Chapter Four: Assorted Disappointments
I’m so confused by the timeline of these books, even allowing for the time travelling that allows decades to pass between one school year and the next. I’d assumed that this book was set in the first term of the school year because they’d just had a long, eventful holiday, but I think it’s actually the last term, because Jan is about to finish school. So does that mean this term runs from about April to June, and the holidays in which Karen got married were actually the Easter holidays, not the summer holidays? But wasn’t The Thuggery Affair set in those Easter holidays, when Nicola was staying with Miranda in London? Or maybe that was half-term, not Easter? Maybe I should just not think about this too hard.
Much like Hogwarts, the number of students in the form seems to change according to plot requirements. For my own reference, here are the students in Nicola’s form, Lower IV.A, whose form teacher is Miss Cromwell:
Nicola Marlow, Games Captain
Lawrie Marlow, in some danger of being demoted to Upper IV.B next school year
Thalia (Tim) Keith
Esther Frewen, Stationery Monitor
Sarah (Sally), Form Prefect
Jean Baker, Form Prefect, dim but kind, used to sit next to Lawrie at the back of the classroom
Linda Stratton, now sits next to Nicola, will probably be demoted to Upper IV.B next year
Barbara (Barby) Wateridge, Door Monitress
Marie Dobson, currently has COVID, I mean “a feverish cold”, so not back at school yet
Pomona (Pippin) Todd
Elizabeth (Liz) Collins, used to be in Third Remove with the twins
Margaret (Meg) Hopkins, shy but gets high marks, friend of Berenice
Berenice Anderson, good at cricket but Nicola doesn’t like her much
Rosemary Wright, will probably go into Upper IV.B
Elaine Rees, another probable Upper IV.B
Margaret Sutton, another probable Upper IV.B
There may be other, unnamed students. I wonder what happened to Jenny Cardigan? I liked her name. We don’t find out who is Flower Monitor or Tidiness Monitor this term.
So, due to flu last term, they have school on Saturday mornings, half-term break is cancelled and all outings are banned. Sounds like a great way to create exhausted, demoralised, rebellious students. Miss Cromwell is as strict as ever, but it’s revealed “no actual harm came of standing up to Crommie every now and then” and she does occasionally exhibit signs of a sense of humour.
Pomona has been moved up to Lower IV.A from the B form and Miss Cromwell accidentally announces it in a way that allows Tim to be mean about Pomona’s weight. Fortunately, many of the other girls, including Nicola, think that Pomona is “much improved” since her tantrum-throwing Third Remove days, so hopefully she’s not being bullied as much as she used to be.
Miss Cromwell then orders Nicola to go and see Miss Kempe, who’s in charge of the play, but when Nicola finally tracks the teacher down, Miss Kempe assumes she’s Lawrie:
“I am Nicola, actually,” said Nicola apologetically.
“Are you now? Yes, perhaps you are, after all…”
Miss Cromwell also wants all the staff to know about the twins’ new seating arrangements in class – maybe the identical twins thing is going to be an important plot point again.
The Kempe meeting is just about how to manage Nicola singing Ariel’s songs, but does confirm that Lawrie will be Ariel, full stop. (Lawrie remains convinced she’s Ariel, question mark.)
Nicola is, predictably, taking her Games Captain role very seriously, or as Tim tells her, “doing your Marlow thing … being very very competent and very very keen.” Nicola has booked the cricket nets and pitch for practice every evening, but someone has been crossing out her name on the list. Is it Tim? No, Tim is so uninterested in cricket that she doesn’t even know they use nets. Of course, it’s Evil Lois, who stalks up and announces that lower forms are only allowed the terrible pitch behind the Pavilion and only twice a week. After she’s gone, Tim suggests that maybe, Lois is doing this behind Miss Craven’s back. Tim admits that Lawrie has told her the whole story about Lois lying and getting the twins in trouble at Guides and then throwing Nicola out of the netball team. Nicola is shocked by Lawrie’s inability to keep a secret (really? it’s Lawrie, for heaven’s sake) and Tim is amazed at Nicola’s refusal to tell Miranda or anyone else while Lois is still at school.
“You mean it might get around and she’d be clobbered? Why on earth should you mind that? You don’t even like her.”
But Nicola is being all noble and stiff-upper-lip and Marlowish about Lois. Nicola does have the good idea of having cricket practice early in the morning, before breakfast, so take that, Lois. Meanwhile, Tim is trying to design Tempest costumes and thinks about painting “real” magic signs on Prospero’s cloak, to Nicola’s alarm, because it might raise real demons – although on the positive and hilarious side, the demon might carry off Val Longstreet, their useless Head Girl. It’s nice to see Nicola and Tim getting along for a change.
Then the cast list goes up for The Tempest:
Prospero – Janice!
Miranda – Rachel Wilmot, understudy Naomi Lane
Caliban – Geraldine Hume
Ferdinand – Honor Seton
Ariel – Lawrie, understudy Miranda
Ariel singer/doppelgänger – Nicola, understudy Helen Bagshaw
Antonio – Denise Fenton, understudy Victoria Taylor
Juno – Elisabeth (Isa) Cardigan (Jenny Cardigan’s sister! Is A Cardigan!)
Reapers – Morris Group
Mariners – Emma Hillary, Monica
Nymphs – Natalie Hart, Eve Price and others who learn ballet
Strange Shape! – Pomona!
Ginty, who deliberately didn’t try in her audition, is devastated that she’s nothing, not even a Strange Shape. Her five friends, including Monica, are all in it and are surprised she isn’t even a nymph, but then one points out that the Marlows dominated the Christmas Play and really, she’s lucky to have extra time for swimming practice. And then Ginty pulls a four-leaf clover out of the lawn and then Monica bravely goes to Miss Kempe to say she wants out of the play. Ginty really is lucky: “it was fantastic to be the sort of person for whom others leapt to sacrifice themselves.” Ginty is a bit like Lawrie, awful but realistic.
Chapter Five: Postcard from Home
A short chapter in which two things happen.
Firstly, Nicola finishes reading The Mask of Apollo, but then Rowan sends a postcard reminding her to send it back to the library because it’s overdue and Miss Cromwell finds out about Nicola having an illegal book. Nicola admits committing this Mortal Sin and explains why she liked the book so much and Miss Cromwell is sympathetic, perhaps because Nicola has been doing so well at her schoolwork lately. Nicola says she thinks it was only breaking a regulation, but Cromwell says,
“Four hundred people living check by jowl need regulations, if only to protect the weak from the bullies and the foolish from their folly.”
(I haven’t noticed much protection from bullies for poor drippy Marie, and the teachers have been responsible for plenty of folly so far.)
Then Miss Cromwell asks Nicola why the book was limited to senior students and Nicola says it’s possibly “Because Nico liked men better than women, you mean?” (Oh Nicola, just wait till you read The Charioteer.) Her punishment is to read a long list of Cromwell-approved books, including Dickens and Sir Walter Scott, which really is a punishment.
The second thing is that all the early morning cricket practice pays off and in the first round of the tournament, Lower IV.A thrash Upper IV.B in less than forty minutes, with Esther bowling someone out, Pomona being a reliable wicket keeper, and Sally and Miranda making a good batting partnership. Evil Lois watches with feigned nonchalance, then slithers away, ha ha.
Next, Chapter Six: Letter from Home