“Goodness, is that the time?” Catching sight of the clock on the wall of her classroom, Nancy Wilmot started. “I’m sorry girls,” she said, addressing the two members of the Sixth who’d stayed behind at the end of their lesson to discuss with her their chances of studying Maths at University, “we’re going to have to continue this another time. I was meant to be in a staff meeting five minutes ago. So how about you come and find me at lunchtime on Monday, and we’ll have a proper chat about it then?”
With an apologetic grin she swept up her papers and made a dash for the staffroom, and it was with a sigh of relief that, as she sped down the corridor, she caught a glimpse of the Heads just disappearing into the room. “Not too late, then,” she reassured herself. After the debacle, the week before, of that talk she felt that she should probably try her best to keep a low profile around the Heads for a few weeks at least.
Preoccupied with this good intention, as she came through the staffroom door and still travelling at speed it was with more luck than judgment that she narrowly managed to avoid crashing into the backs of those very people.
For, on entering the staffroom, Miss Wilson and Miss Annersley had come to a standstill in shock at the scene in front of them.
Edging round the figures of the two Heads to get a better look at what was going on, Nancy had to stifle a giggle.
Standing on a chair in the centre of the room, and facing an assembled group of her colleagues, Kathie Ferrars was intoning, in a rather portentous manner, “Angels and ministers of grace defend us! Now is the winter of our discontent!” Kathie then leapt from the chair, and crouched behind Sharlie Andrews, saying, confidingly in a stage whisper, ”For Brutus is an honourable man.” Standing up, and stalking across the room, she now pointed accusingly at Davida Armitage, saying, “Soft you, a word or two before you go, shall we sit upon the floor and tell sad stories of the death of kings? For Brutus is an honourable man.” Suddenly changing her countenance into one of fury and bereavement, she then wailed, ”O, my ducats, my ducats, o, my daughter – I have done the state some service and they know it.”
Nancy wasn’t sure, but she thought that at this point she heard one of the Heads mutter to the other “…and you said we ought to get them a television to keep them entertained of an evening….”
Now at the front of her impromptu stage and curiously calm, Kathie was saying, quietly, “For Bruno is an honourable dog,” and then, approaching Ruth Derwent, flirtatiously, “O brave new world that has such people in it.” She paused, reached out a hand to stroke Ruth’s head, and then, thoughtfully, turned to the others to remark, “though, if hairs be wires, black wires grow from her head.”
As the audience chuckled, Ruth swiped a hand at Kathie, while those sitting near Sharlie Andrews heard her mutter, “That’s not even from a play…”
Ignoring this criticism, Kathie spun on her heels, deciding to forsake Shakespeare for something a little more modern. “Nothing to be done,” she said, shrugging, “ah, stop blathering and help me off with this bloody thing…” But as she mischievously reached down to Rosalind Moore's feet to try to remove her shoes, she froze as she suddenly noticed that her audience now included the two Heads of the Chalet School. As the assembled audience followed the line of Kathie's gaze, a collective gasp went up, and one or two people flinched.
“An impressive performance, my dear,” Miss Annersley said, smiling warmly in an attempt to dispel some of the fear that was now apparent on the young teacher’s countenance. “But may I ask – why?”
“Er..um…er…” Kathie had developed something in the way of stage fright.
“It’s nothing bad, Hilda,” Rosalind Moore spoke up in defence of her young colleague. “Kathie was just auditioning to persuade Ruth to let her co-direct the Christmas play.”
“And has she passed the audition, Ruth?” Miss Annersley asked, looking keenly at that lady.
Ruth turned to the others. “Well – should I let her?” she asked with a grin. The question was met with cheers and applause, and in the centre of the room Kathie did a happy little jig.
“Now that’s been settled,” Miss Annersley said, “Can we return to order? We’ve got a meeting to get through and several items on the agenda.”
As the meeting came to a close, and the teaching staff headed off for Abendessen, Miss Annersley caught hold of her Head of English by the arm.
“Ruth, when we spoke this morning I thought you’d already decided to let Kathie do the play with you?” she asked, quietly.
Ruth nodded, with a grin. “Yes, I had – but don’t let Kathie know that, will you?"
Kathie had been lying on Nancy’s bed for an hour or so, very occasionally emitting a squeal of delight, but much more frequently, a sigh - or in some cases, a growl - of frustration. Finally, she turned the last page of the manuscript she was reading, gave a final ‘harrupmh!’, and threw the pages on the floor.
Nancy, sitting in the armchair across the room, raised her head from the book she’d been reading. “Well?” she asked, a mirthful smile upon her face. “What’s the verdict?”
Kathie gave her a pained look in return. “It’s – it’s – it’s full of trite and mawkish sentimentalism and thinly veiled didacticism. It’s just so...” She flung her arms about, at a loss for words.
Nancy nodded with a grin. “It’s a Josephine M. Bettany Christmas play. What, exactly, were you expecting? Beckett? Shakespeare?”
“Obviously not!” Kathie said. “But at least something with a bit of...life...or... you know, some sense of dramatic momentum. How many years has she been writing the Christmas play?”
“Hundreds, I imagine,” Nancy said, slightly distracted as, in an attempt to extract some consolation, Kathie had come over to sit on her.
“Well,” Kathie murmured as she nuzzled into Nancy, “I think she’s very much past her best. No wonder Ruth was so keen to get someone to help, if she’s been having to deal with this slush for the last fifteen years....Are they always like this?”
Nancy nodded, wrapping her arms around Kathie. “Pretty much.”
Kathie frowned. “Do you think she’ll mind if I make one or two changes?” she asked tentatively.
“Well, it’s been nice knowing you, my dear.” Nancy said, hugging her tightly.
Kathie sighed forlornly. And then suddenly, her look of despair evaporated. “Oh well. Does the condemned woman at least get one last request?”
Nancy raised an eyebrow questioningly, and broke into a smile when the look on Kathie’s face gave her a pretty clear indication of what that request was likely to be.
Kathie staggered a little under the weight of the stack of atlases she was attempting to reshelve in the Geography cupboard. Finally sliding the last one into place, she leant against the wall for a moment. Did she have time for a cup of tea before rehearsal? She checked her watch, and frowned. Not really, she decided. She was already late. She’d better get a move on.
Somehow, however, that thought was not enough to spur her into action.
She was exhausted. This term, Thursdays were her fullest and most demanding teaching day, and always left her feeling much in need of a drink. And this Thursday she felt about ten times worse. With the play due to take place on Sunday, the whole of the last week and a half had been one frantic rush after another, with mini-crises about costumes not fitting, leading actresses not having learnt their lines, and last minute, and quite unneccessary, alterations to the plot being demanded by a playwright who didn't seem to trust the directors with her play. These problems, and countless others, had been taking up all her free time, and she hadn’t been getting to bed until at least midnight. On top of that, she’d been up at five for each of the last four mornings, in an attempt to stay on top of her marking and teaching prep.
And she’d barely seen Nancy for days. All she wanted was a cuddle, a bit of reassurance – she was much too tired and spun out for anything else – but Nancy had been co-opted, along with pretty much all the other teachers and several of the domestic staff, into Tristan Denny’s Christmas choir. That, on top of the assorted theatrical business that Kathie had to deal with meant that the pair had not had a free moment that coincided for days. Three days and nine hours, actually. If you were counting. Which Kathie was.
She consoled herself slightly with the thought that the Christmas holidays began the day after the play. But even that meant there were still three days to battle through before she could relax.
She sighed, and pondered the pros and cons of going off to get a cup of tea before the rehearsal. On the negative side, she was already five – she checked her watch again – hmm, make that seven minutes – late, and she knew how close Ruth’s temper was to fraying at the moment. Such tardiness would not go down well. On the plus side, however, she was already late, so being a bit later oughtn’t matter too much, and given how tired she felt right now, without the crutch of a caffeinated beverage she wouldn’t be able to contribute in a meaningful manner at all.
She made up her mind, and headed off in the direction of the kettle in the staffroom.
She’d not gone too far down the corridor, when she saw Con Maynard approaching. As Con caught sight of her, her countenance visibly altered from deep worry to something appearing relief.
“Miss – er – Miss…” said Con, a little incoherently. “I think – something’s happened - I think you should come.”
Not really able to say much more than that, Con led Miss Ferrars down the corridor to the small storeroom where all the props and scenery for theatrical performances were kept. Kathie bit down a guilty grin as she remembered a pleasant Saturday afternoon spent with Nancy in that very cupboard a just few weeks earlier, sorting through what could be used for this year’s play, and taking no little advantage of the opportunity to spend some time alone in a quiet and private space.
But now, two or three girls were stood outside the storeroom, wearing deeply worried faces as if they’d just been witness to some major trauma. And as with Con, none of them seemed able to tell Kathie just exactly what was going on.
However, a thud and a bang, and a whole host of swearing coming from behind the partially closed storeroom door revealed to Kathie the source of the students' concern.
Cautiously pushing open the door, Kathie gasped and was unable to stop her own string of expletives escaping.
Just two weeks earlier, the props storeroom had been bursting with props, scenery, and other assorted oddments – and just two weeks earlier, Kathie and Nancy had gone through those items, making a fairly large pile, in the middle of the room, of all the things that could be recycled for this year’s play.
But now the pile was gone. And the storeroom was empty.