The first chance I got to attend to Margary, as Emma made me promise I would, was not till my first hockey lesson that Thursday. I didn’t really want to talk to her, least of all to ‘be good’ to her, as Emma had specified. She had been the subject of my jealousy to start with, and we seldom like those people who inspire feelings which put us in the wrong.
The games teacher was a woman with an enormous hooked nose, whose voice reminded me of the raucous roar of car tyres on old tarmac.
“Right, those of you who are new, have any of you played any hockey before?”
“Nope,” I said.
“No, Miss Pike,” the woman corrected. Her stomach was plump with muscle and the alabaster of her hair and the cantaloupe of her skin were constituted of an ugly contrast.
“No, Miss Pike,” I repeated with a smile quite contrary to my inner repulsion.
“And you others? Played any hockey?”
“No, Miss Pike; only tennis,” replied Margary Symphorien primly. Her sports kit, as her uniform, appeared tidy in a crooked way, and her general manner of speaking and standing was aggravating to say the least of it.
The others had played hockey more than once, and so Margary and I were banished to the green outside the sports pavilion to be briefed on the basics while the others played a game.
Margary and my instructor was named Imogen Carthew: a girl of about Emma’s age who wanted to be a physical education teacher, and so spent many of her free periods helping the younger years with our sport. I wondered if she might be one of Emma’s friends; I seemed to recall the name ‘Imogen’ having popped up in Emma’s dialogue some time or other, maybe a few years hence; but I hadn’t heard of her recently.
“So you’ve played a lot of tennis, Margary?”
“Yes, my…my dad taught me,” Margary responded. At such an age I was unobservant enough to attribute her stutter to nervousness.
“Was he good, then?” inquired Imogen, and Margary spoke up with a pride almost ferocious in her vehemence.
“Yes!” she said, and the certain finality of her tone shunted the topic over to its rightful sport.
Imogen showed Margary and I how to hold our hockey sticks and how to drag the ball along the ground to our right side. She made us pace from one end of the pavilion to the other; then jog, always keeping the ball on the stick.
Soon the three of us were passing in a triangle, chatting to relieve the monotone of the dull activity. Imogen understood my impatience with the dither of practising mindless tasks for the sake of growing more accomplished at them, and it was she who led our conversation.
“So, Kate; how do you like BCR’s now that you’ve been here nearly a week?” queried Imogen, as I sent the heavy ball rolling slowly to the wrong side of Margary.
“I think I like it,” I said.
“Made many friends?”
“I think so. I don’t really know anyone yet. Prunella’s been nice to me, and the other girls. And I met a boy called Ian.”
“Already discovering the male sex?” Imogen teased.
I smiled nervously, and Margary took up the tale.
“We’re only eleven,” she protested. “I think it’s cruel to mock Kate like that.”
“Whoa!” cried Imogen, stopping Margary’s pass with her foot and making signs with her hands despite her hockey stick. I felt a pang of annoyance. Okay, Margary’s outburst was unexpected, coming from a girl whose unattractive appearance suggested that she should be content with timidity, but it wasn’t as if we were ganging up on her. “I was only teasing! And Kate doesn’t mind.”
I grinned through blushes, for I liked Imogen. She had a bewitching fascination about her dark eyes and expressive eyebrows, and I, as a First Former who had seemingly been singled out by one in the Lower Sixth, was not immune. Not so Margary!
“Whether she minds or not, it isn’t right to tease her,” my ugly heroine declared.
“Perhaps it isn’t,” said Imogen condescendingly. “Sorry, Kate.”
“I don’t mind,” I found myself saying; Margary scowled as she received my pass.
On that first hockey practice I unwittingly declared allegiance to both of the girls I had played with.
Margary had inspired in me an odd respect; her ready brevity and unexpected passion awakening in me a dormant respect.
I say ‘dormant’ because it was Imogen Carthew who had attracted my interest more immediately. She was relaxed and easy-going, possessing great leadership qualities—and to be honest I don’t know what else. But I being eleven, and new and easily-influenced, and she being five years my elder, and friendly and amusing, were the principal features of my attachment.