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Authors: Jacqueline Harvey

Alice-Miranda at the Palace 11

BOOK: Alice-Miranda at the Palace 11
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About the Book

It's Queen Georgiana's silver jubilee, and Alice-Miranda and her friends are invited. While Evesbury Palace is every bit as magnificent as they'd imagined, some of the staff are behaving strangely. Edgar and Louis, Aunty Gee's grandsons and the palace's resident mischief-makers, don't exactly give their guests a friendly welcome. When they team up with an unexpected visitor, things soon go from bad to worse.

Behind the scenes it seems something much more sinister is at play. Why is Aunty Gee so determined to keep Alice-Miranda at the palace for the rest of the holidays? And who is her mysterious milliner? With the help of her friends and a trusty butler, can Alice-Miranda uncover what threatens to bring down the royal family?

For Ian, who is full of wonderful surprises and good ideas, for Holly and Catriona, who have worked so hard, and for Sandy, as always.

A man in a bowler hat and charcoal overcoat dashed out of the alley and through the pounding rain. Just as he did so, a sleek black car pulled up to the kerb. He glanced left and right, then quickly folded his umbrella and jumped into the passenger seat.

The driver gave a swift nod. ‘Good evening, Sir.'

‘I'd hardly call it that, old chap,' the passenger replied, brushing the droplets of water from his shoulders.

The windscreen wipers swiped at the deluge as
the driver checked his side mirror and pulled out into the deserted street. Without a word, he handed the passenger a manila folder.

The man scanned the contents, a row of frown lines settling on his forehead. ‘Why her?' he asked. ‘She's not a relative.'

‘No, but she makes perfect sense. Rich parents, adored by all and apparently just about the sweetest child you'll ever meet. She's a natural target.'

‘Do you think this is enough to force Her Majesty's hand?' the passenger asked.

‘That, and this.' The driver passed the man a plastic sleeve containing a single document. ‘Everything we need is there.'

The passenger nodded. ‘So it's true, then?'

‘Yes. It was never witnessed and countersigned. It should never have been
her
and it most certainly won't be
him
.'

‘How did you get this, or do I not want to know?'

‘I have someone on the inside. Very reliable and even more ambitious,' the driver replied.

‘It's not the original, is it?'

‘Heavens, no. But don't worry, I'm sure we'll have it when we need it.' The driver slowed down as the traffic lights ahead turned red.

‘When do we begin?'

‘The first letter will arrive tomorrow, then there's no going back.' The driver swallowed hard. ‘Are you ready?'

‘Since I was fifteen years old,' the man in the bowler hat said.

‘Very good, Sir.' The driver pulled up outside a row of Georgian townhouses.

The passenger shook the other man's hand. ‘No going back,' he said firmly and opened the car door. The man popped up his umbrella and scurried away towards the yellow glow of a porch light.

‘Ooh, she gives me the creeps,' Millie whispered, glancing at the new teacher sitting at the end of their row. The tall woman with a pixie hairdo, dressed in a sensible beige pants-suit, looked up just at that moment and their eyes met. Startled, the child quickly turned back to the front.

‘Who?' Alice-Miranda asked, peering around her friend. ‘Miss Broadfoot?'

‘Miss Bigfoot more like it. Don't look!' Millie cringed as she noticed the teacher giving them a death stare.

‘You shouldn't be so hard on her,' Alice-Miranda chided. ‘She only started a week ago.'

But Alice-Miranda had a strange feeling about the woman too, though it was nothing she could put her finger on exactly. Miss Broadfoot just seemed to be popping up all over the place. She'd taught Alice-Miranda's English class and then Science and even PE. She was also helping out in the boarding house. And there had been a strange incident that Alice-Miranda hadn't told anyone about yet – not even Millie – mainly because she wasn't sure if it was real or if she'd been dreaming.

‘Quiet,' Miss Broadfoot hissed.

The clacking of high heels echoed as Miss Ophelia Grimm walked to the podium in the middle of the stage. Immaculately dressed in a striking red suit, she cleared her throat and waited until all eyes were focused her way.

‘I'm so thrilled to have everyone together for the final assembly of the term,' she began. ‘And after a slightly patchy start, I can't tell you how pleased I am with the way things are going over at Caledonia
Manor with the year seven girls. You are doing yourselves proud, and Miss Hephzibah and Miss Henrietta tell me they haven't felt this young and happy in years.'

The two old women were sitting up on the stage, having been specially brought over for the occasion by Charlie Weatherly, the school gardener. Both of the ladies nodded and grinned, and Hephzibah gave a little wave. Alice-Miranda waved back.

‘It now gives me great pleasure to announce this term's citizenship awards, as voted by the teachers and girls,' Miss Grimm continued. ‘These awards are very important. Knowing that you have won the admiration and respect of your peers is quite something – and I must say there is one name here I would never have guessed. It just goes to show that all of us are capable of being better versions of ourselves.'

Miss Grimm glanced at Caprice Radford, who wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention. As the girl wasn't in the running for the award, she couldn't have cared less. Ophelia knew she had a challenge and a half on her hands with that one but, fortunately, Caprice's parents were well aware of their child's foibles. It made for a nice change compared to some of the monsters and their completely hoodwinked parents that she'd dealt with over the years.

The girls waited quietly while Sofia Ridout, the Head Prefect, picked up the badges and certificates from the table at the side of the stage and handed them to the headmistress.

‘Congratulations to Essie Craven in year three, Lilian Banks in year four, Matilda Suttie in year five and Susannah Dare in year seven.' The announcement of each name was followed by a loud burst of applause. ‘Please come up to accept your award.'

‘What about year six?' The words tumbled from Millie's mouth before she had time to stop them.

Miss Broadfoot sent a thunderous look her way.

‘Don't be so impatient, Millie,' Miss Grimm said, a strange smile perched on her lips. ‘Without further ado, I am
very
pleased to announce that the citizenship award for year six goes to –' Miss Grimm paused and looked out at the students – ‘Sloane Sykes.'

The mention of Sloane's name sent the children into a frenzy. The girls stamped their feet on the floor and cheered loudly.

Sloane looked as if she'd been bitten by a bedbug. ‘Me? Really?'

Alice-Miranda grinned while watching the girl practically float down the centre aisle. ‘I don't think she can believe it.'

‘Who'd have thought?' Millie said, shaking her head. ‘But, you know, she totally deserves it.'

Sloane bounded across the stage and, to everyone's great surprise, launched herself at Miss Grimm and hugged the woman tight. There was an audible gasp from the students as they watched to see what Miss Grimm would do next.

‘I couldn't be any prouder of you if you were my own daughter,' the headmistress said quietly, embracing Sloane.

‘Thank you for giving me a second chance, Miss Grimm,' Sloane said, positively beaming.

Miss Grimm stepped back and shook Sloane's hand vigorously. ‘Thank
you
for proving you deserved one.'

Miss Reedy smiled as did Mr Plumpton and the other teachers who were sitting on stage beside Sofia Ridout. Miss Grimm stepped back up to the microphone.

‘Please give our award-winners another round of applause,' she said as the girls exited the side of the stage, and the hall erupted again. The headmistress waited for the noise to die down before she continued. ‘Girls, I'd like to wish you all a wonderful term break. Whatever it is that you're doing, be sure to do
it well. Mr Grump and I are looking forward to a very special holiday in Italy, and I know that some of the other staff are off on grand adventures too.' Miss Grimm arched an eyebrow in Miss Reedy's direction.

Miss Reedy's cheeks flushed and Mr Plumpton's nose glowed bright red.

‘Did you see that?' Alice-Miranda whispered to Millie. She smiled, hopeful that there might be another special announcement when they returned to school.

Millie giggled. ‘I think Miss Grimm must know about Mr Plumpton and Miss Reedy.'

The assembly finished with the school song, and the girls filed out into the sunshine to the sound of Mr Trout playing the organ.

Alice-Miranda spotted Sloane and rushed over to give her a hug. ‘Well done!'

‘I still can't believe it,' Sloane replied, shaking her head.

‘How many of those little kids did you have to bribe for their votes?' Jacinta teased.

Sloane's jaw dropped. ‘I was going to say I miss sharing a room with you but maybe not so much after that comment.'

But that wasn't true at all. Sloane was having a far
more difficult time with the school's newest student, Caprice Radford.

‘You know I'm joking,' Jacinta said, holding her hands up in surrender. ‘Seriously, Sloane, congratulations. I've never won a citizenship award.'

‘Wait until I tell Mummy. She'll probably take out a notice in the newspaper.' Sloane grimaced at the thought.

The other girls grinned.

Millie's stomach let out a strangled gurgle.

Sloane stared at the girl. ‘What's going on in there?'

‘Sorry – I must be hungrier than I thought,' Millie apologised.

‘I wish we could stay for lunch but we have to head back to Caledonia Manor,' Jacinta said with a frown. ‘But I'll see you all tomorrow. I think Mummy is even more excited than I am.'

‘I can't wait to meet the twins,' Alice-Miranda said. Her Aunt Charlotte had recently given birth to  two bouncing babies, Marcus and Imogen. ‘I'm so glad that they've been given the all-clear to travel.'

None of the group noticed the girl with the long copper-coloured hair lurking behind them. ‘What
are you all fizzing about?' she asked, barging into their conversation.

The girls had agreed not to mention their invitations to Aunty Gee's jubilee celebrations to their classmates. Millie had been desperate to share the news but Alice-Miranda convinced her that it might sound as if she were boasting, and they didn't want anyone to feel left out.

Alice-Miranda turned around and smiled at the girl. ‘Hello Caprice. I was just saying how much I'm looking forward to meeting my new cousins.'

Caprice wrinkled her nose. ‘Babies are boring. All they do is eat, sleep and poo.'

Millie glared at the girl. ‘And you'd know that because …?'

Since the incident during camp at the beginning of the term, when Caprice had blackmailed Millie into some behaviour she was less than proud of, things hadn't improved much at all between the two girls. Although there were times when Caprice seemed relatively normal, she still let her competitive streak get the better of her more often than not.

‘What are you doing in the holidays, Caprice?' Alice-Miranda asked.

‘Mummy's in charge of the catering for some stupid party for the Queen,' the girl began.

Millie, Sloane and Jacinta gulped in unison and stared at one another.

‘I don't know why she has to do it. Doesn't Queen Georgiana have a thousand servants? Mummy says that it's an honour, but I say it's ruined our holidays,' Caprice blathered.

‘Are you going?' Alice-Miranda asked as the other three girls' faces contorted.

‘Of course not!' Caprice snapped. ‘Children aren't allowed to go and, besides, Queen Georgiana's mean.'

Jacinta shook her head. ‘That's not true. We're –'

‘Looking forward to having a break,' Alice-Miranda quickly finished.

Caprice eyed the two girls suspiciously. ‘What were you going to say?'

‘Nothing,' Jacinta replied, relieved that Alice-Miranda had stopped her. Who knew what Caprice might do if she found out they were all attending the Queen's jubilee weekend.

Miss Grimm had begun ushering students to the dining room. She walked over to Alice-Miranda and her friends, a huge smile plastered on her face.

‘Make sure you take lots of photographs, girls,' Miss Grimm said, lowering her voice conspiratorially. ‘I want to know
everything
about the palace.'

The headmistress then pointed towards Miss Reedy, who was rounding up the year seven girls to walk back to Caledonia Manor.

‘You'd better get moving, Jacinta,' the woman warned before hurrying away towards some of the younger children who had started an impromptu game of chasings over by the library.

‘What would you know about the palace?' Caprice narrowed her eyes at Alice-Miranda and her friends. She remembered the way Queen Georgiana had been so cosy with them at the end of their school camp. ‘Are you going or something?'

Millie nodded smugly.

‘But my mother said children weren't allowed.' Caprice's porcelain face grew red and steam could almost be seen pouring from her ears.

‘I thought you didn't like Queen Georgiana, anyway,' Jacinta said.

‘That's not the point. Why should you all get to go? I'm going to make Mummy take me. You wait and see,' the girl hissed and stormed away.

‘You shouldn't have said anything, Millie,' Sloane scolded. ‘What if Caprice convinces her mother to let her come? She'll ruin our whole weekend.'

Millie sighed.

‘She must be terribly lonely,' Alice-Miranda said. She watched the girl push her way into a younger group of students.

‘Well,' Millie said, drawing herself up as tall as she could, ‘it serves her right after what she did on camp. Anyway, I'd prefer not to think about her. I'm starving and that smells like Mrs Smith's chicken casserole to me. Come on.'

The girls waved goodbye to Jacinta and charged off to the dining room.

BOOK: Alice-Miranda at the Palace 11
10.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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