Augusta Hoje was cloistered on the fourth floor of Bellamy Hall. The little bench she was seated on slanted down ward at an alarming angle, one of its legs having broken off and been replaced by a stack of hymnals. Her hair was knotted up in a loose French braid, dark wavy wisps coming loose as she played, lending her a sort of "unraveled" appearance. Her fingers clattered across the keys rather than danced but the effect was none the less beautiful. Augusta was the only one of the girls who ever managed to get anything remotely tuneful out of the old piano. There were two new ones down the hall, where the girls had their lessons during the week. But on the weekends, when the lesson rooms were shut up, Augusta contented herself with this lonely little outcast, tucked away in a storage room, with a broken little stool and a pile of dusty choir uniforms in the corner.
Her sock slid down her calf as she tapped the piano's rusty petal and the loose hair about her face skimmed the keys. But she played on, weaving something elaborate and delicate out of the sticky old keys. When Augusta was in her element nothing could distract her, and she didn't hear the soft click as door was pushed open. Sally Ann Somers crept into the room, as silently as ever, and sat down cross-legged on the floor, looking up at the older girl as she played. Sally was a tiny, mouse-like girl, with mousy hair, thin and poker straight, and a mousey, pointed little noise. One of the youngest girls in the school she was by far the smallest. She was to turn ten years old in March, and yet the higher end of the piano bench would come up to her hip if she stood. All the older girls were in love with her, but they admired her from a distance. Smiling to each other and clasping their hands as she walked by, but rarely speaking to her. The first few weeks after her arrival a group of upperclassmen had tried to make a pet of her. They had cooed after her a made her sit beside them in the parlor, petting her hair and giggling. At first she had been terrified, sitting stock-still and silent while these terrifying creatures fussed over her and coddled her like a doll. She was painfully shy. She rarely spoke, nor even made eye contact, and when a few words did escape her lips they hardly ever rose above a faint whisper. But finally, after one particularly aggressive hair-braiding episode the poor girl had had enough. Seated, jammed between two enormously tall senior girls, a clump of her hair in each of their hands, she had decided it must be put a stop to. However, being a girl who spoke perhaps ten words in a day at most, she knew no way to express her distress. And so she had screamed. Opening her mouth as wide as she could she had let out a high pitched tea-kettle shriek. It had reverberated off the parlor walls, then ping-ponged its way down the corridor, eventually making its way across the whole of the school. It was rapidly followed by the startled shrieks of the senior girls, who had immediately began to scold Sally very sternly, shaking their fingers and using their most cloying and patronizingly sweet arguments for the proper exercise of decorum in little girls. Ms. Clarke, who taught English to the 2nd years, had been enjoying herself, reading a novel by the fireplace of the teachers' lounge, when she heard the child's screams. Startled, she had rushed to the scene, and when she saw the little tableau she immediately understood the trouble. She was a very gentle woman, rather silly and nervous, but with a great understanding of children. She had detached the older girls from poor Sally and warned them sternly to never come near the child again. After that Sally was left to herself, although she still received a great deal of condescending smiles. The result of all of this was that Sally had formed somewhat of an aversion to the older students, and generally avoided them at all costs. The one exception to this rule was Augusta. There was something in Augusta's haphazard appearance and soft spoken words that drew the little girl to her. Augusta never made her a pet, nor patronized her, and though she talked often it was mostly directed towards herself and she generally made a point of phrasing her conversation such that Sally rarely need make a response. Sally adored her. She followed her about nearly all day on the weekends and during the week she would often slip out of her classes (so silently she was never missed) and pop up at Augusta's knee. Now she merely sat, smiling contentedly, her red little hands, chapped with the dry autumn weather, resting in her lap. Augusta played on, swaying dreamily with the melody as she built it.
This scene remained undistrubed for half an hour or more and then, silently as she had come, Sally slipped away again. This time Augusta heard the click of the latch as the door was pulled closed. She started and her fingers came down on the keys hard in a discordant jangle. Turning, she caught the back of her dress on the corner of the bench, pulling it off its stack of books and tumbling herself onto the floor. She landed amid the now scattered books, cutting her elbow on the broken leg of the bench. Sally, who had been gliding silently away down the hall, paused at the clatter. She stood in the narrow hallway for a moment, poised on the balls of her feet, the toes of her little boots pointed together. She had grown to pride herself on her ability to slip through the school's halls unnoticed, she felt like a little ghost, something secret, special and romantic. Her pride called her forward, tugging her towards the door at the end of the hall where she would melt away into the empty building. She wanted to find a quiet corner where she could be alone to daydream, to imagine herself perhaps one day seated before Augusta's special piano. She tried to imagine the feeling of creating such magic with her own slender fingers. But curiosity called her back and, eventually, as is wont to happen amid the nine year old population, the latter got the better of her and she scurried back the way she'd come. When she opened the door she saw her hero, sprawled amidst the hymnals, the overturned bench lying behind her. She was holding up her elbow, trying to get a look at it, but having a great deal of difficulty. Sally could see the scratch, starting just above her elbow, on the underside of her arm. Pinpricks of blood were just starting to appear and around them the skin was still white, the edges slowly fading to an angry pink. It was a funny image and Sally couldn't quite keep back a little smile. The older girl sitting like that, her long legs sprawled out, both socks bunched up at her ankles, holding her elbow up to light and craning her neck around it. She looked so comical that Sally very nearly laughed out loud, but quickly checked herself. The only sound that escaped was a breathy gasp before she clapped a hand over her mouth.
"Sally, was that you just a moment ago?" Augusta's voice was light and cheerful, but Sally still feared she might be angry if she knew she'd been spied on.
"I thought I heard a noise…" the girl explained, "I turned 'round, see, and my dress got caught…" Augusta sat up and brushed off her skirt, looking embarrassed, "this stupid thing's only got three legs, see," she muttered, tapping the bench with the side of her foot. She got to her feet and began to gather the hymnals back into a pile. Sally just looked up at her, her eyes wide and her mouth pinched into a delicate little "O". She was staring at the elbow, which had started to bleed freely.
"Is it bad?" Augusta asked, glancing down at her arm, "I can't get a good look at it".
Sally nodded sharply.
"Rats!" the older girl muttered, craning her neck over her shoulder again to try to catch a glimpse of the damage. It didn't hurt much, but it did sting. Mostly what annoyed her was the sheer stupidity of it. And to think, it might scab and itch and look just disgusting. And just when the weather had started to get nice. The past week had been lovely, warm for fall, but dry, and the pleasant weather was expected to continue until the following Saturday. She'd hoped to ask Nell to let her borrow her blue dress. It was sleeveless and had a sweet daisy pattern. Augusta adored it and had been waiting for any opportunity to ask to borrow it. And she knew Nell wasn't planning on wearing it since she'd worn it to the homecoming dance only a month before.
"I'm sure it'll heal up by Friday if I get a bandage on it," Sally raised her eyebrows skeptically. The gash was deep and she very much doubted it would be anything less than an ugly scab by the night of the dance.
They were a tradition, these dances, and all the older girls went. There was at least one dance each quarter and one formal each semester, hosted alternately by either Bellamy Hall or the neighboring boys' school. Sally had a great deal of difficulty understanding the appeal of these parties, but it seemed that all of the other girls adored them,. The preceding week an atmosphere of excitement had pervaded the school, making its way through the halls and classrooms like a whisper. Groups of girls stood apart talking in clusters about alterations to be made, ribbons to be purchased, young men to be industriously encouraged on the part of friends. Even Augusta, whose awkward manners excluded any possibility of an actual male partner, was eager to go. Sally was sure the cut would not heal up in time but, more out of concern for Augusta's feelings than anything, she smiled and nodded at the question.
"It does hurt," Augusta said, wrapping her fingers gingerly around her wounded arm, but she was smiling sheepishly, half embarrassed and half amused at her own clumsiness.
"Come with me to patch it up?" Sally nodded, smiling, and took the hand Augusta offered her.