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Read the opening paragraphs and comment on the mood the author creates. Do you think this mood will prevail throughout the whole story ?

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Early in October school began as usual in Ponder’s Mill. Sarah and Lilly walked up the hill together, wearing their new school clothes. Yellow leaves from the elms along Main Street fell on the girls’ heads and whirled in gentle circles around their feet.

Sarah and Lilly were beginning the fifth grade. The brick schoolhouse had four grades on each of its three floors. The higher the grade went, the higher up in the schoolhouse the classroom was. So now, for the first time, the girls would be in a room on the second storey.

“Do you think the new teacher will be nice ?” Lilly asked.

Sarah started every year by liking the teacher she was used to better than the new one. This year there was a special mystery because the regular fifth-grade teacher had moved away. No one knew anything about her replacement.

“I hope so,” said Sarah. “But it will be worth having a new teacher to be in one of the rooms with a fire escape.”

“You bet,” Lilly agreed. “That’ll be fun.”

The fire escapes were two big metal tubes. They started in one room on each of the upper floors. They sloped from the school building to the ground outside. Whenever there was a fire drill, Mr. Bostrum, the principal, rang the bell in the tower. Then all the children on the second and third floors hurried into a room with a fire escape in it. One by one they sat down at the top opening of the metal chute and pushed off. They whizzed down the giant slides and quickly emptied the top floors of the school. On the second floor, the fire escape began in the fifth-grade room.

All the upstairs pupils in the school learned how to use the tubes and thought they were fun. But Mr. Bostrum only clanged the bell two or three times a year. Everyone agreed that it would be a shame to waste such great slides by using them just during fire drills. So sometimes, when the teacher wasn’t looking, one of the children disappeared down a chute.

Now Sarah would have her turn in a fire escape room. Sarah and Lilly hang their jackets on hooks in the dark, wood-lined hall. The first thing they noticed was the new sign mounted on their classroom door. M. EMERSON, FIFTH GRADE was printed on it.

“She sounds old, don’t you think ?” Sarah guessed.

“And maybe mean, too.”

Lilly gave a little shudder. They exchanged worried looks. Then they crossed their fingers for luck and went timidly inside. But the teacher wasn’t there yet. It was still ten minutes early. The other pupils were gathered around the top of the metal tube at the back of the room. They were talking in whispers. They motioned to the girls to join them.

Pete Robbins, who was the biggest boy in their class, said, “We’ve got this plan, see. Whenever the new teacher goes to the blackboard and turns her back, some of us will go down the chute. As many as can before she figures it out. Maybe she doesn’t even know about the slide yet.”

Sarah thought it was risky, but she had to admit, it was a great temptation. At least they’d find right way what the new teacher was like.

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