"You've done very well this fall, Pomona," Mrs. Bellamy said, her plump cheeks rosier than ever with the reflection of her Christmas-patterned cardigan. "If you keep it up in the spring and summer, I should think you can look forward to a remove to the A form come the Upper Fourth."
"Thank you Mrs. Bellamy," Pomona said with automatic docility. She was well aware that some of her classmates would have been thrilled to bits to be promised a glimpse of the A form (two of her friends had already been moved up for Lower IV, Rachel Calder who did ballet with her and Christine Ollerenshaw who actually liked Crommie's classes), while others (Julie Perkins who just wanted to play hockey, Lynn Geary who was sweet and amiable and utterly lazy) would have been horrified. As always, it was the better part of valor not to show her hand on the spot.
"Run along then, and enjoy your holidays. Have you finished your packing?"
"Yes Mrs Bellamy. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Bellamy," Pomona added, and ran along.
Erica was waiting on the stairs. "What did the Bellamy want?"
"Nothing special," Pomona said. "Have you packed your shoes?"
Correctly, Erica understood this to mean ballet shoes and greeted it with a roll of the eyes. "Do you think I could just forget them here? Awfully sorry, Mum, I don't know how I could've done that, I must have just assumed they were in my trunk already…" Erica, another ballet crony, was burdened with a mother who considered her the next Anna Pavlova and made sure that she attended classes throughout her holidays.
"I expect she'd just buy you new ones," Pomona pointed out. "Anyway, you don't not like ballet."
"No, I suppose not," Erica sighed. "What will your mum have in store for you? Another, what did you call it, those village plays?"
"Pageant. Perhaps…It's a bit cold for dancing barefoot." They reached the landing where their ways parted. "Have good holidays, then."
"You too. See you in the New Year."
Going up one more flight to her own dormitory, Pomona reflected with appreciation on Erica's brisk unsentimentality. At the end of their first fall term, Marie Dobson had made a great to-do over exchanging addresses, and had sent an elaborate Christmas card (which Pomona's mother had rather turned up her nose at. "It's a bit of seasonal cheer, Melly," Pomona's father said. "Take it in the spirit intended." "No taste whatsoever, so bourgeois," Pomona's mother mourned, tucking the card a little further behind a large abstract design hinting at candles, sent by her best friend from art school).
Ballet classes (permitted to members of IIIB and up as they had not been to Third Remove) had been the main motive power behind the cooling of Pomona and Marie's association; she and Rachel and Erica had happened to be the only third formers in the Junior/Middle age group, and it had just come naturally to talk more to one another in the classroom as well, especially when they moved up to Lower IVB, Marie disappeared into the A form, and alphabetical order placed Shelland next to Todd (her desk this year was a terribly ordinary one, battered and dull-surfaced, second row second from left). Rachel had been a bit leery of her when she'd first joined the ballet group, but Erica was quick to say "You were Henry VIII in that play the Remove lot did, weren't you? You were awfully good. You nearly all were, only I think they ought to have given us a look-in too, it's not as if we wanted the stalls Miranda West was handing out either. I say, how do you do your adagio like that? I never saw the point of adagio, honestly. I always think the audience must be dreadfully bored and just waiting for the pirouettes."
Pomona was pleased to have a chance to show off a little bit; it was fun to be recognized for being good at something. More fun than when Mummy told her how good she was; which was silly, really, because of course Mummy knew about these things and Erica was just a schoolgirl, but true all the same.
IIIB had been a placid and unthreatening classroom, unless perhaps you were Marie; most of its members had been at Kingscote since the Second Form or earlier and were happily resigned to one another's company up through O-Levels at least. A few of them felt the need to point out the difference between Pomona's correct Kingscote-style hairdo and tidy uniform and her appearance on First Day; to Pomona's considerable surprise, this approach was met (before Marie could plunge in with a passionate defense) by Audrey's remarking "Well, you spent all of your First Day blubbing, Anne, you haven't got room to talk." "That was when I was nine!" Anne Russell protested hotly, but the moment had passed and Pomona was accepted unremarkably into the ranks.
At first lessons were a bit of a relief―Third Remove lessons had been highly uneven, when there were some people who understood the point just from glancing at the relevant paragraph of the textbook and others who needed an explanation that took up half the lesson. In the IIIB classroom, it quickly became clear that Daphne and Elaine, at least, had never really mastered much more than the first few sections of the maths text, though they had sat through the same lessons Pomona had; fortunately for them, more than one of IIIB was in the same fix and Miss Cromwell was ferociously willing to go through it at a pace that left them no choice. Pomona herself found this preferable. Miss Cromwell had made it crystal clear early on that she would accept neither sulks nor tantrums, and so there was nothing for it but to sit patiently coaxing the figures on the page to behave, wondering occasionally if this was how Mummy felt when the villagers were being particularly uncooperative during pageant production.
English and History lessons were rather more unsatisfying, though; Pomona had to admit to herself that the lack of Tim's irreverent comments was felt, and it was awfully dreary to listen to Julie and Joanne and Marie stumbling their way through the translation of Beowulf when she thought of how Lawrie Marlow would have done it (although she hadn't any time for Lawrie otherwise). She yawned and doodled stick-figure ballerinas and read ahead through the next chapters out of sheer boredom (and as a result found exams a bit easier than they might otherwise have been).
Sometimes, when a volunteer was called for, Elaine or Christine would say "Let Pippin read, Miss Miller. She can read it." "I expect you can all read it, you're not infants," Miss Miller would remark cheerfully, but more often than not she went on "Pomona? Would you start from line 25, please."
Pomona two days into Third Remove would have been comfortably aware that her superior abilities were being recognized; Pomona the week before the rehearsals of The Prince and the Pauper began would have been resentfully convinced that she was being made a fool of. Pomona the paid-up member of Lower IVB recognized certain elements of both and reckoned it an occupational hazard of sorts.
Except for lessons, school became increasingly less boring. She didn't seem to lose weight no matter how many ballet classes they had (Erica and Rachel complained that nobody could possibly maintain a dancer's figure on horrible school stodge; Pomona recalled Mummy's generous hips and Daddy's paunch and resigned herself), but she enjoyed it anyway. Joining the orchestra was quite fun too; there were only three other cellists all told, Olive Randall from the Sixth along with Kirsty Paul and Melinda Richards from the Upper and Lower Fifth, and they fell on her with cries of glee as long-awaited fresh blood. It was interesting to listen to them talk about how the school looked from the senior forms; the glimpses of a quite different topology of the same terrain were refreshing. Occasionally, when they'd had practice after lunch, Pomona found herself walking back to the classroom block with Miranda West, each burdened by an instrument case; she and Miranda each deigned condescendingly to converse with the other, and knew it, and found it rather funny, although it would have spoiled the whole process if they were to admit it.
Miranda was the key, in the end, Pomona decided that summer term, as she took up her books―once you'd struggled with the girth of a cello, a stack of schoolbooks was nothing by comparison―and braved the A form classroom once again. You couldn't expect Miranda West to look on you as an arbiter of aesthetics or commiserate about how unfairly you had been treated, or (had one still been inclined to fall into pre-Kingscote ways) to give way to hair-pulling and kicking; on the other hand, even the sophisticated and sardonic Miranda of Lower IVA had nothing to do but fall silent before a serene and self-possessed silence.
And Miranda, Pomona reflected, was surprisingly like Tim in many ways: the sense of being slightly out of her plane, a quarter twist off, at Kingscote, and compensating therefor by that amused and rather condescending manner; the easy, fluent way with adults, which Pomona herself could no more imitate than she could return to the babyish charm she had once made good use of; the sharp mind occasionally hampered by an inability to understand anyone who did not share it.
If it worked with Miranda, it ought to work with Tim.
Tim had years of knowledge of Pomona that Miranda didn't, of course; but Tim was also that much more out of her natural element at Kingscote, more than Miranda by simple length of days and lack of experience at adaptation, more than Pomona herself. Pomona had friends: Erica at ballet, Audrey and Lynn back in IVB, Christine and Rachel who had preceded her in the switch to IVA, Liz Collins whose dorm was next door to hers; even Kirsty and the others from orchestra if you counted seniors. Tim only had the Marlow twins.
Pomona had adapted, and knew it. Greeted by the Lower IVA giggles at Miss Cromwell's faux pas, she drew placid silence around her and found it sufficient unto the day. She sat down in the empty desk by Maggie, waggled discreet fingers at Christine and swapped grins with Liz and a surprisingly friendly-looking Nicola Marlow, and returned Miranda's cheerful nod. She was herself and they knew it; all that was left was to see whether Tim could adapt too.