Chapter Three: —And Away
Back at Trennels now and Esther is joyfully reunited with Daks. She asks Nicola if it was “your sister Karen in the paper who got married” and Nicola has to take “time and a moderate amount of skill” to answer Esther’s polite questions about “that near-disaster”. Why is it a near disaster? How was the disaster averted? I’m going to have to read that book, aren’t I?
Daks also kills Nicola’s hat, which Esther, always worried about rules, frets about. Nicola calms her down, while wondering “whether she wouldn’t find Esther’s panics a touch irritating if her face weren’t so fascinating”. I seem to remember Patrick also noticing Esther’s beauty and of course, his girlfriend is Ginty, the prettiest of the Marlow sisters.
Speaking of Ginty, she’s been learning Miranda’s lines from The Tempest, so I guess that’s the school play this term. Ginty had spent the holidays rehearsing her lines with Patrick and he had read the most romantic lines “rather well: she only wished she could be sure he meant them as Patrick”. Hmm, perhaps Ginty is more enthusiastic about their relationship than Patrick is? Ginty’s sensible, no-nonsense friend Monica arrives as the sisters are unpacking and she persuades Ginty not to audition too well for the play, so they can both concentrate on swimming and diving this term. Ginty immediately agrees and goes off with Monica to the pool, and Nicola observes disapprovingly that Ginty is as changeable as a chameleon. But perhaps Ginty’s just more socially aware and eager to fit in with others? It’s not necessarily a bad thing to care about others’ opinions, unless you’re a Marlow and believe yourself superior to everyone else.
Ann has unpacked for Ginty and Lawrie, and when Nicola tells her to stop it, Ann incoherently objects (“mainly from lack of practice—she so seldom sprang to her own defence”). She becomes totally flustered when Nicola mentions Ann is a dead cert to be Head Girl so she should practise being self-assertive. Nicola wonders why Ann is “so soft” only with her family, because Ann’s a bossy, competent Guide leader at school with the other girls. I wonder about that, too. Perhaps Ann is aware her siblings dislike her, so she tries extra hard to ‘help’ them, to try to change their opinion? They all seem to take advantage of her when it suits them, however much they complain about her behind her back. Poor Ann, she needs to leave home and go somewhere she can be useful and valued. Did I read in an earlier book that she wants to be a nurse, or am I misremembering?
Nicola runs into Tim, who is still Lawrie’s Best Friend Forever and Nicola’s Frenemy. Tim has a new spiky hairdo to match her personality. They go off to look at the noticeboards, where there is predictable chaos about the casting of the play. Lawrie is Ariel, but wants to be Caliban. Miranda West seems to be one of Lawrie’s understudies. Tim is nothing, but wants to be Assistant Stage Manager and work her way up rapidly to Producer, so puts her name down for Costumes and Props with Miss Jennings, the cool Art teacher. Nicola and Esther are Ariel singers, even though poor Esther has debilitating stage fright.
Then Miranda turns up and takes Nicola up a fire escape ladder to the roof, which seems a bit dangerous to be left open and accessible, but that’s Kingscote for you. Miranda spent her holidays in Greece and Palestine, lucky thing, and Nicola tells her best friend a slightly edited version of the Karen wedding story. Then they discuss The Tempest. Unlike Nicola, Miranda has actually read it and would quite like to be Ariel, once Lawrie inevitably gets her way and is recast as Caliban. Jan Scott is down for Prospero, which Miranda approves of, because she thinks Jan will do it properly, as “white magic starting to go black … but then he decides he can’t go through with it.” It turns out Miranda has had a crush on Jan since she was a Junior and saw Jan performing an outlaw ballad:
…partly teasing, but more in admiration, Nicola said, “You have been faithful, haven’t you?”
“My middle name,” said Miranda; and added, “As a matter of fact, that’s almost true.”
“Why, what is it?”
“Ruth. The whither thou goest I will go girl. Oh dear,” said Miranda sadly, “after this term, when Jan’s left, will be so drear. Absolutely no one to be interested in at all.”
I think they’re fourteen now, is that right? It’s interesting how accepting Nicola is of Miranda’s feelings for Jan, which are certainly romantic, even if they’re not sexual. The other thing I observed is how often Nicola comments on other girls’ appearances – not just Esther’s beauty, but a detailed list of Monica’s facial features (“The odd thing was, looked at all together, they made an attractive whole”), Tim’s “odd angular face, which remained, disconcertingly, neither absolutely plain nor absolutely pretty” and Miranda (“half-curling dark hair, dark blue eyes, and fierce little hawk face”). It’s exactly the age when girls, even tomboyish, sensible girls like Nicola, start thinking of their appearance in relation to their peers, because it’s finally starting to matter, in terms of popularity and boys.
Antonia Forest also seems to assume that her young readers will be familiar with The Tempest and the story of Ruth, which may be an accurate assumption for that time.
Speaking of The Tempest, has anyone seen the film version with Helen Mirren as a female Prospero? Is it any good?
Next, Chapter Four: Assorted Disappointments