"I thought you said you could drive?" Nancy regarded her companion suspiciously. Given that this was the fourth time they'd stalled in ten minutes (not counting the emergency stop when Joey had dashed out in front of them to admire the new car) there seemed ample foundation for her concern.
"I can," Kathie protested indignantly as, in the back seat, Peggy and Sharlie mentally cursed whoever had sold their colleagues a two-door car that left their passengers no chance of escape. "I'm a very good driver."
"I am. My driving's very safe."
"I'll grant you that," Nancy conceded. "Given that most of your driving so far has entailed the car being entirely stationary, I'd say you're a very safe driver indeed. The only way we'd be safer would be if we hadn't left the garage in the first place."
"I am not," Kathie said loftily, "accepting criticism from someone who learnt their driving skills in a tractor."
"On a tractor," Nancy corrected pedantically.
"In, on, who cares?" Kathie grouched. "It's not proper driving."
"At least I got the car to move."
"Yes; to the end of the drive and back." Kathie didn't appear to have been impressed by this exhibition of Nancy's abilities.
"Well, it's offputting when someone behind you is audibly praying for deliverance." Looking over her shoulder, Nancy trained a stern regard on Sharlie. "Besides," she added, with some justification, as she turned back to Kathie, "that's more than you seem able to manage."
"It's not my fault." Kathie's manner was defensive. "I'm wearing the wrong type of shoes."
"You sound like British Railways, giving a pathetic excuse like that," Nancy said severely. "What's wrong with your shoes? They look fine to me."
"They're too flat."
"Too flat? Too flat for what?"
"For the steering wheel, you cuckoo, what do you think?" Kathie's patience, never her strongest point, seemed to be rapidly deserting her.
"Oh!" Enlightenment appeared to dawn on Nancy, and she grinned. "Is our little Kathie having trouble reaching the pedals?"
"They put them too far away from the floor," Kathie grumbled, choosing to ignore the fact that Sharlie had begun praying once more. "When my heels are on the floor, my toes barely reach the pedals. It's a badly designed car."
"I didn't have any problems," Nancy observed smugly.
Kathie looked pointedly at Nancy's feet. "You wouldn't."
Smothered (or in the case of Peggy Burnett, not-so-smothered) chuckles could be heard from the back seat.
"I do not have big feet! You take that back, Kathie Ferrars!" It was Nancy's turn to sound defensive. "They're just in proportion to my height, that's all. And anyway, at least I can reach the pedals."
"So can I," Kathie insisted. "In the right shoes."
"Then why aren't you wearing these 'right' shoes?" Nancy demanded to know.
Kathie swept her arm round in an expansive gesture, indicating the motley gathering of mistresses, former mistresses, and assorted Platz residents who were currently assembled to watch, and for the most part to mock, the car's maiden voyage. "Because I knew what this rabble would be like, and I saw no need to actually give them further ammunition. Besides, if Miss Annersley sees them, she might... say things."
Nancy's eyebrows shot up. "Exactly what sort of shoes are we talking about, Kathie?"
"Ummm..." Kathie shot her partner a doubtful look and decided not to elaborate. "I'll just drive back and get them."
"You might as well walk," Nancy gibed, in payback for the insult to her feet. "The way you drive, walking's quicker."
Scowling at this disparagement of her driving skills, but apparently acknowledging that Nancy's dig contained an element of truth, Kathie got out of the car. Nancy instantly clambered across into the driver's seat, thereby dashing her passengers' hopes of a reprieve - although the speedy departure she had envisioned was hampered by the need to make substantial readjustments to both seat and mirrors. Finally ready, she swung the little car round in an arc that would have been highly impressive had she managed to stop at the intended 180 degrees, and then, with an alarming burst of speed, the little car tore up the driveway after Kathie, scattering spectators left and right in the process.
As she rocketed past her partner, Nancy leaned out of the window to call out, with an air of nonchalance that terrified all those within earshot, "Remind me again, Kath, which one is the brake?"
"The middle one! In the middle, Nance! The middle!"
Kathie sprinted up the drive after her partner, while everyone else held their breath, watching in horror as the car raced ahead towards Miss Annersley and Miss Wilson - before coming to a sudden and timely halt just in front of the two Heads.
"Found it!" Nancy announced triumphantly. "It's been a while since I've done any driving. I'm sure it will all come back to me."
"Don't worry," Kathie gasped out to the two rather shocked Heads as she caught up with the car. "I'm driving the next bit."
Their hands still locked in a white-knuckled clasp, neither woman looked particularly reassured by this statement.
Nell leaned in to murmur a question to her friend. "They do have licences, don't they?"
"I'm just hoping they have insurance," Hilda retorted. "Something tells me they're likely to be needing it." With a glance at Nancy, whose chant of 'Accelerator, brake, clutch. Accelerator, brake, clutch. Or is it: clutch, brake, accelerator?' was not calculated to inspire confidence, Hilda beckoned her secretary over to her.
"Rosalie, I would like you to make it very clear to Nancy and Kathie that they are absolutely forbidden to take any other passengers until I have seen some evidence that at least one of the two of them is competent to drive that car."
"I wouldn't worry," Joey put in with a grin, as she watched Peggy and Sharlie fighting to be the first to escape from the car's back seat. "After that showing, I doubt anyone's going to offer herself up as a willing victim."
Consequently, by the time Kathie reappeared with the 'right' shoes, Peggy, Sharlie, and the two Heads were at the centre of a large crowd, being congratulated on their lucky escape, and the waiting list of passengers eager for a ride in the new car had unaccountably dwindled to zero.
Making her way to the car, Kathie proudly displayed her shoes to Nancy, who had maintained her place in the driver's seat. "My turn again now, Nance. I can drive in these."
This announcement drew the attention of the crowd, and there was a collective gasp as various eyes took in the sight of Kathie's footwear.
"Never mind driving in them." Nancy eyed the six-inch stiletto heels dubiously as she ceded the driver's seat to her partner. "I want some proof that you can walk in them."
Her good mood returning, Kathie grinned confidingly at her partner, announcing in clarion tones as the car lurched forward, "Oh, I can't walk in them."
On the road to Ste Cecilie, a little car was proceeding on its way in exemplary fashion, while its owners indulged in a gentle squabble.
"Talk about overacting!"
"What was wrong with it?" This was said with some pique. "I thought I did jolly well."
"Oh, did you, indeed? 'Which one is the brake?' Honestly, Nance!"
"Well, what about you? Deliberately swerving towards Joey to give yourself an excuse for that emergency stop?"
"Oh." Kathie sounded crestfallen. "You don't suppose anyone else realised, do you?"
"After the way Peggy and Sharlie were fighting to get out? Not a chance," Nancy said complacently.
"I think that was more your doing than mine," Kathie owned. "Screeching to a halt in front of the Heads like that - it was a master-stroke, my love."
"As long as we keep ourselves carefully incompetent when driving on the Platz," Nancy said, accepting this tribute gracefully, "we should be able to get away with this indefinitely."
"Good. I didn't buy this car to set myself up as the School's taxi service."
"You bought this car?"
"Oh, alright. We."
"So I should think," Nancy murmured. "Now, I want you to remind me again, why did we buy this car?"
Finding an appropriately secluded place to park, Kathie was more than ready to comply, when Nancy held up a hand to stop her.
"But first," she said, in tones that suggested only the most grovelling of apologies would satisfy her, "I want to know just exactly why you chose to cast aspersions on the size of my feet."