The School of Dancing was in North London. Outside it looked just an ordinary house, rather big perhaps for the shabby neighborhood to which it belonged. But it was anything but ordinary to the neighbors, who knew that in it were trained Mrs. Wintle's Little Wonders.
Cora Wintle had danced on the stage. She had never got beyond the chorus, for though she danced well she did not have a good figure, nor was she pretty. But she had loved the life and had found it hard to give it up when she had fallen in love and married an artist called Tom Lennox. Tom was a good painter, but a poor earner of money.
Tom and Cora had been married about a year when they had a baby. She was a little girl, and they christened her Dulcie. It was after Dulcie was born that Cora saw that if she was to bring the child up properly she must have more money than Tom was likely to earn. That was when she had her big idea. Why should she waste her dancing talent? She was getting old for chorus work and anyway she could not be away from home, but why should she not teach others to dance?
Cora was a person who usually by determination got her own way. If she had not been that type she would never have got into any chorus, for she was usually turned down at sight. But she had refused to be beaten and had worn managements down by her persistence until they had said: "Engage Cora Wintle. I'm tired of saying no."
The dancing school had its start two days after Cora had first thought of it. She was out shopping with Dulcie when by mistake she pushed the perambulator into a passer-by, a woman, not at all young but fat and cozy-looking. The woman won her way straight to Cora's heart by not being at all angry about the perambulator hitting her in the stomach but instead being rapturous about Dulcie.
"Oh, what a little love," she said in a warm, purry voice. "I've looked after many a baby in my time, but I never saw a prettier."
That conversation led to a cup of tea in a shop. There is nothing like a cup of tea for telling things. In no time Cora was explaining about Tom not earning much, and her dream of a dancing school. "I was well trained myself, and I would see any child that came to me was well trained. I shall call myself Wintle, as that's how I'm known in the theater. Tom won't mind."
The stranger, whose name was Miss Purser, then told Cora about herself. "I've been a children's Nanny since I was a slip of a girl, but now, provided I can be with children, I might give it up. My ship's come in, so to speak, only I wish it hadn't the way it has. One of my babies, the Honorable George Point . . . maybe you read of it in the papers. Eaten by a shark he was."
"Goodness," said Cora, "a shark! Just fancy, and him an Honorable too."
Miss Purser shook her head. "No respecter of persons, sharks aren't. Well, when the will was read it was found he'd left his old Nan a little money and a house, bless him. In North London the house is, not a nice part, and a great barrack of a place."
The idea hit them both at the same moment. There was Miss Purser with a house suitable for a dancing school, and wanting to be with children, and there was Cora with the training to teach children to dance. Why should they not become partners?
A few months later Cora moved her family, and Miss Purser moved herself, into Miss Purser's house. Cora put an advertisement in the local paper:
Cora Wintle, teacher of children for the stage.
Classes daily. 67, Ford Road, Tel. PRImrose 15150.
She showed the advertisement to Miss Purser, whom by then she was calling Pursey.
"How's that, Pursey?"
"Very nice, Mrs. Wintle. Now I do wonder who your first pupil will be."
It was not a pupil who first answered the advertisement but a theater manager who had liked Cora. "Is that the Cora Wintle who was on tour with my Sparklers' Company?"
Cora said it was.
"Well, I saw your advert., and I'd like to do something for an old friend. Next summer I shall want twelve kiddies for a show I'm touring round the seaside towns. You going in for troupes?"
Cora was not a person to let an opportunity pass. Even as the manager was speaking she could see troupes of children trained by her dancing all over the country. "I certainly am."
"What are you calling them, dear?"
There was a tiny pause while Cora thought hard. Then the answer came to her. "Mrs. Wintle's Little Wonders."
In ten years everybody except Tom had stopped calling Cora by her Christian name. She was Mrs. Wintle or Mrs. W. wherever she went. The school was a great success, the Little Wonders were known to everybody in the theater world, and they had appeared in films and on television. When the school started Cora had been the only dancing teacher, and Pursey had done everything else in the house. But soon there were two other teachers besides Cora--Pat and Ena--and Pursey was supposed to be only the wardrobe mistress and to employ the matrons who looked after the children when they were working. Actually Pursey never was only the wardrobe mistress, for she went on being the person everybody--staff, children, and Tom--came to whenever they wanted something, were unhappy, or had a worry.
Being the owner of the successful Little Wonders' Troupes changed Mrs. Wintle. There were plenty of other schools training children for the stage, and it meant pushing harder than anyone else to get her dancers known. A person who spends all his or her life pushing to get to the top gets tough as a result of working so hard. This happened to Mrs. Wintle. She became a rather frightening person. In fact, sometimes people said she had a stone where other people had a heart.
Copyright © 1994 by Noel Streatfeild. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.