Chapter Eight: Casualty
Well, that chapter title is ominous, but it gets off to a good start with Lower IV.A beating Lower V.B, although it’s their “hardest match to date” and they scrape through with a bit of luck. This means Nicola’s team will face Lois’s team in the Final, which is on the second-last day of term. The only really good players in the Sixth Form are Lois, Janice and a girl called Olive; “the rest of them were there simply to make up the numbers” and Val Longstreet says Lois is being “rather adolescent to be so obsessive about winning”. In response, Lois storms off in a temper, although you’d think she’d have enough to worry about with final exams. But she wants to be a games mistress and maybe you don’t need high marks to get into that sort of college? Maybe it’s based on school sports results?
Then it’s the swimming match against Wade Abbas Collegiate and Ginty’s friends insist she take her lucky clover leaf with her. It’s now sandwiched between two glass lenses from a pair of old spectacles (exactly what Alexander Fleming did with his penicillin-mould paper to give to Prince Philip, who did not appreciate it!) and she insists Nicola hold it throughout the tournament for good luck. Nicola obliges and Ginty gets the highest score in the diving and is the star of the relay team, so it sort of works, despite Ann’s disapproval of all this superstitious nonsense. (Antonia Forest doesn’t seem to think Ann’s religious beliefs are superstitious nonsense, although I can’t see much difference myself.)
Unfortunately, Nicola clutches the glass so tightly that it breaks and gashes her palm. Being a Marlow, she covers up the gushing blood until Matron, noticing her lack of proper school hat (because Daks killed it), also notices the injury. She drags Nicola off to the San to bandage it, then orders Nicola off to hospital for stitches. Nicola, who’s heard Peter moaning about how stitches are agony, protests, but Matron is stern: “Don’t be ridiculous! Do you want to lose your hand?” So poor Nicola imagines her hand being hacked off, “dunking in hot tar to follow”, although a perfectly nice Pakistani doctor stitches it quickly and mostly painlessly and has a chat about cricket with her, assuring her she’ll be able to play in the final.
She arrives back at school in time for supper, where she’s ordered to have a Junior Supper of “milk, oatcakes and stewed fruit” because she’s an invalid. (Given the blood loss, you’d think beef stew and orange juice would be more useful, but well, it’s Kingscote.) She reassures everyone that, contrary to belief, her arm hasn’t been amputated and she will be playing in the cricket final and singing in The Tempest. Then Miranda helps her over to the San, where she has to spend the night. Miranda’s crush on Janice has reached epic levels — she’s analysing everything Janice says or does, and is desperate to have a chance to play Ariel against Jan’s Prospero. Except of course, that will only happen if Lawrie doesn’t play Ariel. Which is impossible.
I’m confused again about forms and ages. Nicola says Janice was “in the Sixth with Kay and in teams with Rowan, but I don’t think you’d call them friends”. If Janice was in the same year as Karen, why did Karen go to Oxford a year ago? Did Janice repeat a year or was Karen so brilliant that she got into Oxford early? I’d also thought Janice was friends with Rowan, but apparently not (and I remember now that she was surprised when Rowan didn’t turn up at school, but then Rowan didn’t seem to tell anyone she was leaving).
Matron insists that Nicola ring the bell if her hand hurts in the night and Nicola says she will, while wondering “what exact degree of unbearable agony would bring her to the pitch of actually doing that”. She wakes in the night “her hand an enormous, throbbing hurt”, convinced she has gangrene, like Hornblower’s Lieutenant, but naturally does not call Matron, because Nicola’s a Marlow (and also because Matron told her off earlier for not being as stoic as her sister Rowan). So Nicola, unable to sleep, goes on with her Cromwell reading. She only has three more books to read, so she’s doing pretty well. Dombey and Son is a slog at first: “it was slushy, it was yuk, she couldn’t care less if that wetter-than-wet lad died, but all the same, it was sad…” Then Matron comes in, tells her off and gives her an aspirin. She does get a boiled egg for breakfast, so there’s a bit of iron replenishment, then it’s back to school, although as she can’t play games, she spends a lot of time in the library with the seniors.
Meanwhile, Lawrie is continuing to be terrible at being Ariel, and during a rehearsal break, shows off her Caliban act to the others. Miss Kempe has had enough by now and tells her off, so Lawrie, predictably, has a sobbing fit and is ordered off stage. Nicola is ordered to fetch Miranda, who does a much better job, despite not having rehearsed it with the others — she’s funny and poignant where she’s meant to be, “more like something magic”. Miss Kempe seems to be impressed, in her undemonstrative way, and Miranda is ecstatic that she’s had a chance, even just one, to be on stage with Janice. Lawrie sulks for a while, then goes off to tell Miss Kempe that Miranda ought to do Ariel: “It’s just not my part, honestly.” Lawrie is convinced that she can make a bargain with Them Up There, as she did last time, when she got to play the Shepherd Boy after letting Nicola play in her place in the netball match. Miss Kempe makes Lawrie promise not to say anything to the others about giving up the role. In fact, she goes straight to tell Nicola, but falls asleep before she can, and then doesn’t have a chance the next morning. By then, Miss Kempe has decided Miranda will act and sing Ariel’s part, so both twins are out of the play. Nicola is astonished that Lawrie has voluntarily given up the part and Miss Kempe is astonished that Lawrie hasn’t told anyone.
Miranda thinks this is “absolutely blissful” and is perfectly happy to give up studying for exams. Nicola asks won’t her father mind when she doesn’t come first, as she usually does, but Miranda says he’d be just as happy if she’s a super Ariel. Nicola considers that now only Meg Hopkins is in the way of the Prosser scholarship, unless it goes on year averages, in which case Meg will definitely get it… Miranda knows there’s something wrong, but Nicola refuses to say and Miranda assumes that Mrs Marlow is gravely ill.
Then the exams arrive and Nicola is pleased at how the papers match what she’s studied — “one of life’s little ironies, now that she knew it was practically impossible she’d inherit Kay’s Prosser…”
Next, Chapter Nine: The Prosser