Miranda was glad that the school kitchens’ idea of supper suitable for people about to take part in a play differed from Daddy’s idea of same. Her father’s culinary tastes, which only last year she might privately have thought grown-up and insipid, now seemed better described as subtle, and if she couldn’t swallow for stage fright she would much rather it be tongue salad with wodges of brown bread and marge she was missing than something actually decent. She wondered if Nicola were enjoying the meal, and found herself ambushed by the thought of Daddy’s devastating civility to Sandra Grigson. Nicola had been a smash hit last half-term, though, helped along by the Shop’s fortuitous acquisition of an 18th century naval surgeon’s cabinet—not the sort of thing West’s usually went in for, but this one had been made by William Moore of Capel St, Dublin, for a physician and naturalist, a close friend of Sir Joseph Banks—at the thought of ships, Miranda’s brain felt tingly and her stomach lurched—just like real sea-sickness.
To calm herself, she mentally ran through a favourite speech—I told you sir, they were red-hot with drinking...—then remembered Lawrie opining, with the casual confidence that overtook her when she spoke about acting, that you should never rehearse on the day of a performance, you were bound to dry up or corpse. Like lots of theatre things, it sounded like superstition: bad dress, good show, there was another one. That better had be true, she thought, catching a glimpse of Isa Cardigan’s spotty face glooming into her tea, all too obviously addressing prayers to the—spirits, no, Miranda thought on a sudden giggly inspiration—the Lord of the Flies, and then, with another heave of nerves, considered that was probably terribly ominous, worse than saying Macbeth. She was spared further foreboding by Stella Afford and Rosemary Wright attempting to engage her in competitive self-deprecation: she informed them crisply that she couldn’t see that there was anything very winsome about falling over one’s own feet in front of four hundred assembled friends and relations and she had no intention of doing so. She instantly felt a bit of a prig, but at that moment Kempe stood up to announce that they should all retire to their common-rooms or undertake some restful pursuit for forty-five minutes and report to the gym at five-forty-five precisely to change and make-up.
Duly reporting, Miranda cheerfully batted away Tim’s greasepaint-waving approach with the assurance that she could manage her blue and silver maquillage quite adequately herself. Tim was clearly underemployed, however, because she hung around as Miranda, half-listening, changed into her grey tights and blue leotard. For now, she left off her feather collar and cuffs—her favourite bit of the costume, delightfully waggish—as she made up at one of the four desks reserved for Main Cast. The mirrors, ordinary prop-up dressing-table affairs, contrived to be just inadequate to purpose, like the ones in the dorms.
‘It does suit your colouring better than our little Prosser scholar’s,’ Tim said critically.
Miranda, applying eyeliner, took advantage of that activity’s apparently universal and wholly mysterious requirement of an open mouth to make a minatory noise.
‘Distinctly curious business altogether, really,’ Tim continued, with a pastiche of obtuseness. ‘Me Auntie does seem to have surpassed herself in the Philippians 4:7 department this time.’
Miranda recalled Nicola’s hollow, hearty manner outside the Assembly Hall earlier, and her evasive response when she’d mentioned Mrs Marlow’s apparent haleness. She wondered if it were all tied up with the Prosser somehow—you could quite see that Nick might feel a bit knocked back at her sister getting the scholarship for such dreggy Keithian reasons as good judgement, maturity and self-denial—qualities so little synonymous with the name of Lawrence S. Marlow that had they not brought Miranda tremendous good fortune of the gift-horse, vulnerable-to-gremlins variety she might have been asking some fairly incredulous questions herself—but what could that possibly have to do with the Marlows’ mum?
She screwed the top on the eyeliner and hauled herself back to the conversation. ‘I wouldn’t know. I mean,’ she added quickly, a discussion of comparative religion being the last thing she needed at that moment, ‘I know passeth all understanding from Nick and her Navy signals. But I’m not the Headmistress’s Niece. You’ll have to brush up your eavesdropping a bit.’ She appended an approximately friendly grin.
‘I’ll see what I can do,’ Tim remarked, beating a strategic rather than necessitous retreat. ‘I say, Honor and Rachel are overdoing it a bit on the Method acting front, don’t you think?’ Miranda, who barely knew what this meant, though she dimly associated the phrase with Marlon Brando, turned with the vaguely hilarious notion of Rachel Wilmot straddling a motorbike with a cigarette pasted to her lower lip. Instead she saw all lanky five-foot-nine of Honor Seton sprawled along a form in forest-green doublet and hose, her short brown curls if not in Rachel’s lap exactly, then certainly in the folds of her pink farthingale. Miranda felt chilly and exposed, as if it were January, not July, and the gym empty instead of packed with oblivious chatter, but she wasn’t about to let Tim know she’d scored a hit.
‘Shocking,’ she murmured blandly, ‘and neither of them Lower Fifths, either.’
To Miranda’s relief, Penny Freeling chose that moment to collar Tim to lug banquet props, but somehow the wittily oblique wish of good luck that she had planned to begin a conversation with Jan now sounded rather fatuous, and at Jill’s announcement of ‘Act One Beginners’, they just nodded and exchanged smiles.
Once the play was safely underway, the mariners aspiring reasonably successfully to simultaneity and nimbleness, thunder off, green lighting, strobes (the Kingscote theatre was well-equipped, best lighting panel for for a school theatre in England, Kempe sometimes said, with an air of glum satisfaction), Karen removed her feet surreptitiously from her shoes. They’d seemed such a rarity that they simply couldn’t be left in the shop: fashionable, affordable and sufficiently low-heeled that she wouldn’t tower over Edwin and half the men present at any social gathering; however, they came up smallish for a size eight, as she had ample leisure to discover on the walk first to the phonebox to report the breakdown and thence (a bootless phone call to Trennels having confirmed that Mrs Bertie had departed for her half-day and Rowan was in the fields) the mile to the nearest railway station. The fuss over the car, Chas’s over-excitement and Rose’s consternation, not to mention the blisters and skinned toes, had all driven from her mind her disquiet at returning to Kingscote a university dropout and a married woman with two step-children in tow. In fact, she was glad the children had still wanted to come after Karen had worked out from Nicola’s confused letter (the recollection that there was a child called Miranda in the twins’ form had proved key) that neither she nor Lawrie were now to perform. They seemed to prove something, though she couldn’t quite think what.
But none of the few staff with whom she exchanged words in the quarter-hour between their arrival and the beginning of the speeches had seemed reproachful, and if they were having obvious thoughts, they were too spinsterly well-bred to accompany them with obvious looks. She relaxed a bit: it was probably all going to turn out tolerable. And then the platform party entered. Her first thought was a ludicrous why didn’t anyone tell me? followed quickly by a derisive why on earth should they, clot? After all, only Latimer could know that she had ever even met the guest of honour. No-one knew about her last tutorial with him.
She’d gone alone, her usual companion having developed a tactful cold the week that Karen had informed their tutors of her imminent marriage and departure. Unlike the others, he had not expressed astonishment, or attempted to remonstrate, or said any of the mortifying things her friends and family had said.
‘My very best wishes. Every happiness.’
Having by now her speech for the defence prepared, Karen had very nearly delivered it, and was at loss for a very long moment for even thank you, which she eventually stammered out.
‘Oh dear. Have people been difficult about it?’
‘I’ve no desire to contribute to the chorus of unease. May I tell you something about myself?’
A second passed before she’d realised this was not a rhetorical question, and nodded.
‘I’m afraid it begins when I was about your age—’
‘Perfectly all right.’
‘I met someone with whom I might have been very happy. And I fled, because I feared that if I involved myself too deeply, I would be marked and categorised by it, and if the affair failed I’d be left with no choices, nothing and no-one else to be. It took me longer than I care to admit to work out that flight from one’s desires, especially to something second-best, guarantees rather than averts failure. I mention it in case you see in it an analogy to your own life, albeit perhaps with the scholarly and personal terms inverted.’
‘Oh, I certainly didn’t mean you to feel obliged to explain yourself. Just something to think about. I should like to hear this week’s essay, though, if you’ve written one.’
‘Yes, I did—if you think there’s any point—’
‘I shouldn’t have asked if I didn’t,’ he’d remarked with kindly candour. ‘When you’re ready.’
At the end of the fifty minutes she’d risen, thanking him and wondering if one shook hands, and he’d said,
‘Oh, just a minute.’ He’d gone over to a bookbox in the window—duplicates he meant to sell or give away, no doubt. ‘Oh yes, here it is. Not in very good nick, I’m afraid. It was thirty years old when was I given it—thirty-odd years ago, and it had taken a bit of a saltwater bath not long before it came into my hands. Never quite seemed right to rebind it, somehow.’
She’d looked at the spine of the thin, stained volume. Embarrassment and laughter contended for a moment, the latter triumphing as she’d burst out,
‘But—oh, I’m not in need of a curb for the black shaggy one of the pair, you know—I mean—people don’t get married for that, not these days—’
‘I know,’ he’d said calmly—she’d blushed properly then; she had schoolgirlishly assumed Methuselah, but he was only fiftyish, not really very much older than Edwin. ‘I never quite know what to make of the allegory. It’s beautiful, but not terribly useful as a model for life. Especially not, as you say, these days. It was Socrates playing at sophistry that caught my interest—very funny: you might say it’s what started me writing my scandalous potboilers—oh, don’t deny it, I know what people think. Here, give me it a moment.'
He'd written her name—the name that was not long to be hers—beneath his own on the title page (the flyleaf was missing) in a deliberate roundhand quite different from the faded, rushed scrawl of the previous inscription.
'Anyway, it’s a good one for keeping up a spot of Greek when your attention is always being called elsewhere—or so I found it. Good luck, Miss Marlow.'
So it happened Karen sat scratchy-mouthed and clammy-palmed through Mr Cardigan’s bumptious self-satisfaction, Keith’s end-of-year accounting, her erstwhile tutor’s speech—she was not quite dazed enough to fail to recognise a venerable Housman anecdote, though school seemed to think it was a terrific funny—the interminable prize-giving. Alarm rose further at the allusion to herself in the baffling award of the Prosser to Lawrie—Lawrie? Mum would no doubt tell her, though. And then they were out in the sunshine with no escape possible—Latimer approaching with the sort of quizzical tutting she’d expected from more of the staff—and like all the best catastrophes, it had been nothing to worry about. He spoke to her as if—well, as if she were not a failure, as if she were at once the anxious undergraduate to whose tentative essays he’d listened with attentive placidity (was that where the Latimer got it?) and the sort of wifely unintellectual person he might expect to meet at a school Speech Day with small children in tow—he had spoken to her as if she were just herself, which she was—
—An explosion of snorts from Chas, holding his sides and rocking convulsively in his seat, reminded her of where she was and what she was supposed to be watching. She turned her attention to the stage—oh, it was the bit (suitably bowdlerised, no doubt) with Caliban and Trinculo in the gaberdine, surprising how little she’d missed, actually—but all thoughts fly. She was about to reach across Rose to calm him down, but she saw Ann, on his other side, had got there first—it was to Karen, however, that Chas grinned with a thumbs-up.
Grown-ups, thought Chas, were the most peculiar creatures. All those warnings about how frantically boring today was going to be, and it had been the best day, well maybe not of his whole life ever, but at least since they’d gone to Yetland Cove and saved the train. Today the train had saved them, he thought with an internal giggle, after the car was left on the road to be towed. By Mr Toad, he added, inspired: must remember that one to say after the play. Dinner on the train had been—well it hadn’t tasted nice exactly, but it had been very interesting, with the rolls in plastic bags and the little tinfoil squares of butter and the school-uniform-brown soup. It was super to see Nacker go up and get her prize, though when he looked the book afterwards, it was all in Greek letters. He’d asked her to read a bit and she said she couldn’t, but Kay could. But Methren was talking to the nice-looking lady with big brown eyes. He was about to remark that it seemed a bit mean of them to give Nick a second-hand book in a language she couldn’t read, but then he remembered that Nacker liked old musty things, like Daddy. He hated them—dreary castles, and as for museums—but people were different. So he thought up a saying instead, and everyone laughed, even the important man who’d given the speech.
And now there was the play, which was being absolutely smashing even though Nick and Lawrie weren’t in it. There was the storm at the beginning, with thunder and flashing lights and the sailors running around screaming, and then a long talky bit with a girl in a pink dress and her father in a magic cloak. He magicked her to sleep and talked to his—familiar, he remembered from Witchcraft in Tudor Times at school—who wasn’t a cat or a rat but a bird. Chas didn’t understand it all, but apparently they’d been washed up on the island yonks ago because of some low, scheming types who’d done him out of his dukedom, and there were going to be horrible vengeances. At first he thought it was a boy playing the magician, but there weren’t boys at Kingscote (more’s the pity, he thought he’d rather like to come here himself) so he supposed she must be a girl, though she had the gravelliest voice. And then the monster—a sort of fish-man, with flappy green gills—it was the sort of thing that might scare Rose a bit—Chas sighed for Doctor Who, now forbidden to the whole family on account of his older sister’s pale, silent, but absolute refusal to go to bed after a particularly creepy episode—so he looked nervously to his left, but she didn’t look scared at all, just sad. More talk, and there was clearly about to be a love story, because the boy-who-was-really-a-girl in the green Tudor clothes wanted to kiss the wizard’s daughter but her dad wouldn’t let him. Then there was a king, a silly old man and two smarmy sorts who were obviously up to something. They talked quite a long time, and then the king and the old man fell asleep, and the slimy blokes were about to kill them but the bird-familiar woke them up just in time—and then, then, just as Chas was beginning to think this was all a bit daft, there were the pirates.
First of all the monster came in, whingeing about all the work he had to do, then he saw one of the pirates and hid from him under his cloak. But the pirate (who was quite obviously a buck-toothed, fidgety red-haired girl with a squeaky voice in a stripy jersey and red three-cornered hat, but lots of fun nonetheless) climbed in under the cloak too. Then the other pirate came on, walking carefully and splay-flooted like Sammy Barnes, and singing like him too, in an unsteady voice that roared and cracked in the wrong places. And they got into a terrible tangle, with the drunken pirate thinking that his friend and the monster were one big monster, and when that got sorted out the pirates did a dance, and the monster wanted to be part of their gang, so he kept telling the drunk bloke he was great, and they let him have some drink too.
It reminded Chas a bit of when he’d first gone to school in Westbridge, and a lot of the other boys didn’t like him much, because he was small and he had a posh voice. His accent wasn’t, he thought, particularly posh. Not like Patrick Merrick’s. But then he did lots of different voices for them, copying Peter’s Worzel Gummidge one that made Daddy so cross, and some of Lawrie’s, though hers were more difficult because they were more real somehow. They thought that was funny, so they let him play with them sometimes. And he did suck up to them a bit, just like the monster was doing, he thought guiltily, like when he’d made up the rude rhyme about Miss Halliday’s big bum, though he liked Miss Halliday, he thought, a lot more than he liked some of the tougher boys. He was lucky he hadn’t got in worse trouble over that: he had to go to the Headmistress, who'd said that if he had not been such a new boy, she should certainly have phoned his father. But she understood that it was difficult to settle into a new place, and he mustn’t be unkind to people just to try and be popular. It hadn’t quite occurred to Chas that unkind was what he was being; he didn’t think children quite could be, not to grown-ups. But it did make sense.
Returning to the classroom, he'd found he was almost admired for having been sent to the Headmistress and not cried, but now the respect, which the day before he would have thought the thing he most wanted in the world, made him feel dull and grubby. After his punishment week of being shut in at Break to help Miss Halliday tidy up, he had spent a moochy few days mostly alone, or just joining in for form’s sake. It had all worked out all right, in the end, because he’d palled up with Barry, and Barry was just sort of middling: not one of the real roughs, but not a wimp either, and now they hung around together, with a few others sometimes, and mostly people left them to it. He wondered if Barry and Bryan would like to be drinky pirates and fish-monsters with him. It might, just might, catch on and the others would all want to play, and he might, just might, show them how. He began to hoot and snort in triumph, and if Ann hadn’t taken his arm and whispered I know it’s funny, but calm down he might have laughed himself into the middle of next week.
Meriel was clever casting for Trinculo, Ginty considered: absolutely no acting required, of course, but her pushy, cocky manner was amusing rather than irritating when set against Megan Reeves’ stodgy, pompous Stephano. And Gerry Hume had come along mightily from her lacklustre audition, and even from Nick’s judgement of not half bad, to distinctly good: all clammy, abject and malignant, a bit like Unity Logan, she thought, dismissing a shiver with a little toss of her head. It was engaging enough that she almost forgot what came next.
She had prepared an attitude of lofty magnanimity—Miranda was too much of an ingenue part to be really interesting in and of herself, and she couldn’t quite see how you could get the necessary frisson into this scene when you were playing against another girl in any case. But she found condescension didn’t quite cut it. Honor was actually endearing: her faintly lugubrious good humour had combined serendipitously with a directorial mandate to swashbuckle to make her Ferdinand a rather endearing dobbin.
Full many a lady
I have eyed with best regard and many a time
The harmony of their tongues hath into bondage
Brought my too diligent ear: for several virtues
Have I liked several women—
came out as absolutely comic (little pause and nervous glance around before the second, ponderous several) Honor’s Ferdinand so very clearly hadn’t, ever. Ginty remembered Patrick trying to inflect it with experienced suavity, and flinched. Rachel didn’t do Miranda a bit as Ginty thought she should be done, and had imagined herself playing the part: wild, lonely and fierce, like Emily Brontë, nor as Ginty thought she absolutely mustn’t be and was certain Rachel would, pert and demure. Instead, she was perfectly frank, unspoiled and almost unsettlingly forthright. It wasn’t like Rupert and Rosina at all—if it reminded her of anything at all in her own life, it was something like what little she’d seen of Nicola and Patrick together, back before the Gondal. And that couldn’t be right at all.
When she was younger, thought Lawrie, reflecting on her self of seven months ago, she’d thought there was nothing worse than to see someone take a part that you wanted to act, and not understanding what made it interesting, do it all wrong. That was what it had been like watching Nicola do the Shepherd Boy. (About Jess Geddes’s wooden performance she had felt, in comparison, nothing.) Now she knew better. Gerry Hume clearly got Caliban—showing how grubby, drippy and mean he could be, but still getting the audience to root for him in the end—but she wasn’t doing it half as well as Lawrie knew she could herself.
She tried to console herself with the Prosser; being awarded a scholarship she hadn’t even known existed was quite flash—it might have been better had, say, her family been massively hard-up and it was her only chance of staying on at Kingscote, but she’d not told anyone because she didn’t want to blot the Marlow scutcheon and all her friends would be so terrifically dashed at losing her, so she’d planned just to slip away on Last Day with be seeing you and a quiet enigmatic smile—and then the Prosser saved her mutton and mint sauce. Or was that a bit Trouble with the Twins in the Fourth? She couldn’t see it would very be satisfying if she’d kept it so hush-hush that no-one could be delirious with relief that she was staying on after all—maybe she’d have just told a few people and sworn them to secrecy—
Lawrie suddenly remembered the picnic, Ann telling her to cheer up, wasn’t she pleased? And she said she supposed so, but it she didn’t see it was all that amazing, getting a huge tome of Shakespeare in print nearly as difficult to read as Nick’s Homer. Mum had said mildly, ‘Well, it does take a bit of financial pressure off us to have your fees paid.’
That, Lawrie had thought hopefully, might mean a pony of her own, and had been about to say so, but Karen had given her a meaning kick with a heel that was not high and pointy, but square and sharp-cornered, and so delivered quite a bite to the ankle. She’d realised that seeming to be pleased about the Prosser gave her more traction than not—Grandmother had been pretty impressed by the Shepherd Boy, and if she found out she’d won a whole scholarship for acting it might mean something fab like a trip to the West End to see Julian Fleming in The Entertainer.
She would still rather have had Caliban, though. Gerry Hume was sitting on her heels, about to say Lawrie’s favourite speech—there thou mays’t brain him—when the thought materialised, crystallised, hardened to absolute reality. This had been her only chance. They would never put The Tempest on again at school, and though women occasionally played Ariel—it was madly untrendy to do even that now—Caliban was a man’s part through and through. She would never do it, never. She pinched the bridge of her nose hard, and for once, the unlikely trick worked: only a very few small tears leaked out.
Rowan didn't know The Tempest at all well; really, no more of it than her sisters, Lawrie in particular, had inflicted upon the family during the prolonged, troubled Easter holidays. For some reason she’d received a gloomy and martial dole of Shakespeare at school: Henry V and Macbeth in the Fourths, Hamlet and Julius Caesar for O-level. Even the comedies they’d got had been a bit stern: The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure. The four summer Plays she’d seen, when not drafted as a Tavern Patron or Third Messenger, ran the gamut of quality from rather a joke to wholly unintelligible even if you’d spent half of last term hacking through the script in Eng. Lit.
It was rather a fluke she’d been in the estate room at all when the phone rang—she’d forgotten Ted Coulthard’s wages and had to dash back for the packet. Mum explained the situation with the car and added, in her maddeningly imprecise fashion, that the fees thing was no longer a worry—it had been sorted out in a most peculiar way—Providence—she’d explain later, toodle-pip. Rowan saw no rational reason to set off before half eight; the play began at seven and would be over about quarter past nine, then buffet eats. She supposed she must show for that—though two academically delinquent Marlow sisters in the same Hall might cause some sort of spontaneous combustion among the staff—light the bluestocking and retire. There was surely no Old Girl obligation to the play itself—Nick and Lawrie, for reasons somewhat unclearly adumbrated in their letters home, were out of it, and Ariel was to be played by that Miranda West child whom Nick visited last half term, against Jan Scott’s Prospero—Jan.
There was no point in Rowan concealing it from herself; she had only herself to share it with. If she was going endure the Dear Old School’s potty am. dram. it was as well to be clear: she was doing it for one reason and one person alone, and that was Janice Scott. She had not spoken to Jan properly for a year—they had both been part of a conversational throng the half-term that Rowan, still not in possession of a driving licence as such, had driven down to pick up the youngers, and she’d heard Jan sing in the Minster last Christmas—but their last personal exchange had been inconclusive, to say the least. It might be better to let the thing drop. It had, in fact and for any sensible understanding of the phrase, already dropped. Damn, blow, blast and bloody hell, Rowan thought, grabbed the brown envelope for Ted, and pelted out to the cowshed, preparing for him and any other employees who might be about a slightly disingenuous explanation for her departure within the hour. Fifteen minutes for a wash and brush-up, forty minutes on the road: she should make it in pretty good time.
As it happened, her impulsiveness was rewarded. As long as you weren’t yourself part of the test population, schools were interesting demographic studies, Rowan mused as the orchestra played something that sounded as if it had been foaled out of Percy Grainger, sired by Purcell, and the Morris Group duly skipped. Kingscote seemed to have undergone a slight shift towards art and intellect, delivering a cast’s-worth of girls who in addition to some native talent, could take direction to produce something that moved at semi-professional pace. And Jan was stunning. As Prospero she accessed the alto range of her singing voice, rather than the lighter one of her conversation—she didn’t sound like a girl artificially deepening her voice, nor like a man exactly, it just sounded like authority.
And like authority, she was imperious, capricious, devious; sometimes surprisingly flexible, more often rigidly attached to received ideas, often, in that attachment, acting against good sense, order and its own best interests. At least four years—at least since Upper IV and the drive-weeding incident, perhaps more—of pitiless observation of Kingscote had informed this Prospero: it was not in the least an impersonation or send up, but the fruit of precise and patient study. There was Latimer, self-absorbed and lazy to a fault, but hurt when others followed suit or took advantage. There were Craven and Redmond, doing the whole character-building routine on Caliban, then coming down on him like a hod of bricks when he went and did what he’d practically been invited to do and tried it on. There was Kempe, never able to stick to her over-ambitious schemes and having at the last minute to improvise madly (that her improvisations, like Prospero’s, were usually successful Rowan considered no excuse whatever: there was going to be a time when they wouldn’t be). There was Keith, sublimely convinced that her belief in fairness and community spirit, and herself as arbiters of these, substituted adequately for ensuring that justice was administered and solidarity fostered in everyday situations. There was Cromwell, with her unsteady affections and blistering rhetoric, crunching the innocent Ferdinand and the thoroughly reprehensible Antonio with almost equal ferocity; by unpredictable turns tender and cruel to Miranda and Ariel. What an Ariel, too—responding pliantly and gracefully to Jan’s stern, almost stylised gestures and vocal inflexions, not only maintaining character, but continually reacting—it was as if Jan had her on a string. In her guise as harpy, snatching the illusory banquet from the villains, she was blazing, ferocious, her sharp, intelligent face without a scintilla of mercy. (Rowan saw Rose reach for Chas’s hand; he squeezed back tight.) Her mercurial changes of expression as Prospero finally granted Ariel freedom seemed to belong to a rather older person: relief at no longer owing obedience to the whims of power turned to dismay at parting from a master he’d grown to love and finally to simple confusion—what do I do with myself now? It was to avoid just such a succession of feelings that Rowan, in part, had taken on Trennels—she wondered now just how well that had worked. Well, it was done now, the staff broken, the book drowned, all fantasy fled.
Meanwhile, on stage, Jan had cast off a layer of grandeur to become her shrewd, disillusioned, beautiful self.
And thence retire me to my Milan, where
Every third thought shall be my grave
made Rowan feel as she did when lambs perished, or when she offered a retort that in articulation became a sledgehammer to her interlocutor's hazelnut of self-regard or sentimentality: hollowed out and drained. A word returned from Classics in Upper IV: catharsis. But that was supposed to be for tragedy—which The Tempest was not. Purged emotion sounded pretty hot-making anyway—something Ginty might have gone in for during her Unity phase—and it wasn’t even very precise: at least half the desolate, scoured-out feeling came from the fear that someone would notice one minded, and be moved to pity.
Still, for her, elated—which looked from the outside rather like the mild pleasure someone might be expected to evince on being unexpectedly treated to lunch or winning a pound on a sweepstake—Jan sat down at the desk to take off her make-up. She had ditched the wig—horrible scratchy thing; how could Kempe even have contemplated a beard?—and the more cumbrous parts of her costume as soon as she was backstage, into the hands of Tim Keith, whose air of impressed astonishment was not, Jan conceded, wholly flattering.
Methodically applying cold cream, she had time to reflect on a day in which a thespian success centrally involving herself was only the second most surprising occurrence. The Prosser business really was the limit—Keith at her most unctuous, nepotistic and underhand. It was the sort of convenient, self-serving rearranging of reality that she associated with Lois Sanger, accompanied by the power to enact it—games mistresses rarely became Heads of anywhere, but nonetheless, God help the children who found themselves Lois's care and charge. And yet Jan could not quite suppress her pleasure that Nicola would now presumably, albeit by a subterfuge of which, young as she was, she could scarcely remain innocent, be able to stay on at Kingscote. Though why anyone would want to—
Jan, usually as alert to her own motivations as she was to others’, asked herself why she cared. That morning on the roof, she had seen something of her own self-contained pride in Nicola, and been moved to offer what solace was compatible with the younger girl’s dignity. But she’d gone on looking out for her all term, well past the point when she could offer more comfort than embarrassment, long after she’d seen how very little like herself Nicola was, and how much like—
It had been after last year’s Cricket Cup semi-final: Upper VA, able to field half the First XI, had beaten the Sixth, of whom only herself and Olive Randall were not roundly of the species O. cuniculus, by a margin of which the best that could be said was that their agony was not prolonged. She and Rowan, captains of their respective teams, had carried pads, bails and stumps back to the Pavilion, and in the course of putting them away, fallen into the sort of companionable stacking and ranging that comes naturally to persons of responsible disposition faced with a term’s worth or so of small, but mounting disorders and misplacements. They passed the odd remark—one or two moderately acid, when the name of Sanger came into the conversation—but mostly worked in silence, which made neither of them uneasy. Being the keyholder, Jan had her back to the Pavilion door, closing the lockers while Rowan waited for her. Jan turned to see the corners of Rowan’s mouth lifted in a perverse and charming smile. Unfamiliar as it was, she found she had no difficulty in deciphering its meaning; the only question was whether or not to dissemble.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘all right then. Come here a moment...’
They had not had cause to speak again for the remaining week of term. And then Rowan had left. She had reappeared at autumn half-term, driving the family car, wearing lipstick and civvies. Jan, feeling impossibly kiddish in school uniform, had joined the group around her for the few minutes demanded by good manners, then slipped quietly away. It had been what it was, and no more: she would not pretend that she did not wish it otherwise, but nor would she entertain regret. She would probably never see Rowan again—unless she had come tonight. Ridiculous thought—whyever would she, when Nick and Lawrie weren’t in the play?
In the looking-glass in front of her, she saw Miranda approach, looking small, as reflections always did, and scrawnily adolescent in slacks as she did not in her well-tailored scarlet uniform. Her peregrine face, scrubbed clean of silver and blue, was softened by anxiety and adulation—Jan briefly and absurdly imagined a saccharine sub-Pre-Raphaelite effort: Ariel Return’d To His Master. Miranda’s devotion was usually a faint irritant, because she recognised in it that which she had with untender resolve trained herself to conceal, but still perhaps a little giddy with the Play, she turned and winked:
‘Here’s looking at you, kid.’