us in,” Millie threatened.
Jacinta giggled and opened the door.
The stream of visitors poured into the room, finding themselves comfortable spots on Jacinta’s bed and the spare bed that was to be Sloane Sykes’s as of tomorrow. Alice-Miranda and Millie sat cross-legged on the Persian rug in the middle of the timber floor and Alice-Miranda offered the fudge tin around.
Just as the group got settled there was a shuffling sound outside the room, followed by a booming voice.
“Jacinta Headlington-Bear, turn off that light, or I will be in to turn it off for you,” Mrs. Howard instructed. The girls froze. Jacinta had left her bedside lamp on so everyone could see their way in.
“Just doing it now, Howie,” Jacinta called back.
The girls remained silent until they heard the house mistress’s footsteps on the stairs at the end of the hall.
“That was close,” Susannah whispered as the group let out a collective breath.
Jacinta grabbed her flashlight from the bedside table, held it under her chin and flicked on the switch, doing her best impression of a ghost. “Welcome to Grimthorpe Hoooooouse.” Everyone giggled.
“So what do we want to talk about?” Danika asked. Now that she was officially Head Prefect she thought she had better take the lead. “What did everyone do over vacation?”
Ivory, Shelby and Ashima all complained about having to stay at home and being totally bored.
“Well, I saw Alethea,” Susannah began. “She was walking out of Highton’s in the city with her mother and she almost knocked me over.”
“Please, can we talk about more pleasant things?” Lizzy replied as she glanced at Shelby and Danika. The three girls had once been Alethea’s best friends until they realized how incredibly horrid she was.
Alethea Goldsworthy had been Head Prefect at the beginning of the year, until it was revealed that she was a cheat and a liar, and she had consequently left the school in a terrible hurry. She had treated Alice-Miranda especially badly.
“Well, I feel sorry for her,” said Alice-Miranda.
Millie turned to her. “Why? She’s totally evil. And after what she did to you, she deserved everything she got.”
“I’m sure she’s not mean and awful all the time,” Alice-Miranda replied.
“You’re too nice, Alice-Miranda, that’s your problem,” said Ivory, smiling at her little friend.
“No, I’m not.” Alice-Miranda shook her head.
“No, she’s really not,” Jacinta agreed. “You should have seen what she did to Mr. Blu–” Millie and Alice-Miranda shot Jacinta a stare that would halt a river of lava. “Oh, never mind.”
Danika practically pounced on Jacinta. “What were you about to say?”
“Nothing, nothing at all,” Jacinta lied. “Umm, does anyone know where that secret passage is off the science room?”
The girls shook their heads.
“Don’t you remember Alethea saying that she’d found a secret passage but she was the only one allowed to go there?” Jacinta continued.
“Knowing Alethea, she was probably just showing off,” Lizzy said. “But we should look for it. You never know--maybe she was telling the truth for once in her life.”
“O-o-o-o-h-a-a-a-h.” Alice-Miranda yawned and rubbed her eyes. “Sorry, I’m really tired. I might go to bed.”
“No!” Jacinta wailed. “It’s too early. I know, let’s tell ghost stories.”
Millie clasped her hands together. “I love ghost stories.”
“No, not ghost stories,” said Madeline, shaking her head. “I think we should tell Alice-Miranda a true story--about the witch in the woods.”
“A witch in the woods?” Alice-Miranda frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I suppose we never got around to telling you about her last term because there were too many other things going on,” Madeline began. “But now you need to know.”
“Definitely . . . yes . . . for sure,” the other girls chorused, nodding their heads.
“But I don’t believe in witches.” Alice-Miranda smiled. “They’re only in fairy stories.”
“Well, you should believe this--because it’s absolutely true.” Susannah wriggled forward to the edge of the bed. “Come and sit up here next to me.” She patted the bedspread.
The youngest child stood up and moved in beside Susannah and Ashima on the bed. Millie stayed on the floor looking up at the storyteller.
“All right, you’d better start at the beginning,” Alice-Miranda directed.