Actions

Work Header

A Lark Ascending

Work Text:

A Lark Ascending

"We've got an invitation to dinner on Thursday with Sir Oscar and Lady Warrender," declared Dr Herrick at breakfast on Saturday morning passing the invitation letter across the table.

His wife read it and raised her eyebrows, "Who is Kenneth Fulroyd?" she asked.

"Choirmaster and composer."
"So why?"
"I have no idea."
"Shall we accept?"

"Yes we will." He smiled suddenly, "it will be nice to go up to London. Warrender has reserved rooms for us at the Gloria.. Shall I ring and confirm or would you like to do that?"

"No, you have been invited to meet the great man, you can reply."

The train arrived in plenty of time and Dr and Mrs Herrick had a leisurely time in London, calling into Westminster Abbey for Evensong, before making their ways to Killigrew Mansions where they were greeted by Sir Oscar and Lady Warrender.

Conversation around the dinner table was general about singing and music, with discussion about the development of choral singing and church choirs and Dr Herrick enjoyed himself enormously. Mrs Herrick found Anthea Warrender very easy to talk to and had much in common with Mrs Fulroyd. Eventually coffee was served and the conversation seemed to ebb. Dr Herrick noted that the Warrenders exchanged a glance with each other and he wondered what was to come.

Sir Oscar turned to Dr Herrick and smiling said, "We heard one of your choristers on the Radio Three Young Singer of the Year last year."

Dr Herrick looked up and said, "Not one of my choristers but the pupil of a local girls' school, I got permission to use her when my chorister's voice broke."

"Had you heard her before?"

"Yes, once at Colebridge and District Summer Festival where she came second in the singing competition,"

"Second?" said Anthea smiling at her husband.

"Yes, I couldn't put her first, she forgot her words on that occasion. Then, she was a soloist in the school's Christmas Play the following December which was performed in the Minster at Wade Abbas."

"A school where music is important?" asked Sir Oscar.

"No, I wouldn't say that," said Dr Herrick, "The pupil playing the lead role in the play left suddenly and Nicola was put in her place. So I had to train another pupil to take her solos. However, I'm not sure what happened but on the day, Miss Nicola was back singing, and she did very well considering that she hadn't rehearsed singing for weeks, and her twin sister played the leading role."

"Twin sister, does she sing?" asked Anthea.

"No, not at all," said Dr Herrick "but a superb actress."

"Would you say that the child is from a musical/theatrical background if her sister is so talented as well?" aid Sir Oscar.

Dr Herrick paused, "I don't think so. There is no encouragement at school and I don't think at home either. She has a good voice but is not musical in herself. May I ask why you are so interested in her?"

Sir Oscar turned to Mr Fulroyd who cleared his throat, "I heard her sing on the radio and liked her voice so much I have written a part in my new opera for her. Do you think there would be any chance of her singing it?"

Dr Herrick sat stunned, thinking that there would probably be no chance at all. After a pause he said slowly, "I don't think so, I'm not sure how school would react I've never met her parents though."

"She would have to leave school temporarily," said Sir Oscar, "If I auditioned her and thought her worthwhile I would want her here in London to study. She would have some intensive training so her voice is not spoiled."

Anthea smiled, "She could stay here during her training," she said, "and we could send her to a good day school."

Dr Herrick considered, "I honestly don't know," he said eventually

"Well, have you her parents' details?" asked Sir Oscar, "then as a start I can go and visit them and see if I can have permission to approach her. You have done a very good job, teaching her so far and we would like you to continue teaching her".

"I haven't done a lot," admitted Dr Herrick and his wife smiled across the table, "but what you have done has been very effective and everyone here is obviously very grateful to you". There were agreeing noises around the table.

Anthea Warrender suddenly looked up, "I've had a thought" she said,"Do you need any fundraising for the Minster? Darling," she turned to Sir Oscar, "couldn't we put on a benefit concert in the minster and include local school children. Mary Brenner was telling me that Nick would like to sing Ben Britten's St Nicolas, following his concerts of Britten's folk songs, If we could arrange a date and produce that in the Minster"

"Only about an hour in length," said her husband dubiously.

"Perhaps put that as an ending and I could sing in the first half and some other of our operatic friends, I'm sure Carlo Ertlinger would be interested and Anna would come wouldn't she?" she asked Ken Fulroyd

Sir Oscar turned to Dr Herrick, "How does that sound?"

Dr Herrick looked amazed, "It sounds brilliant," he said, "but I don't think you would get too many from Kingscote."

Sir Oscar waved this aside. "We could have a choir made up from all local schools, which you could audition and train. I would come in for a couple of sessions and we could see Nicola before I talk to the parents. Is there a youth orchestra in the town? They could accompany the singers if they are good enough and can rehearse together. It is a good idea and I will talk to Dermot to see if we can arrange a date and who is available for the first half of the concert. Are we all agreed?"

................................

"Before I go," announced Miss Keith at assembly, "I have an announcement to make. A benefit concert is taking place at Wade Minster in April. There will be a choir from local schools. We have been invited to join in with this and if anyone from the Fourth or Third forms would like to audition they may sign up on the notice on the music noticeboard. I would like to see Miranda West and Pomona Todd in my Office at break to discuss their participation in the Youth Orchestra." Miss Keith smiled and walked out of assembly as the school scrambled to its feet.

"Did you know you were participating?" asked Nicola with a grin at Miranda.

"I do now," returned Miranda. "Notice that you're not required?"

"Good," said Nicola as they turned into LVA classroom.

....................................

Dear Sir Oscar,
....I am sorry to say that Miss Keith will not allow Nicola to sing in the Concert. She was determined that only younger pupils can participate, and I have auditioned and selected a few, but not her year. However, she has allowed two of her classmates to join the orchestra...

"Plan B then," observed Sir Oscar passing the letter to his wife, "we'll visit Trennels and talk to the parents."

"Mm" Anthea replied vaguely not looking up from her letter, "Darling, you know those songs I am singing by Ernest Farrar? I've a letter from a woman called Josephine Maynard in Switzerland who says she should sing "Brittany" as she sung it at school."

Sir Oscar raised his eyebrows "Really?" he said, "Well maybe, I'll get young Nicola to sing it! We'll respond to that later."

........................................

"It was so embarrassing," said Miranda on Saturday after the first rehearsal of the Youth Orchestra at the local comprehensive. "Everyone else were in their own clothes and Pippin and I were in Full School Uniform".

Nicola grinned at her, "Maybe Miss Keith will change her mind for next week."

"No chance," said Miranda, "Oh and one week the orchestra and choir will rehearse here, we are visiting all schools"

"Plebs at Kingscote?" said Tim Keith who was listening. "Wonder if me Auntie knew that."

......................................

"Next Saturday morning," announced Miss Keith, "the Youth Choir and Orchestra will be rehearsing here at Kingscote. I hope that the Upper Fifth pupils selected to help will behave politely and helpfully to our guests. I do not want anyone hanging around the theatre whilst the rehearsal is in progress. I don't want Kingscote's reputation to be sullied by anyone here." She nodded and left the stage.

"What reputation?" said Miranda, still suffering from wearing full school uniform for rehearsals. "We get so much ridicule at rehearsals for our clothes, don't we Pippin?"

Pippin nodded, "I don't worry too much," she said. Nicola felt a twinge of conscience about her behaviour in 3rd Remove, but maybe Pippin had become a more adaptable and tougher person because of it. "And anyway, Miranda, you are on the second desk of the first violins, I'm at the back of the Cellos."

"Well we won't be there," said Lawrie, "We are playing in a netball tournament. Tim do you want to come with us to watch?"

"Not really," said Tim, "I'd rather watch the rehearsal, betcha I get in somehow, might suggest to Kempe that someone should be around to look after the equipment. "

"Good luck," replied Nick ironically while Lawrie sniffed disgustedly, "Wish I was headmistress's niece," she said

......................................

The weather had worsened as Sir Oscar and Anthea Warrender drove up to the front door at Trennels. As they got out of their car the front door opened and Chas Dodds looked out.

"Is that your car?" he asked excitedly looking at the Daimler, "it's fab! How much does it do to the gallon? What engine is it? What.."

Sir Oscar smiled at his excitement. "Yes," he said, "if we can come in from the rain? We would like to see Mr and Mrs Marlow."

Chas looked up at him and stood back to let him in. "Mrs Marlow is talking to Methren," he said "and Captain Marlow is away at sea. Shall I go and find Mrs Marlow?"

"Yes please, can you say Sir Oscar and Lady Warrender would like to speak with her"

Chas's eyes rounded, "Are you the Sir Oscar who is doing the St Nicolas? I'm in the choir but when we went to Kingscote, Nacker and Lawrie weren't there and I couldn't speak to Rose."

Before Sir Oscar could reply the drawing room door opened and Karen, Rowan and Mrs Marlow emerged. "Oh, Methren, these are Sir Oscar and Lady Warrender, they have come to see you and Mrs Marlow".

Mrs Marlow looked astonished and shook hands, "Come through to the sitting room, Chas can you go and ask Mrs Bertie for tea, These are my two eldest daughters, Karen and Rowan."

Sir Oscar acknowledged the introduction with a nod of his head and following his wife entered the sitting room taking a seat. Karen and Rowan, full of curiosity followed, Karen muttering to her mother who this couple were, Chas came in with Mrs Bertie and a tea tray which Rowan took from her and passed teacups and plates around. Chas curled up in the window. Sir Oscar gazed abstractly at him and then glanced at his wife, she knew he didn't want him there, but couldn't think of way to remove him from the room. Karen although not appearing to notice suddenly remarked, "Chas, I said I would look in Great Uncle Lawrence's library for that book to help you in your history homework, lets go and look now."

Chas looked at her and looked at Sir Oscar who just indicated by a nod of his head the door and he sighed and reluctantly followed Karen out of the sitting room. Sir Oscar looked at Mrs Marlow,

"Mrs Marlow," he said, "I have come to talk about your daughter Nicola." Mrs Marlow looked astonished, Rowan interested. "Following her performance on Young Singer of the Year on the Radio, Kenneth Fulroyd the composer has written a part for her in his new opera which will, we hope, be performed at Covent Garden this summer and I would like to audition her for the part. Can I have your permission to do so?"

Mrs Marlow sat still and stared at the Warrenders in amazement, "I don't think she would be interested," she replied, "and I don't think I could let her do it with school and everything."

"She would have to live in London during the rehearsals and performances and she is welcome to live with us during that time," said Anthea, "we would look after her and find a school for her, maybe a Performing Arts one,"

At that Rowan chuckled, "Without Lawrie?" she said and Mrs Marlow nodded, "there would be difficulties if that were the case, Lawrie would be very upset at that as she is the talented actress,"

"And Nicola is a talented singer," said Sir Oscar, "surely you know that, when you saw her sing at the Colebridge Competition a few years ago,"

There was a pause, "Actually," said Mrs Marlow, "no-one saw her, my husband and I went to see Lawrie perform and Nicola was singing at the same time.." her voice petered out whilst Sir Oscar stiffened and looked politely at her. He said "May I audition her? I can go to her school..."

Rowan smiled, "Have you met Miss Keith?" she asked curiously,

"Not personally," Sir Oscar admitted, "Why?"

"I wonder what she thinks," Karen came in and Rowan turned, "Sir Oscar wants to audition Nicola to sing in an opera and he wants to do it at school. I just asked him if he had met Miss Keith?"

Karen smiled, "she can be quite obstructive", she commented.

"I think I have found that out", Sir Oscar said dryly. Karen and Rowan looked at him. "She has only allowed singers from the younger pupils when I wanted to include Nicola in the choir for St Nicolas", he admitted "and when the choir and orchestra rehearsed at Kingscote, she asked for the date to be changed, when there was a netball tournament and If Nacker is Nicola, both she and Lawrie were absent from school so I understand from Chas."

Karen and Rowan both laughed out loud.

"Keith doesn't like Nick," explained Rowan, and Karen said, "Why do you want to audition Nick?" Sir Oscar explained. Karen looked impressed, "but what about Lawrie?" she asked and noticed Sir Oscar's hand clenching, "We have to look at what impact Lawrie's attitude would have on Nick, they are twins." she pointed out, and he looked back at her thinking it through, "Yes there is that" he said, "perhaps I should meet them both at school and talk things through."

"Just a minute," said Mrs Marlow slowly, "Miss Keith is deliberately stopping Nicola singing?" Everyone looked at her.

"Sounds like it" said Rowan laconically,

"That's typical Keith," said Karen lazily,

"Demented," said Rowan reminiscently.

"If this does happen, Nick will miss cricket next term," said Karen thoughtfully.

"And Craven will miss Nick," said Rowan getting up, "well good luck with Keith, apologies I have to go and do some work now, the cows are calling me."

"Rowan farms," explained Karen, "and I need to take Chas home. Fob should be returning from her birthday party soon, Mum, write a letter of consent for Nick to have the audition."

"If you would wait until that is written", said Sir Oscar, "I will give you and Chas a lift. He is very keen on it."

"Why don't you take them now?" said Anthea "and I'll wait with Mrs Marlow" who was looking a bit stunned by all she had learned.

By the time the car had returned having taken the long way to the Dodd's house leaving Chas full of delight with the journey, Anthea had the letter of permission and was talking over the practicalities of Nicola's London stay.

---------------------------------

"Good news," said Miranda "we have to wear white shirts and black skirts for rehearsals from now on, "to allow us all to feel the unity of the orchestra and choir"

"Can you get an outfit in time?" asked Nicola from her corner of the sofa in their Common Room.

"Well, should think so, don't think I'll be reduced to Oxfam or Changear," replied Miranda with a grin. "How about you Pippin?"

"If we can phone home maybe we can get them in time for next week's rehearsal. Shall we go and ask Miss Carter?"

By the time they got to the office they found most of the choir members already there queuing up to use the telephone.

"We really need payphones we could use in this school," muttered Miranda to Pomona as they waited their turn.

.........................................

"I need to go to Toronto," Sir Oscar said urgently to his wife, "Julian has hurt himself and cannot conduct, Gina Torelli wants me there, I fly in three hours."

Anthea immediately jumped up to help him with his packing. "What about the benefit concert?"

"I'll be back for that," said Sir Oscar, "I have received a letter from Miss Keith, saying that on the dates I suggest, it will be impossible to audition Nicola, so I'll leave it till I get back."

"What a woman," said Anthea, "Oh, and talking of deranged females, I got another letter from that Maynard woman, who will be in Toronto at the same time as you, so I 'll get it for you."

Sir Oscar looked at his wife who laughed at him, "I'll also talk to Nick Brenner. He may be able to beard Miss Keith".

"Would you have a handsome tenor in your enclosed girls' school?"

"Not at all, but he may enjoy it, it would appeal to his sense of humour."

"Just be careful," warned Sir Oscar, kissing her goodbye.

...........................................

"Heard anything from Sir Oscar?" asked Rowan of her mother.

Mrs Marlow shook her head, "No, but I have from Lady Warrender to say unfortunately he has had to fly to Toronto to conduct there. He will be back for the concert. Karen wants to know if you want to come too?"

"Yes, I think so, I want to see him in action and hear the music. Edwin says it is a world class concert, What about Fob will she come?"

"I think so, Chas and Rose will be singing."

"I wonder how he got on with Keith," mused Rowan helping herself to some coffee. "The silence is deafening. But as we've heard nothing from Nick or Lawrie, I assume Keith won!"

..............................................

"I will be away this weekend," announced Miss Keith on Tuesday morning. "All performers at the Concert on Saturday please remember that you are representing Kingscote School and I expect your behaviour will reflect on us. The Senior Music Group are also attending the concert, they must also remember that they represent school as well,"

"In full school uniform?" breathed Miranda

"Supper dresses will be worn by those chosen" and Miss Keith left the stage

"She's learning", remarked Nicola, "have you had a word, Tim?"

"Not likely", said Tim, "I'm still in the doghouse for gatecrashing that rehearsal."

Miranda turned to Nicola, "I would have got you a ticket she said,but there were only two comps per person and both my parents are coming."

"And mine," said Pomona "or I would have invited Esther."

"Lucky escape," said Nicola lightly, "Esther do you need help on Saturday in the garden?"

Esther smiled, "I always need help in the garden. Any other volunteers?"

Everyone else suddenly found they were very busy on Saturday!

..........................................

"Leave the Nicola situation at the moment," Sir Oscar said when he was speaking to Anthea over the telephone, "Gina is flying back to London tonight, has agreed to sing at the concert and is intrigued with the Keith problem. She wants to be involved in the solution."

"How?" asked Anthea curiously.

"I'll leave that in her very capable hands. She has spoken to Brenner as well. Can you ask Dr Herrick if the orchestra could prepare the Queen of the Night Aria. They have a few days to learn it individually and they are rehearsing in the minster Friday evening and Saturday morning. I'll be back to conduct the rehearsal on Saturday morning. We will drive down on Friday afternoon and stay with Dr Herrick,"

"I'll look forward to it. Did you see Mrs Maynard?"

"Yes, in a convent where she was visiting her sister, or not her sister, I wasn't sure what she was saying. She was trained by Tristan Denny and insisted on singing for me, not a bad voice but her stage presence is awful and I had to explain there and then that we were only using professional singers other than the school choir. I did manage to placate her and her nun or non sister also advised her to follow my advice and I left her smiling".

"Of course," said Anthea . "Good luck tonight darling and I'll see you on Thursday"

...............................

The Minster reverberated with noises. Schoolteachers were trying to get the choir into their seats, the orchestra members were waiting to be seated. Dr Herrick was busy trying to sort everything out. Miranda and Pomona sat at the back enjoying the scene.

"Do you recognise any of the artistes?" asked Pomona

"Not yet," said Miranda, "I don't think Sir Oscar is here yet, nor any of the other soloists.Pippin, Nick said there was a gallery somewhere at the back of the Minster, She said Rowan and their friend Patrick watched the Christmas Play from there, apparently the staircase is near the back, shall we see if we can find it?"

"What about our instruments?" asked Pippin.

"Put them back in their cases and leave them here, no one will take them"

They prowled around the sides and the back of the Minster and suddenly Miranda said "I've found it" and disappeared up a small hidden staircase. Pippin followed her and they emerged into the gallery. They sat and watched the activity below. Suddenly, there was a stir and a tall man marched briskly up the aisle and everyone hushed suddenly.

"Sir Oscar?" inquired Pomona.

"Correct," said Miranda, "Everything will be organised now, we'd better get our instruments" and they made their way to the staircase. Pomona was leading and she suddenly stopped on the stairs, Miranda almost fell over her but also stopped, listening to the conversation they could overhear.

"Yes, We tried to audition the child, had permission from her mother, father is in the Navy but Oscar couldn't get permission from the head before he had to go to Toronto."

"But surely this head would like her pupil to excel if she is so talented?"

"Apparently not, the two oldest sisters were quite amused at the thought of Oscar versus Miss Keith," said the first voice, "and she has ensured that Nicola will not be able to be heard at any point, even to changing the date of the rehearsal at Kingscote to ensure she would not be there."

"My dear Anthea, Oscar told me and I informed Nick here of the situation. We will hear Nicola today if possible, at Kingscote,"

"Miss Keith is away," said Pomona baldly walking down the stairs and into the aisle. The three people in conversation looked at her in surprise. "I heard what you said," continued Pomona doggedly "and it's not fair on Nick. she should sing, shouldn't she Miranda?"

Miranda followed her down, "Any more up there?" asked Nicholas Brenner looking around the column and up the staircase.

"No", said Miranda, "we apologise for listening but we were so surprised to her what you had to say and Pippin is right Nick should be given her chance," she recognised Anthea, having met her before with her parents, Anthea also recognised her and smiled, "You know Nicola?" "Best friend," replied Miranda proudly.

Gina Torelli nodded at her and looked at Pomona, "So Miss Keith is away, who is in charge of the school?"

Pomona and MIranda looked at each other, "Miss Ferguson."

"Thank you," said Torelli, "Nick, are you coming?"

Miranda looked at him and a slow smile spread across her face at the thought of the handsome world famous tenor Nick Brenner at Kingscote. He answered her grin with one of his own. "Where would we find Nicola?" he asked

"She's gardening with Esther in the form gardens," said Pomona

"Esther also sings well," said Miranda

"Can we find them easily enough?"

"I'll draw a sketchmap," said Pippin, taking out a pencil and using the back of her score to draw a creditable sketch map of Kingscote.

"Very good," said Torelli, "Where did you learn that skill?"

"In Guides," said Pomona as she finished it and handed it across. The adults studied the map and Miranda pulled Pomona aside, "Do you know why Nick and Lawrie were thrown out all those years ago? Did Marie ever tell you?"

Pippin shook her head, "No," she replied briefly.

"We are going," said Torelli, "Anthea can you take these girls to their places and apologise to Oscar for them and us? Thank you", as Pippin and Miranda went to get their instruments, "We will bring Nicola back with us."

.......................................

At Kingscote, Nicola and Esther were working hard in the garden. It was a pleasant day for February and early snowdrops and crocuses were beginning to bloom. They chatted and were silent at times, enjoying each other's company. Returning from the compost heap they saw the big car arrive at the front door.

Ann Marlow walking across the main hall stopped when she saw the visitors. "Can I help you?" she asked politely

"We are looking for Nicola Marlow," announced Gina Torelli

"Nick?" said Ann

"I am Gina Torelli," announced Torelli

"And you are Nicholas Brenner," said Ann politely smiling at him, "I am Ann Marlow, Nicola is one of my younger sisters."

"We would like to hear her sing, she is gardening with her friend, Esther," said Torelli

Ann looked calmly at them, "I must find Miss Ferguson to greet you, if you would just wait here."

"Do you need my help?" said a voice behind her and Ann turned," Oh, Miss Cromwell, These are Gina Torelli and Nicholas Brenner, opera stars, and they would like to hear Nicola sing."

"Then, they certainly must," said Miss Cromwell smiling, "Where is Nicola at present?"

"Gardening with her friend Esther, Miss, I have a sketchmap of where to find her. May I go and collect both girls? Brenner gave Miss Cromwell his most ravishing smile.

Miss Cromwell looked at him."Can you escort Mr Brenner to the gardens Ann please to collect Nicola and Esther and I will take Miss Torelli to the theatre. Ann, would you be so kind as to accompany Nicola in her choice of song?"

"Are you musical?" asked Torelli graciously to Ann who replied that she played the piano. "Good, then you can accompany your sister when you have collected her."

"I do have a map, drawn by Pomona", said Brenner to Ann, taking it out of his pocket. "She said she learnt to draw it in Guides."

"Yes, that is something that we learn in guides but Pippin will leave at the end of this year as I did at the end of the Lower Fifth."

"Nicola and Lawrie left earlier didn't they? why was that?" he asked innocently,

Ann looked at him "With due respect, that really is none of your business."

He grinned, unrepentantly, "I know but I'd really like to hear about it. Now, let me check my map, it's down this path and after the third hedge on the left, correct?"

Ann smiled and nodded. They walked down the deserted gardens, "Not a popular pastime in February," remarked Brenner.

"Esther wants to follow gardening as a career and as Miranda and Pomona are rehearsing, Nicola has been spending time with her. I presume you know Miranda and Pomona?"

"Met them today, but Anthea Warrender knows MIranda," replied Brenner, "Ah here we are, Nicola Marlow I presume? and Esther..What 's her surname?" he asked Ann in an aside,

"Frewen," replied Ann hiding a smile. "Esther Frewen also, delighted to meet you both."

Nicola and Esther gazed at him in astonishment."This is Nicholas Brenner, the tenor," explained Ann hastily, "And I have come to hear you sing", he told Nicola.

"What?" Nicola said, Esther also stared. He looked round and found a tree stump to sit on. "I am speaking to you all in confidence, Miranda and Pomona know most of this as they overheard a conversation between Anthea Warrender, Gina Torelli and myself, accidentally," he added hastily seeing Ann looking disapproving.

NIcola and Esther looked interested. "Have you heard of Kenneth Fulroyd?" he asked, Ann nodded. Nicola and Esther shook their heads. "He is a composer and has written a new opera. He heard you on the radio last year and has written a part for you in it. Warrender wanted to audition you but Miss Keith would not allow us into school or hear you at all"

"What?" said Nicola again, "How..?"

"Was there an age limit on choir membership?" asked Brenner looking at her, "And was the only rehearsal here arranged when you were away at a netball tournament? Your mother gave written permission for Warrender to audition you, she refused to allow him to do so. Then he had to go to Canada so had to give up, but....."

"That's shocking," cried Ann, Nicola looked angry and Esther stared at him.

"So, Miss Keith doesn't want me to sing," said Nicola,

"Why?" asked Esther,

"No idea," said Nicola shortly

Ann looked at her sister and there was silence for a minute

So, are you going to sing for Gina, Gina is Madame Torelli, and I, Esther, would you like to come?"

Nicola looked and nodded at Esther who said, "Yes, but we have to put the tools away first,"

"No time," said Brenner briskly, "I have a map, no can't find the tool shed on this, would one of you ex-Guides please draw it on this and I will put them away whilst you go to the theatre, now that is on the map."

Ann and Nicola both jumped at the ex-Guide comment and Ann, producing a pen, drew on the map . He smiled patted Nicola on the shoulder and watched the three of them walking towards the theatre.

Gina Torelli explained to Miss Cromwell how Sir Oscar had been prevented from auditioning Nicola. "How did you find out that Miss Keith was away?" Miss Cromwell asked. "Oh, Pippin told us", said Torelli airily ,"She and Miranda overheard our conversation. I don't think they were that surprised and will surely not tell anyone else."

"I'm not sure," said Miss Cromwell.

"Well, Pippin has kept secret something about the guides for a long time and will not tell now so I don't think we should worry too much". said Torelli, "I like this theatre, do you mind if I just sing a little?"

"Not at all," said Miss Cromwell politely.

.......................................

The three girls walked up to the theatre all thinking of what had just happened and what they had learned. Esther looked at Nicola, "He's very good looking isn't he?"

Nicola smiled, "Just a bit, what do you think Ann?"

Ann also smiled, "Yes he is."

"Why would Keith do such a thing? I don't understand it at all, she forced me into that competition.." said Nicola

"Perhaps she doesn't want to lose you," suggested Esther.

Nicola shook her head and they walked into the theatre where Torelli was sitting at the piano accompanying herself whilst she sang softly and talked to Miss Cromwell. She saw the girls enter and stood up.

"Welcome", she said, as they reached the stage and Ann introduced the others. "Where's Brenner?" asked Torelli,

"He is following us," said Ann "He offered to put away the gardening tools."

Miss Cromwell's eyebrows raised, "How will he find his way here?" she asked her eyes twinkling,

"He has a map," said Ann seriously, Nicola spluttered, caught Esther's eye and all three burst into laughter. Torelli looked at them indulgently and said, "Good, that will get your lungs working. Can you accompany us Ann? Thank you" and Ann took her place at the piano.

Torelli asked for scales and arpeggios which Nicola, used to this with Dr Herrick, sang easily and well. She felt more relaxed after that laughter and it had stopped her feeling too upset at Miss Keith.

Brenner arrived at this point and listened. "What would you like to sing?" he asked, Nicola looked at Ann, "Why not the Maurice Greene piece you sang at that competition?" suggested Ann and the two singers nodded.

"Can you do that? Have you the music?" Ann nodded, "In my room, can I go and get my music case?" Torelli inclined her head graciously and Ann ran off.

"Can you sing something unaccompanied?" asked Brenner looking around the theatre.

"Once in Royal David's City?" asked Nicola

"Go ahead"

Nicola thought for a moment and tried to remember what Dr Herrick had told her, Her voice rose strong and clear and the two singers listened intently.

"Good," said Torelli when she finished, "Now you." she nodded at Esther who was so surprised she sang also very well. As she finished Ann returned with her music,

"Also good," said Torelli, "Are you ready?" and Ann started the accompaniment and Nicola sang the anthem while the singers watched the pair as they produced music.

"Fine," said Brenner, "Now we know that you can sing as a chorister and we would like to hear something more emotive and would like to hear that. Any idea what you could sing?" Nicola again looked at Ann.

"What about one of the Ariel songs?" she suggested "Or maybe Fideles Dirge?"

Nicola shied, she couldn't help it," Yes that," said Torelli immediately "Now before starting think of the meaning of the words..."

"I know the meaning of the words," said Nicola abruptly staring at Torelli who looked surprised, gracefully waved her hand and said "in your own time"

Nicola thought of the words, thought of Cousin Jon, Jael, Sprog, her sense of betrayal in Gondal, that day in Oxford, finding Surfrider broken up on the beach, and perhaps even Kingscote and realised that this could be an elegy to all those thoughts and feelings and nodded to Ann who started to play. Her voice soared in the theatre and everyone there could hear what she was feeling. At the end she felt exhausted. To her surprise Torelli stepped forward and kissed her on her cheek.

"Thank you," she said. "Now, can you sightread this music?" Nicola took it surprised at how seriously everything was taken and what she was doing, Torelli handed a copy to Ann and asked her to play through the music as well.

"Esther we will need you as well come here please" She talked through the scene to the girls and they sightread the music and listened to her.

"Nicholas, are you ready?" she asked, and Nicola realised she was going to have to act and sing with him She took a deep breath and looked at him, He gave her his best smile, and nodded at Ann.

The music was simple but melodic and Nicola found herself for the first time totally involved in the music and drama of the opera. She found herself, to her astonishment, swept up in the whole process. Esther followed her doing the same thing, and at the end they exchanged an embarrassed glance with each other.

The opera stars were conversing in low tones, in Italian. Then they turned to the Miss Cromwell.

"We would like Oscar to hear both girls sing and Ann play, Can they come with us now?"

Ann looked surprised but Miss Cromwell nodded at her, "I will clear it with Miss Ferguson, Do they need to change into school uniform?"

"No, they are fine as they are," said Brenner hastily, "lets get the car round oh, can we help?" as Miss Carter came in,

"Sir Oscar has called, he has asked if you remember you have a rehearsal today? My brother has started the car and is ready to go,"

"Thank you," said Torelli, "Your brother being Dermot's driver? Are you coming to the concert?" Miss Carter agreed and they all left the theatre, Miss Cromwell taking them through the staff garden to the front of the school, "Not on my map," muttered Brenner looking at it and Nicola spluttered again. It was a large car fortunately with room for all of them. The journey was accomplished quickly and they got out at the minster.

..........................

The rehearsal was in full progress as Torelli and Brenner entered the Minster and walked up to the orchestra and Sir Oscar. Dr Herrick saw Nicola Esther and Ann hesitating by the door, and moved forward to greet them. Nicola saw him approaching with relief.

"Hallo Miss Nicola and Miss Esther and?"

"My sister Ann", said Nicola. "Dr Herrick is there any where we can go and smarten up we were gardening and" she stopped embarrassed.

Dr Herrick looked amused, "Come up to the choir school," he said and they followed him round.
As he reached the staircase Anthea Warrender came up to them," I'm delighted to meet you Nicola at last" and she held out her hand, Nicola hesitated and apologised, "my hand is still dirty from gardening."

"I'm taking the girls up to the Choir School," said Dr Herrick. Anthea laughed, "I'll come up with you," she said smiling at Esther and Ann, "Gina told me you accompanied her here." Nicola and Esther took the opportunity to tidy themselves up whilst Ann chatted with Anthea. They could hear the rehearsal progressing. Dr Herrick had gone downstairs and returned with coffee, tea and sandwiches, "I presume you are hungry," he said and they thanked him and sat around chatting, Anthea telling them how she had been discovered by Sir Oscar and other tales of musical life.

Eventually Anthea asked "Can you just sing something here for me here please Nicola? and Ann will you accompany her please?" Nicola looked at Ann again, "One of the Quilter songs for Ariel?" suggested Ann. Nicola nodded, "let me just remember, yes I've got it." She nodded at Ann who played the accompaniment from memory. As Nicola sang she suddenly felt free, she was making music and she was enjoying herself. She also felt she was learning much about herself, the shock of Keith's behaviour was diminishing as people in the outside world liked what she could do and wanted her to do well. She finished singing and looked at Anthea. A male voice from the door said,

"And what were you thinking about as you sang that?"

Nicola jumped and turned. SIr Oscar walked in and over to the piano, Ann hastily got up out of the way. Nicola stared and said, "just that, well maybe things at school don't matter too much "

Sir Oscar nodded "now come round here and sing Fideles Dirge for me, I'll accompany you, just follow my direction and think of the words, not of anything else. When you are ready." Nicola pulled herself together, nodded at him and he played the introduction giving Nicola one of his famous smiles as she started to sing. He watched and listened to her as she sang as did Anthea and when she finished they exchanged glances.

"Are you much interested in music?" asked Sir Oscar

"Not much," replied Nicola candidly, "although," she paused

"Yes?" "you all seem to be so dedicated to music as if nothing else mattered"

"We want to perform what the composers heard in their heads the first time they wrote down the music," said Anthea

"Agreed," said Dr Herrick

"And we want to bring that music to the audience so that they hear that as well" said Sir Oscar. "Now your first song you were absent, the second you were present." He turned to Ann and Esther, "Did you hear the difference?"

"Yes," said Esther," but there is a lot of meaning in the second song for Nick, we can hear that,"

"whereas the other?"

"Well I had to learn it for Ariel and I didn't really want to," said Nicola

"You were playing Ariel?"

"No, Lawrie, my twin sister, was but she can't sing so I had to,"

"So, you were forced to do something to make your sister's performance complete, not to do it for yourself?"

"I think Miss Kempe knows that Nicola is a good singer and was thinking of the best performers for the play,"said Ann hastily,

"but she was using Nicola to make her sister's performance better. Did you sing them?" He asked Nicola,

"No, Lawrie chucked the part,"

"and you didn't get it?"

"No. Miranda did, but I had an arm injury and was in a sling so.."

"On the night of performance?"

"No, but Miss Kempe said that I wasn't her idea of Ariel anyway,"

Sir Oscar shook his head and Nicola suddenly realised how it looked to him and maybe that it wasn't just Keith who had been unfair,perhaps she herself had been too eager to give way to and for Lawrie as well.

"Now, Nicola, Brenner tells me he told you about the opera Kenneth Fulroyd has written. Nicola nodded. There is a role that I think will suit you. GIna and he tell me he tried you and Esther," he smiled at Esther standing at the side of the room, "and they were both impressed. I am coming to hear you both tomorrow afternoon in the school theatre, Gina says the acoustics are adequate and I would like you both to go away and practice tomorrow morning. Ann, can you help them tomorrow morning? Thank you. Now I would like you to prepare a duet and a solo from the new opera. Here is the score" he put it on the piano "From here. This is a not a tragedy, but a comedy. Your character has two elder sisters who have two suitors, but she thinks that the pairings are wrong so does her best to sort them out to how she wants it. The tenor is with the flighty sister and you feel he should be with the quiet sister. He is telling you in this duet of his love to the flighty sister and wants your help to get her to notice him, after he leaves, your solo says that you want him for the quieter sister and what you are going to do to change his mind."

"Does the character fancy him?" asked Nicola as she and Esther looked at the words and music.

Sir Oscar looked amused, "I don't think that Fulroyd would think of that, but if that is the way you want to interpret it." Nicola and Esther looked at each other and started to giggle, "Depends who the tenor is, " said Esther and they laughed even Ann also found herself joining in. Sir Oscar just sighed, "Are all teenage girls the same?" he asked his wife.

"Now, enough. If I think that you are capable of the part, I would have to have you trained to sing properly so that you don't spoil your voice., I can arrange that but you will have to leave school temporarily and come to London. Esther, Gina thinks you could be cast as the understudy to Nicola if you would like that. You too would have to leave school and live in London."

"I could live at home", cried Esther, Sir Oscar nodded his head graciously and Anthea smiled warmly at her, "Indeed you could and share Nicola's training. But I have to warn you both that it will be very hard work. Nicola, we would offer you a room in our flat for your stay in London. We have also found a Performing Arts School for you both to attend"

Leave school for a while. Nicola stood still, what about Miranda and Pomona, Tim and Lawrie? "Wouldn't it be up to Mum?" she asked, "She agrees" said Anthea, "we have discussed it with her and Karen and Rowan." Nicola and Ann both looked up, things were going too fast for them, Esther was in a happy daze, no more Tim and Daks with her all the time.

Nicola looked again at the score and then started to sing the aria unaccompanied. When she finished she said, "Something like that? "Sir Oscar looked at her and said smiling "Something like that. But we'll leave it there. We have complimentary tickets for you all tonight, so can you come in with the choir and orchestra tonight? On, here is Brenner,"

"I need a map for this place," complained the tenor as he entered the room. "What have I missed?"

"Nothing," said Sir Oscar, Do you know if the school parties have gone, they have? then if you wait, I'll give you a lift back to school but Dr Herrick and I just need to iron out a few details so I'll be back as soon as I can."

"Well," said Brenner sitting down, "while we wait, Nicola can tell us how she got thrown out of Guides!"

...................................................

When they got back to school Sir Oscar accompanied them into the building. Miss Ferguson was in the hall as they arrived and she looked at Nicola and Esther still in their gardening attire. Ann hastily introduced Sir Oscar and he explained what he wanted for the next day. Miss Ferguson frowned, "I don't think that would be possible," she said, "Not without Miss Keith's consent. Girls off you go and get changed now."

The three said thank you and goodbye to Sir Oscar who reminded them that they were to travel with the choir and Miranda and Pomona back for the concert that evening. When they had gone, he turned to Miss Ferguson,"I have written permission from Mrs Marlow for Nicola," he said, "And Mrs Thorpe has given verbal consent for Esther. Are you not in charge of school in Miss Keith's absence and isn't school about giving pupils chance to find out their strengths and talents?"

Miss Ferguson hesitated, "Perhaps you could supervise the girls' practice?" he suggested smoothly, "then you can decide for yourself whether you think that we are judging Nicola's singing quality too highly. But then the school has been doing the same for her sister's acting ability hasn't it?"

Miss Ferguson looked at him and then Miss Cromwell and Miss Kempe crossed the hall. They stopped when they saw Sir Oscar. Miss Cromwell smiled and said, "I trust everything went well Sir Oscar?"

"Yes, it did," he answered immediately, "I would like to hear Nicola and Esther tomorrow afternoon in the school theatre. Would that be possible and for Ann and the other two to practice in the morning there?"

The three staff members looked at each other, "I think we should wait for Miss Keith," said Miss Ferguson, the other two, knowing the full details of situation, smiled and Miss Kempe said, "I think that would be ideal. Would you like us to supervise the practice or do you think they can manage?"

Sir Oscar smiled and said,"I'll ask Brenner to come here about 11.00am to help, and I think Gina would like to be involved. If they work for an hour before he arrives, then another hour with him, a two hour break and my wife and I will arrive for 2.00pm"

"That is fine. Can we have the second hour rehearsal as an open one, I'm sure the orchestra and senior music students would be keen to watch?" Miss Kempe looked at Miss Ferguson who nodded, "I'll agree to that."

"Thank you," said Sir Oscar, "I have given tickets for this evening's concert to the girls, this is more part of their training than reward, my wife will be with them to explain the skills singers used for effects." Miss Kempe looked interested, "This is all very professional," she said.

"Well, if Nicola appears at Covent Garden Opera House, she will be appearing as a professional," replied Sir Oscar, "And now I must go, will I be seeing you this evening?"

Miss Kempe said, " Both Miss Usher and I are, we are supervising the choir members," Miss Cromwell smiled and said, "Madame Torelli has given me a ticket so I shall be, but not supervising anyone."

Sir Oscar laughed and said, "Tomorrow then, and when Nicola makes her debut at Covent Garden I will send you tickets." and he left the school.

Miss Ferguson said, "I don't think the Head will be too pleased" and Miss Cromwell said, "Let's go and have a coffee and I'll tell you what Torelli told me"

.....................................................

"Where have you been?" asked Lawrie, as back in school uniform, Esther and Nicola entered their sitting room. "MIranda and Pippin said something about singing, but I couldn't find you at all."

"We've been gardening," said Nicola lazily.

"All day?"

"No, we've been to Wade Abbas and the Choir School,"

"Did they come to hear you then?" asked Pomona

"Yes, accompanied by your map," said Nicola with a grin.

"And?" asked Miranda.

"They listened, took us back to the Minster and I sang for Sir Oscar," said Nicola. "He's coming here tomorrow to hear Esther and I in the music he wants us to sing." She spoke firmly and her classmates looked at her in surprise.

"But," said Lawrie, "That's not fair," everyone shouted, Lawrie flapped her hands, "What music?"

"Some old boy Kenneth Fulroyd or something, heard me on the radio and has written a part for me in his new opera and they want me to do it."

"You need to act as well then," said Lawrie, "Look, if I act it and lip sinc you can sing it from the wings,"

"No," said Nicola, "They want to hear and see me, not you. Got it?"

Everyone looked at her, and then at Lawrie, who surprised stared back at her twin. "OK," she said.

"Can we hear the songs?" asked someone and Nicola who still had the score, she and Esther were going to study it, opened up at the Aria she had sung earlier. She read it through again and then sang it through. The door opened as she was singing and Miss Kempe and Miss Usher entered and listened.

"Very nice," said Kempe at the end, "May we see the score?" Nicola handed it over and the two staff members looked through it.

"You are rehearsing tomorrow morning from 10 o'clock in the theatre," said Miss Kempe. "Miss Usher will supervise for the first hour and then there is an open rehearsal with Mr Brenner and Miss Torelli from 11.00am. Sir Oscar and Lady Warrender will be arriving for 2.00pm for the audition. Now, tonight, have you got any evening clothes you can wear?"

Nicola looked at Esther, "Not at school but Mum and Karen are coming to the concert to see Rose, so can I call home please and ask them to bring something for us to wear? Lawrie, could Esther wear something of yours?"

Lawrie, opening her mouth to say, "No" caught Miss Kempe's eye and changed it to "Yes".

"Good, come down and telephone from the office then." Miss Usher followed them still reading the score. "I'll photocopy this if I may," she asked, "What are you rehearsing?" Nicola pointed out the songs and Miss Usher said, "We'll need someone sing the tenor part," Esther said, "I think we are swapping parts, Nicola and I so we know both parts."

.........................................

When they arrived in the minster. Miranda and Pomona went to join the orchestra, having first shown Nicola the staircase leading up to the Gallery.

"Shall we sit up there?" whispered Esther,

"If we can" muttered Nick, Ann can we sit up here do you think?" "What is it up there?" " A gallery, Rowan and Patrick sat up there at our Christmas Play"

"I don't know, I think that they want to keep an eye on you,"

"In case Keith kidnaps me," said Nicola with an uneasy giggle, what was going to happen when Keith returned?

Sir Oscar appeared at that moment, he was frowning, "I want you to sit somewhere so that you can have singing techniques explained to you both," he said, "Brenner says he will help you in the first half and Anthea in the second, but I don't know where,"

"This gallery," said Nicola showing the staircase. "It runs across the back of the minster. Rowan and our friend Patrick found it." Sir Oscar looked up the staircase. and nodded. "Fine" he said and went away. "Lets go up" said Ann "and watch for the family to arrive with our dresses." They edged their way to the centre of the gallery.

"Should we invite Rowan up to sit with us?" asked Nicola.

"Better not," said Esther, "It sounds like more of a lesson to me. Nick, what is going to happen when Miss Keith returns?"

"I din't know," said Nicola "but I think that SIr Oscar has more on his side than she does."

"She wont expel us will she?" Both Nicola and Ann looked at her, remembering past Esther panics. "Sir Oscar asked for my parents' phone numbers to get permission to audition me, but if it is going to be a problem I don't want to"

"It will be down to her," said Nicola "and she may take it out on me, but not you. And don't forget we've got Crommie, Kempe and Usher on our side. I'll need your support in London as well, easier if there are two of us. Just enjoy the Concert tonight. Hey, look at that old bat," Ann was watching her whilst she spoke and now made a sound of disapproval but all three looked at a woman who had just entered. She was tall and wore her grey hair in two large whorls on either side of her head. She was followed by a number of young women with varying colours of hair, blonde, black and red. She was making a spectacle of herself fussing over her seat. Nicola was glad her mother was not like that.

"Oh, no," said a voice beside them and Brenner and a woman they hadn't met before, appeared beside them, " May I introduce my wife, Mary," the girls stood up and said "hullo" politely. "When the concert begins can I sit between Esther and Nicola then I can explain how singing effects are created." They all nodded. "Why 'Oh no?'" asked Nicola, "That Mad Maynard Woman is here. She thinks she should sing here as Anthea is singing songs by Ernest Farrar and she sang the songs at school." He grinned and said, "Wonder if Oscar knows and makes Anthea sing 'Brittany',"

"What's Brittany?"

"That's the song she lays claim to"

Nicola said to Mary , "Sir Oscar wouldn't do that would he?"

"I doubt it, it's Nicholas who would think of it."

"Here's the family," said Ann, and they excused themselves and ran down the stairs, Rowan was at the bottom with dresses."So where are we changing? asked Nicola, Ann said, "We can use the artistes changing room. It's over here. Thank you, Rowan".

"Can you sit with us?" asked Nicola and both Rowan and Ann looked uncomfortable and then looking at each other realised that the situation had to be improved and that they had allowed it to fester. "Yes," said Rowan and Ann nodded.

........................................

"Did you enjoy playing?" asked Nicola to Miranda on the journey home.

Miranda nodded, and Pomona agreed, "We are staying members of the orchestra as well, we were asked."

"How fab.," said Nicola thinking if she and Esther did go away for a term, this would be a compensation for MIranda and Pomona,

Pippin leaned forward, "and Elise, another Cellist says if we like to leave clothes with her, we can change before the rehearsals and before we go back to school."

"The skills of this girl," said Miranda admiringly. "What was that kerfuffle after Anthea had sung? Sir Oscar just pulled a funny face at us and made us continue to play."

"The Mad Maynard Woman," said Esther giggling, "She started to say that Anthea sang reasonably well but not like she could sing Brittany and she launched into it. Luckily, Dr Herrick and other members of the Church were on the lookout and they bundled her out before she could sing more than a couple of words. It was funny watching her being frogmarched down the aisle demanding to sing it and the police were at the door ready."

"Nick Brenner just couldn't stop laughing," remembered Nicola. "I think Anthea was upset though. She and Sir Oscar are going to the station on the way back to the hotel to speak with her."

"She is a nice woman," said Ann, "Rowan and I had a long conversation with her waiting for you two afterwards."

"What about?" asked Nicola but Ann shook her head, "Nothing much"

............................................

Miss Usher was waiting in the theatre with her photocopied score on the Sunday morning. "Do you know what Sir Oscar wants to hear?" she asked. Ann nodded, "Anthea told me what to concentrate on and what to leave to the Open Rehearsal" and quietly and efficiently she showed Esther and Nicola what was required and they worked hard. At quarter to eleven she paused and said, "Anthea said to have a break and go out to for a run and then come back."

Nicola looked at Esther and said "Let's go and see Daks." and they left. Miss Usher looked with respect at Ann, "That was very good," she said. Ann coloured, "Sir Oscar and Anthea have offered me a position at their rehearsal studios accompanying artistes and playing for practices. So, this is my audition as well if I want to take up their offer. They will pay for me to go to Music College if I want to." Miss Usher smiled, "Well, that takes the pressure off you for your A-Levels," she said."If you want to do it. Now I suggest you take that advice and go and get some fresh air."

On their return there was a sizable queue of seniors who wanted to watch the rehearsal, Nicola noted that Lawrie was absent and Esther was delighted that Tim was not around. They made their way quickly to the stage and waited whilst the audience came in, as well as quite a number of staff. Miss Cromwell came in with Brenner and his wife and Torelli and everyone stood while they went through the auditorium. Torelli looked at the audience and said, " It is nice to see so many of you here but I have to warn you, this is a rehearsal. Anyone who interrupts will be out."

She then went to the piano where Ann was sitting and had a brief word with her. She then asked the girls to show her what they had done and the work continued. By the time midday came they were very tired.

"Enough," said Torelli at last and there was a burst of applause. Nicola, Ann and Esther looked surprised but Brenner and Torelli just smiled and bowed.

"Madame, please could you sing the Queen of the NIght Aria?" asked a bashful Lower Sixth former.

Torelli looked pleased, "Can you play it?," she asked Ann who shook her head, but "I can, just" said Brenner "if you can put up with me." Torelli graciously inclined her head and he moved to the piano seat. For a moment there was silence and then she launched into the aria. There was a moment's pause at the end and the applause was rapturous. Brenner remained at the piano and then sang a couple of the Benjamin Britten Folk Songs he had just sung at Snape Maltings. At the end there was more applause and then there was a line of autograph hunters. Nicola and Esther waited for Miranda and Pomona before wandering off.

"How did it sound?" asked Esther nervously.

"Very good," said Pomona."They work hard don't they?"

"Yes, very absorbed in the music," said Nicola, "I suppose actors do it as well, no doubt Lawrie will tell us in future."

"I'm off to sit with Daks," said Esther, "Pippin, are you coming?"

"Bye," said Nicola watching them leave. "I want some quiet as well." She looked at Miranda, "the roof?" "Definitely," and they went off.

.............................................

Nicola was surprised to see a strange man with Sir Oscar and Lady Warrender in the theatre when she and Esther arrived. Sir Oscar greeted them both and introduced them to Kenneth Fulroyd, the composer. Nicola's heart jumped and Esther looked more nervous, but Mr Fulroyd was so delighted to meet them that they calmed down.

Sir Oscar took them to the piano and made them stand in the curve so he could see them. One at a time they took turns to sing exercises and he took them through scales. Esther found this a bit much but he smiled at her, "I know that you haven't got the experience as Nicola so don't think I am comparing you to her," he said, "I just want to hear you sing." When he was satisfied that they were ready, he gestured for Brenner to come forward to sing the duet.

"Who wants to start? he asked them, Esther said, "I will," Nicola looked surprised, said "Good luck" and went back to sit with Fulroyd, Ann, Mary, Anthea and Torelli.

"You know what you are singing?" he asked her and she nodded. The memory of Nicola saying 'I need you in London' had boosted her confidence and she wanted to succeed for Nick. Warrender played the introduction and Esther launched into the duet surprising most of the people there. She sang the aria well also.

"Maybe I'll be the understudy," thought Nicola wryly. At the end Warrender smiled and thanked her asking Nicola to come forward.

She sang the duet with Brenner, trying to remembering all he and Anthea had told her at the concert and then the aria. At the end, Warrender looked at her and said, "Now, is that your interpretation, or are you giving us what you think we want to hear?"

Nicola looked at him, "Probably the second," she said, "Then we want to hear the first," he said."Forget singing and technique, that I can teach you and will come, I want you to sing your interpretation of the character, ready?" and he nodded to her and started the introduction to the aria. Nicola said, "wait," thought and said "ready." This time she added a little mischief in her voice and a little character in her portrayal and at the end everyone laughed. Warrender smiled and turned to Fulroyd, "What do you think?"

"I'm impressed," said the composer, "Can you sightread a section for me, I put it in because I thought it would be perfect for your voice, here it is," and he pushed a copy of the score at the embarrassed Nicola. Warrender looked amused and said, "May I see?, I think you can sing it Nicola, come here while I play it through for you,"

The other singers at the back suddenly heard a commotion outside the theatre and angry voices. Torelli stood up and looked at both Brenner and Anthea, Ann paled, "It's Miss Keith," she said, Esther looked frightened. Torelli and Anthea both walked to the door and which opened as they arrived and they walked through it to prevent any interruption.

"How nice to meet you Miss Keith," said Torelli, "A very good little theatre here, some very talented pupils at this school and some very understanding staff. I am Gina Torelli and this is Lady Anthea Warrender."

"It is so nice for you to let us come and audition Nicola and Esther for this opera," smiled Anthea though she could see that Miss Keith was angry. Who had told her about the weekend happenings? "Kenneth Fulroyd, the composer and my husband are working with the girls at the moment,"

"Unsupervised?" barked Miss Keith,

Anthea looked surprised.

"Why should they be supervised? asked Torelli, "They are artistes and working with fellow artistes. Who should supervise them?"

"Two men alone with two of my girls?"

"Three actually, Nick Brenner and his wife are in there, as is Ann Marlow, another very talented student."

"And we were until a moment ago," pointed out Anthea. "My husband doesn't like crowds when he is auditioning."

"I knew nothing about the audition until my niece telephoned me this morning," said Miss Keith.

"But you had the letter telling you that Oscar was coming to audition Nicola, also a copy of her mother's letter giving him permission and as we were all here for the benefit concert, such a pity you missed it, so we took the opportunity to come," said Torelli smoothly, watching Miss Keith closely, "And we are very pleased we did, such talented children, and quite an unusual find. The school must have a strong music department. When Nicola and Esther sing at Covent Garden in a few months time, it will reflect well on yourself and the school."

Miss Keith paused and Nicola's voice soaring reached them, "If Nicola Marlow chooses to sing at Covent Garden," she said, "She will not come back here." and she turned and walked away.

...................................

"That Daimler is back," cried Chas to his parents and the Marlows later that afternoon at Trennels "and another big car, it's a Jaguar" and he ran outside.

"What?" said Rowan walking to the windows of the sitting room, "Mums look, at all these people. Who are they all?"

Ginty just on her way out to meet friends from Colebridge Sixth Form College looked past her, "That's your sister Nick," she said, "Your sister Ann, and Nicola's friend Esther,"

"Ha, ha" said Rowan, "and that's Sir Oscar and Lady Warrender and Nicholas and Mary Brenner" as they all got out of the cars.

"And Gina Torelli" said Karen looking out. "What has happened?" She looked at Rowan and then they said together, "Keith."

"Keith?" said Ginty, deciding against going out, and looking forward to hearing what was going on, especially if it was to do with Nicola.

Mrs Marlow was ushering the guests into the sitting room and Karen turned to Edwin who was sitting looking amused, "Would you mind taking the children home? I'll tell you later." He nodded and extracting Chas and Fob made his excuses.

Rowan looked at Sir Oscar, "Keith?" she asked. He nodded back,"But I don't know what," he said. Anthea looked up, "Who is her niece?, she asked

"Her niece?" said Rowan,

"It's Tim Keith, Lawrie's friend and in our form," said Nicola, "Why?"

"Does she like you?" asked Torelli gently, Nicola looked confused,"Well, she's just Tim," she said," She can be friendly or not, depending what mood she's in."

"She's horrible," said Esther, "and a bully"

Karen and Rowan looked at each other and at Ginty, who said cheerfully, "She's a bit full of herself, plays on the fact that she is headmistress's niece and takes Lawrie's side when there is any dispute between the twins. Why, what has she done?"

All the singers looked at one another. "She phoned her aunt with a highly coloured account of what has happened this weekend," said Torelli,

"And," Anthea took Nicola's hand, "Miss Keith says if you choose to sing with us then you are not allowed back at Kingscote." Nicola sat stunned.

"Oh, darling," said her mother coming over and hugging her. Karen, Rowan and Ann looked angry and Ginty said, "You've escaped, you lucky thing! Where will you go?"

The telephone rang at that moment and Karen went out and answered it. She returned in a moment and said "It's Miranda for you Nick, Do you want to speak to her?"

"Yes, come on, you too Esther," said Ginty, "let's hear the Kingscote end" and pulled the door closed behind her.

"Nick," came Miranda's voice, "are you alright?"

"Not really," said Nicola,

"I don't know what has happened but Crommie's walked out"

"What?, Crommie's left," she told Ginty and Esther, "Why?"

"Don't know, there are ructions all round the staff are furious about something, Latimer is standing guard while I phone you."

Ginty took the receiver, "Miranda, Tim phoned Keith about the audition and she came haring back. She has given an ultimatum, if Nick sings then she can't go back to Kingscote," She gave the receiver back to Nick who heard Miranda's gasp of horror. "I wish I was with you, " she said, "So do I," said Nick "but Esther is here, we were bustled out of school, that is all I have seem to have done this weekend."

"Nick, sorry I'm going to have to go, I'll see you very shortly, promise." and Nicola put down the receiver as Rowan and Ann walked in.

"So what is happening at school?" Rowan asked

"Crommie's left," said Ginty,

"And the staff are furious," said Nicola, "Latimer was standing guard whilst Miranda was phoning." and she looked at Ginty and they both grinned.

The telephone rang again and Rowan just beat Ginty to it, "Hallo, Miss Usher, Yes we have got them here.. yes they are quite upset, understandably don't you think? ...Sorry....oh well I would ask the younger Miss Keith about that... Yes, ...thank you,... Please give our love to Lawrie,... No, I don't think she had anything to do with it. When are Ann and Esther returning? That I can't tell you. Thank you. Good bye."

"I almost wish I was back," said GInty, "but this end is more interesting."

Mrs Marlow came across to the study, "Darlings," she said and Nicola suddenly felt she was going to cry at yet another betrayal. She said "excuse me" and left the room and ran up to her bedroom.

Her mother and sisters looked after her, "Leave her," said Rowan. "Are you alright Esther?"

Esther nodded and Ann and Ginty filled in the details of what was happening at Kingscote to their mother.

Rowan returned to the sitting room, "Where's Nicola?" asked Karen, "Upstairs in her room," she replied, "She needs some space and time alone. This hasn't turned out well for her has it?" There was an awkward pause.

"You were correct, both of you," said Sir Oscar ruefully, "Perhaps we were too rushed in our ideas and didn't think the situation through properly."

"For your information, Kingscote is in uproar, Miss Latimer was standing guard while Miranda called," she said, "And Miss Cromwell has walked out. Miss Usher called while I was in the study to make sure that the girls are all safely here. She says, if they can, she and Kempe are coming over tomorrow."

"Do they know the reason for all this?" asked Anthea and Rowan smiled, "GInty told Miranda who will probably tell Latimer and I suggested something to Usher." she admitted.

I think we will leave now and not bother Nicola again tonight. Karen and Pamela know what we have put in place for her if she wants to continue to sing but not today. I will put off my commitments so that I can do all that I can to mend the situation," said Sir Oscar, and Anthea nodded her agreement.

Torelli sighed, "I would like to," she said, "But Peter is having some leave and we are going to Italy,"

"Peter?" muttered Karen, "Her husband" replied Anthea equally softly

"I'm singing at the end of the week in Leningrad," said Brenner, "I could stay a couple of days, if I could be any help." and Sir Oscar nodded thoughtfully, "She has a rapport with you," he said, and turning to Mary said, "Would this be acceptable for you?"

Mrs Marlow had returned to the sitting room to hear this, "So you are staying locally?"

"Yes," said SIr Oscar, "We'll leave her and talk to her tomorrow if she will listen. We'll go back to Wade Abbas now."

"What about Esther and Ann?" asked Anthea, "Shall we take them back now?"

"Yes," said Torelli, "Your other daughter, keep her with Nicola tonight, she has the best way of helping her. Show her our plans and get her to put it to Nicola, she will be more responsive."

"Agreed," said Sir Oscar, "Lets go. I'm so sorry this has turned out the way it has."

.......................................

"You mean, you phoned your aunt to get my twin in trouble?" demanded Lawrie.

"Yes, I did, you should have been involved, not just Nick."

"But these are Opera Stars, I cannot sing, I act. I watched both rehearsals yesterday and she was good. I couldn't do anything like that myself and anyway why can't Nick have a bit of luck?" Lawrie was surprising herself.

"I never thought," said Tim "that ..."

"No, you never thought," said Miranda, "Poor old Nick is suffering again because of you."

"Ginty made those phone calls last year and she and Nick got clobbered. You make one phone call and Nick gets clobbered again," continued Lawrie indignantly. "It's not fair, why haven't you got a Conduct Mark as well?"

"She shall", said Pomona angrily, "A GOOD Conduct Mark for the Headmistress's niece." There was a snort of appreciative laughter from LVA.

......................................

Mrs Marlow was listening to Miss Keith on the telephone. Rowan and Ginty were watching her face. After a long time, she said, "MIss Keith, I am removing Nicola from Kingscote. You seem to forget that you have a duty of care towards her. She is the innocent in this case and she is the one who is suffering. ... You will report me to the truancy section of the Local Council? Oh please do, and I will tell them exactly what has occurred....Your niece acted properly? Really, my daughters get Conduct Marks for making phone calls, and my daughter is threatened with expulsion because your niece makes a phone call...I don't think there is any purpose in this conversation.... I have spoken to Anthony Merrick, MP about this, I believe he is one of your Governors..." She put down the receiver, "She hung up on me," she said amused. "Now, do I keep Lawrie there or not?"

.................................

That evening Ginty moved into the twins' room looking after Nicola which, as Karen said to Rowan, was a good thing. Nicola found that she was not left alone during that week.

On Monday, Nick Brenner came across Ginty and Nicola in the stables. Nicola looked surprised to see him, "You don't think that we would leave you in such circumstances do you? The Warrenders and Mary and I are staying here to help sort out the situation."

Nicola looked at Ginty who grinned, "You may as well listen to what they have to say," she said,"You've left Kingscote, Mum was scathing to Keith and has gone to the Board of Governors and, if you want to go to the Performing Arts School for the next few years, the Merricks say you can stay with them, and come home every weekend; or Miranda's father called, you can stay with them and he will make Miranda a weekly boarder at Kingscote; alternatively, there is Colebridge Grammar," GInty saddled up Catkin.

"Do you ride?" she asked Brenner, "Yes, your mother said I could ride Chocbar." Ginty's eyebrows went up, "What it's like to be famous," she said saucily and he laughed. Nicola saddled up Snowy, she mounted and looking down at Brenner, she asked, "So did I pass the audition?"

"Of course," he said amazed, "and so did Esther, although she is behind you in technique and will have to have extra lessons and so did Ann."

"Ann!" Ginty and Nicola stared at him. Brenner hit his forehead with his hand, "I forgot she hadn't told you, can you forget I did?"

"No," they chorused. "Keep it quiet then, but Warrender has offered her a scholarship to Royal College of Music and a job as an accompanist and rehearsal pianist. She did a good job on you and Esther yesterday."

"So she will be in London as well," said Nicola.

"Marlows migrating back to the metropolis," said Ginty, "I think I'll apply to London University as well. Where shall we go now?"

"The beach," said Nicola. as Sellars brought out Chocbar,

"Good, and now you can tell me how you got thrown out of Guides and the Christmas play business and what was that about phone calls? It is good to talk things out and It doesn't matter now, you've left that school." said Brenner.

Ginty laughed, "And I can fill you in on some of the gory details." and they set off.

...................................

Anthony and Helena Merrick came down on Tuesday and listened to all that had happened.. Ginty decided she was going out. Anthony looked at Nicola and said, "Please look upon your old home as your new home in London and you will be here most weekends if you stay with us." or I could stay at Miranda's at the weekend thought Nicola, and Helena smiled and said that it would be nice to have what she would call, a daughter, if Nicola didn't mind living at her old home. Nicola couldn't decide whether to mind or not.

"For the first term, I would like her to stay with us," said Warrender, "As there will be a lot of voice training and practice to be undertaken." Nicola detected a look of relief across Mrs Merrick's face.

On Wednesday the Brenners left and Mrs Marlow took Nicola into Colebridge to look around the Grammar School if she chose to attend there. Ginty met them at lunchtime with a couple of her friends and Nicola relaxed in the friendly atmosphere. Mrs Marlow dropped her off at Karen's for the afternoon and made her way back to Trennels where Miss Ferguson, Lady Warrender and Esther, who was staying overnight, were awaiting her. Rowan, popping in, acknowledged Miss Ferguson and took Esther away to help around the farm, something Esther enjoyed enormously. The three women then had a long conversation.

On Thursday, Nicola and Esther were taken up to London by the Warrenders and shown around the Performing Arts School that had been chosen. Afterwards, they went to the Warrenders' flat where Anthea showed Nicola her room if she wanted it. Mrs Thorne came to pick up Esther, who was spending the weekend with her, and hugged Nicola, "You are always welcome to stay with us," she said.

The Merricks picked her up and took her back home to Trennels on Thursday night.

On Friday, Nicola went riding on Snowy by herself. She rode along the cliffs, down to the beach to think through the events of the last week. She walked Snowy down the beach, suddenly realising that telling Brenner all that had happened at Kingscote, with Ginty interposing her own sarcastic voice to the tale, and his caustic and funny comments, had helped her more than she thought and she realised that she had left Kingscote and that part of her life behind her. She still would keep in touch with her friends there and she could move on. She laughed and let Snowy have her head and galloped along the beach suddenly singing for joy.

.........................................

"Darling, this has been a long week for you," said her mother in the study on Sunday afternoon, Rowan Ginty and Miranda, who had stayed the weekend with them, were there as were the Warrenders. "It is time for you to make a decision though I don't like to think of you alone in London,"

"Have you heard from Ann?" asked Nicola,

"No, why?"

"Can't say, Nick Brenner let something out he shouldn't but I wouldn't be alone" Oscar and Anthea looked amused. "And Esther will be there. Her mother has agreed and Keith has let her off for next term. Next year, I shall have friends already."

Her mother smiled, "You've made your decision?" Nicola nodded and hugged her mother. She turned to the Warrenders, "I'd like to sing the part." she said.

...............................................

Review of The Cuckoo In the Nest, Opera by Kenneth Fulroyd,

Conductor: Sir Oscar Warrender

This opera is in true Mozartian style with mixed up couples , happy ever afters, and an imp of a child, sang beautifully by Nicola Marlow, from The Dante Performing Arts School, who enjoys matchmaking for her elder sisters.This role was written for her by the Composer, after hearing her sing in Radio Three's Young Singer of the Year last year.

Anna Fulroyd and Joanna Ransome sang the roles of Caroline and Louisa, two sisters who are fighting over two suitors, sung by Nicholas Brenner and Carlo Ertlinger. Anthea Warrender gives gravitas to the part of the mother of all three daughters who eventually sees what Imogen, Nicola Marlow, has been trying to do and sorts out the situation.

Sir Oscar conducts the piece with his usual panache and this new very accessible opera, will continue as part of opera programmes for many years to come. It has already been commissioned for Christmas, at the New York Metropolitan Opera House and for next year at the Edinburgh Festival .

................................

Times Educational Supplement
Situation Vacant
Kingscote School, Wade Abbas, Dorset
is looking for experienced teachers in Maths, English, Music, Latin, Drama and History for immediate start.
Kingscote Girls’ School, based near Wade Abbas, is a leading independent boarding and day school for girls aged 7 to 18 in which some of the best academic results in the country are achieved within a lively, happy and caring environment.
We can offer you:
• The opportunity to join our outstanding school where public examination results consistently place Kingscote among the top schools in the UK, in the top twelve in the country for university places at the most prestigious UK universities.
• Keen, committed and very able students who are positive and active learners.
• Colleagues eager to share passion and enthusiasm for their subject and an environment where the relationship between pupils and staff is a particular strength.
• A warm and friendly school where teachers are given professional respect to develop their teaching approach methodologies.
• Excellent facilities in new and refurbished buildings,
What you can offer us:
• A capable and highly enthusiastic teacher with excellent subject knowledge
• The ability to teach to highly able pupils across all levels;
• A passion for teaching and learning that energises and inspires young people and allows them to develop the skills and motivation needed for their future lives.
• Commitment to contribute to extra-curricular events and activities.

Further details of the role and application process, can be obtained from the Acting Head Mistress: Miss J. Ferguson, Kingscote School, Wade Abbas, Dorset,