"Miranda Brain is nobody's understudy." Those were the words she wanted to say, but Miranda stopped herself before she could voice them. She didn't just want the part of Bianca, she deserved the part. However, the producer and director had taken her stunned silence at her rejection for acceptance of their criticisms and offered her a smaller part along with the position of understudy for Bianca. By now she'd learnt that making a scene never got people like producers and directors to change her minds, but more subtle methods would get her what she wanted, so she smiled and said, "Thank you for your offer. I'd love to."
And that was how Miranda ended up understudying Sorrel Forbes.
At first she hadn't known it was Sorrel who'd got her part. All she had known was that Richard Kulick, director of this production of The Taming of the Shrew, had told her she hadn't got the part because they'd found "someone better." Miranda knew that was a lie because no one her age was a better actress. Why, her parents told her so every day. She was too good an actress to be anything but gracious in her acceptance, but since her parents were touring she could tell them she'd got the part in her next letter and they'd never know any better.
No one took any notice of her at rehearsals. They were all too busy fawning over Sorrel and Daphne Piper, who was playing Katherina. Miranda would have settled for Katherina, much as she preferred Bianca, but they'd already got someone. Miranda knew it would be the end of her career if she was seen in so small a part with hardly any lines, especially if she was sharing a stage with Sorrel, but it was the best way to stay close to the production. Although she watched rehearsals with a smile on her face and expression of concentration, inside her mood was black.
"Isn't she amazing?"
There was a sigh from beside her and Miranda looked round at the girl standing there. She was tall with long, blonde hair and had probably got further on her looks than on her talent, Miranda judged.
The girl gave Miranda a brief smile before turning an adoring look back on Daphne. "I'm so lucky to be understudying her."
The worst part was that she sounded like she believed it too, but at least she'd unintentionally reminded Miranda who she was. They'd been introduced, but Miranda couldn't be bothered learning an understudy's name. She hoped this girl didn't end up going on stage - she didn't look anything like Sorrel or herself. She looked so dreamy Miranda wondered if she ever remembered any of her lines.
"You're happy just to be understudying?" Miranda asked, in a somewhat condescending tone.
She shrugged. "I prefer to act where I can hide in a crowd. Much less work, for one thing."
Miranda frowned at her, not understanding that at all. Why wouldn't anyone want the spotlight? She never got a chance to ask more, though, as she was called for her small scene.
After that, Miranda decided to stay well away from the odd girl and focus on watching rehearsals. If Miranda could have forgotten her jealousy she would have been able to assess Sorrel as a professional actress and would have seen that her interpretation was the perfect compliment to Daphne Piper's Kate. While Sorrel might not necessarily be a better actress, she was better in this part than Miranda would have been. But Miranda couldn't watch Sorrel with an objective eye and so she didn't notice any of this.
Miranda and Sorrel's homes were in the same direction for part of the journey from the theatre, so they travelled together on the underground.
"Do you think I'm doing all right?" Sorrel gave Miranda a worried look as they waited for their train. "Daphne's so much better than me and I don't want to look bad in comparison to her."
There were so many things Miranda wanted to say to that and she paused so long, trying to decide which to go with that the train came in. Sorrel was still looking expectantly at her, so while they waited for some rowdy school boys to get off she said, "Hardly. I don't know why they gave you the part."
Sorrel looked forlorn about that and Miranda was glad. Maybe Sorrel would be so bad in rehearsals they'd simply have to use Miranda instead. So she didn't say anything to lift Sorrel's spirits and the rest of the journey was taken in silence.
"If you'd like some advice, Miranda--"
Miranda turned on her cousin. "Not from you."
Sorrel looked shocked, but only for a moment. "I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm not planning on being ill, so you'll never get to play Bianca anyway." That was quite vicious from someone who was always nice and Miranda almost admired her spirit. If only Sorrel hadn't had the part she wanted.
Today had been an understudy's rehearsal. Sorrel didn't need to be there, but even on a day off she'd turned up, claiming she wanted to watch other performances and learn from them. It had impressed Kulick, but not helped Miranda's mood. With Sorrel around she hadn't even been able to pretend she was really playing Bianca.
And as for the other girl, whose name turned out to be Jane, Miranda couldn't see why they'd chosen her at all, unless she was related to someone in the play's management. She might have investigated, had she not been busy trying to sabotage Sorrel. At least she'd had plenty of time to try, given how little she was actually needed in rehearsals, but she was beginning to run out of time. Her parents had written to tell her they were planning to attend her first night and that was only a week away.
So far she'd stolen Sorrel's script while they were still allowed to rehearse with them, but it turned out Sorrel already knew all the words. Then her costume hadn't been ready at a fitting, as the stitching that had been done turned out to be unravelling. Miranda tried to make sure she missed rehearsals by pretending to give her a message that they didn't need her for any of the scenes one morning, but Sorrel turned up anyway.
There didn't seem to be any way of getting rid of her. It was as if she had a fairy godmother who warned her of all Miranda's traps. Miranda hadn't given up yet though. She didn't want to have to resort to faking an illness and pretending to her parents that Sorrel had been understudying her.
For once Sorrel didn't try talking at all on their way to the undergound at the end of the day and for that Miranda was grateful. As it turned out there wasn't much opportunity to speak because they'd come out of rehearsals at just the wrong time and there were lots of men in suits, carrying briefcases and umbrellas and rushing all over the place. It was all the girls could do to keep out of their way.
And then it happened.
They'd been separated getting onto the escalator. That had suited them both and Sorrel had turned round to chat happily to the woman carrying a baby behind her. A group of men pushed past, running down the escalator. Since Miranda was already standing to the side, her hand on the rail, she merely suffered some bruising on her arm. But Sorrel was standing in an already unstable position and as they passed she stumbled and struggled to keep her feet. Being a few steps behind her Miranda saw and leapt forwards crying, "Sorrel!" She reached out for Sorrel's arm and just managed to touch it before Sorrel fell, hit her head on a stair and was still.
Miranda was sorry for Sorrel, of course she was, but she never told anyone she wished she'd been faster and caught her cousin before she fell. The men who'd caused it had sent her bunches of flowers, so her hospital room had been full of them. Although they weren't willing to admit it was their fault and at the time Sorrel had been too focussed on the baby to see what happened. At least she'd only broken her arm and hit her head and would be better in a few months. Of course by then the run of The Taming of the Shrew would be over and Miranda would have played Bianca at every performance, so she couldn't help but be pleased about that.
Now she had what she wanted rehearsals went perfectly and before she knew it it was opening night. She'd hardly seen her parents, for they arrived after she left the house that evening, but they arrived in her dressing room after the final curtain. Miranda had her own understudy now, Mary, who had gone by the end of the performance, leaving no trace of her occupation in Miranda's dressing room.
"We heard a very odd thing," her mother said, once she and her father had congratulated her and told her how well they thought she'd performed. "It seems that the rest of the family think this part was originally Sorrel's. How can that be?"
Miranda went cold. She'd forgotten about them. They'd probably all been sitting together and talking during the interval. "There must have been another performance of The Taking of the Shrew on at another theatre." She smiled, showing no trace of the fear she felt.
"There isn't," her father said confidently. "I'd have heard about it if there was."
"Then someone must have been mistaken." If only she'd thought ahead she could have come up with an explanation. But now she was panicking, eyes wide, but trying to look calm.
Her father still didn't sound sure. "So Sorrel wasn't playing another part in this one?"
Miranda shook her head. "I'd have noticed."
Marguerite patted Miranda's shoulder. "I'm sure you must be right." Of course her mother would believe her.
Consequently, Miranda felt happier, but her good mood only lasted until the rest of the family reached her dressing room. The accusing looks Holly and Miriam gave her told her they knew the truth and no amount of bluffing would convinced them. Miranda couldn't face them and busied herself taking off her make-up. Not that it made any difference - they were all used to visiting actors and actresses in their dressing rooms after a performance.
"Everyone out," Grandmother said, gesturing down the hall from where she stood by the door. "I want to speak to Miranda alone."
That didn't sound good and Miranda shivered. Grandmother was imposing enough any time, but now!
When everyone had left Grandmother came in and sat regally on the chair Mary had warmed earlier in the evening. Miranda put down her cloth and slowly turned to face her.
"Did you want this part very badly?" Grandmother asked.
Miranda nodded. She didn't have to say anything, Grandmother would understand the feeling of knowing you were right for a part. Although she had a knowing expression on her face that didn't tell Miranda what she thought about it.
"When you told your parents you had it, was that the truth?"
Miranda desperately wanted to say yes, but there was something in Grandmother's tone that said she knew the truth and Miranda was just as afraid to stand up to her as everyone else was. "No," she said in a voice that very nearly didn't come out at all.
Grandmother nodded and looked stern. "Then you found a way to get it."
She was about to agree that fate had intervened when she realised what Grandmother was implying. "I didn't push her! I tried to save her." She moved forward in her chair to perch on the edge of it, hands on the armrests.
Grandmother didn't react to Miranda's show of emotion. "Sorrel doesn't quite remember what happened, she only knows that you were near her when she fell." Her gaze was piercing. "Is your conscience clear?"
She nodded because it was. It was!
"I hope so. I don't like my grandchildren arguing." Grandmother stood and left without saying another word.
Miranda was glad she'd gone because now she could stop trying to blink back the tears and let them fall, face in her hands. Just as she sniffed she heard a voice.
"Well, there's no need for that, I'm sure."
Miranda hadn't even heard the door open and she looked up, absently wiping her hands on her skirt, her tears stopping in her surprise. There was a woman standing in the doorway, filling up the space with her curves. It took a moment but she recognised her as Hannah, the Forbes's nurse.
Hannah smiled. "I was looking for Holly, but I can't bear to see a child cry."
Miranda would have protested that she wasn't a child, but Hannah reached over her, plucked a clean cloth off the table and passed it to her. Miranda took it and wiped her face, not wanting to cry with an audience present. Not when she wasn't on stage and it wasn't in the script. A glance in the mirror told her she'd made the last of her make-up run and she cleaned it off. She still had red eyes, but if you didn't look closely it wasn't too obvious she'd been crying.
While she'd been doing that Hannah waited patiently in the chair Grandmother hadn't long vacated. Whereas Grandmother had sat up straight and made the chair seem bigger than it was, Hannah took up more space and bulged over the sides of it.
Hannah leaned over and patted Miranda's arm. "Why don't you tell me what's got you so upset and let's see if we can fix it."
She sounded so kind that Miranda told her everything: about wanting the part, lying to her parents, trying to get the part taken away from Sorrel, and the accident and how she was accused of causing it.
Hannah listened, nodding at places and saying "Ah" on occasion. "I see," she said thoughtfully, when Miranda had finished. "You have got yourself in a pickle. Tell me, have you heard the tale of The Boy who Cried Wolf?"
Miranda nodded. It had been in a book of fairy stories her parents had read to her when she was younger, although they were less bedtime stories and more like bedtime plays when they'd both been home, which she enjoyed far more. "I've never hurt anyone to get a part, though."
"Haven't you?" Hannah sounded surprised. "Maybe you haven't caused them physical pain, but you have always found ways to get the parts you wanted. Did you ever consider anyone else's feelings?"
She shook her head. No one else had been important and if Sorrel, Mark and Holly had never come to live with Grandmother then Sorrel wouldn't have got the parts meant for Miranda. It was all Sorrel's fault, not hers and she didn't know what tales Sorrel had been telling about her. She knew better than to say that to Hannah though.
"Perhaps you should put yourself in their position and think how they feel." Hannah folded her hands in her lap. "There's plenty of space in the world for both you and Sorrel to be great actresses.."
Miranda would agree, if only Sorrel didn't try for the parts Miranda wanted.
"Think on what I've said and maybe you'll find people will learn to trust you again. As long as you're patient." She smiled and left.
Miranda finished packing up, intending to exit with her head held high, but Hannah's words kept coming back to her. Even on the way home, while her parents chattered about people they'd seen in the theatre and the tour they were returning to tomorrow Miranda turned them out, looking out of the window and thinking.
When they reached the house Miranda let her parents go on ahead while she stayed by the front door, leaning against it. It would be so easy to go straight up to bed and avoid speaking to anyone, but she knew she'd never sleep. Not when she couldn't be sure what her parents really thought. She was there a few minutes, trapped in her indecision, until her mother came looking for her.
"Are you all right, darling?" Marguerite looked concerned and came closer to lay a hand against Miranda's forehead.
Miranda summoned up her courage, took a deep breath and raised her head to meet her mother's eyes. "I have a confession to make."