Another day the games prefect, Lacey Whitt, Stacie’s twin, asked Nellie to take the Third Form for an extra tennis practice she had organised but was unable to attend. Nellie was startled at the honour, but, her suspicions awakened by the gecko incident, accepted with the expectancy of untoward trouble.
On this occasion, most of the thirteen-year-olds were growing much stronger in both audacity and mischief. Mollie Lemons contrived to place her balls with more clumsiness than grace, and her partner spent the entire practice poaching amidst many appreciative giggles. Myfanwy Littleton, the normally conscientious form prefect, insisted on aiming into the net for shot after shot.
But Nellie, usually so patient with the younger girls, could not but explode when Melissa Lisbon started lobbing balls across the fence into the road beyond the hedge.
Nellie scolded Melissa roundly, and the younger girl was thankful to tramp off to try and retrieve the stray tennis balls—Nellie only regretted her action when she realised that she had just sent one of her precious pupils out into the road alone, but it was too late to go back on her decree. Luckily Melissa returned quite safe—and empty-handed—the road being quite deserted at such a time and in such a remote location.
Vi Mahy’s hands were shaking as Nellie served the first of twenty angry balls to her, and made her ‘teacher’ angrier by tapping at their fast pace quite lamely.
At last the lesson ended, and the Third scurried off unhappily, unnerved by their old friend’s behaviour. At their departure, Nellie collapsed on a nearby bench, aware that she was going to be inexcusably late for an extra coaching session in algebra. Next term she could drop the accursed subject, but in the meantime she and those other Sixth Formers who hated it were forced to plug away in readiness for the exam later that month.
To cap all, Miss Cockle, thee games mistress, arrived just as Nellie had calmed her inward fire of fury.
“I understand that in your lesson three tennis balls were lost in the road,” Miss Cockle began in a severe tone.
“They were,” Nellie sighed, dragging herself to her feet.
Rosalind Cockle shot her a quick glance, but she was very protective of school equipment, which was expensive and not properly cared for, in her opinion, so did not discard the scathing words she had prepared as soon as Myfanwy Littleton had given her the equipment report, as was customary after each lesson.
Nellie was seething by this time, and more so when she arrived very late for her algebra lesson. Miss Meader was an old woman in her early sixties, and had strict ideas regarding punctuality and pupils’ dignity, so she was not loath to save her scoldings for a later time in the security of privacy.
Nellie’s anger ebbed away as she puzzled over her algebra, dwindling to a grey hopelessness where failure was her sole motto.