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Synopsis

On a certain morning, just a week before Christmas, the little world of school at Chilcombe Hall was awake and stirring at an unusually early hour. Long before the slightest hint of dawn showed in the sky the lamps were lighted in the corridors, maids were scuttling about, bringing in breakfast, and Jones, the gardener, assisted by his eldest boy, a sturdy grinning urchin of twelve, was beginning the process of carrying down piles of hand-bags and hold-alls, and stacking them on a cart which was waiting in the drive outside.

    Miss Walters, dreading the Christmas rush on the railway, had determined to take time by the forelock, and meant to pack off her pupils by the first available trains, trusting they would most of them reach their destinations before the overcrowding became a serious problem in the traffic. The pupils themselves offered no objections to this early start. The sooner they reached home and began the holidays, so much the better from their point of view. It was fun to get up by lamp-light, when the stars were still shining in the sky; fun to find that rules were relaxed, and for once they might chatter and talk as they pleased; fun to run unreproved along the passages, sing on the stairs, and twirl one another round in an impromptu dance in the hall.

    The particular occupants of the Blue Bedroom had been astir even before the big bell clanged for rising, so they stole a march over rival dormitories, performed their toilets, packed their hand-bags, strapped their wraps, and proceeded downstairs to the dining-hall, where cups and plates were just being laid upon the breakfast-table. It was quite superfluous energy on the part of Lilias, Dulcie, Gowan, and Bertha, for as a matter of fact not one of them was on the list of earliest departures, but the excitement of the general exodus had awakened them as absolutely as the advent of Santa Claus on Christmas mornings. They stood round the newly-lighted fire, warming their hands, chatting, and hailing fresh arrivals who hurried into the hall.

    "You going by the 6.30, Edith? You lucker! My train doesn't start till ten! I begged and implored Miss Walters to let me leave by the early one, and wait at the junction, but she would not hear of it, so I've got to stop here kicking my heels, and watch you others whisked away. Isn't it a grisly shame?"

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